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Many of the Bill’s provisions addressing inequality in the private sector are equally lacklustre. It is very disappointing that the right honourable Harriet Harman was unable to include compulsory pay audits for companies which have been found guilty at an employment tribunal, and we hope that the Government will reconsider this matter. There is also a great deal of confusion about what some of the provisions will in fact do. Ensuring no discrimination when providing services looks fine and easy on paper, but such promises run into genuine difficulties when applied to the real world. For example, what do the Government expect the effect to be on adoption agencies seeking to match a child with ethnically similar parents?

Of course, the Welfare Reform Bill, whose White Paper has just been released and which contains so many Conservative policies, is also to be introduced in this Session. As with the Welfare Reform Act 2007, which this Bill continues, we give our full support to the overall aims of the Government’s reforms. Just imagine, though, how many disabled people, single parents, or long-term unemployed would have been helped by now if Labour had understood earlier the Conservative conviction that allowing people to remain dependent on state handouts rather than encouraging them to develop the confidence to get back into employment is not in anyone’s interests. It remains to be seen whether the Government have understood the warnings from these Benches that imposing centralised targets and obligations on employers is useless if legislation is not matched by an understanding of and support for the changes that many businesses must make before they can offer equal job opportunities. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale will seek to ensure that businesses are not blamed when they find themselves unable to live up to the expectations that the Government are unable to meet.

On race equality, the Government prefer to make soothing blanket statements rather than genuinely thinking about what equality means and how to ensure it. I have spoken on this before, but I wish once again to emphasise just how damaging the Government’s use of the fuzzy vagaries of state-driven multiculturalism is to the opportunities of so many of this country’s most vulnerable people. While girls of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin are able to be pulled out of British schools in their early teens without any questions being asked by the appropriate authorities, this Government cannot claim that they are affording the same protection to women of all backgrounds or offering them equal opportunities.

Similarly, the continuing failure to bring forward the same protection of the law to bear on drugs which are considered to have prevalence only in East African communities means that the Government are willing

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to consign large numbers of a whole community to long-term underachievement and associated health problems. Cultural sensitivities should not be an excuse for turning a blind eye to a drug habit that is destroying a community. Let us be honest: we would not hesitate to legislate and prosecute if the users were not confined to a single ethnic or racial group. The Government have finally accepted the Conservative policy to reclassify cannabis and I hope that very soon they will also accept our arguments on khat.

The Government occasionally seem to have given up trying to ensure meaningful equality in some of the harder to reach communities. The now infamous letter from Jacqui Smith, which my honourable friend Damian Green made public, showed that the Government were fully expecting increased racism as a result of the economic downturn. When he replies, I should be interested to know whether the Minister agreed with her analysis on that point and what steps the Government intend to take to counter this worrying problem.

I have only touched on the Conservative policies in these three areas because I am aware that many of your Lordships wish to speak today. I look forward to hearing the response of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, as well your Lordships’ contributions on these very important issues.

4.56 pm

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. I look forward to continuing to work with her and with the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, particularly if she is effective in achieving realistic measures in her own party’s policies to return to local government the powers taken away from it by her predecessors.

I look forward, too, to the Bills we shall be considering. I look forward to all Bills—partly because I enjoy legislation—although I know that one should not treat them as a kind of extended word game. The challenge for the Government would have been to achieve resistance to introducing large legislation, although there is talk about this being a thin programme. During the summer I tried and failed—I suspect this will find a resonance with other noble Lords—to clear up my office at home. I put in chronological order the statutes which had resulted from Bills on which I had worked during the years in which I have been a Member of your Lordships’ House. However, I had also to put them in size order because they got bigger and bigger—and not, perhaps, with increased significance.

My noble friends Lady Thomas of Walliswood and Lord Lester of Herne Hill will look in detail at the proposed equality Bill. I would not presume to anticipate, in particular, what my noble friend Lord Lester might say. The House is lucky to have his expertise. I suspect that a large equality Bill may mean more exceptions to the principles we would welcome. I hope that is not the case. It may be that we will wish to scrutinise the regulations alongside the Bill. However, I believe the Bill is not the responsibility of either of the Ministers on the Front Bench today.

The department of the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, deals with communities and local government and is closely connected to other departments, which makes

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this debate quite tricky. I shall use the way in which policing operates locally as an example. The noble Baroness’s Bill has provisions about petitions to local authorities and I shall simply refer to the petition on the No. 10 website at the moment. It urges the rejection of directly elected crime and policing representatives and suggests instead,

The petition continues, but that is the guts of it. It is an important issue.

