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Lord Filkin: My Lords, in seeking to respond to the lengthy and profound set of speeches, I begin by sharing the delight of the House at the three maiden speeches we received. Those of us who believe that this House has a significant contribution to make to legislation and scrutiny are always delighted when serious new talent comes in to whichever party. We felt that in full measure today. I shall speak a little more about each of the three maiden speeches when I respond specifically to them.
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On education, the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, explained that this is a passion for so many Peers because it raises the individual's full potential in society. Many of us hold that belief dear, which is why we echo his commitment to the Prime Minister's mantra, "Education, education, education".
I welcomed the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, for the school transport pilots. It was responsible and thoughtful because it recognised a devolutionary measure to local government which seeks to help local authorities better address congestion and the environment. The support was responsible opposition and I am sure it will set us well in the debate.
The noble Baroness need have no fear that the Education Bill is a challenge to the Children Bill. It supports it because the inspections that will take place through Ofsted will relate to the full five outcomes which we know well around the Children Bill. Furthermore, the Education Bill will not threaten but enhance the role of local authorities, which will have a key role in establishing partnerships, ensuring that partnership structures support delivery and ensuring the availability of multi-disciplinary services. That will be essential in delivering the five outcomes.
Local authorities will also be the champions of standards, quality assurance, strong community leaders and providing strong direction. We are giving local government a stronger role through the reforms in the Children Bill and the Education Bill than it has had for many a year.
Many of us were warmed by the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth. He reminded us of the powerful contribution made by the Church of England as an educational providerif I may use such technocratic languageand of the affirmation of the importance of religion, religious discussion, social cohesion and values in our society. The theme was picked up by a number of subsequent speakers and it is one that we would do well to return to. Education is wider than simply academic achievement or economic success, as we well know.
I am pleased that the right reverend Prelate welcomed the streamlining of school inspections. We believe that that is right. He was more muted about reducing bureaucracy but the new relationship with schools is fundamentally about that. I will be pleased to write to him setting out more details on that. We believe that it has great potential and it has already been welcomed by many head teachers.
The noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, and the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, showed the kind of creativity we expect in this House by making a speech on the Queen's Speech debate of yesterday. But let that not put them off for a second. I have been in so many departments that I can recollect working on the Charities Bill at the Home Office. I share with the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, the passion for ensuring that the legislation is brought to fruition. There is no fear that independent schools will be put at risk as a result of the light test that will be in the Bill to demonstrate a public benefit. We would be a foolish
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government if we worked in such a way and I well recollect working on that policy. But I will not busk on Home Office policy any further; I shall write to him in that respect.
As we would expect, the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, posed some incisive questions to us on behaviour, the fear of school trips and Tomlinson. I shall speak briefly on each. On school trips, we do not believe that legislation is the way forward, but we are looking to make an announcement on that and the ways to remove the fear from teachers and schools. I shall write to him with details either before or after the announcement, depending on how soon that comes.
On behaviour, we all know that the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, is right in saying that an environment in which there is bad behaviour damages others. As he has the grace to respect, it fundamentally damages the people who are causing the bad behaviour because they will not learn and are isolating themselves in society, being under-educated to cope with life's challenges.
In his speech to a new heads conference on 18 November, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced a variety of major initiatives to tackle the problem of indiscipline in schools. I shall set those out for the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, in a note. None of us thinks that this will be a simple or quick issue, but the noble Lord is right to raise its importance. We must bring about a shift in society's values, school skills and parental attitudes towards misbehaviour in schools, because without it we shall not achieve the lift that we need.
The noble Lord spoke wise words on the subject of the Tomlinson proposals, but there are some issues on which excessive partisanship damages the country and society. He is right to say that we must seek consensus on Tomlinson and the White Paper that we shall be publishing on the 14 to 19 agenda because we want stability in that process in the future. I totally agree with the noble Lord in that respect.
