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House of Lords

Monday, 20 April 2009.

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Ely.

Death of Members


2.36 pm

The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, I regret that I have to inform the House of the deaths during the Recess of Lord Moore of Wolvercote, Lord Slynn of Hadley and Lord George. On behalf of the whole House, I extend our condolences to the noble Lords’ families and friends.

Education: Further Education Building Programme


2.37 pm

Asked By Baroness Valentine

Baroness Valentine: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as chief executive of London First, a not-for-profit organisation that includes further education colleges in its membership.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Lord Young of Norwood Green): My Lords, Sir Andrew Foster’s key finding was that a “good policy” had been,

We have fully accepted all of his recommendations, including the need to,

The LSC is now consulting the sector on the approach that should be used in prioritising schemes. This work will be taken forward urgently in order to bring clarity on the position as soon as possible.

Baroness Valentine: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I wonder whether he can give me a date for when the first project might resume.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, occasionally I have a bout of prescience, but not that much. I regret that I cannot. The LSC is now consulting the sector on the approach that should be used to prioritise schemes, and it has established a reference panel of college principals to help meet Sir Andrew’s recommendation

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to develop a needs-based approach. From our point of view, we want this to go forward as soon as possible; we know that a lot of colleges are eagerly awaiting the outcome.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, does the delay in capital spending not run totally counter to the Keynesian statements that the Government have made with regard to the recession? Is it not essential that these capital projects should proceed as soon as possible, if we are to have the trained and skilled people who we are told will be necessary for the future?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: I agree, my Lords, but, to put this in perspective, between 1997-98 and 2006-07 more than £2 billion was invested in modernising FE facilities. My department will spend another £2.3 billion in the current spending review period, and we have brought forward £110 million in 2008-09 within that spending review period as part of our response to boost the economy. This relates back to the point that we need to get the programme going again, but yes, I agree with the noble Lord.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, is this not an example of a real confusion on the part of the Government and the Learning and Skills Council? The noble Lord mentioned a figure of £2 billion. I am told that the figure for London—for schemes held in abeyance and for which promises have been given—amounts to more than £1 billion. Why is it, in these circumstances, that the only people who ever resign are the officials in charge and nobody from the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, if we felt that there was ministerial blame in the circumstances, perhaps that remedy would have been considered.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Young of Norwood Green: Do I detect a certain scepticism, my Lords? I am shocked. To treat this seriously—as we do, because of the repercussions—the deficiencies were recognised by the LSC. That is why the chief executive, Mark Haysom, resigned on 23 March. As Sir Andrew Foster pointed out, the FE capital programme is a good policy that has delivered benefits for countless students, but it has been compromised by the manner of its implementation. That is unfortunately where the problem lay. We have appointed a new chief executive, Geoffrey Russell, who is getting on with the task.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, Sir Andrew Foster has called for a clear capital investment strategy for the further education sector. How can that be achieved when the responsibilities will very shortly be split in two between the pre-19 sector, which will be looked after by local authorities and the new Young People’s Learning Agency, and the post-19 sector, which will be looked after by the Skills Funding Agency? Who will oversee the capital budget?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that question. The best thing I can do is say that we will write to her to identify clearly—

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Noble Lords:Oh!

Lord Young of Norwood Green: I detect scepticism again, my Lords, but I assure you that we will. The most important point, which I reiterate, is that the LSC is consulting the sector on the approach that should be used to prioritise schemes. It is important to get the schemes which can go ahead back into operation. I will write to the noble Baroness and advise her in detail of the precise responsibilities of the Skills Funding Agency and the Young People’s Learning Agency.

Lord Haskel: My Lords—

Baroness Deech: My Lords—

Noble Lords: Cross Bench.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, it is the turn of the Labour side.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, while all this is going on, what exactly are the Government doing to help the colleges continue all the valuable work they are doing in training students, training trainees, helping apprentices and doing what they can to get the economy started?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, we are continuing to invest in a training programme. We have already made it clear that we will not let any college get into a situation where it cannot meet its financial obligations as a result of decisions taken by the LSC.

