Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, we shall do everything we can to help the transition of people to new jobs. On the many occasions that we have debated

13 Dec 2000 : Column 395

these issues, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, has always shown enormous sympathy both for small businesses and for people who work in businesses. I do not hold against her the fact that she chose once again to take up the cause of over regulation. I have heard that point of view expressed many times. As I say, the noble Baroness has always supported small businesses and the reduction of regulations to a minimum. I share that view. As I say, on this occasion I do not hold against her the fact that she took up the cause of over regulation.

Lord Prior: My Lords, given that the decision that has been taken is regrettable, I thought that my noble friend on our Front Bench showed great restraint in her remarks. She was perfectly right to say that the competitive position of British industry has declined sharply. You do not have to go far at the moment to hear considerable and growing complaints about the burdens now being placed on British industry which are beginning to make it uncompetitive. The noble Lord refutes that by talking about inward investment, but he must realise, probably more than most people, that decisions on inward investment are probably made a year or two before that investment takes place. We must now consider what inward investment is likely to arise at a time when the Government are placing more and more burdens on industry. This is a serious matter. The way in which we on this side of the House have treated this difficult and regrettable decision by Vauxhall is in stark contrast to what, a few years ago, one might have expected if we had been in government and noble Lords opposite had been in opposition.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I believe that we have already discussed burdens on industry in the debate on the Queen's Speech. I do not accept the theory that enormous burdens have been placed on British industry. We have pointed out again and again that the figures which purport to indicate burdens on British industry consist largely of the payments that have to be made in benefits under the minimum wage legislation or other legislation which the Government have introduced. I do not regard those as burdens but as necessary payments to give people a fair and decent wage and decent conditions. If noble Lords opposite want to suggest that those payments constitute intolerable burdens on British industry, they should have the courage to say that they would remove them and return to a situation where people are not paid a decent minimum wage and do not receive proper benefits. That is the only way for them to justify their complaint about burdens on British industry. I accept that decisions on inward investment are made prior to the investment taking place. However, there are no signs that investment is slowing down. There is every reason to think that the climate for British industry is as good as it has ever been.

I quote two newspapers which I would not normally quote on these occasions. The Daily Mail stated this morning,


    XBut what should offer hope is that Britain's economy is today the healthiest it has been in decades".

13 Dec 2000 : Column 396

Even the Sun stated:


    XBritain's overall economy is in fine shape".

That is the background but we are dealing with the specific situation of over supply in the car industry.

The Earl of Carnarvon: My Lords, I believe that the Minister said that the Government might help with applications. As chairman of SERPLAN I visited Luton not long ago. As everyone probably knows, Luton unitary authority is limited in terms of development. The local authority is hemmed in by areas of outstanding natural beauty and the airport. Apart from the Vauxhall works, few other brownfield sites are available. How can the Government help with planning applications to provide new job opportunities?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, as a result of action that we have taken, Luton forms part of the assisted areas map and therefore qualifies for regional selective assistance. We can help inward investment companies on that basis in terms of creating further jobs.

Lord Islwyn: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I appreciate the helpful steps that the Government propose to take to try to alleviate this difficult situation. Has the Minister noted the remarks of Mr Nick Reilly, the Vauxhall chairman, and other General Motors directors who stressed that the decision had little to do with sterling's strength against the euro, or the UK's failure to join the European currency, or poor factory or worker productivity, and that Britain remains a viable location for car production? Yet car production is to be ended on the Luton site after 95 years. Does not the Minister consider that a pretty soulless decision taken without any consideration of the car component suppliers or of our hard pressed steel industry? It is altogether a sad business.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I agree with the comments of Mr Nick Reilly that the decision has little to do with euro weakness and has nothing to do with worker productivity or industrial relations. As I said earlier, it concerns over supply in the European car industry. It probably has much to do with the fact that General Motors has just suffered a loss of 181 million dollars in Europe and is thought by some analysts to face losses in the fourth quarter of 600 million dollars. I believe that the decision was taken in that hard commercial light.

Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, when was the Government first informed of the decision by Vauxhall Motors to close Luton?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, we have been in contact with the company. On that basis we were able to respond to the announcement as quickly as we did.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Court of the University of

13 Dec 2000 : Column 397

Luton, a new university which prides itself on working hard at its relationships with local employers. I know that my noble friend appreciates the extent to which the General Motors announcement has been greeted with shock and disappointment in the town, given the fine record of the local management and the workforce in improving productivity and the quality of the cars they produce. Vauxhall has been a valued customer and partner of the university since the university was founded. Will the Minister give an assurance that the Government will do all they can to support the university in helping to retrain Vauxhall workers for new employment and to provide counselling and guidance if needed? Does the Minister also agree that it is now more important than ever that the economy in the region diversifies and the university is given every encouragement to help widen the local skills base?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I would be happy to reinforce the argument. In these circumstances universities can play a major role in working with local businesses to upgrade the economy and to train workers for new industries. There are now some good examples across the country of universities performing that role. That is why we have introduced the higher education innovation fund which is directly focused on the relationship between universities and businesses and assisting them to upgrade.

Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen: My Lords, coming to this House, as I did, from the Manufacturing, Science and Finance union, your Lordships will appreciate what a shock the news from Vauxhall gave me. Is the Minister working closely with the trade unions which represent the workforce in Luton?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, in these circumstances we are working very closely with all the people who have an interest: the regional development agency, local authorities, trade unions and others so that we can co-ordinate our activities to help the workforce deal with this difficult situation. A meeting this afternoon at Luton Borough Council will involve the East of England Investment Agency, the Luton Borough Council, the East of England Development Agency, Regional Supply Office, South Bedford District Council and a number of other bodies all of which will be trying to help to deal with the situation.

Lord Chalfont: My Lords, will the Minister help me by clarifying one point of fact? There seems to be a suggestion that Luton is heavily dependent upon the car industry. I understand that Luton is a highly diversified town with a diverse economic structure. Although, as the noble Lord said, it is a body blow to the industry and a terrible blow to the workers and their families, is it true that it will not have a disproportionate effect upon Luton as a whole?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I cannot give clear figures about the level of diversification.

13 Dec 2000 : Column 398

However, the fact that it is losing 2,000 jobs would be a blow to any town and is much to be regretted. The fact that it now qualifies for regional selective assistance is a clear indication that the economy in that local area is not strong. So I cannot agree that it is not a significant body blow to the town.

Address in Reply to Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech

4.53 p.m.

Debate resumed.

Lord Warner: My Lords, picking up the threads from our previous debate, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Kirkham, on his maiden speech. As a former director of social services I look forward to his contributions on children's issues in our debates and the wisdom that he has demonstrated today. I suspect that he and I will be arguing from similar positions in future debates. It is also a pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark. As a resident of Southwark I know well not only the problems that it faces but also some of the effective responses which local agencies are making. In my capacity as chairman of the Youth Justice Board I recently spent some time with the Southwark Youth Offending Team which is located within 100 yards or so of where Damilola Taylor so tragically died. The changes which the youth offending teams are making in Southwark and elsewhere in implementing youth justice reforms are making a real difference. Although further changes must be orderly, I am more confident than the right reverend Prelate that youth offending teams and the police will be able to take on in a measured way the further changes that the Government envisage.

I also share the right reverend Prelate's concerns on rising street crime in London and other major cities. As he said, it is an uncomfortable fact that the great majority of that street crime involves young people robbing other young people; and some of it is undoubtedly drugs-driven. The Youth Justice Board is working closely with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and hopes to come up with some new initiatives in this area in the not-too-distant future.

I wish to express my support for the Government's continuing commitment to reforming the criminal justice system and producing measures that tackle problems of crime and disorder in our society. Regrettably, violence and disorder on our streets is a continuing feature of life in some of our communities. However, the onset of the upward trend in violent crime goes back to long before this Government came to office. The roots are in the rise in child poverty and unemployment in the 1980s. In parenthesis, I was a little surprised to hear the Conservative Front Bench chastise the Government for not having more legislation on children given the track record of the previous government in overseeing the rise in child poverty and some of the damage that that has caused

13 Dec 2000 : Column 399

in our society. Some of the trend in rising violence has strong links to alcohol and drugs. Sadly, while crime has gone down by about 10 per cent since this Government came into office, violent crime still continues to give cause for concern.

