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House of Lords

Wednesday, 3 June 2015.

3 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Norwich.

Oaths and Affirmations

3.02 pm

Several noble Lords took the oath or made the solemn affirmation, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Police and Crime Commissioners


3.10 pm

Asked by Lord Harris of Haringey

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to give additional powers and responsibilities to police and crime commissioners.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Bates) (Con): My Lords, we will develop the role of our elected and accountable police and crime commissioners to shape policing services to local needs and priorities, as they are now doing in commissioning victims’ services, setting out policing priorities and driving reform. During this Parliament we will set out further proposals to enhance collaboration between police and fire authorities.

Lord Harris of Haringey (Lab): My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his Answer. Given that these police and crime commissioners are elected and accountable and were the flagship policing reform of the Conservative Government, what is the objection to allowing them properly to set the budget of the police service in their area? Why is there an arbitrary cap of 2% on the increase in the precept that they are allowed to impose?

Lord Bates: There is a limit because we have to control expenditure. However, the noble Lord makes a very fair point, which is that these are elected and accountable individuals. In Bedfordshire, for example, under the rules permitting a referendum to take place, there was a referendum on raising the precept beyond 2%. That was defeated by two-thirds to one-third just last month on a 65% turnout. I think that demonstrates that we support that principle.

Lord Tomlinson (Lab): My Lords, as the Government are going to bring forward proposals laying down minimum turnouts in strike ballots for trade unions, does the noble Lord have any proposals to establish minimum levels of turnout to establish the legitimacy of police commissioners?

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Lord Bates: I just mentioned a turnout of 65%, although of course I accept that that turnout occurred in a referendum. The noble Lord will appreciate that particular circumstances arose in the first police and crime commissioner elections, which took place in November. The role is now established. The England and Wales crime surveys found that awareness of police authorities is 7%, but awareness of police and crime commissioners is 63%. I believe that that will be reflected in the turnout next year.

Lord Deben (Con): Does my noble friend accept that this has been a remarkable success and that some of us who were antagonistic to the idea at first have now learnt through our own experience—mine, for example, in Suffolk—that this is a very good way of ensuring that the public have greater control over the part of policing that they should control? Therefore, we should thank the police commissioners for the work that they are doing.

Lord Bates: My noble friend is absolutely right and I absolutely agree with him. That is not just the opinion of my noble friend. The Home Affairs Select Committee has said that police and crime commissioners,

“have provided greater clarity of leadership for policing within their areas and are increasingly recognised by the public as accountable for the strategic direction of their police forces”.

That seems a pretty good endorsement.

Lord Blair of Boughton (CB): My Lords, I take this opportunity to welcome the Minister back to his position. Your Lordships will be aware that there is a certain amount of controversy in the Minister’s party about the judicial relationship between Strasbourg and London, which may in the future concern the voting rights of prisoners in Her Majesty’s prisons. Will the noble Lord assure the House that the Government will not permit those in prison custody to vote in elections for police and crime commissioners now or in the future? Given the historic low turnout, that might be described as a new and unique form of insider dealing.

Lord Bates: The noble Lord is absolutely right. Of course, he tempts me with one of those wonderful spinning balls to the off stump, and I wonder whether I ought to play it. The Government have made their position absolutely clear on voting rights for people who have fallen foul of the laws of this country and have been imprisoned for that purpose. We believe that there should be no change in that purpose.

Lord Paddick (LD): My Lords, according to Police Professional magazine, the Home Secretary is so fed up with police and crime commissioners setting performance targets that she has asked the head of the Police Superintendents’ Association to conduct a review. Can the Minister please tell the House if police and crime commissioners cannot be trusted with performance-managing the police, what is the point of having them at all?

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Lord Bates: Well, they do set the policing plan. But this is one of the things that the Home Secretary has made very clear. When she came in, there was a plethora of targets and quotas that had to be addressed. She said, “Listen, as far as the police are concerned, they have one target and that is to cut crime”. I think that all good police and crime commissioners should follow that example.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP): My Lords, the Minister mentioned that these police and crime commissioners are accountable. In fact, the reports coming in from the police and crime panels, which are charged with holding the police and crime commissioners to account, suggest that they are underresourced. Will the Government consider funding those panels rather better than they are at the moment?

Lord Bates: The funding of the panels and the offices of the police and crime commissioners is a matter for the police and crime commissioners, which they must do and for which they must be accountable in their plan to the electorate.

Lord Rosser (Lab): My Lords, first, I congratulate the Minister on his promotion, which is certainly well merited. Bearing in mind that this appears to have happened in some instances last year, do the Government regard it as being within the existing powers of any police and crime commissioners to prevent or seek to prevent their chief constables from signing a letter likely to go into the public domain expressing concerns about their ability to maintain public safety within their existing or proposed budgets?

Lord Bates: I would obviously need to look very closely at the example which the noble Lord gives. I do not have it, in fact. But we would take that very seriously. It is important to recognise that while police and crime commissioners are of course accountable to the public, they are also accountable and available to be scrutinised by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. If there were claims of undue influence of the type that he has alluded to, that would be one route. But I would be happy to look at further details if he wanted to share them with me.

Baroness Trumpington (Con): My Lords, is the Minister aware that in New York the police are forced to take part in physical training classes in order to be fleet of foot? Do the splendid, lovely and noble police outside the Peers’ Entrance have to take part in similar classes in this country?

Lord Bates: I have to be careful about passing judgment on anybody’s fitness. I was aware that the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police had called for an increase in the rigour of the fitness test for police officers, and I am sure that will be taken notice of.

Lord Wasserman (Con): My Lords—

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Lab): My Lords—

Lord Bew (CB): My Lords—

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The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Stowell of Beeston) (Con): My Lords, you are testing me today. This is a difficult one. I think the best thing to do is to move on to the next Question.

United Nations: Secretary-General


3.19 pm

Asked by Baroness Falkner of Margravine

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the candidates and process for appointing the next Secretary-General of the United Nations.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con): My Lords, while the United Kingdom is aware of prospective candidates, we have a policy of not revealing voting intentions in the Secretary-General selection process. We believe that the process would benefit from greater structure and transparency. The UK is therefore supporting moves to set clear deadlines for candidates to declare themselves and for the selection to take place, to encourage greater public scrutiny of candidates and to promote more applications from women.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine (LD): My Lords, I congratulate the UK Government on having moved somewhat in a progressive direction, certainly more than France has, in terms of Matthew Rycroft’s moves in this regard. However, does she agree that a selection process needs to be set up, that we need to do away with regional assignments for the role of Secretary-General and, most importantly, that more than one candidate should go forward to the General Assembly for selection? Does she also agree that after 70 years of male domination, it is time for a female candidate to be put to the General Assembly because international peace and security is far too important to be left to only half the human race?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I agree with that last statement. Certainly, if a job represents the interests of the world, people cannot exclude half the population. It is high time for a woman to lead the United Nations but of course we need credible candidates and it has to be an appointment on merit as well. With regard to having more than one candidate, a General Assembly resolution in 1946 established that it would be desirable for the Security Council to nominate only one candidate. We are at the start of a process where we look for allies around the United Nations to ensure that the next process is transparent and fair.

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab): My Lords, the Minister, whom we welcome back, has set out an admirable list of objectives. We hope that perhaps FIFA, when it comes to its choice, will have a similar list of objectives. Can she tell us whether the other countries are ready to support those objectives, or will they continue in the old mode of regional rotation?

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Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I did not take up the noble Baroness’s reference to regional rotation because of the requirement to give just two answers but we are not in support of regional rotation as a matter of course. It may be that a region has been underrepresented for some time and therefore it is appropriate to look at the candidate for that region but the appointment must be on merit. With regard to the next process, we are already seeking to win over support and it is clear that there should be the opportunity for civil society and NGOs to take part in some of the early process.

Lord Dubs (Lab): My Lords, I congratulate the Government on the position as described by the Minister this afternoon, which would represent an enormous way forward from the present system. Would she apply that principle to other senior posts at the United Nations, not just to the Secretary-General?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, good practice is good practice and one should seek to spread it wherever one can. There is certainly a way in which one should subject other senior appointments to scrutiny as well. We are undertaking work—I am being very careful in how I phrase this—on United Nations reform, on which I am having a meeting later this afternoon. I know that I have a tough road ahead but I have certainly got the right boots on and I am going to walk it.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD): My Lords, the United Kingdom has access to two very useful networks at the United Nations: the European Union and the Commonwealth. Can we be assured that it is working very closely with its partners in both those networks, to make sure that there are concerted views, and that the need for effective diplomatic leadership from the new candidate is one of the clear criteria which we push?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I can give that assurance.

Baroness Morgan of Ely (Lab): My Lords, have the Government given any thought to the possibility of introducing a longer single term for the next Secretary-General of the United Nations, to relieve the new incumbent from the pressure of re-election?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, it is always difficult for an unelected House to talk about trying to extend the elected terms of others, so at the moment we want to concentrate on providing a process that is transparent and fair while encouraging women to feel that they should come forward. However, I should say that our process of policy-making on this was given a very good helping hand by the views put forward in this House earlier this year, and we should take credit for that.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, since there is still a second, can I press the Minister to say whether she believes that the inclusion of Australia and New Zealand in the western European bloc—in

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other words in the category of western Europe—is appropriate, given that apparently one of the strong female contenders is from New Zealand?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, the United Nations has its own way of defining regions but I come back to my earlier point that regional rotation is not of itself the first port of call. Naturally, I would never seek to comment on particular candidates.

Housing: Brownfield Sites


3.24 pm

Asked by Lord Greaves

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they will take to encourage the use of brownfield sites in the North of England for public and private housing developments.

Lord Greaves (LD): My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name, and remind the House of my relevant registered interests.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con): My Lords, we intend to require local authorities to have a register of available brownfield land that is suitable for new homes. This Government intend to create a fund to unlock sites on brownfield land for additional housing. We will continue to support the regeneration of brownfield land through a range of measures, including by announcing £200 million to help create housing zones outside of London and releasing enough public sector land for more than 150,000 homes by 2020.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, the Government’s enthusiasm for this cause is very welcome but, in areas such as mine in east Lancashire in the north of England, the problem is that we have low house prices and therefore low rent levels, and the return from building new houses simply does not cover the costs of remediation and other costs of building on brownfield sites. Do the Government understand that the need is not just for the provision of loan funding to get this off the ground but for gap funding to cover the difference in the cost between providing the houses and what you can actually sell or rent them for?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I certainly appreciate the issues in the north-west of England. I am sure that the noble Lord would join me in welcoming the initiative by the previous leader of Pendle Council, Councillor Joe Cooney, to have a £1.5 million brownfield investment fund to address some of those issues around clearing sites in order to build housing.

Lord McKenzie of Luton (Lab): My Lords, the Minister referred to the brownfield regeneration fund, which of course is to be funded by requiring local authorities to sell their most expensive council houses

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as they become vacant. The proceeds of these sales are also earmarked for the right-to-buy discounts for housing associations and to replace the houses that are sold. It is understood that “expensive” properties for this purpose are to be the most expensive one-third of properties with the same number of bedrooms. Will this be determined on a national, regional or more local basis, and will it require the sale of council houses in rural areas?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords agree with me that councils have an obligation to manage their assets, and divesting themselves of some of their most expensive assets obviously allows them to invest in housing to that end. I will get back to the noble Lord on his point about rural housing.

Baroness Byford (Con): My Lords, what size of holdings do local governments have on brownfield sites? Will this be made available to government departments as well? There must be many brownfield sites which could be used, which would save building on the very precious green belt.

Baroness Williams of Trafford: It is estimated that there is £370 billion of assets in the public estate, of which £170 billion is owned by local authorities. We anticipate that, between private and public investment, we will be able to deliver 275,000 affordable homes by 2020.

The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, the low levels of value in the north of England—the north-east as much as the north-west—have already been noted. Does the Minister recognise that one incentive is the possible creation of jobs and apprenticeships in things like bricklaying, plumbing and so forth, which we are desperately in need of in our region and in the nation as a whole?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: The right reverend Prelate makes an excellent point. Because of the speed and the size of housing development—indeed of construction in general—we now find ourselves needing to upskill those people who we need to do those jobs through apprenticeships, as he says, and through other initiatives. This is what lies behind the idea of the northern powerhouse—that the north will play its part in economic growth, as well as the south of England.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass (Ind UU): My Lords, is there any initiative by the Government to help local government to identify and deal with pollution on brownfield sites so that their development might be made easier?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, there is a £1 billion brownfield fund for that very purpose—to make land ready for development—because one thing that holds it back is often contamination, as the noble Lord says. Also, in assisting developers and local authorities, we are asking local authorities to produce a brownfield register. To that end, we hope that 90% of available land on the register will have planning permission by 2020.

