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House of Lords

Thursday, 25 March 2010.

11 am

Prayers-read by the Lord Bishop of Lichfield.

Death of a Member: Baroness Park of Monmouth

Announcement

11.05 am

The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, it is with the deepest regret that I have to inform the House of the death yesterday of Lady Park of Monmouth. On behalf of the whole House, I extend our condolences to her family and friends.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, in losing Lady Park of Monmouth, this House has lost a voice of great experience and wisdom; she was always listened to with affection and respect. Although we were not on the same political Benches, we were very old friends, having a shared political experience in government service. Also, as this House knows, we were quite often comrades in arms in battles about things that we cared about, such as interception and pre-charge detention. I have lost a very, very dear friend and the House has lost the valuable contribution of a very able and much loved lady.

Royal Assent

11.06 am

The following Acts were given Royal Assent:

Child Poverty Act, Third Parties (Rights against Insurers) Act,Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Act.

Royal Navy: Aircraft Carriers

Question

11.07 am

Asked By Lord Lee of Trafford

The Minister for International Defence and Security (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My Lords, first, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the family and friends of Serjeant Steven Campbell from 3rd Battalion The Rifles, who was killed on operations in Afghanistan this past week.

Turning to the Question, the contract for the QE class aircraft carriers was signed on 3 July 2008 and work is now under way in five UK shipyards-Appledore, Rosyth, Govan, Portsmouth and Tyne-with work

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due to start at the sixth and final yard, Birkenhead, in the next few months. In addition, equipment sub-contracts to the value of some £1.2 billion have been placed to date.

Lord Lee of Trafford: First, I enjoin these Benches with the earlier tribute. Combined annual Franco-British defence expenditure totals $130 billion, with significant duplication. Given that a carrier embraces the three elements of crew, escorts and aircraft, both fixed-wing and rotary, will not our two new carriers provide a unique opportunity to develop a joint Anglo-French naval force? Is it not time to show leadership and think outside the traditional box of national sovereignty, especially given the immense pressures on our defence budget?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I see very little prospect of an Anglo-French naval force, but that does not mean that co-operation cannot take place. Indeed, the United Kingdom and France signed a memorandum of understanding in March 2006 with the aim of co-operating on carrier design. Indeed, the French have contributed to the design and have contributed money, as well as expertise, and they retain an interest in that design. However, the decision, which I understand will be made next year, on whether the French will go ahead with their carriers is for them. It has been an example of good co-operation, but I do not think that taking it further to an Anglo-French naval force is on the cards at the moment.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, we on these Benches also send our condolences to the family and friends of Serjeant Campbell of The Rifles. Turning to the Question, we know that the JSF programme, which is due to fly off the carriers, is delayed by 13 months. Can the Minister give the House some assurance that there will not be any further delays?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, the JSF programme is extremely important and significant progress has been made. There has been some reprofiling of the timescale, but it is important to recall two or three things. British pilots have now flown JSF, the STOVL variation has flown and, perhaps most important of all, the memorandum of understanding that we signed in 2001 means that the contribution to our programme has not changed. Therefore, approaching this contract incrementally was the right way forward.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, in today's world scenario, what is the purpose of these aircraft carriers? Is it defence, or is it attack? If it is attack, who are we proposing to attack?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, the Green Paper that we published recently shows the changing trends in the world, the rise of Asia-Pacific and the threats from globalisation and climate change. We are facing many threats. The idea of having an expeditionary capability is thoroughly appropriate in the modern age.

Lord Burnett: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the carriers will have a flexible role and not be confined to a fixed-wing strike role and that they are designed to be deployed not only for all-out combat but also for humanitarian operations?



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Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, that is a very good example of the range of work that carriers can undertake. Those who are interested in rotary capability are also very excited at the prospect of the carriers.

Lord Geddes: My Lords, is it normal practice for such vessels to be named before they are named, if you follow me?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: I do not think that this is the first time this has happened. The names that have been given are ones that should get the overall support of the whole House.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, it seems clear that there will have to be retrenchment in government expenditure. Would it not therefore be much better to have the aircraft carriers rather than new nuclear missile submarines?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, we have made it clear that the Green Paper and the Strategic Defence Review are not expected to revisit the decision that was made by Parliament in 2006 on nuclear deterrence. As for the future of the carrier, we do not want to pre-empt the Strategic Defence Review, but the First Sea Lord is extremely confident that it will confirm the need for the carriers, and the Secretary of State said recently, in answer to a PQ in another place, that he cannot foresee any outcome of the Strategic Defence Review that would lead to the cancellation of the carriers. We do not have such a clear commitment from other parties, and those who are threatening to revisit and to go clause-by-clause to find break clauses that could lead to the cancellation of the carrier are going down exactly the wrong track.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it would be madness to engage in combat operations on land without appropriate air cover?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: Yes, My Lords.

Teenage Pregnancies

Question

11.14 am

Asked By Baroness Walmsley

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): My Lords, our target is to halve the 1998 rate of teenage conceptions by 2010. Data for 2010 will not be available until February 2012. While we accept that we are currently behind the trajectory needed to achieve the target, real progress has been made in tackling our historically high teenage pregnancy rates. Between 1998 and 2008, the under-18 conception rate fell by 13.3 per cent to its lowest level in over 20 years.



