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The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord from a sedentary position. However, as I know to my cost, the horse is not an agricultural animal in this country.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, it is true; I have never eaten a horse.

Perhaps I may turn to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. I admired her strong rhetoric for educational standards. However, I believe that she picked from many apple trees. First, I agree with her that much should be done for vocational education. However, she never faced the problem of structure. The comprehensive system got rid of the technical schools, but the noble Baroness did not touch on that point.

Secondly, she criticised strongly Christopher Woodhead as Chief Inspector of Schools. In my opinion, he has done great works. My daughter teaches in Bethnal Green. Her school was placed under special measures. It underwent great hardship and that

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was a burden to the teachers. However, the school has risen 166 places in the league tables. That is no mean achievement for a school, half of whose pupils are Bangladeshi. Therefore, we must admire Chris Woodhead, who achieved a great deal.

The third point that I wish to make about picking from various apple trees is that, as anyone knows, of course one needs more money for everything. However, again as I know as an ex-head teacher, throwing money at one problem does not solve the problem of inadequacy in other areas. In other words, one can put a penny on income tax--I do not know whether the Liberal Democrats are still of this opinion; I read different views in the papers--but if one does that, one has also to deal with the problem, with which Chris Woodhead had to deal, of inadequate schools.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, perhaps I may comment on two points raised by the noble Lord. First, he probably knows well that the average amount spent per pupil in private schools in this country is twice the amount spent in state schools. Roughly speaking, one is talking about 5,000 to 5,500 a year at secondary school level in private schools, and 2,500 a year in the state schools. Therefore, twice as much is being spent in private schools. That is probably the main reason that many people seek private education.

I am trying to remember the second point which the noble Lord made.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, it was about a penny on income tax.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, yes, we stick by that. We feel that more money is needed for education and, if necessary, we shall put an extra penny on income tax to produce that extra money.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, as a person who ran a budget for 18 years, I acknowledge that we spent money but, believe me, I never spent money on declining causes. The answer is that if you spend money, you should aim it right. That is where Mr Woodhead and his team came in. The noble Baroness condemned Mr Woodhead while at the same time asking for more money to be spent, and she did not allow for the great work that he had done.

I do not want to be ungracious. It is marvellous that specialist schools are to be established. It is rare that those on the Benches opposite learn from Members on these Benches, but at least we thought of the idea which I am sure the Government will implement with all the ideals and imagination which we should have applied to the same problem.

8.1 p.m.

Lord Methuen: My Lords, I rise from these Benches to talk briefly about the transport aspects mentioned in the gracious Speech. From these Benches, we welcome the proposed Bill to promote safety on the roads and railways, at sea and in the air, particularly in the light of the recent rail disasters and "Marchioness"

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tragedy. One can only hope that such a wide-ranging Bill will not be as complex and contentious as the recent Transport Bill.

We have all suffered from the chaotic outcome of the situation on our railways following the Hatfield disaster. Therefore, we welcome the decision to implement such recommendations as may come from the inquiry of Lord Cullen into the Paddington accident. However, I remind the Government that many of the recommendations from such inquiries never seem to be implemented. I refer specifically to those arising from the inquiry into the aircraft fire at Manchester Airport some years ago. Some of those recommendations have yet to be implemented and I hope that that will not be the fate of the Ladbroke Grove and Slough inquiries.

We need to examine also procedures used to restore the railways to use after such an accident. To shut down for a fortnight is quite unacceptable. That never used to happen before privatisation. So what has changed? I believe that there is an over-involvement on the part of the police in carrying out their forensic tests. That is something which is better carried out by the health and safety authorities.

Safety is paramount, but at what cost? We see our railways in crisis. Is this not the time at which to reconsider the model on which our privatised railway system is based? There are clearly deep problems with the current structures and I should welcome a commitment by the Government to re-examine that structure. I fear for the results of its imposition on London Underground in the near future. In terms of speed and reliability, our railways compare highly unfavourably with France, Germany and Japan in particular.

This debate is also about education and I emphasise the need for our schools and universities to produce engineers and scientists. We require those to design and support the high-tech modern systems on which we all depend. We need engineers at all levels and a lack of them at the highest levels may well have a significance in relation to the recent disasters.

We note the intention to tackle drug and alcohol abuse among transport staff. Will the Minister give some indication of the size of that problem?

We look forward to the details of the road safety strategy in due course and I should be interested to know whether that is likely to include a reduction in the permitted blood-alcohol level for drivers, as was recommended in a recent European Union Select Committee report on the subject.

8.4 p.m.

Lord Addington: My Lords, what primarily drew me to today's debate was the forthcoming Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill which is well overdue and extremely welcome. A Minister came to speak to the all-party disability group at some point during the last Session and said that the Government were trying to squeeze in that legislation. It has obviously been ready for a while and it is one of those

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Bills about which it can be said that it passes the curate's egg test: it is more than just good in parts; it is mainly good.

