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26 Nov 2009 : Column 476

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Davies of Oldham): My Lords, the time is up.

Terrorism: Northern Ireland


11.28 am

Asked By Baroness Sharples

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the threat posed by dissident republicans remains severe. The most recent report from the Independent Monitoring Commission confirms that the level of activity by dissident republicans is more serious than at any time since it started to report in April 2004. Dissident loyalist activity is largely criminal and sectarian in nature.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for that Answer. Can we expect continued intelligence and information to come from the Republic of Ireland?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: Yes, my Lords, there was a fine example of co-operation in what happened very recently. Indeed, I am sure that the House would join me in commending both the PSNI and An Garda Siochana for their professionalism, courage and bravery in thwarting the terrorist attack at Garrison, County Fermanagh last weekend. The investigation is continuing and two men have already been charged in connection with that attack.

Lord Rogan: My Lords, would the Minister agree that intelligence gathering and surveillance of terrorists has been greatly reduced, caused by the reduction in numbers of Special Branch officers in Northern Ireland?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, it would not be entirely appropriate for me to comment on all issues in respect of that question. I merely say that it is an operational issue and therefore for the chief constable of Northern Ireland to determine. I do not agree with the ethos behind the noble Lord's question.

Lord Dubs: Would my noble friend agree that, while the threat is of course serious, it should not be used as a reason for delaying the devolution of policing and criminal justice powers to Stormont, but rather as a reason for expediting that process?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: I entirely agree with my noble friend. The only way forward is indeed to devolve policing and justice. While that has not been devolved, there is a vacuum. Where there is a vacuum there tend to be more dissident operations.

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, would the noble Baroness accept that there is certainly a recognition that this is a serious situation? With the current level of unemployment rising in Northern Ireland, there are rather more idle hands around, which might give

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added resources to those wishing to cause trouble. Will she confirm that the strongest efforts are being made, as in the past, to ensure that there is no outside source of munitions or equipment? Problems in Northern Ireland have in the past been bedevilled by overseas supplies being made available to terrorists. Will the Minister also confirm the vital importance of the Republic making its fullest contribution, as appears to be the case at the moment? This is an attack not only on Northern Ireland but on the prosperity of the whole island of Ireland.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I can certainly confirm that the strongest efforts are being made to ensure that weapons do not come from third-party countries. Employment is of course a devolved issue but I am delighted that Declan Kelly has recently been appointed by the US Government as an economic envoy to Northern Ireland. That should improve the investment opportunities in Northern Ireland. Yes, the relationship with the Republic is very strong, as it is between the two police forces. It is important that we move forward together.

Lord Kilclooney: Would the noble Baroness agree that it is important to get dissident republican activity into perspective, and that the overwhelming majority of Roman Catholics and Protestants totally condemn dissident republican activity? Would she also agree that in Northern Ireland we are now enjoying one of the lowest levels of unemployment for 40 years; continuing inward investment; a growing population which is now over 1.7 million; and that the dissident republicans must not be allowed to damage this progress in Northern Ireland?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the noble Lord is entirely right in everything that he says. It is absolutely clear that the vast majority of both communities in Northern Ireland have entirely rejected this sort of criminal activity. They are thriving and they want their country to thrive, as it must and should do.

Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, I was glad that the noble Baroness the Leader of the House agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that transferring justice and police powers to Northern Ireland is the best way to produce a mature democracy, which we all want and which would deal with the dissidents most effectively. What efforts are being made by the Secretary of State to get the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to do their business, deal with any disputes that they have on this matter, and then devolve policing and justice to Northern Ireland as quickly as possible?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, not only the Secretary of State but the Prime Minister, personally, has been very engaged in this whole issue. They work regularly with the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to ensure that the very small number of issues that are still outstanding and which prevent the devolution of policing and justice can be addressed, so that we see speedy devolution of policing and justice.

Lord Dykes: Is the noble Baroness confident that there is no danger at the margin that any members of Ulster unionist groups will use these incidents as reasons to weaken or undermine the power-sharing deal?

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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, it is clear that people from both communities on both sides of the political divide want to move forward. They are both being very constructive in wishing to move forward.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, while joining in the admiration for the co-operation in the case of the Fermanagh incident to which the Leader of the House referred, does she wish to comment on the fact that other events have occurred without the security forces having any early warning that they might occur?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, it is not appropriate for me to comment. It is good when good co-operation exists. Co-operation is increasing and we can expect that in future more and more operations such as the one at Garrison will be thwarted.

