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26 Mar 2007 : Column 1438

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, I was encouraged by the Minister’s response to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson. Ratification would be a great help in dealing with cases such as the one relating to India. Can the Minister tell us when ratification is likely to take place?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: No, my Lords, I cannot, but I can say that it will be as soon as is reasonably practicable.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, do the Government accept this is a matter not just of illegal entry or of trafficking, but also of employment in this country? Will the Home Office co-ordinate itself with the Department for Work and Pensions?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, it is an employment matter. That is why, as the noble Lord knows, we have created a tiered migration system so that the needs of this country for workers in various sectors are better addressed. We will certainly work energetically with all government departments to that end.

Economy: UK Regions

2.57 pm

Lord Sheldon asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Truscott): My Lords, the Government have adopted a public service agreement,

We aim to improve regional productivity and employment through a stable national economic framework, through appropriate government policies, and through the activities of bodies based in the regions and led by the regional development agencies.

Lord Sheldon: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that helpful reply, but the economic advance and success of the south-east has not been experienced to anything like the same extent in the north of England, which has depended so much on its manufacturing industry, in decline for many years now. What he said may offer encouragement, but what are the Government doing to further economic development in the north of the country? There are things that can be done but have not been, because this has not been considered as important as I believe it to be.

Lord Truscott: My Lords, our latest statistics show that growth rates in the six lagging regions are beginning to catch up; for example, in April 2006, employment rates were the same across the greater south-east, the north, the Midlands and the south-west for the first

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time since 1992. Between 2003 and 2004, gross value added per head rose by 4.87 per cent in the north, Midlands and south-west, and by 4.3 per cent in the three regions of the greater south-east.

The Government have announced the establishment of the Northern Way. This focuses on tackling issues of importance for the whole of the north and has a £100 million growth fund. We are therefore working actively to promote economic activity in the north.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, would the Government not be wise to institute a needs-based assessment for the whole United Kingdom to ensure that public expenditure is fairly channelled across the whole United Kingdom, including the north, and is seen to be so?

Lord Truscott: My Lords, we believe that we have the right policies for delivering growth throughout the regions. Our policy is to tackle market failures in the underlying drivers of economic growth—including employment, skills, innovation, enterprise, investment and competition—and to devolve more decision-making to the regions. For example, we are reducing the number of incapacity benefit claimants in the regions through the Pathways to Work scheme of the Department for Work and Pensions; making adult skills provisions more responsive to local employers’ needs; raising basic skills in the regions to narrow regional skills differentials; and strengthening regional prioritisation around transport, housing, planning and economic development.

Lord Newby: My Lords, in the Budget Red Book, published last week, the Government stated that they were undertaking a review of subnational economic development and regeneration in England. When is that review likely to be completed and how might it affect the regional competitiveness agenda?

Lord Truscott: My Lords, the review will help to inform the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review—it is linked to that. The noble Lord is correct in saying that the Budget Statement referred to the Government’s review of subnational economic development and regeneration in England. This specifically aims to build on the work of the RDAs and local authorities in England and to consider how to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of existing subnational structures.

Lord Elton: My Lords, what role do the Government see for the regional assemblies in delivering their policies and what are the democratic processes that ensure that they are in tune with local wishes?

Lord Truscott: My Lords, we are working closely with the RDAs and regional assemblies to develop and deliver our policies in the regions. Another aspect that we are looking at is the position of enhanced powers for city regions, which is being considered as part of the subnational review. We shall be specifically looking at encouraging collaboration across functional economic areas, including city regions.

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Lord Elton: My Lords, will those enhanced powers be matched by enhanced democratic responsibility?

Lord Truscott: Of course, my Lords, enhanced powers should always be accompanied by increased responsibilities. That would be the case were we to go down that path.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, is the Minister considering the reintroduction of regional assemblies?

A noble Lord: Go on, answer.

Lord Truscott: My Lords, there are no proposals to go further down that road at present.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that manufacturing industry has further declined and continues to decline from 32 per cent in 1973 to about 14.5 per cent in 2007, and that some 50,000 jobs have been lost in the past three months? That is a recipe for disaster, particularly for the regions of this country. What are the Government going to do to resuscitate manufacturing industry so that we actually make something in this country instead of just shifting money about?

