Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Thursday last by Viscount Montgomery of Alamein—namely, That a 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.
§ 3.10 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Scottish Office (Lord Fraser of Carmyllie)
My Lords, we will today be debating the important issues of local government, the environment and education. Each of those topics has been given a high priority in the Government's coming legislative programme and I have no doubt that the House will have many interesting discussions on them in the coming year. Indeed, I suspect that our debate today will be fairly wide ranging.
Perhaps I may begin by saying something briefly about the Education Bill which was introduced to this House yesterday. That Bill gives effect to the Government's proposals on student union reform which were published in July and carries forward our proposals in respect of teacher training in England and Wales, announced in September. We have consulted extensively on both topics.
It is intended that the Education Bill should, through the creation of a teacher training agency in England and by extending the powers of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, secure greater coordination and more effective deployment of existing resources for the training of teachers; for related higher education and research; and for the promotion of teaching as a career.
264 The Bill should also implement the voluntary principle for students' unions. It is intended to limit the provision of public funds to students' unions to specified services, and to require universities and colleges to establish codes of practice governing the conduct of student unions.
So far as concerns the environment, the Government's main piece of legislation will be a Bill providing for work to begin on the setting up of environment agencies for England and Wales and also for Scotland. The 1990 Environmental Protection Act introduced integrated pollution control for a range of industrial processes. Instead of different bodies regulating the discharges of waste to each environmental medium—air, land and water—IPC brings all of those together. This marks a significant change in our method of controlling pollution. By integrating our regulatory approach we have now established a coherent framework for controlling releases from our most potentially polluting industries and for minimising their effects on the environment as a whole.
Nevertheless, the organisations responsible for pollution control are still to a large extent organised so that they are primarily concerned with control of only one medium and thus are significantly limited in the way that they can take that holistic approach forward. The Government now plan to bring together the main organisations responsible for regulating industrial pollution, to form a single, integrated environment agency for England and Wales and a similar body for Scotland, the Scottish environment protection agency. Not only will that offer a more effective framework for consistent pollution control; it will also reduce the number of regulators with whom industry will have to deal, so reducing the burdens on them.
There are many other benefits which that approach would offer when compared with the existing arrangements. For example, as pollution abatement technology continues to develop, so the technical burden and cost of applying the necessary controls rises, requiring access to the most modern and comprehensive range of specialist expertise and equipment. Those demands can put severe pressure on the existing separate regulators, but by pooling the expertise the two new agencies will be far better placed to meet the challenge.
We shall introduce paving provisions during this Session which will allow preparatory work to take place on the establishment of the new agencies. We recognise the crucial role that the bodies will play in protecting our environment and we want to make sure that their introduction is properly planned. The paving provisions will give my right honourable friends and the affected organisations—the National Rivers Authority and the waste regulation authorities in England and Wales, and the river purification boards and the district and islands councils in Scotland—powers to plan for the establishment of the agencies. There is no need to make any similar provision for Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution and Her Majesty's Industrial Pollution Inspectorate as they are already part of the Department of the Environment and the Scottish Office respectively.
265 The pledges to establish the new agencies are important manifesto commitments which the Government are keen to take forward. By planning ahead in that way it should be possible to establish the agencies in a much shorter time after the passage of substantive legislation than would otherwise be the case.
I move on now to local government. Before considering in some detail the Government's proposals for reforming the structure of local government in Scotland and Wales, should like to say something briefly about the forthcoming Deregulation Bill and its effect on local government.
The Government intend to bring forward a Bill giving further impetus to their deregulation initiative. Among other things, it will provide for the removal of statutory obstacles to market testing and contracting out by central and local government. The aim of the deregulation initiative is to remove unnecessary regulation and to lighten the burden on industry and commerce. On market testing and contracting out, the Bill will give the Government the power to enable local authorities in appropriate cases to employ contractors to carry out their functions if the authorities themselves so wish.
Moving now to local government reform in Scotland and Wales, both of the Government's proposed Bills come after long periods of discussion and debate on the best way forward for local government. By its nature, local government is never going to be a topic on which everyone will agree. Nevertheless, the Government believe that the result of that extensive debate is proposals which will stand the test of time and be of considerable benefit to the people of both Scotland and Wales.
In the case of Wales, the forthcoming Bill is intended as a response to the widespread concerns that exist about the present structure of local government in that country. The present system is not widely understood by local people. Nor does it sufficiently reflect those people's identification with their own communities and localities.
The two-tier structure introduced in 1974 in Wales represents a significant advance on the complex set of arrangements which emerged during the last century. However, it is clear that the replacement of the old counties by local government areas which do not always reflect people's traditional loyalties has not secured wholehearted public support. The people of south west Wales, for example, still feel that they belong to Pembrokeshire, Cardiganshire or Carmarthenshire, not to the artificial county of Dyfed created in 1974. A structure of local government that cannot command the loyalties of local people cannot be as effective as it must be if it is to meet the challenges of the coming century.
The Government's case does not rest on sentiment alone. There are practical reasons for making the changes which my right honourable friend will propose in the Bill which he will be bringing before Parliament.
A two-tier system of counties and districts contains within it the seeds of dispute between authorities, especially in matters such as planning and economic development where both levels have responsibilities for 266 the same functions. The structure also leads to duplication of administration and central services such as finance and personnel. Those difficulties reduce the ability of the system to deliver services to local people in an economic, efficient and effective manner. Moreover, even after all the years since that change, there is little public understanding of the responsibilities of each tier. That undermines the direct accountability to local people upon which all good local government is based.
The Government are committed to the creation of good local government which will be close to the people it serves. We aim to establish authorities, based on a strong sense of community identity, which will be clearly accountable to local people. By taking full advantage of the enabling role of local government, they will be able to operate in an efficient and responsive way. They will work with each other and with other agencies to promote the wellbeing of the people they serve. Building on those foundations, the new authorities will enjoy, and will deserve to enjoy, strong local support.
It is a reform for which the Government have made the most careful preparations. My right honourable friends have proceeded at every stage with thorough consultation throughout the past two years. Thousands of members of the public in Wales have submitted their views. The local authorities have been involved at both member and officer level throughout the process.
The linchpin of the reforms—the creation of unitary authorities—is common ground among all the political parties in Wales. The Government believe that it is an idea which has found its time.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord moves to Scotland, perhaps I may intervene. He will he aware that his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales, in the last sentence of his speech in another place on Monday evening, indicated that the Government were not proposing at this time to proceed with the Welsh local government reform Bill. He did not explain why the postponement was to take place. We are aware of the reason for the lack of explanation; namely, that he did not have the time. However, the noble and learned Lord has not told this House why the deferment has taken place. The people of Wales are anxious to know the reason, given the Government's commitment to the Bill which in part the noble and learned Lord has now repeated. It will help the House and the debate if he will go further and tell us the reason for the Government's decision.
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
My Lords, if the noble Lord considers what the Secretary of State for Wales said in the debate in another place, he will realise that it was a rather confused final 15 minutes. It seems to me more appropriate, despite the rather unseemly interruptions in another place, to allow the Secretary of State for Wales to have an opportunity fully to set out his position on the matter.
§ Baroness White
My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord be more precise? We are confused. Is it the 267 implementation of the Bill which will be postponed, as is my understanding, or the Bill? That is quite a different matter. One can understand that the Secretary of State for Wales does not quite know where he is going; but we could at least be told whether the postponement relates to the implementation of the Bill or the Bill itself.
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
My Lords, I have at some length explained what is to be contained within a Bill which the Government propose to bring forward. As the noble Baroness indicated, and as I have explained, there was some considerable confusion in another place. The Secretary of State for Wales was given no opportunity in the 12 minutes to explain his position.
I have indicated that the issue does not relate to a postponement of the Bill but to implementation. If Members in another place had given the Secretary of State for Wales a greater opportunity, he would have been able to spell out exactly what the position was. In fact, there was considerable confusion in the last 20 minutes of the debate.
§ Lord Callaghan of Cardiff
My Lords, perhaps the noble and learned Lord will allow me to intervene. We do not wish to continue the battles of another place in this House. However, I must point out to the noble and learned Lord that requests were made at the very beginning of the debate in another place for the Secretary of State to make clear what he proposed to do and what deferment he intended. That request was repeated several times during the course of the whole day's debate, but it was not until the very last minute, in the middle of the confusion to which the noble and learned Lord referred, that the Secretary of State made his announcement. It is not good enough for the noble and learned Lord to say that the issue was not made clear because of the confusion at the end of the debate. The Secretary of State could have made his statement at any time. We still do not know the answer to the noble Baroness's question.
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
My Lords, for the third time, I have indicated that it is not a delay in the introduction of a Bill but in the implementation of it. As I understand it, it is proposed to delay the implementation for some 12 months. However, with the noble Lord's long experience in another place—he was the Father of the House—I defy him to find a winding up speech by a Secretary of State that has been quite so frequently interrupted in the final 20 minutes as was the speech of the Secretary of State for Wales. It is possibly not surprising that he was not able to convey his point as clearly as he wished.
At the fourth time of trying, perhaps I may turn to the position in Scotland, which is very similar to that I have just described for Wales. The Government propose that the existing structure of 53 districts, nine regions and three islands authorities should be replaced by 28 single-tier councils. The reasons for moving to 268 single-tier authorities are similar to those in Wales but to understand fully the background to the change it is necessary to go back some years.
While ultimately recommending a two-tier system, the Wheatley Commission, which reported on the future of local government in Scotland in 1969, found that a system of all-purpose authorities "has many advantages", being the simplest to understand and to operate. The commission also stated that,evidence from all sides convinces us that the structure of local government cannot afford to remain static".As early as 1980, only five years after the introduction of the two-tier structure, some councils—the four cities, Argyll, Bute and Moray—were asking the committee of inquiry into local government in Scotland, which had been set up under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Stodart, to consider their case for single-tier status. Thus the legitimacy of the present structure was called into question from the moment its creators recognised the merits of the single-tier option and has consistently been the subject of criticism subsequently.
That is not to say that the two-tier structure was wrong. To paraphrase what I have said about the Welsh proposals, two-tier councils were a reasonable idea for their time. In the 1960s and 1970s we had a different view of the role of local government. Those were the days of central planning and of the growth of the public sector into more and more areas of life. Today is different and, I suggest, needs a different system of local government. Today we take the view that the public sector need not always be the best provider of services. There remains a very important role for government—both central and local—but it need not be one which requires large, remote and unaccountable bureaucracy. What we believe our proposals represent and what local people want therefore is a move towards more democratic, accountable and efficient councils which will deliver high quality services to local taxpayers. What we do not want are large regional authorities covering half of the mainland of Scotland, as is the case at present with Strathclyde.
§ Lord Hooson
My Lords, if the noble and learned Lord will give way for a moment perhaps I may ask this question about the reforms in Scotland. What is the smallest population figure for which unitary authority status is being granted in Scotland if the Bill is passed? Is he satisfied that that authority can provide the necessary services?
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
My Lords, the smallest authority will represent a population of under 100,000. The view of the Secretary of State and myself is that, yes, indeed, that is possible. However, it will require local government to be rather more adaptable in the matter than it has hitherto been. It will require local government to understand that it does not always have to be the provider of services and could resort to alternative devices by which service is delivered.
§ Lord Hooson
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord referred to a population of under 100,000. Am I not correct in thinking that the population of the Western Isles is about 20,000? Is that not the smallest authority?
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed to develop my speech. If the noble Lord knew anything about Scotland, he would appreciate that the authority for the Western Isles is already a single tier authority. That authority will not be subjected to reform under the Bill that we propose to introduce.
When I was in the House recently, a woman from Scotland rang me in tears. Although there had been agreement, approved by the social work department and by the housing department that she should have certain alterations made to the heating in her house, after three months no installation had been undertaken because two authorities were still at loggerheads over who should pick up the bill for those improvements. If our changes to unitary authority are introduced, that sort of unnecessary conflict should disappear.
It was very clear from the extensive consultation carried out that the people of Scotland not only value their local government but want some change. Over 3,000 organisations, businesses and individuals took the trouble to respond to the invitation to submit views on the future structure of local government.
Those responses ranged from large submissions contributed by the local authorities themselves to briefer, sometimes handwritten, responses from individuals. Each respondent, to a greater or lesser extent, sought to address the same issues: what structure would best meet their need for a council while, at the same time, ensuring that they received efficient and effective services.
The difficulties inherent in the two-tier system identified in Wales were also obvious in Scotland. Those responding to the consultation exercises complained of having difficulty in understanding which tier of local government was responsible for what and they objected to the obvious waste of having two sets of councillors, two management teams and two finance departments for each area of the country.
Single-tier councils will address those issues. They will also, I hope, act as a catalyst, injecting renewed energy and enthusiasm into local government. It is possibly natural that many authorities have until now been preoccupied with the status quo and with arguing for the retention of the existing system and boundaries.
The Government believe that the reorganisation offers huge opportunities to local councils. For the first time in Scotland, all local authorities will be multi-purpose bodies with responsibility for all local government services. With my own ministerial responsibilities for care in the community I particularly welcome that social work and housing will for the first time be contained within the same authority. I know that many in local government are looking forward to that change, and I hope that with the introduction of the Government's proposals, everyone working and serving in local government will now turn their minds actively to the opportunities and benefits which the new system can offer.
Scotland already had examples of single-tier councils. The three islands councils of Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles have been all-purpose authorities since 1975. It is worth noting that during the recent debate on local government in Scotland, not one single 270 person argued that the islands areas should be incorporated in any way into a two-tier system. Surely that is as encouraging a sign as anyone could wish for. The islands councils act as a focus and a voice for their people on numerous occasions and contribute greatly to the identity and energy of those communities. That is the kind of council that we would like to see developed on the mainland. I believe that the authorities which will be proposed by the Government in the forthcoming Bill will be capable of achieving that aim.
Given what is contained within the subject matters for debate, this has necessarily been a somewhat discursive tour around some of the proposals. The subject of our debate necessitated that. What we are discussing though is a range of measures that will affect large numbers of the population, be they schoolchildren, teachers, students or indeed anyone who comes into contact with local government and its services. I suspect that that means almost all of us. We shall have ample opportunity over the coming year to discuss all these issues in great depth. Meanwhile, I am very much looking forward to hearing your Lordships' first views on these important measures.
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, for his speech on Scottish local government reorganisation; though perhaps not so grateful for his remarks on other forms of local government reorganisation.
As the noble and learned Lord quite rightly said, today we are studying what the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, described when introducing the Motion as a mixed menu. The debate this afternoon is wide-ranging. Indeed, some noble Lords call this day the "sweep up" day. I would prefer to call it the "long-term day". We are dealing, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, rightly said in his closing paragraph, with issues that will have a long-term effect on many of the citizens of the United Kingdom. In what I have to say I shall allude to the Government's programme. I hope that noble Lords will also allow me to dwell somewhat on matters which are relevant to this debate and relevant to the Government's proposals, but which go rather beyond what I would call the somewhat thin gruel in the gracious Speech.
Although the debate today is advertised as being on local government, the environment and education, I propose to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, in dealing first with education. I assure noble Lords that I shall not spend long on the subject because my noble friend Lord Judd, who will wind up from this Dispatch Box, will have much more to say on the matter than I can. From there I propose to move on to local government; not least, it can be argued, because there is a natural relationship between education and local government. From that point, since there is a further local authority link which needs exploring, I shall go on to what are generally known as green issues; in other words, the environment. Lastly, I 271 should like to point noble Lords to two basic principles which could and should, and in our view, must, govern all the matters that we are debating today.
I do not believe that there is any Member of this House, apart perhaps from the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, about whom I am not entirely certain, who does not realise that the education system in England and Wales is in a state of what I would call trauma. After all, reforms have been introduced over the past few years which, for better or worse—and I put it no more contentiously than that—have undermined the principles of the 1944 Education Act. There is still confusion—I speak as a grandparent who has four grandchildren at state schools—about the real objectives of education. In many schools there is low teacher morale, a shortage of proper teaching equipment and a nagging fear that, unless schools opt out of local authority control, they will gradually deteriorate into "sink" establishments trying only to do their best with what they receive as residue from those pupils unable to gain places in grant-maintained schools. In higher education the trauma is perhaps just as bad; not least because so few of those coming out with even half respectable degrees cannot at the moment find jobs.
I do not wish to be alarmist in using the expression "trauma". Any system of any sort which has been through such upsets as has the education system in England and Wales over the past few years is bound to be in a state of trauma. But when a patient is in trauma, it is usual (so I am told) to offer counselling and rest, and perhaps the odd tablet or two. That all seems perfectly sensible. However, far from being sensible about the poor old system's trauma, the Government have now embarked upon another anti-union crusade, this time against the students. Furthermore, far from wishing to fill an obvious gap in nursery education, they tell us brusquely that they cannot afford it. At least I say "they", since those were the words of the Secretary of State and not of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, who, for all I know, may disagree fundamentally with the Secretary of State.
If we cannot afford nursery education, how on earth does it happen that we can afford the local government reorganisation that the Government now propose? The proposals for Scotland and Wales involve what will certainly turn out to be hideous expense. Not only that, but they are, to say the very least, highly controversial, and seem to me—I shall be perfectly frank about it—designed primarily to maximise the number of councils under the control of a rapidly disappearing group of Conservative councillors.
Taken together with a similar process in England for which enabling legislation is already on the statute book, the total cost of creating that confusion in local government—which if previous experience is any guide will take years to sort out—will run into many millions of pounds. I must remind the noble and learned Lord that it was the Conservative Government who reorganised local government in England and Wales in early 1976. It has taken years to get used to it. It is another Conservative Government who are trying to undo the reforms that they made 20-odd years ago.
272 If that money—this is a question of government priorities —were to be put into nursery education instead of being frittered away in messing up local councils, we could perhaps start, and only start, to believe that the Government put a higher priority on the future of our three to five year-olds than they do on their own electoral advantage. But since that is obviously not the case, we shall all have to live for years to come with the consequences and effects of the Government's choices.
Your Lordships have already expressed the view that so far as Wales is concerned there is total confusion. Nobody knows whether there will be shadow authorities elected and nobody knows how the new last-20-second assurance of the Secretary of State for Wales will work. We understand that the Bill will come to this House, as the noble Lord the Leader of the House explained. I shall leave to my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies, who will speak for these Benches on the matter, the detailed critique that we have of the Bill.
However, I have a sneaking sympathy for the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate, who will take the Bill through this House. Why it should be him rather than anybody else is something of a conundrum. Why of all people should it be a Scottish Law Officer of the Crown? I must tell the Government and the noble and learned Lord—and I mean no disrespect, for indeed I have the greatest respect for him—that his appointment has not gone down particularly well in Wales. There have been questions raised in the press and on television. The valleys have not exactly been ringing with cheers. If the Government would like an idea of the reaction, they might consider what the reaction of Scotsmen would be if the Bill for Scottish local government were introduced by the Secretary of State for Wales—but since he talks about everything under the sun, I suppose that it would come as no surprise. But I am sure that Scotsmen would resent it bitterly—not, if I may say so, that my Scottish friends show any enthusiasm for what the noble and learned Lord proposed today. He spent a good deal of his speech on the matter.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
The noble and learned Lord has asked me a question but I am afraid I cannot answer it. I do not know whether he speaks for the Secretary of State for Wales or is the Minister of State speaking for Scotland, for the environment or for anything else. I understood that he was speaking as an environment spokesman. He also speaks as education spokesman. All I can say is that until further notice I believe that he is a Minister of Her Majesty's Government and as such speaks for Her Majesty's Government. Is that a clear answer for him?
§ Lord Fraser of Carmyllie
My Lords, it may have been some unnecessary confusion but at one point in his speech the noble Lord seemed to suffer under the delusion that I remained the Lord Advocate. I think he now appreciates that in fact I am not.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, I try to bring myself up to date with the numerous government changes. I am well aware that the noble and learned Lord is not the Lord Advocate and that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Rodger, is the Lord Advocate. I am also aware that the noble Lord the Leader of the House said that the Lord Advocate would take the Bill through this House. Does that answer the noble and learned Lord's question? In the meantime, he is the spokesman for the Government as a whole and not just for his department.
I do not intend to engage the noble and learned Lord the Minister of State at the Scottish Office in debate about Scottish local government reorganisation. My noble friend Lord Macaulay of Bragar will deal later with that matter from the Benches behind me. I shall not intrude on arguments which the noble Lord will put forward and which I confess—I believe that he would confess the same about Wales—that I imperfectly understand. At risk of wearying your Lordships I simply say again that the money that will be spent on the whole exercise could be much better spent on nursery education. I cannot say fairer than that.
We should be grateful that the Government have not presented us with another Bill attacking local democracy on a general front. We have had many such Bills in the past few years and the results, alas, are beginning to show. It is not just the collapse in morale among local authority officers —I speak as president of an organisation that has nearly 100 district councils as mernbers—and the ever creeping centralisation of decisions. The real phenomenon of the past few years has been the rise in the quango state.
