Not only is the pupil premium not working to the benefit of disadvantaged pupils but these same pupils have been adversely affected by other government actions: the abolition of the education maintenance allowance, which was referred to by my noble friend Lord Lea, the downgrading of school sport, art, music and creative subjects, including design, which was raised by my noble friend Lady Whitaker, and cuts in school support for deaf and other disabled children. Scope has reported this week that two-thirds of families with a disabled child are no longer getting the local services they need. There are cuts to breakfast clubs and after-school activities and teachers are reporting more and more children arriving at school hungry. The poor PHSE in secondary school, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, will differentially affect children at risk of social and economic disadvantage. When will the Government’s review of PHSE finally be published?

International research established a long time ago that disadvantaged children in particular need the opportunity to develop non-cognitive skills through a wide range of enriching activities in order to be able to make the best of their educational opportunities. Indeed, this should not be a surprise because the best independent schools—have always had extensive programmes of extra curriculum activities to support their pupils’ learning and to raise the high aspirations that the noble Lord, Lord Bates, rightly identified as important. Opportunities for disadvantaged pupils in state schools to have their needs addressed and to participate in enrichment activities outside the classroom are being severely diminished under this Government, and this will have a significant impact on their educational attainment.

The second group of children are pre-school youngsters. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Taylor for raising this. Again, research here and abroad has long established the importance of a rich and stimulating experience for the pre-school child who needs to be cared for by parents or carers who understand the importance of supportive social interaction between adult and child as the vehicle for language and speech and social and emotional development. The noble Lord, Lord Framlingham, mentioned the cat sat on the mat. I do not know about that, but I am rediscovering Doctor Seuss and The Cat in the Hat at the moment with my grandchildren, and I very much agree with what the noble Lord had to say.

This actually was the basis of Sure Start, set up under the previous Government, which was a drive to improve the quality of all early—years settings and to introduce support programmes for those parents who needed help to understand what their children needed. We know that it is in these early years of life—well before the child goes to school—that the brain undergoes one of its most critical periods of development.

New scientific research reported only this week followed a large cohort of children for some two decades. It found that pre-school cognitive stimulation significantly predicts the actual amount of grey matter in the cortex of the brain at age 17; and therefore determines the very capacity to learn and think. So

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early years experiences actually shape for better or worse the neurological development of the child. Yet the Government have seriously undermined the opportunity for young children and their parents to get the support they need for that best start for every child. In 2012, the Government cut the funding for Sure Start, rolled it into a single early intervention grant, with no ring-fence for the early years. That was bad enough and has already significantly reduced provision for the youngest children and their parents. Now we discover that the early intervention grant is being abolished, with the bulk being top-sliced to pay for the nursery places for two year-olds, when we were led to believe that this would be funded with additional money.

A much reduced sum for early years is now simply going into the revenue support grant for every local authority; it is not ring-fenced, so early years provision will have to compete with all the other spending demands a council might have. I just wonder what this says about the Government’s real commitment to the youngest children and this crucial stage of development. It is quite clear that, without measures to enrich pre-school experiences, and therefore support the neurological development of many of our youngest children, their later potential to excel in school will be permanently impaired.

This debate has been about the measures necessary to achieve excellence in education; we have heard much about school structure, exam arrangements and what should be essential subjects. These are all important, and the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, had some interesting proposals on this, including his support for citizenship education, in which I am very interested. However, changing the architecture of the system will not produce excellence for all children unless there are also measures to remove the barriers to learning for disadvantaged children in school and to enhance the development of children before they get to school. On these measures, I am afraid, the Government are getting worse and not better.

2.02 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lady Perry for giving us this opportunity for what has been a fascinating, wide-ranging and quick-fire debate—and it has been none the worse for that. I have more time than other noble Lords but I will try to rattle through to address as many of the points that have been raised as I can. Few know more about excellence than my noble friend—who is a former Chief Inspector of Schools, the vice-chancellor of a university and the head of a Cambridge college—so I think it is fair to say that her words carry particular weight.

Today there has been broad agreement that we want excellent education for all and not just a minority; that when we talk about excellence, we should mean excellence in vocational and technical education and not just academic; and that when we talk about education, we must never just mean exams, but everything that goes on in schools. That includes music, as my noble friend Lady Benjamin rightly argued; drama, art, sport;

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and the building of character and preparation for later life, as the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, reminded us. In that context, I loved the description given by the right reverend Prelate of the Resurrection Primary School up in Manchester, which seems to be exactly the kind of example of a broad range of education that good schools will provide for their children.

I do not agree that there has been a narrowing of definition about excellence, an issue which I know that the noble Lord, Lord Bichard, is concerned about. I can see the point that lies behind his concern—that in wanting to re-emphasise the importance of academic subjects, it might sometimes give the impression that that is what the Government are concerned about to the exclusion of all else. That is not the case, and I will do everything I can to reassure him and others that when we talk about the importance of education, it is not solely about academic education but all kinds of education in the broadest sense.

We know that there are many schools in the country that are delivering an education that we would all recognise as excellent. What is more, many of these are achieving excellence in areas of great disadvantage. Their pupils are going to our top universities. As my noble friend Lord Bates rightly argued, these are the beacons which show us what is possible with brilliant teaching, strong leadership and high aspiration—“great expectations” is a good phrase to stick in our minds. I believe that the answer to the question about university entrance lies in the schools, as my noble friend Lord Harris has demonstrated. I think he said that 90% of the children at one of his schools got an offer from a university this year.

Despite these beacons we also know—and we have to be honest about this—that too many children are far from enjoying an excellent standard of education. It is still the case that a third of pupils are leaving primary school not secure in reading, writing and mathematics. Some 250,000 children do not achieve five A* to C grades at GCSE, including English and maths. We know that the UK has fallen back in the PISA rankings and yet this relative decline has happened at a time when performance at GCSE has risen year on year. If nothing else, this tells us there is something wrong with our exam system that we need to examine.

We also know, as noble Lords have mentioned, that poor children do disproportionately worse. Just over one-third of children on free school meals got five A* to C GCSE grades, including English and maths. Only 4% of children on free school meals achieved the English baccalaureate in 2011, compared to 17% for non free-school-meal pupils. Only 22% of pupils with SEN achieved five A* to C GCSE grades, including English and maths, in 2011. My noble friend Lord Addington was right to remind us of this group. So far as identification of SEN is concerned, a new code of practice is due to be published in 2014. Officials are working with interested parties on that, but I am happy to clarify that further and if he would like, I will set up a meeting for him with my officials.

We also know, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids, reminded us, that across the country, black pupils in particular are not doing as well as they ought to be. Again, we heard from my noble friend

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Lord Harris that in many of his schools—which have a high concentration of black pupils who are, of course, well taught, motivated and supported from home—they are able to go on to achieve exactly as well as one would imagine that they would.

We know as well that, despite these problems, across the country brilliant things are being achieved by outstanding heads and inspiring teaching. There are more than 40 primaries across the country which have completely eliminated any attainment gap between rich and poor. At secondary level, schools like the Harris Academy in Bermondsey show us what can be done as well. There, 68% of pupils receive free school meals. Of those, 62% got their five A* to C GSCEs, including English and maths, against that national average of just over one-third.

We know as well that these results are not just some kind of one-off. Between 2010 and 2011, the results for ARK academies increased by 11% on average. Oasis—another chain—went up by 9.5%; ULT by 7.5%; and Harris by 13%. We have all heard many times in this House about the Mossbourne Academy. Last year, 82% of its pupils achieved 5 A* to C GCSEs; 10 of its pupils, I am glad to say, went off and received places at Cambridge University.

Across the board, performance in sponsored academies has improved at twice the rate of maintained schools, and the longer that academies are open, the better on average they do. So we know what can be achieved. The question which has properly been posed today is: what can Government do so that excellence can be spread more widely? I just want to touch on five main themes of the Government’s approach. They are: extending autonomy, improving accountability, tackling underperformance, restoring rigour to qualifications and, most importantly—because I accept fully that structural change cannot achieve anything without good people, as the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, reminded us—raising the quality of heads and the teaching profession more generally.

In introducing the academies programme, the last Government rightly recognised that greater autonomy helps to raise educational performance. We have taken that principle and developed it, trying to extend the space in which professionals can make their own decisions—what my noble friend Lady Perry rightly called “extending trust”.

I agree strongly with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, about resisting pressure to stick more things in the national curriculum because we do not dare quite trust the professionals. I also agree with what my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft said about the importance of trusting professionals to care for children in the round and, particularly, the importance of policies to make it easier for teachers to address issues to do with behaviour.

The response from governing bodies and heads to the opportunity to become academies has been overwhelming. There are nearly 2,400 open academies in England. More than 55% of all secondary schools in England are either open as academies or this is in the pipeline. The vast majority of those have chosen to do this, which shows the appetite within the system

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and the profession for greater independence. I think that that partly addresses the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford. More and more of those academies are joining together to help raise performance in other schools. They are forming clusters to share good practice to support each other. There are more than 300 different chains and the fastest-growing group of new academy sponsors working to raise standards are outstanding schools which have converted to academies.

Alongside academies we have free schools, including independent schools coming into the maintained sector, UTCs and studio schools. Some people said that no one would want to take up the challenge of opening new schools. I think that they underestimated the passion of teachers and local groups to help children. One of my favourite examples is Cuckoo Hall in Enfield where, this year, 94% of pupils achieved level 4 in English and Maths. Its outstanding head turned around a failing school a few years ago. In the past two years she has opened two new primary free schools in the same area, where there is a big pressure on basic need, and she is now planning to open a secondary school.

As has already been argued, greater autonomy has to go hand in hand with greater accountability. Part of the way in which we have been doing that is through publishing more data so that parents and others can see for themselves how schools are doing. I am happy to talk to my noble friend Lord Lucas about his ideas. My noble friend Lady Brinton talked about the importance of comparable information between different kinds of institution. I agree with her about that. If we are trying to get to a situation where parents and students are able to make choices, they need to be able to do so on the basis of comparable data. We are committed to developing the destination measures, which I think she mentioned, and I would be happy to get someone to update her precisely on where we have got to on that. It has also partly been about more data, as well as through revising our inspection arrangements. The new performance tables had four times as much data as in the past and last year. Importantly, they showed not just attainment but the progress of pupils in different prior attainment groups.

Ofsted’s new framework will also help us to raise the bar. It not only focuses on the four core elements of a successful school; it puts all schools that are currently no better than satisfactory on notice that they need to work hard to improve. Schools that do not show that improvement will be subject to more frequent inspections and potentially moved into special measures.

We have also been looking at the whole question of governance, which is an area that merits more study. We have been trying to make governors’ lives easier to free them up to concentrate on key strategic decisions because the governing body of a school has a vital role in terms of accountability. We are making it easier for them to recruit governors on the basis of skills. We also introduced a new scheme for national leaders of governance modelled on the very successful national leaders of education, which we hope to double next year.

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There has been some discussion already about changes to the curriculum and qualifications. I believe that if employers are not confident in the value of qualifications or they complain about standards of literacy and numeracy, and if we have universities which question the depth of knowledge that our brightest children have compared with students coming to British universities from overseas, we cannot pretend that all is well.

Something that worried us early on was the sharp fall in the number of children taking modern foreign languages, history or geography at GCSE. The percentage taking modern foreign languages had fallen from 76% to 43% between 2002 and 2010. The number taking history fell from 32% to 31% and those taking geography fell to 26%. That was the background to our announcement that we would introduce the new performance measure, the EBacc, which would show the percentage of pupils getting GCSEs in English, maths, two sciences, history or geography and a modern foreign language. We chose those subjects because we think that they best equip young people to apply to the good universities.

So far, it seems to have had an effect. Compared to the 22% who took EBacc subjects in 2011, we estimate that 46% will be studying them in 2013 and 49% by 2014. That, interestingly, would take us back to a striking figure because in 1997, about 50% of pupils were studying what we now classify as the EBacc subjects.

I very much agree with the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Yardley, about the importance of subjects and activities other than the EBacc. That is one of the reasons why, by restricting them to a core, we hope to leave space for other subjects—including important areas such as design, for example, which was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker.

We are consulting on the introduction of a new qualification to replace GCSEs in each of the core academic subjects that make up the English baccalaureate. We will end the competition between different exam boards which has led to a race to the bottom, a move which has been generally welcomed. We will be holding a competition to identify the most ambitious qualifications, benchmarked to the world’s best and offered by a single awarding organisation.

On the specific issue about RE raised by the right reverend Prelate and also by my noble friend Lady Perry, I understand the point. I am glad to say that the numbers taking RE at GCSE increased by 7.7% this year, after increasing by 10% last year. Although I know that there are practical concerns, there has not been a falling off of young people wanting to study RE. Indeed, the opposite is true.

We also want to make sure that A-levels are rigorous and challenging, compare to the best qualifications in the world and command the respect of our leading universities. We want universities to have a greater role in their design and development. Ofqual has consulted on changes to A-levels and is considering next steps. No decisions have yet been taken but I noted the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Broers. I also agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, said about the importance of coherence when we look at qualifications and exam systems.

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Alison Wolf’s review of vocational education found that between a quarter and a third of 16 to 19 year-olds were on courses which led children into dead-ends. I know that her recommendations for raising the quality of vocational qualifications were broadly welcomed across the House at the time. I was grateful for the comments made by my noble friend Lord Lingfield about the importance of further education.

We have seen a rapid growth in the size of the apprenticeship programme, which has grown from 240,000 to 450,000, but we must work to improve the quality of those apprenticeships, which we will do through a review into standards led by employers. We are delivering high-quality technical education through the new university technical colleges, of which my noble friend Lord Baker spoke with his customary passion. Two years ago there was one UTC open. By 2014, we expect to have more than 30. I have the figure of 90 ringing in my ears, as well as my noble friend’s almost daily exhortation to go further faster.

