To switch to another subject, alarm bells are ringing about security of electricity supply. If nothing else, the imminent closure of Ferrybridge coal-fired power station seven years early should sound a klaxon of alarm. It is closing because of the carbon floor price, which is a unilateral UK tax. Our carbon tax is more than four times as high as in much of Europe: we pay £23 a tonne of CO2 compared with £5 in Europe. The closure of Ferrybridge shows that the capacity market is failing to do what it was intended to do; it is failing to bring forward new capacity.

As recently as 2011-12, the Government were expecting 6 to 8 gigawatts of new gas to come forward as a result of capacity market auctions. Instead the capacity market auction has accelerated the closure of old capacity. Ferrybridge’s failure to win a share of that market is what led to its commercial decision to close early. It was the same for Longannet a few months ago. Between the two of them, that is 6% of our capacity for electricity generation gone. Will other dominos follow them? There has to be a question mark over Eggborough. It is a large coal-fired power station that applied to convert to biomass and had permission refused. Its Czech owners may well at some point reconsider their decision to keep it open. Does my noble friend expect to see more coal-fired power station closures over the next few years? How will we ensure security of supply?

I end by mentioning something that was brought up by the noble Lord, Lord Layard. The global Apollo programme, of which he is one of the seven authors, was published yesterday and calls for an attempt to get renewable energy cheaper than fossil fuel energy. Although I have some disagreements with some of the things in that paper, they are absolutely right about one thing: it is only by making renewable energy competitive that we will solve this problem. They make the point, very ably, that spending $101 billion a year globally on production subsidies for renewable energy and only $6 billion on research and development for renewable energy has it the wrong way round. They make a good point there.

5.45 pm

Lord Beecham (Lab): My Lords, I will speak in particular about local government, whose problems did not largely feature in what passed for debate in the recent election campaign. I refer to my local government interests in the register.

I begin by congratulating the Minister on her appointment and, since we are fated to have a Conservative Government, by welcoming the appointment of Greg Clark as Secretary of State. Not only has he demonstrated a constructive interest in local government but he hails from the north-east, having been born in Middlesbrough. It would also be churlish not to congratulate his predecessor, Eric Pickles, who has been knighted—although some of us have thought him benighted for a long time.

I welcome the principle of the devolution of powers envisaged by the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill and the potential for carrying forward the concept of “total place”, which was proposed originally by the LGA and adopted by the Labour Government, but which has rather withered on the vine in the last five

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years. It is a principle that should be extended across the whole of local government, not just a few essentially urban areas.

However, it should not depend on the adoption of a mayoral system, which was rejected by all but one city when the Government required referendums to be held in 11 areas in 2012 and which three authorities—Stoke, Hartlepool and Doncaster—have abandoned after experiencing the system in practice. Tower Hamlets is a reminder of the dangers of concentrating too much power in a single pair of hands, and that is a relatively small authority.

To establish such a powerful position without express public support would be unacceptable, especially when, remarkably, it appears that the role could include that of the police commissioners, elected only three years ago on turnouts, I remind your Lordships, of all of 15%. A fundamental change to a mayoral system should be implemented only with public support, perhaps after securing that support in a referendum and requiring a majority within each constituent area.

It is clear that the proposed Greater Manchester Combined Authority deal will go ahead, and I urge the Government—in the light of that, and potentially further expanding the concept—to take this opportunity to reinstate the concept of government regional offices, created originally by a Conservative Government in the 1980s. This would help to facilitate effective collaboration between Whitehall departments and agencies and local authorities. Providing a two-way conduit for that conversation proved very successful in the past.

However, while recognising the potential benefits of a devolution package—to which Labour was also, and in fact earlier, committed—it is necessary to ensure that sufficient finance follows the transfer of responsibilities; or, to repeat a phrase I have used more than once in your Lordships’ House, to ensure that the Government, or any Government, do not pass the buck without passing the bucks. It is all very well to talk of councils retaining business rates or perhaps levying other taxes, but that will avail little if the relevant tax base is low and insufficient to meet the area’s needs.

Moreover, there must be a concern that when it comes to issues such as social security benefits, which may be, as it were, delegated under a devolved structure, we will see a further move away from national standards towards a variable 19th-century Poor Law pattern of provision. Any transfer of responsibilities in this area should be based on having minimum national entitlements.

Councils are already facing unprecedented pressures on their budgets and services, with the expectation of worse to come. Across the country, and across the political divide, councils and their leaders are warning the Government that the position is unsustainable. From Surrey to South Tyneside, Dorset to Doncaster, the situation is the same, and the now Conservative-led Local Government Association reflects the concerns of its members. Will the Government at last listen?

In Newcastle alone, the council has had to contend with cuts in specific grants and the main revenue grant of more than 41% in real terms, with significantly more to come, and with a severe impact on services: both in visible services, for example the state of the

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roads and the environment, and in the less immediately obvious but perhaps in some respects more important ones such as adult and children’s services.

The pressure on the least well off in our communities is unrelenting. In Newcastle, 4,879 households—25% of them working households—are being hit by the pernicious bedroom tax at a cost of £3.66 million a year. In addition, the appalling changes to council tax benefit have resulted in arrears of £2.175 million for 2014-15 alone; 45% of that is from people in employment—a mark of the low wages that they have. Some £6 million has been lost to the local economy from people who previously did not have to pay full council tax but who now have to pay it. So the money is lost not only to them but to the local economy. How can the Government justify that kind of outcome at a time when they are prepared to buy votes, for instance by increasing the inheritance tax threshold for the 10% best-off people in the country? That is another lamentable example of buying votes ultimately at the expense of those most in need.

There is also an issue around local government that may not have received much attention—that is, how the Government have generally distributed their support, which has had a particularly damaging effect on areas most affected by the cuts, notably the inner city but also coastal towns. Will the Government reconsider the distribution mechanism? For how much longer will council tax be based on evaluations already 24 years old, in a system that after all embodies an element of the poll tax, in which the difference between the lowest and highest bands results in those in the latter paying only three times that paid by those in the former?

I shall touch on a couple of other matters. It is clear that the Government are determined to press ahead with their relentless promotion of academies and free schools, irrespective of local need and at the expense of investing in local authority provision. We are seeing a continual erosion of local council involvement—I stress that it is involvement that is at stake, not control of schools, which ended long ago—in a crucial public service. Wherein lies the local accountability for our children’s future?

Then there is housing, where the Government’s record has been one of unredeemed failure. I entirely concur with the passionate statement made by my noble friend Lady Hollis. The proposal about housing association homes is quite intolerable and totally unlikely to have any impact on housing waiting lists. In my own authority in Newcastle, for example, lists have grown by 37% in the past three years to 5,800. Nothing in the Government's housing policy is likely to help these people—quite the reverse.

I am sorry to say that DCLG Ministers have failed for the last five years to defend local government and the people whom it serves. I hope that under new management the department will recognise and support the crucial role that democratically elected councils play in the life of their communities and the nation. There is, sadly, and notwithstanding the potential of the proposals in the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, all too little evidence of such an intention—or none that emerged in the election campaign or, indeed, in the gracious Speech.

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5.53 pm

Lord Greaves (LD): I want to speak mainly about housing and, in so doing, I remind the House of my various declared interests and particularly that of being deputy leader of Pendle Council. I have been interested to hear all sorts of spokespeople claiming that the new Conservative Government have a massive mandate for pretty well every detail in their manifesto. I suggest that this is nonsense; they clearly won the election under the first-past-the-post system and have the right to form a Government, but they did so on 37% of the vote, which means that nearly two out of three people who voted voted against the present Government. Indeed, only 25% of eligible voters voted for them. So the idea that they have an overwhelming commitment by the people of this country to all the things in their manifesto is a slightly dodgy argument.

I was extremely interested in the extraordinarily good speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, on housing associations and social housing. We look forward to the housing Bill coming to this House, at least in a chronological sense, if not in the sense of its contents. I would advise the Government, if they ever listen to me, to look very carefully indeed at that speech, reprint it and get lots of advice on it. It referred to a huge number of the problems that the Bill will have, if reports are true, and the debates that will take place on it here, as well as the problems that the Government will have in persuading us that they are right on these matters.

I shall take a brief total overview of housing in this country. There is nothing original about what I am going to say, but it is worth putting it yet again on record. First, owner-occupation is for many people a good thing. It means that people own their own houses and put their efforts, money and resources into that property to keep it in good condition. Very often, people in owner-occupied houses live in those houses for longer than those who live in private rented accommodation, so it is good for creating communities. However, this was not always Conservative policy. In the 1930s and 1950s, the idea of ownership for all, as it was called, was promoted by the Liberal Party, particularly by that stalwart Yorkshire Liberal, Elliott Dodds. That received a lukewarm reception from the Conservatives until Harold Macmillan got a grip on it, and got a grip on the housebuilding programme in the 1950s.

For many people, however, owning their house is either not possible, or only marginally possible, or not convenient. We have to remember that and make proper provision for those people who cannot do so. Certainly, in the first half of the 20th century, the Conservatives were more interested in private landlords. It is worth looking at the statistics over the years. In 1918, only 23% of properties were owner-occupied, there was virtually no social housing as we know it, and the private rented sector was 77% of the total housing stock. By the middle of the 1950s, that was reversed and by 2005, which was the peak of owner-occupation, it was 69% of all housing. By 1990, the private rented sector had gone down to 9%. These are a mixture of English and UK figures, but they are very similar anyhow. Yet by 2013, the proportion of people owning their own houses had started to go down; in

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that year, it was only 63%, whereas it had been 69%. Social housing had filled the gap; originally it was council housing, which at one stage occupied most of the rented housing market. Yet council housing has been in decline and the rise in social housing has not filled the gap. In 1980, 31% of houses in the UK were owned by local authorities; that figure is now down to 7%. The change that has taken place is astonishing. Housing associations have come in with 10%, but the amount of social rented housing has gone down from 31% in 1980 to 18% in 2013. Of course, the private rented sector is filling the gap; having gone down from 77% in 1918 to 9% in 1990, it is now back up to 20%.

The deregulation of rents and the rights of tenants has had a huge effect—but another reason for this change is that if you go to council estates anywhere in the country you see “to let” boards up. Those are on houses owned by private landlords. Council estates are being sold cheap to tenants, and when the purchasers move on for very good reasons, they put them on the market and buy-to-let people move in. In January 2014, London Assembly Member Tom Copley—he is not in my party, but that does not matter—produced a report, From Right to Buy to Buy to Let. Although the statistics are difficult to pin down because the Government do not tend to keep them, he found that, by 2013, at least 36% of homes in London sold cheaply under right to buy had been sold on to private landlords. That figure will obviously now be higher. In three boroughs, it was around half. One of the fundamental questions is: why will it be different under right to buy from housing associations?

When this Bill comes, I shall tell the House all about the situation in Pendle, which is very different from London. It is a low-price housing area. Rents and house prices are low, but the impossibility of replacing existing stock as it is sold off is the same. There are different reasons, but it is just the same.

In her opening speech, which was admirably succinct and coherent, the Minister said that 90% of people aspire to owner-occupation. This strange word “aspiration” seems to be taking over political debate at the moment in all parties. I do not quite know what it means. We all aspire to all sorts of things. I might aspire to owing an express steam locomotive and being able to drive it up and down the main lines of this country, but I am never going to do it. I would love to do it. If someone says, “Would you like to do it?”, I will say, “Yeah, great idea—I’d love it”, but when it comes to politics, aspiration seems to be a nice word, a euphemism, that actually means ways of bribing voters with public money to vote for a political party. That seems fundamentally wrong. There is a severe housing crisis in this country. The Government are not tackling it—no Governments have adequately tackled it in my time—and the proposals for right to buy in social housing are seriously misconceived.

6.03 pm

Lord Kerslake (CB) (Maiden Speech): My Lords, I want to touch on three issues in my speech today: local government, devolution and housing.

But let me first say how delighted I am to have become a Member of this House. It seems a long journey from the small village primary school in Somerset,

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where my father was the head teacher. He left school without qualifications and lied about his age in order to join the Royal Air Force and fight in Bomber Command. Subsequently, he trained as a teacher, having caught up on his education in a prisoner-of-war camp. My mother came over from Ireland to train as a nurse and they met at the Royal United in Bath after the war, where my father was being treated for an injury he sustained when he was shot down over Germany—I am in almost every sense a product of the NHS. To use the current in-vogue phrase, my parents were not just aspirational for their children; they were fiercely ambitious. The route to success for them was for their children to make the very most of a good state education. My only sadness is that neither is here today to listen to this speech.

I sit as a Cross-Bencher, having served political Administrations led by all three of the main political parties. Since standing down from the Civil Service, I have taken on a number of new roles, including chair of King’s College Hospital, chair of Peabody housing association and chair of the Centre for Public Scrutiny. I declare these as interests in the debate today.

Let me turn first to local government. By some margin, the biggest issue facing local authorities is the prospect of further significant spending reductions in this Parliament. They will follow on from some of the largest budget reductions experienced by any part of the public sector in the previous Parliament. In my view, local government acquitted itself well during that exceptionally demanding period: staffing was reduced, back-office services were shared and efficiencies were found, but every effort was made to protect front-line services, particularly for the most vulnerable. The temptation for this Government would be to conclude that, because local government performed so well in the previous Parliament, all that is needed is simply to re-run the record. That would be a grave error. The inevitable consequence would be a deterioration in the visible services, such as street cleaning, and massive pressure on the social care budgets, in turn adding to the considerable pressures on the NHS.

To avoid this, a much more comprehensive approach will be needed which looks specifically at social care, revisits the distribution of funding between authorities, considers new sources of income and promotes the integration of local public services. Close working with the Local Government Association and the sector will be essential. This will not make the task easy or risk free. The alternative, though, will be a great deal worse.

