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House of Lords

Tuesday, 25 November 2008.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Manchester.

Coalition on Charging: Charging into Poverty?

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, as my noble friend and other noble Lords are aware, the Green Paper on the future of care and support will be published next year for consultation. Members of the coalition have attended stakeholder events helping to inform the development of this important policy. The Green Paper team has a copy of the coalition’s report, which will be taken into account when developing the Green Paper.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Is she aware that charges are having an absolutely devastating effect on disabled people? Some have been deterred from using these services, which is very sad because they need them. There was some talk of suicide, and it was not idle talk. People really are desperate, so can my noble friend tell the House precisely what the Government’s plans are for dealing urgently with this problem?

I am surprised that my noble friend has not agreed to meet the coalition, because although individual members have spoken to Ministers, that is not the same as having a full meeting. It is imperative, so I hope that my noble friend will change her mind and agree to meet them; that would cause great delight among disabled people.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, my noble friend asks two questions, and I will attempt to deal with both. I was not aware of the havoc and severe distress that he has mentioned, and I am very sorry to hear it. I will be very keen to hear about the problems he has referred to. However, the question appears to be based on the supposition that all service users are charged and that individual means for costs incurred in coping with disability are not taken into account. This is not the case. There is no reason for anyone to be deterred from applying to their local council for services. Councils must apply a means test before making any charge for services to ensure that nobody will be asked to pay for more than they can afford.

I am very puzzled by what my noble friend said about meeting the coalition. We are consulting with most members of the coalition already. Ten out of the 18 members are represented on the Government’s stakeholder panel on reform of the care and support

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system. I have made sure that the remaining two organisations are added to the stakeholder list. The report that the coalition published is certainly being used to inform the Green Paper. I should be happy to meet members, but there is no doubt that the coalition is already having a significant impact on this policy development.

Lord Rix: My Lords, is the Minister aware that 47 per cent of families with a severely or profoundly disabled child live in poverty, probably due to the fact that they pay five times as much for specialist childcare as other families? That often means that the parents have to give up work to take over the job of full-time carers. Does the Minister believe that the £60 payment in January, offered in yesterday’s PBR, will ameliorate this dire situation?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, as the noble Lord is aware through his work, it is not the only payment that families receive to support them with their disabled children. A whole range of support and services should be available to them. It is important that families use the systems that are effective in making sure that those services are available to them. It is important that they use the information services and that they challenge local authorities where they think that services are inadequate.

Baroness Wilkins: My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that, when assessing the charges for care, local authorities do not take full account of unavoidable costs such as the essential utilities of heating and water? My own local authority, Hammersmith and Fulham, is being taken to judicial review in the High Court later this week for failure fully to impact-assess its charging policy for care. What guidance do the Government provide to local authorities on undertaking full and effective impact assessments of care services and on charges to use services? Does the Minister think that new guidance is required to prevent poverty?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, my noble friend raises an important point. The fair charging policies guidance already requires assessment of service users’ ability to pay charges. Local authorities have to assess individual users’ disability-related expenditure. The guidance makes it clear that it is not acceptable to make any charge without prior assessment of its reasonableness. If councils make a mistake in assessing charges, there are effective routes for appeal such as the Local Government Ombudsman, who I understand is both quick and effective in dealing with such cases.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, is not the problem in dealing with disabled children the lack of specialist teachers in appropriate care? I raised this question some 20 years ago. Nothing has been done about it.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the noble Lord raises an important point. I undertake to investigate why it has not been addressed for the past 20 years, although I have to say that the Government are keen that all the people who deal with disabled people and disabled children have the appropriate training.

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The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, will the Government carry forward the report’s recommendation that when local authorities propose changes to charging policies, service users and their families should be fully involved in planning the changes so that the interests and concerns of the people who really need the services are properly taken into account? Will she recognise that the varying interpretations of the distinction between healthcare and social care is an issue that needs to be taken seriously, because some people are being charged when they ought not to be?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate makes a very important point. People do not care whether what they need is provided by the health service or social services; the key question is whether it is effective. That is why charging for care is being addressed in the Government’s current reforms. We are running a major consultation which will end this month. It is clear that there is a lack of public awareness about care and support, what it means and how it is funded. It is vital that we build public understanding so that we can have a genuine debate about solutions.

Baroness Barker: My Lords, will the department issue guidance about the need to distinguish between financial assessment and needs assessment, and transparency for both those different processes?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I think that we are issuing guidance which addresses that issue as a result of a CSCI report. I shall ensure that that is an accurate answer and write to the noble Baroness.

