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Baroness Byford: My Lords, perhaps I may intervene. I appreciate that there were some months when farm incomes went down and our government could have claimed some agri-money. But to say that that happened over years is ridiculous. At that stage farmers were very much in profit. Perhaps the noble Baroness would like to clarify her statement slightly.
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I shall clarify my statement. The previous government presided over the scene-setting that has led to much of the collapse of the infrastructure of rural England. I make no apology for saying so. Rural shops and post offices, and the way in which farmers work, were all--would the noble Baroness like to intervene again?
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I am in the 10th minute of my speech. However, perhaps I may add that I stand by my statement that the previous government did not take up the European money that was available and did not promote agri-environmental schemes. Indeed, they did not talk about reform of the CAP in a constructive way so as to make our European partners take action to further the kinds of schemes that those on the Conservative Benches are now promoting.
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, (although to a rather lesser extent) I was surprised at the lack in the gracious Speech of follow-through on the rural White Paper. However, I am afraid that experience suggests that the chance of a recommendation in a White Paper being carried
Our debate on the White Paper almost two weeks ago was like one of those rare moments of sunshine when the storm clouds rolled back, the rain ceased, and, just for a few moments, mankind's faith in the future of rural society was restored. It is a matter of some regret that with the gracious Speech, and in particular the advent of the Hunting Bill, we are in the same stormy environment that the rural communities feel they have been in for some time, and the storms are developing. It is sad that we shall be obliged to devote a good deal of time and energy to discussing that particular subject.
In my youth, I spent many happy days in the saddle, and many in the hunting field. The occasional portrayal of people who hunt as bloodthirsty, wealthy gentlemen or even worse bloodthirsty children, is unreal. In my experience, most do not go to see a fox hunted and killed. They go for something immensely different. Hunting gives ordinary people the immense privilege of riding across land that is not in their ownership in a way that is often challenging. That experience would not otherwise be available to them. That is the motivation of the vast majority who go hunting. In order to achieve that privilege, the master of hounds knows that he has to kill some foxes; that is the reason he is there. But the reason people from all walks of the community are there enjoying the hunt is the privileged access to open countryside, which will disappear completely if and when hunting goes. It is a fascinating idea that the police are so overwhelmingly under-employed that a whole group within society could become part of the criminal fraternity. It is absolute nonsense. As the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, said, our priorities are in danger of going seriously adrift.
It is not as though the fox is a poor, sweet, innocent, little animal. It is well classified in law as vermin. The fox is a cunning and cruel killer--as are almost all the animals that are defined as vermin and not a few others that do not presently fall within the classification. I suspect that the fox would probably have a better understanding of hunting than the average member of the Government presently appears to have. Those in the countryside will feel, once again, that they are being done down.
Let us consider the rural man's attitude to livestock. I happen to be a farmer, and it must be borne in mind that a farmer spends his life rearing animals in order to kill them before they reach maturity. It is a fact on which society lives and feeds, and we forget it at our peril. Against that background, rural men have difficulty in understanding the problems that arise in urban communities as a result of animals being neglected, unwanted and deserted--abandoned pets which have to be put down in such numbers that we
The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, has covered very well the agricultural aspects of the rural White Paper, as has my noble friend Lady O'Cathain. There is another aspect to the White Paper. The facts are well publicised and there is no point in repeating them. We should, however, be clear that the agricultural industry--certainly in the grain-growing areas--is adapting quickly to the change in circumstances. The quickest way to illustrate the point is to state what has happened to a successful medium-sized estate that I heard about last week. (The difference between "small" and "medium" is multiplying almost every year.) The estate employed eight people. The owner finally said that "enough was enough"; he has ceased to farm his land and has put it under contract. In a remote rural area, six jobs have gone immediately. That process will be repeated and repeated. I know of one agricultural unit run by two men and a part-time labourer, farming over 3,000 acres, immensely heavily capitalised, and they are still only just in profit. For most of rural England, the future is a desert, except where there is stock, and stock will retreat to areas where grass grows well.
