Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Noble Lords expressed great concern about supermarkets' buying behaviour and demanded to hear more about the grocery code adjudicator. However, before we knock the supermarkets too much, we should always remember what they deliver. They deliver cheap food to a very high standard and in very great variety, and we should be grateful for what they provide. However, I accept that, within the food chain, there are many people who feel that they have been badly treated by the supermarkets. For that reason we accept that there is a need for a grocery code adjudicator. I can therefore assure all noble Lords who asked about this, especially my noble friend Lord Arran, who seems to be particularly well informed, that we are close to publishing a draft Bill, which will emerge from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. I cannot give a precise date, but, for those who have been in government, I will say that it will be published shortly or very soon-that is an expression that I think most Members of the House will recognise.

I promised to return to AD when I was talking about waste. This was first raised by my noble friend Lord Plumb, who thought that we were making some progress on waste and that there was a need for more anaerobic digestion. I agree with him that anaerobic digestion is a very good way of dealing with a certain amount of farm waste and one often needs some crops, but not many, to go into it. However, I stress that the Government are very keen that we do not go down what I would call the German route, where there has been excessive growing of crops, particularly maize, purely to feed into on-farm anaerobic digesters. We do not see that as a great use of land; we would prefer for that land to be used for growing food.

Perhaps I may make just one point about the virtues of anaerobic digestion from my personal experience of visiting a number of digesters. One that I visited recently when it opened in east Yorkshire in effect provides free products from its digestates. Not only is it producing energy and saving that waste from going

12 May 2011 : Column 1025

to landfill but it is also producing a solid, manure-type material from the digestate. It is also producing a concentrated liquid digestate that could be put on to the land or used in farms and, importantly in terms of other concerns raised earlier, clean water that could be used for crop irrigation. So there are great many things that can be produced from anaerobic digestion, which can be a very useful way of diverting waste from landfill.

The right reverend Prelate raised the problems of getting into farming. I recognise his concerns about the county farms, which came up a few weeks ago in Questions in this House. I make it quite clear that it is a matter for the local authorities and county councils that own those farms as to whether they sell them. We have no powers under existing legislation to prevent that. Again, one should be wary of implying that county farms are an effective ladder in terms of assisting people into farming. It seems that those who go into county farms tend to stay there instead of moving on. Therefore, they can be a blockage in the system.

Moving on to the importance of biodiversity, we all recognise that we have to increase food production and try to improve the biodiversity of the land that we farm. The point raised by my noble friends Lady Miller and Lord Selborne is that we need to do that while improving production. My noble friend Lady Miller talked about the problem of farmland birds and said that the numbers were still declining even after the number of years that we have had various agri-environment schemes that allegedly help increase numbers. When you look at land management practices and some of the research about what can be done-and there is possibly a case for further tweaking of these agri-environment schemes-we should be able to do something to increase the numbers of farmland birds. Again, as was made clear, they are a crucial indicator of what is going on in terms of the biodiversity of the land that is farmed and our land mass as a whole.

My noble friend Lady Byford mentioned the Taylor review. I discussed this only recently with colleagues in the department and also with my noble friend Lord Taylor himself, who was the author of that review. I assure my noble friend Lady Byford that we will be progressing it further. If she goes to the Defra website she should be able to find out exactly what is happening. A grid shows exactly how the different recommendations in that review are being progressed as is appropriate.

My noble friend Lord Shrewsbury mentioned poultry. He was right to say that we in the UK have been fully compliant with the changes that were made to cages at considerable cost to the producers. There is a worry that there will be an import of eggs in large numbers from countries that have been less compliant. We strongly urge the Commission to put sufficient enforcement measures in place to protect compliant producers if other countries do not meet the 2012 deadline. We would favour a time-limited intracommunity trade ban. We have suggested that opportunity to the Commission to prevent member states that still have conventional cages from selling their eggs outside of their borders. That is one of the enforcement options that is being considered by the Commission. I will let my noble friend know if further developments take place in due course.

12 May 2011 : Column 1026

My noble friend Lord Arran raised the question of bovine TB. I agree that it is having a devastating effect on many farm businesses. Last year, something of the order of 25,000 cattle in England were slaughtered because of it. We will announce a comprehensive and balanced TB eradication programme for England by July. This will include whether the Government intend to proceed with the proposed badger control policy, which we consulted on at the end of last year. My noble friend is fully aware that this is a difficult and sensitive issue and it is important to take the time to make sure we get our approach right. Many people, whatever decision we make, will consider that we have made the wrong plan.

I turn now to the amount of money spent on research. I agree with all noble Lords that this is an important matter. It is important that we do what we can through R&D. I can give an assurance that the Government spend £365 million a year on food and farming research. Defra and BBSRC are the main funders, but there is also an indicative budget allocation for global food security in the BBSRC's delivery plan of some £104 million per annum in the next four financial years.

Sir John Beddington's report, The Future of Food and Farming: Challenges and Choices for Global Sustainability, was published in January this year. The report identifies the scale of the challenge posed by global food security. Put simply, the global food system is consuming the world's natural resources at an unsustainable rate.

The Foresight report highlights the vulnerability of the global food system to: population growth, which as I stressed earlier is likely to reach 9 million by 2050; changes in per capita demand for food as populations become wealthier and are likely to want more meat; governance of the food system both nationally and internationally; climate change, which we touched on earlier; competition for key resources such as land-as my noble friend Lord Selborne reminded us, they are not making it any more-energy and water; and the ethical stance of consumers, particularly around the new technologies of GM, cloning and organic farming and production methods, sustainability and biodiversity.

The report also discusses the problems caused by recent increases in the volatility of food prices-an issue that is now being studied by the G20 under France's presidency. As my noble friend Lord Plumb made clear, volatile prices cause problems for producer and consumer alike. In particular, they make it difficult for farmers to plan the investment needed to increase capacity and competitiveness in order to cope with the challenges of growing more food with less impact on the environment. In the G20, Agriculture Ministers will be looking at ways of helping this situation.

The report concludes that if we are to be able to continue to feed the world's population, doing nothing is not an option. Put simply, we must act now and grow more food at less cost to the environment. The report recognises that the farming and food industry in the UK contributes positively to the transition to a green economy by increasing sustainability, seizing opportunities and providing innovative solutions for the future. We should all be grateful to the Government's

12 May 2011 : Column 1027

Chief Scientific Adviser for that report. Again, I am grateful to all noble Lords, and in particular my noble friend Lady Byford, for their contributions.

2.28 pm

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I thank everyone who has taken part in this debate, which reflected the enormity of the challenge that we face-not just within the UK but globally. I am very grateful for the variety of contributions that we received. As my noble friend has just said, the report warns that doing nothing is not an option. That was the thing that struck me straightaway. Another thing that struck me was the huge urgency of this. The sad thing is that while we have food on our shelves 24 hours a day, people do not stop and think that it may not always be there. Clearly, the Foresight report draws to our attention the challenges that are coming with coping with greater numbers of people.

Many noble Lords spoke about GM technology. I was particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Marlesford for saying that it is nothing new. It is not, but for some reason the general public people think that it is new and it is bad news. In fact, it is an extension of what has happened over the years as we have managed to increase yields. Our continued care for water and soil quality is the most important thing we can do. It is of huge import for the future.

Volatility was mentioned, particularly in terms of the cost of imports. My noble friend Lord Shrewsbury talked about the egg industry. At the age of 16 that was the profession I wanted to go into. The problem was raised with me only this week by one of our big suppliers of eggs. He said that he could not get GM-free feed and how difficult the problem is-not only the expense, but in getting hold of it. It is something that the debate has highlighted, which is well worth while.

I again thank noble Lords for participating in the debate. I also take the opportunity to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, for the work that she did when she was in another place and was an Agriculture Minister. We are grateful for the way she has done her work and led for the Opposition in this House. My sincere thanks go to everybody for enabling this debate to take place. I wish it would go across all government departments to say, "Wake up, there is a huge challenge ahead". With that, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion withdrawn.



2.31 pm

Moved by Baroness Newlove

Baroness Newlove: My Lords, I thank you for the amazingly warm and supportive welcome to your Lordships' House following my maiden speech just two weeks ago. It is just 10 months since I joined this House, was made Government Champion for Active

12 May 2011 : Column 1028

Safer Communities and produced the report that is being debated today. I have not learnt the ropes yet, so I apologise to noble Lords for not ensuring they had a chance to join this debate and will know for next time to warn them personally in advance. Please excuse me if my voice is strained-nothing, including this infection, could stop me standing before you today.

I want to explain why I feel so passionately about anti-social behaviour and building more active and safe communities. As a victim myself, my mailbag yields sad, shocking examples of people whose lives are so devalued by it. I know of one elderly man who creeps around in silence and darkness, with curtains drawn. He is too scared of intimidation and violence to show any sign of life, because he knows that it will be magnet for these feral people to start harassing him again. Other examples across the country are too shocking to list here: you would find it unbelievable that they exist in our country. This is the harsh, gritty reality of our lives. I am sure that, like me, all noble Lords will leave this House to return to a warm, comfortable and safe home. Please spare a thought for those who do not have the same security; and we are not talking about challenged, deprived areas, for this exists as much in leafy country areas as it does in tough inner-city estates.

I thank all noble Lords who have put their name down to speak on my report and I am sure that I echo all present when I say I am particularly looking forward to the maiden speeches of the noble Lords, Lord True and Lord Noon. There is such a bank of knowledge, experience and wisdom in this House and I am begging you to help me, as a representative of ordinary people everywhere, by supporting some of the recommendations in my report, Our Vision for Safe and Active Communities. I am humbled, but also delighted, that this debate has been tabled as I feel so very passionately that together we have to solve some of the worst of society's ills-particularly for those most affected, who are the vulnerable and sidelined victims of cruelty and crime.

I was put here to be champion for activists and victims, by people power. This is a golden opportunity for their voice to be heard nationally. Although reported crime might continue to fall, I support the plans of my colleague, Police Minister Nick Herbert, to keep focused on driving it down faster and deeper through new approaches. Nick has said that there is no room for complacency, and he is so right. Speaking from bitter experience, statistics are meaningless if you are the person whose existence is a living hell, day or night, thanks to bullying, thuggish behaviour; or someone who fears for your child's safety every time they leave your sight. The public remain concerned about levels of crime, particularly anti-social behaviour. As I have said before, anti-social behaviour is viewed as low priority. However, it is an evil, insidious growth. Its spreading roots undermine the very foundations of decent society and if we let it grow unchallenged, its fruits and its malignancy can kill.

The British Crime Survey says that around one in four of us has issues with public drunkenness, drug dealing, loitering teenagers, rubbish, litter and vandalism. We cannot sit by and allow any more neighbourhoods to be fearful places where residents scuttle to bolt their

12 May 2011 : Column 1029

doors and feel sanctuary and safety lies only in retreating to a fortress. My report is a work in progress, as we have to start somewhere. I have total faith that if we make radical changes and adopt its recommendations in approach, delivery and accountability and, more importantly, breathe fresh life into stale bureaucracy, we can help roll back the years and recreate that country where everyone is able to walk safely, day and night, and children roam free to explore and enjoy their childhood.

The journey of 1,000 miles starts with one single step, and this report is, I hope, that threshold for the voyage we make together. It may have to be small steps to start with, but I hope we will be taking giant strides very soon towards our goal. We will be guided by our powerful national moral compass, which has steered us so well for generations and which makes us such a great country. It will be our faith leaders who, united, can help uphold our resolve when we falter. We must encourage every citizen to embrace the word "home" and understand that it does not apply to bricks and mortar of their four walls, but is a concept that includes other houses, the environment, the people and the services around them. Personal responsibility should be the norm, not abnormal. Parents who are unable or unwilling to look after their children must be encouraged and supported. However, if they wilfully expect the rest of society to shoulder their responsibilities for bringing up their children, that is totally unacceptable and we cannot allow that to continue. Their out-of-control offspring cannot terrorise decent, hard-working people and cause blight on their neighbourhoods.

Agencies in England and Wales, such as the 43 police authorities and some 450 local government authorities, depend on charities, volunteers, active citizens and thriving businesses to be effective in carrying out their own jobs. I am sending out an SOS for them to join this national movement. My report recommends more transparency, the sharing of resources and devolving decision-making to the very people affected by their service delivery. I want to see the creation of resource hubs; a national hub that will act as a signpost to anyone wanting to get out of their comfy armchair and work for better communities so that they have access to the knowledge, help and finances that they need to do that. "Don't fix it if it ain't broke" is never so true as needed here. Parts of our society are broken, and we need common-sense, easy toolkits if we are to "DIY" it-to fix it ourselves.

That is why I welcome my move to the Department for Communities and Local Government. This year, I will be helped to implement my recommendations, which started out in the Home Office. It is a very lonely life being an active campaigner and I welcome this Government's support, which I hope will make a difference to people's lives. Too often, good ideas from ordinary people wither and die because it is just too difficult to navigate rules, red tape and regulations. Let us turn on the lights and lift the gloom of ignorance. It is more than time to lose some of the stranglehold of big, unwieldy and expensive government, and empower the small, potent big society, which is lots of small groups of activists and neighbours changing their part of the world.

12 May 2011 : Column 1030

My local hubs should be transparent ports of call, giving councillors access to people's concerns and giving people access to their local representatives. The people put them in power in the first place. This is what I understand by the term "localism". Local people should have a say in how the money that they pay in taxes and community charges is spent. I want to see money directed to a proper community-led cohesion project, signposted at the very lowest level. I also want to see "Bling Back", whereby money confiscated from criminals such as drug dealers is spent in the very communities that were robbed in the first place. If communities help to keep a young person out of an offender unit by supporting them within the community, turning their lives around, and save huge amounts of money in the process, why should not they get rewarded for their efforts? It is odd that when areas help to reduce anti-social behaviour, their reward is to have their police numbers reduced. To me it is the carrot-and-stick scenario in reverse. Why punish those who produce the right result? That is so wrong. We should give them incentives to get more involved and drive down crime, which means spending money on whatever community project they choose in order to build resilience in their neighbourhoods.

