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Lord Broers: Does the Minister agree that it is a pity that the very successful Silent Aircraft project that resulted from the Cambridge University-MIT

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collaboration several years ago is not being followed up in this country, whereas it has become a fairly major project for NASA?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I cannot comment on that, I am afraid, but I am sure that there must have been sound investment reasons why that was the case.

Lord Bradshaw: Would the Minister care to comment on his present view on the European Emissions Trading Scheme, on which the airline industry is putting huge emphasis and which is reported as probably not leading to genuine reductions in carbon emissions?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, that is not a fair assessment. Under the ETS, aviation emissions cannot increase above 97 per cent of average 2004-06 levels in 2012 and 95 per cent in 2013 without trading carbon savings elsewhere. The savings will be very real.

Lord Grocott: My Lords, I welcome my noble friend's comments about improving the environmental impact of aviation wherever possible, but would not the best thing that his department could do on the environmental agenda be to look at the huge benefits of rail transport? In particular, it could continue his acknowledged support for the rail industry by opening and developing, where possible, lines that have closed and, perhaps more importantly, look at the continued work on the development of high-speed rail links to the Midlands and the north.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I am never knowingly overbid when it comes to proposals for improving the railway system. I take my noble friend's remarks closely to heart.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, at the moment, it is essential to concentrate on Heathrow and its possible development, excepting always the possibility of fast rail access to Heathrow, which in my view is wholly important?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend. It is important to understand that, even with the recession, monthly passenger traffic at Heathrow this September was only 0.3 per cent down on September 2008 and the airport is running at nearly 99 per cent capacity. The issue of further expansion at Heathrow will not go away; it needs to be kept under review. However, it is also important to look at the case for the high-speed line which would make Heathrow more accessible. The two are not either/or choices. Only 3 per cent of flights from Heathrow go to Manchester or Leeds, which are the two most popular destinations touted for a potential high-speed line, and in future all domestic and short-haul flights put together will account for only about 15 per cent of the traffic to and from Heathrow. The case for high-speed connections at Heathrow is very strong-we are looking at it-but that does not obviate the need to consider future capacity at Heathrow itself.

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3.01 pm

Asked By Lord Lamont of Lerwick

The Minister for International Defence and Security (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My Lords, our forces are working under United Nations Security Council resolutions with 42 other countries to build security and governance to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a safe haven for terrorism.

As the Prime Minister explained in his speech on 4 September, the advice of the security services is that the military action in Afghanistan, combined with sustained pressure on al-Qaeda in Pakistan, is suppressing terrorists' ability to operate effectively from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Have the Government considered carefully the published opinions of Rory Stewart, the former British soldier who is an Afghan expert and who is now at Harvard? He has written not just that democratic government is impossible in Afghanistan but that any effective government is impossible there, and that al-Qaeda no longer needs large-scale bases in Afghanistan when it can train in Eritrea, Somalia, Yemen, at outward-bound courses in Derbyshire or indeed flying schools in Florida. Have they considered his opinion that what is needed is not more troops but fewer troops with a more carefully defined and limited objective?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, the objective of our troops is extremely well defined. The Statement made by the Prime Minister last week set out that strategy. It is important that we counter the insurgents there, but it is also important that we build good governance in Afghanistan and help the Afghans to take control of their own affairs. It is true that there are threats and dangers from those who are training terrorists in other parts of the world, but I draw attention to what the security services have said: that three-quarters of all the plots that affect us in this country have their origins in that region. Therefore, it is right that we should make that a priority.

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: My Lords, do the Government not realise that troops cannot turn this round and should not be expected to, as our present difficulties with President Karzai's election clearly shows? Is not rule number one in an international intervention such as this that the international community has a single, clear political strategy, attached to which is a small number of priorities which are then pursued in a unified fashion? Why, after seven years and tens of thousands of deaths and casualties, does no such thing exist, nor is it even close to existing? Is that not our real problem in Afghanistan?