Baroness Deech: My Lords, does the Minister agree that this latest failure is symptomatic of a general failure to fund education properly in recent years, especially higher education? We read in the recess of the failure to fund sixth-form students properly and of money being withdrawn at the last moment. This has happened in higher education over the years. Does the Minister agree that it is not satisfactory to build up expectations of higher education and then fail to fund them when the young people come forward?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, we are dealing here with further education rather than higher education. It cannot be said that we are not spending significant sums on further education, including over £1 billion on the apprenticeship programme and similar on the FE programme. Similarly, over £2.3 billion will be spent on modernisation in the current spending review period.

Olympic Games 2012


2.45 pm

Asked By Lord Addington

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Baroness Thornton: My Lords, we are committed to fulfilling our bid commitment that there will be two doctors with sport medicine experience at every sports venue and we are working closely with the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games to achieve this.

Lord Addington: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response, but is she aware that the recruitment pattern shows that people are withdrawing from the sport and exercise medicine training scheme because no consultancy posts are available at the end? As part of a legacy issue, what will this mean for the Government’s target of having 1 million people taking exercise and doing sport, or will we allow them to do so only if they do not get soft tissue injuries?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, part of the legacy, as the noble Lord is well aware—he has been actively involved—is the creation of a faculty of sport and exercise medicine and the provision of consultants. That has already started. Seventeen consultants are now being trained, with a five-year training period. They will help to support the Olympic Games but they are, more importantly, part of the legacy. As the noble Lord will be aware, all the planning for NHS workforces is done locally, so the department is working with the planners at local level to ensure that the SEM consultants are integrated into local forward planning and the specialty is integrated in the NHS.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, will the host country have to provide all these experts or will various competing countries bring people with them and, if so, how will they work together?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the host country is responsible for what happens in the sports venues but, as the noble Baroness will be aware, many countries bring their own medical staff, so we also have an integrating and co-ordinating job to do. Many of the smaller countries are dependent on the UK providing them with some support before the Games to train their staff. That is integrated into the planning.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, when we have the doctors, will there be enough places in hospitals in London?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the noble Baroness points to the very important matter of backfilling. As she will be aware, we will recruit volunteers. That recruitment starts towards the end of this year; the job descriptions will be written over the summer. We have set up a committee within the department to plan the backfilling. We have no intention of lowering any of the standards of provision, either in hospitals or in relation to doctors across the capital. We are keen that our medical expertise should be used to support the Games.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, does my noble friend recall that the 2014 Commonwealth Games are to be held in Glasgow? What co-operation and discussions are there between the Government and the Scottish Executive about mutual co-operation and assistance on this and other matters?

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Baroness Thornton: My Lords, any major sporting event between now and the Games is, of course, an important dry run to make sure that we achieve the right kind of medical support at the Olympic Games. The team within the department that is responsible for planning this is indeed working with the Scottish Executive, both to support them in their efforts for the Commonwealth Games and to make sure that we use that as a training ground for the medical expertise that we will need for the Olympic Games.

Lord Mawson: My Lords, will the Minister please say what evidence there is that the Mayor of London and his team grasp the scale of the opportunity in east London presented by the Games outside the 11-mile blue fence that surrounds the Olympic Park? What steps are they taking to promote the Water City vision for the place and the people, which is in all the documentation about the future of the area? What practical steps are they taking to engage with social entrepreneurs and social enterprise, which both main parties say are central to their thinking? I declare an interest as a promoter of the wider Water City vision.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the noble Lord is going slightly wide of the mark of the subject of medical help. However, as he will know, I am very sympathetic to his work in promoting social enterprise across London and particularly in east London. I know that the mayor and the mayoral office have been active in trying to bring that forward and to ensure that small businesses and social enterprises play a part in the construction and delivery of the Games.