I have one or two quibbles with the Bill but they are only small. However, there is one exception to that. I believe that if someone is being discriminated against, he should surely have a right to some form of financial compensation. When that issue was raised with the Minister, arguments were put forward that that would take money away from the general budget. But it may be that a stick is needed to drive people on. We shall undoubtedly discuss that later.

We must bear in mind that we have been waiting for this legislation for a long time. I hope that the Government will tell us that the Bill will be given real priority. We do not expect to be still within this Parliament in the autumn. But this is one Bill which we might manage to pass. The Bill is starting in this House and it is traditional that most of the work is done on such Bills in this House. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, must take some credit for having set up that system which has allowed us to move on. But much of what is in this Bill, which is one of the few measures in the Queen's Speech which stands a chance of becoming law, has provided the meat and drink of countless discussions on education Bills.

It is one subject which, in fact, I have wished that we could stop debating because we went over the ground again and again. I hope that this Bill will place matters within the education structure and that we shall have sufficient planning and structure to deal with the issues.

One particular aspect of which I approve is that the Bill provides that parents shall be consulted. In meetings with Ministers, I have suggested that local authorities should be under a duty to make sure that parents understand all the options. That was greeted with laughter, not only by the Minister in question but also by the civil servants. About a year later, I was extremely pleased to find that my own party had adopted policies saying that parents should be given that guidance. Bodies dealing with special education spend most of their time giving advice about what is available and then how to drag it out of a local authority. I cannot believe those charities get some sort of masochistic pleasure from ploughing through all the red tape, and we should try to cut it. I am glad that we are trying to act upon that.

Many people involved have spent their lives desperately trying to get their children educated in the first place and have then helped others to do so afterwards. Once this Bill is passed, they will be able to breathe a sigh of relief and live their lives without effectively subsidising the Government's education system. That is what many of them are doing at present. That has been going on for at least as long as I have been a Member of this House and, indeed, I am reliably informed that it has been going on for longer than that.

As I said, this may well be one of the few pieces of legislation that we manage to get through both Houses of Parliament. Once the Bill is enacted, we shall

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unfortunately be imposing a further workload on teachers. Teachers are often not properly equipped to spot the problems initially. We have raised the problems in relation to observing disabilities and awareness training. More has been done but it is still not enough. In-service training is certainly not sufficient at present. We must try to support teachers and help them with their ability to notice problems quickly.

If that is done, we may well be able to leave behind an entire area of debate. I doubt that we shall get it right but we may be able to leave some of it behind. I suggest that we should make a great effort to implement that one part of the Government's programme contained in the Queen's Speech. I hope that the Government will be open to listening to reasoned arguments. This Chamber has a record for putting forward sensible arguments and ideas which will work. I hope that if that is done, the Government will accept them and bring them forward. Nobody wishes to destroy the Bill or wreck it in any way. We merely want to improve it. I say that with sincerity. It does not often happen but on this occasion I hope that it will.

8.9 p.m.

Lord Plumb: My Lords, I join all noble Lords who have spoken on agriculture who have expressed concern that there was no specific mention of the subject in the gracious Speech. However, it is appropriate that we debate the issue now. There are many problems relating to agriculture and to the people who are involved in it.

Tackling the issue of regulations forms an important part of the Government's action plan that was launched in March. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, recognised that in her opening remarks. The government White Paper on rural affairs plays a prominent part in the move in agriculture from the policies that have pertained over the years to the situation that we shall face in the future.

I declare an interest as a farmer and as a past president of the National Farmers Union, followed by 20 years in the European Parliament where I was involved in the various changes that took place to the common agricultural policy.

Therefore, I find it difficult to accept the unpalatable truth that the agricultural industry in this country, as efficient as any in the world, is now under greater pressure than at any time since the 1930s. The facts are stark and many of them have been mentioned in this debate.

However, one fact that has not been mentioned is that 22,000 jobs were lost from farming during the past year. There is also the matter of the fall in incomes with which we are familiar. Put into farmers' language, there has been a fall from 350 a hectare in 1995 to 41 a hectare in the past year, so there could be an average loss of 4,000 per farm throughout the United Kingdom.

The recent crops and stock lost in the flooded areas add a further blow to many farming families who are suffering hardship through no fault of their own.

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Her Majesty would surely have accepted, if she had mentioned agriculture in her gracious Speech, that the year had truly been an annus horribilis.

The psychological and sociological effects of that disastrous situation are immense and produce tragic results. The figures are familiar. This year alone, 56 farmers and managers and 21 farm workers have committed suicide and the Rural Stress Information Service--a self-help service--linked with other charities, including the Samaritans and the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, in which I am involved, has recently launched an action plan, Help at Hand, for country people in distress.

