Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

29 Jun 2009 : Column 45

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I agree with everything that my noble friend has said. In the coming days, there will be a White Paper on local democracy. I think that he will be very happy because many of the views that he has expressed are in the White Paper.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, bearing in mind that the Statement contains a number of important aspirations to improve the economic prospects of the under-25 generation-that is to some extent its thrust-why did the Government think it appropriate to add, in the 45th paragraph of a 46-paragraph Statement, the only substantive proposal for the reform of our system of parliamentary democracy, which is in deep trouble? I refer to the promise to publish a draft Bill containing proposals for a smaller and more democratic House of Lords. Is it imaginable that we shall say goodbye to the noble Lord, Lord Myners, who is sitting on the noble Baroness's right; to the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, who has been a distinguished participant in the House; to the noble Lord, Lord Davies, who has just arrived in the House; and, perhaps most notably, to the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson? Does the noble Baroness expect these gentlemen to be elected to one or other House, and what will she do to ensure the quality of government?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the quality of the Government is beyond doubt. It is hugely to our advantage that we have on these Benches people such as my noble friend Lord Myners. The proposals that we will bring forward are under discussion and we will consult on the issues.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, in the programme that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House has set out, she said that the Government will halve government borrowing in five years. Will the Government publish an annual profile of the projected reductions in government borrowing?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I was trying to say-I clearly did not-that we will try to halve the deficit as a percentage of GDP.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, I welcome the emphasis in the Statement on jobs. It is good that even in a time of recession the Government are putting forward policies to create new jobs, particularly in social housing. The increase in spending that is occurring in social housing and the fact that we will build 110,000 houses in the next two years is most welcome, as well as the fact that we will look for local people, many of whom have been languishing on the waiting lists for far too long, in order to give them priority.

I can understand that there should be no difficulty now as regards House reform because all the Opposition are in favour of reform and a democratically elected House. Perhaps I may give the Minister some advice: do not take too much notice of the doubting Thomases on the other side.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that I will take into consideration the views of noble Lords on the other side, but I will not be dispirited in any way. When I talk to people in my village and in towns, jobs and housing are the issues

29 Jun 2009 : Column 46

about which people are concerned. They say, "Why aren't you as a Government doing something about creating jobs for our young people and finding houses for the people who live around here". That is precisely what we are doing. We are delivering the goods that the people want.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, I feel a little bit of an alien here today. There is building England's future, but we have not heard a word about how resources and what additional resources are to be channelled to the devolved Parliaments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. How will they also be helped in the present circumstances?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I do not think that I have mentioned the word "England" once. This document is about building Britain's future and therefore will take proper consideration of the needs of Scotland and Wales.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, the grandiose nature of this Statement's title must surely imply a strategic view of the future; but that is clearly impossible to assess unless we have costings of what is proposed. It is quite extraordinary that the Government should launch this Statement when we have been told-perhaps the noble Baroness will confirm whether it is true-that we are not to have a comprehensive spending review. Without that, we cannot assess the validity of what the Government propose. If we are not to have a comprehensive review, can we at least have the costs of the various items over, let us say, the next five years, which the noble Baroness has set out in the Statement today? Surely it cannot be the case even for this Government to produce what was in the Statement without the departments concerned having given any indication whatever of costs or how their claims will be balanced against the competing claims of other departments.

On the point raised by my noble friend on the Front Bench about the implications of the Government's, I feel bound to say, panic reaction to the expenses scandal and so-called constitutional reform-I leave on one side the question of the House of Lords because my views on that are very well known-there is surely grave cause for concern about the constitutional implications of what the Government are now proposing in a Bill which apparently is to be rushed through both Houses. I hope that both Houses, but certainly this House, will make their positions clear on what would be nothing less than a constitutional revolution if what the Government now propose comes forward.

I understand that the Clerk of the House of Commons has given advice to the House of Commons on the implications of what the Government now propose. Will the noble Baroness say whether she will ask for similar or alternative advice, as the case may be, from the Clerk of the Parliaments before the Bill comes before this House?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, in relation to the budgetary aspects of the Statement, the comprehensive spending review is clearly a matter for the Chancellor. It should be remembered that we introduced the concept of a comprehensive spending review. Before that, it was much more difficult for

29 Jun 2009 : Column 47

people to plan, because they had only annual budgets. As the Chancellor has repeatedly said, given the degree of economic uncertainty, now would be the wrong time to set departmental budgets through to 2014. I should add that many of the proposals covered by today's Statement have already been costed in the current budget from a reprioritisation of the budgets already announced.

