Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Tuesday last by the Lord Dubs—namely, 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."
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to introduce this debate today on our policies for our communities and our regions across the United Kingdom. Perhaps I may say how much I and, I am sure, the whole House is looking forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Rana, who has contributed so much to economic life of Northern Ireland.
Our debate today offers the opportunity to discuss the future of our communities. It is a future which is based on a heritage which has as much to do with rural life and landscape as with our historic pride in our great cities. It is a future that reflects and takes forward the spirit which in the past inspired the desire to build homes for people of ordinary means as part of policies to build communities rich in aspirations, skills and employment. We must now plan to meet today's housing needs while ensuring that we meet our responsibilities to manage the impact on the environment at both global and local level. We are facing new challenges that are reshaping the environmental, social and, indeed, the political geography of the United Kingdom.
Deep-rooted social and economic inequalities still define many of our communities. Our task is to revive and regenerate those communities. But at the same time we must respond to the challenges that come from prosperity and growth in other parts of our country. Therefore, three themes dominate my speech, which focus the principles and the policies set out in the Queen's Speech. The first is creating opportunities so that everyone has the opportunity to succeed, whatever their background, wherever they live. The second is giving people a greater say in determining the things that matter to them. The third is creating stronger communities based on a sense of belonging and respect for others.
Let me begin with opportunity. At the beginning of the year the ODPM launched its two five-year plans setting out how we will deliver homes for all and sustainable communities that value people, enhance places and deliver prosperity. Each of those themes are interdependent. Sustainable communities are those that have a sense and, indeed, a spirit of place, which make them a joy to live and to work in, because they can sustain the elements of a good life, now and in the future. At the heart of such communities, and, indeed, of extending opportunity in so many ways, is creating the opportunity to live in a decent and affordable home.
At the beginning of this century we face an unprecedented challenge. The number of new homes being built has simply not kept pace with rising demand. Over the past five years alone around 500,000 new households have formed in southern England; just 350,000 new homes have been built. At the same time in parts of the north and the Midlands there are too many homes and a failing housing market. Therefore, we have four tasks: to tackle the housing shortages, particularly in London and the south-east, to ensure that owning their own home does not become a distant dream for many young people; to create new opportunities for people in all communities to own their own homes and to provide decent homes; to bring life back to those parts of the country which are suffering from the decay and the visible decline of our communities; and to give everyone the chance to live in places in which they can take a real pride in belonging because they are clean, safe and a pleasure to live in. That is the task which the Deputy Prime Minister embraced when he launched the Sustainable Communities Plan at the beginning of 2003. Through the plan, to meet demand, we intend to deliver 1.1 million additional homes in London and the wider south-east to 2016.
By 2008, we will also have invested about £850 million in the Thames Gateway. It is a visionary scheme, making best use of brownfield sites. It will shift the focus of development and regeneration to the east of London. The Sustainable Communities Plan also identified three other growth areas in the wider south-east.
I am pleased to say that progress has already been excellent, with a rise of more than 10 per cent in new homes completed between 2004 and 2005 in London and the south-east. I stress that more of these homes have been built on previously developed land than ever before and they have been built at higher densities. This has minimised the effect on the environment.
Enabling people to get on the housing ladder in the first place is essential. Therefore, we are currently consulting on proposals to introduce simpler, fairer home ownership. Our proposed new extended homebuy scheme will enable people who cannot raise a mortgage to cover the full cost of a home to become home owners. Under our proposals by 2010, up to 100,000 key workers, social tenants and other first-time buyers will have received help to buy a share of a home on the open market, or of a new home built with public subsidy; and social tenants will have new opportunities to buy a share of their home at a discount if they cannot afford (or do not have) the right to buy or acquire.
Enabling young people to stay in rural communities with their families to continue the traditional work of those communities is equally important. Therefore, for our rural areas we have also made an important commitment in our manifesto to set up a commission for rural affordable housing. ODPM and Defra will continue to work closely together to make sure that a choice of affordable housing is available and retained for future generations in rural communities.
To revive declining areas—another challenge—we have set up nine housing market renewal pathfinders to take forward the long-term improvement of housing quality and choice in some of our weakest housing markets in the north and the Midlands. That is not wholesale demolition but making sure that local people have a wider choice of property to create more mixed and more sustainable communities. That is why our housing market renewal funding will also support around 20,000 refurbishments and 3,000 new and better homes.
However, I am sure your Lordships will agree that creating opportunity is not just about building houses. We will learn from the lessons of the past. If communities are to thrive and sustain themselves, they must meet all of people's needs. We must not repeat past mistakes. We will not recreate the soulless estates that quickly degenerate into places where your Lordships and I would not want to live. We will provide for good local shops for people who cannot or do not wish to shop in out-of-town centres, facilities that young people want to use, whether those are skateboard facilities or Internet cafes, good health services, decent schools, jobs and safe and green space for members of the community to get to know each other.
We know that effective transport links are particularly central to our plans in the south-east, so there is a hybrid Bill before Parliament to deliver Crossrail which will significantly improve travel into and across the centre of London. It will be a catalyst for regeneration to the east of the City of London, particularly in the Thames Gateway and the Lea Valley. It is estimated that Crossrail will enable or attract up to 110,000 jobs as a result of regeneration activity in the areas served by the route.
Strong communities are inclusive communities where everyone has an equal value. Therefore, the Government, working through our Social Exclusion Unit, are determined to tackle the geography of disadvantage so that people are not condemned to poverty by accident of birth. We simply cannot afford the costs of social exclusion. We see those costs not just in unemployment, homelessness and rootlessness, but also in our prisons and in disorder on our streets. In recent years we have begun to reverse some of the most deep-rooted and powerful determinants of social exclusion, such as child poverty, long-term unemployment and rough sleepers. I am particularly proud that we have achieved a 70 per cent reduction in rough sleeping since 1997 and that last year we ended the scandal of homeless families with children living for long periods in poor quality bed and breakfast accommodation.
In 88 of our most disadvantaged communities and neighbourhoods real progress is being made through the programmes of the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit. We are seeing employment rates and educational standards rising faster than the national average. This is supported by major investment, with over £2 billion for the 39 New Deal for Communities Partnerships, and a total of £1.85 billion of non-ring-fenced additional funding for the 88 most deprived areas through the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund.
Our commitment to renewal is not just restricted to urban areas and the built environment. My noble friend Lord Bach will refer later more to the natural environment and to farming issues which are so important to our country. However, I draw the attention of noble Lords to the very positive prospects for our rural communities that will be offered by the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill, which was published last Thursday. We will also introduce a Bill on the management of common land.
One of the greatest weapons that we have to combat social exclusion wherever it occurs and to stimulate renewal is to give people more control over their own lives. In all our communities, both urban and rural, at national, regional or local level the Government are committed to giving people more say in the way places are run.
In Wales the Government are committed to developing democratic devolution by creating a stronger Assembly with enhanced legislative powers, a reformed structure and an electoral system to make the exercise of Assembly responsibilities clearer and more accountable to the public. The Government recognise the importance of working in partnership with the National Assembly to deliver good government for Wales under the current devolution settlement. Other Wales-only legislation to be introduced in this Session is the Transport (Wales) Bill and the Commissioner for Older People (Wales) Bill. We will also publish a draft Tourism Accommodation Registration (Wales) Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny. Those will allow the Assembly Government to take forward their policies in those areas.
In Scotland, the Scottish settlement is stable and is working well; there are no plans to revisit it. Devolution has brought far greater political accountability for many issues in Scotland, and it has enabled the people of Scotland to fashion distinctive solutions to many of the issues that touch their lives.
In the Northern Ireland context, devolving power is one of the pillars of the Good Friday Agreement. The Government's ultimate goal is to achieve the restoration of an inclusive, power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland, and we continue to work hard towards that goal. The Secretary of State has set out a clear objective; there must be an end to paramilitary activity and criminality on one hand; and on the other hand we need to see unionist participation in an inclusive government. The people of Northern Ireland want devolution, not direct rule from Westminster. Until that is achieved, Ministers will exercise their responsibilities for good government in Northern Ireland.
Moving from the national to the regional level, we are tackling the regional economic disparities that hold some of our regions back from fulfilling their great potential. The regional development agencies will be the economic powerhouses for the future of the regions. They will be assisted in this by the strengthened government offices for the regions and by the regional assemblies, which provide a strong voice for the regions. Recognising the needs of rural England, we are also devolving to the regions decisions and funding for rural regeneration. We have increased Defra's contribution to the RDA "single pot" from £45 million to £77 million, and we have given the agencies a clearer remit to tackle rural issues.
Moving from the regional level to the local level, we aim to celebrate, recognise and build on how local government connects with local people and how people can best have an influence over what happens in their local community. That is the starting point for our programme to modernise the role of local government, which we have called local:vision. Local authorities have an essential leadership role to play, including a new role for councillors in championing their communities and greater discretion on models of local governance and leadership, including the possibility of mayors with extra powers in our big cities.
Our aim is to reduce bureaucracy, streamline inspection and give greater power to those who use services. Let me give one significant example—our recent announcement of a further 40 pilot areas for local area agreements, which represent a move away from "Whitehall knows best". The existing 20 local area agreements are already reducing bureaucracy to make sure that money goes to where it is intended as effectively as possible. Closely linked to those agreements, we are supporting Rural Pathfinders which, with local authorities taking a lead role, are identifying opportunities to improve service delivery at the local level. We have to learn from what is happening in local areas in providing the best.
We will take forward our manifesto commitments by giving parish council wardens, such as those working for local authorities, the power to issue penalty notices for disorder, noise, graffiti, and throwing fireworks. Local people will be able to take on what we have called "neighbours from hell" by triggering action by councils and the police, and we will extend the right to establish parish councils to communities in London. We will also allocate £1 million to promote parish plans, and Defra will offer continuing support for their development.
People want a greater say, quite rightly, in how the planning system can help to make their locality a better place to live. Through the provision of last year's Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act, planning authorities are tasked with giving the local community more of a say in their local planning system. At the heart of our reforms is a more democratic and accessible approach to shaping the appearance of our communities.
We must not forget that we belong as much to a global community as to a local community. There is no more critical global issue than climate change. Our goals are ambitious and challenging, and we are offering world leadership. In 2000, the Government published the UK climate change programme, which set out our domestic goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions to 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2010. That commitment goes far beyond our Kyoto obligation. The climate change programme included innovative measures such as a national emissions trading scheme, the climate change levy and climate change agreements, which were all designed to enable emissions to be reduced in a flexible and cost-effective way.
We are the first country to structure road taxes based explicitly on the levels of carbon emitted. The civil aviation Bill in this Parliament will provide explicit powers for airport charges to be linked to local emissions and enable airports where controls do not already exist to implement measures to deal with aircraft noise. We are also currently reviewing the climate change programme and examining ways to get back on track to achieve our targets.
We also need to improve the sustainability of our buildings. Our voluntary code for sustainable buildings will set new goals for the resource efficiency of new homes, and from April 2006 all new homes receiving government funding will meet the code for sustainable buildings. People are also deeply concerned about the quality of their local environment. They want to take pride in their streets, their shopping centres, their parks and green spaces. We have put nurturing respect for others at the heart of the agenda; respect that can be encouraged by giving priority to the quality of family life, the quality of life on our doorstep, the quality of life of our natural environment and the quality of design of buildings and open space. We must tackle the issues that concern people; issues of crime and anti-social behaviour. That is why we will do more to ensure that our communities are cleaner and safer.
But let us look at some brute facts: roughly 10 people die every day on our roads, and three children are killed on the roads each week. That should be headline news every day. The Road Safety Bill allows for grants for demonstration projects to find new ways for local authorities to improve that situation. It provides for tougher, more appropriate penalties for road traffic offences. Alongside more effective enforcement by police and other agencies, that will contribute to our target of a 40 per cent reduction by 2010 in the numbers of people killed or seriously injured against the 1994–98 average.
That is an ambitious programme, and we do not apologise for it. It is set out in three government departments' five-year and longer-term plans. At the heart of this agenda of creating opportunity and of involving people in determining the future of their own communities, is a commitment to civic action in its wider sense. We have a uniquely beautiful and diverse country; we have the ability to create a new and humane vision to match our great heritage. We have people with matchless values and skills and pride in neighbourhood; we have a belief in the values of community and we have experience of how that can be nourished.
The ambitious programme is fit for purpose; it is fit for the challenges of a new century, and we look forward to working with your Lordships to deliver the legislation that is needed to make it happen.
My Lords, before attending to the business in hand, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, on her move to her new department. We wish her well. I also welcome the noble Lord, Lord Rana, who will make his maiden speech. We are looking forward to hearing what he has to say.
It is strange to be facing someone other than the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, with whom I have jousted gently over these past six years. I have enjoyed our verbal tussles, and I wish him well for the future. In his place, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Bach, also from the county of Leicestershire, and I hope that he will bring to his new position the same level of dedication and willingness to judge the arguments presented to him on their merits. I also remind noble Lords of our family farming interests, which are recorded in the Register.
The briefing that was given to members of the press last Tuesday states:
"The Government's strategy for rural areas is to ensure that communities benefit from its programmes to modernise, improve, and protect public services".
That implies that rural communities have public services in place; in fact many villages have none left. The doctor went when pressure to reduce the number of single-GP practices was stepped up. Recently, the British Medical Association has expressed concern about the ability of the new systems to provide adequate medical cover in rural areas. Local post offices have had to close as the Government have spent hundreds of millions on IT in an attempt to save a few pence per transaction across their counters in the way that benefits are paid. Shops have succumbed to competition from area supermarkets and even some pubs have had to shut down. So my question has to be, do the Government intend to renew those services in some way, or is their commitment to supporting rural services merely a holding operation?
Is the Government's stance on climate change, to which the noble Baroness has just referred, also a holding operation? The Prime Minister, due to take over the EU presidency, has stated that climate change control is a priority. The gracious Speech, however, refers only to securing progress in tackling it. Could it be that the Government's ability to achieve their own targets on reducing emissions is in question, or is it simply that there is no plan? My noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith and others will speak at greater length on both climate change and energy resources.
The civil aviation Bill, although not mentioned in the gracious Speech, will create powers to reduce aircraft noise and provide a system for local emissions charging. We await the details but wonder how the Government will reduce pollution in the face of continued air traffic growth, affecting those living near to airports and placing additional pressure on surrounding roads.
Minor roads are becoming overused because of the increase in both number and usage of cars. Speeding traffic in country lanes causes difficulties for rural dwellers, whether they are trying to walk safely or use their cycles. In most areas, new restrictions have not followed the Prime Minister's promise back in March 2000 to reduce rural speeds on some of those roads.
The Minister spoke about the Road Safety Bill, which ran out of time having been through the Commons. We look forward to debating it. It contains a number of measures that have our support, especially those concerned with drink-driving. In 2003, 3,508 people were killed in road accidents—too many, and an increase of 2 per cent on 2002. Will the Minister give us a total breakdown of the causes; for example, how many were drink related and how many drug related—I do not think that that is in the Bill—and how many of those deaths happened on motorways compared with the more rural lesser roads in the countryside? That would help the House greatly.
The Crossrail Bill, carried over from the previous Session, will enable the construction of a new link between east and west London. In general we support it, but we are dismayed that it is 15 years delayed since it was first mooted at the end of the Thatcher era. That has meant overcrowding on existing Underground services, tedious road journeys and yet more cars on our over-pressed roads.
The merchant shipping Bill, also left out of the gracious Speech, will deal with compensation following an oil spill from a tanker and enable the UK to reduce marine air pollution by implementing measures to control emissions from ships. Do the Government intend eventually to subsume the Bill within a full marine Bill? It is not clear to us at this stage whether there will be an overlap between the two Bills, and since we are going to have a draft marine Bill, but do not know exactly what is in it, it is difficult for us to comment.
My noble friend Lady Hanham is not to be burdened with legislation this time round—a welcome respite after an exhausting round with a heavy load in the previous Session. But the Government's regional agenda is in tatters following the rejection of the proposed elected assembly for the north-east. A question mark still hangs over unelected regional bodies in general. What is the Government's future thinking on that issue?
Mr Prescott proposes housing expansion, particularly here in the south-east. That raises both alarm and questions concerning the adequacy of infrastructure and the ability of the water supplies to cope with our increased demand in the face of climate change. We are all agreed that we will see peaks of longer extended drought and greater water fall. We welcome the recent announcement on the extension of shared home ownership schemes, having promoted it in our own housing policy.
Planning law affects us all. We encourage the Government to tackle Travellers setting up illegal sites and causing major problems of fly-tipping, anti-social behaviour, noise and education provisions for itinerant children. The majority of Travellers respect our laws, but unfortunately increasing numbers of new ones cause damage to private property and the people living in those new camps refuse to conform to the rules governing settled communities. Surely that situation cannot be allowed to continue. Will the Minister expand his thinking when he comes to respond?
The Government have asked Sir Michael Lyons to examine how council tax may be made fair and enduring. His report is not due until the end of the year. In the mean time, however, the Government keep placing increasing responsibility on local councils without voting them enough money to discharge their new duties. That is particularly true in rural areas, where the cost is greater.
Local authorities are also adversely affected by the pension situation. The Government are investigating the possibility that the state pension will have to be delayed until the age of 70, while local government employees are fighting proposals that they should work until the age of 65. We await with interest to see how the Government resolve that situation.
I turn to the burden of red tape and regulation. People in businesses, whether they are urban based or rural, complain of the ever-increasing cost in time and money of complying with the regulations that keep being imposed on them. It must be reduced to a minimum, as the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, said, if businesses are to be profitable. Even when it is not a business, volunteers who run recreational or educational activities must be able to continue their worthwhile work.
Only if businesses grow and thrive will sustainability be a viable goal. Without profit it is unreachable. That is especially true in agriculture. Water, food, warmth and shelter are prerequisites for life and, as an island race, we should ensure that we produce enough food to feed ourselves. Our self-sufficiency provision keeps falling each year and is something between 64 per cent and 68 per cent. Will the Minister tell us where the Government propose to draw the line? I understand that a conference is planned or has been held to consider food security. Will the Minister confirm that and explain its raison d'être?
Recently our agriculture has faced many threats. The first, which has been referred to, is the changes within the single farm payments and the danger that that poses to cash flow. The performance targets for the Rural Payments Agency were published last Wednesday and include,
"to commence payments under the Single Payments scheme by February 2006 and pay 96% of valid claims by 31st of March".
Many of us have grave doubts that that will be achieved. Will the Minister confirm whether he thinks that the IT systems in place will be ready and can cope?
Another major challenge to agriculture is the ever-running sore of bovine TB. It continues to increase at the rate of 20 per cent year on year. The Krebs trials are discredited and vets are fighting the problem with one hand tied and with severe new challenges to their own financial ability. They are struggling to cope and to help to contain the outbreak. They also have a threat held over them that their incomes will very much be affected by the employment of lay testers, to help with the testing, and the removal of the right to dispense their own prescriptions.
The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill will, at a cost of £8 million, enable the creation of a new administrative system. The result is intended to reduce duplication and deliver improvements to nature conservation and many ways of rural life. Our policy would have resulted in a simple, more cost-effective and less bureaucratic approach but, sadly, we did not win the election so we cannot put it forward. We fear that the Bill will set up another talking shop in the form of the Commission for Rural Communities, and extend intrusion and bureaucracy elsewhere. As the Minister will know, we do not believe that the regional development agencies are close enough to the local areas. We would have put forward the payments system in a different way.
We will welcome the common land Bill if it improves the rate of recovery of the SSSIs, if it results in genuine progress in land management, and particularly if it corrects the records of land that has been wrongly registered. Will the Minister give us an assurance that corrections to include land wrongly classified under the CROW map exercise will also be made? I understand that the Bill will set up a commoners' association, which will enable common land to be organised, maintained and managed locally, yet it will enable them to take action and be more than a talking shop.
I move finally to the animal welfare Bill, which has been promised for so long and subordinate to so much else—including the Hunting Act—that it is hard to believe in its existence. We are concerned that, in the draft Bill, powers were given to animal welfare inspectors whose status was undefined, and that a large number of other details in the Bill were left to secondary legislation. Having read the report of the EFRA Committee, I look forward to seeing precisely which recommendations the Government will take up.
The marine Bill is long overdue; I gather that it will be a draft Bill. It should cover all activities between the high water mark and the 12-mile limit, be they commercial, industrial or recreational.
The gracious Speech has set a crowded timetable before us. On these Benches, we shall endeavour to ensure that the resulting legislation is capable of effective implementation. For my part, I shall work to maintain pressure on the Government to tackle at least some of the pressing issues facing our agriculture, horticulture and fishing industries. This afternoon we will cover three important topics; I know that colleagues will speak in greater detail on them, but I fear that we have a lot of work ahead. I look forward to the days to come.
My Lords, I welcome the Minister to her new job; I am sure that she will bring her customary good humour, diligence and consensual style to the business before us. As we have heard, this gracious Speech does not include any legislation for the ODPM. I shed no tears about that. The Government have a touching faith in legislation—it is as though somehow, having passed a Bill, the problem is solved. Nevertheless, we will have a crowded agenda, and we have heard some of the issues raised today.
I am pleased that my noble friend Lady Hamwee will stay alongside me offering her expertise in these matters. I am also very pleased to be joined by my noble friend Lady Falkner, who is to take the portfolio for local government and sustainable communities. She is referring to that as the "Ministry for Respect"; this is the point at which we have to reclaim the word from Mr Galloway.
A decent affordable home is certainly a fundamental human right, and the noble Baroness is right to put that first on her list of important issues that face us. Like many people, I have been struck by the announcement in recent days of the extension of shared equity schemes. I am sure that we all welcome any measures that make homes more affordable to more people. We await with interest details of exactly how the scheme will work, who will be eligible, how that will be decided and, equally, how the Government intend to bring the proposals forward in a way that does not fuel what is, in some areas, already an overheated housing market.
The noble Baroness referred to the fact that there is a problem in London and the south-east, but it is much wider than that. There are property hotspots in many areas. I have a friend who works for the council on the Isles of Scilly. He will probably have to leave because it is impossible for him to find accommodation. That is an area where house prices are at Chelsea levels, but wages are at Cornwall levels. It means that all sorts of people simply cannot afford accommodation. The key worker scheme is simply not wide enough.
That brings me to the point that the key worker scheme never could be wide enough. There will always be times when, for some people in some places, the answer is in the rented sector rather than the home purchase sector. I question whether the Government are giving enough attention to the rented sector, because people on the whole would much rather be in the socially rented sector—it is regulated, the rents are controlled and the landlords are regulated—than be at the mercy of the private rented sector. However, I do not get a sense that socially rented accommodation is high on the Government's agenda any more. They need to consider that moving levels of home ownership much beyond 73, 74 or 75 per cent will require increasing investment of taxpayers' money for relatively small gain. The same money could be used to improve the socially rented sector. I would like to understand a little more in time how the Government think on that.
In parts of the country, the problem is oversupply, as we have heard. Most people, intellectually and with their hearts, find the idea of property demolition on a massive scale difficult to swallow in a time when there are housing shortages in other places. I wonder whether it would not be possible for the Government to rethink issues around renovation of such properties. For example, it is nonsense that VAT has to be paid on the materials for renovating derelict homes, whereas building new homes carries no rate of VAT.
The empty homes initiative has pointed out that it is very difficult for people to get loans to do up such semi-derelict properties. There are people who would like to do it, but they simply cannot get mortgages to do so. The few that are available are eaten up, because demand far exceeds supply. Would the Government not consider that that might be a form for investment of taxpayers' money, as well as the shared equity schemes about which we have heard?
Finally on housing, for rural housing the answer is very much on a small scale. That is where the Government need to allow local authorities and housing associations to work much more closely together on small-scale housing developments. In those, the planning system can be used to release land that would not otherwise be used for development, to provide socially rented accommodation by housing associations for people with local connections, and that would remain in perpetuity with those rural communities.
We have heard some mention of transport. We now have one of the most flexible job markets in the world. Along with that job flexibility, we have high levels of home ownership—a fixed asset in a country with big regional variations. People now change their jobs roughly every two and a half years. It is not possible always to move house for a number of reasons, so that means that people now travel much further than we would ever have thought possible a few years ago. Therefore, whatever the Government's plans for future housing, it is essential that the transport infrastructure is built in, because we cannot assume that people will always live close to where they work. The world is simply not like that any more.
High house prices in some areas, demolition in others, and huge transport problems all demonstrate that regional disparities are alive and well. I remember a debate in the previous Parliament when my noble friend Lord Rodgers talked about his first entry into regional government in the 1960s. Here we are, all these decades later, still having the same debates.
The creation of regional offices by the Conservative government, followed by the RDAs in 1997, has led to increasing regionalisation by a host of organisations. The demise of directly elected regional assemblies has left a legacy of regional quangos, which have no democratic accountability. I hope that the Government will give some attention to that. In the short term at least, they should be brought under the direct scrutiny of the indirectly elected regional assemblies—in other words, the local councillors who form the regional assemblies. They do not have a regional mandate but they are at least elected by someone, as opposed to the groups that currently form policy.
