Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

This Government have done much to help those who are in poverty, as defined by national statistics, through benefits, credits, the national minimum wage, housing assistance, winter fuel allowances, child trust fund arrangements, savings gateways and open-market home-buying. There is a series of initiatives to help those people and the agencies on which they rely for support.

Baroness Noakes: My Lords, the Minister said that the Government have been doing rather well on poverty. However, the plain fact is that there are rather more people in relative poverty than there were in 1997, and child poverty has been increasing for the past two years. What do the Government say about that?

Lord Myners: My Lords, 2 million people have come out of poverty since 1997.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, with the suggestion that the CAB, for instance, needs to be supported at this time, local government will be hard pressed to continue with grants to local citizens advice

18 Nov 2008 : Column 1012

bureaux. Can the Government give an assurance that they will keep an eye on this and make sure that the CAB is there to meet the needs of this crisis?

Lord Myners: My Lords, the Government have placed great emphasis, in their programme of addressing the consequences of the global crisis that has affected our financial institutions, on promoting responsible lending, by engaging with banks to ensure that they behave responsibly with customers and borrowers who are experiencing difficulties. One core condition attached to the bank recapitalisation arrangements that we introduced was that the banks have committed to expend more funds to support the relationship with customers experiencing difficulties. We recognise that, in particular, citizens advice bureaux play a very important role in helping people who are experiencing difficulties. We commend their work and hope to be able to continue to support them.

Defence Intelligence Staff

3.04 pm

Lord Craig of Radley asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the families and friends of Marines Robert McKibben and Neil Dunstan and Colour Sergeant Krishnabahadur Dura, who were killed on operations in Afghanistan this week.

As part of the Ministry of Defence’s streamlining exercise, Defence Intelligence Staff elements based in central London will be reduced in size by around 20 per cent. DIS establishments outside central London, which constitute nearly 90 per cent of its overall manpower, are not affected by streamlining. Streamlining will improve the way in which the MoD head office works, creating a smaller, more agile and efficient organisation.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. She will recall the Butler inquiry four years ago, of which she was a member. It said:

“DIS is a vital component of and contributor to the national intelligence machinery ... DIS is crucial to MoD in everything from strategic planning through equipment acquisition to the conduct of military operations”.

Is not any reduction in intelligence provision to our Armed Forces akin to committing them to combat with inadequate or inferior equipment? With ongoing operations, surely that is both operationally and morally indefensible.

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord knows very well the work done by defence intelligence, as do I. He mentioned that I served on the Butler review. The review said that if increased funding to the single intelligence account was required to commission DIS expert resources, that funding should

18 Nov 2008 : Column 1013

be found. Most of the extra funding that has gone to the single intelligence budget has been for counterterrorism work. We are satisfied that the changes that we are making will not have an adverse effect. As I said, 90 per cent of the staff of DIS work outside London, and they are not at all affected.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, we on these Benches also send our condolences to the families of the two soldiers killed, both serving with 2 Battalion the Royal Gurkha Rifles. The noble and gallant Lord raises a very important Question. What assessments have the Government made of the impact of the proposed cuts on intelligence sharing with friendly nations?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, there has been significant consultation about the proposals. We work very closely with our allies in this field. It is not just the MoD that is involved; work very closely with other government departments, and all the potential customers for DIS have been consulted. Many of the reductions will be made because we are significantly reducing the business support staff, and that can be achieved as a result of the planned co-location in London, where we are going from three sites to one site, which in itself will have significant benefits in London. As I said earlier, 90 per cent of those working for DIS do not work in London and are not affected at all by streamlining.

Lord Addington: My Lords, first, let me associate these Benches with the condolences given. Will the Minister assure us that the Government have a bottom line as to how many cuts can be made, and that the bottom line will reflect the fact that we have to occasionally act independently and thus will not be able to tap into the resources of our allies’ intelligence?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I can give an assurance. The chief of defence intelligence said recently:

“The area is funded for what it is being asked to do from the central defence budget and will continue to support the Armed Forces and contribute strongly to the intelligence community’s work across government”.

As I said earlier, we discussed this with our allies and with other customers, and we are confident that DIS can be a stronger organisation.

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, is the Minister aware that her Answer fills me with considerable concern? I am not clear what the prime motivation is and whether it is to save money. If there is one thing that this Government should have learnt, it is that with serious shortages of resources in many areas, intelligence has never been more important when prioritising whatever resources you have and in facing new ventures. As new ventures come—for example, now there is the threat of hijacking and piracy—there are new challenges that intelligence will have to face.