I understand the concern expressed by the noble Lord about the legislation on the Parliamentary Standards Authority. There will be ample opportunity to debate the issues raised in this House. I am well aware of the letter from the Clerk of the Commons. Many of the issues that he has raised will be dealt with satisfactorily by the Government in the other place. I will certainly reflect on the noble Lord's request that the Clerk of the Parliaments should be asked for his views before the Bill is debated in this House.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I, too, welcome my noble friend's emphasis in the Statement on housing, jobs, health and education. I think that the whole House would welcome the priorities that the Government have placed in those areas. On a more personal and focused level, the points on cluster munitions, on measures about violence against women and on climate change are very much to be applauded. But I, too, turn to the end of the Statement and the commitment to cleaning up and to rebuilding trust in politics. The only measures I hear about that are to do with removing the hereditary principle in the House of Lords.

I do not like the hereditary principle any more than other Members in my party, but perhaps my noble friend would reflect on this being prioritised in the way that it has. It was not hereditary Peers who became creative over their expenses, nor did they have inappropriate conversations with people purporting to come from companies dealing with public relations. We in this House dealt with those who had those inappropriate conversations. We dealt with them under my noble friend's leadership very quickly and very decisively. Perhaps my noble friend will reflect on whether this really is the constitutional priority that we need in cleaning up politics.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I understand the concern expressed by my noble friend about the fact that the only issue raised in the Statement in relation to cleaning up politics is reform of the House of Lords. I would have to agree with her that this House-not me as the Leader-has been exemplary in the way in which it has dealt with several problems which have arisen. We continue to do that in the way in which we have sent our expenses issue to the SSRB, and we have the Leader's group and so on. I, too, muse on the fact that perhaps the House of Commons should reflect a little more closely about the reforms that are needed in the other place.

That notwithstanding, I also reflect that there is a need for this excellent House to have some democratic element. These issues have been widely addressed over a long period of time. There has been a consensual position reached by the Front Benches as a result of the work in the cross-party working group. It is time for the Government to move on these issues.

29 Jun 2009 : Column 48

Lord Razzall: My Lords, does the Leader of the House agree that the point that the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, made on budgets would have been a lot more acceptable if the Tory party was prepared to indicate where it would make cuts or tax increases as and when, or if, it comes to power? Would she not also agree that the elephant in the room in this Statement is that everybody knows that, at some stage, nasty spending cuts and tax increases are on their way, whoever forms the next Government? It is all right for the noble Lord, Lord Myners, to shake his head in the way he has become accustomed to doing in this House, but sometimes we have to nod as well.

If one wants a list of things that the Government ought to be looking at and ought to be referring to in this Statement, how about the Trident replacement, how about the NHS IT scheme, how about ID cards, how about other databases like ContactPoint, how about baby bonds, and how about tax credits, many of which do not go to the worst off in our society?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for reminding me about the lack of spending proposals from the Bench opposite. Indeed, we have been waiting for their proposals for some time. We have made our spending commitments clear until April 2011, and it is within that envelope that we are now working.

Lord Kirkham: When, my Lords?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, it does not stop in 2011, but the reason we are not saying exactly what we are going to be spending in each department after 2011 is that we do not know what the economy is going to be like. We are living in a volatile, ever-changing situation, and it would be irresponsible for us to say exactly what money will be available after 2011.

I note the proposals for reprioritisation that the noble Lord has mentioned. Maybe some of those will be considered: I do not know. The fact of the matter is, however, that we are already reprioritising some budgets, and that is how we found the money to do these excellent things for young people and employment.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that history teaches us that the worst thing that any Government can do at times of peril for families, for children, for young people, for jobs and for homes, is to throw up their hands and say, "There is nothing we can do"?

I remind my noble friend that when I was a constituency MP, I asked a postman once how many giros he delivered through the doors of a big council estate adjacent to a pub where we were having a drink. He replied, "It's easier to tell you how many I don't". I say to my noble friend that we should never forget those experiences, particularly in areas like mine in Castle Vale, which has 34 tower blocks and the highest unemployment in the West Midlands. It was transformed, mainly through the initial efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine. He took the view that one could not just leave things alone, because if they were left alone, they rotted. He set up six housing action trusts, and the Castle Vale Housing Action Trust is an exemplar

29 Jun 2009 : Column 49

of what can be done when private and public money are used to cut unemployment, to cut crime, to improve the schools, and to add five years to people's life expectancy.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, my noble friend makes the case very well for investment now, to invest our way out of this recession and to invest in the people of this country, because their talents and lives must not be wasted as they were in previous recessions.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, when I looked through this document, I was reminded of the words of the Duke of Wellington who-when approached by a stranger who said, "Mr Jones, I believe"-replied, "If you believe that, you will believe anything". I look at Annex C, which has got the key deliverables over the next year. There are 59 of them. I look at Annex D, which has the key deliverables over the following 10 years. There are only 42 of them. That is really past credibility, so would the noble Baroness, in order to help us, select just three of the key deliverables over the next year, which she regards as being of crucial importance?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I cannot say that I have examined the annexes in detail. Key deliverables for me would be jobs for young people, houses for people who do not currently have houses, and investment in new technologies.

Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, I share the concerns which have been expressed around the House about youth unemployment. However, I noticed that recent figures of the 16 to 18 year-olds not in education, employment or training have risen in the first three months of this year from 13.6 per cent to 15.6 per cent. In the light of that adverse trend, I wonder whether the noble Baroness could say how the Government can guarantee jobs, work experience or training places, and where these jobs are going to come from.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I do not have exact facts and figures as to where the jobs will be coming from, but I did say during my briefing that if I am making statements that we are going to expect young people to have a job, education or training, we have to ensure that the jobs, education and training schemes are in place. I was assured that they will be.

The figures that the noble Baroness quoted were, I think, for 15 to 24 year-olds. I think there has been some misquoting of the unemployment levels in the press, because the press have given us to believe that we have the highest unemployment levels in the EU 27, but that is not the case. The UK might have the highest 15 to 24 year-old unemployment levels in the EU 27, but that is due to the population of 15 to 24 year-olds in the labour market. In February 2009, the UK unemployment rate for 15 to 24 year-olds was 17.6 per cent, which is the same rate as for the euro area and slightly under the rate for the EU 27. It is very important to make that point, because we are often criticised on it.

29 Jun 2009 : Column 50

The one other thing I forgot to mention in key deliverables was all the things on health, which are of fundamental importance to the people of this country.

Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill

Main Bill Page
Copy of the Bill
Explainatory Notes
8th Report Delegated Powers Committee
14 Report Joint Committee on Human Rights

Committee (3rd Day)

5.56 pm

Clause 39 : Employee support for employee study and training

Amendment 79

Moved by Lord De Mauley

79: Clause 39, page 17, line 37, at beginning insert "Where an employer does not have acceptable annual arrangements for discussing employees' training needs in place through annual performance reviews or other arrangements,"

Lord De Mauley: Amendment 79 would quite simply protect those businesses whose good practice in arranging time for their employees to train should give them the right to exemption from too much of the regulatory burden that has been created with recalcitrant businesses in mind. Indeed, much of this part of the Bill seems to make an assumption that businesses need to be bullied or forced into doing the Government's bidding. The reality is that most employers know well-without the Government or anyone else having to tell them-that it is in their own best interests to ensure that their people are properly trained and equipped. The majority of them not only know this but actively pursue it.

The most recent data from the CBI education and skills survey show that 89 per cent of businesses have training and development plans. The vast majority of employers in this country are strongly committed to investing in skills, a fact that is reflected in the £39 billion per year invested by businesses in skills training. Many of these employers have existing arrangements for discussing employees' training needs, be they at regular appraisals or, perhaps, at annual performance reviews, as both the IoD and the CBI have told us.

While we certainly are generally happy with the objectives of Clause 39, as my honourable friend Nick Gibb said in another place, the figure from the CBI of £39 billion spent on training, compared with the calculated benefits of this new right, which the impact assessment has put at between £200 and £400 million, shows that what is already being spent is up to 100 times greater than the anticipated benefit of the new right. I suggest that we should avoid creating a greater regulatory burden for those companies that are already more than fulfilling any reasonable expectation of them for training and skills. Where good practice does exist, there is no need for increased regulation. In such cases, training needs should be dealt with through existing programmes, negating the need for legislation. The CBI argues that this approach has worked well for flexible working. Six million people now have a legal right to flexible working; the number increases to 14 million if you count those who do so in practice. Can the Minister explain why this should not work in the case of training and skills? I beg to move.

29 Jun 2009 : Column 51

6 pm

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: We have quite a lot of sympathy with this amendment. However, on reading the debate on the same amendment in the other place, we recognise the importance placed by the Minister there on the need for employees to take some responsibility for their own training. He said that we were in a sense trying to change the mindset and behaviour of employees as well as employers. Certainly we are with the Conservative Party in feeling that good employer practices such as proper appraisal systems are important, but we are worried that young people aged between 16 and 18, having had an appraisal and entering into an agreement, may find that things change rapidly and that what they really need is another kind of training course. The wording of the amendment is inflexible in that, once a training programme has been agreed, everyone must stick to it. Employees would have no opportunity to say that they would like time off to do something else. We should look at all the reasons why something is not agreed. Therefore, while we have sympathy with the amendment, we do not go along wholly with it.

Baroness Wall of New Barnet: I agree totally with the noble Baroness. This amendment deals with a situation where the ideal arrangements are not in place, but I worry because a lot of the work being done to ensure that employers engage with apprenticeships takes place through union learning reps, whom I know the party opposite also favours. They should be part of the ongoing arrangements or audit of the report. In the absence of such arrangements, I suppose that Investors in People or another type of facility in the workplace might be able to help. However, the amendment is restrictive in that it closes things down rather than opens them up.

Viscount Eccles: My issues on proposed new Part 6A go somewhat wider and, while I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that the amendment might not be exactly the right way to loosen up these provisions, they nevertheless need to be loosened and I want to make the argument for why the amendment moved by my noble friend on the Front Bench at least gets us started along the way.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page