Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the Register. I have tabled this Take Note Motion in order that we should enjoy an opportunity to debate what the Merits Committee quite rightly identified as an issue of public policy that is likely to be of interest to your Lordships’ House. I am speaking, of course, of the merger of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform on 5 June this year.
The delayed date of the laying of this order, to accommodate the lack of Privy Council meetings in August and September, has given us an opportunity to assess the impact that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has had. So much was promised by the First Secretary of State in June that it is surely right that we should hold him to account for his delivery—or, as I will contend, his non-delivery—of those promises.
On 9 June, the Secretary of State assured this House:
“We have a new phoenix in this department, which will be able, I hope, to extend its reach to outer space and beyond”.—[Official Report, 9/06/09; col. 530.]
The First Secretary of State is nothing if he is not, as I suppose, ambitious. We have spoken before of his responsibility for outer space. I am not sure whether he realises that he also has responsibility for that hardy perennial issue, British Summer Time, so he is not only master of all he surveys but a Time Lord. He has underlined that point by enjoying several much publicised reincarnations and by taking us back in time, specifically, I would say, to the 1970s. This vast new department, headed by someone who cannot be held to account by elected Members in another place, is a ghastly throwback to the age of corporatism. Many of us had hoped and believed that that era had been consigned to the dustbin of history by the endeavours of my noble friend Lady Thatcher. It seems not; the Labour Party forgets nothing and learns nothing. Despite the supposed best endeavours of the First Secretary of State, Labour never fundamentally changes or modernises its view of the world.
The Secretary of State’s new department boasts 2,900 staff members and a budget of £22,000 million for this year. The reorganisation of departments confirmed that the £9 million spent on consultants and IT during the establishment of DIUS, only two years before, was completely wasted—and that does not even include the cost of establishing DBIS. I suppose that we have become accustomed in recent times to talking about billions, particularly when looking at government waste and profligacy, but even £9 million used to be thought rather a large sum of money when spent by the Government on futile gestures. I hope that one day it will be thought so again. A major reorganisation, so quickly reversed, is surely a candidate for being considered futile, even if it is not perhaps as egregious as the short-lived renaming of DBERR as DPEI in 2005.
Fundamentally, the matter in hand today is accountability. Can so vast a department really be held to account effectively when its only Cabinet Minister is here and not in another place? The First Secretary of State has intimated that he might be willing to go to another place to answer questions from colleagues there, but that totally misses the point. This country needs enterprise to deliver recovery; this is therefore a critically important department. It should be fully represented at Cabinet level in another place, where the elected representatives of this country are to be found.
We come to what the Secretary of State has achieved from his little list of promises. DBIS has certainly not helped our economy to come through this recession more strongly. On the latest published figures, the UK is not out of recession yet, unlike so many other developed countries in Europe and further afield. Indeed, it was marked as worst placed in the world’s major economies by the OECD last year. Sadly, there are now 51 companies going bust every day and there are record levels of individual insolvency. We are also suffering from the lowest level of business investment since records began. To which planet, in which part of his outer empire, has the Secretary of State withdrawn if he genuinely believes that, as a result of his efforts, we have a strong and competitive economy?
The many loan schemes and guarantees that DBIS has rolled out to support small businesses, provide credit and encourage growth have clearly failed to make a meaningful impact. The only two policies that have had any measure of success were ideas taken from the Conservative Party. The enterprise finance guarantee is a pale shadow of that much larger national loan guarantee scheme that we would have implemented. The Business Payment Support Service, which allows the deferral of certain taxes, is a copy of our VAT deferral scheme.
On the innovation and skills areas of the new department, it is apparent that DBIS is doing no better. The recent near-collapse of the Government’s system of student finance has gravely damaged universities, which have been forced to spend thousands of pounds on helping to tide over their students, many of whom are at the beginning of their first year. Struggling to pay your rent and food bills is hardly the most auspicious start to an academic career. The unique DBIS brand of so-called help has unfortunately been extended to other, non-university, learners as well. The Government have talked the talk of increasing investment in training, skills and apprenticeships but behind the scenes it is clear that this spin bears no relation to the facts.
