Earl Attlee: The UK Border Agency has reviewed the visa service for Iraqi nationals, in consultation with the FCO and UK Trade and Investment. From early 2011, it will be implementing a limited expansion of the categories of applicant who may apply in Iraq, to include UKTI-sponsored business visitors and students coming to the UK under the Iraqi Prime Minister's scholarship initiative. For ongoing security, financial and logistical reasons, Amman will remain the main decision-making centre.
Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply but I must confess that I am not even sure that it is half a loaf. I am pleased for the British businesses that are sponsored by UKTI, which was extremely helpful in the recent trade delegation to Iraq. However, will the Minister ask the Home Office further to review the situation because Amman is not at all convenient for the vast bulk of Iraqi business people who have to wait there for up to two weeks? Will the Home Office and UKBA assist UKTI in its future efforts rather than hinder it?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, in principle my answer is yes to everything. I pay tribute to the noble Lord for his persistence in this area. We would like to do more as it would benefit UK business but the noble Lord, who has looked into this matter, will also understand some of the difficulties involved.
Baroness Afshar: My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl why students from the Middle East-that is, Iraq, Kurdistan, Iran and Afghanistan-are facing such difficulties? I declare an interest as somebody who teaches undergraduates and graduates at the University of York. We admit brilliant students who could be our best allies in the Middle East but then they cannot get a visa. Is there any way that we can recognise that we need good minds and allow them to come over?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, the noble Baroness makes an extremely important point. It is obviously in our interests to encourage foreign students to come to the UK to study. Our customer service standards show that, in September, 99 per cent of tier 4 student visa applications were processed in Amman within 10 working days. That is well within the service standard to process 90 per cent of such applications within 15 days.
Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: My Lords, the Minister's Answer is very welcome as far as it goes, but will he undertake to look at how our commercial competitors compare in visa application issuing arrangements? Is he aware that the United States already has a full and normal visa issuing service, the French and the Germans are pretty much getting there and the Swedes, for heaven's sake-if I can put it that way-are issuing 5,000 visas to Sweden every year, which is at least three times what the United Kingdom is able to do at the moment? As he rightly said, it is not just business but scholarship exchange programmes which are being prejudiced. When can we get a full and normal visa service for all incoming Iraqis to the United Kingdom?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, we will provide a full and normal visa service when the situation in Iraq allows it. It is obviously in our interests to do so. The noble Lord talked about the Germans. Following an expansion of German visa facilities in Iraq, suicide car bombers targeted the German embassy in Baghdad in April this year, killing a security guard. We will not take any unnecessary or avoidable risks with our personnel, whether UK or foreign.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, this is a problem that does not apply just to Iraq but throughout the Middle East, including Libya. Can the noble Earl say a little more about his department's approach as it applies to other countries in the Middle East?
The Lord Bishop of Exeter: My Lords, the Minister will no doubt be aware that, following the terrible Baghdad atrocity of last month, al-Qaeda has issued a warning that it intends to turn its fire particularly on Christians and the Christian community. What will be the implications of this for British policies towards Iraq, particularly for those who will feel compelled to flee from such violence directed towards them?
The Earl of Clancarty: My Lords, will not this Government see fit to make a proper public apology to the great Iranian film maker, Abbas Kiarostami, for the humiliating treatment he received in Tehran last year, when he tried, but failed, to obtain a visa to come here to direct the English National Opera, caught out as he was by immigration rules that are doing enormous cultural damage to this country?
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, does my noble friend, in the context of Amman, recall the exchange in 1918 in a military hospital between a visiting general and a Scottish private? The general
18 Nov 2010 : Column 837
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, will my noble friend ask his colleagues who deal with visa applications more generally, particularly those for students, to look at these applications more carefully? When I advertise for staff to help look after my wife, we frequently get applications from people who are here on student visas and who simply disappear when I advise them that they should not, therefore, be available for full-time work.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, the noble Lord puts his finger on an extremely important point. One of the key roles of UKBA is to ensure that when people apply for a visa, they are genuine applicants and that they carry out the visit in the way that they said they would.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, heavy goods vehicle road-user charging is being introduced to ensure a fairer arrangement for UK hauliers. The details of the scheme and offsetting measures to help UK hauliers are still to be finalised. It must operate within relevant EU legislation and apply to both UK and foreign hauliers. New legislation will be needed.
Lord Berkeley: I am grateful to the noble Earl for that Answer, but my Question asked how the Government were going to do it. Will the Government go for time-based or distance-based charging? As regards coming to that decision, is he aware that time-based systems are fully open to fraud-30 per cent of revenue in Switzerland is lost through fraud-and that the costs of implementing them are about 40 per cent of the revenue, compared with 10 per cent for those that are distance-based? Can the noble Earl assure me that he will take that into account when coming to a decision?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, it may be helpful if I run through the options. The Government are looking at options that are simpler and cheaper than the satellite-based lorry road-user charging system that the previous Government failed to implement. A time-based charge would be the simplest option, but it has the difficulties that the noble Lord outlined. Distance-based charges based on tachograph readings, or roadside equipment detecting vehicles as they pass, have advantages, but they are more complex and significantly more expensive to implement. The Government expect to be able to give more details in the spring.
Lord Bradshaw: Will the noble Earl also consider the number of accidents that are caused in this country by foreign-registered vehicles? They of course pay no tax, they use fuel from outside the country and they burden the health service with a lot more work.
Earl Attlee: The noble Lord makes an important point, of which my department is well aware. However, the objective of the lorry road-user charging scheme is to ensure a competitive and free market for all operators, whether UK or foreign.
Lord Kinnock: My Lords, I strongly welcome the action being taken by the Government in pursuit of an entirely necessary policy. In view of the various complications, could not the Government, so far as concerns both heavy vehicles and other vehicles, pursue the cruder but nevertheless effective course of abolishing road fund licences and heavy goods licences and replacing them with fuel charges, which would at least produce an equitable and economic relationship between road use, the nature of vehicles and the effect on the environment?
Earl Attlee: My Lords, the noble Lord makes an interesting point. One problem that we experience is foreign vehicles coming in with very large fuel tanks, sometimes containing in excess of 1,000 litres of fuel, which enable them to travel all around the UK and then leave without buying any fuel here. There is also an EU directive on the minimum vehicle excise duty rate.
Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: What does the Minister think of the German satellite tracking scheme? It is more expensive than some of the alternative systems that are available, but does it not provide an investment that could be built on in future and used to track all traffic?
Earl Attlee: The noble Lord makes an important point. We are looking very closely at what our European partners are doing. It is important to remember that their problems are slightly different from ours. European states have a lot of through traffic. We do not have so much through traffic, but we do have lots of foreign vehicles coming to deliver to the UK.
Lord Dykes: Will the Minister confirm that the plans will include a close look at the prepaid plastic card system for distance travelling, which is likely to be gradually and increasingly adopted in all European member states and will create a single market in road haulage costs?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, what is the Minister's explanation for the length of time that is being taken over the introduction of the scheme? The Government courted the heavy goods vehicle industry in this country by saying in their manifesto that they intended to introduce a scheme. The coalition agreement and the business plan of the department stated that the scheme would be introduced, and yet we are now
18 Nov 2010 : Column 839
Earl Attlee: My Lords, on the noble Lord's substantive point, we are anxious to avoid making the mistakes of the previous Government, who spent £60 million of public money on a satellite lorry road-user charging scheme that achieved absolutely nothing.
Lord Campbell-Savours: Why is the tachography option more expensive-which is what the noble Earl said-when all it would require would be an entry reading and an exit reading to provide a calculation based on a multiplication of the cost per mile?
Earl Attlee: The noble Lord is quite right: it is an option that we are looking at very carefully. However, he will also be aware that it is quite easy to interfere with the operation of the tachograph-for instance, by placing a large magnet on the transducer or an illegal switch in the electrical circuitry.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, Her Majesty's Government believe that increased engagement between the EU and Russia is a positive development. There are several strands of discussion on developing and enhancing security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area, including in the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe-the OSCE-and the NATO-Russia Council. There is, however, no proposal for an actual defence pact between the EU and Russia, and we do not consider such a pact either desirable or likely.
Lord Giddens: I thank the Minister for that Answer and for the positive note that he struck-at least, at the beginning. Does he agree that collaboration to contain international terrorism could be one basis for future further collaboration between the EU and Russia?
Lord Howell of Guildford: Yes, I certainly do. I think that these issues will come up at the NATO summit, which is beginning on Friday, and indeed we look forward at that summit to the possibility-indeed, the probability-of a text that will reflect a new era of co-operation and engagement between the whole of NATO and Russia. Therefore, the problem that the noble Lord has referred to is very relevant and it will be at the centre of our discussions.
Lord Judd: Does the noble Lord agree that, however important the negotiations with Russia about defence and security matters-and no one discounts that-it is crucial constantly to keep in mind the behaviour of Russian military in places such as the North Caucasus, where, with insensitivity and brutality, they have arguably accentuated the problems of world security by driving people into the arms of extremists?
Lord Howell of Guildford: The noble Lord is absolutely right and I expected that kind of profound comment from him. We are under no illusions about the human rights situation in Russia and in relation to the various operations of the kind to which he referred. Human rights and the progress of Russian democracy are high on our agenda, and we certainly do not shy away from making our concerns known on all these aspects at every opportunity.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that the key point in this area is that the autonomy of decision-making by NATO and the EU should not be impaired by any agreements or arrangements made with Russia? It is highly desirable to consult more with Russia and it may be highly desirable to work with it on missile defence, but it would be a great mistake if we allowed the autonomy of decision-making of those two organisations, on which our security depends, to be impaired.
Lord Howell of Guildford: I agree with the noble Lord, and indeed that was the implication of my first Answer. We do not look for an actual defence pact or any kind of development which would, as the noble Lord says, impair the integrity of NATO operations. Nevertheless, there are all sorts of strands of increased co-operation. I have mentioned the NATO-Russia Council. There is also the Meseberg initiative and the modernisation pact, and there are other opportunities in fora where we can carry forward good relations with regard to that part of Russian policy with which we can work in a positive way.
Lord Addington: Does the Minister agree that, when the general normality of relations is based on dialogue, we should really be looking at a few areas where we do not talk so as to avoid misunderstandings in the future?
Lord Dykes: Does my noble friend agree that the sombre reality is that there is also a need for good EU relations with Russia partly because, sadly, the United States is recklessly destabilising the Middle East as a result of its amazingly obsequious attitude to Netanyahu?
Lord Howell of Guildford: With respect to my noble friend, that point is slightly "yesterday". There are definite signs of an improvement in US-Russian relations. Of course, there are all sorts of collateral issues, of which he has mentioned one, but the general trend is in a positive direction with the START negotiations
18 Nov 2010 : Column 841
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I believe that there was a suggestion a while ago that there would be Russian observers or visitors to the forthcoming NATO summit. Indeed, I think it was even suggested that the Russian President might be invited. Can the noble Lord tell us whether there will be any Russian observers at the summit? Can I also press him a little further on his answer to my noble friend Lord Judd? He talked about the importance of human rights. Can he tell us whether that issue has been raised specifically in the context of security discussions? It is in the balance between security and human rights that the problem so often lies.
Lord Howell of Guildford: The answer to the noble Baroness's second question is yes, we do combine. Concern for human rights and the rule of law are two facets of the same issue. Upholding the rule of law and the broader security issues are all one ball of wax, if I may use that phrase. As to Russian involvement, President Medvedev has said that he will go to the NATO-Russia Council summit in Lisbon on Friday. So, he will attend-that is what my brief says and I am glad to learn it.
