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 is a privilege to open this debate today, the fourth day of the debate on the gracious Speech.
I am delighted to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester to this debate. I am sure that the whole House looks forward to their maiden speeches today.
I am also pleased to welcome my noble friend Lord Howe, who will be responding to the many views, proposals and reflections that we will hear today.
The gracious Speech sets out the Government’s dedication to delivering positive change to the United Kingdom. We set out our commitment to landmark reform on social care and pensions, which will reward those who work hard. We look to improve services for vulnerable children and support strong families. The gracious Speech also covered the topics of culture, agriculture, and energy: we put the consumer first while taking decisive action to deliver economic growth.
This Government are committed to reforming the welfare system so that it is fair and affordable while ensuring that the most vulnerable get the support they need. With major reforms such as universal credit, the Work Programme and the personal independence payment already under way, we are helping people to find work, making sure that work pays and focusing support on those with the greatest need.
We now look to the Pensions Bill to apply the principles of modernisation to state pensions, providing a system fit for the 21st century. The Bill, introduced last week, contains provisions to set up the single-tier state pension—a simple flat-rate state pension for future pensioners that is set above the basic level of means-tested support. This will provide the clarity that is needed to help people to plan and save for their retirement. We will create a state pension system that reflects the lives and contributions of today’s working-age people.
Indeed, those who have historically done poorly in the current system—for example, people with caring responsibilities or those with broken work histories—will benefit. In the first 10 years, more than 700,000 women should receive, on average, £9 a week more in state pension through the single-tier valuation.
As life expectancy continues to increase, we are taking action to ensure that the state pension system remains sustainable over the long term. The Pensions Bill will bring forward the increase in state pension age to 67 by eight years, so that it gradually increases from 66 to 67 between 2026 and 2028. The Bill contains provision for a regular review of the state pension age, so that this issue is considered every Parliament. This will ensure that the state pension age remains sustainable and fair between the generations.
The Pensions Bill also contains a number of measures to strengthen private pensions. We estimate that the introduction of automatic enrolment into workplace pension schemes will result in between 6 million and 9 million people either saving for the first time or saving more into workplace pensions. However, without further reform, automatic enrolment will create more dormant pension pots as people move jobs. Therefore, we are legislating to introduce a system of automatic transfers of small pension pots. This will help consolidate pension savings into an individual’s current employer’s scheme, making it easier for people to keep track of their pensions saving, plan for retirement and secure a better retirement income. Finally, the Pensions Bill will make provision for the introduction of the bereavement support payment. This will simplify the current system by moving to a single benefit, with support focused on the period immediately following bereavement.
Continuing on the theme of support, the Government recognise that today’s care and support system often fails to live up to the expectations of those who rely on it. Many have good experiences, but the system can often be confusing, disempowering and not flexible enough to fit around individuals’ lives. The Care Bill takes forward our commitments to reform social care. This will make a reality of our vision for a modern system which promotes people’s well-being. Critically, the Bill will reform care and support funding by creating a cap on care costs, giving people peace of mind by protecting them from catastrophic costs. In providing a new right to deferred payment of care costs, it will also ensure that people do not have to sell their home in their lifetime to pay for residential care
We will refocus the law around the person, not the service, empowering people to take control over their care and support, and to understand their entitlements. We will strengthen the rights of carers to access support and we will introduce a new adult safeguarding framework. We will deliver a number of crucial elements in our response to the findings of the Francis inquiry, which identified failures across the health and care system that must never happen again. We will introduce a ratings system for hospitals and care homes, and a single failure regime, and we will make it a criminal offence for providers to provide false or misleading information.
Therefore, this Bill is vital in delivering our commitment to ensure that patients are,
“the first and foremost consideration of the system and everyone who works in it”.
I am pleased that public consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny has demonstrated widespread support for the principles and approach to law reform in adult care and support. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Howe and I are very grateful to those present who have already provided helpful and detailed scrutiny in draft through a Joint Committee of both Houses.
I turn to legislation with which I am personally involved. I am delighted that the Mesothelioma Bill was introduced in this House last week. Diffuse mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of the lungs or abdomen caused by exposure to asbestos. The Government will act in the interest of people with diffuse mesothelioma and will set up a payment scheme for eligible people who can show that they were negligently exposed to asbestos by their employer and cannot trace an employer and insurer. It will be funded via a levy imposed on insurers currently selling employers’ liability insurance.
I shall now refer to the remaining subjects to be covered in today’s debate on culture, agriculture, energy and education. The gracious Speech outlined measures that will contribute to the economic growth of the nation while also putting the consumer at the heart of what we do. I shall therefore begin with the water Bill. I am pleased that my noble friend Lord De Mauley will be taking this important matter through the House. The water Bill will help us to achieve a future where water is always available to supply households and businesses without damaging the environment. We seek reform that will offer choice and flexibility to customers and help to keep bills affordable. That is essential for our economy.
The water Bill will also contribute to economic growth by encouraging the water sector to become more efficient, creating employment for new entrants to the industry and driving innovation. All business customers will be able to switch their water supplier so that they can achieve the best service and tariff. We will make it easier for water companies to buy and sell water from and to each other. New businesses will find it easier to enter the water market to provide new sources of water or sewerage treatment services, known as “upstream” services. Developers will also find it easier to connect new developments to the water mains and sewerage systems. We believe that this Bill is also the best vehicle for taking measures to address the availability and affordability of flood insurance.
The Gambling (Licensing and Advertising) Bill will enhance protection for consumers. An estimated 80% of remote gambling activity by British consumers takes place with operators that the Gambling Commission does not regulate. The Bill will change this. All operators selling or advertising into the British market, whether from here or abroad, will be required to hold a UK Gambling Commission licence. Under the new regime, all remote gambling operators will be subject to the robust and consistent regulation required to support action against illegal activity and corruption in sport. They will be required to contribute to research, education and treatment in relation to British problem gambling and to comply with licence conditions that protect children and vulnerable adults.
I turn now to children and education. The Children and Families Bill will continue its journey through Parliament, taking forward the Government’s commitments to improve services for vulnerable children and support strong families. It takes forward critical reforms to our adoption, family justice and special educational needs systems. It will support improved educational attainment for looked-after children and strengthen the role of the Children’s Commissioner so that children have a strong and independent advocate for their rights. It introduces a new system of shared leave for new mothers and fathers and contains measures to encourage growth in the childcare sector. I am grateful to noble Lords on the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Select Committee on Adoption Legislation for the important contribution they have already made during pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. It is currently receiving thorough scrutiny in the House of Commons and we look forward to many expert contributions from across this House when it reaches us.
In addition, I am pleased that paving legislation will be introduced through this Bill to enable HMRC to develop the new tax-free childcare scheme that was announced by the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister in March. This will provide up to £1,200 per child. A further £200 million will be made available for those receiving universal credit, which is equivalent to covering 85% of childcare costs for households qualifying for the universal credit childcare element where the lone parent or both earners in a couple pay income tax.
Lastly, the Energy Bill will also be carried into the 2013-14 Session. This Bill will generate the biggest change to the electricity market since privatisation. It will deliver secure, clean and affordable electricity and ensure that prices are fair. It will attract the £110 billion investment that we need in this decade alone to replace our ageing energy infrastructure with a more diverse and low-carbon energy mix and respond to an increased risk to security of electricity supplies as a large proportion of our existing capacity comes offline.
Investment in new low-carbon generation and reliable capacity will significantly boost economic growth, generating skills and expertise and supporting up to 250,000 jobs across the energy sector, while also helping us to meet our ambitious climate and renewable targets to build a cleaner energy future for Britain and the world. These reforms will work with the market and encourage competition to minimise costs to consumers and deliver the investment the UK needs. We are also using the Energy Bill to ensure that all households get the best deal for their gas and electricity, putting consumers in the driving seat, giving them clear choices, and incentivising companies to compete hard for their custom.
I believe that the measures I have discussed today make a real contribution to delivering positive change and boosting economic growth. I look forward to the balanced and informed debates that will take place over the coming months on this legislative programme, alongside the wisdom and experience that will be shared today. I welcome the contributions of all who are to take part in this debate.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to our debate and, like him, I welcome our maiden speakers, who we all look forward to listening to later. I also refer noble Lords to my health interests as set out in the register.
With the country facing so many formidable challenges, last Wednesday’s Queen’s Speech was an opportunity for the Government to outline a positive agenda for jobs and growth, and to help hard-pressed families cope with the drastic fall in living standards, but positive change it was not. Instead, we were treated to a desperately disappointing and dispiriting programme from a Government who are out of touch, out of ideas, and out of support from a significant number of their own MPs. Nowhere is that more evident than in the subjects we are covering today: in welfare, where the welfare bill continues to rise, the universal benefits scheme is in trouble, and the Work Programme simply is not getting the long-term unemployed into work; in energy, where the dithering and discord between the Treasury and the Department for Energy and Climate Change is putting our energy supply at risk and investment in renewable and nuclear energy in jeopardy; in the environment, where the Prime Minister’s claim to lead the greenest Government ever lies in tatters; in agriculture, where the water Bill is effectively only half a Bill that fails to deal with public affordability; in culture, media and sport, where we have no communications Bill and our wonderful Olympic legacy has been squandered as schools sport provision has been woefully undermined by Mr Gove; and in education, with no plans for vocational education and the Government’s lamentable plan to weaken early years childcare ratios in total chaos.
However, nowhere is the Government’s stewardship so much in evidence in terms of failure than in the field of health and social care. The Government’s backtracking on public health is but one example. The noble Earl who is to wind up our debate later will know that the scale of health inequalities in the UK is formidable. He also knows that smoking is one of the most important contributors to ill health and early death. That is why there was such a warm welcome when reports emanated from Whitehall in the spring promising legislation to enforce plain packaging for cigarettes. Why was there no mention of the Bill in the Queen’s Speech, and why no Bill to set a minimum price for alcohol? Does the noble Earl agree with his colleague, Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, who has said that a U-turn on plain packaging would send a message that public health has been completely abandoned by the coalition?
I would also like to ask the noble Earl about the establishment of Health Education England, which is set out in the Care Bill. I note Schedule 5 to the Bill regarding the make-up of its board and would ask him whether he will ensure that there is a balance of non-executives in terms of gender and diversity. I ask him that because I was astounded to learn that all of the non-executives on the advisory board of Public Health England are men, including the chairman. I am equally astounded that my noble friend Lady Massey of Darwen, having gone through all due process, was vetoed by Ministers from joining the board. Why was that so?
We then come to the health implications of the Government’s immigration measures. They have made much of their proposals to ensure that only NHS patients who properly qualify for the NHS should get free treatment. No one would quarrel with that as a proposition, but it is clear that the Government do not have a clue how to implement their proposals, apart from forcing GPs into the role of immigration officers. The existing guidance produced by the Government on the charging of overseas patients is 90 pages long. It is one of the most incomprehensible pieces of draftsmanship that I have ever seen.
The highly respected Nuffield Trust showed in 2011 that immigrants are far less likely to use hospital services than the general population. On the Francis report and the legislation contained in the Care Bill, I certainly look forward to debating Ofsted-style ratings for NHS hospitals and I support the intention to make it a criminal offence for NHS and social care organisations to provide false or misleading information about their performance. But why is the duty of candour restricted to hospitals and other service providers? Why should commissioning bodies such as clinical commissioning groups and NHS England not have a similar duty apply to them? Mr Robert Francis called today for more honesty from the NHS. However, that means all of the NHS. I also echo some questions asked by Mr Francis. Why are the Government not providing for the ability to prosecute individual staff in the case of serious patient neglect? Why are the Government refusing to merge CQC and Monitor into a single organisation? What response does the noble Earl have to Mr Francis, who warns of the potential of a communications failure between the two organisations?
The Government claim that the Care Bill, which is probably one of the most important Bills that this House will debate in the next few weeks, will reform the way long-term care is paid for to ensure that the elderly do not have to sell their homes to meet their care bills. The Bill builds on many of the recommendations of the Law Commission’s review of adult social care legislation initiated by the previous Government and on the proposals in Labour’s White Paper before the last election. The Bill may well be a step towards a better system but the key question I put to the noble Earl is this: where is the funding to implement it? On its own, the Bill will not go anywhere near far enough in tackling the crisis that is now engulfing health and social care, openly acknowledged by the Secretary of State. We have hospitals full to bursting, discharge is becoming ever more difficult, and handovers to social services are slower and subject to more disputes. Social care and the voluntary sector are struggling to fulfil demands placed on them. On the front line, thousands of nursing posts have been lost and many services are under pressure. In social care, the recent report of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services laid bare the scale and severity of the financial squeeze on councils: £2.7 billion stripped from adult social care services since 2010, equivalent to 20% of their care budgets, even as demand for those services continues to rise.
Ministers have today been forced to announce new measures to get the NHS and social care working together in integrated teams. However, the whole reform programme of enforced marketisation has actually encouraged the opposite—the fragmentation of services. At national level there is utter confusion as to who is in charge. We have even had NHS England arguing with the Secretary of State over the release of money to help hard-pressed accident and emergency services. The Secretary of State has finally grasped that the A&E crisis is a crisis of the whole system but NHS England persists in its foolish approach of blaming everyone but itself. How else to explain the bullying of clinical commissioning groups to fine those very same hard-pressed A&E and ambulance services? The Secretary of State itches to intervene, but his powers are limited because his predecessor and the noble Earl were adamant that they wanted to hand powers over to a quango, NHS England. No wonder Chris Hopson, chief executive of the Foundation Trust Network, described the Government’s response to the A&E problems as an “omnishambles”.
The Care Bill may well be a step towards a better system but new rights to services and support risk being meaningless as council budgets are cut to the bone and people are faced with spiralling charges. Many searching questions remain to be asked about the Government’s proposals. Can the noble Earl confirm that Andrew Dilnot warned that anything above a
£50,000 cap on care costs would not provide enough protection to people with low incomes and wealth? Can he explain the rationale of persisting with a £72,000 cap? Has the noble Earl seen a paper published today by the LSE and the University of East Anglia which points out that the government proposals will provide greater benefit to relatively better off older people? What will the Government do to provide help for those of relatively low to modest means?
Dilnot hoped that the capping of care costs would lead to appropriate private insurance packages coming on to the market. Can the noble Earl tell us what discussions he has had with the ABI to stimulate such a market? Will he confirm that the cap on care payments does not include the hotel costs that a care home will charge, and that people in residential care will still need to pay up to £12,000 a year to fund their accommodation and living expenses?
Does the noble Earl accept that the national eligibility scheme will not work if it acts to restrict services for many people? Can he respond to the comments made by Age UK, which said that in the majority of councils only those assessed as having “substantial” care needs are now able to access the current system? It says that unless the Government set the proposed national eligibility criteria at the equivalent of “moderate”, hundreds of thousands of people who cannot carry out tasks such as washing, getting dressed and preparing food and laundry will be left without any help.
The contribution of carers to our society can never be overestimated. Why are there no provisions in the Bill for adults caring for children, and young carers? As Barnardo’s says, young carers represent a uniquely valuable group of people whom the Government should be ensuring receive help to address the very serious effects that caring has on their lives.
I would also welcome the noble Earl’s response to the point made by the Joint Committee in its scrutiny of the draft Bill, when it said:
“The introduction of a capped cost scheme, which will result in many more people”— including self-funders—
“being assessed and entitled to a personal budget is likely to lead to an increase in disputes and legal challenges”.
The committee was,
“not confident that Ministers have yet fully thought through the implications for local authorities of these changes”.
Can the Minister comment?
Of course, we will explore these issues in greater detail in Committee, but however much we scrutinise the Bill it looks set to do little to help those who currently face a daily struggle to get the support they need. This is echoed by the Joint Committee, which said that,
“care and support have increasingly been rationed and restricted to those with the highest levels of need. This is ultimately self-defeating—shunting costs and reinforcing the dominance of crisis and acute care over approaches that prevent and postpone the need for formal care and support”.
The Government say they are acting to help people with care costs but the reality behind the spin is that under this Government people’s savings are being washed away. Ministers are promising to give a little in the future with one hand, while social care provision is collapsing in the other.
Above all, we need a genuinely integrated NHS and social care system, which helps older people stay healthy and live independently in their own homes for as long as possible. That is why Labour’s proposals for whole-person care are so important. This is surely one of society’s greatest challenges, which we need to tackle with urgency. In the absence of any such vision in the Queen’s Speech, it will be Labour’s mission to achieve this after the next election.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Freud, for introducing this debate and giving the House a concise breakdown of the legislation. I also note with interest the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and I am sure we shall return them in due course.
I will talk briefly about public health and then spend time on parts of the Care Bill, but not in any great detail, because that is for Second Reading next week. The coalition Government’s mid-term review commits to “reducing preventable early death” as a key priority. Nothing would do more to reduce the number of preventable early deaths than dissuading children from drinking or smoking.
Aside from the cost to our economy of policing drunken young people, and later the NHS looking after their liver diseases or offering a diagnosis of cancer to those who are too young to hear it, we owe it to society to do whatever it takes to stop young people killing themselves early with too much alcohol or too much tobacco.
Her Majesty said in her speech:
“Other measures will be laid before you”.
I sincerely hope that as soon as the Government have finished their consultation they heed the advice of the Minister for Public Health and that of the chief executive of Public Health England and bring before Parliament measures to standardises cigarette and tobacco packaging and introduce minimum alcohol pricing.
Those of us who have sat through debates in the past couple of years know that the legal provisions relating to adult social care in England have been scattered over many Acts during the post-war period. Those of us who have caring responsibilities know what a quagmire the current system is. It lacks cohesion and a common purpose; there is no recognition of the role of carers or provision for them; it is a postcode lottery.
There have been plenty of well argued reports during the past 20 years, but it has to be said that successive Governments have put all this in the too-hard-to-deal-with box. The issue of funding catastrophic care costs was parked and the care of the most vulnerable was ducked for decades. However, a Liberal Democrat Minister of State was intent on rectifying that. I am proud that my honourable friend Paul Burstow, as Care Minister, persuaded his colleagues in the Department of Health to consult on these issues, resulting in the White Paper Caring for our Future. Furthermore, in line with the coalition agreement, the Department of Health asked Andrew Dilnot to chair a commission, with commissioners the noble Lord, Lord Warner, and Dame Jo Williams, to examine the funding of adult social care.
The Dilnot-led commission—we have already heard of it today—developed an elegant model leading to a solution for the affordability of catastrophic care costs. Implementation of the report was made tougher by the emerging reality of the recession. It was welcomed by the sector but it was several months before it gained Cabinet approval. I commend those from all Benches in your Lordships’ House who used all avenues of communication to influence that decision.
Based on the White Paper and the Law Commission report on social care, last summer my honourable friend Paul Burstow published the draft Care Bill. Health Bills seem to come along quite often, but social care Bills are few and far between, so the outcome had to be right. The decision was taken to put it before a joint scrutiny committee. I had the privilege to sit on this along with some of Parliament’s acknowledged experts in the field. We took some considerable time taking evidence from those in the sector, supplemented by a public consultation, and a report was produced with nearly 100 recommendations.
A Bill was published last week to reform the law relating to care and support for adults and the law relating to support for carers. It puts the individual’s well-being at the heart of decision-making and gives carers new legal rights to services. It places duties on councils and the NHS to work together, defines a single, streamlined assessment and eligibility framework, and, for the first time, gives adult safeguarding boards a statutory footing. All the legislation of past decades has been updated and put into a single Bill.
When we visualise a carer, what do we see our mind’s eye? Do we see one in the mirror every morning? Do we think of someone our own age, a neighbour or relative? I expect that very few think of a child, yet a BBC survey in 2010 showed that there are 700,000 young carers in the UK, many of whom care for more than 50 hours a week, and they go to school, too. They care for parents, siblings and sometimes grandparents.
In this legislation, I fear a lacuna. In general, issues surrounding children are dealt with by the Department for Education. It is imperative that children have the same rights as an adult carer or an adult carer caring for a child, so there must be adequate cross-referencing of the Care Bill and the Children and Families Bill to make sure that that is the case. My noble friend Lady Tyler of Enfield is not in her place today, but I am sure that many others will join her in making sure that this is achieved.
It is worth remembering that this Bill is for adult social care. Many assume that it is solely to address the care of those who are old, but we have to remember that the Bill applies equally to adults of working age and those who have care needs as a result of disability, long-term mental health problems or enduring illnesses.
This Bill championed by one Lib Dem Care Minister is being delivered by another. They share a Liberal perspective of fairness, guided by principles for social care set out in a 2010 Lib Dem policy paper: partnership, personalisation, prevention, protection, performance and productivity—I apologise for the alliteration. Some may say, “Bring it on”.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Freud indicated that one of the subjects for debate this afternoon is energy. Her Majesty’s Speech said that the Government will continue with legislation to update energy infrastructure. That is a short description of what will be a pretty long Bill when we receive it from the other place. I will come to that in a moment.
Before I refer to the Energy Bill, I want to say how much I admired the speech made on Thursday by my noble friend Lord Fowler. It was superb and I agreed with every word of it. It was of course about the implementation of the Leveson report. Like my noble friend, I hope that the Government will stand firm with their royal charter on press regulation, which was agreed at the end of the previous Session by the leaders of the three main parties represented in Parliament. At the moment we are witnessing some newspaper groups seeking to substitute their own, much weaker charter. That is no less than a very blatant attempt by those newspapers and their proprietors to keep their status in society as over-mighty subjects. Previous Governments have had to deal with over-mighty subjects. They had to face the Whig aristocracy in the 18th century, the Tory mill and factory owners in the 19th century and the trade unions in the 20th century. The Leveson report exposed the press as the over-mighty subjects of the 21st century, believing, like their predecessors, that they were above the law and outwith the surveillance of Parliament. That can be acceptable to no democratic Government. Some newspapers may dislike intensely the prospect of tougher regulation but the way that they are fighting their case is not a pretty sight. I condemn them and hope that the Government will stand firm on that.
Turning to energy, I want to raise three issues. First, I express dismay at the long delay in the negotiations between EDF and the Government on the terms of the proposed contract for difference and strike price. This was supposed to have been announced before Christmas and here we are, half way through May, and as yet nothing. This is the first test of the Government’s proposals for electricity market reform. It is being watched very carefully by not only the participants in the industry but a number of other countries that are interested in the model that the Government put forward. A failure to agree would be a severe blow to investor confidence and create a real risk of undermining the central objectives of the Energy Bill. It would also strike a serious blow to the Government’s desire to stimulate growth in the economy and create more jobs through a major infrastructure project. I cannot stress too highly the need for an agreement to be reached and announced very soon, the consequences of which would be wholly beneficial.
Secondly, I was dismayed, as many noble Lords were, when in January Cumbria County Council refused to allow the negotiations with local authorities to host a geological disposal facility for nuclear waste to proceed to the next stage. The two district councils, Copeland and Allerdale, agreed to do that but the county council—far away in Carlisle—refused and the Secretary of State, my right honourable friend Ed Davey, said that that ended the negotiations.
Yesterday, DECC announced a new open consultation and has called for evidence on the whole siting process. I welcome that, because what it was doing before has clearly gone seriously wrong. In my view, the main reason for the failure of the negotiations in Cumbria was that nobody—not DECC, not Defra, not the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency, not the Sellafield authorities—seemed to have any duty to counteract the wave of malicious anti-nuclear propaganda that swamped the county in the three months before the decision to withdraw was made. I cannot believe that that is the right way to approach such major infrastructure problems. There needs to be a system of instant rebuttal for every erroneous statement made. Otherwise, the people who come to make the decisions are left with only half the information that they need. It is very sad that it was no one’s job to do that.
My third point is that on
I see that opening up the prospect of a much more effective competition regime in an industry that has become a bit sclerotic and, in some respects, monopolistic in its habits. I am told that the indications are that the big six generators and distributors, who totally dominate the market, oppose that proposal. They fear that it will lead to tougher competition for generating capacity and access to the consumer markets. The new players, whom the Government are anxious to attract into the industry—I have met some of them—are likely to support it, as it could lead to opening up markets to them that have hitherto been the almost exclusive preserve of the big six.
My question to the Government is simple: they have a stated aim of increasing competition in the electricity generation and distribution market. If the big six are opposing a new structure and the new players are supporting it, where do the Government stand? What is the DECC attitude to that? I have heard nothing about that. I cannot reasonably expect answers from my noble friend Lord Howe at the end of the debate, but I hope that what I have said might be studied. I am grateful to see my noble friend Lady Verma on the Front Bench. I hope that it may be drawn to the attention of those concerned with those issues.
My Lords, my introduction to this place was prefaced with the most pleasant prophecies: that I would be given a very warm welcome; that the staff would go to great pains to help with everything from map reading, with which I still struggle, to paper procurement. So it has been. In addition to being both humbled and honoured to be here, I feel hugely grateful for all the kindness and help that I have experienced.
It is for me also rather extraordinary as a composer to be following in the footsteps of musicians such as Lord Menuhin of Stoke D’Abernon and my godfather, Lord Britten of Aldeburgh, whose centenary the world of music is currently celebrating. As a young chorister at Westminster Cathedral, I sang in the first performance of the Britten “Missa Brevis” and accompanied my father, Lennox, to rehearsals of his violin concerto with Menuhin. I know that both Benjamin Britten and Yehudi Menuhin would passionately endorse the sentiments I am about to embrace. The gracious Speech touched on culture, education and aspiration; speaking about music and the arts is indeed a theme I would like to explore.
First, let me take your Lordships to the Welsh Marches, that beautiful, wild but lyrical countryside so loved by Kilvert and Housman that forms the border between England and Wales and where, for the past 35 years, I have naturally and gradually build up a small farm near the town of Knighton. I have seen this community severely challenged in recent years by job losses and the difficulties that farmers have faced, not least in the recent snow. Yet despite these tribulations, there is always a smile on local faces. There certainly was a smile when, many years ago, we bought our first sheep at auction. The late and much lamented Nora Ephron, writer of “Sleepless in Seattle” and “When Harry Met Sally”, who was staying with us at the time, got so excited by the bidding that she waved happily across the ring to my wife, who waved back. This was much to the delight of the auctioneer, who treated these exuberant celebrations as a portent of an early Christmas and as further bids. Our first sheep were therefore the most expensive we have ever bought.
More seriously, current concerns in this part of the world concentrate on maintaining the important tourism that so feeds an area rich in wonderful walking. The spine of Offa’s Dyke runs through the town. In many ways, communities like this present a microcosm of the conundrums with which your Lordships and the Government have to wrestle. For instance, because of the stunning landscape and the tourism it attracts there is considerable concern over the prospect of many marching pylons and huge wind turbines bespotting the horizon. The balance between the need for renewable energy and the preservation of a landscape of great cultural significance is as problematic as the balance between the Government’s desire to see more localism and their overruling of local opinion in matters of planning.
Just over the hill from Knighton lies the town of Presteigne, which, astonishingly, boasts a successful annual festival of largely contemporary music. This organisation operates on the breadline, and sometimes below it, yet the need—the hunger—for cultural nourishment could not be more manifest, especially at times like this. In great art, as, for many, in religion, we find comfort and solace but also the means to see ourselves and inside ourselves more clearly. On my travels around the world, I got to know this refrain well: “We envy you your National Health Service and the BBC”—for whom, by the way, I have broadcast for some 40 years. But now a third cause of envy is cited: the thrilling cultural experiences that this country offers.
Recently, the Culture Secretary told us that we must celebrate the money-spinning success of our cultural organisations. I agree with her that for too long we have failed to spell out just what a good investment the arts are. For much less than 0.1% of government expenditure the arts return 0.4% of GDP, according to recent statistics from the Centre for Economics and Business Research. That is a £7 return for every £1 invested. If the Chancellor, or indeed us lesser mortals, the ordinary savers, could reap this kind of return in all our dealings, we would be rushing to invest. The creative economy employs 2.5 million people and growth in this sector runs at four times the national average.
While this fiscal approach might be encouraging, there is another unquantifiable but even more important return on investment in the arts and arts education: the social dividend that leads to a more civilised and cohesive society. Aspiration cannot be realised without education, and education can be effective only if supported by opportunity. You cannot teach someone to play the violin without a violin. Some years ago, I helped to organise what we call an amnesty on instruments. The idea was that parents and friends would search their cupboards not for unwanted knives and weapons but for unwanted or unused musical instruments and hand them into their local school. As a result, I had a letter from a small girl aged about eight who said that now she had her violin she no longer got into a rage because she could talk through and to her violin. Her teachers confirmed that her ferocious tantrums had almost entirely disappeared.
Noble Lords may know of the work of the Koestler Trust, which provides artistic opportunities for prisoners, be it drawing, writing, painting or music. When I was a trustee of this admirable organisation, I had a letter from a man who wrote to thank us for providing a guitar. His final sentences really shook me. “The guitar, and learning to play it, has transformed my life. If I had had this instrument when I was a teenager, and the means it gives me to express myself, I very much doubt that I would now be doing life for murder”.
Your Lordships may have seen the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Ballet Hoo! project on television three or four years ago in which disadvantaged children and teenagers in Birmingham took part in a production of “Romeo and Juliet”. Having initially been somewhat contemptuous of the notion of ballet, these kids, many in minor trouble with the police, found themselves in awe of the athleticism and fitness of the dancers and responded obsessively and proudly to the rigours of a disciplined rehearsal timetable. You could see that they really meant it when they described it as a life-changing experience. I know that this is probably an impossible vision, but I dream of a world where every child has the opportunity to find self-expression through music, writing and the visual and dramatic arts.
Another problem with confining oneself to the financial rewards of cultural investment is that we tend to focus on the big players, great though they are. The National Theatre, Tate Modern, the Royal Opera
House, for example, are precisely the institutions that can bolster their state support with philanthropic gifts, but the area I am worried about is the seedbed for those institutions: regional and small-scale theatre, dance and music organisations, where young talent can be fostered before it takes to the main stage, and the colleges that train the orchestras and soloists, the dancers, actors, composers and artists of tomorrow. This is also the place, as Sir Nicholas Hytner has pointed out, where experiment and risk take place. When a highly acclaimed chamber group such as the Nash Ensemble is unable to find money for commissioning new music, we must acknowledge that there is a vacuum in the system, especially for composers.
So while there is much to celebrate, there is also much to do. Indeed, speaking as a composer, I would say that one of the most important aspects of creativity is self-criticism, careful and honest analysis, so that one constantly seeks to improve. In relation to the work of Parliament, that is surely the great role of this House, a role I have been privileged and impressed to observe. Now that I have concluded my maiden speech, it is my aspiration to contribute to that role in as many ways as possible.
My Lords, I suspect that we all knew that it would be an honour and a privilege to hear the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, but I would like to say that, at least in my case, it has also been a pleasure. The creative arts will indeed find a noble spokesperson for their cause and the voice of culture will be heard in a focused way because of his presence among us. His achievements in the world of music are truly prodigious: orchestral and chamber music; music for woodwind and strings; music for guitar and keyboard; and music for oratorio, ballet and film. You name it, and he seems to have done it. We salute him for his achievements, but we delight ourselves in the wisdom of those who bring him into our company so that we may benefit from them.
By happy coincidence, I am reading and reviewing at the moment a book about the poet RS Thomas. During the time he lived at Manafon, which is not far from Knighton, he wrote his first collection of poetry. The key poem in the volume is called, Out of the Hills. Since the noble Lord said that hill farming was one of his preoccupations, perhaps the same hills produced music in his case and poetry in the case of Thomas. I cannot forbear to read three lines of Out ofthe Hills; I know that noble Lords will tolerate this.
“Dreams clustering thick on his sallow skull”—
I had rather hoped that there would be a few more curls on the noble Lord’s head than there proved to be.
“Dreams clustering thick on his sallow skull,
Dark as curls, he comes, ambling with his cattle
From the starved pastures. He has shaken from off his shoulders
The weight of the sky, and the lash of the wind’s sharpness
Is healing already under the medicinal sun”.
I would love to quote the whole poem but I suspect that patience will run out. It is a joy, when we are preoccupied with finance, matters to do with the economy, politics and all the rest of it, that we shall have this other side of our being well represented by the presence of the noble Lord.
I suspect that his godfather would provide a mutual friend whom unwittingly we both might claim: a man called Osian Ellis, a professor of harp at the Royal Academy and a good friend of mine, now retired to the Llyn peninsula in north Wales. I remember talking to him about the art of harp playing and asking what pleasure he took from the fact that he had formed so many harpists in the course of his career and saved the art of harp playing for posterity. He said, “Ah, great pleasure. They are breathtakingly brilliant, but I have learnt to make the distinction between those who find the notes and those who find the music”. I suspect that in the case of the noble Lord we will hear both the notes played with great skill and the music beguiling us perhaps into wiser decisions than we would otherwise have made.
I can find a very easy jumping-off point from the preoccupations of the noble Lord to the subject on which I wish to entertain your Lordships for just a few minutes, which is education. I would hate to be the Cinderella in the discussions that we are going to have for the rest of the day. Education, education, education: the mantra is well known to all of us. In the gracious Speech to which we are replying, the first item states that,
“my government’s legislative programme will continue to focus on building a stronger economy so that the United Kingdom can compete and succeed in the world”.
