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Nearly two-thirds of male prisoners and over one-third of female prisoners have an established alcohol problem. All prisoners are assessed, including for alcohol problems. As we know, primary care trusts are responsible for commissioning advice, support and treatment for those in prison with alcohol-related problems. There is much to be done and I well understand the concern that has been expressed.

The Government announced in May a groundbreaking agreement with the drinks industry to include alcohol unit and health information on drinks labels. We are looking to the alcohol industry to ensure that most bottles and cans carry this information by the end of 2008. In addition, the Government are seeking to ensure that there is on labels information for pregnant women about alcohol. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, I am pleased to clarify the Government’s position on alcohol and pregnancy. There is no change in government policy. The advice is that, as a general rule, pregnant women or women trying to conceive should avoid drinking alcohol. If they choose to drink, to protect the baby they should not drink more than one to two units of alcohol once or twice a week and they should not get drunk.

Most people are aware of units as a measure of alcohol consumption. However, as noble Lords have pointed out, consumers find it hard to relate them to what they drink, with only 13 per cent of people

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keeping a check on the number of units that they drink. Including alcohol unit content consistently and visibly on containers should help to fill this gap. Like many people, I am not really aware of what a unit constitutes, and it is getting more and more difficult to buy small wine glasses for consumption at home.

The Comprehensive Spending Review, published by the Government on 9 October, announced a Home Office PSA target to reduce drug and alcohol harm. This includes a new national indicator to measure change in the rate of hospital admissions for alcohol-attributable conditions. It is the first ever national commitment to monitor how the NHS is tackling alcohol harms through both intervention and treatment. This will operate from April 2008. Jointly with the Home Office, we shall be embarking on a sustained national £10 million communications campaign to challenge public tolerance of drunkenness and drinking that causes harm to health and to raise the public’s knowledge of units of alcohol so that everyone has the information they need to estimate how much they really drink.

The Government will support the development of a range of new kinds of information and advice aimed at people who drink at harmful levels—about twice our guidelines for regular drinking. For example, the Department of Health has invested £3.2 million to facilitate the development of the most effective and appropriate screening tools and brief intervention techniques. These will help to identify people who are drinking at harmful or hazardous levels and offer them help and advice to reduce their alcohol consumption.

A consortium headed by St George’s Medical School and Newcastle University is establishing a series of intervention and brief advice “trailblazer” projects in primary care and other healthcare settings, including A&E, as well as criminal justice settings. We expect that the final report will be issued in 2009, although I realise that the timescale is disappointing.

The Government are determined that the steps that are set out in Safe, Sensible, Social will shape an environment which will minimise the health harms, violence and anti-social behaviour associated with alcohol, while ensuring that people are able to enjoy alcohol safely and responsibly. The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, is absolutely right about the need for a change in culture, and that takes time.

This has been an excellent, well informed and deeply disturbing debate, and I shall ensure that the Secretary of State and the Minister responsible are aware of all the comments made.

Education: Science and Mathematics

1.31 pm

asked Her Majesty’s Government how they propose to develop the teaching of science and mathematics in the United Kingdom so that future generations may be equipped to compete effectively in the emerging global marketplace.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, there is a group of individuals whose accomplishments are brought instantly to mind by the mere mention of their

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names—Isaac Newton, James Watt, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Alexander Fleming, Charles Darwin. I could go on and on. These are just some of the great physicists, engineers, biologists, chemists and mathematicians who have enriched and changed for ever the world we live in.

Just as it has in the fields of the arts and business, our small island has for centuries punched above its weight and produced many men and women who have led the world in ideas and technological advance. Today that tradition continues. Stephen Hawking has changed our understanding of the universe; Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the internet, has changed the way in which mankind will for ever learn and communicate; and my noble friend Lady Greenfield is leading the world in research into Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.

These are just some of the great leaders of our scientific community. As I glance around the Chamber, I am humbled to be joined by some of our great educational leaders. My noble friend Lord Dearing is chancellor of Nottingham University and a champion of lifelong learning; my noble friend Lady Finlay is president of the Royal Society of Medicine; my noble friend Lord Rees, who is due to be with us, is Astronomer Royal, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and president of the Royal Society; the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, is chief executive of Universities UK; and the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, has served on the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee for a number of years. I am also grateful to those on the Front Benches—the noble Baronesses, Lady Morris of Bolton and Lady Sharp of Guildford, and the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, whose response to the debate I greatly look forward to hearing.

Like me, the Minister will have read the report Science Teaching in Schools, published a year ago by the Science and Technology Committee. Chaired by my noble friend Lord Broers—the former vice-chancellor of my alma mater, Cambridge—the committee observed that the number of young people opting for science subjects at the age of 16 has remained more or less flat and has in some cases declined over the past decade.

