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9.12 p.m.

Lord Quirk: My Lords, I always listen with great interest to the Minister of State in her various manifestations, but today I listened with particular interest as she enlarged upon two of the Government's education proposals: the one to raise standards in schools; the other to reform the teaching profession. The two are of course complementary in that the former depends critically upon the latter.

The Bill which brings them together will be eagerly awaited in this House and keenly scrutinised. But meantime, I hope that when she winds up this evening the Minister can assure the House that the new reforms of teaching will build upon the current work of existing agencies, offices and authorities. There should, for example, be no loss of momentum in pursuing the present consultation process towards establishing and then speedily introducing the national curriculum for initial teacher training. I would hope in fact that the TTA could be encouraged to proceed with curricula not only in English, maths, and science, but also in information technology. The agency's officers might usefully be urged also to proceed with planning a head teacher qualification and--while they are about it--to advance the process of teacher appraisal on the basis of the new standards for Qualified Teacher Status that have already been developed.

All of these initiatives will doubtless be further addressed in the forthcoming Bill: but none of them, surely, should have to wait upon its arrival in Parliament. In any event, "reforms to the teaching profession" will need to go far beyond matters of subject-specific curricula and certificates of qualification. This, I fear, is hardly the occasion and still less the hour to embark on such matters, but I wonder whether Ministers fully realise the uphill task they face in addressing--as they must--the intellectual turmoil in the educational and philosophical theories in which teachers in training are inescapably embroiled by their teachers and their teachers' teachers. Are they aware of the extent to which all teacher education, irrespective of curricular subject, is affected by the widespread orthodoxy of unorthodoxy in higher education when it comes to values, culture, taste, and the very goals of education itself: the corrosive seeping of relativism far beyond that cultivation of civilised tolerance which was once its moral justification; the widespread scepticism about--nay, contempt for--any notion of common values and shared purpose?

Let me quote from a keynote speech recently delivered to the assembled thousands of the American Modern Language Association, and now published in its journal Profession. The speech was by J. Hillis Miller, a truly eminent scholar who bears the title of Distinguished Professor of English in the University of California. This may seem a long way from an East London primary school but it is not, and the

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lines of communication are impressively and speedily efficient. Professor Hillis Miller spoke of welcoming,

    "the self-destruction of the traditional literature departments as they shift to cultural studies",
since this shift is--as he sees it--essential in order for education to acknowledge the multiplicity of origins, backgrounds, mores, and predilections of the young: a multiplicity which is not just a feature of the group but of every individual within it.

I quote Miller again:

    "Each self is inhabited by its 'other' or by an indeterminate number of 'others' in plural swarming. No Habermasian dialogue, conversation, or communicative discourse could or should bring all this diversity back to consensus."
Mark that "should", my Lords: there should be no attempt to seek, let alone preach, consensus in values, culture, goals, judgment. And Miller follows these respectably opaque, quasi-scientific sentences with one that could not be clearer. I continue the quotation:

    "The traditional single set of values transmitted by education is now seen as what it always was: an ideological fabrication made to serve the power of white middle- or upper-class heterosexual males".

These are not the ill-considered words of some flip youngster trying to attract attention at a trendy cocktail party. They come from a scholar who has earned international respect with many distinguished books (which my students read, at my insistence) on Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Thomas Hardy (though I must add that his oeuvre includes a book of 1986 entitled The Disappearance of God).

As befits a man of his eminence, Professor Miller's ideas are not parochially confined to California. Indeed, those I have quoted are not especially his ideas. They are commonplace in educated circles, everywhere. Our universities would be failing, our university teachers and our teacher trainers would be failing if they were not familiar with such currents of thought. And the by-products inevitably filter through, even to our primary schools. It is only a year or so ago since a London teacher attracted media attention by preventing her pupils from going to see "Romeo and Juliet" because it was such a flagrantly heterosexual love story. She did not invent that idea: she brought it with her from her university training, and she was unique only in the instant fame she acquired.

The balkanisation of what Miller contemptuously calls a "single set of values" naturally affects literary study with special acuteness because it directly undermines a consensual literary canon. But it has an equally devastating effect on language teaching. If literary theorists can see no principled reason for privileging (as they would say) the poetry of T. S. Eliot over the text on a sauce bottle, why should we expect language theorists to feel comfortable with a standard common language or to find it easy to say that anybody's English is better or worse than anybody else's? Indeed, the same detached irresponsibility has an analogous impact right across the humanities spectrum. History is an obvious target.