There is another context to the rural White Paper. On the day before we debated it, the other place discussed the annual revenue support grant decisions. That Statement was not taken in this House because of the immense pressure of the Government's legislative programme. Those figures are of very specific interest in this particular context. If one studies the current allocations of funds, strips from them the changes in methodology that have taken place since 1997 and does a recalculation to bring the expenditure up to current levels, one finds that between £600 million and £700 million have moved out of the shire areas. That is a very large sum of money. It impacts on all services in the shire areas--rural, education, social, fire, transport services, and so on--which, in turn, impact on the viability of rural communities. That places a different perspective on what is happening in the countryside. It also puts the rural White Paper in a very different perspective.
Even an above average revenue support grant settlement, as in the case of my own county of Essex, does not necessarily imply, because of the circumstances of a particular authority, that council tax charges will stay within the parameters that the Government appear to consider they should. Unless it makes some fairly dramatic policy changes, my own county, in the circumstances that apply there, will have to consider a council tax increase of in excess of 12 per cent for the coming financial year. Of course, the setting of a council tax charge is a decision for the county council to take. It will do its best in the circumstances. However, year on year, with constant policies, the consequence of what is happening in just one county--I could illustrate many others--will be very serious indeed.
The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, is correct. Numerous very serious issues affect many sectors of our society. Those issues require our attention. Yet Parliament as a whole is to spend a great deal of time--I suspect that we in this House may spend more time than will the other place, as procedures there can be expedited--debating a Bill to limit the control of vermin.
The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, I also very much regret the absence from the gracious Speech of any mention of the environment or agriculture. I warm particularly to what my right reverend friend the Bishop of Oxford and the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said about the environment and to what a number of noble Lords said about agricultural issues. I make the charitable assumption that, because they had only recently published the rural White Paper, the Government believed that there was no need to include it in the gracious Speech. However, it would have been nice to have had an indication that they take the White Paper seriously and are minded to introduce further necessary legislation to implement some of its proposals. In many ways, it is an excellent document. It is wide ranging and imaginative in what it says about rural life and the regeneration of rural communities. Everyone must applaud the Government's objectives to create a living, working, protected and vibrant countryside, to use the four adjectives in the White Paper.
I want to concentrate on agriculture, without implying a lack of appreciation of some of the other good measures that are covered by the White Paper. If I spend more time on questions and criticisms than on praise, it is not meant to imply that there is not much to be thankful for and to commend in the White Paper, in the England Rural Development Programme and in the Action Plan for Farming, which the Minister mentioned in her introduction to today's debate.
A genuinely prosperous and inclusive rural community depends absolutely on the continuing viability of farming. Healthy, balanced rural communities, the maintenance of a good landscape and a rich biodiversity all depend on the land continuing to be farmed in some active way--not necessarily in the same way as it has been farmed, in many places very intensively, for the past 30 or 40 years, which has in fact created a good deal of environmental damage.
That brings me immediately to what I believe is the most important unresolved tension in the White Paper. Much encouragement is to be gained from the specific commitment, in Chapter 8 to food production:
I wish that the White Paper had attempted to point the way to the right balance between these objectives, which may, of course, vary from place to place and from sector to sector. This needs to be spelt out so that farmers know where they stand. What are they to attempt to do, and what are they to be paid to do, apart from producing food? For a Government who are not shy of setting targets--for example, in reducing NHS waiting lists, freeing children from poverty or raising educational standards--it is regrettable that there is no attempt to suggest in the White Paper what proportion of our food needs should be met by our own farmers or, more specifically, how we are to raise the present, pathetic, meagre figure of 30 per cent of organic purchasing met by UK producers. How can we raise that figure? To what target do we aspire? Specific figures may be impossible, even undesirable, but aspirational targets would be helpful and would encourage farmers who feel battered and further threatened by globalisation and the ruthless power of the supermarkets. That is the first, fundamental, philosophical question mark over the Government's intentions for farming, as expressed in the rural White Paper. The excellent initial section on food needs to be fleshed out and needs statistical support.
