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House of Lords

Tuesday, 25th July 2000.

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

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Manchester.

Message from the Queen

Lord Carter: My Lords, I have the honour to present to your Lordships a message from Her Majesty the Queen signed by her own hand. The message is as follows:


    "I have received your Address concerning the 100th birthday of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth. It gives me great pleasure to convey to Queen Elizabeth the loyal and affectionate sentiments you express on behalf of my Lords, the British people and the Commonwealth on the occasion of her birthday".

Government Priorities

2.36 p.m.

Lord Patten asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are their top three priorities for the rest of this Parliament.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, judging by the way he has framed his Question, the noble Lord, Lord Patten, is clearly looking for a snappy answer, so let me reply. The Government's top three priorities for the remainder of this Parliament are investment, investment and investment. To continue the three-point theme, that investment will focus on a trio of priorities--health, education and transport--to revive and revitalise our public services. This will continue against the background of a stable and growing economy.

Lord Patten: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her succinct and clear Answer; I am very grateful. I listened with respect to what the noble Baroness said, but has she not perhaps forgotten one other priority for the Government of which she is a distinguished member--that is, to explain to the British people, who are a fairly pragmatic and sensible lot about the difficulties of government and the challenges that face Ministers, that they, as a Government, actually believe in something and have an underlying philosophy? Should not the Minister be advising her colleagues to give up spin; to give up too much reliance on focus groups; to give up looking every day for eye-catching initiatives; and, above all else, should not the Minister be persuading her colleagues and the Government as a whole to give up the impression that they are being blown hither and thither by every passing political breeze?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his flattering remarks

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about my influence on the Government. I am delighted to respond. I do not think that there is any spin in what I said about the proposals for public investment, but I am very happy to elaborate and will do so. Our proposals are built on the strong economic record from 1997 to date, which has lowered inflation, brought a million new jobs into the economy and created a situation in which we can have record real investment in the public services. As I said, 75 per cent of the increases in public expenditure will be going to main line public services. There will be a 5.4 per cent above inflation increase for education, way above that of the previous Tory government. We are doubling public investment in transport to more than £6 billion. The National Health Service plan, which will be announced later this week, will revive our National Health Service through a 6.1 per cent real terms increase in growth for the next three years, more than double the rate under the Tories. The noble Lord describes that as spin; I describe it as very effective economic management leading to very important public investment.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, would not the noble Lord, Lord Patten, be well advised to give up spending so much time on the midnight oil to such worthless purpose?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, my noble friend invites me to go further. Perhaps I may refer back to the implications for the education budget--in which the noble Lord, Lord Patten, will be particularly interested. The public expenditure increases will mean an extra £40,000 for each primary school; up to £70,000 for a secondary school; and sure-start funding, one of the most important ingredients in the under-fives' programme of creating a good start to education for millions of children, will rise to £500 million. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Patten, will be very pleased to see that additional funding for education. I am sure that he will approve of the increases in literacy rates and the decline in class sizes, which are already represented in the education sphere.

Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, has not the noble Baroness forgotten to list also the rise in pensions?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I very much thank the noble Lord. Perhaps I may begin with the minimum income guarantee--or would the noble Lord prefer to consider the rises in the winter fuel allowance, which has been raised to the level of £150 per pensioner per year? There is also the free television licence--which, regrettably, noble Lords in this House seem to have little time to enjoy because of the appalling hours we seem to be working.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, there is also the issue of the rule of law, the protection of life and property and the rise in crime--or have the Government given up on that too?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, the noble Lord on the Cross-Benches tells me it is on page four

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of my brief; actually it is on page two. There has been a 6 per cent reduction in crime overall since the election, with burglary down by a quarter and car crime down by 17 per cent. The Government have acknowledged the disturbing increase in violent crime and intend to tackle it. With the extra expenditure on crime prevention and action against crime--a 3.8 per cent rise above inflation over the period of the spending review--there will be funding for an extra 4,000 police recruits, which we hope will bring the violent crime figures more into line with the other figures.

Lord Renton: My Lords, perhaps I may also offer the Government some helpful advice. They should have less legislation; they should have shorter and more lucid Bills.

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, as I said in reply to the previous question, we would all enjoy shorter hours.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, I should like to say that I entirely agree with the Government's priorities of investment in the three issues which the noble Baroness mentioned. However, perhaps I may add a fourth. That is housing. Does she agree that there should be major investment in housing in view of the relatively high proportion of poor housing in this country which causes suffering to people's lives, their health and their heating standards?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, as I know the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, will be aware, the problem of poor housing is one that has been constantly addressed. The quality of housing, in terms of the numbers of people living in houses which are deemed to be almost beyond repair, needs to be addressed in a number of ways. The noble Lord is quite right to identify that there is a broad swathe of issues in that area. Housing is one; health is another and poor education is another, which is why I referred to the Sure Start programme in my reply to the noble Lord, Lord Patten. I would say to the noble Lord that he identifies an important priority for restoring the social fabric of this country.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Patten, in his supplementary question asked the noble Baroness for an expression of political philosophy. Could we press her not for another list of facts and figures but for a succinct expression of the Government's political philosophy?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I can do that very succinctly. Their philosophy is to pursue all the issues of social justice, to build the investment of Britain so that we have a sustainable investment, a strong economy, and to create a country where there is opportunity and security for all our citizens.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware of a three-fold increase in assaults on

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young people in young offender institutions over a period of three years? Is she also aware of a three-fold increase in incidents of self-harm and suicide over a period of 10 years? Will investments in the prison estate and training of prison officers who work with young people be among the priorities for investment?

Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, the noble Earl identifies a worrying trend in young offender institutions. I know that he has been personally involved with this issue. Why young people offend and how they can best be looked after if they are in an institution of the kind the noble Earl describes is at the base of criminal justice and crime prevention policy. Attention needs to be addressed to the social issues which may lead to children being in these unfortunate circumstances at a very young age. One of the emphases of the public spending programme is to increase the number of policemen, and to increase the number of policemen on the beat in local communities who--particularly we hope through the Excellence in Cities programme--will work with schools to try to prevent some of the unhappy circumstances which lead to young people ending up in young offender institutions. I shall write to the noble Earl with regard to the specific question of detailed funding for those institutions.


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