The quango state is no joke. This is not a laughing matter. By 1996 quangos will control nearly one quarter of all government spending. Already there are some 2,900 of these bodies, which is well in excess of the 2,200 or so that caused so much concern to noble Lords opposite in 1979. But given the Government's plans to encourage schools and hospitals to opt out of local authority control, in addition to the new style police authorities, TECs and urban development corporations, that number is expected to rise to over 7,700 in three years' time.
It is not just a matter of bypassing elected local authorities. I have to say to the noble and learned Lord the Minister of State at the Scottish Office that there is direct evidence that those who are appointed—by a Conservative Government—to high positions on those quangos are to a large extent Conservative sympathisers or even representatives of businesses which have been donors to Conservative Party funds. In passing, I note that a number of noble Lords opposite figure among those appointees, some of them at levels of remuneration that old-age pensioners would find more than generous.
Should your Lordships have any doubts about what I say, let me give the example of Wales. At the last general election, the Conservatives won only six of 38 Welsh constituencies. Two of them were won by margins of 19 and 157 votes respectively. Seventy-one per cent. of Welsh voters voted against the Conservatives. Nevertheless, the number of quangos in 274 Wales has doubled in the past 14 years and, as of now, £2.1 billion will be dispensed this year by those quangos compared with £2.5 billion by the properly elected Welsh local authorities. The Secretary of State for Wales was in 1991 responsible for 1,400 appointments to the 100 or so quangos that exist and those quangos themselves employed over 57,000 people. As the Department of City and Regional Planning of the University of Wales recently wrote:the Welsh Office and its quango network constitutes a formidable system of power, influence and patronage, a system which is controlled by a minority party".There is no doubt that such a system is not only a source of mischief—witness the recent scandals at the Welsh Development Agency—but is a clear negation of democracy itself. That is the main burden of our charge, not just in Wales, but throughout the United. Kingdom. If they cannot win power in local authorities by fair electoral means—and they cannot—the Conservative Party constructs an elaborate system first to emasculate local authorities and then to transfer their powers of expenditure to unelected bodies manned by their own placemen. It is no wonder that Wales—and I come back again to Wales—has now become known as "Quangoland".
Having said all that, there is one quango—or perhaps two quangos—which we would welcome, to which the noble Lord referred, provided that any such quangos are mergers of existing bodies and are properly set up. I refer of course to the proposed environment agency and, in Scotland, the proposed Scottish environmental protection agency. These are not to be new quangos; they are designed, as I understand it, to bring together the functions of the National Rivers Authority, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution and the waste regulation functions of local authorities. We have been—
§ Lord Callaghan of Cardiff
My Lords, will my noble friend allow me to intervene for just one moment before he leaves the question of Wales for the time being? Is it not the case that the number of members appointed to quangos by the Secretary of State for Wales now exceeds the number of local councillors in Wales? Is it not also the case that this proliferation of patronage, without being accountable, is going to lead to much stronger demands for a parliament for Wales and more constitutional consequences than people have foreseen, especially as the work of local councillors is diminishing in quality? Is it not the case that this may be true of Scotland, too?
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend. That is exactly what is happening. My noble friend is right in what he says about the number of appointees as against those who are elected democratically. Furthermore, in that situation you cannot get properly qualified people or sensible people to stand for local councils. They go off, they jump ship and they want to be appointed by the Secretary of State for Wales. So my noble friend makes a perfectly valid point.
When we look at the question of new quangos, we see that we have a paving Bill, and of course we shall 275 deal with that paving Bill when it comes in due course. I have to say to the noble Lord, the Minister of State at the Scottish Office, that we were expecting other environmental legislation of which perhaps he was not aware. The gracious Speech was silent on these. Where, for instance, is the legislation, promised in January 1992, to implement the recommendations of the Edwards Panel on National Parks? Where is the legislation to protect important hedgerows, promised in the 1990 environment White Paper and on which a Private Member's Bill in another place was unceremoniously talked out? Where is the legislation to give the New Forest equivalent status to a national park? That was also promised. None of those appear to be on the Government's programme. All we have is an elliptical statement in the gracious Speech that:Bills will be introduced to take forward Environment Agency planning …The real problem, as I see it, is that for environmental issues to be anywhere near the top of the political agenda there must be a sense of communal values—values about our society, our planet and the future for our children and our grandchildren. These values must be communal, for the simple reason that no individual by himself or herself is able to see the larger picture of the damage that he or she can and does do to the environment in exercising his or her rights to individual freedom. Unpleasant as it may sound to noble Lords opposite, there is no escaping that conclusion.
So I conclude with a very simple message. If we are to go back to basics, there are two basics that I wish we could go back to. The first is "communal values". I have tried to demonstrate that the problems of the environment cannot be solved by the unfettered exercise of individual enterprise. They can only be solved by a sense of community, and I wish with all my heart that we could get back to that.
The second basic is quite simply "democracy". Democracy means a pluralistic society; it means that power cannot and should not be concentrated in one central authority or in unaccountable quangos but should be diffuse. It means that ordinary people should have the maximum possible say in the decisions that affect their lives, not only as consumers but as voters, and that their electoral verdicts should be respected. Communal values and democracy: these are the basics to which we should return
§ Lord Harmar-Nicholls
My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? Is he suggesting that the members of these quangos are not ordinary people? They may have different political views from him, but they are ordinary people and they fulfil the needs of a democracy as he has described them.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, as always, for intervening; but the point I was making—and I am not sure that the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, has quite understood it—is that these people may be ordinary. Noble Lords opposite are "ordinary"; we are all "ordinary"; but they are not elected. This is an affront to democracy. These are the basics that we should return to, and if the 276 Government follow that course we shall support them. But if they pursue their present course, which is contrary to communal values and to democracy, I have no doubt that we shall fight them and I have absolutely no doubt at all that we shall win.
§ 3.57 p.m.
§ Baroness Hamwee
My Lords, I had not anticipated the rather philosophical turn of the debate and I am afraid that I cannot add much to any identification of who or what the noble and learned Lord the Minister may have in mind. Nobody called out "Pooh-Bah"; and whether he encompasses those attributes or not, I do not know. However, everything he does I know he does with energy, whatever it may be and whoever he may be.
I too had identified the issue of democracy as being an important one to discuss today. The Government would be the first, I think, to say that if something is "not broke" we should not aim to fix it. I think I should like to extend that to "if it isn't broke, do not break it". In applying that maxim, although I appreciate that it was not in the gracious Speech because we already have legislation, I appreciate that it is very much a current issue. I would apply that to the local government review in England. The review has become increasingly surrounded by concern and confusion, with the guidance to the commission being revised part way through or, as those who are of a more sporting turn of mind than I am might say, "the goal posts being moved." It seems that a fast-tracking procedure has been put into place. I hope that may hear some reassurances today that the commission will be allowed to get on with its work and that the Government may cease their noises off-stage, and there will be no more interference.
Alternatively, if this is the fact, perhaps we should hear that the Government have made up their minds how they want local government to be structured in England and will tell us what is the purpose, in that case, of an independent commission. I hope that is not the case, because I should like to see weight being given to the views of the public, and I hope the commission will not be led away from recommending no change, if that were to be the commission's view in certain areas. There should be no alterations if the commission feels they are not necessary. In other words, if the structure is not broken or only slightly fractured, let us not break it further.
I have always had some difficulty with the concept of the review, because of the separation of local authority functions from structure. I was encouraged to hear the Minister refer to the issues of social services and housing, because I too believe, as with other functions, that they need to be looked at together. One cannot provide services of that type in separate pockets. However, any review which fails to address the fundamental issues of the role, purpose and function of local government will not create a new and enduring structure, and we shall find that we have to revisit the issue again in too short a time. After all, it is true to say that time and again public opinion polling has shown that the public by and large are satisfied with the services that are received from local government. 277 Certainly there are higher satisfaction levels for local government than for central government. It is always entertaining to those on this side of the Chamber to look at how well local authorities score when the same group of people are asked what their views are about the Prime Minister and central government. Though my own local authority did not come out top of the MORI league in its opinion polling on local authorities, I was pleased that our near neighbour, Sutton—which is run by my political colleagues—did.
The Local Government Commission supports decentralised structures, and commented on that during the course of its work. I hope that the Government will take that on board. Innovative arrangements are being considered and introduced in their different ways. It is right that they should be different in different places; for instance, neighbourhood councils. Those innovative arrangements and new structures cannot operate unless they are recognised and, for instance, able to be part of the HIPS process of bidding for housing funds.
I conclude my comments on the local government review by expressing my anxiety that, in reducing the number of councils and therefore of councillors—giving them larger responsibility for larger numbers of people more geographically dispersed—there must be a danger of losing local and effective democracy. During the next few months we shall be considering the proposed structures for Scotland and Wales, which are to be restructured without their own commissions but, one hopes, not without objective external scrutiny and all the necessary consultation. I checked with my noble friend Lord. Hooson whether he would be speaking this afternoon about Wales and he tells me that these days he speaks about little else. I shall therefore leave that topic to him. No doubt my noble friend Lord Mackie will bring a Scottish perspective into the debate, though I suspect that it may be an agricultural one.
The Minister referred to Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles. I was not surprised to hear him say that there had been no call there for a further tier of government; each of those islands or sets of islands is a community. The whole exercise must reflect a genuine community of interests. Therefore, by addressing our minds to communities and to community of interest, I hope that the Government will help us to scotch any suggestion that boundaries may be gerrymandered for any other purpose. Local government is not supposed to be administratively tidy and uniform. We should be enabling local people to run their own communities and, rather than acting on their behalf, allowing them to be the local people.
We welcome the contribution to the debate to be made by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, who will bring his own specific experience to bear. We read in recent press reports that all the counties are to be abolished. It may be that all the unitary authorities are to be abolished if there is to be only one tier. I was not surprised to have comments made to me that, with the electoral events of earlier this year, the Conservative Party does not now control county councils in the way that it used to, and perhaps has lost faith in them. Coming from London one must draw, if not a conclusion at least a suspicion, of that. The overall 278 strategic London government—which I would not support being reintroduced in precisely the same form, but nevertheless it was an overall London-wide form of government, which I believe we badly need—was not controlled by the Government and was abolished.
This afternoon it may be appropriate to refer to and welcome the wide discussion on activities in London instigated this week by the Secretary of State. When the exercise was first announced, my reaction was that it would not be difficult for all the interested parties to agree on what needs to be done; there would be a great deal of difficulty, however, in persuading them to agree how it needs to be done. I appreciate that the "how" is not on the agenda in the glossy booklet now being circulated.
In local government we welcome partnerships with other sectors. As councillors we do not have the monopoly on wisdom or experience. However, the partnerships are no substitute for democracy. The consultation on what London is and should be is extremely wide, though it is interesting that the Evening Standard seems to be the major vehicle for it. It has perhaps a limited readership in some ways—the complaint was made to me that the consultation booklet was available only in central London. However, I hope that the book and the glossy booklet are accurate. Having only just received it—though I received three copies at the same time from different sources—I was concerned to see that the course of the Thames is shown wrongly. If that cannot be accurately portrayed in a book about London, one wonders about the accuracy of the rest of it.
We are asked by the Secretary of State to tell him what the prospectus for London should be. I do riot understand that term. Are we being asked to find a strategy, a list of short or medium-term objectives or an action plan? I fear that the response may be confused. There will be confusion as to what is the object of the exercise. I applaud the Government's attempts to establish views from Londoners, but the questionnaire cannot be used. It contains six questions; one is a closed question. It asks what people most appreciate about London. It then gives three categories, ranging from the Thames Barrier and rock music to health services. It is not clear whether people are meant to tick one of these or put them in some sort of ranking order. The other five questions are entirely open-ended. For instance, they ask what London can learn from other cities, and whether any other suggestions can be made for improving London.
They are admirable questions. But 250,000 questionnaires are being printed. Should only 25,000 people respond, how will their responses be analysed? If the Government have ignored—as I believe they did—professional advice as to how properly ro structure a questionnaire of this kind in order to obtain useful responses, I hope that they will take professional advice on how to deal with the responses. We all know how surveys can be distorted and how difficult it is to deal with structured answers.
I referred to government structures in England. Perhaps I may mention one which will be a little outside these shores; that is, the Committee of the Regions. I 279 take the opportunity today to mention that, although I understand the difficulties that there have been in arriving at a list of nominees to the committee, I believe there are some oddities in the failure to recognise some urban concentrations and political representation as it applies to specific geographical areas. My specific request—I appreciate that it is an esoteric point—is that when the list of members is sent to the Council of Ministers, the Government will urge that each member state be allowed to make its own arrangements for the members and the alternate members. I am sure that the Minister will know the detail to which I refer. An arrangement which provides a pooling of alternates, and thus a pool of deputies rather than a pairing arrangement, would give the flexibility and balance of regional and political interests that we should like to see.
I have concentrated on structures because I, like the noble Lord, Lord Williams, am concerned about the proliferation of quangos—"the new magistracy" as it has been termed by an eminent professor of local government. I do not believe that the public likes these bodies any more than we do as politicians. I do not raise the matter out of a sense of pique. On Monday I attended a public meeting in my area. The issue was the closure of most of the services at a local hospital. However, what rapidly became the subject of discussion was how the local community could make known its views and have a local dialogue with those taking the decisions, who they were, how they were appointed, by whom they were appointed and why people could not talk to them.
We shall look with interest at the deregulation Bill and the fact that so much has been taken out of the democratic arena. Deregulation appears to be applied when it suits the Government but not perhaps at other times.
I am also interested to see this afternoon the Education Bill that has recently been published, in particular about the teacher training agency. I believe that my noble friends Lord Addington and Lord Redesdale, who are closer in age to members of student unions than I am, may refer to the subject. But I cannot help thinking that in these days of word processors there must be a real temptation, which has not been resisted, to cut and paste into new legislation provisions such as, "Members will be appointed by the Secretary of State, and so will the chairman: see Schedule 1 for the other members", and so on. It has the same format as the other quangos that have been established in increasing numbers over the past months and years.
The teacher training agency is a new body to administer central funds, and will be another unaccountable and undemocratic quango. There is already widespread criticism of it, not just by those directly involved in the training of teachers for schools. To refer to only one such body, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals has said that it sees no logical need for the agency. It is concerned about the threat to academic freedom, because research funded by it can be directly influenced by the Government. The committee also comments on the separation of education research from other higher education research, which it believes to be a dangerous precedent.
280 Having said that, it would be discourteous if I did not say how much I welcomed yesterday's announcement—with which the noble Baroness was concerned—about the discontinuance of the proposals for the mums' army of teachers. We shall look with interest at the detail of the new proposals. We understand the wish to ensure that there is sufficient practical experience in the training of teachers, but I hope we can see evidence from the pilot schemes before we are committed to change. The Government must recognise the complexity of teachers' work and the resources which will be needed if the responsibility for training is passed to schools. I also hope that the noble Baroness will bring to bear her good sense on the question of nursery education. Many times we have discussed the educational and economic benefits of investment in the early years.
I turn now to environmental issues. The gracious Speech tantalisingly held out the prospect, still at one remove, of one new structure which would be widely welcomed, the Environmental Protection Agency. The paving Bill is rather like a carrot on the end of the Government's nose. We never quite get to it because, as we move forward each year, it is the same distance ahead. While there have been headlong rushes to make changes in education—the need for stability has been referred to this afternoon, as on so many occasions—we do not seem to have got on to even the slow track on the question of the environment. It may be a super-quango but at least it is one that we look forward to discussing with more enthusiasm when it comes. I was struck by the Minister's references to it, which all seemed to be about controlling pollution after it had been created. I believe that there will be a good deal of discussion about avoiding the incidence of pollution in the first place.
The gracious Speech made reference to sustainable development in the context of overseas aid. It would be wrong not to refer to that question as an issue in Britain, too. I hope that there will be some debate today—I dare say that my noble friend Lord Beaumont will ensure that there is—on the criteria used for decision-making. For instance, what measures are there to encourage the use of public transport? How can we ensure that all forms of transport are assessed equally as regards their economic, social and environmental costs? We have today heard the findings of the National Audit Office on the economic cost of motorways. That may make your Lordships feel, "Well, we knew that a huge amount of money was going into the roads programme. It was probably even more than we knew about".
I believe that subjects like air quality are rising very fast on the public agenda. I hope that there will be opportunities to discuss them and to make real achievements in those areas, not primarily for their intrinsic worth but because environmental quality in itself has an economic benefit. There is plenty of research to show that if a place in its geographical sense is environmentally friendly it will attract investment.
I do not wish to tax your Lordships' patience this afternoon. The gracious Speech did not refer to housing, and I appreciate that that may be an issue for the Budget process which will start next week. However, I hope that 281 Ministers here today will pass on our concerns about the need for the Budget to address the lack of housing, and very often the lack of appropriate, affordable housing.
I have talked about quangos; others have done so and will do so. They are quasi-autonomous but not really autonomous, and they are non-governmental; in other words, they are non-accountable, non-democratic organisations. I hope that we may see fewer of them.
Last night I attended the prize-giving at a secondary school. The head of the school reported on the work being done within the school to assess its progress. It was a critical self-review process. I was impressed by the way that he discussed it, but I took issue with him on one phrase that he used. Having described the process to the assembled pupils, teachers and parents, he said, "I hope that it will please our masters". I believe that he was referring to the Department for Education. I took issue with him because I believe that both central and local government must be the servants, not the masters, of those who are delivering the service.
I thought that I might have to apologise to your Lordships if, as part of providing that service, I had to leave before the closing speeches this afternoon. I had a school governors' meeting to attend. But I hope that one of the benefits of a short list of speakers today—a question of, "Never mind the length, look at the quality"—is that I shall be able to be present for both events. If that is not the case, I apologise to your Lordships and to the Government Front Bench. It is not out of any sense of discourtesy but more a matter of being pulled in too many directions. I am sure they will understand the wish to be active and to do things elsewhere as part of the service.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Ripon
My Lords, I intend to address my remarks to the sentence in the gracious Speech which refers to the new arrangements for funding teacher training in England and Wales. I begin by adding my voice to that of the noble Baroness, Lady Ham wee, in offering congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and her right honourable friend the Secretary of State on their announcement yesterday that one-year courses in teacher training for non-graduates will lead not to a teacher's certificate but to a qualification as a teaching assistant. That is good news. Those of us who find ourselves frequently in classrooms—I have to say that, probably once a week, I am in a series of classrooms in a school somewhere in my diocese—know the strength, especially in primary schools, of a team helping and supporting children, hearing them read and monitoring their work. To have them as support and not as replacements for teachers will be a strengthening of good practice.
I believe, along with others in your Lordships' House, that strengthening of resources in the early years of learning is key to an improvement in educational standards. The word I would focus on is "learning". It is not teaching, sometimes parodied as the stuffing of knowledge into an unwilling mind, but learning which is at the heart of education. Learning is a natural function of the brain, and the brain is an amazing organ performing prodigious feats in the early years of life.
282 The chief educators in those early years are parents. One change which, I believe, would shift radically our educational performance is the involvement of parents as educators, not so much the provision of nursery schools but rather the provision of home early learning schemes professionally staffed. They enable parents to have the materials, to acquire the skills and to have the support to teach their own children, with the added advantage that in so teaching they are themselves continuing to learn. The notion of parent as educator is one which can continue throughout a child's development.
Vietnamese children learn well. The reason is that the whole family sits round the table to learn together. It was Jesse Jackson who said that no parent is too poor to switch off the television and sit down to read a book with his child. It is in the context of the significance of education as a learning activity that I wish to turn to the proposals for a funding agency for teacher training.
It is not immediately obvious to me that the proposal for a funding agency will raise the morale or improve the calibre of those who come into teaching. Of course it is the case that learning takes place in the context of good teaching; teaching which motivates, excites and empowers. But it appears that the proposals before us are designed to separate the training of teachers from the educational provision for others in higher education. The proposals appear to drive a wedge between higher education and teacher training. I am one who believes that that will be harmful in its effect. Surely it is not the way to attract those of real calibre to a profession whose status is of enormous significance to our future. At an academic level, a similar wedge driven between research in this field and research in other fields would surely not be for the health of education as a whole. However, it is clear that whatever hesitations there may be about the proposals—and they are very considerable—those proposals are to be brought forward. Indeed, the Bill has already been published.
I do not intend to make a speech which would be more appropriate to a Second Reading but I wish to raise two specific matters on the proposals. We shall be returning to them when we come to debate the Bill in your Lordships' House. The first is the matter of standards and accreditation. The teacher training agency will be a funding body. As such it is surely inappropriate that it should also be a validating body. The maintenance of standards and the giving of accreditation is surely a matter for a body independent of the funding agency. We shall be scrutinising the Bill carefully; indeed, at a first reading, it looks as if that is not the case.
My second concern relates to colleges of education, many of which are denominational. Those colleges largely began their lives as teacher training colleges. The denominational colleges were set up by Churches with an intention to fill both denominational and state schools with committed teachers grounded in the Christian tradition. Some colleges have diversified and are confident of their ability to survive the changes proposed. Others are more dependent on the teacher training component of the courses they offer and are unsure of their future under proposals which will mean funding drawn from two sources.
