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Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I must declare an interest. I am chairman of one of the sector skills councils, relating to engineering. I have a number of other relevant interests recorded in your Lordships' register and, indeed, in the appendix to the report.

As a member of this sub-committee, I rise to endorse the findings of our inquiry and the overall message that our sub-committee has sent to the Government on our involvement in these programmes. I also accept most, although not all, of the Government's response to our report. However, as someone actively involved with skills and life-long learning policy within the UK for some years, I would like to draw your Lordships' attention to one or two realities from the perspective of employers, the wealth creators on whose tax contribution European and United Kingdom policy programmes ultimately depend.

As your Lordships will be aware, in recent years government policy on vocationally-related education and training has increasingly been driven by the realities
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of employer skill needs, and rightly so. Be assured, however, that I am not advocating the elimination of all public investment in non-directed learning. I am underlining the importance, for both our future prosperity and the employability of the individual, of our taxes going into learning activities that will move us towards achieving the goal the Council of Ministers set itself at the beginning of the new millennium in Lisbon. As the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, has already said, this was for Europe to become, by 2010, what they described as:

That is part of the so-called Lisbon declaration.

As your Lordships would expect, skill-raising forms a major part of the process by which the Lisbon goals were to be achieved. This confirms the strategic importance of those life-long learning initiatives as one of the means by which this skill-raising is to be promoted within the European Union.

In my view, it is our commitment in Britain to driving skills policy and life-long learning investment in this targeted way that has helped the UK economy to respond strongly over recent years to the inexorably growing challenge of globalisation—a position not enjoyed by a number of our partner member states.

As we have observed over recent weeks, and as the Government will undoubtedly find during their all-too-brief six months at the helm, handling relations with our fellow member states in the EU is not always easy going. The very richness of the diversity within the 25 nation states brings with it a thousand practical hurdles, most minor but some significant, to the task of tackling some of our common problems in a timely and effective way.

Nowhere is the richness of European diversity richer than in the field of education, training and skills. If there is one thing I have learned about skills policy and its implications for education and training provision, it is that the needs of the marketplace must be a major influence in our thinking. Hence the importance of active employer involvement in the shaping of life-long learning policies, whether within each member state or for the Union as a whole.

The so-called "Lisbon goals" were to be achieved by 2010. Now that we are halfway there, it is clear, not least from the formal review carried out by the Commission last year, that progress has been patchy at best and, overall, disappointing.

The exchange programmes that formed the major focus of our discussions in the review of the Commission's new proposals are undoubtedly valuable for those directly involved. Every single one of these experiences will contribute incrementally to our people's understanding of Europe. However, I believe that if we are to make real progress, we also need to examine some of the developmental aspects of these programmes. Although not the focus of the committee's attention, these are, as my involvement with the Sector Skills Council movement confirms, of greater strategic importance.
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This development work could begin to stimulate the innovation needed. Whatever final figure the Commission budget for life-long learning activity turns out to be, we need to ensure that it is used effectively in relation to economic need—and the Lisbon goals seem like a fairly sensible loadstone for that.

Your Lordships will remember that the sub-committee's report reviewed all the significant education and training activities at the European level. We came away with a feeling that, although we in the United Kingdom might not agree with every aspect of the programmes, there is undoubtedly some worthwhile activity there. However, we were also clear that the United Kingdom involvement in it was limited in several ways, in particular the degree of take-up by our people of the opportunities these programmes offer and the seriousness with which we work to influence the activities going forward.

Sadly, the Government do not seem to have taken on board the gravity of this situation and their response does not give me enormous encouragement that they are serious about ensuring a good return on the investment British taxpayers make in this part of the European budget.

Let me turn to a small number of specifics around these programmes. First, as I say, we must continue to work for more employer influence on the shaping of the new programme. As the Commission develops its advisory arrangements, I would like to see the British Government pressing to ensure significantly greater representation from employer bodies. While such representation has, in principle, existed thus far for the individual programmes, if the new advisory structures are indeed to provide coherence and strategic leadership, it would seem to me to be a betrayal of the Lisbon rhetoric for this major public investment not to be strongly employer-led.

I am as aware as anyone of the challenges of ensuring active employer input into public policy on life-long learning, but it can be done. Unfortunately, here I must record a real disappointment with the limited interest shown in our work by the Confederation of British Industry, which was unable to provide our inquiry with input commensurate with its major responsibilities in the learning and skills area, not least its role on the governing board of the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training.

We can do better on this, and we must. As your Lordships would expect, I am sure that the UK sector skills councils would be happy to share their experience and guidance in this area with the Commission.

Secondly, given the particularly great diversity in education and training within the Union, it is crucial to complement the exchange activity with serious work to enable mutual examination and greater understanding between the national life-long learning arrangements, to stimulate innovation in effective delivery. More than half of the Leonardo da Vinci programme budget thus far has gone into such work. While not all projects have been as focused and as successful as we might like, this mutual
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review and developmental work has brought considerable cross-fertilisation of ideas about the design and delivery of effective learning, to the benefit of the British organisations involved and, indeed, their continental partners.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, touched on the issue of languages. I will not add to it, save to say that I strongly endorse what the noble Baroness said.