The Government's sound economic management, anti-drugs strategy, family policies and tax and benefit changes that help children and families will have an impact on crime. But action on other fronts is essential, particularly earlier intervention in criminal and disorderly behaviour. At the heart of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 was reform of the youth justice system, drug testing and treatment orders and anti-social behaviour orders. Underpinning those changes were the ideas that tackling crime and disorder could not be left to the traditional criminal justice system; there should be more concern with outcomes rather than process; and partnership working by different agencies was critical to success. Some of the measures in the new legislation that we shall discuss this year, such as curfews and fixed penalty notices, continue along that path. As chairman of the Youth Justice Board, I welcome them as long as they are integrated, as I expect, into the earlier reforms now beginning to work well and have professional acceptance from the police and other agencies.

One of the issues that the new local crime audits and local crime reduction strategies have identified is the strong link between alcohol and crime. About two-thirds of these strategies identify alcohol-related crime as a problem. In recent years we have seen a huge increase in what is called in the jargon mass volume vertical drinking. That is a fancy term for describing large numbers of young men in crowded rooms with no seats and little, if any, food consuming alcohol. Unsurprisingly, this has led to more and more violent incidents outside pubs and clubs. I am sure that the Government are right to defer legislation on licensing changes so that we can be sure that this phenomenon of recent years can be taken properly into account. No one wants to be a killjoy, but we cannot continue along a path of increasing numbers of young men tanking themselves up, releasing themselves on to crowded urban areas and expecting the police to sort out the problem. I suppose that what I am saying is that the Conservative leader's youthful 14 pints in a day has to become a thing of the past.

There has been much debate about police numbers. As a Londoner I share the concerns of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police about police numbers in London. I pay tribute to the leadership which he and his deputy provide in tackling crime in London. But again London's policing problems have their roots in the past. I know from my earlier work in the Home Office how much the current Home Secretary did in 1997 and 1998 to address the rather parlous funding position of the Metropolitan Police inherited from his predecessor and to put the boundaries of the Met on a more logical basis that made partnership with local authorities easier.

The Government have a good record on working constructively with the police to improve police efficiency and effectiveness. I am sure that they will

13 Dec 2000 : Column 400

continue along that path. We know from Audit Commission studies that there is not a simple correlation between spending more money on uniformed police officers and reducing crime. More bobbies on the beat is a simplistic cry on its own. Simply putting more uniformed officers on the street will not have much impact on crime, however desirable that may be, unless other measures are also taken.

New police officers need to be properly trained, to have access to new technology, to have good personnel policies and to be managed by high quality leaders. The Government have an excellent record on increased investment in forensic science, information technology and police radio systems that will make the police more effective. New legislation to underpin reforms in police training will help that process further, alongside the extra money being put into police budgets.

In recent years the police have learned to work in partnership with other agencies and local communities in tackling crime. The private security industry is an important part of the framework of tackling crime and disorder. I am pleased that the Government are producing legislation to regulate it. The area was seriously neglected by their predecessors, despite support for reform from responsible parts of the security industry. The reform is long overdue and I hope that the House will give the Bill a speedy passage.

Other measures in the legislative programme will also help to tackle crime more effectively. I shall not go into all of them, but I hope--this is more hope than expectation--that we can adopt a more responsible attitude to debating the Criminal Justice (Mode of Trial) Bill. The noise of grinding axes in our previous debates on the subject was sometimes deafening. The criminal justice system still has many shortcomings in terms of cost-effectiveness. As it is a tax-funded service, we should continue to question its cost-effectiveness and efficiency. The Bill is a legitimate, modest reform that we should adopt. I suspect that it may look extremely modest compared with--


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page