The post-maiden speechto use her phraseof my noble friend Lady Wall added great value to the debate. She reminded us of the important point that learning does not stop after school or education but that it must be lifelong. That is increasingly true in a society as rapidly changing as ours. We know that in 10 or 15 years' time, the skills that we picked up at school and university will be obsolete. We must all continue to learn as part of being effective in our workplaces. Therefore, the role of skills training in the workplace and lifelong learning, and the contribution that unions and employers make in that regard, are fundamentally important. Those are issues that we shall pick up as part of our response to Tomlinson and as part of the adult skills strategy that we are currently implementing.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is a healthy goad to me in my role in the department on parenting policy, and I am glad that he is. The problem is that I tend to agree with him, which is always most difficult for a Minister. The noble Lord is right that the contribution that parents make to children's outcomes
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is fundamentally significant. The Charles Desforges research to which he referred showed that extremely clearly. We know that parents have a very powerful impact on the quality of physical and emotional nurture, particularly with regard to some of the most deprived in our society. The problems that we have later with looked-after or imprisoned children go back to the roots of difficult nurturing practice. That causes great damage to those children and has consequences for society. But the same is true of education. The noble Lord is right to draw our attention to that. It provides a challenge to government, but it is a bigger challenge to know exactly what the Government can do. However, we are working on that.
My noble friend Lady Massey also picked up the theme of parenting. I am glad that she spoke about Every Child Matters and about the fact that it goes wider than academic issues and that it is about well-being in its widest sense. I pick up her invitation to visit the National Children's Bureau to assess the impact of legislation on children. I am sure that it will be a fascinating education for me.
As ever, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, gave us good and thoughtful advice. Although I say this with some caution, I am not sure that the picture on financial support under modern apprenticeships is quite as downside as she signalled, but I shall threaten her with a letter in order to give her chapter and verse on that.
The noble Baroness was a little miserable about funding. I shall now seek to outline why we think that what we are doing is right, although there will be plenty of opportunities for that on 13 December. In essence, we recognise that the local authority has a crucial role in developing a local distribution formula but, within that, essentially we are giving schools far greater certainty about their financial resources two and three years into the future. That is a platform that local government want, and I cannot see why it is a platform that schools should not also have a right to expect because they will be able to obtain better value from those resources as a consequence. We shall return to these matters later.
I now turn to the issues of the environment and rural affairs. Again, we heard a superb speech by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, which did us proud. The noble Lord said so much that I cannot do it justice in my response. I agree with him about planning. I suppose that I can say that as a recidivist planner. I was a planner for only about three years, except when I became a chief executive and then I enjoyed trying to practise what he was preaching. Planning is about making happen what you want to happen by using all your influences and powers rather than by simply following the negative agenda of stopping things happening. My experience is that an enormous amount can be done in towns, cities, villages and rural communities. That is what planners and good local authorities should be doing rather than simply being the "abominable no-man". There will be more on that.
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I also agree with the noble Lord on the importance of improving access to a wide range of business support in rural communities. I would weary the House if I gave too much detail on that, but much is going on in that respect, and I shall give the noble Lord more detail in a letter because he has put his finger on the matter. Given the importance of a variety of small business development in our rural areas to the rural economies, to the landscape and to stable rural societies, we must think about how better to support entrepreneurial spirit and innovation there. At times, perhaps such societies have felt under-supported in that respect.
With regard to the Defra agenda, if I may call it that, the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, was decently supportive. She signalled support in principle for the modernisation of rural development, the draft Animal Welfare Bill and the clean neighbourhood Bill. Unfortunately, I have been at this Dispatch Box long enough to know that such words of comfort, while welcome, are not unconditional, and there will be plenty a detailed challenge and catch before we see the hoped-for Royal Assent.
The noble Baroness teased us slightly about there being so many Bills, and then she advanced the idea of a marine welfare Bill. However, if I recollect rightly, the Prime Minister spoke about this recently and signalled that it was an issue on his agenda. Without chancing my arm and speaking for my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, I shall send the noble Baroness a letter because he signalled that this is not a shut door. However, we cannot have too many Bills in this Queen's Speech, as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, reminded me.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, was also very helpful and supportive on these agendas. She also welcomed the draft Animal Welfare Bill and legislation relating to common land, and she asked whether the new agency would cover marine issues. The answer is: yes, so far as it is necessary. I think that she also welcomed the clean neighbourhood Bill, and that was appreciated. In response to one of her questions, the Bill does not cover beaches because we believe that existing legislation already covers that issue adequately. Clearly, I have not persuaded the noble Baroness now and we shall have to return to the subject on another occasion.
The noble Earl, Lord Peel, made one of a number of powerful speeches. I regret that I shall not be able to give his speech the justice that it deserves. I particularly regret that because I thought that he was powerful in a number of ways. If I recollect correctly what the noble Earl said, he certainly welcomed the merger of English Nature and the Countryside Agency, and he signalled that the legislation should look at the social and economic implications, too. That point is well noted.