I suggest that education, if it were properly viewed as an investment instead of a drain on our resources, would indeed be part of what builds a stronger economy. I would like to see education viewed in that way, rather than as something that costs a lot of money and has to be trimmed and cut back with greater and greater fierceness.
In the first couple of years of the present Administration a couple of Bills were railroaded through Parliament that gave impetus to the already existent and established academies. I have nothing against academies and I am strongly in favour of choice. My disaffection with the impetus to have more academies lies in the fact that it is sometimes at the expense of choice. Not all schools want to become academies. Why should they not choose not to become academies if in their view that is in their best interests? I am the chairperson of the Central Foundation schools of London. Neither of them is an academy and I promise noble Lords that both schools welcome their association with local authority wisdom. As more and more responsibility gets passed to governors, they find that they need the wisdom, experience and skill that they can call upon in the governance they are expected to provide.
The two schools in question are simply brilliant. When the national average last year for GCSE A* to C lay at 58%, these two inner-city schools provided 66% and 67% pass rates, without any of the so-called advantages of being academies. Yet they are in the poorest parts of the inner city of London. In Islington and Tower Hamlets we have two schools where over
70% of the pupils are on free school meals and where there are dozens and dozens of ethnic backgrounds—in the case of the boys’ school, not a single one constituting more than 25% of the population of the school, while in the girls’ school 80% are from Bangladeshi families and are all Muslims. We have this mixture of types, we are in the inner city, we are happy not to be academies and we are achieving extraordinarily well. Sometimes I think that we should salute those schools that do that.
Mossbourne academy is always held up as the example that we must all aim at reaching. We are told that it,
“is a model for 21st century education, pioneering opportunity, social mobility and the reinvention of the inner-city comprehensive”.
I promise your Lordships that the inner-city comprehensive is being reinvented furiously and wonderfully in the schools where I work without them having academy status at all.
So let there be choice. It is just sad that the market place is dominating the way in which schools are proliferating in the inner city. At 500 metres from the boys’ school, where we have just seen the doubling of the sixth form and with good results to match, a free school has been started where one is not needed. Islington has an over-provision of places at sixth-form level for its pupils, yet here we have a free school—to meet what demand? The school has also filched the head of the sixth-form consortium in Islington to be the head of the new free school. This is simply mad.
We must encourage the development of education without the red tape and control from the centre which, despite the rhetoric, suggesting a laying off of schools from that point of view, is actually increasing the amount of paperwork that head teachers have to cope with. We must go on asking ourselves whether we have got it right. Indeed, in the realm of education, where “further measures” are threatened in the Queen’s Speech—I dread those words, “further measures”—we simply have to recognise that sometimes we get the notes but that we do not always get the music.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, on his witty, excellent and informative speech. I very much agree with his comments about the importance of regional arts organisations, not just as a seed bed for national organisations but for success and outstanding contributions in their own right.
Almost a century ago, Lloyd George’s coalition Government of 1918 had the foresight to legislate for the establishment of nursery schools. Fast forward to the present, and this Government are making one of the biggest measures ever introduced to help parents with childcare costs, providing almost £1 billion in extra support for families. Today, we are about to witness this coalition Government bring about significant changes in early-years education, as outlined in the consultative document, More Great Childcare. These policies will make significant improvements to enhance the quality of childcare and early-years provision. But of course, as is always the case when a report is published for consultation, we all home in on one aspect of that report—in this case, the staff-to-child ratios. In the clamour to be heard, other important proposals in the document seem to be lost. Indeed, we reached the absurd situation where it was even suggested that opposition to enlarged ratios was in fact about leadership battles and not about sound educational and early-years development. I believe that I heard the phrase “showing a bit of leg” had been used.
The childcare report has picked up on many of the recommendations in Professor Nutbrown’s excellent independent review, Foundations for Quality, published last summer. Almost a year later, the Government are responding to that report. Raising the status and quality of early-years provision is one of the most important educational developments we can undertake.
I personally have never been comfortable with the term “childminder”. Childcare is not about minding children, it is about providing qualified people to deliver opportunities for young people to explore, play and learn. In medieval times, when agricultural workers went out to work in the fields, they were provided with a basket in which to place the baby and a peg from which to hang it. Childcare is not a peg on which to mind a child: rather, it is an opportunity to provide education while parents and guardians are at work.
In this way, the question of ratios should be discussed and considered in a rational manner, with decisions being made on an educational basis. I have learnt that so far the majority of the responses to the consultation from individuals and the main professional organisations say how important it is educationally to preserve the status quo in terms of existing ratio structures. In my view, just as class sizes improve learning, child ratios in early years and childcare improve the quality of that provision. I am not interested in league tables which show what other countries do; I am more interested in what is best for our children. Improving quality education does not come from increasing ratios. In a pre-school or nursery setting, you only have to have one child with special needs or special learning difficulties for the staffing ratios to become very apparent.
The Children and Families Bill will come to your Lordships’ House in the next few weeks. Again, this is a hugely important piece of legislation. Indeed, it is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to deal with a number of important issues. I congratulate the Government on bringing forward the Bill. I particularly praise the former Minister of State for Children and Families, Sarah Teather, who did much of the spadework when she was the responsible Minister. The Bill will have a huge impact on improving the lives of children and families from adoption to flexible working and special educational needs provision.
Turning to mainstream schooling, the public consultation on the draft national curriculum has been completed and we await the outcome of that process. For me, any national curriculum must ensure first and foremost that children and young people are numerate and literate. Yes, children must learn to spell correctly from an early age and, yes, grammar is important. In mathematics, children must know their number bonds and their times tables—yes, even up to the 12 times table. A love of language and literature has to be nurtured. Guess what? Surprise, surprise, a recent study on children’s reading found that early readers are always a level higher in their overall schooling.
I welcome a slimmed-down national curriculum as it means that teachers and schools can respond with their professional expertise and pupils’ interests can be nurtured. We are forever quoting international league tables for literacy and numeracy, but we ought to look also at league tables showing how our pupils develop creatively. Schools should be working to get the best from all pupils: we need to be pupil-driven, not target-driven. The issue with our national curriculum is that everyone wants it slimmed down, but, of course, every subject interest group then wants to fill it up again. We have trumpeted the fact that our academies have the freedom to diverge from the national curriculum, but it is not very “national” if increasing numbers of schools are not required to follow it by law.
My own view is that a national curriculum should be as it says on the label—truly national, and should apply to every school in the country. A slimmed-down curriculum will give schools the time and space to pursue their own priorities. On these Benches, we appreciate that every child deserves an education tailored to their abilities and interests. We need to identify barriers to learning at an early age, then intervene to put those things right.
As a House, we showed our concern for personal, social, health and economic education to be maintained as part of the national curriculum. Indeed, during a very important debate initiated by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, Members from across the Chamber spoke of its importance for young people on a host of issues. We highlighted how important sex education is as part of PSHE. Members spoke with great knowledge and passion. I am happy that PSHE is to be retained as part of the national curriculum, yet as things stand, PSHE in general, and sex education in particular, do not have to be taught by academies.
The Government have put education at the core of their programme. The pupil premium, which currently stands at £900 per lower-income pupil, has been a game-changer for schools and pupils. As I have said on many occasions, the most important resource in education and schooling is the quality of the teacher. Maybe the time is right to look at a royal college for teachers, as the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, said when he was talking about the demise of the General Teaching Council. I would be interested to know what the Minister thinks.
Teachers should be well trained and highly motivated, regarded and respected. Every pupil has the right to be taught by a qualified teacher. I find it regrettable that, in some of our settings, we allow unqualified teachers responsibility for our children’s education. Sadly, this is an increasing reality.
Every child should receive an excellent education from an excellent teacher. We want to unlock children’s potential and ensure that they can succeed in life. I hope that we go some way in this Session to doing so.
My Lords, we have had an outstanding maiden speech. We have two more to come, and I am sure that they will enrich this debate and the House, for which we are grateful.
In the Queen’s Speech we were promised both a health and social care Bill and a new single state pension. Why does this new single state pension matter so much? It matters because private occupational pensions do not really work for those with few other assets, the low paid, the self-employed, part-time workers, those with caring responsibilities and, above all, women. Think about it. To get a useful occupational pension, you start contributing young. You and your employer contribute enough throughout your working life. You stay in full-time work for 40 years, you gain from tax relief, you can manage investment and disinvestment strategies and DC schemes, and you do not need to touch your pension savings because you can access other savings. Not one of those propositions fits most women or, indeed, many low-paid men. You could not devise a worse fit for women if you tried.
A woman’s earnings are interrupted by childcare from her late 20s and elder care from her 50s. Work is part-time, low-paid and unpensioned. There is little or no gain from tax relief and little or no ability to manage DC investment. There are little or no other savings, so if she faces divorce, debt or disability, she cannot access her own pension savings; she can access only the moneylender, at higher cost. None of it works for her. That is because pensions were built by men for men to smooth the income from work into retirement. Yet for most women, their working life needs more smoothing than the move into older age. Therefore, they will always need a decent state pension, which is why I welcome the new single state pension so much.
The new single state pension will do five key things. First, as it is not dependent on waged work, it can credit in women’s hugely valuable caring work, around which our society pivots and which occupational pensions can never support. It therefore strengthens the contributory principle on which a decent social security system rests.
Secondly, it will offer a more adequate platform for retirement. A couple—he on average wage, she in part-time work—might bring home, say, £30,000 a year. With a combined new state pension of £15,000, and perhaps his small pension of £5,000, so £20,000 in total, they will have an earnings replacement of two-thirds before you count in the savings from no work-related costs. That is adequate.
Thirdly, the previous Government significantly reduced pensioner poverty. However, while means-tested pension credit lifted significant numbers of elderly poor pensioners out of poverty, it had the perverse incentive of discouraging future pensioners from saving. The new state pension, because it is above the means-tested benefit level, will make it safe to save. Every penny the woman hairdresser or the shop assistant puts away in a NEST, she will gain in full.
Fourthly, people will be able to plan for their retirement, knowing what they can rely on from the state in their older age—a simple, predictable, risk-free and adequate foundation pension. It will be genuinely transforming for many women and low-paid people in the future.
Finally, there is much talk about increased life expectancy—one year more for every five—but, on a point to which I shall return, for most people those extra years will not be years of good health. However, a good state pension, money, will do much to help stave off disability. It will buy heating, better food, cleaning and taxis—all to be welcomed.
I will say a word or so about universal pensioner benefits. Do not touch bus passes, which address the issue of pensioner isolation. Do not means test because a third of pensioners do not claim means-tested benefits, and the whole point of the new single state pension is to get rid of means-testing. You could tax, but, particularly with winter fuel benefits, which are expensive, you would get in very little—I calculate that it would be about £100 million. Instead, given the new state pension in 2016, we could postpone winter fuel payments alongside TV licences for that generation and for future new pensioners until they reach 75. Age is quite a good proxy for need—older pensioners are poorer pensioners, such as elderly widows whose husbands have died and whose occupational pensions have died with them—and I calculate that within about five years we would save about £1 billion a year and upwards. It is only a thought, but it would be simple, universal, targeted, fair and affordable.
However, if you really wanted to save on the pensions bill while increasing fairness, you would seek to tackle tax relief. It costs nearly £40 billion a year, of which two-thirds goes to the wealthiest. It is a shadow welfare state costing almost as much as the basic state pension itself. Given tax relief and national insurance, which should be levied on those of us who work beyond state pension age; given that we have an upper earnings limit at all, which is not defensible at all, which makes national insurance regressive and whose abolition would bring in £11 billion; given equity release—more than £1 trillion is locked away in housing equity and only between £0.5 billion and £1 billion is released every year; we have plenty of resource both for adequate state pensions and for social care if we seek to address and distribute the resources that we already have.
I make one final point. We need to think differently about life after 65. Increased life expectancy is not, for the most part, increased healthy life expectancy. The extra years are largely years of poor health. Most of us can expect three stages of older age: a decade or so of healthy life, and the number of healthy years is not really increasing by much, except for the better off; a decade of some limiting disability, such as a lack of mobility, the inability to reach or difficulty in hearing, but with care needs sufficiently modest that, along with telecare, they can normally be met at home; and between two and five years of frail dependency, including dementia, during which substantial personal care is needed.
It is the second stage—a limiting disability—that in my view, from all the research that I have studied, is lengthening with increased longevity. Funding and supporting that stage is not actually expensive, especially given that half the growth in the number of older people is the result of increased longevity and half is from a bulge in the number of older people coming through from the baby boom. When that is played through in the next 50 years or so, we will have just about the best worker to pensioner ratio in Europe.
When we hear all those siren calls to raise the state pension age in line with increased longevity, we should pause.
In Norwich, the difference in life expectancy between the poorest and richest ward in my city is 11 years. The gap in healthy life expectancy between those two wards is 15 years and widening. Eight in 10 better-off men but only three in 10 poorer-off men will survive to 80. Therefore, in all fairness, the state pension age should rise only with any rise in the years of healthy life expectancy, not with any overall increase in longevity, which is mostly disability-accompanied, otherwise the years of healthy retirement for half the population—the poorer part—as a proportion of their adult life will actually shrink: a profoundly unfair outcome for profoundly unfair lives. We can all do better than that.
My Lords, I wish to speak on the subject of energy and, in response to the prominent references in the gracious Speech, on the importance of economic competitiveness. However, as this is my first time speaking in the House, I hope that noble Lords will indulge me in a few preliminary remarks.
It is an enormous privilege and a daunting responsibility to speak in this House for the first time. I know that it is customary on such occasions to pay thanks to the staff but I have to say that I have been genuinely overwhelmed by the generosity and thoughtfulness of all the staff since I have come here.
I have also been touched by the warmth of the welcome that I have had from noble Lords on all sides of the House. I particularly thank my noble friends Lady Seccombe and Lord Henley, who have mentored me in my early weeks.
Listening to debates over the past few weeks, it has become clear to me that this is a House that not only respects but expects knowledge and expertise. This is something that my father made clear to me when he was enjoying a long and distinguished career in this House, but he would speak only on subjects that he knew something about—in his case, particularly the Territorial Army, the north-east of England and local government. When I spoke to the hustings a few weeks ago before being elected here, I said that if elected I would speak on three main issues: the north-east of England, science and technology, and enterprise and innovation.
I am here to fill the vacancy caused by the sad death of Lord Ferrers, and I pay tribute to that giant of a parliamentarian, who was on the Front Bench under no fewer than five Prime Ministers. I may hope to match his long legs but I do not expect to match his length of service.
I am that strange chimera—an elected hereditary Peer. As a result, I am acutely aware that I am here thanks at least as much to the efforts of my ancestors as to my own. I would not be human if I did not feel a smidgen of pride in being the ninth Matthew Ridley in direct succession to sit in one of the Houses of Parliament since the son of a buccaneering Newcastle coal merchant was elected to the other place in 1747. That brings me to the subject of my speech.
In 1713, exactly 300 years ago, the Newcomen steam engine was just coming into use all over the north of England. One of the very first was commissioned at Byker on the north bank of the Tyne by my buccaneering ancestor, Richard Ridley, in 1713. Within 20 years, more than 100 of these great clanking monsters were transforming the coal industry by pumping water from deep mines and vastly increasing productivity.
The effect of that innovation was momentous and global. By lowering the cost of energy and raising the wages of labour, it set in train a whole series of events, including the mechanisation of industry and the increase in demand for the products of that industry, and so the great flywheel of the industrial revolution began to turn. For the first time, an economy grew not through an increase in land or labour but through an increase in energy, because mineral energy from beneath the ground showed an unusual property that had not been shown by wood, wind and water or by oxen or people—that is, it did not show diminishing returns; the more of it you dug up, the cheaper it got.
At this point, I should like to declare an interest because I am still in the coal-mining business, albeit indirectly. However, my aim here is not to praise any particular kind of energy but to praise the cheapness of energy.
Today, an average British family uses as much energy as if it had 1,200 people in the back room on exercise bicycles pedalling away on eight-hour shifts. It is worth remembering that when people talk about how many jobs can be created in any particular sector of energy. We could create a lot more jobs by making energy on treadmills. What counts is not the jobs we create in producing energy but the jobs we create in consuming energy if we make it affordable—or, indeed, the number that could be lost if we make it unaffordable.
One reason why we in this country are falling behind the growth of the rest of the world is that in recent years we have had a policy of deliberately driving up the price of energy. To quote a recent report from the Institute of Directors:
“The UK’s energy and climate policies are adding more to industrial electricity prices than comparable programmes in competitor countries, putting UK industry at a disadvantage and making a rebalancing of the economy more difficult”.
Household energy costs have doubled in the past 15 years. In the US, where gas prices used to be the same as they are here, they are now one-quarter or one-fifth of the level here. That is an enormous competitive advantage to the US and a disadvantage to us. The chemical industry, as a result, is very keen to move to the United States, and other industries, including the cement industry, are feeling the pinch from high energy costs. Near where I live at Lynemouth on the north-east coast, the country’s largest aluminium smelter recently closed with the loss of 515 jobs, largely due to the rising cost of energy.
A nation can compete on the basis of cheap labour or cheap energy but if it has neither then it is likely to be in trouble. Surely these are not controversial remarks. I know that I am not supposed to be controversial in a maiden speech so, lest I go too far, I will now revert to talking about the north-east of England.
It is worth noting that the north-east is the only region of England with a trade surplus with the world, something to which the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, drew attention in his recent report on the region. We are also a region with strong offshore engineering capability, and I think that the north-east could once again steal a march on the world and deliver competitive energy to the rest of the world. There are 3,000 billion tonnes of coal under the British sector of the North Sea and, thanks to pioneering work at Newcastle University and elsewhere, the technology now exists to gasify this coal, getting carbon monoxide, hydrogen and methane from it and putting carbon dioxide back in. If this technology can be made to work then we can bring plenty of jobs not only to the region but, more importantly, to the whole economy by lowering the price of energy. There is enormous entrepreneurial spirit in our regions but it is held back by the high cost of energy.
So, for the sake of pensioners in fuel poverty, for the sake of small businesses struggling to meet their energy bills and for the sake of large businesses all too ready to leave these shores, let us repeat what our ancestors did in the early 18th century and drive down the costs of energy so that we can drive up living standards.
My Lords, it is a pleasure and a privilege to be asked to speak after the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley. Most noble Lords may not know that this is his third attempt to make his maiden speech. It is also the third time that I have been placed to speak after him. On the previous two occasions, the debates were cancelled. Therefore, he is lucky today and we are lucky to hear him.
Today, the noble Viscount spoke about energy but he could have spoken equally well on literature, political philosophy, the economy, science and even banking. Of course, he is the latest recruit to the Eton and Oxford club, which is growing in the Houses of Parliament. However, to me he is well known for the books that he has written, including those on science, particularly genomics. He has produced well written theses on genes and chromosomes, which people can follow easily.
The noble Viscount’s books have sold millions of copies and have been translated into 30 languages. They have won many awards, including the New York Times award for the 10 best books of the year. So far his TED lecture has had more than 2 million followers. It beats the records of other lecturers such as Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Jane Goodall and many Nobel Prize winners. I wonder why his TED lecture has had more than 2 million followers. The subject of his lecture was “When ideas have sex”; I wonder if it is the word “sex” that is attracting them.
We look forward to many more contributions from the noble Viscount. It was a pleasure to listen to him and I congratulate him on his maiden speech.
I turn now to my meagre contribution to the debate on the gracious Speech and I will briefly speak about the Care Bill. I congratulate the Government on bringing it forward, on their ambition to create a system in which everyone can get the care they need and on including in the Bill rights for carers. It is landmark legislation on the path to a fairer system. I say “on the path to a fairer system” because the proposals alone will not solve the serious challenges of funding social care and the growing gap between funding and increased demand. Similarly, I wonder whether the Government think that the £150 million allocated to support the rights of carers is likely to meet their needs.
There is also a need to address a gap in the support that currently exists, for instance, for patients with cancers. While the Bill places a duty, and quite rightly so, on local authorities to identify the needs of carers, for cancer patients such responsibility also needs to include health bodies, both to meet the needs of carers and to achieve integrated care, which I know is the Government’s ambition. I ask the Minister whether it remains the Government’s commitment to implement free social care at the end of life, a time that a person with cancer is most aware of. While they need healthcare, they also need social care but are not themselves aware of which care they need. Healthcare is free while social care has to be paid for. Any assessment that a person is required to undergo will cause delay and therefore deny them the care. No doubt, as we enter the legislative period next week on the Care Bill, we will have an opportunity to debate and discuss these and other issues. I look forward to that.
I now turn briefly to my disappointment at what is not in the gracious Speech. As other noble Lords have mentioned, the Government have missed an opportunity to introduce legislation on public health issues, particularly in relation to the plain packaging of cigarettes and tobacco material and the minimum pricing of alcohol. I add to that any strategy for the reduction of obesity. One-third of children in our country under the age of nine are now obese, and nearly a quarter of adults are obese. We need a strategy, including for food labelling, that will reduce the consumption of sugar, fat and salt. I am disappointed that there is no strategy in any legislation referred to in the gracious Speech on public health matters. Can the Minister say whether the Government intend to bring forward legislation relating to public health issues in the future?
My Lords, I should like to speak on the Care Bill, which, as my noble friend Lord Hunt has stressed, is recognised as an important step towards providing a consolidated legislative framework for our social care system based on the excellent report from the Law Commission, which we established to streamline and unify social care law. The Bill implements 66 of the commission’s 77 recommendations, refocusing care and support on more patient-centred services that are better suited to people’s lives and needs, with well-being as the guiding principle. We strongly support this; it takes forward our work on patient choice and control, builds on the progress we made in key areas such as prevention, personalisation of services, carer recognition and support in our landmark National Carers Strategy. It also addresses many of the “unfinished business” issues that we proposed in our 2009 national care service White Paper.
Like other noble Lords. I commend the pre-legislative scrutiny work of the Joint Committee. The Bill, as seen in the stakeholder evidence to the committee, enjoys considerable support among patients, carer organisations, staff, service users and providers, with, of course, the key proviso that major improvements are needed to address what the committee itself identified as the “gaps” and “risks of unintended consequences”, and the wider issues relating to both the NHS and social care. For all the widespread support, however, the gentle language of a cross-party report expressing the committee’s concern that the Government,
“has not yet fully assessed the scale of change the Bill will bring about”, speaks volumes. It is a message that we on these Benches, along with care and support organisations across the statutory, private and voluntary sectors, have been trying to hammer home since the draft Bill was introduced. It is not just about the “new costs” impact of the Bill itself that were cited by the committee, such as those resulting from the huge increase in the number of care assessments under the new capped system; the Government also need to recognise the scale and urgency of the current care crisis and that their proposed Dilnot solutions need to extend to self-funders, the millions of people with limited means and those who are unable to pay for adequate care and support.
The Government know that the proposals will not stop people having to sell their homes to pay for care, will not cap the costs that elderly people pay for residential care, and will not mean that pensioners get their care for free if they have income or assets worth up to £123,000. From the outset, we have underlined our concerns that unless the new legal framework is introduced in the context of also addressing the current and future social care funding problems, it runs the danger of raising expectations and demand that cannot be met, and will be ineffective and inoperable. This view is underlined by leading stakeholders, including Age UK and the Care and Support Alliance. Council care budgets are being cut to the bone, with the latest figures from ADASS identifying a further £800 million squeeze on social care budgets over the next year. I know that the noble Earl insists, despite all the evidence, that local authorities have sufficient funds to meet the current demand, but this is just not so.
London Councils is a cross-party organisation representing 33 London authorities. Its recent report, A Case for Sustainable Funding for Adult Social Care, based on financial modelling by Ernst & Young, researched the scale of savings that could be achieved through greater efficiencies such as integrating services, implementing alternative delivery models and making major changes to care delivery and procurement. Even with maximum savings and before the introduction of any form of Dilnot implementation, the Government would still need to increase London’s adult social care budget by potentially £1.1 billion to meet increased demand. Labour supports the principle of capping care costs, but we stress that a bigger and bolder response is needed by the Government to meet the challenges of our ageing population. Whole-person care is our vision for a 21st century health and care system that brings together physical health, mental health and social care in a single service to meet all a person’s care needs. Our independent commission has already started its work on looking at how health and social care services’ budgets can be brought together so that integrated services do not mean just a series of area or service-specific initiatives and pilots, but a way of working for a whole service. We have a major task ahead of us to improve the Bill, and Labour pledges its commitment to work hard to make sure that older and disabled people and their families get the best possible deal.
On carers, the House should note that the need to ensure their well-being is particularly underlined in the report of the Royal College of General Practitioners, which was published this weekend. It finds that 40% of carers are at risk of depression and should be regularly screened for this to ensure that their health needs are not neglected. We see a similar picture in the recent survey by the Stroke Association, Feeling Overwhelmed, which shows the potentially huge emotional impact of stroke on both survivors and their carers. The Bill is an important step forward in the development of carers’ rights, their recognition and the support they need, which we strongly support. In the coming weeks, it will be important to keep in mind just what demands we already make on carers. Some 7 million people currently provide carer support to a disabled or sick child or adult who otherwise could not live independently in the community.
As a carer myself, I am about to go through, with my partner, the final push under Surrey Council to convert all social care clients with long-term health conditions to self-directed support. We have a 46-page assessment form to complete, a host of supporting leaflets and briefings to read and absorb and, of course, a website, which I am sure will make us even more confused. This considerable task and commitment is the same for both self-funders and people receiving local authority support. Most frequently, it will probably be the carer who has to do most of the work, bear most of the responsibility and, probably, be most aware of and concerned about the potential effects if services and care packages are changed or, worse, withdrawn. That is certainly true for carers such as me, caring for a stroke survivor whose aphasia makes it difficult for him to read and understand forms and documents, and impossible for him to complete them himself.
Having said that, and to end on a positive note, the good news is that my experience so far is overwhelmingly that self-directed, personalised support and this approach to identifying future care needs for the cared-for and the carer is the right one. We need to ensure, as we work our way through the Bill, that the focus of the assessment is on well-being and support, and not on cutting back care packages that are generally working well and have taken many months and years of persistent effort to build up.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords for the welcome that I have received in this House. Members, officials and staff have been most kind and I look forward to getting to know people better.
There is a delightful railway in Hampshire called the Watercress Line, which offers trips for tourists and steam enthusiasts. The line enabled watercress, freshly plucked from the beds in Alresford, to be transported to the morning markets of London. It is known for its challenging climb over the “Hampshire Alps”, which required much of the drover, stoker and engine. Sadly, the line no longer carries watercress and stops at Alton, long before London. Hampshire might now be thought of as a place for tourists to ride on steam engines that no longer connect with today’s modern world, yet the county that used to put iron in the diet and tang in the palate of Londoners still contributes to both the heritage and commercial life of the nation. Today, the equivalent of the Watercress Line is the A31-M3 corridor from Bournemouth to Basingstoke and then on into London, connecting along the way with Southampton and Winchester. From the sea to the city, the diocese of Winchester envelopes this corridor with farmland, scattered villages and small market towns. The city of Winchester claims to be the birthplace of the English nation. It is where Alfred put iron in the soul of the Anglo-Saxons, by building a new society based on Christian values and good administration. I believe that this vision of a society based on Christian values and good administration is not just heritage but has present currency. My predecessor as Bishop of Winchester, Michael Scott-Joynt, was well known for his values-based advocacy across a range of issues. He remains much the same in retirement, although his activities have been restricted by a nasty stroke, from which he is making a steady recovery. I pass on his thanks for your prayers and best wishes. I know that he counted it a great privilege to participate in the work of this House, as, indeed, do I.
Prior to my coming to the diocese, I served as the general secretary of the Church Mission Society for 12 years. CMS is one of those Anglican mission societies that not only shared the gospel and planted the church around the world, but also laid the foundations for what we now call international development. Many schools, colleges, hospitals and agricultural and industrial training centres were established over its 200-year history. As I have visited these institutions across the world, in over 25 countries, I have been amazed by the vitality of the Christian faith and its contribution to the common good. Another former general secretary of CMS, John Taylor, also became the Bishop of Winchester. Like him, I come with hope and values generated by a truly global faith. Religion is a factor that we all have to take into account, even if we do not participate in religious communities ourselves. Values and spirituality really matter.
The diocese of Winchester has more than 100 Church of England schools; the Anglican University of Winchester, originally founded by the bishop as King Alfred’s College; plus hundreds of other schools, further education institutions and four more universities. The older tradition of education associated with Bishop Wykeham, Winchester College and New College, Oxford, gives depth to this dimension of diocesan life. I will be taking a keen interest in how the Government intend to further develop their schools-based and school-led approach to education, particularly the way in which higher education institutions contribute to this development.
Within the Anglican Communion is a network of old and new colleges and universities in which I have participated for a number of years and to which I contributed when working as a college principal based in Nairobi. The indication in the gracious Speech of changes in the national curriculum is also of great interest to me. Hampshire has a unique approach to religious education, which offers an excellent introduction to this crucial domain of social and international life. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Education has very recently reported that apparently unconnected changes to qualifications, assessment and teacher education have had a negative impact on religious education. I urge the Department for Education to review the arrangements for RE in a parallel process to developing the national curriculum. The direction of travel in exam reform is welcome. The Church of England Board of Education stands ready to be fully involved in the revision of the RE GCSE and any new A-level in theology.
I shall also seek to contribute to our understanding of faith communities in the local life of our nations. Faith communities are those spaces that allow us to explore what it means to take equality and difference seriously. Increasingly, it is the question of social purpose, rather than just good social process, which will build our common life. Our pluralist society needs more than public rhetoric or agreed social processes if we are, as the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, says, to “build a home together”. It is in this endeavour that our values become clear. We need to articulate those values if we are to recover from an economic crisis that has challenged the basis of our commitment to the common good—a home built together.
The thrift of austerity needs to be matched by a determined compassion. The Treloar School and College near Alton, for children and students with disabilities, is like home, where many find a new social purpose. But it is also an eye-opener to the very difficult decisions that will be made up and down the country about the cost of caring. One way to articulate this is in terms of a social covenant in which we recognise each other’s humanity and our interdependence. A social covenant suggests that co-operation as well as competition is important for economic resilience. Our educational institutions need to prepare students for both co-operation and competition if we are to build societies that have social purpose.
Lastly, I shall be taking an interest in agriculture and the environment; 70% of the diocese is rural and thousands are employed in the challenging industry of farming. The basic need for food and our dependency on the environment have been highlighted to us in new ways as we contemplate food security and the long-term challenge of global warming. Food banks are as much a necessity in Hampshire as elsewhere, and the growing need to care for the environment is a Hampshire County Council priority. We may well be turning to our agricultural colleges, such as Sparsholt near Winchester, for more than basic training. Such institutions might become places for vision-casting for the future.
We need a new generation of those who understand the global trends of agriculture in relation to ecology. For this generation, co-operation will be as important as competition, as we all seek to preserve our common global future. At a simple level, this comes down to what we eat. Today, we celebrate St Matthias, who replaced Judas Iscariot. We are told that the text on his tomb says:
“Matthias preached the Gospel to barbarians and meat-eaters”.
I cast no aspersions on noble Lords, but I am among the meat-eaters. My daughter’s vegetarian diet is a daily challenge to reflect on sustainable food production.
I have the pleasure to live in a diocese that acts as a regional barometer for national life outside London, from the international language schools in Bournemouth to the container port in Southampton, then on to the historic city of Winchester and through to the entrepreneurial centre of Basingstoke. In this vibrant region, I serve Christ by serving others. In that spirit, I offer my service to the work and life of this House.
My Lords, there are some cultures that believe that good things come in threes. Those who subscribe to this view need look no further than today. We have had three maiden speeches—very different but all distinguished.
It is a great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate, who will undoubtedly make a major contribution to our discussions here. He was born in east Africa of missionary parents and his early life was there. As he touched on briefly, he returned to east Africa and put in seven years’ service as a very distinguished principal of Carlile College, which taught not only theology but business studies as well. I think that we can expect quite a broad contribution from him.
He has pointed out those areas which he is particularly interested in contributing to in our House, but I would be surprised if his understanding of Africa and the developing world was not also an important aspect of that contribution. Certainly, Africa has played an increasing role in our discussions as a developing continent which has yet to realise its full potential. The right reverend Prelate has indicated that he will use his educational experience and his experience of his local situation in Hampshire and around Winchester to elevate our discussions of agriculture and related topics. We very much look forward to those contributions and are delighted to welcome him to this House.
I turn to the somewhat different topic of energy. An Energy Bill will be coming to us shortly and that will be the time to discuss its detail, but I wish today to discuss the background to the Bill, the serious difficulties in which we now find ourselves and how in future we might avoid them.
I declare an interest as the honorary president of the Carbon Capture & Storage Association and as a director of two small companies, Green Energy Options and 2OC, the former being concerned with better energy management and the latter with renewable energy.
How has a situation arisen in which the shortly-to-retire director of Ofgem, our energy regulator, commented that energy supplies are on a “roller-coaster” heading “downhill—fast”? With hardly any new power stations being built, he warned that there is a serious danger of electricity shortages. Our respite arising from reduced energy demand during the recession is temporary.
