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Earl Peel: My Lords, are agri-environment schemes subsidies? Is that what the noble Lord is saying?

Lord Bach: No, my Lords, I am not. I have eight more minutes in which to speak. I am very happy to debate this with the noble Earl on another occasion.

Looking beyond farming, our strategy is to minimise regulatory burdens and at the same time provide support to help enterprise flourish. We are working with England's regional development agencies to increase their activity in support of the economy in rural areas. This ensures a strategic economic development within each region, considering the needs of both rural and urban businesses, which are surprisingly often similar. We are ensuring that money is directed to areas which need it most. This year the regional development agencies have received £72 million from Defra. They will receive a similar amount in each of the next two years. We have successfully engaged them as key strategic partners in the delivery of our aims for rural areas.

As I noted earlier, in rural areas unemployment tends to be low. However, many jobs are low skill and low paid or seasonal. Jobs in the food industry and tourism are important examples. Such sectors are important in rural areas. With RDAs and sector skills councils, we are doing our best to address low skill level jobs, and we are working with a range of partners to develop a framework which will provide a greater career structure—which is one of the problems—to jobs in the land-based sector. We are also working to ensure that the potential of the tourism industry is more fully exploited.

When I talk about work in the country, I have to address the comments that my noble friend Lady Prosser made in relation to the gangmaster scandal, which was shown most blatantly in the tragedy which occurred. She acknowledged that the Government had acted quickly and firmly to put an Act on the statute book, with the help of other political parties. We have some issues within government about who should be included and who should not. I refer in particular to the field of processing. We are determined to tackle gangmasters who act illegally and exploit their workers. We are currently considering the
 
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outcome of two consultations on the draft exclusion regulations. The main agricultural exclusions proposed in the first consultation are largely acceptable, subject to some redrafting. The Government hope to be in a position to announce the outcome of both consultations by the middle of this month. I confirm that the GLA is on track to commence licensing from April 2006. I am very grateful for what my noble friend had to say on that very important issue.

I have mentioned broadband. Commuting can also be reduced by ensuring that a range of housing is available in rural areas. The availability of affordable housing for both rent and purchase—mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and many other speakers today—is vital to a prosperous and vivacious countryside, helping to support diverse communities which are socially and economically vibrant and inclusive. That is why in July this year—as we promised in our manifesto—the Affordable Rural Housing Commission was launched to identify ways of improving access to affordable housing for people in rural areas. Our work on affordable housing will contribute to ensuring that housing is available at all levels of the market and provide a full range of local labour supply, allowing businesses of all sizes to change and develop.

The commission will consider the evidence and reach a consensus on the relevant issues with regard to affordable housing needs in rural areas. This is real progress, but noble Lords will quite rightly want to wait and see what the results are. Assistance to the rural economy is provided by Defra through funding support under the England Rural Development Programme, which is the, by now famous, Pillar 2 of the CAP. This programme directly contributes to all three strands of sustainability. The current programme has provided £1 billion to farmers for more effective environmental management of their land through the agri-environment schemes. The new environmental stewardship scheme, launched in March last year, builds on the success of the environmental sensitive area scheme and other schemes. More than 65,000 applications packs have been issued, and it currently has more than 12,000 live arrangements in place, covering nearly 1.4 million hectares under agreement.

In addition, assistance of more than £200 million will have been provided to the rural economy through the programme's project-based schemes: the rural enterprise scheme, the vocational training scheme and the processing and marketing grants. While much of this funding is directed towards agriculture, a proportion is set aside for wider village and community activities to deliver sustainable local enterprises, including social enterprises that we have heard about today at first hand, such as community shops and post offices. The rural enterprise scheme is the main route through which Defra channels assistance to farmers to diversify their agricultural business. Nearly £46 million has been committed from the scheme to help farmers diversify. While these grants provide support for individual farm businesses,
 
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there are also gains for the wider rural economy. By way of example, a farm shop and café funded through the scheme has been so popular that it has expanded, creating more local jobs, providing outlets for other local food producers and is now a venue where local people meet.

