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The noble Lord, Lord Kenilworth, was right when he said that if dyslexia is spotted early in a child's education there is far more chance of being able to deal with it and to give support. But that depends upon having teachers who are trained correctly to recognise the problem, as is the case with all other hidden disabilities. If these disabilities are not spotted--dyslexia has forced its way into the public's awareness, but there is also dysphasia--there is a danger that children will be branded as stupid, as has often been said, or will be overloaded with the incorrect remedial help, which may compound the problem.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, mentioned young people being disaffected and taken away from school. Their problems are often compounded by this type of disability which may alienate children. It is nice to be able to start a speech by agreeing with someone on the other side of the House. I hope that the Government will pay attention to this problem.
When I heard that there was to be further legislation to deal with student loans, a vague hope arose within me that something might be done about them: for instance, that something might be done about the long vacuum in financial support during the long vacation when students have to find a job, obtain money off their parents or other relatives or go hungry. Unfortunately that has not happened. We merely have a piece of legislation which will mean that we have to create more bureaucracy and once again invite the banks to become involved.
When the system was first introduced, the banks indicated a clear "no" to becoming involved in it. That may have been based on the experience of boycotts in relation to other issues, particularly South Africa. The banks decided that they did not want to become involved in something that was potentially unpopular. It has been reported to me--I do not know whether it is accurate--that the tender documents provide that when tendering one must not talk to others who are tendering. The tenders must be done independently. So it may be that the Government smell that there may still be problems about becoming involved in the scheme.
The real problem with the scheme is that all it will do is to offer different repayment terms. What is strongly suspected by many involved is that if one can pay back one's loan rapidly, one will be charged a lower rate of interest. One wonders who will be able to take advantage of such a system. Can any student guarantee that they will receive a certain level of salary at the end of their course? That is highly unlikely. It will probably be those who have parents who will say, "Very well, we will advise you on the correct way to take out this loan, and we will assist you to repay it quickly". Or the case may be put, "We will allow you to repay your loan over a longer period of time but we will charge you a higher interest rate". I hope that the Minister will tell us that that will not occur, because it will mean that those who come from the poorest social backgrounds and who, rightly or wrongly, have the lowest expectations will pay the highest rates of interest.
Neither of those solutions is successful. Indeed, as a central body must co-ordinate the private loans, the end result may be increased bureaucracy and bureaucratic costs. Although there may be PSBRI advantages to the scheme, it is difficult to see what other advantages can be found. It is a short Bill--only four clauses--and three minutes on it is probably enough.
I wish to make one further point. We have heard a great deal about grant-maintained schools being allowed further financial freedoms and the freedom to dispose of their own assets. We have also heard that the Government are going to try to defend the rights of those schools as regards their playing fields. Indeed, we have heard the cry for greater sports provision and more competitive games in schools. However, the point has not yet been made that school sports fields are assets not only to the schools but to the local communities.
One of the greatest advantages that we have in our sporting culture--despite the fact that we may lose internationally more than every now and again--is that we have a culture of participation. Participation at junior level in football, hockey and cricket is dependent upon publicly-owned facilities; otherwise the teams cannot participate in their sport. The school playing fields are a vital part of that system. Well maintained sports fields are essential to teams who are raising their standards and aim to go higher than just participation level.
If such sports fields are lost various sports activities will be cut off in certain parts of the country. I do not say that there would a catastrophic situation overnight but there would be gaps in provision. There would be an overloading on the playing facilities in public parks
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, referred to discipline. Self-discipline is often acquired through sports, especially for the male of the species. It is a way in which people can learn to do something under their own steam. The great danger with the Government's cry for more compulsory school games is that people will associate school sports with being forced to do something as opposed to wanting to do it. Adult participation is based on the idea that one wants to be out there and that one is doing it oneself. Young people are being given a second chance to be involved. Will the Minister assure the House that the non-academic use of school facilities will be borne in mind if grant-maintained schools should wish to sell off any of their assets?
The Earl of Clanwilliam: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and to associate myself completely with his remarks about school playing fields. I represent in one part of Wiltshire the National Playing Fields Association, which has the honour of having His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh as its president. Its object is to ensure that school playing fields are not sold off by local councils and to encourage an increase in their number.
My noble friend Lord Ferrers in his opening remarks mentioned the Select Committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Tombs on the subject of sustainable development. That was itself a debate on the environment, which is the subject I should like to discuss. The report was erudite and wide-ranging and the debate demonstrated the conflicts that arise in maintaining sustainability in the developing environment, which have to be considered and which become a charge on the public purse which we are beholden to satisfy.
In that debate my noble friend Lord Ferrers gave an excellent definition of a sustainable environment; that it is one which meets the needs of the present generation without compromising future generations' inheritance. I hope my noble friend will confirm that that is what he said. I wish to ensure that we do not compromise the inheritance that we pass to future generations.
One problem is inner city pollution, which has many elements. However, perhaps the pollution caused by inner city public transport and delivery vehicles creates the biggest problem. Would my noble friend, therefore, consider the use of alternative fuels for those vehicles? In that context, I recently attended an interesting seminar on the use of natural gas vehicles or NGVs. I assure your Lordships that I have no commercial interest in them but they appear to be a relatively easy and rapid answer to the problem.
The exhaust fumes are less damaging to the upper atmosphere and, being lighter than air, they rise directly into the atmosphere without affecting the public. In that respect they are unlike petrol and diesel fumes which, as your Lordships know, lurk about at ground level and cause great distress to pedestrians, bicyclists and many motorists. I have for many years driven a diesel car under the happy delusion that I am serving the cause of the environment. I now find that my best endeavours are at risk and that I must buy a vehicle which runs on natural gas, which will be very expensive. If NGVs are to be promoted they will require promotion through the Government. The Select Committee report clearly stated that we should promote such vehicles.