283 There is much talk today of moral and spiritual values. These colleges are institutions which were founded specifically to nurture students in the religious traditions from which such values are derived. Some of the institutions make explicit in their prospectuses the value basis upon which their curriculum is grounded. Others undertake research into the content of such value bases. Teacher training is at the heart of their work. If that is taken from them, so is the chief justification for their existence. They have built up excellent partnerships with schools in the provision of teacher training: it is of great importance that that partnership should be strengthened and not eroded. It is also worth pointing out that if such institutions withered, the provision of religious education teachers and of in-service training would be severely affected.
The Government's reference, in documents so far available, to denominational provision has been slight, requiring the new agency to have regard to the desirability of maintaining what appears to it to be an appropriate balance in the support it gives to institutions of a denominational character and to other institutions. That leaves the denominational colleges in an exposed position. The Minister, I know, accepts the implications of partnership. Is she prepared, in due course, to strengthen that reference by saying that one of the agency's roles will be to determine the appropriate balance and not simply to have regard to the desirability of doing so? The acceptance of such a role would also have implications for the membership of the teacher training agency.
The involvement of the Church denominations, particularly, but not exclusively, the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, in education is huge. Perhaps one-third of the schools in this country have a denominational character. The provision of committed, professional teaching staff for those schools and for all schools is a major concern for the Churches. I trust that in the debates on the Bill which will create the teacher training agency we shall strengthen that partnership in education between Church and state which has been so fruitful in the past and which will be effective in the future.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Lord Dixon-Smith
My Lords, you will understand that I feel some fear and trepidation in rising to speak in this place where I had never expected to be other than the most occasional rare and casual tourist. Much has been made of the change that may go on in the structure of local government. I wish to discuss something that I regard as more significant because, although the pattern in the kaleidoscope may be changed, when the parts have stopped moving local government will still be present. I have every confidence in the future of local government, whatever, dare one say it, governments may do.
I served on a county council for 28 years. When I was first a member there appeared to be in place an unwritten convention that local government, which gets its functions as a result of legislation from government and therefore is itself a part of government, could undertake 284 its functions as it pleased but within overall parameters decided by the national government of the day. Indeed, one of my first tasks was to put in place a major reduction in expenditure just before the county council's budget went to press at the behest of a government who were not of my political persuasion. I might add that it was a task that I enjoyed because I have always been anxious to spare the taxpayers' money.
Governments come and go—a sensation, I suppose, enjoyed more in this House than in another place. But a continuous theme over time has been the inexorable rise of local government expenditure as a result both of legislative pressure and pressure from the communities served. In the middle to late 1970s that led to a famous national speech which those of us who were in local government at the time remember as, "The party is over". Events moved forward and the convention, if it existed, was finally dispersed completely shortly after the 1979 election when some local authorities decided to go entirely their own way.
The inexorable and logical march of events has brought us to the present time. The attempt to find a new financial regime failed, not just because of the administrative and political weakness of the community charge, but in part also because some local authorities (of all political persuasions) saw in the advent of a new financial regime, a new tax, the excuse to raise their expenditure unreasonably. They thus ensured, and were in part responsible for the fact, that the new tax came in at a level that was politically unacceptable.
I make no excuses for reviewing the background because I find that all too often this matter is discussed without regard to the context and I have never found that to be particularly helpful. Today local government faces a problem. It is required to face in two directions. Its electoral accountability is clear. It is responsible to the community it serves. If one has the privilege to serve, as I did, in a great county council, one still exercises a very real executive power as a member of a local authority with the ability, by switching priority between services and by switching the allocation of moneys for those services, enormously to influence and aid the development of the community. On the other hand, the line of financial accountability now comes straight and squarely to the Government.
The question that I wish to ask is whether the divergence of accountability cannot be brought back more into parallel. The creation of the new unified regional offices, recently announced, seems to me to provide an opportunity for partnership. If those offices can develop a genuine partnership between themselves and the councils in the regions that they serve, there is hope for change.
Local government over the past two years has undergone a cultural change. Schemes such as City Challenge have demonstrated to local government the virtue of using all aspects of the community—business, government agencies and other agencies—in concert to help to bring forward the total development of the community. If that has taken place—and I suggest that it has—I have to ask the House whether the time has not 285 come when we might consider how far we can begin to dismantle the over-rigid controls which exist at present in the financial area.
I turn to a second aspect of today's debate. I come from a region that is known by the name "East Anglia" although it is rather ill-defined as a region with three unusual characteristics. It was the most rapidly developing economic region of the country, with the most rapidly rising population. At the same time, it was the region that exported more of its students than any other in the country. The reason for that was simple. It had no institutional basis on which public sector higher education could develop. When, in the mid-1980s, it became clear that the Government were considering the incorporation of higher education, my then director of what was an institute of higher education, came to me for support because he saw the change as an opportunity for development. It was not possible at that time to see where the change would lead. An original amalgamation of two small institutions in 1988 and co-operation with a number of other institutions created a polytechnic. That in itself was not very significant, but the catalytic effect created a situation where the number of students in the institution rose from 4,000 full-time equivalents to 7,000 full-time equivalents four years later. In addition, there was a rapid expansion across the whole region of public sector higher education as a result of co-operative arrangements with other existing institutions.
The director who came to me at the start of that process is now the vice-chancellor—he did not expect that—of a university that is in the middle rank and still growing rapidly. It is a university that is changing the way that universities work. It is taking university degree education to the community instead of expecting the community to come to it for education. I am aware that the Open University does that, but it does it in a very different way. That development is something that I expect to see increasingly across a wider field. I know that it is happening elsewhere in the country. Criticism has been made of the inflexibility of educational institutions to meet the needs of changing times and of modern development. Today I have the opportunity to thank publicly all those who made that development possible. It could not have taken place without solid political backing from all quarters. It could not have taken place if the Civil Service, the funding authorities and the late academic authorities had not taken every opportunity to diminish obstacles and to help us on our way. The result is an institution which today can make a real contribution to the region. It is a hope for the future.
I note the conventions on maiden speeches, and it seems to me that I have taken sufficient of your Lordships' time. I am grateful for your attention.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Baroness Fisher of Rednal
My Lords, on behalf of the whole House I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, on an excellent speech. Its contents were good and its delivery excellent. We look forward to having the benefit of the noble Lord's knowledge, in particular on education and local government.
286 For a long time as a member of local government in Birmingham I was involved in housing. I became involved because the area that I represented surrounded the gas works of the city of Birmingham, One does not find many salubrious mansions in such areas. I learnt the hard way that it was difficult to bring up a family and to achieve good practices in what were called "slum clearance" houses. All those houses have now gone.
When I heard the Prime Minister say that we should get back to basics I hoped that he would get back to what was my first basic rule regarding people. It was the provision of good family housing at affordable rents. There is no way in which the education of a child can prosper if the family is living in a bedsit or in temporary accommodation as a result of homelessness. Difficult living conditions and facilities such as two rooms in some lodging house are not conducive to enabling any parent to show good practice. Families have to share bathrooms and toilets and there is nowhere for the children to play or, in many cases, to sit, except on the bed. Therefore, in looking at housing we must look also at the broader aspect of the education of children.
Increasing housing investment is a good way of boosting output and bringing down unemployment. We all know that housing projects can be started quickly. They are labour intensive and use few imported goods. Local authorities are the largest providers of houses for rent. But houses must be available at affordable rents. if say to those noble Lords who supported the Government in the abolition of wages councils that after doing so and bringing down wages generally it becomes necessary to provide houses at affordable rents or to ensure that there is sufficient in the budget to provide housing benefit. If people cannot afford to pay the rent for the properties that are being built they have no alternative but to claim housing benefit. In many local authorities 75 per cent. of the tenants receive housing or social security benefits to help to pay the rent.
I am disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, has left the Chamber because he was a member of the Government during Harold Macmillan's era. Mr. Macmillan later came to this House as the Earl of Stockton. I recall his visit to the area of Birmingham which I represented first on the local authority and then in the other place. He opened the first multi-storey block of flats there. In his speech, he said, "The impact of housing on economic and social development in Britain is as important as ever". I wish that Lord Stockton was sitting on the Benches opposite smiling at me, remembering the words that he spoke on that day. They are still valid after 30 or 40 years.
The Government constantly tell us that government expenditure cannot create jobs. I do not accept that argument. They recently announced that the Jubilee Line was to be extended using public money. In proclaiming that, the Minister paused and, with great pride, said, "And, of course, this will boost and create 23,000 new jobs". The Government cannot have both: they cannot say that public expenditure will not boost jobs and then, when they start to spend, say that it will. Does that mean that it is only when the Government, and not local authorities, spend money that the number of jobs is boosted?
287 I wish that the Government would get closer to local authorities. I say that in particular as one who comes from Birmingham. I am glad that the Minister for Education is sitting on the Front Bench. We in Birmingham have on occasions been a little upset about the way our schools are derided. There have been perhaps unfair and unpleasant remarks made about the schools in the city and the officers in charge of them. In the schools in Birmingham we are getting only one type of pupil, and that can be related to housing. If more houses could be built and spread around perhaps we should be able to uplift many of the school results because the mixture of pupils would be better. The figures relating to education reflect the areas in which the schools operate.
We thank the Government for allowing us to spend capital receipts on housing. They thought that the local authorities would receive £1 billion in expenditure but unfortunately nowhere near that amount of money has been found in capital receipts for housing. We are only in receipt of £700 million. Would it be possible for the Government to continue that holiday for perhaps another year so that local authorities can complete the refurbishment of many highly desirable dwellings?
When examining the provision of housing we must consider housing associations. They receive the majority of government money to provide houses for sale or for rent. In considering housing associations and their government funding we must note that their rents are going sky high—anything up to £10 or £15 a week higher than local authority rents. Obviously, those rents make a bigger impact on the housing benefit system than local authority rents. It is a matter of concern and worry to the banks, building societies and so forth, which lend money to the housing associations. It is not a healthy situation for financial institutions who invest money if the collateral is in housing benefits. The Government should think seriously about housing benefit rents and housing association prices.
I turn to the important part that the Government's business expansion scheme has rightly played in getting private properties back into circulation. However, one must say to the Government that if they decide to spend more public money on private renting they must take into account the interests of the community as a whole, including the tenants who occupy the properties. Subsidy should be conditional on landlords bringing their property up to a basic standard of repair, introducing adequate management standards, and, of course, keeping rents within limits determined by rent officers for housing benefit eligibility.
The booklet Refurbishment Contracts, published under the provisions of the Citizen's Charter, uses the word "landlord". On reading the booklet, one would think that it is aimed primarily at local authorities. Does the word "landlord" apply to the people I have mentioned who are receiving benefits from the business expansion scheme? I ask the Minister that, because some of the properties I have seen could be described as appalling.
Like others, I wonder whether local government reorganisation is a party political issue. If I were a 288 Conservative, I might say that it arises because of the unfortunate results in the Tory shire counties. It may be a method of altering the boundaries in the north to lessen Labour majorities on councils. I do not trust the Government further than I can see them but I have not decided on which of those alternatives the idea is based.
There seems to be no shortage of well qualified people in the media, research organisations and universities who can bring forth reasoned, well-researched policy documents as a contribution to thinking or any new role which the Government believe to be desirable for local authorities. However, we do not use those kinds of people. The Home Office does; I know because I receive its publications. Some of the research carried out for the Home Office on certain aspects should be taken much more seriously by the Government.
In examining the new role for local authorities—and there must be a new role—we must look at the placemen who now occupy positions in local government. I can do no better than use the words of the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, who said that when businessmen take up posts of public responsibility, they are constricted in their interpretation of ideas. He defined that as "authoritative thinking". No doubt that is why the Government like those people to hold such posts. I do not want to go into details of unelected placemen holding those jobs, whether they are the unknown governors of our local community, or whether they are there because of political patronage. We know that they do their jobs behind closed doors.
Yesterday I attended a function at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and for the first time I met in the flesh the chairman of a water authority. I had to say to him, "I have never met one of your species before." Such people do not mix. I receive many invitations to functions in Birmingham where I may see the chairman of the police authority, chief officers and businessmen who are in the manufacturing industry. However, I never see a water authority manager. I sometimes see a British Telecom manager. I never see anybody from the hospitals either. They do not wish to be seen or to be known because they do not wish to be asked questions. That is why they do not attend those functions. They become a closed shop to themselves.
What I object to more seriously is the fact that someone can earn £40,000 or £60,000 per year for two days' work per week. Normally that would be two mornings or two afternoons because successful businessmen do not work 9 to 5 jobs. They can then look around and find something else to do for the other two days if they are lucky. Many of them have two or three jobs. I mention wages councils again. If those people were paid at that rate, perhaps we should not be quite so narked about them.
I turn now to the real problem which local authorities face and their involvement in business methods, cost accountability and market forces. I raise no objection to that. I should not know how to be a councillor in Birmingham because the authority now does its job in an entirely different way. It is a large local authority which used to have its own works department. It had the finest water authority in Great Britain. I should tell my 289 noble friend on the Front Bench that the water came straight from Wales: it was the best water that you could possibly get. Of course, we lost all that. We lost the gas, the electricity and all those resources which were initially provided by local authorities. Every hospital in Birmingham was provided by the local authority. The local authority knew what provision was needed by the people in its area. Unfortunately, we have lost all that.
Local authorities are now looking for new roles. I see admirable work taking place in Birmingham. We are getting very much closer to the community by offering facilities in all areas of the city. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will be interested to know that many of the libraries in Birmingham have reading sections for small children. The children sit on carpets and stories are read to them by the library staff. Their mothers are present. Special places are provided for children up to six years of age. That is taking place from one end of the city to the other; it is admirable.
I am concerned about all the new quangos. There are noble Lords in the Chamber who know more about the legal process than I do. However, if we look at many of the Acts now on the statute book we see the words that "the Secretary of State shall" and "the Secretary of State will take responsibility". If the Secretary of State has his placemen all around the country, we shall become very close to losing what I call real democracy for local authorities. Yesterday my noble friend on the Front Bench illustrated that by saying that there could be a placeman in charge of the police service. I know that we shall debate such matters at another stage but we see clearly that the role of local government must be defended. We cannot become a centralist state when that is contrary to what is expected of us in Europe; namely, getting back to the regions. Unfortunately, this Government believe that everything should be done by the state.
I am concerned that not only do we not know who those people are but I am not sure that I am happy about the way in which they use public money. I know that my noble friend Lord Dean has, on two or three occasions, raised questions about hospital trusts. Certain parts of the National Health Service are not using their funds correctly. I go no further than that. I know that, unfortunately, in the West Midlands, there have been two or three catastrophes concerned with computers. It seems strange to me that computers cannot be made to work properly in a health authority. Local government was called upon to put all the work concerning the poll tax on computers. I do not believe that a single local authority was charged with not being able to do that. It was clone on time. And then, within less than two years, it was called upon to change the whole computer programme again.
We have not had local authorities criticised about their computers. But, somehow or other, computers operating the health service do not seem to function correctly. Either it is not known how many patients there are, or, if that is known, the charge per patient is not known. We should not criticise local government computer systems; we should commend them.
If we are to have deregulation, perhaps I may make a special plea that the approach to consumer protection 290 is not weakened. Consumer protection in local authorities is something of immediate benefit to all residents in the area. There are many difficulties. However, that is sometimes because the drafting of the legislation is perhaps not as clear as it should be to enable businesses to operate. Therefore, it has; to be spelt out on many occasions by trading standards officers. I believe that the trading standards departments, with their impartiality, their-accountability and their general respect for the public and for business, need to be carefully nurtured.
There is one further point about which I feel most strongly. There must be no relaxation of health and safety standards. At present, I am awaiting a reply from a government department regarding electrical standards that apply to building sites. Hazards in industry must be avoided at all costs. That also applies to motorways, when we consider recent events.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Lord Hooson
My Lords, from these Benches, we also proffer our congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, on his maiden speech. He clearly has great experience of local government and we look forward to hearing from him on many occasions on that subject, as well as on others.
I have often thought—and my opinion is shared by many other people in the country—that the present; Government's view of local government is coloured too much by their experience of the high spending, authorities which, as the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, put it, went "their own way". That seems to have coloured their attitude towards the whole of local government. One of the things that the noble Lord might consider doing is to persuade the Government that most local government is not like that at all. Indeed, most local authorities (whatever parties they represent, or whether they represent no party) give great service to the country. They do so week after week and month after month in a very conscientious way. That is the best example of local government., and it is widespread.
As my noble friend Lady Hamwee defined correctly, I shall concentrate on the reform of local government in Wales which, like the reform of 1971–72 (embodied in the Local Government Act 1972), threatens another disaster; that is, unless the Bill which contains the Secretary of State's presently announced proposals is substantially amended. Most people in Wales are in favour of all-purpose authorities as such. The two-tier system has proved to be a huge and expensive mistake. Tragically, many MPs of all parties in 1971 wanted huge local authorities.
During the Second Reading debate in another place on 17th November 1971 (although I was not a spokesman on local government) I argued for small unitary authorities. I suggested that there should be a domestic parliament for Wales to take over regional responsibilities. It seems to me that some services ought to be organised regionally. However, local government must be local. The way to make it local is to have all-purpose or, as they are now called, unitary authorities.
291 In those days the Labour Party in particular (which has now come round to the idea, for example, of a domestic parliament for Wales, with unitary authorities) was against both concepts. The party has obviously had a considerable change of heart since that time. However, I should like to concentrate my remarks today on the proposal to make the present Powys County Council area the unitary authority in that part of Wales. It is a huge mistake, bearing in mind the huge county that it is.
I do not know whether noble Lords are aware of this, but the present county council of Powys covers one-quarter of the land surface of Wales. It was a great mistake and was similarly disliked by people in Brecon, Radnor and Montgomery. The proposal today is that that county council should be made into a unitary authority. Perhaps I may quote from the principles set out in the Government's White Paper (Local Government in Wales: A Charter for the Future) of 1993. Paragraph 1.2 reads:The Government believes that the present system of local government in Wales is not widely understood; nor does it sufficiently reflect people's identification with their own communities and localities".Certainly, Powys in no way relates in that respect. The paragraph continues,it is now clear that the replacement of the old counties (which had existed for over 400 years)which included Montgomery, Brecon and Radnor—by local government areas not always reflecting people's traditional loyalties has not secured wholehearted public support".They can say that again. Then, paragraph 1.4 goes on to mention the aim of reorganisation:The Government is committed to the creation of good local government which is close to the communities it serves".If one goes to Powys, it is 120 miles from one point to another. Indeed, one can spend hours in the car. In recent weather conditions one can imagine the difficulties experienced by councillors and officials getting from one part of the community to another.
Before I finish my quotations, perhaps I may refer to paragraph 2.1 of the White Paper, which reads:Local government is government for local people by local people".I think that the Secretary of State should say that to himself every night before he goes to bed. One of the objectives of reorganisation is to establish authorities which, so far as possible, are based on the strong sense of community evidenced in Welsh life.
When I spoke during the debate in 1971 I was supported by the then Labour Member for Brecon and Radnor. The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, who was the best of the post-1979 Secretaries of State for Wales, took part in the debate while fighting for Pembrokeshire. He agreed with me when I said that there was no real sense of community there as history, geography and habit had seen to that. As a county council it was unloved, save by its own councillors and staff. How can that be local government?
The total population of Powys now that the Secretary of State has put back into it Ystradgynlais (which is a great slice which was taken out before) is very close to 292 120,000. Yet as the unitary authority it is more than two-and-a-quarter times the size of the nearest proposed unitary authority in Wales, which is Carmarthenshire.
I should like to concentrate on the case for Montgomeryshire. I make it clear that I am chairman of the committee which has been working to save Montgomeryshire. The chairmen of every political party in the constituency—the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cwmru and the Green Party—sit on my committee. We have raised a great deal of money to fund our campaign, unlike the county council, which has been spending ratepayers' money for its campaign.
I should like to put forward the following points for the Secretary of State to consider between now and publication of his Bill. Montgomeryshire fulfils the principles for change set out in the Government's White Paper of the spring of this year, from which I quoted, in every possible respect. In addition, local opinions and allegiances are entirely in favour. Recently I read with great interest the proposals of the commission looking at local government reform in England in respect of Cleveland and Durham and also of Derbyshire. It is interesting to note how much attention the commission paid to local feelings as expressed in the MORI polls which it had commissioned. An NOP was taken in Montgomeryshire between 10th and 18th July this year. It showed that 71 per cent. of the population of Montgomeryshire supported a unitary authority based on Montgomeryshire while only 16 per cent. supported a unitary authority based on Powys. No MORI poll conducted on behalf of the commission for England has produced figures which in any way approach those.
