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27 Oct 2009 : Column 1102

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, not only does high alcohol intake lead to an increase in hospital admissions-it leads to a decrease in productivity, as my husband found yesterday with a student who was a little under the weather. When my husband asked what the matter was, he said that he was suffering from "wine flu".

Baroness Thornton: The noble Countess makes her point admirably.

Baroness Barker: My Lords, I declare an interest in the subject, one that I hope will continue for a very long time. What is the department doing to encourage pubs to serve wine in 125 millilitre glasses-small glasses-so that people who want to enjoy a glass of wine and stay within the limits can do so safely?

Baroness Thornton: The noble Baroness raises a very important point. Wine glass sizes are larger than they used to be, and the majority of pubs, bars and clubs now offer 175 millilitre or even 250 millilitre glasses by default. That makes it difficult to moderate intake, and it may influence less healthy drinking norms. The important matter is that customers should be able to go to pubs and clubs and should be able to ask for wine in the 125 millilitre measures. We are very concerned about that and are having a consultation with the Home Office about a mandatory code for retailers to do precisely that.

Lord Mitchell: A few years ago, in your Lordships' House, my noble friend the Minister stated that by the end of 2008 it would be compulsory, on a voluntary basis, for-

Noble Lords: Ha!

Lord Mitchell: I shall start again. The Minister said that the alcohol industry would have labelling on all bottles, on a voluntary basis, on the danger of drinking while pregnant. The year 2008 has come and gone, and we now hear that wine is stronger. Will this be made mandatory?

Baroness Thornton: My noble friend knows that we are very concerned about the health information on labels on alcoholic drinks. We know that it has been used only to a limited extent. We have been working with the industry to improve the uptake of the voluntary agreement and hope that the monitoring exercise conducted earlier this year will show an improved rate of compliance. We expect to be able to publish the results of this exercise shortly. I shall bring my noble friend's concern to the attention of my honourable friend Gillian Merron; I recognise his concern and the fact that we debated this issue in 2008. Quite rightly, he wants action to be taken.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, has the Minister recently reread the proceedings in your Lordships' House on the Licensing Bill in 2003, when so many of the warnings given from these Benches

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have come to pass? What pressure is her department putting on the rest of the Government to review the provisions of that Act?

Baroness Thornton: Flexible licensing hours will remain. We want local authorities to use the powers that we have given them to take action at local level.

Universities: Modern Languages


3.14 pm

Asked By Baroness Coussins

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Lord Young of Norwood Green): Mes Seigneurs, le rapport est une contribution valable au débat sur les langues modernes. Or, in plain English-I thought that that would be a different way of introducing this-the report is a valuable contribution to the debate on modern languages and we look forward to considering the detail with colleagues responsible for schools. However, I reaffirm the importance that the Government attach to language learning at all levels. The Routes into Languages programme, which incentivises universities to work with colleges and schools, is already making a significant impact in turning around the decline of languages among young people.

Baroness Coussins: I thank the Minister for that positive reply. Will he also acknowledge that improvements at university are linked to improvements at school? Will he assure the House that the Government will implement Professor Worton's recommendation that a mandatory target be set by all schools that between 50 and 90 per cent of pupils should study a language until they are 16 and that the setting and meeting of these targets should be closely monitored by Ofsted?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, we are considering a range of options for boosting take-up at key stage 4, including making this benchmark mandatory. We are already taking action to incentivise language learning at key stage 4, such as the revised key stage 3 curriculum, the online Open School for Languages and our communications campaign aimed at young people and their parents. We have also commissioned research into the effectiveness of Lord Dearing's recommendations. However, it is not the role of Ofsted to police the setting of targets and their compliance by schools, although I certainly endorse the view of the importance of universities in encouraging schools and colleges to participate in foreign languages.