Lord Howell of Guildford: Yes, this is a vast and vastly important area in which of course our partners and allies such as Norway and indeed, Canada, as well as Russia are involved. There have been extensive disputes over the years, particularly in Russia and Norway, as to which parts of the Arctic are under which territorial direction, and there was the dramatic planting of a flag at the North Pole by some Russian underwater vehicles. I understand, although it is not in my brief, that considerable advances have been made in agreeing the border lines between Norway and Russia, which opens the way, provided that costs and technology allow, for a vastly greater exploitation of the huge oil and gas resources-mostly gas-under the Arctic Circle.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): The Prime Minister spoke to Aung San Suu Kyi on 15 November, making clear our determination to support her efforts to promote
18 Nov 2010 : Column 842
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that positive and welcome reply. I am sure that the whole House will wish to pay tribute to this brave and remarkable woman whom I had the good fortune to know as an undergraduate studying PPE at Oxford 45 years ago. Can I ask the Minister a little more about setting aside the results of the elections and pressing the Burmese authorities to hold fresh elections to ensure that the National League for Democracy can play a full part and that Aung San Suu Kyi can be leader of that party in those elections? What pressure can our Government and others place on governments in the region who have been somewhat supportive of the Burmese junta until now?
Lord Howell of Guildford: We all share the noble Lord's absolutely correct assessment of our sentiments. We salute this very brave woman and want the world that he described to come about, with her at the centre of it. The situation is delicate in that how investigations into these sham elections can be made is still obviously in the minds of Aung San Suu Kyi and her party. I believe that she has authorised her party to look at irregularities, but we must be guided by her approach as she is in the midst of it while we are on the sidelines.
As to the other countries that have somewhat ambiguous relations with Burma and who have not been as strongly critical as we would like against this unpleasant regime-India is the obvious example-we are in discussions with them. I am not sure that we will make much progress with Beijing which seemed to welcome the elections and thought they were okay, so there is not much progress there. Other countries are united in recognising that this was not a serious election. It was rigged and there was all sorts of evidence of irregularities. The day will come, if we can keep up this pressure, when Burma can again join the comity of nations and be a prosperous, free and open place.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: My Lords, in the days before her telephone was cut off I used to be able to speak to Aung San Suu Kyi on the phone but that has not been possible for the past 10 years. Does the Minister agree that we should couple tributes to her with tributes to her late husband, Michael Aris, because when he was dying of cancer they refused him a visa to visit her, in the hope that she would leave and not come back? They were a remarkable couple, dedicating their lives to the furtherance of democracy. Will he press on regarding the question of the release of the other 2,000 political prisoners?
Lord Howell of Guildford: Most definitely yes to all those observations. We salute not only this remarkable lady and her husband, but the way in which she now comments on what must have been the appalling
18 Nov 2010 : Column 843
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, if, after 15 years and 20 days, Aung San Suu Kyi's release is to be a Mandela moment for Burma, will it not require the ethnic minorities and the National League for Democracy to enter into real dialogue and reconciliation with the military junta? Will it not require their reciprocity, and must we not do all we can, through the United Nations, engaging the Secretary-General directly in these negotiations, to bring that about? Can the Minister say something more about the ethnic minorities and their plight, given the information I gave him last week and the subsequent letter about the fighting in the Karen state and now the repatriation of those refugees across the border into an area where fighting is still under way?
Lord Howell of Guildford: On the last point of the noble Lord, who follows these things very closely, we are worried about what has been happening on the border and the signs that the Royal Thai Government may have been returning refugees across the border back into Burma, or Myanmar. Our ambassador spoke to the Foreign Minister of Thailand this morning about the need to look at this situation and prevent undue suffering where these refugee pressures have been building up. As to the broader question of ethnic groups, we continually condemn the human rights abuses that ethnic groups continue to suffer. Our embassy in Rangoon regularly makes representations; we think that the elections were a missed opportunity to unite armed and non-armed ethnic groups, but I am afraid that we have to strike a pessimistic note in saying that there is little prospect of national reconciliation without their involvement and not much prospect while the generals are in charge. However, we will keep this matter very much to the fore, properly urged on by the noble Lord's remarkably persistent concern.
Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that now is not the time to consider weakening the EU sanctions against Burma, since nothing has fundamentally changed, as the Minister has said? Secondly, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, we need to see clearly a UN-led effort to ensure that Aung San Suu Kyi gets what she wants, which is a dialogue between the genuine ethnic representatives, the military and democracy activists, such as those in the NLD. Thirdly, last week the Minister said that there was insufficient support for a commission of inquiry and therefore it was not something that the UK would press for. Will he give me an assurance that at the meeting on 22 November in the Security Council, when there will be a discussion on the protection of civilians, the UK Government will lead on this and press for a recognition that the UN special rapporteur on Burma has asked for such a commission of inquiry?
Lord Howell of Guildford: As the noble Baroness knows, because she follows these things closely, we support the idea of a commission of inquiry, but we are anxious not to rush into it and have an early
18 Nov 2010 : Column 844
Lord Hannay of Chiswick: Does not the Minister agree that one thing that we could do is to increase our aid projects in Burma to non-governmental organisations and those who work for humanitarian purposes in medical and educational areas? That would be a good way to show that there is an alternative to the sort of regime that Burma has now.
Lord Howell of Guildford: I agree; indeed, the UK is one of the largest bilateral donors to Burma. We have significantly increased our humanitarian assistance from £9 million in 2007-08 to £28 million in the current year. Our aid focuses on health, basic education, rural livelihood, civil society and helping the refugees. I add as a personal observation that China is deeply involved in Myanmar, getting more involved all the time, pouring in vast sums of money for schools, infrastructure, and so on. We have a real problem considering aid-which is right-against the apparent determination of the People's Republic of China to have a massive involvement in Myanmar in every conceivable way.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am very pleased to hear about the Prime Minister's call; that is something to be very well regarded. Can the Minister tell us whether other EU leaders have made similar calls to Aung San Suu Kyi? Can he also tell us whether there is now an EU resolve to re-engage with the ASEAN countries? After all, they value the EU-ASEAN relationship very highly, and were the countries of the European Union really to make a push on that at the moment, there might be a realistic possibility of getting more positive engagement.
Lord Howell of Guildford: I certainly hope that that will be so. It obviously makes complete sense that the EU must be extremely vigorous in such an approach. As to who has been making telephone calls to Aung San Suu Kyi, I have absolutely no idea; but I bet people have.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, after the debate in the name of my noble friend Lord Maclennan of Rogart, my noble friend Lady Verma will repeat as a Statement an Urgent Question on the socioeconomic equality duty.
That the debate on the Motion in the name of Lord Greaves set down for today shall be limited to one and three quarter hours and that in the name of Lord Maclennan of Rogart to three and a quarter hours.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, this is a good opportunity to start a parliamentary debate on the reform of CAP, which is clearly going to last over the next two to three years while the decisions are being made. Today is particularly opportune, as we understand that the Commission will publish its proposals today.
The long and tortuous history of the common agricultural policy is approaching one of its periodic turning points. A new phase in the CAP to the end of the decade is due to start in August 2013. The details of that have not yet been agreed in any shape or form, so the next two years are going to be interesting. In introducing the debate, I want to give a fairly broad-brush overview. I am not going to talk about much of the technical detail. I am grateful for all the briefings that have come from various organisations and bodies and I hope that other noble Lords will fill in some of the detail. I want to put forward a series of propositions with which I have considerable sympathy and which I think should form the basis of a great deal of the discussion that is taking place.
The European Parliament has already agreed its position, based on a report from my Liberal Democrat colleague, George Lyon MEP. I am grateful for the many insights of what I am saying now, which are based on discussions with him. The Commission communication is due out later today. There has been a well leaked draft from commissioner Dacian Ciolos and I have no reason to doubt that the communication will be based on his views. However, there could be changes, so I do not want to talk about that in detail until we see exactly what is said.
Legislative proposals are due in 2011. There obviously will be interesting discussions during that time in the Council of Ministers. The CAP is subject for the first time to co-decision between the council and the European Parliament. Decisions have to be made by the end of 2012 or in early 2013 in order for the new system to come into operation in 2013. Clearly, a major part of deciding what will happen will be the overall European budget and the size of the pot, which will be decided by member states in the mean time.
My first major issue is the urgency for the United Kingdom Government, working with the devolved Administrations in Scotland and Wales, to negotiate. It is clear that the line that was taken by the previous Labour Government has been abandoned-rightly so, because it isolated this country in the discussions on the future of the CAP within Europe. Will the Minister give me some idea of what the Government see as the timetable for coming to views on UK government policy with a view to negotiation and discussion with the other European countries and, as part of the Council of Ministers, with the other European institutions?
In trying to give an overview of the position, I will try to avoid using as much Euro-jargon as I can. It seems to us that sustainability and fairness have to be at the heart of a new CAP. The CAP has to be economically and environmentally sustainable at global, European and local levels. It needs to be socially sustainable, particularly in what Ciolos calls,
Food security is increasingly important and it has to be politically sustainable across the EU. In particular, we need to refocus CAP towards creating a sustainable agricultural system that meets the challenges, first, of climate change and other environmental challenges and, secondly, of the increased demand for food, which will occur across the globe and will require a large increase in food production. All that will be within a highly imperfect global market in which the patterns of demand and need for food are at variance with each other and in which the systems and patterns of trade reflect the demand rather than need.
Climate change makes the necessary increase in production more difficult due to scarcity of new land, water and energy. Increased demand is due to more people, an estimated 9 billion of us by 2050-or 9 billion others, because I do not think that I will be around in 2050-and demand for more varied and westernised diets.
George Lyon has identified four key areas of fairness: fair trade with major trading partners, most of whom support their agriculture; redistribution of direct payments under CAP to meet demands of new member states; support for local food production for local communities in less favoured areas or areas with specific natural constraints, as we might now call them, particularly upland and more remote areas throughout Europe and in this country; and a fair food chain through the strengthening of the negotiating power of farmers against multiple retailers.
My second proposition is general and relates to the way in which CAP has evolved in the decades that it has been in existence. Should we continue to phase out remaining export subsidies, as the Commission and the Parliament are suggesting? To what extent should we continue to phase out the remaining elements of market intervention? Most of them have gone and we do not have beef mountains or wine lakes any more. Also, to what extent should we attempt to get rid of coupled direct payments altogether, or should that be an option for member states? If the last two are to remain in place to some degree, at what level and on what basis would that be acceptable? This is fundamental to reform in the next phase.
The third proposition is the clear need to move towards a fully area-based system throughout Europe by 2020. Payments under the present phase have been decoupled, but in many places they are still being paid on an historical basis, so that, although they have been decoupled from existing levels of production and stocking, they are still linked to former levels. The longer that goes on, the more unfair it is. It does not represent the current realities.
The fourth proposition is the redistribution of payments in Europe. There has to be a rebalancing of area payments away from the old members of the EU-if I can put it that way-particularly in western Europe, to the new member states, which are mainly in eastern Europe. When the new member states joined, it was on the understanding and belief that, over time, there would be a more equalised system of area payments. A useful graph in the Lyon report from the European Parliament sets out the 2008 payments. If we ignore Greece, which is right at the top, but look at western European countries, we see that Belgium and the Netherlands received payments that averaged over €400 per hectare. Germany received over €300, France around €300 and the United Kingdom over €200. Romania and two other countries received less than €50 per hectare, while Poland, the largest of the eastern European countries to join, received around €80 per hectare. That is clearly not fair, as it denies countries in eastern Europe funds to support the restructuring and modernisation of agriculture that for many of them is absolutely necessary. People used to talk about inefficient French farmers, but they do not do that any more because in the 1950s and particularly the 1960s France reorganised substantial parts of its agriculture, as did southern Germany. That kind of process now has to take place in eastern Europe.
