|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, in welcoming this Statement, perhaps I may ask my noble friend whether, when it comes to putting to the test the claim made by the Leader of the Opposition that they want to help the poorer and most vulnerable sections of society, she subscribes to the fact that the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. As an illustration, does she agree that this applies very precisely to the commitment to legislate on the rights of temporary and agency workers? These workers, along with fixed-term contract workers and part-time workers, who we have also helped with some assistance from Brussels, are now mainstream workers in our labour force in a modern economy. Is it not the case that, in committing ourselves to helping to protect those workers, they will add to good quality employment in this country and not to the raising of unemployment, which has been incorrectly predicted for the minimum wage for part-time workers and fixed-term contract workers in the past?
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, can we conclude from the enthusiasm and zeal with which the Leader of the House read the Statement, which was rather like the reading of a last will and testament, that this is the Statement of a Government who have completely run out of road and ideas? Why are our economic difficulties and rising inflation attributed by the Government to rising world prices, energy costs and other costs, whereas when we benefited from falling prices from Chinese imports and so on, and the economy was benefiting from deflation, that was due to the brilliance of the Chancellor? Surely we cannot have it both ways.
Can the noble Baroness also explain how it is in the taxpayers interest to bail out housebuilders by buying houses from the private sector, in the way that the Government have bailed out the banks, at a time when they are raising the burden of taxation on people on incomes of between £8,000 and £13,000 a year?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, we did not bail out the bank; we were bailing out the depositors and making sure that our economy was secure. As to the brilliance of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, yes, he is brilliant. He was a brilliant Chancellor and he is a brilliant Prime Minister. He has at his heart the interests of the British people and is doing everything he can, in very difficult economic circumstances, to keep our economy as stable as possiblethus far with good results. I pay enormous credit to him for doing that.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, while welcoming the fact that the Government have listened to the blandishments of this House and have agreed to extend the age at which parents can ask for flexible
14 May 2008 : Column 1016
I fear that the new education Bill may be yet another stick with which to beat schools. Can the Minister confirm that the success or failure of a school will be decided upon by the value added that it gives to children and not only absolute exam results? Will the Government consider reviewing the Ofsted system to ensure that it is inspecting those aspects of a schools work which help to develop the whole child, its well-being and welfare, and enable the child to learn to its full potential?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I cannot tell the noble Baroness about the flexible working announcement because it is being made tomorrow. Let me just say that I think she will be well pleased with it.
The noble Baroness and I have debated schools many times and she knows that I agree completely with her about value added. It is essential for all children in all circumstances but especially for children who sometimes struggle for all kinds of reasons. One is able to see significant progress often outside the general framework of school activity. Ofsted does a lot of work on continuous review. I do not know whether there is a specific review within the proposals or what it evaluates, but I know that it is looking all the timenot least because, as the noble Baroness will recognise, a childs well-being plays an incredibly important part in their ability to learn and therefore influences their life chances.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am not sure that I know the detail of the shipping proposals. The purpose behind the documentation, above anything, is to enable us to consult, having put forward the different proposals. I agree that we have laid out before us a great deal of what the Government will be looking to do in the future, giving us the opportunity for debate.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, does the Lord President of the Council agree that one of things that has made the work of the police more difficult over the past 20 years or so is the increasing level of bureaucracy imposed upon them, which seems to have defied every attempt to stop it? I was glad to hear the noble Baroness say that the Government were going to relieve the police of that bureaucracy. How do they propose to do it?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, it is always important to look at bureaucracy in a public service. My experience is that bureaucracy is quite often not imposed centrally but imposed because of
14 May 2008 : Column 1017
Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, I was interested to hear the noble Baroness the Leader of the House state that the Government would bring forward proposals for directly elected representatives to give local people more control over policing priorities and responsiveness. Is she aware that the majority of members of police authorities are directly elected representatives at the moment? I am concerned that they will somehow be subsumed in further ideas that the Government might have. I declare an interest as a former chair of a police authority.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I pay tribute to the work of the noble Baroness. It is not our intention to try to second-guess or subsume, but it is important to look at how best we can make sure that the priorities of local people are carried forward. I know that discussions will go on between now and any proposal becoming legislation. We will ensure that we take on board the comments of the noble Baroness and look at ways in which we can deal with the issues and problems that local people recognise. We must make sure that the police are responsive to what people in their area want. Being visible is one of the most obvious ways in which people would like to see the police operate more effectively.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I would like to make a complaint about this Statement being taken on a day when we are supposed to be discussing an important Bill, the European Union (Amendment) Bill. I hope that we will not be made late by more than one hour tonight.