I strongly share the view of the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Hereford that one way of giving a little hope would be to introduce a retirement scheme. At least that would give farmers a lifeline and perhaps an opportunity for some young people to enter farming. As he so rightly said, other European countries support their farming communities in that way and we should concentrate on finding a way of doing that.

The general state of affairs in farming is not just a small farmer problem, as many believe, but good farmers at the top of the range--the really astute and those who do all the right things--are also suffering because of a situation which is outside their control. We talk about cost-cutting, but that is hardly an option when red diesel--the power used on most farms--has increased in price threefold over the past year, together with other input costs.

There is no single cause for the catastrophe; one problem has compounded another to create what appears to be an insoluble situation. We recognise the change, a change which is not just a national problem but an international problem. There is the weakness of the euro against sterling, the Asian crisis, falling world commodity prices, globalisation of supply, the increasing strength of the retailer, doctrinaire deregulation, and an increasing urban community demanding cheap food, with a government sympathetic to those demands.

Many noble Lords have mentioned the BSE crisis and swine fever which, unjustifiably, in my opinion, continue to cause doubts in relation to food safety. The irony is that following the slaughter of well over 5 million cattle that have been taken out of the food chain and fed into the incinerator, there is still no proof that beef is directly related to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. As reported, that evidence is still circumstantial.

Farmers know that there are no "white knights" on the horizon to bail them out of their difficulties. They also know that they cannot live in hope and that they have to look for advantages in the market-place. Naturally they question their further role and opportunities for alternative methods of income through rural development. They know that the real world has changed, but they refuse to accept the doomsayers' view that farming is heading the same way as the coal and steel industries.

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The Deputy Prime Minister was so wrong when, at his party conference, he asked why we should support the farmers when they had no sympathy with the miners in their troubled time. I was born in a mining village and the miners and the farmers stood together in difficult times in the interests of protecting their village life.

I hope that the noble Baroness will expand on three issues concerning government responsibility in her reply, some of which have already been raised, and all of which were mentioned in the gracious Speech. The first is excessive bureaucracy and red tape. I am aware of the Action Plan for Farming launched on 30th March to which the noble Baroness referred and the three new task forces that will look at three areas: the cost of inputs, the milk industry, and the problems in hill areas. However, inspection charges are still crippling. I speak from some experience in that matter as I have watched it happen. Counting sheep's teeth and the employment of up to four qualified inspectors and enforcement personnel to watch one slaughterman is surely nonsense.

I could go on to detail such examples, but I ask the noble Baroness to update us on the progress of minimising the cost and bureaucratic burden on farmers in relation to achieving environmental and consumer safety objectives. The climate change levy, to which the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, referred, is of direct concern to the farming community. The waste framework directive is another area of concern to the whole of the agricultural industry, as is the nitrate directive which may be a further tax burden on the farming community. Are we really making progress with the European Commission on the simplification of meat hygiene regulations? Those are areas of great concern. We will accept them if there is fair play across the whole Community.

The second matter that I hope that the noble Baroness will mention is that evidence shows that levels of crime--another area of concern mentioned in the gracious Speech--are lower in rural than in urban areas. However, the threat is growing and it is real. I witnessed that yesterday morning in my village. When I went to buy a newspaper, I found that all the glass in the shop had been broken. That indicates what can happen in a little village in an area where one does not expect such things to happen.

Greater isolation poses particular and serious problems for people living in the countryside. Can the Minister give an assurance that police officers will be more visible and effective on the ground, using modern technology in their information network? People want to know how their village shop is being protected and what is being done to fight crime.

Finally and briefly, while we are going through stormy times it is proposed to ban any form of country sport, particularly hunting with dogs--they are called "hounds" in my part of the world. I can assure the Minister that anyone who believes in freedom and tolerance in a society without prejudice and discrimination will rise up and defend their rights in a

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way that this country has never previously seen. That will happen, whether the Government like it or not if they go ahead with what they are threatening the countryside with. We shall have another opportunity to debate that vexed question in the not-too-distant future, but I leave that with your Lordships because it is very real.

8.21 p.m.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I want to address my remarks to aspects of the gracious Speech which affect children and young people. First, perhaps I may express my support in principle for effective measures to improve the teaching of children in the early years of secondary education. While I look forward to seeing the detail of the Government's proposed measures, I cannot help thinking that the most effective measures to improve this area of education would be those which attract a sufficient number of high quality graduates to train as teachers in the secondary sector. Sadly, the Government failed to reach their targets in that area this year. It has to be said that simply increasing the size of the target for next year, as the Government announced last week, is no way to address the shortfall.

The Government need to go further. There is an enormous amount of competition to employ these talented young people and the DfEE must look at what other employers are doing if it is to win that competition. Paying high quality applicants a training wage is becoming common in the marketplace and the Government must pay attention to that.The evidence shows that the amount of the training grant currently being offered does not appear to be enough.