My fifth proposition is that there has to be a significant further greening of the system. Both the Lyon report and the Ciolos paper substantially go along with that. Is it not clear that the purpose of farm support-the reason why it exists-is to support the producers of food? It does not exist to achieve environmental public goods, but those goods are vital, so green outcomes need to be embedded throughout the system. Different ways to further strengthen the greening of the CAP are set out in the two documents. I do not want to go into those details at the moment, but other noble Lords may do so. However, whether that is done by amendments to the two existing pillars or in some other way, it has to happen.
That leads to the last two fundamental propositions. The first is the absolutely vital need to maintain a common European agricultural policy and to resist nationalisation of the CAP either by the patriation of significant parts of it or by resistance to further moves towards co-funding. These are simply attempts to undermine the whole basis of a very necessary system.
The final proposition is the size of the budget. If the aims set out in the Lyon report and what we expect to see in the Commission report are to be achieved-indeed, if the CAP is to do what it has to do-it will not possible to make any significant further reductions to the proportion of the EU budget that is allocated to
18 Nov 2010 : Column 848
Lord Plumb: My Lords, in declaring my farming interests and involvement with agricultural policy and development over many years, I welcome every opportunity to look to the future-recognising, as I hope we do, that farming is part of a global industry as well as a major part of our national economy.
Many noble Lords will remember that the UK's farm policy changed from the price guarantee and efficiency payment system when we joined the European Union in 1973-a policy which farmers were beginning to realise was creaking at the seams as production and costs increased-and moved, in six steps over a period of five years, into the common agricultural policy. The CAP has faced a lot of flak over the years, and some of the criticism has been justified, but those who wish to scrap it should understand, as my noble friend Lord Greaves has recognised, that it operates in the long-term interests of consumers.
The CAP has been regularly reformed over the past 50 years and, despite its often perceived failings, reliably fulfilled its primary role of providing high-quality food throughout Europe. It has also delivered the current standards of environmental management, food hygiene and animal welfare. However, this more modern food and farming industry has become energy intensive, requiring oil to produce fertilisers, agrochemicals and fuel. Agriculture uses 70 per cent of the world's water and is responsible for 14 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture and the food industry-which now employ 14 per cent of our nation's workforce-are therefore very much part of the global climate change problem. The demand for more renewable energy sources also means that the food processing industry now has to compete with the biofuel industry, which uses sugar, maize and wheat, for example, for raw materials. As that demand increases, the cost of food will rise.
Before I raise the issues that the reformed common agriculture policy will have to confront, your Lordships may wish to consider the reply I received from my noble friend Lord Sassoon in response to questions I posed, following the spending review debate, about Defra's position. After recognising that Defra's running costs would be reduced by £174 million, he stated that, by the end of the spending review period, a saving of £66 million will be made right across the rural development programme for England. The document which my noble friend supplied said:
"However, by making the most effective use of the European funding available to the programme and by taking advantage of movement in Euro/Sterling exchange rates, funding on the Higher Level Scheme will rise by 83% by 2013-14".
The CAP will be reformed in 2012-13. As to its cost, many figures are quoted and misused, but they are spread across the lands of 500 million people, and I am told that €50 billion-£40 billion-is equal to 23p per day to consumers.
A reformed CAP has to confront five new issues; my noble friend has already mentioned them. They include food security, price volatility, climate change and rural degradation. The intensification of farming, as it has changed over the years and continues to change, threatens the viability of extensive regions of moorland and forest. There are three conflicting demands: the price of food against the background of budget control and the effect of the recession on consumer spending; globalisation and the liberalisation of world trade as we try to feed 9 billion people in the world; and the long-term trend in energy costs and the incentives for growing energy crops. The Commission's proposals as we have read them in their leaked form are a little like the curate's egg.
With all the development that is taking place, I am optimistic about a future in which science and technology, including GM crops, will become more important. In order to feed the world's growing population, we need to double the output of food. We need a progressive common agricultural policy. It should be clearer, simpler and less confusing. It should involve less risk and be more market-focused and competitive in spirit. It should offer incentives to improve environmental performance. Above all, a common agricultural policy has to maintain productive capacity.
I hope the Government will oppose a renationalised policy giving more flexibility and possible co-financing by member states. I hope the Minister will also look further at the regulation payment rates for agri-environment schemes, as set out in his letter following our debate on the Prince's Countryside Fund.
Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him whether he includes the valuable research done under the heading of "general agricultural policy", which is of benefit to the entire world?
Lord Plumb: Of course I value the tremendous research done both privately and publicly. Without it, we would not have seen the growth that has been delivered through science and technology. That development is not only important but has been taken on with enthusiasm by people who realise that, in the long term, the food industry is probably one of the most important industries that we have in this country and throughout the world.
Lord Wills: My Lords, this issue is of considerable importance, not just to the agricultural sector but to consumers and taxpayers throughout Europe, as well
18 Nov 2010 : Column 850
As is well known, Europe has gone through profound changes since the end of the Second World War. We have seen Germany divided and reunited and the Union grow from the original six members of the EEC, almost inexorably, to the current 27 members of the European Union. Globalisation has transformed the world economy with great social and political consequences, yet in the midst of this profound change-one of the most profound and rapid periods of change in human history-this one institution sails on. Occasionally it is buffeted by reforms, and it has changed quite considerably from the original conception, but it is still recognisably the same institution. Its flaws have been well rehearsed, and I do not want to go into them in great detail today, but it is worth just remembering that the combined costs in the most recent estimate that I have been able to find for the British family of four is £10.40 a week in terms of a direct subsidy with the increased costs to the consumer.
This policy still occupies more than 40 per cent of the European budget. The OECD has estimated that the cost to the European consumer in higher food prices due to the CAP is around £39 billion. The policy has done considerable damage to developing countries in the past, although I recognise that there have been considerable changes in recent years which have mitigated those problems. The figures are very complex and it is difficult to secure any kind of unanimity on them, and the impact on developing countries clearly depends on where the countries are and what period we are talking about, but it is generally accepted that this process of agricultural subsidy has done great damage in the past to some of the world's poorest people.
The CAP has not really even benefited the farmers that it was most meant to protect. Because payments remain linked to production, 85 per cent of aid still goes to the top 17 per cent of recipients. In 2008, Prince Hans Adam of Liechtenstein got nearly €1.6 million in subsidy, while Prince Albert of Monaco got €250,000. In 2009, Tate & Lyle received more than £250,000 in subsidy. As with all agricultural subsidies throughout the developed world, these represent a form of welfare for agri-businesses. This flawed policy costs a great deal of money to administer-about €175 million. For 2004, which is the latest year that can be considered as finalised, which is a statement that in itself speaks volumes, around €100 million was taken up with fraud and so-called irregularity. So far as we can tell from the leaked documents, it looks as if support will
18 Nov 2010 : Column 851
I hope that these remarks, which will be familiar to all Members of this House, will not be construed as me attacking farming. They certainly should not be, because I believe that agriculture is far more than just another business. Among other things, it sustains our countryside, which is so precious in so many ways to all of us. The need for food security is indisputable, and I see the need for some form of stable support. All I would ask is whether this antiquated system of centralised, bureaucratic state subsidy is really the best way forward. I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and I will have occasion to return to this debate in the coming months.
Before I move on to my final point, I recognise that there have been significant improvements in this policy over the years. Every bout of reform has seen considerable improvements and I pay tribute to the huge efforts that have been required, as everyone in the House will recognise, from large numbers of dedicated public servants across the European Union. Yet all of that effort has still been what I regard as a patch-and-mend operation on what remains, at root, a flawed policy. If I am right about that, how is it that such a policy, which costs so many people so much, has persisted without really radical reform for so long?
It is a textbook example of how the politics of subsidy work. There are institutional handouts and bureaucracies that perpetuate themselves managing them, obfuscating the process and making it opaque for the general public-the voters-to understand. Above all, the fundamental problem is that the costs of this policy are spread thinly across all the people of Europe, whereas the benefits are concentrated on a happy few so that they have a far greater incentive to keep the system going than those who pay the price, largely in ignorance of what is being done to them.
I recognise that there is no possibility of scrapping the CAP and starting again from scratch. The political costs of any such transition would be impossible. But if we are to see progress in reforming this policy, in the direction in which I think most people would want to see it reformed, we need to have a much better informed public debate. Transparency is absolutely central to that. That is why I read with some depression a judgment by the European Court of Justice, published on 8 November, which said that the current EU laws and regulations on disclosure of beneficiaries of farm subsidies are "invalid". Those regulations about transparency have been responsible for the pressure continuing for reform of this policy. Whatever the legal justifications for this decision, it is clear to me that the public interest must lie in greater transparency.
It must be right that the public understand, as fully as possible, the policy for which they are paying. It is a safeguard against fraud, which has been endemic in the operation of this policy. It should also enable the public to see the counterbalancing advantages of this policy, which previous speakers have already described. I know that the coalition Government are in favour of the Freedom of Information Act. Their Bible, the coalition agreement, says:
To conclude, what steps are the coalition Government going to take to persuade the European Commission to change the way that its obligation to transparency is discharged in a way that is compatible with that European Court of Justice ruling earlier this month?
Lord De Mauley: My Lords, I respectfully draw the attention of noble Lords to the fact that Back-Benchers' contributions are time-limited to seven minutes. If they exceed that, they may limit my noble friend's ability to respond to their questions.
Lord Dykes: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Greaves for initiating this debate with what might be really perfect timing, in view of the impending announcements. We will obviously have to study the Commission's proposals in great detail and very carefully indeed. My thanks also go to the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, the great expert on this subject, for his wise words. The noble Lord, Lord Wills, was perhaps a bit too gloomy because there is a general feeling everywhere that there needs to be thorough reform to have a modern structure for the CAP for the future, in the next financial perspective period.
I think I am right in saying that anyway, on the latest figures, the United States farm support system, overall, and the Japanese one cost far more than the CAP. The CAP is reducing both in absolute amounts, in certain sectors, and relatively. I have noticed a general will everywhere, in Brussels and Strasbourg and in member states, that it may go down to about 35 per cent eventually-at least, in the foreseeable future. The budget restraints that all national member states, including Britain, are obliged to follow nowadays because of the financial crisis mean that there is general public opinion in support of this. It therefore has to be structured in a modern way.
I have some questions for the Minister which I hope he will have time to answer in this debate, because we are reaching towards sensible, rational conclusions. However, they have not been reached yet. First, should all farm-support outlays be CAP-only or partly national? I know that it is a difficult question and that there are differing opinions. If it is national, should it be just for the non-farm aspects such as carbon emission reductions and environmental improvements?
Secondly, I agree with others that we need to progress to more market-driven policies, as the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, said, especially to avoid artificial overproduction. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Wills, that excessive payments to large farmers should be avoided in the modern system; it is objectionable that it produces the amassing of extra wealth as a result of the support, and that is not the real intention behind it. The United Kingdom is in an embarrassing position because we have a number of very large farmers who get huge amounts of subsidy, whereas in France the total is greater but the support for individual farmers is much smaller. I declare an interest in that I live in France, and I notice how the farm sector there
18 Nov 2010 : Column 853
Farmers require public funds if they are enhancing the collective public environment, especially where they allow footpath access to their sites. The issue of healthy food needs separate public funding when budget pressures allow in coming years, although there might be a period of restraint before we reach that.
I strongly agree with the intervention by the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, who has now left the Chamber, when she stressed the importance of R&D. The noble Lord, Lord Plumb, endorsed that as well in his response. It is legitimate for part of the EU budget to be used to fund agricultural R&D. One cannot just leave it to the private sector-technical companies and the farmers themselves.
On the attitudes of the European Parliament, there appears to be strong support in that institution for the main First Pillar payments to be preserved, especially because of food security as well as efficiency without overproduction, and I agree with that. However, the objective criteria for any national payments in all countries to maintain the genuine single market have to be very carefully worked out by Governments, and again I would welcome it if the Minister felt able in today's debate to reach any provisional putative conclusions on this extremely complicated and, to some people, provocative subject.