Nevertheless, there is much to applaud: better training for farmers, especially in business skills; the concentration (in appropriate cases) on direct selling; new encouragement for non-food crops, especially energy crops, in respect of which I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, said; the prospect of integrated farm inspections to save time and paperwork; and increased resources for countryside stewardship. However, the latter announcement, which fits extremely well with a shift towards agri-environment schemes, is not, in my experience, entirely welcomed by farmers. They are ambivalent about countryside stewardship. It requires capital up front. Many farmers are now completely without financial resources and, therefore, unable to take advantage of the very scheme that would benefit them in the long term.
Countryside stewardship is too inflexible, with rates of payment too low to achieve some of the most desirable environmental objectives. For example, in the Wye valley in Herefordshire we have lost most of the historic, unimproved river grassland meadows to potato growing, which offers irresistible, short-term profit to hard pressed farmers but has meant that a precious and virtually irreplaceable habitat has been destroyed simply because the countryside stewardship incentive was not enough to swing the balance in favour of the environmentally sustainable and ecologically desirable form of farming. Soil run-off into the River Wye, which is an SSSI and a candidate site of SAC (special area of conservation), has done further serious environmental damage.
I believe that countryside stewardship payments need to be more generous, as do the hill farm allowance payments for farmers in the more remote upland areas. Yes, we badly needed a change from the headage payments that encouraged over-stocking, over-grazing and poor animal welfare, but if the hill farm allowance is not set at a higher rate than that proposed, hill farmers will be driven out of business, despite the fact that they constitute in the words of the White Paper,
I should like to express a very warm welcome for an outcome that many of us campaigned for over a long period; namely, the £8.7 million mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, in the current year to help small and medium-sized abattoirs, which play such a vital role in rural areas in supplying specialist markets in particular, notably markets that offer good returns for farmers and very good food for the public: organic meat, farmers' markets and specialist breeds. There is wonderful news. Charges will now be on a headage not on a throughput basis. But--the Minister knows what is coming--that most welcome move has been disastrously sabotaged, at least in the case of the small abattoirs, by the decision to implement the second stage of EU Commission Decision 2000/418/EC on specified risk material to ban the process of pithing from 1st January of next year.
Most noble Lords sitting in the Chamber this evening probably know what pithing is, but just in case that is not so, perhaps I may explain the process. When cattle are killed, they are first stunned by firing a captive bolt into the brain. However, if left in this state, involuntary thrashing of limbs often occurs. This can be extremely dangerous, as the violent limb movements are unpredictable and can cause injury or even death to slaughtermen. Pithing is an old-established technique for stopping these movements of the animal by disrupting the nervous tissue. It is achieved by passing a wire rod into the brain at the point of entry of the captive bolt stunner. The use of pithing can be avoided if slaughter premises are of sufficient size to allow the installation of a hoist, so that the animal can be lifted above the point at which the slaughterhouse staff are in danger.
The banning of pithing is based on concerns that in over 30-month-old cattle there is a theoretical possibility of BSE material entering the blood supply of the animal during the pithing process. However, in the United Kingdom, no animals over 30 months of age are entering the food chain. It is the opinion of the Government's advisory committee on BSE, SEAC, that there is no current need, on grounds of food safety, to ban pithing in the UK. That view is shared
The OTMS arrangements were costly and difficult to introduce, but they are now in place. I do not believe that there is any demand from United Kingdom farmers for their repeal. If other European Union countries want to slaughter older animal for human consumption, by all means let them ban pithing: but let our small abattoirs be exempt and continue this practice. It poses no risk to human health and actually has animal welfare benefits, because it prevents the possibility of the animal that has been stunned regaining consciousness before it is slaughtered.
I apologise for dwelling on this matter, which is not entirely pleasant in some ways. But it is matter of great concern to many small farmers and to all organic producers. The European Union ban threatens many livelihoods in my diocese. I beg the Minister to take the matter most seriously.
