House of Lords
Thursday, 21 May 2009.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Ely.
The following Act was given Royal Assent:
Industry and Exports (Financial Support) Act.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to make a personal statement about the matters raised in the second report of the Committee for Privileges.
I express my gratitude to the Privileges Committee for its very careful consideration of this matter. I also thank colleagues in all parts of the House for their many expressions of personal support over what has been a very stressful four months. I of course accept the House’s findings and apologise to the House for any remarks that I may have inadvertently made in the course of my conversation with the journalists which demonstrated an inappropriate attitude to the rules governing the conduct of Members of this House.
Economy: Public Debt
To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they intend to start to reduce the public debt.
My Lords, the 2009 Budget forecasts that public sector net debt, including a cautious judgment for unrealised losses on financial sector interventions, will rise to 79 per cent of GDP by 2013-14. These projections are consistent with debt then falling as a proportion of GDP by 2015-16 and a return to cyclically-adjusted current balance by 2017-18, when the global shocks will have worked their way through the economy in full.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Does he agree with what the Governor of the Bank of England said last week about projections such as the ones he has just made? He said that,
“it is impossible to be certain about any projected path for the economy”.
Does that not mean that any projections by world famous economists, including the governor himself—or, indeed, even my noble friend Lord Peston—are only guesses and that in practice we do not know for certain when we are going to have an upturn in the economy? In those circumstances, is it not even more important that we do not start cutting public expenditure too soon? Can my noble friend give an assurance that any cuts in public expenditure or increases in taxation to reduce the debt will not happen until he is absolutely certain that there is a clear upturn in the economy?
My Lords, forecasting the future is difficult, as many economists are finding out. My noble friend is right that we have real uncertainties about the future but we can see the immediate needs—to which, of course, the Government are responding—of ensuring that we pursue strategies that get us through the downturn as rapidly as we can; preserving people in jobs as much as we are able; and retaining the skills of the nation, on which recovery is bound to be based. I hear what my noble friend says about the difficulty of forecasting. He will also know, of course, that the Treasury is obliged to give forecasts on where it thinks the economy is going over the next five to six years, and my opening Answer indicated the broad line of that approach.
My Lords, does the Minister recall that, as a small contribution to restoring the appalling state of the public finances, the Chancellor has promised—this is not a projection but a promise—efficiency savings of £44 billion over the six years from 2008-09 to 2013-14 inclusive? In order to give at least a smidgen of credibility to this figure, will the Minister now tell the House and the increasingly anxious financial markets precisely where these efficiency savings are going to come from and what they will consist of?
My Lords, of course there is going to be a considerable emphasis upon efficiency savings, but the noble Lord will know from his vast experience that this is a relatively small contributory factor to the overall position with regard to the public finances. It is an important dimension and one where he and his party colleagues have consistently said in the past that they can find endless amounts of potential efficiencies. I assure the House that the Government will identify the efficiencies that we can develop, and we expect the public finances to benefit from bearing down on such inefficiencies.
My Lords, central to my noble friend Lord Barnett’s question is the fact that, if you are adjusting fiscal policy, timing is of the essence. There is past experience that we could learn from. In the mid-1930s the US fiscal position shifted from expansionary to contractionary totally by mistake—it was simply an error. Monetary policy also shifted in that direction, again by mistake. The result was that US expansion, which was going along nicely, came to a sudden halt, and poor old President Roosevelt had to restart his policy.
My Lords, is it not therefore vital that we learn from that kind of experience—noble Lords opposite might also take the point that they should learn from it—and not make the same mistake in 2010? We should not be thinking of contractionary policies for 2010 at all.
My Lords, we certainly do need to learn the lessons of the past, and my noble friend has identified probably the most apposite one. He will recognise, though, that the Chancellor indicated in the Budget that we are making every effort to sustain the economy in this very sharp downturn. It is true that our debt is increasing, but it is doing so comparable with the other advanced world economies. It should be recognised—at times I despair of the Opposition recognising this factor—that it is not possible to put enormous constraints on public expenditure when the downturn is occurring; otherwise the consequences will be unemployment levels on a scale that we have not seen since the 1930s.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that UK Financial Investments is already hawking around the Government’s shareholding in Lloyds Banking Group and RBS to sovereign wealth funds and others. Will he assure us that the Government’s shareholdings in those banks will not be disposed of on the cheap in an attempt simply to reduce public debt in the short term?
My Lords, that is an important point. I can give the noble Lord that assurance. We intend to use our position in supporting the banks to guarantee, as far as we are able, that the banks follow strategies that are consistent with the policies that we are adopting to minimise the length of the downturn. We have not approached this issue with an excessively short-term perspective on what the financial sector needs.
My Lords, will the Minister accept that, given the crucial role of funding the debt in determining the money supply, the decision of Mr Gordon Brown to transfer responsibility for it from the Bank of England to the Debt Management Office, which has no expertise in economic management, was a mistake and that responsibility ought to be transferred back to the Bank of England?
My Lords, but what the Debt Management Office has is the clear and necessary objective of protecting the United Kingdom economy and government lending, with its three-star credit position. The noble Lord will appreciate that, even in these very difficult times—none of us doubts for one moment the very difficult time that the British economy, along with other advanced world economies, is going through—our credit rating is being sustained.
Children: First-Time Mothers
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what services the National Health Service is required to provide to first-time mothers with regard to the care and development of the child, both before and after the child is born.
My Lords, the National Health Service is required to provide a range of services to first-time mothers. This includes a programme of antenatal appointments and scans during pregnancy, and screening tests and immunisations during the child’s early years. We are currently placing greater emphasis on early access to maternity care, particularly for young mothers and those from disadvantaged and ethnic minority groups, who may delay seeking care. We also provide support for both mothers and fathers after the baby is born.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the quality of the relationship and attachment between a mother and her child in the first few years of that child’s life is crucial in the way in which the child develops? Will the Government undertake to ensure that all NHS trusts, and not just some, provide first-time mothers with the advice and support that they need? Would this surely not be a worthwhile investment, bearing in mind the enormous cost and risk that children are at if they are not properly parented in those early years?
My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely correct. I pay tribute to the huge amount of work that he has done in your Lordships' House to support parents and parenthood. He is absolutely right: we recognise the importance of supporting parents in the early years of a child’s life. Women and their partners are offered antenatal and parentcraft classes, which are provided in a variety of ways; either one to one with the midwife, through group discussions, or in the bounty pack of information—which I am happy to share with anyone who wishes to see it—that is provided to new parents.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for sharing with me the pregnancy bounty pack—not that either of us needs it at the moment—which is very good. What specific initiatives are being undertaken for teenage mothers? Women do not get pregnant by themselves. Therefore, what is available for fathers before the birth?
My Lords, my noble friend is right. We are working hard to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies, with some sign of success, but there is no doubt that teenage parents and their children are likely to experience a range of poor outcomes unless we are determined to try to break cycles of disadvantage. We are therefore tailoring antenatal services to address the vulnerability of teenage parents, both the mother and the father. We are encouraging them with advice on diet and nutrition during pregnancy, intensive health visitor support through a family-nurse partnership and with financial support for childcare, so that teenage parents under 20 who want to return to education and work-based learning can do so.
My Lords, given how important health visitors are to new mothers, why have the Government allowed their numbers to fall so dramatically?
My Lords, it is certainly true that the number of health visitors has reduced in recent years. Therefore, we have prioritised an increase in that workforce and its capability. We have a joint action programme with the SHAs, commissioners and other stakeholders. There was a summit on 5 May about precisely this matter. To recruit and train more health visitors and get their numbers back up is an absolute priority.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that more than 500,000 women die every year in developing countries because of lack of care at birth and the lack of midwives and support staff? Their children, if they survive, get no support at all. Could the Minister pledge to this House that whatever extra staff we need for maternal and child care in this country will come from people trained here and will not be recruited from developing countries, where the need is so much greater?
My Lords, the noble Baroness raises a very important point. In fact, there has been a 25 per cent increase in the number of students entering training to become midwives in this country.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend, particularly for her first response. I ought, perhaps, to declare an interest as president of Straight Talking, an organisation designed to help teen mothers get through the initial stages concerning birth. I want to refer specifically to my noble friend’s point about maternity care. The Government have recently produced a document, Maternity Matters, which I understand is aimed at providing access and continuity of care as well as choice for women. How is that document going to be implemented, and how will the choice element of it be followed through?
My Lords, my noble friend is quite right; delivering Maternity Matters is a commitment priority for the NHS and in its operating framework for 2009-10. It is part of the NHS Next Stage Review, and all SHAs have set out plans to implement Maternity Matters to provide high-quality, safe maternity care for women and babies in their areas.
My Lords, if it is still government policy that all pregnant women should have the right to choose where to give birth, what additional resources and services will be provided to cope with the inevitable adverse consequences of women with high-risk pregnancies choosing to give birth at home?
My Lords, I know that the noble Baroness has expressed her concern about this matter in the past. The point about Maternity Matters is that women should, indeed, be able to choose, but should do so in consultation with their doctors and midwives about their birth plan, whether it is a home birth or a midwife facility. We have invested an additional £330 million in PCTs for maternity services to make sure that those choices which women are offered are safe and can be delivered in a proper fashion.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what strategic support they are providing to United Kingdom lawyers who will assist the United Nations Human Rights Council’s investigation into any violations of human rights and international law in Gaza.
My Lords, the UK Government have not been approached to provide support to UK lawyers assisting the United Nations Human Rights Council fact-finding mission, led by Justice Goldstone. However, we urge both Israel and Hamas to co-operate with that mission and will consider carefully any report it produces. We have consistently said that all credible allegations of breaches of international humanitarian law during the military operation, by either side, should be properly investigated.
My Lords, the messages coming out of Israel have, so far, been of not co-operating with the investigation by the United Nations Human Rights Council. What pressure are our Government prepared to put on Israel to ensure that it co-operates, or will Israel again get away with breaches of international law and the Geneva Conventions without any international censure, on the pretext that some sort of peace process is going on? How can we honestly expect dictators such as President Bashir in Sudan to obey international law if Israel consistently gets away with breaking it?
My Lords, the noble Baroness’s views on this matter are well known. She is, essentially, right that we cannot have a double standard. That is why we have pressed Israel to accept the investigation of the Human Rights Council led by Justice Goldstone. He has made it clear that he is looking at crimes against humanitarian law that might have been committed by both sides. We have warned Israel that it will be an extraordinarily bad own goal, if you like, if it does not allow Justice Goldstone access or co-operate with his inquiry.
My Lords, as the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, has said that there is no need for further investigation beyond the report of the United Nations board of inquiry and of Israel’s own investigations, what additional light does my noble friend expect the United Nations Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission to shed on the Gaza conflict?