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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton (Lab): My Lords, would the Minister care to comment further on the question from the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, about the difficulty of encouraging development in areas where the return for those developing on brownfield sites is hindered because rents and sale values are low? Where will the money come from to help areas such as Lancashire?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I have just outlined that the brownfield fund should help—but housing zones should also help. Those are zones on brownfield land on which housing is especially suitable to be developed. Having the register will make that information easily accessible, and the fund will help to clear some of the difficult sites. By the same token of the land values being low, the construction is quite often cheaper.

Lord Elton (Con): My Lords, much is written about the tendency of private development firms to buy and bank greenfield sites and not to develop them. Is there a similar danger in the development of brownfield sites and, if so, can the Government take steps to avoid it?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, the Government have made it clear that, in terms of affordable housing and the right-to-buy market, they expect land that is developed to be built on within three years—and, if it is not, it will go back to the HCA, which will itself develop it.

Lord Whitty (Lab): My Lords, will the Minister accept that it is not just the availability of land that is preventing the creation of new affordable housing, particularly in the social housing market? We have a pathetic record of council house building, and the finances of housing associations will be further hit by the right-to-buy proposals. What is the level of the Government's ambition in creating social housing over the coming few years?

Baroness Williams of Trafford: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord when he says that they have a pathetic record, because certainly under the previous Labour Administration only one house was built for every 170 sold on. He also asked about our aspirations; they are based on the trajectory that we have achieved so far, which means that we will build approximately 200,000 houses per year by 2020 if we keep on the way we are going.

Childcare: Early-years Funding


3.33 pm

Asked by Baroness Pitkeathley

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how their proposed plans to increase free early-years childcare will be funded.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education (Lord Nash) (Con): My Lords, our current estimate is that this will cost around £350 million, to be delivered from reducing the tax relief on pensions for those earning more than £150,000 a year. We want to

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make sure that funding is sufficient to providers and fair to taxpayers. That is why we have committed to increasing the average funding rate, and to get this right we will hold a funding review. Details of this will be announced before Second Reading on 16 June.

Baroness Pitkeathley: That is very good news to the House, but is the Minister familiar with the remarks made recently by the chief executive of the Pre-School Learning Alliance? He said:

“Just about everybody that you talk to who has an ounce of knowledge about delivering childcare will tell you it is underfunded”.

He went on to say that,

“the Government … has no idea how much it costs to deliver childcare”.

In the light of those comments, can the Minister assure the House that the Government do know how much it costs and that essential childcare services will be properly funded?

Lord Nash: I assure the noble Baroness that we will be taking this extremely seriously—that is why we are funding the review—and we will protect essential services.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Lab): My Lords, what measures will the Government take in delivering this, on the whole very welcome, initiative to ensure that those who are actually providing the childcare are properly paid and properly managed?

Lord Nash: We will have extensive consultation with the sector and discuss the rates to ensure that we strike the right balance between the right rate for the providers and fair value for the taxpayer.

The Earl of Listowel (CB): Does the Minister recognise that the research clearly shows that high-quality early-years education has long-term benefits in terms of educational and other outcomes for children? In his proposed changes, and particularly with the concerns about funding, will he ensure that we continue to give the highest-quality childcare to our young people?

Lord Nash: The noble Earl is quite right about the research, both in this country and abroad, which shows the overwhelming benefits of high-quality early-years childcare. It is essential that we maintain that quality.

Lord Christopher (Lab): My Lords, will the noble Lord define “fair value to the taxpayer”? I have no idea how you measure that. It sounds to me very much like a useful escape clause.

Lord Nash: The Conservatives in the previous Government demonstrated very clearly what they mean by “running the country efficiently” and “value for money”.

Baroness Hussein-Ece (LD): Will the Minister give an assurance that there will be monitoring of whether children from the most disadvantaged families are able to benefit from this scheme?

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Lord Nash: We are particularly focused on children from the most disadvantaged families—that is why we introduced the funding for two year-olds from disadvantaged families. This is very much part of the drive behind the policy.

Lord Grocott (Lab):My Lords, in responding to my noble friend’s question about getting some clarity in his wording, the Minister gave another definition which was even less clear than the first. As he clearly cannot answer the question at the moment, can he help the House by giving us a written reply with a clearer definition of what is meant by “happiness”, “joy”, “fairness”, or whatever other phrase he wishes?

Lord Nash: Much as I would be delighted to enter into a lengthy correspondence with the noble Lord on those rather esoteric matters, I shall not do so. It is clear that we are at the start of a negotiation between the Government and funders and we need to make sure that the funders are able to provide a good service without making too much profit. I am sure the party opposite will be delighted to hear that.

Lord Winston (Lab): My Lords, I do not feel that the Minister has answered that question entirely clearly. In the previous Session, the Government cut the funding for Sure Start. Sure Start was clearly shown and validated by Jay Belsky and others at University College London to have a major impact on social cohesion, to prevent certain crimes as children grew older, and to have some benefits for education as well as for cohesion in families. There are measures that can seen, and it seems a pity that that funding was cut. Can the Minister assure us that that will be relooked at so that re-funding can be considered?

Lord Nash: Under the previous Government, over the past five years, we increased the provision of childcare by 230,000 places since 2009, and the sector is thriving. We are determined to make sure that every working parent has the opportunity to have affordable childcare.

Lord Teverson (LD): My Lords, I very much welcome the Government’s commitment in this area—one of the most important areas where we can progress social inclusion over many years. As I understand it, however, the Government’s proposals are for working parents, which suggests that both parents have to be working. Can the Minister assure me that the definition of “working” will not be so tight that it excludes those—for instance, many of the self-employed—who perhaps find it difficult to prove their incomes to other authorities such as mortgage providers?

Lord Nash: I can give the noble Lord the assurance that we will not be trying to exclude anyone who should qualify for this with any clever wording in the way that he might be suspicious of. We will provide more details in due course but we are aiming this particularly at parents who want to do a bit more work and find that the cost of childcare prevents that.

Lord Lexden (Con): How many families do the Government expect will benefit from their proposals?

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Lord Nash: There are up to 600,000 families that could benefit. Obviously the number that actually benefit will depend on the take-up and the precise numbers of those who are already paying for this, although they too will benefit because although there will not be an increase in provision they will have their existing provision funded.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton (Lab): My Lords, will the Minister please give the House an assurance that, in looking for value for money for the public purse, the Government will also have regard to those people working in the sector having not only the right opportunities for training and professional development but themselves having an income that is justifiable in terms of them being able to have a living-wage life?

Lord Nash: The noble Baroness makes an extremely good point about the importance of the workforce in this sector. If we are going to provide the right quality of provision, we need to ensure that their interests are protected.

Recess Dates


3.41 pm

Lord Taylor of Holbeach (Con): My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I make a short statement about recess dates up until the autumn. To save Members reaching for their diaries, I can say that a note of all the dates I am about to announce will be available in the Printed Paper Office in due course. I stress that I make this statement with the usual and, at this stage in the Parliament, very necessary caveat that each of these dates is subject to the progress of business. They are provisional.

We will rise for the Summer Recess at the end of business on Wednesday 22 July. We will return for a September sitting on Monday 7 September and rise again at the end of business on Thursday 17 September. That sitting will include a Friday sitting on 11 September. The House will then return after the party conferences, on Monday 12 October.

Direct Planning (Pilot) Bill [HL]

First Reading

3.42 pm

A Bill to make provision about direct planning pilot schemes; and for connected purposes.

The Bill was introduced by Lord Lexden, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Chancel Repairs Bill [HL]

First Reading

3.42 pm

A Bill to make provision for ending the liability of lay rectors for the repair of chancels; and for connected purposes.

The Bill was introduced by Lord Avebury, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

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Public Advocate Bill [HL]

First Reading

3.43 pm

A Bill to establish a public advocate to provide advice to, and act as a data controller for, representatives of the deceased after major incidents.

The Bill was introduced by Lord Wills, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Road Traffic Act 1988 (Alcohol Limits) (Amendment) Bill [HL]

First Reading

3.44 pm

A Bill to amend the Road Traffic Act 1988 to lower the prescribed limit of alcohol in relation to driving or being in charge of a vehicle; and for connected purposes.

The Bill was introduced by Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Gambling (Categorisation and Use of B2 Gaming Machines) Bill [HL]

First Reading

3.44 pm

A Bill to make provision about the categorisation and use of B2 gaming machines; and for connected purposes.

The Bill was introduced by Lord Clement-Jones, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Queen’s Speech

Debate (5th Day)

3.44 pm

Moved on Wednesday 27 May by Baroness Bottomley of Nettlestone

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:

“Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament”.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach (Con): My Lords, I remind the House that, in order that we might finish at a reasonable time this evening, there is an advisory time of six minutes on contributions to this debate.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education (Lord Nash) (Con): My Lords, it is an honour to be asked to speak in support of the gracious Speech this afternoon, and a privilege to be back in

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government. I look forward to the many valuable contributions I know noble Lords will make during the course of this debate, and I also thank my noble friend Lord Freud, who will be winding up today.

Her Majesty the Queen underlined the core principles of the programme of legislation set out in the gracious Speech, which is,

“a clear programme for working people, social justice, and bringing our country together”—

as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said—

“a One Nation Queen’s Speech from a One Nation Government”.

Today’s debate brings together four key topics: health, welfare, culture and education. All are vital to a strong economy and a secure future for our country.

The Government’s vision is for a modern NHS that provides high-quality, joined-up care for patients seven days a week. We welcomed the NHS Five Year Forward View, a plan developed by the NHS for its own future. It shows that the NHS can continue to make dramatic improvements, but only if it continues to implement important reforms and is supported by a strong economy.

The Government are committed to securing the future of the National Health Service. We increased spending in real terms every year in the last Parliament, and we will increase it in real terms every year in this Parliament, too, rising to at least an extra £8 billion a year by 2020. The Government are also committed to ensuring that patients have consistent, high-quality hospital care, which means all those services patients need urgently, or to get the same standard of care as they would during the week, being available on Saturdays and Sundays. The Government are committed to ensuring that people with mental health problems can get the right care at the right time, and we are committed to integrating health and social care through the better care fund, which enables better joined-up care, closer to home.

Work is the best route out of poverty, and the Government will continue welfare reforms that help people into jobs, make work pay and deliver fairness for the taxpayer. It is essential that the welfare bill is sustainable and is fair to the taxpayer. The Government will therefore introduce a full employment and welfare benefits Bill, which will freeze working-age benefits and lower the benefit cap to strike the right balance between incentivising work, fairness for working households and supporting the most vulnerable. To fulfil our commitment to have the highest employment rate of any major economy we are also introducing statutory duties to report annually on full employment, the creation of apprenticeships and the progress of the troubled families programme. We will introduce a package of measures to further reduce youth unemployment by providing young people with the support they need to gain employment.

We will continue to increase the basic state pension through the triple lock, and support saving by introducing the new state pension above the basic level of the means test. We will give people the freedom to use their pension savings as they want, and to pass them on tax-free. Those measures together strike the right balance between work incentives, fairness and ensuring a safety net of support for those who need it.

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By driving growth and enriching lives, the Government will also make Britain a great place to live, work and visit. We will build on the strength of our cultural and heritage institutions, keeping our major national museums and galleries free to enter, and securing the protection of our heritage sites. We will also continue to support tourism in this country, boost sport in our communities and build on our Olympic and Paralympic legacy.

A free media are the bedrock of an open society, so we will continue to defend the operation of a free press and deliver a comprehensive review of the BBC royal charter, as well as supporting our world-leading creative industries. We will also take action to protect children online by requiring age verification for access to all sites containing pornographic material and age rating for all music videos. We will enable economic growth by securing the delivery of superfast broadband to provide coverage to 95% of the UK by the end of 2017, and by releasing further public sector spectrum to the private sector. We will also ensure that mobile coverage is boosted, including by holding the operators to their binding agreement to provide coverage to 90% of the UK by 2017.