We are now told that the Government are cutting £340 million from that budget as efficiency savings. It is true that waste is prevalent throughout Whitehall, but only £100 million of that far larger figure is apparently to be saved on administration and quangos. Around £250 million is to be drained directly from front-line services, such as apprenticeships and career development loans. It is estimated that this will lead to 335,000 fewer loans. How is this helping UK students to gain the skills and training that they so desperately need? How will it help to reverse the growing tide of youth unemployment? How does this embody the vaunted so-called investment, of which the Prime Minister so often aggressively speaks in another place? This may be only an interim report on DBIS itself, but we now have to consider almost 13 wasted years of this Labour Government, who have taken us from a golden economic inheritance in 1997 to a shambles now.
The recent appointment of the so-called sorcerer’s apprentice, the noble Lord, Lord Sugar, as an adviser to speak with the full authority of the Government, will supposedly revitalise the Secretary of State and his department. I have already alluded to the First Secretary of State’s penchant for the arrogation of powers and the accretion of titles. He is the Lord Pooh-Bah of our day. Live on the BBC this morning I heard the Secretary of State say on the “Today” programme, “Who is Pooh-Bah?”. I will tell him who Pooh-Bah is, with a strangely apposite refrain from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Mikado”, from Lord Pooh-Bah himself. He said:
“It is … my degrading duty to serve this upstart as First Lord of the Treasury, Lord Chief Justice, Commander-in-Chief, Lord High Admiral, Master of the Buckhounds, Groom of the Back Stairs, Archbishop of Titipu, and Lord Mayor, both acting and elect, all rolled into one. And at a salary! A Pooh-Bah paid for his services! I a salaried minion! But I do it! It revolts me, but I do it”.
When it really counts, can this Lord High Everything Else before us really deliver when it matters? I would say that the answer is plainly no. The failure of the First Secretary of State to secure the safe passage of the Postal Services Bill in the previous Session shows how all the titles in the world cannot deliver success if an unreconstructed Labour Party and an unreconstructed, weak and cornered Prime Minister obstruct the path of progress. The First Secretary of State repeatedly and emphatically told us that that Bill was essential for securing the future of the Royal Mail and essential for UK business generally. Sadly, it soon became the flagship that sank without trace. We heard yesterday that even the Secretary of State’s modest plans to expand the financial services provided by the Post Office are to be delayed until after the election.
Two weeks ago, when we were debating the Loyal Address, the Secretary of State’s noble friend Lord Myners expressed eagerness to hear more about Conservative policies. I sympathise entirely; I would much prefer to focus on what a newly elected Conservative Government would do than dwell on the abundant failings of this one. It is important to end on a positive note and to talk about some of the changes that we would make if we were able to bring the enormous resources of DBIS to bear on the problems that this Government have caused.
We will introduce our national loan guarantee scheme to help to get credit flowing again and allow small businesses to defer their VAT bills for up to six months. We will help small companies with their cash flow by cutting national insurance and corporation tax. We will encourage job creation through tax breaks for start-ups and companies that hire long-term unemployed people. Instead of cutting the number of apprenticeships available, we will fund 100,000 new apprenticeships every year and make sure that they are credible, rigorous and relevant. We will introduce a £60 million business skills development fund to promote non-apprenticeship skills that businesses need and employees want.
We will simplify research and development tax credits, targeting them more effectively at the small companies and start-ups that will drive the innovation and product development that our economy so badly needs. Instead of seeking to micromanage businesses, we will make substantial, transparent cuts to red tape and bureaucracy and make the institutional changes necessary to stop further regulatory creep. We will introduce the regulatory budgets that this Government have never properly delivered. I cannot emphasise enough how damaging this Government’s addiction to regulation has been to the UK economy—it costs us between 10 and 12 per cent of GDP—and how frustrating it has been for us to listen again and again to meaningless speeches from government Ministers about the importance of deregulation while they pass order after order after order. It is no accident that the words “regulatory reform” have been deleted from the title of this department.