My Lords, the UN board of inquiry was limited to the investigation of incidents involving attacks on UN premises or staff. The Human Rights Council inquiry is a much broader look at war crimes in their entirety that might have been committed by either side.
My Lords, has the Minister any information on whether the United States Administration are also pressing the Israeli Government and Hamas—although they are somewhat handicapped by an absence of communication there—to co-operate with Judge Richard Goldstone’s inquiry? Could he go a little further than saying that we will study Judge Richard Goldstone’s recommendations when they come out? We should surely be making it clear that we will back them, and that we will not let the matter rest there.
My Lords, the United States is engaged in an entirely welcome effort to move forward a diplomatic solution to this conflict. The President met the Israeli Prime Minister on Monday and will meet President Mubarak of Egypt and the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, later this month. I am sure that the Goldstone inquiry has featured within that, but I think that the US eye is set on the long-term goal here—a peace settlement that will last.
I think the noble Lord would accept that one first studies Justice Goldstone’s findings and then decides how to handle them. I have to speak carefully in this House which is so full of distinguished lawyers, but Justice Goldstone is probably one of the world’s most distinguished judges. He has an absolutely impeccable reputation for neutrality. He played a heroic role in the events that ended apartheid in South Africa, and in the subsequent investigation of those events. I cannot think of a more neutral man to lead such an inquiry.
My Lords, is the noble Lord surprised that there are reports that many in Gaza are increasingly cynical about the international rule of law in the circumstances? Is he absolutely confident that the current process meets his own demand made in this House that there should be,
“an adequate international investigation and, if necessary, adequate international accountability through international justice systems”.?—[Official Report, 6/2/09; col. 934.]
Is what we are seeing even adequate?
My Lords, we have to see whether Justice Goldstone is able to complete his work. He is expected to report in June to the Human Rights Council. He has made it clear that if he is unable to enter through Israel, he will enter through the Rafah crossing. We should wait to see his report before concluding whether it meets the commitment that I gave to the House, and which I think we all agree is enormously important. For the people of Gaza, for the standing of Israel, and for international law more generally, it is important that these alleged crimes be looked into.
My Lords, while welcoming these steps taken by the Government on this issue, is it right that initially the UNHCR was proposing to launch an investigation into alleged breaches of rights by Israel alone, and omitted all allegations against Palestinian militants based in Gaza, including rocket attacks on Israel?
My Lords, my noble friend is right. Indeed, that was the initial approach of the Human Rights Council. It goes to exactly my point about Judge Goldstone and his independence and quality, that he insisted—if he was to take on this mandate—that he look at alleged war crimes by both sides.
My Lords, does the Minister not agree, particularly after his first Answer to this Question, that it is interesting that B’Tselem and the other highly respected Israeli human rights groups are all in favour of further thorough investigations?
My Lords, I think it is important and is a reflection of the fact that there are people of good will on all sides of this who, whatever their views about the conflict and its origins or long-term peace, recognise that in today’s world these kinds of crimes, whether they occur in Gaza, northern Sri Lanka, or Darfur, must be subject to international accountability.
My Lords, to be fair, we are in the 24th minute.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the political and humanitarian consequences of the conflict in Somalia.
My Lords, the Djibouti process led to the expansion of the Somali Parliament and its selection of a new President. The formation of a more broadly based Government provides the best opportunity to create a lasting peace and reconciliation necessary for tackling the ongoing humanitarian crisis. Although that Government are battling an assault by the armed insurgency, they must continue to strive for further reconciliation with those outside the political process.
My Lords, if we are really determined to prevent the terrorists affiliated to Al-Shabaab taking over the whole country, is it not necessary to provide greater support in terms of logistics and training, both for the Government’s armed forces and for the AMISOM troops? With regard to the humanitarian crisis, is the noble Lord aware of any steps being taken through the Security Council or otherwise to meet the gap of two-thirds in the funding to meet the needs of the 400,000 people displaced internally, and a similar number in refugee camps in neighbouring countries, particularly Kenya?
My Lords, the noble Lord has repeatedly brought the question of Somalia to this House’s attention, and correctly so, because it is often one of those forgotten crises. About 40 per cent of the country’s population are displaced, completely dependent on international aid, and it has been very difficult to get it there. Despite the current upsurge of fighting, the distribution continues in key places such as Mogadishu, and the World Food Programme delivered something like 35,000 metric tonnes of food last month. On the noble Lord’s other point, we are also seeking to make sure that AMISOM, to which we have contributed generously, is properly supported during this crisis; and there was a move in the Security Council last week to make sure that the transitional Government’s armed forces be supported with the resources they need and to deal with this critical issue of salaries to soldiers and police.
My Lords, is it true that the Eritrean army is yet again invading Somalia and helping the Al-Shabaab rebels? I do not know whether the Minister has any news on that. One area where we in this country have a direct interest is the offshore piracy. Is it correct that the Iranians now want to contribute through their naval resources to the anti-piracy movement? Might this not be at least one area where, despite all our disagreements with Iran on everything else, we could co-operate with it?
My Lords, on the noble Lord’s first point, there is pretty strong evidence of Eritrean collusion in the upsurge of violence against the Government and of possible arms resupply to the rebels by the Eritreans. They were condemned in a Security Council presidential statement at the end of last week and have furiously denied the charges, but frankly that does not give me much confidence—it does not mean that the charges are not true. There is also a real risk of this situation escalating; there have been reports, again denied, of Ethiopian troops returning into Somalia. This is an enormously serious challenge to the Government and we all have reason to be very concerned to support and reinforce them over the coming weeks. I will have to get back to the noble Lord on his second point about Iran and piracy.
My Lords, given the mayhem that has characterised Somalia for so long, is there not a case for reconsidering the whole question of recognising the Government in Somaliland, the former British protectorate, which at least is stable and orderly?
My Lords, this is one of those perennial issues which, quite rightly, come up every time that Somalia lurches back into crisis. The noble Lord knows our position, which is that we try to give Somaliland support but we think that its status and potential independence must be dealt with through African forums: first, through talks between the two sides in Somalia and, subsequently, through the AU. We do not think that British recognition of Somaliland would help its goal of independence.
My Lords, we have a large Somali community in Liverpool. Has there been any contact between the Government and local authorities where there are large Somali communities, to address possible tensions that might arise within those communities?
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate raises an important point. I will look into it and ensure that information is being shared. Broadly, I do not think—although he knows better than I do—that this is a situation where our Somali British community is divided, as is the case with some other conflicts with which we have been dealing. I think that among Somalis resident here there is quite broad support for the transitional Government; indeed, one very distinguished British citizen is now the Foreign Minister.
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, in the immensely difficult situation as he described it, a priority is to regain access for the free-standing non-governmental humanitarian agencies, which are perceived to have no political agenda of their own and are therefore in a particularly strong position to make a contribution in a fraught situation? Does he also accept that humanitarian assistance and the political dimensions are seldom in watertight compartments and that, in approaching lasting solutions, it is terribly important to listen very carefully to non-governmental organisations about what they are learning in the context of their work?
My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely correct about the critical role of humanitarian non-governmental organisations. DfID is in daily contact not just with the UN agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross but also with the NGOs involved, to try to work out how we can programme an additional £3.5 million of support. The NGOs are obviously suffering from the same difficulties as the UN agencies, including the huge difficulty of deploying staff there due to the dramatic security situation.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, with the leave of the House, my noble friend Lord West of Spithead will repeat the Statement on Gurkhas immediately after the debate in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith.
Code of Conduct: Leader's Group
My Lords, following yesterday’s agreement to the reports of the Committee for Privileges, I have undertaken to inform the House of the next steps in relation to the code of conduct. Today, I have set up a Leader’s Group with the terms of reference as follows: to consider the code of conduct and the rules relating to Members’ interests and to make recommendations. I am delighted to say that the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, has agreed to chair the group. The other members will be my noble friend Lady Jay of Paddington, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, the noble Lords, Lord Kingsland and Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market, and my noble friend Lord Hart of Chilton.
The group expects to meet during the first week of June, immediately after the Whitsun Recess, with a view to reporting back to me before the end of the current Session. I will take any findings to the Committee for Privileges and it will ultimately be for the House to approve any recommendations. Once the House has implemented such recommendations, in due course I would look for them to be administered by the proposed independent parliamentary regulator, to which I alerted the House yesterday.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving me early sight of her brief Statement this morning, and I very much welcome the announcement of the Leader’s Group to look at the code of conduct. However, I am less clear as to why she added the last paragraph about the independent parliamentary regulator, as yesterday it appeared that we know very little about that post. As the noble Baroness has mentioned it, I wonder whether she is in a position this morning to tell us a little bit more about when we can expect legislation, how the consultation process is to take place, whether the Government will publish a Green Paper or a White Paper, and whether she believes that legislation will be on the statute book before the next general election.
My Lords, I welcome the setting up of this group—to borrow an American phrase, there will not have been so much talent around one table since Thomas Jefferson dined alone. I also share the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, about our relationship with this new parliamentary body. It would be a good lesson for this House if we proceeded with caution.
My Lords, I entirely agree that we need to proceed with caution, and I am grateful to both noble Lords for making that point. I was simply trying to be coherent and consistent with what I said yesterday. I do not have any further information about the new body now, but I think that it is terribly important that we continue our work as a House and do what we know needs to be done. As soon as I have further information relating to potential legislation, I will of course come to the House.
Healthcare across EU borders (EUC Report)
Motion to Refer to Grand Committee
That the report of the European Union Committee Healthcare across EU Borders: A Safe Framework (4th Report, HL Paper 30) be referred to a Grand Committee.
European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Maritime Labour Convention) Order 2009
National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Agriculture and Rural Development) Order 2009
Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (Establishment of Conservation Board) (Amendment) Order 2009
Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (Establishment of Conservation Board) (Amendment) Order 2009
Motion to Refer to Grand Committee
That the draft orders be referred to a Grand Committee.
To call attention to the changes required of society to meet the 2050 carbon dioxide emissions target set by the Climate Change Committee; and to move for Papers.
My Lords, in moving this Motion I remind the House that we live very much in a globalised world where our best interests must take into account what is happening elsewhere. We know that the global population is heading for 9 billion people by 2050, from 6 billion today. Supplying the resources to support that increase will strain our ingenuity as well as our present standard of living. One effect will almost certainly be that agricultural land will be focused almost entirely and exclusively on food production and will not be available to produce energy. Here in the United Kingdom our own population is heading for 80 million by 2050. These increasing numbers mean that meeting their energy demands will be likely to negate much of the gain that we hope to achieve through better fuel economy in what we are doing today.