In the last Parliament, we strengthened the academies programme, building on the trail blazed by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. Since 2010, our sponsored academy programme has meant that sponsors have taken on more than 1,100 failing and struggling schools. There are many examples of such transformation up and down the country, such as Charter Academy, in Portsmouth, sponsored by ARK since 2009, which has been totally transformed. Some 83% of pupils achieved five good GCSEs, including in English and maths, in 2014, compared with 22% in the school’s last year before becoming an academy five years earlier. Queen’s Church of England Academy, in Nuneaton, has been sponsored by the Diocese of Coventry Multi Academy Trust for just over a year. In that time, a record improvement in the school’s SATs results saw the percentage of pupils achieving level 4 and above go from just 19% in 2013 to 70% in 2014. Wyndham Primary Academy, in Derby, sponsored by the Spencer Academies Trust, has seen a spectacular increase in results. In 2014, 90% of pupils achieved the expected level in reading, writing and maths, up from 64% at the predecessor school in 2012. In 2014, 70% of pupils at the Ryecroft Primary Academy, in Bradford, sponsored by the Northern Education Trust, achieved the expected level in reading, writing and maths, up from 43% at the predecessor school. Outwood Academy Portland, sponsored by Outwood Grange, has seen results increase from 41% of pupils achieving five good GCSEs in 2011, to 76% in 2014. REAch2 Academy Trust sponsors the largest number of primary academies in the country. Results in seven of its schools have improved by more than 20% since joining the trust, and across the trust REAch2 schools have improved on average at three times the rate for the national average.

We want to build on these and many other success stories, and bring about that dramatic improvement in standards to many more schools. There are still too many pupils in failing schools, and we have seen many instances of obstruction and delay, where a sponsored academy solution is needed to bring about improvement. Indeed, the average time it takes for a school to

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become a sponsored academy is 13 months, and that is just too long. Every day a school spends in special measures is a day too long for its pupils. Sadly, these delays are often about putting the interests of adults ahead of the interests of children, preventing pupils in those schools from getting the quality of education they deserve. The Education and Adoption Bill will strengthen our ability to deal with failure much more swiftly by making it clear that for any school that Ofsted has judged inadequate, there must be a sponsored academy solution.

Downhills Primary School, in Haringey, was a high-profile case in which a national union-backed campaign put up barriers to the process through a series of repeatedly unsuccessful appeals and reviews, causing ongoing delay to our transformation of a school that had been failing pupils for more than a decade. Under the sponsorship of Harris, the academy group sponsored by my noble friend Lord Harris of Peckham, the school has been judged by Ofsted as good with outstanding leadership, and reading, writing and maths results have soared by a quarter. The Education and Adoption Bill will give us new powers and will help to prevent these obstacles in future, including by requiring governing bodies and local authorities actively to progress and facilitate the conversion of failing schools into academies.

The Bill also provides new powers for us to intervene in not only failing schools but coasting schools—those that consistently underperform and do not support their pupils to make the progress they should. We will now be able to identify additional support for these schools—for instance, from national leaders of education. Where necessary, we will be able to progress academisation for these schools, bringing in new leadership where it is needed.

To be clear, this Bill will not impact on schools that are performing well or on schools that are already on a good trajectory of improvement. In schools where head teachers have the capacity to improve sufficiently, have a credible plan and are working effectively with their governors to make progress, we will give them the time to do that.

Your Lordships will know that reforming schools so that every child, whatever their background, has the best possible chance in life is a major priority for this Government, as well as being my personal passion. I look forward to debating these important reforms with your Lordships and will ensure that draft regulations and guidance, including on the definition of coasting schools, are available before the Bill reaches your Lordships’ House.

We spent significant time in this Chamber considering adoption during the passage of the Children and Families Bill. Since then, there have been significant improvements in the adoption system. These include: establishing a national Adoption Leadership Board, bringing together leaders from across the sector; investing £200 million in local authorities and a further £17 million in the voluntary adoption sector; and launching a £19.3 million Adoption Support Fund to provide therapeutic support for adopted children. All those things have led to significantly more children finding

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permanent, loving homes through adoption. The number of adoptions has increased by 63% in the last three years. Children are also spending less time waiting to be adopted, with the average length of time between coming into care and being placed with a family down by nearly four months, according to the most recently published quarterly data.

However, it is still the case that the adoption system is highly fragmented, with most agencies operating on a very small scale. This prevents children being matched quickly with the best parents for them, and it means that support services are not commissioned on a sensible scale. This is starkly illustrated by the 3,000 children who are still waiting, despite there being enough approved adopters.

That is why the Conservative manifesto committed to the introduction of regional adoption agencies. These agencies will work on a much larger scale, across local authority boundaries, to match children without delay. We want to work with local authorities to deliver these, providing financial and practical support, and we have been delighted with the enthusiastic response with which our proposals have been met from across the sector. However, if some local authorities are unwilling to rise to the challenge, government needs a backstop power that can be used to direct local authorities which do not get involved voluntarily. That is why we are bringing this legislation forward now.

As I have mentioned and as we discussed today at Questions, a core principle of this Government’s programme of legislation is a clear programme for working people and families. The second Bill—the Childcare Bill—will extend one of this Government’s most successful schemes by doubling the number of hours of free childcare on offer to working parents of three and four year-olds to 30 hours per week. The two year-old entitlement remains for the most disadvantaged of families so that every child, regardless of background, has a fair start in life.

The additional hours for working parents of three and four year-olds will be implemented from September 2017 but, in confirming the Government’s commitment to support working families with the costs of childcare, on Monday the Prime Minister announced plans to introduce the changes for some families a year earlier than planned, with some areas offering the new, additional 15 hours from September 2016.

It is important that the hourly rate for the childcare entitlement strikes the right balance between being fair for providers and delivering value for money to the taxpayer. To get this right, we will conduct a review of funding for the entitlement, and the Government have committed to increase the average amount per hour by which each free place is funded.

The Government understand how important childcare is to parents and families and we have already made more high-quality provision available for parents through our reforms, introduced 15 hours a week of free childcare for disadvantaged two year-olds, legislated for tax-free childcare and given families flexibility and choice.

The gracious Speech sets out a clear programme for taking this country forward. It is no doubt challenging and ambitious but this Government are committed to achieving it. I welcome the debate today on these important matters.

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3.59 pm

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab): My Lords, it is a great pleasure to respond on behalf on the Opposition. I start by declaring my interest as president of the Healthcare Supplies Association and of GS1. As we are discussing culture, I should say that I am also a patron of the CBSO and the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group.

We have once again heard from the Minister the extravagant claims made by the Government for this year’s Queen’s Speech. We are told that they will adopt a one-nation approach, support aspiration and give new opportunities to the most disadvantaged. I have to say that, listening to the Minister, I hear scant evidence of that in the subjects that we debate this afternoon.

Although economic growth is returning, its benefits are not being shared, the economy remains fragile, Britain’s productivity lags behind, tax revenues have fallen and the trade deficit is growing. The Government’s claim to bring the public finances under control is surely inconsistent with the many uncosted pledges in their manifesto. Who can doubt that the price to be paid for that irresponsibility will fall heaviest on the very disadvantaged people that the Government claim to want to help? That certainly characterises the Government’s welfare policies. We of course will back measures to help people get into work. However, it is now even more important that there are decent jobs for people to move into, that childcare is affordable and available, and that there are adequate funds for discretionary house payments; otherwise, the Government’s reduction in the cap will, tragically, put children into poverty, increase homelessness and end up costing more than it saves.

On welfare, the overriding question is where the promised £12 billion of welfare cuts will fall. The Government have been silent on this; not surprisingly, since they are clearly in disarray about what to do. Wherever the axe eventually falls, inevitably it will be on the independence of disabled people and on working-age families, who will face an even tighter squeeze in the years ahead. It is hardly inspirational to further penalise working people who are in receipt of welfare subsidies because their pay is so poor. I ask the Minister to listen to Steve Hilton, Mr Cameron’s former adviser. He said recently:

“It is outrageous that people should work all hours of the week and still have to live on benefits because they don’t get paid enough”.

He said that it is,

“a really big problem both economically, socially and morally”.

Quite, my Lords—quite.

On education, we will hold the Prime Minister to account for his latest promises on free childcare for 3 and 4 year-olds. The rhetoric might be promising, but the reality is that children’s centres have closed and the cost of childcare has soared. The average family now pays £1,500 more per year for nursery fees than it would have done in 2010. The National Day Nurseries Association says that fees will rise to subsidise the cost of free places because the Government have miscalculated

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the costs. The noble Lord, Lord Nash, was hardly reassuring on this in his Answer to an Oral Question earlier.

Talking of value for money, it is surely a scandal that, with a severe school place shortage in many areas, the Government are ploughing hundreds of millions of pounds into building new free schools in other parts of the country where there is already a surplus of places. As Simon Jenkins put it, it is all on a par with their,

“covert project to nationalise all schools”.

New primary and secondary schools, together with those schools defined by Whitehall as failing or coasting, are to be brought under regional tsars. It seems to me that that is all on the basis of the rather selective evidence that we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Nash, this afternoon. The latest centralising absurdity is the intention to remove the duty to hold a public consultation before a school converts to an academy. So much for parental involvement, of which the noble Lord’s party made so much in the years behind.

The noble Lord, Lord Nash, did mention culture this afternoon, and I am grateful for that. However, he will have noted that the Queen’s Speech was absolutely silent about the brilliance of the cultural heritage of this country. I wonder whether that silence reflects the way that support for the arts has been decimated by this Government, both directly through Arts Council funding and indirectly through the impact of reduced local authority support.

Perhaps, too, that silence reflects the threats made by the noble Lord’s party to the BBC. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Freud, will say in winding up that the long-term future of the BBC as an independent and vibrant organisation is assured. Already, it has suffered a budget cut of about 25% since 2010. The rush to decriminalise non-payment of the licence fee and cut funding further is bound to impact on the quality and range of programmes.

There can be no doubt that many arts organisations face huge pressures. I will take as an example the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, which I know best. In very difficult circumstances, the city council has done its best to protect funding, but, inevitably, there has been a loss of grant. With all the imaginative fundraising in the world, an orchestra such as the CBSO is now very vulnerable, as are many of the best arts organisations in our country. I would like the Government to encourage the Arts Council to do more to redress the imbalance in funding between London and the rest of the country. I remind the Minister that the 2013 report, Rebalancing our Cultural Capital, showed that per capita spend in London was 15 times that of the rest of the country, and I ask him what the Government are going to do about it.

So there is silence on the arts in the Queen’s Speech, and I rather thought that the Government might have liked to keep silent on the NHS. The Minister has no doubt read, as I have, the recent King’s Fund independent analysis of the wretched 2012 health Act. It concluded that it had produced an unwieldy structure, with leadership fractured between several national bodies, a complex regulatory system and a strategic vacuum in leadership. It is on that rocky ground that the Government now

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promise the integration of health and social care, implementation of the five-year forward plan, seven-day working, more resources for mental health and more funding generally—at least until the Secretary of State said yesterday that no more was needed.

How is integration of health and social care to be achieved when social care continues to take such a heavy burden in local authority cuts? Does anyone believe that the hapless clinical commissioning groups will take any notice of pleas to spend more on mental health? They certainly have not done so far.

No one could argue with the desire to reduce higher mortality rates at weekends, but is a true, seven-day working model deliverable given the scale of the financial challenge in the NHS, which is formidable? Already, we have seen performance deteriorating. The four-hour waiting time target for major A&E departments has been missed every week for nigh on two years. Cancer waiting time targets have been missed for five consecutive quarters. Ambulance waiting times have deteriorated. Lack of access to GPs is a source of considerable public concern. It was reported that 160,000 patients in the last two years have had to find new doctors because their practice has closed. Seven-day working in hospitals needs seven-day working in the community. How is that to happen when primary care is under so much pressure at the moment?

We know that employment agencies are taking the NHS to the cleaners, and the Government have belatedly acted by placing a cap on payments—I think that they found that the free market does not seem to work—but is not the real cause of agency overspend the lamentable decision that the noble Lord’s Government took to cut nurse training places? What are they going to do about it?

Seven-day working is hardly credible without recognition of the financial consequences. We had a provider deficit of nearly £1 billion in the last financial year; it is now estimated to double in the current financial year. The Minister mentioned the mystical £8 billion, but that is promised for 2020. It is clear that the NHS needs resources now, and it is clear that the £8 billion is credible only if the NHS drives up its efficiency to a level never achieved before. I would like to hear in the Minister’s winding-up speech exactly how he thinks that is going to be done without impacting on safety and quality of patient outcomes, remembering that clinical staffing costs are the biggest spend in the NHS budget.

The Government have such little confidence in their stewardship of the NHS that they are refusing to bring any NHS legislation to Parliament. Because of that, the professional accountability Bill, which is a Law Commission measure to enhance public protection through professional regulation, has been killed off. The Royal College of Surgeons has warned that one consequence will be that doctors will continue to perform cosmetic surgery without the necessary additional training or qualifications. Why is that going to be allowed to happen?

The Queen’s Speech certainly does not want for rhetoric. However, we shall judge the Government on their ability to deliver so that the benefits of economic growth are enjoyed by all rather than just the wealthy;

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that welfare policies will support rather than penalise working-age families; that schools and teachers will be encouraged to do their best for young people; that the huge contribution of the arts is recognised and appreciated; and that the NHS will be properly funded to respond to the extraordinary pressure it is under.

