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House of Lords

Monday, 19 November 2007.

The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Newcastle.

Death of a Member

The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, I regret that I have to inform the House of the death of Lord Cooke of Islandreagh on 13 November. On behalf of the House, I extend our condolences to his family and friends.

EU: Membership

Lord Pearson of Rannoch asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the basis for the statement is that the Government estimate that around 3.5 million jobs in the UK may be linked, directly and indirectly, to the export of goods and services to the European Union. Forty per cent of all EU financial services activity is in London; 50 per cent of all EU investment banking is in the United Kingdom; and 80 per cent of the burgeoning carbon market for the whole of Europe is based in London.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that reply but, as so often, the clear statement was that millions of jobs depend on our membership of the EU, meaning that those jobs would be lost if we left the EU, when of course the truth is that a great many jobs would be created. If the noble Lord disagrees with that, is he aware that over the past five years several private studies have all agreed that the annual cost of our EU membership is between 4 and 10 per cent—the Treasury has even suggested 28 per cent—of GDP? Those figures mean millions of lost jobs. Secondly, does he agree with the Treasury that we trade at a large and growing deficit with the EU, whose share of world trade will be in continuing decline for decades? That being so, why do the Government insist that we stay on this “Titanic”?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, because it is not the “Titanic” but a successful vessel, which, the House may notice, is carrying the United Kingdom to the most fully employed economy in the western world of recent years. If the noble Lord is to sustain his case, he will have to produce some figures showing where the jobs are meant to come from when Britain loses the signal advantage of being part of one of the world’s largest single markets, when clearly we are also

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in competition with other very big single markets—not least our main competitor, the United States of America. Therefore, the answer to the noble Lord is straightforward: as I have indicated, the figures mean that at least 3.5 million UK jobs are linked to trade and services to Europe, and those are jobs that we treasure.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, is talking about coming out of Europe rather than staying in, but does my noble friend agree that we have not yet seen all the benefits of the single market—even in the past year, the services directive has come in—and that the European economy is becoming not only as successful as but, in many respects, more successful than that of the United States? Does my noble friend agree that, unless the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, wants to come out of the European economic area as a whole, what he is saying is certainly far from the truth?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, my noble friend should not be in any doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, wants to come out of the European Community as a whole—and at the soonest point that he can engineer—but of course he faces formidable opposition, not least from the whole Government. I emphasise that we think that when the services directive, which my noble friend mentioned, comes into full operation, and because of the very significant lead that London enjoys in that respect, we will benefit by several hundred thousand jobs in the services industry. That is one clear area in which we see real gains in the near future.

Lord Newby: My Lords, whatever the exact number of jobs that might be linked to the EU, does the Minister agree that it is in the UK economy’s best interests for the EU economy to grow as quickly as possible? What steps are the Government taking to promote the Lisbon agenda?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord will recognise that we are concerned to play a leading part in Europe, which is why we played such an important role in the European developments on carbon trading. He will also appreciate that of course we want to see growth in the European Community. The Community’s economy has been growing more slowly than the British economy, but so have the economies of many other countries.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, is it not true that the City of London is so advanced because it has more liberal exchange regulation than New York and is outside the European single currency? Therefore, those things are, if anything, totally opposed to the European Community—or, as we have to call it, the European Union.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Earl will see that he is adding his benefit to mine. I have identified the jobs that derive from our membership of the European Union and he has identified the enormous gains derived from the decision of the Chancellor in 1997 not to join the euro and to preserve our own currency.

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Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the reason why we have such repetitive returning to the same question by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, is that he clearly has an incapacity to understand complicated answers such as that given to him by my noble friend? As the demand in the Question is for the justification of the statement, I encourage my noble friend to say that the justification is that it is true. We could then hope that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, could understand that.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, but I do not think that he pays due regard, as I do, to the tenacity of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, who obliges us from time to time to identify accurately the very real benefits of European Union membership.

