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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am happy to say that my noble friend’s efforts are, we hope, bearing fruit. The United Nations is involved in serious consideration of the structure necessary to promote effective action in this area. The ideas that my noble friend was involved in developing are being taken forward, and the British Government back that structure fully.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, does the Minister agree that by far the most successful form of organisation that really represents the voices of the individual nations is one where there is a committee on the ground in that country? I am thinking specifically of UNICEF, which has been an extremely effective organisation for children. Does he agree that that sort of organisation would make sense in what the Government are now discussing?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, certainly the advantage of UNICEF is that it is world-renowned in the contribution that it makes on behalf of the United Nations. We want a similar development for women. Progress thus far has clearly not been adequate. We are all aware that discrimination and violence against women is an all too common feature of all too many countries.

Baroness Goudie: My Lords, we know that the United Nations is a weak organisation. Human rights are women's rights, but to this day, the United Nations has not taken that very seriously. It sits in committee and it refers this to the member states. We as a senior country must go with other countries to the United Nations to say that it must take a much stronger line on the question of the Congo and Darfur, where women are raped daily while people talk about the issue, and on the whole question of trafficking—I am involved in that issue too—where the United Nations sits back. We have to take a very strong line on that.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, of course I agree with the points that my noble friend raises. The issue is how effective action is to be mounted. As I said, the United Kingdom is playing a very full part in the development of an agency that will give greater effect to this than past efforts—I recognise that my noble friend’s criticism of past action or inaction is justified.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, does the Minister not realise that the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women has been an effective body, developing connections between women in all parts of the world? The United Kingdom was the first country to bring many things that are now being dealt with, such as violence, into the public domain. Since then, a great deal has been done in many countries, but there is still a conflict in getting the other countries which have different views on the subject to go along with the recommendations. I understand that the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton, is the current representative for the United Kingdom.

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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right that there are very different perspectives on the role of women in different parts of the world, but our commitment to human rights and to the equality of women behoves us to make every effort that we can to ensure that victimisation of and violence against women are greatly reduced. The important thing is that the United Nations should be equipped with a body that can take effective executive action; the UK Government are supporting that proposal.

Israel and Palestine: President Obama


3.01 pm

Tabled By Lord Luce

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lord Luce, and with his permission, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the United Kingdom welcomes President Obama’s early engagement and determination to work towards resolving the Israel-Palestine issue. We fully support President Obama’s emphasis on the need to end all settlement activity, the need for Palestinians to renounce violence, the importance of a two-state solution and the importance of stimulating the Palestinian economy.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, I am glad that the implication of the Minister’s reply is that the Government indeed welcome President Obama’s recent speech in Egypt, which opens a rare opportunity for progress on the two-state solution. While President Obama fully supports Israel’s right to a secure future, long-term peace and security are still jeopardised by the continued presence of some 500,000 settlers in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Does the Minister accept that the statement in the speech, that

is the nearest that any President of the United States since President George Bush senior has come to acknowledging that all Israeli settlement activity in Palestinian occupied territory is illegal and must stop immediately, and that that statement is to be warmly welcomed?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord is very knowledgeable about these issues. I am therefore happy to concur with him that the UK Government welcome the position adopted by the President of the United States in his quite recent speech in Egypt. I would go a little further; the President also indicated that he regarded any extension to the settlements on any grounds as being unacceptable.

