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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am aware that the noble Viscount is referring to the Established Church. I do not think that gives Ministers who are not members of that Church the right to interfere in its affairs.

Lord Bragg: My Lords, I should like to mention the late Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes, in this context, not only because of the extraordinary quality of his poetry and because his book Birthday Letters outsold every other hardback in the UK in 1998, thus confirming the British public's willingness to engage with fine and complex poetry, but particularly because of his lifelong dedication to the idea that the imagination of all children is nourished and enlarged by learning and writing poetry. Therefore, I should like to ask what measures are being taken, particularly in primary schools, to ensure that our unique poetic inheritance is being passed on consistently to the next generation.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his tribute to the late Poet Laureate. In fact I have been enjoying Tales from Ovid rather more than Birthday Letters, but that is clearly a matter of taste. A great deal of the effort which I have been describing is going to the encouragement of poetry in schools. That is what part of the poetry placement scheme is for. Much of the money of the Arts Council in England is going for that purpose. My noble friend is right to emphasise this point.

Baroness Strange: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that,

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Baroness makes it clear why I was right to resist the temptation to attempt to give answers to any of these questions in verse. They would have been in doggerel.

Royal Ordnance Factory, Bishopton

3.31 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What help they intend to give to the Renfrewshire economy in the light of the job losses caused by the closure of the ordnance factory at Bishopton.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel): My Lords, job losses of this scale are always unwelcome. Her Majesty's Government are committed to providing help to those individuals affected by the decision. We will also be

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looking at how this closure can be turned into an opportunity for the Renfrewshire economy. The factory occupies a strategic site close to all forms of transport and, at 2,500 acres, offers real scope for development. My department proposes to work closely with Royal Ordnance, the local authority and Renfrewshire Enterprise to ensure that these opportunities are realised.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am glad to hear those words from the Minister although I must say that, much as I enjoy his appearances at the Dispatch Box, I would have been more impressed if the Scottish Industry Minister, his noble friend Lord Macdonald, had come to the Dispatch Box to answer this Question. I wonder whether, rather than attempt to find alternative employment, the Scottish Office should be concentrating on seeing how it can persuade its colleagues at the MoD to keep the Royal Ordnance Factory at Bishopton. Has the noble Lord seen the report in today's Glasgow Herald which carries in some detail another report carried out in strict confidence by Martin Mays Associates recommending delaying the planned shut-down of the nitrocellulose production facility which makes the basic gun-cotton ingredient to fire every type of bullet, missile and shell used by the UK's Armed Forces? Should we not be using this confidential report, which seems to have come into the hands of the Glasgow Herald, as a means of persuading the Government that it is foolish to rely on foreign sources for such an important material for our Armed Forces as the propellants of shells and bullets? Should we not be concentrating on attempting to keep these facilities in the United Kingdom and at Bishopton?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, I do not know whether or not to thank the noble Lord for his comments about my appearance at the Dispatch Box, but I should point out that the Scottish Industry Minister is doing his job. He is in Scotland working for the benefit of Scottish industry. I have seen the article in today's Glasgow Herald to which the noble Lord referred. The report was prepared for British Aerospace as its own internal document. It is a matter for it to decide how to proceed with any possible run-down and the timing of any possible run-down or eventual closure at Bishopton. I have to point out that the Royal Ordnance's proposals were beaten both on cost and on technical grounds. Indeed the technical specification was not met so that Royal Ordnance was not even in a position to complete the evaluation trials. So it is perhaps not a matter of getting the desired outcome as easily as the noble Lord envisages.

Lord Rowallan: My Lords, now that the Armed Forces' small munitions are supplied by Holland and the heavy and tank munitions are to be supplied by South Africa, is the Minister confident that we have a reliably independent system of keeping our Armed Forces fully armed? Was not John Reid, now the transport Minister, correct 10 years ago when he said that Bishopton was a bonus necessary for good defence?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, the important point is that the armaments used by the British Army are of a

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technically high quality. That is the main requirement. The second requirement is that they are resourced and obtained in a way which represents value for money. The third requirement is that we must have proper regard for security of supply. I am absolutely convinced that my colleagues in the Ministry of Defence have made this decision on the basis of all three criteria.

Earl Russell: My Lords, while the whole House might agree in regretting the loss of jobs to the Scottish economy, would the Minister agree that one might question the concept of a "Renfrewshire economy" for just the same reasons as one questions the concept of a Hertfordshire economy?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, it is perfectly reasonable in economic terms to talk about local economies. That does not mean that they are somehow hermetically sealed, but it is a recognition that there are local travel-to-work areas which function as small-scale economies.

Lord Sempill: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that Bishopton is the sole supplier of a little-known life-saving side of warfare; namely, a special propellant for ejector seats in all of our military aircraft? Is this not the type of specialised industry that Scotland should be maintaining and developing in an increasingly competitive global market?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, if that specialised activity can continue effectively and economically, I see no reason why it should not continue.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, does the noble Lord recall that when Royal Ordnance was moved into the private sector some 10 years or so ago noble Lords opposite and their right honourable friends then in opposition attacked vehemently what was being done on the grounds that we were preparing Bishopton for closure? Is it not ironic that closure, when it eventually came 10 years later, was the result of the defence policy of this Government?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, the defence policy of this Government is to ensure that our troops and our Armed Forces' personnel generally have ammunition which is technically of a high quality and has been resourced in terms of effective and proper value for money. That is a sound way to proceed.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, if the noble Lord's noble friend Lord Macdonald has a moment to spare from his work perhaps he might consult his right honourable friend Henry McLeish, the Minister of State at the Scottish Office, and ask him about the comments he made a decade ago which were referred to by my noble friend Lord Trefgarne a moment ago. When it was just a theoretical and rumoured closure, Mr. McLeish said that closure at Bishopton was against the interests of the nation, the public purse and employment in Britain. What, my Lords, has changed?

Lord Sewel: My Lords, the obvious comment is that the Government have changed. The second obvious

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comment is that the whole nature of resourcing the armed services is continually in a process of evolution. One rightly has to consider what the advantages and disadvantages are of continuing production at Bishopton. At one moment in time, given the nature of any contract, it would be right and proper to continue production there. If Bishopton and its proposals become technically deficient and do not represent value for money, there is no case for continuing production at that site.

Social Security Contributions (Transfer of Functions, etc.) Bill [H.L.]

3.39 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Baroness Hollis of Heigham.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Transfer to Board of certain functions relating to contributions, etc.]:

On Question, Whether Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill?

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