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Baroness Taylor of Bolton: No, my Lords, I do not accept that. I do not think that anyone has ever suggested that the troops themselves can win the situation and bring stability to Afghanistan. Our overall objective has to be to make Afghanistan self-sustainable and to provide stability in that region so that it cannot be a safe haven. We have embraced the comprehensive approach-the combination of civil and military effort-and we have encouraged others to do so. At the end of the day, we need to see that progressing.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden: My Lords, is there not a worrying and increasing scepticism in this country about whether the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan represent a threat to United Kingdom security? Will the Government look again to see whether they can increase the amount of evidence that can safely and practically be brought forward to establish that that threat, which many of us accept, really exists?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I am glad that the noble and learned Lord accepts that the dangers exist. There is a problem in always explaining properly and fully the extent of the threat. I mention the Chief of the General Staff's comment today that we are there,

It is difficult to put all the information into the public domain, and certainly to do so as early as we would often like, but it is important to try to do that. I repeat that the security services have been straightforward in making their views clear that 75 per cent of the threats to us here originate in that area.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, is it not true that an impression of shilly-shallying is being given? President Obama has said that he is not going to make up his mind on troop levels until the political situation in Afghanistan has been sorted out. Today, it has been announced that President Karzai did not get 50 per cent of the vote, so there is argument there about that. There is no cohesion in Afghanistan. The terrorist threat comes from Pakistan, not Afghanistan, but it looks as if there is no cohesive strategy, as the noble Lord just said. Those of us who support our presence there feel that it could be much better enunciated.

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, the elections have proved very difficult. I remind the House that this is the first time the Afghans have been in control of running such elections. I do not think that there has been shilly-shallying on our part. I think that the Prime Minister's Statement was clear last week. He laid out the three conditions on which we would be increasing our troop numbers, and that was a realistic assessment of the situation.

As regards Pakistan, we have been very clear for a very long time that it is important in that region, and that threats come from the Afghanistan/Pakistan border region. It is impossible to think of it as a simple dividing line between the two countries. The document that the Government published last April related to policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That recognised well the links between the two.

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Damages (Asbestos-Related Conditions) Bill

First Reading

3.07 pm

The Bill was read a first time and ordered to be printed.


3.07 pm

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, with the leave of the House, my noble friend Lord Drayson will repeat the Statement on "Defence Acquisition: Independent Review" at a convenient point after 3.30 pm.

Examiner of Petitions for Private Bills

Membership Motion

3.08 pm

Moved By The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara)

Motion agreed.

Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Bill

Order of Commitment Discharged

3.08 pm

Moved By Lord Janner of Braunstone

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Motion agreed.

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 (9th Day)

3.09 pm

Clause 126 : General duties

Amendment 244

Moved by Baroness Walmsley

244: Clause 126, page 77, line 35, at end insert "and establish specific and measurable success criteria for each of its objectives"

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Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 265 to 269, which are grouped with Amendment 244.

The Bill does not detail the specifics of Ofqual's reporting structure and performance measurement. If schools, colleges and awarding bodies knew of Ofqual's priorities each year, they could plan their qualifications accordingly. This group of amendments would provide for that and add further checks and balances on Ofqual's activities, providing for greater scrutiny and accountability of its performance-a matter which your Lordships on all sides of the House have said is desirable.

Amendment 244 to Clause 126, which is about general duties, requires Ofqual to,

The next set of amendments is about Ofqual's annual report. Amendment 265 requires the annual report to state how Ofqual intends to fulfil the criteria over the next 12 months.

Amendment 266 relates to Clause 138, if it were to remain in the Bill. If the Secretary of State had used the rather controversial power to make a determination, the amendment would require Ofqual to report that in its annual report, so that the Secretary of State's actions are open and accountable for all to see. Amendment 267 requires similar reporting in the annual report if the fee-capping power has been used. Amendment 268 requires information about consultation that Ofqual has undertaken during the previous year. Amendment 268A requires Ofqual to take into consideration significant reports on its performance. We would expect Ofqual to state how it was to improve, if that were necessary-if there were some sort of criticism in the report. Amendment 269 asks the organisation to consult the public on its plans and publish and lay before Parliament an annual plan with its main objectives and priorities for the coming year.

All that may seem very prescriptive, but given that we on these Benches want to remove Clause 138, and given that the Government are resisting that rather strongly, we feel that it is important to lay out in the amendments how Parliament expects Ofqual to behave in relation to transparency and accountability. That would give Parliament the opportunity to question what is happening if necessary; of course, it cannot do that unless it has the information. This group of amendments would give it that information. None of the things that we are asking for is something that Ofqual would not want to do anyway, but it is important that we lay such things out clearly when we are setting up this system for the examination regulator. I beg to move.