From these Benches we will be rigorous in our scrutiny of the legislative programme. We have made clear that, within the bounds of the convention, we will not hesitate to seek to defeat the Government when the occasion demands.

4.11 pm

Baroness Walmsley (LD): My Lords, in stark contrast to its emphasis in the gracious Speech, the NHS was one of the biggest issues in the recent general election, with an auction of all sides promising increased funding. The Conservative Party promised to provide all the money the NHS needs to carry out its five-year plan and yet, as we have just heard, we have had no details of where this money is coming from and we still have not. This has to be the biggest question to be asked today and I hope the Minister will be able to answer it.

Our health service is the envy of the world and is precious to all of us. We on these Benches are proud of our record on health in government, in particular the contribution of Paul Burstow and Norman Lamb on mental health. I will leave further comment on that subject area to my noble friend Lady Tyler of Enfield. Suffice it to say that we will continue to scrutinise the Government’s plans in this Parliament.

The NHS is only as good as the quality of its staff and management and there are major problems ahead. Nigel Edwards, the NHS chief executive, recently said:

“The NHS needs to hit very ambitious efficiency targets, at the same time as fundamentally changing the way care is delivered and moving to a seven day service. That can only be done if it has the right staff in the right places. Yet there are not enough staff to fill gaps in key areas, and we are seeing clear signs of stress and disengagement”.

This must be addressed. There is a demographic time bomb waiting for us, with doctors, nurses and midwives nearing retirement without an adequate supply in the pipeline. It is all very well promising 24/7 GP services but there are not enough GPs now. Patients in some areas wait weeks for a GP appointment. No wonder they resort to A&E. How will the Government monitor how HEE plans to train the staff needed to fill this yawning gap?

Qualifications are also an issue, especially among care workers. The Liberal Democrat manifesto called for a Bill to regulate the qualifications of health and care professionals. This would improve patient safety as well as reduce the burden and cost of an outdated regulation regime. Does the Minister recognise the need for this and have the Government any long-term plans to address the issue?

The Conservative manifesto promised integration between health and social care and yet the gracious Speech was silent on the matter. The pressure on hospital beds has made this matter all the more urgent. The first section of the Care Act began its implementation last month. Can the Minister say whether it is going according to plan, and what are the plans to learn lessons to ensure that phase 2 goes well?

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Every relevant patient has an entitlement to a care assessment but how portable are these across the borders between England and Wales and England and Scotland? I happen to be a resident of Wales and have in the past year had experience of the health service in both England and Wales. Although my own care has been good, it is horrifying for residents of Wales to read every week of the failings of the Labour Welsh Government and poor standards of care and extended waiting lists. We even have calls for the inspection system to be scrapped and a health board to be put in special measures because of terrible failings in the treatment of elderly, vulnerable people at the Tawel Fan unit. That is just the latest of many problems. This is of course a devolved matter but if the problem is funding the people of Wales will want to know if a fair amount of the proposed increased NHS funding announced by the Government will come to Wales. They will hold the Welsh Labour Government to account for spending it all on health and for spending it wisely.

There are serious cross-border issues which should be of concern to the Westminster Government as well as to the devolved Administration in Cardiff. The House of Commons Select Committee on Welsh Affairs rightly maintained that access to healthcare should be on the basis of need, not which side of a border you happen to live. Yet Welsh patients referred to English hospitals have had their treatment delayed, regardless of their clinical need, because the Welsh Government wanted to save money. That cannot be right. What assurance can the Minister give me that the Government will work with the Labour Government of Wales to prevent this discrimination against Welsh patients?

Of course, it is often wise to invest in order to reap rewards later and health is a very good example of the truth of this rule. Health promotion and sickness prevention programmes must go hand in hand with treatment of disease. Indeed, the undoubted pressure on the NHS could be alleviated if there was more focus on health education and on ensuring that everyone has a safe, warm home and access to good fresh food. Both of those are causes of ill health. These issues are now mainly devolved to Public Health England and local health and well-being boards. Will the Minister say how the Secretary of State will use his mandate to ensure that the NHS is a health service and not a sickness service?

There has been much talk in recent days about the use of agency nurses as part of the debate about privatisation in the health service. From my point of view, delivery of services to everyone free at the point of delivery is the absolutely top principle. In order to ensure the best interests of the patient, if this can be delivered in a small minority of cases by a private organisation, that is acceptable as long as it provides good value for the taxpayer and gives no advantage to the private company over NHS providers.

Agency nurses are not the answer and neither is a cap on their remuneration. To me, the crucial challenge is the quality of management and planning within the NHS, the public service. I was recently in a ward with two patients and nine members of staff. That was poor planning when the procedures concerned were elective

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and not emergency. At the same time, there were other wards where the staff were run off their feet. Hospitals which plan their staffing well make little use of expensive agency nurses. It is fashionable for some politicians to make a big thing about cutting managers and increasing the number of nurses and doctors but I believe we must not forget that good management allows the nurses and doctors to do their job better. That has to be our aim in the interests of the patients.

4.18 pm

Baroness Emerton (CB): Seven lines and one word in the gracious Speech summarise the programme to be undertaken by the Government, behind which lies a tremendous amount of work, as set out in the forward view programme for the NHS. It sets a formidable number of changes to be effected by many currently in post, requiring tenacity of purpose in the management of change, which is set out clearly. Again, there is no mention of where the money will be found.

The public want the NHS to succeed. It is very precious to everyone. That is recognised by the Government, who included it in their manifesto and in their five-year forward view programme. But the plans to create a first-class NHS are facing many difficulties. Having been involved in the NHS since 1953, I can recall similar agency nursing problems, staffing issues and winter pressures, to name but a few, but the NHS has survived—and survival is what is required now.

Survival is dependent on professionals pulling together, and on every single employer and employee in the health service. Breaking down professional and organisational boundaries under good leadership will provide the public with the evidence-based care that is safe and of the highest possible quality. This requires investment in leadership preparation for front-line practitioners from the top management roles to first-line management—right the way through the organisation—as well as investment in research, revisiting the NHS constitution, the nurturing of staff, and the establishment of a culture of care values so that everyone appreciates the care being given.

How can I talk about investing when so many cutbacks are being planned? I believe that vast sums of money can be saved if we look at the various ways forward, particularly in the area of waste in the NHS of food, drugs and equipment.

I wish briefly to raise three things on behalf of the nursing and midwifery workforce. The first is safe staffing levels, which remain an issue and were of concern during the previous Government, although much progress has been made. However, there is remaining uncertainty that requires more work in order to provide guidance that will ensure the highest-quality patient care that is funded to agreed levels. This will involve accurate workforce planning so that rates of admission to training are sufficient to meet needs.

The cuts in intake over the past three years have resulted in the lowest level of qualified nurses entering the profession for the past 10 years. Interestingly, the drop in intake seen over the past three years and today’s entry to the professions equate to the escalation of agency fees in the past three years. This, of course, presents financial problems, and perhaps the funding

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of nurse education should be revisited with regard to NHS grants and a possible change to the loan system, as for all other students in higher education. This idea caused considerable controversy in the professions when people began entering nursing graduate training professions, but the grants system continued.

We need to overcome the very high rate of employment of agency nurses and midwives, which is not only expensive but uneconomical. There is lack of continuity of care and in many cases a consequent delay in the discharge of patients. Radical action must be taken in order for workforce plans to equate with patient demand. This work must be done by Health Education England, NICE, the financial bodies, NHS England and the Nursing and Midwifery Council in consultation with the professional bodies, staff organisations and employer organisations.

The functioning of the regulatory body for nurse midwives and health visitors has been the subject of criticism over the time it has been taking for the fitness-to-practise system to consider cases from start to finish. There is great disappointment that the Law Commission Bill that was expected this Session has not been included. This is causing considerable problems. The changes would allow for a faster and more efficient process and save money for the overstretched NMC budget, as well as the part met by nurses’ fees. For too long, the NMC has suffered the criticisms of the fitness-to-practise system, and now there has been criticism of the supervision of midwives. These issues need to be addressed as soon as possible through legislation so that the NMC can reduce the time for the fitness-to-practise systems to be worked through and allow the NHS to address the supervision of midwives.

Two important pieces of work are being carried out: one, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Willis, is to look at the shape and future of care reviewing, and the other, by the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, is to look at midwifery. One report is out for consultation and both look to the future. I hope that the Minister will be able to take account of this. Where there is a will there is a way, and I believe that NHS staff have the will to do the care that is required, provided that resources are made available.

4.25 pm

The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, the stated intention of the Education and Adoption Bill is to,

“give all children the best possible start in life”.

Of course we all want this, so we must scrutinise carefully whether the proposals on adoption will produce it for children for whom adoption is the best route. Given that some of the most successful adoption agencies are small, localised ones, care will need to be taken in any move to regional agencies—which certainly has its strengths—so that the smaller agencies’ special skills and experience are not lost, particularly as they are often the most effective at placing and maintaining adoptions of the most hard-to-place children. Durham Family Welfare in my own area is a fine example.

Childcare, we all recognise, is vital to ensure the best start in life. For most children, the very best childcare in the early years is given by the child’s own

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parents. The bonding and trust that is built is vital to long-term well-being. Nothing replaces the love of parents in the healthy development of a child. The extension of childcare offered to 30 hours a week must not create the impression that both parents, or the single parent, must go out to work. There is no harder, more socially valuable or more important work given to those able to have a child than raising that child well.

For many, though, work will be wanted or necessary, so increased provision in childcare is welcome, provided that the quality of what is offered is high. This can happen only with properly trained staff paid at a decent rate. The living wage for childcare workers needs to come in soon. It will be important, too, that the wide range of provision available is not reduced by the 30-hour allowance. Much childcare is provided in premises such as church halls, where an extension of hours by this much may not be possible. We need to take care that some of the highest-quality provision does not get lost in the extension of hours. I also ask whether it is appropriate for extended provision to be free for those on higher wages, who are well able to afford their childcare.

I welcome the inclusion, in the full employment and welfare benefits Bill, of the troubled families programme. Its success in helping families and children in difficult circumstances has been impressive. Since the programme also appears to deliver savings to the public purse, the case for its continuation is strong. Indeed, I urge Her Majesty’s Government to adopt a similar joined-up, personalised approach to helping individuals with multiple and complex needs.

Some of the preparatory work has already been done. Simple Change for Troubled Lives, rather than troubled families, is a recent publication by Framework housing association. It offers a blueprint for a troubled lives strategy. I commend it to your Lordships as a document that can be read quite quickly and summarised in five key actions: first, the extension of the troubled families programme to at least 60,000 individuals with most complex needs who need intensive long-term assistance; secondly, to ensure that others with multiple and complex needs have full assessments under the Care Act; thirdly, to ensure that people with multiple and complex needs have suitable housing; fourthly, to engage them in structured activity, leading wherever possible to paid work; fifthly, to align the various activities of government in this area so that they complement, rather than conflict with, each other.

The coalition Government made firm commitments to improve the help offered to people with multiple and complex needs as recently as the 2014 Autumn Statement and the 2015 Budget. I hope and pray for a strategy to deliver.

I have to express concern that the best start in life for every child will not be best served by freezing child benefit and child tax credit for the poorest families, particularly those in low-income work. Therefore, I support the proposal from the Children’s Society and others that child benefit should be excluded from the benefit cap as it is intended to support the costs of raising the child; it is not simply income to the parents. I also fear the long-term impact of more children being moved into poverty through the benefits freeze.

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Child poverty has long-term impacts on the health and development of those children, creating long-term increased costs for the whole of society. There is a danger of achieving short-term gain but long-term cost.

Child poverty is not remedied simply by child benefit, of course, but it is one important brick in the wall alongside preventing family breakdown, good education, helping people into good, meaningful work and tackling debt and addiction issues, which are recognised as critical to eradicating poverty in which children are caught. We all want the best start in life for every child in our nation. There is much to scrutinise in the proposals in the gracious Speech that affect the lives of children. We need to be assured by the Government that their proposals will truly give the best start, when it appears on first reading that some may well do so while others may actually harm children.

4.31 pm

Lord Fowler (Con): My Lords, I congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his speech and welcome my noble friend Lord Prior to the Front Bench. We very much look forward to his contributions.

In opening the debate on the gracious Speech, my noble friend Lady Bottomley was kind enough to recall a period when I ran a department that covered both health and social security. One result of that is that I have a certain trade union solidarity with the two Secretaries of State who now carry those responsibilities, particularly when it comes to public spending and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. If my experience is anything to go by, Cabinet discussions on public spending go something like this. Ministers in other departments unite in saying, “We must tackle this social spending, grasp the nettle, kill the sacred cows”, and, worst of all, “It is just a matter of presentation”, the implication being that people will rather enjoy having their benefits cut.

