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Lord Redesdale: My Lords, is the Minister aware that evidence given by the police indicates that fines will not deter drivers from using mobile phones? However, points on the licence would deter them. Therefore, we should perhaps move straight to points on the licence for the use of mobile phones.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, may or may not know that the RAC published a report on this subject only this week. It comes to the conclusion, supported by 90 per cent of respondents, that there should be a ban on hand-held mobile phones and that it should be a comparable offence to speedingin other words, a combination of fines and penalty points.
Lord Monson: My Lords, while it is not only reasonable but highly desirable to ban the use of mobile phones while driving, would it not be going too far to ban their use when a driver is stuck at a traffic jam with his handbrake on?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, that is one of the issues which the Government are considering in the consultation process. If use was banned while a driver was stopped in a traffic jam, we would not be alone. Germany has such a ban. I do not believe we should anticipate the results of the consultation. We should not rule out a complete ban while in control of a vehicle.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not use provincial taxi drivers, so I do not have any direct experience. If taxi drivers use the phone as a work tool, it would be particularly irresponsible if it were a hand-held phone. In all this talk about the difference between hand-held and hand-free phones, I should point out that the
Lord Burnham: My Lords, would the noble Lord agree that if hand-free telephones are regarded as so dangerous, then so is any form of conversation. Will he not, therefore, prohibit talking while in a car?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, whatever the legislative frameworkwhether we adopt a new one or continue with the assurances I gave the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, when he asked the original Questionis it not true that reducing the use of mobile phones while people are driving will depend on enforcement which, in turn, depends on the resources that the police are able to devote to the enforcement of traffic offences?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, indeed it does. It is because of the lack of enforcement of the existing offence under the construction and use regulations that there has been this shift of emphasis towards a direct ban. The enforcement issue is particularly important for hand-free phones. How can someone outside a car tell whether a hand-free phone is being used?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government have undertaken to make sustainable improvements in the economic performance of all English regions. In addition, we have for the first time undertaken to reduce the persistent gap in growth rates between them over the long term. Our policies towards the north-east of England, both directly and through the regional development agency, ONE North East, are directed towards achieving this end.
Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, the Government have done a great deal for the north-east of England, although I am not quite so impressed by what my noble friend has said in relation to the actual position. Does he agree that there is a continuing
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am not at all happy about the performance of the north-east of England. The gap between that region and the rest of England has not only not fallen but has been increasing in recent years. The heavy dependence on manufacturing industry, which is still enormously important in the North East, is partly to do with that. As to the unemployment figures, for many years there has been a difference of about 2.5 per cent between the figures for the North East and the figures for the rest of the countryand the North East has been the worst. If it is any consolation, the unemployment figure for the North East is now 6.7 per cent, which is only 1.5 per cent greater than the national average. This must be, by a long way, the lowest unemployment figure in the region for a long time.
As to the regional development agency, I agree entirely with my noble friend. We are increasing our grant to ONE North East from £189 million this year to around £227 million next year. This is in recognition of the need for the excellent work that it does.
Lord Redesdale: My Lords, given that there are many rural areas in the North East, what are the Government doing to promote the spread of broadband? It is particularly difficult for many rural areas in the North East because they do not qualify for European assistance in the promotion of broadband. Without government help, it will be difficult to meet the Government's target of bringing broadband not only to businesses but to doctors' surgeries.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it is very good news for the North East that Newcastle and Gateshead are on the shortlist for the European City of Culture. Without expressing any preference between the different British cities on that shortlist, clearly winning the title will bring very considerable economic advantages to the region in which the city is located.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am well aware of the work which the noble Lord, Lord Elliott, has done over many years in this area for his native North East and I pay tribute to it. He is right about venture capital. I could also refer to the Regional Centre for Manufacturing Excellence, which, again, is one of only two and is already starting to do excellent work.
Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, manufacturing accounts for 60 per cent of this country's exports and employs 4 million peopleabout 20 per cent of the workforce. Does it remain the Government's policy that manufacturing is of critical importance to our economy? Will the Government encourage, in particular, investment in the sunrise industries that can harness and use new technologies to safeguard and expand the number of jobs in manufacturing?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I can certainly give that assurance. We give heavy priority to manufacturing industry, which is particularly important for the North East, where 5,000 enterprises employ 150,000 people. It employs 21 per cent of the area's workforce and accounts for 28 per cent of its GDP.
There have been many recent successes in attracting sunrise enterprises to the North East. The trouble is that they have been accompanied by losses from the North Eastas from other parts of the countryto manufacturing in eastern Europe and the Far East. It is a continuing battle.
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