Lord Lucas: I have tabled Amendment 262 in this group, which asks that:

"Ofqual shall publish on the internet a summary of all judgements and determinations that it makes, and of the reasons for them".

It is very important that Ofqual should seek to establish in public a detailed series of precedents and explanations of the way that it is working: first, because it should be transparent; secondly, because such transparency is vital in creating public confidence in the body; and, thirdly, because only by seeing exactly how Ofqual is

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reaching its decisions and on what basis it is seeking to judge qualifications will the awarding bodies have the confidence that they need to be able to innovate and bring forward new and interesting variations on their existing qualifications.

3.15 pm

Baroness Verma: My Lords, I shall be brief. We support the amendment and would like to see Ofqual fulfil its functions in a transparent and accountable manner. In order to restore public faith in the examination system, people must be able to see clearly the functions and actions of the body in charge of regulating examination standards. Furthermore, it is right that Ofqual should be held to account for any failure or perceived failure in its duties. Enhanced transparency will ensure that Ofqual is held to high standards, which should make sure that our examination system is, once again, a vigorous and robust structure that displays the hard work and dedication of the students to the best possible advantage. I hope that the Minister will give a favourable reply to these amendments.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): My Lords, I am delighted to respond to this short debate. I was interested to hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, had to say in introducing this debate. At times, it was difficult to hear her because when noble Lords leave the Chamber after Questions it can be very noisy. I support what the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Verma, said about the importance of Ofqual being held to account and the key role that Parliament will play. Ofqual will want to fulfil the aspirations set out in the noble Baroness's amendments. We all accept the principle that Ofqual should be independent of Ministers and accountable to Parliament. The Bill delivers that. Its provisions are modelled on those for Ofsted. It is tempting for noble Lords on all sides of the House to think of things that seem important now and write into the legislation that Ofqual should report on them. I appreciate that that is not the kind of game that we are in, but I appreciate the thought that has gone into these amendments. We should resist that temptation to create a tick-box mentality that risks Ofqual having to report on the detail of A, B and C, even if, at a later date, the X, Y and Z are more important, although I think the noble Baroness is driving at a higher principle than that. We should instead trust that the accountability arrangements will truly hold Ofqual to account for those things that are really important at the time.

Amendments 244 and 265, tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Sharp, relate to success measures and my answer to them is similar. We agree that Ofqual should establish specific success measures and report against them. We would expect Parliament, probably through the Select Committees, to insist on nothing less. Indeed, the chair of interim Ofqual, Kathleen Tattersall, stated in a letter to the Public Bill Committee in another place that she intends that Ofqual will do that.

Amendments 266, 267 and 268A refer to how determinations under Clause 138 will need to be published. I appreciate what the noble Baroness is trying to say. If

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Ofqual were foolish enough not to report on them, Parliament would have something to say. The same might be said about Amendment 268A, which relates to reporting to Parliament about Ofqual's functions. On Amendment 267, any further guidance given by the Secretary of State on fee capping or on anything else will be published, allowing Parliament to look to Ofqual to give its view.

Briefly, on consulting on the plans, Amendment 269 risks being a bit prescriptive and going into too much detail about how Ofqual should go about its business. It is Parliament's job to hold Ofqual to account on how effectively it plans but, again, I appreciate that Parliament will want to know how it goes about its business, and the communication between Ofqual and Parliament will be key. If the Bill puts into place lots of hoops for Ofqual to jump through, Ofqual will spend its time jumping through them and not necessarily planning, but I appreciate the importance of clear communication in planning.

On the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, I caution that there is a difference between transparency and a white noise of information. There is a difficult balance to be struck, and it is important that public bodies get it absolutely right. If Ofqual spends its time publishing literally vast amounts of information, what is important may get lost in a deluge; so it may be possible to fulfil a publication requirement but not necessarily to communicate, and the effect might be to improve neither understanding nor confidence.

The noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, argued this point rather eloquently in her Reith lectures a few years ago, in which I was very interested. She argued that transparency can create its own problems if it results in,

although I appreciate that noble Lords do not expect something like that to happen. A key founding principle of these reforms is transparent decision-making rather than transparent information. We must be careful not to confuse the two, as these amendments would.

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