Secondly, we need to have measures which make the profession more attractive, such as cutting secondary class sizes and the bureaucracy which besets teachers, thereby allowing them to do what they are trained for; namely, teaching. As my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford said earlier in the debate, there used to be the phenomenon of teaching families. Parents in teaching would recommend the profession to their offspring as being a good and satisfying career. This is not happening today. So many teachers suffer from high levels of stress and demoralisation and do not recommend the profession to young people. That will have to change before we succeed in attracting the right number and the right quality of candidates into teaching.

Although secondary education is of great importance, I would now like to turn my attention to what I believe is more important; that is, nursery education. When a builder builds a house, he puts the foundations into place first. Without good foundations, the longevity of the building is put seriously at risk. A BBC period costume designer once told me that it is important to get the corsets right first. Education is similar in that the foundations are vital. That is why we as a country need to put a lot more resources into early years education. I very much welcome what the Government have done so far to increase the number of nursery places for three and

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four year-olds. There are encouraging signs that Ministers are now turning their attention to the issue of quality. That is crucial.

Numerous research projects have shown that a high quality early years education can help all children to achieve more when they eventually move into formal education. It can also even out the life chances of children from a variety of backgrounds and reduce the negative effects of poverty and disadvantage. It is for the sake of the children themselves, to help them fulfil their potential and not just to enable their parents to go to work, that we on these Benches would put the maximum possible resources into high quality early years provision.

Of course, the early years sector is very variable in type: from maintained, to commercial, to voluntary non-profit provision; from childminders caring for very small numbers, to large nursery schools providing for hundreds of children. However, to be effective, they all have in common the need for staff to have the best possible training and a high level of understanding of the way children develop so that they can help them to develop not only intellectually but socially, emotionally and physically; and also so that they have the skills to involve the parents in their children's early education.

I know that the Government are turning their attention to ways in which the benefit of the advice of early years specialists can be spread throughout the country through the early years development and childcare partnership and the Sure Start programme. I wish those initiatives well and hope that the further measures, which were merely mentioned in the gracious Speech, might include plans to provide more resources for those schemes. Perhaps the Minister could tell us.

I also fervently hope that Ofsted will be successful in finding a highly respected early years expert to head its new nursery inspection unit. That new unit has a fresh opportunity to make a good start and gain the confidence and support of professionals in the early years sector. Indeed, it must do so if it is to make a major contribution to improving the quality of early years provision. Success in this sector should not be measured by the number of three year-olds who can be trained to write their own name but by the number of children who learn through play and who enter formal education with rich language, social and other appropriate skills, happy to learn and ready to benefit from what primary schools have to offer.

Finally, I want to say a few words about the measures announced in the gracious Speech to address the so-called "yob" culture. While of course our society should not tolerate such behaviour, the measures simply address the symptoms of a deeper malaise. They are like a doctor providing a headache pill to a patient requiring surgery to remove a brain tumour. Over recent years, under successive governments, the youth service has been starved of resources. Wonderful leisure centres have been built but the charges for using them put their use beyond the means of children from low income families.

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While we must do everything possible to improve education, we must remember, as the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, rightly said, that young people do not spend all their time in school and college. I most heartily agree with her comments on the matter and echo her encouragement to the Government to put further resources and practical help behind the measures mentioned in the report which she highlighted. It is usually during leisure time that young people get up to mischief and, worse, even serious crime, as we saw tragically last week in Peckham.

I mentioned previously in your Lordships' House that the carrot is more effective than the stick. We on these Benches would have more sympathy with measures to address the phenomenon of youth crime if at the same time we were being informed about measures to provide young people with the means and guidance to spend their leisure time fruitfully and profitably. Both young people and society as a whole would have benefited enormously from a different balance on these matters in the legislative programme that has been laid before us.

8.30 p.m.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I was delighted to hear several references to education in the gracious Speech. This evening we have heard from many speakers about targets, standards, initiatives and challenges in education. I am concerned about all of those matters but particularly the crucial time of transfer from primary to secondary school. I welcome more research into that period when things can go badly wrong for children. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, I was pleased that the gracious Speech made specific reference to teaching in the early years of secondary school, and I look forward to more details and an action plan from the Minister.

Today, I should like to discuss one particular initiative which I believe has proved to be a cornerstone for improvement in schools: the national healthy schools standard. I shall describe how research has shown it to influence both behaviour and academic performance in schools, and it deserves to be better known generally. I am one of those people who believe that state schools should be made irresistible. I taught for many years in London comprehensive schools and my children attended such schools. I am the governor of a London primary school. Since I taught and my children were in school many measures, to which reference has already been made, have been taken to improve them. I particularly welcome the emphasis on involving parents and numeracy and literacy standards.