The first point to make is that our predicament was entirely predictable. It has long been apparent that much of our electricity-generating capacity would have to be renewed this decade. It has also been apparent that this would be constrained by international agreements on greenhouse emissions. Furthermore, it was clear that North Sea gas would peak around the turn of the century, after which we would be increasingly dependent on imports. There were no surprises. I have a pile of reports, published or commissioned by DECC and others, that must be over half a metre high. The trouble is that action arising from these reports has been half-hearted, late or non-existent. Something like the present Energy Bill should have been introduced in the previous Parliament and the negotiations that are under way at present for the replacement of nuclear power stations should have begun at least two years ago.
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that successive Governments have simply not taken energy policy seriously and that many decisions have been ill-considered, or made ad hoc—in some cases as knee-jerk responses to pressure groups, and in others on the basis of prejudice for or against particular energy sources. In so far as it was policy to promote renewable energy, we had a support regime that in effect could support only wind and did nothing for waves, currents or tides—some of the UK’s most important energy assets. Another key element of successive Governments’ policy was carbon capture and storage. This was the subject of a disastrously failed competition and is years behind where it should be.
Although energy market reform has been trailed for years, there is still virtually no investment in new generating plant because investors do not know under what market arrangements they will trade. Energy markets and energy transmission, fossil fuel reserves and electricity generation technologies are extremely complex. Under-informed decisions have legacies that are generations long. In this most complex and technical area, there have been more than 20 changes of Energy Minister in the past 15 years. I estimate that only a handful of those had either the time in post or the background to make a serious contribution to policy. It seems that when some tried to, they were overruled, moved or sacked. It is physically impossible for energy infrastructure to change rapidly and decisions being made today will take years to implement and will influence our energy supply for decades. Continuity and a long view are essential.
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that at Cabinet level, in so far as any thought was given to energy, there was a Micawberesque hope that somehow something would turn up—but something has not turned up. It appears that the only certain outcome is, at best, unnecessarily high energy prices. Ministers and senior officials have seriously lacked experience and in particular a realistic understanding of timescales: how long it takes to negotiate agreements, obtain planning consents, or design and build a power station. There was also a lack of understanding of markets and experience to judge how investment could be attracted on reasonable terms. It is against this background that we are embarked on a fundamental reform of our energy market and we are doing it in a rush.
The existing arrangements have demonstrably failed. The present situation might have been avoided if we had had some kind of high level, non-political, expert advisory group overseeing all aspects of energy policy with the status and authority to hold the Government to account if they failed to take timely or appropriate action. I believe that an energy strategy committee should be established by Parliament. It would comprise people with experience of different aspects of the energy industry, finance and energy policy. They would serve for relatively long terms on a board that could be chaired by a Minister. Acting within high level policy guidance from Government, the role of the committee would be to propose a long-term energy strategy and to advise the relevant departments on the timescales and practicalities of achieving it. Because of the fundamental and long-term nature of energy investment, the energy strategy committee should report to Parliament and the minutes of its meetings should be published.
Such a committee would embrace not only electricity generation but gas storage, transmission of electricity and gas, interconnectors with other countries and other related matters. At present, there seems to be no forum in which those closely related topics are considered together. If established by amendment of the current Energy Bill, it could provide considerable help with the implementation of electricity market reform, many details of which remain to be settled. It is to be hoped that the long-term national strategic importance of energy would attract cross-party support for such a committee. Its influence would stem from the standing of its members and the requirement to report annually to Parliament. Clearly, it would still be possible for Governments to ignore the advice of the committee, but it would not be easy, and they would be obliged to do so in a more public fashion.
The present arrangements for determining energy strategy have not worked. It is time to do things differently.
My Lords, I am sure that we all enjoyed listening to three such eloquent and informative maiden speeches. It was a particular pleasure for me to hear each of them declare their interest in agriculture in one form or another.
British agriculture was not mentioned in the gracious Speech as such, but it is an industry that covers culture, education, energy, health and welfare, all subjects for this debate. I declare my interest as a farmer, a former leader of the National Farmers’ Union, a member of so many other farm organisations, and for 20 years I served in the European Parliament and had the pleasure and privilege of presiding over that Parliament for two and a half years from 1987 to 1990.
Consumers are increasingly concerned about where their food comes from and how it arrives on their plates. They often feel disconnected from its origins, and scandals surrounding horsemeat, mad cow disease, bovine TB, foot and mouth disease—I could go on—and animal welfare cause a lot of concern. Demand still increases for the introduction of a new food labelling system, and some research shows clearly that the shorter the journey from production to consumption, the better the quality. Obviously, the key is better marketing.
To achieve food security, we need growth, and we only have to travel north, south east or west across Britain to witness fallow fields, winter crop failures and hills with fewer sheep, following a year which Her Majesty might describe as an annus horribilis.
We are continually reminded that the economic crisis continues and that household debt as a percentage of disposable income increases. Less than 10% of the weekly budget for a family is spent on food. Agriculture must play a major part in economic growth, and I could give many examples of the excellence of growth in production and productivity, from food research through practice with science and a remarkable change in farm structure and technology.
So what now? Our starting point follows such a difficult year that it seems the nation will need this year to import millions of tonnes of wheat. We are also now importing £1 billion of dairy products, and three dairy farmers a week are still leaving the dairy industry. It should be other way around. Globally, it is estimated that by 2020 the world will need 70% more food to be produced, but to increase production we need investment. I welcome the Government’s Autumn Statement on the increase in the annual investment allowance. It would help if we had reinvestment in the building allowance too, which would greatly enable farmers’ further investment. Buildings for stock housing particularly depreciate, with a limited economic lifespan similar to that of plant and machinery.
However, the Government and Defra have respected the Conservative manifesto promises in respect of several issues. The pilot TB wildlife control measures are about to commence. We still slaughtered, this past year, 38,000 cattle in this country with TB. We have seen the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board and the introduction of the groceries code adjudicator to see fair play in a competitive market. The review of the Environment Agency and Natural England is taking place. The Macdonald red tape review, dealing with some of the gold-plating of European legislation, is also taking place, albeit far too slowly.
Energy infrastructure is another area where farmers are well placed to capture renewable energy flows while maintaining their traditional role as food producers. They can contribute to domestic supply, supporting rural diversification and jobs creation, and help with sound environmental management and the use of waste products. Biofuels offer huge potential for combating climate change and increasing fuel security. In growth and development, all this calls for agriculture, and the horticultural industry in particular, to employ 50,000 to 60,000 new entrants over the next decade, closing the skills gap for a modern and progressive industry that looks to the future and places an onus on the continuous acquisition and improvement of skills.
It is not often understood or appreciated that the food and farming business employs some 445,000 people. Many more than that are in the background, involved in research. As a farmer, I have received a lot of requests over many years from people saying, “My third child is not quite as bright as the first two. Can you find them a job on your farm?”. My reply has always been: “I employ only young people who have at least four A-levels”. Defra, which serves the AgriSkills Forum, has to make the forum the first point of call on all skills issues. We are fortunate to have the finest agricultural colleges and training facilities to encourage new entrants into farming. The right reverend Prelate mentioned those earlier and one in particular. They serve not just farming but rural interests generally. Many charitable trusts and foundations are now also seeking young recruits. The passion is there; the universities and colleges are full of young people who want to work in the countryside.
Looking ahead, I see other issues looming right before us. An important issue is how the Government are going to implement the proposals for CAP reform. It is of course essential to get a fair deal across borders, but because of the voluntary modulation being proposed and a poor historical allocation in the United Kingdom from the budget, English farm payments are already well below our principal competitors’, so there is a move towards more greening issues. One can understand that, from an environmental point of view, greening may be seen as a preservation tactic to justify a larger European Union CAP budget rather than helping farming to become more competitive or to respond to the growth that is needed.
For the first time, the European Parliament has joint responsibility for co-decision. When our Prime Minister has declared his determination to renegotiate on issues that are of a concern to our country, calls for bringing forward a referendum on our future in Europe are, to me and to many of us, irresponsible. We need a more market-orientated European Union, fewer regulations, less red tape and the freedom to get on with the job that we know best how to do. If the Prime Minister does not succeed in his efforts, so be it, but we should hold fast until we know. One thing he should have on the agenda for decision is the seat of the Parliament, which is something I have argued for over many years. It costs the European taxpayer £200 million to transport people and goods around three places, and it is estimated that it causes 20,000 tonnes of CO2 gas. That is food for thought and, I hope, for action.
My Lords, I associate myself with those who have congratulated the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Ridley, on their maiden speeches. I can still remember the cold sweat pouring down my neck prior to my maiden speech. It will never feel quite as bad again.
I also associate myself with what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, said about the speed with which the royal charter implementing some of the Leveson proposals is to be brought in. I cannot have been the only person in your Lordships’ House who was struck by the very respectful coverage given to the State Opening of Parliament last week by the same newspapers that are attempting to face down Parliament while we attempt to impose some form of order.
I am not going to talk about the creative industries because I know that the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, who follows me, will do it more ably than I can, and I associate myself entirely with his concerns. I am going to stick with education simply because if one looks at the list of concerns in the Queen’s Speech it is clear that every one of them is connected in one way or another to a successful education.
I have now worked in this field for 20 years, and the one absolute truism is that no system of education can ever be better than the quality of its teachers. That is true the world over. Therefore the statement in the Queen’s Speech:
“Measures will be taken to improve the quality of education for young people”, fills me with delight. Last Saturday, I had the honour of giving the commencement address to the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. I was struck by the fact that whereas in the UK only between 6% and 7% of teachers have a second degree, over 80% of American teachers have master’s degrees. That is quite extraordinary. It does not mean that the American education system is in any way perfect, but it shows a commitment by their learning profession to the concept of learning. We have not reached that point. At Question Time today, the noble Lord, Lord Freud, complimented Finland, quite rightly, on being best in class in early years, in reduction in child poverty and in the quality of its education system. The answer is very simple: it has the best qualified and best trained teachers and educators in the world, and it is reaping the rewards it deserves.
The Queen’s Speech also stated that the Government intend to work to promote,
“a fairer society that rewards people who work hard”.
Having visited more than 400 schools in the past 15 years, I can assure noble Lords that no one in this country works harder than the nation’s teachers, but in order to do so, they need to be encouraged. In 1997, when I went to work for the Government, I encountered a—to put it politely—demoralised workforce. I was quite shocked by the state of the staff rooms and the general attitude of teachers, in many cases to each other. I genuinely believe—this is not a party-political point—that over a period of 10 years things significantly improved. Therefore, it grieves me to have to report, as I continue to go around schools and speak at education conferences, that the situation in the past year is as bad in terms of demoralisation as the situation that I encountered in 1997, if not worse. It is very bad indeed. The idea that the Government’s aspirations for education can somehow be achieved with a demoralised workforce that does not believe it is being led at all is pure fantasy.
I was very struck yesterday by the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, who is not in her place. She said something particularly important, which was:
“We must not create a two-tier society but aspire to a universality of digital skills. We must make sure that the potential of all our citizens is unlocked”.—[Hansard, 13/5/13; col. 160.]
I cannot say that the way things are going at present we are unlocking the potential or the skills of our young people, and it worries me greatly.
While I was in the United States at the weekend, I turned on the television and watched Bill Gates being interviewed on CBS’s “60 Minutes”. He was talking about the late Steve Jobs. I jotted down what he said. He said:
“When he was sick I was able to spend time with him. We talked about what we’d learned—about families, everything. He was not being melancholy, it was very forward-looking, saying that we haven't really improved education with technology”.
They were entirely right, but the important thing is that the fault lies not with technology but with the extraordinary way in which we have not taken advantage of the opportunities available to us.
I have the pleasure of chairing the Times Educational Supplement advisory board, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, and my noble friends Lord Adonis and Lord Knight. It is a marvellous board to sit on. I would like to trot out a few statistics. I have mentioned them in Committee but I am not sure that they were fully understood. It is not a lack of ambition that the nation’s teachers are suffering from; they are ambitious to do better for themselves and for their pupils. At the TES we have a social media site. It is called TES Connect and it is free. The 100 million teacher downloads last year from that site indicate that teachers want better lesson plans. On one day,
Frankly, the teachers of this country are not being led. The Secretary of State believes that he has got it right, but he has to understand that no improvements to education in Britain will occur unless the teaching profession goes with him. That takes time, affection, understanding and time spent with the profession. That simply is not happening.
A very influential report, entitled An Avalanche is Coming, came out a month ago. To my absolute delight, it quoted me on the cover. I spoke at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology exactly a year ago and said that,
“by my reading, should we fail to radically change our approach to education, the same cohort we’re attempting to ‘protect’ could find their entire future is scuttled by our timidity”— and, I would add, by our lack of courage and our lack of imagination.
Unless we get education right, irrespective of cost, everything else we do in this Chamber will fail. That is one certainty. We have to get it right, and to get it right requires leadership. At present that leadership, for the teachers of this country, is not forthcoming.
My Lords, I, too, start by congratulating our maiden speakers on three superb speeches. Today’s debate, focusing in part on health, education and welfare, is a chance to welcome warmly a number of key elements in the Queen’s Speech and the forthcoming legislative programme: the Care Bill, the Pensions Bill, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples)
Bill and the carryover of the Children and Families Bill, which, as we have been reminded, contains the biggest overhaul of the SEN system in 30 years. On the other hand, in the health context, I very much hope that legislation for plain standardised packaging for tobacco products is not being kicked into the long grass despite clear evidence that it would have the desired impact.
I heard the negative commentary of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, on the Queen’s Speech, but I do not think that Peter Oborne of the Telegraph is a notable supporter of the coalition and we should take notice when he described the Queen’s Speech as “sharp, dynamic and purposeful” and,
“a serious programme for government”.
Today, I want to speak about the issues affecting the creative and cultural industries and the tourism industry, which will need to be tackled by the DCMS, the Treasury and the Business Department if they are to fulfil their potential in growing our economy. The recent CEBR report for the Arts Council, mentioned in the lyrical maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, on the economic impact of the arts and culture, strongly emphasised the link between the two sectors, with 42% of all tourism expenditure involving cultural engagement. In the case of both sectors, it is crucial to build on the Olympic legacy. Is it not a real tribute that Channel 4 won the BAFTA television award for sport and live events for its coverage of last year’s Paralympic Games?
As another aside on the Olympic legacy, rather less positive, there is now, after a long delay, a supplier recognition scheme in place, whereby, in general, suppliers are allowed to promote their work for the Olympics. Yet there are still areas, nine months after the event, not covered by the scheme. Many companies selling products such as lighting and audio-visual equipment are not able to publicise their involvement with London 2012. The value of the Olympic legacy for these businesses is being completely lost, and this is disgraceful.
Many of us have been impressed by the post-Olympics GREAT promotional campaign overseas, which has highlighted our creative and cultural sector for visitors. We are beginning to see real strategic co-operation between UKTI, VisitBritain, the Arts Council and the British Council, which is extremely welcome, but we need to do more to co-operate in squeezing out every bit of resource. The Australian tourism marketing budget in China, for example, is £13 million, while ours is a mere £1 million. It is extraordinary to consider that the impact of these two sectors—tourism and hospitality and the creative industries—sponsored by the DCMS, taken together and calculated by Oxford Economics and Nesta, amounts to some 20% of our GDP, delivers more than 5 million jobs and offers the strongest prospects of growth in employment over the coming years.
In this context, I want to mention the recent speech by my right honourable friend the Culture Secretary at the British Museum. I did not take it as a demonstration of some kind of Gradgrind utilitarian approach to the arts and culture. She was not insisting that all arts activity needs to be monetised. I took it as an understandably plaintive cry for support in her battle with the Treasury in its demand for more cuts in the service of deficit reduction. With perfect timing, we have had the CEBR report commissioned by the Arts Council on the contribution of the arts and culture, which makes it clear that, quite apart from their intrinsic value, they are very good value for money. Public funding of the arts can, in particular, help to diminish the economic risk of developing new productions, which can then go onto global success. Take the productions of the National Theatre’s “War Horse” and “Matilda” from the RSC, for example.
The Korean fashion entrepreneur Sung-Joo Kim, in an inspirational speech to an all-party group here in the Lords a couple of weeks ago, talked vividly of Britain’s future as a creative brain centre, in terms of our creative skills, allied to our archive, museum and gallery resources—now, of course, including the BBC’s Digital Public Space. There is no doubt that our future lies with our imagination, creativity and invention. We are pre-eminent in so many creative areas; the UK has the largest cultural economy in Europe, and the creative and cultural industries represent one of our economy’s greatest success stories. It was great to hear yesterday, for example, that the new “Star Wars” film will be made in the UK.
The Olympics showcased the social and economic value of intellectual property to the UK. We need to realise that our creativity, ideas and intellectual capital will increasingly drive our future prosperity. The recent Nesta Manifesto for the Creative Economy had some good recommendations, especially on the need for better measurement of the creative economy and the need to recognise and understand the economic connections between the arts and creative industries. However, at the end of the day the same old message is being delivered, as it was in the Hargreaves report, that copyright is an impediment to innovation and growth. Indeed, the Nesta report claims that term extension to copyright has weakened the ability of UK business to innovate; it equates copyright with regulation. This kind of attitude is spilling over into dealings with the EU. During a recent trip to Brussels, members of the All-Party Parliamentary Intellectual Property Group were greatly concerned by the apparent stance of the UK Government in appearing to support those in the Commission, notably DG Connect, which wishes to weaken copyright protection by the introduction of yet further exceptions beyond those contained in the current directive on copyright in the information society, such as over user-generated content. This is extraordinary, given the importance to our economy of the creative industries. It was a delight, therefore, to see the recent piece from the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Finsbury, on Music Tank, forcefully arguing the contrary.
I know that my noble friend Lord Younger intends to be a strong advocate for the value of intellectual property, but we need clear and concrete signals that the role of intellectual property as the foundation of our creative industries is appreciated by government. A vital step would be the implementation of the Digital Economy Act. If the Government are serious about the health of our creative sector, it seems extraordinary that we are still waiting for the issue of sharing of costs relating to notifications and appeals against the initial obligations code to be resolved by the Treasury three years after the passing of the Act. Nor has the DEA been activated in respect of public lending rights to on-site loans of audio books, e-books and so on.
Another strong signal needed from government is one in support of the creation of the copyright hub, which is a major initiative designed to streamline copyright licensing across the industry. I welcome the Government’s decision to give modest funding support to the development of the copyright hub, which will ensure that it comes into operation earlier than anticipated. I am delighted that, after a terrific campaign by the PRS and the music industry with support from government, the Global Repertoire Database has recently announced that it is locating its global headquarters in London. That is a triumph.
Also on the subject of intellectual property, I want to welcome the Intellectual Property Bill, which is focused on design rights and the introduction of the Unified Patent Court, which we will debate in more detail next week. We certainly need to consider extending the ambit of that to unregistered design and consider other aspects of it, such as providing for public lending right to cover remote e-lending, as recommended by the Sieghart report. I also welcome the consumer rights Bill.
Yesterday, my noble friend Lady Bonham-Carter made powerful points in her speech on two issues that impact heavily on the creative industries: education and skills and finance. I warmly support what she said, particularly over the necessity of implementing Darren Henley’s cultural education recommendations and in taking forward the Creative Industries Council’s recommendations on financing creative industries. I am pleasantly surprised to find that Creative England is now recognised to be playing a very important role.
I have very little time left to me, but I want to mention the enormous advantages that the UK has in its attractions for visiting tourists—yet it is often seen as the Cinderella sector. I hope that the Culture Secretary will, as recommended by industry representatives, agree to form across industry a hospitality and tourism council along the lines of the Creative Industries Council, to include government and industry leaders, jointly chaired by the Culture and Business Secretaries. Those two sectors are of huge significance to our future prosperity. I hope that the Government will take the necessary action so that the opportunities presented can be seized by all concerned.
My Lords, I concur with all those who found the three maiden speakers inspiring. I also found their speeches entertaining. I am sure that we will hear much more from them in the future.
The gracious Speech contains little of any major consequence in the area of social health provision other than on the important issue of carers and the welcome introduction of a Care Bill. As one who brought into law an Act of Parliament on carers—namely the Carers and Disabled Children Act 2000—I was disappointed that more progress was not promised for carers in the future. However, I hope that this Bill will be strengthened following Second Reading. My Act is one of only three Acts for carers ever to be introduced in the UK. All three were the result of the Private Member’s Bills ballot in another place, and, incidentally, the other two were also introduced by Labour MPs. As for the coming Care Bill, although I welcome any move in the direction of assisting carers, I also endorse the fears which my noble friend Lady Wheeler expressed about the money to give carers a better deal not being available if the Government’s record to date on giving our social services adequate provision is any guide. It will no doubt fall on local authorities, which are already facing budgetary cuts, to pick up the tab.
I turn to another area which was omitted from the gracious Speech: the very real and growing problem of obesity within our society, especially among our youngsters. I was prompted to speak on this subject today after cutting the ribbon to open a new state-of- the-art clubhouse in Bispham, near Blackpool, some three weeks ago. I was ably assisted by Paul Maynard, Conservative MP for Blackpool North. It was so heartening to see so many youngsters—some 100 or more—dressed in their football attire, wishing that the speeches would end so that they could expend their energies in a constructive and sensible way, putting aside their video and computer games and the like. The facility that was opened contained superb dressing rooms, showers and canteen facilities and was brought about by funding from the Football Foundation. It was so good to see those youngsters enjoying their sport in an environment that many of us, certainly myself, would have wished for and envied in our younger days.
The Football Foundation, of which I am president, is the UK’s largest sports charity and is a partnership composed of the Football Association, the Premier League and the Government. Since its inception 13 years ago, the Football Foundation has produced more than 1,600 grass-roots facility projects with £324 million-worth of investment generously provided by the funding partners. This initial stake from the foundation has attracted an additional £418 million of partnership funding to grass-roots sport from local businesses, housing developers, the projects’ own fundraising and other sources.
We will be losing a major weapon in the fight to tackle obesity if we do not endorse and expand those developments. It cannot be a coincidence that we are the most obese nation in western Europe and that we also have the worst public sports facilities in western Europe. The foundation is doing excellent work on producing better sports facilities but the job is so colossal that its funding can reach only a very small percentage of the tens of thousands of pitches across the country. This investment in the grass-roots sports infrastructure helps to improve not just the health of the population but the health of the economy as well. When a local football club, council or school builds a new changing pavilion or playing surface, it also provides important jobs for architects, builders, carpenters, plumbers, electricians and more. Later this month, the Football Foundation will release some striking research by the Centre for Economics and Business Research that shows the benefits to the UK economy, in terms of jobs, contribution to GDP and growth, that result from its investment. I urge noble Lords to read the report when it comes out shortly. It makes sense for the health of our sports, our people and our economy to take note of the CEBR’s recommendations.
On top of that research, I would also like to highlight the findings of Nuffield Health’s new report, 12 Minutes More, which illustrate the significant savings that accrue to the National Health Service, to the Government and to individuals when the population increases its levels of physical activity. The research highlights that the average person does well below the recommended level of exercise, exercising on only four days per month. However, if the average person did just 12 minutes more physical activity per day then they would reach the target level of 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. The report goes on to spell out the health benefits for individuals of doing these exercises. Those benefits include a 6% lower risk of developing mental health problems; 6% lower cholesterol levels; a 4% lower risk of high blood pressure; a 7% lower likelihood of being obese; and cutting the risk of developing lifestyle-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes and CVD. Nuffield Health argues that if the obese were to get active, it could immediately save the National Health Service £360 million as well as avoid £6.3 billion in further NHS costs, in welfare payments and in loss of earnings.
Much more could be said about the problems of obesity. I hope that during the passage of the Care Bill, the Second Reading of which we will soon debate, there will be an opportunity to raise the compelling reasons why the Government should take positive action in this important area.
My Lords, as a member of the scrutiny committee on the Bill, I welcome the inclusion of the Care Bill in the gracious Speech. The fact that the Bill was published so quickly afterwards gives me confidence that at last we will see some long overdue progress made in improving the well-being of some of the most vulnerable among us, particularly disabled and older people.
I also welcome yesterday’s announcement of the first ever system-wide shared commitment in which 12 national health and care leaders have indicated how they will help local areas to integrate services. I hope that will include housing and prevent the most vulnerable among us being passed around health and care systems in the future. I have also heard that the Government plan to launch a review into all aspects of later life care, which is very welcome. However, without being too cynical, we have had lots of reviews over the past 20 years or so and none of them has resolved the key problem that there is not enough money in the system to provide even a basic level of acceptable quality care, as the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services has confirmed.
Regarding the Care Bill, can the noble Earl tell us when the new care funding eligibility criteria framework will be published? In the new framework it is most important that having moderate care needs is recognised as being relevant and appropriate for initiating the provision of preventive services. The care Bill mandates that a local authority has to exercise its functions with a view to ensuring the integration of care and support provision with health provision and health-related provision. Does the noble Earl agree that encouraging local authorities to lengthen their budget cycles to at least four years would encourage the necessary investment in prevention and intervention in year one? That will pay back only later, with delayed and reduced care needs and costs, and perhaps compressed morbidity.
The annual report from the Prime Minister’s “challenge on dementia” is also due soon. Then we will learn how much progress is being made on making the quality of care as important as the quality of treatment. The prevalence of dementia is growing, and there is often a need for its management to be part of public health responsibility. It should include well-being, the design of the built environment and preventive care. If we are to get dementia-friendly communities, all those aspects need to be looked at. Public health inclusion would be welcome.
I support the view of Macmillan Cancer Care that, at the end of life, social care should be free and appropriate. People dread being in an inappropriate care setting, with a loss of dignity and respect as their final days approach. I get so many heartfelt pleas from the family and friends of people in care, both young and old, about the difficulties they have in finding out who is responsible for their care and, above all, how they can make a complaint. I know that the new clinical reference groups are supposed to meet regularly with patient representative groups but it is most important that dementia and end-of-life care are not forgotten.
On the new CCGs, I am concerned that in some localities, with their smaller management teams, they will not have the resources to fulfil their twin responsibilities of transactional management—such as A&E, NHS 111, contract negotiation and so forth—and the transformational relationship management, in areas like long-term improvement in dementia and end-of-life care, that they need to take on board; and that a disconnect may develop in terms of accountability for both these important areas.
We are seeing increasing costly bed-blocking as older people wait for care home places and clog up acute hospitals. I hope this can be dealt with, but Age UK has today reported that many patients have a 30-day wait to leave hospital. This is totally unacceptable. We need to look across the board at many types of initiatives and bring them together to solve some of these problems. Perhaps, in the end, innovation will be the key. Could we not look, for example, in quality and provision of services, at something like the “patient hotel”-type concept which is de rigueur in Scandinavia? I stress that I see this as an extension of NHS-provided services, and not privatisation.
In another initiative, the think tank with which I am involved, the International Longevity Centre, is coming forward in the next few weeks with a proposal for a more affordable savings product which might appeal to people of modest means who would not normally be able to afford an insurance product, and about whom the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has understandable concerns.
Perhaps we could think more broadly about how we organise our services. For example, perhaps it would make sense if the social care elements of the DWP were merged with the Department of Health—a bit like the old DHSS but with the pension element hived off to employment. We look across the board at all sorts of ideas. Obviously, the DCLG would have to be involved because of local authority care-funding responsibilities. I believe that the current cross-departmental arrangements for the oversight of care funding and provision are one of the main reasons for the lack of joined-up thinking that we see all the time. It seems impossible to bridge these divides, so why not move some of them together and see if that works better? It is only by people with differing skills and sectoral responsibilities coming together that we can benefit from the necessary transformational plans to meet the needs of our ageing population in the years to come.
My Lords, I offer my congratulations to the three excellent maiden speakers today, who very much reflected their personal experiences, which will clearly be to the advantage of future debates in this House.
I will also make a contribution arising from my personal experiences of press regulation, the setting-up of a royal charter and the Leveson proposals. I agree with the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, earlier and his criticism of how long the process has taken and the opposition of the press to any form of change. This was reflected in an excellent speech by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on the first day of the debate on the Queen’s Speech. Both noble Lords expressed the view that the media were not prepared to co-operate in the way they believed the media should. There has now been such a long debate.
As a privy counsellor, I confess that I think that the role of the royal charter and of privy counsellors is at the heart of what we have to discuss today. There seems to be a general belief that somehow the Privy Council and the royal charter should not be involved in political controversy: that whatever they recommend to the Crown, the Crown will accept. However, that will not be the proposal now as we have two royal charters. Decisions have to be taken, and they have to be taken by the Privy Council.
I am not sure how this practice will work. I do not suppose that I will be one of the selected few sent to discuss the whole business of press regulation with the Queen. I presume the Cabinet will appoint the people who will sit on the Privy Council. That happened under the previous Administration; it is the normal process. However, it raises the very interesting point about whether they have a political view in making a decision on the different royal charters before us—another issue that I shall address.
My concern has been very much increased by the virulent opposition, referred to in earlier speeches, of the press. They do not accept that others can have a different view. They use the power of the media to attack anyone who holds a different view from them. That is totally unacceptable, quite apart from the other activities for which over 100 journalists have been arrested, the top press management being accused of conspiracy and all sorts of crimes and illegal acts. Let the courts decide how they will deal with that, but this does not sound to me like a press that has been reformed by their experience. They somehow do not believe that there needs to be any change. Indeed, the press’s royal charter is exactly what they want: to remain as they are. What they object to, quite clearly, is any statutory framework.
I am a bit curious about that. Since I have been in this House—and it has only been a short time—I have seen the press coming here asking for statutory privileges to protect them from damages and against legal aid. They require the law for that, and we have gone along with them, as much as we might have disagreed. They are therefore not necessarily against statutory frameworks in principle. Indeed, it is curious to note that they co-operated in Ireland where they own papers and where there is government control in a way: a Minister who decides who is on the regulatory body for press freedom. The press have signed up for that. How can they believe that it is all right in Ireland but not over here? They are the same papers, with the editors taking the decisions. All this business about them not accepting a statutory framework is nonsense.
The Defamation Act 2013 strengthens the press’s position because they want their damages reduced. They do not like having to pay a lot of money for offences that have been committed. We have made it better for them. We have made legal aid better for them, so that people cannot easily get legal aid to seek justice in the courts. All these things we have done for our media. They are not against a statutory framework; they do not like the idea of a statutory framework which they think would disadvantage them. They want to be able to judge what is in the public interest and what is right. Indeed, they even challenge the judges when they make a judgment on human rights. They say that it is the job of the editors to make decisions about public interest. I am bound to say that the record does not show that they are very fair about that.
When we get down to it, the Defamation Act and the latest changes, brought about by actions in this House, make it clear that there will be more accountability and that the damages that we are talking about will now apply to the press, whether they welcome the regulation or not. We have actually brought in a statutory framework, so for all the talk about there not being a statutory framework, we can say that we have one which the House has passed. It will apply whether the press join the royal charter or not. It is therefore nonsense to talk about there being no statutory framework. That is just part of the smoke that is being thrown up by them.
I am no fan of royal charters. Frankly, you cannot, as a democrat—I say that sitting in this place, but let me leave that aside—believe in a royal charter because it overrules and bypasses Parliament. However, another change that we have now made, which I welcome, is that if there is to be any change to a future royal charter, the agreement of two-thirds of this House and the other place is needed. That means that more political accountability has now been put on the royal charters. It is not privy counsellors getting together, having a little chat, passing a note to the Queen and then saying, “That’s the law”. No, we are now going to have a say and we therefore have extended political accountability, which should be welcome. Again, the framework is involved.
Now that there are two different concepts, two different royal charters, someone has to make a decision. Does anyone believe that that will not be politically controversial? There is the charter produced by the press, which is clearly different, certainly as regards a statutory framework, from the other one produced by this Parliament. This Parliament has decided overwhelmingly that it wants a statutory underpinning. It does not like to say that it is statutory because that is like forcing something on the press. However, if you leave the language aside, we have indeed established a statutory framework.
Therefore, when the council meets, it will consider which charter it wants to accept. Two charters means that a decision has to be taken. I assume that whoever the privy counsellors are they will include members of the Government. Even the Secretary of State for Culture must be involved in that process. Is that Secretary of State likely to vote for the press charter? I hope not, but if that happened that would be defying what Parliament had agreed, would it not? Why would the council judge the press one first? Because the press nipped in quickly and got that position. Now the council has to make a decision. That will be political, whatever we say about it. Even if you ignore the press charter, will the press believe that you have been fair? Will Parliament’s charter be accepted? Even if the Queen had to decide on these matters, and one does not want to put her in that position, would she then say, “I do not support the parliamentary one”, given the overwhelming majority? I do not think so. It would certainly be politically controversial.
In conclusion, my concern is the actions of the press themselves. They are still showing their bitter opposition. Remember that their proposal does not come from a majority. Not all the papers have agreed to it. Only the very people who have committed all the offences have got together and do not want to be stopped. They want to keep things in their present form. What are they doing? They are already threatening that if their charter is not accepted, they will continue to oppose the other charter. That would be politically controversial. They also propose to take the matter to a judicial inquiry. They are, as I understand it, going to take on the Crown in the courts against our proposal. That is very interesting.
