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Therefore, perhaps I may ask a very direct question, to which I hope to hear an answer today-and if not today, I shall ask it again on Monday. Will the commitments entered into by the Central Foundation Girls' School with Tower Hamlets be honoured and will the Building Better Schools for the Future programme come to pass in that borough? It will not do for the Government to say that that is asking for too much too soon because they have only just got into office or
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Lord Elis-Thomas: My Lords, in following my eloquent compatriot, the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port-or Porth Tywyn, as it also says on the signpost-I, too, congratulate both Ministers on their appointments and, indeed, the noble Lords, Lord Hill of Oareford, Lord Hall of Birkenhead and Lord Kakkar, on their maiden speeches. I also congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford, although I am not yet sure, in our changed arrangements for sitting in this House, whether it is the right reverend Prelate and his colleagues who have joined the Liberal Democrats or vice versa. Perhaps we will find out in due course.
I read the document, Our Programme for Government-or perhaps I should say Your Programme for Government; in any case, the coalition programme-with great interest and then I went through it with increasing admiration. I particularly welcome the candid final paragraph of the foreword by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, in which they describe how three weeks ago they could never have predicted the publication of such a document. They said that after the election,
I, of course, want to add that there is more than one national interest in this multinational state of the United Kingdom. However, having presided over two minority Governments and two coalitions so far in Cardiff Bay, I have no doubt which arrangements are better for Wales. I believe that this coalition will be good for the United Kingdom and the development of its constitution.
Declaring my interest as Presiding Officer of the National Assembly, I welcome the devolution health warning which appears on the final page of the document, stressing the full support of the Government for the,
I would like to take advantage of today's debate to place on record my appreciation of the new constitutional relationships which have been established already between the Secretary of State for Wales in another place, Cheryl Gillan, and myself and the National Assembly, and my appreciation of that special relationship which has perhaps been established with the Prime Minister following his recent visit to Cardiff.
In this gracious Speech debate, I want to speak briefly on culture and media. I welcome the clear commitment to introduce measures to ensure the rapid roll-out of superfast broadband across the UK and to introduce superfast broadband in remote areas at the same time as in more populous areas. That would be of great benefit in the many not-spots that we have in rural areas throughout the UK, particularly in Wales. I was also impressed by the indication that the Government are prepared to consider using part of the television licence fee which is supporting the digital switchover to fund broadband in areas that the market alone will not reach.
However, I want to press the Government on one thing today. I am not clear how the commitment in the culture and media section of the programme to enable partnerships between local newspapers, radio and television stations to promote a strong and diverse local media industry, will apply to the situation in Wales and especially to the commitment that was entered into by the previous Government on the independently financed news consortium proposals. It seems to me that, so far, the priorities of the new department of heritage do not coincide with the declared priorities of the old DCMS and I would like to question that this afternoon. I do not speak for Ulster Television, which was awarded the preliminary agreement to develop a service, but, of course, I have been very impressed, as many of us have been, with its proposals. All of us who know the broadcasting systems in the UK were impressed by the integrated commercial newsroom delivering television, video on demand, radio and online news which UTV has in Belfast and throughout the north. We strongly support the commitment to develop something similar for Wales.
As someone responsible for communicating messages on behalf of the National Assembly, I am concerned that in a recent poll it emerged that 60 per cent of Welsh citizens in the sample received their information on the devolved Government and on the Assembly from local television. It is hardly appropriate in a pluralist context-I hope it is a pluralist context for broadcasting-that only the BBC provides such a service. Do this new Government intend to pursue this policy further, a policy which has the support of the Welsh heritage Minister, Alun Ffred Jones, as he stated quite clearly in the Assembly on 11 May?