Conversely, housing is within the noble Baroness’s department, although that, too, is not confined to it. Tomorrow my noble friend Lady Barker will talk about the health implications of poor housing. I am asking not for more legislation but for greater urgency in addressing the crisis in the supply of houses and of affordable housing in particular, the crisis in the loss of homes caused by loss of income, the cost of rents and the problems of repossession. Last week’s announcement about repossessions will apparently help 9,000 families—significant for those who will be helped, but a tiny number overall. We do not yet know the criteria for eligibility for assistance from that scheme or how the scheme will be policed. When will the September mortgage-to-rent proposals be fully implemented?

Are the Government prepared to see the current economic conditions as an opportunity? There are silver linings, or there should be: the use of land whose value has fallen, and capacity within the construction industry for building both by housing associations and by local authorities. That will not happen by itself, however; it needs investment from central government and more flexibility locally, including, for instance, the freedom for local authorities to borrow against council assets. If the capacity within the construction industry is not used, I fear that it will not be there when the economy turns up again.

Perhaps some of that would require legislation—the local authorities’ borrowing position certainly would—but whether we need this local government Bill is another matter. Is it required to meet the issues that it apparently addresses? Is it the best way to address those issues? I say to the Minister that I do not require an answer to those rhetorical questions. The team on these Benches working on the Bill will include my noble friend Lord Tope, whom I welcome. We have, in my noble friends Lord Tope and Lord Greaves, councillors with long and current local government experience. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Greaves will display his enthusiasm for the issues that are contained in the Marine and Coastal Access Bill as well as a practical approach to it.

My noble friend Lord Tope, with his considerable experience on the Committee of the Regions, reminds me that in Europe we talk about “spheres, not tiers”. That is an immensely useful shorthand reminder, which I pass on because I have no sense that the way in which central government works with local government is regarded as a negotiation of equals. Will we ever see a local government Bill coming out of a joint working party comprised equally of central and local representatives? Will we ever hear a Minister at the

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Dispatch Box, in response to a question, say, “I cannot answer that; it is not a matter for Westminster government”?

We will discuss the detail of the LDEDC Bill next week—I wish there were an easier acronym—so I do not want to go into too much detail now, but it looks like another Bill where the Government have not been able to resist paternalistic tendencies. I struggle to see that legislation is necessary for much of it and, where duties are imposed, that it is necessary to impose the “how” as well as the “what”. In other walks of life it is understood that nurture and support involve giving freedom.

I am aware of how topical the issue of minimum standards is. I am not seeking to comment on the recent unhappy cases that have been so much in the news, but we on these Benches are concerned about the performance management of local functions by Whitehall. It seems to me from talking to colleagues in local government that it is almost impossible not to play to the criteria and not to direct resources—people as well as money—to what is counted. What is counted is not necessarily what really counts. That is not confined to local government. When I visited my GP’s surgery last week, I was asked to fill in a questionnaire. My GP said to me that he was not yet driven to tailor services by the questions likely to be asked of him, but he could see that it was coming.

The gracious Speech referred to constitutional renewal, which is relevant to local government, although I dearly wish that we were not faced almost annually with a review of the constitutional arrangements. My reaction is probably as nothing compared to that of councillors and local government officers, who could do without the diversion from services.

The latest Bill shrieks to me of a government agenda of moving everybody to large unitary authorities and “strong leadership”. Our concern is not lessened by the danger of leaders becoming detached from their own back benches and their opposition. Even though it is 25 years and one month since I was an opposition councillor, I would always claim that there is a role for the opposition. This is quite a different matter from the role of the council as community leader, which is for the whole council.

There is nothing like a threat to one’s way of life or quality of life to bring the community together. When we debated the Planning Bill, what seems about 10 minutes ago, my noble friend Lady Tonge said that it was an article of her political faith to oppose the expansion of Heathrow. My noble friend Lord Watson, who is a neighbour geographically as well as politically of both hers and mine, will say something on that.

Local authorities do not need to be told of the importance of their role in the current economic crisis. The local government Bill provides an economic assessment duty. Statutory guidance, which there is to be, does not smack of a partnership between local government and Whitehall. Many local authorities are putting together economic recovery plans for their own communities, and they and we are horribly aware of the strain on their finances. There are reductions in interest rates, Treasury management—of course, they

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are not alone in suffering that—and the extra strain on services. My own local authority, which has seen many children educated in the private sector over the years, is suddenly seeing a rush to its own schools. There are more places to be provided.