Startling evidence highlighted the fact that around a quarter of state school pupils aged 11 to 16 had no access to a qualified physics teacher, and 12 per cent had no access to a qualified chemistry teacher. Compounding this failure in human resources were shortages of physical resources. The report concluded that the Government had failed to deliver £200 million for school science laboratories promised before the 2005 election. Not surprisingly, half of all A grades achieved in physics were from candidates from independent schools—a sector that educates only 8 per cent of our young children but enjoys far superior facilities in the teaching of science.

Moreover, in the light of the publication just yesterday of the annual report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools, which has ranked almost half of our schools as either satisfactory or, worse, inadequate, is it any wonder that just 200 of our independent schools account for 48 per cent of

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Oxbridge admissions, with 3,500 additional schools accounting for the balance of 52 per cent? Even more troubling are the findings in Ofsted’s report that 200,000 of our teenagers remain outside education, training or employment. Like many in this House, I am eager to hear from the Minister what progress he believes has been made and will be made in the future.

As many noble Lords know, I was born and grew up in India, and I take great pride in India’s emergence on to the world stage as a major economic power. India today has a middle class of 300 million people—a consuming class that has quadrupled in size over the past 25 years. To Indians, maths, science and engineering are priority subjects; they are tickets to go anywhere or do anything. In the past five years alone, the number of engineers graduating from India has more than doubled, while the figures for those studying the subject here in Britain have stagnated for some time.

On the other hand, more than 300 million people in India are living on less than a dollar a day in abject poverty. Even the poorest Indians realise that education is the passport to a better life but, sadly, for the vast majority of them, despite the Indian Government pledging to vastly increase education spending to 6 per cent of GDP, the prospects of a good education for poor Indians remains but a distant dream.

How, then, must these people view Britain? We are a hugely wealthy nation. We enjoy free healthcare, our welfare state cares for and houses millions of our citizens, and everyone has access to free schooling and subsidised universities. This country has opportunities for learning of which most Indians can only dream. Yet, as the noble Lord, Lord Leitch, recorded in his excellent report on skills published a year ago, there is a shocking skills deficit in Britain today. The report revealed that 17 million adults in the UK have difficulty with numbers and that more than one in six young people leaves school unable to read, write or add up properly. The Leitch report also said:

That threat is very real, but the qualities needed to meet the challenge of the modern economy are very much here in the UK. Let us take, for example, our high-tech manufacturing base. The UK exported more cars last year than at any time in our nation’s history, and yet people say British manufacturing is dead. Furthermore, all the technology of Formula 1 racing—a global industry dependent on cutting-edge science—is developed right here in the UK. As my noble friend Lord Jones of Birmingham likes to remind people with his characteristic gusto, two-thirds of an Airbus with Rolls-Royce engines, although branded as European, is produced right here in Britain.

Feeding these industries are our universities—another prized asset of our nation, especially when

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one considers the resources at their disposal. For example, Cambridge’s endowment is less than a third of that of universities such as Harvard in the United States, yet Cambridge has been ranked number one in the world for science and number two in the world out of all universities.

I encourage all noble Lords to read the Universities UK report, Eureka UK, on the 100 great British innovations to have come out of British universities over the past 50 years. It is an inspirational document and shows just what world-changing innovations have been created at many of our universities here in Britain.

So we have excellence in our universities and industries but we are failing in our schools. The Government should be commended for making our country’s fabulous museums, such as the Natural History Museum and Science Museum, free, but we need to institute many more such initiatives aimed at capturing the imagination of our children during their early years.

Industry has its part to play in inspiring our children. I have an example of that. I gave a speech at a school, as a result of which I started getting applications at my company for internships. In a year I have had several O-level and A-level students as interns, experiencing the sharp end of entrepreneurship in a company, and the word is spreading. How much more we can do. I mentioned Formula 1. How many young people realise and equate the glamour of that sport with the graft of learning maths or physics? Yet, if opportunities to experience careers that result from an education in these subjects were more heavily promoted, perhaps the stagnation we have seen in the number of young people studying these subjects would change. It is not only a matter of teaching science but how we teach the subject.

In a strong case put forward by the Institute for the Future of the Mind, it was argued that education must provide our future workforce with not only the skills and abilities to work at the cutting edge of innovation, but to be flexible to change. To be educated in maths in my opinion is to have the strongest possible foundation in life in whatever career one chooses. Central to the debate on promoting science and maths in our schools is the Government’s ability to find, retain and reward inspirational teachers. There is a shortage of qualified teachers of science and maths, and those currently teaching are, sadly, poorly paid. I ask the Minister to do everything in his power to offer greater incentives to people considering a career teaching science or maths, and to remove any barriers that currently stop those who wish to take up the vocation of teaching from doing so.

Britain has a proud tradition of being at the forefront of creativity and leading in innovation, with the rest of the world often following. A definition of serendipity is seeing what everyone else sees but thinking what no one else has thought. A friend of mine recently told me his definition of luck. He said that luck is when determination meets opportunity.

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Time after time in our history, Britain has thought what no one else has thought. However, to stay ahead in today’s increasingly competitive integrated global economy, Britain has to be determined. The opportunities exist, but unless we tackle maths and science we will not be equipped to grasp them. We must act now before it is too late.