That is not a full list of the improvements that a Conservative Government would bring. It does, however, amount to much more than DBIS is able to deliver under this Labour Government. I hope that this debate will go some way towards shaking the Secretary of State out of his complacency about how little he and his policies have benefited workers and businesses over the past six months. My message is: let us see an end to the empire building and a beginning to some serious enterprise building. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for introducing this Motion and giving us the opportunity to hear from the Secretary of State about this statutory instrument and the creation of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. We also welcome the Secretary of State back from Rotherham. He has had a long day.
Among underlying technical issues, we note how little say Parliament has over changes made to the structure of government. In 2007 the House of Commons Public Administration Committee noted that changes to the machinery of government are a royal prerogative, which the Government are very unlikely to want to give up. The report went on to note:
“There needs to be a mechanism to ensure that changes are fully considered before implementation, and that the reasoning behind them stands up to scrutiny”.
The Government argue that they must be able to act quickly to respond to urgent needs, but while speed may be important, as the committee noted, speed and parliamentary scrutiny are not incompatible. It stated,
“if government has a sensible and defensible rationale for changes then it should have no reason to be wary of debate”.
Can the noble Lord shed some light on the process by which the changes were decided and on the levels of consultation which took place with stakeholders?
There are also many administrative issues to consider. The reorganisation of departments is a costly business, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, explained. In 2007, DBERR and DIUS were set up as new departments. DIUS alone was reckoned to have cost £9 million to set up. In two short years, both departments have been found so defective that they have been scrapped. Has anyone been held accountable for such a costly exercise? What lessons have been learnt and passed on from this change to the machinery of government, both good and bad, for future changes to take into account?
Can the Secretary of State say how much DBIS cost to set up, where the money was found at a time when public spending is so stretched, and how the cost has been evaluated? There will be direct costs, such as signposts, graphic designs, stationery, websites, and so on, but reorganisations also carry less obvious costs—confusion both internal and external, establishing who is responsible for what, where queries should be directed, and uncertainties which lead to loss of efficiency. There is a danger that expertise will be lost in a reorganisation. It takes a considerable time for a knowledge base to be built up. What steps have been taken within the department to ensure continuity in key areas? What impact has the merger had on the morale of staff in the department, and what methods have been employed to gain feedback from staff about the merger?
Given the emphasis that the Government place on education, it seems that it has been poorly served in these changes. We wonder what arrangements have been made over the working relationship with DCSF, particularly regarding shared policies and programmes which span the two departments.
Science, too, seems to have been passed around departments. It has been proved beneficial to have responsibility for science and universities within the same department. Science spending and policy is central to this country’s future. We hope that within this wide-ranging department, neither universities nor science is neglected. In passing, we regret that the concept of “Universities” has disappeared from a departmental title, along with “Education”.
In the transfer, what has happened to the work which DIUS was undertaking to improve its efficiency, following criticism of its structure? What evaluations have the Government undertaken of the value of the creation of DBIS?
The Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee reported on the DIUS departmental report in December 2008, and judged it to be,
“by most standards a poor read ... written in an impenetrable style and peppered with jargon”.
It also contained,
“unsupported assumptions and claims designed to promote DIUS”.
My honourable friend in another place, Phil Willis, the committee's chairman, said:
“We were less than satisfied with the DIUS report”—
which is an understatement—
“which we found unhelpful and too reliant on promoting a positive tone rather than providing us with clear and comprehensive information. While we appreciate that it will take some time for DIUS’s work to be realised, this must not be used as an excuse to produce a sub-standard report. A more concise report written in plain English with independently verified statistics would be of far greater use next year”.
That may be of greater use, but not as useful as preserving the department's life.
Can we be assured that DBIS reports will be clearer and more helpful? DIUS was to make £1.5 billion efficiency savings by 2010-11. How will these be carried over to DBIS? How have they been re-evaluated in the bigger department? In answer to a question in June, the Secretary of State referred to the commitment of DBIS and said:
“We will provide help to businesses, universities and colleges, and to UK workers and students through training, skills, lifelong learning, first-class science and technology, further education and research policies”.—[Official Report, 9/6/09; col. 528.]