Turning to local government, there are three ways in which central government can help. First, I refer to local government reform. We have heard something about that with regard to elected mayors. Can the Minister say whether the Government have plans for wider local government reform, especially in the two-tier shire areas? I hope that if there are such proposals, they will be aired quickly and debated openly, as that is a better approach. Much of the local government improvement agenda—particularly delivering the savings of the Gershon review—requires partnership across the tiers of government and across neighbouring boundaries. Doing all that against a backdrop of rumour and innuendo about local government review is simply not the way to foster those sorts of partnerships.
The second area is regulation. Local government, like so much of the public sector, is subject to massive quantities of regulation and inspection from a host of bodies—from Ofsted to the Audit Commission. I visited a unit dealing with brain injured adolescents which is regulated by 23 different public bodies. That is nonsense and takes focus away from the work that the unit should be doing.
Regulation is expensive and it stifles local initiative and innovation. As we know from the health sector, meeting targets becomes an end in itself. I hope that the Government will continue the process begun by the Audit Commission, which is one of risk-based, strategic regulation, and which leaves most authorities to get on with the job with emphasis being placed on high-risk authorities.
The most important question facing local government is finance. There is widespread agreement that the current system of local government finance and the way in which council tax sits within that is unsustainable. The Government's proposed revaluation in England will add to the inequalities that currently exist. Even the Conservatives—outside the election hothouse—have admitted in another place that property taxes always require revaluation and all that follows from that.
Can the Minister tell us something about the Lyons review? What work will be undertaken and when will it report? Will it include an element of local income tax? That happens in many other countries and is recommended by the Local Government Association.
David Miliband is on record as saying that we have weak local government in this country. One of the reasons is that central government have made it so. Successive governments have strangled local government through the finance system, regulation and their refusal to give a power of general competence. Why are the Government thinking of giving wider powers to elected mayors and not to local authorities which have a track record of delivering in their areas? The sustainable communities vision is one which I am sure we all share. Local government is an essential prerequisite of that.
My Lords, those of us on these Benches who never cease to be ministers also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, on her new appointment. We hope that her tenure is long, but for her sake not eternal.
The gracious Speech referred to legislation being brought forward
"to ensure the better management and protection of the natural environment and to provide support for rural communities".
I begin by declaring an interest, as for the past four or more years I have been a member of the board of the Countryside Agency, so I have seen the Government's rural strategy unfold at fairly close quarters. It has not been a speedy process.
The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill, which was published last week, appeared in draft in February. It built on the key elements of the Government's rural strategy published last July. That, in turn, was a response to the Rural Delivery Review, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, and published towards the end of 2003. From the time of the establishment of the Rural Delivery Review through to the eventual creation of the new agencies—Natural England and the Commission for Rural Communities—between four and five years will have passed. That is roughly the length of time that the Countryside Agency existed before the shake-up started. The Countryside Agency was of course itself an amalgamation of the Countryside Commission and the Rural Development Commission—the product of an earlier strategy that was quickly superseded.
The countryside is often regarded as a place of quiet repose and recreation. My experience of the delivery of rural policy in recent years is that it is one of continuous change and widespread uncertainty. I hope that once the new structures are in place they will be allowed some time to work. There seems to be an itch to restructure. The dynamics of rural communities do not lend themselves to quick fixes. A lot of energy has gone into rural scene shifting. Once we have set the stage this time, I hope that we will allow the new structures real time to work.
There is an old story of an ultra efficient managerial bishop. They exist even if not in Norwich. He wrote to one of his clergy, who had been in his parish for more than 30 years, suggesting a move. He got a letter back saying, "Dear Bishop, I had not realised that when your predecessor but six instituted me, it was only a temporary appointment".
We have lost a good deal of the continuity and stability that derives from such stickability. One of the ways in which communities are built is by people giving their lives to them, staying in them and giving them long-term commitment.
I understand the fears of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that the new Commission for Rural Communities could turn into a talking shop. But I hope that it will recognise that dynamic of rural communities. It has a significant task. It will be the only body left with a real national overview of rural communities now that so much has been delegated to regional bodies. The regional development agencies are bound to take time to develop expertise in rural regeneration. They have no track record so far. The new commission will need to ensure that the new structures do not lead unwittingly to greater rural disadvantage. That is even possible in relation to the public service reform in the gracious Speech and to the Government's desire to increase choice.
If, for example, better-off parents send their children to schools well away from their rural locality, what choice does that leave the less well-off if the local school closes? One in six rural households has no car; roughly a quarter are on low incomes. As other noble Lords have said, affordable housing remains a significant problem and I welcome the Commission for Rural Housing, which I hope will produce practical solutions. There is a big agenda and we must let those new structures work.
My second main point is simply to note without real surprise that while the gracious Speech made reference to rural services, rural communities, protection of the natural environment and sustainable development, the words "farming" and "food" were entirely absent. It signifies a massive social shift that too often is not mentioned. The countryside is seen as an urban back garden where some 18 million people go from our towns on a fine summer Sunday, after they have been to church, of course. Our thinking about the rural environment in recent years has been focused on conservation, wildlife, access and recreation. The Countryside Agency, with which I have been involved, has been foremost in doing so. When we think of the countryside, agriculture and food production are no longer in our minds.
We have largely forgotten that the common agricultural policy was originally intended as a social policy that would help to build rural communities. There was much poverty and depopulation in many parts of rural Europe, including Norfolk. Keeping commodity prices high was intended to be a way of supporting rural communities. The money given to farmers would find its way to others through employment, food production and local spending.
The idea that agriculture might nowadays deliver any social goals within rural communities is barely considered. That is because so few people work on the land, yet about 80 per cent of the country is a farmed landscape. Farmers have become isolated, even from the rural communities of which they are part. The way that we regard them as being engaged in a marginal economic activity can mean that we marginalise them socially, too. That does not benefit rural communities or anyone else.
My final point concerns a disturbing feature of the recent election campaign. It appeared to be taken as axiomatic by all political parties that we should become an even more prosperous nation. Prosperity seemed always to be linked with increased financial wealth. Yet there is a different form of prosperity—one which protects the fortunes of generations yet to be born.
It was astonishing that climate change and biodiversity received little attention at the point in the electoral cycle in which people voted. Yet if we are to reduce carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions, we must change our behaviour, not least in our devotion to cheap air travel. Despite the further damage to the environment that the Prime Minister's shuttle diplomacy will cause, I welcome the priority that he is giving to tackling climate change and world poverty in advance of the G8 summit. It is a pity that that was not at the top of the agenda during the election campaign. It might have made for a more outward-looking debate and reduced some of the cynicism of the electorate.
In his book, Oaks, Dragonflies and People, Dr Norman Moore describes what can be done by increasing biodiversity in a small area of Cambridgeshire. He goes on to say that we are perhaps the last generation that can take decisive action. He states:
"The future of the environment is a matter of life and death, and so political parties should be able to put aside differences and achieve an effective long-term campaign on behalf of future generations".
The building of healthy rural communities is intimately connected with a much longer term agenda for which even the term "sustainability" does not convey sufficiently the threats that we face. Our complacency, which is a spiritually debilitating state, does need disturbing.
My Lords, I join the congratulations given to my noble friends on the Front Bench on their new responsibilities. I shall do my best not to add to their burden. I shall confine my remarks exclusively to the transport issues in the gracious Speech. I draw your Lordships' attention my entry in the Register of Lords' Interests, which states that I am an employee of the National Express Group, which operates some five train operating companies in the United Kingdom.
Regarding the railway industry, I join the noble Baroness who spoke from the Front Bench for the Liberal Democrats in welcoming the lack of legislation in the gracious Speech. Too much legislation has been aimed at the railway industry and I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench and his colleagues will allow the legislation that we passed in the dying days of the previous Parliament to be implemented and observe the impact of that legislation on the railway industry before we are tempted to introduce any more.
I intend to deviate from the normal speeches that are made about the railway industry by saying a few words in praise of that industry, for once. We are all good at criticising things that go wrong, but over the past decade, if the measure of success is the number of customers carried—and I use the railway companies' favourite word, rather than "passengers", which was used in my day—the railways have been successful. Over the past decade, from 1995, the number of passengers carried has increased by some 40 per cent, which indicates that, despite its problems, the railway industry is contributing positively to the upsurge in the economy of the United Kingdom.
We should occasionally pay tribute to the men and women who work in the railway industry who brought about that improvement. Within that 40 per cent increase, there has been a 27 per cent increase in inter-city carrying. That is a creditable figure, considering the increase in low-cost airlines over long distances within the UK. There has been a 35 per cent increase in regional railway carrying and an incredible 53 per cent increase over 10 years in London commuting. London commuters do not normally have much to say that is complimentary about the railway industry. But few industries could absorb such an increase, with comparatively little extra investment, in the manner that the London commuter lines have done.
Noble Lords might say that there is no point in having extra trains if they do not run on time, but the current figures on timekeeping for the whole of the UK show that some 83.5 per cent of trains arrive within five, or, in some sectors, 10 minutes of booked arrival time. That is not bad. The coach and aviation industries would give their right arms—if that is the correct term—for such figures. I imagine that few noble Lords who drove a car from here to Manchester, for example, would guarantee that they would be there within 10 minutes of a specific time.
I am as guilty as anyone of criticising the railway industry, but tributes should be paid to the success that it has had in recent years. The latest figures for April, which have not yet been published, indicate that 88 per cent of trains in the UK arrived either on time or within five or 10 minutes of booked time. Of course, it is the 12 per cent that always makes the newspaper headlines, not the trains that run on time.
The problem is that the track is nearly full. Nearly all paths available at peak times are used and, as we all know to our cost, trains are crowded in many parts of the country. The Network Rail business plan includes provision for an increase of only 2 per cent in passenger train miles, because, so far, no money has been committed to any projects that would deliver more.
Passenger growth at 4 per cent and a planned increase in passenger train miles of only 2 per cent indicates further congestion. I hope that Ministers will look at the proposals of the Great North Eastern Railway company, which deserves much credit for its achievement on the east coast main line and for its plan to electrify the line north of Leeds around to the east coast main line to avoid trains terminating and reversing at Leeds. I hope that Ministers will regard that example of franchising as a model to follow.
I know that my noble friend Lord Berkeley will say something about rail freight. How do I know that? I have listened to many of his speeches over the years. I am sure that his comments will be well worth listening to. But I hope that Ministers will examine the vexed question of the transfer of freight from road to rail. Rail freight can play an important role in ensuring the smooth distribution of goods around the country and I know that the Government are considering their policy on ports and whether to grant applications for the development of at least three southern ports.
I ask Ministers to pause for thought on that. It would seem an odd approach to transport, to say the least, to bring into southern ports huge quantities of containers which are then largely transferred by road to the Midlands and the north of England. Such vast movements of freight would add to the already intolerable congestion on our roads network and add thousands of unnecessary food miles to the annual total.
Ministers have promised to bring forward a national ports strategy either in this or the next Parliament but will make decisions about the future of the southern ports before doing so. Surely, with respect to my noble friend, that is the wrong way round. Such a national ports policy should include those ports not in the south of England. Developments such as Teesside, which have not been particularly welcomed with acclaim by the Strategic Rail Authority, really should be looked at again if we are to avoid the added road congestion that thousands of extra lorry movements would bring.
Before concluding, I want to talk for a short time about the question of community railways, which the Government introduced in their last piece of legislation but about which they have not gone into any great detail. In the 40 years since the Beeching era, the question of research and development in the railway industry has been sadly neglected. All too often in those years, politicians, governments of both political hues and even railway managers have been of the opinion that the local commuter railway system was in a process of continued decline, that R&D was not necessary for the future and that the private car would provide and pick up the extra journeys that have been made over that 40-year period.
As a result, road vehicles are quieter, cleaner and more energy efficient, while the railway industry has largely failed to recognise the potential for cleaner fuels, hybrid drive lines, regenerative braking or lightweight vehicles. As I have indicated, so far as the car industry in particular is concerned, those are now bread and butter issues. In my opinion, for what it is worth, those matters have been sadly neglected in the railway industry. If community railways are to be segregated from the main network and their lower speeds and perhaps lighter rolling stock are to be complemented by, we hope, less demanding regulatory standards, we need to look at new kinds of vehicles for our railway industry.
I have no direct financial interest in these matters. However, there is a company close to my former constituency, in Cradley Heath in the West Midlands, that produces something called a Parry people mover, which it has been trying for 12 years to introduce on a 700-yard branch line between Stourbridge junction and Stourbridge. For various reasons, much of it the fault of the railway industry itself, obsessed as it is with conventional rolling stock, it has not been possible to introduce that vehicle. I should add that presently there is no Sunday service, so it is not as though we are replacing one kind of vehicle with another. But in 12 years we have not managed to introduce that particular vehicle.
I hope that my noble friend will relay to his fellow Ministers the need for innovation so far as our local railway services are concerned. If we are to save money—and I understand the Government's need to save money in some local rail services—then innovation is surely essential.
I close, as I started, by welcoming the fact that there is no railways Bill in the present gracious Speech. I commend such an approach to my noble friend. I can tell him that the railway industry from top to bottom is heartily sick of legislation that changes its objectives apparently annually. The railways are suffering problems, but they are problems largely of success. If the Government leave well alone, perhaps that success will continue over the next decades, as it has in the past, and the railway industry will continue to flourish.
My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, is our spokesman on agriculture in this House. I agreed with a great deal of what he said on defence until he ran into a little local difficulty with the Scottish regiments.
I agreed very much with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich that the gracious Speech made no mention of farming and no mention of agriculture. Indeed, so far as I could see, the speech did little more than to cover up past failures to deliver whole policies; yet all the Government's environmental ideas must be based on a profitable agriculture. Farming has sustained the beauty and biodiversity of the countryside for generations. I am amazed that the Government have given no priority to such matters, perhaps hiding behind the new common agricultural policy, which leaves farmers wondering which way to turn.
The single farm payment—SFP—is not identical on both sides of the Border. The Queen's Speech indicated that the Government work closely with the Scottish Executive. Therefore, there is no need for a misunderstanding, as there certainly has been recently. New policies gave us new hope for simplification, but what we have is the reverse. I do not in any way blame the staff in any of the agricultural offices throughout the country. They are doing their very best. I blame the ministers who got into this muddle in Europe. I do not know how on earth we agreed to some of the schemes.
In addition to the IACS forms and the six-monthly agricultural returns, we have the new SFP and now the land management contracts—pages and pages to fill in for each item on the menu that you might like to apply for. If you cut your grain with an old binder and then stook it, you get £140 per hectare. I do not suppose there are many binders that work now, and very few staff are prepared to stook a field. There are 17 schemes. It is very difficult to fill in the forms accurately. Each scheme involves several pages of application, and one has to do it again when one asks for payment next spring. It is no wonder that the staff will be under enormous pressure in both countries.
As was asked at Question Time, how many farmers have failed to make the deadline? It was a little difficult to follow what the score actually was. As of today, they are losing 4 per cent a day until they reach the deadline. That is a very serious financial loss to farmers who may have tried to do their best throughout this difficult time. I wonder, too, whether the rural payments agency will manage to fulfil all its duties.
Yesterday the newspapers mentioned that there would be a 12.5 per cent cut in agro-environmental payments. However, that has been rescinded today. One can therefore see the problems that farmers face when the Government change their minds from day to day. I believe that the whole operation would be made much simpler by putting all that environmental money into the SFP and distributing it to all the farmers who apply for it.
I do not believe that the Government realise the extent of the extra work that has been placed on farmers in recent years—and, of course, I declare an interest as a farmer myself—in relation to the completion of forms and the amount of support that they must give to visiting officials when the whole farm has to have every ear tag read by an official. Bringing in some hundreds of cattle in midwinter and putting them through a cattle crush is a tiring job for any farmer. Only the other day I was the subject of a spot check. Every one of my fields was measured with a wheel by the officials. They found that the field had not changed over 100 years, but it was still 0.2 of a hectare out. Consider the amount of work that goes into visiting every farm to carry out those kinds of checks. We must try to simplify what is happening in the minds of the departments responsible for agriculture in both countries.
All this frustration comes on top of higher council tax, higher fuel tax, and now, in Scotland, the scourge of increased water charges. On my farm there is a charge of £118 for every trough, even though half of them are in fields that are under crop and therefore not used. If you have 20 troughs, you need a great deal of money just to pay the water board. This is where farmers are being taxed surreptitiously by the utilities, when they cannot possibly afford to pay those charges.
The environmental aspects of the Queen's Speech are very worthy objectives, but I think that straight away we can see a paradox. The Government want to beautify the landscape—we all want that—but why are they so incredibly insistent on developing wind farms in almost every attractive part of the countryside? Planning guidelines have been changed because, in effect, the supply authorities have so much money that they are able to offer huge inducements to local communities not to object. That is really bribery and nothing else. But, ultimately, these 300-foot pylons dotted about the countryside will be a very sad reflection on the Labour Government. If only they had the courage to get on with an energy policy and develop more nuclear power stations, the wind farms would not be required at all.
I was a Minister for rural affairs in Scotland and England and a member of the NCC for nine years. The Government should think again before they go down the road of these monolithic agencies. I am sure that that is the wrong way to go, as I believe the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich indicated.
Natural England, which sounds like bottled still water, is to be the key agency in England with environmental responsibilities. That means bringing in the rural development services and the Countryside Agency. By and large, we are going the wrong way. We want to devolve these matters so that the officials are nearer the ground and nearer the people who know something about what is going on. For that reason, when I was a member of the NCC, I was insistent that we devolved Scotland from the NCC and set up SNH in Scotland because we felt that the organisation was too big. Now, under the Scottish Executive, SNH has upped sticks and has gone to Inverness, which will make it even more difficult for everyone to keep in touch with what is going on.
Therefore, I think that we should try to bring the countryside together rather than put it into huge agencies, where it will become very formal and very difficult to get the results that we want. The one-stop shop is all very well in theory but, in practice, I do not think that it will work. I am only glad that the Government are to keep the JNCC together as one committee with a UK remit, but I suppose that it, too, is pretty upset that that will include Inverness as part of the one-stop shop.
The way forward is through flexibility and evolution. The countryside should not be administered through more legislation but by people who are experienced in the countryside and who can advise on SSSIs, birds, animals and habitats. We want more effective leadership by Ministers.
My Lords, having witnessed the veritable cornucopia of new legislation unveiled from the Woolsack yesterday by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, it is clear that transport has come off pretty badly. But I share with the noble Lord, Lord Snape, the view that we do not need a lot of legislation; we need some action, and many actions can be taken without recourse to legislation. I hope that the Government will take action in some of the areas that I want to mention.
I start by referring to buses. It is a very mundane subject, but discussions are about to begin between the Government and the English bus operators about the Chancellor's announcement that there will be free bus travel for elderly people. That is a welcome move, but it is very important that some principles are observed. In Wales, the system is free. It covers all district councils and there is a uniform system of compensation for bus operators. Scotland is moving the same way. But in England, currently every district council negotiates separately. There are separate systems of remuneration for bus operators—and I am afraid that many of them do not cover the costs—which leads to bus services being reduced and other bus users subsidising the system, rather than the money coming from government. It is important that we address the following issues. Over what areas do the bus passes apply? Are there any boundaries and, if so, why? And will there be a system of remuneration for bus operators, which means that they are paid for what they produce?
The second big issue is road congestion, which affects us all, wherever we are. No one who has been, as I was yesterday, at the other side of Heathrow, where the connections are being built to Terminal 5, can fail to be amazed at the huge amount of money being spent and the huge disruption caused by the entrance to Terminal 5. When it is finished, we shall simply have moved the congestion a little way from there along the M25 and the M4, and I think that the congestion will just get worse and worse.
The start of a new government is the time to start with a scheme of road-user charging, linked to fuel duty. It would mean that people who use busy roads at busy times would pay the costs and people—particularly those in rural communities—who use rural roads and do not cause any difficulties for other people would pay considerably less for their fuel through fuel duty than they do now. The whole thing could be packaged together with many winners, and the people who cause a lot of congestion on the M25—I hesitate to mention foreign lorry drivers, who pay nothing—would pay towards the cost of the roads they use.
I was very glad to hear the noble Lord opposite mention ports. The ports strategy is a shambles. The proposals for Dibden Bay near Southampton were turned down by an inspector. There are proposals for three more ports in the south and the likelihood is that they will also be turned down by an inspector. There is no strategy, whereas there is a strategy for airports. The people affected may not like it but at least we know where we are going. With ports, we do not know where we are going and, because of that, no coherent measures can be adopted on the railway network to convey the containers measuring nine feet six inches, mentioned by the noble Lord opposite, which need to be taken off our roads. People in road haulage are talking about even bigger lorries and, again, frequent users of the roads know that they are awful and are driven vastly in excess of the speed limits. If anyone ever stopped to weigh them, which they very rarely do, we would probably find that they are also well in excess of the weight limits.
The renewal and maintenance of our railways, which was also referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Snape, is improving. Much of that improvement has involved catching up on the neglect of the Railtrack years. I hesitate to think what kind of railway system we would have now if British Rail were still in place and had the sums of money which have been wasted not only on the railway system but on the vast multitude of merchant bankers, lawyers and others who have profited out of the shambles of railway privatisation.
But Network Rail is not controlled; it is run by three people and they are not answerable to anyone who can hold them to account. I believe that when a review of railway charging is carried out, it will be essential to tie the remuneration of Network Rail to the profits of the train operating companies and the number of passengers and the amount of freight they carry, because it is the satisfaction of customers that should drive Network Rail's policy. The disjointure of the track and signalling and the trains is completely wrong. It was wrong when the Conservatives privatised the railway, and it has been to the shame of this Government that they have not brought the two sides together.
Our high-speed trains have been good, but they are now 30 years old, and the time has come to renew them. That is a decision the Government cannot put off. I want to see the new franchise of GNER, the new franchises of the Great Western when the franchise is let at the end of the year, and those of the Midland Main Line come together with Network Rail, which is the structural authority, to produce a new high-speed train. I want those companies to be in the driving seat. The idea that a new high-speed train could be designed by civil servants fills me with horror.
A new train could be longer, but need not be much faster. My noble friend Lord Mar and Kellie will refer to what lies beyond the next generation of high-speed trains. We need a replacement, and one that is serviceable. The present trains are serviceable, but, by the time they reach 35 or 40 years old, they will have to be replaced. The present Government should include that.
The CAA is also undertaking a review of airport charges in London. It would be very timely for the Government to reinforce the view that when charging airlines, whether they are landing freight or passengers, they should pay the cost not only of the pollution they create, but also of providing for proper surface access to the airports, for which they are causing the demand. Whether people are travelling, going to work at the airport or meeting someone there, the demand comes from the airlines, and they should pay for it. The charges in London are lower than at any other major airport in the world. Bearing in mind that people want to land at Heathrow more than anywhere else, it is absolute nonsense that the charges there should be lower than anywhere else. It is economics stood on its head.
I mention two other things. First, local transport plans. Will the Government tell us whether some objective measures can be introduced? I was horrified to be given the local transport plan for Oxfordshire. It was nearly 300 pages long and it was all opinion. I feel sorry for the people who have to read hundreds of these documents because they cannot possibly make any comparison between the quality of one and the other. By the time they have read them, their heads must absolutely ache.
There are a few objective measures that are expected in any local transport plan. For instance, how fast is traffic moving; are bus loadings going up; are CO2 emissions being reduced? If you are getting better, you get more money, and if you are getting worse, you get none. None of this spreading the jam thinly; reward the people who are doing things, and the people who do not do things should not be rewarded.
My Lords, I am not keen on targets, but I believe that in setting out guidance for local transport plans, there should be objective targets. We should not be relying on subjective judgment, which is an awful thing to rely on.
Lastly, the noble Lord, Lord Snape, mentioned community railways. I ask that the Government give England the same treatment as is given to Wales and Scotland. I know there are problems with the Barnett formula, but my noble friend Lord Mar and Kellie will describe some of what is happening in Scotland, and I know good things are happening in Wales in Ebbw Vale. As the noble Lord, said, however, we are not seeing our community railways developed here in England. That is partly a question of research, but also, taking what the Chancellor has said this morning, of not burdening those railways with masses of regulations. The fact that the Parry People Mover has not been allowed on the Stourbridge junction line, as referred to by the noble Lord, is a monument to the regulatory constipation we have in this country. I should think the amount of paper that has been generated weighs more than the train itself. It is as bad as that.
My Lords, I am delighted to have the opportunity to address your Lordships for the very first time today. My grateful thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, for their kind words.
Since my introduction to your Lordships' House last year, I have enjoyed the experience of being part of what is surely the finest, the most knowledgeable and most influential second chamber in the world, whose deliberations are closely followed internationally. This historic Chamber, I am pleased to note, continues to make an important contribution to democracy in the United Kingdom, which has been my home for the past 40 years.
I came to the UK from the Punjab in India in 1963 and was determined to work tirelessly to create a home and prosperity for my family. I soon settled in Northern Ireland. In Belfast I found opportunities, lasting friendships and respect, and I am proud to call Northern Ireland my home. I may also say that living and doing business there, during most of my years in Belfast, has been a challenging experience.
It is, therefore, a tremendous honour for me to serve in your Lordships' House and to speak with particular reference to Northern Ireland. I fully intend to play a part in its work, in this Chamber, in its Committees and other activities.