I was interested in the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Lloyd-Webber about how we can dramatise the importance of practical and technical skills better. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Brinton for telling the House how many ways of doing that are under way. However, that is an issue that a number of noble Lords probably would like to discuss between themselves further.

Alongside UTCs, studio schools have also been developing at pace. Two years ago, there were just two and today there are 16. By next September, I hope that we will double that again. These schools bridge the worlds of work and school, providing a vocational alternative alongside good academic qualifications and offering high-quality work experience which is paid for after the age of 16.

I have to say to my noble friend Lady Buscombe that these schools are full of confident, well presented children who are keen to get on. I support the work of the charity Springboard, which she and my noble friend Lord Lexden mentioned. I applaud the work he referred to as regards trying to bring about closer co-operation between the independent and maintained sectors.

The pupil premium has an important role to play in tackling underperformance. As regards how that is working so far, the recent study by Ofsted was a snapshot. We will get the full report next year. From this September schools will have to publish how they are spending that money. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes of Stretford, that it is important to demonstrate the value of the pupil premium. However, in approaching that, it is also important that we do not clog up the system too much with reintroducing a new layer of prescription. We want schools to work out how best to spend it but also to share good practice widely.

My noble friend Lady Walmsley, among others, talked about the importance of the early years. I will reflect on the points that she made. In tackling underperformance, we have accelerated the focus that we have placed on underperformance in primary schools, building on the work of the previous Government on secondary schools. As regards the quality of the profession,

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our goal is a self-supporting and self-improving system where schools learn from outstanding schools and heads and where outstanding teachers spread good practice. I agree with what my noble friend Lord Lucas said about the importance of this. That is why we are creating a national network of teaching schools to improve the capacity for schools to take the lead in the training and development of teachers, building up to 500 of those by 2014-15.

We are increasing the numbers of national leaders of education to 1,000 by 2015. We are supporting Teach First, a brilliant innovation which came about under the previous Government, to expand to 1,500 trainees in 2014-15. We are expanding the Future Leaders and Teaching Leaders programmes to develop many more potential leaders of the future. We are raising the bar on entry to the profession. We are paying bursaries of up to £20,000 to attract the best graduates into the teaching profession, especially into the important shortage subjects such as physics and other science subjects which were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rees of Ludlow. I was also interested to hear the remarks he made about the role that universities can play in helping to address some of these issues.

All of us who visit schools know that it is inspiring heads and teachers with high expectations for their children who aim for and achieve excellence. We are seeking to support them by increasing their professional freedom, improving accountability, refocusing inspection, reforming qualifications and encouraging more great people—

Lord Lea of Crondall: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, and I appreciate that he has to get through his prepared speech, but I should point to his absence of reference to the fact that Alan Milburn has recommended that the Government reverse their policy on the abolition of the education maintenance allowance. Alan Milburn stated that that creates a difficulty in terms of,

“helping poorer 16- to 17-year-olds stay on at school”.

What about that group?

Lord Hill of Oareford: I hope that I addressed the main point raised by Mr Milburn. The route to getting more children from disadvantaged backgrounds into university is through schools. I think a number of people have accepted that the cost of the EMA—the best part of £560 million—was not sustainable. It was going to 40% of children but was originally intended to be targeted on a smaller group. The replacement that we have put in place is sufficient to pay a comparable sum to all the children who are in receipt of free school meals.

In conclusion, I know that there is a long way to go. I hope there is no complacency or what one noble Lord referred to as a self-congratulatory tone, but I believe that excellent schools are showing us the way forward, and I believe that the building blocks for further progress are in place.

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2.23 pm

Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, it is customary on these occasions to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate but I have far more reasons than custom in saying a very heartfelt thank you to all noble Lords who have taken part today. This has been a really fascinating debate and inspiring and moving in many cases. It vividly demonstrates the huge range of expert knowledge that we have in this House. We have ranged from early years to universities via almost every aspect of education through many different kinds of schools. There have been pleas for science, the arts and history, all of which were made with real knowledge and experience as well as deep passion. It has been a huge privilege to listen to all the speeches today. I hope that my noble friend Lord Lloyd-Webber will carry on with his excellent and exciting proposal to give real recognition to those who are not very academically successful but are hugely successful in their crafts and technician roles.

Motion agreed.

Antarctica: Centenary of Scott Expedition

Motion to Take Note

2.25 pm

Moved By Baroness Hooper

That this House takes note of the centenary of the Scott expedition to Antarctica and of the United Kingdom’s enduring scientific legacy and ongoing presence there.

Baroness Hooper: My Lords, the inspiration for this debate came from a visit to the Natural History Museum earlier this year. I went in the company of many of your Lordships to view the special exhibition commemorating the 100th anniversary of Scott’s Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole. The Natural History Museum must be congratulated on the excellence of its exhibition and on the insight it gave us and doubtless the countless others who have since visited it into the conditions experienced by the members of the expedition down to the nutritious Huntley and Palmer biscuits.

It was just such a visit to New Zealand’s International Antarctic Trust Centre in Christchurch some years ago that made me determined to visit Antarctica myself. I have had the privilege of sailing through the Weddell Sea, seeing up close the icebergs in all their variety and observing rockhoppers, Magellanic and chinstrap penguins and their nesting habits. On that occasion I also visited the Argentine and Chilean research centres and learnt about the international co-operation and, indeed, competition that goes on.

This centenary year has boosted interest in Antarctica and reminded us of the exploits of the expedition through a variety of special exhibitions and events up and down the country, newspaper articles and some excellent radio and TV programmes and by the memorable commemorative service at St Paul’s Cathedral in March. In the recent past, awareness of our heritage in Antarctica has also been raised by the successful campaign to

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save the Scott and Shackleton huts. In mentioning that name, I cannot but regret that the late Lord Shackleton is not here with us today to add his knowledge and enthusiasm to the debate. The focus of the International Polar Year 2007-08 and the Scott 100 Plymouth conference last year, not to mention the ongoing activities of the British Antarctic Survey and other specialised organisations, about which more anon, has all served to draw attention to the unique continent of Antarctica and to our presence and role there.

Others have been inspired to follow the example of Scott and his party and to push themselves to the limits of human endurance by venturing to find new ways of reaching the pole, I have in mind in particular Felicity Aston, who spent 56 days crossing Antarctica on skis and returned recently to tell the tale at the Royal Geographical Society. I think and hope that we will hear other examples of that sort of courage in the course of this debate.

Every schoolchild of my generation was brought up on great heroes of the past, and the valiant attempt by Scott and his team to be the first to reach the South Pole gave an outstanding example of human endurance and courage. We can only be glad that he wrote so much down in his diaries, leaving a lasting message for posterity. In these days of instant communication, it is for us almost impossible to comprehend how cut off the expedition was and must have felt. I find it amazing to consider, for example, that the deaths of Scott and his companions actually occurred before the “Titanic” sank but of course were not known about until well after.

Another fact I had not appreciated before is that after Amundsen and Scott reached the South Pole in 1912, no one made the attempt again for nearly 50 years. When they did, they returned not with ships, sledges and dogs but with airplanes and radio communication.

It has been said that the burden of the scientific side jeopardised the chances of reaching the pole first, but it appears that Scott treated scientific discovery and reaching the pole as more or less equal priorities. It was very much in the spirit of his times to show that man could conquer virtually everything. The lasting scientific achievements of that race to the South Pole include the foundations of the study of glaciology and the theory of continental drift.

Amazingly and in spite of the conditions, but again in line with the practice of the time of collecting and identifying specimens, Scott’s expedition left examples of some 2,109 animals and fish, 401 of which had never been seen before. It also produced a huge number of rock samples, plant fossils and the famous emperor penguin eggs. The fact that three of the team spent five weeks trekking to Cape Crozier to witness the emperor penguins incubating their eggs in sub-zero temperatures—minus 75 degrees Fahrenheit—is proof of their scientific zeal. It has to be remembered that this took place only some 50 years after Darwin’s theory on the evolution of species had been published. At the time it was thought that the eggs might prove to be the missing evolutionary link between dinosaurs and birds. That was proved not to be so, but at least those men could claim to be the first and only men to witness that marvel of the natural world.

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Nowadays we see these scenes on our television screens accompanied by the reassuring tones of David Attenborough, and it is hard to imagine what it must have been like to journey into the unknown with no means of communication. There are of course parallels now with the exploration of space in terms of journeys into the unknown, but it is the total cut-off from communication with the rest of the world that underlines the sheer bravery and fortitude of these men 100 years ago. Scott’s scientific legacy is ongoing, and in this centenary year we have still to see the international Scott centenary expedition, which is due to retrace Scott’s steps and includes some of the descendants of the original shore party but that will also carry out cutting-edge experiments of its own. I understand that the British Services Antarctic Expedition has also been in the peninsula since January, carrying out scientific and exploration work. Thanks to the BBC’s life scientific program, I am aware that Martin Siegert is even now fulfilling a long-term project to research lichen in a sub-glacial lake under three kilometres of ice, this being part of the British Antarctic Survey programme.

This brings me to the very topical subject of our ongoing presence in Antarctica and the institutions that support it. It has been said that the Scott Polar Research Institute, which was founded in 1920 and which houses the greatest polar library in the world, is the expedition’s greatest scientific legacy. It was certainly set up as a memorial to Captain Scott and his four companions who died. I understand that it was originally financed by surplus donations to the fund for the expedition’s widows and orphans, and is now in part funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.

However, it is the British Antarctic Survey that is the UK’s national Antarctic operator. For the past 60 years it has been responsible for most of the UK’s scientific research in Antarctica, and indeed in the Arctic, and it has gained national and international respect and recognition for its work. The British Antarctic Survey is based in Cambridge. It operates five research stations, two royal research ships and five aircraft. It is world renowned for its extensive research programmes and provides a vital focus for international co-operation and co-ordination. It was BAS that first raised global concern over the depletion of the ozone layer, and indeed many Members of your Lordships’ House, like me, will have appreciated our regular visits to its Cambridge headquarters for briefings from experts in their fields.

It was therefore a shock when in June this year the research council announced that it was considering a merger between the British Antarctic Survey and the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton. There appeared to be grounds to believe that this would mean a closure of the Cambridge headquarters and the concentration of the merged body in Southampton. As a consequence, the director and deputy director have resigned, fur has been flying, press comment abounds and even former Vice-President Al Gore has waded in to attack the plan. A consultation document was issued in September, the consultation closed on 10 October and its findings are due to be reported in December, so that will be a matter of great interest.

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Can the Minister give us any reassurance about the future of the British Antarctic Survey? Are the fears that this is the first step in winding down research at the poles justified? What significance is there for the Falkland Islands and other British territories in the South Atlantic if there is a reduced British presence in Antarctica? When are the Government going to introduce, or rather reintroduce, an Antarctic scientific strategy, given that the current five-year rolling programme has lapsed?

As a non-scientist but a very interested observer, I look forward to the contributions to come from all those who are to speak. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have put their names down, many of whom are much more expert than I am. I also look forward to the Minister’s reply. In celebrating the courage and determination of Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his team, I hope that in the few hours of this debate we can help to ensure that their legacy is safeguarded and that the bounds of knowledge will continue to expand. I beg to move.

2.37 pm

Baroness Worthington: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on securing this most timely and important debate.

Much has changed in the 100 years since Scott and Shackleton’s epic journey to the South Pole. In 1912 the polar regions were an unknown wilderness, a hostile environment that thwarted man’s efforts to conquer it. We now know much more about these unique features of our planet and have a much greater understanding of their importance and how human activities are impacting them, largely thanks to the work of the British Antarctic Survey.

The year 2012 may be remembered not just as the centenary of Scott’s epic achievement but as the year in which the polar sea ice melted at such an alarming rate that the scientists studying it began using phrases like “shocking”, “staggering” and “scary”. Predictions about the rate at which the warming of our world would lead to losses of Arctic ice have been proven woefully optimistic; the pace of change is far faster than models predicted and the impacts of climate change are happening far sooner than we had thought.

In that context, the work of scientists at the British Antarctic Survey should be being praised, encouraged and supported. It is they who have been monitoring the west Antarctic ice sheet, which is suspected to be dangerously unstable and which over time could ultimately lead to a rise in sea levels of more than three metres if it collapsed. Instead, I find it absolutely astounding that BAS should have recently lost its director and now be facing a poorly thought-through merger for which no clear business case appears to have been provided.

I have been investigating the background to these proposals and have been told that NERC’s initial proposal was to inflict swingeing cuts on BAS, but the ring-fenced funding arrangement put in place by the Foreign Office effectively stopped this, on the basis that BAS provides an important strategic presence in the South Atlantic. This so infuriated NERC that it in

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effect sacked the then director and came up with another plan to cut BAS down to size by merging it with the National Oceanography Centre. I wonder why NERC is pursuing a campaign against BAS. What has it done to deserve the threat of dissolution? BAS’s history of world-leading science does us proud, and it has produced many important findings of global significance, not least the discovery of the ozone hole by BAS scientist Joe Farman.

The consultation on the proposals closed last week, but many experts will have been loath to comment, given that NERC essentially holds the purse strings for many of them. To step out of line and criticise could mean funding being withheld. As if to add insult to injury, the documents setting out the vision for the proposed merged organisation illustrate a marked departure from the principles currently embodied by BAS. Instead of focusing on the pursuit of pure science, the emphasis is to be on the national interest, the UK economy and the derisking of investment in the polar regions.

At times, I have the sense that I have stepped through the looking glass into the surreal world of Alice in Wonderland precisely when science is telling us that the burning of fossil fuels is having a far faster and more dramatic effect on our global ecosystem than we could have predicted, and that our scientific institutions are being co-opted to assist in the extraction of ever more fossil fuels. The burning of fossil fuels unabated should now be viewed as a reckless, immoral act. Our generation’s challenge is to rid ourselves of this dangerous addiction and to leave the reserves in the ground, if necessary, not to support the discovery of more. Faced with a raging inferno, we should not be asking our firefighters to help pile on more wood.