25 Mar 2010 : Column 1060

Baroness Walmsley: I thank the Minister for that reply. Teenage pregnancy is indeed a complex social issue, on which the independent advisory board has made a lot of sensible recommendations. I would like to ask her about two of them. The first is for early identification of risk, followed by early intervention. Can she say how much money the Government have spent on that programme, and what are their plans for the long-term evaluation of its benefits? The second is for statutory sex and relationship lessons in school. Will she join me in urging parents to engage with schools so that they can satisfy themselves that this very sensitive subject is being taught appropriately and therefore refrain from withdrawing their children?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness; I shall have to write to her on her first question because I do not have that information with me today. However, I agree that early intervention is vital. That is why the teenage pregnancy prevention strategy the Government have been promoting for the past 10 years has worked to ensure that there are co-ordinated services and that PCTs are working with the education sector and so on. Since we relaunched our strategy, that has been very important.

On the question of parental involvement in schools, the noble Baroness is absolutely right. We must ensure that all schools have policies around sex and relationship education and that parents are consulted and involved. And, yes, while parents can at present withdraw children up to the age of 19 from sex and relationship education, we would like to see that limit lowered to 15. That is why the Children, Schools and Families Bill is so important.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that this is indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, a very complex issue? Does she further agree that it is clear from the evidence that, both in this country and abroad, girls who are encouraged to have aspirations tend not to get pregnant? Therefore, what will the Government do to encourage girls to have such aspirations in order to defer pregnancy?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right in her analysis. We know that teenage pregnancy rates are highest in areas and wards associated with the lowest educational outcomes. As well as ensuring that we have the right of early intervention and that we continue to reduce the rate of teenage conception across the board, we must focus our efforts to enable all girls to attend the best possible schools. Where there is a risk of teenage pregnancy, we have to ensure that we intervene early, offer advice and support and do the best for all the girls of our country.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: The Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, referred to early intervention. Can the Minister define what she means by early intervention, which she says is so essential?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, the teenage pregnancy strategy, which has six strands, has invested £246 million over the past 10 years. It is looking at the

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co-ordinated delivery of services for early intervention; at media campaigns to raise young people's awareness of the value of avoiding engaging in early sex; and at driving up the quality of advice to young people and making contraception and other services more accessible to them. This is all early intervention. We also ensure that parents have access to information through helplines and so on in order that they, too, can be a key part of early intervention and provide confident advice to their children when they engage in such conversations.

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, did the Minister wonder, as I did this week, about the quality of sex education in our independent schools when David Cameron, in reference to his wife's pregnancy, said:

"Sometimes it takes a while before the stork pops one down the chimney"?

More seriously, can the Minister tell the House what measures the Government have taken to make teenage boys more responsible in their sexual activities? What steps are being taken to make them and their families support the babies they create?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, the role of PSHE in ensuring that sex and relationship education becomes statutory is key, along with making sure that advice and information services are accessible to teenagers-not only to teenage girls but to teenage boys. Where boys engage in sexual relationships, it is vital that they do so when they are over the age of 16, or older wherever possible. Our strategy is always to encourage young people to delay engaging in sexual relations.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, given the complexity of communicating with young people about these issues and the importance of being effective, is the Minister concerned that more and more teachers are having shorter training? For instance, this weekend I spoke to a young woman who wants to train as a teacher. She will go to one school where she will be trained, rather than doing the postgraduate certificate of education and getting a range of placements. Will the Minister look at this and try to ensure that all our teachers get the very best and widest foundation for their teaching?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, part of this Government's achievement in transforming the status of the teaching profession has been to transform the training opportunities for teachers, and we expect that teaching should in time become a Masters profession. Far from reducing the opportunities for training for teachers we are increasing them. There is a range of options for initial teacher training, but we are ensuring that PSHE becomes a much more focused, professional subject with the kind of initial teacher training that noble Lords would expect.

Baroness Verma: My Lords, will the Minister accept that the £280 million that the Government have spent on trying to tackle teenage pregnancy is just the tip of an iceberg on which they have wasted money, and that what they are really ignoring is our broken society?



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Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My Lords, I was wondering whether I would get the opportunity to make reference to the Conservative analysis of teenage pregnancy. I will answer the question, because the suggestion is that the investment in preventing teenage pregnancy is not an effective use of resources. That investment has resulted in 42,000 fewer pregnancies in underage and teenage girls, which has led to an enormous saving of costs elsewhere in public services.

I do not trust Her Majesty's Opposition's analysis of the position regarding teenage pregnancy. Only recently, the Conservatives put out a document in which they completely missed the point, suggesting that 52 per cent of girls in poorer areas were falling pregnant as opposed to 5.1 per cent.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, it is clear that most people agree that teenage pregnancy is not desirable, but it does happen and some young people engage in their parental responsibilities very seriously. Can the Government say what is being done to support teenage couples who decide to take a responsible attitude to bringing up their child together?

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin: My noble friend makes a very important point. For some young people it is a very positive choice to have a child. It is essential that all our services for children and young adults work to support these families. There is a whole range of services, such as family intervention services and nurse practices, which are designed specifically to support young people who opt for parenting.

Political Parties: Funding

Question

11.23 am

Asked By Lord Dykes

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, the Government recently legislated in the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009 to provide that individual donors who give or lend more than £7,500 must complete a declaration confirming that they are resident, ordinarily resident and domiciled in the United Kingdom for income tax purposes. Under the Act, a donation cannot be accepted from an individual if no such declaration has been made. The Government have no further legislative proposals regarding overseas-based persons making donations at this time.

Lord Dykes: I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. Was it not deeply shocking that in its report of 4 March the Electoral Commission had to admit that it had inadequate investigative powers to analyse completely the complex money flows that have now famously ended up as tainted money in marginal constituencies? Bearing in mind the Chancellor's remarks yesterday, should not parliamentarians be obliged to answer fully questions from Select Committees and the public?


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