I welcome the ideas that have been mooted in various places, such as in the NFU briefings that we have received and among other bodies in Britain that are concerned with the future of this whole complicated area, about the notion of the staged convergence of current payments per hectare, to be reached, I hope, over the next perspective period that we are talking about, which ends in 2020. Real social dislocation and political unease arise when manifestly unfair differential payments are being made in different countries, particularly in the newer, poorer member states. The example of Poland has been mentioned, where there has been a great deal of understandable indignation. If we change the basis of the LFA payments, would they be pushed into Pillar 1? Would that be the logic? I imagine that that could possibly be the response of the British Government as these ideas unfold.
It is important psychologically for the British Parliament strongly to support the putative proposals as they are brought out and the final decisions that the Commission reaches in Brussels after the Council of Ministers has had time to discuss these matters and the Agricultural Council in particular reaches its own conclusions. That is important because of the unfair press in Britain about Europe in general-we remember with affection the legendary tabloid headline 50 years ago, "English student killed by German thunderstorm" to underline that position-and it is getting worse now among the tabloids, particularly the Murdoch ones. I include the Times in the category of "tabloid" nowadays, only without so many photographs. Their position is totally unfair, usually based on supposition and pretence rather than on actual fact. This poison of anti-Europeanism is affecting us in all sectors, and the
18 Nov 2010 : Column 854
As I said, if the proportion is going to fall, the amounts of money will still gradually rise once the present period of austerity has passed over. That means that some scientific and careful decisions have to be reached over the coming years. I believe that this debate today will help to guide some of our colleagues and experts in the other place as well to reach the right conclusions.
Lord Williamson of Horton: My Lords, I declare an interest as I spent many happy years in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and some years also in the European Commission. Some of what I say will be of historical interest, but it is important to know how we came to where we are if we are to consider what changes and improvements we might seek.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is right to refer to the reform of the CAP because that phrase is widely used. However, I would not wish to assume, as many people do, that there has been no effective reform of the policy. On the contrary, the EU's agricultural policy bears little resemblance to the policy we adopted when we entered the European Community 37 years ago. To a large degree, the CAP as imagined by its critics is ancient history.
The CAP which became our policy when we entered the Community was designed to keep up and increase production, and to create a single market. With some difficulty, mainly because of currency, the single market was achieved. Where it was not achieved-sheep meat, for example-it was subsequently achieved. The UK is the principal beneficiary of the Common Market for sheep meat; we are a substantial exporter to other member states. It is worth noting that, from the historical survey before we entered the Community, British national policy was to increase production. We had subsidies to take out hedges, convert grassland and so on.
The old CAP was based on market management, through which prices paid by consumers were sufficient to ensure broadly that agricultural producers received the support prices that Ministers had decided. Direct payments for farmers played little or no role in the product market system. When I was in Brussels I once had in front of me practically all the officials responsible for running the CAP. I asked them if they had ever seen a cheque to a farmer. They had not. There were no cheques to farmers. Prices were maintained at the level decided by the Ministers through variable import levies-sometimes high, sometimes zero, depending on world market prices-through export refunds to clear the market and, most importantly, through purchases of a number of major products such as wheat, butter and skimmed milk powder by the intervention agencies.
What really mattered, of course, were the prices set by the Ministers. I believe that I attended about 100 meetings of the Council of Agriculture Ministers and about eight price-fixing marathons. Despite evidence of surplus or incipient surplus, the Governments, through
18 Nov 2010 : Column 855
Of course, if Ministers had agreed some reduction in prices, there would have remained some disadvantages for consumers-as prices were still perhaps too high-and some distortions of world trade as a result of levies and export and refunds. However, the budget costs would have been substantially reduced because of the elimination of stocks in intervention. In any event, it was clearly the way to go. That was recognised in the European Commission from an early stage.
Then the steps were taken to get us where we are. First, elements of market support were reduced in 1992. Farmers were compensated by direct grants. In subsequent years, support prices were frozen or reduced. Land was taken out of production by set-aside. Agricultural surpluses fell. Farm incomes rose. The important Uruguay round of trade talks was successfully completed, partly because of the reduction in EU export subsidies.
With the arrival of the new member states, the substantial part of their workforce being in agriculture-and for other reasons, too-Heads of State and Governments kicked off again in March 1999. Prices were again cut, with compensation through direct payments for farmers. Support prices for wheat, other cereals and beef were cut by more than 15 per cent. Our then Government estimated that the overall economic benefit to the United Kingdom of the full-price cuts was about £1 billion.
In 2003, of course, we had the single farm payment. This marked a definitive change, away from support linked to the quantity of a product to a system of financial support directly to farmers, with requirements related to the environment, animal health and so on. Whatever problems we have had in England on the payment of the single farm payment, in policy terms this decoupling is a measure that reversed the philosophy and practice of the former CAP. We are now firmly set on this course. Already, by 2008 90 per cent of EU producer support was separate from any decision as to how much to produce. That is the last year for which I have figures; it is probably higher now. Thus the market- distorting element has largely disappeared. This continued with the proposals in 2008 which involved lifting tariffs on imported cereals, abandoning set-aside and scrapping milk quotas as a change in the world market situation influenced decisions.
It remains true that direct payments to farmers may be more expensive than the former system when there is an upward movement in world prices. There is some disadvantage to that degree. However, it is important-this is my final point-to keep in perspective the cost of the agriculture and food policy as it has now developed in the EU. The total budget of the EU in the most recent year represented 2.1 per cent of the public expenditure of the member states and less than 1 per cent of Community gross national income. The agriculture element-what is generally referred to as the CAP-represented slightly less than 1 per cent of public expenditure. I am talking not about GNP but about public expenditure by the member states. That is not bad value, although we should always try to keep unnecessary expenditure down.
As to the future, we should continue broadly on the line on which we are set. We should continue to phase out the things we set out to phase out. There is still some room for greater differentiation in favour of the less favoured areas, some of which are under pressure. Generally, we have set ourselves on quite a good track and we must not go backwards.
My first point is that this is a common agricultural policy, but it is not common in the sense that all 27 states are not treated financially equally, as has already been said by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. The EU 12-that is, the last 12 countries to join the EU-received only around 25 per cent of the subsidy on joining, with the amount increasing until they are fully phased in by 2013. Even then, the EU 12 states will still average out considerably below the EU 15 states. This has led to demands from the EU 12 for an EU-wide flat-rate payment from 2013 onwards. However, those original EU 15 states, which have been getting a larger slice of the cake, believe they should continue to do so. It will be interesting to see who wins.
The Common Market was set up originally to have a level playing field for trade. Here we have the largest single expenditure item of the EU so I cannot see how anything other than equal treatment for all member states can be the answer. However, the French farmers are excellent negotiators and they, no doubt, will argue that some states are more equal than others. We will have to see.
Secondly, this is primarily an agricultural policy. The most important thing that a farmer does is to grow food. As such, food production must be the top priority in any CAP reform. Having said that, alongside food production can come the environmental role, including development and climate change schemes. Britain and Europe must improve their self-sufficiency in food production and food security. With the explosion in the world population in our lifetime, there is an ever increasing need to produce more food. The top priority for CAP reform must be improved efficiency in food production.
My next point, or rather question, is: will Pillar 1 payments-the direct payments or the single farm payment, call it what you will-continue post-2013? I believe that they will as they are seen as a very important safety net for farmers by the vast majority of member states and their MEPs, who now, for the first time since the Lisbon treaty, have to vote to approve the CAP reform package post-2013. But not all member states take this view. It is interesting that President Sarkozy of France wants a return to support payments according to the volume of food produced rather than direct payments. If that happens, we may return to food mountains and wine lakes. The journal Agra Europe wrote:
"The President's argument has little to do with maintaining the incomes of small, poverty-stricken peasants and all to do with maintaining the incomes of France's large agribusiness industry... In income terms French agriculture is dominated, not by small
18 Nov 2010 : Column 857
Last month the Commission's draft document The CAP Towards 2020 was leaked, as has been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Greaves. There are two things in it that I find curious. In fact, there are lots of things but I will mention only two today. First, the document considered limiting support to active farmers. What is an active farmer? We need the Government to keep an eye on what the definition of "active" is. Am I an active farmer if I engage in contract or share farming arrangements with my neighbour? Although I supply the land and pay for the input costs, I do not actually sit on a tractor on a day-to-day basis. If this is the definition, it will catch out a great many British farmers. Or is "active" meant to exclude the owner of land that could be used for farming but who chooses another non-farming use?
The second thing that I found curious was the reference to payment ceilings. This presumably means that no one farmer can receive more than, say, €100,000. I know that my noble friend Lord Dykes and the noble Lord, Lord Wills, argued the other way, but the contra argument is that this is illogical as the larger the farm, the larger the successful food production, which is what we need, but also the larger the capital outlay, the larger the overheads, the larger the cost of production, and, all in all, the larger the risk, and, therefore, it would follow, the larger the payment. Farmers are not fools, and they will reconstruct their businesses to avoid this ceiling. For example, if a farmer now receives €300,000 from the single farm payment, rather than be capped at €100,000, he might divide his farm into three separate legal entities and businesses-one part he farms as a sole trader, the second in partnership with his wife, and the third in partnership with his children, thus ensuring that he continues to receive the ful1 €300,000 as before.
There are two things that have not received nearly enough prominence and which the Government should ensure are given a much higher profile post-2013. The first is forestry, which seems to be almost forgotten in the commissioners' thinking altogether. Britain imports 90 per cent of our timber needs and there are vast forestry interests in mainland Europe. The CAP should support the planting of woodland and responsible forest management so that people are encouraged to enhance the environmental value of forests. Secondly, as has already been mentioned, not nearly enough attention is being paid to science, research and development, not just for food production but for horticulture. My noble friend Lady Trumpington asked a very good question, which was ably answered by my noble friend Lord Plumb: if Britain and Europe are to produce more and more food because we need to feed an ever increasing population, then we forget science, research and development at our peril. There should be a level playing field for member states financially; food production should be the priority for the CAP, post-2013; direct payments will remain, because most member states want them to; and let us not forget forestry and science.
Lord De Mauley: My Lords, I regret having to intervene a second time in this debate, but we are already six minutes over time at this relatively early stage. This debate will end at 1.23 pm, so we are now substantially constraining my noble friend's ability to answer.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I declare an interest as the half-owner of a 40-hectare vineyard for which we do not receive any subsidies. I am very grateful to my noble friend for not only bringing this debate before us but his broad-brush approach. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, for reminding us of some of the history, especially given his insight into it.
I want to concentrate my remarks on why I believe that the greening of the CAP is not just an option, but an absolute necessity. There should be a mandatory greening component of direct payments right across Europe. That is essential because the CAP is supposed to enable us to move towards a future with food security, but all the threats to that security lie in four areas: soil; water; plant and animal diversity, and hence resilience of species; and pollinators.
We need area-based payments that recognise the urgent need for land management that can serve and build on the ability of land to continue producing food-not just in 10 or 20 years' time, but in 100 years. I shall talk first about soil. Historically, soil management was maintained by techniques such as crop rotation and using manure, which allowed soils to regenerate naturally. I was disturbed at the call by the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, for farms to grow larger and larger and be more monocrop-based, because I believe that to be one reason why we have such difficulty with our soils. Over time, technological advances such as artificial fertilisers and huge compacting farm machinery have allowed production on poor-quality or degraded soils. That approach, as Defra now recognises in its soil strategy, published last year, is no longer sustainable in the long term-not only because the cost of inorganic fertilisers has increased steeply but because our soil is washing straight off the land into streams and rivers at an alarming rate. Can the Minister provide the latest estimate of soil loss in this country?