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Lord Harrison: Has my noble friend read that part of Professor Worton's report that says that the CBI is very concerned at the lack of linguists to help boost British business abroad?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: Yes, my Lords, we have read that part. Certainly, the Worton report cites the CBI's report Emerging Stronger: The Value of Education and Skills in Turbulent Times, which found that 74 per cent of employers are looking for conversational and associated intercultural competencies rather than language fluency. To succeed in a business environment, what is required is a knowledge and understanding of the culture in order to break the ice and to show cultural sensitivity in a business environment.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the Worton report refers to tensions between pure modern languages departments and language centres in universities. Will the Government pay particular attention to the service role that language teaching has in universities, the importance of social scientists, natural scientists, engineers and others also picking up good language skills and the role in British universities of study abroad, which has been slipping badly in terms of the number of British students who are willing to spend an extra year studying abroad to pick up precisely the skills that business needs?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, we endorse the point about what goes on inside universities. Indeed, we would say that there needs to be more coherence between pure research and what goes on in other parts of the university. We are taking action to increase the numbers studying languages at a very high level. There is a £25 million initiative between HEFCE, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Scottish Funding Council, which aims to create a world-class cabal of researchers who will enhance the UK's understanding of the Arabic-speaking world, China, Japan and eastern Europe, including areas of the former Soviet Union.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, given the importance of the early learning of languages-the earlier the better-when children can absorb languages like sponges, will the Minister be more specific about what plans the Government have to encourage universities to engage with primary and secondary schools to help to develop a language curriculum fit for the 21st century, which is recommendation 6 of the report?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, the noble Baroness is quite right about the importance of this. The £8 million Routes into Languages programme, funded by the DCSF and HEFCE, has created consortia of schools, colleges and universities in every region of England to work together to stimulate demand for language learning in secondary and higher education. More than 50 per cent of universities are taking part in that programme and doing so very enthusiastically. It has been very well received in primary schools,

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where pupils have been visited by young people from universities who are much closer to them in age. That is valuable work.

Lord Teverson: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the most important thing is that language learning starts in the earliest of years? That is when it really counts and makes a difference. Does not the example of bilingualism in Wales show how much of an education benefit it can be? It might even improve the Minister's fluency in the French language.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: I am so sensitive, my Lords, although I think that anything would improve my fluency. But I digress. The noble Lord is absolutely right. By 2010 we hope that all pupils at key stage 2 will be able to learn a foreign language and from September 2011 languages will become a compulsory part of the national curriculum, as recommended by our late lamented colleague Lord Dearing. We have trained over 4,500 teachers in primary languages specialism. A report published by Ofsted in January 2008 showed that trainees on the courses are being well prepared as future teachers of languages. We are providing £32.5 million of funding to local authorities in 2009-10 to support the delivery of primary languages.

Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Bill

Third Reading

Main Bill Page

Copy of the Bill

Explanatory notes

3.20 pm

Bill passed.

Welfare Reform Bill

Main Bills Page
Copy of the Bill
Explanatory Notes
9th Report Constitution Committee
14 Report Joint Committee on Human Rights

Report (2nd Day)

3.21 pm

Amendment 62

Moved by Lord McKenzie of Luton

62: After Clause 28, insert the following new Clause-

"Power to rename council tax benefit

(1) The Secretary of State may by order provide for the benefit referred to in section 123(1)(e) of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 (known at the passing of this Act as council tax benefit and referred to below as "the relevant benefit") to be given instead, either generally or in cases prescribed by the order, a name prescribed by the order.

(2) An order under this section may-

(a) amend references to the relevant benefit in any Act (whenever passed) or in any instrument made under any Act (whenever made);

(b) make provision about the interpretation of references to the relevant benefit in other documents;

(c) make different provision for different areas.

(3) In subsection (2)(a) "Act" means-

(a) an Act of Parliament,

(b) an Act of the Scottish Parliament, or

(c) a Measure or Act of the National Assembly for Wales.

(4) The power to make an order under this section is exercisable by statutory instrument.

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(5) Subsections (3) to (5) of section 175 of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 (general provisions as to regulations and orders) apply in relation to the power conferred by this section as they apply in relation to a power conferred by that Act to make an order.

(6) The first order under this section may not be made unless a draft of the statutory instrument containing the order has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.

(7) A statutory instrument containing an order under this section to which subsection (6) does not apply is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament."

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My Lords, I will speak also to the other government amendment in this group. Today we return to an issue raised in Committee by my noble friend Lady Turner: the continuing problem of poor take-up of council tax benefit among pensioners. We have listened to the debate and examined the evidence-for example, the research provided for the Return to Rationing? campaign led by the Royal British Legion. We accept that many of the ex-service community aged over 65 would find it easier to maintain a healthy lifestyle if they took up their entitlement to the financial support available to them. In particular, as I am sure noble Lords are well aware, the Royal British Legion has focused on the impact that a simple name change-from council tax benefit to council tax rebate-could have on both take-up of the entitlement and, more widely, pensioner poverty.

I pay tribute to my noble friend, who has an amendment to move after this, and to the Royal British Legion for all its dignified efforts in highlighting this important issue. Improving the take-up of such entitlements as council tax benefit and pension credit is a key component of our strategy to ensure that pensioners in Britain no longer live in poverty. The Government have taken real action to tackle pensioner poverty, helping 900,000 pensioners out of poverty since 1998, but we know that we need to do more and are committed to doing so.