We wonder why that was not already being done through existing departments and whether finite resources would not have been used more profitably in supporting these aims, rather than in the disbandment and creation of government departments. We recognise that DBIS is now with us, for how long who can say. I hope the noble Lord may offer reassurances and clarify the thought, analysis and wisdom which influenced the changes. I look forward to his reply.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral, on securing the debate. I also congratulate myself on being here three days in a row. I do not think that shows any lack of accountability to Parliament. Of course, it is a great pleasure to be at the Dispatch Box.
I listened very carefully to what the noble Lord said. His remarks do not quite tally with what my shadow, Ken Clarke, has been saying recently. He has praised the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills for developing workable policies which he says he would try to match if elected. True, he damned the rest of the Government with faint praise, as he cheered my department to the echo. Perhaps they need to speak to each other and try to tie up what the Opposition’s views are. Having followed the noble Lord very carefully, I am none the clearer about whether he supports the merger of the two departments and the creation of DBIS and I do not know whether the Conservatives would reverse the situation if they were in power. I do not know which one of our growth measures they would take an axe to. I am not even sure he knows the answer.
None the less, it is good to have this opportunity to set out again the purpose of the new department and, more importantly, its progress. I am glad to say and to confirm at the outset that the merging of the two departments was remarkably inexpensive. It surprised me that it was the modern equivalent of two and sixpence. I would not draw any satisfaction from bandying around charges that this has cost taxpayers an excessive amount of money.
I start with the challenge which goes to the very heart of why the Prime Minister created this new department. We must recognise that we need to prepare this country for something more than just a cyclical economic recovery because the changes in the global economy are structural and they are not going away. They present dangers and opportunities for us in Britain. The pace and intensity of global competition will increase, not slacken. In due course, we will be challenged, even in the areas such as advanced manufacturing, financial services and the creative industries, which we rightly think of as our greatest strengths. Innovation, above all, will need to be the lifeblood of the British economy as we take on these challenges. Without that, there will be fewer new jobs and no rising standard of living. Whatever some on the Opposition Benches believe—or, at least, say—there will be no balanced budget without the economic growth that we now need to organise and commit ourselves to.
Economic growth is the biggest antidote to debt, which is why we should emphatically reject the Conservative policies of sweeping retrenchment that would simply derail the current recovery that is under way. That does not mean that all growth is the same. The growth that we need must be resilient, durable and widely shared—diversified both across the sectors of the economy and the regions of the country. It must be environmentally sustainable, it must be built on something more than turning a quick profit, because that is not the basis of a national business model. However important are the services that we supply in our economy and the invisibles we trade in, a huge part of our self-identity and creativity rests, and should rest, in what we make: the goods that our product and component manufacturers make. I am glad that a commitment to invest in and cultivate our modern manufacturing capabilities in Britain is becoming the hallmark of my department.
In Britain, we pay high wages and we believe in quality public services. These things are not, in my view, negotiable, but both of them depend on our ability to pay our way in a global economy. In a global supply-chain economy, Britain cannot and should not ever aspire to be a country that competes by undercutting on wage costs or employment standards. We must compete by adding value, not reducing it.
That puts a premium on what we do in knowledge, specialisation and sophisticated skills. It puts a premium on making this country one of the world's great repositories of scientific and technical knowledge and the ability to commercialise that knowledge. It puts a premium on thinking about the interests of business—not just the businesses that already exist, but those that do not yet, but are out there in every entrepreneur’s head. The question is: how do we help to create those future businesses?
We need to view industrial competitiveness not just as the end result of the discipline of the market but as the result of the right combination of private initiative and dynamism and public investment. Of course, private enterprise will always be the engine of the economy. We must encourage it, nurture it and reward it, but, at the same time, we need to recognise that our comparative advantages in this country are built on a complex network of essential capabilities, such as sophisticated skills, access to growth finance on the right terms, modern infrastructure and a strong science and research base. That is where government enters the picture, and where my department, in particular, finds its role.