Finally, and very much more briefly, there are some sad omissions from the rural White Paper that many of us had hoped to see, including some set out very persuasively in the Manifesto for Rural Britain produced by the Rural Group of Labour MPs in April of this year. For example, please can we have a retirement scheme for farmers who want to leave the industry but cannot afford to do so in present circumstances? This is a pressing problem. I met someone yesterday who is in that exact position. He is wretchedly miserable because he simply cannot do it without the sort of help that is on offer in many other European countries. I have in mind help not just with marketing but with food processing, so that farmers can benefit from the added value that is at present going to someone else.
There should also be support for young people who want to enter the farming world--believe it or not, there are such people. They understand consumer demand, marketing and the environment in a way that many of the older generation simply do not. The United Kingdom is the only member of the European Union that does not offer help of that kind. Changes to the "leader + programme" of help for small-scale, innovative rural development projects, which is an excellent programme, must not be restricted to areas that can muster a population of 10,000 people within a local action group area. Some of the best and most valuable of the earlier leader projects were based in areas of very sparse population. The proposed change is most unwelcome.
Why is there no mention of the economic and environmental benefits of minimum tillage farming, which ought to be much better known and more practised? Why no mention of the need to introduce a rational debate about genetically modified foods? However, I was glad to read in Farmers Weekly, which I assure noble Lords I read as assiduously as I read the Church Times, that the Minister recently announced a government initiative in public relations to try to explain what is being attempted with the GM food crop trials. That is a matter that desperately needs attention. Many farmers have been impossibly harassed and intimidated over this matter.
The rural White Paper is a good document. It represents a huge leap forward in terms of integrated thinking and planning for rural Britain. We are grateful for that fact. However, as I have tried to show, it leaves many farmers disappointed and deeply frustrated. Morale and confidence are crumbling and despair is setting in. Many noble Lords have mentioned that and I know it to be true. I hope that the Minister will have heard about these disappointments and frustrations which, despite the toughness and tenacity of most country people, are very real. I also hope that the Government will respond to them--ideally along the lines that I have set out this evening.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate. He knows far more about agriculture than I do, even though I have farmed for years. I greatly enjoyed his speech. I am most grateful to the Bishops' Benches because they are the last bastion of protection against all those able women, who make poor creatures like me feel so inferior.
I, too, believe that the Hunting Bill is a little out of place when we consider the troubles with which we are faced at present. The case against it has certainly been put very well. It is right and proper to talk about cruelty to vermin, if there is such cruelty. But, in hunting, the fox is either killed or it gets away. We do not hunt in Aberdeenshire or in Angus, but we do not like foxes, so we shoot them. There was an occasion when I came out worst in such an argument. My granddaughter, who was raised in London until the age of seven, came to stay with us. One day she marched into the house, stood upright before me and asked, "Grandpa, did you shoot a fox?" I said, "Yes, dear. I shot a fox". She then asked me why I did so, to which I replied, "Darling, foxes do a lot of harm. They kill pheasants". She responded, "So do you".
I may have lost that particular argument, but I have shot a number of foxes in my time. However, I have also missed them. I have even hit them and wounded them. That is regrettable and something that we must stop. Hunting is not in the same category.
The hatred of hunting does not rely altogether on concern for animals but more on jealousy of people who ride about on horses. I have never hunted on a horse, but I have been to a meeting at which I was poured a sherry which I greatly enjoyed while others
Although agriculture was not mentioned in the gracious Speech, the Minister responsible in this House for agriculture will reply. Plenty of material has been thrown at her. I hope that she will reply to it. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford referred to small abattoirs. The inspection costs of a small abattoir were £17,000 in 1996 but £38,000 in 1999. Such costs overtake the profits of a small abattoir. How much will a small abattoir benefit from government measures? Without the small abattoirs, long distances have to be travelled to the larger abattoirs--and that makes a tremendous difference.