Perhaps the best legacy that we can hand on to succeeding generations is the immensely important concept of the Stonehenge Millennium Park which has been planned by English Heritage in consort with the National Trust. I spent four days last week at the Stonehenge conference in Salisbury, where every possible view was expressed and every interest represented and heard under the excellent chairmanship of Dr. Robin Wilson. The conference proceeded quickly--there were no lawyers present!
The conference came to a number of conclusions, among which was the need to green over the A303 and the A344 in the immediate vicinity of the stones, as required by English Heritage and the National Trust. The conference supported in principle the plan for a long tunnel, with which I entirely concur.
It is clear to me that Stonehenge, as a world heritage site, is of an international importance which lays upon us a duty of care that far transcends any budgetary considerations. We have placed the care of the heritage site with English Heritage, while the National Trust has the inalienable right of protection of the Henge, established as it is by Act of Parliament. I suggest therefore that those opinions and requirements are of paramount importance.
It is not just the stones, remarkable as they are, and the immediate world heritage site which are important but there is the fact that Salisbury Plain immediately to the north, the Henge and the Avebury Ring make up a legacy from our forebears and ancestors who inhabited the area some 10,000 years ago. They found Stonehenge to be a special place and 4,000 years ago they started to build a monument to that special place.
I think it is true that society's memories of its past form the basis of the present culture and so we, in our turn, must pass on to future generations our own memories and the memorials that we have inherited, without all the extraneous 20th century trappings with which we have surrounded it.
The Millenium Park will provide an area of tranquillity, which the Salisbury conference noted as a necessary objective. It will remove all visible road transport from the immediate area and return the stones to their setting in antiquity.
That heavy expenditure will be incurred by the only option that will correct the damage we have done is inevitable as that option involves tunnelling. If I say, "shades of St Catherine's Hill", I hope that that does not send shivers down the spine of my noble friend. I think it is now acknowledged that that by-pass decision was a mistake. I sincerely hope that the fiasco will not be repeated at Stonehenge.
It is UNESCO which has declared the world heritage site. I ask my noble friend whether we are paying our dues to that body so that we may demand a contribution. Equally the A.303 is part of the European network of strategic highways and help should come especially from the EU. Perhaps, like every other country, we should for once put pressure on our own appointed commissioner, Mr. Neil Kinnock, to ensure that more of our net contribution comes back to us for that purpose.
One point that may be material is that within the timescale involved in any tunnel development, it may be that the department will have completed its trials on road tolling with smart cards, which may help either to discount the initial cost or alternatively to encourage the private sector to invest in this very important and therefore lucrative Trans-Europe Highway.
Thirdly and finally, I should like to say a few words on farming. That provides another example of our inheritance. What was once a virtually chemical free topsoil has been changed dramatically by CAP revenues and encouragements towards ever greater yields. I am not going to press the case of organic farming, albeit I cannot resist its mention. But in terms of restoring the legacy, there is, I am glad to acknowledge, the concerted effort reflected by the proposed reforms of the CAP. But I feel that is a slightly optimistic view if one takes into account the fact that Zeneca alone--an agro-chemical company of which your Lordships may know--showed a 13 per cent. increase to £1.3 billion, which resulted in a 5 per cent. increase in its share price this week. While we may be optimistic, it is evident that the markets remain entirely cynical. The CAP is on the IGC agenda and for that we must be grateful. Perhaps I may press my noble friend to ensure that our call for reform is heard and acted upon.
We have already prepared a legacy for our future generations in the form of BSE infected cattle upon our heirs and successors, about which there is nothing that we can do to alleviate the incidence over the next 30 years and, indeed, beyond that, for the incubation period is 30 years.
Frankly, I am amazed that in the context of a sustainable environment we still allow a nerve gas-derived poison to be used on our animal herds for the simple purpose of removal of the innocent warble fly, an affliction that has occurred all down the centuries. Suddenly we are ensnared again in productivity and we ignore the effect on the animal and potentially upon the public.
As is quite clear, today there is no shortage of beef and, therefore, there is no reason why we should press for those advanced methods. The 13th Report of the Select Committee on the EC beef and veal regime concluded about BSE:
It is not only a potential danger that we face when we realise that farmers are deliberately and with the consent of the department applying that poison to our vegetables. Surely we should reconsider the use of organo-phosphates in farming altogether and relieve our farmers and stockmen of the need to keep a wardrobe of chemical warfare kit for use on hot summer days.
We are already suffering from the effects of DDT which was poured onto the soil soon after the war, especially on the chalk uplands, which is now established indissolubly in the water table. It is not just the siren attraction of CAP revenues that we must adjust but, as was said in the recent debate that I have just mentioned, there are farming methods friendly to the environment without going the whole hog into organic farming. And who am I to say that? There is a driven need for reform and for reforms which may have to be imposed if we are to leave future generations with a sustainable environment that they can enjoy.
Lord Monson: My Lords, first, I apologise to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, for the fact that literally mile after mile of roadworks on the A.1 today caused me to miss the first nine minutes of his speech. I am certain that the first part of his speech was as excellent as the second half and I am sorry to have missed it.
I intend to confine my remarks to agriculture and environmental matters and specifically to traditional country sports, at the risk of trespassing on the territory of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, who is to follow me.
I was disturbed by the pronouncement by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on 19th October, speaking for the Home Office as she was, that the Government were neutral on the issue of field sports. Some reassurance was provided a few days later by the excellent White Paper on rural England to which the noble Lord, Lord Williams, has already referred. That was produced by two different government departments--MAFF and the DoE. Those two departments took a far more positive line. They almost eulogised country sports, albeit from an essentially utilitarian standpoint.
However, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has been kind enough to write to me, although I received the letter only two hours ago. It confirms that my original fears were valid. The message from the Home Office seems to be that field sports will be defended so long as they are legal, but the Government are agnostic as to whether they should remain legal.
There are two pegs in the gracious Speech on which I can legitimately hang those two anxieties. The first is the promise of further deregulation, because of course conniving at or acquiescing in a field sport ban would fly totally in the face of that promise. The second is the promise of continued resistance to terrorism--in this instance the growing terrorism carried out by animal liberation fanatics.
The Government really must make an effort to educate the urban and suburban majority in the realities of nature. Too large a proportion of that majority fondly imagines that lamb chops and hamburgers grow on trees and that, left to their own devices, wild animals die peacefully of old age tucked up snugly in their beds. The recent findings of Sir David Steel's "Countryside Movement" demonstrate just how much such education is needed. Of course, it would not budge the fanatics whose eyes are closed and who are totally impervious to reason, but it would help to sway back onto the right road the very much larger number of people who at present have some sneaking sympathy with the fanatics and who might be inclined to shelter them or even eventually to join them.
Perhaps this is the moment to declare interests. Although my forebears played a prominent role in establishing one of the oldest packs in the country, neither my immediate family nor I have ever hunted. I rather regret that now, but three-and-a-half years into my senior railcard is a little late to start. I do not fish. But I do shoot, but never more than half a dozen times a year, and usually less. Through the family tradition I have a certain minor interest in falconry, but it is a passive rather than an active one. In other words, I have very little "selfish or strategic interest" in the matter, to use a phrase coined by this Government.
However, I feel strongly about the maintenance of tradition and I feel deeply for the tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of people--thoroughly decent individuals for the most part--for whom one or more of those traditional sports is an all-consuming passion. Their individual freedoms are being put at risk by a combination of ignorance, often wilful, and double standards. It will not do to say, "Leave it to the conscience of individual MPs". If a body of individual MPs tried to ban football on the grounds that it promoted violence, hooliganism, criminal damage and so on, there would be no question of the Government sitting on their hands and saying, "Well, it is just a matter for individual conscience. If they wish to ban it, so be it". On the contrary, the Government would pull out all the stops to kill the Bill.
It is not for me on these Benches to tell the Conservatives what they should be thinking. But I had always understood that the Conservatives stood for the preservation of rural interests and values when they were threatened by urban Britain. I remember the late Rab Butler making that point so well in a speech in your Lordships' House a great many years ago. I also understood that the Conservatives stood for the maintenance of long-standing institutions and traditions, unless it could be proved that the latter were unusually cruel, harmful or whatever. In this case no such proof
Some of the more intelligent opponents of field sports acknowledge that fact and concede, too, that large numbers of animals have to be killed every year for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, they maintain that it is distasteful that people enjoy killing--more accurately, the activities that culminate in a kill--and effectively demand that that enjoyment be outlawed, whether or not cruelty is involved. That leads us on to very dangerous ground. Many of us, perhaps most of us, find the idea of sodomy distasteful. Yet, quite recently, both Houses of Parliament voted to decriminalise sodomy between consenting adults. They were absolutely right to do so in my opinion. I know that not everyone agrees; indeed, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, opposed it. But I have always maintained that what consenting adults do in private is no concern of the criminal law.
How retrograde it would be, then, to criminalise another minority activity simply because others find it distasteful. The word would go out that Parliament (with Conservative acquiescence) now officially decrees buggery to be better than beagling. Further, there are sinister precedents for the banning of sports and pastimes. The National Socialists in pre-war Germany--mainly ill-educated, urban people who were sickeningly sentimental about nature and the countryside while knowing practically nothing about either of them--banned fox hunting. It is significant that the National Front in Britain also supports a ban. When the North Vietnamese communists finally conquered Saigon in July 1975, they immediately banned bridge which they considered to be a reactionary, bourgeois and capitalist game. Anyone caught playing bridge risked being sent to prison for six months. Does one want to go down that sort of road?
In the matter of field sports, the Opposition parties should think twice about appealing to the tyranny of the majority, bearing in mind what the majority feels about capital punishment and immigration. They should also ponder the hypocrisy of supporting a ban on those field sports with relatively little electoral support but not on those with very considerable electoral support.
As to the Government, sitting on the fence and hoping that it will all blow over will not help them or anyone else. Let the Conservatives be true to their professed principles and boldly defend both tradition and individual liberty, while at the same time working to educate urban Britain and tactfully pointing out to the meat-eating majority the inconsistency of that majority's sentiments. Only in that way will a bitter, long-lasting and potentially dangerous clash between town and country be averted.
The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, to follow the noble Lord, Lord Monson, on bridge, buggery and beagling is, I believe, a little difficult. I thought that today's debate was supposed to be on agriculture. Therefore, I shall attempt to keep my few remarks
I am not opposed to a European policy for European fishing grounds, I am only opposed to the present one, which fails to conserve, omits to garner the maximum sustainable fish harvest and which, in some cases, discards as much as, or more than, is actually harvested. The total European fish catch is something in the region of 5 million tonnes, of which, even according to the European Commission's admission, we throw away at least 2 million tonnes. As most of the fish that we throw away are babies, the actual number of fish is probably even more than those which are actually caught and eaten.
The Western Atlantic Fisheries are suffering from a climatic change caused by the melting ice cap and by, funnily enough, the explosion in seal numbers because people are no longer allowed to buy a sealskin coat. Each seal--and there are 10 million of them--consumes two tonnes of fish a year.