What a squalid period of history we are living through if pure scientific endeavour is not deemed in and of itself worth while and where scientific institutions must be harnessed to further commercial interests. The people behind this vision statement ought to be embarrassed. NERC must be urged to reconsider, and I hope that the Government would, if necessary, intervene to restore confidence in BAS and its scientists.

With each passing year, it becomes clear that human society is on a collision course with nature, and there will be huge repercussions. Explorers such as Scott and his men embody the human drive to increase our understanding and extend our dominion. However, there are some forces too powerful for us to conquer and control. During this debate, I ask that we reflect not just on Scott’s bravery and the UK’s undisputed scientific achievements but on human frailty, for that is an important part of this story. Continuing on the collision course with nature that we are now on imperils the lives of millions of people alive today and billions of people yet to be born. If our polar regions do not survive, neither will society as we know it. In this centenary year, we must protect and enhance our scientific capacities in the polar regions, and this means retaining BAS as a centre of excellence.

Perhaps I may humbly suggest that if reforms are needed, let us start with a review of NERC itself, because in this instance it appears to be acting as an extremely poor and short-sighted guardian of our world-leading scientific institutions.

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2.42 pm

Lord Willis of Knaresborough: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on securing this debate. Inevitably much of it will focus on NERC’s proposals for the future of BAS, so I will confine my remarks accordingly. In so doing, I must declare an interest as a council member for NERC, so I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, for her warm comments.

The proposals to bring together BAS and NOC is exactly that—a proposal. It is not a done deal, and I wish to assure the House that the proposal and the responses to the consultation will be scrutinised by an independent academic before any firm proposal comes to the council in December.

Let me try to explain NERC’s thinking. First, let me make clear what is not being proposed. There is no proposal to close the BAS centre in Cambridge or the oceanographic centres in Southampton or Liverpool, or to close the bases at Rothera, Halley or Signy in Antarctica, or Bird Island or King Edward Point on South Georgia. Nor is there any attempt by the FCO or indeed NERC to abandon the region to the Argentineans, although we understand the sensitivities. Nor is there any proposal to reduce the size or capability of the fleet or aircraft. Nor is there any attempt to reduce the overall expenditure in Antarctic science during the current CSR, despite the 3% reduction in NERC’s budget; BAS has received a £42 million flat cash settlement for the whole period. Nor is there any attempt to reduce the number of scientists or current scientific programmes. Nor is there any attempt to reduce access to Antarctica for our universities, which, by the way, contribute well over 50% of the current polar research portfolio. It is important to put that on the record before we begin the debate.

So what challenges is NERC trying to wrestle with? Let me highlight two. First, NERC, like the other research councils, with the exception of the Medical Research Council, is having to make savings—in our case, around 3%. Our budget was reduced in real terms for Antarctica by about £9 million, and we estimate that by 2015 the cost of our major infrastructure will have increased by about £7 million. Put simply, running ships and aircraft, essential for delivering polar science, is an extremely costly business.

As a result, there is growing pressure on the amount of science that we can do. That leads to the inescapable logic that without a new major source of income—and no one is suggesting that there is—we will do less and less science as our infrastructure costs continue to increase. In effect, the status quo means NERC reducing world-class science elsewhere in its portfolio to maintain an open-ended, ever-increasing subsidy to BAS. Is that what your Lordships support?

We believe that there are logistical and administrative savings to be had by bringing the infrastructure of two similar organisations together. However, for NERC, simply looking for greater organisational symmetry would not justify a merger. There has to be a compelling argument that the merger will enhance opportunities for world-class environmental science.

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So let me come to the second reason. Over the past three decades, NERC has pursued its strategic marine and polar science missions separately with BAS and NOC, and both have retained distinct scientific and geographic loci. Conversely, our scientific understanding has, over the same period, brought into sharp focus that the earth is a closely coupled system. In particular, the coupling between the oceans and the cryosphere is tight in the polar regions, which are the source of the deep water that forms one leg of the thermohaline circulation that in turn effects the global climate. This greater understanding of the ocean and its role in climate change is revealing problems of great scale and complexity. For example, the role of the Antarctic circumpolar current in supplying warm water to the Antarctic ice sheet base, with its consequent melting of the ice sheet into the ocean, is of massive concern to scientists. Likewise, as the Arctic sea ice melts, the altered circulation and redistribution of heat and fresh water in the Arctic Ocean, and its exchanges with the north Atlantic, is a massive cause for concern for us in the United Kingdom.

These are but two challenges that directly link polar and ocean science. It is self-evident that NERC as a world leader in environment research should seek to combine its marine and polar strategic science to maintain a world-class capability when dealing with problems of this size and scale. That is what the proposal is about. It is not about wrecking things but about building things for the future. If noble Lords disagree with NERC’s proposals, one should at least respond to these two significant challenges on the cost and the science, and provide some compelling evidence that the status quo offers a better way of resolving both.

2.48 pm

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for introducing a debate that is as important to our scientific future as it is to our heritage. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Willis, will forgive me if I do not follow him specifically on the question of NERC. I shall come to that at the end of my speech.

I am speaking not with my English Heritage hat on, for once, but out of a personal conviction for the importance of polar heritage and polar science. I want to talk about a specific aspect. The extraordinary history of British Antarctic exploration—and it was British until 1914—involves the great race to the South Pole. The imagery of Scott’s fatal expedition of 1910-12 continues to haunt our imagination. Of all the images we have of that expedition, so well captured in the exhibition in the Natural History Museum, none are more evocative or poignant than the pictures of the interior of the prefabricated expedition hut—to which Scott and his companions did not return.

In 2002, under the leadership of the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust, the Ross Sea Heritage Restoration Project was begun, to care for the four surviving huts in the region and their artefacts. I recently spoke to Dr Nigel Watson of the trust about the progress that has been made on conserving the huts, which has lessons for science and conservation around the world.

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Working with heritage specialists from around the world, including our own UK Antarctic Heritage Trust, a four-year programme of work on Ernest Skackleton’s only Antarctic base has been completed with more than 6,000 objects conserved, and a five-year programme to save Captain Scott’s last expedition building is completed. A programme of conservation of the collection continues with more than 7,000 objects from the site conserved—everything from Tate sugar cubes to tomato ketchup, books, newspapers and scientific instruments.

This is the science of conservation under extraordinary conditions. Last winter, for example, the Bowers Annex, made up of provision boxes, was excavated from underneath an estimated 100 cubic metres of ice and snow. Sixty-five metres of ice has been removed from beneath the main floor. The internal space of the original bulkhead has been revealed and a more historically accurate layout clearly shows the division between the officers, the scientists and the men. Even in cramped conditions on the other side of the world, British naval social structures were maintained. Therefore, we have social as well as scientific history on show, and Captain Oates’s bunk has been restored. In a recent blog, one conservator wrote:

“Stepping into the hut is always a powerful moment: it is quite dark inside at this time of year … A prescient silence also fills the hut, and there is a great sense of stillness”.

Others have spoken of a tangible feeling of sadness.

Why does all this matter? These huts are not tourist opportunities. They are not even for Antarctic tourists. We do it because these fragile buildings are not just a lasting witness to the human spirit; they represent enduring values of courage and the restless search for knowledge and the universality of science.

Thanks to the efforts of the New Zealand Government in providing and raising funding, 80% of the £8 million needed has been found, much of it from British sources, but another £1.5 million is needed. English Heritage has no power, unlike some of our counterparts overseas, to invest in the conservation of monuments which lie outside our physical boundaries; nor, I understand, does the Heritage Lottery Fund. The World Monuments Fund has, however, provided welcome support. The Norwegian Government have recently pledged funding for the Norwegian hut at Cape Adare, as have the Australian Government for Mawson’s huts at Cape Denison commemorating the Australian expedition of 1911-13. There is therefore an international commitment to a scientific legacy which belongs to everyone—to a continent of knowledge which, uniquely, is governed by international treaty in the interests of the whole world and whose heritage belongs to the whole world.

A few years ago, my intrepid predecessor at English Heritage, Sir Neil Cossons, persuaded the then Government, following a visit to the huts, to provide a very modest £250,000 to support the conservation of the British huts. I am now asking this Minister to persuade her colleagues in the Treasury to do what other countries have done to care for their scientific heritage and to provide a small contribution, in this year of all years, as a lasting memorial to complete the conservation of the huts. This is the year to do it and I am sure that noble Lords will support me in that.

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The scientific legacy of polar exploration, so well described by my noble friend Lady Worthington and the noble Lord, Lord Willis, cannot be overestimated. It could not be more salient. I am sure that the Minister will listen very hard to the case that is being made for Antarctic and polar research not to be compromised. The Antarctic is literally the frontier of knowledge. It is there that we will learn most and earliest about the fate of the climate and of the globe. The BAS is at the forefront of that research and its work must not be put at risk. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will listen very hard and give some reassurances about the implications of doing so.

I conclude by again thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for the comprehensive way in which she introduced the debate and for the opportunity that we have had to recognise, celebrate and think ahead about what we expect from the scientific research.

2.53 pm

Lord Oxburgh: My Lords, I, too, express my gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for providing this opportunity to reflect on the profound changes that are mooted for British Antarctic science.

I should declare my interests. For five years I chaired the international review panel for British Antarctic Survey research and on two occasions visited the BAS base on the Antarctic Peninsula. I have also worked at sea with the National Institute of Oceanography, a predecessor of the present National Oceanographic Centre, with which the Natural Environment Research Council proposes to merge BAS. I also worked for five years in the MoD and was briefly the director of the Scott Polar Research Institute.

NERC has indicated that during the present spending period the merged BAS footprint will not be reduced. But what does that mean? If NOC and BAS were merged, it would be almost impossible to determine what had happened to the BAS budget.

First, I shall say a word about polar science. Our poles are very different: the North Pole lies in an ocean surrounded by continents; the South Pole lies in a continent surrounded by oceans. In the Arctic, for the international community, it is largely a matter of ocean-going ships, because the surrounding nations jealously protect their shelf seas. In the Antarctic, BAS studies both continent and surrounding oceans together.

Doing that work safely in a very hostile environment is one of the unique BAS skills that supports both its own research and that of British universities—research ranging from studies of the ionosphere to “life on the edge”; studies of how organisms, fish, birds, plants and other animals cope with the extreme Antarctic climate; and studies of the behaviour of continental ice sheets, as well as understanding past climates by drilling deep ice-cores. Working in the Antarctic is much more expensive than elsewhere. However, as with particle physics or space exploration, if the observations cannot be made any other way, we have to pay what it costs.

Not only is BAS science diverse but it is good. Looking back at some of the reports of my review committee, the international members were astonished

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by the interdisciplinary collaboration that BAS achieved and the distinction of much of its output. A 2007 Indian survey showed BAS to be the most productive institution in the world for Antarctic science.

On the diplomatic front, at meetings of the Consultative Parties to the Antarctic Treaty, more working papers have been prepared by the UK—that is, the FCO and BAS together—than any other country. Under successive directors, BAS has achieved an enviable international reputation.

I think that I have a reasonable understanding of the work of both NOC and BAS, and I see little scope for savings or synergies beyond their current close collaboration in the southern oceans—a conclusion, incidentally, confirmed by a number of reviews, most recently in 2012.

Finally, we should remember the dire consequences of a seemingly trivial decision to reduce our South Atlantic naval presence some years ago. In the shadows between UK diplomacy and local South American politics, where every trivial action is minutely scrutinised, analysed and reanalysed, are we in danger yet again of inadvertently sending the wrong signals? The UK’s presence in the Antarctic, the Falklands and South Georgia is supported by a strong science-backed position at negotiations surrounding the Antarctic Treaty. Maintaining a footprint—whatever that means—without a clear and demonstrable commitment to Antarctic science is simply not credible. Are we seeing a decision again made at the wrong level by officials who do not see the whole picture—a decision not only threatening the science but endangering our position in the South Atlantic?

The question is: what now? The apparently engineered loss of senior staff at BAS has weakened the organisation, severely damaged morale and made it vulnerable. It is hard to see how the proposed merger will either protect the science or send the right diplomatic signals. Antarctic science is expensive but, by comparison with the cost of maintaining a garrison in the Falklands, let alone the cost of mounting even a small military operation, the cost of the science is almost imperceptible.

National interests, both diplomatic and scientific, appear to be at risk. I suggest that Ministers from the FCO, BIS and the MoD urgently set up an independent working group to propose a way forward before Christmas. I hope that Ministers will listen.

3 pm

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lady Hooper for giving us the opportunity to discuss not only the centenary, to which she gave great tribute, but, as she put it, an emotionally enduring scientific legacy and ongoing presence of the UK in Antarctica. It is not surprising that so far almost the whole debate has turned on the proposed merger of BAS with the NOC.

As noble Lords well know, I am no scientist and will not be able to compete with those who have spoken from a very close scientific background, but in this context my attention is drawn to a compelling response to the consultation by Sir Martin Holdgate, opposing the proposal. I mention this because Sir Martin was the chief scientist at the Department for the Environment when I was Secretary of State. I

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quickly realised that he was a man of enormous ability, integrity and experience, and it was he who had to advise me as to our response to the BAS identification of the thinning of the ozone layer. There have been many other distinguished achievements, not least the discovery of 800,000 years of environmental history through the use of ice cores. That is perhaps one of the most significant advances in the study of climate and climate change. It is not surprising that Eric Wolff was rewarded for that by membership as a Fellow of the Royal Society.