The White Paper on the countryside programme is right about housing. We must do something about affordable housing in the countryside which is rented by people who want to work there and can afford it but which is then purchased by the children as the tenants become older, and sold on. We need some form of restriction on that. Such sales occur everywhere and result in the disappearance of farms. It is a waste of money. People want to work in the countryside, but cannot afford to live there.
The Government, in particular agriculture Ministers, face two major issues. First, the common agricultural policy has been destroyed by the fact that whatever the Commission imposes to stop over-production, the Council opposes on the ground that the farmers of France or Bavaria would suffer. The Government have to fight that attitude. While we reach a competitive standard in this country--we are rapidly doing so to the detriment of the countryside--everyone knows that when farms form a unit, fewer men are employed.
There needs to be marketing and organisation of the major products. My noble friend Lady Miller was right to say that countryside markets are useful but they are not a major factor when dealing with the produce of competent and efficient farmers. For that, one needs an organisation which will handle the enormous power of the supermarket chains. No one is more subject to loss of profit and the driving down of returns than the primary producers. They need some organisation.
Secondly, the common fisheries policy is in a state of crisis. With regard to the catching of cod, an enormous drop in fishing hours--probably total prohibition--will be required. The Council, and I hope our Ministers, must agree that they will stand the cost which, to the fishermen, will be great. It is a major issue. If nothing is done, without doubt there will be no cod in the North Sea.
These are problems which face the Government. They are facing up to some of the agricultural problems, but there are major problems with regard to the fisheries policy. I have great admiration for the Minister. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, will be able to answer in a positive manner.
Baroness Howells of St Davids: My Lords, I was encouraged to note that education featured once more in the gracious Speech. Education has always been the means of upward mobility for people from the Caribbean who are the descendants of slaves. I propose to highlight the exclusion of black boys from schools which is proving to be a special educational need in my community.
Exclusion from school is a socially disabling phenomenon. The black community submits that it has been used against black children in schools with amazing success. The prison population reflects that submission. Much of the research available appears to blame the victim rather than address the institutions. The major shortcomings of attempts to educate and evaluate black youngsters are attributed to the cultural norms and imperatives which operate in the black community and are seen to be different from those of the white community. The primary substance of this contention asserts that such a thing as black culture and the black experience exist and have historical perspectives which extend to those whose parents came from the Caribbean.
It has been further asserted that the influences of black culture render black children proficiently different from whites in some very specific ways. We deny this. In truth, historically, the basic foundations of the two cultures have always been diverse but it has never prevented the growth of some very brilliant and able citizens from the Caribbean. They are well balanced and can be found in every walk of life--musicians, doctors, lawyers, politicians and even the higher philosophers of this world. The question is: what is happening in British schools? Who takes care of the differences? How are the differences reconciled to create the citizen? Who emphasises the right of the child to show feelings of love and hate? The two are not separated. The child must recognise early in life that he can both love and hate. What is needed is help and support in order for the child to tune in or tune out of things which concern him at that age.
Excluding a child fails to deal with his needs at the most vulnerable time of his existence. In one London borough alone, I was told that 400 children are out of school in any one day, and two-thirds of them are black. Black children, like all children, need to be taught and educated. It is imperative that the methodology, processes and procedures that are buried in the cultural aspects of one's being be considered at all times. They must be educated and counselled within the vein of their culture if we are to change the present figures of exclusions.
Much of the data that is available on the subject of school violence is unreliable and creates a false impression as to the causes and cures of the problem. Contrary to the public impression created by the media, the facts do not support the contention that our schools are battlegrounds where it is unsafe to send children due to brutal assaults on teachers as well as extortion and burglaries. The notion that schools are less safe than the communities in which they are
We should not try to pass the buck. We are all responsible, if we continue to change our laws simply because some people do not wish to obey them. We as adults will deny our duty to the future citizens of our country. Children must be made to relearn respect for persons and property and be made aware of sanctions before the act of defiance itself. We need to tell them in advance that there will be penalties for certain actions. We need to tell them that even in the early days of primary school. We owe it to all children, not only to the privileged few.