However, if you go forward a few weeks to discussing the actual savings to be made and you put forward proposals such as the abolition of the universal Christmas bonus and the death grant, which at that stage cost more to administer than to pay out, the reaction is, “No, no, no”—and that was just from the then Prime Minister. The poor old Secretary of State is left trying to find savings in a smaller and smaller pool, because it was already the rule that pensions and help for the retired could not be touched. That remains the case today. If we believe the reports that we have heard this week, we are now to be constrained by a pledge not to fundamentally tackle child benefit.

Benefits for the over 60s and over 65s, such as the cold weather allowance and bus passes, march on untouched. We cannot even put an age qualification such as 70 or 75 on the bus pass. I declare an interest in that those two age limits would exclude many but not me. So I am not going to lay into the Secretary of State, who has a difficult task, but I will just say this: to announce £12 billion of cuts without saying where they will fall is a perilous venture—I could put it more strongly. Certainly, in my day, the Government would not have got away with such an approach; Michael Foot would have been on to us in a moment.

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More importantly, I challenge the assumption, as I did 30 years ago in my social security review, that the elderly are by definition those most in need. Some are, but some are certainly not. I am equally concerned about the position of poor families with children, hence my proposal for a family credit. My hope is that any reductions in spending should proceed from an analysis of need. We should also make as much progress as we can with universal credit, which I think is one of the great pluses of this Government.

Turning very briefly to health, a whole range of issues fill the newspapers daily, from cancer treatment to the promotion of better health, but above the individual issues is the crucial financial question of how all this can be afforded; we have touched on this in the debate. The Secretary of State says that for the immediate future, and with the extra resources going in, the National Health Service should be able to manage, and I believe him. What I am not convinced about is whether in the decades ahead we can go on in the same way, financing health predominantly from general taxation. We should be clear about the consequences of this protected policy. Inevitably, public spending in other areas will be reduced. The Treasury will have to look elsewhere for economies. It will have to look at reducing spending on the police and on defence—incidentally, reversing the priorities of the Thatcher years.

There may be no option but to follow that course, but before we settle on it we should look at the options of financing health. I emphasise that the present model may be best, but let us at least look at the other options and set them out. That does not commit us, the Government or anybody else to a particular course, but it allows a foundation to be built upon which we can base policy. For example, we should look at whether a separate health tax has some advantage in connecting the public more directly with the cost of health. We should look at some kind of health insurance along the lines of what is done in France or Germany and see whether that is practical. We should look at whether patient charges could make a greater contribution, and we should look at whether the private sector could make a meaningful contribution to the training of the health staff it uses.

Those are all difficult questions and there is only one time they can be properly addressed: at the beginning of a new Government with five years to go. I would favour a royal commission, which incidentally was a private proposal made to me by Lady Thatcher, but one that was demonstrably independent, working openly and relying on the skill of organisations such as the IFS and the King’s Fund. The aim would be to show the options, to inform not just the Government but the public. In my view, we have a once and for all opportunity to carry out such an investigation. Timing is everything and that timing is, frankly, now. We will not be forgiven if we ignore that opportunity.

4.38 pm

Lord Bragg (Lab): My Lords, I will speak on the arts and broadcasting. Over the past 70 years there has been what could be called a combined effort to structure the arts in this country—from the Labour Party, the Arts Council and the Open University to the

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Conservatives, Channel 4 and the independent sector, and the lottery. Labour increased investment, provided free museums and supported libraries. Rather bewilderingly, over the past few years this has fallen away. I would like to look over the longer term to show how the arts have grown to great strength, most unexpectedly, in this country.

The growth of the arts is connected with the rebirth of great cities such as Glasgow, Cardiff, Leeds and others, which discovered that their identities and economies, which had been all but erased by the wipe-out of the 1980s, could be rekindled by a hub of activity the nucleus of which was the arts. Surprisingly, the arts moved to the centre of urban development. By then, we were growing a forest of festivals: 350 literary festivals, some attracting more than 200,000 visitors in a fortnight; music festivals of several varieties; and arts, dance, documentary film and ethnic festivals. There is nothing on this scale anywhere else.

The arts are efficient. They are crucially relevant to this country and to our larger economy in the world. The arts, broadly speaking, provide more than 2 million mostly highly specialised jobs and deliver an economic sector—about 7% at the moment—which has grown every year since the 1950s. Why not encourage this? Why cut a flourishing sector? It makes no sense when £1 of government money invested—not as subsidy—in the National Theatre, for instance, can facilitate the return of £16 into the economy. This example can be multiplied throughout the arts.

We are good at the arts. This comes not from innate national genius, alas. It comes from early nourishment, talent and opportunity. That is why our well-drilled drama, music, dance, film and art colleges are so vital. They are why we are so good but need to be well resourced. That is why we have to bring the arts as strongly as possible into schools, where they are not an add-on but a must-have. It has been proved again and again—how often does it have to be proved?—that schools which have choirs, orchestras and drama groups do better across the whole curriculum, in discipline and in examination results. The good start young and the arts provoke the imagination. We need to stimulate the imagination. All of us have it and none of us knows where it is, but we know what it does. It came before language and changed our species forever. It has altered our lives radically again and again, and is doing so now at an astonishing speed. Applying imagination is how we will take control of the future.

On broadcasting, I shall speak about two areas in what is now an extraordinary forest, or jungle, of hyperactivity around the planet. First, Sky Arts, for which I work as an independent, is the only TV channel in the country exclusively devoted to investing in, and making and presenting, the arts. It commissions plays by our finest playwrights, starring our best actors; it sets up national events such as the portrait-painting competition; it invests in classic arts programmes. It has also set up an academy for young artists, but it is no fig leaf. Sky is a commercial company and sees the arts as an integral part of the audiences who it wants to reach, which is a great recognition for the arts.

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Then there is the BBC, for which I also work as an independent. This wonderful British invention, which has sealed itself into the country’s character and provided education, information and entertainment, often brilliantly and life-changingly, since it was given its Magna Carta by the Caledonian colossus, John Reith, in the 1920s, is in danger. It is incomparable and its Britishness is stamped right through that Caledonian rock but it is now faced with threats to its future authority. The licence fee could be the first casualty at the charter renewal next year. I hated the fact that people could be sent to jail for not paying it, but the consequences of abolishing that criminal charge could be substantial non-payment—with no sanction, there is no need to pay. There is also an increasing number of people who do not watch television on a television set, and therefore are outside the jurisdiction of the licence fee.

In my view, the BBC is the sum of its programmes, which are primarily directed towards us in the United Kingdom. It has got that right in area after area so often through the decades, and it still does. The BBC does many programmes that no other broadcaster would attempt. It never ceases to struggle to keep its—and our—independence, and now it needs positive support from those who it has served so widely and well for so long: that is, from us. Under the leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Hall, it has the will and the talent to put its case forcefully. I am sure that many in your Lordships’ House are eager to hear it. The BBC is too good to lose. It is unique to us. The BBC is not so much the family silver as the family itself.

Chris Smith—now the noble Lord, Lord Smith—coined the phrase “the creative economy”. It clumps a bit but it is a good and memorable phrase. We should be proud of it, look after it and build on it. It is the best thing we have got.

4.43 pm

Baroness Tyler of Enfield (LD): My Lords, let me start on a positive note. I was delighted that the gracious Speech, for the first time ever, I believe, contained a specific commitment to improving the plight of people with mental health problems. This demonstrates how much attitudes to mental health are changing. It is hardly a niche issue if you consider that one in four people in the UK is affected by mental health conditions, so pretty much every family in the land is touched by the problem. The commitments in the Conservative Party manifesto and the gracious Speech build on the ground-breaking work undertaken by Liberal Democrat Ministers in the coalition Government. I particularly pay tribute to the great work instigated by Paul Burstow and driven forward with such passion and commitment by my right honourable friend Norman Lamb.

Real strides were taken in the last Parliament by enshrining parity of esteem for physical and mental health services in legislation, and then starting to make a reality of it by the introduction of new waiting time and access standards for mental health services, crucially backed up by an injection of much-needed cash. We finally saw a real recognition of the links between physical and mental health issues.

Much more must be done to ensure that the historic underfunding of both adult and children’s mental

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health services is properly addressed. The Conservative manifesto commits to increasing spending on the NHS by at least £8 billion by 2020, although as other noble Lords have already said, it is far from clear where that money is coming from. The Government have also committed to take mental health as seriously as physical health and to increase funding for mental health care, which is very welcome. The big question for me is how much of this £8 billion will be spent on mental health services. In our manifesto, the Liberal Democrats pledged a total of £3.5 billion additional funding over the Parliament, covering both children’s and adult mental health services.

Can the Minister say what figures the Government will be committing to mental health over the lifetime of this Parliament? What proportions of that money will be spent on the commitments in the Conservative manifesto to ensuring that there are therapists in every part of the country, that new access and waiting times standards are enforced, and that women have access to mental health support during and after pregnancy? Of course, once the money is secured, we need to ensure that there is strong political and managerial will to make these things happen. Can the Minister confirm that in the next version of the NHS mandate, there will be a clear commitment from NHS England to publishing a comprehensive timetable for the introduction of new access standards and maximum waiting times across all mental health services?

It is noticeable that there was no mention of the pressing needs of people from black and minority ethnic communities, who have for too long been poorly served by mental health services, being both more likely to be diagnosed with mental health conditions and less likely to be able to access appropriate services and therapies. Will the Minister say what plans the Government have to address this wholly unacceptable state of affairs?

As a country, we must do better to support the one in 10 children and young people who have a mental health problem. Half of those people who go on to have lifetime mental health problems first experience symptoms by the age of 14, and 75% of children and young people experiencing a mental health problem do not access treatment. The consequences of failing to support these children and young people are profound.

Schools have a golden opportunity to protect and promote children’s mental health and at the same time help children attain good educational outcomes. So it is vital that the Department of Health works hand in glove with the Department for Education to promote good mental and emotional health and, in particular, to ensure that all schools offer good resilience and well-being education.

It is widely acknowledged that children’s mental health services have been seriously neglected and starved of cash in recent times. The Children and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Taskforce Report, Future in Mind, published in March by the Department of Health and NHS England, was an excellent piece of work with strong cross-party and sector support. It would be a travesty if it ended up gathering dust on shelves. It contains important recommendations on

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access and waiting time standards, on lead commissioning arrangements and on expanding IAPT services for children and young people, among many others. Will the Minister restate the commitment made in the March 2015 Budget to increase investment in mental health services for children and young mothers by £1.25 billion over the lifetime of the Parliament and make a firm commitment to respond to the task force recommendations?

It is totally unacceptable that hundreds of children experiencing a mental health crisis are held in police stations, and I therefore welcome the announcement in the gracious Speech that police cells will be eliminated as places of safety for children. This is long overdue. However, a change in the law alone is not enough. The current excessive use of police cells as places of safety is mainly the result of operational and commissioning failures, which lead to crisis care services for children being poorly developed in comparison to those for adults. It is vital that clinical commissioning groups prioritise investment in this area.

Finally, I strongly welcome measures outlined in the gracious Speech to expand access to early education and childcare, as they have the potential to improve child development and promote social mobility. I say “potential”, because it is vital that childcare and early years provision is of a high standard and that quality is maintained and improved, particularly to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds. That policy objective is as important as making it easier for parents to work. Both are critical, but sometimes those two objectives pull in opposite directions. The proposed extension of provision for 30 hours’ free childcare, while very welcome, raises many questions. I have no doubt that other noble Lords will raise those questions in their contributions, but I want particularly to ask whether additional help will be offered to disadvantaged parents, as recommended by the Lords Select Committee on Affordable Childcare, of which I had the privilege to be a member, or whether it will be a flat-rate scheme which, in effect, favours the better off. I look forward to hearing the answers to these and the other questions I have posed.

4.50 pm

Baroness Campbell of Surbiton (CB): My Lords, I shall limit my remarks to two very important areas in the gracious Speech and its impact on the lives of disabled people—health and welfare. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act. I would ask for a round of applause, but I hear that that is frowned upon. It was followed a year later by the Community Care (Direct Payments) Act. Both laws were enacted by a Conservative Government, liberating millions of disabled people in the UK. We became visible in society. I was actively involved in campaigning for those laws and then working with the Government on their detail and implementation.

My apprenticeship began with the late, beloved Tony Newton. He developed the disability living allowance, which for the first time acknowledged the extra costs of being a disabled person. I then became a critical friend of subsequent Ministers: Nicholas Scott, John Major and William Hague, who called me his big

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sister because, he said, I was so bossy. So I have great expectations that the current team of Ministers will want to work in the same collaborative way as their illustrious predecessors.