And there are other fashionable passions which affect other subjects such as maths and science: hostility to mental arithmetic since it may entail rote learning of

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tables; the physical organisation of the classroom has an ideological dimension; as of course does the very role itself of the teacher. Ministers will have noted the sharp warning to Mr. Blunkett last week from a teachers' association on the issue of testing classroom progress.

It would be astonishing if the existence of hot controversy in all these matters did not deflect trainee teachers from acquiring the basic knowledge their job will require and from equipping themselves with the skills to impart that knowledge. But there I go again, forgetting that the very notion of imparting knowledge is itself highly controversial--yet another area in which higher education raises doubts and leaves students with them.

Ministers will have to exert vigorous and courageous leadership if, after 30 or 40 years of relativist individualism run riot, we are to recover in higher education teacher training circles some consensual common sense. Ministers would not find themselves alone in thus seeking to reconstruct the deconstructed. The current issue of Daedalus, journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, contains several articles making the intellectual case for the common citizen's common sense middle ground that harmonises tradition with innovation.

On 8th May, the King of Spain made a presentation at Aachen to Roman Herzog of the Charlemagne Prize, an earlier recipient of which was Winston Churchill. In his acceptance speech, the German President spoke of the urgent need to build a moral and intellectual superstructure on the foundations of classical antiquity, along with our common traditions in religion, humanism, and post-Renaissance enlightenment. If President Herzog can speak of "our common culture", with the whole continent of Europe in mind, with all its variety, it is surely not beyond the wit of the Anglo-Saxon communities to advance arguments which reassert a sufficiently common culture to imbue education and the teaching profession with a sense of enthusiastic common purpose--arguments that can above all reconcile the neighbouring injunctions of St. Paul to the Thessalonians:

    "Omnia probate: quod bonum est tenete".

9.23 p.m.

The Earl of Clanwilliam: My Lords, this is not the first time that I have used the environment debate on the gracious Speech to hold forth upon the subject of organic farming. I am sorry to have to inform your Lordships that tonight is no exception. I should say that I have received a very charming letter from the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, who unfortunately cannot be here. She has kindly encouraged me in my efforts.

I should like first to join in the many congratulations that have been expressed to the Government on their success in the polls. Perhaps I may remind them of the manifesto promise that they made to support organic farming, albeit with the caveat that such reform would follow reform of the Common Market. I am not too sanguine about the possibilities of the outcome of discussions of that

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nature with the Germans and French. If we are not to wait until doomsday for the achievement of that promise, perhaps I may suggest that the Government could make it good by promoting extensive farming--if not the demanding processes and rules required by the Soil Association.

I speak as a patron of the Soil Association. The fact that I am unpaid may lend some credibility to my remarks. It may be that the rules of the Soil Association are too strict for some farmers, but those who adhere to those rules will have the benefit of the most profitable improvement of their basic resource--the soil itself. That is a claim of tall order; I shall substantiate it in a moment.

As regards organic farming, there has been a mind block in the thinking of the Treasury on the theory that organic subsidies are different from other agricultural subsidies and that organic farmers would be unfairly supported--as if the common agriculture policy was not the most artificial method of supporting farmers to set aside their land and to adjust the market by acreage payments! The CAP is not only unfair; it is monstrously immoral. I assure the Government Front Bench that any efforts they make towards reforming that policy will have my strongest support.

Nevertheless, organic farmers throughout Europe are being supported by the Organic Aid scheme at twice the rate of our own farmers on the basis of Commission-designated rates of support on a one-for-one basis. There at least is an excellent opportunity for the Government to redeem their pledge in the manifesto which they are rightly keen to promote and which reflects New Labour's promise of honesty. In welcoming both noble Baronesses to the Front Bench, perhaps I may ask the Minister whether she can shed any light on the disparity in the prices obtained by European organic farmers and by our own farmers.

It is often proposed that the exponential increase in world population means that intensive farming alone can compete with the problem. But that is demonstrably untrue. I shall not retread all the arguments today. They are clearly and accurately demonstrated in the Green Study on Sustainable Agriculture commissioned by the ODA from the International Institute for Environment and Development and published in June last year by the ODA.

