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Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his response to the amendment. I hope that it will help to reassure those outside the House who are concerned about this matter. Perhaps I may make a brief point in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. She was concerned that in moving amendments we may sometimes over-emphasise perception. But we have always emphasised, too, that such perceptions are based on the reality of the situation as it stands before us. That is why perceptions are difficult to change. One of the organisations that has said it is considering moving overseas as a result of the Bill is Poptel, the large Internet service provider. On its website it lists its clients as including the British Association for Study & Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I beg to move that further consideration on Report be now adjourned.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

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Government Annual Report

4.24 p.m.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

    "With your permission, Madam Speaker, I should like to make a Statement on the Annual Report, published by the Government earlier today.

    "Our first and primary responsibility was to get the economic fundamentals right--the building blocks that will make Britain stronger and fairer. Inflation is at 2.2 per cent, within our inflation target of 2.5 per cent. An inherited £28 billion deficit was turned into a £16 billion surplus by last year. Unemployment is down. One million jobs have been created since May 1997. Real take-home pay is up by about 8 per cent. And when you take out spending on areas we want to spend money on, like children and pensions, welfare spending is falling for the first time in decades.

    "But none of this has come without serious choices: Bank of England independence, taking the politics out of people's mortgages, and tough action to clear the deficit. I know that some of these decisions, like the rises in fuel duty, were unpopular. But they were necessary. Interest rates over the years of this Government have averaged 6 per cent. In the previous 18 years, they averaged 10 per cent, a change that makes the average mortgageholder £160 a month better off.

    "That stability having been fought for and on course to being won, now we must make the next choice: to invest in the country's future. I believe that the people of this country understand that Britain is a chronically under-invested in nation. For 18 years transport, health and education were starved of funds. In education, for example, the real terms increase during the 18 years of Conservative government was only 1.5 per cent a year. If we want opportunity and security for all in a world of change, we have now to invest in our essential infrastructure and in our public services. This is a government committed to that investment.

    "There has been investment to repair and renovate 11,000 schools, with 6,000 more to come; more money for books; money for computers; money for paying teachers more; and thousands more schools linked to the Internet.

    "We have seen a dramatic rise in standards in primary schools. The next challenge is to see the same big rises in standards in secondary education and in universities. The priorities remain education, education, education, and our response, Madam Speaker, will be investment, investment, investment.

    "In the health service, we are meeting our target on in-patient waiting. We must now get sustained falls in out-patient waiting. By the end of this year all accident and emergency departments that need it

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    will be rebuilt or refurbished. The first new hospital has already opened in Carlisle. Thirty-seven more infrastructure projects over £25 million are on the way in England alone. There are new services like NHS Direct, and walk-in centres. As a result of the Budget in March, the NHS is now finally getting the funds it needs--the biggest sustained increase in its history. But we know that there is much more to do.

    "In transport, the Jubilee Line and Docklands Light Railway show what our transport system could be like. Also, there are additional numbers of trains and bus services. New rolling stock is starting to come into use. But in many parts of Britain, our transport infrastructure urgently needs substantial extra investment. We admit it. The 10-year transport plan, to be published shortly, will show how it can be done.

    "The Government are committed to a society of opportunity for all, responsibility from all. Crime is down since 1997, particularly car crime and burglary--in some areas, spectacularly so. But violent crime is rising. We need more police. We will get them. We need new ways to tackle drugs. We will get them. We needed tougher action against drug dealers. We are legislating against them.

    "In all these areas we should all recognise the immense efforts of millions of public servants--school teachers, police, NHS staff and civil servants--because their work makes our country richer.

    "This is a government committed to social justice. Thanks in part to the minimum wage, the working families' tax credit and the biggest ever rise in child benefit, 1.2 million children will be lifted out of poverty in this Parliament. But there is still a long way to go to meet our goal of ending child poverty altogether.

    "On pensioners, I am well aware of the focus on the 75 pence rise on the basic state pension; and if that was all the Government had done for pensioners, people would have every right to feel angry. But it is not. We chose, deliberately, to get most help to the poorest by the new minimum income guarantee. Around 2 million pensioners have gained, some of them considerably, by about £15 to £18 per week. We have abolished eye test charges, introduced the winter allowance, now at £150, and given free TV licences to pensioners aged 75 and over. In total, an extra £6.5 billion is being spent on pensioners over and above what the last government planned. But I am the first to say that there is more to do and, step by step, as the country can afford it, we will do it.

    "This year also saw the best inward investment figures in our history. Around the world, people see strong economic fundamentals. They see a good business environment, recently described by the Economist Intelligence Unit as the second best in the world.

    "The Government are committed to a positive and constructive role in Europe. At the Lisbon summit, we helped to set a new economic course for

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    Europe. Most recently, the Chancellor turned round the entire debate on tax in Europe. We are leading the debate in Europe on defence. We maintain a policy on the euro that is designed for our national economic interest, that is good for British jobs, British industry and British investment.