The previous Secretary of State for Wales, Mr. David Hunt, said in 1992 in the House of Commons that he intended to base his unitary authorities on the old county allegiances. He specifically named Montgomeryshire, after Pembrokeshire. At a Conservative Party meeting in Llanfechain, of which the Conservative delegates on my committee are for ever reminding me, in the course of the last election in 1992 he gave a categoric assurance that there would be a Montgomeryshire unitary authority. This is a grave breach of faith.
The old Montgomeryshire County Council had an excellent record in local government. It was the first county in Wales to comply with the requirements of the Education Act 1944. Likewise, it provided excellent services in other spheres. It is predicted that the population, which is growing, will amount to 60,000 by 1998. To that must be added the portion of Clwyd which the Secretary of State proposes to add to Montgomeryshire—another 2,500 people. That population is comparable with those of Cardiganshire and of Anglesey which are to become unitary authorities. The combined population of Brecon and Radnor is also comparable and justifies a separate unitary authority.
Powys is simply too big to be an acceptable county even under the old two-tier system, let alone as a unitary authority under the new system. It simply cannot provide local government, covering as it does a quarter of the land surface of Wales.
As for the Secretary of State's suggestion that Powys (or Mid-Wales, as I believe he now proposes to call it, 293 although changing its name does not change its character, and there was no historical justification for calling it Powys) should have powerful sub-committees for Montgomeryshire, Brecon and Radnor, that seems to create a modified form of two-tier system. Powys, or a Mid Wales council, would have to have all its committees serviced, and there would have to be powerful local Montgomery, Brecon and Radnor committees which would also have to be serviced. That is a recipe for additional costs and bureaucracy. Just as there is a Montgomeryshire defence committee, there are also Brecon and Radnor defence committees. To put together what is virtually a new and complicated two-tier system when one is trying to get rid of such systems makes no sense at all.
I am greatly disappointed by the approach of Mr. John Redwood, the new Secretary of State for Wales. We have to bear in mind that he inherited the present situation. However, I expected him to be man enough to bite the bullet, but so far he has proved to be much better at criticising his fellow Ministers in the Cabinet than doing anything himself. Recently, rightly in my view, he exposed the growth of bureaucracy in the National Health Service trusts in Wales, and got a shot in sideways at what was happening in the Department of Health over in England. However, he does not practise what he preaches. The devolved committee system for the three component parts of the new Mid Wales county is simply an open invitation to the kind of bureaucracy which he criticises elsewhere.
Because I had known of him previously and I have met him once, in a different role and have been impressed by his considerable intellectual capacity, I thought that he would have had the courage to reverse the fatal political somersault of his predecessor, Mr. Hunt, and would now establish Montgomeryshire as a unitary authority.
As a Liberal Democrat, I am bound to say that no one has worked harder in my campaign than the Conservative representatives on the committee. One of them is the chairman of the Conservative Association. The other is the former chairman of the Mid-Wales Development Corporation, who was himself a Conservative candidate, not against me but against my predecessor, Clement Davies. For many years he has been president of the Conservative Association. I am amazed that Mr. Redwood is paying such scant attention to their views, which I know have been expressed very forcefully. It seems to me, and to many people of all political complexions, that Montgomeryshire is being sacrificed for purely political reasons.
I would create three unitary authorities, one each for Brecon, Radnor and Montgomery. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser, was surprised when I interrupted him to ask what was the population of the Western Isles. It is less than the population of Radnorshire. If the Western Isles can provide services, so can Radnorshire. Orkney and Shetland can do so, yet they have about half the population of Montgomeryshire. The Secretary of State might take advice from the Secretary of State for Scotland about how such things are achieved in Scotland.
294 I know that the good sense of the representatives concerned would ensure that those three authorities would co-operate and work closely together. If that solution is unacceptable to the Secretary of State, there could be one unitary authority for Montgomeryshire and one for Brecon and Radnorshire. In 1991 the Government produced their consultation paper, The Structure of Local Government in Wales. If the noble Baroness has time to study it before she replies she will find in the document the Secretary of State's preferred option for Wales. He gave three different options, but stated that 20 unitary authorities was his preferred option. In that option one finds Montgomeryshire as a separate unitary authority and Brecon and Radnor as a separate unitary authority. The alternative of 24 unitary authorities again has Montgomeryshire as a unitary authority, Radnorshire as a unitary authority and Breconshire as a unitary authority. Why on earth have there been so many changes between 1991 and 1993? What on earth has made the Secretary of State go back on his undertaking and his solemn promise to a Conservative Party meeting in Montgomeryshire on this matter? Even the status quo is better than what he now proposes for Montgomeryshire.
So far it appears that Mr. Redwood is a man who, listens patiently. Delegates from my organisation went to see him. I did not accompany them because I had the opportunity to speak in this debate. He listened to them very patiently, and interesting questions were asked. However, he gives the impression so far of a. man who listens but does not heed. There is a world of difference between someone who listens and someone who heeds. I hope that that judgment is not correct, but it is my present judgment. I urge the Secretary of State to think again on this matter, to re-assess the facts and, most importantly, to appreciate the depth of feeling.
As the noble and learned Lord said in opening, we are dealing with long-term matters. The people of Montgomeryshire have to live with the new organisation, as have the people of Breconshire and. Radnorshire. If in 20 years of existence Powys can stir up no more support in an opinion poll than 17 per cent., it indicates the depth of feeling about the matter. I hope that when the Secretary of State reappraises the issue, he will find that the factors undoubtedly point to the viability and desirability of a Montgomeryshire unitary authority.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Lord Cooke of Islandreagb
My Lords, I hope that the Minister and Members of your Lordships' House will forgive me if I leave before the end of the debate. I have an unavoidable appointment in Northern Ireland this evening.
I wish to direct my remarks to local government in Northern Ireland. I found today's debate very interesting. In Northern Ireland we think that we have a monopoly of quangos. We think that only we have a surfeit of hospital boards which cannot be got at. It is comforting to learn that we are in good company.
In another place yesterday, the Prime Minister gave an assurance that he is not in the business of securing the breakup of the United Kingdom. Most of us know that well; but I welcome the assurance because there is great 295 unease throughout the Province. There is a confusion of strong emotions: high expectations, doubt, uncertainty and fear. That is not a recipe for stability. The leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, Mr. Molyneaux, in a balanced speech in another place yesterday, described the feelings in Northern Ireland very accurately. I can confirm that business people and many others who do not normally take an active interest in politics are disturbed and alarmed to an extent that I have not seen for years.
One of the difficulties has been the use and misuse of words. For instance, we are supposed to be longing for peace. There has been much hype about the word "peace". We are not at war; but we are being attacked by terrorists. What we want and long for is for the attackers to stop. The reason for all the uncertainty is that in recent weeks the initiative has passed to others—to the IRA and its peace proposals as yet undisclosed but well guessed. We read of constantly changing statements from Dublin, plus leaked documents which have a genuine ring and do not help. To the man in the street it seems that the proposals from Dublin for our future are the demands of the IRA little disguised.
Our Government do not appear to be doing anything except wait and make reassuring statements. The Secretary of State made such a statement on Monday and the Prime Minister did so yesterday. One might think that those are enough, but in Northern Ireland we cannot forget the Anglo-Irish Agreement. It was announced as the panacea for all our problems but gave much and achieved little except to encourage the IRA to step up its violence—a not unexpected reaction. We have a deep suspicion of the faceless men in back offices who think they can solve our problems by fudging words. I can hardly wait for the announcement that those gentlemen are to be privatised.
I pray that our Government take control, are seen to take control, and make clear by actions that the constitution of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland is not a subject for discussion at any table. The Secretary of State and his Ministers have been making good progress in recent discussions with the political parties in Northern Ireland. But it is time that the Secretary of State came forward with his proposals for the development of devolved government in Northern Ireland. We badly need the restoration of democracy in Government in Northern Ireland.
The Prime Minister yesterday asked the IRA this direct question: are they going to end violence for good? All in Northern Ireland wish for a positive answer. We hope that it is, "Yes". However, if the answer is, "No", or if it is, "No, unless you give us this, that and the other", then I hope that the Prime Minister will feel that he has done his best and can then turn his attention to other issues.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Cooke of Islandreagh, was a useful contribution to our debate touching on local government in Northern Ireland. I am very grateful for that contribution as I am sure are other noble Lords.
296 We are today discussing local government, education and the environment. I should like to think that we were debating good government, democracy, freedom, integrity, and economic sense in relation to long term effects. However, the problem is that we are faced with a Government who do not appear to share those high objectives for such areas of social activity. It appears that the Government wish to centralise and control rather than confer freedom and democracy.
Although it is not a subject for debate today, one issue was discussed fairly extensively yesterday; it has a bearing on local government. I refer to the changes which the Government envisage for police authorities. It looks as though we shall have police commissioners; I almost used the word commissars. The powers of the new chairs of the police authorities as government nominees, paid people—some people refer to them as paid placemen—will be very great with regard to the direction of our police forces.
We all recognise that the social strains on the fabric of our society were engendered by the policies of the Government. The economic madness inflicted on the country by the Government in the early 1980s led to social instability, with riots in Toxteth, Moss Side and inner London. Authoritarian police methods kept control. We again saw authoritarian police activity during the miners' strikes in 1984–85. Since then I believe that the police have learnt the lesson of those situations. Local communities have learnt that that is no way for the police to operate effectively. To use a police force as an instrument of national social control does nothing for the problems of crime or for law and order in our society. I am very glad that police forces throughout the country are learning the lessons of recent history and are working closely with local communities, building positive relations with them. Where that has been successfully achieved, those forces are tackling the rise in crime and are reducing the incidence of crime. I believe that the government proposals for police forces will do nothing for problems relating to law and order and will be bad for local government.
Another aspect which has been alluded to by only one speaker today is the introduction of regional commissars. Those people will be given the task of pulling together the actions of government agencies at regional level. Over many years there has been much talk in the Labour Party about the introduction of regional government. But the introduction of regional commissars is not the introduction of the regional government that we had hoped to see in a democratic society.
I turn to the reforms relating to local government in Wales and Scotland. One has to ask why the Government are engaged in the process of local government reform. Why do they seek to introduce what is effectively, in the broad pattern, single-tier authorities? We are led to the inescapable conclusion that wherever the results of the democratic process are such as to throw Conservatives out of office, Conservative government effectively tries to destroy that element of local government. We saw it in 1985 297 with the abolition of the GLC and the metropolitan counties, which over a 10-year period had gone solidly against the Governrnent.
We have seen the results of county council elections in England, and in what are effectively the same sort of authorities in Wales and Scotland. Conservative control has been almost eradicated. I believe that the Conservatives are left with one county council. As a consequence, the Conservative Government appear to want to get rid of county councils. We are left with the inescapable conclusion that the Conservative Party will adhere to the concepts of democracy only if that democracy gives them power. When it does not give them power, they are prepared to abandon it.
I turn for a moment to the subject of student unions. Yes, they were a thorn in the flesh of (dare I say it?) Labour governments in the 1960s and 1970s. But student unions under the present period of Conservative rule have spent their time and energy protecting their members in various different ways. It is quite reasonable that that is the case. One of the points that the Conservative Party does not seem to appreciate is that student unions are democratic institutions. They reflect the wishes of their members, and they have mechanisms of democracy that ensure that they do so. If one looks up and down the country at the different student campuses and student unions, broadly speaking there has been a development over the years of support services for students in a whole range of ways that reflect the local anxieties and difficulties of the members of those unions. We run the risk that if we effectively take the attitude that "nanny will know best", we shall lose out—or rather our young people will lose out. Those young people are not some amorphous body of students who do not belong to us. They are our sons and daughters who are studying at universities and colleges. They will lose out.
Perhaps I may touch on teacher training. Here I have to go back in history a little further than anyone has yet done in the debate today. If we look at the situation of the education and training of teachers prior to 1939, we can see that a large proportion were what is generically described as "uncertificated"; namely, teachers who learnt on the job; who sat in with another teacher and then took a class of their own. They may even have been pitched in to take a class straight away on their own without any training whatsoever.
During the war, one task of the Armed Forces was to set up extensive education and training programmes. The standard of education of people drafted into the Armed Forces was inadequate to provide their fighting needs. That is not surprising, if one considers the make-up of the working population before the war. We had millions of agricultural workers and coalminers, and hundreds of thousands of domestic servants, all of whom required the very rudiments of education and who could almost be classed as acquiring virtually no education whatsoever in the sense in which we know it: reading, writing, arithmetic, science and modern languages.
However, society has changed. We now have fewer than 200,000 mineworkers. Even those mineworkers are technocrats compared with their labouring forefathers.
298 We have very few agricultural workers; and again, they are technocrats compared with their forefathers. We have very few domestic servants. We have instead a heavily urbanised industrial-commercial society which requires its members to be well educated; able to communicate and live among each other; and able to contribute in an economically effective manner. To do that, they need education; and to get that education they need teachers. The most important ingredient in education is those who teach our young people.
Before the war, as I said, a large proportion of teachers were uncertificated and virtually untrained. The results were as could be expected. After the war, following the introduction of the Rab Butler Education Act, there was a recognition of the need to train teachers effectively. By the 1950s, virtually all teachers were required to have done a three-year teacher training course. That minimum requirement has unfortunately not held. In the late 1960s and early 1970s there was a tendency for the teaching profession to become one of graduate entry. One of the effects was that the profession took in graduates in a subject which may have had no relevance to what they would teach, gave those graduates one year's teacher training and said in effect that they were qualified as teachers. It is not my job this afternoon to denigrate the abilities, commitment and contribution that those PGCE teachers have made to our education system. But the thought that the Government might whittle away at teacher training even further is one about which we must be very, very concerned. We do not allow doctors or lawyers to practise after only three or four years' training. We ought to ask whether we are prepared to allow the people on whom the future of our young people is so dependent to practise the highly professional skill of teaching without at least, I would argue, three years' training.
In conclusion, I wish to look at how we can help ourselves go forward. I pick on two points: the first is freedom; the second is finance. To enable local government to provide effectively for the people in its area, it needs to have access to the necessary finance. It needs finance to make the capital provision to build schools and homes for the needy and it needs the revenue income to provide for the payment of teachers, social workers and others. I hope that the current capital regime that the Government have allowed for this year until December can be relaxed for at least another year or two, and it is to be hoped for the foreseeable future, so that the local authorities are able to use all the capital receipts that they receive from selling assets to finance their activities. While I hold out very little hope, I make a plea that we introduce a fair rates system and do not allow the very rich in our society to alleviate their tax burden with the banding system in the current council tax and also that we include local business rates. One of the most problematic events that has happened with the universal business rate is the separation of local businesses from their local communities. It has meant that there is no longer that synergy, the coming together of local businesses and local authorities working together because it is to their mutual advantage. We have lost that tie. I make a plea to get it back.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Lord Addington
My Lords, I wish to direct virtually all my remarks to the issue of student unions, a subject that was briefly touched on by the previous speaker. The Government propose to reform the way in which student unions work and how they affiliate themselves to outside bodies. The primary effect will be to produce a change in the role of the student union. From an all-embracing organisation looking after student welfare as a whole and connected to one overall body —namely, the National Union of Students—it will change to become one which deals with a series of four key areas. That will happen, if we are to take the consultative documents seriously.
The Bill published today that deals with this matter is, I am afraid, one that contains the ultimate Henry VIII clause. Perhaps I may briefly read from Clause 20:The governing body of an establishment to which this Part applies shall take all practicable steps to secure(a) that financial support provided by them to a students' union out of public money is used only for services of such descriptions as may be specified by regulations by the Secretary of State".The Bill does not offer any great insight into what those services will be. No doubt we shall hear more about this matter when we discuss it at Second Reading in about three weeks' time.
Apparently the four key services are: internal representation; welfare; catering; and sport. We would all agree that those are important areas of concern to student unions. For instance, in order to support students, internal representation is almost vital. That is something that a student union should do. With regard to welfare, it seems to me, having read the definition of "welfare", that it covers most of the basic needs. Catering too is an important part of the student union's activity for the simple reason that most catering facilities are within student union buildings. So far as sport is concerned, I have thumped the tub for sport on many occasions in your Lordships' House.
But why are various other activities missed out? Sports of various descriptions are allowed. Does "sport" include physical education generally? Does physical education include dance and movement? If dance and movement are included, why not drama or debating skills? They all follow from each other. I can carry the argument further. Unions are allowed to offer welfare provisions which include introductory seminars and parties in Freshers' Week but not after that. We are told that our society is returning to Victorian values. The unions were set up as social units and provide facilities such as bars and support services. Students are not well off—a subject which this House has discussed on numerous occasions. The current maintenance figures for the classic undergraduate—a student outside London, under 24 years old—mean that if the student does not find a job in the summer (there is still not a wonderful employment situation, to put it mildly), he will have the sum of £48.94 a week on which to live. It is fairly safe to say that a similar working person who is unemployed will get something in excess of £65 a week, if not slightly more. Students have higher living costs because they have to purchase books, if nothing else.
300 The student is being told: "You are going to lose aspects of your student union". The Government say that many of the union's social functions can be done through a process of funding outside the parent group but possibly through the union—it will have to be done that way because the union is the body which has the original facilities, the bars and so on. Also other social groups can be provided for through the same route. I do not speak of the political groups but groups such as (when I was a student) the Clanger Appreciation Society or the Magic Roundabout to Roll Again Society. Those were the ones which there was a rush to join. Such functions provide some of the fun aspects to being a student. As I have said before, I am not aware that it has ever been the Government's policy that students should have three or four years of wearing sackcloth and throwing ashes over their heads because of financial hardship.
So although student groups are allowed to play sport, they are not allowed to meet on a social basis to indulge in some other pastimes—for instance, a musical appreciation group. Even if the Government do work out a system and the individual units establish a system whereby they are funded through the main body, through the student union or even independently of it, they will create more bureaucracy. So, should we waste some money?
We should also take into account the fact that a university is by definition an independent body which grants degrees. Surely we should leave much more to the independence of unions.
Perhaps we should now direct some thought to the issue of the National Union of Students. It is one which probably finds the least support on the Benches opposite and at times on the Benches around me. Most of the sins of the National Union of Students come from taking people on board who say, "We represent all students and we shall undertake a certain cause". Such are the sins of the past. They are the sins of the days when student unions had fewer financial worries. They felt more secure and could spend more time shouting. Moreover, over a period the institution will change dramatically. The simple fact is that students are not members of the union for very long. Even with a sabbatical year or two, six years should see out most of the student representation.
Most of the problems that we are talking about—the days of heckling Ministers and so on—happened a good few years ago. The students' union has become an effective and powerful lobby group. Indeed, I was pleasantly surprised when I started dealing with it in connection with the work of this House. Students' unions are up-to-date and aware of what is going on around them.
The Government are determined to make sure that there is no compulsory membership—perhaps because the organisation of which a student happens to be a member has decided to join the other organisation. But why not have an opt-out to stop students being attached to political views? It would be just a simple opt-out. There would still be central funding which can take into account the issues directly concerned with matters such as internal representation and welfare. There will still be 301 a national body speaking about problems which may be varied in their manifestation but have the same theme; namely, access to good housing, books, internal representation, and so on.
Surely an outside central body has expertise at the very least to give. Surely more consideration should be given to that body. It may even be beneficial for the union to be depoliticised. I quite understand that people dislike those who stand on a national political ticket for internal seats. I always thought that it was a little questionable. Regardless of how effective such people were when they were in place, it was always possibly superfluous to what they in fact did. I can remember as a first-year undergraduate sitting in a cafeteria somewhere with a cheese sandwich and a cup of coffee desperately trying to mug up some notes with a great tirade going on in the background about bringing down the Government and striking a blow for whatever. I cannot remember very much about it because it all merged into the general background—the shouting and so on. Somebody else was getting a cheese sandwich. However, I remember that the punchline was:I agree with the Motion that the cafeteria should be opened for an extra half-hour on Wednesdays".This was a dying art even then, but it will still go on. Students at that age are searching for political ideals. Under the present system there is a danger of this sort of organisation, which has acquired considerable influence—and some participants have been talking sense recently—being hijacked by political groups. Of course there have been other political groups which make equally good sense. except that the rhetoric is Right-wing. Nobody has a monopoly on good sense or bad sense in this field and I think it has always been thus.
I should like to say one or two things about this proposal. First, I should like to know what really is being proposed, and I hope that we shall have some clearer idea before we reach Second Reading. Secondly, is it not the case that regulations can be made from the centre relating to the individual status of the university? They are individual units, and saying what those individual units can and cannot support for students, or even what students can or cannot do in their areas of activity, is something that we should look at very closely. Possibly we should discuss this and think very much more clearly about what we are actually trying to do, and then try to eradicate some of these totally absurd demarcation lines.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Lord Butterfield
My Lords, I must begin by apologising to the noble Baroness the Minister. I must ask whether I can withdraw, with her permission, from the House for a short while before the debate comes to an end because I have to attend a meeting about health education. However, I shall be back. Secondly, I should like to say how sony I am that another matter prevented my hearing the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. I hear from all sides that it was a most excellent presentation. I should like to congratulate him in absentia.