I have been travelling the length and breadth of England and Wales looking at what triggers anti-social behaviour, who is working at grass-roots levels to address it and what is really happening in our communities. I cannot pretend that I have seen every good practice, but I can share the fact that there is an amazing network of good citizens willing and able to make the changes that we ask for. We have to connect them, learn from them, support them and most of all celebrate them-but for them the most important thing is to make the climate easier for them to roll up their sleeves and just get on with it.

The heart of my report is to showcase and applaud some of these wonderful people. They run local Cubs, Scouts, Girl Guides and youth clubs; they help with shopping for the elderly, infirm and vulnerable; and they work unpaid to support charities. They do this willingly and for no other reason than that it is the right thing to do. I have seen fantastic role models, champions and projects in my travels, good police and public servants who are really reaching out to engage and work alongside the people they serve. I have been amazed how this new way of working can break down those huge walls that prevent people having a say. Read their own words in the report and see how they have tackled their community problems and won through-but despair also because of the stupid, pompous obstacles still being placed in their way.

When I am asked how I expect busy people to get involved in volunteering in this way, I have only to point to Hayley, a mother of eight young children, one of whom is in poor health, who started play activities with her own children in her own area. She extended it to others and in only 18 months has tackled anti-social behaviour on her estate, which is now down 40 per cent.

I am sick and tired of hearing the phrase trotted out so many times, "Lessons will be learnt", when obviously they have not been because we see and hear

12 May 2011 : Column 1031

over and over again tragedies and neglected cries for help. We should hold to account those who should have learnt lessons and if necessary remove them from positions of power and replace them with people who have learnt and can behave with humanity and understanding. So how can we tackle violent anti-social behaviour? Is there any evidence that it is already happening? The charity, Victim Support, runs a ground-breaking project in Southampton, pulling together all parties in a multi-agency partnership, with tenants, residents, housing managers, Neighbourhood Watch, police and others throwing a protective arm around victims of anti-social behaviour. These victims come from all ages and social backgrounds. Many have mental health issues and learning disabilities; each victim has tailored support, including emotional and practical help, signposting to specialist help, and advocacy with other agencies. Nearly 550 victims in the past 12-month period have had help through their darkest days to find light at the end of the tunnel. We need more of this joined-up work.

Also on Monday I accompanied Housing Minister Grant Shapps to Liverpool, to another Westminster-a blighted housing estate with a thriving residents' association whose members are the eyes and ears of the community. Monthly "Have your Say" meetings pressurise other residents to take responsibility for the behaviour of friends, families and visitors on the estate. They keep diaries of incidents and take an active part in an intensive community payback scheme for offenders. Elaine and Harry are truly the pillars of their society. The outcome of this work has been a 50 per cent drop of reported anti-social behaviour in just three months. That is a huge success.

One of the main factors of the violent gang behaviour that led to the murder of my husband, Garry, was underage binge drinking. I intend to use my report to enlist support from the alcohol retail industry to reclaim our streets and reduce violence on alcohol abuse. I know that there is a way to return us to the days of social, not anti-social, consumption, and to take back our streets at night.

I have always been an optimist, even after my experience, and as a loving mother to three young women, I demand a better world for them. I am not swayed by the argument that we have to throw tonnes of money, meet loads of targets and use mountains of resources to make change. I look forward to shifting the resources already allocated to be more cost-effective and more in line with the people's wishes. My report challenges the mindset of what I think is a complacent nation and one which has allowed the quality of life in our country to slide down to a totally unacceptable level in some areas. This is a national disgrace. I look forward to hearing your Lordships' suggestions in the coming debate and afterwards, and to learning how you feel you can add your many talents and contacts to help us reach our final destination. I beg to move.

2.47 pm

Lord True: My Lords, it is with a great sense of humility that I rise to address your Lordships. For nearly 13 years, until last May, I had the privilege of serving in this House in the office of the Leader of the

12 May 2011 : Column 1032

Opposition and assisting the work of the usual channels. For that opportunity, I must thank the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, and my noble friend Lord Strathclyde. They were both remarkably kind to me, and occasionally they even made the eccentric mistake of repeating to your Lordships something I had recommended them to say. I toyed with the idea of allowing my noble friend the Leader of the House to get his own back by asking him for advice on my own speech, but the risk was too great that noble Lords would recognise his own choice phrases.

One of my earlier perceptions of this House was formed 20 years ago in Downing Street at those regular morning meetings, often quite impatient, when the then Leader of the House came to explain to the then Prime Minister how your Lordships had ventured to vote against legislation that always seemed at the time something without which not only the Government but the entire universe would collapse. I rather suspect those meetings are still going on. But when I came to work here in 1997, I soon found that what, from the standpoint of the Executive, were seen as the capricious actions of your Lordships' House were usually rooted in common sense and deep humanity. In short, the more I listened to this House, the more I learned. I did not always agree, but I grew to respect this place beyond almost any other I have ever known, and then hold it with equally great affection.

I could not be more grateful for the kindness with which I was received, back then, and again when, to my surprise, I returned as a Member earlier this year, not only by your Lordships on all sides of the House but by the staff of this House, many of whom with my service here I am proud to count not only as old colleagues but old friends.

I spoke a moment ago of this House's common sense and deep humanity. That, of course, brings me to the subject of this debate, and my noble friend Lady Newlove, whom I warmly thank for introducing it and allowing me to speak. It is daunting to follow her; I agreed with every word that she said. She will forgive me if I do not follow entirely on the subject only of anti-social behaviour, because what she said applies to so many other areas of life. In the way that she has turned a savage, personal loss into a commitment and prospectus for common good, my noble friend exemplifies the qualities of common sense and humanity-and how much we need those as we survey the shards of a society which is in all too many places broken but which the noble Baroness inspires us to believe can be built again. I believe that it will be built again if those in authority truly listen to the calls that my noble friend brings to us to help people take small steps to big ends.

I have the privilege to be leader of a local authority, the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames. It is in many ways a comfortable authority, where some of the issues set out in this report might seem less pressing than they are elsewhere. Yet I believe that many of my noble friend's ideas are as relevant in prosperous areas as they are in poorer ones. Anti-social behaviour and crime, as she said, respect no borough boundaries, and anxiety, alienation and disengagement know no economic frontiers. In my view, it is the urgent calling of all of us, in whatever capacity in

12 May 2011 : Column 1033

politics, to join in the task of rebuilding broken bridges of trust and confidence between politics, public bodies and the citizen. We need to remember, as my noble friend reminds us, who are the employees and who are the employers in the relationship between public bodies and those we are elected or appointed to serve.

As my noble friend's report eloquently tells us, bureaucracy, complex language and slow responses deter active communities and community action. Perhaps I may give a small example from last month's uplifting national coming together, the royal wedding. Shortly after we were elected to office in Richmond, I enjoyed that horrible moment-which many of your Lordships who have been in office will well remember-of being rung up by my press office to be told that, quite unexpectedly, we were being targeted by a national newspaper. We were being cited as the local authority most restrictive of street parties, with the highest insurance requirements, the most prescriptive rules on street signs and so on. Be there so much as a whiff of a sizzling sausage in the streets of Richmond, the report suggested, and Councillor True's enforcers would be down on you, probably dressed in uniform.

I did what any worried politician under fire does-I called for a report, courageously. That report told me that, in all essence, the story was true. It was not that my predecessors or the council officers had wanted it, but simply that a well-meaning climate of risk aversion, health and safety first and written policies on almost everything had led to an accretion of complexities in rules and regulations, which no one had ever sat down and planned or even really wanted. The response was obvious-to scrap most of those rules. We simplified the rules for approval, with the result that what had been targeted as the most restrictive council in England ended up hosting more street parties on 29 April than any other. How much I agree, then, with what the noble Baroness says in chapter 5 of her report about providing services on the public's terms and about simplifying processes. I also find her idea of a general power of competence for local residents highly compelling.

However, I believe that local authorities can and should be catalysts to the creation of active communities. The will is there-I do not believe the cynics. Last year we asked people in our borough to define for themselves their own communities and say which things they most valued and which they most wanted to change in their own area, and cynics said that only a few hundred people would respond. In fact, getting on for 14,000 people did, and we are now following that up with a process of public meetings and plans that cover the 14 different self-selected communities which local people chose. Predictably, their priorities are different. Some are concerned about crime, some about school places, some about improving open spaces, some about losing their high-street shops and some about parking. We must accept that different areas have different priorities and be ready to implement different solutions.

Top-down, one-size-fits-all, town-hall-knows-best has had its day; I welcome that, as I know that people on all sides of politics do. However, I agree with my noble friend in her report that that does not mean sitting back and waiting for things to happen bottom-up. We need to go out and meet people in the middle.

12 May 2011 : Column 1034

Helping active communities to plan and create a better future is just as much about creating and defending the spirit of place, which is what I think local authorities must do; and it is infinitely more rewarding than creating the umpteenth centralised strategy document and calling in the PR men to sell it to those who have had no say at all in writing it in the first place. The role of local authorities evolves, but I am sure that they have a constructive role in meeting the challenges that my noble friend's report lays down.

I will not trouble your Lordships further on this occasion. However, I must conclude by saying that I do believe that there is an immense opportunity for the creation of community enterprise. When I looked, coming here today, for example, at the hideous scarring of our urban railway lines by graffiti put up by those selfishly intent on imposing their identity, or their vile gang's identity, on public space, I asked myself, "Is there not scope for creating a great enterprise to remove this blight from our lives? Would not hundreds of young people wish to be involved in doing that?". I am certain that there is, and we should take that challenge, with support, to Network Rail.

There are myriad things, great and small, that people, once allowed across the barriers marked "health and safety" or "risk", could and will do for themselves. My noble friend's inspiring report points us along this road. Along with many other local authority leaders, I look forward to helping her achieve her vision across our country, in all regions, whether rich or poor, and in other areas of policy, as well as in the crucial war on anti-social behaviour in which she so powerfully calls us to engage.

2.57 pm

Lord Addington: My Lords, it is my very pleasant duty to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord True, on his maiden speech. When I looked at his CV I discovered that, in his relationship with the Liberal Democrats in Richmond, he has been someone who-as his colleagues have described best-has exchanged heavy blows with relish, punched his own weight and could take a shot, but who was also a gentleman afterwards. The borough of Richmond, Surrey is well represented among the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, but it was actually a clean fight down there. That relationship is probably something on which the noble Lord will go far in this House and in Parliament, and I congratulate him on that.

It is also very unusual to welcome to this House someone who probably knows more about it than do some who have been here for more than 20 years. That degree of knowledge and grounding in local politics will be extremely useful to this House. It will, I hope, build up the sum of knowledge and the ability to reach out which is so necessary for this House. I again congratulate the noble Lord on his speech. It was good and thoughtful. We hope to hear many more such speeches from him, because we can use them.

The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, introduced a thoughtful and considerate discussion on the backdrop which makes the big society necessary. Over the years, by accident and by design, problems have arisen in society whereby people have allowed society to disintegrate

12 May 2011 : Column 1035

and some unacceptable behaviour to become the norm. It is also true that, when dealing with these problems, the perception can often be far worse than the reality; it depends on who and where you are and what has happened to you personally. The noble Baroness's experiences in life will of course give her deeper insight into what can really go wrong, but how can the rest of us get involved?

The central theme of what the noble Baroness said is the fact that we have to take on much of this responsibility ourselves, and that the Government have to allow that to happen. When I was reading about the report, some of the comments said that however local the activity, volunteer-based groups cannot do all the work themselves. There is a balance here, aimed primarily at ensuring that we allow volunteers to grow. We should provide the fertile soil for these fertile ideas to bloom in.

How is that done? Regulation is a great thing for bashing. We are all against regulation-or, rather, every single one of us is against regulations that inconvenience us but not against regulations that do not inconvenience us and that we think might be a good idea in order to stop someone doing something that we do not like. That is the eternal balance.

We all want to have a drink in a pub now and again. Some of us may think that closing time, to take an extreme example, should be 12 am on a Friday or a Saturday, but if you happen to live on that pub's main exit route on the way home you will have a different point of view. I have been in both camps. Unless we try to balance that and make that interaction more positive, we are going to get it wrong; we will always lurch from the red-top tabloid description of what is going on-"Society is never going to be the same again"-to the reaction against it from the killjoys, often in the same newspaper on the same day. The two sides are constantly getting at each other. You can imagine the editors of these newspapers or programmes saying, "Now, how much coverage are we going to have about overregulation and how much saying that it's disgusting and shouldn't be allowed?". In the middle there is usually a revelation about the love life of someone whom you have never heard of.

This is something that we have to try to get a hold of in adult ways. It struck me as I was researching this that it is important not to allow areas to be thought of as forgotten, as not counting. Much of the work that has gone on around here has concentrated on little things, like ensuring that rubbish is not allowed to sit on the streets for any length of time. We tackle things like fly-tipping, and involvement from local government, or possibly even other forms of government, allows that to happen. We get involved and that creates a better atmosphere.

If you do not like teenagers sitting on a corner of the street, you make sure that they have somewhere else to go at reasonable times of day. Wearing my other hat, I worry about sport; if you say, "No, we can't have anyone noisily kicking a ball around. No ball games", and then wonder why they are kicking a can around and shouting at you, you have created that situation yourself. By denying them a chance for personal responsibility, society has created the problem. If you

12 May 2011 : Column 1036

say that you are going to provide somewhere that a game of football or basketball can take place, if it is well lit and if local law enforcement officers come round, have a chat, have a look and go away again at regular times, you will probably have a safer environment to allow people to interact than you would have otherwise, even if it is slightly noisy and there are a few teenagers outside. If those officers do that job properly, you will probably have an interchange of information that will make it less likely that there will be unreported crime. If, however, you simply turn around and say, "No, someone doesn't like the noise", you have enhanced the problem.

We are always going to find this balancing act difficult. It is as important to ensure that community groups have a place to meet and interact as it is for teenagers-they should not have to rely on meeting in someone's crowded house-but those groups will require support, effort and back-up. Unless the noble Baroness's ideas are allowed to flourish in a positive environment, unless you allow this space, all the good ideas will come to nothing.