The new EU rural development regulation agreed last September provides the basis for funding the successor programme. I have not got time to go into the details of where we are in terms of that funding. Those who were present last night will know that we discussed this issue during the debate on Amendment No. 203 to the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill. Noble Lords can see in Hansard what I said about the state of play as it is now. The House will want to know more and there is an Oral Question on this on Tuesday. I will also write to the noble Baroness who raised this with the state of play as it is now.

I have to finish in the course of the next minute or two. At a more local level, we want to continue to provide support for local village shops. The Government have assisted local services by extending mandatory rate relief at 50 per cent to include sole-village public houses, petrol stations and village food shops under the village shops scheme. We have issued planning guidance advising local authorities to adopt a positive approach to planning proposals designed to improve the viability, accessibility or community value of existing services and facilities. Taken together, the action I have outlined demonstrates this Government's strong and continuing commitment to a vibrant and diverse rural economy in England. We have to build on the success and prosperity that is enjoyed by many rural communities, but we must not be complacent about the significant challenges that face farming and other rural businesses and the communities they serve. That is why we will continue to make supporting successful rural enterprise a high priority and why we will continue to invest public resources to reflect this commitment. I thank the noble Baroness again for initiating this debate.

2.04 pm

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. The breadth, depth and quality of the contributions have given enormous food for thought. I shall certainly enjoy reading them. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, takes the opportunity to send a copy of Hansard to the producers of "The Archers" so that they may see the great example given by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Hudnall, of local sourcing for an entire wedding. I am glad the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, was able not only to give his own terrific contribution, but to fill in for the right reverend Prelates, from whose presence we were not benefiting. I warmly thank all noble Lords who have spoken and the Minister for his reply to us. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
 
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British Identity and Citizenship

2.05 pm

Lord Wallace of Saltaire rose to call attention to the role of government in promoting citizenship, and in defining British identity and British history; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I asked my group to support the idea of a debate on this because we are in the middle of an emerging but so far relatively incoherent debate about citizenship, national history and national identity. Gordon Brown gave a speech last month on the future of Britishness to the Fabian Society at a conference on the subject. He also gave an excellent lecture 18 months ago to the British Council on British national identity. David Cameron, the new leader of the Conservative Party—I was about to say the Liberal Conservative Party—gave one of his many speeches on the subject of Britishness to the Great Britons conference on 30 January. Last November, it was the theme of a Keynes Forum weekend, a group with a loose association with the Liberal Democrats, with Trevor Phillips and a number of other people addressing it. It was also the theme of a political studies conference in early January and it has been the subject of a great many articles in the press.

The reasons for this revival of interest are evident. There are concerns about how to strengthen a sense of shared national community in our younger generation, for whom the old national symbols of wartime solidarity are a distant story and among whom respect for cherished national traditions and social habits is limited. There is a recognition that we cannot go on living on the legend of the Second World War as our shared national experience now that no one under the age of 70 has direct experience of that war. There are efforts, particularly promoted when David Blunkett was the Secretary of State for the Home Department, to incorporate new British citizens into our national community through the institution of citizenship ceremonies and through introducing elements of British history, values and political principles into citizenship and language courses. There is concern about a degree of disengagement from the national community within some of our ethnic communities in Britain's increasingly diverse society. This has led political leaders to ask whether improvements in history teaching and better education in political rights and obligations might help to narrow the gap and to promote a shared understanding of rights and obligations within our national community.

There is a slightly less accepted recognition that the history that is taught in our schools does not give children any coherent sense of our national story, or indeed of history at all. My children in secondary school learnt about Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia, like most others in their generation. It was a training that educates the rising generation in Euro-scepticism but achieves little else; it certainly does not tell them much about Britain. There is confusion in many areas, particularly in the Conservative Party, about the differences between Englishness and Britishness now that devolution has strengthened
 
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Scotland's autonomy. Behind all this, there is a certain unease within our political elites and institutions that the British population as a whole are less engaged in the public life of British society under the British state. We have seen a long-term decline in party membership and a decline in turnout at elections, exacerbated by the reduction of opportunities for citizens to play a part in representative democracy because of the reduction and emasculation of local democracy by successive Conservative and Labour governments.