The subject of regional economic issues is a particularly appropriate occasion for my maiden speech. It is a topic close to my heart, especially in view of my business experiences in Northern Ireland and my present role as President of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the region's largest economic body.
For almost 30 years, Northern Ireland has suffered from civil strife. Through the peace process, the region has improved, but much more needs to be achieved. The pace of progress continues to gather momentum, but the region lags behind its counterparts in the United Kingdom. I am convinced that the process of progress is now irreversible and I believe that there will not be a return to the violence that wrecked so many lives, caused such devastation and tarnished our international image so badly. However, we need to end the political stalemate.
I am convinced that we can accelerate the pace of change by focusing even greater attention on the economy—by making it the priority. I am not suggesting that the pursuit of an agreed political solution should be sidelined or shelved. What I urge is that the emphasis should be on economic progress. There is now a much greater opportunity and an urgent need to engage all political parties in a united action on economic issues.
The best way to move Northern Ireland forward on all fronts is to increase the level of investment in economic development. This is also the best way of harnessing the commitment of the people of Northern Ireland to peace and the search for greater prosperity. Faster economic growth can become the engine that will, in time, drive political progress.
Assisted by the peace process, Northern Ireland is now among the most improving regional economies in the United Kingdom. Industrial investment has been growing. For example, this year we have attracted projects from Microsoft, Oracle, Caterpillar and many other international corporations, and tourism is also one of our growing industries.
However, we still lag behind many other UK regions and we need to improve our industrial productivity, innovation and value added activities. Our tourism sector represents only 3 per cent of GDP, whereas in other regions, such as Scotland, the Republic of Ireland, or mainland Britain, tourism represents 6 to 7 per cent of GDP. Furthermore, investment in research and development is below the UK average and energy costs in Northern Ireland are the highest in the UK. Northern Ireland companies have higher transport costs. Long-term unemployment is higher in Northern Ireland.
Unlike other parts of the UK, we have a land border with a competitor, the Republic of Ireland, which has substantially lower tax rates for investors and will continue to receive a much higher level of support from European Union funds. The competitive gap with the Republic of Ireland will widen with the Government's plans to end the derating of industrial premises and the introduction of water charges. These factors are enabling the Republic to attract high levels of business investment. Furthermore, there are indications that some Northern Ireland companies are now considering migrating to new locations just over the border in southern Ireland.
There is a need, therefore, for a major "no strings attached" investment programme aimed at strengthening the Northern Ireland economy, enhancing our global competitiveness and ensuring greater opportunity for all our people. Substantial expenditure is needed in many areas, including in the infrastructure, which is showing the strain of a lack of investment over the past 30 years. We need to assist many more companies to add value to their products and services through research and development and other innovative activities and to engage in the global marketplace to a much greater extent. We need to create major tourist projects to attract higher levels of tourism, which will require significant pump-priming from the public sector.
In conclusion, an imaginative investment package would, I believe, transform Northern Ireland by creating conditions that would bring politicians and the entire community together on initiatives that would be of enormous benefit to all. The prize for the Government and the rest of the UK is a more stable and progressive Northern Ireland. It is a prize that is now attainable.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Rana, on his excellent maiden speech. His contribution to the regeneration of Belfast has been outstanding. It is particularly notable given the difficult circumstances in that city when his work began those years ago. The people of Belfast have many reasons to be grateful to him, not only for his commercial contribution but also for his charitable work, which has been outstanding. Recognition of his services is not limited to Belfast: in 1996 he was awarded the MBE by Her Majesty the Queen. His work in forging links between Northern Ireland and India has led to highly successful commercial and cultural exchanges. He is a man of many skills and a wealth of experience. We are indeed fortunate to have him with us and we look forward to many contributions from him in the future.
Today's important debate on rural affairs, transport, sustainable communities and regional affairs could not be more timely or appropriate. Each and every one of us is directly affected by at least two of those chosen topics; indeed, many would claim to have all four at the top of their personal agenda. It is therefore all the more reassuring to welcome the Ministers, my noble friends Lady Andrews and Lord Bach. We could not be better served: both have shown themselves to be accomplished, intelligent and approachable. More than that, we could not have clearer examples of a listening government than the Ministers on the Front Bench today.
The list of speakers bears witness to the profile of today's debate. I suspect, perhaps understandably given the membership and make-up of your Lordships' House, that many noble Lords will address rural affairs. They will no doubt address the subject with expertise and knowledge but I shall steer well clear of it. I wish to cover the topic of sustainable communities. I shall confine my comments to the areas that keenly interest me: urban regeneration and climate change.
Members may recall that I have spoken about Catalyst Corby, an urban regeneration company that affects the whole of the town of Corby in Northamptonshire. I remind the House of my interest as the unpaid chair of its board of directors, a post I have held for the past three years. We began in 2002 as the first URC to be designated by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott. Since then about a dozen other URCs have been established and more are promised. Twelve months after our launch, a number of growth areas were identified by the ODPM—areas where much needed new homes could and should be built. They were predominantly in the south of England, which was justifiable as it is the area of greatest need. The Thames Gateway and the south Midlands corridor are foremost in those provisions.
Today, I seek to underline the difference between regeneration and growth. I ask the Ministers to take political stock from the results of the general and local elections, to take note of the messages that those results have sent to us, and to learn from them. In brief, Catalyst Corby sprang from the need perceived by the residents of Corby to refurbish their town—a town that has had more than its share of setbacks and was overdue for improvement. The local council, Corby Borough Council, led the campaign and applied for URC status against numerous other applicants. There was a series of visits and interviews. The key to those interviews was the fact that local people were backing a local plan for local regeneration. I joined the applicant group at the outset as I was the former MEP and Corby was very close to my heart. We were successful.
Since then, we have gone from strength to strength. The town, the local media, residents and businesses all applaud our efforts. All the tickets for our annual dinner, held at the Rockingham Motor Speedway a few weeks ago, were sold within a few days. That is further proof of approval. We have an excellent fully committed board drawn from all sectors of the community, an outstanding chief executive and a splendid, recently re-elected Member of Parliament in Phil Hope. We are poised for even greater success by faithfully following the blueprint laid down for us by local residents in the original consultative period.
A few miles down the road, there is a designated growth area identified as a site for new homes which are undoubtedly needed. But how different was the process? There was no consensus among the local residents to sign up to the scheme and no vox populus for 20,000 more homes, and the result is almost total antagonism.
The difference between our URC and the growth area is stark. We have a welcome on the mat while it has local residents armed with pitchforks on its boundaries. My point is that we should reappraise the situation and take stock of the procedures within the growth plans.
A brief glance at the general election and county council elections tells its own story. The shires have hit back and good Labour-controlled authorities have been defeated to the detriment of local residents. It is a very high price to pay. So perhaps I may make a positive suggestion. Why not give even greater support and impetus to the URCs? In Corby we are offering 22,000 new homes. Give us special help with transport systems—I think I shall call upon my good and noble friend Lord Snape on this—and the problems that are holding us back. We are grateful to the Government, who are so crucial to our development, but could they be even more generous with both time and money?
Let us back a winner. Let us join Newcastle, Birmingham and all the other glittering new cities. Let us fly the flag for more modest towns and show that bigger can indeed be better. And let us turn our neighbours green with envy and offer the growth areas a more consensual way forward. Perhaps I may reinforce that by inviting both Ministers to visit Corby and to see for themselves the scale of our proposals and achievements.
I said at the outset that I wished to touch on climate change in relation to sustainable community developments. We have great experts speaking in the Chamber today, though I am not one. However, serving on your Lordships' committee on climate change has totally convinced me of the urgent need for more stringent measures. In development terms, we visited the Woking experiment and saw how enlightened planning can produce a balanced carbon-free environment. Unless the Government make it mandatory for all new build to be of the highest possible energy efficiency, builders will give us something less. That applies to the whole spectrum of new developments.
Finally, as a footnote perhaps, I welcome the Chancellor's radical suggestion of shared mortgages for key workers who, as has already been said, are currently being priced out of the property market. Perhaps I may offer Corby as a perfect town for this innovation—lots of new build, nearly all on brownfield sites. We would be happy to undertake that initiative. If our two admirable Ministers would like to add the Chancellor of the Exchequer to their visit, we could indeed offer a very warm welcome from "Little Scotland".
My Lords, just before the noble Lord, Lord Rana, leaves, I should like to congratulate him on his maiden speech. I am not sure whether we have swapped him for the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, or whether his transfer from one side of the Irish Sea to the other is entirely without precedent or reason. Anyway, we are fortunate to have the noble Lord, Lord Rana, with us. I also congratulate him on having lived in Northern Ireland for so long without picking up the accent.
Before I start speaking, I remind the House that I am a member of a local authority. I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, back to the Front Bench as a Minister in her own right. I have sparred happily with the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. I hope not to spar quite so much with the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, but I hope that we will have a fruitful and helpful working relationship.
That will not be terribly easy in this Session, because, as has already been said, there is a sort of desert of legislation from the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. It is not absolutely clear whether that is because the Deputy Prime Minister is exhausted by his previous efforts to change the face of local government or whether he has been sidelined completely by the Prime Minister and so no legislation from the local government and communities department has been brought forward. That is not a particular matter for complaint; there has been plenty to do but it seems strange that the ministry has sunk so far below the horizon for approximately the next year and a half.
What has happened in the past cannot go unrecognised. I therefore want to remind the House of one or two small problems that are still around as a result of previous activity by that department. As my noble friend Lady Byford made clear, there was, at least, a small issue about regional government. That question of regional government was tested in front of the electorate and was pretty resoundingly defeated. One might think that regional government was a dead duck; not a bit of it. Even through there are no formally elected regional assemblies, regional bodies and strategies are proliferating on the most alarming scale.
Apparently regional housing boards are responsible for recommending to Ministers how resources for housing capital investment is best targeted to—as it is put—address regional and national priorities and the needs of all groups, including travellers. I would add to that defining the priorities as seen by the Government for identifying land for development for the million plus houses that are to cut a swathe across the country.
There are regional planning bodies for creating spatial strategies—binding plans for imposing building targets on local councils—and building over the green belt. These bodies are also now expected to prepare regional waste and incineration strategies, to comprise waste policies, distribution of waste tonnage and a pattern of waste facilities of national, regional or sub-regional significance. The Mayor for London is already consulting on such a policy which will override the already well running arrangements carried out by consortiums of local authorities in London.
Regional tobacco structures are designed to
"oversee implementation of a tobacco strategy".
The north-east has already established a regional smoke-free north-east office, accountable to a multi-agency advisory board and management board. No doubt others will follow with increasingly strident requirements.
On regional transport boards we are advised that,
"the potential benefits offer a more outcome oriented approach linked to regional priorities, the prospect of a more integrated transport policy"— one in which the noble Lord, Lord Snape, may be interested—
"and a stronger voice for the regions in the transport debate".
Regional fire control offices are also being created, removing localised involvement in the management of fire control and abolishing existing control rooms.
By any stretch of the imagination, this building up of regional programmes is a massive boost to regional control, and the complete antithesis of the Government's lip service to localism. We have heard a great deal, and a little bit more today from the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, about the Government's commitment to local government. But when you look at what is going to unelected regional bodies and to the power they have to commit local authorities to policies that they may not necessarily wish to have, you see there is a very serious problem. I need to say to the Minister that we are watching these activities and what results from them.
I turn to the revaluation of property. The experience of Wales is already salutary. The Government's assertion that "revaluations will be neutral" has proved to be absolute rubbish. In Wales one in three homes has moved up a band and taxes have risen as a result. In the first year alone taxes went up by 9.1 per cent. That was with transitional relief, which will be phased out in three years.
My noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy will speak later about the experience of Wales, but what happens there will be replicated in spades in England when revaluation starts in April 2007. Moving from band D to band E, under the example in Wales, would entail an automatic hike in bills of 22 per cent. Based on the current English band D rate of £1,214, that would entail an automatic rise of £270 each year, every year, amounting to the equivalent of an extra £1,350 over a Parliament—and that is before council tax inflation is taken into account. In addition, there is the threat of increasing the number of bands, which we tried to fight off during the progress of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill last year. That will ensure steeper rises for those properties involved.
As I said, revaluation is meant to be revenue neutral but it is clear that it will not be and that considerable "zillions" in extra resources will be raised. The question then is what will happen to those resources. Will they be left with local government, in which case there may be some reason for doing that, or will it simply be a way of the Chancellor of the Exchequer lowering the amount of grant given to local authorities and making the extra resources neutral in a way beneficial to him? Business revaluation has already brought in an extra £1.5 billion a year, which is equivalent to a 10 per cent increase.
Then there are sustainable communities, already running into considerable problems in the Pathfinder areas, pitting the Government's plans for massive demolition and redevelopment against those who believe in improvement and regeneration. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, waxed lyrical about Pathfinders and the work that has been done, but there is not unalloyed pleasure and there are serious problems arising from the conflict between redevelopment and regeneration, renewal and demolition.
There is no time for me further to develop the disasters that we already see unfolding under the Government's plans. I acknowledge that the Government have already taken on board the shared ownership scheme to help with property and house ownership, but it will be a very small part of a very big problem. The big problem is the Government's decision to follow up Kate Barker's recommendations to provide so much new housing in such a comparatively cramped area as the south of England, together with all the other proposals for airports and other infrastructure.
We cannot develop the argument further today, but I promise the noble Baroness that whether or not there is any legislation, we shall be debating these matters frequently in this Chamber during the course of this Session.
My Lords, this speech could have been delivered on Thursday, Monday or today, as I hope to comment on international development, the constitution and Scotland and transport. I shall start with transport.
There is no doubt that most journeys will be made on the road network and that many journeys can only be made by road. It is therefore the job of government to make available as many alternatives to road transport as are practical. Perhaps we should consider other modes of transport as road network decongestants. However, I do not relieve the Government of responsibility for keeping the road network in good condition and viable. The removal of bottlenecks will always be useful, but it is among the other modes in which the Government should be investing towards the abstraction of journeys from private cars into public transport—buses and coaches—and the removal of journeys from the road altogether on to rail, air and, possibly, sea, similar to services across the Firth of Forth. It is here that investment will have the greatest road network decongestant effect.
So to all the transport measures in the gracious Speech and subsequent gracious speeches—presumably three in number—it is that congestion-busting criterion that we shall apply. References in the gracious Speech were limited to four. Paragraph 24 referred to an offence of corporate manslaughter; paragraphs 27 and 28 talked of sustainable development, the natural environment and support for the rural community; and paragraph 30 promised road casualty reduction measures. The latter, at a UK average of more than 3,000 per year, and the public acquiescence that accompanies it, shows how road network managers are not expected to perform to the same standard as rail, air and sea network managers. I seek to raise standards on the road network, rather than to diminish standards on the other modes.
Before moving on from transport, I shall mention some things that ought to be firmly on the transport agenda and that might be considered as the performance criteria for the next few years.
My first selection is the loading gauge for rail freight. Today, all 40 foot sea-going containers are being built to a height of nine foot six inches. Although they can be inefficiently carried on low-loader—lowliner—wagons, that is an expensive process, not being able to carry them on ordinary container wagons. So far, the railway from Felixstowe has been converted, but that from Southampton to the West Coast Main Line has not. The Strategic Rail Authority's draft route utilisation strategy for the Great Western Main Line states that although a business case exists for opening that route to nine foot six inch containers, funding is not available. The funds required are up to £40 million. So I must ask: will the Government commit themselves to finding that funding?
Other selections include sorting out the bus concession schemes, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Bradshaw, so that they make sense—as, for example, the Welsh Assembly scheme for all of Wales by negotiating centrally; or similar to the Scottish scheme, which has also been developed on an all-Scotland basis. Will Network Rail's governance be modified to give a better focus to the improvement and availability of the rail network? Will any progress be made towards a new high-speed main line to the north and Scotland, with the benefits of rail substitution for both air and road? Finally, will any real progress be made on finalising high-speed train 2—the replacement for the 30 year-old high-speed trains? There should be one universal design with greater passenger and luggage capacity and an operating speed of 125 miles per hour.
Railway development in Scotland has been steered by the Scottish Executive and the generosity of the Barnett formula. Railways and light rail projects have been promoted by local authorities promoting private Bills in the Scottish Parliament. For example, at the bottom of my garden, the Stirling, Alloa and Kincardine Railway Act was promoted by Clackmannanshire council. I wonder whether that is the right way. Should not Network Rail be developing expertise in reopening railways? Clackmannanshire council is unlikely ever to promote another railway, so that experience will be somewhat lost.
I turn to international development and the Scottish context. At present, international development is a reserved matter; but, at the same time, the First Minister, Jack McConnell, is visiting Malawi to redevelop the historic links with the former Nyasaland, forged largely by the Kirk in an acceptable manner. The acid test of that acceptability is the fact that towns with Scottish names have retained them. The Scottish Executive are diverting some of the Scottish block grant to that activity. I applaud that. It begins to give the Scots something of an outward-looking focus again, reminding Scotland that it is a small, first-world country with an international responsibility.
Malawi, as the 10th poorest country, may benefit from such a twinning, provided that investment is carefully made. So my tactical aim for this Parliament is therefore the devolution of international development to the Scottish Parliament. In the previous Parliament my tactical aim was the devolution of the railway in Scotland. As this was largely achieved, I am ever hopeful for my new tactical aim—although it is some hope, I suspect.
The third area is my strategic aim for Scotland. No mention whatever was made in the gracious Speech about constitutional progress in Scotland. Some good grumbling has taken place recently about the West Lothian question, and I am quite pleased about it. There are four solutions to the West Lothian question. The first is an English domestic Parliament. The second is the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, that MSPs be abolished and that the Scottish MPs would sit in Holyrood for Scottish domestic business and at Westminster for United Kingdom business. This was the career-busting proposal for Mr James Gray who reigned, I suppose, for as long as his namesake, Lady Jane, but with a less abrupt end. The third solution is what I shall call the Lord Palmer option, and I am pleased to see the noble Lord in his place. I hope that it remains the abolition of the Scottish Parliament.
Those three proposals I reject, for the best solution is the withdrawal of Scottish MPs from this Parliament, and that would go for Scottish-domiciled Peers as well. May 1 2007 would be a fitting moment for Scotland to move on from the political United Kingdom and resume its position on the world stage as a dominion. Involvement in the political United Kingdom has served Scotland fairly well in the past, but is no longer relevant. The threat seen by Queen Anne's government, largely from European superpowers, is over and Scotland has become submerged as 8 per cent of the United Kingdom. The feeling of helplessness and dependency which this engenders in Scotland does its community no good. Those in Scotland who believe—wrongly, in my view—that Scotland is subsidising the United Kingdom would be vindicated, while those who accept that the United Kingdom subsidises Scotland would be on improved moral ground. Permanent subsidy is wrong for the national self-esteem and bad for poorer people in the remainder of the United Kingdom who must subsidise the Scots.
The momentum towards full autonomy under the Crown must be on a come-what-may basis, cutting the cloth accordingly. I have no doubt that in 1905 the Swedes told the Norwegians that they would be better staying within their union with Sweden, while the same went for the Irish in 1922. Even our neighbours in the North Atlantic, the Faeroe Islands and Iceland, have prospered with their respective autonomy.
There is a real negotiating problem in this over the submarine base on the Clyde. My solution is for Scotland to seek NATO membership, which is of course vehemently opposed by the Scottish National Party, and thus to draw up a treaty port proposal—as of course was done in 1922 in Ireland. The landowner in me sees that a good rental could be achieved in such circumstances.
This Parliament ought to be characterised by resolving problems boldly and by increasing people's feeling of being in control of their destiny. But will it? We shall see.
My Lords, I think that this is the first time in my years in this House that I have been able to say that it is good to follow my noble kinsman. It was our common ancestor who bribed his parliamentary colleagues in Scotland with huge amounts of Queen Anne's money in order to sign the Act of Union. It sounds as though my noble kinsman is trying to put matters right.
I, too, should like to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, on her well earned appointment. I also welcome the noble Lord, Lord Bach, to his position on the Front Bench and wish him well, although I do not envy his task. I declare my interests as a partner, with my husband, in our small farm and as a specialist cheese maker.
The Queen, in her speech, made only two references to matters rural by saying:
"My Government are committed to achieving sustainable development and supporting rural services.
Legislation will be brought forward to ensure the better management and protection of the natural environment and to provide support for rural communities".
As those are very vague aspirations, I propose to confine myself to some narrow points.
The Minister knows of my interest in the links between pesticide exposure and human ill health from his previous incarnation with the MoD. I am also concerned about aspects of animal health and, in particular, the regulations that purport to promote or protect animal and often human health. In reality, I am concerned about the quality of the science that underpins many of these regulations.
I must confess that when I first started, some 13 years ago now, to question Her Majesty's Government about the use of organophosphates in sheep dips, I trusted the system that we were, and are, told relies on rigorous testing, peer review, licensing by independent committees and post-marketing surveillance. I soon found that there is no independent testing. "Rigorous testing" means tests performed by the manufacturers and relies on data produced only for laboratory quality, active ingredients. No tests are performed on the trade products which contain emulsifiers and surfactants designed to increase the effectiveness of a biocide.
No tests are performed on the breakdown products which develop after use. For example, the breakdown products of diazinon, the most common active ingredient in sheep dips, are known to be more toxic than the original chemical, but I understand that no tests are required for them. At one stage phenolic disinfectants were added to sheep dips. I am reliably informed that not only are they highly toxic in themselves, but also that they enhance the ill-effects on humans exposed to diazinon. Incidentally, Lister, who discovered its disinfectant properties, died from phenol poisoning.
For many of the biocides there are huge gaps in the safety data. Effects on the immune, endocrine, reproductive and nervous systems are frequently absent from the data. Post-marketing surveillance is solely reliant on individuals reporting adverse effects either to the licensing authority or to the manufacturers. Neither of these is an effective way of detecting any of the harmful effects of long-term, low-level exposure to these products. The Advisory Committee on Pesticides seems to draw its conclusions on the likely effects of reported incidents in the absence of any medical or toxicological data which might provide evidence of a causal link. It is hardly surprising that only rarely do they find a cause-and-effect link.
This is a far from satisfactory state of affairs. If we are to go on using toxic chemicals as quick fixes for undesirable flora and fauna, we do need to know what we are doing to vulnerable humans. I am particularly concerned about the increasingly reported subtle effects on human foetuses and infants. I would ask the Minister to note that while professional users of sheep dips and agricultural sprays are required to be trained and achieve certificates of competence in the use of toxic chemicals, parents of young children are able to purchase organophosphate hair lotions to kill head lice on their children and diazinon flea collars for their cats and dogs over the counter, and to use them without training or supervision. Not all users will read meticulously the instructions or warnings printed on the packaging before using a product. Anyone who watches children and their pets will know that their tendency is to cuddle an animal by wrapping their arms around its neck and burying their face in the fur. Many children sleep with their pets in or on the bed. I would be really grateful to the noble Lord if he would explain to me just why it is that when professional use is rightly so rigorously regulated, diazinon is still allowed for flea collars. The Veterinary Medicines Directorate is well aware of the concerns that surround this product, including the effects on the behaviour of children.
The noble Lord may not be so aware of my interest in animal health, in particular in transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, foot and mouth disease and bovine tuberculosis. The thread that links current regulations surrounding these diseases is, to my mind, the poor science on which decisions are based. We have still not had a proper analysis of the overall effects of policies relating to the 2001 UK foot and mouth epidemic. We see people on the Science Advisory Council who are assessing their own FMD policies; we see people on the Spongiform Encephalopathy Advisory Committee promoting their own research results.
The TSE regulations of 2004 that require sheep of specific genetic make-up to be slaughtered seem to have totally ignored the fact that if you narrow the genetic pool, you breed out many desirable traits. Many of the breeders who voluntarily joined the scrapie eradication scheme are now reporting poor conformation, lack of mothering instinct, and reduced hardiness and fecundity in their remaining sheep. I submit that, in their anxiety to prove a point, the scientists have, in this instance, gone a step too far. I ask the Minister to conduct a really independent review of these reports—by which I mean no one connected with SEAC—and to reverse, or seek derogation from, the original decisions, which I acknowledge emanate from the EU, before it is too late and the wonderful diversity of the British flock is lost.
I recognise that Defra may be coming to the view that some action needs to be taken to eliminate bovine TB in badgers. This is a complex and emotive subject, but it is clear that methods of dealing rapidly and humanely with diseased badger populations must be an integral aspect of control methods.
I know that the number of qualified scientists in any particular field is limited. I know that there are few individuals at the top of their specialism who are prepared to devote the time and effort necessary to serve on the many scientific advisory committees the Government need as part of their decision-making progress. There must, however, be some means by which we can avoid putting the so-called independent experts into positions where they are in judgment upon their own actions, whether it be in the field of policy or licensing. The disastrous policies advised by the mathematical modellers during the FMD epidemic are a case in point. The scientific impartiality, which is so essential for open and honest debate, is not achieved by appointing two of the main proponents of the extensive slaughter that took place during the 2001 FMD epidemic as members of the Science Advisory Council. The outcome is predictable—without the aid of mathematical modelling.