I should like the Minister to assure the House that greater attempts will be made to ensure recognition in the form of resources given to supplementary schools to assist with the problem of school exclusions so that children will no longer roam the streets with nowhere to go and no one to turn to because they are considered to have disrupted a school.
Lord Geraint: My Lords, I shall confine my remarks to agriculture. I am really surprised that there is no mention of the common agricultural policy or any other agricultural issues in this year's Queen's Speech. I wonder why that is. Is it because British agriculture is now heading for the worst financial crisis since the war and the Government are still not willing to listen to the producers' plea for help and understanding; or is it because the Agriculture Minister, Nick Brown, forecast a 27 per cent downward trend in farmers' incomes?
The Agriculture Minister said, rightly, that there were a number of factors involved in the fall, including pressure on prices for agricultural outputs caused by the strength of sterling against the euro; falls in prices for milk and cereals; and increased fuel and fertiliser costs. But why will not the Minister come clean and admit for once that the supermarkets have taken over full responsibilities for the Government's agricultural policies? Although I commend the rural White Paper, which contains some good points and recommends the introduction of some good measures, we are in a crisis. I refer again to the forecast 27 per cent fall in farmers' incomes in 12 months. We do not have time to wait for the recommendations in White Papers to be implemented.
The average age of today's farmer is 58, and with current incomes at such pitiful levels it gives little heart to young people to continue the traditions of the family farm. The crisis has been further highlighted by a survey of the Farmers' Union of Wales which shows that major barriers stand in the way of young people looking to follow a career in the countryside. The findings clearly indicate that incentives are urgently needed to help to convince young people that agriculture has a future.
Contrast this with the representations of farming and agriculture--the landowner, the farmers' unions and the sectoral interest organisations, with a total number between them of fewer than quarter of a million--and one begins to get a handle on why agriculture and farming are being sidelined by the Government. The latest figures, published on 30th November, show that total income from farming is forecast to have fallen by 72 per cent since its peak in 1995. That is a fall of 72 per cent in five years. I warn the Government that they have only a few months before the next election and unless they do something to redress these figures it will be a sad day for them. The results of this are crippling, with a lack of confidence, particularly in the sheep sector, resulting in a loss of some 25,000 producers in less than 10 years. This means that the ones who remain are working longer hours for fewer returns, with young people in
It cannot be right for people to be treated this way. Government must realise that the continuance of a cheap food policy, with prices paid to primary producers well below actual costs of production, leads to disastrous consequences. These encompass the welfare of people, the welfare of animals, the environment and the entire rural structure. The Government must do something positive about it as a matter of the utmost priority. They should return the industry to conditions that contribute to the reasonably harmless development that has been a feature of farming since the war.
There is another important issue in Wales at the moment. I am very proud of our Assembly in Cardiff, but we must have the same powers as Scotland forthwith. That would improve the relationships between the Assembly and the Government in London. It is a great shame that the Office for National Statistics will not allow the people of Wales to say that they are Welsh in next year's census, while our friends in Scotland will have the opportunity to say that they are Scottish. I urge the Government to intervene forthwith to rectify the situation and ensure that a box for that is included. Please do not find excuses. We have heard enough. Listen to the views expressed and the decisions made in favour by Welsh politicians at the Assembly. The Minister has the choice to grant Welsh people their rights or to surrender to those stupid and determined civil servants whose views are currently entrenched against the Welsh. The Government must act now, before it is too late. Tomorrow, representatives of the Western Mail, the national newspaper of Wales, will take a petition to 10 Downing Street on behalf of those of us who are proud to say that we are Welsh to the core.
Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, I find myself approaching the debate in an uncharacteristically negative mood, and not merely because a number of long-overdue important measures, such as the granting of citizenship to our overseas territories, are not included, although I was cheered by the comment of the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, the other day that the integrated child credit was a kind of citizen's income. That is at least a start on a major plank of Green Party policy. I was also cheered to learn, not from the Queen's Speech, but, I think, from Matthew Parris' column, which is often as entertaining, that at last bicycle bells will be made compulsory for all new bicycles. As a vice-president of the Pedestrians Association, I welcome that long-overdue measure.
My overall depression arises not merely because today's allocated subjects of education, the environment and agriculture are so badly catered for in the Speech. I understand why that is the case, although to understand is not necessarily to forgive. The environment has had a major Bill in the past year as well as a major White Paper. Agriculture, which is
However, there is no apparent realisation of the immensity of the problems that confront this country and the world. The majority of thinking people have realised, at least superficially, that our present so-called civilisation in the West is consuming far too many of the earth's resources and excreting them far too quickly. And yet we are told without qualification that the Government will pursue the objective of high levels of growth. There is always room for the qualitative improvement of our life and for a fairer distribution of goods, but there is no room for quantitative growth. If there was, would it make us any happier? I am not just putting on a priest's hair shirt. I am talking about positive benefits for human beings, such as satisfaction and quality of life.
Opening my copy of that admirable publication The Week last Friday, I was struck by two stories. The first was entitled, "The dark underside of the American dream". It surveyed the rundown of that country's infrastructure due to the competition of the two main parties in establishing "lean government". A run-down infrastructure means that public schools have to rely on corporate help to survive and a child can be sent home for wearing a Pepsi Cola T-shirt to school on Coca-Cola day. Proctor and Gamble, which makes disposable nappies, furnishes schools with teaching materials that say that cutting down forests is no threat to the environment. The democratic machinery of government becomes a laughing stock, because, while America produces some of the best counting machines in the world, the public authorities cannot afford to buy them. I am talking about one of the richest countries in the world.
Are the people of America happier? They are not. The incidence of depression and the decline of the ties between people--social capital--are at their all-time worst level. What has happened to Uncle Sam's fabled generosity when he is prepared to do virtually nothing to combat global warming, as we have just seen in the world climate talks? We all know that generosity stems most frequently from happiness and self-confidence. The US at the moment has neither.
We are rapidly slipping down that road of the neglect of public infrastructure. Last month we had the appalling spectacle of the Government privatising air traffic control. I do not blame the Conservatives too much for not stopping that when they could have done, because they do not believe in nationalisation. I pay tribute to Labour Back-Benchers in another place who voted against that betrayal of their heritage. I blame the Government, as I blame them for not introducing in this Session a Bill to nationalise Railtrack. That would have been an election winner.
Is it left to the Green Party to be the only party that still believes that the people of this country are prepared to operate institutions for the public good and not just for the quick buck? I ask that particularly of those on the Labour Benches.
In my pursuit of Bills that the Government should introduce but have not done so, why is there not a Bill, or at least a promise of a Green Paper, on the steps that will need to be taken to combat the effects of climate change? The question may still be open as to whether this year's appalling weather in Britain is tied to world conditions, or whether it is simply a continuation of the weather that we have always masochistically prided ourselves on, as Fougasse used so entertainingly to point out in his cartoons. Virtually no one any longer believes that major world climatic change is not happening. It will lead to great change in the economics of nations and regions as, among other things, patterns of crop culture shift.
That brings me to agriculture. The Government clearly know what is happening--indeed, with the high rate of suicide among farmers, they could hardly not know. The cause is indisputable: free trade in agriculture. Global and national authorities should be encouraging small farmers throughout the world to provide food for local consumption. Small farms do that far more efficiently than large farms by any yardstick except the purely monetary. As the noble Lord, Lord Geraint, said, they produce more and better quality food per acre, they tend the environment better and they treat their animals better. Incidentally, when shall we have a Bill to give the codes of recommendations statutory backing, as advised by the Farm Animal Welfare Council? Small farms keep more people working on the farm, thereby creating rural populations that produce a demand for services, which leads to a happy and prosperous rural life, as the Government acknowledged in their admirable rural White Paper.
