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Lord Adonis: My Lords, we believe that the early results of the Every Child a Reader programme are promising, in precisely the way that the noble Baroness set out. The track record of Reading Recovery is strong, with about 80 per cent of children who complete the programme achieving national
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Lord Avebury: My Lords, my question is further to that asked by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. If a very high proportion of youngsters coming into the young offender institutions are suffering from speech, language and communications difficulties, does that not indicate that the schools are falling down on the job and that they really need to reinforce the number of speech and language therapists whom they employ?
Lord Adonis: My Lords, it certainly indicates that schools are falling down on the job. That has been a big historic problem with our school system; far too many children, particularly the sorts of children going on into young offender institutions whom the noble Lord mentioned, are not being properly taught in schools. I completely agree; but it is not simply the responsibility of the speech and language services to put that right. It is a basic function of every primary school in the country that its teachers should be effective at teaching children to read. If we get that right, we do not need these remedial and catch-up services later on in the system.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that it is well worth spending £2,000 on a six year-old if you are not going to have to spend £60,000 on him when he is 16 and in a young offender institution?
Lord Laidlaw: My Lords, at a secondary school with which I am associated, no less than 40 per cent of the children entering the school read inadequately and have to have foundation classes. I am told by the primary school teachers that this is because they have insufficient teachers in year 6. Will more funding be available for primary schools to increase the number of teachers or teaching assistants for year-6 reading adequacy?
Lord Adonis: My Lords, the budgets of primary schools are rising steadily year on year. There is a national average increase of about 5 per cent in real terms in primary school budgets this year so, for the most part, the issue is not a shortage of resource for primary schools but the deployment of teachers. It is particularly vital to see that they have the properly trained teachers at the right level in the school. I do not believe that any primary school can legitimately say that an absence of resource is the reason why they teach inadequately in year 6.
The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My Lords, the Government are committed to helping developing countries address climate change, as described in the 2006 DfID White Paper. Climate change concerns are by nature cross-sectoral and vary from country to country. We have no single statistic that reflects how our support addresses these concerns. However, we have committed more than £100 million over five years from 2005 specifically to improve climate research, to support low-carbon development and to integrate adaptation into development activities.
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I thank the Lord President of the Council for that Answer. The displacement of people by climate-related migration has been identified as a factor in violent incidents between previously peaceful neighbouring tribes or groups in Africa, and many of the worlds poorest people are the most vulnerable to increasingly frequent natural disasters brought about by climate change. What steps are Her Majestys Government taking to help developing nations to set up prediction and response units that are mainstreamed, inter-sectoral and national planning processes, as suggested by Sir Gordon Conway?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right about the increase in conflict across the world as the result of arguments over resources, in particular water. We are committed to allocating 10 per cent of the funding provided in response to each natural disaster to prepare for and mitigate the impact of future disasters, including those related to climate change. The noble Baroness will know that, in addition, an element of the work we do on agriculture, infrastructure development and so forth, looks at sustainability, environmental and climate-change activity.
Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one of the problems is that developing countries themselves can create greenhouse gas emissions, and indeed in some cases demand the right to do so? What can DfID do to help deter that?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, we can do a number of things. We can help in research and by demonstrating that tackling climate change does not necessarily mean that economic growth and competitiveness will lessen. In addition, we are mainstreaming climate into development activities in climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture, water, health, infrastructure and energy to help developing countries adopt low carbon energy.
Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, does not the Minister agree that concern with development aid expressed on all sides of the House is based on a sense that those who are worse off should be helped by those who are better off? Is she aware that the projections of economic growth set out in the Stern review, on which projections of carbon dioxide emissions and therefore warming are based, imply that in 100 years time people in the developed world will be between three and six times better off than they are todayeven after the highest conjectured damage from climate change? Further, under the highest conjectured damage from climate change suggested in the Stern review, people in the developing world will be between 11 and 60 times better off. Does she not feel that to ask people of this generation throughout the world to make significant sacrifices in order possibly to assist people who will be substantially better off than they are is not self-evidently sensible or even equitable?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I do not agree because this is an issue of global concern and one for future generations; it concerns the future of our children and grandchildren. We have to tackle this issue now. The Stern review makes the economics of climate change, and the economics of doing nothing, absolutely clear.
Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, do the Government have any proposals to advise or assist the developing nations so that they will not repeat the mistakes made by the developed world? For instance, the United States is responsible for 19.8 tonnes per capita of global CO2 emissions every year, which compares with an annual 0.6 tonnes per capita of global emissions produced by Uganda. There is a massive amount of advice and assistance that would be useful to them. I am going to suggest that we are our brothers keeper in this because climate change does not respect borders.
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that we have a number of projects which will help in this respect. We are working to increase support for low-carbon development through the energy investment frameworks of the multilateral development banks. We are the lead donor supporting the ClimDev Africa programme to help Africa improve climate change information. We have committed £24 million for research into addressing climate change in development in Africa, and in addition we have committed a total of £20 million to United Nations special funds to help developing countries adapt to climate change.
The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford: My Lords, if I may put my Christian Aid hat on for a moment, does the noble Baroness accept that the message from the developing world is that the issue lies in the developed world, not in the developing world? This is therefore an issue for the whole of our society and for every post in the Cabinet, not just for DfID. Does she further accept
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Baroness Amos: My Lords, as to the right reverend Prelates last point, I am sure that he will guide us on that. I absolutely agree that this issue needs to be managed across Whitehall. That is why there is a cross-Whitehall working group which supports the work of all Ministers. Yes, the message from the developing world is that this is an issue for the developed world, but our view is that it is for all of us. We have to look at our responsibilities and at what we are doing, both individually and as a country, and we have to support efforts in the developing world to ensure that it has a sustainable economic growth which takes account of climate change and environmental sustainability.
The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, will the noble Baroness press officials in her department not to lecture developing countries on climate change? Such countries are nearest to the coal face and have to deal with it every day. We should support them in their initiatives.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, with the permission of the House, my noble friend Lady Amos will repeat a Statement later today on the future of the UK nuclear deterrent. The Statement will be taken during the Second Reading of the Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Bill after the speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes.
The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I wish to make a Statement on the sub judice rule in respect of the death of Mr Litvinenko. As noble Lords will be aware, I have the responsibility of exercising a general power of waiver of the sub judice rule in certain circumstances. On Thursday in another place, Mr Speaker exercised his discretion to waive the strict application of the sub judice rule in respect of the inquest into the death of Mr Litvinenko, which was opened on Thursday morning and immediately adjourned. Given the wish of certain noble Lords to table Questions for Written Answer on related matters, I, too, am exercising my discretion to waive the strict application of the sub judice rule in respect of that inquest, but I do ask noble Lords to bear it carefully in mind that the inquest has been opened.
The Government are committed to a robust and effective consumer and competition regime, one that is fair to consumers as well as to business. We are committed to strong, effective, competitive markets where firms
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Pressure to retain custom is also a powerful incentive for business to act with integrity and responsibility. That is why we want a consumer regime that is fit for the 21st century. We need to make sure that consumers have the right information to make informed choices. We need to remove the rogue traders and give consumers access to redress so that they feel confident and secure when dealing with business. In a competitive marketplace, it is the companies that give their customers what they want that will thrive.
But we in government must keep thinking about what consumers need, too. What are the Government doing to achieve this? The Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Bill forms part of a wider programme of government reform to empower UK consumers. The Consumer Credit Act, which received Royal Assent earlier this year, represents the biggest overhaul of consumer credit legislation since 1974. It greatly improves consumer rights and redress in relation to borrowing money. The Act also introduces major changes to the licensing of consumer credit businesses and new powers to drive dishonest traders out of the market.
The Government will shortly announce their plans to implement the EU unfair commercial practices directive. The UCPD is a powerful tool, designed to tackle the rogue traders and unfair business practices that target the most vulnerable people in society and damage the reputation of honest firms by association. Once implemented, the directive will ban 31 types of unfair commercial practices outright, including high-pressure or unreasonably persistent selling methods. The directive also has rules stopping misleading and aggressive practices, and introduces a catch-all duty not to trade unfairly. We will implement the directive by the end of next year, shortly before the provisions of the Bill take effect.
The Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Bill complements both the Consumer Credit Act and the UCPD and will empower consumers yet further. The largest element of the Bill is the Consumer Voice proposals. There has been extensive consultation on Consumer Voice over the last three years. UK consumers now benefit from choice in most of our essential services, thanks to a long-term commitment by the Government to champion open, competitive markets. The aim is to deliver choice and to foster high standards and good value in our key sectors.
The markets for essential services have been progressively liberalised over a long period, and several regulatory regimes have been developed. But there was a common model: licensed companies overseen by an independent economic regulator, and a consumer body with duties in respect of each individual sector. That has led to the current position where we have several sectoral consumer bodies, as well as a National Consumer Council that represents consumer interests across a range of markets.
The National Consumer Council, Energywatch and Postwatch have provided a valuable service to consumers. However, key issues around the current system of consumer representation have to be addressed. Consumer representation in the UK is fragmented. We lack a coherent voice for the consumer to speak with expertise and authority in discussions with companies, with government or in Europe. We need a body that is able to compare different markets and focus on areas of real concern. In addition, any consumer who needs advice or assistance must first work out where to go for help. Promoting the existence of consumer bodies has consistently been a problem, as each of the relevant bodies has sought individually to make consumers aware of its services. A sectoral consumer body cannot necessarily look at all aspects of a companys service. Although the Consumer Action Network offers potential for increased co-operation between consumer bodies, difficulties over exchanging information remain. Different structures prevent resources or facilities from being shared effectively.
To address these issues, we propose to bring together the National Consumer Council, Energywatch and Postwatch to form a stronger, more coherent consumer advocate: the new National Consumer Council. This new body will be independent. It will have the stature to engage effectively with government, regulators and industry. It will be able to look across sectors and give advice on the basis of expert and informed analysis. Responsibility and authority to speak for consumers will rest with a single organisation. That will provide a stronger and more effective voice in the ear of policy-makers in the UK and the European Union.
Savings will be achieved by cutting the cost of complaint handling, the consolidation of offices and staff and a reduction in property expenditure. Analysis by KPMG on behalf of the DTI estimates net ongoing savings of about £8.9 million per year, increasing to about £9.5 million per year by around 2015 as redundant property leases come to an end. We also propose to extend the availability of redress for consumers.
Energywatch and Postwatch currently labour under a significant burden of complaints that they can resolve only through persuasion. They have no powers to enforce resolution and cannot provide for redress or compensation. That is the role of a redress scheme, and the creation of new, separate redress services forms part of the provisions of this Bill. The provisions in Part 2 will enable Ministers to require suppliers or service providers in the energy and postal services sectors to belong to redress schemes. This will give consumers confidence that their complaint will be resolved, and there will be access to compensation and redress where warranted. The Bill also offers the potential to include the water sector within this requirement in future, following consultation.
I now come to the provisions relating to estate agents. For most people, buying a place to live is the most expensive purchase they ever make and the process can often be stressful, for buyers and sellers alike. Estate agents play a crucial role in this process. It is vital that the market for estate agency services works well, and that consumers are protected against
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The Office of Fair Trading recognised these issues in its study of the estate agency market published in March 2004. It found that the market was generally competitive and in most cases worked well for consumers, but that a significant number of consumers were not happy with the service that they received. Some consumers simply received poor service, with estate agents turning up late for appointments, for example, or not returning keys on time. But other complaints were more serious, such as a failure to pass on offers to sellers or to declare a personal interest in a property. In its report, the OFT made a number of recommendations to bring the Estate Agents Act 1979 up to date with modern enforcement practices. The OFT was keen to ensure a basic level of protection and to promote quality of service and redress.
The Government published their response to the OFT report in July 2004. They went further than the OFT and stated that they wanted to make membership of a redress scheme mandatory for all UK estate agents. We amended the Housing Act 2004 to ensure that complaints relating to home information packs could be addressed through redress schemes.
The Bill goes further. It will fulfil our promise that any private individual with a legitimate complaint against an estate agent should have access to redress. It also implements a number of other recommendations in the OFT report. It will improve the audit trail for transactions by requiring estate agents to make and keep recordsincluding records of offer lettersfor a period of six years. The Bill will give the OFT and local authority trading standards officers powers to go into premises and inspect records in a wider range of circumstances. This will enable them to investigate all breaches of the 1979 Act, not just criminal offences.
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