Among the many important points the report makes, it confirms, as if we did not know it already, that during the past 50 years the growth in the use of pesticides, machinery and animal feedstuffs has substituted for natural control and resources, rendering crops more vulnerable and requiring ever more pesticides to control pests, weeds and diseases. The noble Lord, Lord Moran, indicated a multitude of dangerous chemicals in the environment all of which are specifically denied for use by any member of the Soil Association, or any organic farmer farming under Soil Association rules.

The farmer has been replaced by the input supplier. That is a nice new politically correct name for the

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agro-chemical salesman. A section of the report is entitled Myths about Sustainable Agriculture. It states:

    "The most common characterisation is that sustainable agriculture represents a return to some form of low technology, 'backward' or 'traditional' practices".
The report continues:

    "This is manifestly untrue. Sustainable agriculture implies an incorporation of recent innovations that may originate with scientists or farmers or both".
Developing countries are naturally the greater users of sustainable agriculture in its traditional sense. It is all that they can afford. In a small survey of 23 countries, nearly 2 million households were estimated to be farming 3.4 million hectares. That is not a huge number. All were developed in the past 10 years. It is a remarkable fact that only 10 years ago there were 5,000, not 2 million, such households. That is how the problem of feeding the world will be overcome, and we should be in the forefront of that battle. The knowledge is there in the rules of the organic farming and horticultural organisations. It follows that we should promote those organisations.

It is true that there is an initial drop in productivity for those converting to extensive farming over the first five years. However, the paper demonstrates that in the United States--hardly an emerging country--the top 25 per cent. of sustainable farmers have better gross margins and better yields than the top 25 per cent. of conventional farmers. That position is reflected in the well-established UK organic farms, which are seeing improved cereal yields of over three tonnes an acre and 6,000 litres per dairy cow per annum. So organic farming is not only possible; it is profitable. All the contemptuous condescension conveyed over the years by the agro-chemical industry has been blown away by this report.

Much has already been done. There is movement, started by the last Conservative government. It was during their administration that the demand for organic products built up when MAFF started the ADAS campaign which provided farmers with a helping hand to convert to organic systems. There has been some success. However, the limiting factor of cost has been a brake on progress. Meanwhile, the retail demand that has built up has been satisfied as to 60 per cent., or £120 million of adverse balance of trade per annum, as the supermarkets (which are willing to stock the produce) are forced to fill the gap with imports. I pray that this little titbit of savings may induce the noble Baroness to set about the Treasury's moral scruples and grant to converting farmers the same incentives as are accorded to them by our rivals in Germany and Denmark.

In a previous speech on the rural economy, I looked forward to the reform of the CAP and quoted the old couplet about there being,

    "a tide in the affairs of men",
which ought to be taken at the flood. Surely today New Labour's tide is in flood. I hope that they will take up the challenge that I have identified. They will certainly receive my support.

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9.33 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, perhaps I may echo other noble Lords in congratulating the Ministers. Women are well represented in every sense of the word, not only by the new Government but particularly in this House. We are all accustomed here to the expertise of the two Ministers addressing the House today. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and I go back rather further. I admired her at Cambridge when she so well represented our sex, especially in the Cambridge Union at a time when we were two out of seven women on a course of 200. All the rest were the 1960s equivalents of "grey suits"--blue jeans, I suppose.

I realise that I have been sitting today in the place that was occupied until so recently with such distinction in every sense by Lady Seear. No one was more supportive of women. She was a great role model and indeed a great mentor to me. No one was more dismissive of the advancement of women other than on merit. She, too, would have welcomed the Ministers' presence.

Lady Seear would also have welcomed giving schools the tools for the job, to echo a comment made by my noble friend Lord Tope and the right reverend Prelate. She would have asked very perceptive questions. Indeed I am sure that before her death she was asking "How?" of much that was in the Labour Party manifesto, and would have asked much the same of the announcements made through the medium of the Queen's Speech.

The Labour Party has tied its hands as regards the use of income tax, one of the more efficient and fairer taxes. Although the reference was made late in the election campaign to the use of lottery money, it presents something of a dilemma. The public told all politicians how well they saw the crises in the health and education services and the funding that was required. Like others, I put down a marker that I would not wish to see the use of lottery money as the thin end of the wedge towards core funding of any of those services.

I have to say that although there was little that I agreed with in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, I felt that his questions about assisted places, particularly the availability of funds arising from their abolition, were apposite. We on these Benches believe that the funds are likely to be inadequate for what is intended to be achieved by them. My noble friend Lord Tope seems to have had much the same experience as I did during the election campaign, finding voters who rather hoped that there were some promises that the Labour Party would break; for example, promises regarding taxation and the funding of education.