What really gets under my skin is that the papers and editors have campaigned, day after day, to get rid of the European Convention on Human Rights. Now they are going to go to the European Court of Human Rights citing Article 10 on the freedom of information and the protection of private rights. I do not suppose that they will use Section 2, only Section 1.
I say to the Government: have you thought of a plan B? Perhaps I should not say “plan B” because they do not like it. We have to face up to our obligation, which is to carry out what Parliament decided. That means that the only alternative is statutory legislation. We should be absolutely clear about that. Giving in again is exactly what we have always done on press regulation—give in, give in, give in. Politicians go for delay. As they get near an election, they get nervous about what papers are going to do. We should not let them do the same thing. Now is the time for change. Now is the time to pass what Parliament has decided and to say to the media, as is the case for every other organisation in this country, “You have some responsibility under a regulated framework”.
My Lords, I agree with every rapid word from my noble friend Lord Prescott, but I wish to focus on the energy section of this debate, bearing in mind the threat of a new Energy Bill. I will concentrate on the Government’s decarbonisation agenda, pursued with little concern for the competitiveness of our economy and with its accompanying pressure to prevent the exploitation of our rich shale gas reserves, which threatens to produce a serious energy crisis in this country.
Last week, a global warming campaigner from this House denounced those who question green orthodoxy as, revealingly, the “forces of darkness”. I say revealingly because the language is religious or religiose. Much of this debate is conducted in those terms. The greens claim the high moral ground, pursuing the virtue of—ambitiously, I must say—saving the planet. “The end of the world is nigh”, they say. Those of us who question them are evil sinners.
Perhaps with the decline of Christianity and the fall of Marxism, our chattering classes need a new faith. As a Roman Catholic, I respect faith but I am aware of its scientific limitations. I have always—including when I was my party’s spokesman here on energy—supported a healthy environment, limiting pollution and using energy efficiently. At first, I accepted unquestioningly, as was wrongly claimed, that there was a unanimous consensus among scientists supporting the global warming case and that only a tiny lunatic minority questioned it. But then I found a serious number of questioners, including scientists, on the internet and in this House, although many spoke in hushed tones for fear of denunciation as deniers—like neo-Nazis who deny the Holocaust. Nasty that. Now the polls show that at least half the nation is sceptical. Even media commentators have started to question, although not of course the BBC, which is still a propaganda branch of the green faith. The Met Office also remains true to the faith that the planet will boil, forecasting mild winters and barbecue summers, which never appear.
The basic facts on global warming are that the planet has recently been in a warming phase and since 1880 has warmed 0.8% of 1 degree. However, in the past 16 years, there has been no further warming, and the Met Office forecasts that the globe will not warm further in the next five years. Beyond that, the warming trend may resume. We do not know. The strict link between carbon emissions and the degree of global warming has been questioned, given that emissions still increase while temperatures do not, and atmospheric carbon levels were much higher in the last ice age. We need better evidence.
The problem is that our Government are committed to spending scores of billions of pounds on policies that assume that the alarmist beliefs are already proven facts. Those policies involve a massive switch to uneconomic renewable energy. The costs threaten to make some of our industry uncompetitive and fall disproportionately on the poor, and the number of those in fuel poverty has reached new peaks. Nearly 20% of recent energy price increases come from green imposts.
The massive investment in wind power, despite producing barely 5% of our electricity generation, is a particular folly. Environmentally, wind turbines can have many negative effects, as set out in DECC’s 2010 appraisal. Financially, they are a disaster. The cost of subsidies and integrating them into the grid—ultimately borne by consumers—will reach £5 billion a year by 2020 and by 2030 will have doubled again, totalling well over £50 billion.
Onshore wind costs double and offshore wind costs treble the cost of a combined cycle gas plant. This huge cost is because of their inefficiency. They often do not work in very cold, windless weather. In the severe cold spells of 2010 and 2011, they at times contributed less than 0.5% of Britain’s power. They need some 80% of back-up capacity from the fossil fuels they are supposed to replace. So wind does not replace fossil fuels; it embeds the need for them and drives up the price of power generally.
A further burden imposed on our society, and especially on the poor, by the green agenda has been the obstacles put in the way of developing our rich reserves of shale gas, estimated to meet our needs for the next 150 years. This abundance, as the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, said in his excellent maiden speech, could help to generate huge tax revenues and to rebalance the economy by boosting manufacturing, especially with jobs in the north.
We should note that in the United States shale has provided tens of thousands of new jobs and reduced gas prices by two-thirds, while the green jobs bonanza has proved a mirage. In the States it has created only 2,800 jobs at a cost of nearly $12 million a job. The prospect for green jobs may be just as thin here, with most windmills built abroad.
So why is the shale revolution not happening here? It is mainly because of ideological hostility to shale exhibited by greens in DECC and especially by Liberal Democrat Ministers. Scaremongering about shale fracking, alleged to cause so-called earthquakes and water contamination, was well publicised in the media—less so the later inquiries by the Geological Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering, which showed that fracking has never caused any human or structural harm and will not do so if conducted, as it must be, according to established safety and environmental rules. Yet the alarmists continue their opposition. They do not want safe shale; they want no shale. This is economic madness.
What should be done? My own Labour Party is rightly attached to environmental values and should continue so, but in a balanced way and not with excessive green faith and global warming ideology. It should remember our historic concern for jobs and not damage the competitiveness of the economy, and it should show concern for poor people freezing in winter with rocketing energy bills. Labour should be wary of elitist green policies which pay rich Scottish and Welsh landowners and big corporations billions, derived from green taxes on ordinary people in tower blocks in Glasgow, to rent out their estates for wind farms. This could involve the greatest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich since the 18th century enclosures. It is not clear to me that it should be a central Labour policy.
As for the Government, the Prime Minister should remove Liberal Democrat Ministers of extreme faith from the energy department. Right now, he should ensure that the Energy Bill meets Britain’s critical energy needs and stop littering our countryside with a blight of windmills.
Finally, for the wider issues of climate change, the importance of which I do not deny but the causes of which are not scientifically clear, we should monitor climate developments in a measured and non-ideological way. We should react on proven evidence, not on hysterical alarmism and not by assuming that Britain, with barely 2% of the world’s carbon emissions, should lead some imperial moral mission to save the planet, and certainly not by damaging our economy and the living standards of our people. That is not the responsibility of any sensible and mature Government.
My Lords, as I develop my own arguments, the House will understand why I took so much pleasure in listening to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue.
The gracious Speech informs us that the first priority is to strengthen Britain’s economic competitiveness and that the Government will continue to invest in infrastructure to deliver jobs and growth, with legislation to update energy infrastructure. With those central themes in the gracious Speech, it is unhelpful that we find ourselves debating energy alongside health, agriculture, culture and education. My noble friend Lord Deighton, opening yesterday’s economic debate, made no mention of energy, despite the fact that he has a key role in the nuclear negotiations with EDF and that having the right energy policy is a fundamental requirement for economic competitiveness, a fact acknowledged by my noble friend Lord Freud opening today’s debate.
One commentator recently wrote:
“British energy policy is once more on the move. In 2006, the then Labour government set up an energy review, which was a much needed, comprehensive overhaul of policy. Now, seven years later, the Energy Bill … is inching its way through the legislative process”.
If a review of an equally fundamental matter of wartime policy had been started in 1939, it would have been inching its way forward in 1946, long after the war was over.
During the debate on the previous gracious Speech, which followed on the publication of the Science and Technology Select Committee’s report in 2011 on nuclear research, I quoted our conclusion:
“A fundamental change in the Government’s approach to nuclear R&D is needed now to address the complacency which permeates their vision of how the UK’s energy needs will be met in the future”.
I acknowledged that the Government’s response, accepting almost all our recommendations, appeared to represent a fundamental change in approach. I welcomed the change but expressed serious concern about energy policy and the possibility of an acute energy security crisis.
Since then, the Government have published the nuclear industrial strategy, The UK’s Nuclear Future, which attempts to offer reassurance. It states:
“New nuclear power is essential to meeting the Government’s objective of delivering a secure, sustainable and low-carbon energy future”.
Most of the initiatives that the Select Committee proposed have at least been started but the crucial decisions are still to be taken. We have to stop inching forward. Decisive moves are required urgently, as my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding emphasised. Before the Summer Recess we need to have an Energy Act and well before then the conclusion of the negotiations with EDF, although, because of the calamitous way that these matters have been handled by DECC, the outcome may be a 40-year burden on consumers of a high price negotiated with a company whose financial ability to deliver is in doubt. It is hard to be optimistic about other nuclear plant decisions involving Wylfa and Oldbury.
Those negotiations are being conducted in a world where energy economics have been transformed by the shale gas revolution. During the debate on the Select Committee report, I spoke about the importance of that revolution. The chairman of the Select Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, sharply observed that without carbon capture and storage there was enough shale gas to,
“fry us all many times over. So shale gas has to go with CCS, which is an unproven technology, whereas nuclear is a tried and tested technology. We must therefore not relinquish our commitment to nuclear because of the hope of shale gas with CCS, unless we are prepared to fry”.—[ Official Report , 16/06/12; GC 228.]
I am as committed to the need for nuclear as is the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, but I believe that on this point his analysis was flawed. All the evidence is that the replacement of coal by shale gas, without CCS at present, is already making a very substantial contribution to reducing carbon impacts in the United States.
Furthermore, we need competitive economies if we are to finance the technological advances that are likely to make the greatest contribution to the reduction of the threat posed by global warming. It is folly to waste our limited resources on forms of renewable energy that are never going to make more than a miniscule contribution. The madness of continuing to encourage the construction of high-cost, onshore wind farms that devastate the landscape should be self evident but, sadly, the madness persists. There are plans to ignore public opinion and to do immense damage to a great area of mid-Wales and adjoining parts of Shropshire, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, in a splendid maiden speech, while in north Norfolk a giant wind turbine has been approved by a planning inspector against the wishes of local people, their elected representatives and English Heritage. So much for localism.
In his maiden speech, my noble friend Lord Ridley made the superb contribution that those of us who have followed his career have come to expect. He spoke of the importance of making energy affordable. In a recent article, he made the point that cheap energy is the surest way to encourage economic growth and emphasised that,
“if we do not treat the shale gas revolution as a huge opportunity for Britain, then it will become a dire threat to our economy: if we do not dash for cheap gas, we will lose much of what’s left of our manufacturing to countries that do”.
He is right.
Dieter Helm, professor of energy policy at Oxford and a fellow in economics at New College, suggests that the energy debate is stuck in a rut. Policy-makers are arguing about a narrow set of existing technologies while all around them the world is changing. He urges fresh thought about possible technological advances. He writes:
“Some are like fracking—already largely in place, but needing a push. This category includes battery storage and smart grids and meters. We have within our grasp the ability to store electricity and to make the demand side active rather than passive … current renewables like wind turbines, rooftop solar and biomass stand no serious chance of making much difference to decarbonisation”.
He concludes that we must reverse the dash for coal and that only gas can do this at the global level over the next couple of decades. He presses the need for a long-term stable and rising price—a carbon tax, reinforcing investment for research to develop the future renewables: next-generation solar, geothermal, gravity and nuclear. After hearing my noble friend Lord Ridley, I am sure that he would have added gasification of coal to the list.
The British Government must, at the very least, ensure that the Commission does not put last minute blocks in the way of our own vital decisions on energy. Surely, as Dieter Helm’s comments imply, there is room for a switch in the EU’s energy policy that both improves competitiveness and is more sensible in terms of climate change mitigation. Here in Britain we really have to get out of the rut. It needs more than a shove. Yesterday, my noble friend Lord Deighton said that the new transport infrastructure was needed now. The need for the new energy structure is even more urgent. The Department of Energy and Climate Change has been dragging its feet. Its attitude has been negative and even obstructionist, particularly in seeking to discover the real potential of our shale resources and in combating the scaremongering tactics of opponents on so many energy initiatives, a point well made by my noble friend Lord Jenkin earlier today.
There is now the need for decisive action both by the departments directly involved—BIS and DECC—and by the Prime Minister and Chancellor who must take whatever steps are needed to ensure that we do not miss the opportunity that shale gas and nuclear provide to get the British economy moving again.
My Lords, last year at this time we waited with great anticipation the start of the London Olympic and Paralympic Games. There was so much promise and the Games exceeded the nation’s wildest dreams. They were a triumph. Now, some 8 months after the Games, the gracious Speech has absolutely no mention of sport and how the pledge to create a new generation of sports men and women is to be achieved. It is a huge lost opportunity for the Government to build on past achievements and echo the nation’s call for a better sporting Britain. It demands fairer sport for everyone, irrespective of ability and of every background. And I mean everyone, not just the favoured few of the 6% who attend independent schools but the 94% of our children who are in state schools.
The discrepancy between state and independent schools in sport is absolutely disgraceful. No wonder the majority of medal winners at the Olympics were privately educated people. In all fairness, the two most distinguished Olympians on the coalition Benches in this House have been outstanding critics of the Government’s failure to put grassroots sport into primary schools. If the noble Lords, Lord Coe and Lord Moynihan, cannot persuade the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, to change course, it is clear that proper change will not happen, although he has been forced into minor U-turns as a result of national pressure.
So, what prospect is there of the promised sporting legacy? I have looked back over the past two years to see whether there are any glimpses of hope but, sadly, there are none. It has been a story of destruction and failure to build on the improvements built by the previous Government. We were genuinely making ground, as opposed to this Government which are losing ground. The facts are stark. The number of people aged 16 and over active in sport has gone down for the first time since we won the bid in 2005, if we can remember that time. Michael Gove has singlehandedly wrecked state school sport, demolishing school sport partnerships which proved so successful in bringing qualified staff into schools as well as acting as a bridge between schools and clubs and community. The Government removed the crucial protection of ring-fenced funding for physical education in state schools, only partially reinstating it following a huge public outcry. Michael Gove also removed the minimum two hours target for sport and physical education in state schools.
A new formula for school sport was announced. Competitive sport was to be the panacea. Where on earth have these people been? For some it might be good and acceptable but for others it is the ultimate turnoff: 45% of girls surveyed by the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation said that sport was too competitive for them and that they preferred individual disciplines, which perhaps I may say provided vigorous exercise such as dance, gymnastics and much else.
Even the ability to play sport has been reduced. Formerly, the minimum requirement for playing-field space was set according to the number of pupils in the school. Now the requirement is for schools to provide “adequate sport space”, whatever that might be deemed to mean. Not only are the Government reneging on the pledge to create a new sporting nation, they are ignoring, as others have said today, all the health benefits that sport can provide, especially at the grassroots level. Good practice when learnt young can carry on throughout life and, as has already been said, obesity continues unchallenged in our schools. More savage cuts to sport came through the decision to end swimming for the under-16s and for the over-60s. At the same time, the Government cut crucial funding to national sporting bodies such as Sport England and UK Sport, which have had a 33% and 28% reduction respectively. These are the very people who enable grass roots and community sport to take place.
National governing bodies have also been hit. Their budget has been cut by 15%. These are the bodies responsible for introducing their sport to the widest possible audience, including cricket, rugby, gymnastics—in fact there are 46 bodies doing sterling work. However, this is clearly not appreciated by the Government.
This dismal catalogue of the Government’s failure—which will be felt for generations to come—is not the end of the story. Where are their positive ideas, the innovations that will produce better use of existing facilities, equal opportunities and willing and competent volunteers who want to help sport in so many ways? The Olympics and Paralympics showed the nation the stunning contribution made by volunteers. This is not new. Generations of parents and volunteers have been running our clubs, coaching, painting the changing rooms and a host of other activities. Without them our clubs would cease to exist. What we saw last year was a new layer of volunteers wanting to be involved, perhaps for the first time.
What incentives and new areas have the Government created? Simply none. I have spoken before in this Chamber about Tennis for Free, a charity which uses fully qualified volunteers as coaches on public courts in our parks, which exist in virtually every town and village. No charges are made for those who take part and it is incredibly successful. Youngsters who may never be able to join a club flourish in this scheme. The model is hugely successful. What happens in tennis could easily be replicated in a host of other sports. Public parks should be the centre of people’s sport and, with minimal government support, this could and should happen.
Most of our sports clubs are members clubs run by volunteers. However, despite the crucial part they play they have been badly let down by planning regulations. If clubs are to flourish they must be able to improve, for instance, floodlights, club facilities and playing surfaces. They are frequently thwarted by the objections of neighbours—we call them nimbys—and their applications, despite being recommended by planning officers, are often turned down. Minor changes to planning guidance would prevent this happening and should be a part of the Government’s plans for the future.
There is still far too little dual use for schools and colleges to open up their facilities, and yet this, too, does not appear in the Government’s programme. These are just a few of the measures that the Government could adopt to help us fulfil the legacy as promised, but all we have from them is negative and reactionary thoughts.
In conclusion, I remind noble Lords that there was, of course, one honourable mention of sport on the day of the Queen’s Speech: the announcement of Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. He, I am sure, would understand and agree with all the charges that I have made against the Government today, but then he is not one of them, he is one of us.
My Lords, I declare my interests listed in the register. I, too, congratulate the noble Lords who have made such wonderful maiden speeches today.
The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, in welcoming a maiden speech, resorted to talking about music. I will, too, because Queen’s Speeches, which are debated over several days, with different subjects weaving in and out, always bring to mind Eric Morecambe’s great sketch with André Previn and the moment where he squares up to him and says, “I am playing the right notes but not necessarily in the right order”. That is quite often how these Queen’s Speech debates appear to me.
In times of social hardship and economic uncertainty there are two common political reactions. The first is retrenchment, a harkening back to a previous golden age when things were much more certain. Quite often it involves the scapegoating of minorities and different people. It is a populist strategy but very divisive. The second reaction, which is much more difficult, is to maintain an inclusive world view and to use it to build social cohesion and find new solutions to problems. It is much more difficult but it is what responsible politicians should do.
The gracious Speech should be judged against those criteria and the extent to which they are fulfilled. In his speech last Thursday, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter spoke movingly about the extent to which the Church, the Government and the voluntary sector have a duty to strengthen people’s sense of community, place and identity during times of uncertainty. He is absolutely right.
I always end up speaking on this day during the Queen’s Speech debate and I always think about it as being stuck in the big spending departments. However, today we need to take a radically different approach. I have spent some time reading a number of works by futurologists who have been looking at the future of work. The other week I came across some interesting arguments by two futurologists, Pearson and Maloney, who said:
“As computers get more intelligent, the work that will take over will require human skills like leadership, motivation and compassion”.
As machines manufacture things much more easily, the future of work will change. The important work in the future will be the work that cannot be done by computers. In their list of future jobs they have some interesting examples: vertical farmers; climate controllers, who manage and modify weather patterns; and nano-medics, who create small implants for health monitoring. Also in their list are home carers, who help care for elderly people in their homes.
The future of social care as a stimulant to employment is extremely important and is a different way of looking at the issue. We need to think radically about the future of communities. There are many communities in this country where, now and in the future, health and social care will be the main form of employment. I ask the Minister: does the commitment the Government made in July 2010 to extend social enterprise within health remain, and what progress has been made on it? In some communities, by using legislation such as the social value Act, the extent to which we can create employment around care will be important.
As to the Care Bill, I listened to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, with some depression. We have come so far together and got so near to building a consensus around what we think should be the future architecture for social care in this country. We now have a Bill that addresses problems that have been outstanding and addressed in every debate on the Queen’s Speech in which I have taken part in this place since 1999. I agree with him that the questions of eligibility and resources are critical. We will never have enough resources to address all the needs that there are but we can, by using this Bill, move a long way towards removing a number of the structural problems that have bedevilled the integration of health and social care for all our lifetimes. It is important that we do that in future to provide services of an acceptable quality and to cut down on some of the inefficiencies, which we know are costly. We must have a social care system that can integrate more easily with health and housing. I hope that the noble Lord and the Opposition will stay with the process of seeing the Care Bill through—at least until the point when we debate eligibility, which I understand is due to be in late June. I think that a lot of people who are involved with voluntary organisations, and among the general public, would not appreciate it if the Opposition were to give up on this process now.
I want to address one more health matter and talk briefly about the immigration Bill. I do not know on what basis the Ministry of Justice put together this legislation but I hope it has looked at the evidence of Médecins sans Frontières, which runs a project in London and produced a report in 2008. The organisation sees people from all over the world and noted that their needs are broadly reflective of the conditions seen among the general public. Less than a third required prescriptions. Indeed, the majority just needed help to access primary care or, rather worryingly, antenatal care. They were not turning up in this country asking for expensive surgical procedures to be done for free on the NHS. When we look at this issue, by all means let us ensure that the NHS is not being taken for granted by people who should not be accessing it, but let us not deny healthcare to pregnant women, those who have survived torture, or those who may have communicable diseases. Frankly, that is inhumane and presents a threat to our public health system. We would not be doing our fellow citizens a favour if we were to do that.
We might also look at the work being done at West Middlesex University Hospital, which is close to Heathrow Airport. It has adopted a policy of stabilising people who turn up in A&E and then talking to them quickly about what the cost of their care is likely to be. It has managed to reduce radically the number of people who do not pay for their health services. Let us look at whether the legislation is necessary.
Unfortunately, I will not be taking part in the Children and Families Bill because I have the privilege to lead from these Benches on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, so I shall be rather busy doing that. However, if I were taking part, I would want to address a question that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and I thought about during consideration of the Adoption and Children Bill and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill: the fact that our birth registration system is becoming increasingly out of date in a world in which families are very different and digital technology is bringing about change. It is not a subject that I can go into at any great length, but I hope to return to it at some point later in the year.
These are tough times. We need to strengthen communities, and we will do that only by looking forward in a radical way, not by looking into the past.
My Lords, there is much to welcome in the Queen’s Speech. I particularly look forward to the advent of the Children and Families Bill. I welcome the attention that the Government have been paying to adoption and I hope that we may be able to encourage them to offer still more support to adoptive families and provide further support for young people leaving care as the Bill makes its journey through your Lordships’ House towards the statute book. I share with the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, her concern that there is no legislation or regulation for the minimum pricing of alcohol or for blank packaging on cigarettes. I am concerned in particular that many of the children who are taken into care come from backgrounds where alcohol misuse was a contributing factor to family dysfunction. It would be helpful if alcohol was less available to young people so that they would be less likely to start the bad habits which persist when they start their families.
I do not wish to tire the patience of your Lordships so I will concentrate on one issue that is of deep concern to some in this House, and which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, in his remarks. My time will be spent considering the Government’s proposal to introduce the opportunity for early years providers and childminders to increase the ratio of children to carers where the carers can demonstrate improved qualifications. I begin by applauding the Government’s attention to this important policy area. I am particularly pleased that they have chosen to maintain important requirements with regard to the supervision of early years staff and that they have welcomed the report of the Nutbrown review, with its call for higher qualifications for early years staff. The Government have stated that their first priority is better quality childcare; the Education Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Nash, repeated that last week in this House. The Government have also been seeking to make this better quality childcare more affordable for parents.
I hope that I may also pay tribute to the last Government’s attention to childcare. They introduced the first Childcare Act, placing a duty on local authorities to provide a sufficiency of childcare. They invested significantly in developing the workforce, introducing career development pathways and early years professional status. International assessment of the UK’s progress has been very favourable, and there is an encouraging sense of political consensus and commitment to getting this policy right. One of our main aims is to improve outcomes for children. High quality early years care has been clearly demonstrated by the EPPE research project to improve children’s outcomes. Indeed, I have heard the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, speak about this many times. I was very struck by a presentation I attended three years ago by Professor Melhuish of the University of London. The research he produced found that children with a good early years experience would tend to continue to do well in their education at the age of 11 whether they attended a good or an indifferent primary school. Good early experience is a protective factor against poor later educational experience.
The right honourable Iain Duncan Smith MP and the honourable Graham Allen MP have both highlighted that it is the early years when we can break the cycle of disadvantage and put children on a better path because, at that point, their brains are highly malleable. They and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, have referred in the past to the importance of new findings in neurobiology where brain scans can show us how the infant brain is sculpted by the loving relationships around him. At the same time, we have been warned about the impact of prolonged exposure to poor quality early years care by Professor Jay Belsky. He presents the other side of the coin: the harm caused by poor quality care, harm which increases the younger a child is exposed to it and the greater time over which the child is exposed.
I should now like to raise my concerns about the Government’s proposals, and I preface them with some comments on current practice in baby rooms. It is essential that babies feel that their carers are attuned to them, that they feel their carers are keeping them in mind, and that they know their wants will be met. Regulations recognise this and each baby is required to have one or two carers as their key person in the nursery. However, there are challenges to doing this even as things stand. Carers may be working shifts, as may the parents themselves. There may be a high staff turnover. The job is also extremely demanding and the workforce is mostly made up of very young and inexperienced women. In this context, I am very troubled by the Government’s proposal to allow early years providers the choice to increase the number of babies cared for by each carer from three to one to four to one. The Government seek to reassure us by saying that better qualifications will be a prerequisite for increased ratios. It is a matter of regret that the Government chose only to consult on what the qualifications requirement might be rather than if indeed the ratios should be changed. It seems clear to me that the important prerequisite for good-enough baby care is the number of staff. As my mother used to say to the four of us when we were children, she was not an octopus. Staff have only so many arms and eyes, and the overwhelming academic consensus is that, with babies, one needs first a sufficiency of carers. Here I shall quote a literature review from the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand entitled,
Quality early childhood education for under two year-olds: What should it look like?
. It states that,
“the strongest and most consistent predictor of observed positive caregiving in group-based early childhood settings was the adult:child ratio ... caregivers provided more sensitive, frequent and positive care when they were responsible for fewer children ... the optimum ratio for under two year-olds in education and care settings was consistently stated as 1:3”.
The Government seek to reassure us further by looking to France, Germany and Scandinavia. I agree that we should look at best practice from our neighbours but we should, I suggest, do so critically and avoid picking up some of their worst habits. France, for instance, has ratios for babies of five to one. However, according to “The Predicament of Childcare Policy in France: What is at Stake?”, published in volume 19 of the Journal of Contemporary European Studies,
“young children are often cared for by a rotating cast of characters and institutions within the same day. This is particularly so when both parents have non-standard work schedules; when the parent is living alone; or, when there is only one child”.
There is considerable concern about this practice on the continent.
I regret that I am not comforted by the Government’s reassurances. I continue to share the concerns of five of the major childcare providers, of the Early Years Alliance, of Mumsnet and Netmums and, indeed, of the Deputy Prime Minister on this particular topic. I am also uncertain that a change in ratios will produce savings for parents. In a recent editorial, Nursery World drew attention to the many factors contributing to the UK having some of the most expensive provision in the world and suggested that hard-pressed providers may not pass any savings made to parents.
To conclude, I am grateful to the Government for giving childcare this careful attention. I also hope that the Minister might be able to answer two questions. Have the Government looked again at the assessment of the evidence and are they still confident that increasing the number of babies—children aged under two—to carers will not be harmful if it is balanced with a raising of qualifications? What is the Minister’s response to parents’ groups that are concerned about the Government’s proposal? I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I start by welcoming the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Ridley. He is not in his place, but I was most impressed by the fact that his sons spent more time in the Chamber than many other Peers have managed—a number of hours. I welcome him particularly because he is a neighbour of mine in Northumberland. I miss his father, who was a great friend of the red squirrel in Northumberland, an issue we were both passionate about. I also liked his point about being an ex-hereditary, although as an ex-hereditary myself, and now a life Peer, I took a slightly different route to address the House this evening.
I wish to speak on three aspects of the Queen’s Speech, and start by focusing on energy. I have noticed, having taken part in a vast number of debates on Queen’s Speeches over the years, a depressing aspect of this one. Scientists have recently pointed out that we might well have passed 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but this seems to have been completely neglected in many of the speeches about energy. Carbon was a very important issue on all sides of the House, especially for the introduction of the Climate Change Act 2008, which I think the Labour Party has a great deal of credit for introducing. It is very unfortunate that that has been missed.
I welcome the Energy Bill to come, especially when it talks about greening up aspects of energy, but we should not misunderstand the situation that we are facing. The noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, mentioned that we face an energy gap. I declare an interest as the CEO of the Energy Managers Association and the Carbon Management Association, which represent all the energy managers in the country. They are absolutely dumbfounded that politicians fail to understand that we will not have enough power generation to meet our needs in peak demand in a couple of years’ time. At a conference recently, I put up on the board when they thought the first blackouts would be. Out of 2015, 2016 and 2017, 80% said 2015. That is not so good if you live in Reading or Oldham, as those are the places on the grid that are about to drop off first. Blackouts will not hit universally but they will be quite widespread. We have a major issue, the very simple reason being that Governments have failed to build power stations of whatever hue: coal, gas or renewable energy.
I was asked recently why we have not been building power stations. The answer is very simple: for nuclear power stations, which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, has been pushing for, we are talking about a 50-year planning cycle. You have to get the money, plan it, build it and then decommission it after its run cycle. That could be longer than 50 years. That has to be put to a Parliament that now has a maximum period of five years. The politicians then have to explain their decision to the press, who are running on a 24-hour news cycle, and to an electorate who are worrying about last month’s bills, not where the energy bill is coming from in the next 50 years. That is why we have a massive backlog.
Privatisation has been a bit of a con. We have sweated the assets on power generation and on the distribution grid. To put it in context, a recent report talked about £100 billion being needed. The figures came out anywhere between £100 billion and £800 billion to renew the whole grid, depending on whether you take down all the power cable lines, but they are many years old and we are going to have to eventually. The average figure that the experts came to was about £360 billion. If we were to do that over the next 10 years, to get the grid up to where we believe it should be would mean £36 billion a year, which is about the equivalent of a banking crisis each year for the next 10 years. I see no pot of money put aside to pay for that.
Ofgem’s report on the fact that we have problems and that energy prices are going to go up has nothing to do with environmental costs. Indeed, one of the great myths going around at the moment is that Europe is responsible for us shutting down our power stations. Yes, the emissions objectives are going to bring that forward but the trouble is that most of the power stations are 30 to 40 years old. They are steam-driven power stations with thousands of miles of steam pipes. They have a run-time cycle: after 30 or 40 years you do not have a power station, you have what one engineer described to me as a colander. They are just not efficient enough to run and will have to be scrapped. We are looking at losing about a fifth of our power-generating capacity. This is a problem because we might then have to move. None of the generators, after the experience they have had, will actually build a coal-fired power station, so we will have to go to gas.
We should be careful about another myth, which is that we can get rid of gas from the system. Eight out of 10 homes are on gas and I cannot see many people wanting to change their boiler. The big problem is that we are now going to generate the majority of our power through gas-fired power stations. A gas-fired power station loses about 70% of the fuel up the chimney, just to get you the electricity. We talk about decarbonising the grid by going for electricity when we are actually losing most of the energy in the generation at that point. We should not go down the road of saying there is a silver bullet.
Unfortunately, there are not really many silver bullets in energy generation. We are going to have to build nuclear power stations. I know there are some in this Chamber who will be surprised to see me promoting nuclear after the many years I spent fighting it. When I was energy spokesman for the Liberal Democrats I was asked whether I would take part in some debates on nuclear because they had to have somebody who was going to be against it. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, remembers those debates. My problem with nuclear is that it is not going to provide cheap electricity and is not going to come on until the 2030s anyway—it is not a short-term solution. We have major problems with our energy infrastructure, and politicians have to realise that it is going to be a lottery. Whoever is in power when the first blackouts hit are going to take the blame, not the fact that we have not built power stations for a very long time.
The second aspect is a problem that is linked to that. We have problems with power generation, but we also have a massive problem with the water industry. The water Bill, as far as I am concerned, is a complete load of twaddle. I am sorry, but I find the idea of competition in water incredible. The noble Lord, Lord Freud, said that we are going to sell water and that you will be able to pick your water up from anywhere. Yes, I can go to Newcastle, to Kielder Water or Catcleugh reservoir—I have a private water supply as a damned great pipe runs through my land, although I cannot actually get any of the water out of it—get a bucket from there and bring it down to London, but the energy cost of shifting water is incredibly high.
Ofwat is illiterate. I went to a presentation on competition, which showed a picture of water competition. It was a fantastic map. It showed in yellow where all the bits joined up, and the biggest concentration was around Bristol, south Wales and north Somerset. I said, “Am I the only one to realise that the Bristol Channel runs through there, so you cannot actually link up because there are no pipes between?”. The whole policy is based on that.
The trouble with Ofwat is that it is all about the cost of water now. Have we learnt nothing? I plan to be alive in 20 years’ time. I plan for my children to be alive a lot longer. If we do not do something about resilience now, we are going to be the consumers who pay for this. Yet we have a regulator that fired all its sustainability officers and employed more economists to talk about the cost now. It makes no sense. In the White Paper the Government said that they were minded to consider making sustainability a primary rather than secondary objective for Ofwat. I do not think that anybody around the House thinks that sustainability should be a primary objective, and I certainly will move an amendment to that effect.