Baroness Noakes: My Lords, following the previous question, whether or not it is true that millions of jobs depend on our membership of the EU, it is true that our membership of the EU costs the UK a lot of money—the figure is likely to be over £7 billion a year by the time the latest rebate giveaway has worked its way through. If that supports the 3 million jobs that the Government sometimes cite in their propaganda, does the Minister think that £2,500 per job is good value for money for British taxpayers?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Baroness is talking about an employment position in this country under this Government that is very different from that under the previous Administration in the 1980s and 1990s. The great danger with a question as narrowly conceived as that is that she fails to understand the very great benefits that we derive from the European Community in other respects. I shall take the most obvious one, which I have already indicated: would Britain be able to play the leading role that it plays and would Europe be able to present so strong a position on the development of the Emissions Trading Scheme, which is so crucial to the issue of climate change and on which this country is proud to have led?

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, I agree with much of what my noble friend has said, but does he agree that these are difficult issues on which it is possible to hold different views and that debate in this House is not made more fruitful by impugning the intelligence of people with whom one disagrees?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I do not think that any Member of this House would impugn the integrity of others who question; we certainly would not do so from this Dispatch Box.

Schools: Modern Languages

2.45 pm

Baroness Howe of Idlicote asked Her Majesty’s Government:

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Lord Adonis): My Lords, the Government are pursuing the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, to improve the take-up of languages. We are introducing an entitlement to learn a modern language in primary school. We have trained more than 2,000 primary school language teachers. The new languages ladder attracted 160,000 entries in 2006-07 in 21 languages with further languages to be added. Next year we are publishing GCSE success rates school by school to encourage schools to promote take-up rates.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I am sure that many of your Lordships acknowledge the real benefit of improved access to foreign language learning at primary level and moving across into secondary level. Does the Minister agree that that benefit at primary level sadly remains more than offset by the Government's mistaken decision to end obligatory language learning at secondary school and by the resultant sharp—and apparently continuing—decline in pupils taking a language at GCSE from 80 per cent seven years ago to a mere 50 per cent today? What further do the Government plan to do to reverse the serious decline with all its implications for British global business competitiveness?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, it is not the case that obligatory language learning does not apply in secondary school. It is very important that I correct that point of the noble Baroness’s.

The learning of languages remains compulsory in key stage 3; that is, ages 11 to 14. It is is optional at key stage 4—ages 14 to 16—where students may opt not to study a modern language. As the noble Baroness will know, we have given guidance to schools that we expect them to set targets of between 90 per cent and 50 per cent for children taking a language. Why did we make this an option? We did so for all the reasons set out in the report of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, on this issue to ensure that there is a full range of choice for young people as they approach GCSE to take courses which best suit their aptitudes in terms of where they intend to go in employment and higher education routes beyond. I would like to see most students taking a language, but we recognise that it is right for this choice to be there. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, concluded in his report that the course we have taken, which is inviting schools to set these targets, was our preferred course because it,

Accepting that there are conflicting pressures here, we endorse the views of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it would be a very good idea for schools to make sure that pupils learn their own language? There is widespread evidence that very few children are emerging through school with the use of English.

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Lord Adonis: My Lords, that is almost a worthless question, if I may say so. The idea that very few children emerge from our schools with a good command of English is simply so far removed from the reality that it is very difficult for me to respond to that question.

Lord Quirk: My Lords, 223 schools are given special funding in order to enhance and, indeed, specialise in modern languages. What measures are in place to assure us that the secondary schools concerned are fulfilling their mission by, first, increasing the take-up of modern languages; secondly, diversifying that take up; and, thirdly, encouraging their neighbouring schools to do likewise?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, every four years, specialist language schools come up for redesignation and their success in meeting the objectives set out by the noble Lord is a key criterion for their redesignation.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, the Minister tells us of the success that the Government are having in recruiting foreign language teachers for primary schools but, as we understand it, the problem is really that there is a dearth of foreign language teachers for secondary schools. What progress are the Government making in recruiting greater numbers of teachers?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, we are meeting the targets for recruitment of language teachers for secondary schools, so I do not believe that there is the dearth that the noble Baroness mentioned.

Baroness Billingham: My Lords, will my noble friend speculate on whether the potential is there, when we extend the school leaving age to 18, for students to come back to learning languages, and to learn a second language when they have the opportunity to do so?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend; that opportunity is there. That is part of the reason why we have developed the languages ladder, which allows achievement in languages to be recognised in forms other than the conventional GCSE and A-level.