When I started looking at this, I considered talking about the importance of other groups apart from amateur sports clubs. They are my favourite because they embody much of what is good in society. Any amateur association that brings people together, whether that be for train-spotting or for amateur dramatics, and gives them some sense of responsibility for themselves, is something of a model. If you can encourage these groups and allow them to function, and if local government is encouraged to allow them to function, you have taken two steps forward: the first by example, and the second by providing a focus.

I do not have to tell politicians that if you get a bunch of people together who know how to organise, every now and then the problem is to get them to stop organising. We have to try to allow these things to happen. Hopefully, the noble Baroness's report is the start of an ongoing process that will allow us to get the best out of what naturally happens and to take what can happen everywhere into everywhere.

3.05 pm

Lord Noon: My Lords, I am very honoured to be making my maiden speech today and to follow the eloquent maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord True.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, for introducing this very important debate. Her contribution in this area is significant. Her maiden speech greatly moved this House, and I am sorry that it was born out of such a great personal tragedy. I commend the noble Baroness on her most excellent report, Our Vision for Safe and Active Communities. I hope that I can do justice to the wisdom of that report as I talk about my experiences and understanding of how we can make safer, stronger and more active communities.

I take this opportunity to thank my noble friends Lady Jay of Paddington and Lord Sainsbury of Turville for having introduced me on the Floor of the House in January this year. Since my arrival here I have been most graciously and respectfully received by everyone. I have been made to feel most welcome. I acknowledge and thank the officials of the House for their courtesy and their time.

12 May 2011 : Column 1037

It was only a few years ago that I was made to think that I might not be here today to make this speech. I am of course referring to the night in November 2008 when I was trapped in the Taj Hotel in Mumbai while it was attacked by a group of terrorists. So I have had my own close encounter with terrorists, which made me realize how quickly life can be taken away. On that November morning in 2008 I woke up in my hotel bed as a businessman. By nightfall I was a hostage of a terrorist cell.

I had taken a small trade delegation from my parent company, Kerry Foods. The terrorists were hunting down British and American nationals, which we all were. We sat in the dark room listening to the sounds of grenades and bombs exploding in the building. Smoke soon poured in from under our door and we panicked. Had I known then what I was to learn later-that the terrorists were in room number 360-then we would really have panicked. For, you see, we were in room number 361, right next door, separated by only one wall. It was the longest night of my life.

Next morning, in the light of dawn, we saw the fire brigade on the street below. My suite was on the third floor. We frantically waved to the fire brigade. They sent their long ladder up to our balcony, broke the glass and hoisted us on to a platform. The TV images of our rescue went round the world as it was happening. The handlers of the terrorists were also watching TV and directing their foot soldiers by mobile phone. As we were coming down, they shot at us from inside the hotel. We were lucky that we all escaped with our lives, but 176 others who died in the Mumbai attack were not so lucky. The terrorists attacked two hotels, a railway station and a tourist café, as well as targeting a Jewish centre. The victims were all ordinary people minding their own business and were killed randomly. These matters go to the very heart of our debate today. If we are to have safer communities, we must deal with all the forces that seek to harm us and threaten the very fabric of our society.

Just a few days ago we got the news of the death of the terrorist mastermind who had dedicated his life to murder and mayhem. The religion of Islam has been hijacked by such people. Let me say here what I believe Islam stands for. My beloved mother, Bilquis, instilled in me the Islamic values of peace and tolerance. I grew up in a household in India where we were on very friendly terms with people of other communities. Our neighbours were non-Muslim. The community was fully integrated and it seemed to us the natural way to live. It was a cosmopolitan society.

London, too, is a cosmopolitan city and this great country gives its people many benefits. Britain provides its citizens great freedom to worship, to educate and to work, and let us not forget our compassionate National Health Service. There is also the benefit of retiring with a state pension. The citizen is given all these things by the nation. In return, we owe the community, society and country our allegiance. We all have a moral obligation to fulfil our duties as citizens. We must live with honour. The freedoms we enjoy in the UK, including the freedom of religious belief and practice, are given freely. However, with freedom comes responsibility. It is our responsibility to be active, to take part and do what we can to make all our lives

12 May 2011 : Column 1038

better. It is inevitable that there will be friction at times, difficulties of adjustment, but we are all the same under the skin.

On a personal level, I have worked hard to create a food industry and provide employment in Great Britain. I have even made chicken tikka masala our national dish. At the same time, I have not forgotten that I am a member of a greater society and have tried to pay back through my Noon Foundation, a charity personally endowed by me. Through our projects I have come across everyday heroes who work in hospices and community mentoring projects, the brave soldiers of our Army and many selfless people who make life worth while. In our democracy, we have the freedom to speak up, to comment and to criticise. There is room for every shade of expression. No matter what our origins, no matter what our faith, no matter what our culture and opinions are, we are ultimately stronger and safer in the community with each other. We are better off when we watch out for each other.

I thank your Lordships for listening to me. I look forward to taking part in many more such debates.

3.12 pm

The Lord Bishop of Norwich: My Lords, I am delighted to follow the excellent maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Noon, and hope that we will indeed hear from him very often in your Lordships' House. His services to the British food industry have been enormous, and I imagine that quite a number of us in the Palace of Westminster have taken advantage of the ready meals produced by Noon Products Ltd, especially after late sittings. I am sure that he has fed many of us already with his products; now he is feeding us with his words. The company that he founded in 1989 has become a tremendously substantial employer, and he is known for the quality of his employment practices. We pay tribute to him.

We have of course heard why the noble Lord is so well qualified to speak on this subject today, since he knew what it was to fear for his personal safety when trapped in the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in Mumbai during those ghastly terrorist attacks. His powerful denunciation of extremists within his own Muslim community, which he has gently repeated here today, is matched by his many positive community engagements. I understand that his company collaborates with the Prince's Trust in setting up in-school clubs for 14 to 16 year-olds at risk of truancy, exclusion and underachievement-causes of so much of the anti-social behaviour that concerns us in this debate. In addition, he is vice-chair of the Maimonides Foundation, which focuses on promoting Jewish-Muslim relations. All this illustrates why we hope to hear much more from him in future. It has been wonderful to have two marvellous maiden speeches in this same debate.

I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, on her report, which is written from the heart and with many refreshing turns of phrase. Quite apart from its other strengths, the report has a pleasing absence of bureaucratic language and dense, impenetrable jargon. For that alone, much thanks. It also has the merit of passion. Of course, it includes the passion of the noble Baroness, which she brings to her theme through her

12 May 2011 : Column 1039

own very painful experience, which she has made, remarkably, the springboard of creative service to others. Her report is also grounded in the passions and stories of so many other people. What unites them is a desire for a better community life. These pioneers in community self-help have made their neighbourhoods safer places.

As the Bishop of Norwich, I am naturally glad to see Norfolk mentioned honourably, although this is generally a report with a very strong urban bias. I know that the noble Baroness does not think this, but we must not imagine that that is because rural communities are all active and safe already. They are not. A rural location is no defence against low-level anti-social behaviour and sometimes much more serious social disruption, too. One can, indeed, lead to another. As the noble Baroness illustrated, as the irritation level grows people retreat into themselves and into their homes. Isolation from neighbours breeds fear of crime, which is surprisingly high in rural areas. Where there are relatively low levels of crime, there are very high levels of the fear of crime. That diminished social interaction creates fertile territory for the growth of more serious offending. This does not happen so easily in communities where there is a strong sense of neighbourliness and social engagement. Where people meet each other a lot, they care for and look out for each other. What the noble Baroness recommends in her report seems to me to be nothing less than what humanity is actually for.

As I have mentioned, I was glad to see Norfolk mentioned on page 26 of the report, which stresses the value of community panels in identifying the tasks to be done in their areas by those serving a community sentence. Far too much community service has been prescribed by statutory authorities and has not always felt beneficial to communities themselves. We need to change this. This report is a spur to doing so more widely, not only in Norfolk.

The report also commends restorative justice at page 22, but I was surprised to see that it did not feature in the recommendations. Will the Minister comment on the place of restorative justice in relation to the picture presented in the report? As your Lordships know, in restorative justice people who have been the perpetrators or victims of a crime or incident come together to consider what happened, to repair harm and to develop a strategy together that will avoid a recurrence. In Norfolk more than 12,000 people have been involved in restorative justice since 2007, and 89 per cent have been satisfied with the outcome. That figure has gradually increased and in the past year was well over 90 per cent. These people believe that this is the best way to deal with low-level crime and anti-social behaviour. The percentage of those reoffending in Norfolk after restorative justice has been just 10.4 per cent for juveniles and 14 per cent for adults. Those are impressive figures. They also illustrate, because the bias is towards the young, that restorative justice is even more effective for younger people as their characters and dispositions are still being formed; you have a chance with juveniles. That is why Norfolk is bidding to become one of the first restorative counties with a designated champion for this work.

12 May 2011 : Column 1040

However, restorative justice needs a neutral, trained facilitator so that those involved in an incident can engage constructively with each other. It is not a matter of putting perpetrators and victims together, hoping for the best and trusting that they will produce a solution; the third party is essential. That is where someone from one community can help people in another, since we are talking almost entirely about volunteers. The dynamic of care extends. Our communities cannot be silos of safety; they learn from one another and give to each other. The report of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, helps us raise our sights.

There is one other passing comment in the report that I wish to endorse and develop more fully. The noble Baroness says:

"If communities are to build trusting relationships with their services, then services need to be available when their community needs them. It is crazy ... that many staff whose prime function is to support and assist the community only work standard office hours when most people are busy at work or in education".

That makes good sense, but it illustrates an uncomfortable truth; most of those providing statutory services to our most needy communities do not live in them. A long time ago, when I was working as a curate on a large council estate in Peterborough, my vicar brought together many of the social workers, probation officers, health visitors and some of the teachers working on that estate to share our experiences. It is a commonplace initiative now but 35 years ago it was a bit more radical. I vividly remember from all that time ago that at our first session we discovered two things. The first was that about 10 families on an estate of more than 15,000 people occupied a great deal of all our time. We had not got our act together, nor had we recognised that so many of the problems on the estate were caused by so few. However, only two of us-my vicar and me-actually lived on the estate.

The clergy live in the communities they serve; they do not go somewhere else after office hours. Rectory and vicarage families often experience the same levels of anti-social irritation as their neighbours, even sometimes worse, as an increasing number of tragic incidents illustrate. It is not surprising, therefore, that when there is a major incident the media often seek out the vicar as a community spokesperson. You see it on the television all the time. He or she is often the only official person to be found living in the place they visit. I say this not simply to illustrate the value of the parish system of the Church of England, although I believe in it and believe that it is incredibly valuable, but to endorse the contention of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, that those who live in a community are best placed to determine how to make it safer. The devolution of decision-making, which we hope will be a characteristic of the Localism Bill, is to be welcomed. Therefore, I confess that I was a bit surprised to see that churches seem strategically marginal to the report, despite the very good example of the Church of England parish of St John at Hackney. I hope that, in following up the recommendations of this report, churches and other faith communities will be fully involved; we are certainly willing to be.

Therefore, I should be grateful if the Minister indicated what steps the Government are taking to extend restorative justice and, in particular, what steps

12 May 2011 : Column 1041

will be taken to ensure that decisions affecting the well-being of communities are increasingly taken by those who live in them.

3.24 pm

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, it is a pleasure and a privilege to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich. The predecessor of his whom I knew best was Launcelot Fleming, now long-since dead, but I cannot help feeling that his spirit emerged in all the speeches I have heard in this debate, and that has made it the richer.

I join others in congratulating both noble Lords who have made maiden speeches. Of course I congratulate my noble friend Lord True. He had the good fortune to have been born into a family with a name to which everyone is likely to respond enthusiastically and warmly. Those with the ill luck to have been born into families who are less happy gradually manage over the years to change that. However, I am personally sorry that that admirable firm of solicitors in County Sligo, Argue and Phibbs, which I always looked up in the Irish telephone directory every time I went to Ireland, has finally and at last gone out of business. As to the noble Lord, Lord Noon, he and I met only once. He may well not remember it, but we broke bread on the subject of cricket. Anyone with that avocation is bound to be worth listening to on almost any subject. I congratulate him most warmly.

Of course I congratulate my noble friend Lady Newlove, not only on providing us with the opportunity for this debate, but on the quality of her report. I do not know how many noble Lords who are not taking part in the debate, but are sitting in the Chamber, have had the opportunity to read the report. To those who have not done so, I commend it very warmly indeed. It is comprehensive, and the fact that it has more than two dozen footnotes is itself an index of the extent of the reading that my noble friend has done. I am enormously impressed by the great storehouse of material that it fulfils.

My noble friend has a particular characteristic in the way in which her views come through, which was reflected in a remark long ago by Ronnie Knox, the Catholic convert theologian, who said that history has been changed by people who start their sentences with, "I believe", rather than, in the English manner, "One does feel". I have to say to my noble friend that throughout her report, "I believe" came through very strongly in every sentence. I have to say also that those thoughts remind me of my noble friend Lady Thatcher. I cannot conceive of the words "One does feel" falling from her lips. My noble friend Lady Newlove has the same adamantine convictions. I hope we can envisage a pocket version of her report in a Penguin format that we can slip into our pockets, because there is so much material in it that is sensible to carry about one's person.

I particularly admire her insistence on clear purposes. When I was brought up, I was once taught by someone who said, "If you do not know where you are trying to get to, any road will get you there". There is much to be said for having a clear idea of where you are trying to get to and how you are going to do it. The report has lots of suggestions, stories and recommendations.

12 May 2011 : Column 1042

Beyond my noble friend's conviction comes through the sense of her stamina. During the war, Winston Churchill had 10 ideas a day; one was normally good and the other nine were less good. My distant kinsman, the 1st Viscount Alanbrooke, a great-granduncle to the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, had the responsibility, as Churchill's CIGS, of explaining to him that the last nine ideas were not very good. That was not the easiest thing to do. The great thing about my noble friend's report is that she will have a much higher strike rate and-I think she realises this already-although some of the ideas in the report may not necessarily find acceptance among those to whom they are directed, she gains greatly by the rich number and variety of ideas that she has put forward.