On the other hand, the Eastern Atlantic has had a climatic advantage caused by the anti-clockwise movement of currents. There has also been an unforecast advantage created by oil rigs, whose positions, it now appears, almost exactly coincide with the fishery "good places" which used to be marked on the fishermen's charts at the beginning of the century. This is thought to be because where the oil has been found there is a slight rise in temperature. Consequently there has been a rise in water currents, food is sucked in and lots of fish circulate in these areas. I only learnt that this morning and I was quite astonished by the information. Round the oil rigs, which have a 500 metre exclusion zone for fishing, fish havens have become established.
The bad news, however, is the policy run by Brussels, quaintly called conservation. It is counter-productive. We know how to run proper conservation policies, or at least the Namibians do, the Norwegians do, and the Canadians have just learnt how to do so. Their policies could be an example for Europe to follow. That would then mean that the common fisheries policy could have some future.
By proper conservation measures I mean such things as different rules for different parts of the ocean. After all, a Highland sheep farm is run differently from a Mediterranean tomato enterprise. New mesh regulation would allow the escape of more immature fish. Also we need to use separator trawls with escape areas. Technicians can design gear to catch only the species required. This is not bought at the moment because there
If a more sensible conservation policy is not adopted, there will then arise an overwhelming demand from people in this country for us to reassert control over our own fishing industry and fishing waters. It is an interesting historical fact that the original Treaty of Rome made no mention of a common fisheries policy. Had someone had the nous to challenge its existence in the European Court, it could well have been found to be extra-legal. However, someone noticed it, and into the dreaded Maastricht Treaty was slipped a clause retroactively to ensure that the common fisheries policy was legal.
Owing to constraints of time I have concentrated solely on what can be achieved by intelligent conservation measures. I have not talked of the British flagging of Spanish vessels, which by tonnage is 20 per cent., not the 4 per cent. figure given by the Government, which refers to boat numbers, and is consequently a totally irrelevant statistic. I have not mentioned, or digressed upon, the taste of the Northern Europeans for large fillets and larger fish or the taste of the Southern European and Mediterranean people for small fish. I have not dwelt on the effect of the possible arrival of the Bulgarian, Polish or Latvian fishing fleets, all of which are far too big for their own resource.
If we could address sensibly the conservation issue, there might be hope for other issues to be resolved equally sensibly. At the moment the common fisheries policy neither conserves the fish nor the fleet. It provides neither job security nor fish security. Unless these issues are properly addressed and the European Union pulls itself together, the fisheries policy will have to be repatriated, with all the dreaded consequences that that will produce.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, before taking the first opportunity available to me to speak in the debate on the humble Address in reply to the gracious Speech, I begin by declaring my interest in the aspects of education in the Speech and also in the Government's policy, programmes and consultation. I speak as a member of Lancashire County Council, which is an education authority, as chair of the Association of County Councils and as a parent of a current student and a former student.
I wish to refer briefly to aspects of the Government's proposals for nursery vouchers. My noble friend Lord Ponsonby has referred in detail to many aspects of this scheme which cause concern. It was significant that the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, in opening this debate, referred to an extension of nursery education. I have two main criticisms of the Government's proposals.
First, the Government fail to distinguish between the extremely valuable and vital complementary provisions for pre-school children--there is a variety of provision, including pre-school playgroups and toddlers' clubs--and nursery education. Nursery education is unique in that it provides a properly resourced education service
Secondly, I wish to refer to the student loan proposals. Previous speakers have mentioned aspects of the Government's intentions with regard to student loans. I am sure that I am not the only person who is concerned that as a society we seem to be building a sense of well-being on greater and greater levels of personal debt. The student loan scheme run on behalf of the Government outside the independent sector and the banking system at least distinguishes for students to a degree between the offer of commercially provided loans and the official subsidised loan scheme. As previous speakers have said, students are already incurring large debts. This is causing some students not to complete their courses. Ironically, an increased drop-out rate increases the unit cost per student of a university course.
Already the banks enable students to borrow ever larger amounts of money. On the one hand, students are under pressure to borrow more and more money and, on the other hand, students who are fearful of their inability to repay loans at the end of their courses are dropping out.
The main area I wish to discuss is not mentioned in the gracious Speech and that is the proposals which are the subject of consultation regarding the Government's so-called fast track option for the opting out of voluntary aided schools. Previous speakers have said that the Department for Education and Employment is reneging on its own guidance which states that for major initiatives there should be a minimum of 10 weeks of working days for consultation. The Government have reneged on that by extending the period by one week to five weeks.
I speak on this subject from detailed knowledge, having been chairman of the education committee in Lancashire for 10 years from 1981 to 1991. Lancashire County Council has the largest number of voluntary aided schools in the country. Lancashire County Council has 12 grant-maintained schools and 692 primary and secondary schools--309 are county maintained schools, 309 are voluntary aided church schools and 74 are voluntary controlled or special agreement schools.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon spoke of the anxiety among diocesan representatives and Church authorities the length and breadth of England about any proposal which would discriminate between the parents of children in Church schools and parents of children in other schools. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, referred to parental choice in speaking about the nursery voucher scheme. There would be no parental choice under some of the proposals upon which the Government are currently consulting: namely, shortening the statutory time limit for becoming grant-maintained; removing the need for statutory proposals as well as a parental ballot when schools seek self-government; and, alternatively, merely removing the need for a parental ballot.
The consultation includes the option of removing LEA appointees from governing bodies and arranging for all aided schools to become self-governing, except for those which opt to remain. How can the Government, committed as they are on so many occasions to parental choice, justify consulting on the removal of that parental choice?
However, it is not that particular aspect of the consultation on which I wish to concentrate in this short contribution. My experience is that in cities, towns and county areas there is a long-standing partnership between diocesan education representatives and the elected members and teacher representatives on the education authority. In the county of Lancashire the Churches' contribution through their representation on the education authority covers all aspects of education--the development of nursery education and the development of curriculum initiatives within the local authority. The valuable role that the Churches play in that form in ensuring that the predominant Christian religion, which is the majority religion within the county, plays its full part in the partnership. That is not to the exclusion of representatives of other faiths. In fact, at present there are representatives of two other major world faiths on the education authority.