Baroness Coussins: My Lords, the decline in languages at A-level seems to have stabilised for the time being, but more teachers of languages will not be produced unless we can also reverse the decline in applications to university to read modern languages. What specific measures do the Government intend to take to help with that? Will they increase the golden hello payments to newly qualified modern language teachers from £2,500 to £5,000, in line with the payments for new maths and science teachers?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the golden hello payments to which the noble Baroness referred put modern languages at an advantage compared with most subjects in the secondary curriculum. We do not intend to increase that payment at the moment. On students proceeding to university, as she said, take-up rates at

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A-level are the key determinant there and we are glad to see that the take-up rate of all languages at A-level increased this year.

Baroness Shephard of Northwold: My Lords, the Minister has rightly spoken of the Government's enthusiasm for teaching languages in primary school. There is of course no point in teaching languages in primary school unless the curriculum that the children have followed in primary school is very accurately dovetailed with what they will then learn in secondary school. Will the Minister explain to the House what arrangements are made for that dovetailing?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, part of the function of the languages colleges, which we heard about earlier, is to ensure that there is significant joint curriculum development between primary schools and secondary schools. As the noble Baroness rightly says, that joint curriculum development will ensure that the languages introduced into primary school provide a solid grounding for the courses being followed beyond the age of 11.

Armed Forces: Warships

2.52 pm

Lord Astor of Hever asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the family and friends of Captain John McDermid, who died last Wednesday while serving on operations in Afghanistan.

Turning to the Question, the requirement is not defined by numbers of surface vessels alone, but by the overall capability that they deliver. Against our present defence commitments, which are regularly reviewed, the Government judge that the size of the current surface fleet is broadly adequate.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, we on these Benches also send our condolences to the family and friends of Captain John McDermid.

The noble Lord, Lord West of Spithead, said last year, when he was still a simple sailor, that the Royal Navy was too small for its commitments. The noble Lord said that we need 30 destroyers and frigates; we have 25 today. With more maritime trouble spots opening up—most recently, the Arctic—are the Government content simply to hope that others will defend our maritime trade and security? As our fleet is one of the oldest among comparable nations, when will the Government start honouring the undertaking made by the noble Baroness’s predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, in the maritime industrial strategy for a steady flow of orders to assist the shipbuilding industry and restore confidence to those serving in the Royal Navy?

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Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, as I said in my initial reply, we always keep all our requirements under review. I am sure that my noble friend Lord West would agree with that. We are satisfied that our orders and commitments are broadly adequate. We do not intend to have a situation where others have to defend us. We intend to make our contribution not only to defending this country but to meeting our international obligations.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that that answer affords very little comfort to many of us who are very concerned about the situation, not only for the Navy, but for the Army and the Air Force, now that a fine Minister has gone racing?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I was among those who in a debate just last week paid tribute to the work of my predecessor, although it seems a long time ago. I assure the House that the work he started will be continued.

Lord Addington: My Lords, given that there is a great deal of pressure on the naval budget, have the Government given any thought to what savings might be made by the outsourcing of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, the Comprehensive Spending Review gave the Ministry of Defence a 1.5 per cent increase in spending in real terms. That is a challenging settlement because the technology costs that we face on many orders cause difficulties. We have to take all those things into account. As a new Minister, I have not looked in detail at every aspect of the budget, but I hope that we can make further progress in the planning round that is under way so that, as I said earlier, we can meet all our obligations.

Lord Addington: My Lords, I take it that the noble Baroness will write to me.

Lord Elton: My Lords, can the Minister assure us that no time is foreseen when the British Navy will not be able to undertake distant operations without cover from fixed-wing aircraft from another country’s air force?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, the noble Lord will know that we have made significant spending commitments for future carriers. They were announced earlier and progress is being made. We are also making progress on the Type 45 destroyers being built. Our commitment is clear. If the noble Lord wants further details, I shall of course be happy to provide them.

Lord Elton: My Lords, I do not want the detail. I should just like to know whether there will be a time when there will be no British fixed-wing aeroplanes to support our fleet when it is far at sea.

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: No, my Lords, that is not envisaged.

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