The greatest opportunity for local government in this Parliament, and my second theme, is the prospect of greater devolution. I have long been a passionate advocate of devolution as a way to promote economic growth and improve public services. Since my time as chief executive of Sheffield City Council, I have also championed the economic potential of our major cities outside London. So for me, the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, which received its First Reading in this House last week, is entirely welcome. It provides the opportunity to build on the ground-breaking deal done by the previous Government with Greater Manchester and deliver far-reaching devolution

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of powers and budgets to boost local growth. I was fortunate to work closely with the new Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Greg Clark, on the city and local growth deals. I saw at first hand the skill, creativity and attention to detail he brought to that and the success he made of that initiative. One of the most striking features of the Minister’s approach was his inclusivity, so that every part of the country benefited from a deal. It is important that this inclusive approach is also followed on devolution, so that the opportunities are not confined just to cities and not just to those city regions that are ready to agree to a metro mayor.

In his foreword to the excellent City Growth Commission report, the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, refers to “ManSheffLeedsPool”—get your mind around that one—as an area of 7 million people that could provide the economic scale to compare with London. I very much hope, therefore, that the Sheffield city region will follow on soon to benefit from the opportunities of this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, spoke eloquently about Sheffield in his maiden speech in December. With the brilliant Advanced Manufacturing Park in Rotherham, the new National College for High Speed Rail in Doncaster and the key development sites at Markham Vale and junction 31 of the M1, the area has enormous economic opportunities. It has a well-regarded local enterprise partnership and a combined authority chaired by one of the most experienced and able leaders in local government, Sir Steve Houghton. It is in everyone’s interests that discussions to build on the deal agreed at the end of the previous Parliament begin soon. One important issue that should be revisited as part of these discussions is the location of the HS2 station in Sheffield. The impact on growth, jobs and business rates if this is located in the centre of Sheffield is significantly higher than the alternative of an out-of-town parkway station. It also keeps open the future opportunity to create a genuine economic powerhouse through improved connectivity with Leeds and Manchester.

The third and final area that I want to talk about today is housing. There were a lot of good and productive initiatives in the coalition Government to promote the building of more housing and more affordable homes. It is with great regret, therefore, that I find myself so completely opposed to the Government’s proposals to extend right to buy to housing associations and to force local authorities to sell off their highest-value properties as they become vacant. In its current form, this policy seems to me to be both wrong in principle and wrong in practice. It is wrong in principle because these are not the Government’s assets to sell. Housing associations are private, mostly charitable, bodies. They have built up their housing stock over long periods of time to provide for those who are most in need. Peabody, for example, has been in existence for 153 years, only 40 of which have involved any public subsidy.

To fund the cost of the discounts, local authorities will be compelled to sell their highest-value properties as they become vacant. There is a good case for local authorities being able selectively to sell off some of their high-value properties to reinvest. However, a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach is contrary to the spirit of greater devolution and will bring with it

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unintended consequences. In London, for example, the top third by value of properties will be concentrated in the central London boroughs of Wandsworth, Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea, which stand to lose nearly two-thirds of their stock over time.

The plans are wrong in practice because they will not advance the Government’s stated aims; indeed, I fear that they will move them backwards. Housing associations have been key players in the delivery of new housing in recent years, accounting for over one-third of all new housing. Many have built not just for rent but for sale. They have developed some excellent and innovative schemes to promote home ownership. These new homes, however, are substantially funded through private borrowing against future rental streams. The proposed RTB policy, combined with changes in benefits, will make housing associations much more cautious about investing in new-build programmes and, crucially, lenders much more cautious about lending. The knock-on consequences of this on new-build and regeneration schemes could be very serious.

There are also real doubts in my mind as to whether the receipts from the sale of high-value local authority properties can simultaneously cover the cost of the discount, the re-provision of new affordable homes and a contribution to the brownfield regeneration fund. At the very least this should be subject to a full independent financial review. What is clear, though, is that there would be a substantial flow of funds out of London, potentially of the order of £5 billion, to other parts of the country to make the numbers balance. The level of sales in London could reach 5,000 a year, which would be almost impossible for the London boroughs to match with new-build affordable homes—a fact borne out by the current experience of the one-for-one policy. This loss of affordable homes and redistribution of funds out of London at a time when its housing needs are so acute seems to be completely counterproductive.

For all these reasons, and for the others set out so well by others, including the noble Lord, Lord Best, I urge the Government to reconsider. They should meet urgently with the sector to discuss how the policy can be amended and its deficiencies addressed. Ultimately, the route to more home ownership, which I support passionately, is to build more homes. There is a real risk that this policy will distract from that vital, urgent task.

These three issues—local government, devolution and housing—are my current passions. In time, no doubt, drawing on my experience from the brilliant King’s College Hospital, I am likely to add health. I look forward to contributing to these debates in future.

6.14 pm

Lord Best (CB): My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, and I congratulate him on a very significant maiden speech. After a distinguished career in local government, he was an outstanding chief executive of the Homes and Communities Agency before going on to be both Permanent Secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government and head of the Home Civil Service. These are impeccable

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credentials for contributing to our deliberations and his speech today assures us that he will be a wise, influential and most welcome addition to this House.

My comments in this debate take forward some of the points on the forthcoming housing Bill made by the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, and other Peers, including the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. I am sure that there will be some helpful and positive ingredients in the new housing Bill since I believe that the Government are sincere in their stated aim to increase housing supply and, indeed, to meet their target of adding some 275,000 affordable homes over the lifetime of this Parliament. The problem is that a key component in the Bill is likely to completely undermine their good intentions if it is not greatly modified.

The Bill’s problematic ingredient has two related parts: first, a requirement on charitable housing associations to sell their properties at substantial discounts—up to more than £103,000 in London and £77,000 elsewhere—to tenants who have lived there for three years or more; and secondly, a requirement on local councils to sell their most valuable properties on the open market in order to raise the money for those costly housing association discounts. I see that I am in good company in questioning the wisdom of this two-part policy: the Economist, the Spectator, the Telegraph and the London Evening Standard alongside the Mayor of London are among the critics, as is Martin Woolf in the Financial Times, under the heading:

“Tories wrong to buy votes with housing”.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has called this right-to-buy extension a “substantial giveaway” and warns of harm to the UK public finances over the longer term.

I shall summarise the objections to this policy initiative. First, in relation to housing policy, there are hundreds of thousands of households that are unable to buy but are crippled by the cost of open market renting. For all these, the target of 275,000 extra affordable homes by 2020 is essential and, with government backing, definitely achievable. However, the National Housing Federation estimates that about 221,000 households, out of 1.5 million identified by the Government as eligible, are in a position to buy—and why should they not take advantage of this sudden lucky windfall? If these tenants purchase over the next five years, and if councils over that period are required to sell thousands of their best properties to raise the funds to pay for the housing association discounts, then the social housing providers will have tried to fill the bath with the plug out. At the end of this Parliament, instead of increasing the stock of affordable homes that the country needs so badly, all these efforts will have been in vain and, at best, we will be back where we started.

Moreover, the whole process of selling some social housing and building elsewhere will have grave consequences. With councils having to sell in the best areas and having to build in cheaper places, a divisive segregation results, separating the better-off and the less affluent, in contradiction to the universally preferred alternative of mixed communities. As the London mayor has pointed out, replacing the homes sold in London with homes built outside will deny London the key workers on which this city depends, while affordable homes sold off in rural communities will often be quite impossible to replace.

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Secondly, the financial considerations of this double measure are alarming. The National Housing Federation estimates that the cost could be around £11.5 billion. Do these payments to a relatively small number of people represent the very best use of several billion pounds? A windfall grant to those already in decent affordable housing seems strange indeed when the money could help thousands of others in severe housing need. According to the National Housing Federation, this level of funds would, for example, secure no fewer than 660,000 shared ownership homes, helping three times as many aspiring owner-occupiers.

Moreover, what happens if selling good council housing as it falls vacant fails to raise all the funds to cover the cost of the new discounts, let alone pay for the councils to replace the homes they sell off? Can the Minister confirm that whatever the cost, housing associations will be guaranteed reimbursement for the loss of their assets? Will the taxpayer pick up the bill, regardless of the impact on the public finances?

Thirdly, and finally, there are some serious legal and practical objections to this policy. In the 1980s this House very firmly rejected the extension of the right to buy to charitable housing associations, principally on the grounds that government should not be ordering independent charitable bodies to dispose of their assets to the benefit of some tenants of today but at the cost of diminishing the charity’s capacity to help others in need in the future.

On the practical side, there are worries about the response of lenders to the new uncertainties that this measure creates. There are also concerns about planning agreements, which have required a proportion of rented homes in private developments to be retained in perpetuity for those on lower incomes, never to be sold. Are these planning agreements now to be torn up, and will the housing associations be forced to renege on promises to landowners who have given land or sold cheaply, on rural exception sites, for the benefit of their local communities? If so, this is surely an end to such concessions in the future.

Clearly there are serious housing policy, financial, legal and practical difficulties to this multibillion-pound initiative. It looks incredibly fraught. I conclude by asking the Minister: will there now be extensive consultation on the new policy, not least with Members of this House, before it is taken to its next stage?

Lord Gardiner of Kimble (Con): My Lords, I ask for noble Lords’ indulgence and assistance. Our timings are such that if we continue to have the length of speeches that we have had, the House will sit very late indeed. The advisory time of seven minutes is to ensure that the House rises at a respectable time, and I am sure that your Lordships would wish me to be helpful in that regard.

6.22 pm

Lord Holmes of Richmond (Con): My Lords, in the spirit of that announcement, I am prepared to give up those 20 seconds of my time to the Deputy Chief Whip for that announcement.

I will focus on energy, but before I do that, I congratulate in particular the two Ministers who are bookending this debate this afternoon and evening,

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who, although they were both members of the previous Government, have now been elevated to high ministerial office. My noble friends Lady Williams of Trafford and Lord Bates, with his north-eastern credentials, as a duo demonstrate quite magnificently what we can get from the northern powerhouse.

I also congratulate the two maiden speakers today. We heard two marvellous speeches, latterly from the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, and formerly from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury. It would certainly be fair to say that whoever else joins the right reverend Prelate on the Bishops’ Bench, none of them can compete with the fact that he has the highest spire in the United Kingdom. All our proceedings will benefit from the bird’s-eye perspective from that vantage point of 123 metres. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Eden on a thoughtful and extraordinary valedictory speech. If all of us can seek to have a career of such distinction, we will all have used our time incredibly wisely.

To focus on energy, specifically sustainable, renewable energy, I must remark on a comment that was made in the recent general election campaign by a prospective parliamentary candidate. It would be wrong of me to say which party that PPC was standing for, but in a debate on new energy this prospective candidate asked, “That’s all well and good, but what happens when the renewable energy runs out?”. As I say, I will not mention the party—but it has only four letters in its title.

Fortunately, renewable energy, as its name somewhat suggests, will not run out, but it is a great step forward that the subsidies for onshore wind farms are being brought to a conclusion for new projects going forward. I am a supporter of renewable energy; we need to have as many diverse sources of energy in the mix as we can possibly get. However, with wind turbines we are at a level at which, by any measure, it is questionable on a cost-benefit analysis whether putting funding there gives us the best energy mix and, crucially, the security of supply that we need going forward. We have already heard about £101 billion globally going into subsidies; only £6 billion goes into research and development. I want us to be pioneers—I want us to be at the forefront, to develop the best technology—but if you look at wind turbines and compare them to technological advances in almost any other industry, they look pretty much like yesterday. That is not to mention their impact on the environment: they slaughter golden eagles and kites out of the sky, create a whirring noise whether the turbine’s blades are turning or not, and turn stomachs for miles around. That cannot be the technology of the future. I ask the Minister to consider whether, as long as the renewable obligations come to an end in 2017, it should be clear that contracts for difference are also seen as subsidies and will also be treated under this policy. I believe they should be.

Similarly, I turn to Scotland, which as a nation suffers the brunt of wind turbine technology. Of the schemes currently seeking planning, over 1,600 out of 2,800 are looking to be sited in the uplands of Scotland, which will have a significant impact on the environment. Therefore my second question for the Minister is: will that end to the subsidy going forward apply to Scotland in the same sense as it applies to England? If it will

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not, we will have created a terrible situation where largely English pounds go to subsidise Scottish wind farms to produce inefficient energy, which largely English pounds then have to purchase back into the grid. That cannot be a sensible solution—it cannot be the way we do energy policy, going forward. I hope that the end of the subsidy will apply to Scotland as it does to England.

As we have already heard in the debate, it is extremely good news that nuclear is back, very much on the table. It is the most secure and potentially the cleanest energy source we currently have, but we need to ensure that we deliver it, not necessarily in the way that Hinkley Point was contracted for.

In conclusion, I do not see wind turbines as a non-existent, imaginary enemy, but perhaps, if not at windmills, it is absolutely timely and right that we are finally tilting at windmill subsidies.

6.29 pm

Lord Tyler (LD):My Lords, I am still, I confess, shaken by the news of my friend and colleague Charles Kennedy’s sudden death this morning, and I apologise to your Lordships if I am rather more tongue-tied than usual. This is obviously not the right moment for a full appreciation of his role, and I certainly cannot match the very heartfelt tributes I have heard and seen from all over the world of politics. However, I was his Chief Whip in the House of Commons, and I want to put on the record my appreciation of and admiration for his political courage. It is largely forgotten that when the Iraq invasion was imminent, most people did actually believe the spin that came from No. 10, and it took real courage—real political courage—to stand against that tide. It took guts, integrity and real wisdom. A minority in both the other parties—a majority in my own, of course—voted against the illegal invasion, and those of us who followed his lead then will not forget his strength of character.

Charles Kennedy was also, of course, a passionate European and a true Liberal in defence of human rights; I suspect that we will miss both those attributes in the next few months. He was also a long-standing campaigner for fairness and equality, not least for the long-suffering and cheated electorate. At a British Election Study seminar last December, I forecast that there would be a wide discrepancy between votes cast and seats gained, and, of course, a few weeks ago there was. I also prophesied that the inhabitant of No. 10 would enter the door with less than a quarter of the eligible electorate voting for him; and so he did.