There is no suggestion that the policies used in 2001 should be subjected to detailed analysis and, for management of future FMD epidemics, there is undue emphasis on modelling and a stubborn insistence that the pre-emptive killing of healthy animals should remain an option for disease control. In addition, there appears to be reluctance, perhaps based on ignorance, to embrace advances that have been made in the rapid and accurate diagnosis of foot and mouth disease, vaccination strategies and the differentiation of vaccinated animals from infected animals.
An ancient and important principle of justice requires that no one shall be a judge in his own cause—nemo judex in causa sua. This principle has been ignored on far too many occasions, not only by Defra, but also by the Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions. I warn the Minister and his noble friends that I shall not let the matter rest.
I note the absence from the Queen's Speech of the long awaited animal welfare Bill. Does this mean that it has been pushed out by the vast amount of business propagated by the Home Office? If not, I look forward to its progress through both Houses.
The United Kingdom has an excellent animal welfare record compared with conditions in most other countries—a record of which we can be justifiably proud. There are some serious loopholes, however, which need to be closed—sadly, often concerning domestic animals. As the law stands, regulating authorities are often unable to act until it is too late. Inspectors need to be able to caution and advise animal owners who may not realise the suffering that their actions are causing or are likely to cause.
As a specialist food producer, I am interested in the Government's commitment to sustainable development and to supporting rural services. As well as making and selling goat cheeses and milk to our local community from our farm shop, we sell home-reared free-range pork—the pigs drink the whey from the cheese-making as part of their diet—and Black Welsh mountain lamb. After the widespread closures of small abattoirs a few years ago, we are left with just one medium-sized, family-run abattoir in the whole of Worcestershire.
I see that there are now further proposals to protect public health by the imposition of yet more regulation on these businesses. If this happens, it is likely that our abattoir will close. The implications of this are that small businesses such as ours will have to cease trading. For welfare and food quality reasons, we are not prepared to transport our animals over large distances in search of an abattoir that will cater for our few animals with specialist needs.
Will the Minister kindly tell the House what consideration is given to the knock-on effects of regulation such as that proposed for the abattoirs, and to alternative provision for small producers who provide a valuable service to their own communities? If these businesses are to survive, it is vital that the infrastructure that enables them to operate remains intact.
I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in his winding-up speech and to future debates on matters rural.
My Lords, even though he has now vacated his seat, I should like to join others in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Rana, on his excellent maiden speech. He will be a very valuable Member of the distinguished community that is your Lordships' House.
I should like to talk about poverty and social exclusion in rural Britain. The Government are quite often accused of being relatively indifferent to poverty and inequality in general in our national society, but that accusation is surely false. They have been a redistributive Government. According to the latest statistics, some 2 million people have been moved out of poverty since 1997; about 800,000 of them are children. Although the Institute for Fiscal Studies has recently cast some doubt on this, it seems fairly clear that the Government are in line to reach their target of reducing child poverty by a quarter by the end of the current financial year.
A large proportion of older people—I do not think we should use the term "pensioners" any longer—have been moved out of poverty. Some 30 per cent of people over 65 who were in poverty in 1997 are no longer in such a condition.
The overall level of economic inequality has, contrary to what many say, actually stabilised over the past two or three years. Economists normally measure this by a complex device called the Gini coefficient. For 30 years, economic inequality in this country has been on the rise, but now it has stabilised it has not yet begun to decline. Most analysts agree that the reason for the stabilisation of economic inequality is the raft of anti-poverty programmes that the Government have introduced. Without them, overall economic inequality would have continued to increase.
The Government have quite rightly placed an emphasis upon anti-poverty programmes in urban areas. It is right to do so because some of the most deprived of all communities in our society are to be found in our cities. The statistics show that some 24 per cent of people living in urban areas live in low-income households. That compares with 18 per cent in rural areas. Levels of unemployment tend to be lower in rural areas. Persistent poverty—or embedded poverty, if you want to call it that—is also lower in rural than in urban areas.
However, poverty and social exclusion in rural Britain are massive problems for the country. Eighteen per cent of people living in low-income households equates to 2.6 million people. It can be argued that despite what the Government have achieved already in terms of poverty reduction and maintaining a limit on inequality—commendable though it is—they have, essentially, if I can use a rural metaphor, plucked the low-lying fruit. That is, they have got quite a lot of people out of poverty, including children, but these are often people who have been living close to the poverty line or who live in areas where jobs are fairly widely available. Those two conditions do not count in many rural communities.
Therefore, alleviating and reducing social exclusion in rural areas has to be fundamental to the Government's project of producing a more inclusive society overall. Nor should we think that rural poverty is alleviated by living in beautiful countryside. Most of the rural poor do not live in beautiful countryside. Cornwall is one of the most beautiful counties in the country; it is also one of the poorest. But the poor do not, by and large, live by the beautiful beaches; they do not live by the beautiful coves; they do not live by the rolling hills. They quite often live in windswept ex-housing estates or on caravan sites.
The category "rural Britain" is very wide. Many different communities would fall under that general classification. But I think it is generally agreed that there are several important differences, to which the Government must pay attention, separating a good amount of rural poverty from urban poverty. These are fairly well known. First, there is dispersion, which is true almost by definition. The poor in rural areas are more dispersed than they tend to be in urban communities. That has important knock-on consequences, however, because often the Government have as a criterion the saturation level of poverty in a particular area. It therefore follows that in some rural areas people who need access to government programmes do not necessarily get it.
Secondly, as other noble Lords have mentioned, there is quite substantial inward migration, especially to more picturesque rural areas. That produces tremendous strains on the housing market. It is a great mistake to suppose that affordable housing is a problem only for those living in urban communities. Especially for the poor in more remote rural communities, it is a tremendous problem, and it is very good that the Government have instituted some plans to help to try to cope with it.
Thirdly, there are specific problems for rural youth. Young people living in rural communities are often culturally isolated; they are often socially isolated; they face difficult economic conditions, such as with getting jobs. They often have to leave their local community in order to get jobs. Although young people have many problems in our urban communities, they have parallel but different problems in rural society.
Finally, of course, there is the much debated issue of transport. Those people in more remote rural areas who most need transport find it least accessible, and there is a generic problem of providing effective transport on an economic level when not that many people are going to use it. That is a continuing problem of country life.
I welcome what the Minister said in her introduction. I welcomed the passion with which she spoke about the importance of reducing social exclusion in non-urban areas. The Government have done a lot. They have recognised that there are specific problems in the countryside as regards exclusion, inequality and poverty. But have we done enough? I think the answer is "No". Can we do more? The answer to that is "Yes".
I conclude by listing some of the considerations that the Government should take into account. First, I welcome the proposal in the new Bill that the three agencies which deal with countryside be integrated. It surely will allow for more effective administration and will help with the kinds of things which we need to alleviate in rural areas. But why stay there? Why not integrate the diverse programmes which the Government have instituted with poverty, inclusiveness and community-building? If one were to look at Cornwall again, no fewer than 100 government programmes relate to social exclusion, building better communities and so forth. Why so many? Why should they not be more closely integrated? I am in a certain sense a social policy expert. Even I cannot follow what the impact of all these programmes is. What it means is that the Government do not get the credit that they should for the impressive results that they have achieved in reducing inequalities.
I remember reading during the recent general election about a woman being asked on the doorstep, "What have the Government done for you?" She said, "Nothing". When it was then pointed out that she profited from the working families' tax credit, she said, "Oh, is that anything to do with the Government?" These things need to be put together in a more egalitarian programme which would have application for country areas.
Secondly, we need to make a big push on child poverty in rural areas. The Government are committed to reducing child poverty by 50 per cent by 2010. That is going to be very hard to do, but it cannot be accomplished if we do not reduce child poverty very substantially in rural communities. We do not know that much about the conditions of child poverty in rural areas, but we know that there is quite a big difference between the dynamics of child poverty in most urban communities and the dynamics of child poverty in rural communities. More specifically, in urban communities, child poverty is very often associated with single-parent households. In rural communities, it is much more often associated with low-income households. Sure Start has been extended to rural areas, but the Government must do more if they are going to have a realistic chance of meeting their objective of reducing child poverty by a half.
Thirdly, we need a more specific and developed policy for rural youth. We need not just a cultural policy, or a social policy to help rural youth to network and meet one another, but an economic policy too. Many younger people in rural communities find themselves in a job market which is seasonal, part-time and where there are very poor job prospects. We need intervention to create more effective job markets in such rural areas.
Finally, one of the big problems associated with rural social exclusion is the so-called "deep rural". In the deep rural areas are people who live in tiny communities quite a way from even market towns. There is good evidence that many of the most intractable problems of poverty reside there and that the kinds of programmes that have been used to help regenerate market towns will not work for the deep rural areas.
I suggest a slightly radical solution. If one takes an interest in international development issues, as I do, and looks at what has been done for the very poorest people in developing countries around the world, one is amazed to find a proliferation of programmes where, as it were, high-tech meets low-tech. High-tech innovations have been massively important in helping poor communities; for example, the use of information technology to develop local credit schemes; local smart cards; information on local businesses. These schemes have been pioneered in Bangladesh, Mozambique and in the Punjab, yet we find hardly anything here aside from one or two experimental schemes. We must do more, and high-tech is the way.
The countryside is not just 4x4s; the countryside is not just frustrated hunters; the countryside is not just struggling hill farmers. It is some millions of people who live in the countryside, but whose future does not belong in agriculture. The Government must address themselves to them. If I may borrow a term from "The Full Monty", I hope that the Government will give me an assurance that they will confront these issues in an open and "fully frontal" fashion.
My Lords, I shall address my remarks to rural issues. As usual, I declare an interest as an owner of land in the north of England.
One of the Bills listed in the gracious Speech, which will have a profound on rural life, is the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill. In essence, I support the main thrust of the Bill, which emanates from the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Haskins. Frankly, anything which streamlines and simplifies the Defra delivery mechanisms must be welcome. That point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, in what I might describe as an admirable speech. We took great interest in what the noble Lord had to say.
I have long argued for the amalgamation of English Nature and the landscape and access side of the Countryside Agency because, in reality, the two cannot be effectively separated, as has been clearly shown in the past. But the Bill is a substantial piece of legislation, and it will require scrutiny, particularly in view of the new powers that will be given to the new integrated agency.
The preamble to the Bill states that economic prosperity has an essential role in achieving both social and environmental benefits. I am sure that your Lordships would concur with that simple objective. But it goes on to state that the new integrated agency will be expected to take a fresh approach to the natural environment and rural issues and to work in partnership with others to develop solutions that provide environmental, social and economic benefits. The words "in partnership" are particularly important. If a partnership is to be effective, both sides must play an equal part, but there is nothing in the Bill to suggest that this is actually what is intended. There is nothing which gives the new agency an obligation either to promote or to take into account the economic and social well-being of those who live and work in rural areas, other than through management of the natural environment.
As the Country Landowners' Association puts it—and I am bound to say that I have some sympathy with what it said—the Government are being somewhat na-ve if they believe that economic prosperity automatically flows from environmental regulation. In truth, it is far more likely to be the other way round, whereby a healthy and robust rural economy has the ability to produce the jobs and the infrastructure to provide well managed environmental policies, in partnership, where necessary, with the government agencies. I believe, therefore, that for this Bill to reach its full potential and create the prospect of genuine partnerships and respect between the public and the private sectors, it will require the new agency to have a statutory commitment towards sustainable development, as anything less will result in a distorted approach to the rural economy.
I noted with interest that the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, in her opening comments talked about government policy involving people in their communities. In my view that involvement can come only through a genuine partnership.
I would like to say something about access in the countryside. The new access rights under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act have already come into being in some parts of England and Wales. In my area in the north Pennines they come into being at the end of this month on
I think it is fair to say that despite the very real concerns expressed by land managers and farmers alike there is a genuine desire to make the new provisions work as effectively as possible and with the minimum amount of acrimony. Real difficulties are arising, as we predicted, particularly in the absence of statutory access points from which visitors can establish what restrictions are actually in place at any given time.
However, by far and away the most contentious issue is that of dogs. Quite frankly, unless the Government and the access authorities take steps drastically to reduce this problem, widespread damage will occur and real bitterness will escalate between those responsible for the management of the land and the dog owners themselves. I am bound to say that some of the abuse which is handed out to land managers by dog owners when asked to put their dogs on a lead is at times simply breath-taking.
I believe that in the Peak Park in Derbyshire, where open access has been in operation for longer than in most places, the dog issue is regarded by many as now being out of hand. Despite signs and warnings and special restrictions on grouse moors, which the Government introduced in recognition of the economic and wildlife importance of this type of management, the wardens are finding more than 40 per cent of dogs off leads. The general view among land managers is that in the absence of rangers, the figure is much higher.
There is, I believe, a growing body of opinion from across the board that the only way that the problem can be curtailed is through further sanctions against those who wantonly ignore the rules and abuse the system. After all, what is the point of English Nature designating large areas of the uplands as sites of special scientific interest, special protection areas and special areas of conservation if dogs are allowed to run wild in the spring and summer wreaking havoc on ground nesting birds?
The land which I own and manage in the Pennines is part of an SSSI and is also part of the North Pennine Moors Special Protection Area. The designation places—and I looked at this very carefully the other day—an obligation upon government to promote the conservation of the site and to take steps to avoid disturbance of the species for which the area has been designated. So I have this question for the Minister—like others I welcome the noble Lord to his new position. What steps are the Government planning to take to comply with their statutory obligations? To do nothing would, in my view, be highly irresponsible and very dangerous.
I should like to finish by making one or two general comments about farming. As I am sure your Lordships are aware, there has been much debate recently about the future of the British countryside, particularly since the decoupling of payments from production to environmental management, and what is rather loosely described as rural development under Pillar II of the CAP. Like most people, I welcome this move as being long overdue as subsidies undoubtedly distorted markets and had an adverse effect on the environment.
However, I am bound to say that whereas I acknowledge that around 20 per cent of the single farm payment which farmers now receive is still geared towards price support and export subsidies—and should be phased out as soon as possible, along with the fact that some degree of switch (or modulation as it is called) will be necessary from Pillar I to Pillar II to meet the Government's commitment to the entry level scheme and the higher level scheme, both of which I very much welcome—I think it is quite wrong when some commentators continue to criticise the single farm payment and persist in describing it as a subsidy. I do not think that is right at all. I believe that it should be seen for what it is—a payment to farmers for delivering specific environmental and animal welfare standards. As the main architect of the current CAP reforms, Herr Fischler himself put it recently:
"The Single Farm Payment is justified because EU farmers could not compete on a global basis and still conform to the EU Regulations on animal welfare and environmental management without such payments".
Of course I acknowledge that the new world in which farming finds itself will present new challenges and there will be winners and losers. That is inevitable. Rewarding farmers for good environmental stewardship is something that I warmly welcome and I believe that it is long overdue. However, as a general principle I feel equally strongly that the Government must not abandon the notion that farmers and the well-being of our countryside go hand in glove. I believe that the Government have a moral obligation to support our farmers in every way possible.
There are certain things that the Government could do which they are not doing. They should support Defra's efforts to secure a much fairer allocation of the EU rural development cake. Red tape, which has been mentioned by other noble Lords, must be reduced. How about a three-year moratorium on new regulations and directives affecting the rural area?
The Government should ensure that new licences do not prevent the operation of small abattoirs which are so vital to the local production of food. The Government should facilitate the proper labelling of British food so that consumers know what they are eating. The Government should help promote local food without infringing EU state rules. The Italians do it very effectively—why cannot we? The Government should face up to the problem of bovine TB, as my noble friend Lady Byford mentioned.
The Government must also do more to promote alternative crops for renewable energy—a point which I know the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, will mention later this evening. Affordable housing has already been mentioned and is so essential in making sure that we have houses in the countryside that people can afford to live in. This list is supposed to be helpful to the noble Lord, Lord Bach. I believe that with genuine effort it is attainable.
Finally, I believe that it is incumbent on us all to support our farmers whenever we can and to ensure that the landscapes of Great Britain are productive both in terms of high quality food and the environment. It is the farmers of this country who are best placed to deliver these clear objectives.
My Lords, first, I welcome the emphasis of the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, on the importance of sustainable communities in rural areas. I wish to raise one subject that I believe is a constraint on the achievement of sustainable communities, and that is the too strict application of green belt regulations.
I speak as a resident of Hertfordshire and declare an interest as a landowner within the metropolitan green belt. The metropolitan green belt around London was established in 1955. Its main objective, as stated in planning policy guidance PPG2, is to prevent urban sprawl by keeping land permanently open. Subsidiary objectives, as stated in paragraph 1.5 of PPG2, include checking unrestricted urban sprawl, preventing neighbouring towns from merging into one another and preserving the setting and special character of historic towns.
It is, indeed, hard to quarrel with any of those objectives. Over the years since 1955 they have been successfully achieved but not without some negative consequences. The most obvious of these is the shortage of housing supply that has been created and which has been a major contributory factor in the huge rise in house prices in recent years.
The other major and related negative consequence has been the effect on villages and hamlets within the green belt which often have ceased to be sustainable communities. Their natural evolution over the centuries has been stopped in its tracks. In the absence of affordable housing, families who have lived in the area for generations can no longer live there and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, noted, amenities are closed down. The village shop and post office disappear and the doctor's surgery moves away: the village becomes a commuter dormitory.
The main defect in green belt policy is its blanket designation. Paragraph 1.7 of PPG states:
"The quality of the landscape is not relevant to the inclusion of land within the green belt".
That completely ignores the fact that landscapes and village settings vary enormously. In reality there are numerous areas within the green belt where, as the noble Baroness, Lady Scott, suggested, sympathetic and modest quality development, in character with its surroundings, would have no negative impact on the basic principles of green belt policy and could have the benefit of allowing the natural evolution of villages and hamlets to continue.
The fact is that the visual quality of the landscape most definitely should be relevant to the inclusion of land within the green belt. I hope that the Government will rethink their intransigence on that point. To assist them in that task, I suggest one possible method of introducing a degree of flexibility. The concept of white land in PPG2 could be broadened and made practical use of. Paragraph 2.12 of PPG2 allows for what it calls "safeguarded land" or "white land". Local authorities are expected to identify land that,
"may be required to meet longer-term development needs and should therefore be excluded from the green belt".
It seems to me that the definition could easily be broadened to allow for the identification of specific sites within the green belt where modest and appropriate development that in no way affects the basic principles of the green belt could be permitted at the discretion of the local planning authority. It would be a local planning authority obligation to consider applications for white land status as part of the local development plan review process. It would be up to local landowners and parish councils to submit applications to the local planning authority for the re-designation of specific sites within the green belt as white land. If accepted in principle, such sites would be included in the local development plan, and subsequent planning applications affecting them would be considered on their merits. That would give local authorities the ability to provide affordable housing where necessary, and it would permit the continued natural evolution of sustainable rural communities.
I strongly believe in the objectives of the green belt, but I also believe that their blanket application has been, and continues to be, too extreme. I do not think that the suggestions that I have made would in any way undermine the basic principles. I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to the issue.
I put in a word for the much-maligned motorist. While I deplore, like everyone else, the number of fatalities on the road, the figure is low in the context of the massive volume of motor traffic. Driving in London, with the experience of fairground bumper cars, I am always amazed that there are not more accidents. The standard of driving in this country is on the whole very high. The same can no longer be said of the roads. Successive governments have focused on public transport, for example pouring millions in to the railways, to the extent that ticket prices have become prohibitively expensive. They have neglected expenditure on the roads, with the result that the major roads are clogged and traffic is driven to rat runs through country lanes. The time has come for some serious investment in the roads. Instead, it seems we are getting the Road Safety Bill, which will put more burdens on the motorist.
In Hertfordshire, we have long been promised a widening of the A1 motorway, and there is a particular lack of a good east-west major highway. Perhaps creating an outer northern M25 would do the trick. The plea for better roads is not to denigrate the needs of public transport, although when I meet a huge bus in a country lane with one or two people on it I wonder why smaller buses cannot be used on such routes through the countryside.
I recognise that the Government have a huge programme ahead and that it is impossible to please everyone. My pleas are that they give serious consideration to introducing a little flexibility into green belt policy in the long-term interests of sustainable rural communities and that, in their efforts to improve public transport, they do not forget the need for investment in the nation's roads.
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, and to my noble friend on the Front Bench for not being here in time to hear the opening remarks. I am recovering from a nasty asthma attack.
The Road Safety Bill passed through the other place before the election was called, and it is therefore slightly more familiar to some noble Lords than other Bills that will be introduced in this Session. I have two queries about the Road Safety Bill. First, when do Her Majesty's Government intend to lower the drink-drive limit to bring us into line with the vast majority of other European Union countries? I recall a Canadian experiment in the 1960s involving rally drivers negotiating a demanding course before taking some alcohol and then taking successive, measured amounts of alcohol. It was interesting to note that the ability of those professional drivers was impaired by even very small amounts of alcohol. It has been acknowledged that this poison—one must remember that alcoholic poisoning can and does kill—can have an adverse effect on driving even when taken in very small quantities. That in turn can have a contributory and adverse effect on collisions.
Scientific research supports that. I would commend a recent paper written by Richard Allsop, where it was calculated that lowering the drink-drive limit could save 65 lives a year. That interesting paper was presented to the Brake conference on drink and drug driving earlier this month. I repeat my question: when will the drink-driving limit be lowered?
My second query on this Bill is to seek confirmation that the lower threshold of two points will not apply in areas where the speed limit is 30mph or lower. The chances of killing or seriously injuring someone are greatly increased when driving over 30 in a 30mph-limited area. The reason for lower speed limits is to reduce the chances of having collisions and of killing or injuring people. A higher speed limit reflects a reduced danger. However, there are those who say that because car technology has greatly improved, the national speed limit should be increased; but driver reactions have not improved, nor have their anatomy and physiology and I would venture to suggest that there is little evidence to support any major changes in their psychology.
Figures released last week show that compliance with the 30mph limit is finally increasing; and we do not want to endanger that progress by relaxing the penalties. After all, a child hit at 35mph is twice as likely to die as one hit at 30mph. I offer one word of caution against reducing penalties for exceeding speed limits. I would not be surprised if the courts were full of people trying to prove that their observed speed was within the lower points limit rather than the higher limit at which they were caught.
In a slight aside, when will Her Majesty's Government acknowledge, in public and in the press, that safety cameras are not—I repeat, not—money-making machines? All the cameras are doing is recording offending drivers exceeding the speed limit. Those cameras are there for a reason, and to pander to motorists who complain that they were caught exceeding the posted speed limit is patently wrong. If drivers do not want to pay the fines for speeding or get points on their licences, the solution is theirs, and it is easy; just do not exceed the speed limit. To say that it takes time to look at a speedometer leads me to think that those who make that comment do not make use of their rear vision mirrors. Additionally, as all cameras should be highly visible, the fact that a motorist has been caught lends itself to suggest that they were driving without due care and attention.
While some drivers continue to develop their skills the ageing process marches on. And because of this, the comparatively new photo driving licences must be renewed every 10 years. I wonder whether any thought has been given to having an assessment of the person's driving by a qualified and approved driving instructor. Could that assessment not include determining whether eyesight and health are appropriate for the continued right to drive?
When police officers were introduced in the 1800s they looked after their own neighbourhoods. If somebody was observed doing something wrong, the officer would use his whistle and chase the suspect. Other officers, hearing the whistle, would join in the chase. The suspect might or might not get caught. Not much has changed in the intervening period except that motor vehicles are now used and the siren has replaced the whistle.
But the neighbourhood has been extended to include the strategic roads and, in particular, motorways which burglars and other criminals use regularly, almost with impunity. Some noble Lords present might recall my hands-on involvement with traffic police. Because of their very specialised training it is the traffic officer who will observe something very small—something that might not be observed by other police drivers—that can lead to the arrest of somebody for something which is not traffic-related.
I make no apologies for reminding noble Lords that not all car users are criminals but all criminals are car users. And yes, I did say traffic officers and I do not mean Highways Agency traffic officers, who appear to have stolen the identity of the police road policing officer. No, I mean the men and women who are available at all hours every day of the year, who receive comprehensive training in driving skills, law—both practice and procedure—investigation, searching and family welfare, to name but a few of the things we ask of them.
The sooner those in senior positions acknowledge that police traffic officers do not just give out speeding tickets the better. At the moment, a study is taking place into the importance of police traffic officers but I suspect that the researchers will, initially, be asking the wrong questions due to lack of specialised knowledge. It might be expecting too much to beg them to speak to those officers in the traffic departments for the viewpoint from the coalface.
My final contribution is intended to provide food for thought. I believe that, at the moment, it is the statutory responsibility of the Health and Safety Executive to police vehicles involved with the carriage of dangerous goods. Traditionally, police forces have agreed to assist the HSE in this area, but find that it is increasingly difficult due to many factors. In addition, the Vehicle and Operator Services Agency—VOSA—is now responsible for many aspects of enforcement in relation to LGVs and PCVs. The police still assist VOSA and share responsibility to gather intelligence and enforce the law, but the same pressures apply to this area of work as with the carriage of dangerous goods policing.