The decision of the Committee on Climate Change to raise the target for greenhouse gas emission reduction to 80 per cent by 2050—a very neat movement in the goalposts—will require a much more focused approach than we have at present. It is worth noting that if we simply use carbon dioxide as the measurement, because greenhouse gases were not in the basket at that time, then we passed the level which we are now required to meet in about the middle of the 19th century, when our population was less than 25 million.
Some industries that are fundamental to modern society have no alternative but to use fossil fuel. The metal smelting industries use fossil fuel to reduce ores to base metals; we cannot do without them. The cement industry requires a similar process with similar emissions. Aviation, because of the problem of energy density, might well be included within this category of essential industry. Agriculture—my own industry—emits around 8 per cent of the United Kingdom’s greenhouse gases because of the livestock sector. That is food, so we can do nothing about it. These essential industries will take up the major part of the 20 per cent that is left for greenhouse gas emissions after 2050. In any event, any residual free capacity at that point will be too small to support any major industrial output. If that presumption is correct, everything else will have to change and become zero emissions-based. That is why I initiated this debate today.
We should not overestimate the problem. It remains the fact that any establishment, commercial or domestic, which runs exclusively on electric power is already a zero-emissions establishment. Of course, there is a problem with that, a problem that affects us all: the electricity generating industry, which may be our proxy in this regard, emits huge quantities of greenhouse gases at present and is not as energy-efficient as it could be. However, if we can source our electricity without greenhouse gas emissions, a major problem is solved.
The Government's decision on carbon capture and storage is welcome—I have some doubts about both cost and competitiveness, and I understand that the process is not 100 per cent efficient in capturing carbon, but it is welcome—and we must explore it, but there are many other sources of greenhouse gas-free electricity. Nuclear power is a well known, proven technology. Wind power is another proven technology and, again, the Government have taken action to promote it. Hydroelectricity in this country is already near its capacity, but we could use turbine technology to extract more power from the rivers. Estuarial barrages are a proven technology. They are very expensive, but the high cost is offset in many ways by their very long service life. Tidal stream and wave technologies are very much at the prototype stage, but, again, for us in this island, they have high potential. Domestic and other waste can be digested into methane to generate electricity with a fertiliser residue, and microgeneration in all its forms will unquestionably make a considerable contribution.
Above all—something I have not mentioned so far—is solar power, an almost unlimited resource. The latest prototype solar power-generating stations can capture enough heat during the day that they can then release it at night and continue generating for 24 hours a day. If the sun is not powerful enough here, is that a matter of concern? We already ship gas and oil through pipelines or in large tankers across thousands of miles to meet our needs. Why could we not transmit large quantities of electricity, probably as direct current, where the transmission losses are less, in a similar way?
A more difficult issue is land-based transport. Railways are no problem. They are already almost completely powered by electricity, and it would not be difficult to ensure that they were totally electrically driven. Road transport is not so straightforward, and we are very road transport-dependent. However, it is interesting that the technology required to make road transport emissions-free already exists and has done for some time. We simply need the willpower to develop it. The Government have made a welcome move on battery cars, which unquestionably have a place in the outcome that we are looking for, but I have doubts about them on two grounds. First, I am not sure that heavy road transport can afford the weight penalty that batteries imply. I am not sure, either, that I like the idea of those batteries being disposed of—and they will have to be. They will contain large quantities of noxious material and will present a major problem when battery-powered cars are in general use. There is also the problem of the long refuel time required.
It is of interest that New Holland Clayson has a prototype fuel cell-powered agricultural tractor with 120 horsepower. It has produced this on the basis that agriculture has the space to generate its own hydrogen, which is what the fuel cell depends on for its power. That could easily be developed and enhanced for heavy transport. We have had buses on the streets of London powered by fuel cells. Again, they have been prototypes and have run very successfully. I believe that I am right in saying that they will be back here again, some time next year or the year after.
Honda has fuel cell cars going on lease to customers in California, where it seems likely that they intend to make one road a hydrogen highway with sufficient infrastructure. These cars are similar in performance to present-day cars, but, unlike the battery-powered cars, can be refuelled completely in a matter of minutes. Hydrogen, the fuel for these vehicles, is the most common element in the universe. The fuel cell exhaust is pure water. Hydrogen can be generated from water using greenhouse gas-free electricity. That means we need increased generating capacity, but if we mean business, we will have to adopt some technology of this nature. The 2050 target is achievable but one has to acknowledge that there is a big question of cost. At the moment it looks as though the cost will be frighteningly high. All our experience, however, shows that as new technologies develop, particularly in the initial stages, the costs come down with further experience, development and mass production.
This all sounds pretty radical, and probably a bit extreme. And it may well not be the answer. I have moved this Motion today not because I have the answer—although I would love to say that it is the answer—but because we cannot afford to wait until 2030 to find that the existing, rather hit-and-miss proposals, which are all done with the best of intentions, will not actually meet the target that has now been set. The critical date is 2050. If we are a bit slow at the start it does not really matter, but we must be absolutely sure that we can get there.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, on securing this important debate. The Government have much to be proud of in their record on climate change. They have pushed forward the agenda at Kyoto. They have enforced the climate change levy. This Government enacted the Climate Change Bill. That said, the debate is too important to give in to partisan instincts. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, is quite right to focus on what really matters: the practical changes we all need to make to reduce emissions.
I do not propose to go over the details of the targets set in the excellent report of the Committee on Climate Change. Whether we focus on the 34 per cent reduction in emissions that it proposed for 2020 or the 42 per cent that it suggested if we reach agreement in Copenhagen, both will require enormous changes in every aspect of our lives. That means we must address both local social changes and global challenges. Individuals and nations often put off doing what is right for the planet because of fears over cost, economic consequences or impracticality. People want to protect the planet, but they also wish to live within their current means. Those in power should understand the pressures people face and try to help them to take environmentally friendly decisions.
One way to square the circle is to develop superior technological solutions to global environmental challenges. There are two stages to doing this. First, there are incremental steps to lowering energy consumption. We can develop and deploy photonics and plastic electronics that will deliver high-quality, low-energy lighting. Lighting causes as much as 20 per cent of UK emissions, so this would help consumers to change their impact on the environment. Such steps might also involve finding better alternatives to plastic bags and the more energy-efficient use of public transport during the school run. These technological and social changes will have a minor impact individually but will make major differences as they accumulate.
Next, major step changes in the way in which our society works, such as modal shifts in transport, have an impact not only on individuals but on the way in which we all live. On these, we need to take a cradle-to-grave approach to emissions reduction. For example, implementing electric cars requires a major network of power supply stations. Yet if our energy transmission and production systems are not green, reducing tailpipe emissions by burning ever more coal and gas is unsustainable. We might well be better investing our resources in lightweight materials, tyre technology and driver assistance systems, especially if other countries cannot plug cars into a national grid without building dozens of new power stations. After all, we need to develop low-emission technologies that are applicable globally if we are to drive social change worldwide, not just at home.
The International Energy Agency says that we will see a growth in global CO2 emissions from 27 gigatonnes in 2005 to 42 gigatonnes by 2030. India and China will account for almost half of that emissions growth. Why are their emissions rising so fast? Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that 6 per cent of global emissions, or 1.7 billion tonnes of CO2, were caused by goods exported from China. That is a third of China’s total emissions. As one of the biggest consumers of those exports, we must recognise that our relentless hunger for low-cost, high-tech goods creates emissions elsewhere in the global economy, and we must take steps to address the emissions that are created by our demand. That is the issue lurking in the sustainably sourced woodpile, if the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, will forgive the pun.
To reduce emissions, we must make individual, society-wide and global changes at the same time. To take one example, we know that western businesses and drivers cause the greater part of car emissions, so we need stricter regulations to reduce tailpipe emissions. We saw just this week the agenda that President Obama and Governor Schwarzenegger have set up to help to reduce car emissions; but we cannot leave it at that, welcome though such regulations are. We must also help to change the behaviour of individual members of our society. A driver employing a low-carbon driving style can save up to 40 per cent of their fuel consumption, according to Japanese research that builds on work done by our own Institution of Mechanical Engineers just across the road. That kind of saving will happen only if thousands of drivers are trained to have a low-carbon driving style and if we develop technology—such as stop-start ignition systems, which are already there—that makes it simple for everyone to drive with lower emissions. Yet even this will not be enough. The scale of the green challenge cannot be confined to one individual or one society alone.
We know that many of the component manufacturers that supply parts for our cars are located in other countries, so the emissions from component production are kept there. We also know that as the population of developing countries becomes wealthier, there will be increased demand for vehicles, just as we have seen in Britain in the past 60 years. Component and car manufacturers around the world must develop sustainable technologies if we are to reduce global emissions. Today, those businesses are looking for our help. We must offer it or be left behind when others do. If we work with suppliers, manufacturers, technologists and researchers around the world, we stand a better chance of making the changes that we need at home and helping emerging markets to cut their own emissions. This will help our global partners to make changes in their society as we improve our own. It will make reducing emissions far more co-operative and far more profitable for us.
We cannot know for certain the most effective path to reduce emissions. We do know that, whatever happens, the research and work that is being done around the world will find ways to reduce emissions. In transport, this could be through battery technology, hybrids, driver education, tyre technology or lightweight materials; it might well be all of these together. However, if Britain is to contribute significantly to this global environmental challenge, we must help individuals to change their behaviour, research to develop new technologies, and co-operate on a global level to reduce emissions. This effort must reach every corner of our society.
There are two societal changes we must make if we are to help deliver a lower emissions world. The first change is to take responsibility for changing our own behaviour step by step, process by process, and technology by technology. The second is to invest in global, low-emissions technology, both for ourselves and for those around the world who have a shared interest in a greener global society.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith for introducing this debate, which has given us two interesting speeches already. Last week, when we debated the climate change orders, my noble friend Lord Leach of Fairford, at the start of his brilliant exposition which thoroughly demolished the Government’s case on climate change, picked up a metaphor which he said had been used by the noble Lord, Lord Lea of Crondall, although I have not been able to find it in Hansard. This was to the effect that the debate reminded him of ships passing in the night. Endorsing this metaphor, my noble friend Lord Leach said that he would rather sail on HMS “Lawson” than on HMS “Stern”. I, too, would rather sail on HMS “Lawson”, and in the absence today of the captain of that ship—and of the first officer—as a humble rating, I step on deck to put an opposing view to that of the Government.