As I have said, Defra has made a good start with its soil strategy, but there is an awful lot more that the CAP could do to underpin the cross-compliance approach. We are in the very early stage of this. Under the entry-level scheme, a farmer has to do his own assessment of his soil and say what he is going to do to solve the problem. He receives a 52-page soil protection review assessment form, which states:
The difficulty with that approach is that it leaves very much in the air Defra's assessment of what is happening on each farm, but, worse, it does not provide the urgency that is needed for new thinking and training for farmers to put into practice essential soil management techniques.
I turn to the issue of water. Of course, the CAP is not designed to address any of this, but nevertheless, catchment management-now recognised as being essential to the quality of our water-is all about land management. The truth is that land management equals water management. Without a certainty of water supply, food production will not be possible. Intensive irrigation has led to very poor soil, and the issues of soil and water are so intertwined that they must be addressed equally.
When you consider climate change and you discover that UK soils contain 10 billion tonnes of carbon-more than all the trees in the forests of Europe and equivalent to 50 times the UK's current annual greenhouse gas emissions-you realise that well managed soils have the potential to sequester more carbon than we can imagine. However, much more needs to be done to understand and optimise this process. The CAP needs to be linked into the EU's efforts on climate change. We cannot regard it as being simply for food production, when the land itself will be such a key element in our fight against climate change. Of course, climate change will drastically affect our ability to produce food.
The Earl of Erroll: My Lords, I, too, shall hurry to get us back up to time. I do not have many points to make, but I should first declare an interest because I am married to a farmer, whose farm is medium-sized. As support has moved from production-Pillar 1, as the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, said-to Pillar 2, the environmental stuff, she has taken land out of economic production and moved to high-level and entry-level agri-environment schemes and so on. That shows that, if you put incentives in the right place, people will respond. That is the important thing. If you had a bit more carrot and bit less stick, you would get a better response. It is also a lot easier to administer; it is how we used to do things.
I read some of the discussion about this issue. There is a very good section of the Defra website, which is full of laudable and good intentions. How could we fault the provision of something that states aims such as,
All of that is up there on the web if you want to read it; it is good stuff. However, the problem is how you translate that through a bureaucratic system and inspire lots of people across Europe. There are different cultures and objectives, economic differences, differing awareness of the rule of law and different levels of willingness among people who run the system to co-operate with the farmers.
I listened, for instance, to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, about fairness to eastern Europe and providing a flat rate. We are going to transfer money from our taxpayers to eastern European
18 Nov 2010 : Column 860
At the sharp end, farmers used to be people who loved the land and loved their animals. That is why they farmed. It was not because they wanted to sit and read papers. Why should a farmer need a degree in paperwork-you now need one-to run his farm? To release ourselves from paperwork, we need someone with the mindset of an auditor, accountant or actuary. They must be very precise, because they must reconcile large areas to 0.01 of a hectare. They must make sure that all the boxes are ticked correctly. When they have cows that live out all year round because they are a native breed and very hardy, they must know how to respond to questions such as, "Do you have animal housing?". The answer is no. They are then asked: "Do you have adequate ventilation in your animal housing?". If they answer no, they fail; they have to tick yes to say that they have adequate ventilation in their non-existent housing. There are many such things. Someone who is used to ticking boxes can do it, but farmers cannot, because they think properly and logically and deal with the real world.
Every two or three years, thick booklets are issued. They get bigger and bigger. It is a challenge to wade through them and spot the changes. A lot of it stays the same, but there is always change. It does not make it easy to plan and manage. With uncertainty, you cannot plan. You read up on new schemes, but will the money be there? The goalposts move and suddenly there is no money. If you do not get into a scheme by such and such a date, you will not get the money. Is it worth trying to change? We were lucky. We got on with it just in time and hit the window by a few days. You cannot get into the HLS scheme until early or mid-spring of next year. The money that is being taken out of modulation is going into that. Where has it gone? Probably in administration.
Another thing that I have noticed is that on the whole there should be light-touch inspections, unless you have caught someone who is deliberately abusing something-tearing it to pieces and trying to make too much out of it. Most mistakes are inadvertent. Someone is ill, ear tags fall out of cows and calves, things happen and people get muddled, but for minor infringements there are now heavy fines, because the EU is fining Defra for not enforcing hard enough. That is madness, but the bigger madness is fining Defra, a government department that has budgeted to produce an administration in order to run this thing efficiently. What happens? The first year, the EU fined
18 Nov 2010 : Column 861
What happens now? We have too few people on the mapping side. I suspect that money has been taken from there. I have just redone the mapping for the fourth time since 2004. The first lot of mapping was when things went digital-we covered just the cropped areas. Then we spotted that environmental stuff was going on, so we remapped the land to the field boundaries-the ditches and hedges-because we were going to get paid for that. Two years later, the decision was made to go for a more accurate master-map system, so we remapped all the areas because it had been decided that all the field sizes had changed slightly. Last year, the EU changed the definition of boundaries, which led to fields being amalgamated or changed around. It sounds great, but we have to change fields and field names and synchronise with the agronomy system, as we use agronomists. Multiple systems are involved and it is a nightmare. I still have not finished doing it properly.
I have another point. We are encouraged to make the single farm payment online, but when we want to make sure that we do our entitlements properly-under Defra's "use it or lose it" principle-we have to do it on paper and make sure that it gets in on time by snail mail. It is dotty. Why is there not another box on the end of the form? If Defra cannot get the systems right, it should fire the people who are writing them-and fast. My advice is: keep it simple, stupid-or KISS.
Lord Gardiner of Kimble: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Greaves for initiating this debate and declare my interest as a board member of the Countryside Alliance, a member of the National Farmers' Union and a partner in a family farm. It is intriguing that the European Commission communication on the future of the CAP has been published while your Lordships have been speaking today.
The CAP began more than 50 years ago. It was set up to increase agricultural productivity by promoting technical progress, to ensure a fair standard of living for the agricultural community, to stabilise markets and to ensure the availability of supplies at reasonable prices to consumers. While the CAP has undergone substantial and radical reform since its creation, the founding principles are as relevant today, and will be in the future, as they were 50 years ago.
Farming is undeniably important to the British economy. It utilises three-quarters of the land area of the UK, employs 500,000 people and in 2009 contributed approximately £6.2 billion to the UK economy. New challenges facing the agricultural sector, such as food security, climate change and the ever increasing need for energy, are likely to be even greater in future. It is estimated that farmers worldwide will have to produce more food in the next 50 years than they have in the past 10,000 years. Goodness knows what we were hunting then, but it is a sobering thought.
British farmers are capable of playing an important role in meeting this demand and increasing agricultural
18 Nov 2010 : Column 862
Over the past 50 years, the application of science to the production of food has enabled farmers to feed rapidly growing populations and it will be crucial to increasing future food yields and enhancing environmental protection. I take this opportunity to recognise the excellent review on agricultural research and development undertaken by my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach. It is important to remember that, while funding for scientific advancement is needed for farmers to meet future challenges, British farmers are already expected both to produce food to some of the highest standards in the world and to maintain the landscape for which Britain is famous. Our farmers have had more regulations imposed on them than non-EU producers. If we want high-quality food and we also want farmers to maintain the countryside and biodiversity and meet the challenges of climate change, energy supply and food security, we will need to back them.
While we all aspire for farmers in the future to be less dependent on public support, we must not forget that the single farm payment is often a lifeline. It is crucial that the CAP retains this element of support. I was therefore concerned that early analysis of this report, in particular from the National Farmers' Union, suggested that the proposals announced today could create a more complicated, less market-oriented and less common agricultural policy.
We should remember that in the forthcoming negotiations we in Britain need to secure a common policy, where agriculture remains at the heart of any changes, with farmers across the member states competing on a level playing field. British farmers already comply with many regulations and reforms, which ensure that we have the highest animal welfare standards and environmental benefits in Europe. The CAP should be a mechanism to help farmers to prosper in the world market; it should not hinder them. I am confident that, with a fair policy, British farmers will rise to the challenge and meet the many demands that we place on them.
Lord German: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Greaves on the timeliness of this debate. There cannot be many people who can co-ordinate a major announcement by the European Commission and a debate in Parliament on the same day and almost to the same hour.
My understanding of the agricultural community in Wales leads me to counterbalance some of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Wills, about the current nature of agricultural payments. I refer also to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, about the need for payments to be a central part of the future CAP for farmers because of our interest in food
18 Nov 2010 : Column 863
As we have heard today, the central arguments on the future of the common agricultural policy are coming nearer to a conclusion. We have heard from the Government of a future decision on the overall European budget, and the Commission is currently putting forward proposals on the overall architecture of the future programme. However, what will remain unclear for some time yet is the size of the slice of the cake that the common agricultural policy will have within the overall budget. Although it might be tempting to dwell on that, it is likely that it will not become clear until the ink is finally dry on the overall budget. It is worth noting, as other noble Lords have mentioned, that the gradual reduction in the size of the CAP's slice of the budget is expected to continue. That is certainly the view of officials in the Commission.
It would be interesting to dwell on those issues, but I should like to spend a few moments developing the arguments about the architecture of a future common agricultural policy. We know that this will be a much more complicated exercise than in past spending rounds because the final decisions will be made by co-decision between the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. That will be a complicated political process-perhaps one of the most testing and demanding of the co-decision-making processes that we have seen in the current round. Different national and regional policy interests will need reconciliation. Of course, it is only by being at the heart of the debate that the UK Government can exert their influence. I should be interested to hear from the Minister what level of discussion is currently taking place between the UK Government and the European Parliament on trying to find common ground.
The current debate centres around the policy's core aims and objectives but there are reformers in this debate who would like to see further objectives in addition to the original ones, such as the provision of environmental security, so ably discussed earlier by my noble friend Lady Miller, with a move to a land management policy focused on the delivery of social and environmental goods.
It seems that there is no inherent conflict between the original and the proposed objectives. Food security and environmental security go hand in hand-they are dependent on each other in many ways. By
18 Nov 2010 : Column 864
Placing those two goals into separate funding pillars, therefore, seems to be an artificial division. Surely it is possible for agri-environmental and less-favoured schemes to sit alongside the single payment scheme, perhaps with a new enlarged Pillar 1. I understand the complications and difficulties involved in that, especially in relation to matched funding, but those are technical arguments. We should concentrate our arguments mainly on the objectives and policies that we want to see, and the architecture should be led by the policies which seem to work and which would make those objectives much more favourable.
The issue of modulation tends to become the argument by moving between Pillar 1 and Pillar 2, rather than the overarching use of the resources available. Concentrating too much on the structure results in an artificial and unhelpful distinction between agricultural support and rural and environmental development. In fact, it can lead to polarised opinion and an unfortunate skewing of the debate. Perhaps an extended Pillar 1 would lead to a clearer Pillar 2.
In conclusion, the Government and the European Commission need to do far more to promote the purpose and benefits of the CAP. It undoubtedly has a bad name, typified by the commonly heard statement that it is simply about subsidies for farmers. However, there are powerful arguments in its favour, not least of which is food security in a world where shortages are anticipated. However, it is also a system that has given us strong local and regional diversity, developing small producers and primarily ensuring high-quality produce. I would welcome such support from the Minister for promoting the CAP in his reply to the debate. After all, the CAP is not just for farmers; it is for our citizens as a whole.
Baroness Quin: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, on introducing this debate today. Like many noble Lords, I agree that it is timely, although it might have been even timelier tomorrow after having a chance to look at the Commission's latest communication. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, and others have reminded us, we helpfully had a leaked version of the paper some time ago. I do not know whether the Minister can inform us how similar the new document will be to the old one, but I imagine that there is a great deal in the leaked version that will continue to be in the version published today.