The Highways Agency traffic officers who currently patrol motorways, in uniform, will eventually total several thousand in number. They will expand their remit to cover all trunk roads. While they will, initially, be concentrating on getting traffic moving following collisions and sweeping up debris, would it not be more cost-effective if they were trained to take over those areas currently covered by HSE and VOSA? This will provide resilience to the current regime and give much better value for money in making a more useful and efficient contribution to the fight against crime and terrorism.
In conclusion, I welcome the gracious Speech: better and increased penalties for the more dangerous driving offender, education rather than punishment for the minor offender; and a sensible drink-drive limit in keeping with the majority of our European counterparts should be encouraged.
My Lords, I offer my congratulations to the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, on so bravely overcoming such an untimely asthma attack and giving us the benefit of his thoughts.
We know that the gracious Speech is an opportunity for the government of the day to set out their legislative programme. I would have hoped that, after all the trailing of their ambitions at the election, the Speech would have been characterised by some big ideas.
Anything that smacked of that was left nearly until the end, when we reached subjects such as the prevention of terrorism, peace in the Middle East and partnership between Europe and the United States. Like my noble friend Lady Byford I find it revealing that climate change is mentioned only in the context of the presidency of the G8, although it is a major issue in its own right.
But that tenor of the gracious Speech in some ways seems to echo something of the level of the general election campaign, which for some reason did not do much to inspire the voters. Was that some reflection that here we have an electorate that, however much some may abhor the idea, is still looking for a purpose as noted by Dean Acheson more than 40 years ago, who commented that Britain had lost an empire but had yet to find a role?
When one looks at the ideas being promoted at this time, a major one is the promotion of a concept of freedom based on massive consumption. It should not be a surprise to find that there are large areas of the world where this is not considered particularly attractive, especially when there is not a great deal available to consume. There must be a question for our political leaders as to whether individuals could be asked to consider a concept of a freedom related to frugality. It is a concept that can be taken to extremes in some religions, but I would maintain that that is no good reason for its consideration to be disqualified.
We have occasional glimpses of such thinking, and perhaps it should give us some reassurance to know that the Government's approach to the issue is not going to be confined to their campaign against obesity. But joking apart, I have a sense that there are a great many young people whose thinking is moving in that direction. Most of us can feel some sympathy for them in that they may not want it to apply to themselves instantly, but it makes a considerable amount of sense when they have to consider finite resources, pollution, global warming and so on.
In the previous Session the Government gave us a wonderfully ambitious target of 20 per cent for reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions. Having achieved a 9.6 per cent reduction two years ago the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics for 2003 show a 1.6 per cent increase. The fact that the Government only last year had to go back on their national allocation plan application because of an underestimate of the base levels of the power-generating sector has meant that we are no longer seen in world terms as the leaders and drivers of that policy. Will the Minister tell the House if the Government have identified any plans to put us back on track to achieve their target?
If the Government achieve their aim there will be no need for Britain to enter the market for carbon credits. But will the Minister tell the House if he is aware of the number of countries in the European Union that are currently putting aside funds to finance the purchase of carbon credits in case their industries cannot meet the target that has been set for them? That could be an issue of some importance as it could act to penalise some of our own industries as they work to meet their own targets. So will the Government give it some consideration to see if any action on their part is needed?
The Kyoto treaty is now a reality. I understand that the World Bank has recently held a conference on carbon trading in Cologne. Europe has set up its own carbon emissions trading structure, but it now appears to have been expanded enabling it to tackle trading worldwide. There is now an executive board with a secretariat, known as CDM, situated in Bonn which, for those whose savings are certified, can issue the carbon certificates for sale and an international transaction log, which is administered in Denmark.
Other countries are claiming their role in the action. Given the expertise that exists in the financial markets in London there should be an opportunity for the City to become one of the foremost centres for this trade. Do the Government have any plans to take a role in helping to establish that?
Following the concerns expressed by the noble Countess, Lady Mar, about animal health, I declare an interest as a livestock farmer. A major review of agriculture and veterinary research establishments is taking place in Scotland. The institutions in Scotland carry out some of the most significant animal health research in the world on matters such as TSE and TB, but there is a fear that there is not enough co-ordination and a possible duplication of administration.
Many such institutes rely on funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, at levels up to 20 per cent of their expenditure. Given what they do and the need for the eradication of a number of animal diseases, I hope that an increase in efficiency will not lead to a reduction in frontline funding. One has to ask whether there is scope for a similar review in England of the work carried out by the Institute for Animal Health in Pirbright and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency. Do the Government consider that they currently have sufficient funds to carry out the tasks required of them? What can be done to make them more effective?
Other European countries are taking a serious approach to eradicating diseases in their livestock, about some of which this country has not even started to think. We have had an unfortunate recent history of widespread BSE and foot and mouth. Let us hope that we can still rescue our reputation as a source of healthy livestock for the world.
My Lords, let me begin by reminding your Lordships' House that the battle against terrorism was referred to twice in the gracious Speech. In Northern Ireland, we know more about terrorism than does any other part of the United Kingdom. With that in mind, I wish to detail the most serious breach of financial security by terrorists that has ever occurred within the United Kingdom.
In 2001, a major UK bank—the Bank of Scotland—bought an Irish government-owned bank called ICC. Despite due diligence, which operates in any normal takeover, the chairman of ICC—Philip Flynn—was for reasons not yet explained allowed to stay by the UK bank as chairman of the Bank of Scotland (Ireland). Flynn had been made chairman of ICC by the Irish Finance Minister Ruairi Quinn in 1996. Quinn now admits that the "fit and proper" regulatory test for a person to control a bank was not applied. Flynn was prosecuted for IRA membership in 1974. The police understood that he had been its chief finance officer. He became vice-president of Sinn Fein from 1980 to 1985.
When in 1997 Bertie Ahern became Irish Prime Minister, Flynn had already been his friend, adviser and main troubleshooter for some years. Mr Ahern appointed Flynn to run a civil service dispersal programme, which made available for sale property in Dublin worth hundreds of millions of pounds, and required the purchase of property in the provinces worth tens of millions of pounds.
Flynn became, in the words of the Irish media, a "pillar of society". The Irish police knew differently. In 2002 and 2003, they observed Brian Keenan, currently an active member of the IRA army council, staying for some time at Flynn's home in Dublin. They observed Slab Murphy, the IRA chief of staff, meeting Flynn on a regular basis. They reported that to the government. Nothing happened. Flynn continued as the Prime Minister's friend and head of the local Bank of Scotland. Mr Ahern continued as Tony Blair's indispensable guide, friend and partner in the peace process.
I have no doubt that, as usual, the Irish police shared the information with the authorities in the UK, so why did Her Majesty's Government also do nothing? The biggest criminal and terrorist organisation in the United Kingdom had its leading members staying at the home of the local chairman of the Bank of Scotland—the fifth-largest bank in the Irish Republic, with a loan book of more than £8 billion.
In 2004, Flynn became a management consultant to Sinn Fein, the IRA's partner in politics and crime. At that stage, he was the senior adviser both to the Irish Prime Minister and to Sinn Fein—and still no one acted. All, according to the UK-regulated Bank of Scotland, was fine; likewise with the Irish Government. It seemed to matter not that a man handling billions of pounds of public money was also reconstructing a criminal organisation dedicated to the destruction of the Irish Republic and its government.
In December 2004, the Northern Bank in Belfast was raided by the IRA, netting £26 million. That money was immediately smuggled into the Irish Republic, to be cleaned in a well established laundering operation. The Irish Minister of Justice described those who assisted the IRA and Sinn Fein to set up the "state within a state" and the money-laundering operation as "sleepers" and "pillars of society". The police now believe that the IRA has up to £2 billion in assets in Dublin from pubs, hotels, houses and other legitimate investments. They are based on a cash deposit of stolen money, and between 80 and 90 per cent of lending by a "friendly institution".
Following the move of the Northern Bank raid's proceeds to the republic, panic set in. A flood of money, capable of acting as deposits for hundreds of millions of asset purchases, threatened the Irish state with financial destabilisation. The Irish Justice Minister acted. In the week of
Mr Flynn resigned all his posts. To date, the Irish Government have given no explanation of why Flynn was on the board of the government bodies long after they knew that he was back associating with his old IRA friends. The Irish bank regulator, obliged by law to react to a sudden resignation of a senior bank director, has done nothing. That regulator seems to believe that the public are sufficiently beneath contempt as not to be worthy of an explanation.
The chairman of the Bank of Scotland is the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Coddenham. I advised him three weeks ago that I would be making these remarks today. He may be in your Lordships' House, in which case I will give way to him at any time. He wrote to me that:
"Mr Flynn was well thought of in Irish financial circles".
He did not mention that Flynn was a well known former IRA man who was busily reconstructing Sinn Fein and associating with active IRA criminals and terrorists, who were at that stage, according to the Justice Minister, planning the Northern Bank raid.
In April, the same Justice Minister—albeit in code—accused his own Prime Minister of associating with criminals and subversives. His covert accusation was factually correct. Mr Ahern was socialising with Flynn. That night, the leader of the Minister's party—the Progressive Democrats—said that she could go into "coalition with any party". To many, it seemed that they had put Mr Ahern on notice to quit. Was there a deal to allow the IRA to buy its way into respectability with stolen money? What is the link between Sinn Fein and Mr Ahern that allows some in the Irish Government to turn a blind eye to the "state within a state"?
In 1996 an unarmed policeman, Detective Jerry McCabe, was murdered by the IRA during a bank raid. A man was charged with manslaughter, not murder; he and his associates were given prison sentences. Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness tried to get the killers released as part of the peace process. Mr Ahern and his coalition partners gave their word to Jerry McCabe's widow, Ann, that the men would serve their full sentences. But last November, Mr Ahern announced that the killers' release was a non-negotiable demand by Sinn Fein and that he had agreed to it. He forced his coalition partners to acquiesce. What was despicable beyond belief was that he also forced Ann McCabe, by blackmailing her with the threat that she was holding up the peace process, to go along with his decision. Who was Bertie Ahern relying on as his close adviser on Sinn Fein? Philip Flynn.
At the behest of Adams, McGuinness, Flynn and a Frank Connolly—of whom more later—Mr Ahern broke his word to the widow of the murdered policeman. He humiliated his partners in coalition and blackmailed the widow. Mr Ahern has made no explanation, nor apology, for his appalling conduct. The only explanation possible for Mr Ahern's refusal to act on his police force's advice about Flynn, and the about-face over Jerry McCabe, is that Sinn Fein has undue influence over Fianna Fail through a combination of money and blackmail.
What is even worse is that it was all for nothing—all the duplicity and all of Ann McCabe's renewed grief. The murder of Robert McCartney and the theft of the £26 million showed the IRA in their true colours.
Sinn Fein wants a peace in which its gunmen rob banks and invest the proceeds with impunity. That would be a criminal peace in which its intelligence gathering operation can continue under the brazen public cover of the Centre for Public Inquiry, run by Frank Connolly, the brother of one of the Columbia three. Based on the conduct of Fianna Fail and its creation of the Provos by gun-running in 1969, and of Mr Ahern over the past 10 months, Sinn Fein will get it.
I am pleased that the UK bank regulator has indicated that he shares my concern over activities in Belfast. I ask the Minister to ensure that the Bank of Scotland's Belfast loan book is urgently inspected by the Police Service of Northern Ireland's fraud squad.
I think that history will show that Mr Ahern betrayed his own country; he knew what was going on and allowed it to happen. Is it any wonder that the Belfast peace process is dead?
My Lords, I return to the subject of transport. The gracious Speech referred to two Bills on transport—the Road Safety Bill and the Crossrail Bill. There is probably a Welsh one as well, but we do not know about it.
We had the First Reading of the Road Safety Bill today, but I do not have a copy of it yet. Before talking about that, I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group. I do not need to say much about rail freight as the noble Lord, Lord Snape, and the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, both talked about rail freight and got it right. The noble Lord, Lord Snape, forgot to say that rail freight volumes have also gone up by 40 per cent, as passenger volume has, but I thank him for his remarks.
One thing that has come up several times this afternoon is the question of a ports and air policy, and who pays for that surface infrastructure. There is no ports policy. Planning applications have been submitted for two or three big ports, but no decisions have been made. They are expected to contribute to the costs of improving the rail and road links to those ports if they get permission. The situation seems much more fluid for airports. There is an airports policy—that is, to cover the south-east of England with concrete. We would expect a much more rigorous policy to reduce the number of car journeys to and from airports, but there does not seem to be that either. I hope that that will come out of further discussions, as and when Heathrow expands yet again, or Stansted expands.
I welcome the Road Safety Bill, if it is to be much the same as the one introduced before the election. I am pleased to hear that there will be picnic areas on motorways. That is a major achievement! I was also pleased to hear that the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, supports lower alcohol and speed limits. I know that Liberal Democrats also support that. It would be good if there were an all-party consensus on that matter. I am trying to think of ways of restricting 4x4s, but that may have to wait for another day.
Accidents at level crossings and bridge bashing both cost Network Rail, passengers and freight an enormous amount of time and money. At present, Network Rail does the Highways Agency's work. As virtually every accident on a level crossing is caused by the motorist rather than the train, it is ironical that the railway is always blamed. Similarly, with bridge bashing, it would be nice if it became a criminal offence for a lorry to hit a bridge. That might stop them doing it. There is some work to be done, but I welcome the Bill and look forward to reading it. It is a great idea for it to start in this House.
My main subject for this debate is Crossrail. My noble friend Lady Andrews said that 100,000 jobs would be created. I do not know whether that is in the construction or after it is opened—I cannot see where those jobs will come from. It may be that a similar number of jobs will be lost if the other trains are not allowed to run on the network. I welcome Crossrail as a project, but I worry that the Government are putting it at risk by the way in which they are going about it.
I shall give some background. For the past two years we have had a rail review and the Secretary of State made the point quite rightly and repeatedly that the structure of the railways needed to be simplified. He certainly did not go as far as suggesting renationalisation, but he has simplified the system in the legislation. He has strengthened the role of the independent rail regulator and included safety, which is a good idea, and he gave Network Rail more responsibilities in the Railways Act 2005 and outside it. But, before the ink is dry on that Act, in comes the Crossrail Bill, which does precisely the opposite. It will remove the independence of the rail regulator by allowing the Secretary of State to give directions to the Office of the Rail Regulator. Independent regulation is the cornerstone of many industries, and policies on energy, communications and transport, because it regulates monopolies and ensures that private-sector investors have the long-term confidence to invest.
The second problem with the Bill is that it provides for Crossrail trains to have priority and sole use of the Great Western and Great Eastern slow lines, which are two tracks out of four on each side. Crossrail customers will gain dramatically. There will be eight times the number of passenger coaches an hour going to Maidenhead in the rush hour. I cannot see who will fill them but it is an interesting idea. There will also be eight going east. Everyone else who uses the line will be squeezed on to two tracks when they presently have four. That everybody else includes the long-distance passenger trains from as far away as Penzance, Swansea, Hereford and places in between, and Norwich on the east side, and freight. I remind your Lordships that on Great Western there are 60 freight trains a day in each direction carrying about 10 million tonnes a year of building aggregates into London. If they do not come by rail they will come by road, and everybody will complain. There are about 40 freight trains a day on the Great Eastern, so there will be problems. There will be fewer passenger trains, which will probably take an extra half an hour to get to London.
In addition, there are a few things missing from the Bill. There is no information about who will maintain the tracks over which Mr Livingstone and Network Rail will have control. Mr Livingstone will have two tracks and Network Rail will have two, so what happens if Network Rail wants to close two tracks for maintenance? Answer: you do not travel or you get on a bus, and the freight will not go. Also, how do you signal it? At the moment it is signalled as one railway, and a signal box cannot be cut in half. There is no operating timetable, and there is a distinct lack of clarity. The Government want to build a metro system, which means 24 trains an hour on dedicated tracks—maybe. At least, that is what the legislation says. Or, will it connect the two networks of Great Eastern and Great Western by a tunnel to run some of the trains in between? As it is, the powers are for a metro with 24 trains an hour but there are no dedicated tracks on the surface. I call that theft of capacity. The Crossrail people are stealing capacity from those who have contractual rights at present, including passengers and freight. If the Government want 24 trains an hour they had better build separate tracks on the surface.
There is nothing about finance in the Bill. It is interesting that Central Railways tried to develop its project in a hybrid Bill, but it was told by the Government that it could not do that because its financial plan was not robust enough. There is no financial plan for Crossrail, and many members of the public and companies will petition against the Bill. I am told that it could cost some £1 million in legal fees for all those people to be represented by counsel and so on. There is no indication that the project can be financed. The Government should produce a financing plan before the Second Reading in the Commons.
In conclusion, the Government should produce a financial plan for Crossrail and they must produce a timetable which states the type of line that will be operated—will it be 24 trains an hour or 12?—because that will have an enormous difference to the effect on other people. The Government must say how Network Rail will be involved, because I believe that Network Rail should run the entire operation, including the tunnel, otherwise there will be several timetables for the various organisations. What happens when it goes wrong? The Government should make a statement about the independent rail regulator and the idea of the sole use of two lines.
It is extraordinary. For once, Network Rail, the Association of Train Operating Companies and the chairmen of the Rail Freight Group and EWS Railway have written a joint letter to the Secretary of State saying, "You've got it wrong. We like the project, but this is not the way of going about it". If the Government can produce that information and give comfort on the issues that I have raised, then the Crossrail Bill deserves to succeed. But if they will not, those who use the other parts of the network and/or freight will have a reasonable case to say, "You'd better stop it and think again".
My Lords, we are in the season of elections, when wisdom is engaged in analysis. Having run five times in almost as many years, I am grateful to your Lordships for re-electing me as an hereditary Peer. It is a great honour to succeed to the place retained with such dignity and skill by Lord Aberdare. In the by-election to replace him, 51 per cent of your Lordships—168, or 24 per cent of those eligible—voted for myself. So I shall discover what it means to be supported by less than a quarter of the registered electorate.
Walter Bagehot wrote an essay in 1856 entitled Dull Government. He was, on terms, in favour of dull government. He argued that it suited the English temperament. He did not, I regret, mention the Scots. In that essay, he wrote about Parliament in the wake of a general election. He stated:
"It is extremely hard on an effervescent 'Prime Minister' to have to set 'members' down to mere business, to bore them with slow reforms, to abolish abuses they never heard of. But such is the Constitution. The Parliament is assembled—some work must be found for it".
After some reflection on rural affairs, transport and regional affairs, as they appeared in the shorthand of the gracious Speech, Bagehot's comments seemed apt, yet puzzling. Prime Minister Attlee might well in a third term have been in favour of dull government—perhaps Harold Wilson, too. It seemed unlikely to suit the present Prime Minister.
It may be that the manifesto is a better source document. It is certainly longer, for, after 100 pages, there comes Chapter 9 on page 102, entitled:
"Democracy: Power devolved, citizens empowered".
"Stronger local government, with local communities able to make key decisions about their own neighbourhoods".
Perhaps the project to,
"bridge the chasm between government and governed", is alive and well—even exciting. As your Lordships know, participating in key decisions is a different matter, both to being consulted and to being assured that someone important is listening. Witness the BBC journalists.
In reality, what decision-making are people offered in the gracious Speech? Local communities will be empowered to tackle knives, guns and alcohol-related violence. The police, fortunately, will also have added powers. It is certain that then, as now, the police advice will be to dial 999 and to rely upon them. Otherwise, people might find the Bill to be a most risky, maybe tragic, example of empowerment.
There will be continuing support for rural services and rural communities. Is that support to be centrally decided with grants ring-fenced by Treasury rules following consultation, or will it enable key decisions to be made locally? Maybe current experience, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Peel, is relevant. Open access and the way that it is being implemented is a guide—as, perhaps, was the Chancellor of the Exchequer in another place granting during his Budget speech free rural bus travel to senior citizens.
On the evidence, that is the style that seems likely to prevail, because the first chapter of the manifesto, "Rising prosperity"—written very differently to chapter 9, states that £51 million has been added to bus subsidies, thus delivering 2,200 new bus services. Indeed, rural bus services and subsidies engage much of the Department for Transport's time and that of the Commission for Integrated Transport, with contributions from the Countryside Agency.
Following the Lyons review, can we hope that stronger local government, democratically elected, will be judged competent to bring the people who live in rural areas into key decision-making on neighbourhood bus services? Or will the Government prefer centrally-driven plans and targets that will be processed regionally, leaving county councils as administrators, not managers?
The manifesto further states that responsibilities will be devolved,
"to existing regional bodies in relation to planning, housing, economic development and transport".
That intention seems certain to add a dimension to central government control and further to weaken, not strengthen, local authorities. How is it possible, successfully and democratically, to have both stronger local government with strong leadership and ever more influential regional bodies whose masters are in Whitehall?
The region with which I am most familiar is the north east—not that the north east is, in reality, coherently at one within itself. Yet the north east was confidently expected to be in favour of a regional assembly. It was to lead the field. But it voted decisively, "no". The north east will be watching to see which direction is taken by the Government. England as a whole is sceptical, knowing that it does not want to be regionalised, still less to see its county councils marginalised. Where do the Government stand? Do they believe in local democracy—giving people real power over the issues that matter most to them? Can we hope for clarification now, or do we have to wait for Lyons?
Walter Bagehot saw advantages in dull government, but he would not have applauded those who, in the detail of their presentation to the electorate, put forward conflicting and, apparently, irreconcilable policies.
My Lords, this is the second occasion on which I have had the good fortune to follow a Member of your Lordships' House who has been returned in a by-election. Indeed, it is by strange coincidence that the first occasion was also in a debate on transport, when I followed the excellent speech by the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, from the Liberal Democrat Benches. Although the convention of this House does not allow me to congratulate a maiden speaker, I know that I speak for all Members when I say how much we look forward to hearing further contributions from the noble Viscount in future.
In addition, I join others in welcoming to this debate my two noble friends who speak in it on behalf of the Government. I would like to add my own congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, on her very well deserved promotion. To the noble Lord, Lord Bach, I suppose I offer my commiserations on his leaving the deep peace of the Ministry of Defence marriage bed for the hurly-burly of the Defra chaise- longue. I particularly look forward to engaging with him in future on issues such as climate change, and here I declare an interest as the chairman of the All-Party Sustainable Aviation Group and treasurer of the All-Party Railways Group.
One of the curiosities of the recent election campaigns was how little transport and the environment featured as issues—a point made earlier in the debate by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich. But for there to be virtually no debate on the Government's stewardship of the railways presumably counts as a great success, because if the focus groups say that the public do not want to talk about it, it is not an issue.
I rather regret that because, contrary to what some of my noble friends in this House say from time to time about the West Coast Main Line, along with my noble friend Lord Snape, as someone who also uses the railway many times a week whenever possible in preference to travelling by car or air, my general perception is that the services are generally getting better. They are more punctual, investment in new stock is delivering a more comfortable and cleaner service and, as the noble Lord, Lord Snape, said, there is a stirring of pride among many of the people who work on the railway.
However, of perhaps even greater significance is the fact that, in terms of passenger journeys, rail travel is now more popular than it has been since the 1950s. Then the network was twice the size that it is today. The demand growth year by year, at 4 per cent, is now faster in Britain than on the railways in the rest of Europe. This is true across the system, particularly in the more lightly used but socially necessary lines that are part of the community rail partnership, to which the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, referred.
Perhaps I may give a couple of statistics. On the Chester to Shrewsbury line, passenger numbers have increased by 300 per cent over the past seven years and by 180 per cent on the Bittern line, which runs from Sheringham to Norwich, since the introduction of a community rail partnership there in 1995. Given such statistics, I find it astonishing that a journalist as respected as Matthew Parris should call for "another Beeching", as he did in an article in the Times on
"Close the rural lines that everyone knows make no sense. The screams will be deafening, but do it".
In one respect, he is absolutely right. If any government were to attempt to close the rural railways—your Lordships will recall that we had a very clear promise from my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham during the passage of the Railways Bill just before the election that the Government had no hidden closure agenda—there would indeed be deafening screams of outrage, many of them starting in this House. Although closing lines and reducing the size of a network are not options, it is, however, important that the Government face up to the serious transport and environment issues that will face this country over the coming decade.
We can no longer avoid making the connection between climate change, transport policy and individual travel behaviour. Transport now accounts for 26 per cent of emissions in the UK, and road traffic continues to rise by about 2 per cent per year. Aviation is predicted to double or even treble by 2030. Just a week ago, the Royal Society issued a report stating that the UK will miss its targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions unless urgent measures are taken, such as the introduction of a carbon tax on all users of fossil fuels, including motorists and industry, and on domestic gas and electricity prices. That advice was also offered by the excellent report on climate change by this House's European Union Committee, which we debated on
"The EU should dissuade states from holding the view that strong economic growth is axiomatically linked to large increases in the use of fossil fuels".
A similarly authoritative study on the external costs of transport was carried out by the INFRAS consulting group, published last year by the University of Karlsruhe. That group reported that the current external costs of air transport are estimated to be about €53 per 1,000 passenger kilometres, which, if imposed on ticket prices via a combination of aviation fuel tax and en route emissions charges, could begin to reduce the sector's impacts while still allowing sensible growth.