The Minister’s boss, the Secretary of State, Mr Ed Miliband, has famously said that he would like opposition to wind farms to become as socially unacceptable as not wearing a seatbelt or failing to stop at a zebra crossing. Incidentally, not wearing a seatbelt and not stopping at a zebra crossing are both offences, as I know only too well, since the only endorsement I ever received to my driving licence was for failing to stop at a zebra crossing. However, the Minister is, I know, too democratic to wish to stifle debate, and I am sure he will not repeat his boss’s remark, which is as overbearing as it is wrong-headed. He has absolutely no chance of getting those who oppose wind farms to be treated as social pariahs. Up and down the land, the most respectable of citizens—pillars of their local societies who would not dream of not fastening their seatbelts or not stopping at zebra crossings—are coming forward to protest against the destruction of our finest countryside, despite the iniquitous pressures lined up against them.
One of those pressures is the regional targets. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool is to speak in a moment. To judge from his intervention the other day, he seemed to be asking for sanctions to be applied to local authorities in cases where regional renewable energy targets have not been met. I hope we will see nothing of the kind. Regional renewable energy targets were set by unrepresentative, unelected and now defunct regional assemblies. In the case of the north-west region, with which I am familiar, the targets set for Cumbria were entirely inappropriate and were opposed throughout by the elected county council.
If one believes in the desirability of reducing carbon emissions, encouraging wind energy is the most absurd way to go about it. Why? Because wind power has to be backed up by fossil fuel power stations, which have to be continuously turned on and off as the wind comes and goes. Nuclear power stations are no good for that purpose as they lack the necessary flexibility. However many wind turbines are eventually built, there will still have to be a sufficient capacity of conventionally generated electricity to satisfy on its own peak demand plus a margin of perhaps 10 per cent. Wind turbines also destroy the coastline and the finest landscapes in the country, which have been a magnet for visitors from all over the world. They are viable only with colossal subsidies, which the Government constantly have to ratchet up in a desperate bid to maintain the momentum of their renewable energy commitment.
Perhaps I can illustrate the extravagance by the example of the London Array offshore wind farm, which is now back on track as a result of the Government having substantially increased in the Budget the subsidies available to offshore wind power. This wind farm is planned eventually to have up to 341 turbines, spread over 245 square kilometres, 12 miles off the Kent and Essex coasts in the Thames estuary. Let us suppose that the turbines each have an installed capacity of 3 megawatts. The total installed capacity will be more than 1,000 megawatts, producing something more than 300 megawatts per annum, assuming a 30 per cent load factor. At a conservative capital cost estimate of, say, £2.5 million per installed megawatt, the cost will be something of the order of £2.5 billion, or perhaps £3 billion. The ROC subsidy, which is now increased, that is available to the developers should amount at current ROC prices to something between £250 million and £300 million a year, a sum which is added to consumers’ electricity bills.
Meanwhile, in the field of unsubsidised energy, the recently consented 2,000 megawatts combined cycle gas turbine due to be built at Milford Haven will produce up to 1,800 megawatts a year, compared to London Array’s 300 to 400 megawatts. Each one of its five turbines will therefore produce as much electricity or more as the London Array in its entirety ever will. It will cost £800 million, according to the developer, compared to £2.5 billion to £3 billion for the London Array. It probably will occupy about 20 acres as opposed to 90 square miles. The London Array will have to have fossil fuel power stations backing it up. Which of those would make the most efficient contribution to our economy?
Incidentally, I have seen it written that the London Array will produce enough electricity to power 750,000 homes. Such claims are frequently put forward for wind farms, but they are thoroughly misleading. No wind turbines can ever produce enough electricity for any homes unless the occupants wish to be without power for between 10 and 100 days a year at moments which they have not chosen and usually when the weather is at its coldest.
I find it hard to understand why the Government think that wind power is the route to reduce CO2 emissions. The Netherlands, Germany and Denmark are all way ahead of us in the amount relatively of wind-generated electricity they produce, yet none has succeeded in bringing down its per capita CO2 emissions, which are all higher than ours. The two European countries which display considerably lower per capita CO2 emissions than us are Sweden, which produces much of its electricity by hydro-electric power, which this country cannot do much to increase, and France, which produces 80 per cent or most of its electricity from its nuclear power stations. Yet it is the policy of Germany and Denmark, not of France, that the Government have been so keen to follow.
The Government’s renewable energy policy adopted to prepare us for the distant and debatable threat of climate change of course does nothing to help us deal with the much more immediate threat to our energy security posed by the closing down of up to one-third of our obsolete power stations and—taking up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bhattacharyya—perhaps I might add that it is aggravated by a prospect of a London filled with electric cars. Indeed it detracts from the achievement of that objective because it leaves huge quantities of capital up a complete cul-de-sac and it positively retards the other objective of the Government’s energy policy, namely to abolish fuel poverty by 2016 and in vulnerable households by 2010. This is because the vast subsidies made available are added to consumers’ electricity bills. The effects can be seen already. In a parliamentary Written Answer given in another place on 12 May, the Minister revealed that the number of households in fuel poverty rose from 2.5 million in 2005 to 3.5 million in 2006 and was expected to rise by a further 1.2 million households by 2008. So, not much progress there.
It is, however, a relief that after 10 years of going nowhere, the Government have eventually decided to revert to nuclear power, currently the only method of viable generation that will reduce carbon emissions on any scale. But we cannot expect any new nuclear power stations to come on-stream for another 10 years, so where do we go in the mean time? A headline in the Times last week neatly illustrated the risks attached to increasing any further our already alarming and continually growing dependence on imported natural gas. Talking of the Arctic, it ran:
“Russia warns of war within decade over hunt for oil and gas”.
Beneath that heading, the article stated:
“Moscow appears willing to defend its interests by force as the region becomes ripe for exploitation in a world hungry for energy”.
With the North Sea running down, the proportion of the gas we use that is imported is due to rise from 50 per cent today to upwards of 70 per cent in a few years. We will have to build coal-fired power stations, and indeed we have in this country any amount of unmined or ungassified coal—300 years’ worth, I have heard it said. The Government are inching towards making greater use of it, but everything is made dependent on progress in the EU-led drive to achieve carbon capture and storage.
Two questions pose themselves. Can we close the energy gap in time if we wait for CCS, and is it in any case worth the stupendous cost? I do not know the answer to the first question, and the answer to the second depends on which way you look at it. If it is the case that CO2 in the global atmosphere has increased by no more than 23 per cent since 1900 and that at today’s rate of increase it cannot double for another 200 years, and that if it doubles it can only produce an increase in the global temperature of less than 2 degrees centigrade, I think that we have more urgent things to think about.
That brings me to the heart of the problem with the Government’s whole renewable energy agenda. Nothing we do, whatever policies we pursue, could make anything but the most infinitesimal difference to the world’s carbon footprint, yet this Government appear willing to see businesses bankrupted, to impoverish consumers, wreck the countryside, destroy the economy and put out the lights, making in the process some completely negligible reduction in our carbon emissions, and all in the hope that we may influence other countries to adopt our largely foolish policies. I only hope that they will have the good sense not to. So it is not society that I wish to see adapting itself to the Government’s renewable energy policies, it is the Government’s energy policies that I wish to see adapted to suit the national interest.
My Lords, this is a timely debate and the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, deserves our thanks for raising the key issues so clearly. It is important to remember that the entire debate is in the context of an aim to bring down world emissions of CO2 by 2050 to half the level they were in 1990. In deference to the noble Lord, Lord Reay, I think there is a real chance that if business as usual is maintained, the carbon concentration could more than double during this century. This target of halving CO2 emissions by 2050 has been espoused by the G8 and the European Union. It corresponds to two tonnes of CO2 per year from each person on the planet. For comparison, the current American figure is 20, the European figure about 10, and the Chinese level is already over four. So to achieve this 2050 target without stifling economic growth in the developing world is indeed a huge challenge. It is clear that the deepest percentage cuts are expected of the countries that now have the highest per capita emissions. Here in the UK, of course, an 80 per cent cut by 2050 is enshrined in the Climate Change Act. In the US, there is no legislation yet but President Obama has publicly espoused a similar goal.
What matters for the next century’s climate is the cumulative amount of carbon pumped into the atmosphere, so there is a real urgency in reversing the year-by-year rise in annual emissions. Indeed, many climate scientists argue that unless this rising curve can be turned around by about 2020, the atmospheric concentration will reach a level that is threatening in the long term. That is why it is urgent to implement interim steps and why the Committee on Climate Change is setting targets for 2020 and 2030 as well as 2050.
As many have emphasised, a lot can be achieved by increased energy efficiency. In particular, we can cut the energy used in heating buildings. That and other similar measures will actually save money. But to reduce greenhouse gas emissions further while still ensuring energy security requires a diverse mix of technologies. Moreover, the clean technologies for power generation that are available for immediate deployment are limited. That is why we are hard-pressed to reach the EU’s 2020 renewables targets. Technologies such as offshore wind are mature enough to be deployed, but their contribution is limited by the sheer engineering challenge of constructing them fast enough.
At present it is necessary to back-up intermittent sources of energy with fossil fuelled power plants in order to maintain a reliable supply of energy when it is needed. So any credible mix is likely to include nuclear power, with enough new build, at the very least, to replace existing plants being decommissioned in the period up to 2020. These new nuclear power stations will be of well-tried design. Concerns over waste disposal and security must none the less be openly addressed and allayed.
Even optimists have to acknowledge that it will be at least 30 years before renewables or nuclear could fully take over from coal, oil and gas, which seem set to be important in the UK and, more importantly, to dominate the world’s ever growing energy needs for at least that long. That is why it is important to explore the various technologies for carbon capture and storage. Full-scale demonstrations can be delivered before 2020 if we start now. Only then will we know the feasibility of this technology. The recent commitment by the Department of Energy and Climate Change is welcome and the UK Government can send a strong signal by approving the building of new coal-fired stations only on condition that operating permits will be withdrawn if the plants fail to capture 90 per cent of their carbon dioxide emissions beyond some target date. The UK has the chance to play a leading role in the development of this technology across Europe. Making retrofitting of existing plants economically viable will require the legal, regulatory and financial markets to be changed.
In most contexts, 2050 seems so far away that it is beyond the planning horizon. But the timescale for replacing our infrastructure is 50 years. Power stations now being planned will still be operating in 2050, so it is not too soon to focus on moving towards a zero carbon economy by that date. However, this will require real innovation. We can exploit waves and tides. We have the geography—capes around our coasts with fast-flowing tidal currents—and we have marine technology from North Sea oil and gas exploration.
Then there is bioenergy. There has, rightly, been ambivalence about first-generation biofuels, but the prospects for biofuels that convert cellulose or for intensively cultured marine algae merit further investigation. Beyond that, genetic technology may have a lot to offer, but the tension between land use for food and for fuel will indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, emphasised, get sharper.