Banking: Lloyds TSB and HBOS

2.44 pm

Lord Hamilton of Epsom asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Financial Services Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Myners): My Lords, on the advice of the Bank of England and the Financial Services Authority, HM Treasury believes that the merger between Lloyds TSB and HBOS will have benefits for financial stability. The boards of both banks wish to continue with the merger and so the Government have agreed a recapitalisation package with them on that basis. It is now a matter for shareholders whether the merger proceeds.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. Does he accept the findings of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research that the banks will need an additional £110 billion on top of what they have already been given? Does he agree with his right honourable friend in another place, John McFall, the chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, that, if the banks do not play ball and resume spending, the demand for full-scale nationalisation may well grow? Does he agree with him that civil servants are good at running banks?

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Lord Myners: My Lords, there were three questions there. First, no money has been given to banks. Shares are being acquired in banks on fair market value terms, terms available to other investors. Funds are being lent to banks through guarantees and insurance on a market-price-related basis. There are many estimates of the likely required capitalisation of banks. I am content to rely on the advice that we received at the Treasury from the Financial Services Authority. The capitalisation that it proposed, and on which we worked on 13 October, is a stressed-condition capitalisation, which ensures that banks will be able to cope with a serious recession while at the same time maintaining their capacity to lend.

Finally, in response to the noble Lord’s final question, the banks are not being run by civil servants. They are being run by their own management under their own boards of directors, which in certain instances will be strengthened as a result of actions that we have taken to support the recapitalisation of the banks.

Lord Borrie: My Lords, have not Her Majesty's Government shown in this case an unusual bias in favour of the merger, first, by specially passing regulations to ensure that financial stability could be an issue overriding the Office of Fair Trading’s concern with the maintenance of competition and, secondly, by saying that the bailout or capitalisation of the banks should be conditional on this merger going ahead?

Lord Myners: My Lords, the Secretary of State has taken action to ensure that financial stability is a condition under which a merger of this sort can take place—quite rightly so. Preserving financial stability and ensuring that our banks are in a position to support the needs of their customers, businesses and individuals, are essential. The Secretary of State has taken the appropriate action to ensure that that can be done.

Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, the Minister will no doubt be aware of the publication from Yorkshire Forward, the regional development agency, called Lloyds TSB/HBOS: The Yorkshire Solution. That document makes clear that 7.2 per cent of all jobs in the greater Halifax area are with HBOS. That, incidentally, compares with 1.9 per cent in Edinburgh. I declare that my son-in-law is one of that 7.2 per cent.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, we have to declare interests. On 18 September, 10 weeks ago, we first learnt of the merger. Would it not really be sensible if Sir Victor Blank, the chairman, and Eric Daniels, the chief executive, visited the town of Halifax and assured the employees and the community about their intentions regarding the 6,500 jobs in that town?

Lord Myners: My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot account for the movement of Sir Victor Blank and Mr Eric Daniels. What I do know is that I have met Yorkshire MPs and those who speak on behalf of Yorkshire Forward. I am aware of the concern in

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Yorkshire, particularly in Halifax and Bradford, about the problems experienced by Bradford & Bingley and HBOS. I know the strength, durability and skill of the Yorkshire workforce and I am sure that those skills will be recognised by the management of Lloyds TSB.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, what is the position with regard to bank notes issued by the Bank of Scotland in the event of a merger?

Lord Myners: My Lords, those banknotes will continue to be legal tender and I understand that the Bank of Scotland intends to continue to issue banknotes.

The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the financial services industry in our country would be in better shape if the mutual and customer-owned building societies and banks had not been privatised in the first place?

Lord Myners: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate asks an interesting question. I have in the past expressed sadness at the decline of mutuals, insurance companies and banks. It is a great shame, but the owners of those mutuals—their members—voted in favour of this happening. To some extent, they have brought some of these problems on themselves. I hope that the remaining mutuals, particularly in the building society movement, will continue to be strong and purposeful and deliver good value for their customers.

Lord Maxton: My Lords, I first declare an interest as a customer of the Bank of Scotland for nearly 50 years. May I suggest to my noble friend—

Noble Lords: Ask a question!

Lord Maxton: My Lords, does my noble friend agree with me and one of the most distinguished Members of this House that “there is no alternative” to the merger of these two banks? Does he also agree that, if we had had the mischance of having an independent Scotland, both the Bank of Scotland and the Royal Bank would now be bankrupt and have disappeared altogether?