However, after a political lifetime of campaigning for fairness in votes, I am the first to recognise that new MPs are unlikely reformers as far as their own House is concerned. In recent years, Parliament has been prepared to find fairer electoral systems for everybody else—for Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, even the European Parliament—but for the House of Commons, of course, it has been a step too far. However, what about local government? That is where a real opportunity exists in the present Parliament. This is my plea for reform in this Parliament: to fulfil the gracious Speech and bring about effective democratic devolution.

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In the multiparty environment of the 21st century, local government election results are quite as peculiar as those in Westminster, and sometimes worse. The good news is that at long last somebody is making a serious attempt to examine from the point of view of the voters a local government voting system that unfortunately is all too often examined only from the parties’ point of view. I am greatly indebted to the studies of Dr Lewis Baston, who made a recent detailed assessment of the consequences of a fairer system in local government. Hitherto, such limited analysis of the UK system as has been undertaken has tended to concentrate on its implications for the parties, and almost exclusively for Parliament. However, Dr Baston’s analysis is based on more robust evidence: the results of two rounds of single transferable vote elections in the Scottish local government elections of 2007 and 2012, following the reform introduced in Scotland by the Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition.

Until 2007, Scotland was in one respect not much different from the English counties: of those who voted for council candidates, barely half had the satisfaction of electing their choice. The average, on low turnouts, ranged from 40% to 55%. However, with the introduction of STV, three in four voters now get what they vote for. If you add in those whose second or subsequent preferences are effective, the “satisfied” figure can rise to 90%—perhaps double the proportion south of the border. Dr Baston terms these voters who get what they vote for “happy voters”, and I think it is time we spread that experience to other parts of our allegedly united Kingdom.

The core of Dr Baston’s case for reform is not the benefits or otherwise to any one party but the benefits to voters. Parties may be obsessed with gaining and maintaining control of councils, and the media certainly find it easier to interpret trends by reference to changes of control, but the consumer of the local democratic process is surely more interested in the connection between the way in which he or she votes and the representative outcome, and the resulting quality of service and accountability of those representatives. Surely England and Wales could, and should, now follow Scotland’s lead and introduce this modest, rational reform to the current local government system.

The narrow choice offered by first past the post discourages any attempt to distinguish the relative merits of candidates of the same party, and makes impossible an informed choice between those of different parties, and of independents, on a preferential basis. Candidates regularly complain about the lack of public interest in the individual personalities, their achievements and special qualifications, especially when local contests are submerged in a national campaign, as they were this year. They would therefore surely be delighted with a new system that encourages more discernment.

Those of us who knocked on doors during the recent election campaign will have come up against the old refrain, “They’re all the same”. That is unfair in general, but at local council level in some areas it carries real credibility. After all, if you live in a city, town or county where one party has continually dominated—not just in “control” but monopolising the whole gamut of council decision-making virtually unchallenged—they may indeed be truly “all the same”.

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The experience in Scotland shows that the weakening of one-party hegemony has been wholly positive in reviving local democracy, and indeed has even given new life to local parties. In England, some of the spectacular failures in local authorities have coincided with long periods of one-party domination; that is surely not a coincidence. Long-sighted and wise parliamentarians —from Lord Hailsham to Robin Cook—have warned against “elective dictatorship”. I hope the Government will have that in mind when they think about persisting in pushing for further elected mayors.

Persistent monopoly council control by one party over many years, often with a minority of the total vote, is a recipe for inefficiency, partisan patronage and minor corruption, just as it would be in Westminster. The best way to avoid that is to introduce a fair local government electoral system, meaning many more “happy voters” and better, more efficient services.

I am convinced that Charles Kennedy would be delighted if, in this respect again, England and Wales followed Scotland’s example.

6.36 pm

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate (Non-Afl): My Lords, I rise to speak on the provisions of the gracious Speech relating to home affairs. I welcome new legislation to modernise the law on communications data. We live in a global digital age, and many criminal acts of both serious organised crime and terrorism are prepared, planned and executed by using social media and information technology that was unheard of a few years ago. In extreme cases, in the public interest and to protect the values we cherish, it has always been possible, in certain circumstances and with proper oversight, to read someone’s letter or to intercept their telephone conversation. The difficulty is that modern encryption methods are now so sophisticated that such data are difficult to decipher, and I welcome steps to ensure that they can be understood where doing so is necessary to prevent serious crime or to protect the public. Surely we cannot allow people conspiring to commit mass murder to hide behind encryption, any more than we would prevent the SAS storming a foreign embassy harbouring terrorists who are holding hostages. In times of crisis, when national security is at risk, privacy should take second place to the national interest.

It is also necessary to ensure that communications companies retain data records long enough for the police and security services to discover within a reasonable time who was contacting whom, at what location and at what time. Those are critical tools in a modern democracy and a very dangerous world. As always, of course, there must be a sensible balance between such powers and the right to privacy and liberty, and I have little doubt that this House will play its part in ensuring a proper balance in the public interest. I do not believe it does credit to dub these measures a “snoopers’ charter”, as some describe them. Such reasonable measures are no more than putting necessary investigatory powers in a modern setting for the purpose of disrupting terrorist plots, criminal networks and organised child grooming.

I was interested to read last week that the number of people falling victim to identity theft has risen by almost a third in 12 months. Identity theft allows

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fraudsters to open bank accounts, obtain credit cards and commit fraud in other people’s names. This amounted to more than 32,000 victims in the first three months of 2015.

Of course, there is a measure which would have helped to stem this attack by professional criminals on hard-working families and that is the introduction of a biometric identity card, which, because of the use of unique foolproof identifiers, would make such crimes that much more difficult to commit. Clearly the chances of this type of fraud have now substantially increased, and that illustrates the need to use modern technology, as we have with DNA, to combat such escalating crime.

Another measure mentioned in the gracious Speech is the proposal to introduce a blanket ban on the new generation of psychoactive drugs. As the former head of the drug squad in my old force in Durham, I have seen young lives destroyed by drugs and I welcome these proposed measures. Those manufacturing and dealing in such destructive substances have been ingenious in always being ahead of the law enforcement agencies by changing very slightly the chemical make-up of these so-called “legal high” substances. It is right that such dealers in death should be visited with substantial sentences of up to seven years in prison.

In conclusion, I want to say a word about the police and the victims of crime. I still believe that we have the most respected police service in the world but, having lost more than 17,000 officers since the recession of 2008, the police representative bodies and some chief officers have understandably warned about the dire consequences of even more cuts to budgets. The Home Secretary recently warned the Police Federation to stop crying wolf, praying in aid the continued fall in reported crime, which incidentally has happened across many countries throughout Europe.

What has to be remembered is that investigating recordable crime represents only about a third of what the police do. As a service of first response, they spend much more of their time assisting the public in other ways: dealing with domestic disputes; handling drunken disorder on the streets; responding to accidents on the roads, in factories and in the home; dealing with fly tipping and litter; dealing with cycling on footpaths and jumping red lights; handling child abuse, people trafficking and drugs; and of course providing an essential reassuring presence in neighbourhoods, which is so important. If police numbers are reduced too far, these are the areas where it is increasingly felt.

Since I was a ground police officer, the number of beat bobbies has reduced dramatically. Why is that? As noble Lords know, we now have cybercrime units, internet child exploitation teams, victim support units and family liaison officers. There has also been an explosion in the number of reported sexual crimes following Savile. All crimes require witnesses to give evidence. The most important witness in any crime, provided they are still alive, is the victim, and I note that one of the measures announced in the gracious Speech is to increase the rights of victims of crime, which I applaud.

Finally, all these matters require men and women to respond in a timely manner, so, at the risk of being accused of crying wolf, I ask the Minister to take the

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message back to the Government that even the apparently omnipotent police service has its limits and they should not stretch the thin blue line to breaking point.

6.43 pm

Lord Plumb (Con): My Lords, we have heard very fine speeches so far. I realise that we are only half way through, so I shall try to be brief. Hearing the valedictory speech from my noble friend Lord Eden reminds me that the time is coming for many of us to follow suit. However, we are not ready yet and are still involved, particularly in agriculture.

I speak as a farmer, as a past president of the National Farmers’ Union, as a former chairman of an international policy council based in Washington and as a past chairman of the agricultural committee of the European Parliament. Therefore, I have a bit of experience of these things and my brief today is to speak about the remarkable technological and scientific changes in agriculture over the years.

Those changes have taken place through both publicly and privately funded research. Growth, as we can all understand, is entirely dependent on the results of applied research, and I hope that the Minister will agree that more research is imperative to be competitive in a freer market. Farmers and growers are free to take advantage of scientific development. If they are allowed to do so, that will make an enormous difference.

There are four points on which I wish to speak. The first is CAP reform and the second is competition. I also want to say a word or two on energy in the context of agriculture, and then to talk about an important part of the whole of British agriculture—education and training.

There are many questions about future policy—questions that proponents of leaving the European Union have to answer, such as on access to Europe’s single market, where 75% of our exports go. Would we have access to immigrant labour? At this time of year, it is essential, particularly in the fruit industry. There is also a question about the future of payments and the effect on consumers. There are many things to debate but they are for future discussion.

I want to say a word about the common agricultural policy. The present policy, which should have been simplified last year, has in my view created more complications for farmers then they have experienced since 1973, and I have been involved in nearly all the negotiations that have taken place over the years. I may be exaggerating if I say that there are probably consultants advising farmers at the moment on dealing with the rural payment scheme, particularly in relation to environmental issues. Many, of course, are racing to complete within the next two weeks.

I welcome the Prime Minister’s plans to renegotiate our relationship with the European Union. It provides us, I believe, with the opportunity to simplify the common agricultural policy. There has been a failure to issue guidance on present policy in a timely manner. It is an application that has, in my opinion, proven not to be fit for purpose in England. As well as failing to communicate the impact of non-compliance, the policy has left many farmers with a very difficult predicament.

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It therefore has to increase market orientation and competitiveness in a large global market. I fear that we are involved in yet a further example of gold-plating policy. I do not wish to decry Defra, which has been extremely helpful, but Defra itself often finds aspects of policy difficult to explain to farmers.

On competition, the enterprise Bill could bring significant changes and benefits to agriculture. Following the Macdonald report, I recognise that progress has been made on reducing red tape but I am sure that the Minister will accept that there is still some way to go. He may like to comment.

The proposed single inspection scheme should reduce the regulatory burden on farmers without compromising standards. Inspection criteria have to be consistent across the country and throughout the European Union, which requires inspectors to have a good knowledge of the business, wherever it is.

Deflation is causing real problems, with food prices falling—down 3% in the first half of this year. Nowhere is the pressure more obvious than in the dairy sector. Many—up to three a week—are leaving the dairy industry and this is on top of the pressure caused by TB eradication, with more than 250,000 cattle culled in Great Britain since 2008. I remember when, in 1964, we had the privilege of announcing that we had totally eradicated bovine tuberculosis.

Climate change, of course, will mean the need for a growth in production for the home market and exports and the need to provide raw materials from agriculture for the largest manufacturers in this country, with its ever-growing population.

Finally, on energy, I support exactly what the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, said. The Government have the right to focus on security, but this has to come from diverse sources of energy. Land-based renewables, solar energy, wind energy and biofuels all have a key role to play in the mix. This is an important diversification, helping to protect profitable farming and first-cut grass. I have been around a bit. I have seen grass fields already mown for, I believed, the cut to be put into silage. But in fact it is not. A lot of it goes straight into a digester instead of into the cow. That, in itself, tells the story of farming changes.

In education, do we have young people coming into agriculture and with rural interests? Yes, we do. A focus on skills and job creation is vital as agriculture continues to develop as a high-tech industry. The gracious Speech specifically mentioned the duty of Ministers to report annually on job creation and apprenticeships. The good work started under the agri-tech strategy should ensure that the industry has the skills to develop further. Our universities, colleges, management courses and apprenticeship schemes do a great job. Quite often, I have the privilege of interviewing young people. They are full of enthusiasm to work in agriculture, horticulture or on some rural development. They have the ability to take the industry forward in a competitive spirit and a will to preserve our rural environment.

I have a dream, occasionally, that I am still a young farmer, enjoying the facilities for training through leadership courses and universities. I wake up believing that there will be a great future, if young people are given the freedom to work in the rural environment. We must give all our encouragement to it.

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6.52 pm

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab): My Lords, I want to say a few words about higher education and then comment on housing.

The key political announcement in Her Majesty’s Speech was the Bill for a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. The benefits to our society and our economy of remaining in the EU are clear in an area in which I have a particular interest—that of higher education. I declare an interest as a council member of both Nottingham Trent University and University College London.

Universities receive £790 million in research funding from EU sources, which is 16% of total research funding. The UK’s membership of the EU helps to ensure common standards and processes, which help to facilitate UK strength in international collaboration.

On any measure, universities are highly internationalised communities, in terms of both staff and students. Yet it looks like we will return to the tussles of the last Parliament between the university sector and the Home Office over the visa regime for students. Will the Minister tell the House whether the retitled “net migration aim” can be achieved without severely restricting the number of students and highly skilled migrants who can come to the UK?

I have one further point about HE, on stability and funding. Last Friday, I had the hugely rewarding experience of visiting the University of Bradford and its Integrated Life Sciences Learning Centre, a unique cross-disciplinary combination of advanced patient simulation, virtual anatomy and diagnostic-grade digital pathology, introducing students to technologies that will be the mainstay of laboratory-based medicine in the NHS of the future. With the support of local industrial partners, the university is linking the centre to business incubation of companies involved in digital health. Truly ground-breaking and yet eminently applicable, this is the technology that the NHS and the country need.

The Conservative manifesto stressed stability for higher education funding. I echo the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds, in his admirable maiden speech yesterday, about the importance of encompassing cities such as Bradford in the northern powerhouse concept. Will the Minister assure us that innovative work such as that at Bradford, and of course elsewhere, will be properly supported?

