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House of Lords

Tuesday, 14th March 1995.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Ripon.

LEAs: Syllabus Conference and SACRE Funding

The Lord Bishop of Ripon asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to ensure that new unitary authorities will provide adequate resources for syllabus conferences and SACREs.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, all local education authorities are under a statutory duty to establish a SACRE and an agreed syllabus conference, which implies a duty to fund those bodies satisfactorily.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his reply. Does he agree that there is wide variation in the level of resourcing which local education authorities give to SACREs? Does he agree also that the new unitary authorities may be tempted to pitch their level of resourcing at the lower end? Will he therefore undertake to collect information on the provision of resources by LEAs and to make that information publicly available?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, local education authorities have discretion as to how they should satisfy the requirements of legislation. I am sure that, in the specific circumstances in which they find themselves, their solutions may vary. We would not wish to interfere with that discretion.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House how the Government arrived at their estimates of the cost of the syllabus conferences and SACREs which they use in standard spending assessments, if indeed standard spending assessments include such estimates? Can he further inform us precisely what advice the Government are giving to new LEAs in regard to their RE responsibilities?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, as I understand it, the SSA system does not address the specific cost of specific elements in the way that the noble Lord suggests. If there is anything helpful that I can find out from the department to answer the noble Lord's question, I shall write to him. I shall write also with an answer in relation to the second part of his question because I do not have the information with me.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, can the Minister explain exactly what a SACRE is?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, a "SACRE" is a Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education. It is a permanent body which advises the LEA on matters

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concerned with the provision of religious education and collective worship. I believe that that is to be contrasted with a "SACRE BLEU" which has to do with sex education.

Police Patrol Messages: Visual Display

2.39 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are encouraging police forces to introduce systems for conveying visual messages in words from patrol cars to the drivers of vehicles while travelling on motorways and roads.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch): My Lords, the use of this equipment appears to be a good idea which has road safety advantages. My department is aware that message sign systems such as this are being evaluated by two police forces, the West Mercia Constabulary and the West Midlands Police, on behalf of the Midlands Regional Motorway Police Group. Any recommendations to encourage the wider use of these signs by police forces will be made by the National Motorway Conference of the Association of Chief Police Officers.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her reply. I am glad that the Government approve of the scheme. Does the Minister agree that it could prove to be an effective way of improving traffic flows, especially if the messages are used to guide vehicles into appropriate lanes? As there appears to be provision for 50 prepared messages in each police car, reflecting the usual courtesy of the police perhaps there may be an introductory message such as, "Hello, hello, hello!", and a concluding message for excessive speeding of, "You are nicked!"

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that the system appears to have positive road safety advantages. That is the real import behind the use of the equipment. It will help police to convey messages to drivers without the need to stop them. That is important. The equipment is also being used by the two police forces in a month-long campaign aimed at motorway safety and it will be fully evaluated. The hope is that the recommendations will be positive, not only for those police forces but also with a view to wider use by the police as a whole. In relation to specific messages, for one or two who are caught it could be, "On your bike!".

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, further to my Question of last week in relation to car telephones, can we have a message on the backs of those police cars saying, "Put that damn telephone down; it is dangerous; it is against the law and you are liable for a large fine"?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, 50 messages have been predetermined. I do not know whether there is to be any

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elaboration on that. We may need to be careful that other road users do not produce replies to some of the messages suggested.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the West Midlands Constabulary does have a sign saying "Put your phone down"?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I was planning to go through all 50 signs. However, the noble Countess is absolutely right.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, bearing in mind the need for brevity in these messages, would it not be better if they tended to emulate the old Clause Four rather than the new one? More seriously, does not the supplementary question of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, indicate the need for collaboration between different police forces in the effective use of these devices? If that is the case, how is it that different police forces supervising the M.25 have still not reached agreement about the radio messages to be used on that road?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, as regards the noble Lord's first point, it is absolutely true that a longer message does not necessarily lead to greater clarity. As to the second point, that is an operational matter for the police. If they take some time agreeing the matter, the decision made at the end may be a better one.

EC: Harmonised Consumer Price Indices

2.43 p.m.

Lord Bruce of Donington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they propose to support the Commission Proposal (4258/95) for a Council regulation providing for harmonised consumer price indices (CPI's) within the European Community.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, Her Majesty's Government support the proposed Council regulation, subject to satisfactory negotiation on a number of detailed points.

Under the Maastricht Treaty agreed by Parliament, the construction of harmonised consumer price indices is now required for the monitoring of economic convergence. This index will be additional to existing indices such as the retail prices index (RPI).

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, can the noble Lord tell the House whether the Government themselves propose to use that particular index bearing in mind that they are already using five different ones as the occasion suits them? There are the taxes and prices index; the all items index; the all items excluding mortgage interest index and the all items excluding housing index. There is also the RPIY index which includes other interests. Finally, there is the small-user index designed to meet the position of pensioners and people on very small

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incomes. That makes five or six indices at the most. Can the noble Lord say on which index the Government propose to place reliance bearing in mind that approval in this particular instance on behalf of Her Majesty's Government will be delivered by qualified majority voting not at Ministerial level but at COREPER level?

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, it is important that we are clear on the basic purpose of this particular index. Noble Lords will know that under the Maastricht Treaty in respect of Stage 3 of economic and monetary union, various convergence criteria are set out, one of which relates to the achievement of a high degree of price stability. That is obviously to be measured by reference to the measurement of inflation. It is stated in Protocol 6 to the treaty that inflation should be measured by means of a consumer price index on a comparable basis taking into account differences in national definitions. That is the reason for the index that we are talking about. If it is an index which proves useful to other people no doubt they will use it.

Lord Boardman: My Lords, will not a harmonised price index mean a harmonised tax regime? You cannot have one without the other.

Lord Inglewood: No, my Lords, I do not believe that it will.

Lord Cockfield: My Lords, is not the most important index of all the GDP deflater which unfortunately was not mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington?

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