Similarly sound, but also politically difficult, advice has been offered by Transport 2000, the environmental campaigning pressure group. I declare an interest as one of its vice-presidents. It has offered the Government a 10-point plan on how to tackle some of these issues. That includes a much greater focus on improving public transport—railways, buses and trams— and reducing the demand for air travel, which would involve introducing emissions taxes on European flights, taxing aviation fuel, scaling back airport expansion, getting European agreement to auction landing slots at airports and developing rail as an alternative to short haul flights.
The Government are making the right noises in some of these areas. In particular, I welcome the determination of the Secretary of State for Transport, Alistair Darling, to press ahead with his plans for a nationwide road-user charging system, presumably using the latest satellite technology. That will indeed build on the success of the congestion charge in London and marks a complete departure from the predict and provide road construction approach of the past.
I also look to the Government for a robust response to groups such as militant hauliers and farmers, who seem to believe that bullying the rest of us over fuel prices will dissuade Ministers from doing what is right for the environment. Defra's own figures show that carbon dioxide emissions from road hauliers increased by more than a third between 1990 and 2002. The lesson there is clear.
All these are serious issues, and I hope that we shall be able to engage with them in this House during the life of this Parliament. I also hope that the BBC, which came in for some criticism at Question Time today, will want to engage with these issues in a rather more serious way than it has done hitherto. I would ask the BBC to take seriously the complaints that it has received about the programme "Top Gear". I hope that I may be able to tempt my noble friend to agree that at a time when everyone is talking about how to reduce car use, cut climate change emissions and make the roads safer, it is not appropriate for our public service broadcaster to screen a programme that glamorises speed and fails to make the connection between speed and danger on our roads. The programme also encourages an obsession with unnecessarily powerful and therefore heavily polluting cars, is in danger of promoting a yobbish attitude on the road and inconsiderate behaviour to other road users, and focuses hardly at all on greener cars, the need to cut car journeys or the alternatives to car travel. I hope that it will take some notice of this.
Finally, I should like to commend the noble Lord, Lord Broers, for his excellent Reith lecture, which I had the pleasure of reading last week. I shall quote one section from it. Commenting on recent journeys by air between Glasgow and London, which were delayed either on the ground or in the air, he said:
"For a country that claims to be putting global warming high on its agenda, it is incredible that we allow air travel to expand, especially as research has shown that emissions at a high altitude are much more damaging to the environment than emissions at ground level.
And yet in this mad world, aircraft fuel is untaxed. Why on earth was it faster for me", the noble Lord, Lord Broers, asked,
"even with the delay, to fly from Glasgow to London rather than take a train?".
Why indeed? I hope that the Government will agree and, in the course of this Parliament, will redress the balance between air and rail and other forms of transport.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, because we now have in common an agreement that the issue of global warming was a dog that did not bark during the election. Perhaps that is unsurprising because on page 89 of the Labour Party's manifesto one finds the remarkable headline "Climate change and Africa". I have tried to make a direct connection. The manifesto goes on to say—a statement repeated by the Minister this afternoon—that the United Kingdom has met its Kyoto obligations. They are short-term and temporary obligations, and we should recognise that the fact that we have met them is the result of the fortuitous side-effect of the dash for gas in the early 1990s, which the Government stopped shortly after they were elected in 1997.
As the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, stated and, indeed, as my noble friend the Duke of Montrose reminded the House, carbon dioxide emissions are now rising again. Nationally they rose by 1.6 per cent between 2002 and 2003. It is remarkable that we cannot get the 2004 figures; one would have thought that they would be available by now. In relation to transport, a figure that has not been mentioned so far this afternoon is that the emissions were up by 5.2 per cent over the same 12-month period. I am quoting Defra figures.
This issue is of fundamental importance because it is global in its impact and universal in that it affects all peoples, both in developed and undeveloped communities. It is the developed world that has created the problem and therefore it has an obligation to find a technical solution—and to find it in time for the rest of the world to continue to develop without the pitfall of having to rely on mineral hydrocarbons in all their forms. That will require intense and continuous effort.
During the election, I picked up two environmental announcements relating to this matter. The first appeared in the Weather Eye column in the Times, which revealed that global atmospheric carbon dioxide had risen above 378 parts per million at the end of 2004. That figure is from Mona Lau in Hawaii and it is the accepted standard. This is the third consecutive year in which the rise has been more than two parts per million. It was hoped that that accelerated rate—it used to be between one and two parts—was a statistical blip. It now appears to be a trend. If that is the case, that accelerates the impact of the warming effect of carbon dioxide on the atmosphere and it accelerates the need for society generally to find long-term solutions to these problems. We cannot allow the proportion of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to rise indefinitely and so speedy action is now of the essence.
By way of background, it is worth noting that the first phase of the Kyoto agreement was supposed to save roughly 0.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per annum across the world. From that well known radical newspaper, Christian Science Monitor, I found that the energy aspirations of China and India with a relatively small contribution from the USA would, if fulfilled using coal for generation, add 2.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere per annum. That equation does not lead to any improvement at all.
Of course, that additional 2.5 billion tonnes would reduce by 20 per cent if the energy did not come from coal-fired power generation but from natural gas. It would reduce to almost nothing if it was produced using nuclear. Therefore, that becomes a most significant issue and it is one that will have to be taken into account in policy.
The second big announcement related to food crops in a changing climate. A Professor Long from Illinois University said:
"Growing crops much closer to real conditions has shown that increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will have roughly half the beneficial effects that were previously hoped for".
The use of carbon dioxide in greenhouses is a well known horticultural technique for increasing yield. But there has been a realisation that the increased temperatures—particularly if they occur when crops are flowering—can have a very damaging effect on yield. That is significant because land resources are already under pressure in the production of food. But we in Europe are entirely used to having a surplus of food and therefore a surplus of land. The natural place for that spare land is not, dare one say it, in Defra's favourite environmental programmes but in producing biofuels.
I turn to what is happening globally. In Brazil, people are entirely used to having cars that run 100 per cent on bioethanol. Indeed, they have cars that are adapted to run on all proportions of ethanol, from 10 per cent through to 30, 50, 70 and 80 per cent. In the United States, 30 million tonnes of maize went into bioethanol last year. The Americans have a huge problem, but they are way ahead of anything that we in Europe are thinking about in this field. Of course, a separate issue lies behind that. Brazil has also managed to tear up 20 per cent of the Amazon rainforest, and that is not beneficial.
However, my point is that we shall increase the demand for cultivation of land if we go down the biofuels route. I think that we shall have to do that because for a while we are going to need every kind of fuel that we can get and, in my view, we can no longer afford to rely on mineral hydrocarbons.
In the long term, we must seriously consider the interesting point that all the green forms of energy produce electricity. We are all familiar with the controversial nature of wind. We are also familiar with the thought that tidal, ocean current and wave power will produce electricity, as will solar through photo-electrics. The green energy supply of the 21st century will be electric, as opposed to the mineral hydrocarbon energy supply of the 20th century. The problem with that is the difficulty with transport, particularly road transport.
The question then is: where should we go? Battery technology does not look as though it will be successful. Of course, biofuels will play a significant role in the immediate future, but in the end we come back to electricity producing hydrogen. BMW has been running a fleet of cars on hydrogen—a small fleet, it is true—using the internal combustion engine, perfectly satisfactorily. The real future, however, appears to run with the development of fuel cells. Motor manufacturers in Japan, America and Europe are working on that. We have a fuel cell-powered bus running in London.
All of these things are at the prototype stage, and that is where they will stay without some enhanced positive indication from the Government that they really mean to tackle the issue. The trouble is that it is not happening because, on the whole, the Government have preferred activity to action and prevarication to decision. That is something that has to change, and in this Parliament. The need is urgent, for everyone's sake.
My Lords, the gracious Speech included important legislative and administrative objectives for the environment, including preserving the UK's natural environment—which we hope now includes the marine environment—tackling climate change, working with Africa's environment and dealing with the consequences of nuclear and biological weapons. It also included the environment of London, as the GLA has recognised, and as I shall explain, ensuring the success of the proposed Olympic Games.
In this centenary year of Einstein's great and much-celebrated papers in 1905, it is a pity there was no explicit reference to science in the gracious Speech, nor in the titles of the House of Lords debates following it, despite all the discussions of science elsewhere. Nevertheless, like others, I welcome the Government's commitment to science. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Bach will take as keen an interest in environmental science as his predecessor, my noble friend Lord Whitty. It would be excellent if, in his winding-up, he could commit the Government to environmental policies based broadly on sound science. I am sure that this is the Government's aim, but a clear statement would give the right signal to his department as it deals with all the contentious issues that face it.
In talking about science, I offer my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Sainsbury on his reappointment as Minister for Science. He has been partly responsible for the substantial growth of the science budget. Whereas three-term governments have been known before, he must be the longest-serving Minister for Science in UK political history. I declare an interest as a professor of climate modelling at University College, a director of a small company, the president of an NGO, ACOPS, and vice-president of the NSCA.
Although, as my noble friend Lord Sainsbury stated in the debate here on
The Government have made substantial investment in basic science, as I have mentioned. What is needed now, however, is better exploitation, particularly for the environment, better databases, and publicity of successful UK developments. The House of Lords EU committee on climate change, to which other noble Lords have referred, was astonished, when we had the Secretary of State before us, to hear how little she knew about the technological developments in dealing with climate change in one or two notable areas—it is important to emphasise that—and particularly the greater use of government websites to encourage those important developments.
However, as other noble Lords have mentioned this afternoon, while research, both basic and long-term, is essential in both university and government institutions, it is also extremely important that scientists should have the freedom to think widely and speak openly about their work. There are worrying signs of censorship, or at least self-censorship, to avoid criticism or to present work fashionably. The noble Lord, Lord Taverne, has made that point several times in this Chamber.
I was a little surprised that my noble friend Lady Andrews, when introducing her speech about sustainable development, did not refer to the fact that we passed an Act to ensure that sustainable development is now an essential component of regional planning decisions. That was one of the many unsung achievements of the previous Parliament. This means that sustainable development is being taken seriously and requires an integrated long-term strategic approach to all government policies at both a local and a national level. Although this is the responsibility of the sustainable development commission in Government, it is actually only Ministers and the Cabinet who can ensure that departments and their agencies work together and increasingly involve local government.
It is local government that, through its local planning and other powers, and through local business initiatives, is on the front line in housing, transportation and preserving all aspects of the local environment, such as the atmosphere and the water. It is also responsible for, and increasingly engaged in, relating the environment to general health and the health of vulnerable groups. There is an interesting development in one of the boroughs of London using satellite data to focus air quality data for particular people suffering in that respect.
Such objectives require targets. We had a discussion earlier this afternoon about whether the Liberal Democrats believe in targets, and I think I got a muddled "Yes". In fact, at both a national and a local level, targets have been helpful in environments around the world. As your Lordships may have seen, US cities are now focusing on meeting Kyoto targets for reducing their carbon emissions.
I suggest that the Government, as part of their G8 initiative, might extend carbon emission targets down to local levels. The National Society for Clean Air in the UK is advocating local government involvement in this area, as many local governments see that reducing carbon emissions is a more efficient use of energy, and that there are many other environmental advantages. In the United States, many universities even have their own Kyoto targets, as I have seen on my visits. I believe, therefore, that this is a widespread and democratic approach, not just top-down targets from one or two ministries.
However, the House of Lords has shown in its reports and debates on climate change that there are strong conservative—with a small "c"—blockages to developing some of these climate change policies. Some of these are commercial, some institutional, and some from popular organisations. Many of these resist central science-based environmental policies. I hope the Minister will clarify how his department will be overcoming these resistances to push forward its policies on more efficient and sustainable energy use.
One of the points highlighted in two House of Lords reports is the question of allowing local networks of power generation to be expanded. I hope that the Minister will take up cudgels on behalf of his department against the objections of the DTI and Ofgem to allow this kind of development to happen. The GLA certainly advocates this, and one or two cities in Britain, such as Woking and I believe Bristol, have demonstrated it.
Not only should the Government be allowing the spread of the remarkable success of some UK cities and technologies, they should also be highlighting them to countries abroad and to other cities in the UK. In fact, the Government have been doing this. The university I am associated with, along with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has been taking British experts to foreign cities, such as Houston, and we have had meetings in Germany, in order that this whole worldwide local approach can move forward.
The other crucial approach that central government can take is to introduce energy systems to reduce carbon emissions. As the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, mentioned in his speech, there are many possible methods of doing this. In the jargon, this is the "portfolio" or "wedge" approach. In the debate in February, we were very pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, say that it is now the favoured approach and there will not be a single solution but a range of solutions.
One of the important options that we need to develop is nuclear fission. I believe that the Government, their committees, industry, science and the engineering community now have a major task to explain nuclear energy and its risks and the fact that there are risks both in other environmental policies and in having no policies. If we do nothing at all, we will have more very high temperature events, as we had in 2003, and we may have more events of flooding. They will be caused by unmitigated climate change. In 2003, 2,500 deaths in the UK were associated with the very high temperatures in the summer and there were more than 20,000 deaths on the Continent.
It is possible that a conventional nuclear fission energy programme will be started during this Parliament, as the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, advocated last week. But it is important to think of a much longer, 50-year programme of advanced nuclear systems that must deal comprehensively with nuclear fusion and fission and with the problems of nuclear waste. However, it is disappointing that the UK is not participating in the international meetings on these advanced systems. The United States Department of Energy is thinking about nuclear energy over the next 40 to 50 years and is working with colleagues from Russia and the International Atomic Energy Authority. There are no British officials at these meetings. I am going along as an independent British scientist, and I shall tell noble Lords about the meetings when I come back, but it is important that the UK, as a leading scientific nation, should be part of the debate. I believe that there is a fear that if we participate in these wide-range discussions some environmental groups may be upset, but the Government should have greater courage on this issue.
We should have energy centres in the UK that look much further forward. The Government are to be congratulated on introducing, during the past few years, a UK energy centre based at Imperial College; but neither that centre nor the scientific institutions are providing any long-range foresight in the UK. We have no centre such as that at Petten in the Netherlands where the general public can see demonstrations of energy systems that they should be considering for their houses and workplaces. It is important that people should see the vision of new energy systems. That will inform democratic debates.
As we heard in the last Parliament, the Government's policy is that there will be publicity costing £12 million to explain and propagandise about climate change, but the effort to explain levels of technology is quite inadequate. Such explanation would be a great advantage to the UK industry in helping the Government. The other important point about sustainable development is that it should be emphasised how appropriate it is for developing countries where environmental degradation is extremely serious.
Finally, one of the aspects of climate change that needs to be considered is the way it will affect our cities. The GLA had a small group considering climate change and the Olympic Games. It is forecast by the Met Office that this summer there will be very high temperatures in the south of England, comparable to those in 2003. There is a very good chance that there will therefore be strong effects on health in the UK. The Department of Health issued a warning last week, but no action has yet been taken to follow up the technical solutions needed to deal with our transportation systems.
It is essential that we inform people about the temperature on the Underground system, which could easily be done, as we know that there is a great danger to health when the temperature is above 30 or 31 degrees Celsius. Systems could also be introduced to ventilate the Tube at night so that in the morning the temperature in the Tube is comparable to the temperature on the street. At the moment, the Tube is far too hot and there is considerable danger. I hope that the Minister will tackle this with London Underground and Transport for London, as it is a serious situation.
My Lords, I know that the Minister has a fondness for agriculture as I well remember when he trudged round the fields of Lincolnshire, trying hard to unseat me. We are very pleased to see him in his new role.
The gracious Speech made one reference to the countryside. It stated that legislation would be brought forward,
"to ensure the better management and protection of the natural environment and to provide support for rural communities".
I want to deal with the setting up of the new agency for the English countryside, Natural England, and, above all, I want to deal with the destruction of the English countryside by wind farms, which has already been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Monro. Even worse is the destruction of our coastline by even more useless wind farms, from which the cost of a unit of electricity is even more expensive than that of a unit produced by nuclear energy.
These wind farms are subsidised, particularly with the back-up needed for when the wind does not blow. To a farmer struggling to make a living they are an attractive proposition, but, even with the subsidy, they make virtually no contribution to the national grid.
Having struggled for 40 years to make a Highland estate in Sutherland "wash it's face" commercially, I went to look at several wind farms—one on Carter Bar on the Borders and, worse still, one on the coast of Caithness, next door to the Dounreay atomic power station, which is closing down. The noise and the hum from these wind farms, and the damage that they do to wild life and the countryside, are quite unacceptable.
I went to the Dounreay exhibition explaining about the closing down procedure. Most people in Caithness and Sutherland would welcome a new nuclear power station at Dounreay. In the early 1980s, a special power line was put in to take the electricity from Dounreay to the smelter at Invergordon. Dounreay has a most powerful link to the grid at the moment. The decision on other nuclear power stations cannot be delayed any longer. It takes time to renew them and no wind power could possibly fill the gap.
As a whole, the farming community will give the new agency, Natural England, a chance. It has worked well in Wales and we will have to see how well it works in England. The Bill states that its general purpose is the conservation of the natural environment,
"contributing . . . to social and economic well-being".
There is a major risk that it will treat conservation as a priority that will override all others and that, in effect, land managers will be thwarted in maintaining the adequate economic returns from their land that could possibly pay for that conservation.
Natural England should not supplant the income-generating activities of the regional development agencies. Will the Minister and his colleagues look hard at ensuring that the Bill will deliver that? It is important that Ministers attempt to make the government machine more joined-up. Will the Minister tell the House how many fewer officials there will be in his department after these changes have been brought about and how much public money will be saved?
My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Kimball. I wish the Minister who opened the debate well in her new post and thank her for her previous courtesies. I also acknowledge the Opposition Front Bench speeches, which were very well informed.
The National Assembly for Wales is barely six years old, which in the history of Wales is but the blink of an eye, considering its continuously unfolding history of more than a millennium and a half. In that context, the Assembly has done well. It is so young, yet the transference of power from the Westminster village to the Cardiff Bay seat of government has been technically successful—an achievement still underrated and unappreciated overall.
The Government should never forget the fundamental importance of the manufacturing industry to Wales and indeed to any regional economy. My theme is employment and my request is for a reconsideration of the basic value of manufacturing to Wales and Britain.
How much do the Government value manufacturing? Not enough, perhaps. "Added value" is the establishment's cry. Yes, Wales has modernised and adapted herself to rapidly changing world and British conditions. The Welsh Development Agency, for example, is successful and world-famous. There has been a renaissance in training; road building continues apace; Wales is successfully marketing its lovely landscape and historic buildings; and old industries are reinventing themselves, as at Shotton steelworks, where new products and processes hold the line for the remaining workforce. Unemployment has plummeted, and great new industrial estates have grown up on derelict sites to provide many new jobs.
The Government's measures are working but Wales still depends on manufacturing and would falter without it. We need more of it, not less. How important is manufacturing in the Government's strategic economic policies? The gracious Speech did not illuminate on that subject. But the shrunken steel industry and the all but disappeared coal industry have put a premium on Wales's remaining manufacturing. The burgeoning aerospace industry in Wales illustrates that. In south Wales, the United States General Electric Company employs a very large skilled workforce. In north-east Wales, Airbus UK, at Broughton, has a workforce of nearly 7,000 skilled employees. Those two giant companies sustain other associated jobs throughout the Principality. I ask the Government to acknowledge the supreme importance of the aerospace industry to Wales's economy. I declare an interest as an unpaid member of the industrial advisory board concerning the technology centre in the north west.
When, recently, in Toulouse, the colossal Airbus A380 took flight for the first time, all of Europe was proud. It was a triumph of engineering on a scale infrequent in the history of our country. In north-east Wales, at Broughton, Flintshire, the reaction to the A380's inaugural test flight was joyous, to put it bluntly, for the monster's wings were made by that wonderful workforce. Morale is now sky high and Wales can only benefit from the plant's excellence. It was a moment of special pride for me, having had the honour to be the Member of Parliament for the area and of the workforce for 31 years, until 2001. I was born and still live but a mile or so from the runway, and many members of the workforce are my longstanding friends.
Typically, that workforce is highly skilled, trained, motivated and successful. They are world-beaters and are well led by their managers and conveners. It is manufacturing at its very best. The aerospace industry has proved itself in the region, and Wales has consequently become more prosperous. A new project is under way: a new passenger aircraft by Airbus UK is being developed.
Will the Government give repayable launch investment for that development? I hasten to say that repayable launch investment provision to Airbus would be an income generator for the British taxpayer. For example, Her Majesty's Government supplied £250 million repayable launch investment towards the Airbus 320 programme, and repayments now total more than £500 million. The repayments grow with each single-aisle aircraft delivered.
The new aircraft will entail carbon-fibre composite wings, for lower weight and more efficiency in travel. I want to see the wings made in north-east Wales. If the Government advanced repayable launch investment moneys, we would see, given our good previous track record, an estimated 10,800 direct new jobs and many more consequential jobs across Britain.
Other European countries also have a capacity in the use of composites in wing production. It will be the future for the industry. But I fear that, without British Government commitment, A350 wings will be produced elsewhere on the Continent, perhaps in Hamburg, in Germany. That should be avoided.
Do not let us lose this country's leadership position in this technology and this industry. It is time for decisions. I suggest that we boost the existing workforce of 12,000 in Wales and 40,000 across Britain and acknowledge the 500 apprentices at Airbus sites now, the 6,000 apprenticeships over the past three decades, the 100 graduates recruited annually and the massive contribution to Britain's and Wales's research and development. The aerospace industry makes a huge contribution to Britain's overseas earnings—billions of pounds annually. I suggest that the Government announce their backing at the Paris Air Show next month.
Let us remember that aerospace is Britain's last great industry, its last great industrial employer and its last great repository of skills and training. Will our successful Government invest anew in success and acknowledge the still supreme importance of manufacturing to the people of Britain and Wales?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Jones, who has just spoken, has fought for north-east Wales all of his political life. I am delighted to see that he is continuing the fight in this place. I wish him all the success that he has had in the past, which has been surprising, in itself, on many occasions. I also warmly congratulate the Ministers on their new posts on the government Front Bench.
My speech about the Welsh dimension of the Queen's Speech must begin with a comment on the changed political map of Wales after the election. I am delighted to say that Wales is no longer a "Tory-free zone". The Conservative Party now has three Welsh Members in the other place, which is a cause for rejoicing; the Liberal Democrats have four—one more than previously; and Plaid Cymru has one fewer than before, with three. We also have a noble Independent Member, Peter Law of Blaenau Gwent, who took one of Labour's safest seats and taught the Labour Party a sharp lesson—never to take their huge majorities in their heartlands for granted.
As the Minister said, there will be three Bills and a draft tourism Bill relating exclusively to Wales in this extended Session. The first Bill, which relates to establishing a commissioner for the elderly in Wales, has been welcomed by Age Concern and Help the Aged, although the latter rightly points out that the commissioner will not be able to do anything about the elderly's greatest problem; namely, pensions. We are already familiar with the second Bill, relating to transport, from the previous Session. The third piece of legislation, which was, I think, the only one directly referred to in the Queen's Speech, will,
"reform the National Assembly for Wales".
"will introduce a Bill following publication of a White Paper to develop democratic devolution in Wales, with our clear commitment to enhance the Assembly's powers while reforming its structure and electoral system to make a more accountable legislature for the people of Wales".
Those are fine words, which were echoed by the Minister.
However, Mr Nick Ainger, the new Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Wales Office, has made some intriguing, off-the-cuff comments to the media which suggest that the Government's commitment is not as unequivocal as it sounds and that the path to further devolution will be littered with boulders and the odd ambush. According to the Western Mail, Mr Ainger said:
"If the people of Wales want greater powers, we are providing the vehicle for them to do that but I don't think at this stage there is that demand for full legislative powers or for a referendum for that but we are providing a vehicle for them".
What sort of vehicle is that? It sounds like a covered wagon on its way into strange Indian territory.
Those rather cryptic remarks have antagonised the die-hard devolutionists who have interpreted them as a betrayal and an abandonment of the proposals put forward in the report from the commission chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Richard. In particular, box 13.5 on page 250 of the report appeared to find favour in senior Labour circles at one stage, but not with Labour MPs who foresaw their role diminishing.
Some of the proposals in box 13 appealed to my own instinctive desire to improve the Assembly and its performance. For example, I favoured, and I still do, the replacement of the present corporate structure which diffuses responsibility between the Assembly and its government, confuses the public and results in far too cosy a relationship between Ministers and Assembly Members. The separation of the executive from the legislature would hopefully induce a more critical, adversarial spirit to the Assembly's proceedings and would result in closer scrutiny of the Assembly Government's activities and greater accountability on their part through the Assembly to the Welsh people.
On the issue of whether the Assembly should be remodelled on the lines of the Scottish Parliament, as I believe the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, recommended yesterday, and be given primary legislative and tax varying powers, there are serious reservations, not least because the question of tax varying powers was never put to the Welsh people in the 1997 referendum. It is inconceivable that such powers should be granted without the electorate's consent, which at the moment is unlikely to be given.
While the Richard commission rightly argues that taxation powers are desirable but not essential to the exercise of primary legislative powers, the absence of such revenue raising powers would surely be a severe constraint on the power to legislate. Most Bills have financial implications and their implementation costs money. Either the resources are available from the block grant or they have to be raised from extra revenue. If not, there is little point in legislating. Of course, I understand the Government's dilemma, which some of us anticipated years ago.