My qualifications for speaking in this debate, I suppose, are that I represented for nearly a quarter of a century the inner-city seat of the Cities of London and Westminster, known as the "Two Cities". It was an interesting seat to represent because of its particular profile. The European Union, with slightly mistaken statistics, believed that it was the richest area in the whole EU. I will not go into what the statistical error was, but it was also almost certainly the only Tory seat in the country which came in the top 50-or the bottom 50, if you like-for poverty, and possibly the only Tory seat in the top 100.

An inner-city seat is likely to have considerable poverty. I may not be able to produce examples to which my noble friend will respond, but my two favourite examples were in the wards of Soho and Pimlico. When I was first elected, there were 10 candidates standing. We all received an examination paper from the Soho Society to find out how much we knew about Soho before we arrived, which was an extraordinarily good stimulus to subsequent research. It is a community where 2,000 people live and 40,000 people work. The marvellous thing about it is that it is a totally united community, from both quarters. In 1981, it had 164 sex establishments. Although that is a different kind of antisocial behaviour than that which my noble friend is talking about, it was a major task to transform it, but transform it we did, so that old ladies who had hitherto not been too keen on having to walk down the street past Sodom and Gomorrah suddenly found that their visits to the butchers, bakers and candlestick makers had become possible again.

The drugs tsar under the previous Administration was against the silent majority giving money to beggars in Soho because she knew perfectly well that it was all going to go on drugs; but as an index of the integrated society, it was a Soho beggar, invisible to most people as they walked up and down the street, who made a significant contribution, literally at street level, as an observer, to the swift arrest of the bomber whose third attack was on the Admiral Duncan pub in Soho. Everybody plays their particular role, however they are operating within the community.

I entirely endorse what was said earlier about living in the neighbourhood. When we were taking the Licensing Bill through in 2003, when the Government were moving powers to magistrates, it was noticeable to everyone who lived in Soho, the people who were going to be on the receiving end of the changes, that the magistrates who would be making the decisions

12 May 2011 : Column 1043

lived 50 miles away and would not themselves have any experience of what it was like to be in Soho at three o'clock in the morning.

As for Pimlico, in 1987, the Peabody Trust, which has a large estate not only in Pimlico but in Victoria and elsewhere-it has at least 2,000 homes in my former constituency-decided that no priority was to be given to those who came from families who had been living in Peabody accommodation for the past four generations. I told the trust that I thought that it was making a significant mistake and that the integrity of an inner-city community such as that was greatly assisted by continuity. I am glad to say that, 10 years later, in 1997, it agreed and introduced a quota system to make it possible for families to remain. That was wholly to the good. The noble Lord, Lord Best, who knows much more about these matters than I do, says that the shift that I described in 1997 is now prevalent throughout housing management. Although it is 10 years since I was the local Member, I have a continuing interest in the St Andrew's youth club, half a mile from here, which is, if I may say, oxymoronically described as the oldest youth club in the world.

To the wide variety of subjects in my noble friend's report, I add a few grace-notes. I respond extremely well to her emphasis on thinking outside the box. Personally, I believe that help is defined by the receiver rather than the giver, and it should be our watchword to make more important the Duke of Wellington's insistence on working out what is happening on the other side of the hill. The drugs tsar whom I quoted a moment ago had previously been the homelessness tsar, and she actively discouraged charitable groups from the Midlands who were paying away-day visits every two or three months to provide a soup kitchen in Soho. That was not the most effective way of responding to the problem and it was better done by those who were living with the problem on a day-to-day basis.

One problem that my noble friend Lady Newlove identified was the level in government departments and other public bodies at which decisions are taken. I am personally in favour of decisions being taken in organisations at the lowest possible level, but I am conscious that government departments vary, and that shows up in the level at which submissions to Ministers are signed off. Some take it right back up to the top before putting them in front of the Minister; some, happily, can even do it below the level of an assistant secretary. However, that is something of which anyone who deals with public bodies has to be aware.

I concur with my noble friend's observations and ideas about funding and incentives. I commend to her the practice followed by Mr Ben Whitaker, the husband of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, when he was the United Kingdom director of the Gulbenkian fund. In the distribution of small grants, he identified a single individual to be the distributor in each county, and he then drip-fed them with cash as their money ran down so that consistency was maintained in that area.

I have one question for my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire, to whose wind-up speech I greatly look forward. What are the lottery guidelines of the Big

12 May 2011 : Column 1044

Lottery Fund, which has taken over the combined original roles of the Millennium Commission and the charities distributor, established in 1993 and 1994? My noble friend Lord Heseltine, who was the only Millennium Commissioner to go right through from the beginning to the end, was very keen on matching funding. However, as my noble friend identified, matching funding is potentially a problem. It would be helpful to know what the Big Lottery Fund's instructions are, because the big society is a prime potential target for the Big Lottery Fund as a client.

I concur with my noble friend's request about simplifying paperwork. I understand what she implies about auditors but, as Oral Questions frequently remind us in connection with the European Union, audits and auditors are necessary concomitants in the use of public money. When I was in the private sector, we did pro bono work for appropriate causes but at a level of 10 per cent of our ordinary fee. We insisted on 10 per cent because that left the client with a stake and an ownership. Therefore, when we served Jack Profumo in finding a chief executive for Toynbee Hall, he got a bill which stated the whole fee and we then gave a discount of 90 per cent, leaving him to pay the last 10 per cent himself.

I strongly approve of my noble friend's ideas about people having to spend one day in outside organisations. In a longer speech I would refer to one that I did myself in my constituency. Given the present excitement about House of Lords reform, it would be no bad thing if Members of the House of Commons had to spend a day here in order to get a rather better idea than they have at the moment of how we operate. I totally agree with my noble friend's views about having people in continuity.

Finally, I much admire the projects that she cited at the end. I hope that my noble friend is moved by her clients calling her projects "Newlove projects", and I hope that in the fullness of time her clients will say in suitable gatherings, "Yes, we've been Newloved too". I realise that, as 14 appears on the Clock I have to sit down, but my last words must be, as she recommends in her report, "Thank you".

3.39 pm

Lord Rosser: My Lords, I start by adding my congratulations to those already expressed to the noble Lord, Lord True, and my noble friend Lord Noon on their thoughtful and informative maiden speeches. I, too, hope that they will both be regular contributors to debates in your Lordships' House as, clearly but not surprisingly, they both have much to contribute.

I also add my thanks and words of appreciation to the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, for the debate that she has introduced and for her report after what has clearly been a thorough and painstaking investigation into the issues she has addressed. It is to the eternal credit of the noble Baroness that she did not allow herself to be overwhelmed by the truly appalling and sickening experience that she and her family have been through, and no doubt continue to go through since you cannot forget-or perhaps want to forget-such a traumatic happening. Instead, the noble Baroness has shown great mental and emotional strength in her

12 May 2011 : Column 1045

determination and resolve to campaign assiduously and make the case for action to encourage local activism and create more safe and happy communities, in a bid to reduce the likelihood of others having to endure a similar experience.

I read the report with great interest and I agree with the thrust of its message and intent. It was refreshing to read the noble Baroness's statement:

"The 'Big Society' is already out there".

That is a welcome riposte to those who appear to think that it is some great new policy or concept. Such a stance is in reality a bit of a slap in the face to all those thousands and thousands of good citizens who for years, quietly and without seeking publicity and celebrity recognition, have been doing the kind of work to which the noble Baroness refers in her report.

As the report says, levels of volunteering in the United Kingdom are higher compared to many of our European neighbours. That is despite having longer working hours than most if not all of our European neighbours. Rather than trying to present the big society as some new concept, the report puts forward a range of proposals to encourage more people to become active in their localities, and to follow in the footsteps of those who have successfully gone down this road and whose work the noble Baroness has highlighted in the case studies in the report.

One of the points the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, makes, is that to encourage more participation, people need to feel that they will have a direct influence over decisions affecting their own communities and that their time will not be wasted through existing organisations and agencies simply ignoring their views, ideas and aspirations rather than treating them as partners. Accordingly, I am sure that after all the time, thought and effort that the noble Baroness has put into her report and recommended courses of action, she will be expecting to hear something more than warm words from the Minister in response. Having said that, I think that the noble Baroness may well now be in a position to ensure that her recommendations are enacted since she has recently joined the Department for Communities and Local Government.

The Minister may refer in his response to the Government's Localism Bill and the intention to devolve power. I am sure that when we consider the Bill in your Lordships' House there will be much debate on the extent to which the Bill does or does not achieve that objective, the potential implications of devolving power, and where in reality decision-making power and influence will actually rest. Last night your Lordships' House showed that it did not share the Government's view that handing over considerable power with few checks and balances to single individual elected police and crime commissioners, responsible for large and diverse areas, was a move that would in reality increase local accountability. The Government stating an intention is not the same thing as the Government actually putting forward proposals that will be accepted as achieving that intention in a reasonable and realistic way.

The statement in the report by the noble Baroness about the popularity with local communities of neighbourhood policing teams and police community

12 May 2011 : Column 1046

support officers will be welcomed by many. I have had local police community support officers knocking on my front door to introduce themselves and to ask me about issues of specific concern to me in my locality. I hope that the Government will stick to their pledge that levels of front-line policing will not be affected by the cuts and that there is no dubiety that neighbourhood policing teams and police community officers are regarded as front-line positions.

In that context, perhaps I may digress for a moment and thank the Minister for sending me-finally-a reply to my Written Question of 16 March asking for the Government's definition of "police front-line positions". It is quite a coincidence that I finally received the delayed and long awaited reply on the very morning of this debate, in which I was down to speak and in which the issue of front-line policing was likely to be raised. Bearing in mind that the reply simply refers to a definition in an HMIC report published on 30 March, it is not clear why the response took so long-way beyond the accepted timescale for responses to Written Questions. This is not the first time recently that this has happened with the Home Office. Unless there is a good reason why it has taken so long to reply, one can conclude only that this is a failure at ministerial level, since statements have previously been made-at ministerial level-that such delays should not occur. It is perhaps also a reminder, following last night's debate, that the presence of an elected person at the head of an organisation should not be taken as meaning that it will be responsive to those with whom it has dealings.

The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, stresses in her report that it is crucial that individuals and communities, statutory agencies, the voluntary and community sectors and central government work together and regard each other as equal partners. One such statutory agency is the police. From my experience under the Police Service Parliamentary Scheme, with just one police force, certainly the willingness and desire to do so are there. The police know better than anyone the value of reliable information and intelligence; the value to them of being regarded as vital and respected parts of the communities that they serve; and the importance, if they are to be regarded as part of the solution to problems, of addressing the issues of most concern to local people. I well remember a meeting I attended a considerable time ago in which the local police divisional superintendent spoke about the work they had been doing to identify the principal issues of concern to the local population. Those issues were not about major crime, but about anti-social behaviour of the sort that the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, addresses in her report, which can impact so heavily on the quality of life, and on what I recall the divisional superintendent describing as a desire for tranquillity and a feeling of well-being in the neighbourhood.

I appreciate that the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, is suggesting not that the recommendations she has made would be a complete answer to the issues that she has addressed, but rather that they could make a significant and important difference, particularly if they lead to the change in culture and in mindset to which she refers. As the noble Baroness says in her report, the reasons why people engage in anti-social

12 May 2011 : Column 1047

behaviour and neighbourhood crime must also be addressed if we are to improve the position. The reasons are many and varied, but if someone has been brought up in a home environment where anti-social behaviour, indifference and lack of thought for others appear to be accepted, one can hardly be surprised when that approach is copied and carried forward.

Other things can also lead the less determined and resilient to adopt such behaviour even when it does not seem to flow from the environment in which they have been brought up. Unemployment, boredom, a lack of constructive things to do and a lack of money to do anything much other than survive can also contribute. These are issues that local community action, or action by individuals, may also be able to address, as some of the case studies in the report show. They are also issues on which actions by central government can and do impact through, for example, the economic, social and financial policies that it pursues. The Government have a choice over the extent and the speed at which, for example, they invest to address the financial situation through growth and a resultant increase in tax revenues and reduction in unemployment and benefit claims, and over the extent and speed at which they decide to address the current financial situation by cutting expenditure and jobs, cutting levels of benefits and cutting facilities provided by central and local government. The Government will argue that they have currently got the balance right but that is not a view that we accept. However, I ask the Minister whether the Government, in determining their view on how they would address the financial situation, made an assessment of the likely impact of their decisions on the issues of the levels of anti-social behaviour and neighbourhood crime that are the subject of the report by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. If such an assessment was made, what were the conclusions?

Levels of crime have fallen not inconsiderably in recent years, which we should remember, albeit acknowledging, as the noble Baroness has rightly said, that such a statement can have little meaning to all those who have experienced as victims either directly or indirectly the horrors of crime and its impact. The noble Baroness's report addresses in particular the increased contribution, with the necessary vital and appropriate encouragement and changed attitudes to which she refers, that individuals and local communities can make through their own actions and involvement to help address in particular anti-social behaviour and the cultures and the environment that seem to increase the likelihood of such behaviour. If the noble Baroness has found not the answer, but an answer to reducing anti-social behaviour, and creating safer, happier and closer communities, a great many people will be eternally grateful to her. I am sure that the Government will give the recommendations in the report the careful consideration that they most certainly deserve. I know that the House will be looking forward now to the Minister's response.

3.51 pm

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, this has been a very valuable and constructive debate. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, immensely for giving

12 May 2011 : Column 1048

us all the incentive to read her report carefully: part of what debates are for is to give wider responses to useful reports. This report deserves to gain a wider reading and a much wider debate. As we talk to others, I hope that all of us will help to contribute to that. I should also like to thank both maiden speakers. I thank the noble Lord, Lord True, in particular, for his emphasis on the role of local government in rebuilding stronger local communities, which was one of the things I felt was not touched on as much in the report of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, as might have been the case and why I particularly welcome that she is now moving to the Department for Communities and Local Government to take on this work. The DCLG, with its responsibility for the Localism Bill, to which the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, referred, and for grabbing hold of the issue of how we effectively decentralise power, is very much the right place for her to continue. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Noon, particularly for stressing the importance of faith communities in helping to build and maintain a sense of community solidarity and in bringing and holding people together.