Lord Glentoran: Will the noble Baroness reassure the House that the chief constable, who is responsible for all operations within the Province, has adequate resources, and explain what is available to him?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, we should all congratulate the chief constable, Matt Baggott, on what he is doing. He is an excellent new chief constable appointed at a very difficult time. He has adequate police resources. Indeed, with the devolution of policing and justice, the adequacy of the resources will continue.

Senior Salaries Review Body


11.36 am

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will make a short statement on behalf of the House Committee. As I know the whole House will be aware, in June this year the Senior Salaries Review Body was commissioned to conduct a review of the financial support available to Members. On behalf of the House Committee, I confirm that the report has just been published and that copies are now available in the Printed Paper Office. I understand that the usual channels will seek to make time available for the House to debate the report before we rise for Christmas.

Business of the House

Motion on Standing Orders

11.36 am

Moved By Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): My Lords, in moving this Motion, in the interests of transparency I shall say a few words so that the House is fully aware why I am proposing it. The Motion would set aside Standing Order 41, which

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gives proceedings on Public Bills precedence over Motions on negative instruments. This would allow the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, to be taken before the Second Reading of the Northern Ireland Assembly Members Bill next Tuesday 1 December. This order of business is being proposed following discussions through the usual channels which concluded that in this case the proposed order of business might be for the general convenience of the House. I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Winchester, is content with the proposal, subject to the agreement of the House. I am grateful to her for her understanding.

Motion agreed.

Queen's Speech

Debate (6th Day)

11.37 am

Moved on Wednesday 18 November by Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Baroness Morgan of Drefelin): My Lords, we are here today to debate the education, health and equality Bills announced in the gracious Speech. I hope to inform that discussion by outlining the key proposals in those Bills. Before I do so, perhaps I may say how much I am looking forward to hearing contributions from the noble Lords, Lord Aberdare and Lord Sacks, who will be making their maiden speeches during today's debate.

Very strong themes run through the Bills in this year's gracious Speech. They should be familiar themes because they have run through much of the legislation introduced by this Government. Those themes are a commitment to equality, a determination to extend opportunity and a desire for every member of our society to have the opportunities to do the best for themselves and their communities.

Over the past 12, years our policies have led to many proud achievements, among which are the introduction of the national minimum wage, record numbers of students in higher education, a National Health Service with shorter waiting times and thousands more nurses and doctors, and a million pensioners lifted out of poverty. The four Bills that form the subject of today's debate continue that work for the benefit of all the people in this country. The Bills are the Personal Care at Home Bill, the Equality Bill, the Child Poverty Bill and the Children, Schools and Families Bill. This Government have made investment in the NHS, and in healthcare generally, a priority.

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Since 1998, we have seen an unprecedented expansion of the NHS workforce, with over 26 per cent more nurses, 12 per cent more midwives and 59 per cent more doctors in training. The average waiting time for hospital treatment is now just under eight weeks. The publication of the NHS Constitution earlier this year was a historic moment and has safeguarded the NHS for generations to come.

The aim of the Personal Care at Home Bill is to enable more people to avoid or delay entering residential care by supporting them at home. We know that many people nearing the end of their lives or suffering from severe and chronic health conditions wish to remain in their homes. We want to transform the adult social care system, and this Bill will act as a bridge to the national care service outlined in the Green Paper published in July. The Bill strengthens current legislation, widening its scope to include many older people and working-age adults with disabilities who have until now funded all their own care. The Bill guarantees free personal care for around 280,000 people suffering from conditions such as serious dementia and Parkinson's disease. It will protect the savings of around 166,000 people who currently receive all of their care at home free; and will relieve the financial burden on a further 111,000 people who currently pay for part or all of their personal care at home. A further 130,000 people will benefit from "re-enablement", a process of intensive support that will help them regain and strengthen their independence. The Personal Care at Home Bill will allow more adults of all ages with the highest care needs to continue living in the place where they feel most at ease.

The cost of the free personal care will be £335 million in the first half-year: £210 million from Department of Health budgets and £125 million from local government efficiencies. That will equate to £670 million in the first full year. For the record, coverage in yesterday's Times was quite wrong. The Government's commitment to the funding of research into cancer and dementia will be unaffected by proposals in the Bill. All the necessary savings and priorities are outside the ring-fenced NHS research and development budget, and will not affect front-line research projects.