302 I too would like to speak about student unions. The gracious Speech says that the Government will introduce legislation to reform them. I too am very concerned about the absence of clarity over what reforms are fully incorporated in the Bill which we have got our hands on today. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Addington, that we would hope to know more before we begin debating it. In Cambridge, for example, we heard that the object of the legislation was to limit the purposes for which universities can pass money received from public sources to their campus unions; to avoid public funds being used for affiliation to the NUS and other campaigning organisations; and to ensure by means of codes of practice, developed and implemented by institutions, that the student unions were more accountable and more fully representative.
We heard that the proposals included the idea of the core functions, such as those touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Addington: welfare, sport, catering and internal representation. We heard that all the other activities, including those of cultural and academic societies, the organisation of concerts and theatre productions and the funding of activities about television, newspapers and video facilities would be classified as non-core facilities. These would have to be supported by the students themselves or by the college or university.
I think I can assure your Lordships that in my own university at Cambridge we found that the college authorities were entirely happy with the way that the amalgamated clubs, as we called them, organised their affairs and the way they were watched over by senior tutors who were members of the academic staff. Indeed, our vice-chancellor wrote to the Secretary of State saying that if the core/non-core basis which I have just described was adopted, it was felt to be very important that all the activities involved were clearly defined and that we were very anxious that many of the societies of academic importance should be included as part of the activities of the university.
We were also very concerned because in some universities—indeed many universities; at Nottingham it was certainly true—there were two levels of activity involving students. There was the university activity and there was the hall of residence or college activity. I shall return to that presently because this two-tier activity has to be thought out when we come to consider the financial controls or the monitoring of student unions, their branches and their societies.
We felt in Cambridge that charging for services—for example, money being charged for rooms where people would hold debates or concerts—was obviously a use of a resource which was supported in terms of heating, lighting and, indeed, janitor services from public funds. However, we are beginning to get very concerned about the diversity of things students will need to worry about when they are going to their chess clubs or any other meetings.
Let me put it to your Lordships in this way. Most colleges have about 30 societies which are affiliated to the clubs or the student union activities of that college, which is also part of the university. At. Cambridge we not only have all the university activities in the core 303 activities, including all the different university sports, but we also have 30 colleges, each with 30 subsidiary union activities. This means that Cambridge has nearly 1,000 student union activities of one sort or another. Our worry is this. We do not want the students or their senior bursars, who have other things to do, spending time each term, and more time each year when new students take up responsibilities as president or secretary, poring over the regulations to work out all the factors of accounting and auditing the money that is involved. In fact we are hoping that the reaction of universities to all this—which has been adverse, certainly in Cambridge—will be met by some kind of clear decision by government as to how they can delegate these small sums of money at college level to the responsibility of the bursar, say, as the accounting officer, so that it does not have to be gone through all around.
I agree that it is good for students to learn about accounts and for them to realise they are handling public money. It would be a wonderful thing if every undergraduate in this university system of ours understood what a balance sheet was, how to work out the assets of a society and so on. However, I think I am speaking for students as a whole when I say that they do not think, if they are doing statistics, that they are naturally coming up to do accountancy. If they are doing engineering they will understand that they need to do a little more accountancy perhaps than those doing Classics. But they do not feel that they want to have practical lessons in accounting and auditing and have to face up to whether they are spending money appropriately.
I hope—I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Addington, shares the hope—that somehow or other the Government will be able to improve the image of the relationship between central authority and the students out there. As has been mentioned, they feel that there is a creeping tendency for the central authorities to try to control the peripheries. Students have great imaginations, and they are all wondering, first of all, whether this will be applicable to money. They also ask: will it be applicable to thinking? Obviously it will not; but it would be a good thing if we could find some better way to convey what the message is all about and perhaps try to point out to them how good it would be if they understood what a balance sheet was. They are beginning to realise that they are going into a world where accounting, auditing and balance sheets matter.
Let me conclude by reading the remarks made only last Saturday by a mature student who is president of the students' association at our smallest new college. It perhaps is not yet a college; it is called Lucy Cavendish. It is an important place in Cambridge. It is a college which accepts mature women students and, through extremely clever work by successive government officials in Brussels, it does not have to take men in equal numbers to women. As they say, and as one would appreciate on seeing them in action, they are unique.
The president made a speech in which it became clear that she was a mature mother of grown-up children and had been elected to be president of the union because the members respected her as a person. I believe that she 304 was reflecting the present mood—a mood that I hope the noble Baroness and her colleagues will be able to take on and dissolve. When the House hears what she said, it will be seen that I am concerned with the breakdown of the understanding of what public money is all about and what the responsibilities of the college on the one hand and the Government on the other are towards students. She said—and I wish I could give it in her very firm, maternal feminine tonesFollowing the Queen's Speech two days ago we wait with some trepidation to see what the Government intends to do to Student Unions".It may be noted that she said "intends to do to"; that is unfortunate. She continued,Many of us here have written to the Minister"—I do not know whether the noble Baroness also received a letter—and to our own MPs and I suggest we continue to do so. The notion that a student body such as ours might be misusing public funds would be laughable were it not so deeply offensive".I see that our Convener of the Cross-Benches is at the Bar. She tells me that one of our political purposes is to try to improve the situation. I am trying to improve the relationship between the men and women at the top of the Civil Service in the Department for Education and the student body, who should appreciate what those people are doing for them and not be so resentful.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ Lord Macaulay of Bragar
My Lords, before embarking on my remarks in this short debate, perhaps I can ask the noble Baroness, when she is winding up, not to become engulfed in the cloud of unknowing which seemed to engulf the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, when he was asked what the situation was to be in Wales, what the Minister for Wales actually said and, if he said it, what it meant. For the record, perhaps I can state that, in closing, the Secretary of State for Wales said,It is a great pity that we have had this interruption. I will give the House the news that it wanted, as I see that my time is now up".That may be a prophetic observation so far as he is concerned. He goes on to say,I will propose that we delay implementation by one year in order to give sufficient parliamentary time so that all good debate can be had—".—[Official Report, Commons, 22/11/93; col. 300.]He was then cut down in his prime and it was said that, it being 10 o'clock, the debate stood adjourned. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, indicated that Scotland and Wales were broadly in the same position. In so far as the statement made by the Secretary of State for Wales is intelligible and capable of implementation, do the same observations therefore apply to Scotland?
In introducing the Scottish dimension to the Bill, the noble and learned Lord talked of consultation; he said that a long debate had taken place. I hold a puny document in my hand which represents a summary of the responses to the Government's paper on the structure of local government in Scotland which had already decided that there was to be no choice in the matter and that there were to be single-tier authorities throughout Scotland, whatever their number. 305 The Western Isles Island Council was cited, along with Orkney and Shetland, as being good single-tier authorities. But they are purpose made for being single tier. They are islands surrounded by water. The United Kingdom is surrounded by water but there can be no comparison between the large areas with which local government has to deal on the mainland and the self-contained units in the islands of Scotland.
In this document it is observed that over half of the responses came from individuals. It should be noted that the number of responses was 3,317. Out of a population of 4.5 million people, 1,500 individuals responded and that is what the Government care to call "consultation" and "long debate". It beggars belief that the Minister can seriously present such a proposition to your Lordships' House.
From this side of your Lordships' Chamber we welcome a constructive approach to the reform in the broad sense of local authorities. No system is perfect and every system is capable of improvement. We are not against change; we are not against constructive change. But we challenge—perhaps we pay the Government a compliment in so doing—the social philosophy and methodology behind the Government's approach to the matter.
The gracious Speech contained only one reference to Scotland, and that was in relation to local government reform. That is a pathetic reflection of the Government's sense of priorities for Scotland and its people. It ignores every other urgent aspect of life in the Scottish community requiring urgent legislative attention.
To some extent this debate is not a debate; it is being held in a vacuum. The Bill has not yet been published. It has been foreshadowed in the government document and we are told that it will contain 160 clauses and goodness knows how many schedules. It is only when the Bill is published that the flesh will be put on the bones of the Government's proposals for the restructuring of local government in Scotland.
As the noble and learned Lord said, it is plain that much debate will follow. In particular, the Government will have to demonstrate and prove the need for radical reconstruction of Scotland in the proposed form as opposed to an in-depth study of the identifiable deficiencies and weaknesses in the present structure which, after all, has been on the go for almost 20 years. Those deficiencies—such as that mentioned by the noble and learned Lord regarding the lady who could not get her house repaired—can be dealt with by discussion and co-operation between the authorities without the need for a review of this nature.
I pose this question to the Government: can they guarantee that the Bill, at whatever cost, once it becomes an Act, will produce a more efficient, more effective quality of service for the citizens of Scotland? I use the word "guarantee" advisedly. There will not—I emphasise "not" —be another opportunity for many years to come to repeat the exercise. The Government cannot throw away millions of pounds and waste parliamentary time chasing local government shadows. I believe that that is what they are doing. While they are chasing shadows, the philosophy behind the approach to local government is quite plain; that is, that local 306 authorities in Scotland are dominated by Labour Party councils which the Government abhor, detest arid treat with contempt. They are determined to batter the life out of existing local authorities to make inroads into the constitution of local democracy by this, form of legislation which they pretend is for the good of the people and the administration of Scotland.
Can the citizens of Scotland be assured of a change so fundamental and radical that it will create an indestructible structure of a cost-efficient, well-informed and tiering system to meet all the local needs on an accountable basis and which will see Scotland into the 21st century without any further fundamental expensive and disruptive changes? On a cost scrutiny it is highly unlikely that this will be achieved. Far too much is left to speculation. First, there is speculation as to how the authorities will carry out the duties imposed upon them by the proposed legislation. As was said by my noble friend Lady Fisher, mention has been made of the intervention of the Secretary of State for Scotland. He is the long-stop who can bang heads together and say, "If you do not do it, I will do it and you will carry the cost of it". Secondly, no one knows at what cost all this will be achieved.
In the debate in another place the Secretary of State for Scotland, dealing with the question of costing, said blithely that in any one year it would cost £30 million, or possibly £35 million. One just took £5 million here and there, threw it about and arrived at the correct figure. You cannot arrive at an arithmetical sum unless the components of the sum can be defined. In the exercise that the Government propose to carry out they have no figures with which to do the adding-up process. That is one of the main defects in the set up.
A good example of how this cannot be done and how the Government will not face up to it when they look at the changes in local government is the question of transitional costs. This matter was referred to by my noble friend Lord Williams of Elvel. I quote from the Government's own document. Under the heading of transitional costs, it says:The initial costs arising from the move to the new councils are likely to be largely connected with staffing. These costs however depend on decisions, including those on the terms of any severance package which may be available to staff, which have yet to be taken. This, together with the difficulty of not knowing at this stage how the new local authorities will go about slimming down their staffing numbers and the ages and seniority of the staff likely to be involved, means that it is only possible to make relatively broad-brush estimates of costs".The Government are asking people to swallow this package of reform at what is perceived by others to be a monumental cost. If one takes a broad brush to a canvas it produces nothing as fat as detail is concerned. That is precisely the exercise that the Government are pursuing. They are quite prepared to place financial responsibility on the shoulders of local authorities to carry out the exercise. But one thing they do not say—it would be interesting to know the Government's view on it—is whether, if the costing exercise goes wrong, the taxpayer or community chargepayer—whatever payer it may be at the time—is to carry the additional burden of an expensive error. To put it colloquially, will the Government pick up the tab for something that has gone wrong at their behest?
307 The debate in another place underlined that once the political rhetoric of government was removed, the Government could not demonstrate that their ship would ever be on an even keel. The likelihood is that it will founder on the rocks. There is a real danger that the ship which founders on the rocks will take with it the crew, who are presently running the administration of local government in Scotland, and the people of Scotland will suffer.
Somewhere in the public mind there is an image of public demand for these changes. I move around in various strands of the community. From Monday to Sunday I have yet to hear one person say to me, "By the way, what is happening to the change in local government? Is it not time that we had a change?" It does not feature even marginally in everyday conversation or discussion in Scotland. To suggest that there is any public demand for it is a fiction of the Government's imagination.
The other misconception by the Government is that nobody knows what services are involved. I quote briefly from an independent poll carried out on behalf of Lothian region about area identity, and so on. Under the heading of public understanding of roles and functions, it says:The survey asked respondents to identify which organisations are responsible for providing a number of key local services.Contrary to the views expressed by the Secretary of State, the survey revealed a very good level of understanding amongst the public. In terms of education, 68 per cent. of respondents correctly identified this service as a Regional Council responsibility. Other services which had high recognition scores included: social work, 62 per cent; housing, 71 per cent; libraries, 62 per cent; street cleaning, 72 per cent; and refuse collection, 71 per cent.That is scarcely indicative of a state of ignorance on the part of those who responded to that particular poll. The Government may find it an interesting exercise to carry out a poll of their own. The mere fact that someone has a complaint about part of a local authority organisation does not mean that the organisation is itself inherently bad. It is important to remember that in Scotland over the years an understanding has developed between industry and the local authorities which will be fragmented by the implementation of the new single-tier authorities. Staff will disappear. You can bet your bottom dollar that, as has happened in other places, those who will disappear will be the best people in the local government. They will not hang about if there is a decent package to be got elsewhere. Industry will have to start all over again with new staff in the new single-tier local government. Chances will be lost at a time when the economy is sliding down the hill pretty quickly anyway.
I give an example. I go back to Lothian region because I happen to stay there. With the co-operation of Lothian region, a local railway line has been opened up to Bathgate, which used to be an industrial centre. In the nature of things, Lothian region were able to shift £800,000 to assist the implementation of this line. As a result, they managed to create one of the most successful railway lines in Scotland. It is doubtful whether that could have been done under the new system, or at least done very quickly.
308 Although the Government pay lip service to the question of an elected single-tier authority, it is clear from what the Minister has said that running alongside the elected authority will be a second layer of administrative government. Whether or not it is elected does not matter. Quangos have already been referred to by my noble friend, Lord Williams of Elvel. The Tory Party are very keen on slogans at their annual conferences. Perhaps they could bear in mind the old song "It takes two to tango". For the next conference, they can put at the back of the platform "It takes two to quango"—the Government being one and the recipients or their largess being the other part of the equation.
Whatever may be the deficiencies in local government in Scotland—it is recognised that there are many—they are capable of being repaired short of this expensive and needless exercise. Voices have been raised against it in business. I close with the words of Mr. Eric Milligan, former chairman of the Council of Scottish Local Authorities and chairman of Lothian Region. He puts it in this way:Meeting the costs of change in Lothian will put at risk many essential projects that people need. The Government structure itself is more appropriate for the past than for the future. We do not wish to go backwards. We wish to go forward—forward into the future with a structure sufficiently flexible and robust for the challenges that lie ahead".I only hope that for once this Government will be flexible and robust and have another look at what they are embarking upon and give proper time for debate of the whole matter.
§ 6.19 p.m.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, I want to concentrate on that part of the Queen's Speech which says,Other measures will be laid before you.The reason for doing so is that there is no mention of agriculture. Agriculture will go through an extremely trying time over the next three years. One hopes that by then the Government will go away. Nevertheless, it is a subject that they must think about.
Before I turn to that matter I must take up a point on local government raised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie. He gave a telling example of the difficulties of two tiers. In general, the Liberal Democrats are in, favour of a single tier topped by a Scottish Parliament. The example was of housing and the difficulty between social work in one compartment and housing in another. That is extremely important. However, the noble and learned Lord knows that in the county of Angus, where we both live, the local authority had a most admirable scheme for building retirement houses. Where a lot of farm workers were living all their lives in tied houses it was an admirable use of public money to build homes for their retirement. I hope and trust that the Tory Government, if they ever come to implement this proposal, will see that single tier authorities have money in order to build houses in rural areas. There is a great need for affordable housing because people are being driven out by more prosperous people who want to live in the country. The natives 309 cannot afford to live there. I hope that the noble Baroness will take that into account. It is a small but important point.
I turn now to agriculture. The CAP reforms are far-reaching and enormously expensive and complicated. The length of their life is, in the opinion of many people, very limited. The cries from economists and others about the expense of the CAP grow louder and louder. Who can blame them for looking at it in that light, although in actual fact agriculture has delivered affordable food in the Community? The biggest rise in expense is in the distribution and retailing of the food. Those costs have risen far more than the cost of farming. Nevertheless, we have to have reform of the CAP.
I have spent a good deal of time in Eastern Europe recently looking at the problem. The countries there have made terrible mistakes by introducing change too quickly. They have ruined their extravagant state farms by making them financially responsible; so much so that they went broke and they could not even buy fertiliser or afford the fuel to sow the crops, with the result that in 1992 Poland, to take one example, had for the first time in its history to import food. The problem was exacerbated by a drought but nevertheless the failure of the state system was responsible to a large degree.
In Albania, so angry were the 60 per cent. of the people who live in the country areas and depend on agriculture that they seized the land and broke it into small units. I think it is going to work, in that they will grow their own food and they will support their families. One hopes that with our help they will then be able to build up their industries and gradually employ the 60 per cent. in useful work instead of in the rather wasteful small farming sector. I can see no other way for them to get on. The point is that in Eastern Europe—in Hungary, a very fertile country, in Poland, in the Czech Republic, in Bulgaria and elsewhere—there will be a competent, unsubsidised agriculture. We have to get towards that without ruining the countryside. It is an environmental and social problem as much as an agricultural one. It is one that we have to face up to.
I do not have time to go into all the complexities of the present reform scheme, which broadly seeks to reduce prices by 30 per cent. over three years and at the same time to compensate farmers by area direct payments. Unfortunately, it has no ending. Instead of that scheme, the Government should have looked at and put forward the coupon scheme whereby farmers might receive a coupon for 10 years at so much a year which they could cash in the market if they wanted to. There is a simplicity about it which the present scheme does not have. The scheme is so complicated that bullocks have to have passports and every bullock must be registered. The bureaucracy attendant on it is quite ludicrous. I cannot see it carrying on without breaking down.
I raise this matter because it will be an on-going factor which the Government will have to attend to in the next few years. I also raise it because of one particular anomaly which is of great interest to the farmers of Scotland. It is a most extraordinary case. I am retired now but all my family farm. There is a new forrnat for collecting information called the integrated 310 administrative control system, or IACS, which is perhaps a better name for it as it is a beast of burden to the farmers who have to fill in the forms. They all have to buy new editions of the ordnance survey maps in order to complete them correctly. It was an excellent exercise, in that they all had to work enormously hard at it and for the first time they really obtained a picture of the area of their farms. In many farms the information had previously been based not so much on fact as traditionally on what was called a 20-acre field.
The forms were filled in and sent off to the Scottish Office. In the middle of this summer a great panic arose in agriculture in Scotland in that it was found that there appeared to be a 16 per cent. overshoot; in other words, Scottish farmers had planted 16 per cent. more acreage than they were supposed to. The NFU was told about. it in private —there was a great bustling about—and it was found that the department had made a slight mistake of some thousands of hectares. It had put the less favoured area arable land into the wrong section and when that was corrected there was only a 5 per cent. overshoot.
There was a great sigh of relief that the figure had dropped to 5 per cent., because the penalty for farmers with a 16 per cent. overshoot would have been to set aside without compensation 16 per cent. more of their acres. I am glad to see the Minister nodding his head.
It breaks my heart to see good arable land which should be producing to the full producing at that level. But when one looks at the figure of 30 per cent. one begins to greet, which means cry. Then, with great relief, the Scottish Office thought how clever it was that it had reduced the figure to 5 per cent. But that means £20 million off a small industry in Scotland. The NFU approached the Government again as to what they could do about correcting this immense anomaly. The Government, in the form of a man who should know much better—and does know better, I dare say—Sir Hector Monro—said that they had done well to get it to 5 per cent. and that the farmers were receiving a lot of extra money anyhow. That is a scandalous attitude, because Scotland has the biggest farms in Europe and the best result in reducing the production of grain.
One of the main faults of the EC is that we produce so much that we ruin other countries by dumping it on their market. Scotland has reduced average yields—the yields are below average this year—by 4.50,000 tonnes. With this year's harvest, the figure will be 600,000 tonnes. It is estimated that in Scotland, where the grain crop estimates are down 20 per cent., there will be an extra set-aside penalty of 5.4 per cent. In Germany, where the estimate is up 4.7 per cent., there will be a penalty of 0.97 per cent. The estimate for France is down 8.9 per cent., with nothing happening and no announcement. Spain's is up 18 per cent.; Denmark's is up 33 per cent. and Italy's is down 3.5 per cent., but I would not trust statistics from Italy for anything in the world. The estimate for the Community as a whole is down only 1.2 per cent.
Unfortunately, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, is not replying to the debate, so I put this point to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for whom I have the most enormous respect. I hope that she 311 will take this injustice to heart. The point is that the Scottish Office is refusing to do anything about it. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food got it right in England. It had the same difficulties about assessing the previous method and the 1989–91 census, but it got it right. The Scottish Office got it wrong. All the figures show that the position is wholly unjust. There is little doubt in my mind but that the Scottish Office must go to all possible lengths and enlist the help of the more competent Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in England and go to the Commission and the Council of Ministers to get this anomaly —this gross injustice—put right. It is an example of the sort of thing that can happen under the present system. It is up to the Government to try to put it right.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Lord Lloyd of Berwick
My Lords, I too must first apologise for having been absent at the start of the debate this afternoon. I hope that I shall not be covering ground that has already been covered, but, if I do, I hope that one of your Lordships will be kind enough to tell me to sit down.