Another need is for better energy storage such as lithium batteries and super-capacitors, not only on the scale needed for cars, but also for larger-scale use in power stations, to smooth over peaks and troughs in demand, and to complement unsteady power sources such as sun and wind.
Synthetically produced fuel is also needed—for instance, methanol, combining CO2 from carbon capture with hydrogen from carbon-free sources. Parenthetically, though, I note that the United States has de-emphasised hydrogen in the short term in favour of prioritising improved battery technology.
We should also bear in mind that the nuclear power stations now being built are designs that were established decades ago. There is scope for developing so-called fourth-generation nuclear-fission power stations, and that is where, again, more research and development is needed.
As discussed in an earlier debate in this House, nuclear fusion remains a hugely important area of research with major long-term potential. Payoff there is so far ahead that it all has to be publicly funded, but it is surely worth the global investment of $1.5 billion or $2 billion a year, given the scale of the problem.
I will put my personal long-term bet, however, on solar energy. Huge collectors in the Sahara could generate power that was then distributed via a pan-European smart grid. Achieving that by 2050 would require vision, commitment and investment on the European level from both governments and industry.
These are all exciting long-term prospects. There have been welcome positive steps in the UK and in the EU, but energy R&D is still far below what the challenge demands. It is a mere 0.2 per cent of what is spent on energy consumption, in glaring contrast with, for instance, the equivalent percentage in the health sector. When he addressed the National Academy of Sciences last month, President Obama declared that the centrepiece of his science and technology policy would be energy, just as in the 1960s it was space exploration and the Apollo programme. Europe has equivalent economic power and innovative skills to the United States, and it needs to make a matching commitment. We in the UK are well placed to lead this effort. There is a need, but for us there is also a real opportunity.
In summary, there are two big questions. First, are the declared targets of 80 per cent cuts by 2050 technically feasible? Here I am confident that the answer is yes. We could by then have developed a low-carbon economy that would not impede our economic growth or quality of life. This cannot happen, though, without sustained R&D followed by massive investment and vast infrastructure projects co-ordinated at the European level.
The UK contributes only 2 per cent of the world’s energy. We cannot abate global warming by ourselves. So there is a second question: can a political commitment to a low-carbon economy be adopted internationally and sustained? Here one cannot be so confident, but what happens in Copenhagen in December will be crucial in determining the odds on that.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord for tabling this important debate, especially at a time of economic crisis when some voices, even in your Lordships’ House, are questioning the priority being given to creating a low-carbon economy.
I welcome the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, and humbly suggest that they are by no means too radical. It is entirely consistent for a political party with “conservative” in its title to take a lead in a debate on policies that conserve our resources. We need now more than ever to develop a truly conservative attitude towards the earth, which is not a limitless larder that can be plundered with impunity.
Members of this House will recall the time and energy that we invested last year in ensuring a thorough and effective Climate Change Act. The recent economic crisis has added complexity to the decisions that we need to make and the actions that we need to take. I commend the Government for having maintained a focus on the need to invest in the growth of a low-carbon economy, especially at this time, although your Lordships' House ought to know that the low-carbon element of our economic stimulus package sadly lags behind that not only of Germany and Japan but of America and China.
Before I turn my attention to the noble Lord’s proposals, I should like to address one issue related to the scepticism sometimes shown in your Lordships’ House—we have heard it expressed today by the noble Lord, Lord Reay. In speaking about climate change, I defer to the scientists in your Lordships' House: it seems perhaps impertinent of me as a religious person to speak about a scientific subject. I comment simply as a lay person. Surely no scientist denies that CO2 contributes to the blanket of gases that wraps itself around the earth. Whatever else is happening within the natural cycle, the population of the world is increasing, from 6 billion now to, putatively, 9 billion by 2050, which means that more carbon is going into the atmosphere daily. We cannot ignore the fact that, because of population growth alone, the blanket is thickening and trapping the heat around the earth. By a variety of measures, we simply have to reduce the export of carbon into the atmosphere, as we have heard just now from the noble Lord, Lord Rees. Why? It is for the sake of the poor, who are already feeling the effects of climate change, and for the sake of ourselves, who have yet to feel the full effects of what is coming if we do not act now and urgently.
I welcome this debate because it is not sufficient to leave the responsibility for action just with the policy-makers. The answer to the noble Lord’s questions lies in three areas. The first is in policy: the British Government have shown consistent international leadership on this issue, not least, as we have heard, with the Climate Change Act. The answer lies, secondly, at the parochial—if I may use such a word—or local level: in our communities, neighbourhoods, and places of work and learning. Thirdly, it lies at the personal level, in the choices that we make about how we live.
I turn first to policy. I welcomed the inclusion of consideration of climate change in the Planning Act and in current discussions about the marine Bill. However, to achieve our 2020 and 2050 targets, we need a culture change throughout our society and in government, so that climate change is not regarded as largely the responsibility of a Secretary of State but is understood to be the responsibility of all Ministers, all departments and all officials, so that it is woven like letters in a stick of rock through everything that we decide.
For example, the Government are the largest commissioner of public buildings in the United Kingdom. Therefore, surely all government-commissioned buildings, and not just some of them, need to be carbon neutral. The Government can show leadership in this area which can be followed by other sectors.
I was encouraged to hear in the Budget the Chancellor pledge investment in the development of carbon capture and storage. The global requirement to find ways of generating clean energy offers a huge opportunity for the United Kingdom to be at the forefront of global innovation and development. The urgency of this issue encourages us to work with other nations as well as independently. As we have already heard, President Obama recently called on America to rise to the global opportunity of responding to climate change, stating that the economy that innovates and find ways to build a low-carbon economy will lead the world in the coming century. Government policy needs to enable, not constrain, innovation in the UK so that our own economic recovery builds a low-carbon economy, and so that the UK leads the world in developing these new technologies.
An example that has already been cited, but where I can put more flesh on that particular bone, is in the estimate that developing tidal power in the easiest estuaries and waterways of England and Wales could produce 20 per cent of the country’s electricity needs. The technology is already there; it needs financial investment and political will. That technology, as we have already heard, could satisfy the needs of the developing world. For example, I recently heard a delegation from China reaching out on behalf of the developing world for access to such technology.
Changes required to society are not simply at the policy level; they must also involve our neighbourhoods. They must be parochially rooted, and education and schools play an important part there. I declare an interest in that I chair the governing body of a city academy that has taken the environment as its specialism. It has a solar atrium, solar panels and rainwater harvesting, and as the young people come into the academy they see, digitally recorded, the amounts of energy being garnered and of rainwater being harvested. It is humbling to be taken around the academy by the young people of that inner-city school and to have them tell visitors the importance of addressing our environment in this urgent way.
I am delighted that, next year, building on that academy’s success, and again in the north-west of England, we shall be opening our second academy, this time with the St Helens authority in Newton-le-Willows. It will be called the Hope Academy, and be the first to take sustainability as its specialism. Already, the specialism has been incorporated into the building’s design with—I am glad to say—a special grant from the Government in order to produce a carbon-neutral building. It is not just about schools and education; faith groups also have an important role to play. I am glad that in the north-west, through the help of the regional development agency, the faith communities have come together, establishing an organisation called Faiths4Change that engages mosques, temples, synagogues and churches in rolling out the regional strategy for climate change and trying to reduce the carbon footprint.
This has to be incorporated not only at policy and parochial community level but at a personal level. Three years ago, during Lent, the diocese of Liverpool launched what we call the carbon fast. Instead of giving up inconsequential things like chocolate or alcohol, people were invited to begin to reduce their carbon footprint by reducing carbon. Last year, it went on nationally and over 300,000 people took part. This year, with the help of the Secretary of State, Ed Miliband, we launched it globally and have seen a great response from people realising that, in the global discussions of this strategy, they can do something locally and personally. It is estimated by Tearfund, which has been behind this campaign—I declare an interest as a vice-president—that following that programme reduces a person’s carbon footprint by 25 per cent. The climate of opinion on this subject needs to change more rapidly than the climate itself if we are to avoid disaster, which is why I welcome the Motion for Papers by the noble Lord.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, for giving us an opportunity to discuss this subject. I shall make a subjective intervention in the debate. Before I do so, however, I want to congratulate Sir Ranulph Fiennes on getting to the top of Everest at the age of 65; it is an example to us all. I shall also draw on my personal experience of working on the Indian subcontinent for six years and living for two months of each of the past 20 years in south-east Asia, where I have some declared interests. I am intervening today also because of a pledge that I gave to my late friend Dr Michael Cole, a Cambridge physical scientist, to put forward some of his alternative views—which I share with him and with my clan chief, the noble Lord, Lord Reay, and with the noble Lord, Lord Lawson—on global warming.
Dr Cole and other distinguished scientists have had many doubts about the relationship between the IPCC scientists who formulated the Kyoto treaty and the politicians around the world who supported them. The scientific facts as presented by the IPCC scientists to support the treaty have led to the publication of the Stern review, to the Climate Change Bill and many other related papers, and, indeed, to this debate, but they may not be quite as clear-cut as they should. It therefore may be worth while for a non-scientist such as myself to spend a moment checking out some fundamentals regarding the role of science as a reliable guide for us in the political spectrum, and for political decisions to be made in general.
A good question for starters is, what is “science”? Terence Kealey, the vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, where I have a declared interest, raised that in his very readable book entitled Sex, Science & Profits, which he sent to me last month. He provides a good answer on page 274:
“There is no such thing as ‘science’—there are only scientists”.
Kealey goes on to say that many people—including myself—used to believe, along with Francis Bacon,
“that science was dispassionate, with scientists collecting a mass of objective data dispassionately and inducing theories dispassionately … But if science is, in fact, factional and verificational, then its funding by government must inevitably favour one faction or another. And because politicians are effectively unaccountable in many of their funding decisions, their funding removes science from those ultimate tests of credibility, namely the collective judgements of the market, civil society and of the disinterested parts of the scientific community”.
I believe that that is particularly relevant to the subject that we are discussing today.
My first experience of the two sides of science was when I raised the matter of atmospheric carbon in this House with an Unstarred Question as long ago as 1978. My Question was put as a result of reading Sir John Mason’s scientific paper to the Royal Society when he was head of the Meteorological Office. However, I was surprised that the Royal Society—and I say this cautiously, bearing in mind that my noble friend, who is its president, is sitting behind me—did not sound the alarm bells that were ringing at that time, despite the fact that the science on which Mason’s paper was based has not altered one iota between now and then. We had to wait for Kyoto and the IPCC team of scientists to warn the world about the apparently serious implications of an increase in atmospheric carbon.