    "There are many other areas where we can chart progress: hand guns are banned; land mines are banned; hereditary Peers are on their way out; paid holidays for everyone for the first time; the arts with funding rising, quality improving and our international reputation a credit to Britain; the right where employees want it to be represented by a trade union. We are starting to cancel third world debt. The Strategic Defence Review is allowing Britain to count for more in the world.

    "Of course, there is more to do. We have been in government for three years. One million more in work. True. But still many thousands of jobs lost through industrial change. We now have the best ever results in primary schools. True. But our secondary schools still are not near the level of the best in the world. An extra 10,000 nurses in the NHS compared with three years ago. True. But we need many more, and we need many more cancer and heart surgeons, too. Domestic burglary has fallen by 20 per cent in three years. True. But violent crime is increasing. There is a lot done, but a lot more needs to be done and this Government will do it.

    "Deliver the stability. Deliver the investment the country needs. Deliver opportunity for all in a civic society founded on rights and responsibilities. Our purpose is to build a Britain that is strong, modern and fair, under a government who at long last see economic prosperity and fairness not as opponents but as partners in building the Britain of the future.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

4.32 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. However, having read it and having now heard it, I am bound to say that I have my doubts if what are essentially trivial public relations statements of this type--spin and not substance--are worthy of the attention of your Lordships' House.

Is there not a sense of utter bathos in moving from the Motions we heard earlier after Question Time to this Statement? It is a journey from service to self-service, from real achievement to a land of promises, promises, promises and a descent into the land of Walter Mitty in which the Government and their swelling army of spin doctors increasingly live.

To listen to what has been said by the Prime Minister and to what the noble Baroness has just repeated, one would think that the Government had more achievements to their name than a combination of the Britain of the Victorian era and the Athens of Pericles. However, outside of this House, if they bother to listen to the people of this country--at the school gate, in the hospital queue, in the farmyard, in the traffic jams, on the Underground or even at home in

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the still, small hours, pouring over bureaucratic forms and struggling with the tax return--it feels very different. Rarely in the history of politics has there been a more giant gulf between preening self-image and real substance than we sense with this Government.

Elements of the Statement sound as though they were being presented as a prospectus for action for a government on their first day in office rather than a government with three wasted years behind them. Perhaps noble Lords will remind me: was it last year or was it the year before that that was supposed to be the "year of delivery", or was that only one more empty and insincere soundbite along the way?

I do not intend to take up much of the time of noble Lords on this Statement. After all, there is nothing of policy substance in it. I shall content myself with just two observations.

The Prime Minister has said that we are,


    "leading the debate in Europe".

Whether we take my view on the euro or that held by the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, does not the noble Baroness think that both he and I would be entitled to just a hint of scepticism on that score?

The Prime Minister has said that he can chart progress because hereditary Peers are on their way out. I know that the noble Baroness has to repeat the words so masterfully crafted in No. 10, but is not this House entitled to rather more respect than that the Prime Minister should crow about the passing of people who served their country and this House with a rare sense of duty? Furthermore, the Government still do not know how to replace them. If, over the past three years, the Government had had half the commitment to the details of legislation as that of the hereditary Peers we have lost, they would not keep loading Parliament with so many ill-thought-out, half-baked and damaging Bills.

In the Statement there was one constant refrain: "We have more to do. We have work to do". Goodness me, they are right on that. But while they spin, we must toil. This House has real work to do. It has work to do once more this afternoon, yet again tidying up the confusion and chaos of this Government's legislative programme.

We know well that the real measure of the quality of this Government is not to be found in this self-serving and self-congratulatory report. It is to be found in the Report stages of Bills such as the one which forms our main business today, a snoopers' charter of a Bill and a Bill in which, once again, only the diligence and wisdom of noble Lords is contriving to save the Government from themselves.

It is in that legislative confusion and those misplaced priorities that one will find the reality of this Government. We have to live with it day by day. Perhaps I may therefore suggest that we move swiftly on from this vacuous report to return to the real work of Parliament.

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4.37 p.m.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank: My Lords, I am struggling with the temptation to follow the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, but I am not confident that, even if I did, others would so do.

We, too, are most grateful to the noble Baroness for putting on a firm face and a pleasant smile while reading out a Statement which seemed like a preface to every election manifesto since the beginning of time. I have read a great many of them. For those who can recall this one, it sounds like, "Let us face the future by first remembering the past". Alternatively, it could read as, "Why we should have a second term in government".

I have been reading the very glossy document and it is rather amusing to think about how it was put together. Clearly, it was placed in the hands of a picture editor. He probably said, "We must have a gender mix; we must have an ethnic mix and we must have an age mix". The age mix must have been particularly important given the hard deal that old age pensioners have had. He may also have said, "Let us print some nice pictures, preferably smiling ones. Then we should try to find some text to put around them". That is how a document like this is made up. Indeed, I wrote, "Suitable for sixth formers", but then thought that that was perhaps casting it a little high.

The first part of the Statement contained a good deal with which one could agree. I certainly think that the economy is a good deal stronger, although the Government inherited a far stronger economy than any other Labour government during the 20th century. It is true that inflation is low and I congratulate the Government on that, as well as on the lowering of the unemployment figures. Those are matters about which it is reasonable to rejoice.

