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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Lord McIntosh of Haringey): My Lords, I am grateful to everyone who has taken part in this debate. I have heard all of the speeches, although I missed a small part of two of them. The debate has been of a very high quality indeed. In particular, I express my appreciation of the five maiden speeches delivered today. I shall not insult them by general applause, but I shall refer to each of them in my speech, when I come to the subjects to which they were devoted.
The most outstanding point to any objective observer who subsequently reads the debate will be the incredible intellectual firepower of the contributions from the Labour Benches. I say that without in any way denigrating the quality of the speeches from the Benches opposite. As regards business experience, both in manufacturing and in services, relevant academic skills, scientific qualifications, and almost every sphere that one can think of, my noble friends have today shown an outstanding command of the subject matter of the debate. I believe that anyone looking objectively at the record will confirm that point.
I propose to start with a few words about macro-economic policy, to deal with the matters raised on each of the four departmental briefs covered by the debate, and at the end I shall return to the wider aspects of macro-economic policy. My noble friend Lord Davies in his opening remarks gave the basic facts about the success of this Government in macro-economic policy, so it is not necessary for me to repeat that. However, I have participated in such debates for
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seven and a half years and on each occasion it has been possible for those of us at the government Dispatch Box to say how successful this Government have been and, in particular, how successful the Chancellor has been in macro-economic policy. We have told of the way in which the Government have used macro-economic policy to achieve unprecedented levels of growth49 successive quarters of growth; how they have attacked poverty, particularly child poverty, and how they have reduced to an unprecedented level the scourge of unemployment.
On each occasion, no one on the Benches opposite has been able to find any fault with those arguments. In fact, the noble Lord, Lord Newby, claims what I suppose is a new Liberal Democrat slogan for the election. First, he denigrated the Chancellor by saying that the Chancellor gloried in his successif the noble Lord had had such success, would he not glory in it?then he described the Chancellor's performance as patchy. That is a slogan for the Liberal Democrats to take into the election: no more patches.
This is a feeble attempt on the part of those who do not have a clue about the reasons for the success of this Government in economic policy to denigrate it and to do it down. On each occasion on which I have heard that over the past seven and a half years, what the Government have said has been proved to be right and what the critics have said has been proved to be wrong.
I shall deal with other Treasury issues. Very little was said about the Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Bill. I think that only the noble Lord, Lord Newby, asked for a quick introduction. We shall have a quick introduction.
I am sorry to say that nothing was said about the child benefit Bill and the issue of social justice, on which I have fought for 30 or 40 years. A most important benefit was what we used to call educational maintenance allowancesin other words, financial support for young people of 16 to 19 to allow them to stay on at school or in full-time education. We will have a dramatic improvement with the child benefit Bill. No one on the Benches opposite thought it appropriate to refer to that.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, that must have been at the moment I took my very brief comfort break. I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for missing that point. The matter is enormously important.
There have been criticisms of the Government's economic forecast. Of course, there have to be: Members opposite have to refer to independent forecasts as though they had more credibility than the Government's forecasts in order to attack the claims which we make for the success of our economic policy. I am sorry that in doing that the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, found it necessary to describe the Office for National Statistics as "accommodating". I think that the word "accommodating" implies that
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they are doing something wrong or something improper in yielding to government pressure. Clearly, there is no government pressure.
The Office for National Statistics was set up in 1996 by the previous government. In 2002, it adopted a code of practice. It is independent of government and has retained that independence. It has very often said things which are unappealing to government, but the last thing that could be said about the Office for National Statistics is that it is "accommodating".
Requests were made for the assumptions of the Office for National Statistics to be given an independent audit. That is why the Statistics Commission has been set up, and why all the Budget assumptions are audited by the National Audit Office, to be sure that they are correct. I simply do not accept those criticisms of our statistics.
I was really taken aback by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, coming back to the issue of what he calls wrongly advance corporation tax, which is in fact the double counting of dividend tax credit. He was answered very effectively last time by my noble friend Lord McKenzie of Luton. I rely on that answer. The noble Viscount must know that the fundamental influences on the financial situation of pension funds are life expectancy, low inflation and a flat stock market, and of course the £90 billion taken out of pension fundsby the very companies that he seeks to protectin pension holidays at a time when pensions were easier. The continuing attack on the dividend tax credit does not have any effective credibility.
I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Newby, made some valuable points about regional variation in the economy. It is certainly true that, although statistically there has been a reduction in regional variation, it is a very hard thing to achieve, and we certainly have not gone anything like far enough in achieving it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has always been open in what he says about that.