I now turn to the housing Bill, and declare an interest. In September, I will take up the position of chair of the National Housing Federation, the membership body for over 1,000 housing associations operating in England. I will also take this opportunity to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, on a very impressive maiden speech. I am looking forward very much to working with him.

The housing Bill announced a number of measures intended to help increase the supply of homes that this country desperately needs. We need 245,000 homes a year in England just to keep pace with demand, 80,000 of which should be affordable homes. At the moment, we are building only half that number. We have a crisis in housing and we need to acknowledge it. I am glad that the Government accept this.

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One of the Bill’s measures extends the right to buy to all housing association tenants. Introducing greater levels of home ownership is a laudable ambition, yet I fear that this measure could significantly undermine efforts to end the housing crisis. Can I give the House a sense of what might be put at risk if this policy is pursued in its current form?

Housing associations make a massive economic and social contribution, both nationally and locally. The long-standing partnership between government and housing associations is one of the most successful public/private enterprise models in the country. Collectively, associations own and manage over 2.5 million homes across every region, housing over 5 million people. These are homes for people paying social and affordable rents; homes that people can rent privately; homes that support people with disabilities and care needs to live independently; homes that are refuges for homeless people; and homes for people to own.

Housing associations build around 45,000 homes a year and have the ambition to do so much more. Last year, the National Housing Federation published An Ambition to Deliver, a 20-year vision for the sector to build 120,000 homes each year across every part of the market. Given that current trends suggest that private builders will build only 130,000 homes for sale each year, this effort from housing associations will be essential if the housing crisis is to be resolved.

So much more is at stake if housing associations are prevented from fulfilling their mission. It is not just homes that housing associations provide. They deliver vital services to their tenants and the wider communities. Every £1 that the Government invest in the sector is matched with £6 from housing associations. Housing associations are at the heart of every community in which they work. They get people into work, and help them to manage their money better. Their initiatives help people to have healthier lifestyles. They support older people to remain in their homes and they tackle anti-social behaviour. They employ 146,000 people and provide over 12,000 apprenticeships across the country.

Like the Government, housing associations want to help people to buy their own home. For example, over the last 10 years, housing associations have sold over 82,000 shared-ownership homes and there are now in excess of 250,000 shared ownership homes in England’s housing market. I am concerned that the proposals to extend the right to buy will significantly reduce the number of affordable homes, certainly in the short term, when there are already nearly 2 million people on the housing waiting list. The Government hope to replace homes sold through this new scheme on a one-for-one basis, but experience has shown, and others have amply demonstrated, that it is extremely challenging in practice to replace existing homes.

The Bill will almost certainly make it more difficult for housing associations to raise finance for the 80,000 home development programmes that we need every year to keep up with demand. Perhaps most significantly, it would effectively mean that associations are no longer in control of their own assets. Critically, housing associations are independent organisations, not public bodies. As private businesses and charities, they enter into a contract to deliver products and services. Forcing

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housing associations to sell off their properties could set an extremely dangerous precedent for government interference in independent business. Preserving charity assets is a principle that has been in place since Elizabeth I, and the Government really need to exercise caution in undermining it. It is difficult to understand how a Conservative Government could support a policy that essentially places the Government in a role that should be the preserve of independent boards.

Housing associations are eager to help the Government meet their housing ambitions, build more homes and support many more people into home ownership. This Bill could dramatically impede their ability to do so. The Government are yet to set out a clear timetable for delivering the housing Bill. Therefore, in conclusion, I urge the Minister to commit to a full and thorough period of consultation before publishing legislation to extend the right to buy to housing association tenants. I look forward to the Minister’s response to the passionate, powerful and forensic analysis of my noble friend Lady Hollis.

7 pm

Baroness Harris of Richmond (LD): My Lords, I remind your Lordships of my registered interests and, in particular, that I now chair the independent reference group for the Police Federation of England and Wales.

During the last general election, for the first time that I can remember, law and order was hardly on the agenda of the political parties. Indeed, this is the first time I can remember in the 16 years I have been in this House when the gracious Speech has not referred to specific policing changes in a police Bill, although the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, has spelt out some of the measures. So I felt it important to mention policing in general terms, and the Police Federation in particular, to ensure that this vital service is clearly recognised as crucial to how our country is governed.

Since 2010 the police service has lost 17,000 officers and 17,000 police staff. That is equivalent to nine entire police forces, or every single police officer in the south-east from Cornwall to Kent. Despite this, we are told that crime is down and more cuts to policing are envisaged. However pleased we should all be about the reduction in crime, it tells only part of the story. Child sexual exploitation is up; counterterrorism incidents are up; the management of sex offenders in the community is up; dealing with people with mental health issues is up; being used as the service of last resort, especially police cells having to be used as places of safety, is up; sickness levels are up; the number of officers owed days off in lieu is massively up; and incidences of violent crime, especially violence directed at police officers, are also up. I could go on.

It is therefore not quite the rosy picture painted for us by the Home Office. “Cuts have consequences” was the mantra at the recent Police Federation Conference, but that was roundly rejected by the Home Secretary, who accused the federation of “crying wolf”. But you simply cannot continue cutting a service that delivers 24/7, 365 days a year to our citizens without reducing its efficiency in so many ways. Neighbourhood policing will disappear as officers are pulled away to attend to

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serious crime incidents, and cuts in other community services, such as reducing lighting at night and the closure of youth centres, will only exacerbate the pressures on the police—who so often have to pick up where other services fail to deliver.

I have been involved in policing for almost 40 years and I truly do not believe that I have ever known morale in the service to be lower than it is at present. Police officers want to do a good job. They want to protect communities and ensure good order. But because their numbers are now at a critical tipping point, they fear that they will not be able to fulfil their roles for much longer.

I should say a word about the Police Federation as a whole. The organisation is undergoing massive restructuring and is in the process of implementing in full the recommendations of the independent review by Sir David Normington which the federation itself requested even before the Home Secretary berated it so fiercely last year. I want to tell your Lordships that an enormous amount of work is going on at federation headquarters, but it will take time to turn round an organisation that was more or less unchanged in its structure for almost 100 years. I therefore give the Government notice that I will be putting down a prayer to seek to overturn Statutory Instrument 2015 No. 630, which was made on 9 March this year and came into force on 2 April. I will use that debate to explain just why I feel so angry that there is an intention to interfere with internal federation matters which should not be subject to an order by the Home Secretary.

I understand but profoundly disagree with the Government’s eagerness to curtail the so-called powers of unions. However, police officers are subjected to a great many more strictures in their working lives and strictures on their industrial rights. To deprive the Police Federation of its funding by suggesting that officers do not need to be members of the organisation, but that the federation must represent them if an officer requests it, without having paid anything into the federation coffers, is utter madness. How can the Police Federation possibly function on that sort of calculation? Perhaps I am being naive. Perhaps that is just what the Government want: to take away the federation’s power of representation of its members and, hey presto, the police are fragmented into regions and branches. No, it is vital that the police have a strong and well-run organisation to represent them. I and my colleagues will do what we can to help them reform and renew so that they can again be represented with integrity and transparency.

7.06 pm

Baroness Howe of Idlicote (CB): My Lords, I want to begin by talking about the implementation of regulations sanctioned by the Modern Slavery Act. I look forward to the conclusion and evaluation of the child trafficking advocate trials and hope that the resolution from the Secretary of State, and regulations to roll out that scheme across the whole of England and Wales, will follow shortly thereafter. I am sure that the Minister would expect nothing less, but I reassure him that I and many other noble Lords will look in

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detail at the expected regulations to ensure that the independent child trafficking advocates have all the necessary authority, functions and training to meet the needs of those extremely vulnerable children and be in accordance with international best practice guidance.

I also look forward to the completion of the pilots of the revised national referral mechanism. As I stated during our debates on the then Modern Slavery Bill, I am concerned at the vagueness of references to identifying and supporting victims in that legislation and hope that it can swiftly be remedied with the introduction of regulations and publication of statutory guidance. As I made clear during the debate, I believe that the provision of regulations, and therein a statutory basis for this support which has been provided in Northern Ireland and will soon be in place in Scotland, is most significant. I encourage the Government to use powers in the Modern Slavery Act to introduce regulations on this matter as a priority. I understand that the Government wish to take account of the pilot projects in moving forward in this area but I hope there will not be a lengthy delay. Perhaps the Minister can provide further details on the timetable for completion of the pilots and when we might expect to see draft guidance or regulations regarding identifying and supporting victims.

For my second subject, it will not surprise your Lordships to learn that I want to turn to the important issue of online safety. I welcome and applaud the fact that the Government have negotiated a voluntary approach to default-on adult content filters with the four big internet service providers. This constitutes an important step forward, and I pay tribute particularly to the work of the Prime Minister, whose personal leadership on this issue has been, and continues to be, of great importance. There is, however, a great deal more to be done to make sure that the default-on filtering framework works properly.

As I explained during a debate last November, there are two significant problems, in that the voluntary approach to default-on covers only 90% of the market, leaving thousands of children beyond its protection. Nor, crucially, does it age-verify those seeking to lift the filters before allowing them to opt in to access adult content.

In raising this subject today, I want to look at age verification in relation to specific websites rather than filters, and I welcome the Conservative general election manifesto commitment in this regard. Rather than making an age-verification commitment in relation to filtering, page 37 of the manifesto made a commitment to require websites providing pornographic material to put in place robust age-verification procedures in order to protect children from accidentally or deliberately accessing these pages This commitment provides a direct parallel to the commitment to website age verification mandated by the Gambling Act 2005. Since that Act required online gambling sites to provide robust age verification before permitting people to gamble online, the children’s charities have not been made aware of any children with online problem gambling difficulties.

At a time when we are presented with increasing evidence of children and young people developing pornography addiction, and when it has become apparent

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in court that a number of boys charged with sexually assaulting young girls had been acting out hardcore pornography which they had accessed from computers in their bedrooms, the Conservative commitment is very timely. We already have legislation requiring that sites based in the UK that specifically live-stream R18 video- on-demand material have robust age verification. This was introduced courtesy of the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2010 and 2014, which implemented the audiovisual media services directive 2007. Happily, the 2015 manifesto commitment is more wide-ranging, applying to pornography generally rather than just to R18 video-on-demand material. That is very welcome indeed.

However, the experience of the Audiovisual Media Services Regulations prompts important implementation questions for the Government. The amount of hardcore video on demand that comes from websites based abroad is huge. Experian Hitwise statistics for UK visits to just six “tube” sites are staggering. PornHub gets 66 million monthly UK hits; xHamster, 63 million; XNXX, 29 million; RedTube, 28 million; Xvideos, 28 million; and YouPorn, 26 million. That is a total of 240 million hits from the UK in a single month to adult sites without any form of onsite child protection. Given the scale of the hardcore pornography problem in the UK that comes from beyond the UK, it is very clear that we will not find a credible means of protecting children unless we find a way of regulating porn from foreign as well as UK sites.

Two points follow from this. First, given that some of these sites are based in EU jurisdictions that are also subject to the Audiovisual Media Services Directive 2007, have the Government considered whether the Commission is adequately assessing the implementation of the directive in other jurisdictions? We need an answer to that important question Secondly, and more importantly, however, it is vital to recognise that, given that some of these sites are definitely based beyond the EU, pressing for proper implementation of EU legislation does not provide us with a real solution to the problem.

What, then, is the solution? We will have to wait to debate my new online safety Bill on another occasion, but it does propose an answer to the all-important question of how to regulate sites based outside the UK projecting pornography into this country. It draws on the model for regulating online gambling sites that are based beyond the UK which the Government have developed through their Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Act. I ask the Minister: through which legislation do the Government plan to introduce their welcome age-verification manifesto commitment; and, crucially, given the scale of the problem, how will they apply this commitment to sites beyond the UK that are accessed in the UK? In this respect, I hope the Government will find the model in my Bill useful.

7.15 pm

Lord Crickhowell (Con): My Lords, on energy security, there was an odd juxtaposition in the gracious Speech which said:

“Measures will be introduced to secure energy security and to control immigration”.

I wish I was more confident that the Government will achieve either objective.

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The new Secretary of State will need great skills if she is to extract her department’s policies from the quagmire that has embraced them for far too long. My initial optimism was shaken by reading her blog which appeared on the day of the State Opening. It contained the controversial assertion that the UK,

“is one of the most energy secure countries in the world”.

She argued that healthy margins had been achieved last winter; that the capacity market would ensure that future peak electricity demand would be met; and that,

“we are investing in new Energy infrastructure, new nuclear and renewables, as well as exploring from shale gas”.

A blunt statement of reality would have provided a sounder foundation for the actions that are now needed. The report of the Science and Technology Committee, which was referred to by my noble friend Lord Ridley, on the resilience of the electricity system tells us that around one-fifth of the generation capacity available in 2011 is expected to close by 2020. The report comments:

“Closure of old power stations, combined with insufficient investment in new electricity generation capacity, has resulted in the capacity margin being squeezed ... By October 2014, following a series of power station outages, National Grid reported that the capacity margin for winter 2014/15 would fall to 4.1%”.

It is true that by putting in place short-term measures the capacity margin has been increased. However, the cost and sustainability of those short-term measures is a factor that has to be considered.

The Government are relying on two mechanisms created by the Energy Act 2013: contracts for difference and the capacity market. Contracts for difference are designed to stimulate investment in renewables, carbon capture and storage, and nuclear. The capacity market is designed to offer all providers a steady, predictable revenue stream, in return for which they must produce energy when needed or face penalties. I shall say something later about the problems that are already apparent.

On page 16 of the immensely authoritative report by the House’s Economic Affairs Committee, The Economic Impact on UK Energy Policy of Shale Gas and Oil, in evidence Professor Helm said that,

“by 2015 or 2016, the capacity margin in this country will be very close to zero; in fact, I have done some numbers which suggests that it might be below zero. What is going to fill the gap”?

The committee concluded:

“There is a growing risk of power cuts in the UK as the margin of electricity generating capacity over peak demand shrinks”.