Sustainability is one of those words that actually came from international development. It has moved in the political sense and now means carbon and a number of other things. Of course, if you do not have water you die. At a Defra briefing last year, Defra said, “We are going to have hosepipe bans and even more serious issues if we do not have 200% of normal rainfall”. Last summer we had 220% of normal rainfall and everybody said that was fine. We are now seeing groundwater flooding because we have had so much rain. The climate is changing. This is not a question of whether or not you believe in climate change. The evidence over the past 10 years shows that we have a real issue.
I have gone over my time, but as the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, is in his place, I should say that I also welcome the Government’s intention to do something about dangerous dogs. I very much hope that that is an issue we can have some agreement on.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the maiden speeches. I always welcome people from the north-east, even if they are on the opposite side, and I know the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, quite well from being a Member of Parliament in the north-east. I was also very interested to hear that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester was born in and has such a close attachment to east Africa. I have a very close attachment to east Africa, so maybe we can have the odd conversation in Kiswahili.
I have a different approach to my speech because I always view the Queen’s Speech as the signal from the Government of their vision for the future and their aspiration for the country. Perhaps it is a bit ambitious to look at this Queen’s Speech from that perspective, but I will have a go and deal with detail when we come to the individual Bills.
The debate yesterday showed that whatever the analysis of how and why the economy is in the state it is, there is a consensus that more needs to be done to get growth. There is also the realisation that for the foreseeable future the country will continue to face economic hardship. I want us to think about what that means for the areas of social policy that we are looking at today.
The post-war settlement on public services and welfare, born out of the Beveridge report, was not just based on economic arguments but sought to look after those who had fought in the Second World War. It was based on the values of decency and on conquering what were then seen, and today would still be seen, as five great evils. Those values essentially spelt out the Britain that people had sacrificed for during the war. Those values are enduring. While the circumstances and context that we are living in have changed, the values are still there.
It is clear that we really need to reform the way in which public services—health, education and welfare—are delivered so that they are relevant to the vast changes in our society. Britain has never been a place where there has been a belief that the market on its own can deliver the values that our society is based on. That is as true now as it was in the 1940s. Our circumstances are very different: women expect to work and are expected to work, and the nature of work is vastly different, with many fewer unskilled workers and many more changes in any working life.
In his speech last week, the Prime Minister said that we are now in a “global race”. Globalisation has brought incredible changes to our society, many of which my parents’ generation—let alone my grandparents’ generation—would not recognise and certainly would not have envisaged. Of course, one is the level of migration around the world, but there is also the recognition in this country that migration—not all of it, but some of it—is critical to our economy and our future, even if some aspects of it give us problems. It is our job to tackle those problems.
To handle this global race, we need not only some immigration but a well educated and trained workforce. We need a healthy workforce. We still need a system that protects people when they are most vulnerable so that they will be able to retrain and re-equip themselves quickly to get back into the workforce. They will inevitably need to do that several times over their working lives, which means that they need to have real confidence in the public services that they rely on: education, training, healthcare and income support in hard times. They need confidence that their children, and increasingly their parents—that is you and I—will have responsive and high-quality services when they need them so that as working people they can continue to play their part in the workforce, the economy and their community.
My concern with the Government’s programme is that it seems more concerned with rhetoric—whether to appease the right wing of the Tory party or UKIP, I am never too sure—than properly to address the challenge of reform. Far too often, rhetoric replaces real, necessary reform. We need to reform the way in which public services work in order to see that real change in the relationship between the population and the services that will enable this country to properly play its part in that global race.
I want the Government to do this in a way that upholds the values that make this country what it is, and what in my view makes it great, and to move away from the rhetoric that makes it virtually impossible to achieve that objective: that everyone on benefits is a scrounger, that every immigrant is leeching from our National Health Service or other aspects of our society, that education is not able to deliver. The Secretary of State for Education keeps saying that he is committed to reform, but we have had no plan to tackle the shortage of school places, which is so acute in some areas, and proposals for the curriculum will take us back generations rather than offer a curriculum suited to the 21st century. Reforms in welfare have been overshadowed and in many senses threatened by the rhetoric around “scroungers” and the lack of candour on the part of the Secretary of State about the impact of the changes.
I wish that the Queen’s Speech had tackled the skills and training deficit, but it did not. We have a Bill on social care, which is hugely welcome. I suspect, however, that it is insufficiently radical and does not take us far enough into the real challenges that face us, but we will deal with that when we get the Bill.
The Government have become frightened of talking about reform in health. We had two years where we were supposed to be getting into real reform and real change, but they became worried about that and did not introduce the sort of reforms that would have transformed our health service for the future. The new Secretary of State has now been told, “Do whatever you can to get to the election without mentioning reform”.
Without real and radical reform, the Government will simply end up with cut after cut, so that people will lose confidence in the contribution that public services can make to securing and empowering them for the future. That will bring huge change to this country, change that I believe nobody wants. This is all very difficult, which I suspect is why the Government have simply avoided tackling it in the Queen’s Speech. We will all suffer from that.
My Lords, I wish to draw attention yet again to the terrible crime of human trafficking and slavery. There are more slaves today than there were 200 years ago. I am pleased that the Victims Minister said recently that the Government’s ambition is to eradicate all forms of slavery, and I would warmly welcome measures in the Session ahead.
One month ago, the deadline passed for the Government to make sure that our laws comply with the EU anti-trafficking directive. Although some very welcome changes have been introduced, I have to say with some reluctance that I am not convinced that the Government have seized this opportunity as they might have done.
One area where there is significant need for greater action is the welfare of trafficked children. The NSPCC recently published statistics demonstrating that nearly
7,900 children went missing from local authority care in 2012, almost 3,000 of whom went missing more than once. The NSPCC highlights the risks that these missing children face, none more so than those who were trafficked. We know that between 2005 and 2010, 301 of the 942 trafficked children who were rescued went missing from care. The Government have admitted to there being problems with the system of data collection, but it is astonishing that the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Nash, was unable to answer my Written Question about how many trafficked children had gone missing from care in 2012 because those data are not recorded separately from those for other missing children. This simply is not good enough if we are really serious about eradicating human trafficking.
I read in the Centre for Social Justice’s report, published in March, about a trafficked child who had been rescued and was later in foster care. One day, the boy went missing when he was supposed to be at his English lessons. The boy was missing for several months until, thankfully, he was found again in a different part of the country, having been trafficked again. After he was rescued for a second time, his foster carer asked him what had happened. He told her that his traffickers had been ringing him on his mobile phone telling him to meet them on the corner of the street. He had been terrified, so did as he was told.
Stories such as this demonstrate that children who have been trafficked are in desperate need of special care due to the particular dangers that they face. Last September, GRETA, the treaty monitoring body for the Council of Europe anti-trafficking convention, published its first report on the UK’s compliance with the convention, which I commend to your Lordships. Among its recommendations, GRETA urged the British authorities to take steps to address this very problem.
In closing, perhaps I may remind your Lordships’ House of our deliberations on the Protection of Freedoms Bill in February 2012. During that debate, I highlighted the problems which rescued trafficked children face, particularly the large number of rescued trafficked children who are lost while in local authority care. I put forward an amendment to provide for a legal advocate for trafficked children to accompany, support and advocate for a child victim from the moment he or she is discovered. On that occasion, I withdrew my proposed amendment in the light of assurances from the Minister that our care for trafficked children would be examined. I welcome the research into the practical care arrangements for trafficked children that has been commissioned by the Refugee Council and the Children’s Society and eagerly await publication of the review, which is due next month. The Minister can be confident that I will be reading it very carefully and looking to the Government to respond, taking appropriately robust action in this Session of Parliament.
My Lords, I hope that the words of the noble Lord, Lord McColl, will not be forgotten; I greatly support him.
I shall speak today about children and young people and education. I will suggest that a strategy for youth is long overdue. Such a strategy would involve uniting elements of young people’s health, education, employment and other services. I am pleased that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, is to respond to this debate—somehow, for it is an unenviable task—because I think that he genuinely understands the importance of structures and systems working together.
The gracious Speech last week referred to the Government’s commitment to a fairer society where aspiration and responsibility are rewarded, to giving every child the best start in life regardless of background, to improving the quality of education and bringing forward plans for a new national curriculum, to helping working parents with childcare, and to encouraging those leaving school to go on to further education or into training.
On further education and training, a recent UNICEF report comparing child well-being across 29 richer countries highlighted that the UK has the lowest further education participation rate in the advanced world—I declare an interest as a trustee of UNICEF UK. It is clear that an emphasis on FE and training for young people must be a priority and I hope that it will be. The Children and Families Bill, which will be with this House shortly, covers a vast range of issues concerned with child well-being. I look forward to debating those and sharing perceptions on that Bill across this very knowledgeable House.
Today, I shall touch on issues of curriculum and education. Curriculum and education are of course not the same. Education is about fostering a love of learning and ambition, while the curriculum is a list of topics. I was a teacher myself once; I taught modern foreign languages. I am all for high academic standards, but I would also want to foster curiosity in young people, to encourage personal awareness and skills and to encourage discussion of religion and cultural values. I would want to give opportunities for young people’s sporting and artistic talents. I share the concerns of my noble friend Lady Billingham about the dangerous inroads being made into sport for young people. Having said that, I applaud the Lord’s Taverners’ Chance to Shine initiative, which continues to flourish.
I am also acutely aware that some young people need security and confidence in themselves before they can learn. I was interested to see the Youth Parliament announce earlier this month a campaign to support what it called preparation for life. It is after all made up of people experiencing education. It said that the focus of the proposed change in education is mainly within academic subjects—the curriculum again—at the expense of other skills essential for life. The Youth Parliament asserts that young people need to know about communities, politics, finance, sex and relationships, and cultural diversity and that it is not enough to expect parents to provide this knowledge; it must be taught in schools. I agree with that.
These skills need not be curriculum subjects in their own right, but they must be offered in school policies and the school ethos: in assemblies, in relationships within and outside the school and across subjects in the school. Such skills must be incorporated into certain subjects. They may also be offered by specialists—not necessarily teachers—in the school, as sessions in the timetable. They may include issues such as volunteering, local and national politics, how the police and other services work, and so on. Information must of course be appropriate to the age of the child and must not be one-off. Just one assembly on drugs is certainly not enough, for example. The different phases of growing up demand different content and approaches. It is interesting that the soft skills, as they are called, are also appreciated by the CBI and employers, who want their workface to be able to act in teams and be good communicators—a long way away from a rigid curriculum.
A new report by Ofsted evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of personal, social and health education in primary and secondary schools in England. I want to dwell on that for a few minutes. Ofsted expressed concern that sex and relationships education,
“required improvement in over a third of schools, leaving some children and young people unprepared for the physical and emotional changes they will experience during puberty, and later when they grow up and form adult relationships”.
Ofsted was also concerned that such a lack of sex and relationships education might leave young people,
“vulnerable to inappropriate sexual behaviours and exploitation”.
We cannot forget nowadays the problems as well as the wonders of the internet and its influence on young people. Young people must not be left uninformed and without the confidence and skills to recognise exploitation. Of course, they are also susceptible to alcohol and drug misuse, which was spoken of earlier. Again, they need the knowledge and skills to combat inappropriate risk taking.
The Ofsted report also quotes a significant DfE research report stating that children with higher levels of emotional, behavioural, social and school well-being have higher levels of academic achievement. I for one am not at all surprised by that, so I hope that the Government will make it clear that these issues—these soft skills—are important and must be taught in schools. If they are not, children might be deprived of vital information and the skills to protect themselves.
I said at the beginning that I would make a plea for a government strategy on youth that involved young people in its development. That would be a wonderful opportunity to prove that dialogue works. Such a strategy for youth might include issues around guaranteed services for young people—for example, health and education; it might include guarantees of the availability of sport and leisure, including the arts; it might flag up the rights and responsibilities of young people as citizens; and it might encourage engagement in the political process. I maintain that young people are special and that too often they are demonised when we all know of wonderful, kind, positive young people. They should be given a prominent voice in decisions about their own welfare. They clearly can and want to be involved. Perhaps the Government can take a lead in engaging young people in developing such a strategy. Perhaps then education and involvement in the institutions of our society, such as politics, would become more meaningful.
My Lords, I will speak about those aspects of the gracious Speech that support people saving for retirement and the important ongoing reform of state pension provision. Obviously, the focus of the coalition is to get the British economy back on an even keel, but we should not forget the important social reforms that it has undertaken, and those in the pension field are, in my view, outstanding.
Most of the pension objectives set out in the coalition agreement have been implemented: the triple lock for state pension enhancements; the review of the sustainability of public service pensions, which has largely been agreed; the raising of the state pension retirement age and the phasing out of the default retirement age; and the launch of auto-enrolment. Most of these policies were derived from the implementation of the pensions commission’s recommendations, initiated by the previous Government. The gracious Speech brings forward further reforms: a new single-tier state pension to simplify and create a fairer system designed to encourage more retirement saving; the increase of the pension age to 67 in 2026-28 and the formalisation of a permanent system for reviewing the retirement age in future; the reform of bereavement benefits; and the automatic transfer of smaller pension pots.
These are important reforms and they have benefited from the continuity and determination of our work and pensions ministerial team: Iain Duncan Smith, my noble friend Lord Freud and Steve Webb. It must be significant that they have been together for three years. They have apparently resisted efforts to break them up and are now getting into their stride, concentrating not just on getting legislation through but tackling the central importance of delivery on pensions and welfare generally in the second half of the coalition Government. I have been reading Jack Straw’s autobiography; I always like to understand how admirers of Liberal Democrats work and think. One of the examples he gives of not-so-good government is that the previous Government, in one nine-year period, had nine Secretaries of State for Work and Pensions. The coalition has learnt that lesson in the interests of better government, just as the Liberal Democrats have learnt the importance of discipline in coalition.
I agreed with every word that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, said on the single-tier state pension and social care. Fixing the single-tier state pension at the level for means-tested benefits will greatly simplify pension provision and end a system whereby 46% of pensioners currently rely on means-tested benefits while 33% of those entitled to claim do not do so. It also recognises the huge problem we have with pension saving and the incentives to save. In 2011, 30% of 35 to 64 year-olds made no pension provision. Activists in pension schemes fell from 12 million in 1967 to 8.2 million in 2011. It is therefore essential that the new single-tier pension will complement the auto-enrolment reform that is being phased in.
There will be transitional difficulties with the ending of contracting out, especially with the imposition of particular costs on defined benefit schemes. Legislation must provide for a statutory override that supports private sector employers coping with these problems. Steve Webb has clearly convinced the Prime Minister of his concerns. We should have confidence in his ability to guide us through these difficulties.
I was less in agreement with the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, on her view that seems to resist the further raising of the state pension age. Some 33% of children born in 2012 are expected to live to 100. By all predictions, at least 95,000 of those reaching 65 this year will celebrate their 100th birthday in 2048. Longevity and active living are increasing. I agree with the noble Baroness that, in making decisions on raising the state pension age, we should consider the quality of retirement as well as its length, and also the social inequalities that arise in retirement. We need a formal process to arrive at consensus about what is the right and appropriate state pension age. I believe that that is what the Government are seeking to do.
It is also important that pension reform must lead us to encourage the easy transfer of small pension pots between pension schemes, but we must ensure that people are not transferring their pension pots to poorer providers. Now that these key reforms are coming into place, we need to concentrate on the protection of individual pension provision and the paramount need to maintain consumer confidence in investors and saving institutions. There remains strong cynicism and an enormous lack of understanding about costs and investment risk. This area has to be regulated and reformed to encourage more saving.
I hope that the Government and the regulators will look again at the whole concept of fiduciary duties of investors to ensure that they act only in the best interests of pension clients. We will need a culture of trust, confidence and respect in pension management. That must recognise that more people will be dependent on contract-based pension schemes, rather than of those such as NEST, which have had trustee basis for their governance. We have to continue to anticipate these problems so that our worst fears are never realised.
My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, and to comment on the Government’s commitment to people who save for retirement and to create a single-tier pension. People save for their retirement through the compulsory national insurance system, through auto-enrolment into workplace pensions and through an active decision voluntarily to save more than is delivered by auto-enrolment. Achieving a sustainable and fair pension system that delivers desirable outcomes for people requires a holistic approach across both the state and the private pension system.
The Government’s single-tier pension reforms are evolutionary, in that they continue at a faster rate than reforms commenced by the previous Labour Government in 2010. They will certainly deliver a higher state pension sooner for many women and carers and those on lower incomes. That is surely to be welcomed.
The state pension will always form a greater part of the retirement income of carers, who, as a consequence of their caring responsibilities, will spend longer periods out of the labour market or participate for fewer hours. It is regrettable, therefore, that the Government continue to exclude an ever-growing number of part-time working women from the benefits of auto-enrolment into a private pension.
Pensions are very long-term, and it is important that there is a consensus across the political spectrum about the long-term intention for pension policy. Otherwise, we will simply revert to the mistakes of the past, when successive Governments over decades took incremental decisions which contributed to an increasing dependency on means-tested benefits and to the huge decline in private pension savings, which can be seen from the early 1980s.
The single-tier pension will mean winners and losers, as changes normally do. It will be important when we consider the Bill fully to understand those trade-offs and whether, for the losers, the loss is fair and proportionate. The introduction of the single-tier pension is intended to strengthen the firm foundation for private pension savings and reduce reliance on means-tested benefits. Both are desirable, but a single-tier pension does not of itself achieve those intentions, as was acknowledged by the Government in their report, The Single Tier Pension: A Simple Foundation for Savings, which states that the starting level and uprating for the single-tier pension will have significant implications for what can be asserted about gainers and losers. The state pension must hold its value against earnings over the long term if ordinary people are to have a realistic prospect of achieving a reasonable replacement income in retirement.
Increasing the state pension age in the face of increasing life expectancy is part of a sustainable pension system. Reports from the Government Actuary on trends in life expectancy will inform the Government’s view of that age, but it is less clear how much importance will be given to the report of the independent panel reviewing additional factors such as socioeconomic differences in morbidity and mortality. Those are matters of considerable significance when setting public policy. As my noble friend Lady Hollis powerfully articulated, it would be most unfair to ignore them.
As to private pensions, there are some most welcome actions proposed by the Government, such as banning consultancy charges for auto-enrolment schemes, tackling charges generally and the abolition of short service refunds. With auto-enrolment, pension policy cannot rely on caveat emptor. Auto-enrolment is predicated on the behavioural insight that, for many people, improved information will not overcome the inertia that prevents their actively choosing to save for a pension. Furthermore, the pension chosen for auto-enrolment is a decision made by the employer, not the worker. A consequence of using inertia to raise pension saving levels—that is to say, not relying on people actively to choose to save—is that ordinary savers will have even less power and influence over the operation of that market. Therefore, it is welcome to see the Government indicating a greater willingness to set minimum standards.
There are many regulators in the private pension space—the FCA, the OFT, the TPR and the DWP—and the Government may not want to change the organisational architecture, but the need for enhanced co-operation between them is essential. The FSA’s proposals to allow employers to negotiate consultancy charges with their advisers and for those to be deducted from their employees’ pension costs were clearly not in savers’ interests and did not sit well with the messages coming from the pensions regulator. In workplace pensions offered by insurance companies, there remain significant governance challenges. No single regulator or government department has responsibility for ensuring that contract-based schemes provide value for money and a high standard of governance. Too much reliance on disclosure of information will not produce those. The majority of savers will struggle to process and act on the information provided, and the overwhelming majority will not make active decisions but end up in the default fund.
I hope that the Government will be brave and use their powers under the Pensions Acts 2008 and 2011 to set up more highly specified minimum quality requirements. I accept that it is reassuring that the Government have already announced their intention to consult on the OFT findings on the working of the pensions market, to be published later this year.
Finally, defined benefit pension provision in the private sector is, for the most part, in managed decline. The new duty on the pensions regulator to minimise any adverse impact on the sustainable growth of an employer raises concerns. The setting of prudent discount rates, for example, remains a key battleground—I make no apology for using that phrase—between trustees and employers. Trustees have to give proper consideration when setting deficit recovery plans. There is real tension between the very long-term funding requirements of a defined benefit pension scheme, the importance of the employer covenant being good for the funding of that scheme for decades to come, and the five-year horizon that many companies work to when making corporate decisions. The cases of Nortel and Lehman Brothers, going through the Supreme Court at the moment, are good case studies of such tension.
My Lords, as my contribution is relatively brief, perhaps I may take half a minute to say how much I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, who, alas, is not in his place at the moment, on the importance of early years—the first two years of a child’s life—and the influence that that can have on the whole of the rest of the child’s life. It will also become apparent as I say my little piece that I closely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, who, alas, is also not in a place. These things will happen.
The gracious Speech looks forward to further development of the Government’s policy on education. During the past year, major changes have been made to education policy and much more emphasis has rightly been placed on the basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy. Perhaps more importantly, a new and much more prescriptive national curriculum has now been introduced and will effectively be mandatory in all maintained schools. However, for all other subjects and for all extra-curricular activities in a school, it will be up to the school, its head and the governing body to decide the school’s priorities.
The Secretary of State, who I greatly admire, is rightly searching for greater rigour in teaching the basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy. This makes absolute sense. I can also see that there is a case for a new and compulsory national curriculum but I fear that the Government’s proposals for it may give rise to some unintended and undesirable consequences. My first concern is that there is a real danger that in some schools the compulsory and more demanding new curriculum may crowd out other facets of education. My second is about the possible effect of a more demanding curriculum on the self-esteem and self-confidence of less academically talented children.
On the first point, each school’s resources are finite in terms of both finance and well qualified staff. Each maintained school has the same per capita payment for every pupil on its roll, plus a further payment for every child from a disadvantaged background. This additional payment has, I am happy to say, recently been raised from £400 to £600 a year. However, there is a real danger that schools will decide that they have no option but to spend what it takes to deliver the new national curriculum—and then, if there is not much left, that is just too bad. I am particularly concerned that this may happen in schools with a high proportion of children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Inevitably, some of those children—perhaps many—will take far longer to learn the new compulsory national curriculum than children from more supportive families. I very much doubt whether the £600 bonus per child for disadvantaged children will be anything like enough to cover the extra cost of bringing children from a disadvantaged background up to speed on the proposed new academic curriculum, let alone leaving much over for all the other important subjects about which the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, spoke: drama, sport, the PSHE curriculum, citizenship and personal and social skills.
My second concern relates to self-confidence. One of the most important roles of schooling, particularly in a society where so many families are dysfunctional, is to build each child’s sense of self-worth. In a report three years ago, Ofsted looked at two groups of schools that it had rated “outstanding” in spite of being located in very disadvantaged communities. Importantly, Ofsted, which was looking for what was common to all those schools, found that among them a brilliant headmaster was important, as were dedicated staff, but what particularly interested me was that in each of those schools, every child believed that they could succeed. Self-confidence is an essential building block for a child’s success, in school and in life. I fear that the national curriculum may be a disaster for some children, if it means that they have to be set academic hurdles at which they are not able to succeed.
My Lords, I wish to confine my remarks to social care support, particularly for people with autism. A commission on autism and ageing on which I served, and which was chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, was told that most people with autism in this country are adults and that most are undiagnosed. Autism was identified in the 1940s and the first generation to be diagnosed is therefore now moving into old age. As a consequence, very little is known about the impact of autism on ageing, and vice versa, but we know that autism is not rare. It is estimated that 1% of the population have an autism spectrum disorder, while some 70% of those diagnosed are not receiving the help that they need from social services.
Far too many adults with autism are still waiting for the everyday support that they need, so the purpose of the commission of the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, is to build on the work of the National Autistic Society and advise on the policy changes required to ensure that people with autism can access the right support as they get older and that they have equal access to older people’s services. Here, I should declare an interest as a vice-president of the National Autistic Society.
The society’s research shows that local authorities often do not identify adults with autism living in their area and do not plan and commission services to meet their needs. As a result, many fall into the gap between mental health services and learning disability services. Too often, people with autism find that they do not fit into existing structures. I am reminded that, in my 20 years as a councillor, too often when I took up a case on behalf of a constituent I would be told by an official, “Sorry, councillor, he/she falls through the net”. But who created the net? Well, we did—councillors, parliamentarians and the Government. We created the net that so many people fall through.
This year, however, there are two major opportunities to begin to change this. First, the Government are reviewing the adult autism strategy. This is a chance to assess progress on implementing the strategy so far and to identify and remove barriers preventing the much needed transformation of services to support adults with autism. Secondly, in the Queen’s Speech we have the Care Bill, which promises a fairer system for adults with disabilities. It is a good start, but it, too, can be improved. This Care Bill is important, as it relates to social care laws for adults and will provide the framework for adult care and support services in the future. I hope that the Bill will ensure that the duties covered by the statutory guidance in the Autism Act continue to apply to local authorities and the National Health Service.
Social care must no longer be a service of last resort. Under the current system, too many people become eligible for support only when their needs become acute and they require intensive, high-level care and crisis management. Research by the National Autistic Society shows that only 10% of people with autism receive social skills training, yet 55% would like to receive it; that only 10% of people with autism receive employment support, but 53% would like to receive it; and that just 17% of people with autism have access to a social group, yet 42% would like to. Many adults with autism would benefit greatly from low-level services such as befriending or social skills training, which would help them to avoid isolation and allow them to participate in society. A lack of access to these services can have a devastating impact. A third of adults with autism who responded to a
National Autistic Society survey said that they had developed serious mental health problems as a result of lack of support.
Crucially, evidence from the National Audit Office shows that providing low-level services is cost-effective and prevents people from developing more complex problems. Its report stated:
“Beside the negative impact of such crises on a person’s life, acute services are also expensive, with inpatient mental health care costing between £200 and £300 per day”.
I want the Care Bill to guarantee that local authorities are under a duty to identify people with low-level needs to prevent and delay further needs accruing. They must also be held accountable for the exercise of these duties.
Many adults with autism are not eligible for support under the current system, leaving their needs unmet. The National Autistic Society, as a local service provider, knows that community care assessments can vary depending on where you live and on who assesses you. I therefore welcome the Government’s proposal to introduce national minimum eligibility criteria so that people will be assessed on the same set of criteria across the country. However, in order for the new system to be fair for people with autism, the Government must ensure that social and communication needs are given equal weight to physical needs in the eligibility assessment. The new eligibility threshold must be equivalent to moderate needs under the current system. This is essential if the Government are to succeed in their stated aim to prevent or delay care needs developing and to support people when they need care. Better we do that than intervene only at crisis point.
The National Autistic Society, Scope, Mencap, Leonard Cheshire Disability and Sense have produced a joint report, supported by economic modelling by Deloitte, which shows the cost savings that can be made by investing in support for people with moderate needs. Many people with autism can make a valuable contribution to the workplace, but they must be supported to do so. This can mean full-time or part-time employment, supported employment, internships or work experience. At present, far too many people with autism are missing out on the opportunity to fulfil their ambition and potential, while society is missing out on their talents. Just 15% of people with autism are in full-time employment. Furthermore, 26% of graduates with autism are unemployed, which is by far the highest rate of any disability group. As many as 79% of people with autism on unemployment benefits say that they want to work but need support to retain full-time employment.
We cannot change these things overnight, but the figures that I have given show just how far we have yet to travel. Indeed, we have a great opportunity to start to make a difference so that people who are disadvantaged in the way that people with autism are disadvantaged can enjoy the opportunities that those of us in this House have enjoyed throughout our lives and, indeed, the opportunities that most people in this country take for granted.
Let no one believe that the Care Bill is the light at the end of the tunnel. It is not that but, coupled with the Autism Act, it is our chance at least to see the tunnel entrance. I hope that, through the Care Bill, we will establish ways in which people with autism can enter and remain in employment. I hope that the Government will be open to working with noble Lords on all sides of the House to make sure that the Care Bill succeeds, but I also hope that the Government are open to helping to make it a better Bill, which I am sure the contribution of noble Lords across the House will do.
My Lords, among the many briefs that I received before and after the gracious Speech, there is one from the BMA indicating its initial response to a number of proposals in the Queen’s Speech that impact on health and healthcare. While welcoming the Care Bill, which has been promised for some time, I am not sure whether the House would have tolerated any more healthcare legislation. However, I am aware of the recent statements in the popular press claiming that soaring charges have caused a fifth of people to give up going to their dentist, that as many as 500,000 patients have been wrongly told they must pay privately for treatment, and that the surge in the sales of dental kits in pharmacies is risking 200,000 DIY dentists harming themselves. I do not recognise these problems, but they must be addressed. I hope that your Lordships will allow some brief comments about the current general dental services, which provide free treatment for all children and nearly one-third of adult patients and have enabled 1.25 million more people to see an NHS dentist than in May 2010.
Having worked as a dental surgeon for more than 40 years, and declaring that interest, I welcome the progress that the Government have made in piloting a new NHS dental contract in line with the undertaking that was given in the coalition agreement. September 2011 saw the beginning of piloting of a new contract, based on registration, capitation and quality, with a focus on the quality of clinical outcomes and on promoting a preventive approach to oral health. Seventy practices were involved.
Building on this work, the Government recently embarked on a further stage of piloting, involving a larger number of dental practices. There are now 98 practices taking part, testing how the different elements of a proposed contract can work together most effectively to deliver the Department of Health’s goals of improved access to dental services and improved oral health. So far, the feedback from staff and patients taking part in the pilots has been largely positive, and I hope that it will not be too much longer before the department is in a position to begin discussions with the profession on the details of the new contact. I commend the Government for taking the time to get these reforms right.
These reforms have transformed the commissioning of dental services. Although dentists have been largely supportive of the shift to central commissioning by NHS England, there are concerns that the transition to the new structures has not gone as smoothly as it might. Dentists do not know who to engage with in the 27 NHS England area teams and the teams have yet to develop a consistent approach for working with local dental committees, which are a valuable source of up-to-date local information. Additionally, there is concern that local professional networks are not being allocated the funding necessary to enable them to provide the detailed clinical advice that NHS England’s dental commissioners will require from them. There are also worries that currently Public Health England has an insufficient number of consultants in dental public health to deliver on the aims set out in the public health outcomes framework. All of these teething troubles will need to be addressed if the Government want the NHS reforms to deliver real improvements to the population’s oral health.
At the end of last month, it was announced that NHS England is setting up a task group to look at how to improve dental services and outcomes for hard-to-reach groups. This is a very welcome initiative. The British Dental Association recently published a report on the future of salaried primary dental care services, the part of the NHS that provides dental care to special care patients who present challenges that can prevent them being treated in general practice. This report highlighted a series of issues, including a lack of funding, inadequate provision of facilities and a predicted increase in demand for this service, which will need to be overcome if the needs of these patients are to continue to be met. I hope that this is one of the issues that NHS England will be able to address as a matter of urgency, perhaps through the new task group.
Recent changes to decontamination requirements have also been welcomed by dentists. The new requirements, which include an extension to the shelf life of wrapped instruments, will continue to ensure patient safety while making more reasonable demands of dental practices. Dentists have also welcomed the Department of Health’s recent confirmation that a full review of the guidance will take place by the end of 2014, and I hope that the Minister will soon be in a position to say when this review is going to commence.
I would like to draw the Minister’s attention to the ongoing issue of the annual shortage of foundation training places for UK dental graduates. I appreciate that this is an extremely difficult issue to resolve, but it cannot be right that this year 185 applicants, many of whom will have studied in UK dental schools at a cost to the public purse in the region of £155,000 each, will have to endure months of anxiety that their career in dentistry is over before it has even started on account of there being insufficient foundation training places available. Without this training, it will not be possible for any of these students to take up jobs providing NHS dentistry after they graduate. I know that the Minister will do all he can for each of these students, and I expect that places will be found for many of them in the coming months. I hope that it will also be possible to find a long-term solution to this issue, so that future dental students will be spared deep uncertainty at a time when all of their attention should be focused on doing as well as possible in their final exams.
In conclusion, I shall make some comments on the statutory regulation of the practitioners of herbal medicine which was briefly discussed in Grand Committee on
“kindly intercede on our behalf with the Department of Health to find out what is happening with our promised statutory regulation”.
His reply stated that,
“the Department of Health expects to consult on draft legislation to establish a statutory register of people who are authorised to supply unlicensed herbal medicines and for legislation to be in place by 2013”.
After a series of consultations, the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, announced in February 2011 that he had decided to ask the Health and Care Professions Council to establish a statutory register for practitioners supplying unlicensed herbal medicines. Nothing has happened.
It is rumoured that the Minister now concerned with this regulation, Dr Dan Poulter, is set on making an announcement on regulation without properly consulting representatives from the herbal medicines profession, who now believe that the 2011 decision is about to be reversed. The move to statutory regulation has been endorsed by the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology, by two Department of Health-sponsored steering groups under independent chairs and by the overwhelming majority of the public, who responded in huge numbers to two public consultations. My noble friend has been very helpful with meetings, letters and general advice. I hope that he will be able to update noble Lords on the current situation and confirm that representatives from his department will do all they can to meet in order to discuss and enable this long-promised legislation.
My Lords, I had intended to speak on the draft care and support Bill and to deal with some of the positives in it, as well as some of the issues in the interface between health and social services. I had also intended to deal with the crisis in A&E departments and, inter alia, to be critical of the absence of Bills on important public health issues such as tobacco and the minimum pricing of alcohol. However, my noble friends Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and Lady Wheeler, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Patel, said all I wished to say on that, so I will not take up the time of the House by repeating it, save to say that I agreed with every word.