The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, has been tireless in her efforts as a community campaigner and it is not just her report but also her example of which we should be conscious. That things get done only when people get off their backsides to do them is one of strongest messages of this report. We all face this problem that Britain has become a more passive society. The report several times refers to the need for more active citizens, which is a problem. Again, all of us recognise-this is not in any sense a partisan point-that we need a more active society and more active citizens. We have got to turn around some of the long-term trends which have led to that. The noble Baroness has conducted an intensive and thorough review of the ways in which local people can get involved in having a say on how they are policed and on making communities safer. She also looked at how a number of areas had overcome the barriers in the way and she highlighted the successes they had achieved.

The noble Baroness noted, and I strongly agree with this, that communities have become overly dependent on professional agencies, expecting them to sort things out on their behalf. As we all know, that is one of the problems we face. I have to say that it is there far too much in the younger generation. I recall my wife and I talking to a young acquaintance of ours last winter who was complaining that the path to the station had not been cleared of snow. "Why have they not done something about it?", he wanted to know. We chorused, "Who do you think 'they' are?". That is an attitude from which we have to pull back, saying that we have to do something about a lot of things, not simply depend on the state or the professionals. Everything in the report suggests that in our local communities we expect everything from clearing the snow to keeping an eye on our neighbours, to joining neighbourhood watch schemes or whatever it may be, to be done for us. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that one piece of quite substantial evidence that the Government have collected is that communities with neighbourhood watch schemes have lower levels of crime, even when adjusting for other things. There is evidence that this sort of approach is extremely valuable.

12 May 2011 : Column 1049

The noble Baroness says in her report that people do not see the safety of their community as something they have any influence on or control over. Those of us who have been in politics, particularly in the inner cities, know of the sense of powerlessness that many people feel, particularly in the big inner city estates. You do not know who to go to, you do not know how to do anything, and you are often told by council officials that such and such cannot be done. The winter before last, I recall an agonised and irritable debate we had with a local official who assured us that it was almost impossible to have a 20 mile an hour speed limit in Saltaire. We happen to be a world heritage centre and we think we are entitled to a speed limit. However, all sorts of bureaucratic obstacles were being put in our way. We are a fairly articulate, middle-class collection of people, and we did not see why they should.

That, of course, is partly the difference in our communities. We also have to recognise that one of the long-term trends we have suffered from is the extent to which we have separated out different classes of people into different communities. As the right reverend Prelate remarked, the professionals often live somewhere else. Single class estates do not help to build integrated communities. So I very much welcome everything that is said in the report about the culture needing to change. We need a radical culture change in which neighbourhoods no longer see crime, anti-social behaviour and disorder as somebody else's responsibility.

What are the long-term trends and changes we need to reverse in order to build a society in which citizens recognise that rights have to be balanced by personal responsibility? We have seen social change, such as in the revolution of the position of women. So often they were the people who actively held communities together. I am sure that many of us remember our mothers taking part in informal and formal voluntary activities because, when they married, they were not supposed to go on working. Their energies were poured, first, into their children, secondly, into their extended families, and, thirdly, into their wider communities. We now have a world of two-career and two-job families, so we have to look elsewhere to find active volunteers, asking people to take a day off a week, a day at the weekend or an evening, or to use the fit retired, that large new element in our society who are now beginning to take over that role.

The disappearance of local shops, pubs and schools and thus the loss of points of easy contact and informal information exchange has also weakened local communities. There is also the extent to which we have become a car-borne society, so that you do not mix easily with your neighbours because you can go somewhere else for your social activities. It is a real problem increased by the extent to which we have been building new estates where each house has two car parking spaces. You go five miles in one direction to the supermarket and 15 miles in a different direction to work, so you do not interact with your neighbours. I have some sympathy in this respect with what the Prince of Wales has for some time argued: we build our communities and we have, to some extent, been building poor communities through the way in which new housing has developed. I declare a very strong interest. I live in the village of

12 May 2011 : Column 1050

Saltaire, where most of the houses are terraced. The community is very concentrated and it is impossible not to know your neighbours. That is one of the reasons why we have built a very strong community.

Secularisation has weakened communities, as the right reverend Prelate remarked. There has been a weakening of the social glue that churches and faith communities provide. The right reverend Prelate talked about rural crime, but I recall the Church of England's excellent work on Faith in the City and how difficult it was in one or two Yorkshire dioceses to persuade rural congregations that the city and its problems counted and were high priorities.

The long-term trend of weakening local government over the past 40 years, through successive Governments, has also weakened local communities. That is why the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, to the Department for Communities and Local Government will be so valuable. There have been some very useful experiments, under the control of different parties in different cities, in decentralising responsibility below the level of now very large councils to local communities. There have been experiments with urban parish councils and community councils, as well as with other community groups. That is clearly something that we need to take much further. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said, we have a long way to go in finding consensus on what we all mean by localism.

Then there is the long-term trend of declining trust in the state and in state agencies as a whole. When yesterday I was looking at a report by Policy Network-a European organisation in which the noble Lords, Lord Liddle and Lord Mandelson, are very active-I was rather shaken to find that in Britain 29 per cent of those asked said that they saw no advantages in the state intervening to improve matters. How many people have now given up on trust in state action is a real shocker.

We have a culture in which too many people believe that only professionals can act. We have the health and safety culture, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, also referred. The idea that all responsibility for tackling social problems lies with "them" is another of the things that we need to reverse. The report of the noble Baroness is extremely welcome in encouraging communities to be more self-reliant, giving them real influence and ensuring that agencies are ready, willing and able to back them up when needed, working in genuine partnership. Her report touches on the most difficult issue, which is finance.

Lord Newton of Braintree: I intervene with hesitation but I will be brief. There seems to be a certain amount of time. My noble friend has listed many of the down-side factors, which are difficult in comparison with when we-probably I rather more than he-were young. There have been a lot of changes. My mum had to give up work when she married in 1936. She put a lot of energy into being a pillar of the local Red Cross, which would not now happen. However, there is one factor on the plus side: a gathering army of people who are older than what used to be regarded as retirement age, and who are fit, active and want to put something back into the community. They are not all in here, although there are quite a lot of us. There is a

12 May 2011 : Column 1051

new resource to be tapped, which is a positive factor in looking to the sort of objectives that my noble friend Lady Newlove is looking for. I hope the Minister will acknowledge that.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I thank the noble Lord for that intervention. I had indeed referred to the fit retired as a new resource. I would like to have been among them but my wife complains that I am at present working much harder than I have ever worked before. It is clearly a resource; we see it in local communities; and I hope that we will benefit more from it as more of us go on living longer and being fit.

I was just about to touch on finance and the problem of transparency and accountability. It is a real problem; we all know when the sources of finance are public. There is much more to be considered in the noble Baroness's report on how substantial public finance can be transferred to autonomous community groups. That raises all sorts of questions about the relationship with local authorities, but, as she rightly pointed out, there are also local charities and contributions from private business to consider. I am afraid that I cannot answer the question on the exact guidelines for the Big Lottery Fund, but I shall write to those who spoke about it in the debate.

The right reverend Prelate referred to restorative justice, which is also recommended in the report. I have followed a number of the experiments in this area, particularly the very successful experiments in south Somerset. The Government's intention-the previous Government followed all this with interest, too-is to take restorative justice further and as far as we can in helping to resolve local conflicts and tensions. We should recognise that we have lost a certain amount of ground by building fewer magistrates' courts. In a health and safety culture which has demanded decent steps up into buildings and all sorts of other things, we have taken justice further away from localities. As the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, suggests, we have to find ways of bringing justice closer again to local communities.

There are a whole host of other things that we can do to reduce crime. My wife and I visited some weeks ago an excellent voluntary group in Bradford, Together Women, which focuses particularly on young women who have been caught up in first offences and tries to help them to put their lives back together so that they do not get caught up in repeat offences. I am sure that all noble Lords here who are familiar with life in the cities know that there are some young women of all ethnic groups who fall out of the community. The work which Together Women and others have done has reduced reoffending by between 50 per cent and 80 per cent over the previous five years in different parts of Yorkshire. That is the sort of thing which we have to do. It can be done only at the local level because one is often working with different ethnic groups and different local circumstances.

I am very pleased that the noble Baroness will continue the work begun in the Home Office in her new role at the Department for Communities and Local Government. She will cross over from the Home Office, where neighbourhood policing and other issues

12 May 2011 : Column 1052

are considered an important part of this. She will not entirely forget that. I should reassure the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that neighbourhood policing is regarded as the front of front line. I should apologise on behalf of the Home Office for the extreme delay in answering his Written Question.

The Home Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government will work closely together and with other departments to formulate the cross-government response to the report, which we hope to produce this summer. I hope that noble Lords here will all agree that this work needs to be done to build stronger, safer and more active communities. As the noble Baroness's report has shown, there is enormous commitment and passion in communities on which we can build. There is a real appetite among individuals to get involved and make a difference, often accompanied by their not quite knowing how to do so. It is very much one of the values of the report that it reminds us that we have to connect people to mechanisms and groups which can tell them how to use their energies in a constructive community fashion. In responding to the noble Baroness's report, we will do all that we can to create the right environment for this to happen.

Again, I thank everyone who has contributed to this excellent debate.

4.09 pm

Baroness Newlove: My Lords, I thank each and every speaker for their positive, insightful contributions to this debate. The two excellent maiden speeches were entertaining and thought-provoking. I am so pleased that the noble Lord, Lord True, a seasoned local authority leader, feels that elements of my report can make a difference and I look forward to learning from him how to approach his counterparts.

The noble Lord, Lord Noon, a well-known benefactor, has had his brush with death and appreciates the fragility and the precious nature of life. His thoughts on the other side of this noble House warm my heart as my work transcends politics, creeds and geographical boundaries. We are one nation.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich will be pleased to hear that I believe very strongly that it is people of faith and integrity who possess the leadership skills to help support community activism. Indeed, in one of my neighbourhoods that I visited in Shepway, many faith sectors have opened youth clubs.

I also believe in what happens in our rural communities where perception of crime is low. I support the neighbours who patrol duckling watch as well as tractor watch. To them, it is their life and they need to be there.

I also thank all noble Lords who have written such kind words to support my maiden speech and now my report. I am overwhelmed and humbled. It lifts my heart to know that we are united in this House. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said that he would welcome my solutions. Anyone who knows me personally will know that this is a path that I will fight until my last breath: to make sure that when I close my eyes we have made sure that our communities are active and safe and that we get to know one another for who we are. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.

12 May 2011 : Column 1053

Education: Vocational Subjects


4.11 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement on vocational education made earlier in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to a make a Statement today on the next stage in this coalition Government's radical reform programme to make opportunity more equal. I should like to outline our response to Professor Alison Wolf's ground-breaking report on vocational education. In her work, Professor Wolf stresses the importance of fundamental reform across the board to improve state education and I would first like to update the House on our progress towards that goal.

It is a year to the day today since the new Department for Education was created to raise standards for all children and narrow the gap between rich and poor. In that year, we have introduced a pupil premium, £2.5 billion of additional spending on the poorest pupils. We have extended the free provision of nursery education for all three and four year-olds and introduced free nursery education for all disadvantaged two year-olds,

We have launched the most comprehensive review ever of care for children with special needs. We have overhauled child protection rules to ensure that social workers are better able to help the most vulnerable. We have allowed all schools to use the high-quality exams which the last Government restricted to the private sector. We are ensuring spelling, punctuation and grammar are properly recognised in exams.

We have recruited Simon Schama and Niall Ferguson to restore proper narrative history teaching. We are doubling the number of great graduates becoming teachers through Teach First and doubling the number of great heads becoming National Leaders of Education. We have also created more than 400 new academies, tripling the number that we inherited, creating more academies in 12 months than the last Government did in 12 years. I can confirm to the House today that we have now received over 1,000 applications from schools wishing to become academies and more than 300 applications to set up free schools, many from great teachers like the inspirational head Patricia Sowter and the former Downing Street aide Peter Hyman.

These achievements have been made possible by the united strength of two parties with a shared commitment to social mobility working together and I would like to take this opportunity to underline my thanks for the part they have played in pushing this programme forward, to the Deputy Prime Minister, my right honourable friend the Member for Old Southwark and Bermondsey, my honourable friend the Minister for Children and Families and my right honourable friend the member for Yeovil. It is my personal hope that we will all be able once more to make use of his talents in the country's service before very long.

We will be building on the momentum generated by our reform programme by today accepting all the

12 May 2011 : Column 1054

recommendations in Professor Wolf's report on vocational education. Professor Wolf found that while there are many great vocational education courses and institutions providing excellent vocational education that are heavily oversubscribed, we also have hundreds of thousands of young people taking qualifications that have little or no value.

That is because the system is overly complex. After years of micromanagement and mounting bureaucratic costs, it is also hugely expensive; and there are counterproductive and perverse incentives to steer students into inferior courses. In short, the damaging system of vocational education that we inherited is failing young people and must be changed now before the prospects of generations of young people are further blighted.

Securing our country's future relies upon us developing our own world-class education system, from which young people graduate not just with impeccable qualifications and deep subject knowledge but also the real practical and technical skills they need to succeed. This Government do not only support high quality vocational education for its utility-vocational education is valuable in its own right. It is part of the broad and balanced curriculum that every pupil should be able to enjoy. It allows young people to develop their own special craft skills, to experience the satisfaction of technical accomplishment and to expand what they know, understand and can do.

