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Address in Reply to Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:35 am on 25th November 2004.

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Photo of Lord Clement-Jones Lord Clement-Jones Shadow Minister, Health 11:35 am, 25th November 2004

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to contribute to today's debate in a new Front-Bench role. The debate has covered a very interesting pick and mix of policy areas and has, I suspect, been neatly designed to span the areas of responsibility of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh.

The format of today's debate clearly has great advantages. We have, for example, elicited five excellent maiden speeches. There was also a very high professorial content in the debate, and there seemed to be a high and rising Trinity Cambridge content as well. But I think the most notable aspect of the debate has been the spontaneous uprising on the government Benches in defence of the DTI. It has been a very valiant attempt to break the reforming spirit on these Benches. I am afraid, however, that that attempt will ultimately be unsuccessful.

I should like first to say a word about past legislation. Although the Government are always keen to trumpet the benefits of new legislation, they seem overcome by reticence to talk about the Licensing Act which went through this House not so long ago and which increasingly conflicts with the Government's concerns about binge drinking. In fact there are growing concerns about the impact of the legislation, including the cost to local authorities of administering the Act; the massive increase in licensing fees for sports and recreation clubs despite assurances from the Secretary of State when the legislation was considered by Parliament that it would not prejudice them; and police concerns about the impact of the legislation on crime and anti-social behaviour, as we ourselves warned at the time.

The Gambling Bill was also unmentioned in the Queen's Speech, and for similar reasons. We on these Benches welcome a number of aspects of that legislation, notably the strengthening of the regulator—to be renamed the gambling commission—and the regulation of online gambling. We also welcome what appears to have been a considerable climb-down by the Secretary of State in moving from 40 regional casinos to eight pilots. However, our reservations, first articulated by the Joint Committee, are still present and are shared by many.

Despite the contrary experience of Atlantic City, we accept that there may be potential regeneration benefits from the creation of super or destination casinos. From the outset, the concern on these Benches has been about the possible proliferation of and increase in problem gambling which could result. It does not require close study to be aware that considerable health and social problems could be created. What, therefore, will the pilot schemes consist of? What will they be designed to pilot? Can the Minister confirm that the eight in the pilot will all be destination casinos and not on the high street? How will they be evaluated? How long will the pilots last?

Another reservation is that, generally, there has been a lack of detailed impact assessment. The Government do not even appear to know how many existing casinos there are in this country and what the impact of super casinos on them will be. Also, little assessment appears to have been made of the impact of the super casinos on the National Lottery and hence on Olympic funding.

Exactly what pledge has been given on taxation to US operators? Above all in this new regime the planning powers and obligations of local authorities must be absolutely clear. We welcome the concessions that have been made by the Secretary of State. However, local authorities must be able to approve one scheme over another and one operator over another. Local authorities must not have the threat of legal action and massive compensation hanging over them. We welcome the undertaking to bring forward a national policy statement that will help to give greater certainty, but that will not be enough. The Government claim that there is a triple lock with regional and local planning approval and then the required endorsement of the Gambling Commission. However, what are the underlying principles that must be satisfied if planning permission is to be given?

We are promised a new lottery Bill. I have always been a supporter of the National Lottery and I welcome the prominence given to its tenth anniversary in recent celebrations. However, it is very unlikely that we on these Benches will support the new Bill. Essentially the Bill tries to rubber stamp the fait accompli—the merger of the New Opportunities Fund and the Community Fund to form the Big Lottery Fund. That will take half of the available lottery money. It is no wonder that public concern is rising about the use by government of lottery money.

When the New Opportunities Fund was created many of us had reservations about whether it was right for the Government to have access to lottery funds in this way and about the danger of lottery funding being used as an alternative to expenditure out of taxation rather than as additional to it. Our fears were realised. This is a further step in the creeping takeover by the Government of the lottery, and my party will oppose it.

A further object of the Bill appears to be to give the Big Lottery Fund more power over balances. But what does that mean? Does it include those that have been allocated by the heritage fund? The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham spoke of the importance of those heritage projects. Balances allocated by the heritage fund require disbursement to be made over a period of years. Definitions in this context will be vital.

Many other aspects of the Minister's DCMS portfolio will require decisions and/or legislation over the next year or two. The first of these is sport. The Government have trumpeted their commitment to require PE for a minimum of two hours a week for all children aged five to 16. To be effective the CCPR and other bodies are rightly calling for PE to be put into the school curriculum. The Government seem to have ducked this issue but are already increasing the target to four hours when the two hours do not even feature in the National Curriculum.

I want at this point without encouraging complacency—I refer to the disgraceful example of Real Madrid fans in this regard on two occasions in the past week—to acknowledge the great progress that has been made in eradicating racism from our football grounds. I hope, however, that we will shortly be able to provide good examples to other European countries in another way—by the increase in numbers of people from ethnic minority communities becoming involved in football management at the highest level, which is long overdue. In that context I wish to put on record our support for the creation of the new CEHR, but I share many of the reservations expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Hornsey, in her excellent maiden speech and by my noble friend Lady Thomas.