I am deeply anxious that the proposals on which the Government are consulting so hastily would damage a partnership which has taken decades to build up to its current level. That would lead to a situation in which the consensus, democratic accountability and local co-operation would be fractured. We all know that consensual activity and democratic foundations can be broken far more quickly than they can be rebuilt.
In addition, in the county of Lancashire, as in other areas of the country, there has not been one single shred of support for proposals to rush through and railroad the opting out of voluntary-aided schools into a national system of education.
The noble Lord, Lord Henley, speaking in answer to a question posed by my noble friend Lord Dormand, referred to the need to extend the benefits of grant-maintained status to all schools. That speaks of coercion. These are parents, governors and diocesan representatives who surely are entitled to have their views heard logically and calmly. Surely it is possible that the parents, diocesan authorities and teachers who have said no to grant-maintained status have rejected it because they welcome a system which they view as being more advantageous, more enduring and long-standing--that community consensus between Church and local authority. That community consensus has allowed us to build effective SACREs to consider religious education in a multi-faith society based on that original partnership in the education authority and recognising the multiplicity of faiths in our community.
It is possible that the parents to whom the noble Lord, Lord Henley, referred are parents who wish to retain local consensus, local democratic accountability and the relationships which mean so much to them in so many areas of England. I hope that the fact that that was not included as a specific measure in the gracious Speech
Viscount Addison: My Lords, I welcome the gracious Speech. I was particularly pleased to hear of the continued programme of aid to be focused on the poorest countries to promote sustainable development and good government, including respect for human rights. I consider it essential that increasing emphasis is placed on the promotion of sustainable development throughout the world.
In ensuring that sustainable development is promoted overseas it is important that the domestic dimension is not forgotten. I would have been happier if the gracious Speech had made more explicit mention of the importance of sustainable development at home.
I have been heartened by the recent debates we have held on sustainable development and by our recognition that the environment should be protected and enhanced for future generations. We are all aware of the importance of protecting rainforests or exotic coral reefs abroad. Our national parks may not be as exotic as the environments of some other parts of the world, but they are important nonetheless. Continued support is needed for the good work that is being carried out in the parks as they play a leading role in promoting sustainable development at home.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, I shall try to follow the example of the noble Viscount, but perhaps not quite to the same extent. I am supposed to be winding up the debate but, of course, I shall talk about agriculture. I believe that we need to be reminded of the importance of agriculture because all the talk one hears is about sustainability--whatever that may mean--and about the environment and the preservation of skylarks. I agree entirely with all that, but agriculture remains a vital part of the economy of this country.
We produce three-fifths of the nation's food. Some 600,000 people are employed in agriculture which, with the food and drink industry, accounts for 14 per cent. of employment. There are enormously significant figures relating to the advance of agriculture. For example, in 1974 wheat yields were about four tonnes a hectare; in 1994 they were nearly eight tonnes a hectare. Those figures are enormously important for the economy of the country, the production of food, and feeding the nation. Food exports have doubled since 1973 and the volume of imports has fallen by 10 per cent., but we still have a £6 billion gap which the farmers of this country could fill.
So far as I can see, although there is nothing specific about agriculture in the Queen's Speech, the policy of our Government at present is fairly straightforward. A news release from the MAFF on the committee, set up to look at the CAP and agriculture in general, stated:
As a farmer one may regard that part of government policy as being not very good. If we are to have a competitive agriculture, we need some bottom end protection for the primary producers in this country. I agree completely that we have to achieve a far more sensible system than we have at present.
I beg leave to doubt whether the Government are as serious about the maintenance of the environment as I should like. The excellent booklet, Rural England--it has a nice picture on the front--referring to England and Wales, is full of good practical sense and practical examples of what should be done in the countryside. However, I deplore the tendency to think that that can be done cheaply or with CAP money. I hope that we shall receive some CAP money but I believe that the governments of the separate countries in Europe need to be firm in their support.
My noble friend Lord Geraint mentioned hill farming. In 1993-94 the Government reduced the subsidy to the poorest parts of the nation; namely, hill farming--in Scotland, it involves 90 per cent. of the agricultural area--by 28 per cent. That does not augur well for the Government's intentions to maintain the environment by means other than producer prices. The hills are the most deserving part of the agricultural environment. The average income of half the hill farmers is less than £10,000 a year. If the Government are serious they must demonstrate the fact by putting their hands in their pocket.
Perhaps I may refer to increasing competitiveness in agriculture throughout Europe. When Hungary, Poland, possibly the Czech Republic, and other eastern European countries eventually get their act together, with their enormous possibilities for increased production--under the socialist system they produced about a third more than now--they will have a certain amount of extra food again. We shall then need some bottom line against the type of dumping that we ourselves do in eastern Europe at present in order to give some stability to the industry.
A great deal of money needs to go into research. Although I have spoken of the surpluses that we may well have when eastern Europe and Russia get their act together, it is true that long term we shall need all the
Anyone who has anything to do with farming knows that the farmers, landowners, keep up the environment when they can afford to do so. When they have no money, they cannot spend it on the environment. Therefore we must have modern farming. Modern farming needs big fields. I realise that we have lost large numbers of hedges but one cannot turn back the environment and the methods. One has to replace hedges with something else. Let us plant areas of wood around the country which will replace the hedges and provide the environment. We cannot go back to having small fields and many hedges if we are to produce in competition with the remainder of the world.
The research into new methods, the control and improvement of pesticides, needs to continue. One cannot do without it. We cannot return to organic farming throughout the country. There is of course a niche; many people are prepared to pay for it. However, many others are not.
