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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, of course, Refuge does extremely good work and its funding came from the National Lottery Charities Board, which was not a government source. The decision was not a government decision. However, we provide to WAF(E) the support I mentioned. It runs an extremely effective domestic violence helpline, fielding about 15,000 calls per year. It is true that Refuge is having to limit its service from four lines to one. The service has not been discontinued, but it is matter of regret that it has limited its operation.

Lord Henley: My Lords, we recognise the valuable work the Government are doing in providing support for refuges in England and Wales. Can the noble Lord explain why the funding arrangements are so different between England and Wales? Why is it that in England the Housing Corporation would provide revenue for a five-bed space amounting to about £12,500 a year, while, if I pronounce it correctly, Tai Cymru-- "Tai Coomry"--in Wales would provide £32,000 for the same five-bed space?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it is pronounced "Tai Cumry"--Tai Cymru. They do things

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differently in Wales. I beg your pardon, my Lords, we do things differently in Wales! There are different circumstances obtaining in Wales which may have greater specific needs in the area. One of the reasons Wales does things differently is that at present devolved functions are admirably carried out by the Secretary of State for Wales. Subsequently, I dare say, the assembly will be able to assist.

The noble Lord makes a reasonable point that there is a fragmentation. That is one of the reasons my right honourable friend Ms Harman and my honourable friend Ms Ruddock are currently developing an overall national strategy to deal with violence against women. A consultation paper will be published this autumn, we hope, which ought to address some of the questions raised by the noble Lord.

The Viscount of Falkland: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, sadly, victims of domestic violence are often children? They suffer either directly or indirectly and much domestic violence is alcohol related. Is the Minister satisfied that the level of funding targeted at that area is enough to meet this sad situation?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Viscount is right that children are often the innocent casualties of domestic violence, in the same way as large number of women are and a lesser proportion of men. Equally, it is generally accepted that alcohol can contribute to those problems. I cannot imagine any Minister ever being able to say with all honesty that there will ever be sufficient funds for these purposes. We need to be alert that the money available is properly directed and properly spent.

Baroness Lockwood: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many refuges are facing considerable financial difficulty? For example, is he aware that following a High Court ruling last July it was said that housing benefit:

    "is not there to make any general social provision for the protection of disadvantaged people in their homes"?

Many local authorities referred refuge rents to the rent officer with the result that many of the benefits have been cut by as much as £20 per person per week. That has meant that a refuge with six families is losing up to £120 a week as a consequence of that judgment and is therefore in great financial difficulty.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am aware of the case to which my noble friend refers. That is one aspect which will be considered by the review I mentioned earlier. The consultation document will be out in the autumn. We hope there will be a final document in February 1999 and that again relates to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Henley; that there are differences and variations which need to be looked at in the general context.

Earl Russell: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the funding system used by Tai Cymru avoided many of the difficulties mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood? Bearing that in mind, will he promote

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consultation between his department and the Department of Social Security to ensure that in the current review of housing benefit, decisions about the specialist needs of women's refuges will be taken into account before general decisions are made and not afterwards?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Earl's question. I can assure the House that the position of women's refuges will be considered in the context of any future review of housing benefit.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, with the greatest respect, is my noble friend aware that my information differs from his? I am told by the people who run the refuge that the helpline will close if the money is not forthcoming. Whether it closes or whether it is substantially reduced, as he says it will be, the result will be disastrous for thousands of women living in brutal circumstances. It is the responsibility of government to ensure that that is not allowed to happen and that is why we call for action.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I can only repeat that my information varies slightly from that put before the House by my noble friend. I will re-research it in case I have been misinformed. I repeat that we provide significant sources of support; for instance, for WAF(E) which has its own helpline and is extremely effective. The funding provided to the refuge in question was not government funding. When the original grant was awarded, it was made plain that there would be no continuing funding and that the refuge should plan accordingly.

British Industry: Productivity

2.54 p.m.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they will take to improve the productivity of British industry in relation to other member states in the European Union.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, the Competitiveness UK initiative launched by my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade last summer, is central to the Government's drive to work with business to bridge the gap in productivity between Britain and its main competitor countries in Europe and beyond. Under this initiative, business people and other partners are working directly with Ministers in the Department of Trade and Industry to identify barriers to improve competitiveness and develop practical proposals to overcome them. The conclusions of this process will help shape the forthcoming White Paper on competitiveness.

Lord Randall of St. Budeaux: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Is he aware that UK productivity is extremely bad? If the UK could only

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perform as well as our leading EU competitors, our gross domestic product would increase by £60 billion a year, according to the CBI.

Are your Lordships as baffled as I am by the reports which indicate that the Government and their advisers do not even know the factors which make UK productivity so bad? What have they been doing all these years? Will the Government demonstrate to Parliament their firm commitment to understanding UK productivity problems as well as coming up with a policy that will work and will win the confidence of the British public?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, the Government are aware of the importance of increasing productivity. This Government have a sense of urgency about the need to tackle the problem. On 4th June last year my right honourable friend Margaret Beckett--only one month after taking office--launched the Competitiveness UK initiative. By November of last year the Competitiveness UK paper indicated where British businesses were compared with the best in the world. Six key areas of weakness in the UK's competitiveness performance were identified and a working party was set up to address each area. Those working parties reported their conclusions to the President of the Board of Trade in April this year. The Government are now working with the working party members and holding seminars at 11 Downing Street to see how their ideas can be developed in practice. We will then spell out our policy proposals to address this productivity gap.

The Earl of Radnor: My Lords, will the Minister briefly outline what the Government are doing to aid the productivity of the British beef industry?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I am not sure that that is a question I ought to answer.

Lord Razzall: My Lords, is the Minister prepared to accept the view of the noble Lord, Lord Randall of St. Budeaux, that the most significant problem faced by the British economy at the moment is the lack of productivity in our industry? That is a view shared by the President of the Board of Trade and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Will the Minister agree that, as our economy slows down, the most significant step that the Government could take to ensure that the problem is resolved is early entry into the European monetary union?

Lord Haskel: My Lords, I am not sure that early entry into monetary union is the solution to the problem. The fact that the euro will be used more frequently will expose British companies to their lower productivity as compared with other European countries.

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