I am in no doubt, as others have said, that BAS has a very long and well deserved international reputation for science at the highest professional level. I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, said. I listened to my noble friend Lord Willis with great interest. I have great respect for him but one has to weigh what he said against not only Sir Martin Holdgate but a number of other very reputable commentators who have opposed this measure. Sir Martin’s strong objections rest on three fundamental reasons. He argues first that the suggested synergies between polar science and marine science are far less than the differences between them. My noble friend made some emphasis on the synergy but the differences are much greater. Secondly, Sir Martin identified what he calls the quasi-political nature of NERC’s arguments and, more importantly, the questions that the consultation leaves unanswered. He asked,

“how the proposed merger will serve the world community better than the maintenance of two separate, efficient and highly regarded institutes”.

Thirdly, Sir Martin was very concerned that neither the scientific nor the economic case is evident from the consultation document. In particular, it does not contain any figures to suggest what saving the synergy is likely to produce. He describes it as a “piece of breath-taking deviousness”. Sir Martin Holdgate is not a man given to exaggerated worries without cause. Those responsible need to pay particular attention to that.

I have two questions for the Minister. First, is my noble friend Lord Willis right to say that this is not yet a done deal? In that context can we be assured that not only NERC but Ministers will pay very close attention to the several authoritative objections to the proposals put forward by NERC? It is hugely important that this is not just a decision for the research council. Secondly, what is the reaction of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to this? My noble friend is perhaps better able to answer that question given her present position. The presence of the BAS and other bodies in the South Atlantic has been recognised as clear and compelling evidence of the British concern with the whole of the South Atlantic. Any suggestion that this will be watered down or in some way diluted will send the appallingly wrong message to those who are anxious for our departure. This is almost the most important decisions of all and it should not be taken by a research council; it should be a decision firmly taken by Ministers who are accountable to Parliament.

3.05 pm

Lord Hunt of Chesterton: My Lords, I welcome this debate and declare my interest as a former member of a BAS advisory committee and a collaborator on

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scientific projects when I have been at the NERC-supported Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at University College London.

Scott’s Terra Nova expedition leads us to extraordinary stories of bravery and selflessness, especially on the return trek, and has inspired generations. It also led to Shackleton’s expedition a year or so later. Remarkable literature has come out of those expeditions and extraordinary photography. Recently, Arctic research has also led to interesting music. When I was a governor of a primary school in Cambridge, one of the prospective candidates for head said that for 20 minutes every day he would read to the students from Scott. We thought that that was a bit over the top so he did not get the job, but we understand the sort of extraordinary affection there is for Scott’s writing.

I note that Amundsen has not been mentioned recently. He reached the Pole just in front of Scott. The Norwegian Prime Minister was there recently, but I do not believe that our Prime Minister has been there. Amundsen generously admitted that the Scott expedition contributed much more to science—notably geology and biology. One of the biologists, Dr Wilson, was on the last party. Meteorology was also mentioned. A former director of the Met Office, G C Simpson, was there studying air currents and introducing new instrumentation for solar radiation. The lasting contribution of the expedition was to show the importance scientifically of polar regions. The UK has taken a lead in this through research institutes and universities, BAS, NOC and, not to be forgotten, SAMS in Scotland. Their work is co-ordinated and funded by NERC. Also, extraordinary international co-operation is co-ordinated through the Antarctic Treaty and its scientific committee, SCAR, on which the directors of BAS have often sat.

Recognition of the impact on global science and technology of observations in the Antarctic come with four or five great developments. First, what impressed me in the 1960s was the work of Rachel Carson in her famous book Silent Spring and the fact that DDT was found in the seals and birds of the Antarctic, showing an extraordinary circulation around the world. Secondly, the observation of the polar regions from the moon in the 1960s was an extraordinary sight. We had our blue planet with white caps on either side. Thirdly, the importance of Antarctic weather began to be recognised in the 1970s and 1980s. Good measures of Antarctic weather from weather stations all around the Antarctic enabled us to make global weather predictions. BAS contributes to that, as do other countries such as Argentina and Australia.

Fourthly, in the 1980s the upper air currents swirling around the Antarctic were understood, so it was not a great surprise, at least to a fluid dynamicist, when Joe Farmer at BAS found that extraordinary cauldron of swirling flow, enabling chemistry to take place there, isolated from the rest of the world. The chemicals in this cauldron were chlorofluoride carbons from refrigerators and the reactions led to the damaging loss of ozone in the stratosphere. Subsequently that was verified by the US satellite measurements. The fifth global impact was the role of polar science using computational modelling to enable us to use the results

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of the ice cores and radar satellite measurements to look at climates and geology going back in time, and also to make predictions about the dangerous phenomena mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, in her report.

Looking forward, we should be thinking not only about research but of educational projects in and around the Antarctic. I am privileged to be involved in a project to reconstruct the wooden vessel of the “Beagle” based in Chile, which will enable students and university people to go round those southern waters. Indeed, the surveying of those waters off Cape Horn by FitzRoy are still used.

I have three quick points. The UK should establish a polar science centre for both the Arctic and the Antarctic which should be separate from but collaborative with NOC, as other noble Lords have mentioned. The international role of the NERC with regard to United Nations agencies and the UK Government, which is touched on in the report, needs to be reorganised. It should not, as suggested in the report, continue to be the responsibility only of the scientists and the centres. The NERC, of which I used to be a member, does not review the science advice given nationally and internationally by the NERC—or, at least, it used not to and I understand from recent directors of NERC that that has not been the case. My third point concerns the Antarctic Treaty and SCAR, which needs to extend its roles significantly to become responsible for public understanding and education about the Antarctic through international collaboration. That will be a long-term way of ensuring that the value of the Antarctic continues.

3.10 pm

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I join with the congratulations that have been expressed for my noble friend Lady Hooper on securing this timely debate. It allows us to debate NERC’s plan to sabotage the British Antarctic Survey.

The objective of the merger with NOC is to save money in the longer term by reducing the scientific resources devoted to polar science and oceanography. About 18 BAS posts will go during the CSR period, depending on the salaries of the staff who leave, and this will already impair their ability to achieve their scientific objectives. Beyond that, the expected costs and savings arising from the merger are not identified in the consultation, as has been said, but are due to be revealed to the council in December. Can my noble friend say how many staff are actually in post now in BAS and NOC respectively; how many there will be at the end of the CSR period; and how many on completion of the merger? Without this information, the Select Committee on Science and Technology, which intends to assess the merits of the proposal, will be unable to do so.

Of course, NERC is in some difficulty because of the Treasury’s demands on it. Cutting the resources devoted to the environment is not the act of the greenest Government ever when there are other ways of balancing the books, such as taxes on the rich. Vandalising the nation’s research base should be ruled out altogether in the Government’s search for ways of reducing the deficit.

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Will the Government pay attention to the advice against the merger, not only by Martin Holdgate, who was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Jenkin, but also by Jonathan Shanklin, one of the BAS scientists who discovered the hole in the ozone layer, who says it would create a comparable hole in British science? The RSPB, with its million members, deplores the threat of commercial development in the polar regions contrary to the Antarctic Treaty 1991 and the mission statement of the NOC.

With climate change already threatening the survival of millions we should be careful not to do anything that would impair the capacity of science to examine its causes. Recently, an enormous basin has been discovered below the west Antarctic ice sheet, the characteristics of which suggest that the risks of the whole sheet collapsing are greater than was previously thought. In the worst case scenario, the global sea level would rise by several metres, overwhelming the Thames flood barrier as well as many coastal regions. To design a new barrier it would essential to have reliable estimates of the rise in sea level over the following century. If we can no longer afford scientific work of the quality now being done by BAS scientists, how will Governments be able to make decisions that require the spending of tens of billions of pounds?

NERC wants the management of the marine infrastructure and logistics for polar and marine research to be undertaken by its Swindon office. Three ship reviews and one on marine engineering over the past 12 years have shown that merging these operations would generate no savings because the polar ships and their operations are fundamentally different from those of the blue water ships. As has been mentioned, the last review by a respected member of the NERC executive board was completed in the spring and gave detailed reasons against the merger. However, if, contrary to all expert advice, NERC insists on a merger of marine operations, then Cambridge should be the single location because, on its own analysis, the shore side management and engineering support in BAS is more effective than NOC’s, as demonstrated by the relative staffing numbers and the level of satisfaction recorded by scientists using the ships of the two organisations.

As mentioned by my noble friend Lord Willis, in 2011 NERC tried to close down the Signy research station, which is an excellent example of multinational co-operation, and also tried to scrap the polar ship “Ernest Shackleton”. The Government decided that that decision was wrong. They called it in and vetoed it then, and they should do the same for this merger now. If they cannot do that, they should at least tell NERC to do the arithmetic on BAS management of the marine infrastructure and publish it, together with the rest of the missing information, in time for it to be considered by the Select Committee.

3.15 pm

Lord Giddens: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on initiating this debate, which, in the light of what has been said, could have a real practical impact.

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Scott is an iconic figure in British history. Like many such figures, he had feet of clay to some degree; his reputation waxed and then it waned; and now, in the light of a new definitive biography, it has waxed rightly again in recent years. All kinds of bric-à-brac about him and his colleagues on his final expedition have come to the surface recently. I like the story that has come to light of the depraved sexual activity of penguins, recorded by the medical officer, George Levick. It proved too outrageous to publish in its day. Far more racy than Fifty Shades of Grey, it was like fifty shades of black and white, and mostly black. It is not surprising that it was not published at the time. It was, however, strictly scientific and part of the scientific remit of the expedition.

I have spent the past several years studying climate change in an intensive way. On our maps, the Arctic and the Antarctic appear as the outer peripheries of the globe. In an era of accelerating climate change, however, they have become central to the dynamics of a warming world. Both are key laboratories for studying global warming. The warming seen in the Antarctic peninsula has been of the order of 3% over the past half-century, about 10 times the average rate of world temperature increase. Those figures come from the British Antarctic Survey, an organisation which, as other noble Lords have rightly said, is now threatened with extinction, at least as an independent entity. I am very perturbed about the proposed merger. Some of the points have been so well made by other noble Lords, especially by the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, that I will race through them fairly quickly, just as a penguin might do.

First, everyone recognises the need to cut costs, but the merger will not cut costs at all. This has been shown by other speakers and in independent reports. In my view, it will incur costs, especially if reputational damage is included. The UK, helped by the BAS, has played the dominant role in Antarctic legislation, something which has not been mentioned in the debate. Secondly, it is not just fundamental scientific work at stake. All work in the Antarctic and the proximate oceans now has major geopolitical relevance—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. What kind of signal will a contracted British presence send to other players in the region, especially the loss of the name of the organisation? Thirdly, all the former directors of BAS have expressed deep concern that safety may be compromised, which is really important in that environment. As one put it, “to run a serious and safe operation in the Antarctic and the dangerous waters of the Southern Ocean is not like running a travel agency or a bus company”. The noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, made the point very effectively. For these and other reasons, I urge that the proposed merger should be abandoned and other solutions explored.

3.19 pm

The Earl of Selborne: My Lords, I have a particular reason for being grateful to my noble friend Lady Hooper for giving us this opportunity to mark Scott’s science heritage. When Scott set off across the Ross Ice Shelf, he named an area Cape Selborne after my great grandfather, who was the First Lord of the

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Admiralty—and of course this was on the “Discovery”, not the “Terra Nova”, and was a naval expedition. I am only too pleased, four generations later, to pay tribute to Scott on his expedition. For many years I was a trustee of the Oates Museum, and two years ago, at the invitation of BAS, I visited the Rothera Research Station. It was only a short visit, but one could not help but be deeply impressed and humbled not just by the science and the scientists, but by the other people who support the work. I mention the pilots of the Twin Otter aircraft, who are remarkable people, the plumbers and carpenters and, as the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, mentioned, the dedication to health and safety, which is an extraordinarily important issue.

Today’s debate invites us to look at the scientific legacy, so I have plucked three names from the past 100 years which encapsulate some of this heritage. The first is that of Professor Frank Debenham, who came back from the Antarctic and set up the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge. Let us fast forward to the 1950s and to Sir Vivian Fuchs, director of the British Antarctic Survey, who set up many of the bases on the Antarctic Graham Peninsula and, of course, led the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition. If we fast forward again to two months’ time, we have Sir Ran Fiennes who, in the tradition of the golden age, is to set off once again on an Antarctic crossing, this time during the winter.

Like everyone else, I now turn to the NERC consultation document. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Willis, on posing to us the real challenge of what questions we should be asking. Although I do not agree that the merger is the only alternative, and he has said that it has not yet been resolved, I think that we have to come up with some positive proposals to solve the problem of ever-increasing logistical costs squeezing the science, which is not something that anyone wants. The opening paragraph of the consultation document talks about exploiting “scientific synergies” and the need for a “long term vision”, as well as how to support science,

“in the most cost-effective way”.

We would all agree with such sound sense, but where we part company is how to achieve those aspirations. Perhaps I should declare an interest as a past chairman of the NOC Advisory Council and the present chair of another NERC advisory group.

The proposals are set out in surprising detail considering that a consultation document is meant to look at first principles. It even gives us the name of the new centre: the NERC Centre for Marine and Polar Science. That name is not going to catch on. As the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, has just pointed out, there is a reputational risk here since we will lose two good brands. I speak with some experience of this. When I chaired the Agricultural and Food Research Council in the 1980s, we had dramatic cuts forced on us, much greater than the pressures NERC is now facing. We decided to protect the “recognition of our investment”—as NERC puts it in its document—by labelling our institute with names like the “AFRC Institute of Arable Crops” and the “Institute for Grassland and Animal Research”.

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However, what happened was that BBSRC sensibly reverted to John Innes, Rothamsted and Babraham—these are the brands that matter. We do not need to worry about the reputational risk or the value of the investment at NERC; we should recognise that BAS and NOC are valuable brands that need protecting.