Lord Myners: My Lords, there were two questions there. The second is hypothetical, which I do not intend to answer. The merger of Lloyds TSB and HBOS is a matter for the shareholders and the courts which will have to define whether the merger process accords with legal requirements. I will leave it to the shareholders and the courts.

Schools: Latin

2.52 pm

Lord Faulkner of Worcester asked Her Majesty’s Government:

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): My Lords, Latin is an important subject. It is valuable in supporting pupils’ learning of modern languages and can provide a useful basis for students’ study across a range of disciplines. It is for schools to decide whether it should be included in their curriculum. The number of non-selective state schools offering Latin has more than doubled since the launch in 2000 of the Cambridge Latin resource, for which the Government provided £5 million of funding.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. I am pleased that she shares my view on the importance of Latin as a way of understanding virtually all Romance languages, particularly English. That being so, is she not disappointed that 85 per cent of state schools still offer no Latin at all? Is she not concerned that each year 35 new Latin teachers are trained but more than 60 leave the profession? Is it not time that Latin was reclassified as an official curriculum language and given the same encouragement as other languages?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his question. He is correct that the number of Latin teachers in training is around that number. Indeed, it has been approximately 35 to 40 for the past 10 years and it is obviously worrying if a number of teachers retire or move out of the field. However, the Languages Diploma Development Partnership is considering the place of Latin within the languages diploma. Beginning in January, there will be a consultation about that, in which my noble friend may be interested in being involved.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, will the Minister ensure that the new careers services advise students that Latin has a wide application to future careers, not just in the classics and the modern languages based on Latin but also in the sciences, in particular biology? A biologist cannot manage without a good knowledge of Latin. Will she ensure that, even if an individual school cannot offer Latin to a student, Latin can at least be part of a local authority-wide curriculum offer and thus be made available to that young person?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I am not sure that I can ensure it in the way that the noble Baroness suggests but I will certainly think about her comments and take them back to the department. We recently introduced a new form of qualification for modern languages called the language ladder, which I am advised is used for a range of languages from Welsh and Gaelic through to other modern languages and which emphasises the value of teaching, listening, speaking and writing. So we are thinking carefully how languages are promoted in our schools.

Baroness Warnock: My Lords, does the Minister agree that not only is there advantage in teaching Latin in primary schools but that Latin has a huge advantage over modern languages in that it demands not fluency—no one is asked to speak Latin or write stories in it—but accuracy? Accuracy in Latin depends on introducing children to the grammatical and syntactical

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structure of language, which carries over into all Romance languages, at any rate. Therefore, will she assure the House that the Government will not only mildly support Latin in primary schools but actually press for the language committees of which she has spoken to put Latin high in the list of languages?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I am very interested in the noble Baroness’s comments. I heard only just now from my noble friend Lady Thornton about a successful school in Hackney that is teaching Latin and Greek and where the children are receiving a high-quality service. However, the Government’s current priority is to develop the teaching of modern languages in primary schools. We have made a commitment that all children in 2010 will have an entitlement to learn modern languages at key stage 2 and that that will be compulsory in the primary curriculum by 2011. Currently 84 per cent of primary schools are teaching languages at key stage 2, but I hear what the noble Baroness is saying and I will share it with my colleagues in the department.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, following the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, about the importance of Latin in science—indeed, it is important and helpful in learning modern languages as well—I wonder whether we as a House should give the lead. I believe that we in this place can have 10 lessons in modern languages. Can Latin be put on the curriculum for Members of your Lordships’ House?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I am very interested in the noble Baroness’s suggestion and would support any additional opportunities for learning in your Lordships’ House or elsewhere. I myself have recently taken advantage of Welsh lessons and I am sure that other noble Lords have other dreams that they wish to fulfil.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I am an indifferent Latin scholar but a slightly better gardener? The small Latin that I have—no Greek, but small Latin—helps me a great deal in my horticultural endeavours. Does she agree, going back to the question that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, put, that the practice of medicine, for example, along with a number of other activities that we wish to encourage, is made considerably more difficult for those who have no Latin?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. There are many professions where a range of language skills, not least the classics, is very helpful indeed.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, should the noble Baroness’s robust reply in her original Answer, which I applaud, lead one to believe that she would be against the occasional movement to remove Latin words from the English language on the basis that they complicate English? If that were successful, words such as “exit”, “et cetera”, “Anno Domini” and “am/pm” would go. Would that not be a great mistake?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I support the status quo.

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