The noble Earl also affirmed the importance of the modernisation of rural delivery and the new agency. Rural businesses will be provided with better advice and simplified funding, which should make customer access
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easier. Again, they should be provided with better services and results, addressing rural disadvantages and social exclusion. On land managers, better co-ordinated advice and incentives for enhancing the value of the countryside form a part of this agenda. Therefore, we believe that we shall be establishing a powerful independent voice for rural people in the new Countryside Agency. I know that that is what the noble Earl wishes. I shall give him chapter and verse on that and no doubt he will come back to my noble friend Lord Whitty on these issues.
The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, was absolutely right to affirm the importance of climate change. It is the biggest issue facing our children and perhaps us as well. As the noble Lord well knows, the Government have given a strong lead on this, and we have made it one of our key issues for the G8 summit, of which we will be president in January. In response to a particular question from the noble Lord, I cannot think of any circumstances in which we will not be president from January. There is nothing in the gracious Speech on that because we do not think that there is any need for legislation in that respect, but that does not mean that the agenda must not be driven forward in the way that the noble Lord has advanced.
Not to the surprise of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, made one of his customarily powerful speeches. Perhaps I may touch on a few of the points that he raised, if not all of them. He signalled the decline in farmers' incomes. He criticised biomass and spoke of the need for more investment in biofuel.
In practice, I shall touch on a couple of those points. Total farm income in the UK is estimated to have risen in 2003 by 32 per cent, or by 28 per cent in real terms to £3.2 billion. The Renewable Energy Bill establishes a comprehensive legal framework to support renewable energy and the fact that 10 per cent of energy should come from renewables by 2010, and 15 per cent by 2015. I shall write to the noble Lord in more detail because the quality of his speech deserves a fuller response than I can possibly give in a minute or so from the Dispatch Box.
The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, asked whether we had kept farmers adequately informed of the common agricultural policy. In May my noble friend Lord Whitty wrote to farmers and growersto 180,000 peoplesetting out the situation. The latest policy issues are being collated and a new brochure will be launched at the Royal Smithfield Show this Thursdayso there is a temptation. A further booklet on set-aside will be published at the end of December, along with guidance notes on cross-compliance, soils and landscape features.
The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, was concerned about whether the Government were failing farming and rural communities in relation to TB. Defra is reviewing the TB strategy and new measures were published on 1 November improving surveillance and reducing the risk of spread into new areas. The noble Baroness is right that it is a scourge of some rural communities, and it has to be on our agenda.
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I turn to the work and pensions agenda, if I can crudely call it such. My noble friend Lord Rowlands demonstrated the skill, political wit and wisdom of which I hope we shall see more by choosing to speak on a subject not covered by many others, therefore ensuring that he had a fairly strong position in the debate. He talked about three points: workless households, the scourge of such households in some communities and, as a consequence, the damage caused to families, illiteracy among adults and illiteracy among those in school. He was right to do so. Those issues are too big and too serious for me to pretend that they have been cracked. However, I claim that we have made some significant progress.
On school illiteracy, the national literacy and numeracy strategies, introduced in 1998 and 1999, have transformed the quality of teaching of English and maths. We are now seeing some results of that. The 2004 results at key stage 2 for 11 year-olds are the best ever, with 77 per cent of 11 year-olds achieving level 4 in English and 74 per cent achieving level 4 in maths. Since 1997 there has been a 14 point improvement in the number of pupils achieving the expected standard for their age in key stage 2 English tests. In plain English, that means that many more young people at the age of 11 are much more literate and much more numerate than they were. However, the noble Lord is still right, because those figures are not 100 per cent. That challenge remains, but we have made significant progress.
On adult literacy, it is fundamental to a civilised society that all adults are able to participate by being able to read and write. We believe that we are well on track to meet our target of 750,000 adults with better basic skills this year, and 1.4 million with better basic skills by 2005. Between April 2001 and July 2004 we project that 2.3 million learners will have taken up an estimated 4.6 million learning opportunities. Over the next three years we plan to provide over 3 million learning opportunities for adult-based skills through Learn Direct centres. My brief also mentions offender education. I am well aware of the importance, in prison settings and in community settings, of addressing illiteracy in offenders. That is important for a variety of reasons.