I will spend a little time on the issue of nurses and nursing. The image of the profession has taken something of a battering in the past few months. As a nurse I am saddened by the adverse publicity arising from Winterbourne View and Mid Staffs, among other places. There have been some shocking, inexcusable examples of bad nursing. I have no time for it; such staff should not be caring for the sick and vulnerable. They have no place in the health and caring services. However, the whole profession should not be made to carry the guilt for a few bad eggs. The opprobrium is not deserved because the vast majority are working their socks off every shift in increasingly difficult circumstances.
The Minister rightly said that,
“what went wrong at Mid Staffs was not typical of our NHS and … the vast majority of doctors and nurses give excellent care day in, day out. We must make sure that the system does not crush the innate sense of decency and compassion that drives people to give their lives to the NHS”.—[ Official Report , 26/3/13; col. 968.]
I could not agree more with these sentiments. My hope is that his words will resonate throughout the boardrooms of the service because it is clear that it is all too easy to slip into the sad state of affairs that was clearly evident at Mid Staffordshire.
It is clear from the Francis report that there are issues for nursing. The noble Lord, Lord Willis, said in the introduction to his report, Quality and Compassion: The Future of Nurse Education, that,
“there has been insufficient political or professional will to implement past recommendations”.
However, the big announcement from government was to propose something not recommended in the Francis report: having potential nurses working as healthcare assistants for a year before entering formal education. I cannot see where that idea came from, because there was no criticism of nurse education in Francis. Yet the Government ignored recommendations in the report that a registered specialist status should be created for the nursing care of older people, and ignored the recommendation that HCAs should have compulsory registration. Trusts are to be free to decide whether to have ward sisters spending more time on the ward and nurses more time at the bedside.
Recommendation 209 in the report, on a registration system for healthcare assistants, could not have been stronger. It is supported by most HCAs and is meat and drink to me because it reflects almost exactly the policy of my old union at the time of Project 2000. In supporting the move of nursing education into academia and the ending of the old enrolled nurse training, as it then was, we wanted a new second-level nurse and a fully qualified, accountable service for patients.
That did not happen, but wheels turn full circle and the same debate that we led then is now being rerun. There was an interesting letter to the Times on
Piloting such an idea for HCAs would fit far better with the ethos of the Francis report than the fence-sitting, “we have not ruled out regulation and registration” approach taken by the Government. The Camilla Cavendish report is unlikely to go along with regulation and registration because that was not included in her terms of reference. However, I hope that she will still support the idea. She used to write pieces supporting registration, unless my memory is playing tricks.
I go back to the Government’s proposals that aspirant student nurses work for a year as HCAs, and to their spat with the Royal College of Nursing. The college does not need me to defend it. I have never been a member. When I started my nurse training, the college did not admit men into membership, so I joined another union and ended up as its general-secretary many years later. However, much more united these rival organisations for nurses than ever divided us. It is a bit thin, unpleasant and lacking in resonance for the Secretary of State to attack the college in the way that he did because it dared to disagree with the proposal that student nurses should first work as HCAs for a year.
The Secretary of State seeks to use the Francis recommendation about the RCN as a fig leaf. Staff organisations are entitled to give a considered response and to advocate on any proposals made by Governments that will have an effect on nurses and nursing, particularly when they have not been consulted in the first place. For the Department of Health to suggest that the RCN or anyone else who opposes such an idea lacks credibility is nonsense, not least because it appears that the idea of a year as an HCA before entering nurse education is the sort of policy that might have been thought up in front of the metaphorical shaving mirror.
It is not easy to separate professional issues from what might be referred to as pay and rations. It is right that the Royal College and UNISON should ask questions about where the funding will come from for this idea; where the supervision and mentorship are going to come from; where the vacancies are, if any; and whether these people will come within the Agenda for Change pay structure. They are right to point out the risk that they will pick up bad habits and, as we used to put it, the risk of “learning with Nellie”. They are right to ask whether the idea will work at all and whether it will lead to a better nurse than would be the case if the Francis recommendations were taken up instead. Above all, nursing organisations need to be consulted and involved before such announcements are considered or made. Enhancing the status of the profession and looking after pay and conditions can sometimes be separated and sometimes not. As General Secretary of my old union, I set up a professional department for precisely that reason.
I repeat that it cannot be right that the thrust of the problems facing the NHS is laid at the door of the nursing profession. Let us have a proper look at mandatory staffing ratios. Let us get ward sisters back on the ward, taking clinical charge. Let us get student nurses doing what Francis recommended, and find a way to ensure that there is hands-on practice during the three years of university education.
The Government have said some of the right things, post-Francis, on tightening up accountability, duty of candour for providers—although, as many others say, that needs to go further—and introducing the concept of a chief inspector for hospitals. I would like to see that post being held by a nurse, and to see the Government follow through as rapidly as possible in cutting the paperwork burden that nurses endure at the moment. I want to see nurse leaders in trusts responsible and accountable for the delivery of nursing care. They should not have several other portfolios added to their role. And yes—the nursing profession needs to challenge, perhaps more that it has ever done, and to stand on its professional feet. But there has to be a cultural change in the service as well, and Governments, managers and boards have to listen.
In conclusion, I hope that the Government listen and engage with nursing organisations on all these challenges that face the NHS, and in particular that of delivering consistent quality care.
My Lords, I entered your Lordships’ House in 1998, and at the first gracious Speech debate that I attended one word was never uttered—and it was probably not uttered until about 2000. Now it is one of the most commonly used words in political conversations, and one which we ask for if it is missing from legislation. That is the word “sustainable”. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Redesdale referred to it in relation to the water Bill. It can be used carelessly to mean anything from “nice” to “environmental”, or to cloak things in greenwash. But in its true sense it is a vital word to help us to frame legislation. We will certainly need to debate exactly what its definition should be now. With most of the Bills in this Session—certainly the water Bill, the Energy Bill and the legislation on HS2—we will need to consider whether the definition that we explored and put into legislation under the previous Government is still fit for purpose. Luckily, help is at hand to update and redefine the concept, because the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management has just issued a report, Reframing Sustainable Development. That new report should be required reading for all of us before we embark on a debate about what sustainability means with regard to many of the Bills in the gracious Speech.
When the concept of sustainability first came to be widely debated in this Chamber during the passage of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, we talked about it as having three elements. We likened it to a three-legged stool, with social, economic and environmental legs. That was a useful start in the thinking. This Government have made good progress in developing that thinking and deepening the understanding of the interplay between environmental, social and economic factors. For example, they have established the Natural Capital Committee and national ecosystems assessments. But we need to recognise that environmental limits are the ultimate constraint to social and economic development. Much of today’s debate has concentrated on those elements. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, who is not in his place, made quite a play of ridiculing the environmental aspects, or, as he called them, the “green” aspects. But even he must realise that the planet has finite limits. Indeed, his speech reminded me of the words of Benjamin Disraeli, who said that it is easier to be critical than to be correct. I am sorry that the noble Lord is not in his place, but I shall engage him in conversation about that later.
The report of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management states:
“To be sustainable an action must not lead, or contribute, to depletion of a finite resource or use of a resource exceeding its regeneration rate”.
That definition is going to be very useful as the Government examine the various intensive livestock proposals. If they examine them under a proper definition of sustainable, they will be looking at the whole carbon cycle—and that is just for a start. The intensive livestock proposals are very complex, particularly when you look at the whole carbon cycle. They also involve things such as the disease risks, land use questions, animal welfare issues, and even the nutritional quality of the product. We need to begin government guidance on these issues by thinking about whether our definition of sustainable is fit for purpose.
That is also so with government procurement, and procurement in your Lordships’ Chamber. Many of us in this Chamber have a mobile phone, a computer or a laptop, myself included. We see from the recent report from the Gaia Foundation and Friends of the Earth, Short Circuit, the roll call of the metals and minerals needed to make these gadgets. Many of them are rare minerals, and thousands of hectares of land, forest, pasture and mountain are stripped bare in the search for them. Our gadgets are literally costing the earth. But we need only to demand that they be recycled efficiently, and we can transpose the directives about end-of-life use to see to that, and make sure that they are manufactured in a way that allows this. Then at least there would be something like a 70% reduction in the mining effort to procure the minerals. That is an example of the new way of thinking that we need to adopt on these issues. It is not just all about legislation.
In the time remaining, I want to talk about schools and nutrition in schools. Several noble Lords have mentioned the importance of early years provision. I am very pleased that in the previous Session the Government introduced more guidance on early years nutrition. Therefore, I was outraged to hear in February the head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, belittle school governors for spending far too much time,
“looking at the quality of school lunches”.
He said that many had their priorities wrong and ignored fundamental aspects of education such as teaching standards, student behaviour and school culture and instead spent their time worrying about “marginal” issues such as school lunches. Sir Michael’s comments completely ignore all the research: for example, that of Michèle Belot of Oxford University, work that directly correlates nutrition and higher achievement. Having decent food is the first step in being able to learn. Indeed, Ofsted itself commented in 2010 on the importance of nutrition.
The Government took an immensely important step when they reintroduced cookery to the school curriculum in the previous Session. They recognised the tremendous work of the School Food Trust, now the Children’s Food Trust. I hope that emphasis on the importance of early years nutrition will continue. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will have a word with Sir Michael, who is busy swimming in the wrong direction on this matter.
I was saddened to discover that the Department for Education has just downgraded the gardening and horticulture element of the B.Tech. On the one hand, the Government recognise the future challenges of food production and our position as a world leader in horticultural innovation and practice, yet the Department for Education takes this vicious swipe at the very roots from which this expertise grows. I ask the Government to have a rethink on that. The importance for our future food production cannot be overemphasised. I wish to emphasise the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, about the importance of well qualified young people going into agriculture.
My Lords, I had intended to speak on welfare or health but on Saturday evening, travelling back north on the M1, I underwent a conversion and decided to speak on culture, specifically sport. I was able to exchange my views on welfare with the Minister during a recent visit to our universal credit pathfinder and my sentiments on health have been adequately expressed by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and others.
The power of sport in our society was clearly demonstrated on the very day of the gracious Speech when the media chose not to be dominated by the Government’s legislative programme but by the retirement of a football manager. Mind you, he was the most famous or, in some people’s eyes, the most infamous football manager at the most famous football club in the world.
As many in your Lordships’ House are aware, I am leader of Wigan council and can give another example of the power of sport. When Wigan got through to the FA Cup Final, we were working with the club on a campaign entitled “Believe in Wigan”. That slogan rang true on Saturday evening when Wigan achieved its historic win in its first ever cup final. I want to place on record my appreciation of the work of the chairman of Wigan Athletic, Dave Whelan, and his fellow directors, and of the manager, Roberto Martinez, and the players for a wonderful victory. We believed and we came through. My only regret was that there were no local elections in Wigan this year as I am sure that, if there had been, we would have won even more convincingly than we normally do.
Sport makes a huge contribution to this country which goes far beyond the obvious benefits of the health and well-being of those participating in it. It has a major economic impact. Recent research in Greater Manchester shows that football alone contributes about £333 million to the Greater Manchester economy. Over four years, that is equivalent to the impact of London 2012 on the country, so we can see the effect it has on GVA. The Manchester brand is recognised throughout the world, largely due to Manchester United. The FA Cup Final has an audience of more than 600 million worldwide. Wigan’s appearance in the FA Cup meant that it had access to that audience and we want to try to exploit that.
Sport can also have a big influence on disaffected young people in our society by attracting members of this difficult group to engage with education, health activities and anti-crime initiatives. All professional clubs, certainly the three in my borough—Wigan Athletic and the two Rugby League clubs: Wigan Warriors and Leigh Centurions—all have extensive community programmes which enable young people to get involved in sport. That works very well in deprived parts of the borough.
I commend the work that is done by the voluntary sports sector which provides not just facilities for young people but also creates community capacity. In many of the most difficult parts of Wigan, probably the only community activity that is going on is the local sporting club. These clubs engage with the community and provide facilities. It is heart-warming to see what they do. They work largely with the council but also on their own. We set up a Wigan sports council and it was terrifically successful at gaining funding to improve facilities. We are now trying to work with those communities and the clubs. As austerity means that there will be a very different form of public provision—whether that is right or wrong, we need to accept that not as much provision will be done by public authorities such as local authorities—we need to make sure that people and communities are strong enough to make their own contributions. We will try to use our sporting clubs to get people more healthy and engaged in that, and to tell people that they can do things for themselves and demonstrate it through their sporting clubs.
Although I am sure it was pleasing for the Government to see the increase in participation in sport following 2012, and some 750,000 more people were engaged in sport, we cannot afford to be too complacent, particularly as one of the key target groups, young people between 16 and 25, was actually unchanged. We need not only to sustain the level of increase but—if we are going to match the best-performing countries in Europe—to grow the level of participation in sport.
If we are going to do that, we obviously need to make sure that there are facilities available, and at a reasonable cost and with easy access for those who need to use them. These will be provided by a variety of partners. We need to make sure that the private sector is working in local areas with the voluntary sector, with schools, colleges and, in some cases, universities, and of course with local authorities, to make sure that the facilities are available and can be accessed by young people in particular. In our case, we are looking to see how we can subsidise access by public transport. Clearly you cannot have facilities all over the place, but if you have good facilities you need to ensure that young people can access them, particularly in the evenings.
In many local authorities, including my own, we have to review the provision of facilities and, sadly, some will inevitably close. However, I want the Government to realise that there is a different way of viewing sport. By investing in sport, and in young and old people becoming more active through sport, we can save lots of money in the provision of health, education and other major services because people will become more engaged.
Finally, I remind those noble Lords who are not aware of it that the next big sporting event in Britain will start in 165 days. It is the Rugby League World Cup. In addition to the programme of matches between the 16 countries that are participating in the games there will be a cultural, social and educational programme so that visitors can engage with people beyond the die-hard rugby league fans such as myself. The Government have given great support to the initiative of the Rugby League World Cup and I thank them for that, and obviously I hope that they will maintain their support during the competition. In the previous World Cup, in Australia, we failed to do well in the competition but we managed to win the wheelchair rugby league games. I hope that this year we can do one better and win the real competition.
My Lords, I remind the House of my interests, particularly two non-financial interests: I am a trustee of Lung Cancer Campaign Carmarthenshire and a board member of the National Cancer Research Institute. Like many noble Lords, I congratulate those who made their maiden speeches this evening. It certainly takes me back to the day I made mine, when I talked about occupational lung disease. I am delighted that a Bill was announced in the gracious Speech to tackle the need for compensation for people with mesothelioma.
I will focus on tobacco control, which has been referred to by many noble Lords as a major omission from the gracious Speech. One in four cancer deaths are still thought to be due to smoking. Smoking kills one in two long-term smokers. These are shocking facts. I hope that whether noble Lords support standardised packaging or not, they will agree that it is deeply disturbing to learn that eight in 10 smokers start smoking by the age of 19.
Given this uptake of smoking by young people, we must surely all be united in taking whatever action we can to reduce or even stop the young people of this country from smoking. We must, therefore, consider the role of advertising and the role that promotion may play in drawing young people into smoking. Packaging is part of this.
It is no surprise, perhaps, that packaging is a vital issue to focus on, given the results of the 2012 study funded by Cancer Research UK, which included an audit of the tobacco retail press from January 2009 to June 2011. It found that,
“the level of tobacco packaging activity is increasing. Brands appear to be in a continuous cycle of modernisation through pack redesign. Increasingly, innovative packaging and limited editions draw attention to the product”.
A review commissioned for the standardised packaging consultation concluded that there was,
“strong evidence to support the propositions set out in the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control relating to the role of plain packaging in helping to reduce smoking rates; that is, that plain packaging would reduce the attractiveness and appeal of tobacco products, it would increase the noticeability and effectiveness of health warnings and messages, and it would reduce the use of design techniques that may mislead consumers about the harmfulness of tobacco products”.
Given this and our need to prevent millions of children from starting to smoke, we have a responsibility to introduce standardised tobacco packaging as part of a comprehensive strategy to tackle tobacco at local, national and international level.
Therefore, along with many of my colleagues across the health community, I am extremely disappointed that the Government did not include legislation in the gracious Speech. This absence of a Bill inevitably raises the question of the Government’s response to their consultation on standardised packaging. Nine months after the consultation ended, we are still awaiting a response from the Government. Can the Minister confirm that the Secretary of State for Health is still considering how the Government should respond to this consultation?
In the time we have been waiting, Cancer Research UK estimates that more than 150,000 children have started smoking. I call on the Government to respond in favour. We have waited long enough. We know that the Public Health Minister in the other place is convinced by the evidence, and there are many in this House who have voiced their concerns today, including the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, the noble Baronesses, Lady Jolly and Lady Wheeler, my noble friend Lord Hunt, from the opposition Front Bench, and my noble friends Lord MacKenzie and Lord Patel, who have all voiced their concerns and hopes for government action.
Let us take a moment to reflect on the support for standard packs, which is extremely broad. I mentioned the support of the health community. I cannot overstate the extent to which health organisations agree with this measure. Smokefree Action Coalition brings together 190 health and welfare organisations: royal colleges, the British Medical Association, charities such as Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation, the Trading Standards Institute and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health. They all support the idea of standard packs.
This issue also resonates with the public. If one shows people examples of existing packs that are clearly aimed at young women, they are horrified. YouGov polling shows that 63% of adults support the removal of branding from cigarette packs, and just 16% are opposed. Some 85% of people back government action to reduce the number of young people who start smoking. In the Government’s consultation more than 200,000 members of the public supported standard packs. These are the supporters of standardised packaging: a majority of the public and more than 190 health and welfare organisations.
Yet their collective voice has at times struggled to be heard over the well organised campaign by the tobacco industry. In 2012, Japan Tobacco International said that it would spend £2 million on adverts arguing against standard packs. To date, the Advertising Standards Authority has ruled its claims to be “misleading” and “unsubstantiated”. While the tobacco industry argues that smuggling is increasing and that standard packs will make things worse, HMRC is clear that smuggling has halved in the past decade, and the Trading Standards Institute backs standard packaging, saying that pack design makes no difference to its efforts to tackle smuggling.
The evidence is clear and substantial. A majority of the public, 190 health organisations, the World Health Organisation and many others all support standard packs. The tobacco industry has spent millions on advertising to oppose standardised packaging, which indicates just how much store its sets by pack design.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, I hope very much that when Her Majesty said in the gracious Speech that other measures will be laid before us, we will see a Bill aimed at stopping children taking up smoking through the introduction of standard cigarette packages.
My Lords, I start by apologising to the whole House for the fact that I was not here at the beginning of yesterday’s debate. The consequences of that, I realise, fall upon Members who are here today, who have to listen to me giving the rant on transport that I was going to give yesterday. Such are the easy rules of protocol of your Lordships’ House that one is able to speak on any subject in the debate on the Loyal Address on any day of the week.
I thought that I would start with Heathrow. Heathrow is a national disgrace. It is not worthy of a third-world country, yet we brag to ourselves about what a splendid airport it is. I have friends in New York who come to London via Charles de Gaulle Airport in order to avoid Heathrow, and I am not in the least bit surprised. There are many such examples. If you arrive at a terminal at Heathrow—I have not counted the number of terminals but this applies to most of them—by private car or taxi and it happens to be raining, you get wet. It is as simple as that. To call that a modern airport is unbelievable. Sometimes with one or two of the terminals—the latest ones—you have to get on a bus to get from your gate to the plane. You would do better than that in Lagos. It really is a scandal, yet we go around shouting our heads off about what a brilliant airport it is.
Of course, this is not the direct responsibility of the Heathrow authorities, but when you leave Heathrow terminal 5 the only road sign you get—if noble Lords do not believe me, they can go and have a look—points to a place called Staines. How many people arriving at Heathrow want to go to Staines? They have never heard of Staines and they do not know where Staines is, but there is nothing else to tell them where to go. That is our prime international focus. It is unbelievable.
Then we have a bunch of idiots who want to put an airport in the middle of the Thames estuary. I have never heard anything more bonkers. It would be right in the middle of the shipping lanes and in the middle of the climate of the Thames estuary, with the catchment areas in northern France and Brussels, and with very doubtful access to emergency services. I cannot imagine a more ridiculous idea. It goes without saying that I think that Heathrow should have four runways, but I would say that, wouldn’t I?
I now want to say something about the railways. I know a little bit about this as—this is probably without the memory of your Lordships—some 40 years ago Harold Wilson made me Minister for Transport. I am so envious of the present Minister for Transport, who is told that he can concentrate on capital expenditure. With all the money that I had, there were a lot of lunatics on the Labour Back Benches telling me to cut bus fares. That is what I was supposed to do with the money I was given. It was not to improve the infrastructure that the country desperately needed, but that is how it was.
The idea of HS2 is absolutely idiotic—another idiotic waste of money. We do not need it. The money would be much better spent on electrifying parts of the network that are not yet electrified. In particular, a huge amount could be spent on modernising the current infrastructure in London and the south-east. A great deal has been spent on extending platforms and signalling, but further electrification would add greatly to the efficiency of the country and to the welfare of people living in this part of the world.
I want to say a word or two about motorways. We pride ourselves on our motorways, but hardly a single motorway reaches a port in this country. I challenge any of your Lordships to tell me which motorways get to ports. Freight and passengers come off a ship and, having gone through a lot of suburban roads, they will get to a motorway. Very few motorways are motorway from start to finish. The M25 has toll structures in the middle of it. That is not a motorway. Some go down to two lanes in each direction. Anyone who does not know that has never driven on the M40. It is an absolute disgrace and dangerous.
I am keen on two other things. One of my predecessors as Transport Minister was the great Fred Mulley. Denis Healey once said he thought that Fred was the most underrated Minister in Whitehall. He may well have been because he was a delightful fellow. Later, after I left transport, I served under him at defence. He loved roundabouts. I hate roundabouts. They are the biggest damned-fool contribution to road congestion in this country. If I had my way, we would replace every God-damn roundabout in sight with grade separation. It would cost a lot of money but this fellow, the Transport Minister, has lots of money for capital improvements. It would speed up the traffic, reduce pollution and add to road safety in this country.
There is one other thing that I did not get around to doing in the 15 months that I was at transport. We should have at least one overhead gantry sign before every turnoff on every motorway. If you do not have them and there is a line of lorries on the inside lane, you do not even see that your exit is coming and you can miss it very easily. There are lots of ways in which sensible money can be spent on the transport infrastructure of this country without wasting it on mad ideas such as airports in the middle of the North Sea or high speed rail and trains that we do not need. I am grateful to noble Lords.
My Lords, I like roundabouts. They often have flowers on them and are very good reservoirs for wildlife. I shall focus my remarks on the Children and Families Bill that is currently going through another place. I am pleased to say that there are several things to welcome; for example, the improvements in the independence of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner. Like Oliver Twist, I always want more, so I will be hoping for a few further improvements. However, generally, the Bill provides a great step forward and one that will allow the Office of the Children’s Commissioner to take its place at last around the table of international children’s ombudspersons.
I also welcome the changes to the arrangements for children with special educational needs, for which we have to thank my honourable friend Sarah Teather, the former Minister of State for Children and Families. Thanks to her, at last we will have a holistic approach to the needs of these children. I know that there are concerns about this and how it will work but I am sure we can sort that out when the Bill comes to your Lordships’ House.
I welcome the parental leave measures and I welcome with caution the changes on the arrangements for adoption but it is a pity that the Government did not take the advice of the Select Committee on Adoption Legislation in relation to racial matching and how soon fostering for adoption can be considered. Those matters will be debated in more detail on Thursday afternoon, so I will keep my powder dry until then.
The main issue on which I shall concentrate is the proposal to change the ratios of adults to children in early-years settings. I think that that is a daft idea. I am a great believer in evidence-based policy and in consultation. I am afraid that there is no evidence that these proposals would result in either an improvement in the welfare of children or in the affordability of childcare. When 95% of the professionals responding to a consultation tell you that you have got it wrong, the Government must pause for thought. Fortunately, my own party leader, the right honourable Nick Clegg, read the consultation responses and took notice. I was delighted with his statement that he is not convinced these proposals should go ahead. I agree and hope that he will stand firm.
The Government report, More great childcare, proposed changing adult to child ratios for babies under two years from one to three to one to four, and for children aged two to three years from one to four to one to six. Of course, some might say, “I had four children and I managed”. Yes, but they were not all under two at the same time. We need to remember that, however well qualified and committed, a child carer has only one pair of eyes and one pair of hands. So to be asked to look after too many children could actually put children in real danger as well as impeding their development.
These changes are counter to research evidence on quality and ratios. The current ratios are not there by accident but for a very good reason. Research for the Department of Education by Munton, Barclay, Ballardo and Barreau in 2002 and research from New Zealand in 2011 indicates the safe and effective ratios and I do not believe that they should be changed. It has been said that Sweden, whose childcare we all admire, has no national ratios. However, it has ratios but these are established locally.
Changing the ratios so that young babies vie with three others for their needs to be met by one practitioner will inevitably mean that many of their attempts at communication through eye contact, babbling and pointing will be missed. Yet evidence tells us that it is the responsiveness of the carer, noticing and responding to these small signs of communication and mirroring the child’s facial expressions, which supports language development.
As we all know, language development is one of the most important factors which must precede learning to read. A confident speaker with a wide vocabulary will become a confident and happy reader, and that will have an enormous impact on his future academic achievement. Research by Wells and Nicholls, Language and Learning: an Interactional Prospective, and significant articles from The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry provide the proof of the importance of interaction with adults in language development. This would be impeded if the ratios were increased. The changes are also counter to evidence and recommendations in the government-commissioned Nutbrown review of 2011. I believe that Professor Nutbrown, among many other professionals, has expressed her concern about the Government’s proposals.
If ratios are revised upwards, babies will find their care needs to be less well met, leaving less time for peaceful cuddles during feeding or for patient coaxing during weaning. Responding quickly to need plays a large part in supporting babies’ development of empathy and self-control. A recent book by Paul Tough, How Children Succeed, brings together evidence from numerous research projects in the United States, one of which shows how important is the touching and cuddling of the baby to brain and social development. This helps the child to develop resilience and the ability to concentrate and persist in a task, all essential for future success. Much of this is, of course, provided by the parents, but when a child is being cared for by somebody else it is very important that this interaction is carried on.
The main reason given for the idea of changing the ratios is to make childcare more affordable for parents. However, we are told that settings will be able to raise the ratios only if they have highly-qualified staff. While I strongly support the aim of increasing the qualifications of staff working in the early years, I cannot see how this would bring the costs down. More highly-qualified staff will want to be more highly paid, thus cancelling out any savings that might have been made by the nursery by taking on more children per adult. It is only right that staff who work to get higher qualifications should expect to be paid more. Otherwise, why would they bother? The sector is not highly paid, so there must be some incentives to train.
Andreas Schleicher of the OECD has been quoted in support of the changes, but what he actually said was that, while staff qualifications are more important than ratios, the research relates to “formal schooling—primary, lower secondary and upper secondary”. But here we are talking about the youngest children who have very different needs. Sir Michael Wilshaw, the head of Ofsted, has also been quoted in support of the Government’s proposed changes, but Ofsted has taken no public position on the matter. Sir Michael rightly supports improvements to staff qualifications, but he accepts that the arguments for the youngest children are different.
I know that these changes would be voluntary, but it is clear from the consultation that most parents do not want them either, and I think they will look very carefully at ratios when choosing care for their children. There are other ways of making childcare more affordable while protecting quality and the Government have made a great start with recent announcements about tax relief. The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, who is not in his place, said that education is a good investment. I agree with him; indeed, I usually do, and today is no exception. But good quality early years education is a particularly good investment, beneficial to the individual and to the economy, and the Government should embrace it. The evidence for this is “sky high”, to quote a Scottish Minister when proposing more Scottish Government investment in the field. Will my noble friend the Minister look kindly on the evidence when the Children and Families Bill comes to your Lordships’ House?
My Lords, the Care Bill represents an important recognition by Government of the need to tackle one of the major problems facing society: how we cope with the growing number of elderly dependent people. The fact is that we are all living longer, and although we are also remaining healthy and active for longer—here I must disagree slightly with my noble friend Lady Hollis; we are extending healthy life for longer, at least for women—we are leaving behind a long tail of unfortunate elderly people who are increasingly disabled with multiple chronic illnesses, many living in poverty, lonely and neglected. It is this growing group that is too frequently admitted to hospital as an emergency when they are tipped over by an acute exacerbation. They stay in hospital for far too long when they would be much safer and certainly better off at home. This is the picture that is painted so clearly in a recent Age Concern publication.
The Bill goes some way to providing help for pensioners themselves in the cap it will put on how much they have to pay for their long-term care. We can argue about how high or low the cap should be, but it is important to recognise that an extra financial burden will be placed on local authorities. Once an individual’s cap is reached it will be up to the local authority to pick up the bill for their care. Yet the local authorities are already under severe constraints and are complaining bitterly about being unable to fund even basic levels of care. The projected shortfalls in the face of increasing demand over the next few years are positively frightening, and I shall return to funding issues in a moment.
The Bill also takes up the challenge of the Francis report and proposes a number of measures to try to reduce the scandal of abuse and neglect. However, in focusing on systems for the detection of bad practice and more punishment of those who offend, the Bill seems to be missing the need to prevent bad practice in the first place. I believe that it would be much more effective in preventing bad behaviour to have someone on the ground at ward level who has responsibility and sufficient clout to ensure that high standards of care are maintained. As I have said in previous debates, that person has to be the sister or charge nurse in charge—really in charge—in a career grade post, not rushing off up the nursing career ladder in a year or so. Here I would echo very much what the noble Lord, Lord MacKenzie of Culkein, said. She or he should be rewarded and given a salary similar to that of a consultant, in recognition of the level of responsibility that she or he carries. These preventive measures are likely to be more effective than simply looking for abuse once it has happened.
One really big problem is how to prevent elderly patients being admitted in the first place, where we have been failing miserably. The Bill talks of the responsibility of local authorities to promote well-being and to prevent the need for care and support but it cannot say how they might do this or where they might find the money. There are many constructive things we could do now, without waiting for government action. It is worth examining what makes so many patients end up in accident and emergency departments. Many turn up with “dizzy do’s” and falls, and yet we could prevent most of those. Poor lighting at home and the absence of handrails or chair-lifts could all be discovered by regular home visits and corrected in a timely way, which may prevent many a fall. We can reduce the incidence of fractures, particularly hip fractures, which have such a big impact on the need for admission, by reducing the prevalence of osteoporosis through screening for it, treatment with calcium and vitamin D, and regular exercise, all at trivial cost compared with hospital admission. Then there are the “blackouts” that are so common. Screening the vulnerable elderly for predisposing causes—cardiac rhythm disorders such as atrial fibrillation, transient ischaemic attacks, epilepsy—and checking for hypertension and diabetes could prevent even more admissions. Far too often, it seems that patients with a diagnosis of dementia turn up in casualty. It is surprising but true that this may be the first time that a diagnosis of dementia is made, despite it being hardly likely that their dementia has suddenly appeared overnight.
All these rather obvious, and you might think straightforward, measures should be taken in primary care with the help of social services. Unfortunately, the regular screening of the vulnerable members of a practice is far from routine. I hope that the noble Earl, who is not here at the moment, will say in summing up whether it is possible to press those in primary care to include such screening. Focusing social and mental health services around GPs will bear dividends, but we need to take more action at that level than we have managed so far. It is particularly needed in poor inner cities, where it is least likely to be available. I was, incidentally, encouraged to hear that the Secretary of State was asking for ideas along those lines. There they are.
That still leaves us with what to do about patients lingering too long in hospital when they should be at home. Here again we have lots of ideas about what to do but seem quite unable to put them into practice in more than a few places, patchily, around the country. Why do all hospitals not appoint an officer whose sole responsibility is to plan for a patient’s discharge from the moment they enter the hospital? Better co-ordination between hospital and social services now occurs in a number of well rehearsed places but we have failed in trying to scale this up. The idea of pooled budgets between the NHS and local authorities is a good one, since it promotes better integration of functions, even though pooling two rather inadequate sources of funds will not provide much of the extra money that is needed.
All these measures can help, but the overriding problem will remain one of trying to provide more care in the community with too little money. Some believe that we should close NHS hospitals and beds to provide the money. Although there may be good service and quality reasons to focus expertise in fewer places—I am all in favour of that—it is a vain and somewhat naive hope that simply closing beds will save much money. To be clear, I am talking here of the 30% of beds occupied by elderly patients who should be at home. Close those, and Bob’s your uncle. However, hospital costs are not simply dependent on bed numbers. They lie much more in the high level of acute care, which is so labour-intensive. It is the high-cost medical and nursing care that severely ill patients need for their investigation and treatment that consumes so much resource. Those services are now so stretched but are hardly used at all for long-stay patients sitting in beds waiting to go home. Closing those beds will save very little, since the hospitals will still be stretched by their acute, high-intensity work. Certainly, discharging patients home quickly is a worthwhile endeavour for the patients but I do not believe that we should be looking for much in the way of savings there.