Lord Truscott: My Lords, the noble Lord is right in the sense that the economic framework of the country is changing, in the balance between the manufacturing, service and financial sectors. However, the RDAs have created more than 100,000 new jobs since 2005-06, assisted 52,000 people to get into a job, helped to create or attract 19,000 new businesses and assisted more than 166 businesses to improve their performance. When people look at the picture, they can see that we are giving a lot of support to the regions and the manufacturing sector.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, will the Minister turn his attention to the tables in the Times newspaper today that show that outside London and particularly in the north of England the level of overcrowding on trains is an absolute disgrace? The north-west region forecasts a growth in the number of passengers in the region of 2.7 per cent while the demand is growing by 10 per cent. I suggest that many officials, although perhaps not in his department, are out of touch with the figures that he has recited today.

Lord Truscott: My Lords, I do not accept that. I shall look at the Times, as the noble Lord suggests. I mentioned the Northern Way. We are actively discussing with the Treasury and DCLG Ministers the whole picture of performance in the north. That will also cover improving transport links, which I hope he approves of.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the regional development policy of the European Union, whose 50th anniversary we are celebrating today, is partly responsible for improving the economic competitiveness of the regions? Were we

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not celebrating 50 years of the European Community, regions such as the West Midlands, which has been a major beneficiary of regional development funds, would be in a far less significant competitive position.

Lord Truscott: My Lords, my noble friend is, as usual, absolutely right. Between 2007 and 2013, this country will receive €9.4 billion in structural fund receipts. That represents considerable support for our industry from the EU.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, can the noble Lord tell the House how much of the increase in employment is confined to the public sector?

Lord Truscott: My Lords, I do not have the exact figures on that to hand. There has been a considerable expansion in employment in the public sector but there has also been a considerable expansion in employment generally. We have record levels of employment in this country, of which we should be proud. I hope that the noble Lord will join me in celebrating it.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, can the noble Lord confirm that Scotland is the third most prosperous region of the United Kingdom? Is it not time that we looked at the Barnett formula, which transfers £9 billion of English taxpayers’ money to Scotland?

Lord Truscott: My Lords, that is not for me to comment on today. The Barnett formula may be reviewed in the future but an aspect of Scotland’s wealth is the enterprise of its people. We should celebrate the enterprise of Scottish people rather than become involved in number crunching.

Lord Brookman: My Lords, may I add to the comments on manufacturing of my noble friend Lord Stoddart, the independent socialist or Labour Member of this House? A noble Lord said to me, “You must realise we live in a post-industrial society in this country”. Does my noble friend and the Government share that view?

Lord Truscott: No, my Lords, certainly not. I do not think that we are there yet.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Truscott: My Lords, it may take considerable time in historical terms—I am a historian so I sometimes think in historical terms—before we move to a low-carbon economy where industrialisation is not as dominant as it is today. It is a long way off.

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3.08 pm

Lord Grocott: My Lords, immediately following the speech of my noble friend Lord Desai on the Second Reading of the Statistics and Registration Service Bill, with the leave of the House I shall say a few words about business tomorrow. Immediately after that, my noble friend Lord Triesman will repeat a Statement on Zimbabwe.

Royal Commission (Slavery) Bill [HL]

Baroness Cox: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to make provision for the establishment of a royal commission on slavery. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Bill read a first time, and ordered to be printed.

Representation of the People (England and Wales) and the Representation of the People (Combination of Polls) (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2007

Local Authorities (Mayoral Elections) (England and Wales) Regulations 2007

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I beg to move the two Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 21 February and 16 March be approved. 10th and 13th Reports from the Statutory Instruments Committee and 12th Report from the Merits Committee, Considered in Grand Committee on 20 March.—(Lord Evans of Temple Guiting.)

On Question, Motions agreed to.

Social Security, Occupational Pension Schemes and Statutory Payments (Consequential Provisions) Regulations 2007

Social Security (Contributions) (Amendment No. 2) Regulations 2007

Social Security Contributions (Consequential Provisions) Regulations 2007

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I beg to move the three Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper.

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Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 19 and 21 February and 6 March be approved. 11th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee, Considered in Grand Committee on 20 March.—(Lord Davies of Oldham.)

On Question, Motions agreed to.