Everything then changed with the publication of my noble friend’s review, The Economics of Climate Change. This great work has had a profound influence on society and its governance around the planet. That is despite the fact that my noble friend Lord Stern is not a scientist but a very distinguished economist who, in my view, may one day also be recognised as the post-modern alchemist who revealed to the world a magical formula for transmuting atmospheric carbon into gold dust for government departments and profits for big business. Perhaps we can prove that point. Can the Minister say how many extra staff, NGOs, consultants and advisers have been added to his department since the publication of the Stern review? Can he also say whether atmospheric carbon has been increasing or decreasing since the publication of the Stern review and the Climate Change Bill?
The Minister will undoubtedly recall that the right honourable gentleman Mr David Miliband, the architect of the Climate Change Bill, wrote in its foreword that the Bill would,
“create a new expert Committee on Climate Change to advise the Government on the best pathway to 2050”.
Can he say what qualifications are represented by the members of the present Committee on Climate Change to classify them as “expert”? Can he also say where we can find carbon dioxide targets established by this expert committee? The Printed Paper Office could not find any reference to them prior to this debate. That is possibly my fault, but I should have thought that it would have something on them.
Are we then to presume without this information that the targets are the same as those in the Climate Change Bill? If so, does this mean that the UK’s cumulative carbon budget of emissions for the years 2000 to 2050 will be between 5.5 billion and 6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide? The Minister will be aware that, under the Kyoto treaty, this target figure does not include the aviation and maritime figures which, if included, would raise the UK’s total emissions to between 7 billion and 7.5 billion tonnes for the years 2000 to 2050.
According to the Tyndall centre, the UK must emit no more than 4.5 billion to 5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide if it is to maintain its agreed target of atmospheric concentrations of no more than 450 parts per million. Can the Minister confirm this? What the Tyndall centre is saying is that the science does not support the Government's targets as set out in the Bill, which craftily exclude the total volume over the target period by including annual emission levels only at two fixed points—2020 and 2050. Can the Minister say whether these fundamental errors have now been corrected by the climate change committee? If so, what are the new targets, and are they in his opinion attainable?
With respect to the right reverend Prelate, I do not think that there is a snowball’s chance in hell of attaining those targets—if those figures are correct—if the maritime and aviation pollution figures are included. What are you going to do with them—sweep them under the carpet, or just hope that they go away? Is this not proof that there is a clear division between real science and the political science utilised not only by this Government but by Governments around the world? Is there not a need for the climate change committee to draw on all known methods of atmospheric carbon reduction, especially where power generation is concerned?
Therefore, when the committee took evidence from experts in power generation on four different occasions in the past two months—on 1, 22 and 29 April and on 6 May—why was daylight saving, which could save at least 2 per cent of generated electricity per year, never put on the agenda? Is this debate not about saving energy and atmospheric carbon? Why was Dr Elizabeth Garnsey, from the Institute for Manufacturing at Cambridge, not called to submit her well-researched and erudite paper on the subject? Her report, of which the Government must be aware, clearly demonstrates that daylight saving is energy efficient and would assist the UK in meeting its challenging emissions targets. It would have prevented an extra 46 million tonnes of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere since 1971.
Dr Garnsey’s sources, including the National Grid, are almost precisely the same as those that gave evidence to the climate change committee. Why did they exclude the subject of daylight saving from their evidence to the committee? Why did they not even bother to look it up? Why was it not included? The Government must be fed up with my mentioning this all the time—but others have also mentioned it. So why does the committee, which calls itself a climate change committee, not put it on its agenda? Is it because it cannot prove that daylight saving does not save electricity and atmospheric carbon? Where is the proof that I and others who support daylight saving are wrong? Let us have the proof and I will stop mentioning it and give you all a bit of relief.
This leads me to a more serious point. As almost every speaker has said, the concept of slowing down global warming, or atmospheric carbon, depends on the great subcontinents of India and China reducing their emissions. As I said, I lived in India for six years. One of the greatest needs of India, Indonesia and, to a certain extent, China, is rural electrification. If you fly over India at night, or even during the day, you will see the great brown haze caused by the burning of lumps of wood or cow dung in cooking stoves. For their standard of education to match that of the rest of the world, these people need to be able to cook without cutting down their forests and polluting the atmosphere to the extent that they do. Therefore, rural electrification should be very high on any agenda for these countries.
We are trying to encourage India, China and other countries to engage in carbon capture. This is an untried system and, from what I gather, is extremely inefficient. In fact, it could well be a net producer of atmospheric carbon, as opposed to a net reducer. When I visit the Far East every year, I detect increasing hostility to the concepts of carbon capture and carbon trading—which was dreamt up by the same people who got the world into its present financial crisis—as simply being devices to slow down economies that compete with western economies. That serious criticism underlies policies in China, India, Indonesia and other countries. We should proceed with great care and stop calling these countries developing countries. The great countries of India and China are the empires of the future and were empires in the past. If we do not acknowledge that, or their economic strength, and if we suggest silly ideas to them, we will create serious political problems stretching far beyond that of atmospheric carbon.
My Lords, I join others in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, on initiating this debate. Like him, I draw attention to the expanding population of the planet and, indeed, of this country. We should remind ourselves that nature has a rather brutal way of dealing with any species that either outstrips its own resources or so pollutes them as to make their appropriation difficult or impossible. It is always timely to have that in mind.
However, I intervene in this debate to talk about the science and technology role as opposed to the personal change role, as I believe this important point underpins the discussion. I intend to mention aviation only tangentially but I declare an interest as the campaign director for Future Heathrow. Many years ago—I think it was in the 1970s—the BBC broadcast a wonderful programme, “The Weather Machine”, which was really the first alert to the dangers of climate change. I remember being very struck by that programme. At that time we were more concerned about the planet cooling rapidly and triggering a new ice age. Certainly, in the 1980s I wrote articles expressing acute concern about that. In some ways I suppose that I was doing what some people are doing now as regards being in a slight panic mode about it. We have to draw back a bit and understand that this problem is one of serious pollution but that it can be resolved. We have to get right the balance between science and technology and the need for individuals, societies and communities to change their behaviour.
I stopped supporting Greenpeace about 10 or 12 years ago following the mistakes it made in the Brent Spar incident and in one or two others. During the past 10 to 15 years I have been troubled by a sense that an anti-science role is rapidly emerging, which is profoundly dangerous. A good example of that was touched on by other speakers; namely, the very successful lobby group which slowed down, and almost stopped, the development of nuclear power. No one is suggesting that nuclear power is the ideal solution to climate change. However, it has been known for a very long time—many of us have been worried about this issue for a long time—that nuclear power is an essential part of the medium to long-term answer.
I remember listening to someone only a couple of years ago boasting proudly of how they had taken their family on holiday to north Africa entirely by train, and thus avoided polluting the planet, because otherwise they would have flown. They were also anti-nuclear. It seemed almost cruel to point out that 80 per cent of the electricity for the high-speed rail network in France is produced by nuclear generation, and it would have been even crueller to point out that it would probably have been better if they had flown directly to north Africa. I left them alone on that occasion, but I will not promise always to do so.
This is the difficulty, in a way. If we lurch into a slightly anti-science and anti-technology mode, we begin to not only make people think that there are simplistic solutions which can be achieved simply by changing our behaviour, we also, importantly, stop some of the progressive things that can and should be happening. This is very true when people get into this mode of saying, “We must stop people doing things”, whether it is stopping them flying, developing nuclear power and a whole range of things. The real message is that in all walks of life—our personal lives, communities, social, leisure, work and everywhere—we have to drive down carbon emissions. We need to look at that in a positive way, rather than in a “let’s stop everything” way.
There is a lesson from history, in that Thomas Malthus believed we would all end up starving because were going to outstrip our food sources. If it had not been for science and technology, he might well have been right. However, just as science and technology were allowing people to live longer and healthier lives, they were creating the facility for increasing food supplies. There are ways of addressing this issue, and we have to get the balance right. I emphasise that we should put right up front of any debate about climate change the argument that although science and technology on their own cannot solve this problem, they are vital ingredients. It would be infinitely more difficult and almost certainly lead to a dramatic loss of life if we tried to tackle climate change without science and technology. They are part of the answer.
The key is to ask: what are we doing now that we can do better? When people say, for example, we must stop flying, I say: “You pick on flying, but let’s say you stopped everyone in this country flying. Even if it had a significant impact and never mind stopping people flying in other countries, what then do you turn on?” There are a number of things. For example, you could turn on the media, which might please some people in the political process. The production of television and programmes, their distribution and broadcasting, have a massive impact on climate change; but we do not say, “Let’s stop watching ‘EastEnders’ or ‘Big Brother’”, even if it might push people back into their communities where they sat on the doorstep and talked to each other, which might please the right reverend Prelate. You would not need to set up a neighbourhood watch because you would not be watching telly all the time.
You can get into all sorts of arguments about stopping people from doing things in order to solve climate change, but the answer is more sophisticated. We have to do these things in a more environmentally sensitive way and make sure that we are not doing them in a way that increases climate change. There is a core problem about the population issue, and the noble Lord and my noble friend Lord Bhattacharyya touched on it. There is no way that India, China, South America and so on will hold their standards of living down. Any lectures to them about not developing industry, not flying and so on, would be seen for what, in some cases, they are: western countries and organisations telling them not to do what we have already done and not to expect the living standards that we expect. There are all sorts of moral traps in this issue.
The key is to drive down emissions. I try to do that in my personal life and I hope and expect other people to do that in theirs. It is more difficult when we start to think about the community activities we involve ourselves in, because, very often, they involve a considerable degree of climate-changing activity. Which is why—and it is right that in all walks of life we address this issue—you need to say in those organisations, “What are we doing to reduce climate change?”. I often walk into this place and find the lights are on, and I cannot think why. The daylight is pretty good—that will please the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw. Even given the hours we work, we still have pretty good daylight and do not need to have the lights on. Also, in older buildings such as this, we ought to use electricity only from renewable sources, because it is much more difficult to make old buildings carbon-friendly.
I will give another example, which is drawn from Heathrow. I visited the new scheme that will serve Terminal 5, initially from the business car park, but will spread wider in November this year. What happens at many airports around the world is that people park their cars, go to a bus shelter and wait for a bus, which is very often empty. It trundles around and around all the time, picking up a few people and taking them to the terminal. On the new system which is already functioning at Terminal 5, you go to a very modern-looking bus station, you press a button, a small vehicle without a driver approaches you, it takes up to six people and suitcases and so on, you step inside, you press a button and the vehicle takes you to the terminal. Work is under way on a model which, in a few years, will allow you to insert your flight ticket, and then take you to wherever you need to go for your flight.
