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If noble Lords go to the Printed Paper Office they will see another Defra reform, which is not on my list so it is additional. The Regulatory Reform (Game) Order abolishes nine items of the Game Act 1831, repeals the Game Licences Act 1860, reduces a lot of the burdens and effectively abolishes game licences for fishmongers, farmers and others who have had to go through that plethora of regulation. It is another success.

Lord Tyler: My Lords, I have been given an example by farmers in Cornwall recently. There are more regulations controlling the burial of a lamb than for the burial of a human being, which surely must be an eccentric position. Will the Minister comment on the fact that his department is notorious for gold-plating European regulations when they are introduced into this country in a way which other countries in Europe do not have? Is there still within the department any mechanism by which Ministers can take responsibility for that gold-plating? Is he aware that Mr Douglas Hogg, the former Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, had such a mechanism and gave evidence about that to a committee of this House? However, it would seem that two days after he left office, that mechanism was removed.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the same mechanism or the function is carried on. In November 2006, we published Maximising Outcomes, Minimising Burdens. It was aDefra simplification plan for a slash-and-burn policy. I have given evidence to a committee of this House that we do not seek to double-regulate. Indeed, we have to be very careful with our regulatory agencies that they do not over-regulate or double-regulate. That is not our intention. However, I fully appreciate that when you are the farmer and are on the receiving end of different regulations from different bodies that impinge on you, it looks incredibly complicated, and we have to do what we can to simplify that.

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Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the Liberals who have just called these regulations gold-plated are the same people who call for the regulations to be tightened when there is an outbreak of salmonella, E.coli or anything similar?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, we regulate not for the sake of it but to protect the environment, human and animal health. We do it sometimes on our own and at other times in conjunction with our European partners.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, have the Government taken any action to prevent the spread of bluetongue disease, which is prevalent on the Continent and is threatening to invade this country?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the answer to that is yes. Procedures are in place and we are concerned about this disease. It would be very serious if it did come to this country. I can assure the noble Lord and others that the animal health section of the department is actively working on it.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, is there a simple way for a farmer who is not online and does not go through Hansard and Halsbury’s Statutes with a fine-tooth comb to know at a glance whether there is delegated legislation which might or might not affect his situation?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, yes, there is. If a farmer is farming, presumably he will be in touch with the relevant offices of Natural England and other bodies. Many farmers will be registered for the single farm payment, though not all. I met a farmer last week at the Three Counties Show who did not bother for his 14 acres, saying, “I don’t think we should have subsidies and it is not worth it”. On the other hand, this morning I saw maps of a farm that has had almost a motorway carved through it, cutting three fields in half, but the farmer has still put in a claim for whole fields. The case is necessarily being looked at, of course. Procedures are in place, and all farmers have to do is ask. My department is there to help, and plenty of free material is available to assist farmers in making sure that they are following the rules.

Israel and Palestine: Academic Co-operation

3.01 pm

Lord Winston: My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lord Turnberg, and with his permission, I beg leave to ask the Government the following Question:

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Lord Adonis): My Lords, before answering, perhaps I may say on behalf of the House how sad we are to hear of the family tragedy which has led to my noble friend Lord Turnberg not being in his place today. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.

The Government deplore any proposals for an academic boycott. My honourable friend the Minister for Higher Education visited Israel and east Jerusalem last week and he made that clear. He also announced our intention to hold a seminar in London involving UK, Israeli and Palestinian academics to promote understanding and collaboration. This builds on much-respected work by the British Council, including the Chevening scholarships, which benefit young Palestinians and Israelis.

Lord Winston: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Turnberg I thank the Minister for his kind condolences, which will of course be conveyed to him. I thank the Minister also for the sensitivity of his Answer on this difficult question. Does he not agree with my noble friend that to target academics in this way is not only anti-academic; it also targets the very people who are most likely to help in a liberal answer to the peace process in the Middle East?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I could not agree more with my noble friend; his sentiments echo precisely those of Her Majesty’s Government. As my honourable friend the Minister with responsibility for universities said last week when he was in Israel:

Given the events of the past week, I think that that becomes more true by the day.

Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, I declare an interest as a former international governor of the University of Haifa, which at that time had the highest number of Arab students of any university in Israel. I thoroughly endorse the sentiments that the Minister has just expressed. As I am sure he would reiterate, the most liberal institutions in Israel today are the universities. I am grateful to him for saying that further efforts are being made to encourage partnerships between Israeli and Palestinian universities, as that can only be to the good.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I entirely endorse the noble Lord’s sentiments: we need to strengthen co-operation in this area. I hope that the seminar which my honourable friend intends to bring together will play a part in that process, too.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, last Tuesday we had a debate in this House on anti-Semitism which focused on this very question. The debate was led by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech—who unfortunately

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is not in her place—and everyone who spoke made the point that this boycott is unacceptable. What are the Government doing to make known to UCU and other bodies the real outpouring from this House on the issue?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, in last week’s debate I gave the clearest possible statement of the Government’s position on the proposed boycott—but, of more direct relevance, so did my noble friend Lady Warwick, the chief executive of Universities UK. She clearly stated the university world’s complete opposition to a boycott of the kind being proposed, and she informed the House in the strongest possible terms of the statements that she and Professor Drummond Bone, the president of UUK, have made in respect of it. I believe that the voice of the House was heard loud and clear in the university community last week, and my noble friend Lady Warwick will have conveyed the sentiments expressed to vice-chancellors.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, without pre-empting whatever the Government may have to say later today in their Statement on Gaza, I totally support the opposition to an academic boycott and what the Minister has said about keeping lines open to the Middle East. But does he agree that there is a very stark contrast here with the way in which the Government and the quartet have boycotted the democratically elected Government who contained Hamas members and with the subsequent disastrous effect on the economy of Gaza, where 90 per cent of the population rely on food aid?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I note the noble Lord’s views and the strength of feeling that he has represented to the House, but my noble friend Lady Royall will be making a full Statement on these issues later, and I think it is best if I leave it to her to reply.

The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Council of Christians and Jews. Does the Minister agree that if any academic seminar is to be worth while, it needs to address at some stage the serious and complex issues that relate to the theology of land in the Middle East, most particularly in Israel? Until those issues are addressed, the fine line which exists between concerns about Israeli policy and where they begin to merge into anti-Semitism is a serious one, deserving of the most stringent academic exploration.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I think that the right reverend Prelate has just made an opening contribution to the seminar that my honourable friend will be summoning.

Lord Mitchell: My Lords—

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords—

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, I think that it is the turn of the Benches behind me.

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Lord Mitchell: My Lords, I express my interest as chairman of Weizmann UK. Two weeks ago, the Hebrew University awarded PhDs to its students. Among them were several Arabs, many of whom were women. Does this not show that the behaviour of the Israeli universities is very much to encourage Arabs in their midst?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend.


3.07 pm

Lord Grocott: My Lords, with permission, we will have a Statement repeated today; the subject, as we have just heard, is the Gaza Strip. It will be repeated by my noble friend Lady Royall, and we shall take it after the Report stage of the statistics Bill.

Sustainable Communities Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and ordered to be printed.

Statistics and Registration Service Bill

3.08 pm

Report received.

Clause 3 [Members]:

Lord Dearing moved Amendment No. 1:

“(d) one person who is appointed by the Cabinet Office after consulting the Local Government Association.”

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in Committee, I ventured three amendments. I have pared those down to one, and in coming forward with it I have recognised that in its previous form it reached too far. I am now proposing simply that before one of the members of the board is appointed, the Cabinet Office should consult the Local Government Association.

In making that amendment, I am glad to say that I am not creating any precedent for such communication. The amendment follows exactly the form of the provision already in the Bill about consultation over Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It reflects the need to see that appropriate statistical information is available for democratically elected bodies which have major responsibilities for public money. In the case of the local authorities in England, we are talking about 26 per cent of public expenditure, amounting to £100 billion a year. If healthcare and some other public services were added, that figure would be increased.

There may be those who think that if the Local Government Association is to be consulted on behalf of local authorities, what about others? I am far from being against the principle of consultation—indeed, it would be an advantage to consult industry, commerce and academia. However, that is not to say that people who are appointed after consultation with Welsh,

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Scottish, Irish or local government interests are ignorant of other matters. They may be very well informed. Nor would the amendment preclude the Government appointing more than the minimum number of members provided for in the Bill. I single out local authorities because they are democratically elected and, through their membership, have a good understanding of the needs of other sectors of activity because of their very wide statutory responsibilities.

