|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. On his point of burgeoning bureaucracy, which is smaller than the number of officials employed by Surrey County Council, does he not welcome the provision in the European draft constitution to give, for the first time, to the national parliaments some opportunity to pronounce and effectively to intervene when there are matters that are properly dealt with at national level? Is that not a great advance for Europe?
Lord Biffen: My Lords, within the ambit of a seven-minute speech, I think that it is very generous of me to give way. However, I would welcome that prospect if subsidiarity, which was promised at Maastricht, had in fact delivered anything tangible as a consequence. Nevertheless, we will travel together and we will argue together, and I hope that we will come to mutual conclusions.
I conclude as I had intended by saying that it is not just practicality but idealism which requires us to see that the nation state is at the centre of our European relationships and has the authority to carry out the things that are most appropriate for it.
Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, while totally agreeing with almost everything that the noble Lord, Lord Biffen, said, I should like to revert to the environment and indeed to deliver the Green Party's own Queen's Speech since I am serving notice that I intend to introduce legislation on these subjects in your Lordships' House failing the Government taking them up.
The first subject is unadopted roads. I asked a Question on this in your Lordships' House on Tuesday. Although I received a straight reply to the question, "What are the Government going to do about them", which was, "Nothing", I received less than a straight reply from the Minister when in my supplementary I pointed out the evils of pests, dangers of accident and crime and the general environmental degradation involved and that the Government's solutionthat local authorities should actwas no solution at all since they were not going to act seeing that there were neither incentives for them to do so or penalties if they did not do so and that in the nature of things there were therefore no votes in it.
I am also hoping that your Lordships will allow me to introduce a Bill next Tuesday on air traffic reduction. The Bill will propose a reduction in emissions of carbon monoxide, nitrogen monoxide and greenhouse gases due to air traffic as well as reducing pollution around airports and in the upper atmosphere. The intended effect is to reduce the amount of air traffic and thus eliminate the demand for new runways to be built.
The Government have predicted that the demand for air travel will treble over the next 30 years and that new runways must be built to meet that demand. That is an old-fashioned "predict and provide" policy. "Predict and provide" was abandoned for roads policy after it was reported that more roads would simply attract more traffic and would not end congestion. Predict and provide is not a sound policy for air transport either. The Green Party is not alone in this field. The Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, in its 18th Report on Transport and the Environment, said:
Aircraft emit large quantities of pollution on their landing and takeoff cycle. The most important pollutants are concentrated on Heathrow and places like that. Small particulate matter is less a problem from aircraft, the majority around airports coming from the road traffic and fixed sources such as power plant. However, the health costs of air pollution from the aviation sector are estimated at more than £1.3 billion per year. But the impact that most concerns those living near airports is noise, particularlybut not onlynight flights. When I was a vicar in Kew, the services in one of my churches had to be paused periodically because of the overhead flights. It did not make for particularly easy preaching or indeed for reading of the Word.
Aviation is under-taxed compared with most other sectors of the economy. Flight tickets, aircraft and aviation fuel are all zero-rated for VAT which costs the Treasury vast sums. All those costs and subsidies are increasing rapidly as the aviation sector grows. The application of a fairer tax regime on aviation could cut UK passenger numbers to 59 per cent of the figure forecast for 2020.
We want rigorous action to curb the growth of the aviation sector through a seven-point plan: the European-level charge on aviation; an end to all public subsidies to aviation; investment in less polluting travel alternatives; research into and promotion of further alternatives to business air travel, including more video conferencing, tele-presence and so on; optimisation of air traffic control; changes in land use planning law; and a public education programme. The Bill which I propose to introduce into your Lordships' House will implement the first of those; that is, air traffic emissions charges.
The Greens in the London Assemblywhere the Green Party is fairly represented, unlike in Parliamentbelieve that Heathrow's hidden costs of £520 million should be reclaimed through a combination of fuel taxes, emissions charges and congestion charging. The air traffic reduction Bill will be just a first step towards getting the aviation industry under control. It would reduce pollution from air traffic and remove the need for new runways.
The Earl of Mar and Kellie: My Lords, during the last years of the Conservative government I became familiar with the process of speaking in the debate on the Queen's Speech and using the expression, "I regret that there is no mention of . . . ". The subject that I wanted then was, of course, the return of a Scottish Parliament, which has subsequently been achieved. For the next few years I did not feel the need to use those words. Now, however, I wish to do so again. So here they are. I regret that there is no mention of the devolution of the whole railway in Scotland.