The question that must be asked is: are there synergies to be gained and is a merger the best way of achieving them? Within the NERC family there are organisations such as the British Geological Survey, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, the National Centre for Atmospheric Science and the National Centre for Earth Observation. With all of these there are opportunities for synergy. Certainly with marine and polar science there are opportunities.

However, merger in itself does not achieve any of these synergies. It is NERC’s job to ensure that the different disciplines merge. In America they have combined oceanography, atmospheric sciences, satellite observation, weather forecasting and polar science into one organisation. That is the logical end to all mergers. I would focus on the smaller groups and keep costs down—but we will have to answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Willis, about how we will make ends meet. The answer must be by sharing services and logistical support. Whether sharing the fleet will work, either under the ownership of NERC or of someone else, I do not know—but clearly that is the route that has to be explored.

It is essential to pool resources and share costs, but merging NOC and BAS is not the answer. I was very relieved to hear—and entirely accepted—what the noble Lord, Lord Willis, said: namely, that it is not a done deal. If it is not too late, let us have the costings and let us see what the costs would be of sharing rather than merging.

3.25 pm

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness for providing us with an opportunity to mark the centenary of the Scott expedition to Antarctica. I chose to speak in this debate not because I have expert knowledge: I have none. I have not been to Antarctica, but I long to go. I know my fascination with this largely unknown continent—the last to be explored, the largest single mass of ice on earth, with some of the most spectacular mountain ranges anywhere in the world—is shared by many. For me, that fascination is inescapably bound up in the tragic outcome of Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova expedition.

I suspect that many of us were brought up on the tale of Scott’s journey, of his party reaching the South Pole only to discover that they had been beaten by Roald Amundsen, and of the deaths of, first, Evans, then Oates, and finally Scott, Bowers and Wilson—whose watercolours, done in such extreme conditions, are a revelation. It is a tale of endurance and bravery in the face of unimaginable hardship; a tale of heroism that still resonates strongly in this centenary year. I commend the schools programme website of the Royal Geographical Society for the imaginative way in which it engages new and younger minds with this heroic venture.

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When the bodies of Scott, Bowers and Wilson were found on 12 November 1912, some 35 pounds of rock samples were found with them. The men had continued to carry them despite their desperate state. Clearly, the expedition had been driven as much by science as by any dreams of claiming the pole for the British Empire.

The scientists who live and work in Antarctica today are following a tradition of research and exploration pioneered by the UK, but the Antarctic treaty that binds them is the true legacy of the heroic age of Antarctic exploration. The treaty’s 14 articles guarantee continued freedom to conduct scientific research and promote international scientific co-operation, and require that the results of research be made freely available.

As other noble Lords highlighted, it has never been more vital that we continue to learn whatever we can from this huge continent. The Library’s excellent briefing highlights how Antarctica’s unique climate and geography make it important to many globally significant processes. Understanding these processes is vital for understanding and predicting climate and environmental changes and their impacts, including future greenhouse gas levels, sea-level rise and changes in atmospheric composition—the hole in the ozone layer. We look to science to help equip us to tackle these challenges.

Our expertise in the UK is found in the British Antarctic Survey, which has been responsible for most of the UK’s scientific research in Antarctica over the past 60 years, and is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council. In researching this debate, I realised the number of national and international collaborations and joint research projects in which BAS is involved, with more than 40 UK universities. These projects show that we are still placing ourselves at the frontier of exploration in Antarctica. Yet despite this, as we heard today from all sides of the House, there is anxiety in the scientific academic community about the possible merger of the British Antarctic Survey and the National Oceanography Centre. It seems that, although this proposal aims,

“to better exploit the many scientific and operational synergies between marine and polar science”,

the fear is that funding cuts are the real driver. With other noble Lords, I ask the Minister to give us further assurances that the UK’s commitment to Antarctic research will not be undermined by the proposals.

It is fitting that in this centenary year our legacy of commitment to science and exploration is reflected in the remit of the international Scott centenary expedition, due to set off in November, and the British Services Antarctic Expedition, which has been carrying out scientific and exploration work on the Antarctic peninsula since January this year. Both expeditions are hoping to meet at the historic location of the last camp of Scott and his companions. I find this aspect particularly poignant. By now, the bodies lie tens of miles from their recorded position in 1912, buried under metres of impacted snow on the Ross Ice Shelf, which is drifting slowly northwards. A century or two from now, that piece of ice will meet the ocean and Scott’s last expedition will set sail again, in an iceberg, and the naval captain will finally receive a burial at sea.

Robert Falcon Scott’s son, the late Sir Peter Scott, felt that:

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“We should have the sense to leave just one place alone”,

but I feel more in tune with the leader of the first commercial Antarctica cruise in 1966, who observed that,

“You can’t protect what you don’t know”.

We must continue to fund our ground-breaking research in Antarctica.

3.30 pm

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Hooper for giving me the opportunity to add my voice to those of other noble Lords in objecting to the NERC proposal to merge BAS and NOC. It is short-sighted and dangerous, will not necessarily save money and must not happen.

Along with the noble Lords, Lord Oxburgh and Lord Mitchell, I visited the Antarctic and the Falkland Islands in January 2004 for a report of our Science and Technology Committee about international scientific treaties and the UK’s contribution to them. Of course, some of the most successful treaties to which the UK has made a massive contribution are the Antarctic treaties. Therefore, when we were invited by BAS to send four representatives to the south, we jumped at the chance to see for ourselves.

We saw plenty, because it was summer and we had 24 hours’ daylight. We saw the extreme nature of the conditions under which the programme operates and the need for operational expertise and proper resources both to enable the scientists to do their work and to keep them safe. Of course, if we had gone in the Antarctic winter we would have seen even more extreme conditions.

We were impressed by the quality of the people at Rothera and the outlying camps, and the care they took to abide by the treaties; for example, nothing must be left behind. The Antarctic is very important environmentally and also very beautiful—the last real wilderness—and it is vital that, in studying it, man does not destroy it. The camp at Rothera needed to be entirely self-sufficient so it had its own water treatment and sewage plant and generators, and in the winter it needed to carry supplies for many months—so the plumbers were just as important as the scientists.

We were all impressed by the professionalism, flexibility, egalitarian attitude, team spirit, loyalty, pride and commitment to their organisation of all who were there. These things are not easily generated or retained in an amorphous organisation but they are very important to a polar programme. Despite all this, the staff of BAS are not even mentioned until paragraph 36 of the consultation and then only as a set of numbers. Staff are BAS’s capital asset and the structure within which they work must serve them and not the other way round.

This has never been an inward-facing organisation. It faces outwards and is the greatest possible credit to UK science. It already demonstrates scientific synergies, mentioned in the consultation, and has partnerships with the NOC and many other organisations and universities. Of course, it is also very important geopolitically in a very sensitive part of the world. I warn the Government that, as Argentina makes rumblings

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about its claims to the Falkland Islands and the British Antarctic Territory, this is not the time—if there ever was one—to make major changes to the status of our national presence there.

The Government must understand in what very high esteem this organisation is held throughout the world, and how important its scientific work is. We all know that BAS scientists discovered the hole in the ozone layer but their achievements amount to a great deal more than that, as we have heard in earlier speeches.

The reputation of BAS contributes massively to the general reputation of UK science and we rely a great deal on that for commercial reasons that contribute to the economy. I want to mention that reputation further because preserving it requires a tight-knit team, not just an arm of something more nebulous.

Reputation is a precious but fragile thing. BAS’s reputation is based not only on the number and quality of the peer-reviewed papers that issue from it but on the operational and management efficiency that has been demonstrated, at least in the past. These would be compromised by the merger proposal. For example, despite BAS’s enviable reputation for safety, there were two tragic accidents some years ago. One was the death of a young scientist, Kirsty Brown, killed by a leopard seal when diving, and the other was the loss of the old Bonner Laboratory from fire. Both these events could have resulted in serious loss of reputation, but they did not. Why? It was because a professional team with a strong leader took control of both situations and managed the human, material, transport and reputational issues of both of them in a way that that was praised by family and in the media at the time. Could that tight control have been exercised under the proposed regime? I think not.

NERC has not made its case and the quality of the consultation document is poor. I beg the Government not to allow any decision to be made until the Science and Technology Committee has scrutinised the proposals.

3.36 pm

Lord Lea of Crondall: I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on securing this debate. Partly due to the topicality of the merger, it raises some hugely important questions—which NERC may be on to—about the broader, global, contextual matters within which the British Antarctic Survey could be more integrated. I shall come to a proposition that I should like to make about the relationship between the Antarctic and the Arctic.

My particular interest in the debate lies in the fact that my cousin, Mary-Anne Lea, is a senior member of the Australian Antarctic team, based at the University of Tasmania in Hobart. She spends a good deal of time in the Antarctic. When she is in London, she stays in my flat and I am always brought up to date on what is going on in the Antarctic.

It seems to me that we are somehow today asking the wrong question. A former trade union colleague of mine had a favourite quip. He would often say, “Well, if that’s the answer, it must be a bloody silly question”. I think that this is possibly a bloody silly question if

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you look at the billions, trillions and zillions of pounds being spent around the Arctic. A wonderful book was published a couple of years ago, which I recommend anyone to read,

The Future

History

of the Arctic

by Charles Emmerson. There are all sorts of similarities, as well as differences, between the carve-up in the Arctic and the carve-up in the Antarctic. Although the political question of the sea bed in the Arctic is not analogous to that in Antarctic, there are some things that do connect them.

When I was a member of a parliamentary delegation a couple of years ago to some islands in the Pacific equator—they used to be called the Gilbert and Ellice Islands—an Australian oceanographer was there. He was hands-on. He had a sort of stick—it was a bit more sophisticated than a stick—looking at the sea levels over donkey’s years on the equator. There was no acceleration, but the level was going up by three millimetres a year—that is one-eighth of an inch. It so happens, and many colleagues will have read the recent papers on all this, that there is a paradox: where the sea ice in the Arctic is shrinking fast, in Antarctica, it has been steadily expanding in recent years. The research that has been done suggests that the two polar zones are reacting differently because of local circumstances. We read today that a Russian Arctic oil company has become the biggest producer of oil in the world, or is shortly to become so. You can imagine that a few billion pounds here and a few billion pounds there soon start to add up to real money. If I can carry on my metaphor a bit further, we are certainly talking here about peanuts. Now, it is all very well if I tell Mr Osborne that this is peanuts: he will say that these peanuts need to be found from somewhere else. Let us find them from somewhere else.

Why can there not be a global, north-south look at future comparisons of the Arctic and Antarctic on the basis of some money from the oil companies or something like that? We could, as it were, help sponsor those with reputation, as the noble Lord, Lord Selborne, said. We might use another word for hypothecation—it may be creeping forward a bit in the philosophy of the Labour Party, but I will be corrected if I am saying something out of order on that. Yet you cannot sell the product of this research quite in the way that you can capture it to an individual. This is the case for market externalities being part of the public purse.

There is a marvellous opportunity here for getting out of the box that NERC seems to be in and taking a world lead in a totally different way, whereby you get some funding for a succession of ad hoc studies or something like that. Yes, please retain the brand. That is like saying that the Church of England or the TUC has been in decline: you would not get rid of the brand just because of financial difficulties. The brand is the asset in many ways. I hope that the Minister will start to think about whether a different question could produce a better and more relevant answer.

3.41 pm

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, I am also very grateful to my noble friend for introducing today’s debate. Sadly, I have never been to the Antarctic and think I have left it a bit too late to do so. I am very fortunate

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to have a three-way connection with Scott. My youngest stepson, Robert Swan, is the first man in history to have walked to both poles, as noted in the Guinness book of records. With Roger Mear, he was successful in arriving at the South Pole in 1986, only to find that his supply ship, “Southern Quest”, had sunk. Since then, he has returned a number of times with others to clear up the amount of rubbish that I have no doubt that those who have been to Antarctica have seen around the South Pole and, sadly, near Scott’s hut.

Secondly, my stepfather, Claud Hamilton, was a friend of Scott’s doctor, who I believe was a New Zealander. He and my stepfather left me a number of photographs of Scott’s expedition. Somebody from Cambridge saw them and, as they did not have them, I handed them over for their archives—where they belong.

Thirdly, only recently an American researcher from McMurdo Sound contacted me to say that he has seen Mount Newall, which was named after my grandfather. I understand that there is also a glacier named after him. My grandfather was a successful stockbroker and evidently twice helped Scott’s finances with the replacement of “Discovery”. The Stock Exchange raised large sums to help Scott—the Government of the time were very reluctant to help.

As my noble friend does, I well remember Eddie, Lord Shackleton in this House. He was also my stepson’s patron, as were Peter Scott and Vivian Fuchs. Explorers who risk everything deserve great admiration, if they are successful or not.

Robert goes into business now to motivate staff to—as he says, in not very polite English—get off their backsides and do something like he did. He did it without any money: he raised all the money and managed to be successful. Nobody has mentioned that some years ago he wrote a book about 2041, expressing his concerns that the international treaty now in existence could be modified or changed to allow mining and resource exploration in the Antarctic. He very much hopes that he is proved wrong. We must hope that the schoolchildren of today safeguard the future of such a fantastic region of the world and make certain that it is not despoiled by greed.

3.44 pm

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness on securing this debate. I am particularly keen on thanking her because she has brought to their feet a great many women Peers. She will know very well that, for a long time, Antarctica was a territory forbidden to women. This country had a very bad reputation in that respect; it is doing better than it did; but it is not nearly good enough. The Americans have a ratio of about 60 men to 40 women on their bases. Our record is nothing like as good. The leadership of the noble Baroness is much to be welcomed.

I rise with unusual diffidence because I am fully aware that I am talking about a subject which most noble Lords know far more about than I do. When I tell them that there are actually two Antarcticas—an east and a west—they will tell me that I am teaching them to suck eggs, which is perfectly true, but that distinction is very important. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, brought it out when he talked about the ice

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cores being brought up. The extraordinary fact is that at the bottom of one of them was ice which was formed by snow that had fallen 800,000 years ago. I find one detail even more exciting than that: trapped in that ice was air from about 800,000 years ago, long before any of us was ever thought of.