All this is taking place in a system of local government finance which has little support. We will have one local government finance Bill, but the cautious addition of the business rate supplement barely tinkers with the situation. I appreciate that it is necessary for Crossrail, but it is not an answer to the many problems. The impact of the local government finance system is wide. I increasingly believe that councillors across the country are generally so ground down by the focus on council tax levels and budgets that it stifles the capacity for innovation.

One of the areas of difficulty for local authorities is the recycling market. Tales of piled-up—I hesitate to describe them as “dumped”—items collected for recycling do nothing to encourage the public. Investment in recycling materials could be productive. One hopes that that might be a focus for attention in the difficult times to come. It is essential that we do not forget environmental and climate change issues and that we use capacity in the construction industry towards these ends. I believe that my noble friends Lord Mar and Kellie and Lord Teverson will say something about environmental and climate change matters among other things.

These debates are frustrating; there is so much that one could cover. I shall mention finally two matters which may seem merely procedural but are substantive. The first is how this House will deal with issues which fall within the category of “financial”, where we tripped over real problems at the end of the previous Session. The impact of those matters was far wider than financial, but this House’s role was called into question.

Secondly, a measure that is gaining some ground is the use of a Joint Committee to scrutinise the balance of power between central and local government. Noble Lords will understand that on these Benches we profoundly disagree with the view that power comes from the centre, but in the system that we are in, the balance needs to be tipped significantly towards the local.

5.10 pm

Lord Soley: My Lords, I would like to speak today mainly about the environment and transport. In that context, I declare an interest as campaign director for Future Heathrow.

I yield to no one in my concern about climate change. I wrote my first article about it at least 20, possibly 25, years ago. If noble Lords read it they would see that I was in something of a panic mode, as many people are today. I went through that phase and learned vividly from the wonderful novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy that the best advice when you are faced with a really serious situation is “don't panic”. That is an important part of the message that I want to talk about today in relation to climate change.

Climate change is probably the most serious problem that we face, but at the moment, I am afraid there is a

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tendency to throw out some good ideas that are necessary both for our general welfare in this country and for dealing with climate change. At the same time, one or two people make the mistake of believing that there is a simple answer: that we should revert to a pre-industrial society, where, to use the phrase of Thomas Hobbes, life for many people was “nasty, brutish and short”. Returning to a pre-industrial society or anything remotely like it is a bad, bad idea.

I also remember losing my faith in the Greenpeace movement to a large extent when it abandoned the scientific and technological approach. I got very angry when the Brent Spar oil rig was going to be sunk in the mid-Atlantic trench. All the scientific and technological evidence was that that was the best thing to do. That was ignored by the Greenpeace movement and sadly we ended up with a policy that was counterproductive for the environment. There have been many other examples since then of some people—by no means all—in the green movement being anti-scientific and anti-technological in their approach. We need to get rid of that because otherwise we fail to address an important argument.

There is a danger of arrogance, too, when I read people in the green movement talking about everyone else being liars, hypocrites or at best fools. I simply comment that they might not actually be listening to the argument. My feeling generally is that people in this country and increasingly in the world are acutely aware of the problem but, like so many of us, struggle to find the best way of dealing with it. That is not always immediately apparent.

I was reminded the other day when talking to a scientist that the climate change issue is essentially one of pollution. It is a profoundly serious issue of pollution, much more important than many others. It is worth remembering that a few years ago we were all rightly concerned about the decline in the ozone layer because of the use of CFCs. We have largely solved that problem now because the ozone layer is building up again, but we did not solve it by stopping people from using refrigerators or other items that required CFCs. We changed our methods scientifically and technologically. Some noble Lords, like me, will clearly remember the great smogs in London and other big cities in the 1940s and 1950s. They were very enjoyable on one level because you never got home from school without finding several cars up on the pavement and so forth. We solved them not by stopping people from heating their homes, but by introducing smokeless fuels and a variety of other fuels that enabled people to carry on heating their homes. In other words, we overcame the problem by using science and technology.

Putting a price on harmful emissions is clearly a good policy. We ought to encourage it and that is why emissions trading is so important. Enabling people to insulate their homes is also a good policy and we ought to be putting as much money as we can into that to enable it to happen. It is beneficial in so many ways and is a particularly good policy.