Why on earth do we need two Queens Speeches in a year? We have made do with one speech for a few centuries now. Why under a Labour Government do we have to have two of them? One will do. We will discuss it for five days when it comes forward in November and that is quite sufficient. The consultation exercise is a farce, so that is no excuse for having two speeches instead of one.
Is it not all pie in the sky? There are references in the Statement to the health service. More than 10 years ago, the Labour Party promised in its manifesto to get rid of mixed-sex wards. Twenty per cent of all admissions are still to mixed-sex wards. If we cannot get rid of that system, what chance is there that we will get anything else?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the noble Lord complains because a Bill that is very important to him is not yet being discussed. I appreciate that, but we have important legislation going through your Lordships' House on most days, and it is important to discuss these issues. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot argue that the Government do not say enough about their proposals. To my knowledge, it has been said of all Governments for at least 30 years that one finds out only when it is too late what they have in mind. We propose to bring forward the proposals so that people can discuss the issues. It is not an attempt to detract from the very important occasion of the Queens Speech; it is about setting out the proposals early to consult.
The noble Lord said that consultation is a farce. On what evidence does he base that? Has he read the publication? Has he talked to the people who have been involved? I suspect not. Therefore, I do not accept his premise.
Noble Lords have heard my noble friend Lord Darzi speak on single-sex accommodation or wards. He is far better at explaining that subject than me, not least because of his clinical experience. However, we have to make a clear distinction between single-sex wards and single-sex accommodation. Single-sex accommodation can be on a ward that is of a different sex because it is deliberately designed in that way. We are moving towards making sure that people have the privacy that they want within the NHS system, which has always to respond to a patient population that can change from day to day.
Lord Elton: My Lords, the Statement commits the Government to a White Paper on Lords reform in the Session beginning in November. Some 45 minutes before that commitment was announced in this House, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, repeated a commitment to a White Paper on Lords reform at the end of the Session finishing in July. He shakes his head, but I remember it very clearly. The noble Baroness also shakes her head. I heard the noble Lord say that we would have a White Paper by the end of July and in the Statement we also have:
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice will also publish a White Paper on reform of the House of Lords and details of our proposals to reform the system of party finance and expenditure.
It seems rather odd that we should be double-banking White Papers. A White Paper is a statement of government policy. A Green Paper is a statement of policy to be discussed. It would be more sensible for the paper that we are to have before the Summer Recess to be a Green Paper; then there would be some meat to put into the White Paper in the coming Session.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: There is no contradiction in what has been said. It was important within to ensure that my right honourable friend the Prime Ministerand, indeed, Imentioned Lords reform in the Statement. Noble Lords should remember that the programme in this Statement was put together long before we knew that there would be a Question on Lords reform on the same day; there was no such Question in the other place, so we put that commitment
14 May 2008 : Column 1019
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, the Statement says that the Government propose to legislate a duty on the unemployed to have their skills needs assessed and to acquire new skills. As the noble Baroness the Lord President of the Council knows quite well, at present there is a rule that if you are unemployed you lose your benefits if you study for more than 16 hours. Are they proposing to do away with that rule?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I do not have the detail of the proposal, but the noble Baroness makes an important point. In order to assess people's needs and provide them with opportunities we have to look very carefully and make sure that the other rules in place are fit for purpose. I presume that we will look at them: I have no idea what the outcome will be.