I am impressed by the actions of the Scottish Parliament in dealing with the parts of the railway that are devolved. Those are, of course, the ScotRail passenger franchise, freight facilities grants, new railways, Strathclyde Passenger Transport Executive and the other passenger transport authorities as they evolve. So far, the Scottish Parliament has decided what sort of a passenger railway is required, and the current franchise renewal process has a subsidy of £210 million attached to it. At the same time, the executive has bought about 20 new trainsClass 170 Turbostarsfor the passenger railway. That means that almost all of the Class 150 Sprinters can be cascaded into English and Welsh franchises. It is also worth remembering that ScotRail and Strathclyde PTE have no Class 140 Pacers in use. For anoraks, there is one Class 140 Pacer set in Scotland, on the private railway in the Dufftown area.
My principal argument is this. Scotland can decide, and has decided, what sort of passenger railway it wants, excluding, of course, GNER and the two Virgin franchises, West Coast and CrossCountry. My argument for the devolution of the freight railway and for the track and infrastructure is based on my answer to the question: is the railway in Scotland a peripheral regional railway or a national railway? My answer is, emphatically, that it is a national railway. With the precise exception of the three cross-border franchises already mentioned, the Stranraer to Newcastle and the Caledonian sleeper services, the vast majority of passenger trains start and finish in Scotland.
I agree that there are also cross-border freight services, and I encourage that. That is a long-term benefit of the Union treaty. However, when I come to consider the track and infrastructure, that is when the argument is strongest. With the exception of the East Coast Main Line and the West Coast Main Line, all the other Scottish main lines are classed by Network Rail as principal secondary routes, and are thus starved of investment. That is not because the Strategic Rail Authority does not like Scotland but because the Strategic Rail Authority and Network Rail have to concentrate on the south-east of England, which is undoubtedly their busiest area.
Devolution of the track and infrastructure in Scotland would allow the Scottish Parliament to receive additional funding through the block grant for the whole railway. Scotland could then decide for itself what kind and quality of a national railway system it wants, as do our neighbours in Ireland and Norway.
The prospect I conclude with is that of Virgin Pendolinos and GNER Mallards running at 140 miles an hour in places in Scotland and then slowing down for the English sections. Similarly, high speed running could be achieved in places on the principal routes from Edinburgh and Glasgow to Aberdeen, Dundee and Inverness.
Nothing I have said today undermines the devolution settlement. It would merely devolve responsibility for railways to the same degree as is already devolved for roads in Scotland. The Government have produced a tightly drawn Scottish Parliament (Constituencies) Bill. This could be redrawn so that modifications could be made to Schedule 5, Section E2, rail transport, or, indeed, a separate Scotland Act order could be proposed.
Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I shall address the needs of children and young people rather than higher education which will be debated by many other noble Lords. I must declare an interest as the co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children. I believe very strongly that if the health, social, emotional, educational and economic needs of children were addressed, many problems relating to, for example, anti-social behaviour and offending would be tackled. This Government have made noble attempts to deal with child poverty, family welfare and underachievement, and that should be welcomed.
The welfare of children crosses many boundaries, and I know that some noble Lords, including myself, have found it difficult to decide in which debate to speak. That is perhaps a good sign. The gracious Speech included a number of Bills that will have an impact on children's lives and there will be much debate around particular issues. Child trust funds will provide an endowment for all children and more for those from poorer families and the child protection Bill will have an impact on the way in which services for children are organised. The Asylum and Immigration Bill also has implications for children and families. The Domestic Violence Bill should provide greater protection to victims and witnesses, many of whom will be children.
Children, of course, do not come in distinct parts with one labelled education, another health and so on, and, of course, there are many different types of children: children from different home backgrounds, different races or cultures; looked after children; children with disabilities; young carers; children of asylum seekers and travellers; and children of different gender and sexual orientation. It is not an easy task to cover all needs but it is our responsibility at a national and local level to do our best. I strongly support the creation of a children's commissioner for England as a champion for children.
In the brief time that I have available today I shall put forward some views on three matters: first, on some of the new structures proposed to benefit children; secondly, on citizenship education and, thirdly, on education for parenthood. I shall base my remarks largely on a consultation exercise carried out
First, I turn to new structures. It is good to see proposals to extend the statutory safeguarding duties and responsibilities held solely by local authority social services departments to other professionals and agencies. A clear message needs to be acted onthat all services at a local level, including housing, education and prison services have a duty to care for and protect children. Statutory local safeguarding boards should ensure that there is capacity within the community to safeguard children. The creation of the post of Director of Children's Services could provide a single simple structure for accountability. I recognise that details need to be worked out, in particular which services the director will manage directly. The appropriate sharing of information proposed in the Green Paper is essential in order to protect children. How and when that information is shared will be crucial. School-based intervention services could be powerful in detecting emotional and behavioural difficulties. When I was first in teaching there were school counsellors in many schools. I think that we should bring back counselling services for young people.