I welcome the commitment made by the Minister in his opening remarks to investment and innovation. He will be aware that an investment of £300 million in the Welsh economy is being made by broadcasters; we want that to continue and to be enhanced. I draw to the attention of the new department of heritage a report by Ian Hargreaves, entitled The Hearts of Digital Wales: a review of creative industries for the Welsh Assembly Government, which was published in March this year and the proposals therein for a digital board and a creative industries board. Two important windows of legislation face us in this Parliament: the expiry of the current ITV licence in 2014 and the renewal date of the BBC charter in 2016. As a veteran in this House and another place, I see other colleagues here who have been involved in broadcasting and communication legislation. We must take full advantage of this opportunity to increase diversity nationally and regionally within
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My final request to the Government, to which I am sure they can adhere before the end of the debate, is to ask them to look at the future of S4C. In the Hargreaves report there was a proposal that there should be a review of S4C. Now is the time for co-operation between the new department of heritage here and the Ministry of Heritage in Wales. Co-operation across devolved and non-devolved areas and broadcasting is a fine example of that. I shall not follow the call made by that distinguished broadcaster Geraint Talfan Davies recently that the responsibility for S4C, including its funding, should be transferred to the Welsh Government-it is not up to me to make devolution policy on the hoof. Collaboration in future planning and a review of the role of S4C in relation to other broadcasting authorities within Wales and within the UK will be very appropriate at this time. In saying that, I wish the heritage Minister and Ministers in education and health well in the development of their policies. I wish the coalition well. From one coalition to another, albeit with a different party makeup, I wish our coalitions well.
Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my colleague from Wales, a fellow Celt. He made his view strongly on coalition politics and his good wishes for the future of this coalition are well made and well received. We are grateful for that. His knowledge of such matters and the time and energy he has devoted to the development of his own community in Wales is well known and we take that endorsement from him extremely well and we thank him for it.
I endorse the tributes paid to the four maiden speakers. I look forward to hearing further from them all. I had a relationship with the noble Lord, Lord Hall, when I was Chief Whip in another place and he was in charge of BBC news. We had many ups and downs together, most of which he won, but in spite of that he will be a welcome addition to this House.
The view from the steerage seats, as the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, described them, is different. I am very impressed by the choreography of the new coalition. In a very short space of time, it has responded to the nation's needs. Noble Lords who have spoken in this excellent debate have indicated that there are problems about trying to determine the detail. There are also problems about constructive tension, but there was no alternative in terms of the nation's needs. To someone like me who is a natural sceptic, the fact that the partnership has got as far as this speaks volumes for the people who have been putting the Government together. I wish them well and I shall do what I can to sustain them.
If the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, thinks that people like my noble friends Lady Sharp and Lady Walmsley and myself will stay quiet, as we are sitting in the steerage seats, he has another think coming. I look forward to yelling from the cheap seats, as appropriate, and I hope to start today.
My speech is in two halves: the first half will say that we, as a country, are broke and the second half will argue for invaluable investment which the Government cannot do without. Most speakers have said that in more guarded terms. The creation of the coalition is exciting and gives a fresh look at some of the nation's problems. There is obviously frustration. I anticipated the frustration of the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland; I could have written his speech for him as I anticipated exactly what he would say because I was there with him in 1997. But we now have a commission which will take a year, and if it does as well as his did, it will be a year well spent. However, we should be further on by now.
On a broader scale, climate change and ageing are two fundamentally important challenges for our nation-never mind who is or has been in government. We have major problems. Ageing affects not just healthcare but everything. We should be planning for the eventuality that we know is coming in the next 10 to 15 years in a much more detailed way. I hope that when the coalition gets its feet under the table, it will have a chance to do that, not just expedite long-term care, on which I agree that it is essential that we act as soon as we can.
I am not an expert on climate change, but I listen to the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Rees, and others and am frightened by what I hear. I try to look after my own carbon footprint, but as a nation we will have to learn to live differently. It is a function of government to try to provide the leadership that wins that change. If we do not do that, if we do not succeed, we will not only be poorer as a nation economically, because we will miss some of the green economy changes that are within our grasp if we plan properly, but we will find that our lifestyles are being challenged in a way that we cannot control. That may not be an integral part of the Queen's Speech, but over the course of this Parliament, we cannot ignore it.