Comments were made about our relationships with Europe. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, accused the Chancellor of the Exchequer of bullying Europe when he went to the last ECOFIN meeting. If it is bullying to tell our European partners about the findings of the inquiry held by Alan Wood, the chief executive of Siemens, I accept the charge. However, it seems that Alan Wood, a highly respected industrialist, made a very good case for the difference in the way in which European legislation is transposed and applied in different countries. It would not be right to sweep that under the carpet; it was a proper thing to say. I was grateful for the more constructive approach of my noble friend Lord Drayson.
There was consideration of the business and manufacturing sector. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, pointed out, quite properly, that although our productivity has improved relative to many other countries, there is still a significant
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productivity gap. That is acknowledged and is being addressed by the Government. The words of my noble friend Lord Bhattacharyya on that point, when he talked about the DTI's work in tackling the productivity deficit, were very appropriate.
I shall have to deal with transport very quickly. There was a valuable welcome for the road safety Bill from the noble Lord, Lord Broers, in an excellent maiden speech, and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, made so many individual points at staccato pace that I shall have to write to him about them. Some of his points were about the road safety Bill but others related to the British Transport Police, the structure of railways and other issues which I could not list within a reasonable timescale. The noble Lord's point about uninsured driving is addressed in the road safety Bill. The power to seize uninsured vehicles is included in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill.
I was grateful for the welcome given by the noble Lord, Lord Broers, and others to the Crossrail hybrid Bill. It is well known that the Bill is hybrid because the project is to involve a mixture of public and private finance. Therefore, we are consulting on alternative funding mechanisms while there are still open questions about the configuration of Crossrail. It would therefore be inappropriate under those circumstances to give a definitive answer about state financing. I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Broers, for his remarks about the success of the Channel Tunnel rail link. He and the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, are right to say that we need to continue with forward planning of rail projects. That is what the White Paper The Future of Rail is about.
I was surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, say that we did not know what the Railways Bill would contain, because it follows the White Paper published in July. Certainly the issues relating to that Bill which were discussed today are relevant. Matters such as the length of the franchise and rural rail lines are all discussed in the Bill and will be in the Explanatory Notes and the regulatory impact assessment. Many of the changes required to Network Rail do not require legislation and therefore will not appear in the Bill.
I record my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, for his remarks on safety cameras, and on congestion and road pricing. He says that there is no mention of congestion and road pricing: there is no legislation proposed on congestion and road pricing.
Alistair Darling was exceptionally forward looking and imaginative when he said earlier this year that the issue of road pricing will not go away. Although the timescale may be well outside that of a single Sessionindeed, it must beor a single Parliament, those are things that any government have to face in the future.
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As regards issues concerning the Department of Trade and Industry, the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, appears to have excessive expectations from a relatively modest consumer credit Bill. It will not deal with savings ratios or pensions. It will enhance consumer rights, give better redress and improve the regulation of consumer credit businesses. The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, who is on the Woolsack, will be glad to hear that her points were particularly apposite.
Turning to the equality Bill, we heard a first-class maiden speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, who expressed the concerns of black communities and recognised the inconsistencies in existing legislation. Although she did not give unqualified support by any means to the Bill, which I would not have expectednor would I have expected it from the noble Baroness, Lady ThomasI think that we have a good basis for discussion when the Bill reaches this House.
Certainly, this Bill is nothing whatever to do with political correctness. Much as I enjoyed the diatribe on political correctness made by the noble Lord, Lord Steinbergindeed, I enjoyed the whole of his speech: I think that he has been saving up a lot of those things, which he is glad to get off his chest nowthe equality Bill does not have anything to do with political correctness. It is about righting injustice that has existed over many years. We can debate the detail of the organisation in a calm and constructive way.
The noble Lord, Lord Newby, asked about the company law reform Bill. He commented that it had been promised on many previous occasions. Indeed, it had. We published a two-volume, draft, full-fledged companies Bill something like 18 months ago. When it turned out that that would have been the first two volumes of something like a six-volume Bill, we consulted among those affected. They took the view that a more limited company law reform Bill, which did not attempt to revise the whole of company law, was the right thing to do. That is what we will do: we will publish it in draft this Session.
I do not need to answer the attacks that have been made on the Department of Trade and Industry. I appreciate and sympathise with the embarrassment of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, on a decision that was clearly not taken by him. To do that in the way that his party proposes, or the death of 1,000 cuts as proposed by David James in a report to the Conservative Party that it has not openly and fully accepted, is clearly not the right way to proceed. Indeed, a number of my noble friends have made that point very effectively.