Finally, perhaps I may say a few words about bureaucracy and funding levels in the projects. As ever, there is a trade off between accountability and flexibility within funded programmes. Like the sub-committee, I am also advised that the bureaucracy and limited funding levels in a number of these programmes continue to cause frustrations.

As far as bureaucracy is concerned, it is true that we all want to see arrangements in place to ensure that European public expenditure is both cost-effective and appropriate. While I am sure that everyone involved would like to do this better, I do not know whether the Commission is ever likely to resolve the dichotomy—which is never absent in public policy work—of ensuring adequate accountability while keeping bureaucracy low enough so that those involved can get on and do the job. I worry that in this area the Commission are exhibiting the bureaucracy without delivering the accountability.

5.30 pm

Lord Kinnock: My Lords, I intervene in this debate to make my maiden speech in this House, by coincidence 35 years almost to the day since I first spoke in the other place as the new and then very young Member for Bedwellty. That causes me to reflect that politics must be the only sphere of human activity in which it is possible to arrive intactus on more than occasion.

There are several reasons for my particular pleasure in being able to participate in this debate on a report from the EU Committee of this House, which is characteristically lucid and substantial. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, and her colleagues on sustaining the high standards that have long been set in all respects by that committee.

First, I began my professional life in the 1960s as a tutor organiser in the Workers' Educational Association, which has productively pursued the mission of life-long learning for more than a century. I am now privileged to be one of the vice-presidents of the association.

Secondly, I have, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, implied, an interest to declare in this debate as chairman of the British Council. Apart from its many other brilliant attributes, it is the major United Kingdom national agency for the Socrates and Leonardo European Union programmes. Time forbids prolonged attention in this debate to the British Council's work. I simply and very proudly acknowledge the high level of satisfaction with the management of programmes in the United Kingdom and record that the European Union systems audit of the agencies of all member states cited the council as the benchmark for the management of EU education and training programmes across the Union.
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Thirdly, I was a member of the European Commission that adopted the integrated action programme proposals of my highly energetic colleague, Madame Viviane Reding. I was therefore pleased that the committee of this House finds "the present programmes valuable" and gives support to the Commission's aim to improve and expand them. In addition, I share the committee's reasoned doubts about the attainability of some of the targets of the integrated programme and I endorse the committee's recommendations across the board. I particularly commend the attention given by the committee to the agenda for promoting growth and employment in the European Union, which was adopted unanimously in January 2003 by the European Council in Lisbon.

The heads of government proclamation of intention to make the European Union the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010 was, to my ears at least, somewhat grandiose, especially since it did not specify any Community mechanism for operation, focus or follow-up to that mammoth enterprise. Nevertheless, commendable components for producing that outcome were listed by leaders who solemnly undertook to act simultaneously to achieve, among several other things, the improved functioning of labour markets and, crucially, increasing and consistent investment in wider and higher levels of workforce knowledge and skills.

Those, and other, Lisbon objectives were, and are, essential and urgent and are all incrementally achievable with sustained strength of engagement. But, sadly, the measured evidence shows that it is not now possible to believe that they can be reached by 2010. The British Government and the leadership of some other member states, including several of the new member states, have shown diligence in pursing Lisbon objectives, recognising that in an organically integrating European economy, the internal and external prospects of each participant depend to a significant extent on the inputs and the outputs of all.

Despite the self-evident common sense of that, despite the intensifying reality of renewed productivity growth in the United States of America, and despite the surging development of China, India and other muscular economic adolescents, the Lisbon commitment of some other member state governments has—to be very polite, as befits the temperament of this House—been limpid. If that is not changed radically and quickly, if the basic growth, competitiveness and employment objectives of Lisbon are not pursued with new avidity, productivity advance will continue to be snail-paced, globalisation will be more of a punishment than the gigantic opportunity that it really is, and the ageing of all European populations will bring impoverishment and tension between the generations—not in some science fiction future, but within two decades.

Those who say that the innovations and restructuring required by Lisbon will endanger what they rather glibly call the "European social model", are abysmally wrong. The truly lethal threat to civilised and improving standards of welfare, care and
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opportunity will not come from implementation of the Lisbon Agenda, it will come from neglect of that strategy.

They are the realities, backed by objective evidence, which provide the context for the European Union Committee's report. It is those verities which cry out for systematic and comprehensive public and private sector action to provide the education and training—the life-long learning—which will enable people from all backgrounds to gain and maintain the competences necessary to ensure sustainable growth and higher productivity, and their jobs, their security and their personal well-being.

Obviously, advances in life-long learning cannot attain the Lisbon objectives by themselves. Many other ingredients are essential. But when knowledge and skills are the commanding heights of the modern economy, no component of the Lisbon Agenda is more vital.

European Union integrated action for life-long learning will add strength and value to the overall effort. But as the European Commission, the EU Committee and every other rational authority makes clear, the fundamental determinant of the advance in educated and trained capacities for people of all ages and all potential is the quality and quantity of consistent provision and performance in all member states and by all member states.

That is why I welcome the further action anticipated by our Government and I urge rapid and forceful implementation. It is also why I commend the report from the EU Committee to the House.

5.38 pm

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