My noble friend referred to concern about class sizes throughout the primary sector, though he accepted that the earliest years should be those to have the first priority. I have a problem in understanding how one can deal only with part of the primary school population, a population of four or five to 11 year-olds. Primary school organisations tend to require a whole-school approach. It would be quite difficult to avoid restructuring within schools if it is the early years within a school that are to benefit from lower class sizes.

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Parents in my own area of south-west London would be happy to get their children into classes of rather more than 30 if they could get them into the school of their choice. There are issues of standard numbers and the adequacy of buildings to be addressed, but most particularly the Greenwich judgment to which my noble friend alluded. It deals with parental choice--if it really is choice--without regard to LEA boundaries. It causes bad feeling. Last night at a public meeting in my own authority I was tackled about bussing children to Richmond from Brixton. I do not believe that that happens. If it did, it would amount to a substantial vote of confidence, quite rightly, in the education offered in Richmond. But the mythology illustrates the dangers in public perceptions, if it is thought that children can be bussed across a couple of LEA boundaries.

We need to look at class sizes and nursery vouchers as closely related because it has become obvious over the past few months, after the introduction of nursery vouchers, that they affect parents' choice of school. I was interested to hear the Minister say that vouchers would not be issued beyond the first term of next year. I understand that to mean that they will not have effect beyond December. I should be grateful if that could be confirmed. The Minister also said that the Government want to avoid unproductive wrangles about structure, and we all agree with that. But I wonder whether the introduction of foundation schools will mean that there are no wrangles.

The gracious Speech referred to the development of a new role for local education authorities and parents and the establishment of a new framework for the decentralised and equitable organisation of schools. Decentralised or devolved, I wonder. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, referred to the partnerships which are so important to the good working of schools. I wonder about the role of school governors. How are class sizes to be reduced while governors' autonomy and independence are retained? How are they to relate not just to the local education authority but to the Department for Education and Employment?

We were accustomed to hearing the previous Government talk about their "light touch" approach. I have to say that it often seemed to me to be the abandonment of responsibility to any given quango. I hope that this Government's hand will not be too heavy. Reference has been made to that with regard to homework and also how each subject is to be taught. We shall expect to preserve the independence of governors, who have such an important role in ensuring the success of their schools.

I shall presume to respond to comments made today on the subject of agriculture. I do not apologise for my urban background. There is much that I need to learn about agriculture. But I learnt one thing; during the election I listened to "Farming Today"--elections change one's hours of working and one's listening habits to some extent--and I heard a comment made rather in passing after negotiations over fishing rights. It was to the effect that the UK had lost out because it was unable to negotiate as a full partner. That was a political point which, as it happens, was not made with

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any particular political energy. However, I agree with my noble friends Lord Beaumont and Lord Perry of Walton about the importance of feeding the world and that competitive squabbling between nations and even between partners is secondary.

Transport is another of the many topics for today's agenda. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, referred to the support of motoring organisations, unusually perhaps, but very sensibly in my view, for the reduction of car use. I realised the importance of that during the passage of the Road Traffic (Reduction) Act at the end of the last Parliament. The noble Viscount, Lord Chelmsford, is quite right. That Act is only a start. It requires planning for traffic reduction; it does not tell local authorities how to do it. There is far more work to be done and much to be achieved in that area.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, I welcome the amalgamation of the Departments of the Environment and of Transport, although one has yet to see the hard edge which may result from that. I hope that there will be one. Transport and the environment were notable by their absence from the Queen's Speech. I hope that we shall hear more in the forthcoming Budget. We on these Benches believe that an environmental approach should be integral to fiscal policy. Certainly, having listened to the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Elis-Thomas and Lord Moran, I feel that they share something of that approach.

We know that it is proposed to reduce VAT on domestic fuel. I should prefer to have seen a home energy insulation programme--perhaps as well but perhaps in place of that reduction--as being a more effective programme financially. It would also reduce CO 2 emissions instead of making them more affordable. We look forward to measures which will combine better transport and better use of energy for users as well as for everyone else, including those who breathe the air affected by the transport which runs on our roads.

I speak as speaker number 30 in this debate and perhaps as the one who will concentrate more than others on certain aspects of local government, which, again, were largely missing from the Queen's Speech. In particular, my question--perhaps a rhetorical one--is: how will local democracy be written into this Government's programme? We heard about decentralisation, including regional development agencies: decentralised to whom? How will that lead to regional chambers and assemblies, which were the subject of the joint consultative committee of the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats that reported shortly before the election? That committee on constitutional reform agreed on a stage by stage approach and proper accountability.

