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Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, it is important to deal with facts rather than emotions in addressing this very difficult and important subject. Has the Minister seen the latest very detailed survey by Consumer Focus which shows that because of all the additional levies and taxes being put on fuel costs, and despite the

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lower oil price and relatively low gas price, 44 per cent of people in the United Kingdom are finding the average fuel bill—now £1,288 a year—so high that they have to cut back on their food and other essentials? Is it really fair, right and equitable that we should visit those same burdens on nations and developing countries where income is far, far lower and the danger of fuel poverty is far, far greater?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, it is always dangerous to interpret the noble Lord, Lord Stern, in front of the noble Lord, Lord Stern. However, surely the conclusion of his work is that while there is and will be an immediate cost to the measures that need to be taken to lead us toward a low-carbon world, the cost of not doing so will be very much greater in the future. That is why we must take action now.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, rises in sea level caused by climate change will disproportionately affect developing countries with low-lying coastal areas, such as Bangladesh, where millions of people would be displaced by a one-metre rise in the sea level. What help are the Government giving to improving the capacity of those countries to deal with climate change and take an active part in the negotiations on it?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, my understanding is that 94 million homes in Asia could be flooded by the end of the century. In addition, storm surges in coastal areas could have a devastating impact. This Government and this country have a record to be proud of in the support we are giving to developing countries. We are, for instance, making available £800 million from the ETF for climate investment funds. We are also the major contributor to the International Development Association. We will continue to work with the countries that the noble Lord mentioned, and we are keen to encourage them to be articulate, to come to the table and to play a very important role in levering the kind of agreement that all countries need to sign up to.

Viscount Simon: My Lords, the huge volcano known as Yellowstone Park erupts approximately every 600,000 years. It is now 640,000 years since it last erupted. We do not know when it will next erupt, but does my noble friend agree that when it does, any agreements will be blown hither and thither?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, that is rather a speculative question and I may need to take advice on it. In the summer, we will publish the Hadley Centre’s climate impact change forecast for this country. I believe that it will give a measure of the likely climate change that will occur over the next 30 to 40 years and be critical to ensuring that we in this country take the adaptation measures that need to be taken. Of course the methodology—the brilliant work of the Hadley Centre—is applicable to other countries as well. I am sure that it will be helpful in terms of the issues that noble Lords have raised today.

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Housing: Property Purchase


11.31 am

Asked By Baroness Gardner of Parkes

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): Since 1 April 2008, the Government have helped 3,123 purchasers to buy a MyChoiceHomeBuy property. This week, the HCA has released £126 million specifically for MyChoiceHomeBuy to help a further 3,000 households.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank the Minister and I am delighted to hear that further funds have been released. As she probably knows, this is an enormously popular scheme, with 200 applications a week, yet in the whole of the past year only 400 to 800 sales went through. Some people were promised money before the cash ran out and before the immediate release of new money. People who have been promised money have entered into contracts with surveyors and solicitors and have made mortgage arrangements; they are now out of pocket because they were refused money, having been told that they would get it. What will be done to help those people? I understand that they can now proceed with their purchase if the new money is available. However, if their house has already been sold, what will be done to help them?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right. This is a popular, generous scheme, for which there is a lot of demand. I have to make it clear that everyone who was interested in the MyChoiceHomeBuy scheme would have been told that they should not spend any money on surveys or solicitors, for example, until the funding was approved. Where the funding has been approved, we have released funding and people will get their equity loans. Now we are considering what we should do in terms of next steps and funding for the affordable housing programme as a whole.

Lord Best: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, although these HomeBuy initiatives are very useful as far as they go, in the great scheme of things they will help only a small number of people? The underlying problem is the acute shortage of homes compared with the number of new households formed each year. Does she accept the conclusion this month of the independent National Housing and Planning Advice Unit that, unless we substantially increase the supply of new homes to rent as well as to buy, after the recession we will face much higher house prices and much more acute shortages than we have had so far?