As my honourable friend the Minister for Further Education has repeatedly and eloquently argued, we need to elevate the practical and treat vocational education not, as it has been seen in the past, as an inferior route for the less able but an aspirational path for those with specific aptitudes; which is why we are taking immediate steps to rebuild the currency of vocational qualifications. As recommended by Professor Wolf, we have reinstated several qualifications which lead to professional success-for example certificates in electrical engineering and plumbing-which we know are highly valued by schools and colleges and admired by employers.

Because we know that the current set of qualifications do not meet all needs, we will work with awarding bodies and others to ensure that more high-quality courses are available for all students of all levels; because we know that the current league table system does not reward the progress made by students of all abilities, we will reform league tables to recognise the achievements of the lowest and highest-achieving; and because we know that not all qualifications are equal, we will further reform the league tables to guarantee that vocational qualifications are given a proper weighting. Their value will no longer be inflated in a way which encourages students to pursue inappropriate courses, nor overlooked in a way which unbalances achievement. Because we know the current funding system creates perverse incentives, we will reform it. At the moment schools and colleges are incentivised to offer lower-grade qualifications which are easier to pass because they get paid on those results. That must end. The dumbing down of the past has got to stop if the next generation are to succeed. Students should choose the qualifications they need to succeed, not those which bureaucracies deem appropriate.

12 May 2011 : Column 1055

However, while choice in the qualifications market is crucial there are certain inescapable facts in the labour market no student can ignore. Employers rightly insist that students are properly literate and numerate. They remind us that there are no more important vocational subjects than English and maths. However, as Professor Wolf's report lays bare, huge numbers of students leave education without proper qualifications in those areas-making it increasingly hard for them to secure jobs.

This Government will put an end to that by ensuring that all 16 to 18 year-olds who were unable to get at least a C in English and maths at GCSE continue to study those subjects through to 19. The best-performing education systems not only offer a strong grounding in the basics such as English and maths, they ensure a good general education which cements the ability to reason, to assess evidence, to absorb knowledge and to adapt to new opportunities. In this fast-changing world, few 16 year-olds know exactly what they will be doing at 21, let along when they are 25, 35 or 45. So we need to ensure that every 18 year-old has followed a broad programme of study and has a core academic knowledge that provides them with a secure foundation from which to progress. That is why Professor Wolf backs our English baccalaureate as a springboard to future success in a rapidly changing world and stresses that it gives students the maximum freedom to choose between academic and vocational pathways throughout their life.

We know that the most prestigious vocational pathways require a rounded school education as preparation. Professor Wolf's report underlines that some of the best vocational education in the world exists in our private sector apprenticeship programmes. The best are massively oversubscribed. BT typically has 15,000 applicants for 100 places each year. Rolls Royce has 10 applicants for every place and Network Rail is similarly oversubscribed. There is far greater competition for some of these courses than there is for places at Oxford or Cambridge.

We want to ensure that all employers get the support that they need to offer high-quality apprenticeships. My honourable friend the Further Education Minister is working to reduce the bureaucracy that employers face and ensure that every penny spent by Government and employers on apprenticeships can be used to the very best effect, including by studying best practice with similar schemes around the world.

Professor Wolf emphasised the need for clear routes for progression, but for greater flexibility within them. She was right to do so, and we will consider, alongside the general educational component, what further programmes of study are needed to give 16 to 18 year-olds the broad education they need.

For more than a century, there have been numerous failed attempts to reform vocational education. It is now more important than ever that we finally bring an end to the two-tier education system that has scarred our country for too long. Professor Wolf's report, together with wider reforms, such as the fantastic university technical colleges being pioneered by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, sets out a clear map of what we need to do.

12 May 2011 : Column 1056

I am delighted that Professor Wolf has agreed to continue to provide regular and ongoing advice to government as we implement her recommendations. I cannot think of anyone better qualified to help us offer young people the genuine and high-quality technical education they have been too long denied. I commend this Statement to the House".

4.22 pm

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, we found much to welcome in Professor Wolf's vision for a higher quality vocational education. In particular, we welcome the commitment to ensure that every young person reaches a decent level of proficiency in English and maths before they leave school, an area to which we devoted a considerable amount of resource, with some success, and gave them the opportunity to make progress in those important basic skills. I declare an interest at this point, as I am a school governor of my local primary school, which I am pleased to say recently received an "Outstanding" assessment by Ofsted. English and maths are the key sets of achievements when pupils reach year 6.

We welcome the efforts to simplify the system and qualifications to make it easier to navigate for young people so that normal programmes of study lead to progression. Professor Wolf recommends the adoption of multiple measures of school performance, echoing moves that we made in government towards what we described as a balanced school report card approach. The Secretary of State has accepted that and is proposing new performance management measurements in addition to the English baccalaureate. But will teachers' hearts not sink a bit when they hear that there are to be more targets, and will they not question whether the Government are delivering the autonomy to get on and teach that they promised? Will the Minister give the House an assurance that they will consult teachers before dropping any new measurements on them, as they did with the English baccalaureate? Even with the range of measures, Professor Wolf's report rightly warns of the consequences if a single performance measure becomes dominant. She says that,

Rather than pre-empt that risk, did the Secretary of State not in fact pre-empt the Wolf report by presenting his English baccalaureate as the gold standard for schools?

More broadly, have this highly prescriptive league table measure and its arbitrary subject selection not already damaged the deliverability of Professor Wolf's vision by relegating vocational learning to second-division status in the public mind and in the minds of schools? Creative and practical subjects are crucial to the quality vocational education that Professor Wolf advocates, but already they are an undervalued currency in our schools because of the Secretary of State's action. We ask the Government to think again on the English baccalaureate and allow more breadth and flexibility so that it caters for all students. You cannot design a school system that works for everyone around the requirements of the Russell Group.

12 May 2011 : Column 1057

The deliverability of Professor Wolf's vision is also affected by some of the Secretary of State's action in other areas. She rightly stresses the importance of a quality careers service to inform young people about their options, which is surely more important in a world where young people are struggling to make their way. Yet, as we speak, the careers service in England is simply melting away. We welcome the vision of an all-age careers service but ask again: where is the long-promised transition plan to deliver it and will it be adequately resourced? At a time when youth unemployment is at a record high and access to further and higher education is becoming more difficult, is not the web and telephony service that the Government propose only part of the solution?

The Government say that they are focused on social mobility but they are, we believe, systematically knocking away some of the ladders of support that help young people to get on in life. More young people in FE colleges on vocational courses are in receipt of the EMA than in schools or sixth forms. They need the money to buy equipment or support their courses. Will the scrapping of the EMA not hit those young people disproportionately hard and, again, make Professor Wolf's vision hard to deliver in practice? Colleges and students are four months away from the start of the academic year but still none the wiser about what the replacement scheme will provide. Is it not now time to listen to no less than the OECD and reinstate the EMA scheme?

Because time is limited, I will focus some of my contribution on apprenticeships, which I am sure will not surprise the Minister. There were three explicit recommendations in the Wolf report. I want to focus on two of them; I am only dismissing the other in the interests of time. In recommendation 14, Professor Wolf says:

"Employers who take on 16-18 year old apprentices should be eligible for payments (direct or indirect), because and when they bear some of the cost of education for an age-group with a right to free full-time participation. Such payments should be made only where 16-18 year old apprentices receive clearly identified off-the-job training and education, with broad transferable elements".

That is worth pursuing if we are serious about trying to get more and more employers involved with apprenticeships-and we have a long way to go in that area.

I also want to refer to recommendation 16, where Professor Wolf says:

"DfE and BIS should discuss and consult urgently on alternative ways for groups of smaller employers to become direct providers of training and so receive 'training provider' payments, possibly through the encouragement of Group Training Associations".

If I wanted to amend the report, I would delete that "possibly" as we know that group training associations are a tried and trusted formula. We put in hand a scheme to enlarge and expand upon them but we seem to take an inordinate amount of time before taking a tried and trusted formula and expanding it in the way that is needed. Again, I would welcome the Minister's comments on that recommendation.

On the general question of apprenticeships, I listened carefully to the Minister and if I have a criticism it is that I wish we would not always talk about high-level apprenticeships-remembering that there are well over 200 types of apprenticeships-as though implying

12 May 2011 : Column 1058

that if you are not doing a Rolls-Royce or a BT apprenticeship, it is somehow second class. We need people in the catering industry and I know that it is fashionable to mock McDonald's but it has a damn good training and apprenticeships scheme. You can progress through to management and get a foundation degree, so there should be a little less focus on implying somehow that those are the only apprenticeship programmes which count. They are not, but we need to ensure that every apprenticeship programme has proper training and educational elements to it. We have all the necessary measures in place to achieve that.

I hear what the Government are saying about apprenticeships, but some of their actions are unfortunate in that they undermine their intentions. It was unfortunate that the Government decided to do away with the guarantee that we had in a previous Education Act that by 2013 every young person who wanted an apprenticeship would receive one. It was an ambitious target, I freely admit, and we might not have achieved it, but it was a real signal of intent, of commitment, by a Government to ensure that we did not waste another generation of young people by leaving them unemployed. This Government really ought to reconsider that because it was the wrong signal to give.

I am also puzzled why, every time they issue a government contract, the employers who benefit from those contracts do not have to indicate how many apprentices they will recruit and what training programmes they have. It does not cost any money to do that, and if the Government are serious about trying to engage more employers then, for the life of me, I am baffled why they have not continued with that.

The comments that have been made suggest that, somehow, only private sector apprenticeships count. That is not true. There are lots of very good public sector apprenticeships. I have a concern about the Government's economic policy. I do not want this to be a debate where we try to score points off each other, because we can do that in debates about whether we believe in the Government's current economic policy, but the plain fact of the matter is that, unfortunately, we now have 43,000 more young people unemployed.

We are in a situation where we have to do everything we possibly can. The points that I have made about apprenticeships are practical and I hope that the Government will give them serious consideration. We, too, welcome in general the Wolf report and the recommendations contained therein. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.

4.32 pm

Lord Hill of Oareford: I congratulate the noble Lord on the success of the primary school of which he is a governor. It is very much the case that the role of governors in primary and secondary schools is often unsung. They perform a hugely important role, and everyone who has performed it will recognise the amount of time that it takes and the difference that it makes, so I am delighted that his primary school has done so well and been rated as outstanding.

I also welcome his broad welcome of the report. I listened with care to what he had to say about apprenticeships because I know from previous exchanges

12 May 2011 : Column 1059

with him that he speaks with great authority on that subject. I have recently been lucky enough to have a meeting with the noble Lord, Lord Layard, who spoke along similar lines and made similar points to me. I accept many of the noble Lord's points. Payments to employers for 16-to-18 apprenticeships, for example, are something that the Government said that we would need to look at in the light of our response to Wolf. I think that that was one of the noble Lord's concerns; certainly it was one that the noble Lord, Lord Layard, raised with me. I agree that we need to do more to get employers involved.

I also agree that public sector apprenticeships have an important part to play alongside private sector apprenticeships. Many good public sector apprenticeships are being offered. On the noble Lord's point about how important it is to stress the central role that apprenticeships can play-this is not only about Rolls-Royce-we all need to send that message out.

On the guarantee, which we have debated before and about which I know the noble Lord, Lord Knight, feels strongly, the reason for making that change was not in any way to try to diminish the importance that we attach to apprenticeships; there is more funding going into them, and we all want to see them increase. Rather, it is because ultimately we are dependent on employers to provide work-based apprenticeships, so that is not a guarantee that the Government can give. If employers will not provide that guarantee, we cannot give it. However, I certainly agree with him that we need to try to attract more employers and raise the quality of apprenticeships if we can.

I take the point that the noble Lord made at the beginning of his remarks, about targets and not having more and more complex targets. Getting the balance right between having a set of measurements that does not lead to perverse incentives and providing more varied information so that we can all see what is going on is not easy. However, we need to try.

I agree with the noble Lord about the importance of creative and practical skills in education. The point of the EBacc was not to suggest that an academic route is superior to a vocational and technical route. The Government very much accept that we want good education, whether it is academic, vocational or technical, fitted for the particular aptitudes of the child. The point around the EBacc is that there are children, particularly from poor backgrounds, who are not being given the chance to study academic subjects and are therefore not given as much chance as they might to progress into higher education. That is what we hope that the EBacc will, in part, address.

I am glad that the noble Lord welcomes the all-age careers service. I take his point about the importance of getting the transitional arrangements right. My honourable friend the Minister for Further Education in another place issued a Statement on April 13 giving guidance to local authorities about trying to work our way through the transitional period, but we will need to keep that under review.

So far as the EMA is concerned, I also accept that people want clarity. We are running, as the noble Lord will know, a consultation on the proposals that we

12 May 2011 : Column 1060

announced at the end of March, which runs to May 20. The reason for that consultation was to have the chance to talk to schools, colleges and others in this sector so that we could try to ensure that the arrangements that we outlined in our response in March are practical and can be delivered. We will try to ensure that the funds which we have will go to those who need them most, and encourage them to stay on in education.

4.37 pm

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I also thank the Minister for repeating the Statement, and we, too, welcome the Wolf report. We particularly welcome the Government's commitment to improving the quality, status and availability of vocational education.

I will pick up two concerns that I heard expressed earlier today in another place. The Chairman of Committees was concerned that, although it is welcome that schools will be made accountable for how they deliver vocational education, teachers and parents may find it rather confusing to have another system alongside the English bacc for holding schools accountable. Given the Government's commitment to improving the quality of vocational courses, once that has been done to the Government' satisfaction, would they consider adding an additional section to the English bacc to include vocational courses, and perhaps arts and cultural courses, once they are convinced of the quality of those? Of course we all agree with the objective of giving young people a broad and balanced curriculum. Once we have achieved that quality, surely there is a case for expanding the English bacc.

Secondly, on the amount of timetable time given to the English bacc, will the Minister confirm, as his right honourable friend the Secretary of State did in another place this morning, that the 80 per cent of timetable that is supposed to be spent on English bacc subjects is only advisory and not statutory; and that schools are very open and able to allow young people to choose subjects which would means that they spend, say, 40 per cent on vocational subjects and not just 20?