In Committee there was considerable support from all sides of your Lordships' House for a name change along the lines suggested by my noble friend. As promised, the Government considered all the arguments carefully over the summer. Having done so, we agree that a name change, from council tax benefit to council tax rebate, would reflect the true nature of the benefit. A change has the potential to improve the take-up of this important entitlement. We respect that many pensioners, for various reasons, are reluctant to claim a benefit, despite the fact that council tax benefit is, in essence, a rightful reduction in the council tax that they are liable to pay, and despite the fact that claiming it could help to lift them out of poverty. This is something on which the Government intend to act. We believe that we should do whatever we can to remove any obstacles to claiming a rightful entitlement. Indeed, we are the first Government to mount a major programme of take-up activity across pensioner benefits. As such, I am very happy to state that the Government intend to make this name change to "council tax rebate". I wish to put that clearly on the record.

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As we made clear in Committee, though, the introduction of a name change is not a trivial matter for the 380 local authorities that administer the benefit. There are practical administrative implications and potentially significant costs to central and local government; for example, in making changes to IT and references to the benefit in all manner of forms and leaflets. We need to get this change right and therefore need to carry out further work to better understand how best to go about doing so and the implications. We will work closely with local authorities and key partners such as the Royal British Legion and Age Concern to carry out this work as swiftly as possible. Given the need for this further work, though, I am afraid that we can neither make the name change in this Bill nor set the precise timetable for doing so. The amendment we have tabled therefore provides an order-making power which will allow a name change to be made quickly once we have completed the additional work needed.

Noble Lords will be aware that the Delegated Powers Committee reported on the amendment before us. While content with the delegation in principle, the committee had concerns with the proposed arrangements for parliamentary control. As drafted, the power would be subject to affirmative procedure on its first exercise, and thereafter subject to negative procedure. The committee recommended that any order which changes the name of the benefit should be subject to affirmative procedure. It is not the Government's intention to chop and change their mind by choosing one name and then another. However, I am very happy to undertake to come back at Third Reading with a further short amendment to implement the committee's recommendation.

I know that this amendment does not fully meet our shared desire for this change to be made straightaway; neither does my noble friend's amendment, which we will consider shortly. I hope that the amendment we have tabled and the strong commitment that we intend to make this change, and to do so as quickly as possible, are reassuring to my noble friend, all noble Lords and the Royal British Legion. I beg to move.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his statement in support of the amendment before the House. When I first saw the amendment, I was not very happy with it as I thought that it was not positive enough. I have been in touch with the Royal British Legion, which has issued briefing to me and, I believe, to other Members of the House. As far as I can see, all the amendment does is to commit to a change at some time in the future, but not necessarily immediately. It does not say what name would replace the term "benefit". My noble friend rightly says that some veterans do not claim the benefit to which they are entitled because they do not want to claim a benefit. The British legion has made extensive inquiries, done a lot of research and holds the view that changing the name of the benefit to "rebate" would result in a large number of people claiming it who do not now do so. Therefore, the legion thought that Amendment 63 would be the simplest way to deal more immediately with the problems that these veterans and many pensioners have as regards

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claiming money which is rightly theirs, but which they refrain from claiming because it is called a benefit.

As the legion says in the briefing it has issued to many noble Lords, what's in a name? The answer is:

"Dignity and respect for older veterans".

This is very much what it is all about. I shall speak to Amendment 63 when it is called. I welcome the assurance given by the Minister that he will come back at Third Reading with something-I hope-along the lines that we have suggested; a simple amendment to change the word "benefit" to "rebate".

In the mean time, I thank the Minister for the firm assurances that he has given, which I respect. I am sure that he will stand by what he has said to the House this afternoon. This amendment, standing on its own, does not go anywhere near far enough towards what the legion wanted. It simply wanted what is set out in Amendment 63.

3.30 pm

Lord Freud: My Lords, we welcome the government amendment. As the Minister said, the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, also deserves congratulations on bringing this issue to the attention of your Lordships. The Royal British Legion has been highlighting for some time the peculiar case of the benefit that is really a rebate. If the simple process of changing the description from benefit to rebate allows more pensioners to feel able to take up what they are rightfully owed, we welcome this as an important step to cutting pensioner poverty. We are pleased to take on trust what the Minister said about the commitment to making this change. My right honourable friend David Cameron has pledged to support this change, and I will be pleased to inform him of what is effectively cross-party support for the amendment.

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