Education impinges on other themes in the gracious Speech; for example, crime prevention and attitudes towards smoking. We know that education contributes significantly to a child's perception of the world and his or her attainment. The national healthy schools standard has been shown to foster such attainment. What is this standard? It is a joint initiative begun in 1999 between the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Employment which provides accreditation for schools that succeed

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in creating an enjoyable, safe and productive learning environment. This involves work on drug misuse, personal and social services education, citizenship, sex and relationships education, physical exercise, safety, bullying and healthy eating. The initiative encourages pupil and staff wellbeing and involves parents, school governors and local communities, and it is intended to work across the whole curriculum. Schools can set their own priorities; for example, the improvement of the management of asthma in schools, safety education or the environment.

If my children attended schools today I would want those schools to have certain characteristics. Every child of whatever ability should be entitled to a broad education of high quality. That concerns every community as well as government, and I shall build on what my noble friend Lady Howells said earlier. I would want my child to be able to achieve academically with high standards of literacy and numeracy, to have the opportunity to participate in sport and the arts and to learn to love literature, music and the sciences. I would want a creative flame in the school. If he or she had particular abilities I would want them to be fostered. I would want my child to be given enthusiasm for learning, curiosity about people and the world, to develop interpersonal skills, to be able to form loving and caring relationships and to learn to respect discipline and to understand responsibility towards self and society. I would also want my child to develop self-discipline which came from self-esteem to make him or her confident, assertive and able to respect and support others. I would want my child to develop tolerance and to celebrate, not simply accept, diversity of race, culture, religion, ability and sexuality. I would want a safe environment for my child, with bullying of any kind tackled firmly and quickly. I would want teachers to have high expectations of academic achievement and behaviour, and the skills to foster that. As a parent I would also want to be empowered by the school to be a partner in my child's development. It is a lot to ask. Teachers have many demands made upon them and deserve thanks, recognition and support, and I hope that the Government will be loud and clear as to that.

How does the national healthy schools standard help to develop such qualities? Independent research, as well as individual school monitoring, has shown interesting and significant results which link academic achievement to a healthy school environment. Sir James Barrie school in Wandsworth, of which I am a governor, is an inner city school with 60 different nationalities and 70 per cent of children on free school meals. It is in every sense a healthy school thanks to a deliberate policy by the head teacher and staff to foster self-respect among the children, with the expectation of high standards of behaviour and work and emphasis on a calm learning environment in which the multicultural nature of the school is celebrated. It is a creative school with children's writing, science work, painting and projects on display in every classroom in every corridor. Praise is more evident than criticism. Guess what? Over the past five years academic

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standards have steadily risen so that the school now ranks high not only locally but nationally. It is now a beacon school which has been accredited with the national healthy schools standard. Parents clamour to get their children into that school, and so would I.

Independent research into the impact of the national healthy schools standard indicates similar success. Case studies show improvement in general school ethos, less bullying, improved attendance rates, fewer exclusions and better academic performance. One school, Newall Green in Manchester, developed policy and good practice in school meal provision. Pupils and parents were consulted. As a result of the scheme, there was higher uptake of healthy food options, refurbished kitchens, a breakfast club and sports celebrities were invited to the school to talk about healthy diets. Researchers who evaluated the impact of the national healthy schools standard concluded that the schools involved thus far felt that they had benefited from the programmes in place. By 2002 it is hoped that every school will be involved, and I hope that that will be well publicised. Further development and evaluation is needed, but it seems clear that the NHSS encourages children's achievement. I look forward to a further positive impact and the continuing challenge to the Government to improve standards for all children.

8.37 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing today's debate and her noble friend on the Front Bench who is to respond to what has been a very wide area of discussion. My noble friend Lady Sharp spoke at some length about education, and therefore I can be brief on that subject. My noble friend is one of 10 Peers from these Benches to speak in this debate. The fact that we account for 10 out of 28 speakers indicates the importance that we attach to all the subjects that have been covered today. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, on what was rightly described by the noble Lord, Lord Layard, as an elegant speech.

The Minister began the debate with a number of statistics. Looking back, the noble Baroness's presentation supports the notion that this is very much a pre-election Queen's Speech. As the Minister introduced statistics, I shall mention just one. I take this opportunity to congratulate my own borough of Richmond-upon-Thames on its outstanding primary school test results. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, pointed out, I know that schools in the borough--I am a governor of one of them--are concerned with far more than simply test results. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, I suspect that it is the very fact they are concerned with so much more than simply test results which makes their results so good.