Unfortunately, the backdrop of industrial policy in the 1970s and the anti-manufacturing prejudices of the 1980s have not served us well. That is why I tried to turn the argument around in the government policy framework, New Industry, New Jobs, this year. That is the policy challenge that BIS reflects—a modern industrial policy fit for the 21st century—and the agenda that it has driven forward effectively this year. Our remit is simple: to maintain the UK’s position as a dynamic, open-knowledge economy. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who introduced the debate, wants to hear my response to his very interesting remarks, but if he wants me to pause for a moment while I regain his attention, I will of course be happy to do so.
We have to use the influence of government to drive innovation and competitiveness and invest in the capabilities and resources that our people, businesses and society need in order to prosper in a global economy and drive this agenda in Europe, our biggest market, with an amplifier for our economic policy around the world. The logic for bringing the parts of government that do this work into a single team is compelling. Why should it be distributed or fractured among a number of different departments? Why not bring it together under one roof?
As a way of making what I am trying to describe a little more concrete, I shall refer to my visit to Rotherham this morning and describe our policies in action. I think that will assist your Lordships’ understanding of what the department is doing. Rotherham is one of the UK’s great manufacturing cities, along with Sheffield. Over the past 30 years, we have seen them reinvent themselves from metal-bashers to modern manufacturers. Fifteen years ago, too much of the talk in Sheffield was about what had been lost. These days it is increasingly about what is being built and renewed: new jobs, new industries and new ties to the global and European economies. Now, Sheffield has the potential to be a hub for the UK’s civil nuclear supply chain.
However, that will require a number of things to happen. First, it requires a clear commitment from government to nuclear in Britain’s energy mix so that private investors can move forward with confidence. With our planning statements for nuclear new build and clear strategies from the utility companies, they now have that confidence to invest to move forward. More than 300 companies have registered in the past nine months to be certified suppliers to EDF, Westinghouse and Areva. We are building up quite a supply chain to support and supply this nascent industry, for which we are seeing some renaissance.
This activity will need major private investors and the depth of experience to handle nuclear technologies. That is why the Government agreed to partner Rolls-Royce with £45 million of government investment in a range of advanced manufacturing plants, including a civil nuclear factory proposed for the South Yorkshire region. It will need a strong network of research strengths behind it, the strengths we committed to protecting and leveraging in my department’s new higher education framework, which is why, this morning, I announced that we will support the universities of Sheffield and Manchester in leading a new nuclear advanced manufacturing research centre in partnership with industry. I was pleased to visit it and speak there during my visit earlier today. It will need a growing pool of British technicians and scientists with the skills to handle civil nuclear technology. That is why we have created a nuclear skills academy and why we have just invested £8 million to upgrade the training facilities at the Dalton Cumbria facility. That is also why the ambition of my department’s new skills strategy last month was the creation of a new class of modern technicians in Britain through a big expansion of advanced apprenticeship numbers. Many of them will, for the first time, be able to move from apprenticeships to universities, where they will be able to train to the highest level in handling these new technologies. The point is that unless we understand the multiple capabilities and interconnected policies that produce these industrial outcomes, we will simply fail to achieve them. The levers here are university and science policy, business and innovation support, skills policy and strategic investment. BIS puts those levers in one place, under one roof, for the first time.
My Lords, I am immensely moved by the noble Lord’s love of all things nuclear, but I would be rather more moved by it had the Government not dilly-dallied for about 10 years before making up their mind and not sold off some of our great nuclear engineering capabilities. How does he square that with what he is saying now?
My Lords, the noble Earl should not take what I am saying simply as a love for all things nuclear, although I am very committed to the renaissance of civil nuclear capacity in this country both for manufacturing reasons and for purposes of energy security. Frankly, if the noble Earl is asking me a direct question, I will give him a direct answer. I am not sure that all the decisions that have been taken in the past 10 years on civil nuclear energy were the right ones or the most timely ones to have been taken. There are a whole number of other areas, such as the industrial and manufacturing sectors and policies, in which a little more forethought and activism of the sort that I am trying to create through this new department would have been well used if we had seen more of them not just in the past 10 years but in the past 20 and 30 years. The mistakes in industrial policy did not begin with this Government; they are, I am afraid, very much more long-standing than that.