We need to put money into all the areas to which I have referred. I hope that the Government can assure us that they will not dish out pennies for the environment but will ensure that agriculture has a level playing field and can compete on proper terms with the proper backing which government should give it.
Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, your Lordships may recall the title of an agreeable and popular film of recent months, "Four Weddings and a Funeral". The educational proposals in the gracious Speech, which we on these Benches find neither agreeable nor popular, could well be entitled "Three Lame Ducks and a Non-Starter".
The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, summed up on agriculture. My noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel spoke at length and learnedly on the environment and local government. I shall confine myself to proposals on education. My noble friend Lord Williams referred to the 1993 Education Act as "the last piece of the elastic jigsaw". What we need is the consolidation of the 36 education Acts since 1944, more than anything new. Does the fiddling and twiddling with the system announced in the gracious Speech mean that consolidation has been postponed for this Session? I hope that the Minister in his reply will be able to tell us.
So off went Mrs. Shephard to do as she was told, but it seems without any great success, because, as my noble friend Lord Dormand of Easington said, the information pack issued by the DFE on 2nd November states that the voucher gives parents, "no cast-iron guarantee of a place, at least in the first instance". Never mind. The "cast-iron" cliche has survived, even if the cast-iron commitment has somehow been mislaid.
The Government clearly believe that nursery vouchers will be a vote winner: £1,100 dropping through your letterbox just before a general election, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, and just because you have a four year-old. Who could withhold their gratitude? The truth is that vouchers will give most parents money to spend on something that they are getting already. They will not pay for the true cost of nursery education. A full-time place has been estimated as costing £1,590 in a reception class; £2,660 in a nursery class attached to a primary school; and £3,250 in a nursery school. In the independent sector, as was pointed out, it costs more than £4,000 per annum.
Parents will have to search out sub-standard providers or top up their vouchers. It is an experiment with market forces, as my noble friend Lord Ponsonby put it, talking of Wandsworth, of which he knows from first-hand and long experience. Why do the Government not take up the suggestion made by my honourable friend Mr. Blunkett this afternoon to sit down with the LEAs, the private providers and the Pre-School Learning Alliance and work out a sensible system which will guarantee places for all four year-olds?
The voucher scheme will have a minimal impact on the actual provision of pre-school places, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said so clearly. It is aimed only at four year-olds, 91 per cent. of whom already have a place, and it offers nothing to three year-olds, only 45 per cent. of whom have a place.
Can the Minister guarantee that the education of three year-olds will not be affected by this scheme? My noble friend Lord Ponsonby asked him, and I repeat the question. Can he further guarantee that the necessary capital funding will be made available for the infrastructure development and for the training of nursery teachers? Can he deny that, if unit costs are driven down to the value of the voucher, standards will
The cast-iron truth is that no one except, presumably, the cast-iron Prime Minister, wants this scheme. Mrs. Shephard herself said on 7th April that vouchers were "not the favoured option", as my noble friend Lord Dormand of Easington, reminded us; parents show no enthusiasm for them; and of all the local authorities in this country only four--Wandsworth, Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, and Norfolk--could be persuaded even to give this scheme a trial.
The Government should listen to the voice of the people most concerned; namely, the parents. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that Labour is certainly concerned to encourage education and advice for parents and children--and since his speech I have taken care to procure information which I will give him later. The Government should surely withdraw this scheme and consult more widely before it does irreparable damage to the education of our youngest children.
As the second lame duck, in the sector of secondary education, the gracious Speech brings back on stage, if I may mix my metaphors, the tired old pantomime horse of the grant-maintained school. In his Birmingham speech to the heads of grant-maintained schools, the Prime Minister reiterated his "ambition to press forward with self-government . . . for more and more state schools". His speech included no less than seven new measures to increase the number of grant-maintained schools and to free up regulations governing their conduct. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us tonight why only two of those seven--on commercial borrowing and property disposals--made it to the gracious Speech. Has the Prime Minister ditched the others, or has the department simply been unable to keep up?
Commercial borrowing will, it seems, be subject to the consent of the Funding Agency for Schools, and the intention is obviously to shift the burden of funding for capital works on to the private sector. The difficulties of the scheme were splendidly observed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon in one of the most penetrating speeches I have heard on education for quite some while.
A commercial loan, of course, requires collateral. The Government propose to allow non-core assets of a grant-maintained school to be used to secure the loan. There are difficulties here. It is not easy to define "non-core assets", especially in the light of current plans to remove the statutory minimum teaching area and recreation space requirements in the school building regulations. Non-core surplus assets might at present include school playing fields if the area of these exceeds the area specified in the school building regulations--and if the statutory minima are removed, who is to say what is surplus? And yet the Prime Minister has said--do we not all remember it?--"I want playing fields kept--and I want them used". Pity, then, the head of a
And commercial borrowing is likely to attract higher rates of interest than capital expenditure obtained through current arrangements. Where in this proposal is the value-for-money criterion so beloved by the Government? Quite clearly, schools would have to pay for borrowing out of the money they receive to educate children. And are the Government quite sure that governors of existing grant-maintained schools will look kindly on this measure, especially if it comes to be a substitute for existing access to capital resources?
This measure has been well described as not only inequitable but irrational and inefficient. I wonder how many, if any, heads of state schools will be lured over the brink into grant-maintained status by this feeble little inducement. And how utterly irrelevant it is to the real needs of secondary schools for decent premises, a reliable capital development programme and a fair complement of well-paid teachers. That is what they need, not the ability to crawl off to the bank.
There is one mysterious omission, the non-starter in my title, in the gracious Speech, which again I hope the Minister will be able to explain when he winds up. Throughout September and October the Prime Minister went about with the proposal for a fast track opt-out for voluntary aided church schools, for whom he said that grant-maintained status was the logical choice. Once again, it was the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon who gave the House the devastating figures involved.