Those are policies that I want to encourage; there are many others. I particularly like the Government’s approach, referred to in the Queen’s Speech, of introducing a variety of measures over time. I would like to see us

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paying people for microgeneration, which is now increasingly common and popular, and is one of the reasons why I welcome the Planning Bill so strongly. It is not only the Infrastructure Planning Commission that is profoundly important in leading the way. Some of the minor changes—or what appear to be minor changes—to planning issues should make it easier to do that.

The other area of policy that I think is very good and has links to transport is an integrated transport system. To a large extent we have forgotten that phrase, which is sad. It was very much the policy of the Labour Party, supported to a limited extent by the Liberal Democrats and less so by the Conservative Party, which tended to see a free-market approach as necessary. My own strong view is that this country’s problem with transport policy is that we have ceased to integrate the public transport systems, including aviation, not just rail and road, which is how this argument has evolved recently. In all European countries, and most other countries that I know about, an integrated transport policy is regarded as meaning all public transport: rail, road and air. According to the European Union document that I quoted a month or two ago, all countries are integrating air, rail and road. This is why the hub airport argument is so important in that context.

It always strikes me as remarkable that the Liberal Democrat party, with its claims to be more pro-European than any other, is doing more to lock us out of the European economy by its attack on the hub airport concept and its importance as a central part of the emerging integrated European market. When people say that they do not want the expansion of Heathrow, I say, okay, we will keep aircraft flying around London for 10 or 15 minutes, waiting for a chance to land. Is that what we mean by “good for the environment”? If we stop people travelling by air through Heathrow, they will simply fly from Manchester, Glasgow or Edinburgh to Amsterdam, Paris or Frankfurt. That will not help climate change either. If you look at what the Europeans have done, in Amsterdam and elsewhere, their integrated transport systems are designed to be more environmentally progressive than ours. That is why I quoted from the website. We are not doing that, and we need to start doing it again.

Finally, and I say this very strongly, this country led the world with the Industrial Revolution. People tried to stop the expansion of the railways. The Duke of Wellington famously said that the trouble with the railways was that they encouraged the lower orders to travel. That is dangerously similar to those who say that they do not like low-cost airlines. The spirit of the Duke of Wellington is alive and well in some quarters. I simply say this: we are quite capable of solving the problem of climate change. An integrated transport policy should be part of that and we should learn from our European colleagues on this. Do not take the simplistic approach of saying that aviation is worse than rail, or that rail is worse—or better—than road. Technology changes. That is why railways, which were initially opposed for environmental reasons, ended up being supported. The same will happen to aviation, and to cars when they become electric. Do not forget our history. Do not forget how we led in science and

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technology. We can do it again, but we need to be part of the European and global economy. To do that, we need an integrated transport system, which we also need for the sake of our environment.

5.19 pm

The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, I will focus on the proposed equality legislation. Since the introduction of the first anti-discrimination legislation over 40 years ago, the Church of England has been consistent in its support for the use of the law to combat the manifestation of prejudice and to promote equality and fairness. We believe that the law has a key role to play in countering discrimination. Any Bill which seeks to make anti-discrimination law more coherent and effective will therefore, in principle, be welcomed by the churches, faith communities and the myriad other organisations in the voluntary sector.

If churches and faith organisations are cautious about the impact of this Bill, therefore, it is not because of its fundamental, underlying aim, which they support. Rather it is because of concerns about the potential for the Bill to impact adversely upon them and upon the whole voluntary sector in terms of the burdens imposed. It is also because of concerns that it may be seized upon as an opportunity by those who wish to confine freedom of religion to the purely private sphere.

That a comprehensive review of the complex body of anti-discrimination law that has developed over the years is timely is undeniable. However, the case for further extending the scope of legislative provision in this area is less clear cut. In this, as in other areas, it is important not to expect the law to do more than it can reasonably be expected to do. Not everything that is wrong is best tackled by legislation, and it is doubtful whether the scale of the huge growth in the volume of legislation in recent years has been justified. It has certainly contributed to the more litigious nature of our society.

Furthermore, while the protection of individuals’ rights is necessary for the common good, adding further legislation designed to protect those rights at this stage may be counterproductive. Given that a statutory framework is already in place, the emphasis might usefully now shift to implementation, education and advocacy in order more effectively to embed respect for rights in our culture.


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