I see from the noble Lord’s response that illustration is clearly the best means of argument, so let me give another example of what our policies mean in action. Earlier this year, Richard Lambert of the CBI said:
“The UK has the capacity to be a serious player in the manufacture of electric vehicles. What’s needed is for the industry to produce a credible road map identifying strengths and weaknesses—and for judicious public funding to support the necessary technology. That’s industrial activism”.
He got it in one. We now have that road map, which is one of a number of sectoral strategies that we have produced this year.
The UK now has the world’s biggest demonstrator project of its type for low-carbon vehicles. I underline that we have it because my department took the decision and the Government have chosen to fund it. It also has a low-carbon economic area in the north-east of England which leverages low-carbon automotive strengths in the same way as we are doing in Sheffield for nuclear. We are also investing in charging infrastructure and consumer subsidies for the first generation of low-carbon cars. Where have Toyota and Nissan chosen to base their low-carbon operations in Europe? In Britain, and they have done so as a result of our actions over the past year.
Britain also now has a new range of demonstrator and product development facilities for innovative small companies in key technologies such as industrial biotechnology, wind power, wave power and plastic electronics, because my department chose to fund them through the £750 million strategic investment fund that was created in the Budget earlier this year. We have a new Office for Life Sciences, which is giving the same kind of strategic direction in biosciences and the medicines industry. Jeff Kindler, the chief executive officer of Pfizer, has described the Office for Life Sciences as unique, forward-thinking and an effective model of government that works with industry and the health system, and he has recommended the model to the US Government.
My intention is that BIS will remain absolutely at the front line of public policy for protecting our enterprise environment, as the noble Lord rightly emphasised: getting our productive base through this recession intact, investing in the strategic capabilities that we will need for the future, and putting into place the economic conditions and industrial capabilities that we need for the future economic success of this country.
For the present, we remain on a crisis footing as regards business support. Since the global crisis began, more than 95,000 businesses have benefited from a free Business Link health check; some 6,850 businesses have been offered loans totalling £692 million through our enterprise finance guarantee scheme; and more than 150,000 businesses have been able to defer their tax payments by courtesy of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in order to help their cash flow during this last year of economic and financial crisis. Targeted measures, such as our car scrappage scheme and Train to Gain, which are both BIS initiatives—I assume that they have the support of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt—have helped to sustain demand and retain essential skills across British supply chains.
Our new strategies for adult skills and higher education represent a cast-iron commitment by us to our world-class university system and a new focus on ensuring that Britain has both the generic skills and the specialist STEM graduates and technicians that our modern economy requires. We are creating the new UK Innovation Investment Fund to create a new public/private source of investment in innovative companies, and we will build on this in our response to the Rowlands review on growth capital for SMEs. I am convinced that long-term finance for industrial investment in this country is not a cyclical problem but a structural one, and we are now responding to that market failure. We have put a lot of time and effort into creative and innovative finance in our banking sector; perhaps now we need a bit more focus on financing creativity and innovation in the rest of the economy.
We will also be producing our new tasking framework for regional and local government investment in economic growth, which will further strengthen the role of the regional development agencies in managing national investment and growth strategies across their regions. The RDAs have played a vital role over the past decade, training almost half a million people, securing or creating 200,000 jobs in our regions, and turning every pound that they have invested into £4-worth of economic growth. If noble Lords do not mind my saying so, I think it is characteristic of the tin ear that the current Conservative leadership has for the country’s growth needs that it has committed to scrapping the regional agencies, despite warnings from business that this will be a very reckless thing to do.
I conclude by saying with complete conviction that BIS is a department created in the public interest and it is delivering for the public’s economic, industrial and employment future. The immediate costs of setting up BIS have, as I indicated at the outset, been very limited—around £160,000 on changes to signage and offices. That is just 0.05 per cent of our total annual budget. We are also already delivering savings and greater efficiencies as a result of the merger.