It has also been a very well informed debate with many Members of your Lordship' House showing their knowledge of the subject, which in many cases goes back a long way. There has been reference to the past and the history of this policy. The noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, gave us a particularly knowledgeable account of that. Certainly, he reminded
18 Nov 2010 : Column 865
We know, of course, that some farmers benefited very much from the old policy but I am also aware that many farmers in sectors such as the pig and poultry industries and horticulture not only did not receive support but frequently found themselves exposed to the full blast of EU competition rules limiting state aids and so on. Therefore, traditionally one aspect of the policy was that it was highly discriminatory, even within agriculture, and that often had very unfortunate effects.
My noble friend Lord Wills quite rightly said that often there is insufficient opportunity to scrutinise the policy as much as we would like. I certainly share the frustration of some noble Lords that, particularly in certain parts of the press, the debate seems not to have moved on at all and that the policy is frequently described as though it has not changed, whereas in fact many considerable changes have taken place over the years. Some of those changes have involved a significant switch away from production support-the decoupling process that has been referred to-and the emergence of the Second Pillar. That was a very important development in shaping people's attitudes towards how the CAP might evolve in the future-certainly in terms of it being more of an agricultural and rural development policy, a way of rewarding and incentivising good environmental practice, supporting modernisation and diversification, helping farmers to develop new markets, bringing farmers closer to existing markets through marketing and commercialisation help, promoting energy crops and alternative energy systems, and in general promoting agricultural and rural development in a way that did not discriminate against certain sectors of agriculture and did not have the ossifying tendencies that the old agriculture system certainly had. We have also seen a reduction in export subsidies, although some of those regrettably persist and have negative effects. We have also seen a declining share for agriculture in the overall EU budget, and I hope that that process will continue.
We have to look at the Commission's proposals in the current context, the first aspect of which is the financial crisis and the budgetary crises that Governments across Europe are facing. I think that the public are willing to pay for environmental and countryside policies, but they want to see clear benefits and a clear delivery of public goods in the process. Obviously they want a policy that helps meet the overall environmental commitments that we have entered into. Food security is another important issue, as the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, said; and the need for increased food production if world food needs are to be met is a very important aspect of this debate.
In the few minutes that I have, I would simply like to press the Government on their view as they approach these negotiations. I rather agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, when he says that people's ideas on the future of agricultural policy are increasingly coming together. I think that there is more consensus than there used to be, and looking at some of the briefing
18 Nov 2010 : Column 866
In the leaked document-and I think it is likely to be maintained in the document today-there are basically three options, moving from an approach of very little change to one of more radical change. To which of the three approaches are the Government attracted at the moment?
Like one or two other speakers I would also like to raise the issue of co-financing. I understand that there is nervousness among our own farmers as well as farmers elsewhere that it could mean that if Governments do not put in their own share, funding could be at risk and there could be discrimination between countries of the EU. Yet at the same time we have seen some co-financing of regional and other schemes in the EU that can be successful. What is the Government's thinking on this issue?
A number of noble Lords referred to large farms. I believe that we have to consider this question in a fairly subtle way. It is not just a question of big farms versus small farms but also of whether the subsidies to particular farms can be justified given the overall circumstances. I agree with my noble friend Lord Wills and the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, about what the public regard as unfairness in excessive payments. At the same time I would not want to say that it is the fault only of large farms as such. We have to look at this in a more subtle way and decide what should be supported and what should not.
I agree strongly on the point about agricultural research which a number of noble Lords mentioned. I hope the Minister will address that point. I would also like him to address the future for hill farmers and the LFA, a subject which I know is of great interest to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and many others around the Chamber. We would like the Government's view on whether these new areas of natural constraints are the same thing, or whether this is a definition that might go wider. I would also like to say very strongly that we do not want any of the environmental payments to be jeopardised. I hope that the funding cuts for Natural England which the Government are introducing will not undermine the good work that Natural England is doing with farmers in delivering environmental benefits.
I wish the Government well in these negotiations because they are important to our consumers, our farmers and indeed to all of us who love and value our countryside and who want to see a thriving rural economy within the overall economy of our country.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Henley): My Lords, I join others in offering my compliments to my noble friend Lord Greaves on his timing of this debate. As has been mentioned, it is only today-it has just been published-that we have seen the real, and not leaked, document on the common
18 Nov 2010 : Column 867
I offer my thanks to all noble Lords who have spoken for the thought that has gone into their contributions, particularly given that we have had no time to look at the Commission's proposals. As all noble Lords will know, we have waited for them a long time and there has been plenty of discussion over the past year or two across Europe about what we hoped to see in this communication and to assess whether it meets our expectations and those of farmers, consumers, taxpayers and, of course, the environment. I endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, said. I can offer reassurance to my noble friend Lord German that my honourable friend Mr Jim Paice has continued discussing these matters at a European level. He visited the European Parliament pretty early on in his time as the Minister responsible for agriculture, has had discussions with George Lyon MEP, who wrote the report, and has engaged with others on this matter.
I shall try to respond to all relevant comments raised in the debate but there will be more time to reflect on the proposals in the coming months, and no doubt there will be other opportunities to debate these matters. I want to say from the outset that the Government are committed to ambitious reform of the common agricultural policy. We also recognised, as my noble friend Lord German said, that it might be quite difficult. There are 27 countries involved and because of co-decision, matters become even more difficult. Although we are committed to ambitious reform of the CAP, we also accept, as the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, put it, that already a great deal has happened over the years. We no longer have the wine lakes, the butter mountains and other topographical features composed of different foodstuffs of one sort or another. However, in view of the significant challenges and opportunities ahead, we believe that reforming the EU framework so that farmers can be prepared for the future is essential. We shall continue to push for that in the coming months and years.
My noble friend Lord Greaves mentioned, for example, that by 2050 we must respond to the need to feed a world population of 9 billion people-3 billion more than at present. That means that worldwide food production must be increased by about the same amount as in the whole of last century, if not more, if we are to see an increase in living standards. That will certainly present a great many market opportunities and productivity challenges for United Kingdom agriculture. By removing unnecessary barriers to agriculture's ability to respond, such as the market distorting subsidies in the CAP, is a starting point. Alongside that we need to invest in skills, training, research, as mentioned by my noble friends Lord Plumb and Lord Cathcart, and innovation which will increase productivity and enable farmers to become resilient to future market and environmental fluctuations. Indeed, improving productivity is a central element of the challenge,
18 Nov 2010 : Column 868
In an earlier debate in this House, I outlined the important role that farmers play in managing the natural environment. The House will be aware of that, aware of our commitment to encourage that and of the emphasis that we place on the role of agri-environment schemes delivering a range of important environmental benefits. Farmers have a key job to play in managing the land so that it can continue to produce foods sustainably as well as help it to adapt to the changing climate and environment.
Sustainable management of soil and water, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, forest management, as mentioned by other noble Lords, and protecting the biodiversity of landscapes are just some of the interlinking components of a much larger picture within which farmers work. Future agriculture policy needs to be better focused on supporting these sorts of objectives, rather than stagnating existing structures and encouraging ongoing dependency on expensive subsidies that deliver little in the way of outputs for the investment being made. That is why we continue to see a very valuable role for Pillar 2 of CAP in the future, delivering targeted, measurable outputs that offer value for money.
This brings me to an issue that we must have in the forefront of our mind when we assess the proposals on CAP. This must be seen against the significant economic challenges that face the whole of Europe. The CAP represents over 40 per cent of the EU budget, Pillar 1 alone accounting for 33 per cent, so it cannot be immune to the hard choices that we are making elsewhere in the UK and we hope are being made in the EU. Indeed, the CAP budget in 2009 was €55 billion. I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, implied that this was a very small percentage-I think he used the figure of about 1 per cent-but I remind him of the quotation from the American senator:
We need to be clear about where our priorities are and where money is best spent to stimulate competitiveness, sustainable growth and environmental public goods, contributing to the wider EU economy. The agriculture and food sectors have an important role to play in that. In Europe, they are particularly well placed to respond, with their high-value, high-quality produce, if farmers have the right framework to enable this. Therefore we need to use the next period-the period we are discussing, 2014-20-to help farmers adapt to a future that will be very different from today and enable them to respond to as-yet unforeseen challenges ahead. Fossilising existing structures will not help in this process; we need a new approach.
Our responsibility, along with the other 26 member states, is to set the direction of travel for our farmers. Our clear priority for this Government, and one that
18 Nov 2010 : Column 869
Noble Lords raised a number of specific issues, and I would like to address one or two of those. First, the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wills, on the impact of the CAP on developing countries. I agree fully with him that we need to pay particular attention to that and we will want to ensure that any reform focuses on that. I have taken on his concerns, but I assure him that Her Majesty's Government share them.
Secondly, noble Lords-including my noble friends Lord Dykes and Lord Cathcart, who disagreed-asked whether we should be reducing payments to the larger farms. I do not fully agree, I take the point made by my noble friend; we do need to ensure that we do not find ourselves discouraging business structures that are going to be competitive. There are also legal problems-I see that this is a debate in which many lawyers are involved-and this might be a matter where we create a lot of business for the lawyers, and accountants, for that matter, when we come to definitions and the problems of restructuring businesses to get round the CAP.
On the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wills, about transparency in relation to the EU judgment, we will look very carefully at it-I have not done so myself-but a new legal framework is likely to be needed and we will be very keen to ensure that it delivers greater transparency and openness, in line, as he put it, with the coalition document, which is our Bible in all these matters.
We will obviously consider these proposals in considerably greater detail and respond to the Commission in due course. Noble Lords would not expect me to make a response today, when our document was only published earlier today on the web and I have not yet seen it. We will not, at this stage, want to set out our negotiating position. I think it was again the noble Lord, Lord Wills, who sought a degree more transparency on this issue, but I think he will accept that, in terms of our negotiating position, we would not want to set our cards out on the table at this stage, facing upwards. That comes later on in the game of poker. There is still a very long way to go and negotiations are only just beginning. We will work with all interested groups, we will be listening to all Members of both Houses and all others who have an interest over the coming months, but we will continue to press for ambitious reform.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, it falls to me now only to thank everybody who took part in the debate with some very expert and interesting contributions. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Wills, who put a very different point of view from that advocated by most speakers, including myself, which was extremely welcome. I also thank the Minister, who did his best to give a very careful response to the debate in quite difficult circumstances, because he has not actually
18 Nov 2010 : Column 870
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, I beg leave to call attention to the role of active citizenship in society. I begin by expressing my appreciation of the opportunity to raise this subject and to all those who have indicated an interest in it. There is no monopoly of wisdom on this topic and I very much look forward to hearing the views of the contributors to the debate.
It is my view that active citizenship is for everyone. It is a privilege to be a citizen-a privilege that carries responsibilities as well as rights. The fact that it extends so widely was brought home to me as recently as a few weeks ago by my six year-old grandson, Hector, who told me that he intended to stand for the school council-he attends a primary school in the centre of London. I asked him what he would be announcing that would attract the votes of those around him and what he would want to do to improve the primary school. He said: "While we have a lot of Chinese children, I think we should have plenty of Chinese meals for lunch".
Active citizenship can be encouraged and manifested in very different ways, which are not always recognised as such in the reportage. I think particularly of the 52,000 students who congregated in Parliament Square and nearby recently to express their views about the proposals for higher education. Whatever view one may take about it, that was a demonstration of active citizenship and, as such, I believe, entirely appropriate.
Everyone in society must feel that they not only belong to society but can influence decisions and contribute to the betterment of the society in which they live. Many, perhaps most, people feel that the opportunity to do that is at local level: in parish councils-or community councils in Scotland-in local government and sometimes in local associations not set up under a formal structure.