The long-suffering Secretary of State was dispatched to sort it out, and she duly issued a consultation paper on 27th October. Options included the simultaneous transfer of all 3,975 voluntary aided schools to the grant-maintained sector unless governors, not parents, decided otherwise, and the removal of parental ballots in voluntary aided schools. What price parental choice now? What price the promise of the parental ballot in opt-out decisions which is the linchpin of previous packages of promises to parents? They are pie-crust promises. Is it surprising that in 1994/95 only 15 voluntary aided schools held ballots on grant-maintained status and 60 per cent. of them voted against it? The plain fact is that most church schools have chosen to remain in partnership with their LEAs.
Could the resounding silence of the gracious Speech on the fast track proposal have anything to do with the fact that both Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops have publicly rejected it? I repeat what my noble friend Lord Dormand of Easington has said. The Roman Catholic bishops' conference has said that to deprive parents of their right to ballot is discriminatory and divisive. They are stern words from the bishops. Are the Government so naive and out of touch as to expect that such inane proposals will be greeted by the two fingers of blessing rather than the two fingers of scorn?
The third lame duck limping through the gracious Speech promised legislation to enable students to choose between private and public suppliers of subsidised loans. As my noble friend Lady Farrington has emphasised, the
The three proposals for education legislation are irrelevant, trivial and unimpeachably unimportant. The day after the gracious Speech they were attacked by one critic. He found no merit in the proposal for grant-maintained schools. He said that nursery vouchers would not work without increased funding, and he insisted that local education authorities had vital roles to play. That critic was none other than the chairman of the all-party Education Select Committee, Sir Malcolm Thornton, the Conservative Member for the constituency of Crosby. We on these Benches believe that he has got it just about right.
The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Lord Henley): My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Williams, put it some hours ago, the menu that has been placed before us is rather complicated, and we have had a rather varied dinner. I will try to address a great many of the concerns that have been put. As a Minister in the newly-merged Department for Education and Employment, I wish to focus many of my comments on areas particularly in the education field.
The Government have emphasised the central role of education in preparing young people for their working lives in an increasingly competitive world. There can be no clearer sign of the importance that we attach to this than the decision of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister to combine responsibilities for education, training and the labour market in a single department. The formation of the Department for Education and Employment gives us the opportunity to develop more coherent policies and programmes and to enhance the contribution of education and training to competitiveness. I believe that the merger has been widely welcomed. It was not welcomed initially by the official Opposition though I confess that I am now somewhat confused about their current position on the issue. Perhaps on another occasion noble Lords opposite will wish to inform me of their views.
The new department has been widely welcomed because it brings together all the policies and programmes designed to educate and train young people and adults, and to help unemployed people into work. Not least, it brings together the work of the two former departments on policies that affect the 16 to 19 age
Before I deal with the main education points I should like to make one or two brief remarks. First, I thought that the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord Williams, that those who made use of the private sector in the educational field had no right to legislate on the state-funded sector was quite ludicrous and bizarre. Will he go on to suggest that those who make use of grant-maintained schools--I believe that there are some members of his party who do so--should similarly not legislate on LEA schools?
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, addressed the question of spending. I accept that spending on education and training is a good investment. It is right that we should make that investment, but that does not mean that spending at any level will yield the returns of which the noble Baroness spoke. For example, we know that the level of spending at the recently-closed Hackney Downs School was far higher than anything else in that area, and was probably higher than a great deal of the private sector. That did not necessarily yield a better education for that school, which has had to be closed.
I also turn briefly to the point raised by the noble Lords, Lord Williams and Lord Morris, that an assurance had been given that there would be no further education legislation in this Parliament, following what was a pretty big Act. I believe that what my former right honourable friend, the then Secretary of State for Education, said was that there would be no further major education legislation in this Parliament. I believe that the proposals announced in the Queen's Speech do not counter that assurance. They are important and valuable in widening choice, but they are relatively limited in scope particularly in comparison with the previous Act; nor do I believe that they affect the desirability of consolidation of education Acts. The noble Lord quoted the number of education Acts that had been passed since the great Education Act 1944. It is not something that the Government will fail to pursue actively.
My noble friend Lord Ferrers dealt briefly in his opening remarks with grant-maintained commercial borrowing, nursery vouchers and student loans. Obviously, those are matters to which we shall turn in greater detail when the appropriate Bills come before the House. I should like to add a few points to what my noble friend said and deal with some of the misconceptions. I also wish to say something about the consultation paper on voluntary aided schools.
It is to the voluntary aided schools that I turn first. We believe that self-government has very clear benefits for schools and the communities that they serve. The performance tables this morning very much demonstrated that. We believe that those benefits are so great that they should in time be extended to all state schools. My department's consultation paper on self-government and voluntary aided schools is part of
But before making any final decisions, as we made clear, we want to hear a wide range of views. That is why we sent out the consultation paper outlining a range of options to well over 4,000 bodies. In the light of their responses we may introduce further legislation in the current Session. But let me make absolutely clear that none of those options is ruled out and none is ruled in. It was a genuine consultation paper. We shall listen to the comments made by the Churches and all others to whom we have sent that consultation paper and no doubt also to others who wish to comment in due course.
Let me say a few words to the right reverend Prelate about borrowing by voluntary aided schools that have become grant maintained. It is not the intention that the legislation should impinge on the rights and duties of trustees of former voluntary grant maintained schools. If the trusts allow, and obviously if the trustees consent, it may be possible for trust assets to be used as security for loans. If not, the school has the possibility of unsecured borrowing. Many grant maintained schools, if their assets are deemed essential to school funding and thus unsuitable to use as security, will be in that position. Therefore they would have to consider unsecured borrowing.