There is much that is worthwhile in the review of services and I shall look to the Minister to clarify how the system will hang together and how, for example, children's trusts can be most effective. Should they not, for example, reach into youth justice?
I now turn to the school system and comment on citizenship education and education for parenthood. It is interesting that both those topics arose in every one of the five consultation exercises carried out by the all-party group. The young people present were themselves vocal on these issues, particularly on citizenship education. It was felt that citizenship education should include classes on parenting, finances and politics and should be very practical and be taught by specialist teachers or relevant outside organisations. It was felt that citizenship education is about getting young people involved in their community and about skills for life. There was some cynicism on the part of the young people about citizenship education being a soft option relegated to filling in worksheets and answering factual questions far too often. I suggest to the Minister that we need some actual examples of good practice from schools that are taking this area seriously. Citizenship, together with personal, social and health education, can provide some solid foundations for children and young people who are less confident and knowledgeable about life skills. In turn, this can enhance academic achievement.
Supporting parents and carers forms part of section three of the Green Paper. The consultees felt that parenting skills were often taught only when something had gone wrong. Promoting parenting services should be seen as a routine part of life and not as a stigma or sign of failure. Such education should surely begin in school and not just for the less academic, as it certainly used to be, but for all pupils. Many will become parents a few years after leaving school with no knowledge of what that will entail. It does not always come naturally, as we know to our cost. Parenting skills may be more useful to pupils than many other lessons undertaken, may be more memorable and may benefit their children in turn, thus helping to resolve the notorious cycle of deprivation.
I look forward to working with the Minister on the children Bill. Could I also ask her to collaborate with colleagues in discussing the areas that I have raised today? They are but part of a much wider jigsaw. The jigsaw has in the past had pieces missing or been too difficult to put together. Can we strive now to make the systems and structures which affect children more cohesive and powerful at a local and national level? This is a great opportunity which we should grasp with enthusiasm.
Lord Neill of Bladen: My Lords, the topic that I would like to address is higher education. I declare an interest. I held the role of vice-chancellor of Oxford University from 1985 to 1989, and was a deputy chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, as it was then called. In that role, we were confronted with a permanent shortfall in money and a winding down of government support. I speak in a totally non-political position. Those were the days of a Conservative government who did not provide adequate money for the universities. That situation continues today. I remember on one occasion I adapted the poem and said, "Does the road wind downhill all the way?". The answer to my question was yesevery year less money was available.
I shall talk a little in a moment about Oxford, but I am aware that many other universities have suffered singular deprivation as a result of funding shortage. The latest to come to my attention is Durham, where, as some noble Lords will be aware, the department of east Asian studies is on the point of being closed down, with a loss of impetus in an area that needs special protection. That sort of news is tragic.
I shall develop my two themes, which are that more money is needed and that we should not be ashamed of or mock the excellence of certain universities. I particularly have in mind the charge against Oxford and Cambridge of being elite. I would prefer to substitute "very good" for that. They are aiming to match the standards set by the best American universities. Unless we match those standards here, we will slip.
The shortfall of money makes it imperative that there be an additional supply. If the only route that can be found for that is top-up fees, let it be top-up fees. In my perception, it is not unreasonable that the students who benefit from the education that they receive should be called on at a later date to repay the debt. The repayment is not required until they are in an earning position.
We can argue about whether the point for payment should be at a salary of £15,000 or £20,000 per annum and about the detail, but in principle students are getting a pretty good deal. Money is paid up-front on their behalf, with a nil interest rate and payback when they are in a position to do so. If they cannot do soif they are primary school teachers, care workers or in some dedicated form of work that produces a very low incomethe day may never come when they have to repay. Again, that seems entirely fair. If they benefit from the education and are able to earn much larger salaries than ordinary people, I do not for the life of me see why they should not be called on to make repayment under a fairly worked-out scheme.