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, I bring the Minister back to the essential problem, which is that there are not enough consultants in sport and exercise medicine. There are not enough being trained, there are not enough posts and there are not enough career pathways. If we add to that the fact that the Government are encouraging everyone between the ages of 40 and 74—although I am not quite sure why there is that cut-off point—to take more physical exercise, would she agree that it might be better if we followed the dictum of the late Max Beerbohm, who said that whenever he felt the need to take exercise he simply lay down until it wore off?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I thought that it was George Bernard Shaw who said that. The noble Baroness raises an important point, but the point about the medical staff whom we need to deliver the support for the Olympic Games is not that they should all be consultants; the important point is that we have the right doctors in the right place with the right experience. I just make the point that, week in and week out, we have medical staff and doctors on football pitches and at athletic events across the UK and theirs is the experience that we will draw on. However, we are committed to the growth of this speciality and to making sure that the jobs are there for the young doctors who commit to becoming sports consultants.

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Lord Mawhinney: My Lords, the Question refers to the commitment made by the Government to the Olympic authority that there would be a sufficient number of consultants. In this context, will the Minister tell the House what number would constitute a sufficiency?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the commitment made in the bid was not about consultants but about doctors who are qualified to do the job to support the Games. We are committed to creating medical consultants for sports and exercise as part of the legacy. That is the point.

Prisoners: Voting


2.52 pm

Tabled by Lord Ramsbotham

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as president of UNLOCK, the National Association of Reformed Offenders.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, all sentenced prisoners detained in UK prisons are barred from voting in British electoral regions for European elections. EU citizens who are eligible to vote in other member states will be given such assistance as practicable to enable them to exercise their vote. Arrangements for British prisoners detained in prisons in other member states are for the authorities in the relevant member state in accordance with those prisoners’ voting entitlement.

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that predictable reply. I remind the House that it is now five years since the European Court found that the Government were in breach of European human rights by denying prisoners the right to vote and four years since the Government’s appeal against that ruling was rejected. It is also four years since the Government announced a consultation on that ruling, which was reported on only last week at the same time as the announcement of a second consultation on the same subject. I have two questions: first, why is there this continued prevarication in defiance of the rule of law, of human rights and the rehabilitation of offenders—all causes that the Government claim to champion? Secondly, what message does the Minister think that that continued defiance of the rule of law sends to prisoners?

Lord Bach: My Lords, there is no defiance. Prisoner voting rights is a sensitive and complex issue. As Ministers have promised, we recently published a second, more detailed public consultation on how voting rights might be granted to serving prisoners and how far those rights should be extended. Frankly, we need to

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take the wide spectrum of opinion in the United Kingdom together with the considerable practical implications for the courts and prison authorities and for the conduct of elections. We aim to arrive at a solution that fully respects the judgment of the court while fitting appropriately with the traditions and contexts of our own country.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Republic of Ireland, the Republic of Cyprus and Hong Kong have found it easy to enact measures to give prisoners voting rights? Will he explain why we are finding it so difficult, if it is not—as I believe it to be—an example of timidity in the face of what the Government fear from the press? Have the Government taken into account that their timid prevarication will lead to costs to the taxpayer if prisoners take cases to Strasbourg for this gross violation of a binding judgment and then we have to pay the costs of all these legal proceedings? Was that taken into account when the Government decided to kick this into the long grass?

Lord Bach: My Lords, on a previous occasion I quoted the noble Lord back to the House. The noble Lord is on record as saying only in November of last year that neither he nor the Joint Committee on Human Rights was suggesting that the Government have an overall bad record in terms of implementation of the judgments of Strasbourg. He went on to say that that is not the case. In answer to the supplementary question of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, I tried to explain that the question of whether prisoners, who by some arguments forfeited their right to vote while they are in prison, should be allowed to vote is a difficult one. The European Court of Human Rights has spoken, and we have to implement that judgment. How we implement it is a difficult issue, and would be for any Government.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, does the Minister not agree, however, that it is simply not a matter of “may” or “might” but of “must”, and that for some years we have clearly been in breach of a specific legal obligation? Does he not agree also that it is entirely wholesome that these people, who have been placed beyond the walls of society for their transgressions—and perfectly properly so—should be reminded that they are human beings and citizens with fundamental rights? Indeed, in some cases that situation may remind them of the reciprocity between obligations and rights in relation to the community.

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