Obviously there has been much said about nursery vouchers. The noble Lords, Lord Ponsonby and Lord Dormand of Easington, had considerable concerns. As we all know, there is already a wide variety of nursery provision available. We believe that the scheme should encourage that further. Clearly, new providers will not spring up overnight. The Government recognise that provision will be expanded over time. For that reason we started with a pilot before expanding the scheme nationwide. But we are confident that parental demand will stimulate interest in the market in all areas of the country, including the remote rural areas of the right reverend Prelate's diocese. Given time, new providers will come forward in response to that demand, and it will possibly include greater collaboration between the private, voluntary and maintained sectors.
Quality is an important issue, especially since the scheme is concerned with nursery education. All establishments validated to receive the vouchers, no matter to which sector they belong, maintained, voluntary or private, will have to offer a good quality education. They will have to work toward the same educational outcomes and be inspected on the basis of a single inspection framework. Therefore, parents need have no doubts about the quality of the provision that they might take up, no matter which type of provision they choose. The taxpayer will be assured that those places offer good value for money.
The scheme will be funded through a combination of existing local authority funding and new money. We propose to deduct existing local authority funding in such a way that no authority will lose where its schools maintain recruitment by meeting parents' and children's needs. The sum deducted from existing funding will be
We are convinced that the scheme will open up new and exciting opportunities for both providers and parents. For providers there will be ample scope for innovative partnerships, and establishments in different sectors will be able to work together for mutual benefit. For parents it will mean greater choice--even though the noble Lord, Lord Dormand, does not wish them to have greater choice--between a variety of quality places which meet the needs of their children.
I turn to student loans and the very brief question put to me by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and repeated by her noble friend Lord Addington, as to just what benefit they can give to students when they can already borrow from their banks. I stress that this is a scheme to allow them to borrow at subsidised rates from their banks and therefore at a cheaper rate but probably at the same rate as that provided by the Student Loans Company. It will give the students far greater choice. They will have the choice of either the Student Loans Company or banks and will have access to a better, more convenient and more comprehensive service through the lending branch networks of all the major banks. The banks will have the opportunity to tailor their products to the student's needs, so that the student can get exactly what he (or she) believes he needs.
We believe that lending on that scale and of that sort is best done by the private sector. We also believe that it is right to shrink the size of the state. That encourages the private sector to grow, which will lead to a more entrepreneurial and competitive economy. But, as I said earlier, the most important point is that the students themselves will benefit from greater choice and better services.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, spoke of the importance of prevention in terms of stopping young teenage girls from getting pregnant and the problems that can arise. He wrote to me on that subject and, as he knows, I have replied. Obviously, schools can make a vital contribution but we must accept that it will not be possible for schools to solve all society's ills in any sense of the word. However, through their teaching schools can help equip young people with the knowledge and skills that they need to make healthy decisions now and in later life.
I find the noble Lord's views very interesting, though I am not sure that I can accept his figures on the necessary resulting financial costs and benefits. I must make it clear to him that, although the department has no funds directly to fund schemes of that sort, as my honourable friend Mr. Forth made quite clear earlier this year in a letter to the noble Lord, we provide funding for in-service training under
My noble friend Lord Kenilworth and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, touched on dyslexia and the needs of all those with special educational needs. As one who previously had responsibility for disabled matters in the former Department of Employment and who now has responsibility for disability matters across the whole range of the new merged department, I take with extreme seriousness the matters that they raised. They are very important ones. But the world has moved on considerably since, for example, the great improvements that we made in the 1993 Act and the changes that it made in particular to the statementing process. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Addington, will accept the importance of recognition at an early stage. Certainly I should be prepared to listen to any other of his concerns of an up-to-date nature. Obviously they are matters which ought to be addressed, if we can do so.
Let me move on, albeit briefly, from the educational world to some of the other points raised in this wide-ranging debate. I fear that I shall be able to touch on a mere tithe of the points raised. Certainly I have no intention of touching on the merits of beagling and buggery raised by the noble Lord, Lord Monson. All noble Lords can be assured that, where appropriate, a specific question that I failed to answer this evening in the short time that is available to me will be answered by means of correspondence if that appears to be necessary.
Turning to agriculture, the noble Lord, Lord Geraint, asked why there was no mention in the Queen's Speech of the CAP. Perhaps I may repeat what my noble friend Lord Ferrers had to say. There can be no question about the Government's commitment to reform of the CAP. My noble friend spelt that out in some detail. We will take every opportunity to persuade other member states of the need for change so as to build an efficient, prosperous and outward looking agricultural industry.
Perhaps I may give the noble Lord, Lord Geraint, an assurance of our commitment to those who farm in the hill areas. I speak as one with some small interest in that. We are committed to retaining farming in those areas. In 1996 direct livestock subsidies to farmers in those areas will total more than £615 million. The noble Lord will appreciate that the level of hill livestock compensation allowances in 1996 will, as usual, be announced in the Budget. The noble Lord will not expect me to pre-empt my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, put forward the idea that the Government's housing White Paper fails to address the problems of homelessness, housing need and poor repair in housing and the problems currently facing homeowners. That is quite ludicrous. On the contrary, the White Paper sets out a range of proposals which take a balanced approach to meeting housing needs. The White Paper makes a firm commitment to the continued provision of social housing over the next three years.
Turning to the rural White Papers, I can confirm that there will shortly be similar rural White Papers for both Scotland and Wales. The titles of those have not yet been decided but I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Williams, that there is nothing sinister in the use of the word "nation" in the White Paper for England. Perhaps I may refer the noble Lord to a sporting competition. He will know that there is a Five Nations competition in the rugby world. It covers Ireland as a whole, three other nations on the mainland, and France. When the noble Lord suggests that the use of the word "nation" is sinister I say to him that he is inventing fears and raising unnecessary scares.
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