The mid-1990s was a period we can all look back upon with pride. It was a time of great optimism among disabled people. But now is not such a good time. The Independent Living Fund has been closed, independent living care packages are being cut and disabled people really fear where the £12 billion in welfare cuts will fall. The gracious Speech referred to,

“giving new opportunities to the most disadvantaged”.

That is excellent news, since 52% of disabled people remain out of work and one-fifth of disabled people under 65 live below the poverty line. The number of disabled people who believe that they have choice and control over their lives has fallen from 76% in 2008 to just 66% in 2014. So I am pleased that the Government will increase the health budget and integrate healthcare and social care. Too often, social care is thought of as a concern only for older people, yet one-third of those who receive care are disabled adults. They, too, rely on these services to live independently.

Only 14 of the 91 local Better Care Fund plans approved in October 2014 include a focus on working-age disabled people. The Government must now look much more closely at how the Better Care Fund can support people of all ages, if they want us to work and participate in society. Crucially, they must also look at how the additional £8 billion to be invested in the NHS by 2020 will support social care. Otherwise, without significant financial investment, it will not deliver its vision for personalised independent living support. An estimated 97,000 fewer disabled people receive support, compared to five years ago.

Cutting social care is a false economy. Research shows that for every £l spent on support for disabled people with moderate-level needs, an average of £1.30 is saved by the NHS and local and central government. Social care enables disabled people and informal carers to become more socially and economically active, avoiding expensive residential care and hospital admissions.

I urge the Government also to integrate welfare support planning with health and social care. Each impacts on the other. Disabled people continue to be assessed for different support by different departments, wasting public funds on bureaucracy and appeals. We know this from the torturous transition from disability living allowance, DLA, to personal independence payments, PIP—largely due to lack of understanding of what it pays for and how it complements other health and social care services. If these extra costs are not met, independent living grinds to a halt.

A recent research report by the disability charity Scope estimates that, on average, disabled people spend £550 a month on disability-related expenditure on things not available through the NHS, welfare benefits or social care. These include buying specialised equipment, higher heating bills, paying for taxis to get around and covering higher insurance premiums. My annual budget for disability-related costs is £12,000. I did not do that calculation; it was done in my social care assessment.

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I asked the last Government to consider triple-locking PIP in the same way that pensions are now protected. That would certainly enhance PIP, as the Prime Minister promised during the election campaign. It was referred to again at Prime Minister’s Question Time today. No answer was forthcoming, but I really hope for one later tonight.

Disabled people have a strong history of working closely with Conservative Governments to find integrated solutions to the barriers we face in society. I urge the new Government to work more collaboratively, as their illustrious predecessors did 20 years ago, so that disabled people do not slide back to the bad old days of dependency, isolation and poverty.

4.58 pm

Lord Giddens (Lab): My Lords, I should like to comment on some implications of the digital revolution for healthcare and medicine, and I would like to ask the Minister to take some of these implications on board for future policy.

We are living through a period of probably the greatest technological innovation in human history, including even the original Industrial Revolution. It is driven by the digital revolution. When the telephone was invented, it took 75 years to reach 50 million people. The first iPhone was produced only in 2007. There are already close to 1 billion iPhones and something like 3 billion smartphones in the world, and there are as many mobile phones as there are people in the world. There has never before been a period of innovation of this speed, intensity and global scope.

The digital revolution is often misunderstood because it is identified with the internet. The advance of the internet is quite incredible because it has conquered the world in a period of less than 20 years. But the driving force of the digital revolution is the relationship between the internet, supercomputers and robotics. In studying these phenomena, I have come to see supercomputers as the prime driving force.

Supercomputers can already do many things that we cannot. The IBM computer Deep Blue beat the world chess champion in 1997. Most people can understand that—after all, chess is a sort of mathematical enterprise. Much more interestingly, though, much more recently another IBM supercomputer called Watson beat the two world champions at “Jeopardy!”. “Jeopardy!” is an ordinary language and general knowledge game. No one anticipated, even a few years ago, that computers would be able to do that. Supercomputers can compose poetry at least on a par with many human authors, and can compose music. This is a true revolution that has massive consequences for many areas of our lives. The iPhone you have in your pocket is more powerful than a supercomputer of only about 15 years ago. This had quite a big impact on the election, I think, because when you have an iPhone in your pocket you feel empowered, and indeed you are: you can get information on people whenever you want it, and you live a kind of just-in-time life. That is one of the reasons for the lateness of the result of the election and the fact that it was not anticipated.

My main point is that this is going to have unprecedented consequences for breakthroughs in

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medicine, and these must be incorporated in avant garde government policy. There are three reasons for this. The first is that for the first time in history, scientists can communicate with one another directly across the world in a way that was not possible before. There are vast volumes of accessible medical information on massive online sites that can drive medical advances in a way that was simply not possible until this generation. The second reason is that radical advances propelled by the computing capacity of supercomputers are simply unlocking areas of medicine that we had no idea we could conquer: you can decouple genetic chains, for example, and there have been massive advances in stem cell research. Many people will have seen material in the newspapers recently about breakthroughs in cancer. This is the cutting edge of advances that will become much more profound, and we must embody them in policy. The third reason is the breakthroughs everywhere in monitoring self-care and preventive medicine.

I wonder whether the Minister has read the book by Eric Topol, the celebrated American heart surgeon, called The Patient Will See You Now, which was a New York Times bestseller. We know what ordinarily happens when we go to A&E: we get there, we wait for five or six hours and they say, “The doctor will see you now”. The point of the title The Patient Will See You Now is that we will see a period of radical empowerment of patients through a diversity of digital technologies. This is not the future but the present, and there are many examples of how it is already working. We might think it will happen only down the line, but this is a period in which whole industries have been wiped out overnight and the same thing could also happen creatively in most areas of medicine and science. Technology might appear to be, as it were, the antithesis of the human—of living along with other people in a personal and direct fashion—but it is not.

I conclude by mentioning the example of Denmark, which is one of thousands that one could quote from around the world. In Denmark, remote monitoring and video conferencing are playing a huge role in end-of-life care and have transformed it. Over half the deaths in Denmark used to occur in hospital, with many people suffering in isolation. Now 90% of people pass away at home in the company of loved ones, even if some are on the other side of the world. No one working in the health service or in medicine should misunderstand the huge waves of change, which are not in their later stages but in their early stages and will radically transform what hospitals are and what medical care is. Eric Topol says that hospitals will eventually disappear. I do not think that that is a stupid idea; it is down the line.

Can the Minister comment on whether the Alan Turing Institute, which was being set up before the election, will come into being? It will be a cutting-edge institute for advanced maths and algorithms. I think some £42 million was supposedly dedicated by the Government for that institute, and five major British universities will be involved. Can the Minister confirm that that money will be there and the institute will devote a substantial proportion of its work to frontier medical research?

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5.05 pm

Lord Lee of Trafford (LD): My Lords, I was delighted that the Minister referred to tourism and heritage in his opening contribution, because for many years, through successive Governments, tourism has been regarded as a Cinderella industry. In the 2010 election none of the major parties mentioned tourism at all in their manifestos. However, tourism is the number one industry in more parliamentary constituencies than any other single industry. It represents about 9% of GDP, and a third of the new jobs created between 2010 and 2013 have been in tourism—the gracious Speech talks very much about the importance of creating jobs.

I declare an interest as chairman of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions. A number of us came together, determined that the 2015 manifestos of all parties would mention tourism. We lobbied, held a series of meetings, and I am glad to say that that came to pass: all the parties mentioned tourism in their manifestos. However, the majority of the commitments that were given were fairly bland and were very much of a generalised nature. The Conservatives, for example, said:

“We will set challenging targets for Visit Britain and Visit England to ensure more visitors travel outside the capital”,


“We will invest to boost tourism in the South West”.

Perhaps the noble Lord in his reply might give an indication of just what that means. It goes on:

“We will make it easier to access our beautiful landscapes, by providing free, comprehensive maps of all open-access green space”.

Once again, perhaps the noble Lord might tell us where those maps are—I am sure we are eagerly awaiting them.

The Labour Party talked of creating,

“a Prime Minister’s Committee on the Arts, Culture and Creative Industries, with a membership drawn from all sectors and regions. The Committee will bring issues of concern direct to the attention of the Prime Minister”.

Well, we have all been spared that, thankfully.

I am sorry to say that my own party’s commitment to tourism was equally disappointing:

“We will work to make sure the British tourism industry is able to compete with other major world destinations and be a key generator of growth in the UK economy”,


“Give higher status to tourism within the Department for Culture, Media and Sport”.

I must say that a number of the minor parties were more specific.

However, perhaps of greater importance were the conclusions and recommendations of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, which reported in March. It drew attention to a number of problems: the mistake in abolishing the RDAs without putting in place adequate arrangements for tourism promotion; the disparity in funding between VisitEngland’s funding compared with VisitScotland and Visit Wales; and that too many regulations are ill-fitted to the world of small businesses that characterise much of the tourist industry.

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The Select Committee report made a number of recommendations, virtually all of which have strong industry support. It said that funding for the GREAT campaign should continue for a longer period, to give certainty to the industry, and that the Government should,

“make the cost of UK visas competitive, for example by moving towards the issue to bona fide tourists of more multiple entry, long term visas”.

It urged that the Government should,

“respond quickly and decisively to the Howard Davies review”,

once it reports, and recommended that the Government analyse the impact of air passenger duty on the United Kingdom’s tourism industry and monitor developments in Scotland and Wales closely for any impact on England. The Select Committee wants the merits of the claims of the Cut Tourism VAT campaign to be thoroughly assessed, and a vigorous cost-benefit analysis of daylight saving time. The Tourism Alliance calculates that double summer time could generate between £2.5 billion and £3.5 billion of additional revenue and some 60,000 to 80,000 new jobs.

The report concludes:

“We believe tourism should have a more visible profile in, and be more vigorously promoted by, its sponsoring Department”.

I believe that tourism should immediately be brought into the title of the DCMS—nothing would send a clearer message of support to the industry. Two members of the Select Committee are of course now in ministerial office at the DCMS: Tracey Crouch, who has ministerial responsibility for tourism, and John Whittingdale. Importantly, John Whittingdale, who chaired the committee, is now Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, so he has a great opportunity to deliver on many of his own recommendations. As an industry, we wish him every success.

5.11 pm

Lord Hutton of Furness (Lab): I want to confine my remarks to the question of pensions and retirement savings, but first I want to extend a very warm welcome to the new pensions Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann. Many of us have known her for many years. She is a lady with a formidable reputation for independent thought and advocacy of the rights of older people, and I very much hope that she continues in that vein in her new job at the Department for Work and Pensions.

The noble Baroness has a very large agenda to occupy herself with. Of course, very little was said in the Queen’s Speech about pensions or retirement savings. I am aware that the gracious Speech is a programme for one Session and that there will be many more before we reach the end of the life of this Parliament, but this issue is not going to go away. We are not done with getting and setting the right framework, and maintaining a consensus about how we can encourage more people to save more for their retirement.

I say that with some regret, because the last few years have seen a massive change in pensions policy in the UK—but those changes have been necessary for one overriding reason: we are facing a tidal wave of demographic change that is affecting our society and

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others like it. To put it into context, the recently published latest estimate from the Office for National Statistics of longevity in the UK is quite extraordinary. What was once exceptional is going to become the norm. Today in Britain, about 2,500 baby boys and girls will be born. That is fantastic for their parents, but for their pension plans and their pension trustees, it is probably not so good. Nearly 40% of those young boys and girls will reach the age of 100—something that was quite exceptional when I was born, when the figure might have been nearer 2% or 3%. What was exceptional is now going to be the norm.

Those changes have been broad in their scope and range in the last few years. We have changed the very concept of the basic state pension—it is now a single, flat-rated pension that is designed to encourage more people to save. We are enrolling millions of people in the workplace in new defined contribution savings plans, and many of them are saving for the first time. Importantly, age discrimination legislation has been introduced to make it illegal for employers to terminate people’s contracts of employment simply on the grounds of age—encouraging, we hope, more people to stay in work for longer.

In the dying days of the last Parliament, we had perhaps one of the biggest changes to pensions policy in a century: the sweeping away of the statutory requirement, dating back to 1921, on people saving in defined contribution plans to annuitise their pension pots when they cease working, guaranteeing them—we hope—an adequate stream of retirement income. However, as we know, for many, that stream horribly dried up as interest rates crashed.

