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House of Lords

Tuesday, 29 April 2008.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Leicester.

Waterways: Thames River Bank

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest in that I live on the river bank in Chiswick.

The Question was as follows:

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the Port of London is a trust port acting within its own local legislation. The port authority has a duty to ensure the safety of navigation on the River Thames. Recently, this has involved felling riverside trees. This is not a matter for government intervention. The port authority consulted locally and adapted its plans before starting work. It will consult further as part of a structured tree management programme, including compensation planting.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I am glad to hear that the PLA is going to consult further, but would it not have been better if it had consulted much more widely before felling half the trees on a particularly beautiful stretch of the river bank at Hammersmith? Will he do his best as Minister responsible for the environment to ensure that in future the PLA gives full priority to the needs of the environment when making its plans?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I think that the Port of London Authority has a profound environmental obligation, and I understand exactly what the noble and learned Lord says about the importance and value of consultation. Consultation was conducted last autumn involving the local authority, Richmond Borough Council, the Environment Agency and local groups, but of course I shall remind the PLA of its obligations.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, as strong and conflicting opinions have been expressed about the PLA’s recent activities and the PLA has a very difficult task in reconciling the need to preserve its structures and protect river users with its environmental duties under the Harbours Act 1964 and the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994, does the Minister agree that it is desirable that no further work should be undertaken on the tree-felling programme before an environmental impact assessment and the promised tree survey have both been completed and made available to the public for widespread consultation?

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the PLA has to make a judgment, as it is its responsibility, as to its environmental approach here. I do not think that we should necessarily assume that it is bad for the environment that an element of felling or pruning takes place. We have to consider the impact of unseeded tree growth on the retaining walls and the subsequent effect not only on cyclists and pedestrians using the towpath but on those who use the rivers, such as rowers.

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I declare an old interest as the deputy chairman of the Port of London Authority. One has to remember that closing in a river such as our Thames is a very dangerous thing to do. Over the years we have closed it in more and more. The “rebuts” to which the noble Lord referred are a very important part of efforts to keep us safe from flooding. Although it is nice to have a view, does the Minister agree with me that we must be careful not to flood London?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, 8 million Londoners probably agree with the noble Baroness.

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, I, too, declare an interest as a long-term resident of Kew. Is the Minister also aware that the PLA is allowing a proliferation of residential houseboats to moor along this stretch of the river without planning permission, all of which are discharging untreated sewage into the Thames? Will he please bring this to the attention of the Port of London Authority and make it aware of its environmental responsibilities?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, given that the noble Baroness is a local resident with great experience of this part of London, I take her remarks at face value. It would be negligent indeed of me not to point this matter out to the PLA.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, surely this is not just a matter for the PLA. The local authority has the right, the duty and the authorisation to put tree preservation orders on trees that are of value to the community. If the local authority can put a preservation order on a yew tree in my small garden, surely it can do something to protect the Thames river bank.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I do not know whether I have direct responsibility for tree preservation orders. However, if I had, I would probably put one on the noble Lord’s yew tree. Tree preservation orders are generally the responsibility of the local authority, and the PLA has to its credit been in detailed consultation with Richmond borough council. That has to be right.

The Earl of Selborne: My Lords, I also declare an interest as chairman of the trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. If there had been a long-term management plan for the towpath, agreed by all interested parties, would it not have been much easier to manage this on a sensible basis and not to have to take draconian action every few years simply because of neglect of timely management measures?

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I think it has to be accepted that there was a bit of an issue here. The maintenance programme may have fallen behind, which is possibly why the PLA began the pilot. The PLA is now properly addressing the issue. It should be supported in this because it will over time improve the quality of the managed environment.

Education Maintenance Allowance

2.43 pm

Baroness Massey of Darwen asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Lord Adonis): My Lords, since national roll-out of the education maintenance allowance in 2004, 1,139,769 young people have benefited from it. The Learning and Skills Council, which has operational responsibility for EMAs, has recently launched a new EMA marketing campaign designed to increase EMA take-up even further. Over the past year, the Government have spent £6.5 million marketing EMAs to young people and their families.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful response. What measures are in place to encourage young people who are disadvantaged or disengaged with the system to take up the scheme, and what impact have they had?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I am glad to say that take-up is high, particularly among the more disadvantaged groups to whom my noble friend refers. Among those eligible for the £30 EMA band, who are the most disadvantaged part of the cohort, 92 per cent take it up. But to enhance this further we have increased the range of courses eligible to receive EMAs to include, for example, European Social Fund-funded projects in disadvantaged areas.

Baroness Verma: My Lords, can the Minister say what published evidence there is to show that EMAs have had a positive impact on achievement rates?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the EMA pilot evaluation evidence showed that the EMA has led to increased participation nationally by 3.8 percentage points for 16 year-olds and 4.1 percentage points for 17 year-olds. Participation in full-time education and training among 16 to 18 year-olds is the highest that we have ever had, so the evidence is strong and robust.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, does the Minister agree with me in hoping that the EMA will encourage many young people to carry on learning into adult life? But is he aware that if they carry on doing that as adult learners in a college, only 10 per cent will

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continue to receive financial support, compared with the 60 per cent of university students who receive it? At a time when we need to upskill the workforce, what are the Government doing about that discrepancy?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, we are making huge investments in this area. EMAs account for more than £500 million a year of public spending on a programme that did not previously exist. The noble Baroness is right to say that certain parts of the further education world would like additional financial support to be provided, but we are making a good start with EMAs. The greatest indicators of propensity to continue studying are achievements in AS and A-levels, and level 3 qualifications. EMAs are pushing up levels of achievement among 16 to 18 year-olds, which are much higher than they were previously.