This week, I read a report in the Local Government Chronicle of comments made by senior Labour councillors, who seemed to draw no distinction between quangos and democratic institutions. It contained comments such as,

    "The most likely first step would be to set up a RDA which we have already created in waiting".

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But again it seemed to argue against moving on to an elected Chamber--indirectly elected perhaps--let alone a directly elected assembly. I presume that after the results of the last election the Labour Party will feel that there is something to be said for elections.

There are questions to be asked concerning the boundaries of the areas which will come within the remit of each development agency. The noble Earl, Lord Arran, mentioned the problems in the West Country and the use of Bristol as a centre (if it could be said to be a centre) for the west of our country. He described the different problems arising around that region; and one perhaps needs only to think of what may be an appropriate minimum wage in Cornwall at one end and Wiltshire at the other to understand the different pressures and the anxieties of people living in Devon or Cornwall who would object to being run from Bristol just as much as they would to being run from London.

Is each regional development agency to have the same powers? How are the boards to be composed and how are they to be accountable? The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, referred to political clout. He was talking of trading standards officers. But political clout is important and I hope that the regional development agencies' clout will be that of local politics and not that of Whitehall or Westminster politics.

I welcome the support for effective land-use planning. I should perhaps declare an interest as president of the Town and Country Planning Association. We certainly need to use our cities better, as the noble Lord, Lord Rogers of Riverside, reminded us. We need a debate on what is needed as well as on the numbers. The noble Lord, Lord Rogers, referred to new settlements. There may well be an argument for some new settlements. However, I am aware of how difficult it is to create a new community from scratch. A community by definition is organic; it grows from the bottom up and I am instinctively unhappy at too centralised an approach.

Part of the objective of development agencies must be housing. In the huge department which has been created I wonder whether housing can be taken as seriously as it should be. The Big Issue--a very readable publication; indeed, I believe its readership is considerably more than that of The Economist--last week asked an extremely pointed question. It commented that zero tolerance deals with the symptoms and not the causes. We on these Benches will certainly support the Government in tackling the causes of homelessness. My noble friend and I feel that perhaps the only thing about which one may have zero tolerance is zero tolerance itself--but that is another debate.

We look forward to plans to reverse what I regard as the reverses of the last Housing Act, in particular the right to a permanent home. Tackling homelessness is both an urgent and important matter and "crisis" is not too strong a word to describe the situation. In saying that, I recognise that it must be tackled through far more than one of the Government's departments. The benefits system has done much to make the homelessness position worse. But that is a matter for another department and for the Government as a whole. In

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relation to the question of responsibilities of other departments, perhaps I may say in parenthesis--though it is important shortly after an election--that ensuring people who are homeless do not lose the right to vote should not go off the agenda.

We support the phased release of capital receipts--that was in our manifesto also--but it raises questions; for example, how will the loss of interest that the receipts ensured came into local authority budgets be replaced? They are an integral part of local authorities' revenue budgets. How will the fact that receipts are in the wrong places be tackled if one is assessing where new homes are particularly needed? Indeed, not every authority has receipts. The question of the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, about what is estimated to be achieved was a practical way of raising these points. If the Minister intends to respond to him by letter, I should be grateful for a copy of the letter.

Whether or not capping will be lifted is a related question. How will the Government approach local authorities' powers generally? Will they be tough on borrowing, or tough perhaps on the causes of borrowing? Are local authorities to be allowed to determine their own borrowing? I do not quite recall how the noble Viscount described capital restrictions, but my approach is rather more cynical than his. I should have thought that capital restrictions on local authorities are something to do with local authorities' power and not to do with what might be achieved in building terms. However, I agree with him that the use of capital receipts and matters of capital are closely related to the PSBR. Until we distinguish investment--that is a very respectable term--from revenue--in other words, running costs for the purposes of PSBR--we will not get over the difficulties.

I was interested to hear that there will be a local government supplementary credit approvals Bill to enable the expenditure of government receipts. Supplementary credit approvals are about borrowing, so I think that we on these Benches will approach the Bill when it is published with a bell ringing in our heads--if not an alarm bell, at least a warning bell--that local authorities' powers must be protected and enhanced.