However, by the time one reaches the second page, the whole report changes its tone. We do not have hard choices; we now have "grown up" choices. The report goes on to blame the previous government for 18 years of neglect in transport, health and education. Surely there will come a point when this Government, like every other, will give up blaming a government in the increasingly distant past. Then we come to a reminder that it is, "Education, education, education", to which is now added, "Health, health, health"--and so the document goes on.

There is one interesting little device in the Statement. Noble Lords will recall Mrs Thatcher's great ability, when she saw high unemployment figures--when she walked, for example, in my old constituency of Stockton-on-Tees--of deploring a situation which she had either done so much to create or absolutely nothing to alleviate. We find the technique adopted on page five of the Statement:


    "We need more police. We will get them".

That is said after three years when it has been a regular theme on all sides of this House and in another place. The Government cannot rely on that at this stage.

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We come again to a reference to hereditary Peers, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, mentioned. The Prime Minister says in his Statement:


    "Hereditary Peers are on their way out".

It is not a question of what we are doing in future. They are here, nearly 100 of them. The report could equally have said, "We the Government decided that we wanted to retain 100 hereditary Peers in the House of Lords, and we have been successful in achieving that"! So every issue can be looked at in an alternative way. There follows a peculiar reference to,


    "Paid holidays for the first time".

Paid holidays for the hereditary Peers? Paid holidays for whom? Are paid holidays an invention of this Government? I thought that paid holidays had existed not for 10, not for 20, but for more than 50 years. Perhaps the noble Baroness will explain the point. In what ways are paid holidays available for the first time in a way that they were not available in the past?

I shall not adopt tedious repetition, as indeed I could. The document is a mixture of fact, fiction and fantasy, with a certain degree of frankness occasionally thrown in to give it a sense of authenticity.

I rather like this Government. I believe that they are better than the previous government, and I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt. Therefore, I shall not say that the report is an abuse of public money, merely that it is a waste of public money. I ask the noble Baroness only one question: how much did it cost?

4.42 p.m.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, the conventions of the House, by which we all abide with great precision, require me to thank both noble Lords for their response to the Statement and to the Annual Report. I cannot say that I am entirely surprised by their lack of overwhelming enthusiasm, although in responding the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, did not seem to take his own criticisms seriously, so I do not feel enormously burdened by them.

Both noble Lords spent an enormous amount of time doing what the Government are usually criticised for doing. They spent the entire time referring to the presentation of the Annual Report. Perhaps I may draw attention to one or two facts, beginning with the final question from the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers. The total cost of the report--together with numerous pages on the website in which the detail of many of the polices will be explained more fully, together with the regional operation, which involves people being able to identify and access matters of particular significance to their area, together with videos demonstrating that--is expected to be somewhere in the region of £140,000, about £40,000 less than last year's Annual Report. So to that extent, efficiency and economy have succeeded.

I am slightly surprised that both noble Lords took what I can only describe as a rather "Westminster-centric" view of the absolutely genuine attempt by the Government to make sure that people throughout the country understand some of the complicated changes

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that have taken place, and of the way in which the Government have tried to make people feel that they can have access to this information by arranging it in an attractive format rather than the rather dreary format of a traditional White Paper. That is precisely what people enjoy. I can vouch for that from my personal experience as Minister for Women. Last autumn, the Government produced--again, to rather patronising criticism from many--a publication entitled Voices, which reflected the consultation my right honourable friend Tessa Jowell and I had conducted with 30,000 members of the electorate around the country. That document is now internationally accepted as an example of the way in which government should communicate with the electorate in the modern age. I believe that the present document will have exactly that sort of success.

The fundamental point of the overall policy of the Government which both noble Lords have missed, or have decided to ignore, is that the reason why the emphasis in this document is on acknowledging some of the achievements, but also the fact that much more needs to be done, is that the hard decisions taken in the past three years have created opportunities for investment and the economic stability which now enable all those points--the health service, the police force and the situation in secondary schools, for example, to which both noble Lords referred--to be addressed with proper money and proper programmes.

It is not sufficient for the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, to suggest that this is merely a retrospective assessment of a situation for which we should now take total responsibility. When we have been in government for 18 years, that may indeed be true; but on the basis of three years, this is a proud record.

The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, said that the report reads as though it is demonstrably an election manifesto. If that is the basis for an election manifesto, it is certainly one on which I should be proud to fight an election. As the Prime Minister says in his opening message,


    "These are the facts. People can make their own judgement on them".

4.46 p.m.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in another place. Does she agree that a report that clearly shows inflation at 2 per cent, unemployment at its lowest for 20 years, in-patient waiting lists in the National Health Service down by over 100,000, and Britain better off in Europe, indicates progress in 38 months which contrasts most favourably with the record of the previous government? Does my noble friend further agree that if we plead guilty to any deficiency it is the failure in 38

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months not to have fully redeemed all the damage that was inflicted on the country by the previous administration?


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