Baroness Andrews: Yes, my Lords, I certainly accept that, which is why we do not renege on our ambitious target of 240,000 homes a year. We know that, no matter how difficult the current housing situation is, the demography and the demand will not change. We

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need to make available as much help and incentive as possible for the housebuilding industry in particular. As the noble Lord will know, we provided £200 million towards bringing forward unsold stock for social rented homes and, in the Budget, £400 million of kick-start for the stalled construction industry. We have to use a variety of initiatives to maintain jobs and the supply of housing.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the current crisis in the housing market presents a real opportunity to get away from the emphasis on property ownership and back towards providing homes for people? In that context, would this money not have been better spent on providing socially rented accommodation?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the challenge that the Government have is to meet the diverse demands of the housing market. The noble Baroness is absolutely right: it is not just about home ownership but also about social rented homes. That is why we made £200 million available for unsold stock to be brought forward from developers for the housing associations. We have given £100 million to local authorities to stimulate their own housebuilding programmes. We have to meet diverse needs, including those of aspiring home owners. We need to reduce waiting lists for those who need help in accessing social rented housing. We also need to help people who are in difficulties with their mortgages, which is why we have mortgage rescue and mortgage support schemes. We are trying to do all that while stimulating the housebuilding industry.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, will the Minister tell us who runs this organisation and how many people are involved in it?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the MyChoice organisation involves 15 housing associations. Eight of those are members of the CHASE consortium and are equity loan providers. The housing associations are spread across the country—one in every region—and people who are interested in these sorts of products go to those housing associations, which help them through the process to see whether they are eligible and to find them a suitable property.

Earl Cathcart: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend Lady Gardner that this is an absurd situation and distressing for potential home buyers, especially when there is cash that is unutilised in other housing schemes. For example, the HomeBuy Direct scheme has £300 million available but, amazingly, according to Hansard, as at the end of March no transactions had taken place. It is therefore heartening to hear from the Minister that, at last, the extra funds will be made available to MyChoice. Will she tell the House when this cash will be available for use? Would it not be better to have one pot for all the HomeBuy funds, so that money is made available as and when it is necessary and none of the schemes will run out of money again?

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Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the money that I spoke of—the £126 million to fund people—is now immediately available. I sympathise with the noble Lord’s suggestion that there should be one pot but, as I have explained, the diversity of need makes that difficult to provide. I know that this is no substitute but, because the terminology of some of these projects overlaps—HomeBuy Direct, Social HomeBuy, HomeBuy and so on—I propose to put a document in the Library that sets out the different schemes and the different forms of funding, which should help noble Lords. I am afraid that I do not recognise the figure of £300 million for HomeBuy Direct. What we have provided is £400 million to kick-start new land and new homes. HomeBuy Direct, which is the scheme where equity is shared with developers, may be funded from that, which might be what the noble Lord was thinking about.

House of Lords: Conduct of Members


11.38 am

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): My Lords, I announced to the House yesterday that the report of the Committee for Privileges into allegations made earlier this year about certain Members of this House would be published today. Two separate reports by the Committee for Privileges have now been published and are available to Members in the Printed Paper Office. The first report covers the disciplinary powers of the House in respect of serious misconduct by Members. The second report concerns the allegations made against four Members of the House by the Sunday Times on 25 January. Both reports will be put to the whole House for consideration.

It is proposed to debate both reports together on Wednesday next, 20 May. The House will take decisions on the reports and on the recommendations of the Privileges Committee. In order to give proper time for the debate, the Second Reading of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill will be postponed until Tuesday 2 June. The Third Reading of the Postal Services Bill will still be taken on Wednesday, but as last business after the debate on the two reports.

I intend to make no further statements outside this House in relation to these matters beyond what I have told the House today. If it is necessary or appropriate to make any other further Statement to the House before next Wednesday, I shall of course continue to undertake to keep the House informed.

These were serious allegations against Members of this House. The committees of this House charged with investigating these allegations have carried out their inquiries and considerations in a serious manner, and this House now faces serious decisions on the reports which have been published today. The reports place an obligation on this House, an obligation of fairness and justice towards the Members of this House who are the subject of the investigation and recommendations which are set out in the report, an obligation of fairness and justice towards all Members of this House and the House as a whole, as

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well as an obligation beyond this House to the people we are here to serve. It is a set of obligations which I trust and I know that this House will discharge properly.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for making that short Statement and for the way in which she has kept the House informed of developments in what I regard as an exemplary way. The report is published on a bleak day in the history of your Lordships’ House. As the noble Baroness said, the allegations were extremely serious. They needed and they got exhaustive examination in which those under investigation had the full opportunity to put their point of view.

But the findings were clear. It is a long report and I urge noble Lords to read it. Sadly, it demonstrates that two Peers fell short of what both the House and the country are entitled to expect. The penalties that have been recommended by the Privileges Committee are severe, but in my view they are fully deserved. What they demonstrate is that the law must never be for sale to those with the money to buy it, and that is why I support the findings and will urge the House to back these sanctions when we debate them next Wednesday.