Lord Brookman: My Lords, most of the comments about the Government's proposals from across the Chamber have been negative. I cannot follow the drift of all that, quite frankly. If noble Lords look at the summary at the end, they will see that Government saidmy noble friend the Lord President of the Council said this quite adequately and it will reinforce what I have to saythat there would be,
Who is opposed to that? Who in this Chamber could be opposed to improving patients rights in the NHS? I could go on. What is right is that the Government are listening and will implement legislation that will benefit the nation.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, not surprisingly, I agree with my noble friend completely. I make no apology for wanting to be part of a Government who have the best health and education policies and the best support for business and the economy.
Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, will the Minister explain why last week we finished a ragbag of a Bill on criminal justice and immigration and are promised in this Statement a policing and crime reduction Bill? Cannot the Government leave the criminal justice system alone for a while in order to allow the reforms that they constantly introduce to be absorbed and put into practice? So many parts of previous Bills have not been brought into practice at all. In addition, we had the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill: we now have another immigration Bill. Is that not too much for everybody?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, when the noble Lord looks at the immigration Bill, he will see that quite a lot of what is proposed involves consolidation, which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who is not in the Chamber, has consistently asked for. I hope that that will find some favour.
In terms of the issues involving policing and criminal justice, it is important to make sure that we continually review the laws that are in place to ensure that they can deal with what is often a changing situation. Issues that we deal with nowthey involve serious and organised crime, terrorism and people-trafficking, which is an important part of the criminal justice Bill that has just been through your Lordships Houserequire us to be vigilant in ensuring that our legislation contains the powers that our police and services need to bring people to justice.
The noble Lord said: This amendment concerns a new article that can be found by a diligent search in the current treatydifficult though it is to find these headings. I call it new but it is an almost identical copy, with one small addition to what was in the previous draft of the rejected constitutional treaty. Almost all the text of the treaty is embodied in this Bill. In no area is more nonsense talked about the technicalities of an issue than in energy policy. There is a great deal of enthusiasm, lobbying and favourite causes being promoted and rather more smokepossibly heatthan light, in this area.
Behind the arrival of this new clause in this treaty and in the previous constitutional treaty is the aspiration for what is called a common EU energy policy. The treaty provisions that introduce a new energy competence and allow the introduction of legislation in this area by qualified majority voting refer to all sorts of attractive sounding things, such as solidarity, security of supply, energy efficiency, interconnection of networksa real benefitand other admirable objectives, such as reduced carbon emissions. It is a classic example of a clause being paved with good intentions. We know, of course, where they often lead. The interesting thing is that the Government fought very hard to keep energy out of the treaty altogether and to prevent it coming into the convention. The Minister at the time, Mr Hain, said:
We, too, have detailed concerns and would like them answered. My overall concern is that the rhetoric of this article and the realities of energy security and problems are milesperhaps I should have said kilometresapart.
I would not dispute for a moment the fact that some extremely dangerous energy supply and security issues lie just ahead. Some of us would say that they are already here. Crude oil prices are at staggering levelsin real terms, they are above those reached in the early 1980sand rising to $126 and $130. As we discovered two winters ago, we have unreliable gas supplies but a heavy dependenceabout 40 per centon gas for our electricity. When I had some responsibility for these things a quarter of a century ago, it was 1 per cent but now 40 per cent of our daily electricity supply is gas-fired. We have concerns about the storage of gas and why we have fewer days for storage than our continental neighbours. We have concerns about the wild oscillation in gas prices. We have endless dithering over the need to resume our nuclear power programme. We still have not made the right decisions, but when we do, it will take us nine or 10 years to get new plants up and running. We have the prospect of power shortages between 2010 and 2016, as an increasing number of experts are pointing out. We have the over-zealotry of some of the perfectly proper enthusiasts for a greener, more sustainable planet, which seems to lead to the excessive piling on of fuel and energy taxes, charges and subsidies, regardless of the fuel poverty that they create. Inevitably, that makes environmental policies unpopular and threatens economic growth.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|