So where is the money to come from? In his excellent report, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, pointed quite rightly to the need for the whole Government to respond. We need a combined effort across the whole of government, including housing, transport and work and pensions, and the Treasury and the Cabinet need to consider their overall priorities. Ultimately it is the priority that government as a whole gives to care of the elderly compared with the many other pressures it is under that will count.
My Lords, in the short time available to me, I propose to speak about the role of general practitioners, who are regarded widely as the jewel in the crown of the National Health Service.
Your Lordships will be aware that throughout 2012 there were tortuous negotiations with the Department of Health about the GP contract. Agreement was reached at the start of 2013. I intend to touch on one aspect of this agreement today: doctors’ out-of-hours service. Of course, there is no question of GPs going back to the situation before 2003, when doctors in general practice were effectively on call on a 24/7 basis. Since then, a number of arrangements have evolved for dealing with out-of-hours work; some are run by the former primary care trusts, some by co-operatives of GPs and some by independent contractors. With any of these structures there must inevitably be a degree of patient dissatisfaction—perhaps I should say unease—since the patient will not be seen by a member of a GP practice familiar to him or her. This must be accepted and the challenge is to make these out-of-hours services as efficient and patient-friendly as possible.
I am advised that some of the doctors engaged in out-of-hours work will have had no experience of the particular skills it demands during the 10 years that the current out-of-hours regime has been in place. While out-of-hours doctors have to have the minimum qualifications to be a GP, and it is not a speciality as generally understood, nevertheless particular skills are required in assessing acutely unwell people; by the very nature of this work, there will be limited or no documentary back-up. Undoubtedly there are many able practitioners engaged in this work, where they may find the flexibility of out-of-hours work attractive and they may not want the responsibilities of a GP partnership—or indeed simply for the extra money. Nevertheless, it is a widely held view in the profession that there are many doctors in out-of-hours work who would have difficulty getting mainstream GP jobs.
Added to this is the media interest in this subject, including a particularly critical article in the Daily Mail yesterday, which that newspaper has followed up today. Now that responsibility for out-of-hours work has been passed back to GPs, does the Minister envisage an expansion in terms of numbers in the out-of-hours work service? Is he able to confirm that provision has been made for the costs of training? Fundamentally, what degree of monitoring does he envisage for the contractors and the qualifications of their personnel, bearing in mind media reports that cite instances of specialised nurses taking the place of doctors due to shortages of the latter?
I have the privilege of speaking after the noble Lord, Lord MacKenzie of Culkein, who has unrivalled knowledge of the nursing profession. I will address one particular aspect that affects nurses. Attention has been drawn previously in your Lordships’ House to the matter of language testing of nurses from the EU who have the right under the freedom of movement directive to practise in the UK. Significantly, there are different procedures for doctors and nurses. The GMC may register doctors from the EU. It can assure itself inter alia of the candidate’s English skills and only then issue a fitness to practise certificate; in other words, it is a perfectly workable and effective arrangement.
The nurses’ regulating body, the Nursing and Midwifery Council, is constituted under different legislation from the GMC and, crucially, does not at present have the freedom to monitor the competence in English of EU nurses before releasing them into nursing in Great Britain. I know from previous dialogues with the Minister that his department is aware of and sympathetic to concerns about the problem and so, in its more measured pace, is the Commission. However, the latest proposal for discussion coming out of Brussels seems to suggest that registration and fitness to practise should continue to come simultaneously. The effect of this is fundamental. It means that, once an EU nurse is registered, the Nursing and Midwifery Council still has no control over that nurse’s fitness to practise. The Government’s position on testing for English language competency appears to be set out in a Commons Written Answer of
“Post registration it is for employers and contracting bodies to ensure that any nurses or midwives they employ or contract with have the necessary skills and competencies (including language competence) for the job”.—[Hansard, Commons, 25/10/10; col. 126W.]
I appreciate that, as the directive now stands, that is the only course open to the Government, but I strongly suggest to your Lordships that it is not satisfactory and detracts from the authority of the NMC, the regulatory body.
The current proposal from the commission does nothing to alter the position and it is certainly of concern to the NMC. I would welcome an assurance from the Minister that his department will continue to press Brussels for an English language proficiency regime for nurses from the EU to be effectively the same as for doctors, so that there is a period during which the NMC can assess the English language skills of a registered nurse from the EU before issuing the appropriate authorisation to practise.
In March 2012, the Law Commission launched a consultation on the regulation of healthcare professionals in the United Kingdom, and it is due to present its final report and draft Bill in early 2014. I understand that this is likely to recommend the streamlining of fitness-to-practise legislation regarding health professionals across the UK. If this assists in resolving the problems of regulation and fitness to practise for nurses posed by the freedom of movement directive to which I have referred, it will be very welcome, as indeed will any reassurance that the Minister is able to give the House today.
My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to the gracious Speech and to the three excellent maiden speeches that we have heard today. I want to say a few words about the invisible generation, usually labelled as “the elderly”, and like many Members of your Lordships’ House, I have to declare an interest.
As the elderly, we are constantly reminded that we carry a high maintenance cost in respect of health, pensions and of course welfare support. We struggle with our technology and are sometimes described as non-productive consumers. Mostly ignored are the positive contributions made to society by the elderly. They are carers of a husband or wife, and sometimes of grandchildren and other relatives and friends; they are the providers of support for neighbours less able than themselves; they are minders of children whose parents are being told that they must go out to work. Very many give financial support to children and grandchildren who could not otherwise stay on at school, go to university, buy a house or pay a deposit on a rented property. They are the silent army, making up an estimated 30% of all volunteers for a wide range of organisations and often filling in the gaps in care homes, hospitals, hospices, schools and more.
Yet increasingly they are denigrated by politicians and the news media. The retirement pension to which they have contributed during their working life is now a benefit, which many politicians would like to see means-tested. The elderly are criticised for taking a free prescription and bus pass, a free television licence at aged 75 and the winter fuel payment that many of us in any case hand over to charity. For many, the loss of the travel pass would mean isolation. They would be unable to visit families and friends, get to the shops or the post office, or travel to their voluntary activities, particularly in rural areas. Bus routes would be closed.
Those who could afford to use a car would be castigated for not being environmentally friendly.
Nearly every debate on issues affecting the elderly starts with the precursor “the problem is”. What a difference it would make to start such a debate by merely saying “the issues are”. The fact is that Britain is woefully underprepared for the rising numbers of elderly people. We are told on the one hand to welcome the fact that we are all living longer while on the other hand that it is not affordable. For those with retirement in sight, there is mass confusion. We have had the Turner and Dilnot reports, and the report of the Select Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change. Is it any wonder that fear and insecurity is the approach of many for their retirement plans?
At what age will they be able to retire? Who knows? We saw a change flagged up in the gracious Speech, which prompted calls for another increase because in today’s world the elderly are healthier and so able to work longer. Quite suddenly, the elderly are among the shirkers with the curtains drawn who do not look for work. If they do, they become the enemies of the young, who fear that the jobs of tomorrow are being taken by the old of today. What of pensions? It is not unreasonable that many pensioners are wary of the provisions of private pensions having lost so much in past debacles, yet we are now treated as though we are responsible for the pension crisis.
One provision about which we are clear within the gracious Speech is that of the single-tier state pension, but can we please have a guarantee that recipients will not be told that this is a benefit for which they should be grateful rather than a pension for which they have paid? In March we heard from the Chancellor that the Government will introduce in 2016 a modified version of the proposals in the Dilnot review. Given the continual change in the retirement age and the state pension arrangements, early and clear decisions would be welcomed by those contemplating retirement.
The gracious Speech sadly missed the opportunity to confirm the welcome statement from the Chancellor that funding reforms for long-term care for the elderly will be introduced and that the maximum anyone will pay is £72,000. I am not clear what will happen to those who do not have £72,000. I am guessing that, as Dilnot proposed, they will be expected to sell part of the equity of their homes to pay for their needs—assuming they have homes. Currently, there are many cases of elderly people attempting to do that and risking large sums of money as a result. I fear that many will do so in future.
Many of those issues have been rehearsed in this House and in another place. I return to my original point. Old age is seen as a problem, and elderly people are seen as a liability. Those negative portrayals must change, not only for the elderly but for other groups labelled and taunted. There was a time when the target was immigrants and the unemployed. Then it was the turn of single parents and those on benefits. Over recent years, people with disabilities have been in the firing line. Now it is the turn of the elderly.
The denigration of groups and communities in our society must end soon. I very much regret that the gracious Speech made no reference to the Select Committee report,
Ready for Ageing
, which could be our compass for future travel into retirement. I, for one, hope that the Government will set out their analysis of the issues and challenges and their vision for public service in an ageing society, and that a White Paper is published well before the next general election.
My Lords, it is a real pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Handsworth. I share his analysis in his powerful speech. I certainly subscribe to his view that we have yet to bottom out the full extent of the necessary changes to public policy to deal with the significant impact of longevity, not just in the areas to which he alluded in his excellent speech but more widely across government. In my brief remarks this evening, I also follow him on the need to look after low-income households, whether they are elderly or of working age.
I have enjoyed this debate. I have listened with care. I was interested in the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong of Hill Top, with which I largely agreed. The noble Baronesses, Lady Drake and Lady Hollis, both made powerful speeches about the legislation in the Queen’s Speech with which I will be most directly involved relating to pensions and carer issues.
The context of this Queen’s speech, the political atmosphere in which we are considering these measures, is different from anything that I have seen in my political experience, and I have been around for a long while—I am not as young as I look, but that is not to mention how I feel. There is a lack of understanding of the pressures that the bottom 15% of households in our income distribution are feeling. They are severely distressed in a way that is likely to be with us for some time: longer than many of us would wish. We need to do something about that. I was recently reading some figures that demonstrated that graphically. Comparing household income internationally, the ONS discovered that the UK has dropped from fifth place in 2005 to 12th place in 2011, so it is under stress in a way that will affect all dimensions of public policy, in the Queen’s Speech and elsewhere. Welfare reform was addressed in the Welfare Reform Act 2012, but it will still cast its shadow over the coming year and beyond.
The noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, made a point with which I particularly agreed. There is a different tone in the public mood about social protection. I have never experienced it to be quite so negative and we cannot ignore it. Again, I was looking at some figures on this, which show that 20 years ago 15% of the public thought that people lived in need because of laziness or lack of willpower; now, it is 23%. We have to be aware of that. Now, it is difficult to pass legislation to deal with such things, but it would be quite wrong not to take care to appreciate that the circumstances in which we are introducing this legislation are substantially different.
I want to say a word about housing, particularly new low-income housing. I know there are other colleagues in here who have much better experience of housing associations and I am looking forward to hearing what the noble Lord, Lord Best, says. However, I have come to the conclusion that the most important thing in the welfare domain is trying to deal long-term with housing benefit. Reflecting on and reading some of the background, I have also concluded that the only way sensibly to do that in the long term is to develop housing policy, particularly the construction of new low-income housing. We need to encourage the Government to adopt a cross-departmental strategy to deal with this. It should also be cross-country because we need to be conscious of the fact that other constituent nations of the United Kingdom are dealing with these issues—and in some cases dealing with them quite differently. We need to make sure that co-ordination is maintained.
We also need to do that with a much closer association and a more trusting relationship with local authorities because they can, and must, play a more constructive role in trying to address some of the problems. We are simply not building enough new affordable housing. I think that the National Housing Federation and others have identified the gap as being something in the region of 240,000 units each year, so the conflict between the demand and the supply is really quite substantial.
I am not saying that the Government are not taking steps, because I know that they are. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Best, with help from some of his friends, managed to get the noble Lord, Lord Freud, to undertake a review of some consequences of the Welfare Reform Bill that related to housing benefit changes and the like. We might get access to some of these details and statistics in the not-too-distant future, and I look forward to looking at them carefully and discussing them. This is perhaps more a matter for the comprehensive spending review which we will see in July because then we will see the spending profile that the Government have in mind, although that might take us only into the first year of the new Parliament. My real concern is that if we leave the adoption of a more coherent, cross-departmental framework in this very important area, it will be 2016 before we get started. That will be unforgivable and we will be wasting a lot of time that we do not have.
There are some obvious benefits in adopting a comprehensive new strategy for new build for low-cost housing. There is an economic case and an employment mobility case. It increases disposable income for low-income families if they have lower rent costs. More than anything else, it has a political dimension as well because ever lengthening waiting lists for housing are a major cause of concern. It is one of the reasons why the electorate is in such an unhappy situation, to put it at its mildest. If we could demonstrate some progress in reducing waiting lists, even though it cannot be done immediately, that would be beneficial.
There are lots of things that we really need to do. They need to be done in a joined-up way and to embrace future levels of capital investment and rent levels as well as housing benefit costs, but we have to do this in a way that looks as if we are addressing the problem seriously. The evidence is that we are not doing that.
I shall end with the surprising statement that I came across the other day which demonstrates that currently for every pound the Government spend on housing, 95p goes on housing benefit and 5p goes on new build.
That is completely the wrong way round, and we have to use the next year to do as much as we can to redress that balance and make that change a positive reality in the not-too-distant future.
My Lords, I am grateful to be speaking as part of the debate on the gracious Speech. In the time available, I shall comment on the education proposals that were mentioned, but first I must declare an interest as chancellor of the University of East London. I was very fortunate to take up this position in January this year, and I am very proud to be associated with such a diverse university in the heart of East London. In fact, it is one of the most diverse universities in the country with over 28,000 students from more than 120 countries world wide, so I am particularly interested in the likely impact of new measures in the Government’s planned legislation affecting education.
I agree with the Government that we need to see more young people having access to quality higher education programmes, but at the same time we should be doing more to encourage students from overseas to take up places here in the UK. It is good for them, and it is good for us. It enables us to build stronger bridges with different countries and spread understanding about the opportunities and strengths of the UK economy. As our economy continues to struggle, this could not be more important.
Earlier this year, my noble friends Lord Patel of Bradford and Lord Parekh and I were asked to be part of the business delegation that accompanied the Prime Minister to India. It was the largest trade delegation ever to accompany a Prime Minister on an overseas visit. The visit clearly demonstrated the importance of India to the future prosperity of the UK. Despite us being the only three delegates from the Opposition, all the Ministers and officials treated us with the utmost courtesy and respect and our views were sought out and listened to.
One of the issues I raised while I was in India was the importance of enabling more Indian students to come to study in the UK. That is something we should welcome, and it is especially important for a university such as the University of East London. We can learn a great deal from the rich diversity in our universities, especially in the business world.
This is an area that I am passionate about, and I know that there are many challenges that students face to succeed in this area, especially those from ethnic minority backgrounds. Therefore, when I was given an opportunity last year to help establish a centre at the University of East London to provide opportunities and support for students from various ethnic backgrounds to enter into and sustain careers in the business sector, I relished the opportunity. A grant was made available by the Noon Foundation that has enabled the establishment of the Noon Centre for Equality and Diversity in Business within the Royal Docks Business School, and I am pleased to say that last week I had the pleasure of spending a whole day meeting and speaking to some of the brightest and most committed business students I have ever met who have benefitted from the work of the centre.
Although these students are doing well with the support provided, the challenges are immense and include access to higher education and high-quality courses that ensure future employment. I welcome the Government’s commitment to increasing access to a good university education. I also hope that we will see more practical measures to ensure greater diversity among those students who gain a good degree. As a businessman, I welcome the emphasis on skills and on access to training and apprenticeships. My company, Noon Products, employs more than 2,000 members of staff at my manufacturing plant in west London, where our national dish, chicken tikka masala, is produced in the thousands every day. I know at first hand how important it is to have young people starting work for the first time who are skilled and have the right aptitude for work.
One of the ways in which we can support this is by encouraging effective apprenticeships, but the challenge to achieve this is great. Last year nearly 750,000 19 to 24 year-olds were not in education, employment or training. The so-called NEETs are the young people we need to target. The numbers missing out on education and opportunities are far too high. If I have understood correctly, the apprenticeship provisions in the deregulation Bill are intended to address this. We are told that there will be greater flexibility in delivery and increasing employer involvement in the design and assessment of apprenticeships. This is to be welcomed, and as an employer I would very much like to be part of this.
The Government are currently consulting on apprenticeships. The review report is entitled, The Future of Apprenticeships in England: Next Steps from the Richard Review. As I understand it, the stated intention of the review is to ensure apprenticeships are rigorous, responsive and able to meet the changing needs of our economy. I very much hope that the review will help us to achieve this and I look forward to reading the final results when it is published in the autumn.
However, employers are employing people now, and all those young people in need of opportunities do not have time to wait. We need to do significantly better to promote and improve their life chances through apprenticeships and access to higher education. This is key to securing a lasting and robust economic recovery, and we need to act now. Our future lies with the young. Our future prosperity must be firmly rooted in theirs, so I very much hope that we will see practical and effective measures in the Bill that can be taken now. I shall watch with great interest.
My Lords, my contribution to this debate considers the issue of housing in the context of health, welfare and several other aspects of the gracious Speech. My theme, to quote a Canadian saying, is that housing is the home of all issues. I declare my interest as president of the Local Government Association, chair of the Hanover Housing Association, chair of the council of the Property Ombudsman and, since I will touch on related matters in the context of the forthcoming Care Bill, a member of the advisory board of the Equity Release Council.
The fundamental housing requirement, which is of equal concern to all the main political parties, is to secure the building of far more homes to reduce the acute housing shortages that are the underlying cause of homelessness, overcrowding, high rents and low standards of accommodation. However, the benefits of a boost to housebuilding go much wider. It is the construction industry that can act as the engine of growth, as it always has done in previous recessions. Within that industry it is housebuilding that delivers the biggest bang in terms of jobs, not least in maintaining, modernising and upgrading the energy efficiency of existing homes. I hope that the Government can strengthen the connection between youth unemployment, now at 20% and carrying the terrible danger of a lifetime of worthlessness if skills are not acquired, and the opportunities for training and jobs presented by investment in new homes.
We have all admired the contribution of migrant building workers, particularly from Poland, but there is much to be said for investment in apprenticeships and training in the building industry for our own young people. To capitalise on this chance of tackling two huge social issues simultaneously, youth unemployment and acute housing shortages, the Chartered Institute of Building and the Construction Industry Training Board, with the Youth Build Trust, have asked Nick Raynsford MP in the other place and me jointly to chair an inquiry by parliamentarians on this theme. I feel sure that the Government will want to support this initiative.
On other occasions I have commended the determination of the Minister for Planning to overcome barriers to much-needed housebuilding, including the obstacle of the seemingly universal local opposition to virtually any development. Recently, the Government have come forward with bold plans for help-to-buy mortgage guarantees and equity loans. There is always the danger that stimulating demand, rather than directly boosting supply, will simply push up prices. But as part of the mix, these financial measures could give the housebuilders confidence to get more homes built and on to the market. However, the private sector housebuilders will construct only around half the number of new homes needed to match the number of new households formed each year. We also need subsidised housing for those who cannot afford to purchase or to pay full market rents. Housing associations could double their output with the requisite funding through the Homes and Communities Agency and the Greater London Authority. This investment really should be a high priority for the Government’s forthcoming spending review. Now is the time to harness the lending capacity of councils, which used to match the output of the private sector and build half the country’s new housing, by removing the unnecessary cap on their prudential borrowing for housing purposes, as the LGA is advocating. This would enable local authorities to finance the building of some 60,000 extra homes, mostly on land that they already own, without the need for subsidy.
Some will argue that one area of housing on which there should have been an announcement in the Queen’s Speech is the regulation of the private rented sector. However, I was delighted that the efforts of your Lordships in support of the noble Baroness, Lady
Hayter, led the Government to bring forward an amendment to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill that will give the consumer greater protection by requiring all lettings and managing agents, who look after about 60% of the private rented sector, to be part of an independent ombudsman dispute resolution scheme.
Sadly, the Government did not listen to your Lordships on another housing issue on which they suffered successive defeats in this House—the issue of welfare reform, which has targeted support with housing costs for those on the lowest incomes. The caps, ceilings and limits on housing benefit and local housing allowances, which are more likely to deter private landlords from letting to poor people than to persuade landlords to reduce rents to help them, have been accompanied by the levy on housing association and council tenants deemed to have a spare room. I have been much criticised for naming this the bedroom tax, but I suspect that Ministers now regret introducing this controversial measure. This levy penalises those in work as well as those who must find the money from their other benefits by cutting back on basic essentials. It is not too late for the Government to moderate its impact through a major increase in the totally inadequate level of discretionary housing payments, which local authorities need to deploy in the many cases of hardship, and where tenants cannot be offered a suitable smaller property.
It should be noted that the housing associations whose tenants are hit by the welfare reform cuts are anticipating major problems of rent arrears. This not only means they must cut back on spending on new housing investment just when the Government need them to do more, but they will be less able to undertake the brilliant community work that so many of them have been doing to provide for those with special needs, to tackle anti-social behaviour—again, something that the gracious Speech makes clear is a government priority—or to support young people into training and jobs.
Finally, I want to note the immensely important link between housing and the Government’s plans for funding social care, which we will be debating when the Care Bill reaches us. The Government’s proposals, in seeking to assist those who encounter high social care costs, are welcome, but the help provided for those in residential care may not go as far as many have hoped. A large proportion of the fees will be excluded because they cover the board and lodging or hotel costs, while the care costs will be met only at low levels, probably well below the average in each area. By my calculations, in a typical case the individual would probably not be assisted until they had spent some £144,000. If their fees reached £300,000, they could expect only some £50,000 in support.
This is where housing issues come in. If an older person’s own home is manageable, warm, accessible, affordable and safe and secure, independent living can remain a sensible option for their lifetime, with care delivered to the home when needed. They can return home from hospital, perhaps after a short stay in a residential setting, and the emotional traumas and heavy cost of moving permanently into institutional care can be avoided. If their housing is right, the Dilnot inquiry’s key recommendation for limiting care costs can work well and vital savings can be made to the NHS and social care budgets. This argues for priority within the hoped for boost to housebuilding to go to developing really high-quality older people’s housing. This has the enormous added benefit of freeing up for the next generation some of the 4.2 million houses occupied by pensioners that have more than two spare bedrooms.
The interrelationship between housing and care also argues for more and better opportunities for safe and sensible equity release schemes. These can enable home owners to recycle some of the wealth tied up in their home to do the improvements that will cut their fuel bills, make the adaptations such as replacing a bath with a walk-in shower, and generally ensure that it is not their home that forces them into residential care. Giving priority to the nation’s housing can not only change the lives of young and old but can support the Government’s wider ambitions for reviving the economy, tackling youth unemployment, reducing social care and health costs and so much more. I hope that the Government are listening.
My Lords, as the Care Bill announced in the gracious Speech will have its Second Reading next week, like some others I have decided to keep my powder dry today and focus only on why the Bill is needed, not on its content.
Your Lordships will know that there is nearly universal agreement that the social care system is not fit for purpose. It was set up originally for a country where men died shortly after they retired at the age of 65 and women died before they were 70. The new statistics showing that, for example, 11 million people who are alive today will live to be 100 are cause for celebration, as is the fact that people are living not only longer but with greater degrees of disability. However, this also means that we are spending inadequate amounts on care and support, both publicly and privately. Social care funding has totally failed to keep pace with demographic change. Since 2004, spending on the NHS rose by £25 billion, but spending on social care rose by just £43 million—or 0.1% in real terms.
We all know what local authorities have done to cope with rising demand and static resources—they have increased charges for social care and rapidly raised the eligibility criteria. The percentage of councils providing support to those with moderate needs decreased from 50% in 2005 to 18% in 2011 as the eligibility criteria have been raised to cover only those with substantial or critical needs. This has been compounded by local authority spending reductions, with social services directors reporting £1 billion-worth of cuts to services in 2011-12 and warning of even greater cuts to come.
Public provision in this area is largely seen as providing poor services for poor people, and the media all too often give us distressing examples of that. However, anyone who works in this field must also acknowledge that good care is provided to individuals within the system because of the dedication and skill of thousands of workers. There are pockets of great service to be admired and we should always remember that. In general, however, the system is perceived to be starved of cash; failing to meet the volume of need; and unfair—a lottery, especially for people with middle incomes—for the simple reason that if you die neatly without needing to use care services you pay nothing while if you happen to have an illness or condition such as Alzheimer’s, you may need expensive services for many years, costing thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of pounds. The system is also regarded as extremely confusing and difficult to find your way around.
These problems will only get worse if nothing is done. Within 20 years, the number of over-85s will double and the number of people living with lifetime disabilities will grow too. Relatively fewer people will be working and paying taxes to help pay for support. However, apart from the practicalities of money and how it is to be paid for, there are other changes in society that affect what we can expect from social care. People want greater choice and control than is offered by our current system and expectations about the standards of care are rising. It still comes as a shock to the average user of care that there is so little integration and such poor communication across health and social care systems—still less, as we have heard today, across housing and transport—regardless of the fact that people’s care needs do not come in discrete packages but are stretched across the whole of an elderly person’s life including their housing, their families and their income.
What happens when people’s needs for social care are not met? We all know what happens—they turn to the NHS. This results in increased demand for unplanned and emergency services and delays in hospital discharge. Your Lordships will have seen and heard all the publicity about pressure on A&E services recently and the conflicting views about both the cause and what should be done about it. These extra pressures of course come at a time when the NHS is already under severe financial pressure.
It is easy to be extremely gloomy about the problems in social care. However, we may have some opportunities now, principally in the Bill in the Queen’s Speech, to deal with some of them. The Government are to be praised for bringing forward a Bill which is intended to address some of the problems that I have set out by looking at the Dilnot commission and the Law Commission’s proposals and, perhaps very importantly, by defining the purpose of social care and how it is delivered.
The enactment of the care and support Bill will not just consolidate and streamline into a single statute 60 years of piecemeal law-making; it will place on a statutory footing for the first time both the principle and the practice of self-directed personal care based on individual assessment. Particularly pleasing to me is that the well-being principle is also to be applied to the individual’s carers. However, it cannot be denied that, taken together with the introduction of a capped system of funding and a national eligibility threshold, the Bill represents a significant implementation challenge for everyone with a stake in the care and support system.
Like other Members of your Lordships’ House I had the privilege of serving on the Joint Committee which gave pre-legislative scrutiny to the care Bill. We called many witnesses and received huge amounts of written evidence. Two themes were paramount. The first was the need for more integration, and the announcements today about integration between health and social care are very welcome indeed. The second was the need for more resources. Everybody was concerned about the inadequacy of the resources. I am sure that we will spend many happy hours debating that as the care Bill proceeds.
I hope that in the course of our discussions we will be able to give attention to some of the ideas that were set out in the report Ready for Ageing?, which has already been mentioned and was produced by the committee led by my noble friend Lord Filkin. It states very plainly that the welfare state was predicated on full employment and a brief period of retirement. Now, however, centenarians are common and a third of life may be spent in retirement, and yet pensions and social care continue to be organised on 1950s models. The report calls for, and states that there is a desperate need for, a national strategy that includes a radical reconfiguration of health and social care. The budgetary split between them is no longer sustainable. They must be commissioned and funded jointly so that resources can be better used.
All of this is a terrific challenge. However, it may also be the clearest call that we have ever had for a new vision for social care—indeed, for a different settlement for the older people whom we will all become. We certainly need a different vision and, by the way, more recognition of the contribution made by older people themselves. Let us not forget that 60% of childcare is provided by grandparents. Let us think also of the huge numbers of older volunteers. These are important political issues that we are actually going to have to address.
The Bill that we will consider gives us an opportunity to put a welcome focus on social care—always, thus far, the poor sister of the NHS. It will also give us the opportunity, if not to implement this new vision, then at least to consider and discuss it.
My Lords, I want to address an issue that affects millions of families in this country. It is a subject that cuts right across many of the areas that we have been discussing today, including health, welfare and education. It has a breadth and width throughout society that is in many ways far greater than the important measures outlined in the gracious Speech, yet it rarely gets a look-in when it comes to legislation and regulation. That issue is animal welfare.
We are a nation of animal lovers; 48% of UK households, some 13 million of us, own between them 22 million pets. I am proud to declare an interest as an owner of one of them, a venerable Russian Blue. At the moment, however, we are experiencing what the RSPCA has described as,
“a growing animal cruelty crisis”.
Last year, there was a 15% increase in the number of people being taken to court for the neglect of and cruelty to animals in England and Wales, and an increase of a third in the number of convictions. As a result of every conviction, more animals are taken in by animal welfare charities for care and rehoming.
I heard at first hand, on a visit last year to the wonderful National Cat Centre in Sussex, which is run by the Cats Protection, that there is an unprecedented demand for its services in taking in stray and abandoned cats. However, at the same time, requests to adopt a cat have dropped to a third of what they were at the start of 2010. That is the perfect storm of increasing need and declining resource.
Many of these problems are of course part and parcel of the economic hardship that we have been experiencing, which my noble friend Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope mentioned. Pressure on family incomes of the sort that he described often means that people have to give up their pets when they cannot afford to feed them or pay for veterinary care. We have a duty to do something about this growing crisis. The treatment of animals is a barometer for the health of our society, and if we want to live in a decent and tolerant society we should be doing all that we can to promote and enhance the welfare of all animals, particularly domestic pets who give so unconditionally of their love to many of society’s most vulnerable members, including the sick, the elderly and the lonely. It is a love that we should return.
There is much that government can do to help without placing a strain on overstretched public finances, and a number of measures outlined in the gracious Speech are of particular importance in this respect. The Care Bill represents an excellent new approach to looking at well-being and personal care, centred as it is on,
“domestic, family and personal relationships”, of which domestic pets are of course a key part. Owning a cat or dog is an incredibly close, personal relationship. Cats Protection submitted powerful evidence to the scrutiny committee looking at the draft Bill—I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, remembers seeing it—about the health benefits that companion animals such as cats or dogs can offer in preventing or delaying the onset of health problems and promoting general well-being, not least in alleviating depression and loneliness and lowering stress, with the benefits that that brings to cardiac health. I therefore hope that the Bill will encourage the use of care budgets for companion animal support programmes and recognise the important role that pets play in personal well-being.
The measures in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill to deal with dangerous dogs are welcome, too. However, it is vital that the Bill cracks down on attacks by dogs on all “protected animals”, as defined by the Animal Welfare Act 2006, and not just on attacks on people and assistance dogs. In most weeks, there is a report in the press of at least one fatal attack on a cat by a dangerous dog, and that should not be tolerated. This Bill should be extended to allow us the chance to deal with this dreadful problem. In addition, we should use it as an opportunity to review the penalties for cruelty to animals under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Those who harm animals—for instance, in the cases of those who have attacked and injured cats by poisoning them with anti-freeze—should face significant custodial sentences.
If owners of dangerous dogs that attack people in public face two years in prison, why should not those who harm their pets? I heard just this morning a most awful story from my vet of how he had taken in a puppy that had been rescued by the Dogs Trust. This puppy had been wrapped up, placed in a bin liner and kicked down nine flights of stairs in a tower block. At just three months of age, it came in with 40 broken bones in its body and a lump on its head that was bigger than its head. Those who do those sorts of things should feel the full force of the law.
Welcome though these various measures are, a lot more needs doing, not least in the updating of legislation on animal welfare, which is becoming obsolescent. I wish that the gracious Speech had contained measures, for instance, to repeal and replace the Pet Animals Act 1951, which covers the breeding and sale of pets. It stems from a time when people bought pets from the window of a pet shop, but today pets are bought online. This outdated legislation does not deal with the abuse of animals that comes from the repeat breeding of pets for sale on the internet. Similarly, the Animal Boarding Establishments Act 1963 badly needs updating and simplifying to provide a modern and effective licensing regime for boarding establishments such as kennels and catteries.
Even in the absence of new laws or the repeal of old ones, we can do a lot within the framework of existing legislation to deal with the animal welfare crisis that we are facing. We have the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which sets out a framework for the care of animals, including establishing their five basic needs. Yet that Act has not fulfilled its ambitions because regulations under Section 13 to repeal outdated legislation have not yet materialised. I hope that my noble friend will ask his colleagues at Defra to look into this. Indeed, Ministers should look afresh at the whole structure of animal welfare legislation, dealing with commitments that have not yet been delivered and looking to deal with the out of date laws that I mentioned earlier.
I hope I will not sound like a cracked record if I return to an issue that I raised in a debate on the national curriculum in the Moses Room earlier this year. The key to effective long-term care for animals lies in education. It is essential that children in primary schools are taught about the five basic needs of animals and about the responsibility that comes with owning a pet. My noble friend Lord Nash has said that he will look into this area, and I hope that the Government will listen carefully to the concerns of Cats Protection and other animal charities.
Finally, I must tell your Lordships that since I have been studying these issues in recent months—they have been a welcome break from the rigours of the Leveson inquiry—it has struck me that the care of our animals, which is crucial, as I said at the outset, to the development of a civilised, liberal and caring society, encompasses a huge number of issues and hence a number of government departments. Some lie with Defra, where my noble friend Lord De Mauley is a tower of strength, but the Home Office has important responsibilities too. There are also issues relating to care that fall under the Department of Health, and of course there is education, which lies with the Department for Education. There are also spending issues; after all, the issue of irresponsible dog ownership alone costs the taxpayer nearly £80 million per year. If ever there was a case for joined-up government, it is this, so would it not be a good idea to establish a post for an animal welfare champion to draw all these threads together, championing the cause of vulnerable animals, saving the taxpayer money, ensuring that our children are educated in the care of pets in a way that would be of real benefit to their all-round education, and at the same time helping the elderly and the lonely? That would be a win-win for our society.