The debate on the future of public service broadcasting in the digital age continues. The Ofcom review of public service television broadcasting is of great importance, as was pointed out by my noble friend Lady Bonham-Carter, the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald, and the noble Lord, Lord Maxton, in his excellent maiden speech. We need to examine carefully ideas put forward such as that of having a public service publisher. We will also watch very carefully the financial health of Channel 4 as the digital age approaches. I refer to the crucial issue of how, in the face of lowering income to public service broadcasters as digital switchover approaches, the appropriate level of subvention can be given to those broadcasters.

However, the absolute essential in the middle of all this, as the BBC charter review is carried out, is to make sure that we secure a strong independent and securely funded BBC. I was one of those people massively disappointed by the Hutton report, supportive of Greg Dyke and Gavyn Davies, and angry at the way in which the governors of the BBC conducted themselves with an abject apology to the Government, especially now it is clear that Gilligan was in substance right. I welcome, however, the changes that have already been made by Michael Grade, the new chairman, to the governance of the BBC, and his and Mark Thompson's outsourcing and decentralising agenda, as outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Macdonald.

But clearly there is a conflict between the representative and regulatory role of the governors of the BBC, as was pointed out by my noble friend. At the end of the day we need to move further and recognise that a new independent regulator for all public service broadcasting needs to be created. At the same time we need to make sure that the BBC licence fee continues at roughly the same level and that the arrangements are given a 10-year run. The timing of digital switchover is, of course, sensitive. We very much welcome the remarks made yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, as regards the needs of vulnerable consumers being crucial in this respect.

A neglected corner of the DCMS portfolio is tourism. Currently there is a major tourism deficit with expenditure on holidays by Britons abroad far outweighing what foreigners spend here. We need a major programme of promoting our tourism facilities to redress that deficit.

In the remit of the DCMS I hope that the Minister will carefully consider the merits of using our influence in the EU to secure an extension to the copyright in the EU to sound recordings, as advocated by the vast majority of organisations representing the creative industries. US copyright lasts for at least 70 years after an author's death, in contrast to a fixed period of 50 years in the UK. This term, common across the EU, is among the shortest worldwide. The UK is the home of many music artists. Our creative industries make a major contribution to our economy as well as to our social and cultural life. We are a world leader in this area. There is a major discrepancy between the treatment of audio visual material and sound recordings. I very much hope that the Minister will review the situation carefully and make recommendations to the Commission and other EU member states.

I turn to some of the other subjects covered by the debate. My noble friend Lord Bradshaw dealt comprehensively with transport. We welcome with reservations the new Railways Bill and the Bill to establish Crossrail. The former rightly plans to give greater control over rail services to the Scottish Executive and the Welsh Assembly, and we welcome that as giving opportunities for integration of transport services. But how will the detail work out in practice? Will closing rail lines be made that much easier? Are we due for another Beeching experience? It is with some trepidation that we see the Government taking control of rail strategy.

We on these Benches have long supported the concept of Crossrail. However, after the Montague report there remain significant questions. The new Bill will be a hybrid Bill. I too ask: what is the Government's financial commitment at this stage? Is the Bill a genuine step forward? Like my noble friend Lord Bradshaw, I ask: is it the best scheme available?

As a Londoner I know that there is greater dissatisfaction with transport than with any other aspect of life in the capital. Inaction is not an option. We should take note of the very important points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Broers, in his absorbing maiden speech.

I do not propose to dwell on the economy and industry as my noble friend Lord Newby dealt with that area at length. We, of course, have major concerns, both domestic and international. The indicators appear to be turning down. We have had the worst fiscal October for 10 years. Retail sales are down significantly and house prices are falling. Will the Chancellor break the golden rule? Many questions arise that I hope the Minister will answer.

What will be the impact of the continuing dollar weakness? On his recent tour the US Treasury Secretary made it clear that little action to cure the deficit would be taken by the US Government. The answer simply lies in increased growth. Is our own Treasury happy to live with that approach? My noble friend Lord Newby touched a real chord when he mentioned regional assemblies and housing development. A completely inadequate regional policy is being pursued by this Government. Indeed, the Chancellor is pursuing a completely counter-productive policy as regards Europe.

Inevitably, I have been critical of many aspects of the Government's policies today. However, I wholly share their enthusiasm regarding the desire for the Olympic Games to be held in London in 2012. Clearly, for the Olympics to be successful, all the strands discussed today—sporting organisation, financial backing, transport planning—will have to be pulled together. If successful, the Olympics in London will benefit the UK as a whole. The funding plan is robust, and there will be a strong legacy from the games. The bid has complete support from these Benches, and we want to support all efforts made by the noble Lord, Lord Coe, and his colleagues right up to the deadline of 6 July to make sure that we secure the games for London.