I turn to the Equality Bill. The Government have a proud history of equalities legislation. Since 1997, we have introduced the national minimum wage; brought in paternity leave; improved maternity pay; introduced new rights for disabled, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people; and moved to tackle institutional racism. In October 2007, we set up the Government Equalities Office, with responsibility for the Government's overall strategy and priorities on equality issues. However, we can and should go further. The Equality Bill will deliver much-needed simplification and harmonisation of discrimination law by combining nine pieces of discrimination legislation in one Act. Surely this will be welcomed by many.

The Bill will narrow the gap between rich and poor by imposing a new socio-economic duty on key bodies. With around £220 billion spent last year by the public sector on goods and services, the Bill will make it clear that public spending can be used to drive equality outcomes, and provides a power to ensure that public

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bodies look at how this can be done. The Bill also creates a power that would require private and voluntary sector employers with 250 or more employees to publish information about their gender pay gap after 2013 if they fail to do so voluntarily. This will be welcomed by all those concerned about the pay gap. For the first time, it will create a ban on age discrimination not just at work but also when providing goods or services like healthcare.

To encourage a more diverse workforce, the Bill extends the scope for employers to use voluntary positive action when choosing between two candidates who are equally suitable. I take as an example an issue that has been of concern in this House on occasion. If a primary school wants to increase its proportion of male teachers where they are under-represented, the Bill will help it to do so.

Several changes have been made to the Equality Bill since it was first introduced. The principal one is the insertion of a new clause prohibiting combined discrimination, where a person is discriminated against because of a combination of two protected characteristics, such as race and sex. Measures to strengthen and advance equality benefit individuals, as well as society and the economy. In difficult economic times, they are more important than ever.

In 1999, the Prime Minister committed the Government to the historic goal of eradicating child poverty within a generation. Since 1997, we have lifted half a million children out of poverty, and the Child Poverty Bill pledges to end child poverty by 2020. It makes the eradication of child poverty a priority for every future Government and a shared mission for our society. The Bill sets out four income targets against which we will measure our progress and establishes an accountability framework making central and local government, and our delivery partners, accountable for the success of their strategies to end child poverty.

Under the legislation, the Secretary of State is required to publish a UK child poverty strategy, which must be revised every three years, and publish annual progress reports. The Bill similarly requires Scottish and Northern Irish Ministers to publish child poverty strategies and annual progress reports. Importantly, a child poverty commission will be established under the legislation to provide advice on the development of the child poverty strategies. As well as the obvious benefits to the individual children and families concerned, the eradication of child poverty would be a significant step towards the creation of a fairer, more equitable society and, of course, a more prosperous one.

I come now to the Children, Schools and Families Bill. We are very proud of our achievements for children and young people over recent years. Our ambitious Children's Plan is delivering change for children and their families in every part of the country. Sure Start children's centres are an established part of every local neighbourhood, providing the services that parents need.

The school estate, both primary and secondary, is being refreshed and rebuilt following the biggest injection of capital investment for a generation. Ofsted tells us that our teachers are the best ever, and the academic achievement of our pupils goes from strength to strength.

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The Children, Schools and Families Bill continues our commitment to provide children with the best start in life, parents with help to juggle their working and family lives, and the economy with an appropriately skilled and qualified workforce for the future. The Bill would give pupils and their parents a clear idea of what they can, and should, expect from a 21st-century schools system.

To ensure that all children receive the education and support that they are entitled to, in a safe environment, the Bill will introduce a new system of registration and monitoring of elective home education arrangements. There will be a compulsory registration and monitoring system for home-educated children in England, allowing local authorities to carry out visits at least annually to ensure that children are receiving a suitable education.

I stress that the Government are committed to home education as a viable choice for parents. In implementing the Badman review, we are committed to helping parents to improve the educational outcomes of their home-educated children. The Bill will also reduce the risk, in a very small minority of cases, of home education being used to conceal child neglect or abuse.

The Bill will also contain provisions to make personal, social, health and economic education statutory in the national curriculum. The Government believe that it is important for children to be supported in their emotional and social development. Although schools have always been encouraged to provide a programme of PSHE education, it is not currently a statutory subject, although obviously to date some elements of it have been. This legislation will add PSHE education to the national curriculum and change the parental right to withdraw children from the sex and relationship education elements of the subject, permitting withdrawal only up to the age of 15.

The Bill contains provisions for changes in the primary curriculum as well. Following widespread consultation, and after reviewing much international evidence, we are making the changes that teachers have asked for. But let me be clear, we are not abolishing subjects. The new law will organise the primary curriculum into six broad areas of learning that will give schools the flexibility to provide more coherent and more integrated learning experiences, tailoring teaching to meet the needs of all their pupils.

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