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House of Lords

Monday, 21 April 2008.

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, it is with regret that I have to inform the House of the death of Lord Beaumont of Whitley on 8 April. On behalf of the whole House, I express our condolences to his family and friends.

Personal Statement: Baroness Park of Monmouth

2.37 pm

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I wish to make a personal statement.

During the discussion on the Statement on Zimbabwe on 3 April, I said:

I do not resile from my reservations about the UNDP’s relations with the Government of Zimbabwe. However, I said in good faith and believing it to be fact that one of the two heads of the UNDP in Zimbabwe had accepted favours of, I thought, land. I now recognise that I was wrong in believing what I said to be a generally accepted fact. I have and had no evidence to support my statement. I therefore wish to apologise, first, to the House for making a statement that I should not have made and, secondly, to Mr Angelo and Mr Zacarias for the unfavourable imputations that I have made against their reputations.

Common Agricultural Policy: Reform

2.38 pm

Lord Dykes asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, the Agriculture Council will discuss the reform of the common agricultural policy as part of this year’s CAP health check. Separately, European Union spending, including the common agricultural policy, is currently subject to the EU budget review, but no timetable for discussion in the Council of Ministers has yet been established.



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Lord Dykes: My Lords, page 20 of the recent Foreign Office pamphlet, Guide to the European Union, says that the CAP has now been reformed and that it,

Is the Minister confident that this great change can be achieved fully without mass penury among farmers?

Lord Rooker: Yes, my Lords, but the CAP is still the most visible and expensive part of the Common Market. It hampers innovation, interferes with trade and does not bring Europe anywhere near to competing in the global economy, so it needs reform.

Lord Bilimoria: My Lords, we all know that the World Trade Organisation Doha development round has stalled primarily because of agricultural subsidies, in particular with regard to the United States and the European Union. Do the Government think that it is justified that we in the European Union, for example, subsidise our cows by $2 a day when nearly 1 billion people around the world live on less than $1 a day? Does the Minister sympathise with those who accuse the West and the European Union in particular of preaching fair and free trade but of practising protectionism?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I agree with much of the sentiment of the noble Lord’s question, but the fact is that the CAP needs reform. Not only are the figures he quoted correct, but I resent the fact that British taxpayers are subsidising the production of tobacco in Europe.

Lord Teverson: My Lords, on reform of the common agricultural policy, will the Minister say what the Government’s attitude will be to the payment for and regulation of biofuels and how the European Union should encourage or otherwise the growth of biofuels within the EU?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, to be honest, no, because that goes way beyond the Question. It is an ongoing issue. We are waiting for the formal response to the CAP health check on 20 May. The negotiations on the EU budget will start much later than that. By then, we will have a new European Parliament and a new European Commission. I am sure that all these matters will be discussed, but I regret that I cannot go beyond what I have said today.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords—

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, given that much has changed since the CAP health check was proposed, what do the Government now see as their priorities in the discussions?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the removal of the remaining production subsidies still has to be a key element. The reduction and the abolition of milk quotas are examples that we have put forward. Each

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country has its own priorities and we will not all get our priorities. The health check is not reform in the sense that we would normally use the term, but if we can get a degree of agreement for more spending on the environment and the landscape rather than on food production, that would be to the benefit of everyone.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords—

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I think that it is this corner.

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, we have heard once from the Cross-Benchers. We have not heard from the party of one in the corner. Perhaps we have time for both.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I am most obliged to the Leader of the House. I welcome the Minister’s answers, but is he not facing an uphill task in getting reform, bearing in mind that the German and French Ministers have publicly stated that they are against any reform of the CAP?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I do not think that my noble friend is accurate. In recent months at European Councils, I have been face to face with German and French Ministers and have listened to them point to the changes that they want. The French take over the presidency next month. They have made it clear that their four themes are food security, balanced trade, rural cohesion and new environmental challenges. It remains to be seen how the French will play their hand. The Germans want some reform, but they do not agree with all the reforms that we want.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the recent sharp rise in world food prices and the probability that that rise will be sustained for a considerable period put the whole issue of CAP reform, the Doha round and the budget review in a different light? Would the Government be prepared to give the House the benefit of some studies that they might make on the impact of the rise in food prices on all these issues, which would make subsidisation of agricultural products a much less attractive proposition than it was before?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the noble Lord’s latter point is absolutely right. The Prime Minister has written to the Prime Minister of Japan as chair of the G8 to put this issue on the G8’s agenda. There is no single answer on the rise in commodity prices, but two poor harvests and the drought in Australia have contributed enormously to the drop in total grain stocks around the world. On top of that, the demand for food in China and India has changed. As I said, these issues will be raised at the G8 at the request of the Prime Minister.



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Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, is not one reason for the increase in food prices the EU’s insistence that a proportion of our petrol be made up of biofuels, which is adding greatly to the cost of grain and to food shortages?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, there is no evidence of that at present and there is a good reason for the policy. However, all these policies are subject to review. I do not think that an argument can be made for food price rises in Europe resulting from biofuels, but it is slightly different in the United States.