Finally, in London, we shall be very much exercised by the proposals for a new authority and a mayor. We welcome London government for Londoners but we are determined that it should operate democratically. We shall be concerned to see the relationship between the mayor and the authority. The cynical might say that the creation of an executive mayor will mean that a London authority is no real opposition to central government because it will be an authority without real teeth; that is, if power resides in the mayoralty. Most importantly, we believe that a mayoralty must not be a substitute for democracy. Personality politics may be very well in its place but it is not an alternative to proper democracy. If a mayoralty is such a good idea, why have the Government not thought to allow pilots elsewhere?

Most immediately, we shall be interested to see whether the Boundary Commission is to be instructed to consider boundaries within London as a basis for election to the new authority by proportional

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representation. That question is being asked in the context of concern about the next European Parliament elections. Unless the Boundary Commission is instructed to change the basis of its work--it is about to start work on boundaries for the European Parliament constituencies--it will not be possible to achieve PR for the next European Parliament elections.

I come back to the question of how. As my noble friend Lord Tope said, we on these Benches will be supportive of many of the Government's aims, but we will ask how they are to be achieved. Our role will perhaps be to encourage the new Government in their ambitions.

9.54 p.m.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am delighted to be able to add my compliments--one in reality and the other in expectation--to the two noble maidens on the Front Bench, both formidable parliamentarians, to whom I shall doubtless not enjoy listening on many occasions in the future because of the power with which they will advance arguments with which I disagree.

I also apologise that, in what I hope will be a relatively brief speech, I shall not be able to cover many of the areas raised by my noble friends let alone by other Members of the House. I shall skate reasonably briefly over the many subjects which we have discussed today.

I look back on our 18 years in government with a great deal of pride at what we have achieved in the areas we are talking about today. I believe that we have an outstanding record on the environment. One of the most crucial changes that we made concerned rail privatisation. I am delighted that that is now supported by the new Government. I am particularly proud of what we achieved in education. As has been recognised by the new Government, in that area there is still a great deal left to do.

So I approach the new Government's programme with much hope which I am sure is shared widely in this House. We shall have the new Government with us for a long while. They have set out in their manifesto a number of programmes with which we can heartily agree. For all our sakes we have to wish them the very best in achieving them and do what we can to support them with our reasonable advice tempered perhaps sometimes by a feeling that they are taking the wrong direction, but recognising the mandate that they have from the electorate.

The noble Baronesses will not be surprised that in my case at least the hope is tempered with some doubt. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Quirk, set out in some detail the sort of practical difficulties which the Government will face in translating their aims into reality. Personally, I found myself sometimes looking with what may be described as cynicism at some of the things which have been said; for example, the phrase at the beginning of the gracious Speech that,

    "My Government intend to govern for the benefit of the whole nation".
One merely needs to think of those who enjoy the innocent sport of shooting with handguns to realise that there are going to be exceptions to that. To that one

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might add the inshore fishing community whose livelihood will not be supported at the International Governmental Conference in the way that it would have been had we been the government. There are indications that the Government do not include within the whole nation people who live in the country and who enjoy country sports. One could go on. In rather a curious way, it seems that the poor may be included among the people who will not benefit from this Government. One of their early actions is to abolish the assisted places scheme which benefits the poor, in order to give the money to those who have their children in large classes. As the noble Baroness will know, they are concentrated in the richer parts of this country.

At this stage I do not think that it is right to be overborne by cynicism. We should all raise a large cheer for the great task which the Government have set themselves in education; namely to raise the standards of all 11 year-olds to those which we require. That is a tremendous ambition and target and we wish them very well with it.

There is another education target which caught my eye.

    "We wish to build bridges wherever we can across education divides. The educational apartheid created by the public/private divide diminishes the whole education system".
I could not agree more. I hope that the strength of the independent system and that of the state system will be able to find better ways of coexisting than they have at the moment. That is why I find it surprising that the first action taken by the Government should be a step in exactly the opposite direction by separating the two systems again and returning the private system to what it was before we embarked on our reforms--a ghetto for those who could afford it.

We must welcome the overwhelming conversion of the Government to the policy which they are now pursuing which, through long years, they opposed while we were in government. Doubting people remain, as was made clear to those who were here to listen to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Tope. One saw Old Labour with all its old prejudices--that the solution to every problem was to spend a lot more of other people's money on it and that where prejudice and evidence confronted each other prejudice survived. Surely, the noble Lord has seen the original researches on the effect of decreasing class sizes on performance. He will know that between the ages of five and seven there is a significant result. He will also know, particularly from the American studies, that beyond that stage a 50 per cent. increase in expenditure to reduce class sizes will achieve a 1 per cent. increase in performance. That is the result of the big studies. If that is the best that the noble Lord can find to do with our money I am glad that he is not in government.