My noble friend Lord Ridley told us about the recently announced closures of coal-fired generating capacity. In just three years our total coal-fired capacity will have fallen from 24 gigawatts to 15 gigawatts. Like Professor Helm, I ask what is going to fill the gap. I wish it was nuclear. In 2011, when I was a member of the Science and Technology Committee, we produced a report on nuclear research and development capabilities and said:

“Some experts suggest that 12 GW of energy generation is the minimum contribution that nuclear could make … up to 2050. However, the weight of evidence indicates that significantly higher contribution … is likely to be required”.

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In 2013 the Government published their Long-term Nuclear Energy Strategy, stating:

“The Government believes that nuclear energy has an important role to play in delivering our long term objective of a secure, low carbon, affordable, energy future”.

But here we are in mid-2015 with little prospect of new nuclear stations making a contribution until well after 2020. The coalition Government tried to negotiate a deal with EDF and its partners to build a new station at Hinkley Point. My noble friend Lord Ridley suggested that it was a disastrous selection of the wrong company with the wrong technology. On the original timetable, we would be expecting completion in a couple of years. As it is, no deal has been signed and every so-called deadline has been passed. It seems that private investors are unwilling to take on the risks, even with the guarantees offered by CFDs.

If we are to get a nuclear programme under way, it may be that the Government have to be a major player, as other countries have found, and as was the case with Britain’s original and successful nuclear programme. Ministers talk about the importance of infrastructure investment. Is there any infrastructure investment more important than that which will secure long-term energy security, and is there any action likely to be more effective in meeting the fears and objectives of the noble Lord, Lord Layard, than an effective nuclear programme? These are issues about which Ministers should be thinking pretty hard.

I pose another question. Energy and climate change policies are funded through levies on consumer bills. Some of those levies are managed under the levy control framework and a cap which DECC has agreed with the Treasury. It will rise to £7.6 billion in 2020-21. Analysts suggest that DECC has significantly underestimated the cost of the existing policies. If these analyses are right, DECC may have fully committed the budget available under the levy control framework right out to 2020, leaving nothing available for anything else. The Secretary of State will need to take urgent steps to address this situation and to change some of those policies along the lines suggested by my noble friend Lord Wakeham.

The Economic Affairs Committee has pointed out that substantial volumes of gas will still be needed over several decades for home heating and as a back-up supply for the power sector when supplies from renewable sources such as wind and solar are inevitably intermittent. Even if gas-fired power generation is replaced over time by renewables and nuclear, and that may be a very long time,

“gas is likely to remain the main source of heat in the UK’s economy”.

That is why shale gas is so important.

The new energy Bill announced in the gracious Speech may give a boost to the UK oil and gas offshore industry, but it will be introduced against a background of declining North Sea oil and gas output, down by almost 40% since 2010. As the Economic Affairs Committee observed, the industry response remains uncertain. It also concluded that the development of shale gas in the UK on a significant scale would provide substantial benefits. The depressing thing is that once again we seem to be firmly stuck in a quagmire. There

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is a great deal of talk and not much effective action. The Economic Affairs Committee concluded that the regulatory framework was dauntingly complex:

“Unless the Government act to streamline the system so that regulation is effective as well as rigorous, the UK will be unable to take full advantage of the economic opportunities offered by shale gas ... The Government must take decisive measures to quicken the pace of exploration and development of the UK’s shale gas resource”.

It listed the measures that are needed. I have seen little evidence so far that decisive measures have been taken. We will want to know very early in this Parliament that they are now being taken. If we do not see drilling starting in the near future, it will be unforgiveable, and I fear that the nation will pay a heavy price.

Finally, I trust that the welcome proposals on wind farms will be discussed fully with the Welsh Assembly so that large wind farms are not just pushed into the beautiful parts of Wales. Welsh people will want locally taken decisions just as much as the English.

7.24 pm

Lord Curry of Kirkharle (CB): My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, my comments principally concern agriculture and its potential to contribute to the economic stability and growth referred to in Her Majesty’s humble Address. I declare an interest as a farmer in Northumberland, and my other interests are listed in my declaration.

It is a matter of deep concern that the farming and food sector has huge potential to contribute to economic recovery and be a significant driver in building on the economic growth that we have seen to date, but the potential is not being realised for a number of reasons. The first is that almost all commodity prices are extremely depressed at the present time, and unless circumstances change the farming sector will experience another very difficult year financially.

Prices are depressed for a number of reasons. The absence of extreme weather events globally has led to increased production, and as a consequence prices are lower. The strength of sterling has also impacted on our domestic market prices, and continuing price wars by retailers trying to price match the discounters is devaluing the price of food. Margins right across the food chain are being eroded and farmers sit where the buck stops. It is not a happy picture.

Food price deflation is a major contributor to the current consumer prices index, and milk is a great example of a product being sold way below the cost of production. In the short term this may be good news for consumers, but the longer this continues the more that confidence is eroded within the farming community and long-term investment decisions are being questioned. I was, however, delighted that the Government announced in the last Budget that farmers would benefit from five-year tax averaging. This is very welcome.

Secondly, as the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, has mentioned, at present farmers are totally preoccupied with filling in the BPS application forms. This is a time-consuming, bureaucratic nightmare. As chair of the Better Regulation Executive, I was very impressed with the performance of Defra as a department in reducing regulatory burdens last year and delivering on the one-in, two-out policy during the last Parliament.

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I complimented the Permanent Secretary on doing so well, but we now risk going into reverse, and there is a fear that through the manual labour required to process these forms by the Rural Payments Agency due to the failure of IT systems to be fit for purpose, payments later this year might be delayed, which in the light of the price pressures I mentioned earlier could have devastating consequences for farmers’ cash flow. This is contributing to the current uncertainty.

Finally, we are suffering from a lack of investment in scientific research and skills both by government and the sector over the past 25 years or so. The noble Lord, Lord Plumb, also mentioned this. Our productivity and therefore our competitiveness has fallen, and this is not good news. Poorly thought through decisions taken during the 1990s to cut back on investment in science are having an impact today. Yields have plateaued and our productivity has fallen. We used to lead the world, and we need to regain that position. Thankfully, the coalition Government recognised the urgency of this and committed additional funding through the agri-tech strategy, which is hugely welcome.

It is now essential that these funds are targeted to deliver long-term improvements, and it is encouraging that the farming and food industry, through its various bodies and institutions, is becoming engaged in the process. I am involved in a number of these, which include those who see the need to professionalise our sector through skills development, the recognition of qualifications and the promotion of agriculture and its extended sectors as an exciting career opportunity. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and I are patrons of Landex, the land-based college sector organisation. Student numbers studying agriculture have doubled over the past five years, so interest is definitely growing.

Agriculture is a long-term business. Short-term pragmatic decisions can have long-term consequences. I am delighted that, as I understand it, Defra has decided to take a long-term strategic look at what needs to be done with regard to policy development. As has already been mentioned in this debate, this is now long overdue. If it is true, it is welcome. As some Peers are aware, I was involved in the last strategic review in 2002. If we are to stem the decline in self-sufficiency in food production, now at around 60% and dropping every year, action has to be taken. Global trading conditions are important to this, and the current EU-US TTIP negotiations are one example of making sure that British food production is given the opportunity to compete. Too often our competitive position is undermined by imported product that is not subject to the same legislative standards and costs but has free access to our markets. Of course I support the freeing up of international trade, but resolving non-trade issues that undermine our competitiveness is crucial to our success.

I should like to refer to one other issue that is an important element of Her Majesty’s gracious Speech. The Government are planning to devolve more powers to cities and city regions. I have to confess that I have failed to define what a city region is and where it starts and ends. I know that if you live in Upper Coquetdale, where I was born, you feel a very long way from a city region. Even a northern powerhouse looks a distance from Coquetdale.

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It is vital that rural areas of Britain are not neglected in the Government’s determination to focus on cities. The absence of any formal rural proofing of this element of government policy is a real concern. The potential for rural areas to contribute to economic growth is huge and in many areas untapped. I asked for confirmation previously in your Lordships’ House that the LEPs—the local enterprise partnerships—are monitored on their inclusion of rural areas in their economic strategic plans. We need inclusive plans that encourage and promote opportunities for an expansion of the so-called rural economy.

An issue about which I have become increasingly concerned is the silo approach by government agencies, NGOs, local authorities and even government departments in the development of strategy and the delivery of their responsibilities. If the remote areas of Britain, with their patchwork of family farms and fragile village communities living in the main in river catchments, are to be saved from extinction, all these bodies need to work together. That includes the local authorities, the Environment Agency, Natural England, national parks, the Forestry Commission and the LEPs, to mention a few; I could go on. These upper-river catchment areas throughout Britain need one sustainable joint plan that addresses the specific issues that are relevant to each of these vulnerable communities, so that important skills are retained, schools and services are maintained, and employment increased because access to high-speed broadband is a given. We are not maximising the benefits of the current public spend by the fragmented nature of public-policy delivery.

I do hope that these issues will be addressed by the Minister.

7.32 pm

Baroness Fookes (Con): My Lords, I start with a sentence almost at the end of the gracious Speech, which states:

“Other measures will be laid before you”.

That wonderful catch-all phrase is beloved of Governments of every hue. I say to my noble friend the Minister that I hope that the Government will not be tempted down that road because it seems to me that the legislation outlined in the gracious Speech is already very heavy and, if all the measures are to be considered thoroughly, carefully and without making mistakes, that will be quite sufficient for this session. I have noticed in the past that where mistakes occur it is partly because legislation has been hurried or too much has had to be got in in too short a time. What happens is that in the next Session or the one after that, there has to be another Bill in order to put it right. I make that observation to my noble friend.

Sometimes, only half in jest, I say that if I had a vote, I would vote for a party which says firmly, “We will pass no new legislation for five years. We will get rid of outdated and useless legislation, as on a bonfire. We will consolidate the good that remains into reasonably sized Bills dealing with one main topic”. That brings me to another of my beefs; that is, the habit of Governments of all complexions to put disparate subjects into one almighty Bill. I suppose one could call it a

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portmanteau Bill, although, more down to earth, I prefer to call it a dog’s breakfast. I encourage my noble friend not to go down that route either in so far as it lies in his power.

Another temptation for Governments is to seek to legislate the moment a scandal arises. The cry goes up, “We must have a Bill. We must have legislation”. I urge the Government always to look to see what is already available on the statute book before going down that road. I give a little example from the Communications Committee, on which I served in the last Parliament. Noble Lords will recall that there have been some very unpleasant incidents on social media. There have been horrible expressions of hatred against others, on which I will not dwell, and even the sending of photographs of an intimate nature, which were intended for very private circulation but which, when a partnership breaks up, are circulated widely. I think that that is called revenge porn.

The committee looked at this and spoke to a special adviser who knows a great deal about the laws relating to this issue. We found that the victims, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service already had legislation in various forms on the statute book that could deal with this. I am not of course referring to the matters raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, because they are different. It is just an illustration of what can often be done with what you already have.

I turn to a part of the gracious Speech where no legislation is proposed; namely, that dealing with the environment and climate change. Other noble Lords have dealt with this at a high policy level. I will look at it in exactly the opposite direction; that is, what ordinary people can do if they are sufficiently mobilised. I am well aware that major projects to prevent flooding are beyond the reach of ordinary people. However, they can certainly do something in their own gardens in urban areas where there is a real problem with run-off because people have concreted over their front gardens to take cars. It is perfectly possible to have a car in your front garden without getting rid of the garden altogether. I do not know whether anyone saw either in person or on television an exhibit at the recent Chelsea Flower Show. A designer, who I think was an amateur, did a wonderful front garden using Welsh slate. It had little runlets of flowers on either side of and between where the wheels of the car would go. Exactly where the wheels would go had been worked out and there was earth between through which the water could drain.

The Royal Horticultural Society has been advocating something of this sort for some years now. I have been a member for more years now than I care to remember. It is doing its utmost to encourage this kind of thing. It can be done simply as well as more elaborately. It would help enormously if Ministers at Defra were to give a real boost to this suggestion.

Another issue relates to the problems faced by bees. I am not sure how many people except the agriculturalists among us know much about the severe threat to bee populations. The horror is that, if the bee population should become extinct, we would see our food crops disappear totally. It is a nightmarish scenario but I hope that it will not come to that. Certainly, we need

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to be worried about it. People can help immensely in their gardens by growing the right flowers to give succour to the bees over a long period of time. They can do an awful lot in that way. I am not good on figures but I know that the number of back gardens, if not front gardens, is an enormous part of our total area. This suggestion could have a major effect but it needs the contributions of individual gardeners. Since we are a nation of garden lovers, surely we can harness that. On that point, I am aware of the time and I will sit down.

7.39 pm

Viscount Simon (Lab): My Lords, what a fascinating speech. The proposals put forward in the gracious Speech are an important stepping-stone towards strengthening policing in England and Wales, but some issues remain. I declare my interests, which are in the register.

The line between extremist views and freedom of speech is a difficult one, particularly for a police service whose job is to protect both freedom of speech and the public from violent extremism. The Government need to think very carefully about how the legislation in the newly proposed extremism Bill will be introduced and defined, as it is important that it is enforceable by officers on the ground. Currently, for the underfunded and understrength force, it is very unclear how this will happen.

The police service, although severely stretched, still picks up where other services cannot. Every year, under the Mental Health Act 1983, approximately 11,000 people are taken to a police station as a “place of safety”, when mental health emergencies should be handled by mental health professionals, not by police officers, who do not have the relevant training, equipment or premises. Using police officers in place of mental health professionals not only puts the people going through mental health crises at risk but puts further pressure on the struggling police service.

The Government’s commitment to introduce access and waiting time standards for mental health services is a step in the right direction to provide support for the vulnerable people when they need it most. This will allow police officers to do what they are trained to do, which is to protect the public. Mental health issues must—I repeat, must—be dealt with by health agencies, not by police officers.

