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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 speeding—in other words, a combination of fines and penalty points.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, what would be the position of the emergency services who may well have to use mobile phones or radios in the course of their duties while driving?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I would be astonished if the emergency services were reduced to using hand-held mobile phones.

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 Methuen: My Lords, does the Minister agree that provincial taxi drivers are particularly bad offenders at using mobile phones while on the move?

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

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Direct Line research did show that using a hand-free phone also reduced the response times of drivers significantly.

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?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, again this is a matter for consultation.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I cannot stand up and think at the same time.

My Lords, the evidence I have just given from the Direct Line research ought to be taken seriously.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, whatever the legislative framework—whether we adopt a new one or continue with the assurances I gave the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, when he asked the original Question—is 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?

North-East England: Economy

3.15 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What proposals they have to improve the economy of north-east England.

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

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difficulty in the region in that it constantly has the highest rate of unemployment in the country? I understand that it has had the highest rate since such figures have been kept. What does my noble friend think is the cause of what I might describe as the inconsistency of the region? When a new factory opens with 500 jobs, it is frequently followed by the closure of a factory with a similar number of jobs. Could not the Government give more assistance to the regional development agency, ONE North East, which makes such a valuable contribution to the region's economy?

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 country—and 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.

Does the Minister believe that the particularly strong bid by Newcastle and Gateshead to become the European City of Culture will automatically help the north-east economy?

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.

As to broadband, there are problems in rural areas. But the Government's commitment to installing broadband in every school, for example, applies to the North East as well as to everywhere else.

Lord Elliott of Morpeth: My Lords, many of us can remember the unemployment rate being very much higher in the North East than that which the Minister

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has rightly quoted today. Will he commend the North East for being the first of two regions of the country to introduce the venture capital fund? This fund releases capital to medium and small businesses in the region provided that they have good ideas. It allows them to expand, develop and create more employment.

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 people—about 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 East—as from other parts of the country—to manufacturing in eastern Europe and the Far East. It is a continuing battle.

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