On the deficit, we have been told: "There is no money". I do not think that the public are yet tuned in to what is about to happen. We will get a better idea of that in the Budget, but we will not know until the Comprehensive Spending Review what will be the public service changes-the extent to which things will be different. There are two ways to react to that. You can salami slice everything in front of you or you can look at things differently. The noble Lord, Lord Bichard, who has a lot of knowledge and expertise about these things, made an excellent maiden speech last week. His point was that we must start thinking about doing public services differently-not just more cheaply and with less money, but differently-and use the opportunity of the deficit. We could carry the public along with us, but it is a big job that we have not started yet.
We are not just living in reduced circumstances as a nation-that is a mild way of putting it-there is a huge amount of indebtedness in the households of the United Kingdom. Compared to our sister European nations, we have a colossal amount of unsecured debt. At the moment, 9 per cent of our households are in deep debt. That means that they have more than £10,000 of unsecured debt. More than one quarter of our households is in that category at the moment. The combination of our circumstances is daunting. We
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Finally-this is where the spend comes in-I turn to my area of interest, welfare reform. I say to the Front Bench of the new coalition Government that I am willing to look radically and fundamentally at welfare reform. Incentivising those who are on benefits at the moment is an essential part of early reform. I will not support anything that hurts the kind of people about whom the noble Lord, Lord Rix, was talking. The disadvantaged and dispossessed should not be expected to carry the can for those changes. I am interested in proposals that are properly invested in, because if you invest in people's success, they can trade themselves out of poverty. The noble Lord, Lord Freud, was the architect of that policy, but he needs the funds from the Treasury successfully to carry out the policy. If he does that, he will have my support. If he does not, I will be watching him like a hawk. This is an important moment for us as a nation; we cannot really see the extent of the problem until after the Comprehensive Spending Review; but I am happy to contribute to debates on all public services, which are so important, in future.
Lord Mitchell: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the Minister-the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Oareford-the noble Lords, Lord Hall of Birkenhead and Lord Kakkar, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford. Each of them gave a magnificent maiden speech today and it is to our benefit that they join us in your Lordships' House.
My speech is on public health issues, but first I say a few words about education. My interest is that I am chair of an organisation called the e-Learning Foundation. We provide laptops to socially disadvantaged children; we have been amazingly successful in that. My predecessor was my noble friend Lady Morris of Yardley. I am stepping down this September and will be replaced as chairman by the Minister's soon-to-be noble friend, Phil Willis.
The Minister spoke about academies and, in particular, Mossbourne Academy. The late Sir Clive Bourne was a personal friend of mine, and it was his amazing energy-when he was terminally ill, I add-that enabled that school to grow. In two years, the old school was demolished and the new school rebuilt, with everything that is involved in setting up a new school. It opened in
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I know that everything that the Minister says about academies is true. It is equally true that with the use of laptops in schools we have provided phenomenal results. I encourage him to come to some of the schools using those laptops to see what has been achieved; I would be very happy to take him round.
This afternoon, I want to speak about a subject that I have raised in your Lordships' House several times, but with a new Government it is time to do it again. The subject is the labelling of bottles and containers warning of the dangers to the unborn foetus of its mother drinking alcohol. Briefly, the issue is this. Mothers-to-be who drink risk permanently damaging their babies. This occurs because alcohol in the mother's bloodstream passes to the foetus across the placenta. The foetus, because its organs are undeveloped, is unable to process this toxin, and major damage can occur. Foetal alcohol syndrome disorder is the name given to the complete range of disorders. In its mildest form, which affects one in a 100 live births, it can cause a series of behavioural attributes, such as acute attention deficit disorder. In its most acute form, which affects one in 1,000 babies, its effects are similar to acute brain damage. Simply put, the brain and other organs do not develop. Children with the most severe learning disabilities are affected. Their mental age is retarded and their cognitive abilities are limited. Often, they cannot even tell the time or find their way home. As young adults, they become disruptive and often turn to crime. Many cannot even hold down the simplest of jobs. Whatever their degree of disorder, they become a cost to society.