The noble Lord, Lord West, who is sitting beside the Minister, knows perfectly well, as a former chief of defence intelligence, the importance of this. This Government could have saved the nation a huge amount of money if, before the weapons of mass destruction issue arose, they had listened rather more carefully to the Defence Intelligence Staff.

18 Nov 2008 : Column 1014

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I must rebut very strongly the last comment. As a member of two of those inquiries, I do not think there was any problem in terms of people listening to defence intelligence at that time. The Government definitely recognise the significant importance of intelligence, both to us and to our allies. The degree of co-operation we have, both across government and with our allies, is very good. We have a highly respected and capable Defence Intelligence Staff, of which we are proud and intend to remain proud.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, would my noble friend remind the House, particularly the noble Lord, Lord King, by how much the single intelligence account has risen in the past few years?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, the defence budget is £34.1 billion. We have just seen the longest sustained growth in that budget for over 20 years. In 2010-11 it will be 11 per cent higher than it was in 1997. That does not include all the money for operations and urgent operational requirements which comes directly from the Treasury.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, was the Minister correct in putting that statement about rises in the defence budget in the past, thus implying that those increases are now over?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I was anticipating what the situation would be by 2010-11.

Lord Boyce: My Lords, perhaps the Minister would like to say what percentage of GDP the defence budget will be in two years’ time, compared to 10 years ago?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I do not have the figures in front of me, but I recall that we are the second largest spender on defence in the world, second only to the United States. That shows this Government’s commitment.

Planning Bill

3.11 pm

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales to acquaint the House that they, having been informed of the purport of the Planning Bill, have consented to place their Prerogative and Interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Before we move on to the Third Reading of the Planning Bill, it may be helpful for me to say a few words about Third Reading amendments in line with the guidance recommended by the Procedure Committee and agreed by the House. The Public Bill Office has advised the usual channels that two amendments on the Marshalled List for Third Reading today fall outside the guidance given in the Companion and set

18 Nov 2008 : Column 1015

out by the Procedure Committee. These are Amendments Nos. 1 and 28 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Reay, and the noble Earl, Lord Caithness. On the basis of the Public Bill Office’s advice, the usual channels have agreed to recommend to the House that neither amendment should be moved. As ever, ultimately, this is a matter for the House as a whole to decide.

Bill read a third time.

Clause 10 [Sustainable development]:

[Amendment No. 1 not moved.]

Clause 12 [Pre-commencement statements of policy, consultation etc.]:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews) moved Amendment No. 2:

2: Clause 12, page 7, line 17, leave out from “statement” to “or” in line 18 and insert “is a pre-commencement statement”

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 3 to 6. This is a group of minor and technical amendments which would make the drafting of Clause 12 simpler by the use of the defined expression, “pre-commencement statement”. This avoids inelegant repetition of words in subsection (1). I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Andrews moved Amendments Nos. 3 to 6:

3: Clause 12, page 7, line 20, leave out from beginning to end of line 21 and insert “pre-commencement statements”

4: Clause 12, page 7, line 31, leave out subsection (3)

5: Clause 12, page 7, line 42, at beginning insert “In this section—”

6: Clause 12, page 7, line 43, at end insert—

““pre-commencement statement” means a statement issued by the Secretary of State before the commencement day.”

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 25 [Railways]:

3.15 pm

The Duke of Montrose moved Amendment No. 7:

7: Clause 25, page 17, line 19, at end insert “or a mainline railway between England and Scotland linking major population centres”

The noble Duke said: My Lords, I will speak also to Amendment No. 29, which is consequential on Amendment No. 7. I thank the Minister for a number of useful explanations, which have been sent to us over the past few days and have helped to clarify the various issues with which we have been concerned. I have tabled the amendments because some areas of national infrastructure are clearly devolved and within the competence of the Scottish Executive, for which the correct convention for any legislative process is that a Sewel motion would be required. However, in addition, I get the sense that the Government are concerned that there might be areas where we stray unwittingly into devolved territory. To my mind, my amendment deals with an important area that is clearly

18 Nov 2008 : Column 1016

not devolved but has great importance to the future, especially the economic well-being, of the whole country. As noble Lords will be aware, we have touched on the subject at various stages in the passage of the Bill.