I understood from the speech of the Lord Privy Seal that the minimum wage was on the menu for today's discussion. I am surprised that it has not been raised by any other noble Lord. I am informed that I have misunderstood the position, and I will pass over it.

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Certainly, the London referendum is on today's menu. One sees an interesting passage on page 35 of the Labour Party manifesto:

    "Following a referendum to confirm popular demand, there will be a new deal for London".
This sounds rather like, "We will try him and then hang him". I hope that it will be a referendum in which the issue is in doubt and the decision is left to the people of London. I hope that if the vote goes against the Government they will accede to the referendum and not push ahead with an authority for London against the wishes of its people. I shall be very disappointed if that is not so.

The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, raised the matter of the Welsh being allowed only one question but the Scots two questions. The English are allowed none. However, they are expected to continue to pay very large additional amounts to both Scotland and Wales despite the devolution of powers to those two principalities, which presumably will continue to have excess representation in the Westminster Parliament. The English may have something to say about that in due course.

Disability was certainly a subject covered in some detail today. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said that no one should doubt the Government's commitment. I shall wait and see. Actions speak louder than words. Although the noble Lord, Lord Rix, said that the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, had offered promises, I heard nothing that could be construed as a promise. But the manifesto says that within a decade every child will leave primary school with a reading age of at least 11. Does that apply to those with learning difficulties--in which case I say hurrah but ask how--or are they not considered to be proper children? I should like an answer to that question.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, touched briefly on the question of local authority capital receipts. That is an area that puzzles me as it puzzles the noble Baroness. I understood from what I read in the newspapers that Peter would be robbed to pay Paul and that those authorities that had capital receipts would be donating them generously to authorities which needed the money to build houses. We shall wait and see. I remain as puzzled as the noble Baroness.

Referring to the Government's plans for local authorities and local government, we shall wait to see what happens here too. One notes some interesting phrases in the manifesto:

    "Local decision-making should be less constrained by central government, and also more accountable to local people. We will place on councils a new duty to promote the economic, social and environmental wellbeing of their area. They should work in partnership with local people, local business and local voluntary organisations. They will have the powers necessary to develop these partnerships. To ensure greater accountability, a proportion of councillors in each locality will be elected annually ... Although crude and universal council tax capping should go, we will retain reserve powers".
There are some interesting areas for exploration. There is nothing in the gracious Speech or in what has been said today about how those proposals will be developed. But in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, I may have glimpsed a picture of what may be intended: we

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may be moving towards regional chambers and unitary government below that, with powers moving away from Westminster to those regional chambers; away from Westminster to Europe; and with Europe having a direct connection with the regional chambers in the way that it may wish. That may be the way in which the Government are looking at its development, but we remain in the dark about that. I shall follow the development of that question with great interest.

We hardly touched the issue of housing, which is clearly a major part of that area of government. There are commitments in the manifesto on commonhold and gazumping. Questions were asked by my noble friend Lord Harding of Petherton and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I shall listen with interest for the answers, without any great expectation of getting any. There is also the whole area of the environment. It is difficult to understand how the reduction in VAT on heating fuel corresponds with an environmental policy on the greening of the planet; but doubtless that will one day be explained to us.

On transport, my noble friend Lord Attlee gave an illustration when talking about cowboy operators of how difficult it is to operate a statutory licensing system, something which the Chancellor will doubtless find in due course as he tries to operate the new statutory system for the regulation of the financial services industry.

Nothing was said about the fate of London Underground. Perhaps I may hope that the Government's conversion to privatisation and its benefits will be reflected in their plans for that great and important facility for this capital. If not, how do they intend to provide for the required finance? I look forward also to hearing the answers to the questions raised in Lord Chelmsford's fascinating speech.

I turn briefly to regional development authorities and to the many questions asked by my noble friend Lord Arran. The questions I add to that are: will those regional development authorities be as well funded as those in Wales and Scotland? If so, how much will it cost? If not, why not?