This is a broad, even an untidy field to cover. It stretches across several government departments: the Home Office, the Department for Education, DCMS, and so on. Yet the Minister in the current Government who has spoken most fluently about the issue is, of course, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Its different strands are closely linked and they have direct implications for public policy. For example, the Government have launched a respect agenda aimed at those in the younger generation who have not inherited what Mr Blair and Mr Brown would regard as traditional British values. Nowhere does that dreadfully new Labour document, the Respect Action Plan, which I waded through some weeks ago, spell out the national and social values that disaffected youth should learn to respect or how best those should be taught.

Across the political parties, again, there is renewed interest in some scheme of national service for young people, whether voluntary or compulsory, to give them a stronger sense of the wider community in which they live and the obligations that they owe to it. Gordon Brown and David Cameron are among many who have floated the idea and there have been many more reports from think tanks close to each of the three parties. Though we wish to teach our younger generation about the obligations of citizenship, we must surely also educate them in the rights of citizenship that balance those obligations. Once we start to talk about citizenship, it is difficult to avoid talking about civil and political liberties and about the full rights and obligations of the citizen towards society and the state, and of the state towards the citizen. That takes us into constitutional reform and issues of representative government, local autonomy and rights, which neither this Government nor their predecessor have wanted to address. I look forward to the publication of the Power inquiry at the end of this month, which I hope will open up this field to wider debate.

Once we talk about identity, we plunge into issues of culture, language and diversity, of inclusion and exclusion, assimilation versus integration—all the sensitive issues of "Who do we think we are?" and what values, memories or ethnic myths we share in common. Once we talk about history, we face politically loaded questions about how to interpret the tangled history of the multinational United Kingdom and how that history has linked us, in friendship and enmity, to other states and civilizations. It is easy to be partisan about such central issues. For those of us on these Benches, the liberal agenda is essentially about citizenship; it is about the balance between individual
 
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rights and obligations to society, and about the extension of political rights to all citizens in a liberal society and a democratic state. One of the reasons why the Government have made so little progress with their citizenship agenda is that—it seems to us—new Labour is deeply confused about how far it wants to defend, let alone promote, civil and political liberties. The language of new Labour talks about "customers" to whom public services are "delivered", not citizens for whom public services are part of what holds the national community together.

The evidence of political alienation from public life is now very strong. Fewer people voted in last year's election than in any election since 1918, and fewer belong to political parties, so that fewer people have any sense of a link between their lives and political society and the state. For Liberal Democrats, that means that we have to reopen the agenda of political and constitutional reform, which the Prime Minister has so firmly closed. Members of other parties will of course wish to emphasise other aspects of that agenda.

National history is a highly contested field, as it always has been. Every time I walk through from Peers' Lobby to Central Lobby, I note on the two sides of that corridor the inability of 19th-century political leaders to agree on the history of the 17th century. We have the parliamentary view of the Civil War on one side and the royalist view on the other. As you walk through from Central Lobby to the Commons Lobby, you have the same contested history of the years between 1685 and 1714.

I first met Conrad Russell, later my noble friend Lord Russell, when he and I were acting as informal advisers to a national curriculum working party on the history curriculum, which was set up by Kenneth Baker in 1989 under the orders of Mrs Thatcher, who wanted to reintroduce a proper national story, as she saw it, into our schools. That effort failed, primarily because the Prime Minister disapproved of its findings. She was surprised to discover that British history was not being taught in English schools and that the inquiry did not automatically have authority over the separate Scottish syllabus. When the inquiry team reported that it would not be possible to construct a coherent history of the relationship between England, Scotland and Ireland without placing it in its European context, she was displeased; when the team also suggested that Britain needed a history syllabus that explained to every child in a British school how they came to be British—which meant teaching about the slave trade, the opium war and the conquest of India—she delayed the publication of the final report for several months, and it was never implemented.