Statistics and Registration Service Bill

3.10 pm

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

The Bill establishes a statistical system in the UK that will help to deliver the Government’s principal objectives of a high-quality and high-integrity system: clearly defined roles, responsibilities and accountabilities; greater transparency, flexibility and value for money, and greater independence from Ministers.

This is the first major statistics legislation since the Statistics of Trade Act 1947. The Bill builds on the framework for national statistics introduced in 2000 and establishes a statistics system that can evolve in the light of new, shifting statistical demands and experience. It is the next step in the Chancellor’s reform of the machinery of economic governance which began in 1997 with the statutory independence of the Bank of England, followed by independence for the Competition Commission and the Financial Services Authority. The creation of the new independent Statistics Board is the centrepiece of the Bill.

Given the unique features of the UK’s long established and strongly supported decentralised system of statistical production, the Government wanted to establish a single oversight board to set standards, to scrutinise the statistical system, and to provide the top layer of governance for what is at present the Office for National Statistics. A single board also avoids competing independent centres of statistical expertise, which might ultimately confuse and undermine confidence in the system. Vesting accountability across a corporate board rather than in a single individual is also consistent with best practice in corporate governance, be that in the private or the public sector. The Bill removes Ministers from the accountability structure for the Office for National Statistics. The new statutory board will undertake the role currently performed by Ministers, and the National Statistician, a post that we are retaining and enhancing in the Bill, will continue to run the statistics office, as she does now, answering to the board instead of Ministers.

In the other place, concerns were raised about how the arrangement for funding the board might impinge on its independence. It is important to ensure that the funding arrangements for the new board reinforce statutory independence. That is why the Government have taken the decision that funding for the new Statistics Board will be set outside of the normal government spending review process. To meet our key requirements of independence, transparency and flexibility, we have also taken the decision to guarantee the board funding certainty over a period of five years. The funding allocation for the 2011 census will be made on a five-year period aligned with the overall budget for

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the board. As set out in the Budget last week, the Government have announced a funding settlement of £1.2 billion over the next five years for the new Statistics Board. The settlement applies to the years 2007-08 to 2011-12, providing planning and funding certainty for the development of the new board and the effective discharge of its remit from the intended establishment of the new system by spring 2008.

Within this funding settlement it will be for the board to decide on spending allocations for the board’s functions, the census, new statistical initiatives, and for what is at present the Office for National Statistics. However, nearly £30 million has been earmarked for new functions specific to independence, including establishing and maintaining the board’s delivery of the independent assessment of statistics, and developing and managing the proposed central publication hub. The settlement also ensures a secure basis for delivering the 2011 census, providing significant resources for a range of improvements to quality and coverage over the previous exercise. In line with the importance of delivering value for money across government, the board is expected to meet existing ONS efficiency and relocation commitments and deliver further efficiency savings across the settlement period.

The quality of the board’s membership will clearly be crucial to ensuring the board’s independence. To that end, the Government have made a commitment that all board members will be appointed by open competition, in line with the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments guidance. The Government intend that the new system will begin in April 2008. We therefore aim to have a shadow chair with appropriate support appointed as soon as possible ahead of that time.

The board’s core statutory objective is established in Clause 7. The board is required to promote and safeguard the production and publication of official statistics that serve the public good. It will also promote and safeguard the quality, comprehensiveness and good practice of official statistics.

The board will deliver its objective through three main functions. First, its statutory duties, in Clauses 8 and 9, are to monitor and report on areas of concern about the quality and comprehensiveness of, and good practice in relation to, all official statistics across government and their arm’s-length bodies, as the Statistics Commission does now, and to develop and promote definitions, methodologies, classifications and standards for official statistics.

Secondly, in Clauses 10 to 17, there is a requirement to draw up a code of practice to set professional standards for the production of statistics; to assess and approve all existing national statistics—currently, some 1,300 individual products—independently against these standards; similarly, to assess all additional statistics nominated by Ministers for approval as new national statistics; and to ensure that oversight is stronger and more transparent and to publish the results of these assessments for all—especially for Parliament—to see. Finally, in Clause 29, there is the function of oversight of the executive office of the National Statistician. We

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would expect that office to discharge the board’s statistical production functions, which are currently undertaken by the ONS.

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