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Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord for misunderstanding. As I understood it, he was talking about the reorganised court. That of course will be as independent as I described, and that was in the Statement. The membership of the reorganised monetary committee will, of course, depend upon appointments by the Government, and that has not been specifically represented. Whether or not it will be wide enough to include the suggestions of my noble friend Lord Desai that the Member of Parliament for Rushcliffe, the right honourable Kenneth Clarke, should be included is something we look forward to discussing.
As the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, raised the point, perhaps I may ask whether, on balance, he and noble Lords on the Benches opposite are in favour of the independence of the Bank of England, however that is defined in the context about which we have been talking. The noble Lord made several assertions--I must ask his forgiveness for
In yesterday's significant Statement the Chancellor also took the opportunity to reform the other side of the Bank's responsibilities, namely, the supervision of a financial sector. It has long been clear--these points were made by several noble Lords who took part in today's debate--that the existing regulatory structure is not delivering the high standards of supervision and investor protection the public expect and need.
Reform is long overdue to simplify the system, to reduce costs for those being supervised, to remove outdated distinctions between the supervision of different types of institution, and, above all, to increase public confidence. Placing an enlarged and integrated SIB on a statutory footing will deliver those objectives. As my noble friend Lord Currie of Marylebone said, it will make the regulatory framework more appropriate to the complex picture of modern financial services.
The Chancellor announced another important change. From now onwards the Treasury will open its books to independent National Audit Office scrutiny to ensure that the assumptions and conventions underlying the public finances are credible. A report on the NAO findings will be published before the Chancellor delivers his first Budget. The NAO will have a continuing role in auditing forecasts and subsequent Budgets. There will be no more hiding behind obscure forecasting assumptions. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, may be assured that there will be no more building on non-existing percentages of unknown amounts. I also hope that my noble friend Lord Bruce will continue to see an improvement in ministerial answers to statistical questions, as he was kind enough to mention this afternoon.
I share my noble friend Lord Bruce's concern about the integrity of employment statistics. I hope he and my noble friend Lord Desai, who both raised this point, will be pleased to learn that the Office of National Statistics has recently launched a consultation exercise on labour market statistics. The ONS, in particular, intends to give greater prominence to the internationally accepted labour force survey measure of unemployment rather than the claimant measures.
Stable and credible economic management is vitally important, but it is not on its own sufficient to make Britain a world class economy. Its ability needs to be matched with policies to raise the long-term trend of rate of growth in the economy. We need to raise Britain's investment and productivity in performance and we need more business dynamism. All of this my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis emphasised in opening today's debate.
The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, and even the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, somewhat mischievously perhaps both seemed to be asking me to speculate about the content of the Budget as regards the details of the tax arrangements. Even as a very new Minister I can resist that temptation, although I will say again that the windfall levy--and I use that word deliberately as that is the technical definition of a one-off exercise--will not affect the disadvantaged in the way the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, seemed to suggest. With respect, I would remind him that this is one-off levy on excess profits. There is no reason for prices to rise. Regulators ought to be able to ensure that. The windfall levy has been considered in detail by the Chancellor and his advisers over the past three years. In spite of your Lordships' impatience for the details, they will rightly be explained in the Budget Statement later in the summer.
We have heard a number of views expressed on the minimum wage today. I am grateful to those who have defended the right of every worker to have a decent wage. That included the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford and the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso. However, we have also heard it alleged that a minimum wage will cost jobs. During the election campaign the Conservative Party claimed it would cost one million jobs. As my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis said in opening the debate, such claims are scaremongering.
The minimum wage will be introduced sensibly after wide consultation with employers and employees, and set at a level which takes account of the prevailing economic circumstances. It is part of the package of measures that the Government are introducing which will make jobs worth while and attract more people into work.
Prosperity in the long term requires more than getting macro- and micro-economic policies right. This Government believe that social policies, whether in the area of education or health, as my noble friend Lord Rea suggested, are important not just because they increase opportunities for the individual but because they underpin the increase in skills and productive capacity that will boost underlying levels of growth.
My noble friend Lady Lockwood made this connection clear in her speech today, and that approach was reflected widely in many of the speeches made by noble Lords in yesterday's debate. In a maiden speech yesterday, which I thought was full of imaginative insights as well as practical suggestions, my noble friend
In another contribution--neatly, though I am sure coincidentally, building on those points--my noble friend Lord Borrie spoke of the importance of the role of the regions in regeneration. He told the House that he was delighted with the instant creation of the combined department of environment, transport and the regions. Again, that was a swift, sure act from literally day one of the Government.
Yesterday's was a very wide-ranging debate. I certainly did not envy my noble friend Lady Hayman, who had to reply to it--very deftly, I may say--covering issues ranging from organic farming to parents with long working hours. However, at the centre of that day's debate was education and at the heart of the remarks of many noble Lords was the issue of raising standards right across the system. The gracious Speech made clear that education, particularly improving standards, was the Government's first priority. As my noble friend Lady Blackstone explained, the immediate Bill will deal with the need to ensure smaller class sizes. Common sense says that this must be a crucial first step as an example of how the Government will ensure that the interests of many come before the interests of the few. Later reforms will be introduced to improve the framework of schools, to enhance teaching as a profession and to respond to the recommendations of the Dearing Committee on the future of higher education. The breadth of this approach from postgraduate research down to the early years shows the breadth of the task the Government are to undertake.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, who highlighted the enormous human and economic costs if we were to fail the under-fives, gave notice that people will come, as he said, "yapping and snapping" at the Government's heels if progress is not made speedily. I believe that the evidence of the past few weeks is that this is a Government who do not drag their feet.
Solid moves are being made, too, in another priority area for the Government; that is, reform of our constitution. The Government's commitment to devolution and early referendums in Scotland and Wales is close to the hearts of many of my noble friends. My noble friend Lord Prys-Davies reminded us on the third day of the debate that Welsh devolution has been fought for for over a century. He has been fighting for it himself for the past few decades.
From north of the Border, my noble friend Lord Ewing of Kirkford admitted that he had begun to believe that his political life, which had at its heart his great ambition for a Scottish Parliament, would be lived in vain. I am delighted that he knows now that it will be fulfilled. I am also glad that today we heard my noble friend Lord Blease speak with his usual authority about another long-standing and complicated problem for the United Kingdom in Northern Ireland.
We have returned to the subject of Europe today. There have been a wide variety of views expressed on monetary union by the noble Earls, Lord Perth and Lord Harrowby, the noble Lords, Lord Cobbold and Lord Pearson of Rannoch, and my noble friend Lord Stoddart of Swindon. I shall simply say that the Government's policy on EMU is clear. We will participate in the planning and preparation and will decide our final position solely on the basis of the economic needs of the nation. The final decision will be put to the country at a referendum and of course will be put to Parliament.
I was personally very pleased that my noble friend Lord Judd on an earlier day and today my noble friend Lord Rea raised issues of international development and overseas aid. Both noble Lords have impressive records in those fields. My noble friend Lord Judd noted that the old Labour Party traditions of internationalism were alive and flourishing in the new Government's proposals.
In conclusion, I echo my noble friend the Leader of the House in saying that we shall all do our best to serve the British people. I think that I can say with confidence to the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, that we shall not be lacking in leadership. The opening words of the gracious Speech that the Government intend to govern for the benefit of the whole nation will be both our theme and our guide.