Lord McNally: My Lords, I agree with most of the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, although the point made by the Lord President that I most fully endorse is that it is better if we all wait until next Wednesday to express a view on these matters.

Marine Navigation Aids Bill [HL]

First Reading

11.42 am

A Bill to make provision for a marine navigation aids commission, to establish an office of marine aids regulation, to amend the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, and for connected purposes.

The Bill was introduced by Lord Berkeley, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Business of the House

Timing of Debates

11.43 am

Moved By Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

Motion agreed.

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Children and Families


11.43 am

Moved By Baroness Massey of Darwen

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to be introducing this debate in anticipation of contributions by so many distinguished colleagues. In your Lordships’ House there are, and have been, many champions of children and families, and I pay tribute to them all. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Laming, who sadly cannot be here today, the much lamented Lord Dearing, and of course the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock.

I declare an interest as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children, several of whose members are here today, together with others who have great expertise and commitment. I have said before, and I will say it again, that when we debate children’s issues in this House, the concern is about children and only secondarily about party politics. This is not only refreshing, it has also enabled us to change legislation significantly on a number of occasions.

I hope that this debate will give the Minister arguments which may be incorporated into future legislation. I know that she will carry them back to the DCSF and other relevant ministries, as she is very conscientious and has the well-being of children and families at heart. I thank the Library in the House of Lords for its assiduous research on this topic and for its excellent briefing, which all noble Lords have received. I also pay tribute to the vigorous and tenacious voluntary sector for children, and the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, not only for their briefings, but for discussing issues with me and for being so supportive to all of us. I know that they are well respected and listened to by Government.

One colleague from the voluntary sector asked me if the debate today would be a sort of report card on government progress. I suppose that is what, cumulatively, it will be. I am sure that we have all, at some time in our school careers, had report comments such as “enthusiastic”, “attentive”, “diligent”, “average”, “inconsistent”, “poor”, “more effort needed”, and so on. There is a large spectrum of achievement, from brilliant to awful. One of the most damning comments I ever had was from a domestic science teacher. In this subject we handled things such as knitting needles and hot ovens, and I was deemed to be “dangerously incompetent”. There was not much emphasis on self-esteem in children in those days.

On the spectrum of achievement, I would put the Government’s record on children and families very high. I wonder how other noble Lords will judge it. No one can deny the immense focus that this Government have placed on children and families. No other country—

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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, this is extraordinary, but if I might interrupt my noble friend, it seems that the microphone to which she is speaking is defective. Therefore I urge her to move to another microphone, with the leave of the House.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: “Dangerously incompetent”, my Lords! This is a first. This has never happened to me before.

I was talking about the Government’s immense focus on children’s issues. The Children’s Commissioner has said publicly that more has happened for children in the past 10 years than in the previous 50. These achievements are, regretfully, too often unsung. The vision for children, reflecting Every Child Matters, the Children’s Plan, and many other reports and legislation, genuinely seeks to make Britain a good place for children.

Listening to the voice of a child has become much more prevalent. Investment in outdoor play facilities, children’s centres and Sure Start, increased funding for schools, investment in mental health and child health, and reviews of social care all point to a Government who care deeply about children. There are some contradictions and disappointments, for example in the child poverty targets. Nevertheless, real progress has been made—we have a Minister for Children and commissioners for children. We have had reform of children’s services, which is ongoing. Commitment to improvement has been visionary and consistent.

I have no intention of going through all the reports and legislation on children and families over the past 10 years or of quoting lots of statistics. Noble Lords are very good at statistics. I will single out some areas that concern me, and to which there have been some government responses. I will do this very briefly on each area—other noble Lords will no doubt comment more extensively. I will then go into more detail on two initiatives which demonstrate, in different ways, a commitment to improving life for children and families.

Four things stand out for me as essential to the well-being of children and families: good parenting, a good workforce dealing with children and families, good co-ordinated systems for children and families, and listening to the voice of the child.

There are some areas of concern. There are too many children in the criminal justice system, especially in custody. Damaged children are being damaged further. This is expensive and counterproductive, and only re-emphasises the cycle of deprivation. In particular, children with special needs suffer. It is a difficult area. I am glad that youth justice has become part of DCSF, working with the Youth Justice Board, and I hope that this will change the emphasis to be more rehabilitative than punishing.

I welcome the introduction of education initiatives for young people in the criminal justice system in the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill. Children in care are also at risk, and, given the small number of such children, we should be able to improve the system.

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