To turn to agriculture, I enjoyed the speech of my noble friend Lord Clanwilliam, particularly because I do not have to answer it. I have tried that too many times to have any hope of satisfying him. I look forward to seeing how well the Minister can do.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, may know, or otherwise she made a rash promise when she said, "We shall make early progress on BSE". We would leap for joy were that to be true. I hope that it is, but I shall be enormously surprised. As the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, said, it is a new opportunity--an opportunity to start again and to re-write our relationships with Europe, although there are those of us who are cynical about such things. But none of us would be anything other than delighted were it to turn out that Europe will now treat us on the matter of BSE in the way that science, equity and proper, good relationships demand.

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There was some discussion by the noble Lord, Lord Moran, and my noble friend Lord Wade of Chorlton about regulation by labelling and choice rather than by forcing immense additional costs on food producers to fit in with theoretical risks. The Government will face considerable difficulties in that area when they come to devise their new food agency. How will the consumers' interests, as typified by some vocal pressure groups and the industry which is also vocal and effective, be balanced so that the general public will believe that it is being looked after? I hope that the Government will understand the need to inform the public, to tell them what the real risks are and to allow them to make their own decisions rather than trying to play nanny. If they go down that route it will be immensely expensive for all of us.

My noble friend Lord Wade raised what was to me the new and alarming prospect of crocodile genes in chickens. That is not good news for henpecked husbands! I cannot resist the chance to conclude with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. He raised matters not touched upon elsewhere. Of course, hereditary Peers will, as always, behave impeccably. One hopes that the Government will take the time which they have allowed themselves to produce, if they will, some better thought out proposals for the future of this House. As regards changing and feminising work patterns, it seems to me that one of the principal characteristics of the female workforce as a whole is the wish to find it easier to return to work aged 45. Any progress made in that direction would be greatly welcomed by me!

10.11 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for the Environment and Transport (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, it is both a privilege and a pleasure that my first speech from the Dispatch Box should be in response to such a wide-ranging and well-informed debate. In anticipation of the wide-ranging nature of the debate, I tried to receive an extremely comprehensive briefing and in the time available I shall try to answer as many as possible of the individual points that were raised. Furthermore, as is appropriate, I shall write to noble Lords regarding specific questions, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Harding.

Some of the issues raised in tonight's contributions have been outside the main topic of the debate. For instance, I refer to the contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, on Welsh devolution and by my noble friend Lord Ponsonby on the voting rights of hereditary Peers. However, I am sure that my Front Bench colleagues will read those contributions with great interest. The comments of my noble friend Lord Ponsonby about the long hours culture and its dangers will not be badly taken by the House at this point in the evening.

Despite the comprehensive nature of the briefing, and rather like the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, I am afraid that the British Civil Service, which in my short

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experience has served me so well, has failed in respect of crocodile DNA and the sexing of chickens and even about hermaphrodite frogs. I fear that I shall not have a great deal to offer the House tonight on either of those subjects.

Today's debate was also marked by an outstanding maiden speech from my noble friend Lord Rogers of Riverside. I am sure that all noble Lords will agree that it reflected not only his distinguished professional expertise but the personal values that inform his views with which many of us would be proud to be identified. We look forward to hearing more of his eloquence and vision in the future.

I turn to education, which was at the heart of the opening speech of my noble friend Lady Blackstone and which has formed a substantial part of today's debate. Our proposals represent the most comprehensive package of measures we believe ever to be put forward to raise standards. We believe that they will impact on all school age groups. The noble Lord, Lord Quirk, in his fascinating speech, called for some consensual commonsense. I hope that we may be able to provide even a little of that.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, who until now had responsibility in these areas, asked an inordinate number of questions. I shall not say that he is an old dog, but he did tell us that he is learning new tricks. The noble Lord will understand that if I covered every question that he asked I should not be able to reply to any of the questions raised by his noble friends, let alone other Members of the House. However, there is one point on which I can give him reassurance and a firm commitment. The Bill to withdraw the assisted places scheme will receive proper and correct parliamentary scrutiny by both Houses. In that event, he may feel rather more relaxed and feel that the questions which he asked will be covered in the lengthy debates that we shall no doubt have on that subject.

Many noble Lords have been extremely generous in their welcome to both my noble friend Lady Blackstone and me. However, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, qualified his welcome with sympathy as regards the breadth of my responsibilities in this House. I feel much the same about Opposition speakers offering sympathy as I do about Greeks bearing gifts. I assure the noble Lord that I look forward to being in the House a great deal and covering a great many important subjects. If the House does not tire of me, I shall not tire of being here.

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