There is an old saying that a cobbler should stick to his last and, in my case, that means that a lawyer should stick to his law books. However, there is another subject which lies rather closer to my heart than the law—and that subject is the opera. It is a subject on which I have to declare an interest because I have had the honour for many years now of being the chairman of the Glyndebourne Arts Trust.
Before the war, England—and here I deliberately exclude Wales—had the reputation of being the most unmusical nation in Europe. Anyone who ever heard or played in a school band either before or after the war will know exactly what I mean. But since the war—and in particular in the past 30 years or so—there has been a remarkable change. It now takes a trained ear to tell the difference between a good school orchestra and an orchestra of professionals. From being at the very bottom of the musical league, England must now be somewhere near the top. How or why that change has come about I do not profess to know, but come about it undoubtedly has.
There has been another change. Between the wars, when Glyndebourne Festival Opera was founded, opera was widely regarded as a somewhat elitist taste, but now, by contrast, love of the opera seems to be nationwide. Classic FM, to which many of your Lordships may have listened, now has an audience of some 4.5 million. Your Lordships will know that the fare on offer on Classic FM often consists of opera—either excerpts or whole operas. Indeed, there cannot now be anybody in the entire kingdom who would not recognise Pavarotti singing "Nessun Dorma".
The result of all this is that more and more people want to hear opera in the flesh, so to speak. That is where touring opera companies come in—and it is about them that I should like to say just a few words. Before the war, there was only one major touring opera company—the Carl Rosa. There are now four: Scottish 312 Opera; Welsh National Opera; Opera North and Glyndebourne Touring Opera. Between us, we visit more than 20 centres up and down the country and play everywhere to full houses. The great majority of all our singers are native-born.
But opera is notoriously expensive to put on, especially touring opera. It would be impossible to meet the cost of a tour out of box office revenue without excluding the very people whom we most want to attract. Inevitably, therefore, we are dependent to a greater or lesser extent on the Arts Council. I should make it clear that I am talking about Glyndebourne Touring Opera—not about the festival which takes place in Sussex and operates without any subsidy at all.
Last year, the four major touring opera companies received a total subsidy of £16.5 million. That may seem quite a large figure, but it is almost nothing compared with the sort of subsidies which equivalent bodies receive in France, Germany and Italy. We are now told that the Arts Council is to have a cut of £5 million in its budget. Glyndebourne Touring Opera has been warned that it will be cut out altogether in 1995.
This is not the time or the place—and I am certainly not the person—to say that the Arts Council should have more money, but the effect of that cutback, which will have what may well prove to be a disastrous result for touring opera generally will surely be this: it will mean that the young audiences which we have built up over the years and which we most want to continue to attract will be disappointed and that many young singers will go abroad and seek their fortunes elsewhere.
Last week a letter in The Times pointed out that the performing arts should be encouraged if only because they provide a major tourist attraction. I would put it in another way. The extent to which a country is prepared to support the arts is one measure—and I would suggest that it is a good measure—of that country's claim to call itself "civilised". I hope that my fears about the effect on touring opera may prove to be misplaced, but having expressed those fears, perhaps I had better now return to my law books.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe
My Lords, I apologise to the House for my absences, which are due to my membership of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme of which I am a trustee. I hesitate to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, on his maiden speech. I do so, not out of a spirit of churlishness or because I did not enjoy it and look forward to hearing from him again. However, the Procedure Committee of this House recommended that the convention of every following speaker congratulating a maiden speaker should cease. As we are essentially self-regulating we must start somewhere; otherwise it is pointless to have the committees working on our behalf and bringing forward recommendations.
Had I spoken yesterday I should have joined noble Lords who expressed anxiety about the radical changes which are suggested to the composition of police authorities and the suggestions relating to the change in the conditions of service of magistrates' clerks. I am glad that those points were made frequently and 313 effectively. I am sure that my colleagues on this side of the House will understand if I delicately side-step the issue of quangos about which a great deal has been said.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, mentioned student facilities. The Minister will know that frequently in this House I have pressed the case for more students in higher education to be based at home. Until that happens—and I look forward to the day, should I live long enough—those who move away from home need the kind of facilities that have been mentioned by other Members.
I wish to dwell on legislation which is not in the gracious Speech but which ought to be. I shall not be tempted down the path of suggesting which pieces of the gracious Speech should be dropped in order to accommodate that. The Local Government Act 1992 established the Local Government Commission with the remit of reviewing specific areas which were put to it by the Secretary of State, to recommend structural and boundary changes taking account of the identities and interests of local communities and the need to secure effective and efficient local government. The independent commission, chaired by Sir John Banham, was given guidance by the Government on key factors to be considered in deciding whether new unitary authorities should replace the current two-tier system of county and district councils.
Beginning its work in July 1992, a programme of reviews was started, dividing shire areas into five tranches. During the past 16 months the commission has considered the likely costs and savings of different structures, the implications for the major delivery of services, community care and education, links with community and where people feel that they belong, and the need for elected members to be democratically accountable to the communities that they serve. The House will know that the commission has already made final recommendations in respect of the number of counties. Those for Avon, Gloucestershire and Somerset, where my own particular interest lies, are expected in the new year.
I should have thought that the key issues for local government structure must be the need for local authorities to deliver the most cost-effective quality public services in response to the needs of the local community, to minimise administrative and other central costs and, in particular, to be accountable and to take notice of what the people desire in the locality. That is confirmed by the commission's own opinion surveys. The structure of local government must ensure that authorities have effective strategic capacity for all services, delivered cost-effectively and locally with proper specialist back-up. The local authorities must also relate well to local communities and work in effective partnership with local businesses, the voluntary sector and other public sector agencies. They should also not need to depend on complex and non-accountable joint arrangements between local authorities.
I was in at the birth of the county of Avon because some 20 years ago I served on the Committee stage of the local government reorganisation Bill in another place. That was a case for a parliamentary long-service 314 medal if ever there was one. My suggestion for a reorganisation of the Bristol area was rejected only by some five votes at the Report stage.
The commission has suggested for Avon that there should be four new unitary authorities to work jointly on structure plans, waste and minerals and major highways. There are problems of accountability and potential conflict of interests in the suggestions. Any advantages that the four new unitary authorities may create could well be offset by the disadvantages of the break-up of the existing strategic authority and the destruction of services that that would entail. Some noble Lords may believe that this is a potential microcosm of the problems that have arisen in London since the break-up and disappearance of the Greater London Council.
In order to avoid the mistakes of the past, the case for change has to be made positively. New structures must be shown to be better than the present structure in securing proper strategic planning for personal services as well as for the environment. Local people arid organisations should be able to say, first, whether they want change and, secondly, what they want the change to be. There should be no central prescription. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to a report in the Independent about the plan for abolishing all county councils irrespective of the commission's recommendations, and so I shall not dwell on that matter. However, I support her plea that where questionnaires are issued they are properly structured and statistically sound, I have drawn your Lordships' attention to a questionnaire issued by the director of water regulation through Ofwat and the bills sent to water users. It was not statistically sound, and directed and steered people towards the answer that Ofwat wanted; namely, that people favoured metering as a method of paying for water.
Clearly, the costs of local services are a major concern to people. If we are to change the structure of local government and that costs more, it is likely to, prejudice people from the start. We know that there are substantial costs in changing from one system to another. These transitional costs will include redundancy and relocation payments, premises costs and, in particular, substantial changes to communications systems. The commission has made its estimates based on its experience of the first tranche of 10 counties. It states that the transitional costs will be not less than £500 million and could well exceed £1 billion. Separate estimates by the 'Association of County Councils put that figure at more than £l billion.
I was fortunate to be in contact not only with the chairman of Avon County Council, Mr. Terry Walker, but also the chief executive. They drew my attention to a grave situation, and that is why I want the Government to introduce new legislation. It is essential that any new unitary authorities created, even if they have the same boundaries as the existing authorities, should be genuinely new authorities with new members, officers, policies, and so forth. Unfortunately, in writing to the ACC on 4th August, the Minister for Local Government and Planning contradicted his predecessor's commitment made in the previous year that there would be elected shadow authorities in virtually all areas where unitary authorities are created.
315 The result will be that where there is no significant boundary change, as in the proposed Bristol authority, there will not be a genuinely new shadow authority to plan for the introduction of the authority. Current councillors on the continuing authority may well be "sitting tenants" in terms of selection for the new unitary authority. Yet unitary shire authorities must be able to draw heavily on the experience of councillors and officers from both tiers. The signs are that where continuing authorities are concerned, one set of councillors will be planning the services, setting up the new structure and so forth.
Even more serious is that on the operations side the continuing authorities will presumably be serviced and advised from the beginning by their existing staff and governed by their existing processes and procedures. That will not be a genuine, fresh start. Efficient and effective planning for the new authorities will happen only if members are able to appoint and draw on the experience of people from authorities in both tiers—in my own area, from the County of Avon as well as the districts of Woodspring and Bristol—particularly at key management levels.
If the Government are keen to encourage closer working among authorities in the review processes, these proposals are precisely the wrong way to go about it. The constitutional, staffing and other implications make it imperative that all new authorities are truly new authorities. If that requires amendment to a badly drafted 1992 Act, so be it.
I buttress my arguments by using a letter from Councillor Dennis Pettitt, chairman of the executive council of the ACC, writing to the Minister on 7th September. He expressed the association's grave concern about this question. He urged the introduction of new legislation if necessary so that,any unitary authorities created in the shires are genuinely new authorities".He added that if that was not done it would be,potentially disastrous in undermining the success of the entire structure review. There are especially serious constitutional and staffing implications".He referred to staff facing extremely serious demoralisation if they were not able to compete effectively for jobs on offer.
My colleagues in Avon county tell me that already the staff there are extremely worried. People are looking around for possible appointments and considering other ways of giving service to the community. It is extremely unsettling. Nothing undermines people more than anxiety about their jobs on which their families, standards of living and entire well being depend.
I quote also a letter dated 12th November 1993 to Mr. Atherton, chairman of the Local Government Staff Commission (England), from the chairman of the South West branch of SOLACE, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives. The chairman says that he is writing,on behalf of 22 Chief Executives meeting over the last two days in Dartington at the Autumn Seminar … The Seminar noted the Government's view"—I believe that it is freely admitted by the Government— 316that the Local Government Act 1992 is defective in not permitting shadow authorities where a proposed unitary authority follows largely the same boundaries as an existing authority".It goes on to say—and as a former party manager in another place, I can only agree—that where there is an anomaly of this nature, a Bill introduced to remedy an obvious defect would command all-party support. In fact, if properly drafted, it would go through almost on the nod. This is a serious situation and I do not believe that a great deal of government time would be taken up by putting through the legislation to deal with it. I cannot imagine that noble Lords on either side of the House would wish that situation to continue. Again, the letter stresses the problems of staff and goes on to say that even at this late stage the Government should bring in amending legislation.
As we know, the review has been accelerated to complete its work by the end of 1994. While it may reduce uncertainty in one way, in another way it makes the commission's task very much harder. We have experienced reorganisations in the past. I have mentioned one in which I was an active participant elsewhere, but we have seen them in the health service and so on. They frequently cost substantially more than estimated. We complain in this House from time to time about too much legislation. However, I am tempted to say to the Government that I do not believe that there would be too many tears shed if the entire local government reorganisation were dropped. If that is not to be, then I ask the Government to enter into consultation through the usual channels as to whether or not we could not have an all party effort to nip through a small piece of legislation to remedy that defect in the 1992 Act.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Lord Redesdale
My Lords, I begin by apologising to the House for missing the start of the debate. I was carrying out some research on the recently published Education Bill concerning student legislation.
I listened to the gracious Speech with some trepidation as I was hoping fervently that the student legislation would be left out of the speech. I believe that I can claim to be the most recent student in the Chamber at present. Also, I was active in Newcastle University's student union. That piece of legislation will be objected to plainly and simply because it is not needed as a piece of legislation. There are many other routes by which regulation for student unions can be introduced without taking up the time of Parliament.
Also, I should like to express my anxiety as regards the major flaw in the legislation; that is the way in which the Government plan to regulate student unions through the system of core and non-core activities. I wonder whether the Minister can say when the Government will table the regulations which set out what is core and what is non-core. One problem with stipulating core and non-core is that it is being done in the wrong way. It would be far easier to restrict student unions and to say that they are not allowed to do certain things rather than imposing a rather stifling straitjacket and say that only certain activities are permitted. That would lead to a 317 situation in which student unions are forever looking at their activities and wondering whether they are overstepping the mark.
One area that I should like to address is that when I looked at what was suggested for core and non-core, I saw that student community actions were not seen as core activities. Your Lordships may not realise that student community actions are groups of volunteer students who go out into the community and take part in activities which range from painting and decorating, to working with mentally handicapped groups. Many of those activities give students an education in areas which they would not normally come across. I know that to be so as I took part in a student community action in Newcastle. I ran two projects there: one for a severely disabled group; and one for children with hearing difficulties.
Many people in the country see the introduction of legislation in this area as a mistake. I should like to read from a letter to the Daily Telegraph by Dr. Kenneth Edwards, who is chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors. He said:The Government could achieve all its intended goals more effectively and more easily.First, it could achieve the safeguards it wants by clarifying the legal status of campus student unions as charities with elected governing councils. They would then be subject to the same political constraints as other charities. That would also answer the Government's concerns about ensuring democracy.Second, the Government need not set up costly bureaucracies to account separately for publicly and privately financed union activities. The universities' own auditors could institute regular checks to see that no public funds were being used for activities outside the union's charitable purposes".Student unions realise that they must change their roles; indeed, over the past few years, the National Union of Students has been trying to reform itself. At present, it is looking at the possibility of gaining charitable status which would mean that it would be regulated without the necessity of legislation. I believe that some Members of the other place see the matter as a side issue and not one which requires legislation. I should like to paraphrase the remarks made by Mr. Forman who was, until recently, a Government Minister. He said that against the background of the longer term, and although set out in the Queen's Speech, reform of student unions is a small issue which may well detract from bigger issues.
When we consider the fact that there are growing and considerable problems in higher education regarding the increased number of students, student poverty, over-full lecture theatres and so on, it seems to me that the legislation proposed is being introduced as a political measure rather than something which is strictly necessary for legislation. I hope that it is not being introduced merely to give the impression that a union is, once again, being restricted by the Government. I say that because the National Union of Students is not really a union. The idea that students are a political body is way past the mark. Indeed, I think that it would be difficult to find many politically active students around the country. They are very apathetic concerning politics.
I should like to conclude by referring to an area which I believe needs further consideration. I have in mind the restrictions on student campaigning which 318 may well infringe on the freedom of speech provisions in the l986 Act. I hope that the legislation will not mean that such provisions will be countermanded.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Lord Northbourne
My Lords, I do not wish to enter into the debate about the Government's recently published truancy figures. However, I believe that they disclose something that those of us who are interested in education already knew; namely, that there is a significant number of children slipping through the net. In today's society, which is so technologically competitive, and with the threat of cheap, skilled and industrious labour from South-East Asia, it is becoming increasingly a fact that low skills will mean low wages or unemployment. A basic education is more important to our children than it has ever been before.
Therefore, I ask myself: what can be done to stop children slipping through the net? The Government have done many things, including publishing the truancy tables to which I referred. However, there is one important area that they seem so far to have totally ignored. A small but significant number of children—a minority, but a growing minority—reach the age of five without the emotional equipment that they need for school.
Recent research in the United States and in this country—or perhaps I should put it the other way round, because I believe that the research was initiated here—has shown that a specific set of social and emotional characteristics is essential to school readiness. When children are very young they learn through the simple every-day actions in the family. They learn whether their needs are important to their parents; they learn whether their effort to communicate or achieve something is supported; they learn whether promises are kept; and they learn whether they are loved. The latter are called the emotional foundations for learning, and they are laid in the first three years of a child's life.
The characteristics which enable a child to learn at school are quite well known. They include self-confidence, curiosity, the capacity to set a goal and to work at it, the ability to communicate with others and the ability to get along with other children and grown-ups. Children who have those characteristics will learn quickly and easily; but children who lack them will tend to fall behind and then become discouraged and resentful, which may lead to their becoming disruptive, dropping out and becoming truants.
The recent research that I mentioned has shown quite clearly that the impact of children being unready to do well in school is long lasting and can be pennanent. Our whole society is affected by the capacities of our children to develop or to fail to develop. Emotional school readiness is of fundamental importance to the success of our children and, therefore, to our society.
Why is it that some parents—indeed, a small number of parents—seem not to be able to give their children the support that they need in the early years of their lives? In many cases it is not the fault of the parents and in most cases it is not helpful to blame the parents. There are many reasons involved. The first and most important 319 is that very often the parents themselves have not had the benefit or the experience of a good enough standard of parenting. That is the downward cycle of inadequate parenting which was referred to so many times and so fluently by many noble Lords in the debate instituted earlier this year by the noble Lord, Lord Joseph. Of course, there are other reasons why parents cannot achieve. Sometimes there is unacceptable stress in the family; sometimes they may be suffering from sickness or depression; or sometimes they are just inadequate to the task of coping with debt, violence or the deprivation in which they are living.
There is much that can be done to help improve the situation and reduce the number of children who enter primary school without the emotional foundation of school readiness that they need. I submit that none of the remedies needs to be terribly expensive—certainly not expensive in the context of the enormous savings that would be made in public expenditure if only those children who might fail in later life could be looked after at that stage. For example, we could educate all children in secondary school about parenting, the needs of children, the sacrifices involved, the responsibilities of parenting and about sustaining stable relationships. There is a need for significantly more support for organisations like Home-Start which is going out and supporting young, inexperienced parents in their homes. There is the need for more support for organisations which are providing family centres and playgroups. Indeed, there is also a need for support for organisations of every kind, especially the citizens advice bureaux, which are helping parents to cope with the problem of debt.
Finally, I believe that there is a need for a change in public attitudes. I urge upon your Lordships that it is not impossible to change public attitudes. For example, if I had said "green" to noble Lords 20 years ago, the response would probably have been "blue". Today, however, the response would probably be something quite different. I believe that we in this House should press the Government on all those issues.
As noble Lords will know, there are no fewer than six or seven departments responsible for the affairs of children. I could have raised the issue on Monday in the Home Office debate or on Tuesday in the social services debate. However, I chose to raise the matter today because I believe that it is an educational issue for two reasons. First, it will affect the entire education system if fewer children go into schools unprepared and unable to accept the schooling which is offered to them. Secondly, I am afraid that in future education for parenting which is provided in school will for some young people have to substitute for the education in parenting that some decades ago they would have received at their parents' knees. Finally, my great respect for the noble Baroness leads me to hope that she may be prepared to take up this issue and run with it.
I propose to devote myself to mounting a campaign on this issue. I should very much welcome the support of and to hear from any noble Lords who believe as I do that this is an issue of fundamental importance to some of our children and to our society.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, I should certainly like to say a word in support of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. I have great sympathy for his cause but I shall not pursue that theme tonight because it is getting rather late. I shall concentrate on what was said in the gracious Speech about teacher training and student unions.
The proposals have been looked on with dismay and hostility by the educational world. Although the Government have paid lip-service to consultation, the time allowed has been too short. In the case of the student unions it was mostly during the vacation, although an extra month was allowed. For the rest, their observations had to be received by the beginning of November. The First Reading of the Bill was yesterday and the Bill was available only today. The consultation period was really only three weeks and that is an incredibly short time.
So far as I can see from a necessarily hurried reading of the Bill this morning, because of other commitments, no notice seems to have been taken of the responsible views expressed by those involved in higher education, teachers, students or LEAs. The trend towards centralised control which we have seen in so many Bills that have come pouring out of the department will continue. This is the fifteenth Bill in 14 years. That says a good deal about the incompetence of various Secretaries of State. We were told by Mr. Patten last year that the 1992 Education Act would last for 25 years. It seems to have lasted for one.
I turn to the subject of teacher training. There has been general acceptance that more of the training should take place in schools. Excellent partnerships have been built up between higher education institutions and schools in many areas. Oxford and Sussex have led in that regard, but it is now happening across the country. However, to propose that the proportion of training in schools should be two-thirds or three-quarters is unrealistic and totally unsatisfactory. School-based training is one thing, school-centred training is quite another. Perhaps the Minister will tell me whether the proportions which are now proposed, which one cannot find in the Bill, will be as they were.
The proposal to set up a Teacher Training Agency has attracted universal criticism. The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals and the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers are profoundly unhappy at the risk of the disassociation of teacher training from the rest of higher education and in particular the research aspect. The Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education appears a little more compliant than it would have been under its previous chairman, Sir William Taylor. The timing of his resignation seems to me to have significance. When I spoke to him he was certainly very angry about what was happening. His feelings are made very clear in the article which he wrote which appeared in The Times Higher Education Supplement on 22nd October.