That is my first pointthat more income is needed and that I do not see in principle any deep-rooted objection to what is proposed. The argument has been raised that the fees will be a deterrentthat children from a poorer background will say, "That is not for me", and that their parents will warn them against university. I am not sure that there is any compelling evidence for that. It is an assertion at the moment, with certain parts of the media asserting that it is the case. It is not borne out by the Australian experience, and is not a rational argument. Time will show whether it is true or false.
One cure or remedy for the argument is that the universities will have to be particularly astute in having proper bursary provisions and schemes in place to help those who are really disadvantaged. A lot of that is already happening. I am sure that noble Lords will not ignore the fact that universities have been widening access and making provision for those who have very little money. Harvard recruits on quality. It goes round the United States, picks the ablest students and then says, "What are your financial needs?". If a student has wealthy parents, nothing is needed. If they have no money at all, Harvard provides. There has to be a back-up bursary system working alongside. That is being worked out.
I do not have long to speak on my other theme, but noble Lords will see what I have in mind on the question of universities being elite. It is absolutely essential that we have excellent universities in this country that have an international reputation. I was involved quite often at Oxford in recruiting people,
I hope that, whatever scheme is introduced, the Government will place a large measure of trust in the universities to run their own system. Let them pick the students whom they want. Let them develop the disciplines and subjects that they think best suited and that they want to develop. The fewer controls and restrictions placed on them, the better. I am not saying that suggestions cannot be made or guidance offered and so on, but it is imperative to allow the academic communities to run their own system as they know best.
Those are my thoughts on the matter. We should look forward to increasing the excellence of the universities, and should not be ashamed of having two or three that are particularly distinguished. The aim should be to bring the level up for all universities. Intrinsically, we have the basis of a marvellous system and some wonderful teachers in the university system throughout the land.
Lord Quirk: My Lords, it is a great pleasure and privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Neill, both literally and thematically. First, I shall say a word on our socially uneven participation in higher education, especially in the 19 Russell group universities. In her answers to recent questions of mine, the Minister has told me that those universities are admitting more students from the relatively small independent and grammar sector than from the huge numbers attending comprehensive schools. Indeed, in two of the Russell groupOxford and Cambridgeonly about one fifth of new students come from comprehensives; well over half come from independent schools54.5 per cent in 2002.
This imbalance is something that universities have been struggling to rectify for decades. In part, the problem is down to comprehensive pupils lacking the self-confidence or ambition to apply to top universitieslacking too the support and encouragement of their teachers to do so.
In his memoirs, Wings of a Man's Life, my late friend Gorley Putt writes of his constant frustration as admissions tutor at Christ's College, Cambridge, in the 1970s. Year after year, he and his colleagues made enthusiastic recruiting visits to big comprehensives up and down the country. I quote his words:
But of course the chief reason for the abiding imbalance in admissions is the failure of comprehensives to come anywhere close to independent schools in pupil achievement at A-level. In answer to another of my questions, the Minister told me that in 2001 and 2002, the proportion of students getting straight As at A-level was 5 per cent at comprehensive schools but 23 per cent at independent schools.
It will take a long time to get state secondary schools up to scratch, though the specialist schoolsnow nearly 1,500 of themare showing the way. It is their aim to do well not only in their specialismbe it science, technology or foreign languagesbut for this to rub off on the rest of the national curriculum.
There are examples to show that this is working. Members of the Wolfson Foundation education panel were struck last month by the William Howard School in Cumbria. This has the status of a specialist school in science. But in last year's exams it had huge numbers getting GCSEs and A-levels in two foreign languages. One was of course French, but 80 youngsters got their GCSEs in Italian, which is almost an endangered species in British education.
With more schools like this, and with aspiration to match, we will come closer to the "world-class education" promised in the gracious Speech and to a better balance at university. But I am not holding my breath.
I turn now to the issue of university finance, which, as my noble friend Lord Neill said, is urgent and indeed critical. I declare an interest as a Fellow of UCL. Over the past 20 years, state funding per student has fallen, in today's money, from about £10,000 per student to about £5,000. We now make a loss on every undergraduate we teach. Where till recently we had a university system that matched the best in the world, few would have the confidence to make such a claim today.