Lord Hill of Oareford: I am grateful to my noble friend for her welcome for the Wolf review and her recognition of the importance of vocational education. One of the performance measures that we are keen to try to develop is a destination measure for schools and colleges so that we can see where children and young people go on to when they leave, and so that parents can see how a school or college is doing, whether it is vocational or academic.

We are keen to have more information generally. As that spreads and people are able to look at data and find their own ways of using them, the measure that my noble friend mentioned of seeing how schools and colleges might be doing, particularly as regards vocational or technical subjects, will develop of its own accord. The point of the EBacc is to try to have a small, narrow basis on which to shine a spotlight, particularly on academic subjects. It is not meant to betoken any kind of judgment and is obviously not compulsory. It is not a qualification in its own right. We want schools to decide for themselves whether it is something that they want to pursue. As my noble friend flagged, there

12 May 2011 : Column 1061

is no statutory requirement on timetabling around the EBacc. There is, indeed, no statutory requirement that anyone should offer the EBacc at all.

Lord Knight of Weymouth: My Lords, I, too, found much of the Wolf report interesting and valuable. The beginning part of the Statement had a slight annual report feel to it with its list of achievements. It may be slightly cheap to say that I noted there was no list of the number of U-turns that the Secretary of State has performed, but it is time that there was a U-turn on the English baccalaureate. The commitment to end the pervasive two-tier system in education, which many of us have worked hard to try to get rid of, would be more credible if the English baccalaureate included practical learning for everyone, so that the Secretary of State's commitment to ensure that academic subjects are available to everyone extended also to vocational subjects. Then we might be able to make some progress. The 80 per cent of curriculum time devoted to the English baccalaureate subjects leaves 20 per cent not just for vocational subjects but also for statutory religious education, sport-to which I am sure the Minister is committed-and a number of other things that we all want to see delivered in our schools. How can he show that the Government's commitment to end the two-tier system as between vocational and academic subjects is credible while the English baccalaureate continues?

Lord Hill of Oareford: I know that the noble Lord has worked for a long time to try to overcome the problem that we all see regarding the perception of a two-tier system. I certainly share that objective. Many have strong feelings about the English bacc. I come back to the point that its purpose is not to be discriminatory in the way that the noble Lord suggests-although I know that he did not use that word. The motivation behind it was to tackle the fact that children from poor backgrounds have not had the chance to study certain subjects-such as modern foreign languages, which have declined in number, history or other subjects-as much as one would like. Only 4 per cent of children on free school meals achieve the EBacc. That has a very narrowing and limiting effect on their possible progression to higher education. The measure we are discussing is intended to tackle that situation.

I entirely take the noble Lord's point that one does not want to entrench a sense of difference in this regard. As he knows very well, alongside things such as the EBacc, which I hope we do not take in isolation, we are committed to university technical colleges and studio schools, which I am very keen to encourage the spread of so that children who are in danger of becoming disengaged get the change to re-engage, learn practical skills and, in the process, pick up some academic ones as well. I understand the noble Lord's point, but I hope that he and other noble Lords may see the EBacc in the broader context of what we are trying to do across the piece to raise the prestige of academic study, alongside raising the prestige of technical and vocational subjects.

I hope that Professor Wolf's report, in giving us pointers to how we can give everyone confidence in the quality of vocational qualifications-and I very much

12 May 2011 : Column 1062

welcome the support for that across the House-will be another leg in tackling the problems that the noble Lord identifies.

Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, I warmly welcome the Government's response to the Wolf report. They are clearly trying to find a solution to a problem that has eluded all previous Governments-namely, to dramatically improve the practical, skilled and high-quality training of technicians and engineers, alongside higher academic education. If we do not resolve that, because there is a desperate shortage in our society of technicians, skilled workers and engineers, the great forecasts of this Government will simply not be met.

I welcome, in particular, one or two specific recommendations. The first is that the difference between qualified trainers in FE colleges and qualified teachers should be removed. That is an absurd class distinction. They should be at the same level and paid the same. I hope that amendments to that effect will be introduced to the Education Bill which will come before this House later this Session. Secondly, I hope that my noble friend will recognise that vocational education below 16 in schools is an expensive option. It requires workshops, equipment and qualified trainers. It cannot be left to two hours' craft studies on a Friday afternoon. It requires much more than that.

Finally, I thank the Minister warmly for the support that the Government, the department and he personally are showing-as well as the support that the Secretary of State and the Chancellor of the Exchequer are showing-to university technical colleges. The Chancellor granted us another £150 million in the Budget to expand them. The purpose of UTCs is to recognise that youngsters at 14 can make their own choices about the courses of study they want to take. The whole idea of bringing under one roof the training of the hand and the education of the mind is already proving to be very successful. One such college is already operating, and even at the end of the second term two things are outstanding. First, there is behavioural change. At 14, they are adults. Truancy and bloody-mindedness have disappeared. Secondly, there has been dramatic improvement in the quality of English and Maths, because students are studying those subjects alongside engineering. I am glad to say that this programme has all-party support. The former Minister is nodding, and I see that this is something that the coalition also supports. Therefore, I hope that there will be a substantial expansion of these colleges over the coming years.

Lord Hill of Oareford: I am grateful for my noble friend's remarks, particularly on the support that we have been able to give to UTCs. I am glad that that commands support from all sides of the House. I note in particular his comments about trying to break down the divide between people working in FE and giving them the chance to work in schools. Like him, I think that that is a sensible way forward. I look forward to working with him on trying to raise and spread UTCs in the way that my noble friend Lord Baker would like-although never as fast as he would like, because he is an extremely hard taskmaster regarding UTCs. I look forward to doing everything we can to spread them as far and as fast as we can.

12 May 2011 : Column 1063

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I welcome Professor Wolf's review and the Government's Statement, in particular what they have said about reviewing the league table system, making it more sensitive and, I hope, looking more closely at the distance travelled by all children in the education system. I would like ask two questions. The first relates to achieving literacy in children, which enables them to be successful in these courses, and the other relates to the quality of mentors in the workplace.

First, does the Minister recognise the important contribution of charities working with children in schools, and indeed within their families, to address their difficulties in attaining literacy? For instance, Voluntary Reading Help works in more than 1,000 primary schools and trains adult volunteers in the community to work on a one-to-one basis, with a commitment over a year to work with individual children twice a week. Also, Learning School Help works with children, in their families and in their schools, to help them achieve literacy. As to the workplace, can the Minister give more detail about how mentors are developed, how good-quality mentoring is recognised and celebrated, and whether there are any schemes to certify good-quality mentoring in the workplace for apprentices?

Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Earl about the importance of charities. One announcement made today in the broader context of tackling the NEET problem-no one has found a better way of saying it than NEET, because otherwise it takes too long-is a new £10 million-a-year fund to be set up, which I hope will be taken up by charities and the voluntary sector, to come up with solutions to help those children, such as I was lucky enough to see recently, to re-engage, undertaken by Fairbridge, which does a fantastic job in helping to re-engage those children. I very much agree with the noble Earl about the role of charities.

If I have more detail on the noble Earl's second point about mentoring, I will come back to him. I will follow that up; but he and I may also have a chance to discuss that further outside the House.

Baroness Wall of New Barnet: I, too, welcome the report, and may be keener on it than others. I chaired a seminar yesterday in this House with 25 employers, including British Airways and some other big employers, but also some small ones. We started off by talking about schools and what happens in the curriculum. Every one of those employers had the same concern which we have all heard over and again about the lack of career guidance in schools, particularly about apprenticeships. Today, there is still a void in how that is raised with young people, where the push is always for the academic and for those who do not go that way, who go for apprenticeships, to be considered failures. How can we make a serious effort? The previous Government tried to get across the equal value of both those aspects of education.

Lord Hill of Oareford: My Lords, I would be very happy, if the noble Baroness has particular suggestions, to discuss them with her, because I agree that we need to do that. One of the new duties that we will place on

12 May 2011 : Column 1064

schools in the Education Bill, in which I am sure that she will take a particular interest when it comes to our House-all too soon-is to give schools a duty to ensure that careers advice is independent and impartial. That is in part driven by some of the concerns of the noble Baroness: to try to ensure that a child is not, in one way or another, shoehorned into the wrong choice-either into the vocational route when that is not right for them, or into an academic route when that is not right for them. I recognise the problem that the noble Baroness describes and would be keen to have a discussion about her experience of practical ways in which we might ensure that we get that balance right.

Lord Elton: My Lords, I fear that I may be less in touch with this field than I used to be, but am I not right in saying that one of the difficulties in maintaining standards, which is all-important in any qualification, is the tension between the real interests of employers and the perceived interests of students, which meets in the awarding bodies? They have a commercial interest in increasing throughput and therefore making more qualifications, successful applications, whereas employers want to limit successful applications to those who really deserve them. Is not a possible approach to that to give the employers a financial interest in maintaining the awards equal to that given to the students and those providing them with finance?

Lord Hill of Oareford: My noble friend raises a number of interesting points. One issue that the Government are going to look at concerning employers offering apprenticeships for 16 to 18 year-olds is where the funding goes and whether there should be, as I think Professor Wolf suggests, consideration of some kind of subsidy to employers. We certainly need to make sure that, in moving forward with these proposals, the role of employers in helping to construct good qualifications is fully allowed for. Ultimately, if we construct qualifications that employers do not want, we will not do anyone any service at all.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, perhaps I may thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and say how pleased I am that, among other things-although this is not mentioned in the Statement-the government response equates QTLS status in schools to QTS. There has long been a need for that if we are to get high-quality teaching in vocational subjects. Perhaps I may bring the Minister back to the EBacc and the two-tier system. He has emphasised the degree to which the Government see the EBacc as opening routes to higher education, yet surely one reason why we are anxious to see high-quality vocational education is in order to open up progression routes through different pathways. For example, the university technical colleges, which the noble Lord, Lord Baker, has been espousing and whose expansion we are all quite glad to see, are precisely the sort of route that we want to be developed. Very high-quality vocational education has also been a route to technician training, and from technician training on to degree-level training and even on to PhD training.

Lord Hill of Oareford: I agree with my noble friend's first point about QTLS and I am glad that she welcomes that. I also agree with her basic points about progression,

12 May 2011 : Column 1065

about making sure that vocational qualifications have esteem attached to them, and about there being clear progression that people can see.

Lord Empey: I return to the issue of careers. One experiment with which I was associated was making careers advice available on the high street. Careers advisers were trained and the department made free, impartial and professional advice available on the high street. Younger people with their parents or people of any age could walk in off the street, book an appointment with a professionally trained adviser and get free, impartial and professional advice. If teachers in schools give careers advice only on a part-time basis, they cannot keep up with the dramatic changes that are taking place in all trades and professions. Would the Minister be prepared to look at that and at the results of the experiments that have already taken place to see whether anything can be learnt from them?

Lord Hill of Oareford: I should certainly be interested in seeing the kind of evidence and examples that the noble Lord has mentioned. As I said earlier, we are developing our proposals for an all-age careers service and are trying to make sure that schools have a duty to provide impartial, independent advice. My honourable friend Mr Hayes has responsibility for taking that forward and I shall relay to him the points made by the noble Lord. If he is keen to discuss the matter further, I shall see whether I can arrange that too.

Government: Convergence Programme

Motion to Approve

4.58 pm

Moved by Lord Sassoon

The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to debate the information that will be provided to the European Commission under Section 5 of the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1993. I also welcome the chance to exchange views on two closely related topics: the UK's National Reform Programme 2011, the NRP; and the Government's response to the Lords EU Select Committee's 5th report. On behalf of the House, I thank my noble friend Lord Roper, my noble friend Lady O'Cathain, as the sub-committee chair, and the whole committee for putting forward these two reports for debate. I assure noble Lords at the outset that the Government look favourably, in principle, on both the committee's recommendations.

While it might not be possible to synchronise the national reform programme and the convergence programme, since they are intrinsically different documents

12 May 2011 : Column 1066

and therefore produced according to markedly different internal procedures, we will give careful consideration to debating the NRP alongside the convergence programme again in future years. I also note that the timing of the Budget announcement meant that it was not possible to hold this debate in advance of the spring European Council, in line with the committee's recommendation.

I now turn to the main matter in hand. Each year the Government report to the Commission on the UK's economic and budgetary position and our main economic policy measures in line with our commitments under the stability and growth pact. By sharing information from the Budget with our European partners, we can help to maintain an appropriate and effective level of economic policy co-ordination and contribute to stability and growth across the economic union.

European economies have suffered considerably in recent years. The financial crisis, bank bailouts and rising national debts and deficits have all left their legacy. As a continent, we have had to learn the hard way that in an open, global marketplace, no economy exists in isolation. The frailties of economic policy in one country can all too easily be exported to other nations and imbalances are seldom constrained by national borders or jurisdictions. That is why it is in all our interests to improve co-ordination of economic policy-making to tackle those imbalances and to increase the resilience and strength of the European Union as a whole. Our position on EU economic governance could not be clearer. We need better macro-economic surveillance and fiscal frameworks because sustainable economic growth across Europe is vital to the success of the British economy. Even though we are not part of the single currency we cannot consign ourselves to being bystanders in this debate. A strong and stable eurozone is firmly in the UK's own economic interests. The EU is our largest single trading partner with more than 50 per cent of our exports going to other member states and a long history of shared success and prosperity.

However, just as our success has been and is shared, so are our problems. Therefore, we must act to ensure that the EU has the right warning mechanisms to identify future economic crises with a common set of rules in place and tough measures applied to those who step out of line. These rules exist in the form of the stability and growth pact but in over a decade of monetary union the sanctions it contains have never been used. That is why Britain has welcomed the EU's recent proposals: to strengthen European economic governance; to encourage greater fiscal responsibility across member states; to address the macroeconomic imbalances that have built up between member states; and to ensure that in the future Europe is able to absorb future shocks.