If we as a society are to encourage such activity and the promotion of voluntary help and organised local activity, we must address the issue of funding. I welcome the Government's decision, announced by the Prime Minister as long ago as July, to establish a national citizen service, which is targeted at enabling 16 year-old schoolchildren to perform societally useful tasks in their summer recess, with the possibility of following up in organising local activity.
The issue has come to the fore because of the Prime Minister's discussion of the big society, or at least his announcement that that is something that the Government want to promote. I welcome that statement. It is not so long since a Prime Minister of this country denied the existence of society. I think that it is fair to say that we have lived through two decades of rampant individualism, when the motto of the 19th-century French statesman Guizot, "Enrichissez-vous", seems to have been the mantra of too many people.
I was very struck by the last book written by Tony Judt, a New York University political philosopher of British background, entitled Ill Fares the Land. It was in praise of social democracy, a philosophy to which I adhere and which, I am bound to say, I have not heard trumpeted so clearly or so persuasively for a long time. Sad it is that he died as soon as he finished the book. At the beginning, he cited lines from Oliver Goldsmith's "The Deserted Village":
The promotion of active citizenship is not and must not be a cover for slimming down the state. The state is an essential part of the protection of society, the opening up of opportunities for people and the dialogue in which we engage with other societies and other states. There has been rather too much emphasis on the appropriateness of slimming down the state. It was that libertarian, Adam Smith, who said that there are certain public institutions that a society needs and of which,
Individuals, however, are citizens and can as individuals make massive contributions to the well-being of our community and philanthropically. We have heard recently of the gift of £10 million by Lloyd Dorfman to the National Theatre-coming at a time when we see the cultural life of our country at risk due to intended public spending cuts. Within the past year, we have had the magnificent donation to the nation of the art collection of Mr Antony d'Offay, worth, it is estimated, £100 million. That follows in the tradition of the Victorians-such as Andrew Carnegie's endowment of public libraries, now seen to be at some risk-but we must recognise that Victorian society was extremely unequal and that only by the creation and recognition of the role of the state have we overcome the problems of inequality, although we still have a long way to go.
It is not only individuals who can make their contribution to active citizenship. I am impressed by what has been done by some businesses. For example, we have had 25 years of the Lloyds TSB Foundation in Scotland promoting the local needs of many communities by donating to charities-small and medium-sized-in communities from which the Trustee Savings Bank had drawn its customers. Sadly, the downturn in the profitability of the Lloyds Banking Group-admittedly momentarily-resulted in an attempt to cut off the Lloyds TSB Foundation at the knees. The matter is not yet resolved. As a result, £3.5 million per annum from that business is at risk. I profoundly hope that it
18 Nov 2010 : Column 872
Education in citizenship is recognised by the Prime Minister's proposal, to which I referred, but I have heard-perhaps it is a black rumour-that the Department for Education is planning to remove education in citizenship from the secondary school curriculum. The subject was instituted only as a result of a cross-party inquiry in 1990, which was headed by Sir Bernard Crick and of which my noble friend Lord Baker was a distinguished member. The introduction of citizenship education between the ages of 11 and 14 and 14 through to 16-key stages 3 and 4-seems to me to have worked extremely well. I very much hope that it will not be tampered with. Indeed, I would like to think that it will be amplified and built on, because it is a possible avenue to universal provision and understanding of what these issues are about.
We know how interested young people can be in citizenship. A recent survey for Girlguiding UK, carried out by Populus, interviewed 981 young women between the ages of 14 and 25. The Active Citizenship: Girls Shout Out! report has been very revealing about their sense of the impossibility or difficulty of influencing public opinion and politics, but also of their desire to do so. As many as a quarter of those interviewed wanted to participate in national or local politics; as many as a third wanted to be more involved in campaigning; and as many as half were keen to be further involved in volunteering, although a large number of the girls already were. Their concerns included domestic violence, gangs and knife crime, equality for women in the workplace, preventing bullying and the pressure on young women to have sex before they are ready for it. These all seem to me to be useful comments about pre-eminent problems in our society today.
Girlguiding UK is not alone. The British Youth Council has been working in these fields for many years and has helped, through the provision of training, workshop programmes and events, to promote active participation in decision-making and democracy. I suggest that we in Parliament have a particular responsibility. We are capable of providing a rather greater direct interface with the public in order to give greater information to people about what decisions are waiting to be taken and in order to engage with the young, and with people of all backgrounds and all ages, to find out their priorities.
Through the efforts of our Lord Speaker, which are highly commendable in this field, we have the presence of the Youth Parliament in this Chamber. We could have other public discussions similarly, but we must not lecture the public. We must engage in dialogue, which would help to promote a higher rate of participation. Similarly, I believe that lowering the age of voting to 16 would engage more people at school in discussions about how they can influence events. That would not observe the practice of sofa government that we have had but assist in informing Members of Parliament and those who participate in decision-making at all levels-local, national, European and international.
The Lisbon treaty has provided for public petition to Europe and has undertaken that, if 1 million people sign up, the Commission will consider the recommendations and the Union will go into action. That seems to me to be recognition that, although most people are operative effectively at their local level, the challenge is much wider. I appeal to the Government and invite the Minister to give his thoughts in winding up-I am very glad that he is-on the need to recognise that this subject is much bigger than we have acknowledged to date and that it would not be a bad idea to reappoint a commission of the kind that Sir Bernard Crick presided over to hear views from across society and to consider the implementation of effective measures over the course of this Parliament.
Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords, first, I offer my appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, for ensuring that we have this debate today. The number of noble Lords who have indicated that they wish to speak shows the importance and commitment of this House. I place on record that we have not in modern times invented the concept of active citizenship or big society. As the noble Lord has indicated, including the example of Hector, his grandson, campaigning at his local school, it has been going on for many years.
Perhaps the earliest recorded examples are in health and social care. In 597 AD King's School, Canterbury, was formed and in 1136 Bishop Henry de Blois, a grandson of William the Conqueror, founded the Hospital of St Cross, Winchester. That hospital still cares for the elderly and I am told, although I have not tried it, still offers bread and ale to passing travellers. So neither the concept nor the practice is new. It is testament to the effectiveness of charities and the wider voluntary sector that we continue to recognise this form of enterprise, service delivery and campaigning, which is so relevant and so welcomed today.
Active citizenship is a much more accurately descriptive term than big society, which I struggle to define. Whatever it is called, it, the good society or, in terms of the structures, the third sector-that term is used to recognise that it is different and independent from business and the state-have all been with us for a long time, and we continue to benefit enormously.
I shall comment on two issues. The first is the role of government in active society and the other is a specific aspect of the role of an active society. The Government have responsibility to support active citizenship, but not to control or attempt to manage it. That is a quite difficult concept for the Government because wherever they spend money they want to direct and control. That is understandable because of their responsibility to the taxpayer to ensure effective use of their resources. But I do not want to dwell on funding.
The relationship between the state and the voluntary sector has changed. I would recommend the lecture on rediscovering charity made by Stephen Bubb on the anniversary of his decade as the chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations as an illuminating view of how the role
18 Nov 2010 : Column 874
Since that time, it is clear from the growth of charities, voluntary and community organisations that it did not, but neither did it replicate. We no longer rely on charity for healthcare and education but in those fields, especially in health and social care, we see many charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises working alongside government. They are not seeking to replace government. Both are doing what they do best. I get concerned when I hear it sometimes claimed that state provision has curtailed citizenship and has given us a passive rather than an active citizenship. The growth of charities, the work that they do and the number of people involved evidence otherwise.
I shall give one example, which I choose for no particular reason other than that it is an organisation known to everyone and which, I suspect, few of us are aware of the extent of the role that it plays in our communities. Many will be aware of the WRVS trolleys and shops in our local NHS hospitals. But are we also aware that they have 45,000 volunteers who are not just working in the hospitals, but are undertaking meals on wheels, community transport, providing support in emergencies and in times of crisis, and in providing their wonderful "good neighbour" service of visiting people at home?
What has changed, particularly in the past 20 years, is the nature and professional standing of organisations and their relationship with the state. Part of that is due to the Government seeing the wider third sector as integral to the economy and service delivery-not just as an add-on or an optional extra-and, in more recent years, its working with the Government, and being paid by the Government, to provide some services.
I have had two ministerial roles, aside from my working life in the third sector and volunteering over the years. Those two roles really impacted on me. One was when I was Victims Minister in Northern Ireland for approximately three years and the other was my last ministerial role as the Minister for the Third Sector. I never ceased to be amazed and delighted by the scope, reach, professionalism, innovation and ideas from this sector. While it became very professional, it did not lose the very ethos from which the sector and charities drew their support.
The Government have established the big society as their big idea, which has received a mixed response. None of us would disagree with the concept, but Sir Stuart Etherington of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations said in his lecture to the Cass Business School that:
He articulated the fears of many, also indicated by the noble Lord, when he raised concerns that the big society concept must not be used to plug the gaps as the state withdraws from social provision through government cuts. The Office for Civil Society must
18 Nov 2010 : Column 875
My final point is about listening to the voice of those who are active citizens and involved in civil society or the big society. I know that there is a view in some quarters of the Government that such organisations should not be allowed to campaign or even lobby their local councils or the Government. If that were to take hold in any meaningful way, we would be deprived of a real opportunity to use the skills and expertise that come with the active society. If we do not listen to what they have to say and allow them to lobby and campaign, we will lose the opportunity to make effective changes in society and to identify the problems and unintended consequences of policy and delivery. Many charities can articulate the concerns of those unable to do so themselves. They may be vulnerable, elderly or have disabilities, or they may be inarticulate and scared of speaking out. Whatever the reason, those that have the knowledge and experience of issues should not just be allowed to speak out-they have a duty to do so.
When Oliver Letwin stated at the NCVO conference in February this year that what he treasures about the voluntary sector is not its campaigning role but its special contribution to doing something to change things and solve problems, he fundamentally misunderstood the inextricable link between the two. My own view is that such groups not only have a right to speak out, but have a duty to advise the Government, to seek changes where they can see improvements that can and should be made, and to use their experience and expertise to assist the Government in policy-making. It is a wise Minister who listens to them.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for introducing this subject. I want to say a word about the Gresford War Memorial Trust as an excellent example of active citizenship and to draw one or two conclusions from its history. The mining village of Gresford was devastated by the Gresford Colliery disaster in 1934 when an explosion took place in the Dennis section of the mine some 690 metres underground, about the same depth as that from which the Chilean miners were recently rescued. Only six miners on the shift escaped while 266 miners lost their lives, three of whom were from the brave Llay No. 1 rescue team. Only 12 bodies were ever recovered. The wages of the dead miners were docked by a quarter for their failure to complete the shift. My father, as a young policeman, was present at the pit surface with the grieving families who waited in silence during the days and nights that followed the explosion.
Only 10 years later, in 1944, Gresford people decided to institute a welcome home fund for returning servicemen, and in 1948 the fund was used to purchase 18 acres of open fields at the centre of the village. The Gresford Trust was formed, with a committee of six elected members and representatives of every sports and social organisation in the village, including the churches. Currently, there are 18 to 20 such representatives, but any new community organisation can join. By its constitution, there could not be any dealings with the trust land without the consent of the people of Gresford and the adjoining village of Marford, as expressed in a local referendum.
In 1970, a prefabricated hall was built for community use, the mine owners never having provided a miners' institute, as had happened in other villages in the area. After 20 years, however, it was not in a good state of repair. We had a playground that was dangerous, buildings that were badly maintained, a potholed road, 18 acres to look after, and mature trees and extensive boundaries to keep safe. I became involved at about that time as chairman, and in 1993 we put forward a scheme for selling a small part of the land for starter or retirement homes, which were much needed, with a view to using the money to rebuild the hall. There was a three-week long public display of our proposals and I addressed two packed and passionate public meetings that resulted in a referendum in which our proposals were soundly defeated by two to one: no way was any of the trust land to be sold. I was then translated to the less active role as president of the trust, which I remain, and declare an interest accordingly.