It is to the Government's credit that the seriousness of the position is well understood and is being addressed: as it is in Australia, with Brendan Nelson's Bill now before the Canberra Parliament. The proposal here to allow universities to charge supplementary tuition fees up to £3,000 is a welcome step in the right direction, but let no one think that it is other than a modest step. The current Economist uses the word "trivial". It is not trivial, but it would become so if the plan were to be watered down to a lower level than £3,000 or compromised by being made universal across all institutions and all fields of study. Then our problems would be made worse rather than better and the Government would have fluffed the chance of making a step-change towards the policy, repeatedly stated by Secretary of State Charles Clarke, to introduce competition between universities and between courses within universities. I quote from his website last week, and the same words were used in his speech in the House of Commons yesterday, at col. 536 of Hansard of 3rd December. He said:
To object to this with talk of creating a "two-tier" university system is to be seriously at odds with reality. We actually needin fact we actually havenot a two-tier system but a finely graded multi-tier system. Differential fees are essential to reflect and promote such gradience, essential too if we are to have honest transparency and plain common sense in the costing of higher education.
This being so, it is for consideration at Second Reading of the forthcoming Bill whether we cannot move a little towards the corollary by some modest tweaking of the £3,000 limit. Might not universities be given the freedom of virement within a total of £3,000 per admitted student, so that they could vary supplementary fees within an institution-wide averageI stress thatof £3,000?
This would involve no additional cost to the Exchequer and universities would be ableindeed, almost forcedto test their claim of superior provision by challenging lower fees at a rival university and charging, say, £5,000 a year for courses with a good "rate of return" (say, law or accountancy) while choosing to attract students to maths or nursing with a low (or no) supplementary fee.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government, in response to the report of my noble friend Lord Laming on the tragic death of Victoria Climbie, introduced in the gracious Speech the children's Bill that we have already discussed. I warmly welcome that, as I welcome the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill which will, I hope, contain important safeguards for children. I am concerned about the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill and I should be most grateful to the Minister if she could state as early as possible the likely impact of Clause 7 on children of asylum seekers.
Her Majesty's Government, in their Green Paper, Every Child Matters, acknowledge that the purpose at which they aim with the children's Bill will not be achieved unless the childcare workforce issues are addressed. I hope that your Lordships will therefore permit me to concentrate on the wider agenda of the childcare workforce covered in the children's Green Paper, an area for which the Minister has special responsibility.
We are short of good fosterers. Another 6,000 are required in England and Wales and, despite the Government's efforts, it is hard to imagine how those vacancies can be filled. It is encouraging to learn that there has been a 10 per cent increase in the recruitment of social workers in the past year. It is also encouraging to hear that more social workers are trying to obtain post-qualifying qualifications. It would be helpful to know how the retention rate for social workers now stands.
The Green Paper, Every Child Matters, was originally envisaged as being cost-neutral. I am pleased to hear that, in certain areas, Her Majesty's Government have decided to invest more in implementing the Green Paper.
The most important part of the childcare workforce involves parents. We should all be very grateful for the Government's action in promoting parenting. I think, in particular, of the outstanding programmes for supporting parents whose children have committed offences and the positive outcomes in terms of reoffending. I welcome the additional funding that is being made available in that area. However, my noble friend Lord Northbourne is concerned that the £25 million that will be available over three yearsI hope that I have that figure correctwill not be adequate to meet the need that exists. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, spoke very eloquently on the issue of parenting schools.
Every Child Matters examines how we might benefit from positive strategies in other fields by learning from what has been done elsewherefor example, in teaching and other professionsand applying those lessons to the recruitment and retention of social care professionals. I welcome very warmly what the document says about developing common core training for childcare workers.
I also welcome the introduction of a children's workforce unit and the acknowledgement that the developmental nature of children needs to be understood by all those who work with children. If that is applied properly, I believe that the group of workers who may most benefit will be residential childcare workersthose who work in children's homes. They value teamwork above almost every other aspect of their work. They feel that they can best assist the children when they work successfully as a team. Sadly, those children are often so troubled that that impacts on the team and can affect the carers' co-operative efforts.
We need to do more for the carersthe parents and grandparents. I believe that that was illustrated very strongly to parliamentarians when they listened to Mrs Scholes, who told of her son who recently committed suicide in a young offender institution. He had suffered a long history of sexual abuse and had been through a difficult time. His parents had separated and, following a custody battle, he was taken into care in a children's home. He self-harmed, cutting himself across the face many times. He was sentenced to custody and the court advised a secure children's home. He ended up in a YOI and hanged himself.
Many people who enter our over-crowded penal system have sad histories of family dysfunction. I very much hope that the wider workforce measures that are coming forward will help to promote improved outcomes for such children. I should appreciate it if, in her response, the Minister could sayas I have not given her warning of this question, perhaps she will write to mewhether her department is putting forward a robust application in relation to the Comprehensive Spending Review for increased remuneration and support for those who work in such areas.
Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: My Lords, I want to address the issue of keeping Britain's livestock healthy on the basis that healthy livestock in our community leads to a healthy rural economy and forms part of the economic stability and growth of the rural environment.
We are all aware that in recent years British livestock agriculture has suffered devastating outbreaks of animal disease, such as classical swine fever, bovine spongiform encephalopathy and foot and mouth disease. We are all privy to the dramatic social, economic and environmental consequences that those have brought about. Some are still with usfor example, tuberculosis in our cattle and in badgers.
The lessons learnt from the outbreaks to which I have just referred have been commented upon in several reports and discussions. However, to my mind, it is paramount that we put in place measures and structures to ensure that those devastations do not occur again. It would be fallacious to imagine that entry into the United Kingdom of highly infectious and contagious diseases will not occur again. The global movement of people, animals and food products is such that it would be miraculous if disease were not to accompany it. I shall give an idea of the scale of the movement. Some 750,000 airline flights land in this country annually, bringing in 72 million passengers annually. Even if a very small proportion of those were to carry infectious disease of one kind or another, we would be in deep trouble.
A variety of consultative documents resulted from the various inquiries that have been held into the foot and mouth outbreak. They have identified needs for animal health and welfare strategies up and down the country. They advocate a partnership between vets and farmers to deliver them. However, a general problem in livestock farming is its profitability. That is coupled with a major decline in the number of veterinarians visiting farms on a regular basis owing to that reduced profitability. Farmers do much of the veterinary work themselves. This all results in a major reduction in on-farm veterinary work. For example, now only 9.4 per cent of veterinary practitioners' time is spent working on livestock farms, compared with 20 per cent in 1998, which was only a few years ago. This results in a vicious circle in which there are not enough positions available in veterinary practices to accommodate people wishing to be large animal practitioners, incomes are lower, work is harder and often entails longer hours than those in companion animal work. Nevertheless, large animal practice work is still much in demand by new veterinary graduates, especially by women, if they can find it.
The State Veterinary Service has an important role to play in surveillance and delivering good animal health. We are aware of a decline over recent years in its personnel numbers, as was indicated in the foot and mouth outbreak. The implications are clear. We need greatly to enhance its manpower numbers. The way forward may well be, as envisaged by Defra, for the State Veterinary Service to become a Next
How do we change the situation so that we have a healthy livestock industry in this country rather than one threatened by disease? The House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee recently published its report Vets and Veterinary Services. It put forward many of the needed developments. An important comment is that all in livestock agriculture should take responsibility for championing animal health and welfare. An example of that is the National Animal Disease Information Service (NADIS), which is an independent body of, at present, 40 veterinary practitioners who formed a sentinel practice network in 1995. It regularly collects information and dispenses it to other veterinary practices and the press, both nationally and locally. This is an example of the profession helping itself, rather than going cap in hand and asking for funds for this to be done. It is an important development. The Commons committee has suggested that the work should be boosted by inputs from Defra and other organisations connected with agriculture.
The need for surveillance is exemplified by the sea of livestock diseases around us, some of which are transmissible to man. A recent example is the highly pathogenic avian flu epidemic that struck the Netherlands. Prompt attention by the European authorities in Belgium, Denmark and Germany stamped out that disease. Fortunately, it did not reach this country, although it may well have done.
A constant theme throughout the lessons learned from inquiries is the need for research, more veterinarians in research and more veterinary research. My noble friend Lord Selborne, who is not in his place at present, chaired a committee of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. It produced a very important report which strongly emphasised the importance of getting more veterinary research into veterinary schools. I am happy to say that, several years after that report was publishedmuch delayed but nevertheless it has been published£25 million has been made available over a period of five years to boost veterinary research, training and teaching in the veterinary schools. That is a most welcome shot in the arm. But it is important to recognise that that should not be the end of the support and that it should continue for a number of decades.
There are certain areas in which research is particularly important, such as diagnostic tests to allow for rapid diagnosis of animal disease instead of having to send specimens through the mail. Another example is the nature of improved vaccines; vaccines that will produce life-long immunity to important diseases such as foot and mouth disease. The need for such vaccines is urgent since never again should we approach disease control with the only option being the slaughter of tens of thousands of animals.
Preparedness for the unusual is vitally important. We know little of why disease entities suddenly appear. An example of course is the recent SARS epidemic out of China into Hong Kong and elsewhere in the world. But there are likely to be morecoming we do not know when or howas the agents rearrange their genetic make up and take advantage of a human or animal niche to proliferate.