Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for choosing to refer to the privatisation of water. I refer him to an excellent pamphlet which I wrote after the privatisation of water which was published by the Institute for Public Policy Research in which he will find further ammunition for what he said.

The Public Accounts Committee report refers back to two earlier reports which made two specific criticisms of privatisation of water: first, on the scale of the completion and success fees which were granted; and, secondly, on the major mistake made in selling the shares at one go rather than in stages. However, that is only one of many examples which are in the fascinating report from the PAC.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, can the Minister say what estimate has been made by the Treasury as to the amount of taxpayers' money it would have cost if those industries had not been privatised but had still been the subject of debt and subsidy, about which we hear very little?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I said in my first Answer that there is no definitive estimate of the final cost to the taxpayer. However, I remind the noble Baroness that privatisation has not resulted in the end of subsidy. On the contrary, in the case of the railways the public subsidy to the railway industry has doubled as a result of privatisation and, as we all know, the quality of service has declined dramatically.

Lord Razzall: My Lords, in the light of the Minister's answers to the previous questions, and of

8 Oct 1998 : Column 573

the report of the Public Accounts Committee to which he referred, have the Government had any change of mind regarding the future of the Post Office, or London Transport? As the noble Lord will be aware, in both cases there are rumours that the Government propose privatisation.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not comment on rumours.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, is the Minister aware that we welcome the conversion of his Front Bench, if not his Back Bench, to the merits of privatisation? We are not surprised, given the world success of such companies as British Telecom, BritOil, British Airways, British Steel and a whole list of others which are now world leaders. Our example has been followed around the world.

Can the Minister assure us that the privatisation programme will continue under this Government now that they have seen the light? When will the privatisation of, for example, the National Air Traffic Services, the Tote and National Savings be brought forward?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord will not succeed in driving a wedge between me and my Front Bench colleagues on the one hand and my colleagues on the Back Benches on another hand. On the other hand, we are of one mind on these matters.

As the noble Lord well knows, proposals for the extension of public private partnerships in the areas to which he refers were made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in announcements this summer. Further announcements will no doubt be made by the appropriate Ministers is due course.

Earl Russell: My Lords, the Question asked for the final cost. When we consider such issues as disrepair, is it not a great deal too early to say?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, it is always too early to give the final costs of anything, unless we come to Armageddon within the lifetime of this Parliament. Even if we did, it might be rather difficult to achieve that.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, does my noble friend recall the grotesquely exaggerated claims made by the then Government about the benefits that would be conferred on the travelling public as a result of privatisation of British Rail? Does he also recall that British Rail was denuded by that Government for some 18 years of the wherewithal to enable the appropriate investment to be made and which was so necessary?

Does my noble friend agree that the omission of any mention of that factor in the question by the noble Baroness on the Opposition Benches is somewhat surprising and misleading?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, anyone who travelled to Blackpool on the Sunday before the Labour Party Conference, as did my noble friend and I,

8 Oct 1998 : Column 574

will have first-hand experience of privatisation. To be fair, the Question by my noble friend Lord Dean was much wider. It referred to the analysis of the experience of privatisation, with no fewer than 35 previous reports of the Public Accounts Committee. The report to which I referred is fascinating. It gives a detailed analysis, which deserves the attention of all Members of this House, of the many failings of the previous Government in implementing privatisation.

Newspaper Pricing: OFT Report

3.28 p.m.

Lord McNally asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect to receive the Office of Fair Trading report on predatory pricing in the newspaper industry.

The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Simon of Highbury): My Lords, the Director General of Fair Trading has asked News International to provide detailed information about The Times newspaper to enable him to assess the impact of its trading strategy on its competitors. The director's investigation and its timing are a matter for him. It is the director's responsibility to decide whether there is a case for making a reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

Lord McNally: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Has he had time to read the text of an outstanding speech made at a fringe meeting at the Labour Party Conference by the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, who called for an amendment to the Competition Bill, which is shortly to return to this House, in order to give specific protection to the newspaper industry and guarantee quality, diversity and choice in the face of predatory pricing and other unfair competition? How is it that experienced parliamentarians such as the noble Lord, Lord Hattersley, Mr. Mullin and Mr. Radice believe that such amendment is possible but the Minister still resolutely refuses to bring one forward?

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, such a plethora of good papers were produced from the fringe meetings at our conference that I have not had time to assimilate them all. I shall hasten to the website to do so. It is clear to those who have studied the Competition Bill, which we shall discuss later, that there are perfectly adequate powers to cope with predatory pricing. No doubt we shall debate the issue when we come to it.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, in defence of the Minister, does he agree that it is not always necessary to legislate in order to make something happen? When the issue was last discussed in this House the price of The Times on the Monday was 10p while last Monday it was 30p.

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I have already made it clear that all the information that is required for real action to take place, if it is required to take place,

8 Oct 1998 : Column 575

is in the hands of the Director General of Fair Trading. We should distinguish between what we would like and the legality of cases we are discussing. There are political preferences and there are legal realities; we must attend to the legal realities.

Kosovo: NATO Planning

3.32 p.m.

Baroness Ludford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What decisions were taken at this week's NATO meeting on military action in Kosovo.

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, NATO Ambassadors have met daily since Monday 5th October. No formal decisions on military action in Kosovo have been taken in this period. NATO planning now stands at a very high degree of readiness to pursue military options in pursuit of the international community's goals, should this be necessary.

Baroness Ludford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer and appreciate that it is a fluid situation. Can she confirm that the justification for military action is not as a punishment for President Milosevic, or to make western leaders feel better, or even to be seen to be doing something after six months--some would say years--of passivity in the face of human rights abuses in Kosovo, but that it is to stop genocide and brutality and to enforce Security Council Resolution 1199 which is still being flouted? Does she agree that any airstrikes will have to be followed up, probably by the deployment of ground forces and forceful pressures for a solution to bring stability, democracy and meaningful self-government to the Kosovars?

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, the international community is united in its resolve to ensure that President Milosevic complies fully with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1199. That was a UK-drafted resolution and it was adopted on 23rd September. It makes clear the steps which the Yugoslav authorities must take to avert humanitarian catastrophe in Kosovo.

The report of the UN Secretary General on compliance clearly shows that they have so far failed to comply fully with the requirements of the resolution. No one wants to use military force. The international community is united to ensure that President Milosevic does comply fully. President Milosevic should be in no doubt that if that is what is required to make him comply with Resolution 1199 military force will be used.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page