§ The Minister of State, Department for Education (Baroness Blatch)
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. She has made a very 321 serious point. Is she suggesting that Sir William Taylor did not go of his own volition and that in some way he was pressed to leave at that time?
§ Baroness David
My Lords, I am not suggesting that at all. I do not pretend that this is true, but I am suggesting what I guess happened, namely that he did not like the proposals being made and therefore resigned. Perhaps the Minister may wish to contradict me when she replies.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I may not have time to pick up the point later, given the number of points raised in the course of the debate to which I have to respond. It is important for the record that I say that Sir William Taylor's time at the council had naturally come to an end and he gave us a good deal of warning that he would be going at that date, long before the proposals were in print.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, in that case, I apologise for what I said. I totally accept what the Minister says. Even so, I should like to repeat that I do not believe that Sir William liked what was happening. I shall quote from his article, which expresses what I feel rather better than I could. The article stated:Selective and misleading use is made of Her Majesty's Inspectorate's findings on quality. To identify the 'two distinct ways' in which teacher education is arranged and funded as university and college courses on the one hand, and 'pioneering school-centred courses' on the other, omits to mention that the first provides some 60,000 places and the second only 250 …School-centred training hands over everything to untried and untested consortia of schools, funded by a new Teacher Training Agency (TTA) of eight to 12 members, chosen by the Secretary of State. Higher education institutions are only to be involved to the extent that schools wish to contract with them for the provision of services …To fund teacher education separately from higher education … to shorten the BEd course from four to three years, will send clear messages to potential recruits about the status and attractiveness of teaching".The divorce of teacher education and training from the rest of higher education is worrying. Students do not now come to the higher education institutions well prepared. Their educational performance is modest in many cases. They need the four years to equip themselves with the necessary subject knowledge and to acquire confidence and skills to work in difficult conditions. What guarantee of quality can there be if these plans go forward?
Will students be attracted to the teaching profession? Students like to be in a higher education establishment and meet a much wider selection of their peer group. I suspect that women students will suffer. I fear that the status of teaching will be devalued. Will it be back to the monitors and pupil teachers of a century ago?
The Government's intention is to allow people to receive from the Secretary of State qualified teacher status without any intervention from higher education. It would put this country in a unique position in Europe, and nearly all the developing countries of the Pacific rim are busily upgrading their teacher education and relating it closely to higher education. The Government's proposals are a retrograde step for the profession in England and contradict developments in other professional areas where integration is actively being provided. Nursing provides an extremely good example.
322 The teacher training agency will be yet another quango. The chairman and the eight to 12 members will all be appointed by the Secretary of State. What justification can there be for setting up this specialised funding body when no similar body is being set up for other professions with substantial public sector involvement? That no such body is considered feasible in Wales suggests that whatever problems are perceived in giving the HEFC responsibility for allocating funds to schools are seen as being soluble within the existing framework there. Will the Minister please explain the reasons for the different treatment for Wales?
Is it not ironic that in the very week of the Queen's Speech we should have the launch of the report of the national commission under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Walton, the result of two years' intensive study by the education world? The report puts forward very different proposals for raising standards and quality and for more professionalism. I wish to refer specifically to the commission's support for a general teaching council. That would give the teaching profession a standing body to safeguard standards and to provide them with a body such as most professions have in order to fight their cause.
I turn now to student unions. The Government's aim is purely political. They wish to prevent taxpayers' money being used for political purposes. That could easily have been stopped without going to such enormous lengths and legislation, thereby risking the destruction of a quantity of excellent work that the unions undertake in the universities. The Government's objectives could have been met by clearly defining those activities which are ultra vires for student unions, by developing national codes of practice for the democratic control of student unions and by codifying good practice based on existing procedures on the accounting and auditing of funds. Why waste all this parliamentary time? The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, also made that point.
The list of core services in the proposed documents—I know that they do not appear in the Bill but they will be produced by regulation—omits an astonishing range of positive and legitimate functions undertaken by student unions: cultural and academic activity, religious and ethnic societies and information and communication services, including newspapers and radio, which form a key element in the provision of welfare services. How many successful journalists have started their careers writing or editing university papers? There is too the organisation of entertainments, concerts, theatre, visiting troops and bands. Peter Hall and Trevor Nunn are two stars who started their marvellous careers in university societies. In his speech the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, spoke of the great contribution to the arts which university student unions can provide.
The activities of student unions have a very real value for students as part of the educational process. Students do not learn only in the lecture hall, library or laboratory but from a range of more active experiences in which they develop both confidence and the organisational 323 skills which are vital for their careers with future employers. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, made the point about the fun that students enjoy from such events.
I have discovered from my own college at Cambridge that among the clubs whose financial basis will be swept away are the Law Society, the Engineering Society, the Medics and Vets Society, the History Society, the Geography Society, the Music Society and the Drama Society. Is it not ridiculous that one can have a lacrosse club but not a law society, and a boat club but not a music society?
The proposal to exclude external representation from core activities will produce difficulties both for universities and for Government. As a briefing to MPs or Peers is external representation, would an MP or Peer have to pay to cover the costs of producing such representation? Would an MP or Peer have to pay to cover costs if he has a meeting with the president of a student union? One can see the ridiculousness of the whole situation. We do not know from the Bill exactly what will happen since so much is to be done, as usual, by regulation.
The proposals are totally misconceived. The Government's aims could be achieved more simply. I hope that Ministers will be prepared to listen to this debate and the debate on Second Reading. There is also the point as to whether the legislation is in line with the European Convention on Human Rights. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, has given an opinion. He thinks that Articles 10, 11 and 14 could produce difficulties for the Government. I cannot pretend to have knowledge about that, but I hope that the Government will consider the point when we debate the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
My Lords, we have had an extremely good debate. Although it was a short list of speakers, the length of speeches expanded to accommodate the short list. That has produced considerable richness in and gain for the debate.
It has been a wide-ranging debate. I am delighted to welcome the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, to this House; he is an old personal friend. He was able to argue about a matter that was not in the Queen's Speech. He said that it was not the time and place and he was not the person to argue that the Arts Council should have more money. It may not have been the time and place, but he went on to prove that he was the person to argue it, and argue it rather well. The noble Lord, Lord Cocks, managed to congratulate the maiden speaker upon his admirable speech by reminding all other noble Lords that we were forbidden to do so. It is a process that your Lordships will notice I have taken one remove further in the past minute.
I propose to address briefly the three main subjects of the debate. I shall not say much about local government. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has spoken from these Benches; she is an expert on the subject. However, I wish to comment that it is the 15th Queen's Speech since I entered your Lordships' House. I remember the Government coming into office; and one now has to be 324 fairly old to remember that. When they came into office, I remember that they were going to devolve power from the state. They were going to abolish quangos. Do your Lordships remember those days? We now have more quangos than we have ever had before, more centralisation of powers to the state and less democracy, because most of the people who have been put in to do jobs in place of councillors are not accountable to anyone except the Secretary of State. That is a sad factor, and sooner or later we shall have to hand back powers to the people who benefit or suffer from them. They must have the power to decide for themselves. We need more devolution.
We all know that the Government were afraid of local government bodies being taken over by extremists. In those days it was not considered likely that the Government would be taken over by extremists. But no one faced up to the answer. We on these Benches have always known the answer and are tired of giving it. Your Lordships are tired of hearing us say it. If one devolves power to local government and has proportional representation, one has local government which is virtually guaranteed not to have extremists in charge.
We still look for the provision of universal nursery education. I shall certainly join the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, in his campaign for nursery education. I listened with great interest to the debate on the subject led by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, to which my noble friend Lady Seear contributed memorably. Universal availability of education at a very early age for all children will pay off in human and in economic terms. To say that we cannot afford it is nonsense.
I hope that the Government may do a U turn on this matter. I was very interested to see that the Daily Express carried a story saying that they had done so. It filled the front page of that newspaper on Monday, 22nd November. It said that Mr. Major had changed his mind and we were to get, "nursery schools for all". If that is so, it will be a wonderful thing. There is no reason why it should not be so. We all know what it needs; namely, one penny on income tax. That will more than cover the cost, and it will pay us back over a long period of time.
On the question of student unions, much has been said, and by two Members on these Benches who know a lot about the subject. Much of what was said was very worthwhile. But no one stood up and said that what should really be encouraged in regard to student unions is politics, and that our children and our youth ought to be taught from a very early age the importance of engaging in politics at all levels. If we lost community action, as the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, said, it would be a great pity. If that is to be the case, it is to be hoped that any such provision will be changed. We should encourage politics—and no one more so than noble Lords on the Government Benches. If I remember correctly, the folklore of the Conservative Party says that young people get radical when they are young and learn better as they get old: they all become Conservatives then. That is what used to be said. I am afraid that in my case it has not worked. I move further to the Left with every year that I age. If the Government believe that is so, then it should be to their benefit that people learn how to handle politics at a fairly early age.
325 More should have been said on the subject of the environment—although my noble friend Lord Mackie spoke on it at length when he dealt with the question of agriculture. There is a question to be asked about how accountable will be the new bodies which will be produced by the new environment agency.
Finally, I should like to talk very briefly about the apparent lack of government interest in a number of firms and experiments that are going on in producing the engines, schemes and technology which will help the environment and all the attainment of a sustainable economy. If I mention two firms, I can assure noble Lords, as they would expect, that I have no pecuniary interest of any kind in them. At the moment there is a firm called Parry People Movers Ltd of Birmingham which, as we speak, has laid down some tramlines in Birmingham particularly to show off its non-polluting, low-cost, energy efficient, extremely cheap tram technology, which could be used as feeders in the countryside as well as in major towns. On a day when we read in the evening papers that a 100,000 people were trapped in the Underground, it might be as well to think about simple, above-ground, cheap, non-polluting transport systems.
Another small British company, Environmental Reclamation International Ltd., has developed a unique integrated system for the treatment of municipal solid waste. It has the largest national stand at the New Earth Exhibition in Osaka next month and is attracting widespread foreign interest; as indeed is the trams project. I understand that the Government are sending a group to Japan to learn all about tram technology at the same time as the Japanese are visiting Birmingham to see what is being done by that very good company which nevertheless needs the kind of support which all small, innovative companies need.
It is time that the Government took these matters seriously. The trouble is that they tend to think in terms of large, massive areas. Even if they want to save money, they cannot help thinking in terms of projects which cost millions and billions of pounds. This has been a day when we have discussed a number of subjects, all of which should revolve round the idea that small is beautiful; that we should have small units of local government; that we should take our education to the smallest of children; and that we should concentrate in our environment on what happens on the small scale rather than what happens on the vast scale. I look forward to hearing what the Government have to say about the various matters that have been raised.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Lord Judd
My Lords, this has been a good, sometimes passionate, debate. My noble friend Lord Williams, followed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, set the tone, with his challenging survey of the brutal attack on accountable democracy by the Government's partisan packing of the rapidly growing force of centrally controlled quangos. That theme of deep concern about what is happening to democracy has been repeatedly underlined today. My noble friend Lady Fisher spoke tellingly about the anonymity of key personnel and the centralisation of ministerial power. I 326 hope that the Minister will deal fully in her reply with the most significant points raised by my noble friend Lord Cocks in his important contribution.
I must pay a very special tribute to the noble Lord, Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, for a first-rate maiden speech. The noble Lord spoke with deep experience and insight, which this House always values. We shall look forward to his contributions in the future.
I am certainly not brave enough to venture into the Celtic dimensions this evening. But I hope that the Government will take the anxieties of my noble friend Lord Macaulay and those of the noble Lords, Lord Hooson and Lord Mackie, very seriously.
The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd, spoke powerfully on music. He is right. Music can do a tremendous amount for national self-respect, identity and morale. It deserves the fullest possible Government support. The schools' Proms last week were a tonic for all of us who were able to attend. That is indeed what made that tragic accident on the M.40 all the sadder.
My noble friend Lord Williams indicated that I would concentrate on education this evening.Children have bad manners and contempt for authority. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up their food and tyrannise their teachers".Whose words are those? Are they the words of John Patten, John Major, or Kenneth Clarke? No, my Lords, they are the words of Aristotle. We need a sense of proportion and historical perspective in all our neurotic anxiety about the young. The frenzied activity of the Secretary of State, with all the inevitable consequential chaos, repeatedly reminds me of the words of Yeats:Turning and turning in the widening gyre;The falcon cannot hear the falconer;Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;… and everywhereThe ceremony of innocence is drowned;The best lack all conviction, while the worstAre full of passionate intensity".As my noble friend Lady David reminded us, this education Bill will be the 15th in 14 years. In the consideration of each one there has been an avalanche of government amendments, more even than the number of clauses in the Bills, demonstrating the impetuous, alarming, half-baked style which has become the order of the day.
During our deliberations last summer, the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, spoke persuasively about the need for consensus in our approach to education. He was right to do so and he remains right. But of course the brief period for consultation before the last Education Bill coincided with the summer holidays in 1992. For the impending legislation on student unions it would again have coincided with the summer vacation this year had it not been for the intervention of noble Lords and others who won at least a small extension. Now also we have the announcement of legislation on teacher training within days of the end of the consultation period and before Ministers and officials can possibly have had time to take stock of the response. So much for the spirit of consensus.
Amazingly—but, then, not amazingly; on reflection, absolutely predictably—the commitment to specific further legislation has now come before either House 327 has had any opportunity to evaluate and debate the significant report by the National Commission on Education entitled Learning to Succeed, prepared under the distinguished chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Walton, ably assisted by, as his deputy, John Raisman, the former chairman of Shell UK. It would have been a welcome reassertion of statesmanship and common sense if the Minister had been able to assure your Lordships this evening that there would be no question of legislation being introduced until the Government had had a proper opportunity to hear and consider the views of both Houses on the commission's report. But, no; the arrogance of the Secretary of State knows no bounds and the Bill is published today.
During this past August I began to take heart. There was an altogether uncharacteristic bout of billing and cooing by the Department for Education, apparently reflecting the sanity and good judgment being brought to bear by Sir Ron Dearing. Was it the Minister of State or was it the permanent secretary who momentarily made his influence felt? The news of the imminent departure to Exeter University of the permanent secretary—and we wish him well while lamenting his absence from Whitehall—suggests that it was probably he. For whatever the more gentle, reasonable summer breezes and despite the humiliating retreat on the mums' army, we now are back with a vengeance to the gales of megalomania and classic insecurity which have characterised the DfE in recent times. Nobody who witnessed the bizarre and ludicrously adolescent performance by the Secretary of State in the other place last night could have been left in any doubt whatsoever about that.
In the shadow of yet more legislation coupled with total confusion on issues such as how exactly Key Stage 4 and GCSE are to be harmonised in response to the Secretary of State's latest fixations, once again a cry of desperation is going up from the educational practitioners—those who are in the front line: "Not another Bill! Not more changes! Why, oh, why, cannot the Government just get off our backs and let us get on with the teaching?" Indeed, the Government's Stalinist zeal for centralised control is an extraordinary contradiction of the commitment to deregulation in the gracious Speech.
The gracious Speech gives us an opportunity to reflect. What are the purposes of education? Sir Walter Scott had a challenging perception:We shall never learn to feel and respect our real calling and destiny unless we have taught ourselves to regard everything as moonshine compared with the education of the heart".Herbert Spencer ventured that:Education has for its object the formation of character".Perhaps noble Lords will forgive me if, in all modesty, I suggest three intertwined priorities in more prosaic terms. The first is to enable people to live rather than merely to exist—to discover and exercise their capabilities, their rationality, their judgment and their creativity, enabling them to live out their lives fulfilled, having been what they had the potential to be. The indictment of our age is that, despite all our technological and material prowess, we still condone a situation in which too many people die without having 328 had the opportunity to begin to be what they might have been. The second is to maximise the human potential of society as a whole—the potential which is its richest asset; skills, brainpower, talents, which we desperately need. The third is to prepare our youngsters for the demanding responsibilities of citizenship in an open, democratic society. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, was right to make that point.
If those purposes are to be fulfilled, we have to measure our educational systems against the challenges of the century ahead. Let me suggest a few of those challenges. I was interested in the thoughts of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. We base our future on the market but it is clear that the driving force of capitalism is no longer exclusively in Europe, North America or even Japan. South East Asia as a whole, together with China, has become a force that could yet turn us into a 21st century version of a faded Mediterranean city state. Eminent scientists in the United Kingdom have joined with their colleagues in the United States to warn that, if we do not get a grip on management of the environment within the next 30 years, we could find ourself in an unnecessarily premature, terminal environmental crisis.
Already it is argued that the oceans may be working at 80 per cent. of their capacity to regenerate atmosphere while only 25 per cent. of the world's population have any opportunity to live as we in this House take living for granted. Single careers or jobs for life are no longer a certain prospect. Knowledge, which brings adaptability and flexibility, is essential. Narrow training alone is dangerous. For many, spells without orthodox employment will be an unavoidable reality. The self-reliance, imagination and resourcefulness to cope with that are vital.
Everywhere the spirit of community is under attack. It is small wonder that families, the basic communities, so often crumble. The culture—if that is not to misuse the word —of egocentric materialism dominates. Individual success is the role model. Down this road, how can the disintegration of society be avoided? Where will be the ethos of mutual interdependence and responsibility with which positively to defeat, as distinct from frantically endeavouring to contain, delinquency and crime?
The United Kingdom has become a multi-cultural society. To make a success of it will require tolerance and understanding, insights into and respect for different traditions and religions, as well as a realisation that truth is complex and has many dimensions. It is against such challenges that I suggest we shall have to measure the relevance and effectiveness of proposed legislation. Education, as the Walton Commission argues, should be flexibly available on a lifelong basis with equitable treatment for higher and further education and easy access to both. Whatever the solution to the developing crisis in the funding of higher education—which I unhesitatingly recognise challenges us on all sides of this House—it must never be applied at the expense of access.
Tonight is not the time to go into detail about the proposed new legislation. But the wording of the Bill fills me with foreboding. I believe that the Minister 329 would do well to take most seriously the reflections of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon, which were echoed by my noble friend Lord Monkswell and indeed in the characteristically telling and powerful contribution of my noble friend Lady David.
On teacher training and higher education the myopic Secretary of State seems, by means of yet another quango, hell bent on substituting instruction for education, and institutionalised technicians for teachers. At this rate, in a decade or two our schools will be churning out robots rather than the lively, self-confident and inquiring youngsters upon whom the future of our democracy and economy depends. The Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals has put the issue very clearly. The Government's proposed reforms to initial teacher training not only pose a serious threat to quality but could lead to political control over teacher education. The Government's proposals imply that teacher education is the narrowest form of training. Teaching is a much more complex activity than the Government seem to appreciate, requiring self-awareness and self-assessment, which are qualities best nurtured in higher education. The proposals also risk damaging the status of teaching as a graduate level profession. Broadening access to the profession should not be achieved at the expense of quality.
On students' unions, the noble Lords, Lord Addington, Lord Butterfield and Lord Redesdale, spoke significantly, together with other noble Lords. The preoccupation once more with ministerial diktat is again written all over the Bill. I fear Ministers are incapable of grasping the concept of a community of scholars. Everything has to be reduced to the limitations of the market. Customers and producers, indeed! I invite the House to listen to the heartfelt cry of a well-known and highly regarded college principal and the president of his student union in a joint statement:A college has a particular understanding of the relationship between its various members, whether they be students, tutors or support staff in the laboratories or libraries. In a most important and non-trivial sense, all are members of an intellectual and moral community concerned mutually to provide opportunity for learning and for personal maturity. Within such a community, the various associations, whether of students or tutors, also have a vital role in the democratic debate on purposes, processes and values. We therefore view with some trepidation the likely outcome of the reforms of Student Unions which are under discussion.Beyond these areas of ill-conceived legislation, I suggest a number of priorities for urgent attention. The first is the need to enhance the status and self-regulating self-respect of the teaching profession so that it can play its full part responsibly in the development of education policy, not least on the topics of admission to the profession and teacher training. A general teaching council is essential; we shall continue to argue for it relentlessly. The constant demeaning of the profession by Ministers is outrageous. It is time we strengthened the role, standing and influence of the majority of teachers by celebrating and recognising them rather than by lumping them together with the inadequate minority. The inadequate minority is, of course, there. What the dedicated majority achieves on our behalf, frequently against grim odds, is incredible.
330 Secondly, nursery education, as argued by the Walton commission and again tonight by the noble Lords, Lord Northbourne and Lord Beaumont, must progressively become available to all. This, together with improved primary facilities and smaller primary classes, especially in deprived areas, is probably the single most important and cost-effective contribution which could be made towards increasing the successful education of all our children and enabling them to realise more fully their potential. All the evidence—I repeat, all the evidence—demonstrates that the economic and social dividends for society will repay the outlay several times over. As a nation, we can no longer afford not to act.