Gordon Brown in his recent speech touched on the politics of memory and of national symbols. He noted that Remembrance Sunday has become our prime ceremony for national solidarity, and he suggested that it is time for us to think about creating another official national day. As it happens, I watched on television the whole of the Remembrance Sunday celebrations last November, and I was struck by how
 
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poorly it institutionalises the politics of memory for our current age. It was a very white and very British ceremony. Almost no one in this country, including those of Indian descent, have any memory that the second largest contingent in the British armies of the Second World War was the Indian Army. The noble Baroness, Lady Flather, has now succeeded in getting a memorial to those other armies that fought in the Second World War, carefully placed behind Buckingham Palace so that not very many people see it. Surely we could have a Remembrance Sunday that celebrates our allies and our Commonwealth partners rather more than just with the small group of elderly West Indians walking at the back of the parade just in front of a small group of Czechs and Poles and an elderly bunch of American Marines. We could do a great deal better than that if the Government were thinking through what it means to memorialise the past in a way that celebrates our present and our future.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer alluded to the French celebration of 14 July. Two years ago, the French used that parade as a celebration of Franco-British defence and foreign policy co-operation. Contingents of the Guards, the Household Cavalry, the Marines and others marched down the Champs Elysées—good positive European symbolism. Some of us are waiting for the British Government to respond to that; I suspect that we will have to wait a very long time, as the Government are rather scared of the press in symbolising the depth of our European commitment.

Shall we have a new national day, as the Chancellor has suggested? Perhaps a constitution day? We would find ourselves immediately wallowing in controversy if we were not careful. Would we like to celebrate 1689? The Ulster Unionists would love that, but the Catholic Church might not be quite so enthusiastic. Similarly, 1605 has anti-Catholic connotations. What about the Queen's Birthday? That would raise, very delicately, the role of the monarchy as a uniting national symbol. The monarchy does its best to hold the national community together. I went to the service in Westminster Abbey to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the coronation, which I had sung in as a boy—it which was a very Protestant ceremony without a single Catholic or anyone else present. I was struck when on the 50th anniversary the Cardinal Archbishop read a lesson, and down under the transept were representatives of Britain's other faiths: Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Zoroastrian and Baha'i. That was a constructive use of national symbolism.

I went to a citizenship ceremony last year. I thought that it was okay but limited. When we sang the national anthem at the end, it included no reference to Britain, to liberty or to democracy. It is the world's oldest national anthem and, as I researched it, I found out that it was first sung in London theatres in 1745 as an English anthem against the Scots. The fourth verse begins:


 
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against the "Rebellious Scots". That is not necessarily the most appropriate national anthem for us to continue using now that devolution is here.

We are teaching citizenship in British schools. We are not teaching it very well; indeed, the Chief Inspector of Schools said last January that citizenship was the worst-taught subject in the secondary curriculum. A booklet published by the Home Office two years ago, Life in the United Kingdom: A Journey to Citizenship, stated:

Do the Government really want to promote active citizenship? That is a very wide agenda as we face an increasingly passive citizenship among our native population. It would start with teaching citizenship in schools in a more active way. I took a rapid poll of teenagers who live nearby about what they were being taught in schools. Some of them said, "Well, it's mainly about drugs". One or two of them said, "Well, we had one lesson on the European Union". None talked about the British constitution as such. I suggest that we promote a cross-party approach to try to build a national consensus for the next generation. That would be an appropriate subject for the less partisan Chamber, the House of Lords, to consider. Perhaps we might consider setting up a sessional committee for next year.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer said last month:

That is a large, but very good, agenda. I beg to move for Papers.

2.22 pm


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