Building Britain's Future — Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:28 pm on 29th June 2009.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Baroness Royall of Blaisdon Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, House of Lords, Leader of the House of Lords and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster 5:28 pm, 29th June 2009

My Lords, I shall start on the note on which the noble Lord ended: vast spirits. Now is the time for vast spirits. There is so much to do. We are in the middle of a global economic crisis. Most of the people out there would understand why it is important for the Government now to refocus on growth and jobs. That is precisely what this Statement does.

I entirely refute the words of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that this is an unimportant Statement. It is hugely important, and most people out there who are worried about their housing, their jobs and the future of their children will understand its importance. As for his statement that people throughout the world are condemning what we are doing on the national stage, that is not the case, especially in relation to things such as climate change. Most people would understand that we are leading the charge on climate change. Together with our European colleagues, we are leading the charge before the important meeting at Copenhagen.

The noble Lord also discredited targets. Without targets, where would we be? We might well be in a situation where people were still waiting 18 months for an operation, not a maximum of 18 weeks. We might well be where people were dying of cancer because they had not seen their consultant within two weeks. This is what is happening now, and we are determined to ensure that people will be entitled to have operations within that time. That is the newness of this Statement. Targets have improved outcomes.

There are a huge number of new policies in the Statement. When noble Lords read it carefully, they will see this. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for his support for legislation on cluster munitions and housing—that will be extremely useful as the legislation comes through the House in the coming months.

We understand that people want real help now and that they want the Government to provide it. That is why they will welcome the Statement. The noble Lord asked about the Royal Mail. My noble friend Lord Mandelson said on the radio this morning that the Bill is jostling for space in the legislative programme, but we are committed to implementing the Hooper review.

The noble Lord took us to task, as did the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for spending money and investing, but we believe that it is of fundamental importance to invest now in people, jobs and infrastructure in order to get us out of the recession and ensure that we come out the other side as a nation capable of taking advantage of new opportunities. We were criticised for putting off dealing with the deficit, but tightening spending too early could prolong and even deepen the recession. To ensure sound and sustainable public finances in the medium term, once economic shocks have worked their way through the system, the budget plans will halve borrowing within five years.

On the subject of constitutional renewal, the noble Lord mentioned the need for a mini-treaty to ratify the protocol for Ireland. That will come once talks have progressed with Croatia and possibly with Iceland on membership of the European Union. That is what we are waiting for in relation to a treaty. The noble Lord asked what the other place was doing in terms of reform. I draw the attention of noble Lords to the Wright committee. I mentioned Iceland because there are talks about Iceland at present—I will come back to that in future.

As far as concerns a parliamentary standards authority, I was under the impression that there was a broad consensus that it was right to go ahead with a parliamentary standards authority now in order to put the other place on a new footing to deal with the financial problems that it has encountered over the past months. I hope that, given the views expressed today, the consensus is not falling apart. On the subject of House of Lords reform, I understand the scepticism expressed by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, but the forthcoming legislation will build on the cross-party consensus that all parties have agreed on. The Government intend to present their proposals for comprehensive reform shortly and will produce a draft Bill in the next few months, having consulted the other main parties.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, criticised us because he felt that this was a manifesto. This is not a manifesto. It is entirely appropriate, following two unprecedented events—the global economic upheaval and the crisis of confidence in our parliamentary institutions—that the Government should set out new policies. We would deserve to be criticised if we did not do that. I am proud that we are still in government after 12 years and we intend to continue for much longer. I reflect that the Liberals have not been in power for some time.

The noble Lord asked about wind farms and what we were doing to ensure that British technology was used. I hope that the innovation fund mentioned in the Statement will provide public money to assist with wind power projects.

On the question of youth unemployment, of course we all fear for the employment prospects of our children and their peers. Again, that is precisely what the Statement does—it sets out our policies for ensuring that young people today do not suffer from the recession in the way that young people suffered in the past. With that, I look forward to further questions.