Roads policing is an essential part of the police service. Recent changes to legislation to introduce roadside drugs tests will help to reduce road injuries and casualties, but the effectiveness of the new sanctions greatly depends on whether forces have the capacity, funds and adequate police officer numbers to enforce them. The severe reduction of traffic officers across the country has had dramatic consequences: we are now seeing more deaths and serious injuries on the roads. The Government need to address these issues as a priority.

To achieve the financial pressures imposed by the Government, chief constables have had to look at the overall cost of running road policing units, where the cars and equipment are expensive. Reducing deaths on the roads by increasing trained traffic officers would reduce overall costs. Each road death currently costs approximately £1.75 million. It is, perhaps, worth

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mentioning that the total number of traffic officers fell from 5,635 in 2010 to 4,356 in 2014, with Devon and Cornwall in those years experiencing a reduction from 239 to 57, to give just one specific example.

What could be the priorities to reduce road deaths and injuries on our roads? Graduated driving licences, telematics and young driver restrictions would be a start. What about an increase in penalty points for using a mobile phone while driving, or setting a maximum noise level in a car so that emergency vehicles can be heard? We then come to lowering the blood alcohol level for drink drivers in line with Scotland and the wider European Union.

Many years ago, I had an amendment agreed to the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act to enable drivers to be breathalysed at the roadside, with the results obtained being totally accurate. These kits are still not available and have not, I believe, been type approved. Why not, after all these years?

There is some good news for next year. A new national diagnostic IT system is being formed with the intention of reducing the demand on the police to attend some collisions, and reducing the pressure on the remaining front counters. I am only sorry that I am speaking today and not after watching the ITV television programme on Thursday entitled “Coping without Cops”.

7.45 pm

Baroness Parminter (LD): My Lords, it is a matter of regret that the gracious Speech is bereft of measures to protect and enhance the natural environment. I fully accept that this is not a coalition Government’s programme, which would have contained such measures, but it is disappointing that the Conservative manifesto’s commitments to draw up a 25-year plan to restore the UK’s biodiversity and to keep the public forests and woodlands in trust for the nation are not included.

I do welcome, however, the strong line on securing a global deal on climate change. Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury, in his excellent maiden speech, I agree that a successful outcome to the December meeting in Paris is crucial if we are to address the risks posed by rising average global temperatures. The Government are right to prioritise that international focus, although this parliamentary year will see key national decisions, such as the fifth carbon budget, having to be agreed. Given that the Tory manifesto opposed the introduction of a power sector decarbonisation target—something supported by the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party—I look forward to lively debates over the coming months in this House.

The measure in the gracious Speech that I wish to focus on, however, is the in/out referendum on our membership of the EU. Since the 1970s, Europe has become the core framework in most areas of environmental policy. It covers issues from air to water pollution, from biodiversity conservation to marine protection, the regulation of chemicals, waste and recycling, energy conservation and climate change mitigation, environmental liability and justice. In short, it is the most developed and influential body of environmental law and policy on the global stage. The advantages of an EU-wide approach are clear.

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Many environmental problems require concerted action because they are essentially cross-border issues, such as air pollution, migratory species or maritime management. Further, where the issues are global, such as climate change mitigation or deforestation, European nations have much greater influence and leverage when working together.

Successive British Governments have rightly taken the view that European policy is the most effective and efficient means of addressing much of the environmental and climate agenda. The UK has exerted a significant influence on the evolution of that policy in terms of the priorities set, the scientific evidence, the policy tools employed and some of the key measures adopted. The EU’s adoption of a 40% cut in greenhouse gas levels by 2030, which is critical in the ongoing climate negotiations, is one example where Britain played a pivotal role.

Of course, with an increasingly diverse group of countries, decisions can be slower and compromises can be uncomfortable. Noble Lords need no further reminder from me, given the excellent reminders from the noble Lords, Lord Plumb and Lord Curry, that implementation and enforcement are constant issues. It is not a perfect Union, but these drawbacks, while they should not be glossed over, are substantially outweighed by the multiple benefits to the environment and, indeed, to the economy. At the RSPCA and the CPRE I saw the value of the birds and habitats directives in protecting nature-rich habitats and species. While a member of this House’s EU Committee in its inquiry into energy policy, I heard how business values the level playing field and reasonable level of policy certainty that the stability of EU policy offers—particularly those companies and utilities investing in large projects with long payback periods, such as renewable energy plants and transmission lines. EU environmental measures have helped to stimulate innovation, for example in the car industry—as the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, mentioned earlier in Questions—following the introduction of binding standards on emissions.

The overall impact of EU membership in the environmental domain can be judged to be strongly positive to the UK. With the gracious Speech firing the starting gun on a race towards a possible exit from Europe, it is time now for all those who recognise its value for the environment to speak out loud and clear. It is poignant to say that on a day when we have lost a friend such as Charles Kennedy, who was such a passionate pro-European and committed environmentalist. I hope that the environment movement as a whole will join Members on all sides of this House—it is a great sadness that the noble Lord, Lord Deben, is no longer in his place—who stand up for the environment and are prepared to make the case for Britain to stay in Europe.

7.50 pm

Lord Pearson of Rannoch (UKIP): My Lords, I propose to speak about Islam and its future in this country. Indeed, I hope that everyone—Muslims and the rest of us—can start talking about Islam without

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being told that we are Islamophobes stirring up religious hatred. I should make it clear that I am not speaking for UKIP and that I am by no means a Muslim scholar. However, I am advised by three such scholars, one of whom was a sharia court judge for 11 years.

Islam is a vast subject and so, given our time constraint, I refer noble Lords to a debate I had in Grand Committee on 19 November 2013. What I said then has been justified by subsequent events in north Africa and elsewhere, and a few respectable commentators are beginning to suggest that we should be allowed to debate openly the nature of Islam and its likely effect on our future society. For instance, Professor Tom Holland suggested last week that the moral perfection of Mohammed should now be questioned, even if to do so is akin to poking a hornet’s nest with a stick.

It will be common ground in this national debate—if we can get it going—that the vast majority of Muslims live good and peaceful lives. However, when we refer nowadays to extremism, we usually refer to extreme or radical Islam. We do not refer to radical or extreme Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, the Sikh or any other religion. It is also true that much bloodshed, the dark side of our human nature, has erupted within and through Christianity over the centuries, even if its founder was wholly good. But not now; now that darkness is moving strongly within Islam. If we want to stand up to it, I suggest that we should start by talking about it and trying to understand it.

There are many verses in the Koran which justify jihad, so why do we go on pretending that Islam is a religion of peace? It does not help to reply that there is also much violence in the Bible because that is all confined to the Old Testament and orthodox Jews are not killing tens of thousands of innocent people on the strength of it.

When our leading Muslims do try to prove the peacefulness of the Koran, they are less than reassuring. Last September, 119 British imams wrote to the Independent newspaper to assure us that the decapitation of two of our aid workers in Syria was,

“nowhere justified in the Koran”.

To support this they quoted from sura 5 verse 32 thus:

“Whosoever kills a human being … it is as if he kills the entire human race”.

That sounds peaceful enough until you fill in the dots, which go,

“unless it be for murder, or for spreading mischief in the land”.

So the Koran actually says that you can be killed for spreading mischief in the land, which to the jihadists is simply not being a Muslim or helping the victims of their brutality. Is that the best that 119 of our leading imams can do? The very next verse—sura 5 verse 33 —details the punishment for those who spread mischief in the land, which is,

“execution or crucifixion or the cutting of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land”—

not exactly peaceful stuff.

In 2013, I mentioned the Muslim tenet of abrogation, whereby when there is contradiction in the Koran or in the example of Mohammed, the later verses or actions abrogate or cancel the earlier ones. This is a serious problem for our debate because the Koran and

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Mohammed became steadily more violent as he went through life and Muslims are enjoined to follow the Koran and Mohammed’s example.

Today I fear I should mention another tenet, al-Hijrah, by which Muslims are instructed gradually to subjugate their host societies to Islam. It comes from Mohammed’s example after he moved from Mecca to Medina in 622. When he had accepted his multifaith hosts’ hospitality for five years, and his new religion had grown sufficiently, he offered them the options of conversion, exile or death. He ordered the deaths of several hundred and Islam went on to conquer most of the known world. So is it not rather worrying that one of the Trojan horse schools in Birmingham is actually called the Al-Hijrah School?

Is it not also worrying that our Muslim population has grown some 75% in the last 10 years, up from 1.6 million to 2.7 million, largely concentrated in a few cities and with a third of it under the age of 15? The Government tolerate sharia law, under which a man can have four wives, many of whom are having disadvantaged children who therefore become food for jihad. If we cannot give them something better to live for, and if present trends continue, I fear that civil unrest lies ahead.

I repeat that a large majority of our Muslim population is indeed mild and peace-loving, but I suggest that they are not doing enough to stand up to their violent co-religionists. And why should they? It would be dangerous, and all they have to do is to proclaim that Islam is a religion of peace which the jihadists misinterpret. So have we become their generous hosts and are they now fellow travellers on their way to al-Hijrah, blindly supported by our well-meaning but ignorant political class?

We must somehow make it worth their while to reform their fearsome religion and we must support them if they try. To this end I have suggested before that the Government should facilitate and support a major Muslim council in this country which could clarify the meaning of Islam here and cast the jihadists out of that new Islam. Without some major initiative of that kind, I fear that the long-term future of our Judaeo-Christian culture looks bleak indeed.

7.57 pm

Baroness Byford (Con): My Lords, I am glad to be taking part in today’s debate on the gracious Speech, which links together home affairs, local government, energy, the environment and agriculture. It is the prime responsibility of any Government to defend and keep safe its people and feed its citizens. My main focus will be on agriculture. I should again remind the House of my family’s farming interests.

First, I wish to touch on local issues. I welcome the move to local approval of onshore wind farms. Large-scale developments that justify their existence on the basis of serving large numbers of households and enterprises have commonly been sited outside the large conurbations. For example, reclamation sites and large-scale incinerators are to be found in cities but much urban waste disposal is located in the countryside. The same is true of wind farms. I wonder whether the main reason they are banished is that they would upset too many people in

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the cities, although, if they were closer to the users of their power output, their efficiencies would be greater and would bring greater rewards to people locally.

Secondly, I support the Government’s moves to make it easier for those in rented accommodation to buy their homes. However, I listened with great interest to noble Lords’ contributions today and I will look very carefully at the details of the housing Bill when it comes before us. Ownership confers rights and responsibilities and tends to strengthen the sense of community in an area. However, in rural areas there are few if any large blocks of flats and social housing tends to be of the semi-detached or short terrace variety. Can the Minister tell me whether the Government have plans to ensure that any of those homes bought under their new right-to-buy proposal will attract a presumption against, for example, knocking two into one because obviously one would then lose yet another house in those areas? Will the Government allow for property bought under this legislation that comes up for sale within a given period to first be offered to the original owner at the original sale price, adjusted for any change in condition and movement on the house price index? I wonder, too, whether the house sales might have any restrictions on them; for example, looking particularly at rural needs. The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, spoke about needs or demands and he was quite right to do so because the whole point of these houses is to enable people to continue to work in rural areas.

If I might make another point on that, and particularly on the housing associations, over the years landowners have given and continue to give the value of their land to those housing associations. I wonder what the future will hold for that practice if people realise that actually that will not fulfil the original intention, which was made when the landlord gave original approval. As I say, I wait to see the detail of the Bill because we are still uncertain how that will work.

Turning to agriculture and horticulture, the food and farming industry is hugely important. It employs some 3.6 million people and was worth some £12.8 billion last year. It is crucial to the country’s economy. But we still produce only around 60% of our indigenous food and yields have not grown in the way that they might have done. As a consequence, we rely heavily on imports. I am glad that the Conservative Party manifesto included,

“a 25 year plan to grow more, buy more and sell more British food”.

We look forward to this strategy being launched before the end of this year.

Food remains the UK’s largest manufacturing sector—16% of the total—and the farming industry is the bedrock of that growth. But agriculture faces many challenges, both in individual sectors such as dairy, which has already been mentioned, and more generally, such as with European restrictions on the use of pesticides. Currently, however, the largest challenge is surely the failure of yet another attempt to computerise applications for farm payments. The difficulties affect all farmers, whether they head up a large estate or eke out an existence on a few hectares. I sympathise with them all—we are getting there—but I am particularly provoked by the plight of the small family enterprise,

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where every keystroke takes time away from the land, the animals or the farmer’s family. The accounts of difficulties are legion. The farming press is full of tales of completed applications that simply did not arrive with the authorities, even electronically; of others that arrived but were muddled with unrelated data; and, worst of all, of hours of labour at a keyboard that result in the failure of the transmission and the loss of all the data input with such care. But the use of science and technology is key to the future development of agriculture. This has been highlighted by other colleagues so I will cut my remarks, bearing in mind the time, but it is a huge challenge.

The other big challenge the industry faces is the whole question of global commodity volatility, which is a major challenge for all industries but particularly agriculture. I wonder whether the Government will take further the manifesto proposition to,

“allow farmers to smooth their profits for tax purposes over five years”,

rather than the current two years, which would give greater financial stability.

There are other ways in which the Government have made—and, I hope, will continue to make—a difference. Key to that is rural broadband. It affects all rural businesses. Earned recognition and a single farm inspection scheme would make a huge difference. The capital investment allowance is also a bonus, as is the support for some 50% of our small and medium-size businesses, which are based in rural areas. There is much more but I am well aware that my well-constructed speech has had to be torn in half today.

8.04 pm

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer (LD): My Lords, this Government have told us time and again that they have a long-term economic plan but they have been pretty silent on any environmental plan.

The issue I want to talk about is a big threat to our next generation—I think that is widely recognised—but it is also symptomatic of how economics have taken over from social and environmental issues. The issue I want to talk about is obesity and why the next generation are eating so badly that they are becoming either really obese or malnourished. We now have the worst overweight figures in the OECD. Why is that? I recognise that it is a long-term problem but it starts because the food system itself is broken.