Finally, let me be clear that I am not proposing that the board should collect information every five minutes on any great new scale to provide information for local authorities. Nor am I proposing a specific duty on the board. The decision on what is appropriate and practical to collect will remain with the board, without any proposed amendment of its responsibilities, functions or duties. The purpose of the amendment is simply to ensure that there is somebody on the board who, in the light of consultations with the LGA, has considerable knowledge of the needs for information below national level in England to help ensure that the £100 billion for whose expenditure local authorities are responsible is spent in a joined-up way to good effect on the basis of reasonably up-to-date information.

To illustrate what is potentially available from such a modest amendment, a 1 per cent improvement in the effectiveness of the way in which local authorities spend money would be worth £1 billion. An improvement of 0.1 per cent would be worth £100 million. I beg to move.

Lord Newby: My Lords, my name is attached to the amendment, along with that of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. It is relevant to think about the policy background, particularly the growing realisation that many aspects of public policy are best delivered at regional or, more often, local level. Indeed, the incoming Prime Minister has made a number of speeches to this effect. One can think of a number of policy areas where it makes sense to have the maximum amount of discretion to work together across public policies to deliver goals which are widely accepted as desirable. One example of the need for joined-up thinking is the Every Child Matters agenda which, by its very nature, requires local authorities to pull together a raft of services to make sure that children are better provided for. Another example, which is currently in vogue, is community cohesion. There is no simple bit of local government that is responsible; there needs to be joined-up thinking. For local authorities to do that work, they need the best possible statistics. Statistics which simply show national trends are all very well, but they cannot be treated as a reliable indication of what is happening in a local authority area.

3.15 pm

A major source of disquiet, as your Lordships will be aware, relates to immigration statistics in London. I have a copy of a letter which Councillor Merrick Cockell, who is chairman of London Councils, sent last month to the Financial Secretary. He expressed in it his concern that the new methodology of the Office for National Statistics for estimating numbers of international migrants in London is simply inadequate.

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Local authorities in London which have undertaken surveys on the number of migrants have found that over time their estimates have increasingly diverged from those provided by the ONS. Without trying to determine today who is right in this argument, I should make the point that there are major issues surrounding statistics which need adequately to be addressed at local level. The ONS does its best on them, but, according to the local authorities involved, it sometimes fails to produce the work which they require. The way in which the legislation for the Statistics Board is framed looks very much towards Ministers rather than local areas. In those circumstances, it is relatively easy for the board to concentrate its efforts on looking at the statistics that are produced at national level and showing secondary concern for statistics that are produced at local level, important though they may be. Many local statistics are official, but not national, so there is an additional problem even in getting them looked at.

The amendment simply ensures that there is a member of the board who is cognisant of the ways of local government and who can bear it in mind when taking decisions. It is a worthwhile proposal, and I hope that the Minister will support it.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I had thought that I might address the issue on which the noble Lords, Lord Dearing and Lord Newby, have spoken during discussion on Amendments Nos. 3 and 4, to be moved in a few moments by my noble friend Lady Noakes. However, in view of what they have said, perhaps I may add a word about the importance of these statistics to local authorities.

The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, laid great stress on the value of the statistics to local authorities in doing their work, but the anxiety which has been raised with me—I declare an interest as a joint president of London Councils, which represents all the borough councils in London—is primarily about the measure of the grants that are paid to local authorities. I have the advantage of reading—I assure noble Lords that I do not intend to read more than a few sentences of it—the report that lies behind the letter from Councillor Merrick Cockell that the noble Lord, Lord Newby, quoted.

It is one of the very best reports from London Councils that I have read in several years. Headed, Population Measures and Grant Distribution, it contains a sentence of which the House should be aware. It states:

which is now proposed—

Lower down, the report says that,

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I may return to that later—

That has huge financial consequences for local authorities and, as the noble Lord, Lord Newby, has said, not least in London, where, it is believed, a great majority of those who come from overseas initially settle. This poses very great burdens on London local authorities, which have to provide various local authority services for these people, including housing and education, when they get no, or very little, additional grant in recognition of the burdens being imposed on them.

The point being made by the amendment is that what we are discussing is of enormous importance to local authorities, and it is one that I would very strongly endorse. I am as yet unclear whether appointing a member representing local authorities to the Statistics Board is the right way in which to deal with this; there are so many other interests that have concerns about statistics for which the board will be responsible.

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