Instead, the Government offer restructuring. We all know what that means, whether it is offered by the World Bank to third world countries or by the doubtless well meaning Nick Brown to British farmers. It means making the rich richer--especially transnational corporations--and the poor poorer.
Admittedly, they are--or at least I hope they are, otherwise there will be hell to pay--trying to reform those international authorities. However, they should be facing up to the fact known to us all that free trade in agriculture is a con trick to buy cheap food for the urban poor by concealing all the real costs of that process which hit the rural population particularly hard. Some of your Lordships, especially on the Conservative Benches, will be aware of the wonderful account in Disraeli's Life of Lord George Bentinck of Peel sitting huddled on the Treasury Bench while the great mass of Tory squires files into the Lobby against his repeal of the Corn Laws to protect the farmers of England.
Again, in the same way as I ask the Labour Party whether it is only the Green Party which still believes in public ownership, I ask the Conservative Party whether it is only the Green Party which still believes that the countryside and the working farmers of Britain are worth preserving. I say "the countryside" because, when the small farmers go, the countryside will also go in the process known in America as "New Jersification". Therefore, why do not the Government at least embrace a form of modulation which helps the small farmers?
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I return to the subject of education. I was delighted that the rather short gracious Speech spoke in specific terms of the Government's intention to create more specialist schools. It really touched my old heart. We all have different aptitudes, skills and abilities and, of course, we all agree that it is crucial that education caters for this diversity of humanity. I believe that we must also all agree that it is hard for one school to deal adequately with all those demands; hence my support for the Government's desire for more specialist schools.
My main reason for rising to speak tonight is to make a particular point about education. We all agree with the concept of specialist schools. However, it is crucial that the right pupils go to the right schools; for example, I can barely repair a fuse and I depended on my late wife to deal with technology. I believe that it would be generally agreed by all my friends that I would not be a suitable candidate for a school specialising in technology; nor, in view of my previous educational record, would I be an ideal candidate for one specialising in mathematics or science. Therefore, I suggest to the Minister that there needs to be a test of aptitude and ability so that pupils benefit from the specialisation that the new schools will offer.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, knows better than I do that very sophisticated tests are now available that show where one's skills lie. The problem is that many people--although, I am sure, not the noble Baroness--still regard tests in the light of the old 11-plus examination; that is, a pass or fail. However, I want to emphasise that tests exist which would help specialist schools by showing whether a pupil would benefit from a specialisation in modern languages, mathematics, technology or whatever else. It is not a question of pass or fail.
Therefore, I hope that the Government, and particularly the Minister, will reject the dogmas of the past and allow the new specialist schools to experiment with and use some of those indicators to enable pupils to fulfil their potential in the best possible environment.
Further, as the Minister knows, mathematics and physics specialists are scarce--in the case of physics specialists, very scarce. Such specialists may need to be attracted, particularly to specialist science schools, by higher salaries. The Minister may have to consider that. In addition, if a variety of languages is to be taught in a specialist language school, some sets may be small and, in a technical sense, uneconomic and more expensive to maintain. There is also a need for foreign tours, with some support for the poorer pupils.
All that needs to be taken into account if, as mentioned in the gracious Speech, specialist schools are to fulfil their ideals. I repeat: it is a great idea, and it came from these Benches--although I shall not dwell on that tonight. All those details will require attention if the aim and hope of an item mentioned in the early sentences of the gracious Speech are to be realised. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating and in the detail.
Perhaps I may enter a number of postscripts. First, I should like the Minister to comment on the recent CPE pamphlet about the amount of money that local authorities are transferring to schools. I gather that there is a dispute. In his pamphlet, Nick Seaton suggests that at least 27 per cent of local authority money is being kept by the authorities. In the case of some authorities, I suggest that the figure is somewhat higher. However, I should like to hear from the horse's mouth, if I may say so in an agricultural metaphor, exactly what the amount will be.