The noble Lord, Lord Rix, my noble friend Lord Addington and others talked about special educational needs which is a hugely important area of work. On Friday I interviewed a prospective candidate for employment and asked him a question about equal opportunities. He gave a textbook answer which covered a whole range of areas of potential inequality,

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until at the end he referred to what he called "normal people", as distinct from those he had previously described. There is a long way to go to celebrate the diversity to which the noble Baroness referred, and experience reminds me that this is not a discrete subject but is intrinsic to everything that we do. I shall make a slightly tenuous connection here and say that I found the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids, very moving.

Education is the major responsibility of local government. I did not expect to hear much about local government in this debate, but this Session will see the introduction of regulations which will give effect to the provisions of the Local Government Act, with which we dealt at such length in the previous Session. Many of those regulations have been published in final or in draft form. Concern has been expressed to me by someone from the Local Government Association about the possible delay in publishing regulations. That will lead to delay in local authorities developing their proposals. Those are due by May or June of next year. Authorities will be hard pressed to meet the timetable if the regulations do not appear soon.

I hope that the regulations will reflect what we thought we had agreed during the passage of that legislation. There was some contention about small authorities at the end of the passage of the Bill. There is concern that the regulations may not give the freedom to small authorities for which we had hoped. For example, if there is the ability for small authorities to have only a limited number of committees leading to a compounding together of functions which do not fit easily together--we have had a micro-example of that today--it has been put to me that that will not contribute to the Government's aims of transparency, accountability and efficiency.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, talked about the centralising tendency of the Government with regard to local government. Perhaps my instinctive response of plus coa change would be better expressed as a comment that apparently this may be irresistible to any government.

There was a reference in the Queen's Speech to devolution. I hope that the prospect of moving towards regional government is still on the agenda, although the press have been suggesting that it is not. Like my noble friend Lord Geraint, I hope too that the Welsh Assembly will soon have more powers over its own affairs. I declare something of an interest being in the midst of London's regional government where it is said that the Government cannot afford for London's mayor to fail, but also they cannot afford for Ken Livingstone to succeed.

A major concern in London is the future of the Tube. That is a subject on which my noble friend Lord Ezra with great authority frequently speaks. I must take the opportunity to mention a poll recently carried out. No doubt like other noble Lords, I have a degree of scepticism about polling information, but I think that it helps in painting a picture. The poll showed that 53 per cent of Londoners questioned were against the PPP and only 23 per cent were in favour of it. Of

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particular importance is that 42 per cent of those questioned think that the Tube would be less safe after partial privatisation and only 16 per cent feel that the PPP would be better value for money.

As noble Lords have said, we shall have a Bill or a draft Bill on safety which is an issue of concern as regards the Tube. I welcome that. But safety must to a huge extent depend on good management. If it requires regulation, and we do not have that regulation in place, how could the Government go ahead with NATS or indeed with the privatisation of the Tube?

There is to be another Bill, perhaps a draft Bill, on leasehold. Perhaps the Minister can clarify how leasehold and commonhold will be dealt with. I believe that this is an ideal subject for consideration of a draft Bill in a Select Committee and in public. It is a highly technical and complex subject. As my noble friend Lady Maddock said, there is great disappointment that the draft Bill published a few months does no more than tinker at the margins. I suspect that there is still confusion as to what the Bill will provide. When that confusion is cleared, it will add to the disappointment--for example, that commonhold will be available only for new developments.

As noble Lords must be aware from everyday examples and indeed press campaigns such as that run by the Evening Standard, there are real hardships which need to be addressed. It is sad that the Leasehold Enfranchisement Association, a leading campaigner, described the draft Bill as a

    "smokescreen to obscure retention of the leasehold system".

An organisation which has done a lot to promote reform is clearly very disappointed indeed. I hope that we can make real progress on this matter.

Also in the area of property is conveyancing. Although I am a practising solicitor, I do not need to declare too much of an interest because no one ever taught me that. That was discovered when I was asked to do the conveyancing on Centrepoint in the 1970s. The matter was then handed on to someone else rather smartly.

The new system crucially depends on acceptance of the arrangements by lenders. Purchasers regard surveys conducted by building societies or other lenders as inadequate. Therefore, I believe that the purchase pack will have the same doubt hanging over it. I was surprised to find that it is proposed that it will be a criminal offence to market a property without a seller's pack. The purchase and sale of housing is an area where the parties are roughly equal in bargaining power. If we do not have criminal offences in the private rented sector where standards are low, it seems odd to be introducing it into that area.

My noble friend Lady Maddock questioned the adequacy of the pilot study. I ask whether technology, as it is moving so fast, will outstrip these proposals and we shall have other ways to deal with the matter. My noble friend also spoke forcefully about the question of housing provision and homelessness and about what some noble Lords would like to see to assist in the provision of more and better housing, including on the question of empty homes.