If today's mood is to cut costs, this is an easy way to do so without any downside. FASD is totally preventable and, if it is reduced, society gains. Knowledge among young women and, indeed, their partners of the damage they are running by drinking when pregnant is lamentably low. No one, least of all me, wants a nanny state; all I seek to do is to raise awareness of this danger. Just as was the case with the linkage between cigarette smoking and cancer, product labelling is a good place to start. Today, because of in-your-face labelling on tobacco products, few people can be unaware of their dangers. I am seeking to do the same with alcohol.
Three years ago, I introduced the Alcohol Labelling Bill into your Lordships' House. It went through the usual stages and was passed. Then, as is the case with most Private Members' Bills, it died the death when we could not persuade the Government to give it time in the other place. In summary, the Bill said that if the alcohol industry did not abide by the terms of a memorandum of understanding that it had previously signed agreeing to include prominent labelling, legislation would be introduced to make it compulsory. I cannot tell noble Lords how many well meaning Ministers I discussed this issue with. Over numerous cups of tea, they told me that they were on the case, but they needed to complete this survey and that analysis and I could be assured that there would be a successful outcome. There was not.
Go into any supermarket today and examine the bottles. A few have labels prominently displayed, but more than 80 per cent do not. Others have an illustration that the French use. It shows the outlines of an elegant and obviously pregnant woman holding a champagne glass with a diagonal strike going through it. It is very cute, very chichi and very tasteful in a rue Saint-Honoré sort of way, but it has little relevance to the culture of girls on the binge buying cheap cider and vodka at the local supermarket and getting legless as quickly as possible. We see the evidence every weekend in our city centres, do we not? There is nothing very elegant about it. What is more, the illustrations on the bottles I have seen are so small that you would need a magnifying glass to see them.
The Americans have been much bolder on this issue, just as they were with tobacco. Any bottle, can or bar in the United States has a prominent label warning of the dangers to the unborn child of drinking while pregnant. They were introduced in 1989. Here is the stark truth: the alcohol industry runs circles around Governments. It lobbies hard, like the tobacco industry before it. It throws every impediment in front of the labelling proposals. No one seems to have the strength to stand up to it. This new Government have said that they intend to address our alcohol plague. We said the same but, if noble Lords will excuse the pun, I think we bottled it.
My first question to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, who has always been a tremendous supporter of what I am proposing, is will the coalition Government take on the alcohol industry? Will they make labelling prominent, unambiguous and compulsory? If the Government really want to reverse the cult of alcohol, will they consider banning alcohol adverting, just like the Labour Government banned tobacco advertising?
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, first, I offer my warm congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Hill, on his ministerial appointment and on his inspiring opening speech. I also congratulate him and the new coalition Government on the extent to which, like their predecessor Government, they recognise the importance of education as the gateway to a better life for the individual and for the country. That is certainly the case for those from deprived backgrounds. I also commend the new Government's commitment, particularly in the almost impossible financial circumstances that they have inherited, to continue to pursue the previous Government's goal of ending UK child poverty by 2020 as well as to continue with free nursery education for pre-school children. Against that background, I shall spend my few minutes on the importance and cost-effectiveness of the earliest possible intervention and support for deprived children and children with special needs.
We should all applaud the previous Government's important and brave initiative, Sure Start. It is brave in the sense that its value cannot be fully assessed until the children who have benefited from it reach adulthood. Its value has already been seen by our new Government, and, I suspect, especially championed by Education Secretary of State Michael Gove. The Government
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What I particularly admired about the early days of Sure Start was the practical development of an equal partnership between the local community and professionals, whereby each different area had slightly different priorities, thus reflecting local needs. This, I hope, is what our new Prime Minister means by his emphasis on the big society, whereby the responsibility for social cohesion is left increasingly to well run local government in partnership with its own communities. Equally, however, we must make sure that sufficient extra resources and leadership, including adequately resourced third-sector leadership, are concentrated in helping to improve lives and expectations in the most deprived communities.
A commitment that should certainly help the aim of early intervention is the plan to provide more than 4,000 extra health visitors. During my 20 years' chairmanship of a London juvenile court-in the days when magistrates, probation and social services really did work together-it was always the health visitors who had that early knowledge of which families were likely to need extra support if trouble was to be prevented.
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