Lord Bilston: My Lords, education maintenance allowances have been a real success story for our Government, and half a million students are in receipt of the grant. I know that many students are extremely grateful for that contribution. The administration of the scheme is also hugely successful, and that has contributed greatly to its success. Will my noble friend confirm that the scheme, which is so successful, will be rolled out and kept alive even after post-16 education and training become compulsory in 2015?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend. The introduction of education maintenance allowances is one of the great educational and social successes of this Labour Government, and we can take pride in that. The numbers continue to increase. As my noble friend said, 540,000 students are in receipt of education maintenance allowances—an increase on 430,000 only two years ago. I can confirm that when the education participation age rises to 17 in 2013 and to 18 in 2015, we will sustain education maintenance allowances.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, has there been any analysis of whether young people with high truancy rates have been attracted back into education by this allowance? Do those in part-time education qualify—for example, those who would like to combine employment with training?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, our whole policy is for 16 to 18 year-olds to remain in full-time education or training and we have successfully increased participation rates in that respect. However, the noble Baroness has drawn attention to an important option for 16 to 18 year-olds: apprenticeships, which combine work with part-time training. There has been a substantial increase in apprenticeship numbers in recent years and we are committed to a further increase, so that, alongside the raising of the education and training participation age to 18, there will be an opportunity for all young people to undertake an apprenticeship if they wish to do so.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, what specific impact has there been on the number of children in public care who continue in education or training?

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Will the Minister ensure that the marketing operation is as effective as possible by, for instance, contacting the National Centre for Excellence in Residential Child Care and other organisations in this area?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I certainly undertake to make the connections that the noble Earl referred to. Participation and attainment rates among children in care are rising, but, as the House knows only too well from our recent debates on the Children and Young Persons Bill, the rates are low and will have to rise a good deal further before we can be satisfied.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that, although the educational maintenance allowance has been very successful in increasing participation, we still have a distressingly large number of young people aged 16 who leave school as soon as they can? How far do the Government feel that the measures they are taking will be successful in keeping those young people in education and keeping them motivated?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the proportion of 16 year-olds in full-time education and training now stands, according to the most recent figures, at 78.1 per cent, which is the highest rate ever. Policies, including the introduction of educational maintenance allowances, are helping to increase participation but, as the noble Baroness knows well because it has been a cause dear to her heart for many years, until we have a fully appropriate curriculum for 16 to 18 year-olds, we are not going to reach those who have not been sufficiently motivated to stay on in the past. That is why, in particular, the introduction of vocational diplomas, which starts in schools and colleges nationwide from this September, is so important. If we can establish a fully appropriate curriculum leading to worthwhile qualifications and a pathway on to both higher education and apprenticeships, I believe we will close that remaining gap in terms of participation.

Lord Dearing: My Lords, since the ability to fill in complex government forms is an important part of anybody’s education, in the light of the indication that 7 per cent are not being reached, would it not be a good idea to invite schools to get all the kids to fill in a form before they leave?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, no forms could be simpler than those issued by my department. The only problem is understanding what the department’s acronym stands for but that is not one of the questions which EMA applicants have to answer before they are eligible for their £30 a week. However, in addition to the paper application forms by which people currently apply for EMAs, from this September it will also be possible to apply by phone and online. So we are meeting all needs in this respect.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, while we celebrate the success of the allowance scheme in England, education is devolved to the other nations of the United Kingdom. Can the Minister inform us

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what link there is and how the success in England is being repeated in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I am sure the success is being repeated in all those constituent parts of the United Kingdom, but I do not have the facts at my fingertips. I will write to the noble Lord and let him know.

Disabled People: Sports Stadia

2.52 pm

Lord Faulkner of Worcester asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government have set out clear standards for the provision of disabled spectators’ facilities. To assist stadium owners and management to deliver an experience for disabled supporters that is equal to that of their able-bodied counterparts, we have produced the Accessible Stadia guidance in consultation with the National Association of Disabled Supporters. The Minister for Sport has recently written to the Premier League and the Football League reminding them of their responsibilities in this area.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. I declare an interest as the vice-president of the National Association of Disabled Supporters and as one of the authors of the football task force report that recommended almost 10 years ago significant improvements in the facilities available for disabled people at football grounds. My noble friend referred to the excellent letter that the Minister for Sport has written to the football bodies, drawing attention to how much still needs to be done. What replies have been received from those two organisations, and what does he think needs to be done to ensure that the Accessible Stadia guidance is followed in football and other sports stadiums around the country?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Minister for Sport has taken the opportunity of his meetings with the chair of the Football Association and officials of the Premier League and the Football League to emphasise these issues. We should pay tribute to the improvement that has been effected over the last decade. It is reckoned that now 30,000 disabled supporters attend football grounds each weekend, and we have in Wembley Stadium not only one of the finest stadia in the world but one that is an absolute example of how to treat disabled supporters on the same basis as their more able-bodied counterparts. So we are making considerable progress, and that is also true of the planning for the Olympic Games.

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