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Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, can the Minister explain to the House why the decision was taken?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Newby, was referring not to a decision but to an article in the Financial Times on 29th April in which it was reported that it was proposed that United Kingdom officials should no longer attend the working group of officials—not the Eurogroup itself, which Ministers have never attended. There are purely practical reasons for that, in that at the moment there are three member states outside the euro-zone and within a year there will be 13. Noble Lords can imagine, in such circumstances, what it would be like to do simultaneous translation in Estonian.

Lord Saatchi: My Lords, will the Minister clarify one of the matters he mentioned? Will it be the

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ECOFIN group of Finance Ministers or the Eurogroup of Finance Ministers who decide on the future structure of funding the NHS?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Neither, my Lords; nor will publications by the European Central Bank.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, is the Minister really saying that the decisions that ECOFIN takes at its meetings are not affected by the fact that Ministers from the euro-zone countries will have met the night before and decided the position they will take at ECOFIN? Is he really saying that Britain's interests are not affected by the fact that we are currently outside the euro?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, there are two different questions there, the first of which is what happens at the meetings before ECOFIN. British officials have since the beginning seen the agenda for those meetings. So the answer that I give to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, is that, yes, I can say that the decisions are taken by ECOFIN and not by any pre-meeting. The answer to the second question is the wider issue of the advantages and disadvantages of being in the euro-zone. The Chancellor will be making a Statement on that matter within the next month.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, given the Minister's reply, can he explain why, a short time ago, in the magazine the Business in this country and in the Economist there were specific references to the fact that, as a senior Danish diplomat said, the real decisions are taken not in ECOFIN but in the Eurogroup?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, journalists will report what they hear or what they think they hear. The Government are not responsible for newspaper reports.


3.12 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I beg leave to ask a Question of which I have given private notice, namely:

    Whether Her Majesty's Government will repeat the Statement already given elsewhere by the Secretary of State for Transport on the decision not to proceed with the Crossrail project.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Government's decision remains as I stated in the Answer that I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, on 28th April. The Government continue to support Crossrail. There has been no decision not to proceed.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, one has to be very grateful for that reassurance—the noble Lord is really saying that there was absolutely nothing in the report in The Times which indicated that the project is likely

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to be postponed until 2020. I should just like to ask him whether he is aware of how grateful your Lordships were for the nugget of information that he released in the course of his Answer—that, after all the talk, reports, consultation and consultants, a final business plan will be available in July. However, what I should really like to know is this. Why was he not in a position to add something of what must have been in the Secretary of State's mind?

I should like, if I may, to introduce into this air of timelessness an air of topicality. In view of the report today that the Prime Minister is prepared to support the Olympic Games for 2012, he should be aware of the fact that although he can have Crossrail without the Olympics, he cannot have the Olympics without Crossrail.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I repeat what I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. The Government cannot be responsible for the way in which journalists interpret what they hear or what they think they hear. Let me explain what happened. On the day after I answered a Question about Crossrail in this House, the Secretary of State was addressing the Social Market Foundation on a totally different subject. On the way out, he was waylaid by journalists, quite legitimately, and he made five points about Crossrail: that the Government supported it in principle; that it would cost 10 billion to 15 billion to build; that we would have to consider how to fund it; that if London and the South East continued to grow, we would need an east-west link; and that no decision had been made on whether a hybrid Bill was required.

Not a single thing that I said was in conflict with anything that the Secretary of State subsequently said. Even if something that the Secretary of State said was in conflict and I had known about it in advance, looking back at the time when the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, was Minister of Transport and then Minister of Transport Industries, would he have been happy to have his junior Ministers—the noble Lords, Lord Heseltine and Lord Kelvedon, or Lady Young and Lord Sandford—giving advance notice of things that he was going to say the next day as Secretary of State?

Lord Marsh: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the interesting thing about why the Secretary of State did not give advance notice is that he did not have the faintest idea that he was going to say it? As the Minister rightly says, the Secretary of State came out of a conference on a totally different subject, spoke to an experienced journalist and made the off-the-cuff comments which were picked up. Does the Minister agree that it is not surprising that such a statement on a 15 billion project—which is itself an integral part of a 110 billion project—had a degree of sensitivity about it? Perhaps the Minister could have a chat with his colleague about taking these matters a bit more seriously. Secondly, as I asked him on the previous occasion, is he still satisfied with the way in which the management of these interdependent, massive projects is being carried out?

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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, in his second question the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, is going way beyond the subject of the Private Notice Question. Perhaps—in order to be helpful to the House as always—I was being a little too helpful about what the Secretary of State said. The important point as regards this Private Notice Question is that, the day after I answered Questions in the House, the Secretary of State said nothing which was in conflict with what I said and made no new announcement of the kind which is not implied but stated in the Question.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I think that I was the only Member of your Lordships' House who was at that conference and heard the Secretary of State. It might be helpful if I say that, although the subject was discussed, nothing that was said would contravene what my noble friend said in the House a day or two before. The only question was whether some finance could be raised from other sources such as gains in property value. I am very surprised to hear the Question from the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, which indicates that the Secretary of State is reported to have said something completely different after the conference.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Precisely, my Lords.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, is not the reason why my noble friend Lord Peyton gets so exercised about these matters that, time after time, particularly as regards the Department for Transport, we see announcements being made outside Parliament, very often when Ministers themselves have not been properly briefed? What is the noble Lord doing to ensure that this House is properly informed before statements are made in public outside?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, has any evidence of statements being made outside by the Department for Transport before Parliament has been informed and on which Ministers are not properly briefed, I have no doubt that he will let me know.


3.19 p.m.

Lord Grocott: With permission, my Lords, I should like to make two brief announcements, the first about a Statement on Northern Ireland. It is likely that, later this evening, there will be a Statement in another place on Northern Ireland. It could be quite late this evening and it is impossible for me to say when. All I can say now is that it will be repeated by my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House as soon as convenient after it has been made in another place.

Secondly, I am able to give some information on recess dates. The House will remember that I announced possible dates for the Whitsun Recess as long ago as 18th November 2002 and referred to them again in a short Statement on 5th March. I am now

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able to confirm that, subject as always to the progress of business, which includes the three Motions to be moved shortly, the House will rise for the Whitsun Recess on Thursday, 22nd May, and return on Monday, 2nd June. Starred Questions on Thursday 22nd May will be at 11 o'clock.

I now turn to the Summer Recess—a glorious thought! On 25th November last year the House resolved—I am sure that the House will remember this resolution—that,

    "subject to the requirements of business, in 2003 the Summer Recess should begin not later than the middle of July and the House should sit for two weeks in September".—[Official Report, 25/11/02; col. 565.]

I am aware that since that time scholars and other learned people have debated what precisely is meant by the middle of July. The Whips Office has analysed the matter and has come to the conclusion that the middle of July and, therefore, the date on which the Summer Recess will begin, subject to the progress of business, will be Thursday, 17th July. As everyone in my post always adds, that is subject to the requirements of business. I am making exactly the same comment as all my predecessors in this post. However, to be slightly more specific, the date of 17th July in particular is dependent on the progress of Bills in Committee on the Floor of the House. The two Bills progressing—if I may use that word—in Committee on the Floor of the House at present are the Sexual Offences Bill and the Communications Bill. For completeness I repeat what I said on 5th March about the September sitting; that is, that we envisage that the House will sit from 8th to 18th September.

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