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When we debated the question of priority for housing under the previous government, Labour Members (now the present Government) decided not to continue their opposition because if the matter was subject to regulations, when they took over the administration--as they did shortly after--they could then change the regulations quickly. However, a good deal of time has passed--a huge amount of time for the individuals who are affected. I look forward to restoring priority for housing by local authorities to groups whom we believe should not have lost it. I look forward to ensuring that settled accommodation is provided. I look forward to treating as in priority need everyone who is fleeing domestic violence because--I distinguish our position from that expressed in the Green Paper--I believe that everyone who is in that situation is vulnerable.

The question of affordable housing sadly remains high on the agenda of all of us. Coming up the agenda is the issue of housing for those who have moderate incomes as well as very low incomes. It seems to me that there has been a step-change in the urgency with which we need to address the issue. My noble friends Lady Sharp and Lady Maddock referred to classroom assistants and police perhaps not being available because they cannot find the housing which will enable them to be in place to do the job. That reminds us that this issue is important, not just for the individuals concerned but for the whole of our economy.

In London, we are looking at the problem in some detail. Perhaps I may put on record some of the dramatic and worrying comments that have been made to a group from the GLA. We have heard from head teachers that in the area of recruitment the cost and availability of housing overshadows everything else. We can attract younger teachers to the capital because they are prepared to live in bedsits or quite small accommodation. However, like everyone else, they have aspirations. They may want to raise a family but they cannot be accommodated. They then move out, with devastating effects on teacher numbers. Officers are leaving the Metropolitan Police because they cannot find housing. They know that there is a possibility of a better family life outside the capital. The Metropolitan Police had 3,300 section house bed spaces in 1992. It now has 1,000. In 1992 it had 5,000 quarters for married officers. It now has 500.

With regard to transport, road sweepers earn more than bus drivers. Tube drivers earn twice as much as bus drivers. London is short of between 1,500 and 2,000 bus drivers. More mileage is lost through that shortage than through congestion. In the health service, staff who have to work difficult shifts and travel long distances are in a similar position.

Several of my noble friends and other noble Lords referred to rural affairs and agriculture. They are far more qualified than I am to deal with those issues. I shall say nothing about the Hunting Bill but I want to refer to the logic of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. He said that foxes are vermin and then said that the Government do not have the intelligence of foxes. I assume that that means that the noble Lord does not

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think that the Government are vermin, which is perhaps some progress towards consensus. I hope that I have interpreted the noble Lord correctly.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford reminded us of the importance of environmental issues to the whole of our lives. An acknowledgement of that in the Queen's Speech would have been welcome. The right reverent Prelate referred appropriately to targets and monitoring. We on these Benches will monitor the progress of legislation in this Session, however long or short it may be.

8.53 p.m.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, at the end of her speech my noble friend Lady Blatch reflected on the fact that parents and teachers would like to have welcomed in the gracious Speech a programme to free schools from bureaucratic control. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, also referred to that point. Indeed, as the debate has proceeded, many noble Lords have referred to it.

The Government say that they have plans for further improvement in education, especially at secondary level. Is the Minister satisfied with the way the previously announced initiatives are progressing? Is she satisfied that the implementation of the threshold had to be held up? Is she satisfied that the due date for setting head teacher performance targets has had to be moved from December through to the spring? Does she think it right that many governing bodies have sent off their pink forms to Cambridge Education Associates with a selection of dates for meetings with their performance advisers but have had no response before the last of the offered dates?

Does the Minister think it right that the Government have placed on governing bodies a series of instructions beginning with the word "must"? Those instructions are related to the duty of a totally voluntary, unpaid body of people to deliver the Government's promises on performance improvement. Will she clarify whether the governing body or a single governor unable to obey the word "must" will be liable in court for that failure? Is she further aware that increasing pressure on the volunteer governors has already resulted in a shortage? In fact, it was reported only a couple of months ago that in Leicestershire there are 700 school governor vacancies.

I am delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Harris, in his place. When my noble friend Lady Blatch opened the debate on behalf of these Benches she referred to the role played by the noble Lord in the establishment of the city technology college movement and in more recent times to his work in the City Academy. The noble Lord has also worked for the establishment of a community centre in the Peckham area. I know that noble Lords will join me in congratulating him on that work.

The noble Lord, Lord Morgan, is, sadly, not in his place. I am sure that all noble Lords enjoyed his excellent maiden speech and look forward to hearing from him again in the future.

The Government's intention to improve performance in our schools will perhaps be most keenly welcomed by our rural communities. They are

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watching the steady decline of their traditional way of life and are beginning to be aware that there will be no future for any child who has not taken full advantage of education. Employment in agriculture, which used to offer many semi-skilled jobs, is falling fast, but so are other openings in rural areas. The Government have told the Post Office to prevent the closure of any more rural sub-post offices, an issue which we have debated in the House on previous occasions. This move shifts the consequences of the Government's new pension payments scheme from the Treasury to the Post Office. Can the Minister assure us that all the requirements for this new scheme to be successful are being met, on schedule and to budgeted cost?