We started fund-raising, led by an excellent committee of local people under my successor as chairman, Viv Davies. Many contributed and continue to contribute, but I must single out Margaret Heaton, a local architect who became the project co-ordinator and, in time, an expert in applying for grants. Many individuals and organisations helped with capital funding, including the Sportlot Capital Programme, the Foundation for Sports and the Arts, the Community Council of Shropshire and the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation. We raised over half a million pounds. To date, with extra fundraising and grants, we have raised in the region of £800,000.
The excellent new hall, with its adjoining meeting rooms, kitchen, changing rooms and showers, was opened on 8 August 1998 by Ron Davies, then the Secretary of State for Wales. The clubs that use the trust property include the 125 year-old Gresford Cricket Club, which runs three senior teams in the North Wales Cricket League, and four junior teams. The Gresford Athletic Club plays senior football in the all-Wales Cymru Alliance League, and the Marford and Gresford Albion Football Club has 10 teams for youngsters from the age of seven and over, which numbers over 200 boys and girls-here I declare a further interest-including my grandson Angus.
There is on the trust land a tennis club, for older people a bowls club with a newly opened club room, a snooker club, a skateboard facility and a practice basketball area. The hall itself is used by a large variety of people for playgroups, line dancing, private
18 Nov 2010 : Column 877
All the work of running the complex is voluntary, apart from a part-time helper who has recently been employed to take on certain administrative duties. I have to mention Janet Holmes, the secretary, and Jenny Dutton, who have been hugely active throughout. Of course if you mention some names, you leave out others, but all who have been and are involved are heroes. This is what active citizenship is all about. We are grateful for support and advice from AVOW, the Association of Voluntary Organisations of Wrexham, but I do not think people realise that we ourselves have to generate the income to keep the trust afloat.
What problems does this experience throw up? One is vandalism, although fortunately there is not a great deal of it. But you can imagine the shock to the community when, shortly after the new cricket square was laid, someone thought it appropriate to drive a car over it and churn it up. The wicket was then attacked and burned with a caustic chemical. I offered a substantial award for information, but the offender was never brought to justice. So vandalism is a small problem. Continuity is important because we are not getting any younger. It is not easy for a younger generation to match the drive and enthusiasm of those who pushed the development scheme through, although we have had some great support from newer trustees, particularly the current chairman, Emlyn Jones. But we do need to put in place succession planning and training.
I turn to cash. We pay our way but we are running a large enterprise. Our income has covered our annual overheads so far, contrary to some of the pessimists who thought that we would go broke when we started, and we have a serious sum of money put by for future requirements. But just as the council-owned sports and community centres in the area are envious of our independence and community spirit, so we are envious of their security and ability to employ full-time caretakers and staff. It is possible to win grants for capital spending but almost impossible to secure the income stream. If the Government are serious about their big society policy, they should urgently consider the need for supporting the income of voluntary organisations.
The message from Gresford is that it can be done. There is an abundance of talent and drive in our communities which, if it comes together, will achieve great things. We are sure that the men whose names are inscribed on the memorial fashioned out of the colliery winding gear would have been proud of the achievements of their successors, the people of Gresford and Marford.
Lord Bannside: My Lords, I should like, first of all, to say how deeply I have been touched by the kind words of welcome, both verbal and written, extended to me since my introduction to the House in July. My gratitude is also due to my two sponsors, the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, and the noble Lord, Lord
18 Nov 2010 : Column 878
I am a great believer in being active but-hold on to your seats-I am not going to be too active today because I have other things in mind. This marks an important episode for me. When I made a maiden speech in another place not far from here, I did not think that I would be there for 40 years. However, hold on to your seats again, I have no intention of staying in this place for 40 years. In fact, through the grace of almighty God, I will become a really active citizen and take my place in a place where no mistakes are made, no arguments are argued, and where there is nothing to spoil the peace and calm of eternity and God Almighty, who I love through His Son, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. In case any of the right reverend Prelates thinks I might steal his job, I shall cease from that subject. However, one day perhaps I may have an opportunity of speaking on this matter in another place not so far from here.
Active citizenship is really a debate about rights versus responsibilities. Our rights are easy to list and are enshrined in law, whereas our responsibilities are not so well defined. I therefore welcome the fact that the sponsor of this debate has brought our attention to this very important matter. This generation needs not only to study citizenship but to make it practical and applicable to where they live. As noble Lords will know, by profession I am a minister of the Gospel. The church is the world in microcosm. I have served as a minister for more than 60 years and during that time I have learnt that there are church members and there are church members. There are those who want the privileges but do not want the responsibility; and there are those who are dedicated to the cause they espouse. These are, indeed, second milers; they go beyond in order that the church has a heartbeat and not just a structure. The same principle should apply to society.
The term "active citizen" did not exist when I was a young man-or, indeed, when I was a lot older. It is today's buzzword for activities such as volunteering, donating, not being wasteful, sharing and generally helping the less fortunate. I appreciate the motive behind the probationary period that is needed for new immigrants who come into our country to carry out their responsibilities. They must know that the country to which they come is only as it is because others in times past took up these responsibilities and involved themselves to make this land better than it was.
I noticed an interesting letter in the Irish Independent today in which one of the members of the south has invited Her Majesty to come over and take the whole of Ireland under her control. I shall not throw a bomb such as that into the House today, but it is a good thought. If we all came together with Her Majesty at our head, we would do well. After all, another crowned king did that at a certain famous watering place, which I will not mention today.
The greatest commandment of all is to love our neighbours and to treat them the way we would like to be treated ourselves. If we replace the benefits system
18 Nov 2010 : Column 879
I am delighted to put on record today the welcome I have received. I have not much time and I must finish. However, when I next come to speak, perhaps I will not have to finish so quickly-because the more argument we have here, the less trouble we will have in settling things outside. I trust that we will argue our way through the present situation towards a better country for us all.
The Lord Bishop of Leicester: My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bannside, and to congratulate him on it. When it comes to active citizenship, few can surpass the noble Lord's record in Northern Ireland as co-founder of the DUP, as First Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly and as a past Moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster. I am sure the noble Lord will be relieved to hear that he and I would not share precisely similar theological convictions on every matter, but I am sure that we do share a conviction that the Gospel speaks powerfully into the organising of human society, and the noble Lord has demonstrated that with his customary energy, persuasiveness and passion today. I know that the whole House looks forward to hearing his voice more frequently in the future.
To pray in this House each day for the coming of God's kingdom on earth as in heaven is to attend to the ordering of human society as the place in which individuals and communities find their full potential, work for justice and experience the life abundant which the Gospel promises. This debate is an opportunity to ask what is the soil in which trust and the building of relationships can grow, what is the place of government in enabling civil society to flourish-a concept which is, of course, essentially organic and not official-what is the nature of the transfer of power from the centre to the local that is required for this, and how can government both national and local contribute to active citizenship, which is essentially an untidy, non-conformist and often passionate concept.
"It is accepted that individuals are more likely to get involved and act collectively when they have something in common. They may, for instance, live in the same area or have similar interests, or be motivated by shared identities, values and beliefs".
It is clear that one of the most important motivators for civic and social participation is religious conviction. That is why at the opening of the new quinquennium of the General Synod of the Church of England next week the first major debate will be about the big society and about the contribution of the Church of
18 Nov 2010 : Column 880
I shall be privileged to lead that debate and I am delighted to do so, because my home city of Leicester provides so many examples of the priceless work of active citizens. The FareShare project sponsored by my diocese distributes food from supermarkets which has come near to the ending of its shelf life. Through a network of 20 projects in the city and the county, some 2,000 people receive regular donations of high-quality food which would otherwise be thrown away. These are people-the homeless, single-parent families, asylum seekers, the mentally frail and confused-for whom the experience of hunger is not unfamiliar. The St Philip's Centre in Leicester has worked for five years to develop relations between people of different faith communities in one of the most diverse cities in Britain. This is the hard labour of building dialogue groups, of developing meaningful interactions and trust between very different communities, which led to a strong show of solidarity against the English Defence League in its recent disruptive visit to the city.
Those who engage in civil society know that the capacity of citizens' groups to develop their members' skills, to mobilise volunteers, to provide staff and venues and to reach the most socially excluded groups requires committed resources beyond the fragile short-termism of the grant-making culture. They know also that such groups require good governance, excellent leadership and sufficient and appropriate infrastructure to enable outcomes to be sustained.
For that reason, it will be important for the House to hear from the Minister about this Government's commitment to the strong intermediate institutions which a strong civil society requires. Not all such institutions will follow government policy slavishly.If the intermediate institutions required for the strengthening of civil society includethe churches, the universities and the trade unions, can Her Majesty's Government really be sanguine about a strong civil society which may require the strengthening of such intermediate bodies over which the Government should not and could not seek to exercise final control?
Secondly, much has been made of the recruitment of many community organisers as part of the big society vision. More than 20 years ago, I attended a training course in the United States designed to enable potential organisers to understand the techniques and principles of organising established by Saul Alinsky. Alinsky was clear that organising is about enabling local communities to find the muscle and the potential to confront powerful institutions which may control their lives and to secure a shift of power towards the local. How is that to be done by community organisers who are government-sponsored and may find themselves accountable to government policies and programmes?
Thirdly, if the Government's consultation document, Supporting a Stronger Civil Society, leads to a higher expectation of the ability of corporate social responsibility, employer-supported volunteering, pro-bono work and business mentoring to underpin the voluntary sector, how will we avoid a more uneven distribution of social capital and the possibility of the big society becoming
18 Nov 2010 : Column 881
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Maclennan of Rogart for introducing this important debate. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bannside, on his maiden speech, and I look forward to that of the noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton.
I would like to concentrate my remarks on active citizenship as it relates to young people. In our schools, we should be preparing children for their future lives, not just stuffing them with facts which they might need for any particular job. We should also be giving them a love of learning, stimulating their curiosity and teaching them how to learn. None of us can look in our crystal balls and see what our career pattern will bring us. I had three careers before I had the surprise of coming to your Lordships' House. That is why I believe it is crucial that we continue, nay improve, the courses in schools which prepare children to lead a happy, fulfilling and active life both within their families and in their communities. Both national curriculum citizenship and personal, social, health and economic education-PSHE-courses fall into this category.
As my noble friend Lord Maclennan said, citizenship was first introduced as a cross-curricular theme by a Conservative Government and became a statutory subject under the previous Government, giving all children an entitlement to the only curricular subject that encompasses politics, economics and the law and that teaches children about their rights and responsibilities as citizens. We may not know how a child will earn his living when he leaves school but we do know that he will eventually get the right to vote-unless he is sectioned or becomes a Member of Your Lordships' House. We want him to make a positive contribution to society.
In these days when politics is in disrepute, we need to do everything we can to encourage young people to learn enough about politics to be able to make up their own minds and use their vote when the time comes. I often ask young people when I go into schools as part of the Lord Speaker's outreach programme whether they agree, as I do, with votes at 16. Not all of them do. I usually ask those who do not why that is. They tend to say, "I don't know enough about it", to which I retort that I know a lot of 40 year-olds who don't know much about it either but they still have a vote. Many citizenship teachers do a great job and our own Parliamentary Education Department offers excellent materials and events to help them. But there is always room for further improvement and support from the Government.
Citizenship is important because it provides young people with the knowledge and skills they need to become employable and to make an effective contribution to public life. Surely that is part of what the Prime Minister means by the big society. Citizenship is intellectually rigorous and children see it as relevant to
18 Nov 2010 : Column 882
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|