With a great sense of pride and some satisfaction, I pay tribute to the hard work and professionalism of the BIS staff and their partner agencies, without whom the achievements of the past six months would have been simply impossible. They came to this new department with extraordinary enthusiasm and commitment to the work that they do. We have made painstaking attempts from the very outset, led by an excellent Permanent Secretary, Simon Fraser, to consult staff not just as a one-off exercise but on a continuing basis. We take very seriously what our staff say.
I hope that my wider public interest argument today is clear. Britain’s business environment and industrial base are not things that we can leave to chance. The base is strong, but we ignore its future needs at our peril. It needs to be stronger, smarter and more sophisticated. The department’s core remit is to ensure that Government investment in these capabilities ultimately pays for itself in new growth, new strengths and new opportunities in our economy. I believe that BIS is now uniquely equipped to do that, and I believe that it should command respect and support from all parts of your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Garden of Frognal, for her contribution to the debate, and I share in her frustration that on many of the clear questions she posed to the noble Lord the First Secretary of State, we still await an answer. To dismiss in particular one of her questions—that on what has been the real cost of setting up the department—by confining it to the cost of signage, misses the point. Just as we eventually got the figure of £9 million out of the wasted cost of setting up the previous exercise, we await with great interest to learn what is the real cost of this one.
I would say this to the First Secretary of State: I join him in his tribute to the skill and experience of his staff in the new department. It is not their fault that the Government keep chopping and changing departments. As my right honourable friend Kenneth Clarke and I and our team have said on several occasions, we pay tribute to the experience and skill of the staff. It was good to hear the First Secretary of State identify his support for his staff as well. That gives me an opportunity to stress that my criticism is of the First Secretary of State and his ministerial team, along with his predecessors in this Labour Government. In many ways, skilled and experienced civil servants look to Ministers for decisions. Sadly, out of this Government we have probably had more reviews than most West End musicals because things are reviewed time after time. My noble friend Lord Onslow pointed out that we have been waiting for a decision on nuclear energy for as long as I can recall, indeed since this Government first came into office. For the First Secretary of State to dismiss it and say that they have not wasted any time at all puts a new definition on time which, I suppose—as I pay tribute to him as perhaps the first time lord on modern earth—makes him right to seize this opportunity.
There are key questions he has not answered, and perhaps he might write to the noble Baroness and I—not communicate by mobile telephone but in a letter that he might also place in the Library. And could he possibly, at last, answer this question: what on earth has happened to the Postal Services Bill? I have asked him about it on many occasions and I am still awaiting his answer. Why was it not in the gracious Speech, why does he not bring it forward now, or is he still being blocked by his ministerial colleagues? Does he not owe it to this House, which spent so much time and energy on improving the Bill? Indeed, he paid tribute to this Chamber for having improved the Bill dramatically. The noble Lord first nods his head and now shakes it, which is an indication of the ambivalence of this Government and their inability to make decisions.
I should also say that he has not responded to my questions about £340 million-worth of cuts, which the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and now the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, and I along with several other noble Lords have asked about. Where are these £340 million-worth of cuts going to bite? For example, how is the First Secretary of State going to deal with the important knowledge-based economy? He has failed to touch on all the questions asked about the falling numbers in university places, for example.
In many ways, this is a timely debate because we are trying to work out what benefit the reorganisation of departments has brought. The Explanatory Memorandum is explicit. Under the heading “Impact”, it states:
“The impact on business … is foreseen to be nil … The impact on the public sector is likely to be negligible”.
This debate is about the purpose of the reorganisation. We are still asking all the questions. We will continue to ask all the questions, including the one that I know the First Secretary of State feels strongly about, because we shared the frustration of young people when we were involved in the administration of the British Youth Council together in the 1970s: how is this going to help to reverse the growing tide of youth unemployment? That is one of the biggest questions of all, but it still lies unanswered. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.