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Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are a large of number of schools attached to the Church of England, and, indeed, that there are Muslim schools? Is he satisfied that they give a balanced view and follow the curriculum of which he spoke?

Lord Filkin: My Lords, there are indeed a large number of Church of England schools and Muslim schools in the maintained sector; there are of course many fewer such Muslim schools. The evidence from Ofsted is that they follow the curriculum. The stance of the previous Secretary of State for Education and Skills was very clearly that religious education or education sponsored by religious faiths was an
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important part of our educational system, but is subject to the national curriculum and the inspection of Ofsted, as are all maintained schools.

Lord Peston: My Lords, I understood my noble friend's Answer to be that, in science courses, there is no possibility that creationism is introduced or taken seriously. I hope that he will confirm that. I then got a bit lost on religious studies. Unless my memory serves me ill, religious studies is part of the national curriculum. Within religious studies, do the teachers say that creationism is a valid view of what happened in the history of the universe, and are the children subsequently examined on that basis? Is that possible within religious studies, rather than the notion that creationism is put forward, if not as part of the Bible, as part of the mythology of a rather primitive tribe that inhabited the Middle East a great many years ago?

Lord Filkin: My Lords, the noble Lord was correct in what he had inferred that I said—that creationism is not part of the national curriculum for science. Although it may surprise the House that there is not a formal national curriculum for religious education, a national non-statutory framework was introduced last October and has been well received by a wide variety of religions, and by the British Humanist Association. It is possible for a literal interpretation of the Bible to be taught in religious lessons, but we would expect schools also to put across alternative views, just as they are expected to put across the full range of faith beliefs that exist in our society. I doubt that it would be practical or possible to put creationism across in religious education in our schools in the crude way that he feared.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, will the Minister consider restrictions on the sort of groups permitted to set up academies if they should be found to promote creeds that are simply not compatible with the national curriculum?

Lord Filkin: My Lords, if schools were not compatible with the national curriculum, or had beliefs or values not consistent with it, they would not be accepted as academies. If they subsequently developed such practices, there are ample powers to prohibit them continuing. However, we know of no such problems.

Public Borrowing: Golden Rule

2.54 p.m.

Lord Barnett asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the 2004 Pre-Budget Report showed that, on the basis of cautious assumptions, the Government are meeting the golden rule over the current economic cycle, with a margin of £8 billion including the AME margin. The Government will meet the golden rule in the current
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cycle and into the next, with a projected average surplus on the current budget over the period 2005–06 to 2009–10 of 0.25 per cent of GDP.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that not unexpected reply. However, I am sure that he is aware that many distinguished economists—"distinguished" may not necessarily be the right word—have forecast that there will be a breach in the golden rule. In the past, they have not been entirely correct in their forecasts; in fact, they have always been wrong. However, on this occasion, they may just be right. Given that GDP in money terms next year is likely to be around £1,300,000 million, will my noble friend accept that, even if there is a modest breach, it would not be essential or appropriate to increase taxation or reduce public expenditure?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I think that the noble Lord is referring to the most recent forecasts of the Institute of Fiscal Studies and the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. If he is, I am happy to include them among distinguished economists. He is right to say that the record of independent forecasters has not been all that good and certainly has not been better than the Treasury's record. In recent years, the Treasury's forecast differences for net borrowing have tended to be smaller than those of the OECD, the IMF and the European Commission. In so far as those figures for net borrowing are the difference between two very large numbers, there is clearly scope for adjustment at the margin. Certainly I agree that it would not be right to jump into drastic action as the result of very minor changes. That was shown to be the case in 2003.

Baroness Noakes: My Lords, we agree that the Chancellor will not breach the golden rule, because we believe that he will raise taxes to ensure that he stays within it. The only question is: what taxes and when? Will the Minister say what and when?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the question arises from a premise that is itself false.

Lord Dykes: My Lords, does the Minister agree that—despite the much heavier investment by the Chancellor in the public sector in recent times—it is unfortunate that we still have the lowest investment ratio of the leading core countries in the European Union, both in the private and public sectors? What steps do the Government intend to take to rectify those problems?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, investment by itself is not an unmitigated good or bad. There are good investments and bad investments. We think that the investment programme that we have adopted—and that has been necessary to remedy the underinvestment by the government whom the noble Lord at the time supported—is necessary and well calculated to achieve its results.

Lord Newby: My Lords, does the Minister accept that there are a significant number of controversies
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about the assumptions that underlie the budget balance on which the golden rule exists? An example in the past fortnight is the Government's estimates of corporation tax take in the years ahead; another is Martin Weale's comments today on the very basis on which the golden rule is calculated. Does the Minister agree that the best way to deal with those controversies is to give the NAO the power to have an independent audit of the assumptions that underlie the Treasury's calculations? That would put to rest some of our debates.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the last time that the noble Lord asked me that question—it was fairly recently—I replied that the basis of calculation of the golden rule had been confirmed by the Treasury Committee, which is not particularly known for slavish adherence to Treasury terminology. I hold to that answer.

Lord Peston: My Lords, bearing in mind how very difficult it is to forecast GDP, and therefore how very difficult it is to forecast tax revenues—outturns when it comes to public expenditure are again rather tricky, even when you are trying to control them—it must be at least theoretically possible that the golden rule could be broken. However, I am not one of the distinguished economists and I do not expect it to be broken, which shows my lack of distinction. Therefore, there must at least be something resembling a contingency plan in the Treasury because, in my experience, the Treasury is on the whole very sensible and would consider all sorts of scenarios, including what to do if things do not go quite the right way. Should the added answer to the Question be that at least something called a contingency plan exists?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Peston does not need to fish for compliments. I would have called him a distinguished economist whether or not he gave me the opportunity. Of course he is right to say that the Treasury has contingency plans for a wide range of possibilities and probabilities.

Asian Tsunami: Assistance to Relatives

3 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, the Foreign Office has made available a package of assistance to bereaved families, including return flights to the affected region, accommodation and, where appropriate, meeting the costs of repatriating victims. Police family liaison officers have been appointed to the families of all British nationals
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killed or missing and highly likely to be involved after the tsunami—over 300 officers in total. Police and FCO staff are working with the relevant local authorities to find and identify those still missing.

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