Against that backdrop, surely people will curl up into the foetal position when people like me say, “Actually, we are not done with this yet”. To those who say, “Surely we are done with it”, I say, “We are definitely not”. In essence, the last Government and the previous one tried to do two things to deal with this change. We had a great deal of legislative reform, and welcome though it is, it is early days for most of it. We were trying to do two things. We wanted to encourage more people to save more for their retirement; and, wherever possible, we wanted people to work a few more years before they drew their pension. Of course, that was needed to ensure the long-term financial stability of the public social security pension, and the financial viability of their workplace pension schemes.

I think we can say, “So far, so good”. We are entitled to be reasonably optimistic that Britain slowly but surely is becoming a nation of savers. We have to be a nation of savers because the taxpayer can no longer underwrite the inadequate retirement savings of people in the workplace. There is now good evidence that people are beginning to retire later, and we should welcome that, too.

However, none of the manifestos of the main parties—and we now have to add another to the three established parties—set out any plans at all to encourage more workplace saving. Again, a bit of context might help us. A Lloyds Bank report in 2013 showed just what a mountain we have to climb. It confirmed that nearly a third of all UK households had no savings of any kind at all—zero savings—and that a further 14% of households

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had savings of less than £1,500. So nearly half of all UK households are just not prepared to deal with the force of these demographic changes.

Sadly, the savings ratio, although it goes up and down, has been more down than up; we are simply not saving enough. I would say to the new Minister, in whom I have a lot of confidence, that she probably has three substantial challenges ahead of her. The really big questions are: are people saving enough today and do they know how much they should be saving if they are properly to prepare themselves for what could be 30 or 40 years of retirement? We are talking about people spending almost as much time in retirement as they spent in their working lives. That is an extraordinary change.

I am afraid that the answer to both those questions is a resounding no. We are definitely not saving enough and people do not know how much they should be saving. Therefore, in this Parliament we are going to have to give some consideration to the adequacy of retirement savings. It is a public policy challenge of first-order significance. It is probably too early to think about changing the primary legislation on automatic enrolment. We need to get everyone in before we start changing anything else, and auto-escalation needs to settle down. However, I think that Ministers should now give urgent attention to setting a national retirement savings target and to helping people understand the sort of amounts they need to save now if their expectations for retirement are to be fulfilled.

I remain profoundly concerned that all the main parties are now looking at pension tax relief as a cash cow to spend on other priorities. Billions of pounds are maybe being inefficiently spent—I think that they probably are—encouraging people to save. Perhaps people would save anyway—they almost certainly would—but these are billions of pounds that we could redirect to encourage others to save more for their retirement, and we are not doing that. We are taking that money and spending it on other priorities, and that is a mistake.

Secondly, the Minister would be very well advised to do everything she can to try to retain the consensus that has been built since 2005, established by the noble Lord, Lord Turner. The annuities market reforms of 2014 have fractured that consensus to a considerable extent. Personally, I think that the reforms were justified; I do not think that it is acceptable any longer to tell people what to do with their money. None of us wants to be treated like an idiot, and we have to be given at least that sense of control. I have no problem with that. However, there is a very real risk that people will deplete their savings and the next generation of retirees and pensioners will find themselves impoverished—the curse of every previous generation. We have to avoid that.

Therefore, I hope that the Minister will give active consideration to the one outstanding recommendation of the report of the noble Lord, Lord Turner, that was not enacted by the last Labour Government. I hold my hand up and say that I was responsible for that. We now need to give active consideration to establishing a new, independent pensions commission, because auto-enrolment is at a critical stage. We have major decisions still to face but sometimes Ministers—bless them—are

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not the people to forge and build a national consensus; sometimes they need a bit of help. We certainly did and I am pretty sure that this Government will, too.

Finally, I hope that the Minister does not let go of her predecessor’s agenda of looking at the whole question of defined ambition pensions, which can improve the outcome for people who save in defined contribution pension schemes. If the Minister wants a steer, she need go no further than the extraordinary analysis by Bob Merton, the Nobel prize-winning economist, who has made a devastating critique of the inadequacies of defined contribution schemes. Basically, we are managing the wrong risk. When it comes to DC schemes, the most important thing for a saver to know is what sort of retirement income they can expect. At no point in the entire regulatory envelope surrounding defined contribution pension schemes is anyone addressing that fundamental question. The language of DC is one of asset valuation; it is not about retirement income. That is the strength of defined benefit, which is now, sadly, part of the history of pensions in the UK. However, for those millions of people now saving in defined contribution schemes we have to keep our focus on the adequacy of their retirement income. No one today is doing that. The defined ambition pension agenda began to give us the prospect that we might at last do that and I hope that we do not lose sight of it.

5.20 pm

Baroness Masham of Ilton (CB): My Lords, I would first like to pay tribute to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, who worked so hard for the NHS and took a great deal of trouble answering many of your Lordships’ questions, including my own. I hope that the incoming Minister will pick up the many challenges surrounding the NHS.

I will quote what was said in the Queen’s Speech about,

“ensuring the National Health Service works on a seven-day basis. Measures will be introduced to improve access to general practitioners and to mental health care”.

I hope that the Minister, when summing up the debate, may tell your Lordships what these measures will be. Can this really happen or is it a pipe dream?

I live in a rural area where the surgery is open only four and a half days a week. My GP does not work on a Friday and my previous GP went to Canada. A lady who had a stroke some time ago recently telephoned the surgery when it was open as her medication was of a different brand from the one that she was used to. The surgery never rang back. When her carer telephoned 111, an ambulance was sent and she was taken to A&E. I feel that the Government’s idea of the NHS working on a seven-day basis would be of great benefit to patients but, if communication was better now, it would be at least a start towards better care. Communication and quick answers are so important between all medical services and patients, between NHS England and hospital trusts, and between Public Health England and social services.

There is no doubt that, in the rural area of North Yorkshire where I live, the veterinary out-of-hours service is far superior to that of the medical service. A

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vet rings back far quicker. Usually, it is a local vet who knows the area and is on an out-of-hours rota who attends.

How can England retain the doctors that we have? Are there going to be more medical schools to train more doctors? Should there not be a system so that they would have to stay in England for a said period after training?

Physiotherapists and occupational therapists are very important for rehabilitation. I know that some of those posts have been cut in hospital trusts that are in debt. This is a dilemma. Specialist nurses are vital for supporting such conditions as stroke, Parkinson’s disease, tuberculosis, spinal injuries, HIV, diabetes and so many others. Without enough specialist staff, the standards of the NHS will fall.

I ask the Government whether they agree with me that patient safety should be the top priority. We must stop tragedies happening where there is neglect and fear, as happened in the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust; in Morecambe Bay, where babies and mothers died through inadequate care; and in Stepping Hill Hospital near Manchester, where patients were murdered by a rogue nurse injecting insulin into saline bags.

One drain on the National Health Service is the employment of agency nurses and doctors. I am glad that this is being addressed. We need well-trained, honest staff. Without doubt, this is one of the challenges facing the NHS.

As president of the Spinal Injuries Association, I am concerned about the very specialised treatments covering spinal injuries—neurology, orthopaedics, urology and sociology—being classed as rehabilitation only. It should be a specialist subject in its own right, which might help in getting good-quality medics, who are so badly needed, and would be an investment for the future.

It is of great concern that so many patients are misdiagnosed and that GPs do not send them on to the appropriate specialists quickly enough. This has been found to be the case so often; for example, by patients with multiple sclerosis who have to go three, four or five times to their GP before being sent for the appropriate tests and to a neurologist. This problem was highlighted last week by a young cancer patient who was diagnosed as having dietary anaemia because she was young, even though she had symptoms of cancer. She had aggressive cancer and died soon after finally being diagnosed. The Teenage Cancer Trust said:

“Sadly this story is not uncommon and is something we see time and time again in this age group … one in four young people with cancer have to visit their GP four times or more before being referred to a specialist”.

Surely something should, could and must be done to improve this unacceptable situation.

I cannot go without mentioning the wheelchair service, which is so important to so many seriously disabled people. Its slowness to achieve its objects needs looking at urgently.

It is estimated that 3.5 million people will be affected by a rare disease at some point in their lives. There are

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many examples of excellent practice for those with rare diseases throughout the UK, but unfortunately they are more often the exception than the rule. I ask the Government what progress is being made on the UK strategy for rare diseases. To meet the needs of people with rare diseases there needs to be collaboration between industry, healthcare professionals, universities and patient organisations.

I shall mention briefly mental health—it is such an important subject, but time restricts me. What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to help prison staff deal with the many people with the combination of having committed a crime and suffering a mental health condition? I do not think that prison staff are trained to cope in an unsatisfactory environment with mental health conditions.

Finally and by no means least, I feel that infection control should come high on the list of priorities. We should not be complacent because matters have improved in some situations. The global rate of drug resistance to antibiotics is increasing. Recently, I attended the showing of a film on resistance produced in the USA which illustrates what a vital aspect of living antibiotics are. We desperately need new ones as resistance increases worldwide.

One of the new Members of Parliament lost her father in a Yorkshire hospital to MRSA. She will campaign on these matters. They are of the utmost importance in safeguarding society.

5.28 pm

The Lord Bishop of Norwich: My Lords, the gracious Speech said that the Government intend,

“to improve schools … and create more academies”.

I declare an interest as one of the sponsors of the first academy in Norfolk, the Open Academy, set up under the last Labour Government. It is now part of a thriving diocesan academies trust committed to school improvement. So I support the Government’s overall aim to improve schools, but there are areas where the direction of travel needs a few extra signposts.

The annual investment of the Church of England in our educational system runs into many millions of pounds. There are 4,500 Church of England primary schools and around 200 secondary schools. But direct responsibility for school improvement lies with the Church of England only in its academies. We do not currently have the power provided to local authorities to intervene where our voluntary schools do not perform as they should. Diocesan boards of education work closely with such schools, supporting them in a host of ways, but have no formal power when a school’s performance causes concern. So I ask the Minister whether his department will grant diocesan boards of education such powers, because dioceses are sometimes criticised for failing to take action without the capacity to do so.

The original aim of the academies’ programme was to improve the educational opportunities for young people in areas of social deprivation. That is how I got involved. The Open Academy in Norwich, which I mentioned earlier, has just been rated good by Ofsted and is on a journey to becoming an outstanding school. Not long ago the police noticed a remarkable drop in the recorded crime rate within a half-mile

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radius of the school and an even more striking reduction in ASBOs. The local population talks of a greater calmness on the estate. It is equally important that scarcely a pupil has left the academy in recent years without going into further or higher education, employment or training.

However, the recent Ofsted inspection, good as its outcome was, did not suggest much analysis of the school’s social context or its social and economic impact. Something profound was missed. I would be grateful to know how our schools are seen by the Government as agencies of social and community transformation.

Only once was there a change of gear in that inspection when, as governors, we were asked what we were doing to promote British values. I inquired, politely, what British values were and was told that tolerance was among them. Yet we do not tolerate bullying, disrespect, violent behaviour, possession of drugs and a good deal else. We need to get our language right if we are to impart the right values in our schools.

Language matters. During the election campaign we heard a great deal about hard-working families from all sides of the political divide. This always seemed to mean families whose members were in employment. Back in the 1990s, when I was involved in poverty hearings, I vowed never to equate hard work only with employment and jobs again. I remember a young woman at a poverty hearing in Cornwall describing how she had been seeking a permanent job for more than two years and saying that it was very hard work indeed being poor and unemployed and attempting to make ends meet while also sending off applications for jobs when, time after time, no one responded. She had had some temporary employment but said that it was much harder work being unemployed than it was in a job. I am not sure that the language we use about the poor and unemployed is always sensitive to this basic truth.

If language matters, so too does culture. In relation to education, it is altering the culture of a failing school which is the hardest thing to do. It is about reshaping expectations and nurturing creativity but also building the right ethos. I remember being told years ago that as a diocesan bishop I could delegate almost everything to suffragan bishops, archdeacons and other members of my staff. However, there was one thing I could not delegate—the ethos of the diocese. Ethos is very hard to pin down, especially the ethos of a nation. The Prime Minister of the day helps to shape the ethos of the country and I am glad the beginning of the gracious Speech invoked the one-nation approach and governing in the interests of everyone. It struck exactly the right note and the legislative programme will be judged in this light.

One of the strongest shapers of the ethos of our nation continues to be the BBC. It is truly British. Its range and reach seem to irritate some people but it is one of the most socially cohesive of all our institutions—as one would have seen at Norwich over the recent bank holiday weekend when 50,000 young people gathered in devotion to Taylor Swift and many of the pop stars of our time, only a few of whom I have heard of. Many others in Norwich—indeed, rather more—were on

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pilgrimage to Wembley on a quest to get Norwich City back in the Premier League, a happily successful mission.