When the Scotland Act was passed in this House, the provision and regulation of rail services was clearly a reserved matter. Since then, an interesting series of statutory instruments have made many useful amendments to the situation. The first enabled the Scottish Parliament to transfer to certain Scottish public authorities the same rail responsibilities exercised by a passenger transport authority. The second was to give the Scottish Executive power to provide grants to the Strategic Rail Authority for the funding of services for the carriage of passengers by rail, specifically those which,

Of course, that has now been modified to allow Scottish Ministers to take over from the Strategic Rail Authority. It is only when we come to the next measure, Statutory Instrument 2002/1629, to which I drew your Lordships’ attention on Report, that the legislation deals with anything to do with the powers for,

which is of course the area where a national policy statement would have any effect. When we debated that, the Minister made it clear that cross-border railways would continue to be dealt with at Westminster. Two further statutory instruments that I have seen allow the Scottish Parliament itself to exercise the functions previously confined to the passenger transport authority.

I recognise that devolution has been an ongoing process, and the Government may wish to make further adjustments. The measures taken so far have made good sense and enabled useful improvements to be made to the running of railways in Scotland. As the Bill stands, the Infrastructure Planning Commission has a role in Scotland, as do national policy statements. My amendments are to ensure that it can consider cross-border railways. The point at which its powers might stray into the territory of the Scottish Executive would be if a policy were proposed that tried to lay down some specific structure or route for a national infrastructure project once it got into Scotland. At that point some kind of devolved consent would certainly be needed, and the commission will need to keep that at the forefront of its mind.

Taking things forward from this, I ask the Minister to confirm that only the promotion of railways in Scotland and the funding of passenger services that start and end in Scotland are a directly devolved responsibility. Noble Lords will probably be aware that cross-border passenger trains that run to Edinburgh and Glasgow are the responsibility of the Department for Transport, and certainly will be of concern in considering national policy.

Throughout all this legislation, there is no specific mention of the regulation of goods transport by rail, another area where a national policy statement would have an important bearing. Does the same degree of devolution that is stated as applying to passenger rail transport apply to goods?

18 Nov 2008 : Column 1017

A rather curious adjunct to this occurs in Section 8(2) of the Railways Act 2005 which states:

“The Scottish Ministers shall also have power, whether they do so wholly or primarily for Scottish purposes, to provide ... financial assistance to persons otherwise than under franchise agreements”.

This suggests that the Government can see a scene where the Scottish Government would take the initiative and pay for construction of a cross-border railway if it was felt to be in Scottish interests and there would be no need for an initiative from Westminster. Is that likely to be part of government policy?

As the Minister will also be aware, at an adjournment debate last week in another place some of the problems that arise from our current position were aired. The main one related to the station at Lockerbie, which is run by the Scottish Transport Authority. No trains call at that station other than the cross-border trains. The maintenance of the station, therefore, is of no interest to anyone other than the people running the trains. The same thing happened at Dunbar but I believe that the Scottish Transport Authority now runs a train to Dunbar to help to overcome this problem. The people in Lockerbie were very exercised as there was no co-ordination on the timetables between any train they could catch going north that would link them up with trains that would run to either Glasgow or Edinburgh and get them into their work before nine o’clock. This was discussed at length. It shows that the national infrastructure plan should encompass the whole range of cross-border traffic. I beg to move.

Lord Boyd of Duncansby: My Lords, I declare my interest and refer in particular to the fact that I am a solicitor in private practice advising on planning issues. I am also a member of the Commission on Scottish Devolution.

The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, has moved an interesting amendment in relation to cross-border railways. He is right to say that the responsibility for cross-border railways lies with the United Kingdom Government but I believe that the consenting process would be a matter for the Scottish Parliament. The noble Duke may be interested to know that the commission has received submissions in relation to nuclear power, which is a reserved matter but where the consenting and planning process would be a matter for Scottish Ministers. The commission is considering these representations. If the noble Duke wishes to make representations to the commission in relation to cross-border railways, we will be pleased to look at them.

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Lord Adonis): My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Duke for moving the amendment, which gives us a further opportunity to explore the issue of cross-border rail infrastructure. We need to make a distinction between two separate issues here. The first is the issue of services. As my noble and learned friend has just said, where those services are cross-border, my department through the franchising arrangement takes the lead role. The issue at stake in the Planning Bill is not services but infrastructure. The Infrastructure Planning Commission will not have vires in respect of the

18 Nov 2008 : Column 1018

Scottish part of rail infrastructure proposals which cross the border. That does not mean, however, that the United Kingdom Parliament could not play a role in consenting to such schemes. It would be open to the promoters to seek authorisation by means of a private or possibly hybrid Bill presented to the Westminster Parliament, which would be likely to require a Sewel motion. In seeking consent for such a rail infrastructure scheme across the border, that would be one of two possible ways forward. The other would be for the IPC to consider the English part and for Scottish Ministers to consider the Scottish part.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page