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Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that one of the most telling points about President Obama’s intervention is that he has made it in the first six months of his first term, rather than leaving it to the tail end of a presidency, thereby demonstrating his determination to make this a key part of American policy? Can my noble friend also tell us how the United Kingdom will not only support President Obama with words but actively engage in that initiative?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the contribution that the President of the United States makes is of very great importance but, as my noble friend has indicated, the United Kingdom has its role to play. She will also appreciate, as does the whole House, that the present situation is fraught with danger. There are difficulties over the existence of the ceasefire following the three-week intervention a few months ago, and the situation is very challenging. But what the President of the United States has done is given hope to the whole world that constructive action will be taken to resolve one of the most dangerous issues that still obtains.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, did not the President also say in his remarkable speech in Cairo, which we too greatly welcome and find extremely encouraging, that a good deal of truth-telling is now necessary? Is not the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, correct to focus on whether truth-telling is going to be required on the question of the settlements that have spread out over what in the future will be the separate state of Palestine? This is not just a question of a further extension of settlements, but of how to handle the existing ones that lie on what will be Palestinian land. Will we support the President when it comes to telling Israeli settlers that while they will not necessarily have to move, they will have to live under Palestinian law if there is to be a two-state solution?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, of course I welcome the fact that the Official Opposition agree with the Government that President Obama’s speech was important, constructive and offers hope for resolution of the difficulties in that part of the world. As the noble Lord said, not only does the truth need to be told, but realities have to be faced. The noble Lord is all too well aware, as is the whole House, that the present Administration in Israel is dependent on parties which are committed not just to maintenance of the settlements, but to their extension. The President of the United States is far too sophisticated a statesman not to recognise the challenges that still lie ahead.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, in his speech, President Obama also talked about a regional approach to this. We need to bring in the Arab League and Israel’s other neighbours if we are to get a secure, long-term settlement—not just a Palestinian state, but Israel living in peace and having good economic relations with her neighbours across the Middle East. Should that not include the new Lebanese Government along with the Governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan in any negotiations towards a long-term solution?

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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord knows that the speech was made in Egypt and that Egypt played a significant part in the immediate settlement of the most recent clashes. However, the noble Lord is right to say that we need to bring together the regional forces in a constructive approach towards peace, because it is certainly the case that some of them have been destructive in that regard by encouraging aspects of violence. The solution requires participation on the level indicated, but we can take some encouragement from the fact that recent work has involved countries with close connections with the area.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords—

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, I am afraid that we have reached 30 minutes.

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills

Private Notice Question

3.08 pm

Asked By Lord Baker of Dorking

The First Secretary of State, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and Lord President of the Council (Lord Mandelson): My Lords, the department will help the economy come through the recession stronger, more competitive and able to grow in the future, fostering our world-class system of higher education to help this objective and enrich our society. The merger expresses the commitment promised in our strategy set out in the document, New Industry, New Jobs, aligning governmentpolicies to support UK competitiveness, productivity and excellence. We will provide help to businesses, universities and colleges, and to UK workers and students through training, skills, lifelong learning, first-class science and technology, further education and research policies.

Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, is this not an astonishing combination of power in a mega department? Universities and further education colleges have always been in the Department of Education. As the Minister knows, there is a close relationship between industry and universities through beneficial research, but universities are not basically about improving competitiveness or building industrial strategy. They are essentially custodians of scholarship, intellectual rigour and world-class teaching. Where will his priorities come in his department? He is going to have to save Vauxhall, which will cost hundreds of millions of pounds. Do the universities come before, alongside or after Vauxhall? The Prime Minister said that there are 13 priorities for his department. Universities are fifth,

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FE colleges seventh. When he talks of expanding education, does he realise that this year we will see the largest number of applications by students to go to university in our history and that 50,000 will not go there because of education cuts in his department?

The major Bill affecting his department before the House at the moment is the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill. The Bill has 300 clauses and I do not expect him to be familiar with it. But if he could glance at one or two clauses it might be helpful, because the Bill changes the whole of our further education system. Last week, at Second Reading, the Bill was introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, who is not a Minister of his department. She is involved in education and children in the department of his close and now recent friend Mr Balls, so a Minister from another department is carrying through major legislation for his department. Where is the join-up? Who is in charge of this rattling train? May I ask one personal question before I sit down? I see that he has become Lord President of the Council. This was a post held until Friday by our present Leader of the House of Lords. With scant regard for her eloquent defence of the Prime Minister on “Question Time”, this must be the first example of window undressing. Will he say whether the Prime Minister is entirely aware that the noble Lord is not only a Secretary but also a President?

Lord Mandelson: My Lords, it is rather difficult to know where to start in picking from the noble Lord’s extended question. All I can say is that this new department is not the first to have more than one priority, and this is not the first Government to experience a reshuffle. The noble Lord will remember his personal experience of many reshuffles in previous Governments. As a liberal arts university graduate, of course I fully appreciate the role played by universities in building up not only our country’s competitiveness but its character and its scholarship. I am committed to all of those things.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, will my noble friend affirm today and repeatedly in the future, and demonstrate consistently in his policies, that the Government value research, teaching, knowledge and ideas as goods in themselves, as aspects of civilisation, and not just as means to advance material prosperity?

