Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Jay of Paddington: Yes, my Lords, I am very happy to accept my noble friend's sensible and accurate appreciation of the detail of the Annual Report. I have not been asked, because it is a point to which people do not want to draw attention, about the present position on the five pledges made at the last election. But, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat them. It can be done shortly. We have halved the number of infants in classes of more than 30; we have helped 210,000 young people to find work through the New Deal on our way to the target of 250,000; the average time for getting persistent young offenders from arrest to sentence is down to 108 days, on our way to the target of 72 days; we have already cut 100,000 off in-patient waiting lists; inflation and interest rates are low; and we have cut VAT on fuel.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness a question not so much about the content of the Statement but about the use of this device of an Annual Report? Will she recognise that many of us were horrified at the form of the Queen's Speech at the beginning of this Session? It was not, as it is supposed to be, a catalogue of the Government's plans for the coming Session, but instead, to a large extent, a tedious and extremely ill-written recital of the Government's alleged achievements? Does the noble Baroness agree that the introduction of the Annual Report removes all excuses for not returning to a Queen's Speech as it should be--a simple recital of the Government's plans for the coming Session? Will the Government please have some mercy on Her Majesty, who had to read all that tripe last time round?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, perhaps I am a little slow but I do not entirely follow the noble Lord's logic in making a connection between the Queen's Speech and the Annual Report.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, the logic is obvious. If there is a new device in the form of an Annual Report to outline the alleged achievements of the Government, there is no excuse for repeating that list in the Queen's Speech.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I remain unconvinced about the connection. I am delighted to point out that the Annual Report was written by civil servants. It is, therefore, a wholly official document, not a party political attempt to influence opinion in that way.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, does my noble friend recognise that the fact the noble Lord opposite is so upset bears testimony to the value of the Annual Report? Will my noble friend deal in particular with the question of Europe? Does the Leader of the House agree that to shut one's eyes to the idea of a Europe

13 Jul 2000 : Column 396

which includes the United Kingdom is the opposite of common sense? Is it not much better to acknowledge that there needs to be convergence and that, subject to the test set out by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in a year or two from the date of the next election the British people should be asked to express their view about the future of Europe?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, with his normal clarity and authority my noble friend sets out precisely the Government's position on Europe. One of the advantages of the Government's position over the past three years which my noble friend outlines is that it demonstrates precisely the influence that the UK can have in the European councils in a way which perhaps has not happened before. I refer in particular to the detailed debate in your Lordships' House several weeks ago about the leadership of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on European taxation. Six months ago we were very much in the minority, but by virtue of my right honourable friend's good arguments and leadership there has been a change of opinion within the European Union. That change is very much to the advantage of this country and is in tune with a number of points made previously in your Lordships' House.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, in view of the emphasis that the noble Baroness places on the effectiveness of this document as a means of communication with the electorate, can she tell the House how many copies of the equivalent document last year were sold and how many hits the website received? Does the noble Baroness expect to do better this year than last? In view of the electioneering tone of the document, which was acutely spotted by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, can the noble Baroness tell the House whether the document is being sold in this way with a view to an early autumn election so that the Government can try to garner the remaining benefits of 18 years of Tory government before things really begin to go sour on them next year?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, with his customary seductive ability, the noble Viscount leads me down very dangerous paths and tempts me to speculate about the date of the next election. He knows full well that I have no intention of replying, even rhetorically, to that question. I understand that last year a similar document sold between 10,000 and 12,000 copies, but many others were distributed through other mechanisms. The website then was not as elaborate as it is today. If one is connected to the Internet the website now enables one to gain access based on one's own postcode and particular locality. Therefore, I expect the number of website hits to be much greater this year. I do not have a breakdown of the number of hits last year, but if I discover that fact I shall write to the noble Viscount.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that the four pages of the report devoted to foreign policy and international developments are very bitty and anecdotal and that a

13 Jul 2000 : Column 397

number of major developments over the past year are simply not mentioned? For example, as a member of the European Union Committee of your Lordships, I note that the Schengen opt-in, which has been one of the more significant movements in Britain's relations with the EU over the past year, is not mentioned. Does the Leader of the House recall that in April 1974 the Foreign Secretary, Mr James Callaghan, proposed that there should be an annual White Paper on Britain's international commitments and foreign policy? Do the Government consider that it would now be useful to have such an overall annual White Paper?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am well aware of the detailed and authoritative interest of many noble Lords in foreign affairs. In response to the specific points raised by the noble Lord, the printed document must be seen in combination with the other bits of information which have been published. The whole point of this document is that it should be anecdotal. I believe that the noble Lord used that word pejoratively, but I use it in a positive sense. One of the criticisms in the past has been that lists of achievements and developments are regarded as indigestible. The whole point of such a document is that it should be more broadly accessible and popular. However, there is a complex, detailed website which provides much detail of the Government's developments and policies over the past year. I am not in a position to respond authoritatively to the noble Lord's question about an annual report on foreign affairs. I am aware that your Lordships have many important debates on that subject which perhaps collectively add up to such an annual report.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I welcome the emphasis on education. The Leader of the House may be pleased to hear that in the village where I live, 30 year-old mobile classrooms are being replaced by a permanent building. Being a voluntary-aided school, there is a very large contribution from parents, neighbours and interested local people. Can the noble Baroness say something about the Achilles heel of the education system, by which I mean those children and young people who are suspended and excluded from school? I am aware that a little while ago the Government earmarked a sum of money to deal with this problem. A few days ago at Question Time the noble Lord, Lord Elton, pointed out, quite correctly, that suspension and exclusion were the strongest indicator of subsequent criminality, with all the social costs that that entails. Will the Government each year increase the amount of money that is available for these young people and place continued emphasis on alternative social and literacy education for those who miss out on what we all expect for our children?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, the noble Lord puts his finger on a very significant part of the boundary (if one can so describe it) between social policy and education policy and the way that they should work together. The noble Lord will be aware that next week we shall see the outcome of the comprehensive spending review in which the kind of

13 Jul 2000 : Column 398

spending to which he refers may be identified. Perhaps the noble Lord should acknowledge that the Excellence in Cities initiative precisely seeks to straddle social and education programmes. For example, if as a result of that initiative one has on-site welfare officers to tackle truancy and special units to remove disruptive pupils from the classroom, at least one identifies at local level the problems and, it is hoped, the solutions. However, I agree with the noble Lord that the important boundary between education and social policy, together with the other pieces of policy which need to be present to support families, must be looked at in totality.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page