Apprenticeships

2.46 pm

Lord Cotter asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): My Lords, World-class Apprenticeships: Unlocking Talent, Building Skills for All, sets out the actions planned to deliver 400,000 public and private sector apprenticeships in England as part of meeting my noble friend Lord Leitch’s recommendation of 500,000 UK apprenticeships by 2020. The key to this is establishing the National Apprenticeship Service in 2009. Apprenticeship policy is a devolved matter and decisions on apprenticeship arrangements in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are matters for the devolved Administrations.

Lord Cotter: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer. Does she agree that the National Apprenticeship Service faces a big challenge, in view of the fact that in the private sector in this country there is only a 10 per cent take-up of apprenticeships, out of 1.4 million VAT-registered businesses? In view of that, the scheme has to be robust. Will the Minister assure us that there will be members on the board who have experience in the workplace so that they are able to represent, in particular, small businesses? Moreover, will small businesses be given the financial and other help they need? If so, in what way?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I am delighted to be able to reassure the noble Lord that the National Apprenticeship Service will mark a major step forward in the realisation of the development of apprenticeships throughout the UK. I have reason to be optimistic about this because the Government have seen the number of those successfully completing apprenticeships rise from 40,000 in 2001-02 to over 100,000 today. While we believe that there is reason to be optimistic, the noble Lord is right to say that this is a major challenge.



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Lord Dearing: My Lords, the Minister said in her reply that the target included the public as well as the private sector. Can she make clear what specific action the Government have taken in connection with their Skills Pledge to encourage enterprises and concerns in the public sector to offer apprenticeships? Further, will she consider the extent to which young people in secure settings can be helped by public-sector employers to gain apprenticeships?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, the noble Lord is extremely knowledgeable about these matters and he is absolutely right to draw attention to the important role of the public sector. As a Government we have to take the lead and put our own house in order because we do not do as well as we should. For example, in my department the Permanent Secretary, Ian Whatmore, is leading a government-wide initiative to make sure that we make our full contribution and that we expect to see new apprenticeships created in government, starting with at least 500 new apprenticeships this year. Moreover, in DIUS we aim to ensure that we have new apprenticeships beginning this year as well.

Baroness Verma: My Lords, can the Minister cite any hard evidence to show that targets have improved the quality of apprenticeships rather than simply increased the time needed for filling in forms by employers?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, the noble Baroness asks a very interesting question. I argue absolutely that this Government have rescued apprenticeships from obscurity. We have seen an enormous change in the quality of apprenticeships; that is exemplified by the increase in the number of completions. We are looking for high quality apprenticeships where there is close involvement and which are employer-led. The noble Baroness is right to highlight that that is a challenge, but this Government take it very seriously and are prepared to invest by 2010 over £1 billion in making it happen.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, is not the real issue not the number of young people in apprenticeship programmes but that of quality? What consultation takes place of apprentices who have been through the system, many of whom complain about the inadequacy of training arrangements at the workplace and in colleges of further education?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, my department takes very seriously the involvement of learners and students in the development of our policies. The noble Lord is right to highlight quality and to draw attention to the fact that in the past not all apprenticeships have lived up to the standards that we would expect, but we believe that access to apprenticeships will play a key role in achieving the kind of skills that we need in this economy to compete globally in the future. With the kind of work that the National Apprenticeship Service will make possible through the involvement of expert members on the board—I apologise for not picking up that

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question—and through the provision of services for small or medium-sized sized employers, we aim to get more apprenticeships with more employers in all sectors so we can deliver a practical vocational option for all young people who feel that they can benefit.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I congratulate the Government on their action on apprenticeships. How many apprenticeships are being started and followed through in prisons? This group of people are among the least well educated and in need of the greatest support, and they could start important training while inside.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness. That is a very good question. I do not have those figures in my brief, but I will write to her on the matter. I know that we have a Question coming up on that subject shortly.

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, given the lack of employer commitment to apprenticeships, what incentives might be offered through taxation, including perhaps tax breaks, which could be of particular help to small businesses?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, my department is thinking carefully about the incentives that we can offer to employers. The most important incentive for taking part in an apprenticeship scheme is to ensure that the skills base of their business is improved. That is highly valuable to employers. We must remember that the training provided in association with apprenticeships is free to the employer. We are looking at what other incentives we can offer. We are going to pilot the question of direct payments and look at how that can particularly help small to medium-sized employers.

Health: Cousin Marriage

2.53 pm

Baroness Deech asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Darzi of Denham): My Lords, cousin marriage is a cultural practice common to a number of ethnic communities. The risk of having a child affected by a genetic disorder following cousin marriage is a complex and sensitive issue. The Department of Health has funded a number of initiatives since the 2003 genetics White Paper to increase the understanding and awareness of the possible risk in affected communities.


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