The whole point is that East Antarctica represents our past; West Antarctica represents our future. If I may burden your Lordships, I recommend to you all reading a marvellous new book written by an Englishwoman called Gabrielle Walker. It is simply entitled Antarctica. It is 350 pages long; I have another 30 pages to read. It is brilliant. Anyone who reads the penultimate chapter alone will take seriously the question of human responsibility for our future as being reflected in the developments in West Antarctica.

I have been very fortunate. I have been down to Antarctica five times. I regret to have to tell your Lordships that that has made me a bit of a snob. I do not regard people who have gone down in a 20,000 tonne cruise ship and got off at the northern tip of the Antarctic peninsula as having visited the Antarctic; they have just had an opportunity for a few nice photographs. Just crossing the Antarctic convergence is not enough for me; to do it, you have to cross the Antarctic Circle, which is quite a difficult thing to do, as anyone who knows the map of Antarctica will confirm.

I never got to the pole, I got as far as 78 degrees, 35 minutes and a few seconds south. I am very ambitious—I hope to persuade the noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, also to be ambitious—to go again and go further south. All the business about 20,000 people a year visiting Antarctica is in my view complete and absolute rubbish.

I was also fortunate in that I completed a circumnavigation of Antarctica in two halves. I now come to my constructive point. I have been very fortunate to visit several emperor penguin colonies. That is not easy. You have to go on an icebreaker, and there are not any around any more making that trip. I seriously suggest to the Government that they set up a programme for secondary school children of a suitable sort to visit Antarctica and have the opportunity to go on a small icebreaker so that they can get through the outer ice, the lees and then the ice on the fringes of the continent itself. Then they can see for themselves the magic of emperor penguin colonies.

Lastly, I want a firm assurance that the Government will support the Antarctic treaty whenever it comes up for renewal.

3.49 pm

Lord Mitchell: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on securing this important and timely debate, and all noble Lords who have taken part this afternoon. The debate is relevant on two counts: first: our pride in celebrating Scott’s centenary; and secondly, by way of contrast, our deep concern, which has been expressed today, over the proposed imminent organisational changes at BAS.

No Briton can be indifferent to the exploits of our great explorers who went to the polar regions a hundred years ago. Captain Scott’s mission to be the first man to reach the South Pole has captivated us ever since.

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Similarly, we remain enthralled by the heroic exploits of Ernest Shackleton. Polar exploration still fills us with awe. Both missions failed in their principal objective. Nevertheless, they both captured the very essence of our nation: gritty determination overcoming all the odds and, above all, never giving up.

In 2004, I chaired an investigation on behalf of your Lordships’ House into science and treaties. We decided to visit the British base at Rothera because the base is one of the few places on earth that is owned by no one and is governed by international treaty. I was accompanied by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the noble—and indefatigable—Lord, Lord Oxburgh. I do not know whether it is possible to go native in a land without natives, but I went native. For all of us, it changed our lives. Certainly for me, it was the trip of a lifetime, and I think about it often. I can top the story told by the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert: we had gin and tonics with ice that was 800,000 years old.

There are three aspects that I would like to address—the science, the base itself and the geopolitical aspects—but I cannot start without addressing the proposed merger. Management by spreadsheet is a process beloved of all accountants, but it is a process that studiously avoids good will or what those accountants would call soft assets. Any creative person will tell you that once the suits get involved, the very heart goes out of the project. The British Antarctic Survey is a national treasure in a way that neither NERC nor NOC could ever be. BAS carries on in the spirit of Scott and Shackleton. To subsume BAS, to gut it, to leave it out unloved on some organisational limb would be a supreme act of folly. Only the spreadsheets could come to that conclusion. I listened to the forceful words of the noble Lord, Lord Willis, but what NERC has done so far hardly gives hope for the future, and to my noble friend Lord Lea I say please keep the oil companies away from Antarctica. I think I speak for the whole House, except for the noble Lord, Lord Willis, in saying that we are against this merger, and I hope that NERC is listening.

My first and very direct question to the Minister is this: will she please tell us what is planned for BAS and can she assure us that its prominence and independence will be maintained? Our planet is under threat, primarily from global warming. We know it to be so, but there are many who reject the fact that global warming is manmade. Those people are powerful, and they have a great deal of influence. They are not just the evangelicals in the United States or the mega energy companies; we even have some of them in your Lordships’ House. The only way we can refute them is by science-based evidence.

BAS has a history of alerting the world to such global dangers. It is to the forefront of protecting the earth because it is at the vanguard of global scientific research. The discovery of the ozone layer and its depletion was a major BAS discovery. The awareness that that created about the potential dangers to our environment led to untold benefits for our natural environment. BAS’s ongoing work is world-class. Despite its relatively small size, it is at the summit in the number of scientific papers and citations it produces. Its principal work is studying the effects of seawater

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warming, the retreating ice shelves and the changes in marine, animal and plant behaviour as well as co-operating with our international partners to measure the dangers to our planet. Can we seriously contemplate downgrading this influential institution by merging it into irrelevance?

Unless you have visited the BAS base, it is very hard to convey how special and unique the place really is. From what I hear, several of the key people involved in this proposed takeover have not even been there. Because it is so remote, and because it is also so dangerous, the people who work there are a special breed. There are scientists, of course, but there is also the full complement of support staff and others. With only one or two ships visiting a year, the base has to be self-sufficient. It has everything necessary—doctors, plumbers, pilots and cooks—but what struck me most of all is that they are all part of an interdisciplinary scientific family. Support staff assist the scientists, scientists wash the dishes, and everyone pitches in.

The base brings out the best of people, but this does not happen by chance. It happens through excellent management and charismatic leadership—at least that was the situation when we were there, but from what they tell me, it is less the case.

In addition to my own thoughts on this matter, I would like to add a few words of my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland of Asthal—previously the Attorney-General—who, while Minister responsible for the Overseas Territories, visited the Antarctic with BAS. Sadly she cannot be here today. She said, “I was much impressed by the excellent quality and importance of the science carried out by BAS. While the famous BAS paper by Farman and his colleagues on the discovery of the ozone hole remains by a long way the most cited research paper in the history of Antarctic science, BAS continues to be a world leader in such topics as the exploration of ice cores. However, it is in the area of environment and conservation, in addition to curiosity-driven discoveries, that BAS provides a special expertise relied upon by the British Government in its role as a consultative party of the Antarctic treaty system. The deliberations and decisions of the Antarctic treaty consultative meetings need to be based on evidence and facts. BAS scientists are acknowledged leaders in the field, providing the UK with a powerful base for maintaining its interests and influence. Yet despite BAS’s front-ranking science and achievement, it was the egalitarian coherence and tight integration that left the most lasting impression. I also want to remind their Lordships of the geopolitical sensitivities of the South Atlantic, in which—for decades—the BAS presence has been the primary means by which the UK expresses its ongoing interests. To risk sending the slightest signal that could be interpreted as a weakening of UK resolve or an inability through austerity to maintain such a presence risks consequences of an historic nature. Far better to maintain and strengthen BAS in its current successful form for the benefits of science”.

I, too, would now like to address the geopolitical aspects of BAS. The bases in Antarctica are located in a part of the world which is very sensitive to our national interest. The Falklands and the southern islands are still in play, as they were in 1982. Oil and

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fish are both resources which are prized by other nations and it is not surprising that the politicians in Buenos Aires are watching our every move. As Einstein said:

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”.

We are on the verge of doing just that: taking an insane decision by ineptitude that could cause us much pain. Any downgrade of the BAS bases on the peninsula would be interpreted as weakness, just as it was in 1982.

I am told that the Prime Minister and other members of the National Security Council gave a very clear directive: that BAS was not to be touched and not to be downgraded in any way. Therefore, I ask the Minister: is this true? I hope it is true, because it would be the correct decision. From what I hear, however, this directive is being ignored. Again, is the Minister aware of this and is this true?

We are talking about matters of national security, where vital decisions have been taken in Downing Street. We cannot allow them to be overruled by the spreadsheets in Swindon. We have a national treasure which is doing vital work to protect the planet; but we also have an outpost that represents our commitment to the South Atlantic. Boots on the snow really matter. If we downgrade Rothera, we will never recover. The Foreign Secretary should make a very public statement committing his Government’s support for BAS. Otherwise, others will draw their own conclusions.

Finally, there are four words that buzz around my head and it is a question that I must ask the Minister: What would Maggie do?

4 pm

The Senior Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Warsi): My Lords, this is an interesting moment in which to address the third debate in my new job but the first in this Chamber. Before I turn to the debate, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Howell, who is a hard act to follow, but I will try. As the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert, said, I am quickly learning that Members of this House invariably will always know more than me in almost every debate.

I am grateful for the opportunity to respond for the Government on this debate brought by my noble friend Lady Hooper on the centenary of Captain Scott’s death and Britain’s enduring scientific legacy and physical presence in Antarctica. I am proud to say that the Government share the strength of feeling in this House on the importance of Scott’s legacy and the great scientific and strategic value of Antarctica to the United Kingdom’s long-term interests. Recently, there has been speculation that possible changes to the British Antarctic Survey may result in a downgrading of British interest or capacity. I want specifically to reassure noble Lords that Ministers are absolutely committed to maintaining and developing a physical presence in Antarctica.

Let me start with a few words on Captain Scott and his brave team. Despite the tragedy of their final journey, their moving story is one of bravery, endurance and good fellowship, and, importantly, of their commitment

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to scientific discovery. The noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, eloquently narrated the poignant story, as did my noble friend Lady Sharples in relation to her personal connections to “Discovery” and “Endeavour”. It is those attributes that have been such a source of pride as we remember and celebrate this centenary year of Scott’s achievement.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is proud to have been able to support the organisation of the memorial service in St Paul’s Cathedral for Captain Scott and his colleagues in the presence of Her Royal Highness the Princess Royal. We have also marked the centenary in other ways. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister recorded a message that was broadcast to all those working in Antarctica. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary signed an agreement with his Norwegian counterpart to celebrate our shared polar history and increased co-operation on heritage and science issues. The Minister for the Polar Regions at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office hosted a reception for the descendants of the Scott expedition. On behalf of this House, I thank everyone in the Antarctic community who made the centenary such a success.

The centenary has been about remembering the bravery and sacrifices of Scott’s expedition and the truly world-class scientific legacy that endures to this day. Both the British Antarctic Survey and the Scott Polar Research Institute are world-leading centres of excellence, supporting the United Kingdom’s strong record on science, discovery and education about Antarctica. My noble friend Lord Avebury and the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, are right to raise the impact of the science of Antarctica on our understanding of climate change. It was the long-term monitoring of activities in Antarctica that allowed British scientists to discover the ozone hole in 1984. There is no doubt that the UK will continue to undertake world-class science in Antarctica.

We anticipate that in just a few weeks’ time the British Lake Ellsworth project will begin to drill down through three kilometres of ice to a freshwater lake that has been hidden for hundreds of thousands of years. That is possible only because of British scientists, British companies, British innovation and the British spirit of exploration. It is exactly the kind of endeavour that is the spirit of Scott. It is not too far-fetched to say that there is a golden thread of scientific excellence running directly from those first ambitious steps of Scott’s scientific work right through to projects such as Lake Ellsworth today. That thread is strong but it is not unbreakable, and we should not take it for granted. The noble Lords, Lord Oxburgh and Lord Hunt, raised important concerns. Both come to this debate with great expertise and experience. Let me assure this House that this Government recognise the thread of that science and its importance, and we will take all the steps necessary to preserve British supremacy in this field.

British scientists have the confidence and ability to operate in Antarctica because of the strong presence, experience and logistical skill of the British Antarctic Survey. In turn, the importance of the science that can be carried out in Antarctica justifies and reinforces the

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need to have the strongest possible presence and the widest reach. Let me assure noble Lords, and specifically concerns raised by my noble friend Lord Jenkin, that there is no doubt that Antarctica matters to the United Kingdom. British explorers were the first to venture there and we were the first to claim territory. We have maintained a permanent year-round presence in Antarctica since 1944 and we will continue to do so.

The British Antarctic Territory is the largest of the UK’s overseas territories and the Government place great importance on ensuring its security and good governance. British presence is maintained jointly by the British Antarctic Survey and the Royal Navy, whose ice patrol vessel, HMS “Protector”, plays a vital role in delivering our responsibilities.

Our national Antarctic programmes are proud to operate from the Falkland Islands, which is a vital gateway to both the British Antarctic Territory and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The Government understand the importance of maintaining close links between all British activities in the South Atlantic and visibly demonstrating our strongest possible long-term commitment to the region.

As Antarctica emerges from its long winter sleep and the 30 men and women of the British Antarctic Survey who have kept the lights burning there for the past six months prepare for their companions to rejoin them, it is fitting to thank them and to remember the hardships that Antarctic service still entails. The noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, is right to pay tribute to all those who work there. In particular, I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the 29 men and women who have died on active Antarctic service for Britain in the region over the past 60 years. Just as they are never forgotten by their family and friends, so they and their sacrifices are remembered by us.

This Government recognise and respect our international commitments to Antarctica, in particular to the Antarctic treaty, which the UK was instrumental in bringing into existence. For more than 50 years the Antarctic treaty has preserved Antarctica for peace and science. It is arguably one of the world’s most successful international agreements. Antarctica is the only continent never to have seen conflict and the UK will strive to ensure that this will always be the case.