Steve Hilton, David Cameron’s erstwhile adviser, was talking about this during the publicity for the publication of his book a couple of weeks ago. He says that taxpayer subsidies prop up an iniquitous structure rigidly set up in favour of “big food” and that those subsidies should be redirected to farmers and producers who are doing the right thing. I agree with him, but what a shame he did not say that when he was at the heart of government. The food sector is always siloed into one government department when actually it is a question of things that happen in Defra, the Department of Health and the Department for Education—it cuts across all departments. So what a shame he did not take advantage of his position while he had it.

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The food system is broken. At one end we have the producers producing excellent meat, fruit and veg who cannot make a reasonable living. The noble Lord, Lord Plumb, highlighted the dairy farmers. The noble Lord, Lord Curry, put it rather well, I thought, when he said that the farmers are those with whom the buck stops. Young, enterprising would-be growers cannot even afford the land upon which to start.

Of course, historically the choice was made to subsidise sugar production and not vegetables, and wheat but not fruit, and we have had to live with the results of that. But it is also a part of the system where manufacturers are creating processed foods that really have no nutritional value. Supermarkets are basically in a race to the bottom on cost and have found that the less nutritious food sells if you give it enough so-called mouth appeal—that is, sweet, salty foods. I am sure that noble Lords will be as shocked as I was by the Netmums finding that:

“Sugar is used in massive quantities by the food industry”.

The example given was Heinz Farley’s Rusks, which contain 29g of sugar per 100g. Those are for babies and nearly a third is sugar.

However, the answers are within our reach. One of the best moments for me of the coalition Government was when Nick Clegg, then Deputy Prime Minister, announced that the long-held Liberal Democrat policy of starting children off with a good nutritional input would become government policy so that proper school meals would be provided for every single infant school pupil for free. I hope that this Government will continue that drive to make sure that at least primary schoolchildren get that sort of start in life. Perhaps the Minister will reflect on the fact that while the Government are set on creating more academies and free schools, those children will be offered meals that do not have to measure up to any nutritional standards at all.

I was very saddened to read that the UK Government are now one of only three out of 28 in the EU to decline to take part in an EU scheme that makes the provision of affordable fruit and vegetables for schoolchildren a possibility. I wonder why the Government have declined to take part in that. We took part in the milk scheme that the EU ran and that has been amalgamated with the fruit and veg scheme. Of course, obesity is not just a UK problem and this is one example of the EU trying to give children a better start in life. Why would we not take part in that? We need a total overhaul of a broken food system which is ruining the health of our children and, at the same time, ruining countries far away.

I am sad, too, that the noble Lord, Lord Eden of Winton, is to leave this House because he is one of the few to have championed biodiversity and what is happening to the rainforests. In countries far away, the impact of the vast quantities of soya grown to feed our cattle and pigs is massive, when our home-grown grass for cattle produces a far healthier diet and meat of a superior quality. Those countries far away are losing their varied habitats to a monoculture, so we will miss the examples from the noble Lord, Lord Eden, of that sort of destruction.

The Government are consulting on the Human Rights Act. They should bear in mind that a decent environment in which to live is one of the most basic

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rights of all. Environmental protection, whether here or abroad, must be considered as part of human rights. Although there was no protection of the environment in the original 1949 European Convention on Human Rights, many other countries have since recognised its importance of in their fundamental laws. Notably, Germany added that in 1994, while in France in 2004 an environmental charter was added to the French constitution. We are approaching the 800th anniversary of the Charter of the Forest. We have talked a lot about Magna Carta, which was terrific for the barons, but the Charter of the Forest was what gave the person living on the land, and trying to make a living from it, some rights of their own against the encroachment of the King. It is time that we celebrated that 800th anniversary by thinking about environmental rights and putting them at the heart of what we regard as human rights.

8.11 pm

The Duke of Somerset (CB): My Lords, I cannot find “agriculture” in the Queen’s Speech but its first sentence speaks of legislating in the interests of everyone. The UK rural economy is in a precarious position, with the volatility now prevalent in commodity prices. Many rural businesses are unincorporated and have therefore not benefited from the useful cuts in corporation tax that have helped others, so I trust that the lock on the three main taxes—income tax, VAT and national insurance—will not lead to consequent increases in other business and property taxation. I declare an interest, as in the register, as an owner of rural land.

Many farmers have suffered badly from the failure of the £150 million computer system at the Rural Payments Agency. Few agricultural sectors are profitable, while some are barely sustainable, so the failure to make budgeted support payments on time will seriously impact farmers and their relationships with their bank managers. We know that, despite protestations to the contrary from the RPA, some farmers have not—or only very recently—received their replacement paper forms. The 15 June deadline which is close at hand coincides with a period of peak activity in the industry calendar. In addition, the agency is continuing the tradition of gold-plating, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, by demanding extra information on permanent ineligible features which have been easily dealt with in the past. Why are we burdening farmers and the RPA with this extra work at this crucial time? I believe that the basic payment scheme form takes about 10 hours to fill in, so can we be assured that the computer will work properly in 2016?

The Government have announced plans for a farm strategy initiative, which is greatly to be welcomed. I hope that it will put an end to the decades of vacillation and commit to effective measures to combat bovine TB, and produce a robust timetable for culls. Some 4,700 new herds were affected last year and 33,000 cattle compulsorily slaughtered. Why are the lives of one particular specie of animal—badgers—valued more highly than another—cows? They are surely equal, before any consideration of economic value, and should be treated as such. Fifty thousand badgers are killed on the roads; they are not endangered. Despite what the British Veterinary Association states, controlled

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shooting is effective and is routinely used to manage deer, foxes and rabbits without drama. If TB could be eradicated on the farm the remaining badgers could coexist with healthy cattle in a balanced countryside, to the benefit of all. However, this would need difficult decisions to be taken with a backbone, and with a strong explanation to the public as to why.

Many noble Lords will have experienced good mobile reception and fast broadband throughout remote parts of the rest of the world, so it is absurd that rural Britain has to suffer poor or non-existent services. All businesses, including rural ones, need a much better service. Ask HMRC why it made people fill in its forms online, or indeed the RPA. One of its directors has said:

“The new Rural Payments online service is the only way to claim your money this year”.

Is there a reason why the Queen’s Speech did not reaffirm the Budget announcement about delivering a universal service obligation on our internet providers? They need this stick to focus on the urgency of meeting delivery targets.

Leaving the EU will not benefit our farmers. It will not reduce the red tape or bureaucracy, nor is it likely to ease the nightmarish regulations and forms so loved by authorities. All our main political parties have indicated that they would reduce subsidies if left to their own devices. Such is the result of the increasing urban focus of politicians. Let us hope that the new farm strategy encourages domestically sourced agricultural produce to counter increasing imports and, most importantly, to enhance and bolster rural businesses.

I turn very briefly to forestry. The wider spread of diseases such as phytophthora in larch, and ash disease, is threatening our landscape. It is important that the Government pay attention to the importation of plants and timber from abroad, which is where these diseases largely come from. Checks and controls need to be strengthened if our countryside is not to be utterly altered, as it was at the time of Dutch elm disease.

8.18 pm

Baroness Newlove (Con): My Lords, first, it is a genuine pleasure to see my noble friend Lord Bates continuing on the Front Bench and in the Home Office, as I have got to know him very well in dealing with victims’ matters over the years. I also wish my noble friend Lady Williams well in her new role and hope she enjoys working in the Department for Communities and Local Government, as I did for two years.

It is also a great pleasure to take part in this debate today, in which my main focus will be on victims of crime. I was encouraged to hear the commitment by the Government in the gracious Speech to bring forward measures to increase the rights of victims of crime. As I know from personal experience, the impact of a crime is devastating; the ripple effect changes you and your family’s lives for ever. That is why victims of crime should have proper support and protection for as long as they need it. In some cases this will be for the rest of their lives. Such support should be given to victims as a right and not as a favour or concession. In the same way in which offenders have the right to a fair trial, victims should have the right to a fair chance of recovery.

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I therefore welcome the plans to introduce a victims’ law. It will be an important and a right step to put victims’ rights on a statutory footing. I look forward to knowing more about what the government legislation on a victims’ law will look like. For a victims’ law to make a real difference to victims, it must lead to a change in how victims are treated. It must not be something that simply sounds good on paper but is not worth the paper it is written on.

My recent review into how victims of crime were treated when they made a complaint found that it is not policies and procedures that make the most difference to victims, but rather how these policies are implemented. Victims want to be listened to, to be treated with sensitivity and respect, and to know who to go to when they have a question or a concern. In other words, it is the quality of the interaction between victims and every single person within our criminal justice system who they come across that makes a difference to their experience and ultimately will lead to a better recovery.

The needs of every victim of crime will be unique to them, and their default button will constantly shift on a daily basis from that in their lives previously. I remember waking up on 10 August 2007 as a wife. Sadly, that night, I went to bed a widow. Victims’ rights need to be respected and fully resourced to give them that support. A one-size-fits-all approach may work for agencies, but it simply does not work for victims. Nor do victims want a succession of different faces as they are passed from one agency to another. They want one person who can co-ordinate all the different things that they need from the moment they report a crime to well after the offender is sentenced.

Victims may need a very wide range of rights and support in order to recover from the impact of a crime. In addition to psychological support, they may need help with practical issues such as accommodation, finances and employment. A victim of crime may be unable to work through no fault of their own; or, as happened to me, they may lose the person who was the main breadwinner. I am anxious that the proposed changes to welfare benefits, including the benefit cap, should not add to the trauma of victims or make their journey towards recovery even harder.

I wait to see how the victims’ law will deliver more for victims than the existing Code of Practice for Victims of Crime. Under the code, for example, victims already have the right to make a victim’s personal statement and to ask to read it aloud, albeit that the small print says that the judge or magistrate can decline this request. So how will this be any different under a victims’ law? A victims’ law will make a real difference to victims only if it is accessible and enforceable. To make it accessible, victims of crime should have an advocate who can advise them of their rights and act on their behalf to ensure they receive them.

Offenders have a legal representative to ensure they secure their right to a fair trial and to support, so surely victims’ rights should be equally protected under a victims’ law—the scales of justice being equally balanced not only for those accused but for those victims against whom the crime was committed.

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Finally, I want to know how the victims’ law will be enforced. For instance, will victims of crime be entitled to legal aid, and what penalties or compensations will apply? So while I welcome the Government’s commitment to introducing measures to increase the rights of victims, I will be listening and watching with interest as to how these changes will formulate a genuine difference to victims’ experiences, rather than simply being changes to agencies’ policies.

I conclude with the words of my noble friend the Minister as he steered this Chamber through the Modern Slavery Bill, when he said:

“At the heart of … all our work is the desire to ensure that victims receive the protection and support that they deserve and which will help them to recover ... It is vital that we give them the confidence to come forward”.—[Official Report, 17/11/14; col. 240.]

I respectfully ask noble Lords to keep that train of thought in mind when looking at increasing the rights of victims, as I believe that all victims of crime deserve to be given the best protection and support. Rights for victims should be our first thought, not an afterthought.

8.24 pm

Baroness Henig (Lab): My Lords, I want to speak about policing, both in terms of what is promised in the Queen’s Speech and how that will impact on police activity and effectiveness, and about one or two significant gaps in the proposals. In doing so, I draw your Lordships’ attention to my interests as listed in the Lords register.

We are promised an early policing and criminal justice Bill, and I would very much like to welcome one of its objectives—to reduce the amount of time that police officers currently spend dealing with people with a range of mental health issues, and to ensure that such people have more appropriate safe places in which to be detained than police cells. Such measures are long overdue and have my strong support. However, at the same time, the Queen’s Speech makes it clear that the public sector will continue to bear the brunt of the Government’s austerity policies, which inevitably will lead to further cuts to police budgets.

My knowledge of economics is not extensive, but I know that the public expenditure cuts of the past five years have resulted not in a reduction of government borrowing, but in a massive increase to a level nearly 70% higher now than in June 2010. So much for continuing the work of bringing the public finances under control. So far this has lost us 17,000 police officers, many from the front line. How many more thousands will soon be sacrificed to the false god of austerity, and will we still retain a viable and resilient police service?

We know that what the public value above all else from the police is good, consistent neighbourhood policing, which is the bedrock of the British model of policing, and I cannot see how forces can continue to deliver this on the severely reduced budgets they can expect in the next few years. It is officer intensive, and needs continuity of personnel to be effective, and forces will struggle to provide it. But I want to be constructive in this debate, and to make three suggestions which might help to protect neighbourhood policing and preserve those basic ingredients of the British policing model which people value so highly.

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My first suggestion arises from the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, where it is proposed that a directly elected mayor would take control of policing—and, I assume, would be able to raise significant funding locally to pay for local policing initiatives and priorities. I am speculating a bit here but, given the level of financial autonomy that Scotland will surely soon receive, I cannot believe that our English regions and future metro mayors will settle for less than an equally significant level of devolution of financial powers from the Treasury. We already have directly elected police and crime commissioners in place, albeit elected on abysmally low electoral turnouts and, to be consistent, surely the same principles should be applied. Surely police and crime commissioners should be able, having consulted and received the support of a majority of people in their force area, to raise the local police precept by more than the 2% currently allowed. This would be a way of injecting much-needed funding directly into the safeguarding of neighbourhood policing, and would underline the local accountability side of policing in England and Wales.

If the Government are not able or willing to persuade the Treasury to lessen its vice-like grip on police spending to that degree—and I suspect that that might be the case—maybe my second suggestion might be more welcome. Can we really continue to sustain 43 separate forces? Scotland has one, Northern Ireland one, and there have been proposals to combine the four Welsh forces into one. Is it not time to revisit the strong case put several years ago for a restructuring of the present 43 forces into 10 to 12 strategic forces, so that neighbourhood policing can continue to be delivered in the same way as now, but enhanced and supported by a more strategically focused provision of support and protective services above it? Such rationalisation could deliver not just significant efficiencies but substantial savings that could be ploughed back into policing.