The Prime Minister rightly declared that this is a gracious Speech for ordinary hard-working families, and so it is. Let us just ensure that we include our pets, such a special part of so many families, in that noble ambition too.
My Lords, when my noble friend Lord MacKenzie rose to speak, he said that he had had to tear up his original speech because of the speeches made by my noble friend Lady Wheeler and others, and I feel the same about mine. My noble friend made an excellent speech on the health service and on nursing in particular, and I should like to be fully and completely identified with what he said. However, there are a couple of things regarding this issue that I do not think were dealt with in that speech or in others, and I should like briefly to say something about them.
The first concerns nursing and nurses spending more time with patients and more time on the ward. My noble friend Lord MacKenzie implied that it was time to get nurses back to basics. It is part of the current ethos about the problem in the National Health Service that nurses are not spending enough time on the wards. Certainly, given the Francis report and other things, I can understand why that might be thought to be the case. At the same time, in my experience, it is crucial that we do not overlook the importance of high-quality nurse managers. Matrons and charge nurses are managers as well as nurses. Their clinical qualifications and expertise as clinicians are not always matched by their qualifications and expertise as managers and leaders.
Basically, hospitals work in teams. It is only teams that deliver. Anyone who has been a patient or worked in a hospital will understand that nurses do not work in isolation; they work in teams. Skills are needed to build and develop a team, to take it forward, to fill a gap, to look after an absence, and to deal with a crisis. All those important skills have to be learnt and developed by nurse managers. It is important that that is said.
In the past 10 years, developments have taken place in the commercial sector and some parts of the charity sector, and investment has been made in helping people to become high-quality managers and leaders. I am not sure that that same development has taken place in the National Health Service. We need to address that. I do not know whether the Minister would be kind enough to write to me about the ambitions in this respect. I do not expect chapter and verse, but I should like to know the direction of travel in making sure that we have world-class leadership among our nursing staff. It is worth using that word because in order to deal with the problems that we have seen in the Francis report we need that kind of ambition.
Secondly, on what I would call an holistic approach to patient care, again, the drum-beats at the moment are about patients left on trolleys and nurses not caring properly. However, the patient experience is about a lot more than a nurse and a doctor. It is about something much more fundamental and basic. If the first call to a general practitioner’s surgery is badly answered by an inattentive receptionist, it is the first step towards a bad patient experience. In the National Health Service, it is possible to have several bad patient experiences before you ever meet a clinician. It is very important that people who work in all professions—nursing, non-nursing and supporting professions—understand that the patient experience begins with them.
Everyone has responsibility for giving good patient care, including the GP who does not have time to listen properly to a patient, and the consultant who is too busy to explain exactly what the issues are and what might be done to help a patient’s situation. These skills are not taught in medical school or nursing school. I ask: are they taught or are they picked up? It is expected that these skills will be picked up and learnt on the journey from being a clinical practitioner to a manager and a leader. My opinion is that often those skills are not learnt and that they are badly lacking in a lot of health service experiences. We need to do something about that.
The skills required are those of listening, empathy and understanding. Sometimes they would be called soft skills, but they are crucial in the health service. Patients feel vulnerable, worried and anxious about what will happen to them, so it is very important that everyone who works in the health service understands that the patient experience begins with them and that they are responsible in just the same way as doctors and nurses. If it not too much trouble, I would not mind a note from the Minister about how that wider holistic approach to patient care, not just by clinical practitioners, doctors and nurses, is seen. I ask everyone in the health service to be aware of the importance of the patient experience.
My Lords, I was delighted that the gracious Speech contained several mentions of the intention to focus on the well-being and education of children and young people by putting measures in place to bridge the social mobility gap. I congratulate the coalition Government on their continuing efforts to address this issue. In my speech, I would like to concentrate on how even more can be achieved through cultural education within the curriculum.
Exposure to art and cultural experiences is the perfect way to build confidence, satisfy our well-being and stimulate the imagination, and the earlier children are provided with this type of stimulus the better.
However, recently I chaired a Westminster Education Forum conference at which several educationalists expressed a desire for a clear direction, a national plan, as suggested in the Henry review, on how to deliver cultural education in the classroom as many did not feel confident about what was expected from them and how best to deliver cultural provision to the children.
I believe that one effective way to do so is through the discovery of Shakespeare. The many beneficial attributes this has are not all obvious for, as well as words and language, connections with music, drama and art can also be gained from studying Shakespeare. It can be used to help children develop a critical eye, teach them simple philosophy, build their natural curiosity and help them to learn to analyse information in a fun and exciting way.
Shakespeare is loved across the world. He is the most performed playwright internationally. Half of the world’s schoolchildren study Shakespeare. In surveys, Shakespeare is cited as one of the reasons many people feel proud to be British, and yet here in the UK so many children leave school with minimal exposure to this icon who is part of their cultural heritage. Whole generations encounter Shakespeare only as a topic for examination and therefore believe that Shakespeare is not for them or is too difficult.
Well, my Lords, a change is a coming. I heard it for myself. Yes, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has plans for young children to be exposed to Shakespeare. It has started a campaign focusing on children aged nine to 11 in primary schools to discover Shakespeare. Too difficult? Too prescriptive? Too elitist? No, no, no. To be or not to be, that is the question. Well it will be, because in March 2014 Shakespeare Week will be launched as a major new national schools and cultural campaign to open up Shakespeare’s legacy to every child in Britain, uniting our numerous cultural venues and our versatile artistic practitioners in a nationwide celebration of Shakespeare’s creative influence. It will be a bold and original approach to learning.
Modern learning tools will be used to engage the children as several free online resources will bring the Bard to life for every subject in the curriculum. For geography, Shakespeare’s characters will be used to spark off children’s imaginations on the subject—for example, matching characters to countries. There will be resources demonstrating how pulleys helped fairies fly over the Elizabethan stage as an introduction to engineering. There will also be resources used to spark off children’s interest in writing and literature and lead them to discover other writers, historical and contemporary. As well, it will help them form a love for art and design because their young minds will not be influenced by negative assumptions. It will inspire them to have aspirations in whatever they choose to become and assist them to achieve their goals.
Most importantly, it will give them the opportunity to have fun with Shakespeare at an age when magic can still happen and before someone tells them, “It is too difficult for you, so do not bother”. Furthermore, it will provide teachers with a free, flexible resource to draw on, as much or as little as they like, in any subject they choose.
The pupil premium is encouraging schools to seek imaginative ways to broaden their outlook in provision for children. In just three weeks since the launch of Shakespeare Week, many have embraced this opportunity. Five hundred schools have already registered to take part in Shakespeare Week and the figure is rising, which is simply wonderful. I have seen at first hand how joyfully and enthusiastically young people react when they are exposed to Shakespeare. They identify with the characters who are so cleverly written as they reflect contemporary society and deal with all the emotions and feelings that young children are likely to grow up to experience: jealousy, anger, humour, revenge, guilt, fear, love and passion, emotions which are felt across all cultures.
The lyrical rhythm of the language is great for those with autism, dyslexia and learning difficulties. Many people from challenging backgrounds who are rarely exposed to the theatre are often transformed by discovering Shakespeare. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has been charged with promoting the enjoyment and understanding of Shakespeare’s works, life and times. The trust has been awarded Arts Council funding to support Shakespeare Week for just two years, 2014 and 2015. I truly believe that this initiative should go beyond that time. It will ignite young children’s appetite for art and culture and develop confidence which will indirectly have an effect on their ability to learn across the curriculum in the classroom and beyond, giving them a lasting legacy. So I ask my noble friend whether the Government will consider making Shakespeare Week an annual event in the primary school calendar for the sake of our children’s holistic well-being, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The first book I chose as my school speech day prize back in 1961 at the age of 12 was the Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Little did I know that the content would be a revelation to me and serve me well in my career. The works of Shakespeare were written for all people and were not meant to be exclusive, but inclusive. It is worth noting that at the television BAFTAs last Sunday two awards were given to Shakespeare productions. Yes, the Bard is still thrilling audiences 400 years on.
Shakespeare Week is an important initiative for future generations, so let us make it a permanent resource and give all our young children the opportunity to feel that they are part of something great. Who knows, one of them could even become the Shakespeare of the future. With that, I say:
“Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow, That I shall say good night till it be morrow”.
My Lords, how does one follow such a passionate, energetic and fabulous speech at this late hour? I am afraid that mine is going to sound a bit like “Macbeth”, but I am pleased to have the opportunity to raise a somewhat neglected issue in the Queen’s Speech. I am talking about mental health, which does not feature prominently in the Government’s planned legislation and on which there are some critical issues that I want to raise.
The noble Earl will be pleased to hear that I shall start off on a positive note. I have to say that the coalition Government, when they first came to power, actually made a good start in trying to address inequalities in the area of mental health. In particular, the Government should be commended on their mental health strategy, No Health Without Mental Health, and the ambition it represented to see mental health provision achieve “parity of esteem” with physical health. I was also very pleased when on
However, in spite of these positive developments, the problems are not getting any better. My noble friend Lord Layard, in his report last year with the London School of Economics, set out some of the starkest evidence I have seen that the problems are actually getting worse. For example, those with severe mental illness are more likely to be the victims of violent crime, have poor physical health, and a life expectancy up to 25 years shorter than that of the general population; in fact, mental illness now accounts for nearly half of all ill health suffered by people under the age of 65, and it is more disabling than most chronic physical disease. Yet only a quarter of those involved are in any form of treatment. The hidden costs of this to the economy in terms of lost employment and productivity are immense, at an estimated £105 billion, which is more than the entire NHS budget.
Despite this, only 13% of NHS funds are devoted to the treatment of mental health issues—and I have to question the efficacy and the appropriateness of some of the ways in which that money is being spent. For example, we know from the Health and Social Care Information Centre that prescriptions for anti-depressants are rising. In fact, the NHS in England spent more than £270 million on anti-depressants in 2011—a massive 23% increase on 2010. The NHS spent almost £1 million a week more on these drugs than the year before, resulting in a startling 46.7 million prescriptions a year. Can the Minister explain how this is happening against a background of a national programme to increase access to psychological therapies, which the evidence supports as being far more effective? While we are on the subject, how is increasing access to psychological therapies making a difference for people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds? I fear that even after decades of lobbying Governments of all persuasions to address the disproportionately poor outcomes of people from black and minority ethnic communities in mental health services in Britain, there continues to be little progress with adults and young people. There are some notable successes, such as Open Mind in Leicester, but on the whole the situation is extremely poor.
We know from the Count Me In census, which for the first time collected statistics on ethnic minorities in mental health services, that there are stark differences in access, experience and outcomes for minority ethnic groups in terms of mental health. In fact, some groups of young black men are up to 18 times more likely to be admitted to a mental health ward than their white counterparts. There are also significantly disproportionate numbers for black and minority ethnic women.
These are extremely worrying figures but they are not the only ones. The coalition Government’s own No Health Without Mental Health strategy shows that 20% of children and young people are believed to have a mental health problem. That is a fifth of all children, but we do not know how many of those young people are from a black and minority ethnic background. Given what we know about the breakdown of disorders for black and minority ethnic adults, surely it is unacceptable that these data are not available for minority ethnic children and young people. Can the Minister urgently look into this area and rectify what is obviously a glaring omission? In fact, I would welcome a commitment to gathering these data so that we can get a full picture and be better equipped to start doing something about these gross inequalities. This is vital because I fear that, without proper attention to these issues, the services for black and minority ethnic adults and young people will only get worse, especially against the background of the current upheaval caused by the NHS reforms.
The impact of this disruption within the NHS can also be seen by the fact that Section 117 services, which are for the most vulnerable mental health service users, are under threat again in the Care Bill. I was very dismayed to see that the Government have chosen to return to this issue, given that we have already dealt with it under the Health and Social Care Act. As noble Lords will recall from previous debates, Section 117 of the Mental Health Act concerns the provision of aftercare services for people leaving treatment after a period of detention in hospital. The Government finally accepted our amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill that these vital services should be preserved, and yet here we are again facing significant changes to the definition of aftercare that will in effect remove these services from many people. Clause 68(5) of the Care Bill introduces for the first time a statutory definition of “after-care services”, which I and others believe is too restrictive and could generate complex legal disputes over whether a service should be provided under Section 117. I fail to see the Government’s rationale for this and will be seeking answers from the Minister about the impact of these changes during the passage of the Bill.
Care of the vulnerable should surely be at the forefront of our efforts. I would have thought that after everything that happened at Winterbourne View we should be much more focused on preventing harms. What have we done since the scandal of Winterbourne View? For example, at the time, the case refocused the spotlight on the appropriateness of restraint and physical intervention as an approach to managing challenging behaviour. The review into the failings recommended that the Government should consider banning the use of certain forms of restraint on patients with learning disabilities. Can the Minister update us on the Government’s progress in meeting this recommendation?
However, this issue does not concern only those with learning disabilities. It would be fair to say that the approach to restraint has been confusing and shambolic within the mental health sector as a whole. Many providers do not carry out risk assessment of techniques. If we are to develop appropriate regulations and consistent training for staff, work urgently needs to be done, by appropriate medical experts, on the likelihood and probability of physical and psychological harm with regard to each restraint technique in each position. Restraint is a physical intervention and should be seen as such; therefore, like all other physical interventions, it should be based on evidence of efficacy, safety and acceptability. Is it not time that this issue is reviewed by NICE and clear recommendations made, based on evidence? Finally, the Care Quality Commission should review its actions and ensure that a robust inspection process is in place that covers not only the process of restraint in care homes but the training that staff receive.
In conclusion, I am calling on the Government to take this opportunity to do more to address the inequalities in mental health for black and minority ethnic communities, adults and young people alike; to hold to their commitment to protect aftercare services, as defined by Section 117 of the Mental Health Act; and to bring forward actions to ensure appropriate use of restraint and physical intervention across mental health and learning disability services. I would like to see a clear commitment by the Government to take action within this parliamentary Session to tackle these issues. Without such action, we could be heading towards a crisis point and once again placing some of the most vulnerable people in our communities at real risk.
My Lords, first, I pay tribute to the impressive number of speakers in today’s debate, and the quality and range of the topics covered. I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester on their wise and inspirational maiden speeches. I know that we all look forward to their future contributions with considerable interest.
There is a new enthusiasm in social media for the concept of crowdsourcing. We could do worse than apply this principle to the contributions today, because if we amalgamated all the proposals made by your Lordships we would have a much more substantial Queen’s Speech than the rather timid mouse of a legislative programme that we have been debating today. It seems that the Government cannot raise much enthusiasm for their own programme. We have already heard that the coalition is split on the legislation to increase staff/child ratios in nurseries, and now the Prime Minister himself is saying that he is relaxed about Back-Benchers amending his own legislative programme. What kind of leadership is this for the country at this time?
The country is crying out for leadership and action to tackle the 1 million young people out of work, the fall in family living standards, the lowest number of new home completions since the 1920s, inflated energy bills while energy companies’ profits rise, and the health service creaking at the seams. A Government on top of their game would be laying substantial proposals in front of us to tackle these issues head on.
What conclusions can we draw about the rather insubstantial policy offerings that we are debating here today? First, a number of the proposals make extra demands on local services that are not matched by additional local support. Local government is already struggling with a 33% cut in central government funding, and the projections are worse. For example, my noble friends Lord Hunt and Lady Wheeler, and others, have made challenging analyses of the Care Bill and raised some vital questions. Underpinning these issues, the Local Government Association estimates that there has already been a cut of £1.89 billion in social care funding, and more cuts in services are planned. It is a cruel deceit to suggest that social care provision can be modernised and integrated when the funding is not in place to make this a reality.
We support the principle set out in the Bill of capping care costs and giving family carers more support, although we share Andrew Dilnot’s concern that the cap is being set too high. There is concern that the Bill does not address the daily struggle of those seeking support right now. What reassurance can the Minister give to those people about the current and future funding necessary to deliver a modern, integrated care system?
On the issue of public health, rightly raised by a number of noble Lords today, I hope the Minister can reassure us that measures on plain tobacco packaging and minimum alcohol pricing will form part of the “other measures” to be laid before us in due course.
Secondly, on welfare reform, the Government appear determined to push on with the scapegoating of vulnerable people, including the disabled and unemployed, as well as of low-paid working families who are seeing their incomes cut. We have heard today how this is distorting public attitudes towards these groups. Meanwhile, the Government are doing nothing to raise families out of poverty. The Work Programme is failing to get the long-term unemployed into work, and the implementation of the universal credit system is beset by delays and problems.
We believe that, as a start, every young person who is out of work for more than a year should be offered a job guarantee to avoid a deskilled and demotivated generation losing faith in the prospects of fulfilling work. We would also introduce a compulsory paid job, linked to benefit entitlement, for every adult who was out of work for more than two years. Can the Minister explain what new proposals the Government have for creating meaningful work opportunities for young people and the long-term unemployed that might match this policy?
The one area of welfare reform that gives us some optimism is the Pensions Bill. I would be interested to know whether the Minister shares the views expressed in the insightful contributions of my noble friends Lady Hollis and Lady Drake in this regard, and whether he accepts their concerns about its potential implementation.
Thirdly, the Government are neglecting the country’s children by failing to invest in their economic, social and physical well-being. The recent report of the Institute for Fiscal Studies has concluded that, by
2015, the number of children living in absolute poverty will rise by 900,000 to 3 million and that, by the end of the decade, 3.4 million children—about one in four—will find themselves in relative poverty. This reverses all the progress made by the previous Government in tackling child poverty and is a real indictment of the callousness of this Government. Instead of reaching the target for rates of child poverty that are no higher than 5%, they will oversee an increase to levels of 27%. Is tackling child poverty still a priority for this Government and do they still intend to take the original targets seriously?
A further example of the Government’s disregard for the welfare of young children is the ill conceived plan to increase child/staff ratios for nurseries, an issue that has been raised by several noble Lords. We said at the outset that such an increase would threaten the quality of childcare while being unlikely to reduce childcare costs, and this view is now echoed among professionals in the sector.
We are grateful that, rather belatedly, the Deputy Prime Minister is beginning to raise the same concerns. What is the status of this flagship policy now? Are the Government going to press ahead despite the overwhelming concerns expressed? When are we likely to see the carry-over Children and Families Bill in this House? I am sure that a large number of my colleagues would like to contribute to that debate. Perhaps the Minister can enlighten us as to the proposed timetable.
The Government’s disregard for the physical health and well-being of children is all too well illustrated by their policy on school sports. Under the previous Government’s school sport partnerships, the proportion of children taking part in weekly sport increased from one in four to more than 90%. As we have heard today from my noble friend Lady Billingham, the Government’s decision to unravel this provision, followed by a partial U-turn, has left a fragmented and underfunded service with no funding guarantees. That this should happen in the aftermath of our stunning Olympic success is a real tragedy. School and community sport need long-term funding commitments and an integrated programme if we are ever to repeat our global sporting success. Perhaps the Minister could enlighten us as to what plans the Government now have for how that might be achieved.
Another way in which Michael Gove has let down this country’s young people is his failure to grasp the importance of the arts and creativity in education. His tenure has been marked by grand announcements and policy shifts followed by rethinks and retreat. Not surprisingly, as described by my noble friend Lord Puttnam, Mr Gove has had a demoralising effect on the whole teaching profession. The example of the proposed EBacc was a case in point, with no status given to art, music and drama in the original proposals. The new curriculum proposals represent only a partial reprieve and the whole redesign of the curriculum has been marked by secrecy and intrigue when it should have been an open and transparent national debate about appropriate learning for the next generation of young people. Incidentally, confidence in the Government’s proposals is not helped by Michael Gove’s admission that research he recently quoted about children’s knowledge came from Premier Inn and UKTV Gold studies. Could the Minister explain how the new curriculum proposals will be debated in this House and what opportunity will exist for a real input into the final design?
The cultural legacy of the next generation is being squandered in so many ways, not just through the failings of education. The Secretary of State at DCMS has belatedly and ineffectively caught up with the economic contribution of the arts but fails to address the wider contribution, which is about our identity, ability to express ourselves, and health and well-being as a nation. This point was eloquently made by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, whose impressive maiden speech we have all applauded and whose godfather’s centenary I celebrated only last week. The Arts Council has been struggling with the burden of 30% cuts, with more to come, and local authority arts funding is being cut, sometimes to the bone. Nothing in the Queen’s Speech gives any comfort or optimism to those who see the potential of a strong local, regional and national arts presence in the UK.
A number of noble Lords raised concerns about the delay in implementing Leveson and the process of resolving the two competing royal charters. I share these concerns. Similarly, there has been a gaping silence where the communications Bill might be. We have been promised and promised again a White or Green Paper, but deadlines come and go and nothing has materialised. We need urgent action to protect children and tackle the highly concentrated and monopolistic nature of the industry. Can the Minister tell us when the communications Bill might be expected?
Finally, what kind of legacy do the Government offer young people on the environment? Whatever happened to the heady days of claiming to be the “greenest Government ever”? Who can remember the last time the Prime Minister even mentioned the green agenda positively? Not surprisingly, the Government’s proposals hold out little hope for those of us who care about these issues. Meanwhile, as CO2 emissions reach record levels, Tory MEPs have just sabotaged attempts to reform the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and the Chancellor is continuing to veto the introduction of a decarbonisation target in the Energy Bill. Can the Minister explain why, against this backdrop, consumers are faced with soaring energy bills while the profits of the energy companies continue to rise? How will the Government address the powerful critiques from several noble Lords of their failure to implement effective market reform in this area?
In conclusion, there have been many more thoughtful contributions today and I am sorry that I have not been able to reference them all. I am sure that the Minister will prove more skilled than I am at that. As I said at the outset, we have the makings in this debate of an alternative Queen’s Speech that could prove to be radical and exciting. I have certainly learnt a great deal and taken copious notes. I hope that, in the aftermath of the next election, we on this side of the House will be able to produce a Queen’s Speech that rather more successfully addresses the challenges of the nation that we have debated today.
My Lords, it is one of the glories of the debate on the gracious Speech that it engenders a wealth of varied and expert contributions from all quarters of the House. Correspondingly, it falls to the lot of the responding Minister to try to do justice to those contributions. Because of the large number of speakers today and the limited time available to me, I hope that noble Lords will understand if the justice that I do is of a rather rougher nature than I would ideally like, but I undertake to respond in writing to those noble Lords whose questions I have been unable to cover.
I cannot, however, omit to compliment our three maiden speakers on their contributions, which so lit up this debate—the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, on the economic and wider societal benefits of music and the arts; my noble friend Lord Ridley on the importance of affordable energy to economic growth; and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester on religious education and social well-being. The right reverend Prelate has asked me to say that he has been called back to his diocese on a very urgent matter. The House listened with admiration to all three, and we look forward to their participation in our proceedings in future.
It is perhaps natural for me to begin with the Care Bill. I was grateful for the welcome accorded to the Bill by a number of speakers. As those noble Lords have highlighted, the Care Bill is essential to achieve a modern, clear and fair legal framework for care and support. There are issues which we shall doubtless debate in Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, questioned why the cap on care costs in the Bill was set at £72,000. Of course, that is the equivalent of £60,000 in 2010-11 prices, when the Dilnot commission reported. Simply, the cap is set at that level to strike a balance between protecting social care users and public affordability. The same principle will apply to national minimum eligibility criteria, which were raised by several noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, and which will be published in draft following the announcement of the spending review settlement on
The noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, raise the issue of overall funding of social care. I would like to believe that she does not begrudge what we have done. We have sought to prioritise adult care and support. This year, the NHS is transferring funds of £859 million to support adult social care services, which also have a health benefit. Alongside that, we have seen examples of local authorities redesigning services to find more efficient ways of using scarce resources.
A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lady Jolly and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, raised the issue of young carers. Both departments—of health and for education—are working closely with carer organisations and young carers themselves to consider how they can best be supported through legislation and other means. We do not, however, believe that the adult statute is the right place to make provision for children. The boundary between legislation for children and for adults ensures an appropriate distinction between what is expected of adults and of children.
The noble Lord, Lord Patel, raised the issue of free social care at the end of life. I hope that he will understand if I say simply at this juncture that I note that that idea has merit, as the Joint Committee on pre-legislative scrutiny concluded. The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Handsworth, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, both raised the Ready for Ageing? report by the Select Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change. I thank the Select Committee for its thorough report, and the Government will respond in due course.
“the first and foremost consideration of the system and everyone who works in it”.
In that context, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, questioned why we are not merging Monitor and the Care Quality Commission. The answer is that those bodies have different functions. The Care Quality Commission’s need to address quality and highlight features of care should not be conflated with Monitor’s responsibility to oversee the turnaround of failing NHS providers.
The criminal offence of providing false and misleading information was also raised. Perhaps I need to make clear that it applies to all care providers. However, as the Francis report identified that distortions to mortality rates are most significant, we plan to limit the application of the offence through regulations to provision of this kind of information.
On the issue of criminal sanctions for individuals, there are already existing routes for prosecution through the Health and Safety Executive, the corporate manslaughter Act and the laws of negligence. In future, when the new Chief Inspector of Hospitals identifies criminally negligent practice, they will refer the matter to the Health and Safety Executive to consider whether prosecution is necessary.
The lack of reference to minimum alcohol pricing and standardised tobacco packaging in the Care Bill has been mentioned by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch and Lady Morgan of Drefelin, and the noble Lords, Lord MacKenzie of Culkein and Lord Patel. Introducing either of these measures would be very significant. We are actively looking at them both but we are determined to take the time to consider all the available evidence, rather than rushing to legislate. I look forward to further debates on the issues covered by the Care Bill with the many noble Lords who are expert in these areas.
On other health issues, my noble friend Lord Colwyn raised dental foundation training. My figures are that in this year’s recruitment, only 33 out of 1,000 applicants failed to secure dental foundation training places. We are committed to improving the process but this is a competitive process open to others including, noticeably, EU graduates. The noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, raised the issue of early identification of dementia. The
Government are introducing a new enhanced service as part of the GP contract for 2013-14, rewarding practices for early identification of dementia. My noble friend Lady Barker asked about social enterprises. The Department of Health’s Social Enterprise Investment Fund has invested almost £110 million in 650 organisations, while over 10% of community health services are now provided by social enterprises through the “right to provide” programme.
The noble Lord, Lord Patel of Bradford, spoke powerfully about mental health. We are investing over £400 million to give thousands of people, in all areas of the country, access to NICE-approved psychological therapies. The mandate to NHS England makes clear that “everyone who needs it” should have,
“timely access to evidence-based services. This will involve extending and ensuring more open access to the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies … programme, in particular for children and young people, and for those out of work”.
Finally on health, the issue of charges for migrants was raised by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. Such charging was actually welcomed by the shadow Secretary of State for Health in yesterday’s debate in the other place. Our approach is simply to ensure that everyone who uses NHS services contributes. We are seeking to do that in a way that will be simple for services to be provided and will be consulting on the details in the summer.
Just as care and support needs reforming, so fundamental reform to state pensions is vital in order to have a system fit to meet future challenges. This is taken forward by the Pensions Bill. The single-tier pension will deliver simplicity, introducing a flat-rate state pension for future pensioners that is set above the basic means test to provide a clear foundation for retirement. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Hollis and Lady Drake, and my noble friend Lord Stoneham for their words of support for these crucial reforms. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, stressed the need to consider healthy life expectancy when looking at state pension age. The Pensions Bill introduces a regular review of the state pension age. The guiding principle of that review will be that individuals should spend a given proportion of their lives drawing a state pension but other factors are important. An independently-led body will consider and report on other relevant factors, which could include variations in healthy life expectancy and regional variations in life expectancy.
My noble friend Lord Stoneham remarked on the difficulty of the ending of contracting-out for defined benefit schemes as a consequence of these reforms. The Government recognise that this is the case; that is why the Pensions Bill contains a statutory override to help employers make any necessary changes. The noble Baroness, Lady Drake, spoke of the importance of the single-tier pension in a world where employees will be automatically enrolled into workplace pension schemes. She mentioned the importance of the single-tier pension retaining its value relative to earnings. The Pensions Bill includes provisions which mean that the single-tier pension will be annually uprated by at least earnings.
I shall turn briefly to the water Bill. The water industry has come a long way since privatisation, using private sector investment to deliver major improvements in infrastructure and the environment, but we are now facing unprecedented pressures on our water resources as a result of growing population and changing weather patterns. Doing nothing is not an option. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, suggested that the water Bill fails to deal with public affordability. However, the Bill will increase resilience, efficiency and innovation in the water sector, which will keep customer bills affordable. My noble friend Lord Redesdale raised sustainability. Ofwat has had a statutory duty to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development since 2003. We are supplementing this by introducing a new primary duty to secure the long-term resilience of our water services.
On issues around culture and media, I agree with my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones regarding the importance of creative industries and the contribution of arts and culture to our society. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley of Knighton, talked of the excellent returns of investment in the arts. The Government are committed to the creative industries as a vital part of our strategy for growth.
I shall conclude with remarks on two Bills carried over from the previous Session. The Children and Families Bill will transform the system for children and young people with special educational needs, reduce delay in the adoption system and reform childcare to ensure the system focuses on providing safe, high-quality care and early education for children. A number of noble Lords, including my noble friends Lady Barker, Lady Jolly and Lord McCall and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, raised issues which demonstrate their real expertise in this area. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, my noble friends Lord Storey and Lady Walmsley and other noble Lords raised the important issue of childcare. We strongly agree that we need to do more to encourage high-quality, better paid professionals in the sector. Our proposals will help to attract more talented people into the profession by making it easier for providers to pay better wages. I hope I can offer some reassurance. The Government’s proposed new ratios bring us into line with practice in countries such as France and the Netherlands, both of which operate with less restrictive ratios combined with better qualified and better paid professionals. We want to give providers in this country these same freedoms to improve the quality of staff. The new ratios will be available only to those providers who employ highly qualified staff. We have consulted on the qualification thresholds and are considering the responses. We will be publishing the response soon.
As the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, so rightly said, nothing has more impact on children’s achievement than the quality of teaching they receive. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education is raising the bar for new teachers, supporting existing teachers to improve and creating teaching schools which model and share outstanding practice. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, I must stress that our ambitions and these critical improvements are for all children and all schools. The steady stream of applications to set up new free schools demonstrates the continuing demand from parents for a greater choice of schools within their communities. The success of the academies programme is something for which the Government do not apologise. We make no apology for our investment in a programme which is proven to drive up standards and make long-term school improvements. We want as many as possible to take advantage of the significant benefits that academy status brings.
The noble Baroness, Lady Billingham, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, spoke of the importance of the Olympic legacy in schools. We entirely agree that we must harness the sporting spirit of 2012 for all our young people. That is why the Department for Education is providing £150 million per year and reintroducing competitive sport into the heart of the curriculum. By doing that, we can achieve an Olympic legacy in our schools of which we can be proud.
A number of noble Lords spoke about the review of the national curriculum. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, are concerned that the breadth of education is important. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester raised the importance of religious education in schools, my noble friend Lady Miller asked about the teaching of nutrition and my noble friend Lady Benjamin highlighted the importance of Shakespeare. The aim of the curriculum review is to enable a focus on the essential subject knowledge that all young people should acquire to be educated citizens while freeing up teachers to use their professional judgment about what to teach beyond that core and how to teach in a way that will inspire and challenge their pupils.
Finally, the Energy Bill seeks to reform the electricity market by ensuring security of supply, reducing our emissions by transition to low-carbon generation and doing all of this at the lowest cost to the consumer. I am grateful for the contributions of many noble Lords more expert than me in this area, including my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding. The noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, and my noble friend Lord Crickhowell raised the slow progress of energy reforms. These reforms are complex and it takes time to work through them with stakeholders. Therefore I hope that the Energy Bill will progress quickly through your Lordships’ House.
The issue of shale gas was raised by a number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Ridley. The Government have set up the Office for Unconventional Gas and Oil. In the Budget, the Chancellor announced plans to incentivise shale gas development in the UK.
The noble Lord, Lord Donoughue, questioned the scientific orthodoxy on climate change. The Government are committed to implementing the Climate Change Act 2008. This commits us to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. It also sets the long-term framework for planning about which my noble friend Lord Redesdale is rightly concerned.
It is a pity that I do not have time to respond to many of today’s excellent contributions, including those of my noble friend Lord Bridgeman, the noble Lord, Lord MacKenzie, on nursing, the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, on autism, the noble Lord, Lord Noon, on higher education, and the noble Lord, Lord Best, and my noble friend Lord Kirkwood on housing. I could name many more. However, in such a relatively short speech, it is challenging to do justice to a debate of this diversity and length. As I mentioned, where possible I will write in response to other questions that were put today. I look forward to future debates on all the measures announced in the gracious Speech and I commend the programme to the House.
The debate adjourned until