The range and reach of the BBC stretch well beyond these shores, of course, and I have never understood why the World Service ceased to be financed from the Foreign Office. In terms of soft power in the world we have a treasure which is the envy of other nations, not least because people in every part of the world regard the BBC as impartial and trustworthy. In a world in which cultures of trust need building—desperately in many places—to possess such a building block in the BBC should be something we cherish. I hope we will remember that in the run-up to the renewal of the charter.

5.34 pm

Lord Kirkham (Con): My Lords, little is more important to the future of this country than the education of our young people. It is entirely right that the Government should take action to improve “failing and coasting schools”. However, in their commitment to,

“give every child the best start in life”,

I urge that we do not focus simply on academic excellence, on constantly improving exam results to ensure that we get greater numbers of young people into university and on being bent on attaining ever more and better degrees. There is so much more to a fulfilled life than simply passing exams. I do not say that because it never featured highly in my own skill set.

While we have been working so hard to cram our kids with academic knowledge, I fear that we have neglected vital, non-academic employability skills, and important social and interpersonal skills, including what my parents would have described as good manners. There is no point in preparing a child for the world of work, with straight A grades in English and maths, if he or she turns up for their first job interview unaware of basic business terminology, etiquette and presentation skills or any idea of how to address a potential employer—should it be Mr, Mrs, Miss, Madam, sir, mate or a first name? How could they know that if no one has taught them? They may have no concept of basic, common courtesies, such as a handshake and how to execute it, the impact of a smile or whether to look directly into the interviewer’s eyes. Some may be ignorant of the relevance and importance of their appearance, including, for example, whether it is okay to wear a cropped top or ripped jeans, to wear trainers or polished shoes, or to wear a tie.

Very often a young person shows absolutely no evidence of an interest in the company or the job for which they are being interviewed. That evidence would have been easily provided if they had only known to do some elementary research into the business and prepare a list of questions. However, there is every chance that tomorrow’s potential movers and shakers would have missed the interview completely, having never been apprised or taught the vital importance of timekeeping and punctuality. Our country cannot hope to fulfil its potential if we fail to turn out young people who are not only well educated but also employable; that is, work-ready. A confidence-building basic education in communication, presentation and social skills, which has been the cri de coeur of the CBI for many years, surely should be part of the school curriculum.

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However, it also can be developed most powerfully outside the classroom. Here, I declare an interest as chairman of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and deputy patron of the Outward Bound Trust. For nearly 60 years, those organisations have been proving that we can enhance the life chances of young people, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, by giving them skills that are relevant and appealing to employers. Those skills, which are beyond the academic curriculum, include teamwork, communication, self-discipline, initiative, adaptability and leadership. The ability to take on and complete a challenge such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award creates resilience, confidence and a can-do attitude, which will take a young person far—perhaps one day even to membership of your Lordships’ House. We often quite rightly express concern about the social disengagement of our young people; yet getting young people involved in social action is not impossible. Volunteering, for example, is a proven way to capture their interest, and can break through the barrier and persuade them to care.

Hands-on volunteering is a win-win situation for the young person taking part and for society as a whole. At the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award we have experienced many decades of not just helping young people achieve awards but also encouraging them to volunteer for a huge range of activities, including helping in charity shops, working in urban conservation, supporting people in need, working in animal welfare, improving the environment and raising money for a whole range of charities. We achieve that by communicating with young people in language they understand and through channels they can relate to, particularly online. We do it by working closely with a growing number of schools and by tirelessly raising money to make our opportunities available to as many young people as we can.

I am not standing here to deliver an advertisement for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award or the Outward Bound Trust, proud though I am of their many great achievements, but to emphasise that all the skills they teach and the positive attitudes they encourage are every bit as relevant to the success of our children and grandchildren as the academic skills that are taught in schools. They should be core standards in every school curriculum. My heartfelt appeal is that we should seek ways to integrate this approach more fully into formal education for all, and in doing so we can look forward to producing a more rounded, confident and capable generation—a generation that would undoubtedly create better furniture salesmen, perhaps more popular bankers, better hairdressers, lawyers, mums and dads, politicians and even Secretaries of State.

Formally teaching in our schools these important soft skills, proven by the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and others, is a simple concept that I believe could contain the makings of a truly virtuous circle, and that really would help to give every child the best start in life.

5.41 pm

Baroness Morris of Yardley (Lab): My Lords, I should like to comment on the parts of the gracious Speech that deal with education and children’s policy.

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In doing so I welcome some of the measures in the gracious Speech and other measures which the Government have indicated they will take forward in the coming months. I welcome the principle of extra childcare, although as we have heard today there are a lot of questions that need to be asked. The changes to the adoption process are well intentioned and will probably mean a better deal for more children. I certainly welcome the Government’s intention to continue with the pupil premium, and I hope that they will continue their work with vocational qualifications, where I think they had a good record in the last Parliament.

In particular in the debate today, I share with the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Nash, the ambition to raise standards in schools. Whatever else may divide us, I do not doubt any noble Lord’s wish to make sure that every child receives a good-quality education and leaves school with the skills and attitudes they need to survive in the world, to contribute to society and to flourish. It is perhaps timely to recognise the progress that has been made. I always say that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, started the revolution way back in 1988. Since then it has been non-stop change. In that time we have seen every measure of success improve: twice as many children achieve five A to C grades, including in English and maths.

It also behoves us to remind ourselves that when we are talking about improvement, whatever we do here the real difference lies in the quality of the teaching and leadership in our schools. That is how we should measure the proposals that have been put forward. Anything politicians or Governments do must be judged by whether it is likely to improve the way head teachers lead schools and the way teachers teach.

I turn to the legislation on the extension of academies. This is important legislation, but let us be clear: it is not about whether individual academies are good schools. I could join the noble Lord, Lord Nash, in citing many academies that have done a good job and I have been delighted to visit many of them. I have seen the extra capacity that a sponsor brings. I have shared in the joy when schools have been turned around, and we can only rejoice that more children have more life chances. I could also give an equally long list of non-academy schools that have done exactly that.

However, I do not take away from the successful performance of many individual academies. The proposed Bill in the gracious Speech is not about that; it is about whether academies should spearhead the next stage of school improvement and in effect become the predominant school structure, particularly for secondary schools. The Bill is looking at an education system that is at a tipping point. More than half of our secondary schools are already academies, and the Bill will contain proposals to limit the right of people to object to schools changing to academy status. They are the very same parents who are being told in different legislation that they are the people who know best what is good for their children, but no doubt we will return to this during the passage of the legislation.

If we are to take that step and have academies spearhead all school improvement, which would be a pivotal step and a big moment in the development of

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education policy, the Government have to give evidence and assure us on three counts: first, that these schools deliver better results for more children than any other type of school; secondly, that it justifies the expenditure and human resource that will need to be put into making the transition; and, thirdly, that it does no harm to other already successful parts of the school system. Although I admire individual academy schools, I am not persuaded that any of those three criteria can be met. Despite the individual success stories, there is no evidence that the success of academies as a group justifies them being given the pre-eminent position in our education system that the Government suggest.

I put forward this evidence. Five years ago we passed legislation in this House that set up what were known as stand-alone academies: academies that were judged by Ofsted to be “good” or “outstanding” could convert very easily from maintained to academy status. One in seven of those schools was subsequently categorised as “requires improvement” or went into special measures. Ofsted has found that we do not just have a postcode lottery in maintained schools: more than eight out of 10 sponsor-led academies in London are “good” or “outstanding”; only just over three out of 10 are in the east of England. Academies have not got rid of that postcode lottery; whether you get a good school depends on where you go to school.

Although the Sutton Trust noted the very high performance of academy chains such as Harris and ARK, it concluded that most academy chains,

“are not achieving distinctive outcomes compared to mainstream schools”.

That is why the Select Committee that looked at academies and the evidence behind them concluded:

“Academisation is not always successful nor is it the only proven alternative for a struggling school”.

Quite frankly, there are still too many unanswerable questions and points of weakness in a school system that would be made up only of academies. Oversight of these schools by the Department for Education leaves a lot to be desired. It is still not clear what happens when an academy fails, and we have still not sorted out how much local authorities’ responsibility for standards is then matched with giving them powers to intervene in academies.

That is why I am worried about this Bill and why it will need very special attention when it comes to the House. Quite frankly, the Minister and his department have lost their ability to think critically about academies. The phrase “the emperor and his new clothes” comes to mind. I cannot ever recall seeing a Select Committee report where the responsible government department disengaged from the issue and the debate as much as the Department for Education did with the report on academies. In the words of the Select Committee,

“the DfE failed to address our terms of reference and instead presented a sustained paean of praise to the success of the policy”.

That is no way to develop policy on one of the most important services that we provide and that ensures for all of us the next generation that we would want.

The Government are making a mistake that many of their predecessors have made: they wish to find a school structure that can give all the answers to all the

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problems that we have. I have counted 17 different school structures since the end of the war in 1945; none has managed to deliver all the improvement that we want. I only wish it was that easy. I look forward to the debates on the Bills that have been in outlined in the gracious Speech when they are presented to the House of Lords. They will indeed cause debate, but there are many serious questions that the Government will need to answer.

5.48 pm

Baroness Thomas of Winchester (LD): My Lords, before turning to my remarks on the welfare part of the gracious Speech, I will pay tribute to the former Minister for Pensions, my erstwhile colleague Steve Webb, who played such an important part at the DWP. His knowledge of the complex worlds of both benefits and pensions was unparalleled. I also mention Mark Harper, the most recent Minister for Disabled People, who has now risen to the giddy height of government Chief Whip in another place. He was very good at listening to those of us who are disabled here and I hope that his successor, Mr Justin Tomlinson, will be found similarly approachable by some of us here. After all, this House probably beats the other place in its number of disabled Members—although one must never forget those with hidden disabilities.

Before going on, I declare my usual interest in receiving DLA. The noble Lord, Lord Freud, who I am afraid is no longer my noble friend but I hope is still a friend, will not be surprised that those of us who focus on welfare in this House are understandably fearful of the £12 billion of planned cuts in the unprotected parts of the DWP budget. This will be a recurring theme this afternoon for those of us speaking about welfare, as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, did. We do not know nearly enough about where these cuts will come. Might this mean taxing or means-testing disability benefits? Even the Times called this a “nightmare policy”. All we know, I think, is that some research was commissioned on this, but I note that it has not been ruled out—as was, two days ago, the limiting of child benefit. We will, almost certainly, have to wait until the Budget next month, and then the comprehensive spending review in the autumn, to find out the full details.

The only policies in this area which have been announced are a reduction in the benefit cap and the freezing of child benefit and a number of working-age benefits and tax credits. What we do not know at this point is what impact these policies will have on some of the most vulnerable families. More of them will have to move out of expensive housing areas such as London, and the pressure on local welfare assistance schemes and food banks is likely to increase.

The whole subject of local assistance schemes, and how they should be taken forward, is worthy of a separate debate, such are the questions it throws up, but there is no time for that today. I commend the Social Security Advisory Committee’s report on this, published recently. I am glad that the Government are keen to get more disabled people into work by halving the gap between disabled and non-disabled people. That is a very ambitious aim and I hope that we hear more about how it is to be achieved. I hope that the noble Lord can give us a commitment not to cut the

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Access to Work budget, which is surely a key part of getting disabled people into work. I am very pleased to hear that the referral process has been made simpler and that the mental health support services contract appears to be secure. What is now needed is another push to publicise the mental health part of the scheme and the whole Access to Work initiative, but there is no point in this unless the budget is safe.

Under the same heading, I am afraid that I make no apology for mentioning yet again how concerned I am at the move from 50 metres to 20 metres in the personal independence payment assessment, which is extraordinarily harsh and will mean that thousands of disabled people are likely to lose the enhanced rate of mobility allowance, and thus their Motability cars, when the bulk of reassessments start in October. This will surely not help the Government’s stated aim of getting a lot more disabled people into work, and will particularly hit disabled people in rural areas. I know that PIP guidance is now statutory, but I wonder whether that is really making a difference. I am not holding my breath that the descriptor will be changed, as I think it should be. All I can hope is that the healthcare assessors working for Atos and Capita who do the PIP assessments are diligent in reading any supporting letters from a claimant’s doctor, consultant or physiotherapist, and that they closely question the claimant about whether they can walk the short distance in the test even if there is a gale-force wind blowing, an icy surface, or they have to cross a busy road with kerbs—and, of course, whether they can walk this distance, not too slowly, several times a day if necessary.

Lastly, I look forward to the work of the post-legislative scrutiny committee on the Equality Act 2010 as it affects disabled people. Many people think that anything enshrined in law is done and dusted, which is why it is necessary to see exactly how the law is working, and whether some more dusting needs to be done.