Thirdly, as Sir Ron Dearing is already wisely indicating, testing and assessment should be relevant and school based and in a form which teachers can use flexibly and in the context of a creative approach to education and which measures the development of the child, not least in character and personality. The proposals of the Walton commission on the curriculum, with their emphasis on breadth and preparation for citizenship are wise and deserve careful consideration. They effectively challenge the eccentric and diverting preoccupations of the Secretary of State, with super grade A-levels-a highly damaging notion which is in conflict with virtually all informed opinion, not least that of the CBI. Simplistic, distorted league tables, whether on supposed achievement or on truancy, in the form in which they are currently being presented, remain a travesty. The damage they can do to the morale of teachers, students and parents alike in some of our most disadvantaged communities is cruel. Many of the teachers in such communities should in fact he regarded as national heroes.
Fourthly, schools should become dynamic centres of community life, encompassing music, the arts, outdoor activities and further education for adults. That helps to foster a sense of responsibility in the community for children and a sense of responsibility and involvement among youngsters for and in the community. Indeed, educational provision is central to the heart of any meaningful community-based local democracy. With all respect to the Walton commission, on this point I differ. The challenge is not to set up a new locally-based quango, any more than it is to bring in the CBI and the clearing banks to run the United Kingdom. The challenge is to make accountable democracy work.
Fifthly, a concern for values should permeate all that is central to education. Sex education should be part of the core curriculum, not just as technique but as part of the development of social responsibility., mutuality and respect for others.
Sixthly, resources must be adequate. Education is the most important investment of all in the United Kingdom's future. It must therefore be properly financed. The Walton commission is to be commended on having taken the matter so seriously. The Government's failure is appalling. Cuts in Section 11 grants, failure to implement school building regulations, inadequate funding for the introduction of their own curriculum—such economies are as mad as they are 331 false. They smell of the all-pervading, self-defeating short-termism which is the hallmark of the Administration opposite.
No one on these Benches rejects the disciplines of market economics. They are indispensable, but they are not enough. The market is at best amoral. It is a short-term mechanism and in its application parameters are frequently too limited. Of itself it will never solve the strategic issues of humanity. To suppose that it will smacks of Stalinist materialism at its worst. The issues of environment and education demand vision and imagination. They are about long-term perspective and value judgments. They are about the recognition of interdependence in the family, the community, the nation and the world and the need for co-operation. It is the total inability of Ministers opposite to recognise all that which I find so terrifying. In the year ahead, as my noble friend said so powerfully in his introduction, we on these Benches will be fighting for a reassertion of rationality and social ethics in our communal affairs. We want to see community as central to our national characteristics and life. Of no realm of policy will this be more important than education.
§ 7.57 p.m.
My Lords, this has been a good debate: wide ranging, interesting and characteristically challenging. It will not be possible, of course, to do justice to all the speeches but I will do what I can under the normal time constraints. And of course I too shall live up to my usual reputation for speaking too fast.
The highlight for me was the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith, a very good friend and colleague over many years. Those of us who know him had the highest expectations of his maiden speech today and we are not the least surprised that he more than rose to the daunting challenge of addressing your Lordships' House. I join with all noble Lords who have already congratulated him on an excellent presentation today.
He embraced several points. First, he welcomed the City Challenge approach to addressing the problems of our more urban areas. Of course he gave the record of East Anglian higher education in particular: that is a sector in which he is personally involved. He mentioned the way in which the changes there have been managed in a very positive way. He also posed two questions about what I think he referred to as the two-faced accountability of local government: on the one hand facing the electorate and, on the other hand, facing government for finance.
Local government is primarily accountable to its electorate. It has to operate within statutory and financial frameworks which are specified by central government—and t'was ever thus under any political party. And of course the Audit Commission oversees that activity. Central government is sovereign and central government decides which functions to allocate to local authorities and, in the case of present funding, 80 per cent. of expenditure by grant. The new climate of performance-based delivery of service was mentioned by my noble friend, enabling rather than providing for public services—and now it is up to the public itself to 332 make judgments about that. I note all that my noble friend says and I know he will certainly have more to say on these matters as time goes on.
I should just like to say in response to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, opposite: talk is cheap. No Labour government —I repeat no Labour government—has funded education in real terms at the level provided by this government. The funding of education is up by 45 per cent. in real terms compared with 1979, and that cannot be matched by anything that the noble Lord and his Party have done in recent times.
The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, who opened for the Opposition, referred to the cost of local government reform and claimed that it was a waste of millions of pounds. Noble Lords opposite and their party—the Labour Party—are consistently and on slender evidence talking up the cost of reform. There will of course be initial transitional costs; everyone accepts that. But it will be an investment to achieve significant savings in the longer term. Indeed, there is a close relationship between costs and savings. Most costs are redundancy costs, and most savings come from reduced staff costs in the longer term. Thus, the higher the costs, the greater the amount of money that will be saved in the long term.
Noble Lords opposite—certainly the noble Lords, Lord Williams of Elvel and Lord Macaulay of Bragar—were extremely concerned about matters Scottish and Welsh, particularly Welsh. On Monday 22nd November the Secretary of State for Wales announced in the House of Commons that implementation of local government reorganisation in Wales would be delayed until 1996. That decision has no effect on the timing of legislation due to be introduced shortly in the House of Lords. No final decision has been taken on elections to shadow authorities; they are likely to be delayed until April 1995.
We listened to representations that the new authorities needed adequate time to prepare for reorganisation. The delay gives them that time. The late start to the Session plus the introduction in the Lords means that we cannot have elections by May or June 1994, and that would leave little time to prepare for reorganisation in 1995.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State was unable to make a proper statement to the House because of disruptive tactics by the MP for Montgomery. My noble friend Lord Ferrers earned the unqualified praise of the Welsh Members of your Lordships' House on the passing of the Welsh Language Act. I do not remember the kind of comments being made to him that have been made about my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate today. I am sure that the House would wish my noble and learned friend the same success when he introduces the Bill.
The noble Lord, Lord Macaulay of Bragar, asked for information on the timetable for local government reform in Scotland. The Government have already indicated that, subject to the successful passage of the Bill, elections to the new shadow authorities will take place on 6th April 1995. Those councils will take over from the old councils on 1st April 1996. As my noble and learned friend said in his speech, Scottish legislation 333 will be introduced in this Session. I can say also that the new date for Wales brings it into line with Scotland. The noble Lord went on to ask whether there was any significance in the delay. There is not. The two dates are now in line with each other. Of course there will be opportunities to challenge all those issues and the detail when the Bill comes before the House.
The noble Lord was disappointed that no further mention was made of Scotland in the Queen's Speech. I ask him not to judge the success of the Queen's Speech by the amount of legislation contained within it. I would regard the most successful Queen's Speech as being one that contained no measures at all, other than perhaps deregulation coupled with a wonderful account of the programme of visits and activities planned for the year ahead by Her Majesty and members of the Household. However, it is not correct to say that because there was no specific mention of Scotland, Scotland will not be part of other legislation. Certainly with regard to the Education Bill and the EPA paving Bill, Scotland will be involved.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for defining what she considers to be a proper gracious Speech. Is she defining that as something that we should have had but did not? Is the Minister now rebutting the whole of the gracious Speech?
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I was making the point that simply because the Speech did not contain all the matters the noble Lord wished it to contain that somehow it is a cause for denigration. I am simply saying that that is not a measure of success.
The noble Lord, Lord Macaulay of Bragar, suggested also that the consultation exercise on local government reform was less widespread than the Government indicated. The consultation exercise was one of the largest undertaken in Scotland. The Scottish Office issued over 22,000 copies of the main consultation paper—an extensive and detailed document of 106 pages. For the first time also a video was produced and distributed widely. The indications are that it was seen by a large number of people and a wide range of people. Both the consultation paper and the video were available on request free of charge and given constant considerable publicity.
The noble Lord went on to argue that difficulties in the current local government system can be solved by discussion and agreement and it does not require restructuring. I am surprised at that suggestion as the Labour Party manifesto supports a move to single-tier councils. However, I accept that the proposals were in the context of a Scottish assembly.
§ Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove
My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Baroness. The Labour Party said that it would support single-tier councils if there was a Scottish assembly. That is a rather different proposition from that which she is putting to the House.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, the noble Lord interrupts me precisely at the moment when I am saying that I accept that the proposal was in the context of a 334 Scottish assembly—something that this Government consider to be a needless and extremely expensive layer of bureaucracy. Nevertheless, I believe that all parties are committed to the single-tier councils.
A question was asked with regard to the hedgerows Bill. We remain committed to it and will introduce the necessary legislation as soon as time permits. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, asked about national parks. We welcome the proposal of my noble friend Lord Norrie to introduce a Private Member's Bill to give independent status to national parks, and I hope to co-operate with him. There will be a meeting with Government Ministers shortly and no doubt my noble friend will report to the House the outcome of those meetings.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to the Committee of the Regions and arrangements for linking Members' alternates. The Government have not made any pairs. It is for Members and alternate Members to decide for themselves how to pair either permanently or ad hoc. They could link by party, region or common interest. The committee will agree its working procedures when it meets for the first time, probably in January. There is no point in producing United Kingdom-only rules when other member states may have different ideas. European Community institutions are usually flexible in their arrangements.
The noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, asked about the extension of releasing capital receipts—"capital receipt holidays" she called it. Extending the receipts concession will lead to additional unplanned public expenditure and therefore an increase in the PSBR or a need for reductions elsewhere. The receipts concession is a short-term and temporary boost to the economy and, of course, the construction industry.
The noble Baroness mentioned that she does not see the chairman of her water authority in the flesh. I hesitate to say that I see mine in the flesh—it may appear in Cross Bencher or some other newspaper column at the weekend. I certainly see the chairman of my water authority; I make it my business to see him. I also see members of the health authority and the chairman of the health authority. It is a two-way process. If one wishes to see them, I hope that they will make themselves available.
The noble Baroness mentioned also that she hoped that consumer protection would not be weakened by the reforms. I agree. There is an obligation on the part of those responsible for reforming local government to see that all functions are properly catered for in any new arrangements. The noble Baroness was concerned also about the Government's housing policy. The Government's priority aim is to bring a decent home within the reach of every family through promoting home ownership, securing better value for money in the public rented sector and promoting the private rented sector.
The noble Lord, Lord Cooke of Islandreagh, referred to the restoration of local democracy in Northern Ireland. I listened carefully to his speech and assure him that his remarks will be drawn to the attention of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
335 The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to an interesting prizegiving which she attended. I attend them fairly frequently these days. She said that the head reported on progress and mentioned that his masters would be pleased with what he had to say. If it was a local education authority school, his masters would be the local authority —the very people the noble Baroness supports. If it was a grant-maintained school the masters would be his own governing body.
The noble Baroness referred also to the London booklet, and the objectives of the questionnaire. The purpose of the questionnaire in London—Making the Best Better—is to allow people to say what they think about London. It was designed with specialist advice from MORI and the Government's statistical service. The prospectus to which the noble Baroness referred is a separate initiative under London Pride. Seven bodies, including the London local authority associations, were invited by the Secretary of State to come up with a prospective of proposals to promote London.
The noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, asked about the definition of "landlord" included in the business expansion scheme. There is no general distinction between types of private landlord. The BES companies enjoy a tax subsidy, not a grant. Landlords can apply for a renovation grant on a means-tested basis. The booklet referred to is guidance from the Department of the Environment on how tenants can become more effectively involved in the repair and improvement of housing association properties.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie,—slightly wide of the gracious Speech—spoke about Scottish farmers being penalised under the arable area payment scheme. The Government are well aware of farmers' concerns. Indeed, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland met the President of the NFU for Scotland, Mr. John Ross, only today to discuss that issue. I am not in a position to report on the outcome of the meeting tonight. However, I make the following points to the noble Lord. The figures arising from the integrated administration and control scheme (IACS) have been examined carefully. There is no doubt that there is an overshoot in the Scottish figures. The Government are watching the position in Brussels, but there is no indication that the Commission is considering a general dispensation as regards the application of penalties. We hope to have approval soon from the Commission for revised payment rates and to start making payments next month. Even with revised payments, I believe that over £90 million this year is going into the LFA and non-LFA sectors.
§ Lord Mackie of Benshie
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for her full answer. However, perhaps she can tell me why the Scottish Office will not let the NFU examine the figures that it has produced. The whole point is that nobody really believes that the census figures are accurate.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me if I do not deal with the detail of that question. I will be in touch with him. I believe that 336 there is an Adjournment Debate in another place on that very issue this evening. This is not my specific subject, and somebody will be in touch with the noble Lord.
The noble Lord also raised the question of the availability of funds to the new authorities for the provision of housing for retired agricultural workers. I have noted the concerns of the noble Lord. The funding of the new authorities will be the subject of discussion in due course between the Council of Scottish Local Authorities and the Secretary of State for Scotland in the usual way. I am sure that the local authorities will not be reticent in putting their case to my right honourable friend.
The noble Lord, Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe, referred to the 1992 Act not permitting a shadow local authority if the boundaries of the new unitary authority are not substantially different. I agree that there is a weakness in the legislation; but there are no plans to change it. It is too early to say whether or not there will be real difficulty. Almost all of the commission's recommendations have yet to be made. The staff commission operations are parallel with those of the local government commission and they will address staffing difficulties during the transitional period.
The noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, made very complimentary comments about the school orchestra, as did the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I absolutely concur with them. I constantly find myself wide-eyed while listening to this wonderful music. It is right to say that it takes a very tuned ear to enable a distinction to be made between that and professional playing. First, this is not a matter for this Minister, this debate or any department that is under discussion today. I shall pass on all that the noble Lord has said to the relevant department and Ministers. I also make the point that the making of grants is very much a matter of judgment by the Arts Council. That operates at arm's length from government.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, in a characteristically sensitive speech, made reference to children under five coming into school without social skills. It is very difficult to deal with this in a sentence or two. No doubt it is a subject to which we shall return. The noble Lord made many points which I would find almost impossible to counter. But what I can say to him is that 56 per cent. of children in this country are in nursery education. In addition, 750,000 children are in playgroups up and down the land which serve some of those children very well. Day centres are also provided by local authorities. There is also private nursery schooling. Many of our children arrive at school in the year in which they are four. In this country we still have entry into statutory schooling one or two years ahead of most countries, including most of our European neighbours.
The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, was concerned about the restriction on campaigning for students. There is no such restriction. We are simply saying that public funds channelled through student unions should not be used for that purpose. It is a question of accounting for public money.
The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, was concerned about student unions not being democratic. Those who 337 believe in democracy have absolutely nothing to fear from these reforms. They will increase democracy in student union representative structures and promote financial accountability, ensuring that good practice applies consistently. Those views were also shared by the noble Lord, Lord Butterfield.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, commented on the definition of core and non-core activities and hoped for clarification. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced in July that he was minded to include welfare, internal representation, catering and sport as services for which public money should continue to be available. We are now finalising plans for implementation in the light of responses to consultations. We continue to see those four activities as legitimate areas for public funds which would be deployed through student unions. However, there is no reason why any service outside the core should cease to exist. Other funding channels will remain open, and students will need to decide what services they value. No money will disappear from the system. The money will be with the institutions. Those institutions are independent, and it will he for them to determine their own codes of practice, methods of working and forms of accountability. That has to be seen to be done as well as required to be done.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, asked why we should not allow students to opt out of activities. We do not believe that an opting-out provision will go far enough. Our proposal preserves access to core services while giving students a choice of whether to join in non-core activities. In an opt-out system students who opt out will be denied that choice and lose their access to core activities.
The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, was also anxious that student community action was not included in the core activities for which public funding would be available. Voluntary activity such as student community action is by definition voluntary. It is a matter for students whether they wish to support it using their own resources. It should not be a claim on the public purse. But there is no reason why student community action should not continue under our proposed reforms. Universities and colleges may continue to support these activities with public funds (although if they do so they may not use the student union channel) or they may use private funds.
The noble Lord asked when the regulations on student unions would be tabled. There is a good deal of interest in what the regulations will contain. We are considering that matter. The regulations in draft will be seen by this House as the Bill proceeds through the House.
The noble Baroness, Lady David, asked whether the student union proposals were in line with the European Convention on Human Rights. Our proposals have been framed with that convention very much in mind. In a democracy, freedom of association is a vital principle. Our proposals are intended to protect freedom of association and improve democracy and accountability in student unions.
The noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and the noble Baroness, Lady David, referred to legislation on student 338 unions as being unnecessary because the goals could be achieved by clarifying student union status as charities. Building on charity law would not deliver the voluntary principle. It would also relieve universities and colleges of their responsibility for ensuring that student unions were fully accountable and democratic and operated according to a clear code of practice. Previous discussions about voluntary reform have yielded scant change on the ground. There is a need to make permanent structural change.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked whether the Local Government Commission would be allowed to get on with the job. She also referred to a mistake in the map in the booklet. The answer to the first point is that the final revised guidance issued on the 2nd November gives more weight to local consensus. An announcement on the revised timetable is due shortly. As to the mistake to which the noble Baroness referred, I believe that she will have to bring it specifically to the notice of the department. I promise that it will be looked into.
The noble Baroness and others were concerned about the split of responsibility for funding of research between the teacher training agency and higher education. We propose that the new agency should fund research to keep the valuable link between research into education and the training of teachers. I know there is anxiety about how the assessment of research by the new body will link with that now carried out by the funding council and I look forward to debating that issue in detail in due course. But funding for research in universities now comes from a variety of sources and I do not think that the new agency will disturb current practice as much as is feared.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon made a reference to the valuable partnership between Church and state in education. The Bill repeats the assurances given to the denominational colleges through the Further and Higher Education Act. The Higher Education Funding Council will be better placed to consider very carefully the place of denominational teacher training colleges and be sensitive to the points that the right reverend Prelate raises. But, again, we shall return to that in more detail during the course of the Bill.
The right reverend Prelate was also concerned about the linking of funding and accreditation. At present, the Higher Education Funding Council is responsible for funding and quality assessment in all higher education institutions for all higher education. For teacher training, three further bodies are also involved—Ofsted, inspecting courses; the Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, judging their standards; and the Department for Education, approving courses. We propose on CATE's advice some sensible streamlining so that the agency can use Ofsted's advice on the relative merits of courses to fund the best and also to accredit providers who meet the necessary standards.
The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, talked about whittling away teacher training. I simply cannot agree with that. We endorse the need for the highest standard of teacher training. The criteria for primary and secondary courses are now set out clearly in circulars 339 regarding what new teachers must be able to do. One-year training based on a good degree can be an effective way of training. We have lengthened the primary PGCE to 38 weeks to recognise wider curriculum needs under the national curriculum. Secondary teachers will be teaching a narrower range of subjects for which their first degree will fit them. The division of school-based and higher education-based training is addressed in the circulars. I shall make sure that the noble Lord receives one in the next day or two.
The noble Baroness, Lady David, made some reference to the consortia for initial teacher training. I invite the noble Baroness to go and see it actually happening on the ground. I have been immensely impressed with the professionalism of teachers in the classroom and head teachers in consortia of schools coming together to train those who will be their new peers in the system—young graduates, men as well as women, freely choosing to have school-based training in preference to being always and wholly in a higher education institution.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, I was interested in the percentage of time that is to be spent in schools and in the higher education establishment. What is to be the percentage now?
My Lords, on a four year B.Ed degree course, the equivalent will be one year of the four years. I think that it is eight weeks in any year. It is graded down. About a third of a PGCE year is spent in schools. The noble Baroness made reference in her speech to the whole school-based training. That is extremely impressive in its early days. The noble Baroness also said that the achievements of young children going into school were modest. We should not tackle the problem at that level; we should be tackling the problem at the low level. That is what the national curriculum is in place to do.
Reference was made to the rather poor consultation period for student unions. Not only have there been 340 considerable consultations by placing the proposals in the public domain, but I personally, my right honourable friend the Secretary for State and my honourable friend Mr. Boswell in another place have met student union representatives, the National Union of Students' representatives, the CVCP, the Standing Conference of Principals and many other interested groups. That is in addition to all the written representations we have had into the department.
The noble Baroness was concerned about the split between higher education and school courses. The Bill does not affect the criteria for teacher training courses set out by the Secretary of State in his published circulars. All secondary PGCEs must from 1994 have 24 weeks—two-thirds of the time—in schools; and for primary undergraduate courses the main routes into initial teacher training must have eight weeks in any year from 1996.
I cannot do, and have not done, justice to this debate. It was wide-ranging and the contributions have, as always, been of high quality. We shall no doubt return to many of the issues raised. We shall have an opportunity—I hope before too long—certainly in the case of the Education Bill, to discuss at Second Reading the issues of principle which have been raised by noble Lords. Our House will, in its inimitable and characteristic style, scrutinise with vigour and commitment to improve the legislation. I look forward at least to the part I shall play in those debates and I have no doubt that my noble friends on the Front Bench will look forward to the part that they will play.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Strathclyde)
My Lords, I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.—(Lord Strathclyde.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.
§ House adjourned at twenty-five minutes past eight o'clock.