I should like to reassure the House that the UK is not subject to sanctions under the stability and growth pact. The treaty is clear that they apply only to euro area countries. Moreover, the UK protocol to the treaty, negotiated at Maastricht, clarifies that we are exempt from any extension of sanctions, such as those proposed by the European Commission that are currently under discussion. We fully support the Commission's moves to ensure greater fiscal responsibility across the euro area and its endorsement of the UK's domestic

12 May 2011 : Column 1067

consolidation plan. The plan that is enshrined in our convergence programme is one that will tackle our record deficit. Even though noble Lords will be familiar with what follows, I should summarise what constitutes our convergence programme. It is a plan with expenditure falling as a share of income in each and every year of this Parliament, and national debt falling as a proportion of GDP by 2014-2015. That is the right approach, and we need only to look across the Channel to see that this is the case.

Britain has a higher budget deficit than both Portugal and Greece. Last year, we had a similar level of national debt to Ireland. Yet our market interest rates for 10-year sovereign debt are a fraction of those of these three countries. In Greece they stand at more than 15 per cent, in Portugal more than 9 per cent and in Ireland they have increased to more than 10 per cent. In stark contrast, Britain's market interest rates have fallen to below 3.5 per cent and our triple-A credit rating has been secured.

Lord Clinton-Davis: Do experts not forecast that the rate will go up to 5 per cent quite soon?

Lord Sassoon: My Lords, we are debating the convergence programme and the national reform programme. What is critical about the convergence programme is that we discipline ourselves in the way that eurozone countries are required to discipline themselves, and that the best test of the basic disciplines that we are putting in place is our relative interest rate. Of course, the Government do not forecast where absolute interest rates will go. However, a critical test of the credibility of our policy is the relative interest rate that the UK enjoys. I am pleased that it is at a very low level.

I turn now to growth, which is critical to the convergence programme. The independent Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast growth in each year of this Parliament, starting with growth of 1.7 per cent for the current year. This is in spite of the rise in world commodity prices and higher than expected inflation, which in turn has a bearing on interest rates, as the noble Lord suggested. The OBR points out that this effect,

than previously forecast. Therefore, while it expects real GDP growth of 2.5 per cent next year, it forecasts that that will then rise to 2.9 per cent in 2013 and 2014, and 2.8 per cent in 2015. The European Commission has published its own economic forecasts. These show that the UK will grow more strongly in the coming year than Spain, Italy, France, the average for the eurozone and the average for the EU.

That brings me to the other document that we are here to debate today: the UK's national reform programme for 2011. The NRP reports on the structural reform agenda that the Government are taking forward. It paints a comprehensive picture, with which noble Lords will be familiar, of the progress that we are making across the UK. I will summarise its main features and stress that the document has a particular focus on the measures taken by the devolved Administrations and

12 May 2011 : Column 1068

on the ways in which civil society stakeholders are helping the Government to deliver the reform agenda. Most importantly, the NRP sets out the Government's Plan for Growth, which my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer set out in the other place as part of this year's Budget.

The plan has four ambitions at its heart: that Britain will have the most competitive tax system in the G20; that it will be the best place in Europe to start, finance and grow a business; that it will be have more balanced economy, by encouraging exports and investment; and that it will have a more educated workforce that is the most flexible in Europe. These objectives form the basis of the information that we will submit to the Commission. I will touch briefly on each in turn.

I turn first to taxation. Britain used to have the third-lowest corporate tax rate in Europe. We now have the sixth highest. At the same time, our tax code has become so complex that it is now the longest in the world. This is something that we have to address. Our taxes should be fair, predictable, simple to understand and easy to comply with. They should also be efficient and support growth. Therefore, in April, our corporation tax was reduced not just by 1 per cent, as we announced last June, but by 2 per cent, and will continue to fall by 1 per cent in each of the next three years, thus taking our corporate tax rate down to 23 per cent. That rate, in relation to other European countries, is 11 per cent lower than France and 7 per cent lower than Germany, and will give us the lowest corporate tax rate in the G7. That is alongside our decision to introduce a highly competitive tax rate on profits derived from patents and our fundamental reform of the complex rules for controlled foreign companies making them more territorial.

As I have said, it is also the Government's ambition for Britain to become the best place in Europe to start, finance and grow a business. In the past decade alone, countries such as Germany, Denmark, and Finland have all overtaken us in the international rankings of competitiveness. In the Government's Plan for Growth and, hence, in the NRP, we have taken action to abolish £350 million worth of specific regulations; to implement, in full, the recommendations on health and safety laws made by my noble friend Lord Young of Graffham; and to impose a moratorium exempting businesses employing fewer than 10 people, and all genuine start-ups, from new domestic regulation for the next three years. That will free the private sector from the unnecessary burdens that have been holding them back.

The Government's third ambition for growth is to encourage investment and exports as a route to a more balanced economy. In the Plan for Growth we set out specific measures to help a wide range of businesses. In life sciences, we will radically reduce the time it takes to get approval for clinical trials. In our digital and creative industries, we will improve the intellectual property regime, and in manufacturing we are also taking forward important reforms.

Over the past decade, manufacturing as a share of our economy has fallen by almost a half, yet under this Government we are already seeing a reversal of this trend. Manufacturing, as a sector, has been growing at

12 May 2011 : Column 1069

a record rate. To help that continue the Government are creating new export credits to help smaller businesses, launching Britain's first technology and innovation centre for high-value manufacturing, and funding a further nine university centres for innovative manufacturing. This will help ensure that we have a more balanced economy with growth across a broader range of sectors and places. Lastly, we want to create a better educated workforce that is the most flexible in Europe.

It is alarming to see that Britain's working age population has lower skills than the same demographic in France and Germany, which is perhaps the biggest problem facing our economy in the future. That is why the Government are committed to funding new university technical colleges, which we were discussing a few minutes ago in this House, to provide 11 to 19 year olds with vocational training that is among the best in the world.

However, that alone will not solve the problem. In Austria, Germany and Switzerland around one in four employers offers apprenticeships, while in England fewer than one in 10 employers do so, which has got to change. That is why we are providing funding for another 40,000 apprenticeships for the young and the unemployed, which will deliver a total of 250,000 more apprenticeships over the next four years as a direct result of the Government's policies. That will help to ensure that all parts of the country have access to a better educated workforce. In brief summary, that is the content of the two major documents in front of us.

Submitting the NRP and CP to the European Commission is an essential step in the new European semester process but it is far from the end of the road on the process. The Commission will now examine both documents in detail and will shortly come forward with proposals for recommendations based on its analysis. These recommendations will be agreed by heads of state and Governments at the European Council on 28 June.

The Government support the multilateral surveillance of member states' economies. The role of the European Council is particularly important since it allows for a genuine peer review process at the highest levels and enables member states to take account of the advice addressed to them when formulating future policy. Member states will reflect progress against the recommendations issued to them in their next national reform and stability and convergence programmes. However, it is important to note that the EU's advice is just that, merely a set of recommendations, and it will be up to the Government, not Brussels, to decide whether and to what extent they should be implemented in the UK. No matter what they decide, as I pointed out earlier, our opt-out from the single currency means that the UK cannot be subjected to any sanctions.

To conclude, our budget, our growth and our spending plans are wholly consistent with the EU's objectives under the stability and growth pact and under the Europe 2020 strategy. So the Budget document, along with the forecast produced by the independent OBR, forms the basis of the UK's convergence programme. I have taken up a lot of the time of the House, so I hesitate to stress that in what I have said and what the

12 May 2011 : Column 1070

documents contain, there is no information on the convergence programme. It is drawn entirely from material that has already been presented to Parliament and is in the public domain. The national reform programme also draws on a range of material, including the Budget and the Government's Plan for Growth, and contains no new information. These documents restate the Government's plans to deal with the economic problems they inherited and set the UK's economy on a path towards sustainable growth. It is clearly important that we do not have to include additional information. If we did have to do so, it would show that our own domestic plans were deficient.

The Government are clear that their plans for the economy should be presented to Parliament before they are seen by the EU. That is exactly what we have done. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will support these Motions, which I commend to the House.

5.17 pm

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for moving this Motion, for his contribution to the EU Select Committee scrutiny of the Europe 2020 strategy, and for giving the committee evidence on the production of the UK national reform programme. Following that session, one of our recommendations was that the NRP should be debated in the House at the same time as the UK convergence programme, and I am delighted that this has happened today. I am even more delighted that my noble friend has just told us that he would hope to be able to do this again on future occasions.

The chairman of the EU Select Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Roper, would normally move this Motion, but as the Sub-Committee on the Internal Market, Energy and Transport, which I chair, has taken the lead in scrutinising the EU's Europe 2020 strategy, of which the national reform programme forms a part, it was considered more appropriate that I should be in the hot seat. That is no problem and I am delighted to take part. I am also very glad that three other members of the sub-committee have decided to take part in this debate, and I thank them for doing so, as I do for all the hard work they put into our meetings and witness sessions. Several other members of the committee would have participated in the debate if they had not had previous commitments which were impossible to change at short notice.

Europe 2020 is the successor to the Lisbon agenda, which in 2000 was launched with enthusiasm, but unfortunately did not match expectations. The objective had been to make the EU,

But at least one of the problems was that the Lisbon agenda lacked any credible means of enforcement. It had great aspirations but no oomph. One of these days there might be an "emperor's clothes" moment which could, if we are lucky, result in fewer aspirational mirages and more results-oriented policy. It is not just the EU that is guilty of this, but also many governments, economists and policy wonks throughout the world of business and politics.

12 May 2011 : Column 1071

In drawing up Europe 2020, the member states and EU institutions have developed a more robust system of engagement, which, if it is given a chance and if it works, will enable close monitoring of the progress of each member state towards the five headline targets of Europe 2020. The five targets are: a 75 per cent employment rate for those aged between 20 and 64; 3 per cent of GDP to be spent on research and development; reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent, increase the share of renewable energy to 20 per cent and increase energy efficiency by 20 per cent-all compared with the 1990 levels-which, as I remind myself, is 20/20/20 by 2020. Unfortunately, some of this has already slipped, so it is not as neat a description as I thought. The fourth target relates to education: less than 10 per cent of the population aged 18 to 24 should have left school early, and at least 40 per cent of the 30 to 34 year-olds should have completed tertiary education. The final target of the five is the reduction by 25 per cent of the number of Europeans living below the poverty line. Yes, it is aspirational, but there is at least some guide to where we should be focusing our policies and effort.

The cycle of economic development aimed at meeting the five targets has been arranged into a system or programme, as we have already heard, known as the European semester. The objective is to synchronise the economic planning cycles for convergence towards the eurozone entry criteria and growth-hence today's debate looking at both the convergence programme and the national reform programme. The semester commences each year with the production of the EU's annual growth survey, which analyses progress over the five targets and assesses the macroeconomic and fiscal context. This is followed by the setting of priority actions for member states in respect of achieving the targets. The next step in the process involves discussions in ECOFIN and at the spring European Council.

Progress on the seven flagship initiatives of Europe 2020 is also considered. Noble Lords must realise that the five targets I have already spoken about are not the flagship initiatives for 2020. The seven flagship initiatives are clearly and simply laid out on page 5 of the Select Committee's fifth report of the 2010-11 Session, entitled "The EU Strategy for Economic Growth and the UK National Reform Programme". I commend it to Members of the House, who should read and digest the initiatives.

At the end of the process, the European Council provides policy guidelines to the member states. I have tried to be as clear as I can in describing the process. It is a sensible, comprehensive exercise, which should highlight clear actions that we hope will result in economic growth-the ultimate aim of the whole exercise. The penultimate block in the edifice is the embodiment of member states' specific actions in each state's national reform programme, submitted in April at the same time as the convergence programme. The deadline for the convergence programme has been put back to facilitate this dovetailing. Finally, the European Commission analyses the national reform programme issues and country-specific recommendations in June before the whole process starts again the next January.

12 May 2011 : Column 1072

I apologise for this rather lengthy and cumbersome explanation of the process. I felt it was necessary to detail it so that the background to the committee's report is understood. I know that many know all of this but we have many new Peers. It is also incumbent on all of us to understand better what goes on in the EU. After all, we contribute a lot for the privilege of being a member.

The report that we are taking note of today deals largely with the procedure for parliamentary engagement in the production of the national reform programme. It also takes the opportunity to discuss the process in more general terms and to make suggestions concerning consultation. In November we suggested to the Minister that local authorities, business organisations, trade unions and NGOs might also be consulted. I would be most interested to hear from him whether the suggestions have fallen on stony ground or will blossom and bear fruit. Was this suggestion followed through in the production of the final national reform programme?

In those same discussions, we raised the monitoring and accountability of the European semester process. It would be useful to know how national Governments are to be held to account for performance against their programmes and by whom. In the case of the UK, we have chosen to publish indicators in each relevant area against which progress can be tracked, with performance published each year in the national reform programme. The UK has not published targets in every area as other member states have done, just in every relevant area.

My noble friend the Minister agreed with us in November that there was a role for independent analysis along the lines of the Lisbon scorecard produced by the Centre for European Reform. Has any progress been made on this?

My noble friend was very cautious on the question of policy warnings, suggesting that they should be used very infrequently. He felt that enforcement should largely be as a result of peer pressure and peer review through the process of publishing national performance reviews which would be incorporated in discussions on the annual growth survey and at ECOFIN. The committee, however, felt that the discussion in ECOFIN might be circumscribed.

Since then, ECOFIN has had its first chance to discuss the plans of member states. I ask my noble friend whether the discussion was particularly robust, as, since then, we have had the bailouts for Ireland and for Portugal, and Greece seems to be in trouble again. In view of these subsequent events, does the Minister remain convinced that policy warnings should be used "very infrequently"?

Other issues have been raised, both in the European Union Select Committee and in our Sub-Committee on the Internal Market, Energy and Transport, including the role to be played by the private sector in achieving the targets, whether the targets are ambitious enough and the extent to which the final reform programmes published by member states build on drafts. I am sure that my colleagues in the sub-committee will wish to deal with these issues in more detail, but I thank the Minister for his opening comments.

12 May 2011 : Column 1073

5.27 pm

Lord Haskel: My Lords, my interest in this debate is less in the economics, which we have heard from the Minister today and on several other occasions, and, indeed, have debated on several occasions, than in the way the system works and whether it is all worth while.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page