Energy is a matter that did not appear in the gracious Speech. Of course, my noble friend Lord Hunt is right that we need all forms of energy. He made a very useful suggestion about museums, which I shall certainly take up. I was surprised that my noble friend Lord Haskel was the only person, I think, to refer to the quite outstanding achievements of the Government in the encouragement of science. Of course, my noble friend Lord Sainsbury of Turville is responsible for that, which is one of the most
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significant things in the Department of Trade and Industry five-year plan. I assume that I am right in thinking that silence means, very largely, consent.
I shall have to race through the issues relating to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. We shall receive the Gambling Bill early in the new year. Yes, we have taken account of the issue of problem gambling and we believe that many of the features of the Bill are designed to and will reduce problem gambling. But we have to accept that gambling is increasing in this country. I cannot say that there will be no increase in problem gambling, but I can say that there will be a smaller increase in problem gambling with this legislation than there would be if it is not enacted.
In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, of course we will be giving more details of the pilot phase of regional casinos when the amendments are ready for presentation to the House of Commons; and no, no pledge on taxation has been made to US operators or anyone else. As the Secretary of State said, that is a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I think that answers to all the questions put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, will be found in the regulatory impact assessment. In particular I emphasise the power of local authorities, set out in Clause 157, to have an absolute and unqualified veto on any more casinos in their own area.
I heard what was said about the National Lottery Bill, but I do not recognise that in the Bill which I have seen. The Bill will not increase in any way government control over grants from lottery funds. On the contrary, the great feature of the Big Lottery Fund, consisting of the New Opportunities Fund and the Community Fund, will be the increase in public involvement. Lottery distributors will be able to consult and take account of public views when they make distribution decisions. It also goes without saying, although I think it was questioned, that there will be no reduction in the 16.7 per cent division within the good causes between now and the end of the current period in 2009, and no consideration has been given to any reduction at a later stage.
I should say in response to the point raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham in his very interesting maiden speech that there is no threat to the heritage good cause in any of the proposed legislation. I sympathise with what he said about churches as heritage and I was privileged to speak at the launch of the report of the Church Heritage Forum. I can say to the right reverend Prelate that the repair grant scheme for churches announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not been limited to £25 million or any other figure; it is an open-ended commitment, which is rather astonishing for the Treasury. Applications will be considered on their merits, not on the basis of a particular budget figure.
I turn to charter review. The maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Maxton was the first of a series of thoughtful contributions on the BBC. He was followed by my noble friend Lord Macdonald, who spoke with experience of the need for a continued effort in the devolution of production to the regions and nations.
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We agree with that; it is set out and enshrined in the Communications Act 2003, and my noble friend confirmed that the BBC is committed to it. He also made valuable points about the public service publisher idea from Ofcom, in particular in education and the arts. In welcoming the report, both he and the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, asked how it will work, along with many other questions. The consultation being undertaken by Ofcom on phase two of the report finishes today and we look forward to phase three, which is the result of the consultation, and we shall respond accordingly.
I was interested in the welcome given by both the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, to the changes being proposed by the noble Lord, Lord GradeI am speaking too soonbeing proposed by Michael Grade to the governance of the BBC. I note the point made by the noble Baroness that they do not go anything like far enough. These issues are still in play pending the publication of a Green Paper early next year. I hope that the Green Paper will have some white tinges in contrast to the normal situation where, whether or not they are meant to, White Papers have green tinges. But, pending the publication of the paper, our position is that we want a strong BBC which is independent of governmentand that requires general agreement.
I hear what has been said about the fees for the Licensing Act, but that issue is out for consultation until December. Fees have not been fixed and we are aware of the concerns that have been expressed.
I was grateful for the positive point made about the Theatres Trust. We have received the Goodison report and we are taking it very seriously. We have responded to Sir Nicholas Goodison privately, expressing our grateful thanks for the work that he has done. It has not been forgotten.
I am not sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, was asking me to do anything about supporter involvement in football, although I appreciate the
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force of what he said. I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, in our bid to host the Olympics and the Paralympic Games.
My final comments have been prompted more than anything else by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Giddens. We have referred to macro-economic measures and the success of the Government in the economy as a whole, but the noble Lord rightly reminded the House that macro-economic measures, while necessary, are not a sufficient condition for human measuresin other words, for social justice.
The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, referred to the pains of stock market investors and it is not my job to underestimate those pains. But when you look at the reduction in poverty, particularly in child poverty; when you look at the fact that there are no longer anything like as many people who want to work but cannot work and at how employment levels have increased and unemployment levels have decreased in this country so that they are among the best in the world; when you look at the effect of that on family cohesion and the quality of life in this country; and when you look at the way in which the huge sisyphean struggle to diminish inequality, in this country and in any country in the capitalist world, has been carried out by the Governmentwe have been attacking this problem, as the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, rightly said, from the bottom up rather than from the top downyou will see a new dimension altogether of the Government's economic success.
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