The Assembly's Labour Government have a tenuous majority. Indeed, they were defeated only this evening on student top-up fees. They are already threatened by a take-over from a coalition of other parties, which may well become a reality after the next Assembly election in 2007. How could the new Labour Government here respond to such a situation, especially if the alien, non-Labour Government in Cardiff had primary legislative powers and scant respect for the financial constraints imposed by Whitehall? My guess is that they would be very unsympathetic, to say the least. The scene would be set for a major conflict.
The United Kingdom has enjoyed a period of prosperity while the Assembly has been in existence, but there is no guarantee that that will continue indefinitely or that the planned rate of public spending can be sustained. There are already signs that Labour's third term may not be as easy as its predecessors and that the public purse strings will have to be tightened. Furthermore, there are signs that the Assembly Government are already feeling the pinch. The extra moneys that the Welsh local authorities are collecting after revaluation are, I am told, being docked from their grant settlement.
Revaluation in Wales, to which my noble friend Lady Hanham referred, is proving to be another stealth tax. I hope that, whatever electoral reform is proposed for the Assembly, there is no tampering or gerrymandering of the PR arrangements that enable minority parties to be represented. Again, I understand the Government's dilemma and their wish to hold on to power in Wales at all costs, but they will be aware that a one-party dominion has inherent weaknesses and cannot endure for ever.
In view of all of that, I am not surprised to hear on the grapevine that the Government have in mind the retention of primary legislative power here for the time being. If so, there will have to be improvements in the legislative process and a closer relationship between Westminster and the Assembly. I hope that the Government will consult all parties on the best way to achieve that very desirable end.
Wales still has many problems—I have been able to touch on only one of them. Wales has a very low GDP by EU standards and longer hospital waiting lists than before devolution. There has been a bonfire of the quangos, but it is far from clear who or what is to perform their functions. One of the academic architects of devolution, Professor Kevin Morgan, has been devastatingly critical of the bonfire of the quangos, as announced. It is therefore very important—we would all agree—that Wales should continue to engage your Lordships' interest and concern.
My Lords, I begin by joining others in welcoming both my noble friends to their new positions on the Front Bench. They have enviable reputations as masterers of their brief and the debate today has shown that there will be plenty to master in their new roles.
My contribution will be short and humble because I am no scientist or expert of any sort and, inevitably, a little repetitive given the diversity, richness and authority of what has already been said. I am sorry that I was obliged to miss some notable speakers, but I hope and believe that the issues I am concerned with do bear repetition—although I have to say that I wish that there was a good synonym for the word "emission". If there is one, I have not yet found it.
Last week the Office for National Statistics published figures to show that total UK greenhouse gas emissions fell by 8.1 per cent between 1990 and 2003. That is good news, until one looks at the bottom of the page where it is revealed that greenhouse gas emissions from transport and communications actually rose by 48.4 per cent over the same period. That is not such good news, but there is worse. The Guardian and other newspapers reporting the figures pointed out that the ONS statistics exclude emissions from aviation because they are not included in those counted under the Kyoto Protocol. However, reports reveal that emissions from UK aviation have risen since 1990 by not far short of 100 per cent, from 20.1 million tonnes to 39.5 million tonnes. We have heard that the Government are committed to a range of strategies to deal with the growing problem of greenhouse gas emissions, but I fear that those efforts will be significantly undermined if the damage being done by the rapid expansion of air transport is not addressed.
I freely admit that I have a strong personal interest in this matter, driven by the fact that I live not far from Stansted airport which, as the House will be aware, is at the centre of the Government's plans to expand UK airport capacity. But my concern is not mere nimbyism. As we have heard from several noble Lords, notably the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and my noble friend Lord Hunt of Chesterton, the world faces a huge threat from the effects of global warming and few doubt that hydrocarbon emissions, many of them produced by transport of various kinds, are major contributors to the accelerated changes we are now witnessing. That is evidenced, for instance, by data emerging about the Arctic, where it has been calculated that temperatures could rise by as much as 7 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, resulting in a decline in sea ice cover of up to 50 per cent. To misquote the Duke of Wellington, I do not know what effect this information has on the Government, but by God it terrifies me.
In fact, I do know to some extent what effect it has and I have no doubt that these grave matters are taken extremely seriously by my noble friends on the Front Bench and their colleagues, as the gracious Speech reveals. However, there is on the face of it a contradiction between on the one hand, striving to make a significant impact on the problem of climate change, as the Prime Minister has pledged to do by making it a priority during the UK's forthcoming presidency of the G8, and pressing ahead on the other hand with a programme of air transport—and therefore airport—expansion which can only make matters worse by adding to the infrastructural amenity and sustainability problems facing the communities affected by the proposed developments. This issue was mentioned earlier in the debate by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. I remark in passing that according to recent newspaper reports, the timetable for expansion at Stansted airport has already had to be revised because of difficulties in making the business case stand up.
I accept that air transport contributes to our economic prosperity, as my noble friend Lord Jones indirectly pointed out. I also recognise that it is no easy matter for a government to think in terms of restricting the much-vaunted "freedom to fly" that low-cost air travel has brought about. But some freedoms are dangerous and we ought, both collectively and as individuals, to exercise them with care, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich pointed out in his contribution.
Writing in last Saturday's Guardian, the respected editor of Granta magazine, Ian Jack, said that:
"It is so very hard to be good, and we are not encouraged to be good. It is also expensive to be good".
He went on to say:
"Two months ago I booked to go by train for a week's holiday in the south of France. Cheapest return fare available for a family of four: £630.00. Four returns by easyJet London to Nice: £238.00. Consequence of taking the much faster and cheaper option: on a per passenger calculation, somewhere around six times the hydrocarbon emissions of the same trip by rail".
I can add to his testimony my own evidence. Next week I have to go to Paris for a few days, which as it happens is very nice. Since Stansted airport is on my doorstep, I could fly there and back for less than £50 plus the bus fare from my front door to the terminal. I chose to go by Eurostar which, together with the rail fare to London, will cost nearly four times as much—because, in part, of the absurdly benign tax and charging regime levied on aviation. That point was made by other noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester. "More fool you", some might think, when imagining that I might take the cheaper option. But cheap is not always cheerful.
When my noble friend replies, will he reconfirm that dealing with hydrocarbon emissions is a high-level priority for the Government, both in national and regional development strategies and in our relations with other governments? In particular, as has already been raised in the debate, would he address the need to develop faster, cheaper and ultimately far more sustainable rail networks?
My Lords, the background to the gracious Speech is of course that the Government have won the election, and we recognise and congratulate them on that. In doing so, however, we note that it was on the lowest popular vote ever. My speech will go broader than the suggested topics for this evening's debate, and I do not expect an answer from the Minister on some of the areas which lie outside his brief.
Nevertheless, I want to pick up some key issues that are in the gracious Speech and that flow from the Bills set out in it. I shall start with the constitution. Many noble Lords will have heard the report this morning from a group operating through the Hansard Society about the disconnection between Parliament and the people. In so far as we are to have a constitutional Bill, I hope very much that when it comes, its contents will be robust enough so that it is not a Bill which merely tinkers at the edges with bits and pieces.
I want to raise a few points that are important to me. The first is party political in that I disagree with the removal of the hereditary Peers from all sides of the Chamber. I say that because in the time I have been in your Lordships' House I have seen that they have made extremely worthwhile contributions and they have brought a different perspective to your Lordships' debates that is not available from those of us who are not hereditary and who have come from other walks of life.
We must address the question of postal voting. We need in this country a postal vote system that is totally foolproof. I suppose that many of us have taken part in various elections around the world, and we know that creative people in all political parties will try to rig elections. If, as it has been proved by the Electoral Commission and many other groups, you have to have a system of registration, I hope and pray that now that the election has been put to one side, the Government will address this particular issue.
I am also concerned that while we have a Welsh Assembly, a Scottish Parliament and periodically a Northern Ireland Assembly, issues arise in the other place that are purely English in nature. I personally do not welcome the thought of an English Parliament, but if that groundswell is to be addressed, we must find a mechanism whereby purely English issues are handled just by English MPs.
I shall make a further point: not one of us in this Chamber was able to vote in the general election, apart from elections to the county councils. That is a total anomaly. We spend our working hours and days here and we all have strong views. At the very least, we should be given by way of pay the opportunity to vote.
Finally, when I was the Chairman of Ways and Means, I used to track what happened to statutory instruments because I was responsible for them in the other place. It is not so long ago—less than 10 years—when the average number of statutory instruments a year was just under 2,000. Today the figure is 3,400 per annum. I calculate that that is more than 60 statutory instruments a week.
One of the areas in which the Government have announced that there will be progress—it was announced by the Chancellor—is in reducing regulation. A very fine area in which to make a start would be to have a target—the Government love targets—for the reduction of statutory instruments. I shall continue to monitor the numbers and if I am in a position to praise the Government on reducing them, I shall do so. But I have an awful fear that that 3,400 average will continue to creep upwards.
Regulation is a burden that grows on all of us. Why do we not merge some of the regulation agencies as suggested by the Philip Hampton review? The review, commissioned by the Government, was very clear. Philip Hampton and his team suggested that the regulation agencies should be merged. Why do we not set a target—another target—for each department of state to reduce red tape by, say, 10 per cent per annum? A reduction of even 5 per cent per annum would be enormously helpful. Our party did a lot of genuine hard work on trying to reduce regulation. I should have thought that that report was well worth looking at to see whether it contains some good ideas.
In my judgment, 45 Bills, even in an extended Session, is far too many. Perhaps some day we can agree, across the parties, how many major Bills there shall be in a Session and how many minor ones.
Finally, on the regulators—I declare an interest as chairman of the Children's Mutual and one of the investment trusts—the FSA has a very important role to play, but it is very costly. I winced when I saw the auditing costs of the small life company that I chair. They are up by a third, simply to fill in the FSA's extra form requirements. Something seems to have gone wrong somewhere. We all know that we dare not change our banks for fear of having to do the money laundering exercise. It is a horrendous prospect for any consumer in this country even to contemplate changing their bank account.
I should like to highlight one or two areas which touch on some of the Minister's responsibilities. We need to address climate change and energy shortage. Whether we like it or not, we have to address the issue of nuclear. My noble friend Lord Kimball spoke about wind farms. They will never provide the substantial amount of energy that we need. We need to have an open and full debate on the nuclear situation, we need to do it urgently and we need to take the whole country with us.
On pensions, the destruction of the final salary scheme is a tragedy, and I think it is now recognised as such. But the concept of a variable retirement age that was floated last weekend should be hit on the head straight away. That is totally unacceptable to the nation, and whatever we do about pensions, we have to take the whole nation with us. We have to find an answer—not a party political answer—that all of us can accept and adopt. Pensions are far too important for all our people, and we must find a way through the political morass.
Allied to that is the tragic level of savings ratio of under 5 per cent. The Government must find a way of bringing the level of savings up.
There will be a Bill to deal with housing costs. I used to be the chairman of the housing committee in the London Borough of Islington, a very poor part of London in 1968 when I had that role. A number of schemes on shared equities were tried out; some were successful and some were less successful. But they were open-ended; the local authority was the driving force regarding whether we could take them forward. The prospect of having a rationed housing incentive scheme for equity sharing will not appeal to the British people. When they bring forward that Bill, the Government will need to recognise that you cannot ration with just 100,000 equity shared schemes and leave it to the building societies to decide how they will carry out the rationing. That is shoving the difficult decision on to somebody else. There has to be a rethink.
We must take the British people with us on sustainable communities, and one of the key issues is waste. I had written a little about waste and then this afternoon I picked up an Environment Agency publication called Bye-bye waste? I assume that it was in my post; it has only been out for the past few days. It says that our recycling rates are the third lowest in the EU. So we are near the bottom. It also says:
"There is one final problem with the way we talk about waste, and it's the biggest one of all. Put simply, waste doesn't have to be waste. Often it need not be there in the first place. And when it is there, we can often do something much more useful with it than try to get rid of it".
That seems to be the challenge the Government should take up. If they were to do so in the manner suggested in this publication, I do not see that any of us would object to it. It could be a major step forward in improving our environment.
Like everyone else, I wish the Minister well and hope that he does his best to remember that agriculture is quite important. He represents Defra, which is an extraordinary name—the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. It used to be the Ministry of Agriculture. In this case, the Government could not bear to bring in "farming and agriculture", so it had to be "food and rural affairs". It is a very sensible name, I suppose, but I hope that it will not lead to a neglect of the many problems from which agriculture suffers today.
More than half a million farmers and their spouses work full time in agriculture. If one adds to that figure their families, the support industries and engineering and so on, one realises that agriculture is a significant part of the economy. An industry that produces 70 per cent of our food deserves a little more attention than Defra seems to have given to it in the past.
We have seen an extraordinary policy called "modulation". It means taking away cash from the pure farmer and doing something else with it which is considered wholly admirable. What is being ignored is that the countryside to which many people and the Minister want to go back was made for practical purposes. It was farming as it changed the landscape in the great development days of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. It was quite a different thing. Farmers planted hedges to keep in the cattle or the sheep. They planted the hedges also. If you were growing barley and you had partridges, it was economically important that you could let that land for shooting. Shooting partridges over a hedge is a very enjoyable sport if you kill them cleanly, which I sometimes did.
All of that was part of a whole scheme. You cannot separate agriculture from the environment all together and place it in a secondary position. Agriculture is suffering from some extraordinary things. We have a European Parliament motion, which has become a definite intention, to restrict hours of work. An exception must be made for agriculture. There are three times in a year when any farmer must work all the hours he can. One of those is harvest, because the weather is a little uncertain. When weather is good, your combine must go ahead. The others are the two seeding times. In spring, it is very important to get the crop in early. Autumn grain plays an immense part now. In that case as well, you have to get the crop in early. The hours cannot be restricted. If you think you can get an extra combine driver just like that, you will find that it is quite impossible. The farmer does it himself. If he is doing it himself, he has no replacement.
There are many other curious irritations. A very interesting little case has been brought to my attention by the NFU. It concerns organic farming. I am not against organic farming. I am doubtful about all the claims that are made about it, but if it produces stuff that the public want and it can be sold, I am all for it. Under the set-aside rules, farmers who have some but not all of their land in organic production—the majority of them fall into that category—will not be allowed to touch the set-aside after
There are some very curious things about the incentives to improve the environment. One of the schemes of which I have heard encourages farmers in Scotland, and perhaps in England, to grow their grain and their oats in the old-fashioned way. They will receive a small subsidy if they grow 10 acres of oats, cut it with a binder, "stook" it or stack it, and then thrash it. The cost of doing that, given labour costs today, would be enormous. I cannot see what good that would do the countryside. It appears to me to be ridiculous.
I do not intend to speak for very long but I must finish with one pathetic story of a farm of 75 acres in Scotland called Browndykes, so the farmer is called Broonie. He runs his 75 acres himself. He does the right thing and augments his income by growing some very good potatoes, Golden Wonders, which are well known in Scotland. He grows only half an acre of potatoes but he markets them and people travel for miles to buy them. He has 100 hens which lay brown eggs which he markets. His main business is rearing calves for beef. Happily, there is still a subsidy for that. He applied for a premium but was told that he was trying to cheat and that he would not get the £140 but would be fined £1,400, which would come off his subsidy. That was a major part of his quite small income.
The reason he was fined was that he defined an animal wrongly. Most noble Lords may know what a heifer is. However, the definition of "heifer" in the major agricultural journals such as the Scottish Farmer and the Farmers Weekly is a cow which has had only one calf. It does not become a full cow until it is on its second calf. That is absolutely common throughout the agricultural journals. The journalist who told me about that—he is my nephew by the way—also checked the Concise Oxford Dictionary. It is quite clear that a heifer is,
"a young cow, esp. one that has not had more than one calf".
However, the European Union and Defra say that that definition is wrong and that my friend Broonie with his 75 acres, on which he has worked hard and which he has looked after, is a criminal. He was fined £1,400—a fortune for him. Surely Defra and the European Union can take the definition of a heifer in the same way as it is defined by the people who own and buy them.
My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Mackie. He always makes such wonderful sense on all topics relating to agriculture.
It is, indeed, a privilege to take part once again in the debate on the gracious Speech. As one of the 90 elected Peers, I feel there is always a sense of unease when there is mention in the election manifesto of reform of your Lordships' House and, indeed, the vague reference mentioned on Tuesday by Her Majesty can only cause further concern for the way this country is governed. If the Prime Minister wishes your Lordships' House to be a rubber stamp, then there surely will be a strong case to abolish this House altogether. The noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, reminded the House last week of the Irvine commitment, as, indeed, did the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, only yesterday.
I too would like to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, who has always been so courteous to my constant bombarding of questions on rural affairs. I will always cherish the moment when he accepted the RFTO amendment during the passage of the Energy Bill. I too welcome the noble Lord, Lord Bach, in his place.
I must as always declare an interest as someone who tries to farm, albeit that I am outwith the control of Defra, living just over the border in Scotland. I also declare an interest as the unpaid president of BABFO and as a grower of industrial oilseed rape.
I listened with interest to the two references to the countryside. Of course both are dependent on a buoyant and, most important of all, a profitable agricultural industry. That prompted me to go back a few years to look up some facts and figures. My small farm 45 years ago had 31 employees. In 1979, I inherited a workforce of 17. Today, I am farming a bigger acreage with just three men. Some 20 years ago, malting barley was selling for £160 a tonne, and during harvest the telephone was seldom silent at lunchtime. Last year, the telephone was consistently quiet, not surprising with malting barley at £65 a tonne. In those 20 years, wages and all other inputs have more than doubled. Diesel alone costs three times what it did 10 years ago, and yet the price of the end product has more than halved. I often wonder how civil servants, or indeed the Minister, would feel if they had to return home to inform their families that their income was about to be halved from what it was 20 years ago. That is indeed a sobering thought.
I am aware that sadly farming has as low a priority with this new Government as it did with the last. The continuing absence of the word "farming" from Defra's title makes the point better than I can. However, a government who fail to safeguard the nation's food supplies are playing fast and loose with the national interest. We must not forget that UK farmers still produce about three quarters of all the indigenous foodstuffs consumed here and about two thirds of the total food consumed. That is done with just 1 per cent of the work force. It is fairly shattering to realise that 40 years ago 40 per cent of the family wage went on food. Today, that figure is just 16 per cent.
Surely it is time to cut out the appalling and hindering bureaucracy imposed on farmers, which has reached unbelievable depths in the single farm payment application form that now has to be completed in all its complexity by any farmer who wishes to claim his entitlement under the scheme. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, made that point extremely forcefully. It has not been easy to get clear guidance on the workings of the SFP, and in my case my staff, advisers and I have spent over 200 hours on this vital topic. At the last count, my small farm belonged to six such varied schemes.
Her Majesty's Government have said that they wish to reduce red tape across the board and in all industries. I applaud that; but in the next breath Defra plans a manure tax, suggesting that muck heaps will attract new fees and rules. It is bad enough having to pay to have a passport for a horse that is never going to end up anywhere near the food chain, but surely the idea of a manure tax is bureaucracy gone completely mad. If introduced, it will do untold damage and harm to the many small horse businesses already being crippled by large rates increases and unrealistic health and safety requirements.
We are indeed fortunate that farmers are so efficient at food production, because that gives an opening for fuel production on land that is currently not used for food. Will the Minister assure us that the new Government will put their full weight behind the renewable transport fuel obligation? Under it, fuel companies would have to provide a given proportion of their total sales as biofuels. That would be a major new use for our agricultural resources, as well as a valuable diversification of road fuel supplies away from fossil fuels from politically uncertain sources. Surely both Gulf wars are a poignant reminder of that.
Government thinking on the whole subject is confused to say the least. Last time I had a Starred Question, being anxious to know the Government's response in advance, I contacted Defra, the DTI, the Department for Transport and finally the Treasury. I discovered to my horror that there was no clearly-defined policy on renewable energy and no one department in overall charge. There must surely be a lesson there.
Many of us are worried about how the Government are going to reach their Kyoto objectives, let alone their domestic CO reduction target of 20 per cent by 2010. I agree with the points made by my noble kinsman Lord Hunt. By implementing the RTFO major improvements will immediately be seen in our reduction of CO emissions in the transport sector, where emissions are sadly still rising and are predicted to increase—increase—by 15.8 per cent by 2010.
Last week the Economist ran a major article on biofuels. It revealed how once again the United Kingdom is being left far behind by its European partners, not to mention the United States of America, where bioethanol production is rising by 30 per cent. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, was equally forceful on that point.
Brazil, the world leader,
"is pushing ahead as fast as the sugar crop will allow".
Every farming magazine in the past month has had a banner headline supporting the biofuel industry:
"Racing to be a bio fuels leader", and,
"Will Ministers prime bio fuel pumps?", to quote two such headlines. At present only some 25,000 tonnes of biodiesel are being produced in the UK and about half of the raw material is imported. There is no bioethanol produced as road fuel in the United Kingdom. The EU directive 2003/30/EU has set the target of 2 per cent biofuel usage by the end of 2005 and 5.75 per cent by the end of 2010. For the UK, the first target would mean about 800,000 tonnes of biofuel. This could be met only by massive imports.
The Government support of a duty rebate of 20 pence per litre is not sufficient to make biofuel production profitable. However, with the fuel duty rebate and a renewable transport fuel obligation, the 2010 target could be met and from home grown feedstocks. Something over 2 million tonnes would be required.
One million tonnes of biodiesel could come from land currently lying idle under the discredited set aside scheme and a further 1 million tonnes of bioethanol from the 3 million tonnes of wheat exported most years from this country.
One further word of caution: the reduction of CO emissions is rightly a central policy objective for the Government. The RTFO must, however, be designed so that UK feedstocks for the production of biofuels compete fairly with imports. The UK is rightly proud of its agricultural and production schemes, which allow close scrutiny of CO2 emissions at all stages in biofuel production. Imports must be subject to the same level of scrutiny lest they be given an unfair advantage in the UK marketplace above domestic production.
Finally—I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mackie—I too must mention the threat from Brussels of a maximum week of 48 hours. No one involved in rural activities, except perhaps civil servants, would even contemplate abiding by such a completely unrealistic rule. I know that other industries equally decry that idea. In rural Britain today, one has only to think of stalkers, ghillies, gamekeepers, orra men and farm workers.
My three men can easily clock up 48 hours in less than three periods of 24 hours. When the corn is ripe, you simply have to go. You cannot yet tell a black-faced ewe who lives on a barren Glenshee mountainside when to produce her offspring.
When I worked on the shop floor, I regularly worked 60 hours a week and I admit to being thrilled with a greatly enhanced pay packet as a result. I find it difficult to believe that the idea of this legislation is compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. Surely it is one's fundamental right to work as long or as short a time as one wishes. I hope that the Minister will do all that he can to persuade his Cabinet colleagues that the idea of a 48-hour week is simply a non-starter.
The situation in the countryside is grim. Indebtedness by UK farmers last month reached an all-time high at a staggering £8.5 billion, which was £0.3 billion up on the previous year. Rural Britain needs all the help that it can get. We must try to do all that we can to pass on a healthy countryside to the next generation for future generations to enjoy. I hope that the Minister will do all he can to ensure that aim, before it is too late.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Palmer. I can tell him that the hours worked on farms certainly served me in good stead in the other place, where sometimes 80 hours was achieved. It continues to be good training even in this place, where the hours seem to go on a little long.
I, too, welcome both Ministers. I welcomed the noble Lord, Lord Bach, this afternoon and it is a delight to see the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, also here covering this mammoth area over which they have some influence. I used to tell my students in agricultural college that they were fit for employment in virtually anything—they could be economists, vets, geneticists, mechanics and all the rest of it. I rather feel that the Minister's department is like that, given the breadth of the debate that we have had today. We have had some excellent speeches. I shall not attempt to sum up in any way, because I wish to make a number of important points. However, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Rana, on his maiden speech, which was excellent. We look forward to many more contributions from him in future.
Our team on the Liberal Democrat Benches has made substantial contributions to the debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, talked about sustainability of communities and housing, which is a crucial aspect of rural areas. Her speech was well made. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, covered transport with in-depth knowledge and made some potent and constructive criticisms. My noble friend Lord Mackie made an excellent speech about the state of the countryside and the people in it.
The speech of the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, needs to be read and reread. It was about the social condition of people in the countryside, and I was most impressed with what he had to say. People are excluded in the countryside, and that has to be given a great deal of attention. I spent nearly the whole of yesterday evening on a regeneration project with which we had mammoth problems. We could not get funding because there was no cohesion among the agencies supposed to help. I hope that the Government's new Bill will ensure cohesion and that people who need assistance in rural areas will receive some.
I was also delighted to hear my friend the noble Lord, Lord Jones, rightly say what he has always said about his beloved north-east Wales and the importance of manufacturing. He made those points extremely well, and always does. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, made a provocative speech about the Welsh Assembly. Like me, he is a fly fisherman. I shall not rise this evening to the fly that has been cast upon the water. I should love to do so, but my colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, made a speech last night in the constitution debate.