My third suggestion is to expand the number of partnerships between the police and the private security sector. I know that the police and the public are wary of the privatisation of policing, as many see it, and I understand that, but there are many areas in which the private sector is already working very cost effectively with the police, and targeted collaboration will be one way in which the police can reduce some of the burdens they carry and make some savings. There are already some promising initiatives under way—the long-standing Project Griffin and, more recently, the police and security group initiative, which has just started between the Metropolitan Police and representatives of private security.

If such collaboration is to flourish, senior police officers and the public have to feel able to trust private security companies, and at present we know this is not the case. This, of course, is why so many of us in and around the private security industry have been calling for business licensing of companies so that criminality is rooted out of the sector, and that standards, pay and working conditions are driven up. The Government promised four years ago to introduce business licensing of private security companies but failed to deliver. A number of busy people wasted a lot of time in endless meetings which led nowhere, and businesses were not able to plan properly, not knowing whether business licensing was coming. I hope we will not see the sorry

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saga repeated in this Parliament. We can be fairly certain that business licensing will be introduced in Scotland, where the Scottish Government already require that public sector contracts can be awarded only to security companies that have approved contractor status, and I would not be surprised if Northern Ireland follows Scotland. I hope the Minister can tell us whether business licensing will be introduced in England and Wales and give definite dates because without such licensing the police will continue to be wary of working more closely with the private security sector.

If business licensing of private security is introduced, I urge that it covers private investigation businesses. Private investigators cover a wide range of inquiries relating to fraud, employee theft, the suspected infidelity of partners and missing people, and their opportunity to pose a serious threat to individual people if they act unscrupulously is, as we have seen in the past few years, very great. A former president of the Association of British Investigators shocked me recently by reminding us that it is still perfectly possible for a paedophile who has been released from prison to set up an agency to trace missing children. This has happened, and it cannot be right. So much for safeguarding children. How much longer will it be before the Government honour the Home Secretary’s pledge to license private investigators?

I hope some of the suggestions I have made to fill the gaps in the Queen’s Speech in relation to policing may receive sympathetic consideration from the Minister when he answers the debate later this evening.

8.33 pm

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD): My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, on his excellent maiden speech, with which I agree. It is a great privilege to take part in today’s debate on the gracious Speech. Having just been re-elected to South Somerset District Council, local government continues to be very dear to my heart, and the provision of adequate, decent and affordable housing is a key role of local authorities. As has already been said, there is a chronic housing shortage in the country today. This has built up over a number of years and is now critical.

I understand the Prime Minister’s wish to increase home ownership and extend the right to buy to housing association tenants, but I fear his promise has serious flaws and will do nothing to alleviate the housing shortage. This view is shared by housing associations and a number of organisations concerned with the housing market.

The Chartered Institute of Housing believes that extending the right to buy to housing associations will not tackle the housing crisis and could make things worse for those on lower incomes already struggling to access a decent home at a price they can afford. It would have an impact on both housing associations and on local authorities, as councils would have to sell off their most valuable homes to fund replacements, as has already been said. The Government have said that replacements for both housing association and council homes sold under the extended scheme would be built in the same area, but this will be heavily dependent on land availability and will therefore be extremely challenging in some inner city and rural areas.

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I represent a very rural area where providing affordable housing is particularly challenging. There are examples of communities working to provide affordable housing under the rural exception scheme, allowing green-belt land to be used and retained in perpetuity for people with local connections. The right-to-buy plan would seem to be entirely incompatible with this scheme. New occupants of rural exception schemes could be guaranteed a financial windfall and, at the same time, affordable homes would be lost to the community. Right to buy has seen many homes in rural and coastal communities sold and often not replaced.

In response to a letter from a constituent writing about affordable homes, the Prime Minister said:

“The fine details of this proposal have yet to be worked out but I have certainly taken on board your desire to ensure that affordable developments in rural communities of less than 3,000 people continue to be exempt from the Right to Buy”.

Right to acquire does not currently apply to rural communities with fewer than 3,000 homes. Right to buy is also currently not applied to sheltered, supported or adapted housing. Could the Minister give reassurances that rural communities will indeed be exempt from this extension to housing association tenants and provide clarity on the continuation of this practice? Similarly, the National Housing Federation has said:

“We fully support the aspiration of homeownership, but this policy does nothing for the 11 million private renters and three million adult children living at home with their parents. If there is £22.5 billion of public money available for housing, we should use it to build homes the next generation needs, not just gift it to the lucky few already housed in housing association homes”.

It goes on:

“An extension to the Right to Buy would mean that housing associations are working to keep pace with replacements rather than building homes for the millions stuck on waiting lists”.

These views are also shared by the Local Government Association.

Funding apart, it is a significant challenge to replace homes sold due to the constraints of acquiring land and planning consent. Historically, right to buy has led to the replacement of one home for every 10 sold. While the proposed Bill signals changes to freeing up brownfield sites and planning, there will always be a time delay in any replacement.

Many homes sold under right to buy are subsequently sold on, and often become private rentals at a higher rent than the previous affordable one. These properties are frequently poorly maintained and the additional rent often funded through housing benefit. This is a double whammy for the taxpayer, who is providing two subsidies, one through the discounted purchase price and the other through housing benefit. This cannot be right.

8.39 pm

Lord Sheikh (Con): My Lords, Her Majesty, in her most gracious Speech, said that measures will be brought forward to promote social cohesion and protect people by tackling extremism. Any proposed provisions will affect the Muslim community, so I will focus my comments today on issues relating to our community. I wish to make several points about the Muslim community, and I ask that your Lordships kindly permit me to speak for more than seven minutes. I hope to speak for about 10 minutes.

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There are more than 3 million Muslims in the United Kingdom, and they have contributed significantly to Britain in all walks of life. We must remember and respect the positive aspects of British Muslims. There are Muslim philanthropists and entrepreneurs, and we also have successful Muslims in the professions, politics, academia, in the media and on the sports field. Having said that, I realise that Muslims are going through a critical phase, and there are problems associated with some sections of the community.

Muslims have been severely criticised in some quarters. Some of the criticism is not at all justified but is either deliberate or based on misunderstandings. We have been and are subjected to Islamophobia in some parts of the media and by a few politicians and organisations—I believe they have their own agenda. The attacks on us are now regular, and some people feel that it is fair game to have a go at Muslims.

I have been active in community and charitable work for many years, and am a patron of six Muslim and non-Muslim organisations. I founded and chair the Conservative Muslim Forum, which is now an active and robust organisation. I was approached by several Muslim leaders to look at the current problems affecting the Muslim community, and have decided to be actively involved with the Muslim community and work out solutions. I have researched many statistics, but as the time is limited I will mention just three findings. Some 75% of Muslims believe that they are integrating into British society, whereas only 47% of British people opine that they are doing so. Muslims in Britain are overwhelmingly young, and the performance of some Muslims at schools is low. Some 46% of British Muslims live in the most deprived 10% of areas in the United Kingdom.

Over the past year I have travelled to various parts of the country and talked to leaders of mosques, imams, heads of community centres and members of the community. About two weeks ago I was the keynote speaker at a gathering of more than 2,000 Muslims in Birmingham, many of whom spoke to me afterwards. I have now identified a number of issues, which total 23 points, and have prepared a report on them. I do not have time to mention them all today, but I will state five—radicalisation, education standards, lack of engagement with the young, deprivation, and the Prevent strategy not being effective.

I have been asked by several Muslims to make it known to the Government that they have not engaged adequately with the community. I, too, feel that that has been lacking. We feel that the Government should do more to interact with the right people, look at the various problems and help the community to take positive actions. In addressing the problems we need the involvement of the Muslim community, the Government, the police, schools, local authorities and the relevant agencies. We are trying to raise awareness that there is also an onus on the Muslim community to be honest and realise that there are problems, and to take positive actions to remedy the issues as part of a holistic approach in conjunction with others.

In assessing radicalisation we must realise that this has been partly brought about by the actions of the West, including the United Kingdom, overseas. The action of a tiny minority of the young in being radicalised

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could be born out of frustration, but we must do what we can to allay these feelings. When the United Kingdom, together with the United States, decided unilaterally to invade Iraq, there was no adequate plan for action to be taken after Saddam Hussein was toppled. A vacuum was created that led subsequently to violence, death and destruction, and to al-Qaeda in Iraq taking root in the country. It also created a severe rift between the Sunnis and the Shias.

We bombed Libya without an adequate plan to be implemented after Gaddafi was got rid of. We invaded Afghanistan without realising the consequences. In future, the United Kingdom must have an adequate plan and think of all the consequences and implications before glibly invading any territory. We also have double standards when looking at the issues of Gaza and Palestine, and this is causing disquiet among Muslims. We need a more balanced and equitable approach to these issues, and we could begin by recognising Palestine as an independent state.

Over the last year we have seen the rise of ISIS—or Daesh, as I prefer to call them. What they are doing is not at all Islamic, and their interpretation of our glorious religion is totally wrong. It is imperative for the imams, Muslim leaders and parents, together with everyone in the community, to explain to the young the true values of Islam. In order to combat radicalisation, we must also use social media effectively to block information that unduly influences young people, and to convey the true message of Islam. Both the media and politicians should not refer to terrorism as Islamic, because Islam does not permit terrorism. They must use appropriate language. The word jihad is misused, as jihad involves internal and external struggle to do one’s utmost for good.

In deciding on measures to combat extremism, we must undertake extensive and balanced research. The Government must understand the challenging issues facing the Muslim community. The Prevent agenda has created some problems and needs to be reappraised. Some have even described it as toxic. Sometimes, the Government are ill advised in taking action. For example, I was told that the letter written to mosques in January of this year by the right honourable Eric Pickles was not well received by some members of the community. I agree that counterextremism measures must be firm, but they should not be fierce and should not alienate the community. The Government must win the support of the Muslim community and must not be seen as the big brother wielding a stick. Otherwise, we will get a negative reaction. We must also respect freedom of speech, as we in this country take pride in our democratic values. The Muslim community will listen and take appropriate action, as part of the holistic approach we need to implement.

I understand that measures may be introduced such as banning orders, extremism disruption orders and powers to close premises. I suggest that before any powers are approved and implemented, adequate research and consultation with the community should be undertaken. The community will co-operate if there is appropriate engagement. We need to be very careful before interfering or applying any form of restriction on the activities of Muslim charities, which do very valuable humanitarian work across the world.

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Finally, I would like to make the further point that we need to look at other issues concerning the community, including the education of the young and deprivation. I will be taking part in the proceedings on the proposed legislation and will make suggestions where I feel that these are appropriate.

8.49 pm

Lord Green of Deddington (CB): My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of Migration Watch UK.

Noble Lords will not be surprised that I welcome the Government’s commitment to control immigration and their ambition, as they describe it, to reduce net migration to tens of thousands. Time is very short, so I will keep this speech to four minutes and will focus on three of the main consequences if the Government were to fail in achieving their objectives and their ambition: population, infrastructure and, especially, housing.

As far as the population is concerned, we are now 65 million in the UK. On current trends, that will rise to 70 million in seven years’ time and to 80 million in 25 years’ time. These are astounding figures. They are based on the present level of 300,000 net migration. In this Parliament alone, our population will increase by 3 million.

What does that mean for infrastructure? These additional millions are bound to require a whole range of infrastructure—hospitals, homes, schools and so on—at the very time that government departments are being asked to reduce their budgets more than ever before. Where on earth will the money come from for this infrastructure?

Lastly, I turn to housing. The discussion about housing is almost always about supply, not demand. I notice that four or five, if not more—maybe six or seven—noble Lords have spoken about housing and it has always been about supply. In the past five years, the number of households headed by a person born overseas—that is, by an immigrant—have increased by an average of 115,000 a year. That is 78% of the net increase in households. Surely it is blindingly obvious that an important means of tackling the housing crisis is to reduce immigration and therefore demand, and it is strange that so few people are prepared to say so.

What can the Government do to bring immigration under control? Of course, you have to divide the figures into non-EU and EU. As far as non-EU migrants are concerned, the picture is stark. Since 1998, arrivals have virtually trebled from about 100,000 a year to 300,000, but departures are pretty well flat at not much more than 100,000. We therefore have to redouble our efforts to ensure that migrants leave when their visas expire, especially—dare I say it?—students. I know that that is a matter of real concern for many of the vice-chancellors and so on in this House. However, the fact is that they have been arriving in the UK at an average rate of about 150,000 a year, but those who are recorded as leaving amount to 50,000, so somewhere there is a huge gap of 100,000 people. Some will stay on legally but we have to recognise that many will do so illegally, and that is why I think the Government are right to make the latter much more difficult.

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That leaves EU migration, which is of course an entirely different story but it accounts for very nearly half of the intake. Negotiations have barely begun but it is no exaggeration to say that the Government’s success or otherwise will determine their ability, and that of all future Governments, to control our borders.

Finally, let us recognise that failure to bring immigration under control would eventually undermine our social cohesion and, indeed, our sense of nationhood. It would also undermine—seriously, I believe—confidence in our political system, which for far too long has turned a deaf ear to the genuine concerns of a very large majority of the electorate.

These issues can no longer be ducked. A focused and constructive discussion based squarely on the facts is absolutely essential, and I hope that it will take place in this House.

8.54 pm

Lord Framlingham (Con): My Lords, I want to speak about a subject that is not specifically mentioned in the Queen’s Speech but is very relevant to large parts of it: trees, particularly urban trees.

Trees give us their grace and beauty. They improve our air quality, particularly in inner cities, by taking in our carbon dioxide and giving us back their oxygen. They give us shelter and shade, act as barriers to noise and dust, resist flooding, cool our cities and even help to calm traffic. In short, they massively improve the quality of our lives. Whether in building new housing developments, large or small, giving Battersea power station a new lease of life, or massive projects such as HS2 and the huge environmental impact that they are bound to have, it is vital that protecting existing trees and the careful selection, planting and establishment of new ones is given the highest possible priority.