1.42 pm

Lord Dearing: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend my noble friend on introducing this immensely important issue.

The Prime Minister, in his Mansion House speech this summer, referred to an urgent need to review fundamentally the teaching of numeracy. It is fortunate, therefore, that Sir Peter Williams has been appointed to look at that issue at primary and pre-primary stages. I hope that he will be encouraged in his review to look at best practice not only abroad but in this country. I visited a school—in a mixed area—a couple of weeks ago where half the children are at level 5 in mathematics and a quarter at level 6 pre-GCSE. That is excellent.

The Prime Minster also referred in another speech to the value of setting and saying that that has to be the norm in key subjects. The first of those he mentioned is mathematics—a point that I hope Sir Peter will note. I should like to offer four—possibly five—points for consideration by Sir Peter in his review. The first is the imperative need to respond to the whole ability range. In saying that, I have in mind what Mr Cameron and the Prime Minister said about responding to the individual. Again, the two leaders seem to be on the same wavelength on the value of setting and putting children into a group in which they can feel at home and advance together according to their abilities.

The specialist maths schools have a very valuable role, particularly in stimulating and responding to the quality of our most apt learners of mathematics in primary and secondary schools. Since I have mentioned secondary schools, the handling of the migration from primary to secondary has caused me much concern for a least a decade and I commend it to Sir Peter for consideration. We do not do it well. In maths, there is a real danger that children go to be bored or left bemused. They need to go into sets. Above all, the secondary school needs to know what level the child has reached, as a basis for doing that kind of thing, and then be held accountable by Ofsted, through its inspections, for making use of that information. It is no good having it unless it is made use of. This is a key concern of teachers.

By the way, in an earlier debate, we talked about the problem of young people born in June, July and August—particularly boys, because they are not as precocious as young women. They constitute a particular difficulty because they span the whole ability range and cannot be treated as a group. But it must be recognised that they present a particular challenge, as I discovered the day before yesterday in speaking to one such.

I was amazed and delighted when the Prime Minister, in the speech to his party conference,

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referred to 300,000 tutors in mathematics, as well as English, for our youngsters. This is tremendous. I hope that the Government will think very carefully about how to make that an effective commitment, with people who know what style of teaching is going on in mathematics and who can help the teacher to offer that tutorial support.

A Minister in another place in July, referring to the size of classes—a relevant issue—said that at pre-primary and primary stage it was clear that the smaller class sizes helped in mathematics. Beyond that, however, for key stages 2 and 3, he said that the evidence was not there. I am surprised, because the distinctive characteristic of private schools is to have smaller classes. I can still think back to 70 years ago, when I was put with a few others into a small group in mathematics, and how it made quite a difference to us.

That is possibly quite enough of an agenda for Sir Peter from me; I think I got my five items. I move on, briefly, to science. We had a debate which involved many distinguished speakers of this House on 3 May. Will the Minister ensure that the things then said are regarded not as library material but as deserving reconsideration? I was struck by the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Broers, who had chaired the committee—to which the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, has already referred—regretting that the Government have not produced the £200 million they had promised before the 2005 election and wondering where it was. He said that this was a matter of particular concern because,

Again and again in that debate, reference was made to the need for students not to watch the teacher do demonstrations or to read about them, but to do experiments. For that they need suitable kit. In his reply, the Minister referred to the science and innovation framework for 2004-14. Can he say anything today, in the light of the spending review, about what is happening with that £200 million?

Reference was made to SATs killing interest in science. There is not time for me to go into that, but although Ofsted advised the Government that they are not, the views of those who spoke in this House from great knowledge and experience need to be taken into the reckoning.

Grading boundaries can influence the choices made by head teachers and pupils together on what subjects they should take. If they are set high in relation to other subjects, it is not surprising if they are a disincentive to heads and pupils who are looking for achievement where there are easier pickings. I raised this point 10 years ago in a report I did to the then Government in relation to the physical sciences. I understand that the Institute of Physics is raising it again now. This is a difficult issue. It is difficult to say that A is harder than B, but when it is being said over 10 years and when we have a dearth of students—particularly from the state sector, as the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, said—in subjects that are an imperative national need, this issue needs to be resolved.

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Finally, I was much encouraged by the speeches of the leaders of both the main parties at their party conferences and by their commitment to the education of every child and an education that is fit for purpose. I was particularly encouraged by the earlier commitment of the Prime Minister to lift the level of funding in state schools to that in the private sector. I assure the Minister that we will do everything we can to encourage him in the fulfilment of those policies.

1.51 pm

Lord Taverne: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, on a most eloquent and effective speech. One of the key recommendations of the Science and Technology Committee report to which he referred was that the curriculum should have rather less early specialisation and should be more broadly based for those of 16 years and older. If there is one point that I would like to take some exception to in the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, it is that I do not think this is just a question of economics. It goes to the heart of the question of what constitutes a civilised society. I shall deal with this subject in a broad way.

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