I shall focus on agriculture, both from the point of view of the people involved and the impact of policies coming from the European Union and that of the large, monolith supermarkets which operate in our own market.
First, I shall focus on the position of family farms. Family farms in the UK are the buttress of the social infrastructure of the British countryside and rural life. That is why it is so important to include the other people mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens.
I declare an interest as the president of the Breconshire Young Farmers Federation, which is a cohesive organisation for young people in the countryside. I have two examples of family farms in my former constituency that had varying experiences. One was a council holding, which is still there. The father of the partnership—it was a partnership between husband and wife—milked 70 cows on 70 acres. They had three children, and one has become a doctor, the other a JP and a consultant and the other a tenant farmer on an even smaller county council smallholding. They decided to give up the farm because they could not make ends meet in milk production as the price they received was less than the cost of production.
The other farm has produced a doctor, a local government officer and a farmer and forester combined. They are valuable people in the community. Such family farms grow people who are very useful to society—not just in farming. I am very concerned about the future because the future of family farms is on the line.
"The small family farm has, at this rate, a generation at most".
He went on to say:
"From a social point of view, I think it's a tragedy because the main message at the moment is the world wants cheap food. If you're not prepared to do that you're not in the market place. We'll get it from somewhere else around the world, and so if you can't cope with that you're out of business".
That is the situation confronting a lot of small to medium family farmers in the United Kingdom.
Why is that so? First, there are monopoly buyers—there are really only four big supermarkets—which set the price. There is no fair trade in this country and none from abroad either because they buy from all those sources.
Secondly, the single farm payment introduction is important from a decoupling point of view, but there will be an erosion and possibly a phase-out within the next decade of that single farm payment.
That sort of policy is being resisted in most of the rest of Europe. The Government must decide whether to continue to support agriculture—many speeches have been made in that idiom tonight—or whether to abandon it. But I cannot believe they would do that because of the massive social consequences and environmental damage of ranching and further depopulation, particularly in the remote rural areas.
Cheap food is the opium of the people. It does not matter if it is GM from abroad—mainly soya GM. It does not matter if animal welfare standards are at rock bottom. It does not matter if third world farmers and families earn subsistence wages, or even less so that they cannot exist. It does not matter if UK farmers are forced to supply markets at less than the cost of production. The noble Lord, Lord Palmer, quoted figures. I lectured on prices 20 years ago and they are still not in place today. They are half what I lectured on at that time as regards trying to make ends meet in farming.
The USA has driven a coach and horses through world agricultural commodity prices by introducing its Farm Bill, with $180 billion to support US farmers over next 10 years. It is not a level playing field on a world scale. All developed countries support their agriculture and now, at least, the EU has gathered together all of its support in the "green box"—but still we must get rid of export subsidies. The noble Earl, Lord Peel, was right to say that.
Although the UK and five other countries have proposed a reduction in the EU budget, to which Foreign Secretary Jack Straw referred yesterday, some of those countries want us to abandon our budget rebate. The question is regarding the agreement struck in 2002–03 for a budget of 1.14 per cent. The six countries to which I referred want to reduce it to 1 per cent. That would be unsustainable for rural and agricultural areas. It would mean that only Pillar 1 would be sustained, while Pillar 2 for rural development would not. Yet we are talking about bringing in Bulgaria and Romania, where the average size of farm is some 2 hectares. That should be compared with some of the figures that I mentioned earlier.
The prospect is a declining single farm payment, or its eventual abandonment, against a backdrop of lower agricultural commodity prices. The result of that scenario is that farming will become unsustainable. I am sure that the Minister will take an interest in this matter, because sorting it out will be a key issue. We cannot have declining agricultural commodity prices and a reduction in, or even the abandonment of, the single farm payment. We can, with resolution and wisdom, examine the market place in which agriculture operates.
Some of the buyers are running rings not only around our own farmers, but around third world farmers. There must be legislation to control their activities, because they have set up their own market to drive down the prices of primary produce. That is not sustainable in Europe or much of the rest of the world and I hope that the Government will look at these problems, particularly during their G8 presidency.
Many subjects have been mentioned tonight—biofuels, bovine TB problems, the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill, sustainability and affordable homes. I could go on and I am particularly interested in the proposals for common land in the Queen's Speech. That is a major piece of legislation. Acts of Parliament from the beginning of the 20th century may need to be repealed. I hope that the result will be that commoners will be pivotal in the new legislation, as far as the management of common land is concerned.
Other subjects that were touched on in this debate will occupy us for the next 18 months, particularly in the areas covered by Defra, and transport issues will be the subject of important debates and decisions. I know that this House has the wisdom and the talent to tackle some of these problems head on and to produce constructive solutions.
My Lords, this has been an interesting and lively debate, with many fine contributions from all sides of the House. In particular, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Rana, on his maiden speech. We learned much about the economy and his views on Northern Ireland. I am sure that he will make valuable contributions and I hope that many of his suggestions will be taken up in future debates.
However, I would like to begin my remarks by joining others and taking a brief moment to say a few words about the personnel changes on the Benches opposite. I, too, welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, on her deserved promotion to the ODPM. I have had the good fortune to work with her on several pieces of legislation in the past. She has always had a very quick mind and has adapted herself well to legislation. I am sure that she will be a great success and I hope that we shall work with her very well in her new role.
I also welcome the noble Lord, Lord Bach, to his new job at Defra, and I look forward to forging a constructive and fruitful relationship with the noble Lord, Lord Davies, on transport issues, with which I shall be particularly involved.
We have had a great deal of interesting discussion about the rural economy and the countryside. Yesterday I saw the noble Lord, Lord Bach, at the Chelsea Flower Show—a rather different economy and a rather different world from that which we have been debating today.
I refer also to the contribution of my noble friend Lady Hanham, and I cannot speak at this stage without mentioning the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, whose refreshing candour and ability to cut through the Civil Service jargon will be sadly missed in these areas. I have no doubt that those qualities will serve him very well in his new role in Northern Ireland.
I would also like to mention a former Minister for Local Government in another place. As most of your Lordships know, I am the leader of Essex County Council, and I have to declare an interest in that respect. However, I should like to mention the Minister for Local Government in another place, Nick Raynsford, who was a great friend of local government. We are rather sad that he has departed from the scene. I gather that some people fought to try to keep him. I have offered him a job in Essex, if he wants something else to do, to help us sort out local government there. In mentioning Essex, I should also add that we have two ports and an expanding airport—matters about which we have heard in some of today's contributions.
In mentioning a few of the contributions to the debate, I begin with my noble friend Lady Byford, who speaks on rural affairs. She started the debate, which has continued throughout the day with many fine contributions, by speaking on the state of the rural economy, particularly farming—though many of your Lordships have said that the word "farming" was not mentioned very much.
I especially liked what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich said about the fact that we keep creating rural bodies and changing them again. We really should allow such institutions to settle and work to sort out some of our rural problems. I hope that the Minister might comment on that in his response.
My noble friend Lord Peel talked about a rural strategy. I hope that the House will support the Government in developing a rural strategy and taking on some of the farming problems that we have discussed today.
My noble friend the Duke of Montrose mentioned animal health and bovine TB, following the contribution made by the noble Countess, Lady Mar. Those are important issues, on which I hope the Minister will feel able to comment.
My noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith mentioned, as did many others, the problems associated with environmental issues, the fact that they are not being tackled by the Government at the moment and that perhaps we should have some more serious debate about them.
The noble Lord, Lord Kimball, asked some very pertinent questions, which I hope the Minister will be able to answer.
As always, my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy defended Wales, ably assisted by the noble Lord, Lord Jones, who referred to the development of the aerospace industry. I believe that what he talked about started during the Conservative government's period of office, so perhaps he would like to give some credit to the Conservative government for the development of industry in Wales.
We have had some very fine contributions and I hope that the Minister will be able to give answers to some of the questions that have been asked.
The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, talked a lot about the need for new housing. However, she did not say a great deal about an area that particularly concerns me—that is, the infrastructure that needs to go with them. I shall talk about that shortly. Even if we are going to develop along the M11 corridor, it will probably cost nearly £100 million to build a new roundabout. If we are to build new houses, somehow the money must be found for the infrastructure that goes with them. I know that some of the funding might come from within the development, but the Government will have to tackle seriously the costs of building these new houses if they are to build them in these areas.
Before I turn to transport matters, I want to raise a few issues concerning the local government agenda. The Government's regional agenda was mentioned initially by my noble friend Lady Byford and it was very ably pursued by my noble friend Lady Hanham. Neither local government nor the public wanted it and yet we seem to be facing another round of local government reorganisation. Perhaps the Minister will be able to comment on that.
We learn that the Deputy Prime Minister is considering the establishment of a strategic city region tier of government, despite, as we have heard from several noble Lords today, a massive rejection of regional government in the referendum in the north-east. There was also a commitment in the Labour Party manifesto to let local communities do different things. If we are to have another round of reorganisation, we would like to know more about it, and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott of Needham Market, also raised that point.
Several noble Lords mentioned the fact that, if regionalisation were to be rejected in a referendum, it would still be going on by the back door. Although it is not the Minister's area, perhaps he will comment on that. As regionalisation has been rejected by the public, we think that the Government should state clearly what they mean and why they are still setting up many regional bodies—a point made by many of my colleagues today.
Therefore, there are questions to be answered. We in local government want to know whether there is to be a reorganisation so that we can have a proper debate about it. We want to get on and provide services. People in local government want to improve services to the elderly and to children and so on. They do not want continually to debate the issue of reorganisation. It costs money, it does not solve anything and we need to know in which direction we are going.
I also want to mention an issue that was raised in only one contribution to the debate. My noble friend Lady Hanham fought a very valiant battle on postal voting. The intention to introduce a Bill on this matter was included in the gracious Speech, but it has now been referred to the DCA from the ODPM. It is a very important issue. It concerns the public and, if we are to have postal voting or other systems, proper control needs to be in place. Although my noble friend Lady Hanham does not like to say, "I told you so", she continued to say it throughout most of last year, and she has been proved right in that regard. Restoring trust and confidence in our electoral system is of paramount importance.
As was mentioned by my noble friend Lady Byford and others, we also await the results of the Lyons review on the council tax. During the election campaign, one Minister, Charlotte Atkins, mentioned that the Government would abolish the tax if elected for a third term. She does not seem to have been re-appointed to a ministerial post, so perhaps the Government have changed their mind on that. Again, I hope that the Minister will comment on the likely timing of the council tax review. If the ODPM does not have any legislation planned in the next 18 months, how will any review be implemented? Will legislation be introduced later?
Several noble Lords mentioned the revaluation exercise, which is to come into effect in April 2007. It could coincide with the review of council tax. We heard about what happened in Wales—revaluation reviews have always been unfortunate experiences. Every single government have lost an election after holding a revaluation review, so that may be an interesting portent for the future. Perhaps the Minister would like to comment on it.
I now turn to the transport part of my speech. I followed my noble friend Lord Eccles in looking at the transport section of the Labour Party manifesto. It was not particularly easy to find, but we found it on one page. Although we have had several contributions about the importance of transport, rail, road safety, and other things, the manifesto was not particularly brilliant bedtime reading.
Generally, the Government's record on transport has not been good. We had a 10-year plan, the desire for an integrated transport plan, and the Deputy Prime Minister's 1997 pledge to cut car use in five years. Obviously that has not happened; there is continued car use, which we all understand. The noble Lord, Lord Cobbold mentioned the need for investment in our road system, and I totally agree with that. Our transport system increasingly resembles that of a third-world country, and we have not done anything to bring our roads into the 21st century. The Confederation of British Industry has estimated that the cost of congestion is £15 billion a year, which damages the competitive position of British firms and makes Britain a less attractive country for investment. But it is not just business that is hurt—it is families too. If the trains do not run on time, or people are stuck in traffic jams, they get home irritable, and it destroys family life. That is something that really should be tackled.
In Britain, the proportion of road links that are congested for more than an hour a day is three times greater than in Germany, and five times greater than in France. Our motorway provision per head of population is less than half the European average. We have a lower motorway density than any of our European competitors. This is despite the fact that motorists pay £8 billion more in excise and fuel duties than in 1997. Indeed, the Treasury now takes more than £40 billion a year in tax from road users, but the Government spend only about £1.6 billion on new trunk roads and motorways, and about £10 billion a year on all road infrastructure. Some of the extra tax goes on subsidised bus services, but, although they have doubled, they still cost only £1.4 billion a year. So less than half the money collected from the road user is invested back into the roads. We have had quite a bit of debate on the state of the railways, which is just as depressing.
That leads us back to where I started. If we are going to have new houses and new developments, we need investment in infrastructure. We heard nothing in the gracious Speech that addressed that.
The Crossrail Bill will have our support. However, as everyone knows, and as the Secretary of State has acknowledged, it does not advance the starting date. We must still go ahead with it, even though the Government are still dithering over the funding. It will be interesting to hear whether the Minister can shed any further light on either the funding for the project or the projected start date. Recent reports have suggested a potential shortfall of £4 billion at the heart of the project.
We look forward to the imminent arrival of the Road Safety Bill. A lot of people have commented on that. The Bill has been around for a while, and I am sure we can support it across the House, although we shall do our bit to try to improve it. The measures in it include the introduction of variable penalty points, tackling drink-driving and other traffic offences. We want to make certain that the Bill does not have an anti-motorist agenda, but is something that will help the motorist and improve the safety situation on the roads in our country.
In conclusion, the issues for which the Department for Transport, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister are responsible affect every family and every business in this country. We feel that there could have been much more in the gracious Speech to make more happen in these areas. We shall face these challenges in this House over the coming 18 months, and we on this side of the House look forward to every opportunity to debate with the Government and, we hope, to improve the legislation.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this excellent, wide-ranging debate. On behalf of my noble friend Lady Andrews and myself, I thank all noble Lords who have been kind enough to welcome us to our new posts.
Before starting my speech, I want to draw particular attention to the excellent maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Rana. It was an extraordinary speech that showed a record of service in Northern Ireland over many years. It was a powerful contribution to our debate. I know that my noble friend Lord Rooker will read it with interest and I am sure that other Ministers in the Northern Ireland Office will also want to read what he had to say. We look forward to hearing his opinions not just on Northern Ireland but on other subjects as well.
I welcome back the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, who made a very interesting speech. I must confess that I did not entirely agree with it. When I heard him talking about his electoral success, I thought for a moment that I was in the wrong place, bearing in mind that it is just after a general election. But I was not, and the House must congratulate the noble Viscount on his victory and welcome him back to the House of Lords.
This debate clearly shows the links between rural affairs, sustainable communities, transport and the regions. I have 20 minutes in which to answer this debate. There will be many questions that remain unanswered, but I hope to write to Front-Benchers with answers to questions raised by them and with answers to questions from other noble Lords if I do not reach the answers in time.
In her opening, my noble friend demonstrated the importance of sustainable communities, both urban and rural, and how transport and local involvement contribute to building them. Sustainable development will contribute to a sustainable global community as we tackle the challenge of climate change, as well as to sustainable local communities as we look to reduce disadvantage and to increase social inclusion.
A sustainable community is a place that offers opportunities for people of different ages and backgrounds to live, work and play. It is a community that balances and integrates social, economic and environmental needs. To this end, the Government are creating new opportunities for people to enjoy our natural environment. As was pointed out by the noble Earl, Lord Peel, in—if I may flatter him—an excellent speech, by the end of this year, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act will have opened up about 1 million hectares of additional land, including some of the finest landscapes in England and Wales.
But there is more, much more, that we can do. Through the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill, we will create Natural England and unite in a single organisation the responsibilities for enhancing biodiversity and landscape, for promoting access and recreation, and for increasing opportunities for everyone to understand, enjoy and benefit from the natural environment. The Bill will also formally establish the new commission for rural communities, which will act as an independent advocate, adviser and watchdog for rural people. It will ensure that the Government's policies make a real, tangible difference to people in rural areas, especially in tackling social and economic exclusion and disadvantage.
In the House this afternoon, we have heard many fine speeches about rural areas. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, started us off. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich made a fascinating contribution. I think that it is generally agreed that my noble friend Lord Giddens made a speech that was a tour de force on this topic. I have referred to the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Peel. My old opponent, the noble Lord, Lord Kimball—who forgot to say that he thrashed me soundly all those years ago—also talked about this issue. He asked how many fewer officials there will be when this is finished. The number will come down from 3,500 to 2,900 and there will be savings of millions of pounds over the next number of years.
We shall also introduce a Bill to promote the sustainable management of our common land, a matter that has been referred to. That will help us to meet our targets on valuable wildlife sites, reinforce existing protections for common land and safeguard public access.
I emphasise that we want to continue on a path to a sustainable farming and food industry. I agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, said about food. I was slightly taken aback by the view that it is thought in some quarters of the House that the Government do not believe that agriculture is an important part of this country's heritage and present and future. That is not the position.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackie, in his understated way, said that he hoped that we thought that agriculture was "quite important". We think that it is rather more than quite important. That is not to say that we can satisfy every need or requirement of farmers, but it is undoubtedly a very important part of this country.
Implementing the reform of the common agricultural policy this year is a large step in that direction and represents the biggest change in farmer support for generations. Not only will farmers be free to respond to markets rather than just subsidy regimes, but we are—this should be noted by those who accuse us of over bureaucracy—combining 10 major subsidy schemes and several others into one payment with consequent benefits. That will be very important in terms of paper work.
Some time ago the noble Lord, Lord Monro of Langholm, asked how many failed to join the single payment scheme. It is difficult to say for the reason I mentioned in the oral Answer this afternoon, but we know that about 3,000 more are expected to pass on their application forms before the deadline of
In England we are moving towards full decoupling of support from production by 2012, which we trust will bring fairness and transparency to the whole system. These are enormous changes. We have recognised that in the unprecedented programme we have undertaken in the past 12 months to ensure that farmers are aware of the changes and their effects. There were more than 115,000 applications for the single payment scheme by the deadline.
Alongside the reformed CAP, in March this year we introduced a major new environmental stewardship scheme, which we hope will be widely taken up by farmers. At the moment everything looks promising. We expect to inject around £150 million of extra resources into farming in its first year.
Through such measures we are supporting the crucial role that the farming community plays, not only in producing safe nutritious food—that should not be underrated—but in protecting and enhancing our landscape, our wildlife, soils, water, and other natural resources.
Everyone wants sustainable farming that responds to market signals not to subsidies, with high-quality products and farmers being rewarded for the public goods they provide through their positive management of the countryside. In that way we can look to a more secure future for the farming industry and a better environment for us all to enjoy. This is a major programme of work. The House knows that the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill was published last Thursday. We shall continue to press forward with this important agenda.
In rural areas providing a range of housing but with particular emphasis on providing more affordable homes is key to delivering sustainable communities. That will be at the forefront of the new rural housing commission's agenda. We are working together across government to make sure that a choice of sustainable, affordable housing is available and retained in rural communities. In her opening remarks, my noble friend pointed out the commitment made in our manifesto to increase the supply of affordable housing in rural communities. In both rural and urban areas, it is vital that we achieve housing growth sustainably and raise the environmental performance of what we build. We know that balancing these different interests—social, economic and environmental—is not easy.
On transport, for example, we heard some fascinating speeches from my noble friends Lord Snape, Lord Berkeley, Lord Faulkner of Worcester and Lord Simon, the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, and the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold. Improved transport access and ease of mobility can make a positive contribution to social and economic progress. However, the negative impacts of transport on the environment, about which we have also heard today, affect us all. While we are working to improve the position, both road and air traffic remain significant sources of greenhouse gas emissions, leaving aside the local impacts on noise, air pollution, wildlife and landscape that many people feel more keenly. We recognise that transport has to make a contribution to reducing carbon dioxide emissions. We already have in place a number of measures to achieve this, as outlined in our climate change programme review consultation document, and we are exploring further measures as a key element of that review.
We are prepared to listen and even to change our minds. Let me give a practical example of that. My first decision in this job was to amend the guidance about the effect of the new single payment scheme on motor sports in rural areas. That will not be the last time that we change our minds. We will do so if it is the proper thing to do.
Across government, we are committed to empowering people to have more say in the way places are run. This applies to Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and to the English regions, down to the most local level of the parish councils. Devolution was one of the biggest changes to the constitution for many years. We believe that it has increased political accountability and enabled distinctive local solutions to be found for particular issues.
Perhaps I may say a word about Northern Ireland, in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Laird. I am sure he will understand that setting the statutory criteria and regulatory regime which determines who should or should not hold office in financial institutions in the Irish Republic are matters for the Government of the Irish Republic, and that the issues over which Phil Flynn resigned from his position at the Bank of Scotland (Ireland) are connected to a criminal investigation in the Irish Republic. It would not be appropriate for me to comment further at this time.
As my noble friend Lady Andrews said in her opening speech, the Government remain committed to restoring the Northern Ireland Assembly on an inclusive, power-sharing basis. Devolution is what the people of Northern Ireland want. I repeat that there has to be an end to paramilitary activity and criminality on the one hand, while on the other we need to see unionist participation in an inclusive government.
We are fully committed to devolving delivery closer to communities. Local authorities have key responsibilities in building sustainable communities now and for generations to come in both urban and rural areas. We have had some very interesting speeches around local and regional government. Passions run high on these issues and we have heard them from all parts of the House.
I shall try to respond to one or two of the issues that arose. On regional assemblies, we have set ourselves a target of improving the economic performance of all the regions, particularly those which are performing less well. We need to do that through all the agencies that are available. We believe that regional assemblies are inclusive bodies representing the whole range of opinion in their region, not just that of individual local authorities. Their members are drawn from a variety of political parties: economic—including both business and employee—and social partners, as well as environmental stakeholders.
On the future of local government, the House will know from our document on vibrant local leadership that the Government agree that leadership is vital to delivering successful, thriving cities. We are also considering the best way of developing the future of local government in the light of the document we published before the election.
The noble Baroness, Lady Scott, mentioned rental housing. It is an important subject. We have more than doubled investment for social rented homes, to around £2 billion in 2007–08. We will provide for 75,000 new homes for rent by 2008. We have also, as the noble Baroness will know, supported rented housing through some measures in the Housing Act 2004.
It is up to Sir Michael Lyons to decide exactly when he reports. The terms of reference are fixed and they require a report by the end of 2005. This sort of job should not be rushed; we have to await the publication of his findings before saying more.
Real empowerment at the local level enables local spending to be determined by local needs. Parish plans identify and prioritise the community's needs and set out how they might be tackled. We are putting a further £1 million into funding them this year. For example, empowering local people has enabled Danby parish council, in the Esk Valley in Yorkshire, to secure highway safety improvements and pathways worth £188,000 and grants for health facilities worth more than £1 million. Many of us in this Chamber have served on parish or town councils and we know the valuable service they provide.
Of course, our sense of community cannot be limited to just where we live; it extends much further. We are trustees of both our global and local communities and we have to meet the challenge of climate change and work to increase community inclusion for all. Many speeches have emphasised the difficulties surrounding climate change. The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester, the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, my noble friend Lord Hunt of Chesterton, my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Hudnall and the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, all commented on climate change. We have to use energy more efficiently. My noble friend told us earlier how the Government are already managing these challenges through a series of targeted actions to reduce emissions.
We are on course to achieve the target agreed under the Kyoto Protocol. Provisional estimates suggest that in 2004, UK greenhouse gas emissions were about 12.5 per cent below base year levels. There is a long way to go to achieve our domestic target. The current review of the climate change programme is examining ways to ensure that we get back on track to achieving that goal and puts us on the path to making real progress by 2020, towards our longer term goal of some 60 per cent reduction by 2050.
We have also launched a new high-level forum to tackle climate change issues in rural areas. It was in that respect that the noble Countess, Lady Mar, talked about her concerns regarding pesticides and chemicals, and I shall be writing to her.
Anyone who imagines for a moment that the Government do not take climate change and all that it involves really seriously is quite wrong. This has clearly been the theme of our debate in many ways. There is a feeling, I believe, in the country that this issue has to be tackled. To say it has to be tackled means that it is a very difficult issue, but one that we have to face.
People in all areas deserve access to high-quality services. In rural areas, general affluence can often mask small pockets of disadvantage and social exclusion. The Government's aim is to ensure that rural communities benefit in the same way as urban areas from our programmes to modernise, improve and support public services.
We heard two excellent speeches from North Wales. One was made by my noble friend Lord Jones, who did such a fantastic job in getting industry to his part of Wales; the other was made by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, who was delighted by his party's three extra seats. I do not think that his party would have been delighted with that 10 years ago, let alone 50 years ago, but if he is delighted, then we are all delighted.
I conclude by returning to the main themes: rural affairs, sustainable communities, transport and the regions. In all these agendas, working in partnership is key, whether it is in delivering 1.1 million new homes in the wider south east or in tackling the climate change challenge.
As we strive to create sustainable communities, we have to balance social, economic and environmental needs. Local transport plans will encourage local transport providers to think about all these aspects, and the very important new code for sustainable buildings will promote increased resource efficiency in buildings to complement our policies on density and greater use of brownfield sites.
Building strong communities also means investing to tackle disadvantage and working to narrow the gap between deprived communities, wherever they are, and others who share with them the privilege of living in this country.
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Adonis, I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly until tomorrow.