Lord Mandelson: My Lords, I fully concur with my noble friend’s remarks. I am very proud of this Government’s exceptional record on higher education, and I will certainly defend it. Investment in higher education is now at record levels, with more than £7.5 billion this year, an increase of 24 per cent over the past decade. It will not only be I who is defending that record and expenditure. It will be my colleague Pat McFadden in the other place as well, who will support me across the range of the department’s responsibilities. He will lead for the department in the Commons as well as being the department’s Commons Minister, attending Cabinet weekly.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: My Lords, I first congratulate the Lord President of the Council and First Secretary of State on his remarkable accumulation of responsibilities,

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titles and junior ministers, of whom he can boast no fewer than 10, which is surely a record. I understand that he has also now added outer space to his portfolio. His ambition indeed knows no bounds. I have always understood that in the business world there is said to be no such thing as a merger; there are only takeovers. Does he agree that it is a shameful and retrograde development that further and higher education have been subsumed in this way, to be judged not worthy even of a single letter in the new departmental acronym? Also, in a country desperately in need of enterprise, when are we going to meet the so-called enterprise tsar? When will the sorcerer’s apprentice make his debut in this Chamber, or is he already a falling tsar?

Lord Mandelson: My Lords, I am sure the sorcerer’s apprentice will be winging his way towards your Lordships’ House in due course.

The new department will combine BERR’s strengths in shaping the enterprise environment and analysing the strengths and the needs of the various parts of British industry, and DIUS’s expertise in maintaining world-class universities and expanding access to higher education, and its responsibilities and skills in developing our further education sector. We have a new phoenix in this department, which will take flight from the merger of two previously excellent departments and will be able, I hope, to extend its reach to outer space and beyond.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is a famous book about mergers called Disappointing Marriage, which points out that diseconomies of scale come in very quickly on such occasions? Does he think that his department may not encounter diseconomies of scale?

Lord Mandelson: My Lords, no, I do not expect that to happen. In so far as there is a risk, I shall be on my guard to ensure that it does not. It became clear in the production of the Government’s framework policy statement, New Industry, New Jobs, which both departments and both Secretaries of State were responsible for bringing forward, that the two departments have completely complementary roles and even some duplication of expertise. The importance of a single, coherent government vision on building our capabilities and investing in productivity in a global economy means that this merger makes sense. If in addition it enables us to bring down some of the rather expensive overheads in government, so much the better for the taxpayer.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, should not my noble friend be taking over from the Treasury its interest in banking, given that the relationship with business is so important at the present time?

Lord Mandelson: My Lords, my noble friend will be pleased to hear that both the Chancellor and I chair the lending panel, which brings together the Government and the banks. I am exercising that responsibility in the way that he suggests, but incorporating it fully into my department might be a move too far.

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The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, I declare an interest as a graduate in dead languages, and a graduate in what some people regard as dead ideas, whose holy book has the words,

I would not want to plug anyone in particular, but none of us would question the undoubted managerial abilities of the Secretary of State, nor the fact that we have to say from these Benches that higher education has fared in rather different ways under different Governments over the years. However, I am not sure that the Secretary of State has provided a philosophy for the merger of higher and further education with the rest of the departments. I go further and suggest, perhaps in the interests of creative facetiousness, that we might look forward to further mergers, such as a merger of the Exchequer with health.

Lord Mandelson: My Lords, I appreciate the points made by the right reverend Prelate. In the Prime Minister’s view—it is a view I share—to compete in a global economy and to create the jobs in the future that we want to see, Britain requires an environment that encourages enterprise, skilled people, innovation and world-class science and research. The merger of these two departments puts the policy levers for these requirements in one place with one strategic commitment to building Britain’s future economic and educational strengths. I hope that the right reverend Prelate and other noble Lords will judge both the department and me not only by the philosophy that we deploy but by the results that we are able to achieve.

Business Rate Supplements Bill

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