The Antarctic peninsula is one of the fastest warming and therefore most rapidly changing places on the planet. There are serious challenges ahead as the ice melts, accessibility increases and the climate becomes more welcoming to new species carried there either by natural means or by human activity. Britain will continue to provide global leadership in responding to these challenges and, in the spirit of Scott, we will strive for success no matter how difficult things get. In particular, we will work to ensure that the prohibition on the commercial extraction of minerals and hydrocarbons remains in place. We will seek agreement to ensure that everyone who visits Antarctica does so in a safe and environmentally friendly way. We will support new legislation to implement a new agreement on liability for environmental emergencies in Antarctica. We will press for higher standards for vessels visiting the Southern Ocean, particularly fishing vessels. We

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will advocate the establishment of further marine protection measures for the Southern Ocean, building on our experience of creating the world’s first high seas marine protected area to the south of the South Orkney Islands in 2009.

However, given the rich Antarctic tradition, concerns about the future of British engagement are understandable. Noble Lords have raised a number of important issues this afternoon in relation to the future of the British presence. I want to be absolutely clear; Ministers have agreed that the dual mission of science and presence will continue and that Britain’s physical footprint in Antarctica in ships, aircraft and bases will be maintained. Importantly, I assure noble Lords that the iconic British Antarctic Survey name will be retained for all activities and logistics relating to the Antarctic and the South Atlantic. I take the important point made by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, on branding and that made by my noble friend Lady Walmsley on reputation.

The Natural Environment Research Council has confirmed that it will continue to deliver for the UK both regional presence in Antarctica and the South Atlantic and a world-class science programme. It has also confirmed that it will maintain an overt and clearly branded British presence in Antarctica, maintain the logistical and strategic footprint of the British Antarctic Survey, ensure full ongoing support for the Antarctic treaty process and appoint a British director to manage and oversee all British activities in Antarctica. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Willis for his clear and concise contribution, which dealt with some of the misunderstanding around the recent consultation.

These and others are strong and good reasons to be confident about the future of Britain’s scientific activity and physical presence in Antarctica. The next four months will see the start of the sub-glacial Lake Ellsworth drilling project, the official opening of the brand new Halley VI module on the Antarctic ice shelf and, I hope, an opportunity for this House to debate the new Antarctic Bill to increase environmental protection for the region. These are all genuine reasons for optimism.

Yes, Ministers have been actively engaged in this decision, including the financial case that was raised by my noble friend Lord Avebury. No final decision has been made on the merger; all responses on the consultation, as well as the views of noble Lords heard in the House today, will be considered.

The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, raised a specific question about financial contributions to the conservation of the Scott huts. The Government of the British Antarctic Territory, an overseas territory, provide ongoing funding to the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust. The trust uses that funding to support the conservation of British huts.

My noble friend Lady Hooper asked a specific question about the Antarctic science strategy. The Natural Environment Research Council is developing its forward strategy and will require its research centres, including the British Antarctic Survey, to do likewise.

The noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, raised concerns about why science is increasingly required to focus on commercial interests for commercial activity. Research councils, including NERC, fund research

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into all aspects of science, from frontier science to closed-market activities. Scientific excellence is the essential criterion.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, raised the issue of communication. I share the view that the Antarctic treaty needs to do more to communicate with the public. For the UK’s part, the FCO developed with BAS and the Royal Geographical Society a BAFTA-nominated educational website, www.discoveringantarctica.org.uk, which was developed to do just that.

I hope that in answering noble Lords’ concerns, I have assured the noble Lord, Lord Lea, that the Government are asking the right questions to get the right answers.

I am grateful for the opportunity presented by my noble friend Lady Hooper to pay tribute to Captain Scott and his brave team, and to his enduring legacy. Today Antarctica matters to the United Kingdom more than ever as a place of peace, common scientific endeavour, international collaboration and environmental protection. Looking back across the years and the vast whiteness of the Antarctic continent to that last desolate camp where they met their fate, I would like to think that Scott, his team and their descendants would be proud of what we have achieved in Antarctica and what we will continue to achieve in the years ahead.

Lord Hunt of Chesterton: My Lords, in summarising the research, the Minister has referred to the British Antarctic Survey, which is fine, but 50% of that research is done in universities, which she has not mentioned.

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, the questions raised today have predominantly been about the British Antarctic Survey. I hope that in addressing noble Lords’ concerns I have specifically referred to BAS. The Government remain committed to science, wherever it may take place.

I believe that the debate today has shown that, in Antarctica, Britain has the strongest possible tradition, the clearest ministerial commitment to maintaining and developing our scientific and physical presence, and significant opportunities for the future. With the commitment and skill of the brave men and women of the British Antarctic Survey, those of the Royal Navy and the many other researchers and workers in Antarctica, I have every confidence that we will be able to live up to what Scott described in his final moving message as,

“a tale of hardihood, endurance and courage”,

to stir the heart.

4.13 pm

Baroness Hooper: My Lords, this has been an excellent, fascinating and constructive debate. I am particularly glad that voices have been raised from all sides of the House, and indeed that the balance of male and female voices has met with the approval of the noble Lord, Lord Gilbert. Questions clearly still need to be answered about the way forward, and difficult decisions lie ahead. However, we can take some comfort from the assurances that the proposed merger of BAS and NOC is not a done deal, and that there is government recognition of the role and work of BAS and of the

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importance and relevance of the brands as they stand. I hope that the views expressed by so many noble Lords with real knowledge and experience will be taken into account, not only by NERC and the Foreign Office but by all the government departments that should be involved in such an important issue.

In thanking all noble Lords for their participation, I also congratulate the Minister, who in her new Foreign Office role is proof of the fate of Lords Ministers in every department, which is to have to answer questions and reply to debates on subjects far removed from their own departmental responsibilities.

Motion agreed.

Bus Industry

Question for Short Debate

4.15 pm

Asked By Lord Bradshaw

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what proposals they have for further developments in the bus industry.

Lord Bradshaw: Punctuality and reliability are the main concerns of passengers. The obvious way to resolve this is to implement Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004. It has been on the statute book for eight years and has not been implemented. Yet, if there is any single thing that the Government can do to improve the operation of buses in towns and cities, this is it. The Welsh Government have introduced measures to ensure that the Act is implemented, and they have done all the legal work that may be involved. It can be transcribed into English law quite easily and much less expensively than I have been told before.

The second issue that I want to bring to noble Lords’ attention is the precarious state of rural services and services used in many areas by holidaymakers. It is all very well for people to say, “We are not in the tourism business”, but the buses that the holiday visitors use are in fact the same buses as those that convey, in particular, pensioners with discretionary travel arrangements. No duplicates are likely to be provided next summer because the operators cannot afford to run them, and they receive no proper recompense for them from the Government. Buses will be overcrowded in those areas, and regular fare-paying passengers will be left behind because the seats will have already been taken by people who do not pay fares.

The issue of young people’s fares is extremely important because it is at that age that people consider buying a car. The railways have a national scheme for cheaper travel for young people. I am certainly not asking for a free travel scheme for those people, but there should be a national scheme, and I should like to know whether the Government are doing anything to bring that about.

The Government speak about the need for fuel efficiency and say that that is one of the reasons why they wish to terminate bus service operator grants. There is a much better way—it is to encourage bus operators, through various funding mechanisms, to

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use a scheme called RIBAS. There is a similar scheme on the market which monitors drivers’ performance, all their driving techniques, their speeds and other things. I urge the Government to give consideration to this as a much more useful means of improving drivers’ behaviour generally and cutting fuel costs. I know of one company that operates the scheme whose fuel costs have reduced by 5%.

Can the Minister tell me what is considered to be a reasonable level of profit for an operator who is trying to keep his fleet of buses up to date and his staff properly trained? It is all very well for people to talk about bus barons as if they had gold flowing out of their pockets but, in fact, a number of reputable small operators simply cannot afford to keep up with the business and are actually thinking of selling up. In my own area of Oxfordshire, one independent operator went out of business last week.

Making bids for various funds costs a lot of money. The better bus area fund provision excludes population centres under 100,000, which directly discriminates against out-of-centre bus operations. The rural or inter-urban bus operator is desperately waiting for the Government to come forward with a comprehensive and reasonable scheme to suit them.

The Competition Commission and the competition authorities have had an extensive inquiry into the bus industry. I should like to know how much money the Government estimate that has cost the taxpayer and the bus industry, which has had to provide information for the inquiry. The results are, frankly, pathetic. Just one or two small extensions to the powers of traffic commissioners could have done more than was achieved by the Competition Commission at a much lower cost. I urge the Minister to go back and tell his honourable friends that their—I am not sure how to describe it—reluctance to give the traffic commissioners power is really rather silly. I think that it probably smacks more of interdepartmental in-fighting than it does of a concern for a competitive and healthy industry.

We are also very concerned about the compensation culture, which is costing bus companies a lot of money. I am fairly certain that many insurance companies are complicit in the knock-for-knock arrangements, whereby they settle a claim even though one of the parties is innocent and that party then calls on his insurance company to make good the loss.

At the last estimate, anti-social behaviour—for example, damaging buses—cost the industry about £574 million. Most of the cost of crime related to crimes against the individual—either a passenger or a member of staff—with the remaining 39% being costs to the operator resulting from damage to vehicles. Although they may be repaired very quickly, such damage inevitably means that a bus will not be in service for a day or two, and that is extremely expensive for the operator.

I should like to know—if anybody does know—how many members of the Cabinet or, for that matter, heads of county councils ever travel on a bus outside London. I accept that they might get on a bus in London because it is convenient to do so. However, the people who run bus services and send money to the bus companies to subsidise passengers have very

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little experience of what life is like, even though the bus is by far the most popular means of public transport in the country.

I know of an excellent operator who has invested in many new buses, but this year his fuel prices are 58% higher than they were last year due to the reduction in the bus service operator grant. He has already had to raise fares three times this year in a poorer area of the country, and that is a serious matter that needs to be addressed.

The industry is short of skilled staff to deal with both modern diagnostics, which relate to the engine and the fuel system, and the very complicated ticket machines which are being introduced. There is simply not the skilled staff available to deal with these matters. I would like to hear whether the Government have any proposals on this.

Some local authorities—I believe that Cornwall was one of them—have decided to specify the bus services through the procurement department rather than through their transport staff. The procurers will not accept non-compliant bids. That works against the grain as the specification needs to be in the hands of people who understand bus services. Much of the consultation that the Government have put out on the bus industry—a new one came out last month—never seems to make the case for the proposed changes. The consultation is about implementation but the decision has already been made about what will be done. That needs to be changed so that people understand what the Government are trying to achieve.

Lastly, and this summarises the whole thing in a way, in local authorities transport is a discretionary duty. Local authorities face a 28% cut in grant and they have to have higher regard for their statutory duties. Libraries and, particularly, bus services are two areas that are being starved of money. Again, I would like to know what the Government propose because if any more money is delegated to local authorities from national funds, it is likely to find its way out of the bus industry into other services.

4.26 pm

Lord Snape: My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw. I do not have any financial interests to declare in these matters. I should point out that I chair the Bus Appeals Board, which is a purely voluntary post and I have over the years worked for both the National Express Group and First Group on the bus side.

The noble Lord started his speech by referring to the two important factors in running bus services being punctuality and reliability. Unlike him, I am not sure which piece of legislation he was referring to but I am sure that he would agree with me that these matters are largely the responsibility of highways authorities, outside passenger transport executive areas or passenger transport executives—the integrated transport authorities as we are now to know them—within our major cities. I hope that when the Minister replies, he will agree with me that punctuality and reliability do not depend on ownership of bus companies.

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I find it depressing that people in my own party, in particular, continually call for reregulation although it is more than 25 years since buses were deregulated. Since then, we have had the back end of a Conservative Government, 13 years of a Labour Government and now two and a half years of a coalition Government, and the 1986 Act has not been repealed. We should make the best of what we have. In many parts of the country, not only are bus services thriving, there are lots of successes to point to without getting into arguments of ownership and reregulation.

I spent most of my working life in the bus industry, although that is a rather flattering description of someone who was chairman of a bus company. Many people who drove buses would not have regarded the chairman as being part of their working lives. But I did mix with them and held a PSV, as it was known at the time. In the West Midlands there has been a considerable number of successes in bus operations that have continued in recent years. Within the past year Centro and a passenger transport authority, or the ITA as it now is, and National Express, the predominant operator in the area, signed a ground-breaking agreement that commits the two organisations to working closely together to drive forward about £25 million worth of improvements for bus passengers across the West Midlands within two years. These commitments from both sides—certainly as far as National Express is concerned— include the introduction of more than 300 new, greener buses, improved onboard cleanliness, a smart card system similar to London’s Oyster card and upgrades to bus shelters and other waiting facilities. They also include more real-time information screening, which will be a great boon to anyone waiting for a bus, specially designed shelters and infrastructures, new passenger information systems, onboard announcements —on which I am not madly keen but they are obviously the thing of the future—improvements to the safety and security arrangements for passengers and the introduction of 40 hybrid electric buses to the region.

However, there is a lack of enforcement of the existing legislation, particularly in regard to bus lane provision. In London we are fortunate: there are lots of buses and most motorists know—they soon find out if they do not—that straying into a bus lane will be immediately followed by a minimum £60 fine. Why do we not have that level of enforcement throughout the country? I presume that is the part of the Act to which the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, referred.

Lord Bradshaw: Perhaps I may extend that. I am particularly concerned about yellow-box junctions and right turns, which are clogging the roads. Local authorities need to have the power to deal with moving traffic offences. They can film the offence but they cannot do anything about it.

Lord Snape: I am grateful for that clarification. I agree entirely with the noble Lord. Why are not the benefits that bus operators and passengers enjoy in London extended to the rest of the country? I hope that when the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, replies he will be able to give us some comfort on this matter. The greenest, most modern buses are not doing the job for

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which they are designed if they are stuck in traffic. We are not going to persuade people to get out of their cars and on to public transport if that bus is stuck in the same traffic jam as their own cars.