That sort of clever technology—driven by a professor from Bristol who set up a company—is interesting local authorities. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, with his knowledge of local government may be interested in looking at that and perhaps trying to persuade some local authorities to take a risk on this technology. I gather that one local authority in the Midlands is interested, because if you can personalise your transport in that way, you reduce the need for large numbers of vehicles trundling around semi-empty. It is that sort of clever, long-term technology that we need to develop to deal with the crisis.
There is no simple solution and there certainly is no quick one, but it is a manageable problem, as long as we combine the science and technology with the necessary social changes. The Government’s role is to do what they are doing rather well by trying to drive the science and technology forward and, at the same time, raising people’s awareness of what they can do in their personal lives. That is a core message for dealing with this problem. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, for bringing it to the attention of the House.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, for initiating this debate, but, even more, for inviting me to speak. He knows what my passion is, and he still invited me. I thank him for that. I am very pleased that not only he, but the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool, touched on the population issue. I had the privilege of hearing the right reverend Prelate give a lecture at St George’s House on this very issue—not on population, but on climate change and so on. It was an extremely good lecture and I, too, thank him for speaking today.
Nice things have been said about India, and as I am Indian, I have appreciated them. But I remind the noble Lords who have said nice things about India that it has more malnourished people than any other part of the world. Let us not get carried away by the progress and the things that we see happening, including the increase in business and in India’s capacity to buy companies abroad and so on, because the poorest people have not been touched. In fact, if anything, they have become poorer. As I have always said, the poorest of the poor are women. Women in the Indian subcontinent and Africa are the poorest; their lives are not much different to those of slaves. They are very disposable, too; if a woman dies or becomes sick, it does not matter—you get another one. So I will speak more about that issue, because it is very much connected with population.
I remind the noble Lord, Lord Soley, that he chaired a committee which produced a report on the role of intergovernmental organisations. It stated very clearly that population increase was one of the major reasons for a rise in the prevalence of some devastating diseases, such as HIV, TB and malaria, and the possibility of an influenza pandemic. We should bear in mind that that increase is connected not only to climate change and greenhouse gases but to the devastation, to which my noble friend Lord Tanlaw referred, caused by burning whatever is available in order to cook food. The noble Lord, Lord Browne, when chairman of BP, arranged for some scientists to produce a cooking stove that would take any kind of material. It was sold, at a very low price, to women in India because, like me, the noble Lord believed that charity does not work. You have to make people give something for something. When you give something for an item, you use it; otherwise, you get it but do not use it. I am concerned that I have not heard what happened to that stove. We need far more of that type of thing in developing countries to help women, in particular, to save the environment.
Women are in many ways the key players in this matter in poor countries. They are closest to the environment, they carry the water and they rear the children. We also have to recognise how many women die in childbirth: one every minute. Also, 6 million children die every year from malnutrition, yet population has not become a major issue in discussions around the globe. We marvel at the progress that China has made and how it has changed, but do noble Lords believe that China could have done that without its one-child policy? I do not. Some 400 million children have not been born in China as a result of that policy. Mao’s attitude to population was that China’s strength lay in people. Six, seven or eight children were being born in each family. If China had not taken that drastic step, it would not have made such big leaps so quickly.
The two other areas where large population increases are possible are Africa and the subcontinent of India. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, referred to aiming for a negative target by 2050, when there will be more than 8 billion people on this planet. One hundred years earlier, in 1950, there were 2.6 billion people. If we just keep that figure in mind, it will remind us of the extent to which climate change is caused by the number of people on the planet, yet that argument is not brought forward as a central issue. I realise that not every country has a dictatorship in the way that China has, and not every country can say, “You will not have any children”. There are numerous countries in Africa, where the population is likely to increase by 1.3 billion by 2050—the largest increase in the world. The people there are already malnourished and the children are already dying of hunger. When the population reaches that figure, how many more people, including children and mothers, will die?
It is all very well for me to spell out all the negatives to noble Lords, but I do so because they are not becoming central points for people to think and talk about. I know that a great deal of our aid goes towards family planning but, overall, the amount given for family planning through aid agencies has reduced. It is most appalling that it is reducing and not increasing.
I have to say a word about the Catholic Church. It is doing something which should be considered a breach of all our human rights—particularly of women’s human rights. I should very much like someone to tell me exactly where the Bible says that you cannot use any kind of family planning. I have not found it but I would like to know how and where this notion started.
When the churches came into existence, there were very few people. Muslims are quite open about having large families: they do so because they want more Muslims in the world. However, if that is also Catholic ideology, the Catholic Church should tell us. It should say that it wants Catholics to have more children because it wants more Catholics. However, it does not say that; it just says that family planning is a sin. That is a terrible problem for women, in particular, who are concerned about their faith, and it also has an impact in places where there are not just Catholics but where much of the education and welfare is carried out through Catholic churches and sits alongside the anti-family planning dogma. I repeat that I find that very worrying.
I should like to touch on the millennium development goals, which were signed up to by 189 countries in 2000. We are now nine years on and the goals are supposed to be met by 2015. I do not know whoever thought for a moment that they could be met, or even that we could have made a move towards them, by then. We have not moved towards achieving any of the millennium development goals. The only figure that I have been able to find is that 4 million children have received primary education. That has happened in nine years but there must already be an extra 4 million children by now. Therefore, we will always be chasing our tails if we do not do something about population.
One of the goals is about hunger and poverty, which concerns agriculture. Eighty per cent of the agriculture in Africa is looked after by women, who do not receive any payment or economic reward for it. It is agriculture carried out at subsistence level. If we started to work with those women and got co-operatives going, they could feed half of Africa’s population, but we do not do that.
As my time is running out, I turn to my final point. Having painted this dire picture, I want to put forward a solution. If we help poor women in Africa and the subcontinent to earn a small amount of money—to become employees and not just work from morning till night for nothing—they will change and begin to feel that they are worth something. They will look after their health and send their children to school. They will not drink or gamble and nor will they collect men off the streets. This is where the answer lies: we should concentrate on helping poor women to earn money.
We have been talking about education, but education cannot come to them. That is not possible; it is a pipe dream. Children can be educated but, at that stage of their lives, mothers cannot. If we help mothers to earn money, they will educate their children and they will also start to think about family planning. This is the only solution for our planet—to try to halt the huge increase in population. We should work with the women and help them to earn money. All businesses should start to think of employing at least a few women. Only in India and Africa are poor women not in the workforce, whereas in Burma and elsewhere, they are. In Burma, of course, it is a different story, but all the other countries have improved their economies and their earning capacity by having women in the workforce. It is not a western idea.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, for bringing forward this important debate about carbon dioxide emission targets. I shall declare two interests before I start. I am president of the Micropower Council and a non-executive director of a heating company that specialises in combined heat and power, district heating and geothermal energy.
It is clear that there is quite a lot of agreement in the House on this issue, with the exception of the noble Lords, Lord Reay and Lord Tanlaw. We have had a wide-ranging debate and a particularly interesting contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, who has just spoken. There is also agreement that if we are to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions we need to do two things. The first is to use less energy, whether at home, in our offices, in travelling, or in buying everything we want in the modern world. Secondly, we need to try to use more renewable energy and phase out energy sources that produce carbon dioxide, although there is no agreement about exactly how we might do that.
It is disappointing that over recent years, although we talk and agree a lot about things, the progress we have made towards our ambitions has been a little slow. Carbon dioxide emissions in the United Kingdom have risen 4 per cent since 1999 and 1 per cent in the past year alone. The Government have said that that makes it difficult for them to reach their domestic target of 20 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide by 2010. The other disappointing thing is that although we have green taxes, the take from them is falling. It was 3.6 per cent of our gross domestic product in 1999 but in 2006 it was only 2.7 per cent. Energy consumption has gone up by more than 3 per cent since 1997 and the most disturbing bit is the 11 per cent increase in electricity consumption. Although we have made progress on renewable resources—we can argue about which ones are effective and so on—the UK’s domestic electricity target of 4.6 per cent from renewables is some way off the 10 per cent for 2010.
I shall touch on aviation, with which the noble Lord, Lord Soley, is familiar. Of course, there has been a 61 per cent increase in air passengers since 1997 and aircraft emissions are up 23 per cent. I agree with the noble Lord that we need to be careful about how we talk about this because it is not straightforward, as his example showed. The other big transport issues are cars and the traffic on our roads, which is up 12 per cent since 1997. We are all very good at setting targets. I put myself into that category, too, in the work that I have done in this area over the years. As I am speaking from the Liberal Democrat Front Bench, I will be a bit political—I know that the noble Lord, Lord Bhattacharyya, said that he was not going to be political on this—but I will talk about what we believe. We could reach 100 per cent reduction in our CO2 emissions by 2050 and we have put forward a comprehensive range of policies based on evidence that we have taken relating to climate change mitigation and adoption within the United Kingdom as well as in the international arena.
We see a zero-carbon Britain that will be energy independent and that does not overly rely on foreign sources. Action at EU level, such as the European supergrid, will be very important in breaking our current dependence on fossil fuels imported from Russia and the Middle East. We believe that the EU Emissions Trading Scheme has the potential to be a major lever for promoting low-carbon technology. Lots of people have talked about how we need to change what we are doing and change behaviour, but we need to ensure that the price of the carbon is appropriate.
I want to touch on five key areas that we have looked at—there are a lot more. The first is a commitment to 100 per cent carbon-free, non-nuclear electricity by 2050. If we are to do that we need to provide incentives for people to use renewable energy, microgeneration, guaranteed prices, feed-in tariffs and smart meters. We think that we could make the programme about half as long as the one put forward by the Government. We need to build decent high-speed railways and back all sorts of rail improvements. We would try to pay for that by tolling lorries on motorways. We want to introduce green loans to finance the upgrading of our housing stock. I shall say a bit more about that later, but that would be in addition to extra money to help the fuel poor, which is again a point mentioned earlier in the debate.
It would be a national scheme, enabling householders to apply for funding to insulate their homes and to finance microgeneration renewable energy, and at the same time avoid large upfront costs. The cost of the work would be in the form of a loan, repaid over a period agreed by the householder paying the repayments through their energy bills. When I got married in the 1960s, I paid off my cooker and fridge on my energy bill, and I do not see why we cannot do that sort of thing to help people pay for the cost of refurbishment in their homes. It is important to tax the people who pollute and use the money to reduce income tax. I have already mentioned the EU ETS and we want to see the permits being auctioned, as we would get a better price for carbon in that way.
