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Lord McNally: I think that we are on common ground. I worked on the Bill that set up the Electoral Commission with the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, and a representative from the Conservative Party who had worked in Central Office. The three of us had worked in the political parties' headquarters and thought that there was a ludicrous amount of detail in the Bill about the responsibility of party treasurers at local level. The debate was couched in terms that would lead one to think that being a treasurer for a local party was one of the pinnacles of political achievement, whereas, as everyone in this Chamber who has been active in party politics knows, you look for some poor dumb cluck-as the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, helpfully said, the person is usually absent from that meeting-to take on that responsibility.
We are awaiting the report of the Electoral Commission on this issue. We are some way from a general election. Perhaps one of the advantages of a fixed-term Parliament is that, at this early stage in a five-year Parliament, we can look at this issue without saying, "Well, what implication will it have for us in the impending general election?". We can take a proper cross-party look at this. We can look at what Hayden Phillips recommended, which I still think is a good basis for negotiations, and move with it with some sense of urgency.
Lord Dykes: My Lords, my noble friend has given some sensible and wise answers on these questions today. Does he share my anxiety, bearing in mind that politicians are, quite rightly, individually and collectively severely criticised in a lively British press, that almost every British newspaper now has overseas-based owners who do not pay United Kingdom taxes?
Lord McNally: I thought that we might have a question on that. This is the first time I have had to look at my notes. We are keen to ensure that any future system for party funding is fair and, importantly, one that the public can trust. Sir Hayden Phillips noted in his review the specific issues around trade unions. We are looking at his work when considering how to deliver the coalition agreement commitment to take big money out of politics.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): My Lords, we note this declaration. We agree that language skills are important for the future of this country. We are currently considering our priorities for the national curriculum, including for languages. We will announce our plans in due course.
Baroness Coussins: I thank the noble Lord for that reply. However, in view of the urgency expressed by the 76 international organisations behind last week's declaration, does he agree that we will never get more graduates who want careers as linguists until we first improve the take-up of languages in schools? Will the Minister say how this is to be done and agree at least to fast-track the decision to reconvene the forum set up after the Worton review to move things forward?
Lord Hill of Oareford: I know that my noble friend Lady Wilcox indicated on 3 June that the Government would take a decision in the summer on the future of the forum. In the light of this exchange, I shall ask my noble friend Lady Wilcox, who I believe is the lead on this matter, what her definition of "summer" is, because it feels like summer to me. I understand the noble Baroness's desire to have clarity soon. I shall do my best to provide what clarity we can.
On the noble Baroness's broader point about the linkage between higher education, secondary education and primary schools, she is absolutely right. Whereas it is important to see what we can do to improve the teaching of languages in universities, if children are not coming through with the basic skills to enable them to go to university, that will not tackle the problem. I accept the noble Baroness's point.
Lord Harrison: My Lords, given the lack of linguists in this country and the years of dyspepsia shown by the Conservative Party towards Europe, how does the Minister expect to fulfil the ambition of the Foreign Secretary to place more British personnel in senior positions in Brussels? Will he also attend to increasing the number of young people who have the ambition, with the appropriate languages, to serve in Brussels and other parts of the world flying the British flag?
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, I have said already that I agree very strongly about the need to ensure that we have all sorts of people who are properly trained and qualified in languages, whether to go into business, or to work as diplomats in Europe. As I said to the noble Baroness, a whole range of issues must be addressed to do that. I fully accept the noble Lord's point; one will want to have that supply of well qualified graduates and one would certainly want them to engage in diplomacy or business in the way he says.
Lord Hill of Oareford: The background of the declaration is a report into the shortage of trained linguists and translators. I saw a figure somewhere in connection with this, which estimates that the value of translation services in the EU is €1 billion a year. It is a big market, which should provide lots of opportunities for trained linguists to benefit. I do not believe that the Government were involved in the process of the declaration.
Baroness Garden of Frognal: My Lords, on the Paris declaration, what measures have the Government taken to ensure that there are sufficient qualified linguists and interpreters to meet the requirements for criminal proceedings for non-English speakers?
Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, my understanding is that the Government have opted into the member state proposal on interpretation and translation and support the directive to which my noble friend referred. I gather that a first reading deal on the directive was reached by the European Parliament on 16 June, but there are still some formal processes to go through at the Justice and Home Affairs Council. An adoption of the directive is finally anticipated in the autumn; then there are a further 36 months to implement it. Clearly, the answer to how one can ensure that there are sufficient translators for Britain is linked to the broader points that we have already discussed.
Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, to build on the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, are the Government seriously concerned about the relative lack of success of UK applicants in the concours examination for the European Commission? If so, what are we doing to improve the quality of languages spoken by our potential entrants?
Lord Hill of Oareford: We are concerned, but I need to look into the specific steps that we are taking and take advice from my friends at the Foreign Office. Then perhaps I can come back to the noble Lord and explain that at a later date.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I warmly welcome the Paris declaration. In response to my noble friend Lord Harrison, the Minister agreed that we need more officials and civil servants who have the requisite language skills so that they can be employed
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The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Lord Strathclyde): My Lords, it may be helpful if I explain that, following constructive discussions among the usual channels, it has been agreed that it may be for the convenience of the House to make more time available for the Report stage of the Academies Bill on Tuesday 6 July, in addition to the time already set aside on Wednesday 7 July. I am also grateful to my noble friend Lord Goodlad and to the noble Baroness, Lady Cohen of Pimlico, for their co-operation.
Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, I am pleased and honoured to introduce this important topic for our debate today, and I look forward with great pleasure to the maiden speeches of no fewer than three noble Lords during this debate. This Government are attempting to turn around decades of an ever-increasing monster state encroaching on every area of our public and private life, and are beginning the slow but sure process of returning power to the people. It is an awesomely ambitious project, but it is, surely, what true democracy is about.
It is also what the people want. Almost any conversation with any group in society in recent years has turned to a frustration with the intrusion of the state in our everyday lives. "Get the Government off our backs", has been the cry from doctors, teachers, nurses, judges and a host of other professionals. "We're fed up with the nanny state", cry others, whatever their job or position. Even Tony Blair remarked after the debacle of the Millennium Dome that perhaps it was not a good idea to run such a large project from Whitehall. Why then, I wonder, did he think it was appropriate to run the massive National Health Service, with over a million employees, as well as over 30,000 schools, from the centre?
Some critics-the old worshippers of state control-have tried to suggest that the devolution of power is just a way of covering for the cutback in central government which the economic recession has made inevitable. This is a criticism I find wholly unacceptable and out of touch with reality. It mistakes, perhaps deliberately, the motive behind the coalition's policies, and it ignores entirely the public wish for smaller, less intrusive government. But even more, it ignores the tremendous energy and innovation of talent which is just waiting to be fully released.
This country has a proud tradition of voluntary activity. Thousands of small and large voluntary associations involve hundreds of thousands of citizens, good people, who give their time, their commitment and their money to care for the sick, the elderly and those who cannot help themselves. These good people also run voluntary youth clubs, football teams, out-of-school activities and a thousand things more. The
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A fortnight ago in this House, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester initiated a debate in which many noble Lords spoke of the examples known to them of community self-directed action for the public good. Many, many inspiring stories were told. I mention only one, as it raises an important principle. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of Penrhys, a community situated on a council estate in the Rhondda. There, a unique partnership called the Penrhys New Perspectives established a community partnership programme to create 100 new small businesses, as well as an effective health centre. The most reverend Primate commented that this was,
This element is not always needed, of course. Many communities already have the will and experience for self-help, as neighbourhood watch schemes and street parties-to name but two local initiatives in which this country excels-have long demonstrated. Other communities, though, because of changing patterns of occupation and disparate traditions within their neighbourhood, will need leadership to inspire and help them. I pay warm tribute to the role of the churches and the universities in providing this leadership in many local communities already. I trust they will continue to do more in the coming years.
One inspiring example of this energy of local communities are the charities known as community land trusts. These community land trusts are a mechanism, created by those who live in the local community, for the democratic ownership of land by that local community. Their trust owns and manages the local assets for the benefit of the members of the community, involving local people and local small businesses in the development of the assets for those on low and moderate incomes. Residents cannot sell their properties for individual profit; if they wish to move they must sell back to the trust so that the housing can be offered to another locally employed person and remains in the control of the trust. I name this example not only because it is one that I greatly admire but because I believe that it captures the essence of localism. At a time when much concern has been expressed at the break-up of local, and especially rural, communities, the CLTs are a magnificent movement designed to keep the young, who have grown up in a village or the area of a town, in affordable housing where they can stay near their parents and grandparents and bring up their own children, so retaining a community's cohesion.
One splendid example of such a trust, which I have visited, is the Stonesfield Community Trust in Oxfordshire, which over the past 27 years has created 12 affordable homes and many small workspace units for the village.
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However, recent legislation is now threatening this superb movement. The Charity Commission, which for the past decade has seemed to operate with more zeal than compassion, has decided that the trust can only preserve its charitable status if the housing is given to people in severe need of a place to live, regardless of whether they belong to the local community. It is not allowed to keep those who work and prosper and who have grown up in the village. This seems to me to be a sad example of an ideology which assumes that charity consists only of handouts that keep people dependent, instead of one which also helps them to achieve personal viability within their own community. I hope that the Government will look at the recent changes in charity law which lead many to predict the destruction of socially constructive projects such as these.
I could weary your Lordships with many examples of other community provisions which have been lost to the state in recent years. We have lost many of our community hospitals which provided a focus for the elderly, for those with chronic illness and for the excellent services of physiotherapists, district nurses, occupational therapists and many more of the services which made local people's lives better when help was needed. These have now almost all disappeared into a more centralised remote provision, although they provided a much-needed focus for a sense of community. I for one also very much regret the loss of friendly societies, some of which had already become building societies, and some of which have also now become banks with no tradition of a community which saves to help itself while making provision for those who needed loans to tide them over hard times. Perhaps the time has come to revive the idea of friendly societies on a wider basis.
I should not neglect to mention the splendid third sector which has flourished as a counterweight to the overweening state in recent years. Social enterprise companies such as Serco have taken over large sectors of public service, following ethical practice in employment and commercial activity and returning their profits for the good of the services they provide. I am confident that this sector will grow both because it is highly efficient and because it is free from the restrictions of the state-provided services with which it has successfully competed. It will be wholly to the advantage of our country if this happens.
In the area of policing we are promised community involvement through the election of local police chiefs. This Government will also encourage the growth of library services, leisure centres and many other facilities to be run by people from within their own community, meeting local interests and needs. I was recently enchanted by the suggestion of one of my honourable friends-a new Member of the other place-who suggested that local villages and town districts should be given control over the revenue from speed cameras in their area to
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