However, it is not all bad news. I hope the noble Earl and my noble friend on the Front Bench will acknowledge that one rarely hears mention of bus passengers in these debates. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, hazarded a guess that not many Ministers travel by bus. I suggest that many Members of your Lordships’ House do so, if only because most of us have reached the age where we get a financial benefit out of doing so.

If one were to ask bus passengers about the standard of service, one might be pleasantly surprised by the reaction. Passenger Focus recently commissioned a nationwide survey of various companies and sought the opinion of bus passengers. I will cite the Go Ahead group survey. I do not think it operates in my part of the world and I have never worked for it, so I cannot be accused of bias. Among more than 3,000 Go Ahead passengers consulted in the survey, there was an 86% satisfaction level. Would any Government of the day receive such satisfaction levels from the populace at large?

Go North-East, a subsidiary of Go Ahead, had an 88% satisfaction level. I mention this because Nexus, the ITA in the north-east, is, I understand, most anxious to introduce a quality contract. Under the terms of the quality contract the ITA will set both fares and standards of service. I do not know whether Nexus or anyone else has asked passengers in the north-east what they think, but if 88% are satisfied with the service currently provided, it is difficult to imagine that local authority involvement would lead to any greater satisfaction. I will be interested to hear the views of both Front Benches on that matter.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, I believe that we should express concern about the price of bus travel, particularly for young people and those seeking employment. All too often Ministers in the present Government—the Chancellor of the Exchequer immediately comes to mind—refer to the unemployed as though somehow it is their fault. When you talk to people who are unemployed—most of us who were in the other place have served the unemployed—the passion, commitment and desire for regular work inspires many of them. However, it is an expensive business to travel to interviews. Only last week a woman told me about going to two interviews here in this city, both of which were held early in the day. That meant she had to pay £10.77 to travel around London because she had to leave during the morning rush hour. Had the interviews been scheduled slightly later in the day, the cost would have been £7-something. For many in your Lordships’ House that £3 would not make much difference, but the unemployed have to decide how best to spend their benefits and it can make a considerable difference.

The Minister will tell me if I am wrong, but I understand that it is possible for people to claim the cost of travel to job interviews. I am told that it is an enormously bureaucratic matter to do so and that it is necessary to jump through all sorts of hoops. Surely the Department for Transport and the department for

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employment, whatever it is called these days, could sit down and provide some sort of travel voucher for the unemployed to use when they are seeking work. I realise that getting two departments under any Government to discuss financial allocations is the equivalent of the Korean peace talks at Pyongyang, which have lasted for over 50 years, but it ought to be possible to find a less bureaucratic and more humane system than what we have at present.

Unaccountably we have 90 minutes for this debate, but we have been told that we are limited to 10 minutes. Perhaps someone better versed in the rules of your Lordships’ House could explain that, since only four of us are participating. The noble Lord touched on other matters, particularly the distribution of the bus service operators grant. I do not think the Government are aware of the difference between running rural and urban services. The rural bus network is in grave danger of being decimated over the next few years if the changes to BSOG continue. It is an open secret that the Treasury has always regarded BSOG as a subsidy well worth cutting, and having reduced it in the 2011 Budget, there is an intention to actually abolish it before 2015. Such an abolition will lead to the complete decimation of bus services both urban and rural, but particularly in rural areas. It strikes me that the Government will be committing electoral suicide in many areas that are regarded as traditionally Conservative if BSOG is cut further.

I have now exhausted my time. There is some good news about bus service provision, and I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench will avoid the view—not expressed by passengers—that the simple answer to any problems are quality contracts and reregulation. That is not the view of those who use the bus to get from A to B.

4.38 pm

Lord Rosser: My Lords, in the light of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, I am not sure whether I am required as a bus user both in London and outside London to declare an interest in this debate. I also suspect, having listened to the contribution of my noble friend Lord Snape, that there will be little support behind me, at least from those who have spoken, for what I have to say. But, nevertheless, we proceed.

This is neither the best attended debate nor a debate that has attracted a large number of speakers. However, its subject matter is of considerable importance since more people travel by bus than travel by every other form of public transport combined. I am grateful to the Library of the House for the comprehensive and helpful briefing pack it has provided. Before I go any further I would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, for giving us an opportunity to discuss developments in the bus industry. One development was a Competition Commission report on the industry outside London, which found that what it described as widespread market segregation had occurred as a result of operator behaviour.

However, the bus industry also has much about which it can be pleased. The 2012 bus passenger survey by Passenger Focus, the official passenger

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watchdog, found that on average 85% of passengers in England, excluding London, were satisfied with their bus journeys. My noble friend Lord Snape, whose advocacy of and support for buses knows no bounds, referred to the survey.

The chairman of Passenger Focus also commented that while overall passenger satisfaction across the surveyed areas was at a consistently high level, bus passengers rated almost all other specific journey factors lower, with wide disparities in ratings of value for money not only between different areas but between different operators and services in the same area.

The Library briefing pack includes a section on the policy of the coalition Government. It points out that the coalition agreement made one mention of bus services when it stated that the Government would,

“encourage joint working between bus operators and local authorities”.

That is a little vague—no doubt because the Conservatives in opposition had proposed regulation and the introduction of quality contracts, whereas the Liberal Democrats stated in their manifesto that they would,

“give councils greater powers to regulate bus services according to community needs, meaning local people get a real say over routes and fares”.

Lord Snape: Will my noble friend tell the House how many quality contracts were made during the period of office of the previous Labour Government?

Lord Rosser: As I understand it, there were no quality contracts. The legislation was amended in 2008 because the previous legislation has made it an enormous mountain to climb to implement quality contracts. The noble Lord himself made reference to the local transport authorities that are currently seeking to pursue quality contracts in accordance with the legislation.

At Second Reading in the House of Commons of what became the Local Transport Act 2008, the Liberal Democrats said:

“The concept of having partnerships and contracts is right”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/3/08; col. 220.]

Lord Bradshaw: Having twice been baited on the subject, I will say that I agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Snape, that quality contracts are quite unnecessary if co-operation between the local authority and the bus operator is good. That is why I started with the business about implementing Part 6 of the Traffic Management Act 2004, which was passed by his Government.

Lord Rosser: I note what the noble Lord said, but I am quoting from what his party said in the House of Commons—that the concept of having partnerships and contracts was right. If he is now saying that he does not agree with the statement made by his own party in opposition, of course he is welcome to do so. It is clear that on the issue of contracts, the Conservative Party view has prevailed and the Liberal Democrats have shifted their ground, even though the Minister responsible for the bus industry is a Liberal Democrat.

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The bus industry, certainly outside London, is facing a difficult time. The cut in local transport funding of some 28% has led to local authorities cutting back on support for local bus services, and subsidies paid direct to bus companies have also been cut by the Government by one-fifth. In some rural areas, council-supported services make up nearly all the network, yet many of those who use buses have no other means of transport. Cutting a bus route or bus services can cut an opportunity to take up employment or to stay on in education and go to college. That hardly seems consistent with the Government’s declared policy of making it easier to gain skills and take up employment.

We have already set out the significant tranche of cuts to the Department for Transport’s budget that we would have accepted to meet our own commitment to halve the deficit in this Parliament. However, unlike this Government, we would have protected support for local bus services. While the level of financial support from government is very important, it is not the only factor that affects the availability and affordability of local bus services. The ability of local transport authorities to play a role on behalf of passengers, and potential passengers, matters as well.

In government, we legislated to enable transport authorities to, in effect, reregulate buses through the use of quality partnerships, which have led to very successful agreements in some areas, or quality contracts. But the experience of some of the ITAs that have begun to use these powers, particularly in relation to quality contracts, suggests that we did not go far enough. Efforts to introduce quality contracts by integrated transport authorities have been met with specific threats by one of our major national bus companies to close bus depots and sack drivers.

We need measures, which are not currently available, that would provide some protection to enable transport authorities that want to go down the road of quality contracts to do so without facing a long drawn-out and potentially costly process, and even then still face the prospect of being frustrated for no good reason. It should be for the transport authorities, which have a rather wider role and responsibility for the provision of transport within their areas than the bus companies, to decide whether a quality partnership or a quality contract will best deliver their goals and policy objectives on behalf of those whom they represent, and they should not be impeded in achieving either the quality partnership or a quality contract by actions designed to frustrate by either bus companies or indeed government—which I will come on to.

As the recent House of Commons Transport Select Committee report said, in a fairly lengthy but important quote:

“The Quality Contract option is a legitimate one for a local authority to choose. It must also be seen as credible in order to enable the local authorities to apply pressure in cases where competition or partnerships are not working satisfactorily. Local bus operators should not seek to frustrate moves towards a Quality Contract. That no local authority has implemented a Quality Contract more than a decade after the provisions were introduced suggests that there are significant hurdles to overcome, particularly for the first local authority to go down this route. The legislation itself, as amended by the Local Transport Act 2008, seems satisfactory but the process is still lengthy and risky”.

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The Select Committee went on to say:

“We recommend that the Government makes the Better Bus Areas funding available, in principle, to support Quality Contracts as well as partnership schemes”.

However, that is precisely what the Government are not doing. The Minister responsible for buses has decided to exclude transport authorities that pursue quality contracts from accessing the Government’s better bus areas fund, to which the Government are implementing the commitment to devolve bus subsidies. The various strands of bus funding should be brought together in a single pot, which could then come under the democratic control of transport authorities.

However, the Government’s decision on access to the better bus areas fund is obviously designed to make it financially difficult, if not impossible, for local transport authorities that wish to go down the road of quality contracts to do so. How can the Government say that they are in favour of devolving powers and yet be prepared to penalise those authorities that decide they wish to pursue tendering, which they are entitled to do under the law? Tendering as an option is not such a radical idea. It is commonplace in much of Europe as well as in London, where a Conservative mayor has not shown any enthusiasm for dismantling the system. In fact, some of the operators opposed to quality contracts in this country are subsidiaries of wider groups that regularly bid for and secure contracts in Europe.

Lord Snape: Can my noble friend tell your Lordships’ House whether or not our party is now in favour of the London experience being spread countrywide, and has he cleared such a commitment with the shadow Chancellor?

Lord Rosser: I did not say that we are in favour of it being spread countrywide, full stop. What I have said is that it should be up to the transport authorities to decide whether to go down the road of quality partnerships or quality contracts, as they are entitled to under current legislation.

We need to protect the funding for bus services. We also need stronger transport authorities accountable for decisions over fares and services to the communities they serve, and with the confidence to decide freely what kind of relationship they want with bus operators. Unfortunately, the Government have decided to go in exactly the opposite direction.

4.49 pm

Earl Attlee: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Bradshaw for tabling this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Snape, asked why there is a 10-minute Back-Bench speaking limit. That was a decision of the Procedure Committee approved by your Lordships’ House. It is a shame that there are not more contributors, but perhaps on a Thursday afternoon we can understand why.

Lord Snape: Will the Minister then use his enormous influence to see that when there is next a 90-minute debate and there are only a few of us, we can take 90 minutes instead of gabbling through everything in 10?

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Earl Attlee: My Lords, I can assure the House that noble Lords have been challenging enough in the debate so far without it being extended.

Buses play a vital role in our economy. Sixty-three per cent of all public transport trips are made on local buses, a total of 2.3 billion bus journeys in 2010-11. The bus is essential for many people to get to work and education and to visit doctors and hospitals. For many, the bus is a lifeline and, without it, they would not be able to socialise. More than half of those who rely on the bus outside London do not have access to a car.

As many noble Lords have pointed out, customer satisfaction with their bus journeys is high, with 85% of passengers being satisfied with their service. The under-21s make up a third of bus passengers and use among the over-60s is increasing as a result of the national concessionary pass. A recent study by the University of Leeds has reinforced the importance of buses to a healthy and growing economy. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Snape, for his positive comments about the bus industry.

The Government remain committed to improving bus services, and expenditure on buses reflects this. This year, the Government will spend around £1 billion on the concessionary travel entitlement and £350 million in direct subsidy to bus operators in England. Another £200 million has been allocated to funding major bus projects in the past year, including improvement schemes in Bristol and Manchester.

In March, we provided £70 million through the better bus area fund to deliver improvements in 24 local authorities, £31 million to invest in low-carbon buses and the second instalment of a £20 million package to support community transport. Many bus improvement schemes have also been funded as part of the Government’s £600 million local sustainable transport fund. All this funding demonstrates how important the Government consider bus services to be.

However, the Government also recognise that improvements can and must be made, so earlier this year they outlined their plans for buses in a document entitled, Green Light for Better Buses. The proposals include reforming bus subsidy, improving competition, improving local authority capability in tendering, incentivising partnership working and multi-operator ticketing, and making bus information and ticketing easier to access for all, particularly young people. Here, I pay tribute to the work of my honourable friend Mr Norman Baker, a Minister who is absolutely committed to public transport.

There is no doubt that we are operating in challenging economic times, and this is no different for bus operators. The Government want to ensure that the bus market is still attractive to operators, both large and small, by ensuring that funding is allocated in the fairest way while giving the best value for money to taxpayers. However, we recognise the problems that are experienced by smaller operators.

The Government have recently launched a consultation on the future of the bus service operators’ grant, which is paid to bus operators—I shall say more about this in a moment. The grant is currently paid direct to bus operators in a fairly blunt and untargeted way that

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is related to fuel consumption. Some local authorities have told us that they can make the bus subsidy deliver better value for money by working in partnership with their bus operators to grow the bus market. That is what the better bus areas are intended to do, and the available top-up fund will give them an additional incentive to innovate.

The better bus area policy relies strongly on partnership with commercial bus operators rather than on contractual relationships. Thus, better bus areas are quite distinct from quality contract schemes where all bus services would be tendered and the bus service operators’ grant automatically devolved to local authorities. The characteristics of local bus markets vary, so different solutions will be appropriate in different local areas. The Government believe that it is for local authorities to decide which route they should pursue.