My noble friend Lord Rowlands talked about worklessness. We have seen the way in which some of our communities have transformed themselves over recent years from places with massive unemployment to ones with a variety of employment. I shall briefly give the figures. Unemployment has fallen from nearly 3 million 10 years ago to less than 1 million today. Over 1 million people have been helped through the New Deal and a quarter of a million lone parents have been helped into work.
Lastly, I turn to health. This is an occasion when one is damned if one does and damned if one does not. There was surprise that we had not legislated. If we had legislated I can promise the House that we would have been told, "Not another health Bill; will they never stop legislating?" One does not govern simply by legislation; most government is carried out without
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legislation, as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and others know well. So this does not mean that the amount of legislation is falling as it is significant.
The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, raised the point about the cost of bureaucracy. She is right to ensure that we have that firmly in our sights, as we do. The recent review of all the arm's-length bodies will lead to a reduction of around 50 per cent in the number of arm's-length bodies, saving £0.5 billion expenditure by 200708 and a reduction of 25 per cent of posts in the same period. The savings in expenditure, which is what cutting bureaucracy is all about, allow us to recycle that money back to the frontline services where it really counts.
I turn to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, on the health White Paper. We are investing in improving nutrition in schools through the revision of the standards of school meals and from early 2005 a new food-in-schools package will support implementation of the whole-school approach to healthy eating.
My noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester made the kind of powerful speech one would expect of him, welcoming, with some praise, the fact that we are legislating on outlawing smoking in 90 per cent of public places. He put most of his weight on the fact that we have not gone to 100 per cent. It was ever thus. For a government to commit themselves to outlawing smoking in 90 per cent of public places is a major shift. I celebrate that. It will make an enormous difference to public health in our society.
The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on HIV/AIDS was the kind of speech that we hope and expect from him. The House listens to him with respect on that subject and has done ever since he was in government. He is right to keep up the challenge to society, to the Government and internationally.
Over the next three years, we shall spend £300 million on fighting sexually transmitted diseases in England, as well we need to. Clearly, there is more to be done. We have also invested £250 million in the period 200102 to 2008 in the global fund for AIDS. It is essential that the conscience of the world is raised to recognise that it has to do more through its own funding for societies that cannot possibly fund the burdens that they face as a result of this dreadful disease. Part of that, of course, is the importance of initiatives, such as the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, which try to encourage drugs companies to develop treatments for HIV/AIDS that are affordable in such societies.
The noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, gave the kind of speech that does credit to the House. It was not an easy speech for the Government because it asked more questions than I can provide answers. That is partly a matter of time, but also partly a matter of wit. In essence, he was saying that he had some sympathyI hope I do not paraphrase him too coarselyfor the broad thrust of government policy, but he wanted to know when it was going to happen. He gave me some detailed tests. He will receive a letter fairly quickly with the best answers I can find. They are relevant to improvement in this area.
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The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, both welcomed the Mental Capacity Bill. I was delighted about that as, in policy terms, I led on the Bill when I was in the DCA. It is another Bill that passed yesterday, but as we are busking on other Bills let us also busk on this one. It is important. I am glad of the welcome. There are questions how to address the "Bournewood Gap", advocacy andhow shall I put it?the mix of legitimate anxieties among some responsible bodies about whether this may involve moral drift. There is also the scaremongering by other bodies that have sought to turn this into an extreme issue. When I was the Minister leading the Bill, on several occasions I met with the Archbishop of Wales. I respect deeply my dialogues with himas I do usually with leading Churchmen, both in and outside the House. That was a serious engagement, but one should not believe all that one reads on some of the more extreme issues about this issue. We must also be concerned about the rights of people with mental incapacity. That is enough of that. I am not surprised to hear that the draft Mental Health Bill will be well scrutinised; I would expect no less from this House.
The public health White Paper, as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said, does not necessarily need a Bill because we are at the White Paper stage. We need to have a serious consultation on what is one of the most significant White Papers that we have seen for many years.
We have made the changes to the Commission for Health Improvement for a good reason. We were not convinced that the provision was leading to the degree of funding support into parent forums that we wished. But that matter deserves a fuller answer.
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I have detained the House, but this has been such an interesting and important debate. Noble Lords have broadly welcomed the wide thrust of measures across a number of government departments. However, we know that the devil is always in the detail and that the House as ever will be testing the provisionsas well it should. We look forward to that.
On Question, Motion agreed to nemine dissentiente, and it was ordered that the Address be presented to Her Majesty by the Lord Chamberlain.
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