The Government have now been in existence for three-and-a-half years and have finally produced the urban and rural White Papers, which were launched last month. We waited many months for them and we were all grateful to receive them. We have had three-and-a-half years of consultation after consultation, many of them proposing sound solutions in both urban and rural areas. There was the Pooley report, which looked at slaughterhouse regulations and meat hygiene rules, there was the Cowar report, which looked at the intervention system, and there was the Curry report, which looked at the IACS and inspections on farms. Can the Minister say how many of the reports' recommendations have been implemented, how many remain to be implemented and how many, sadly, will be ignored?

I spent the past weekend listening to farmers from Arundel and East Sussex. They are vehement in their opinion that there has been enough consultation and what is now needed is action. They pointed out that every week that goes by results in a few more hundred farmers going out of business. The figures for farmers' incomes were referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, by my noble friend Lord Plumb and others. The reported incomes for farmers are soul-destroying. The position is dire. The crisis has not gone away.

This weekend the British consumer was assured that she has no need to worry about food shortages resulting from the weather as Europe has more than enough for everyone. Shortages of UK produce are, however, not due solely to the weather. Milk quotas are a case in point. Do we really want to cede to other countries our ability to feed ourselves? The noble Lord, Lord Geraint, touched on that point earlier in the debate.

The gracious Speech includes a regulatory reform Bill. I am sure that it will be very good news for all those whose farms have been regulated out of business, for the abattoir owners and their staff who have been regulated out of business as well, and for those left hovering on the brink of destruction, a point well made by my noble friend Lord Plumb and by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford. They are paying the price for the annual burden of 5 billion imposed by this Government on businesses throughout the United Kingdom. Can the Minister quantify the degree of regulatory reform they anticipate? Can businesses look forward to the removal of that 5 billion-worth a year of regulatory

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costs, or will they trumpet savings in one area and promptly impose new regulations in line with European thinking?

The Government's interpretation of European directives has hit farming and small rural enterprises particularly hard. Drastic effects have already been felt in the pig industry, while poultry farmers await changes to the battery cage regulations in the certain knowledge that many will probably be forced to close down. In addition, the effects of the IPPC, the climate change levy and the possible pesticide tax surely can only add to the 5 billion already identified by the Institute of Directors.

I should like to turn to the environment. The gracious Speech does not refer specifically to the environment or to agriculture, and the Government programme does not include any specific reference to improvements to the environment. Unless the reduction of opportunities to dispose of stolen vehicles and to reduce the numbers of burnt out cars, predominantly and prominently abandoned mainly in our countryside, is addressed, this problem will continue. However, the Government have announced the establishment of the England rural development programme which implies that considerable increases in funding will be made available for agri-environment schemes. It states that 1.6 billion will be allocated over seven years. However, on closer examination, it is clear that, of the sum, 1 billion comprises the continuation of existing government spending. Of that, 0.3 billion comes from modulation, which effectively means removing money from farmers under one heading and disbursing it under another. The net increase to agri-environment schemes will be some 300 million which, over seven years, works out at just over 40 million a year. One of the farmers I spoke to over the weekend commented that, if that sum is divided among all farmers throughout the country, they had best apply quickly or the fund will be oversubscribed even before a start can be made to tackle the problems.

The verbal sleight of hand highlighted by the NFU in its briefing on the rural White Paper reflects some of the concerns of the countryside. As I pointed out earlier, the one thing that the Government cannot be accused of is lack of consultation. In the early stages, it was said clearly of the Government that they did not understand or accept the crisis taking place in the countryside. Indeed, the Prime Minister is on record as having said, "What crisis in the countryside?".

Perhaps I may turn to the rural White Paper. It highlights many of the Government's proposals and I shall refer to only a few of them: the future consultation paper on charging full council tax on second homes; a new government industry task force to look at input costs; a new joint task force to look at improving efficiencies in the milk and dairy supply chain; a forthcoming consultation on rate relief on diversification; a consultation on integrating farm inspections; a consultation paper to be published on issues surrounding planning obligations; and a consultation on the national noise strategy. I have mentioned only a few of the consultations. While we

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do not object to such consultation, we wish to try to impress on the Government that it is important to move beyond the consultation stage and to implement some of the strategies that have been so clearly identified and recognised by the Government. However, we encounter only delay. Every week of delay in assistance puts more pressure on our farmers and on people living in rural communities. Some of the proposals being put forward by the Government will bring some help to some people at some stage in the future, but, in the meantime, farmers are in crisis and struggling beyond words.

I shall turn briefly to the matter of fox hunting. Members of another place are to be granted a free vote on the future of hunting with dogs. That is included in the pending legislation. The Government spokesperson made it quite clear that the Government expect approval for an outright ban.

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