I shall now spend a little time talking about the energy efficiency of buildings, which is an area on which I have campaigned over the years. I lived in Stockholm in the late 1960s and early 1970s in a properly insulated flat. It was cheaper to heat than the box I had left behind in England, partly because it was so well insulated and partly because there was a decent and more efficient heating scheme in the area. I realised that they did not have excess winter deaths; there was no such thing as fuel poverty. It is a great disappointment to me that 40 years later we are still not building to those standards in this country. We are beginning to get towards it, but we still have not used combined heat and power and district heating in the same way as they have done in Scandinavia. None of this is new technology. It is all tried and tested, and it works.
In the other place I successfully piloted the Home Energy Conservation Act 1995—with the help of a lot of other people, I have to say—through Parliament. It was an enabling Bill to allow local authorities to gather statistics about how energy efficient the homes in their area were. The Government would then have those figures to target resources and local government could suggest ideas on how they thought they could be improved. Unfortunately, the Government did not run with it. They never used the Bill as they could have done to give them the information that they need, and now they want to repeal it, which is bitterly disappointing, although I do not think they have got that far yet.
The Government will say that we have the Climate Change Act, which is the most challenging legislation in any developed country. That is true and we are making progress, but it is regrettable that we have lost so much time. There has been too little finance and too many disparate schemes in recent years. There have been lots of good intentions but they are often not properly carried through.
Lastly, I shall touch on the Government’s record in their own buildings, which the noble Lord, Lord Soley, referred to earlier.
My Lords, I am not surprised that the Minister is a bit disappointed; it is very disappointing. One in three government buildings has the lowest possible rating for energy efficiency. I quote an article in the Observer, which states:
“Overall, 98 buildings were rated G”—
which I think is the lowest score—
“and a further 34 scored F. In total more than 70% were rated E or below, which means that they are less energy-efficient than normal buildings of their type”.
Of course, none made the top score of A. What I found most extraordinary when reading the article was that the new Home Office building and the newly refurbished Treasury are only rated F; that is pretty near the bottom.
Noble Lords will see why I particularly liked this quote from Paul King of the UK Green Building Council, who said:
“The only thing that sets the government buildings apart is that we actually know how bad they are because of this quirk of European policy that has required these energy certificates for public buildings. What we desperately need is similar information about the rest of the UK's buildings”.
If they had used the Bill that I put through Parliament properly, they would have just that information.
In conclusion, we could find the finance to reach our 2050 CO2 targets. As other Members have said, it is challenging. We have the science and technology to do it, and we have a lot of will. We have lots of legislation, both UK and European, to help us to do it. I hope that the Minister can indicate that we will have a bit of a step change in the rate at which we try to tackle the issues that we have been debating today. That is not only because many of us care about the planet and the well-being of the human race, but because we have a golden opportunity in the recession. We can create lots of green jobs that will help people in the difficult times of the credit crunch and so on.
What I really want to say today, with which I am sure many in the Chamber will agree—not everybody, of course—is that we need to get on and do more. We need to do it better and, above all, we need to do it faster.
My Lords, many interesting and valuable points have been raised throughout this debate and I am pleased to see that climate change is getting the full attention it deserves. As others have done, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith on giving us the opportunity to debate how society needs to change to meet the 2050 CO2 emissions target. His remarks have been thought-provoking and it will be interesting to hear how the Minister will respond to them.
My noble friend mentioned a particularly sobering fact: in order to reduce the UK’s CO2 emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, we need to get back to levels of emissions that existed in 1850 when our population was only 20 million. However, our population is due to increase by a third, from 60 million today to 80 million by 2050. This brings home the magnitude of the task facing the UK. It is clear that human interference with the stability and security of our climate system is the greatest long-term threat facing mankind and that we must take action now if we are to limit the damage. It is now time to map out a path that will take us all into a low-carbon future, and a future where we are more self-sufficient with our energy supplies.
The basis of this debate was to ascertain how society can best meet the 80 per cent greenhouse gas reduction target set by the Climate Change Act. The target was based on the advice of the Committee on Climate Change, which, as we know, was established under the Act as an independent advisory body to the Government on such issues as climate science, low- carbon technologies and energy security. While the committee is required to make recommendations to the Government, it is not its role to implement or propose mechanisms through which such targets can be achieved. It is now down to the Government to put in place the policies that will enable the aspirations of the Act to come true.
One thing is for certain: we must start decarbonising our economy now. There are three key issues we must work on. First and foremost, we must decarbonise our energy supplies. Secondly, we must make major improvements in domestic and commercial energy efficiency and, thirdly, we must decarbonise our transport system. These three priorities are not all we can do; they are the least we must do. Without delivery in these key areas, an 80 per cent reduction will be impossible.
There has been some interesting debate on how we can shift Britain away from our reliance on fossil fuels. I particularly liked the idea of the noble Lord, Lord Rees of Ludlow, of solar power from the Sahara, distributed via a pan-European grid. That alone could probably solve all our problems.
This is a serious challenge, but it is also a serious opportunity. It is possible to turn Britain into the world-leading economy for green innovation and technology. We have some of the best renewable resources in the world, such as wind, wave and tide. We have leading expertise in areas such as marine engineering and energy infrastructure. We are surrounded by shallow waters and are in close proximity to large energy markets, both at home and on the continent.
With all these benefits, the UK must recognise that this carbon reduction target is not a problem but an enormous opportunity. By tapping into these new, abundant low-carbon sources we will make our country more energy secure by providing our homes and businesses with power sourced close to home, not from places such as the Middle East or Russia. This will benefit our balance of payments and our security.
Reducing our carbon emissions will also create many new jobs and more wealth. We must realise that a green future means a jobs-rich future. It was announced a few days ago, as has already been mentioned, that the largest wind farm, the London array, will proceed in the Thames estuary. Yesterday, there was the switching-on ceremony of the enormous Whitelee wind farm in Scotland.
I can sense my noble friend Lord Reay wincing at the prospect. He has consistently criticised wind turbines, particularly their siting and cost-efficiency. At the risk of being called a heretic myself, I have some sympathy with him. I am not totally convinced that they are the right answer. I need persuading. I am not sure that they are effective at energy production. We are constantly being told that x per cent of our energy comes from wind, but does this mean the maximum output from wind if the wind blew perfectly for 365 days a year, or is this the actual output, bearing in mind that turbines are only 27 per cent efficient?
Then we come to cost. Wind power, we are told, is much more expensive than other forms of energy production. Again, I should like to know whether this cost relates to the wind blowing perfectly for 365 days a year, or whether it relates to the actual 27 per cent output. But we do know that wind power is more expensive, whichever method is used. Yet the Government pour huge amounts of taxpayers’ money into this industry, which begs the question: is this money well spent, or would it be better spent going towards another form of renewable energy? That is, would we get a better output of megawatts for our money if the Government spent it elsewhere? My noble friend Lord Reay gave an example that suggested that the answer was yes. The noble Lord, Lord Rees of Ludlow, put forward the idea of solar power from the Sahara. Would that be cheaper per megawatt than power from wind?
We should not roll our eyes when people question perceived wisdom. We should constantly challenge what we are doing and whether there is a better, more efficient way of doing it. One is left with the depressing feeling that, currently, wind energy is the only weapon in the Government's armoury. I hope not; we need to get other forms of renewable energy on-stream quickly. Wind undoubtedly has a part to play, but at what cost? It will be interesting to hear what the Minister has to say about that, and about the other points raised by my noble friend Lord Reay. If the London array wind farm is to go ahead, we must ensure our competitiveness in this project, so that as much as is possible of the manufacture and installation of the offshore turbines and other technologies is provided by British businesses.
Carbon capture and storage technology is another case in point. We on these Benches were delighted to see the Government last month adopting the Conservative Party position on carbon capture and storage. Coal is a plentiful and indigenous energy source for the UK, but in a carbon-constrained world we cannot afford to build any more unabated coal-powered plants. Ensuring that any new coal-fired power station has carbon capture and storage technology running from the outset will not only allow us to meet our carbon budgets, it will give Britain an opportunity to lead the world in the implementation of that technology.
Our homes and businesses can also be dramatically more efficient. Improving household insulation, as has already been mentioned, will have a big impact on energy consumption, which is why my party has proposed an entitlement for every home to be fitted immediately with up to £6,500 of approved energy-efficiency improvements. The cost would be repaid through fuel bills over a period of up to 25 years but it would deliver immediate reductions in the gas and electricity consumption of participating households.
We must also bring our ageing national grid into the 21st century. A dynamic electricity grid, called an electricity internet, will allow us to balance supply and demand and run smart appliances and electric vehicles off the grid. Homes, businesses, schools and hospitals will be able to contribute energy from their own small-scale, low-carbon energy production, or microgeneration systems, via their smart meters, earning money in the process. It is pleasing to note that the Government are now accelerating the rollout of smart metering.
To conclude, I restate that, although the 80 per cent reduction target for 2050 is a major challenge, it is achievable and can be achieved at great benefit to our economy, national security and quality of life, but the work must begin in earnest, and it must begin immediately, because neither the science nor the global market opportunity will wait for us should we fall behind.
My Lords, this has been an extremely interesting debate and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, for the quality and breadth of his speech. We have been debating these issues almost daily during the past week, and listening to noble Lords who take climate change seriously, I wish rather more of them than just the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, had been present for our debate on carbon budgets last week, when we had a different cast list with a very different view on the issues. None the less, today has been extremely interesting.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, about the need for a more focused approach to the 2050 targets. That was his first substantive point. In July, we will publish our strategy document on how to take forward our policies on climate change and energy. I say to the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, that they will be convinced that this is a serious, realisable but ambitious approach.
We believe that the climate is already changing. The atmosphere is warming up because of the greenhouse effect, and the rate of change will accelerate rapidly unless we take decisive action. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, and say to the noble Lord, Lord Reay, that, frankly, I would rather sail on HMS “Stern” than sink into the rising sea with HMS “Lawson”.
The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, asked me whether my new department, the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and the direction of government policy had led to a big increase in staff; he seemed to think that it might have. He will know that my department is only six months old. Its size is roughly equivalent to the size of the energy group within BERR and the former climate change group in Defra. I must say that the discipline on public finance within government is very tough at the moment, having been responsible for overseeing budgetary matters in the Department of Energy and Climate Change in the past few weeks. The new department has been faced by some mega-issues about both climate change and energy. It is a very exciting time, but the demands we are making on our staff are considerable and I have been impressed by the quality of our people and their motivation. That gives us a great foundation for the future.
Last week, we had an entertaining debate—perhaps not for me, but for other noble Lords—and saw the benefit of debating a statutory instrument in prime time, when we debated the whole question of the science. The noble Lord, Lord Reay, raised that and referred to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Leach, last week.
The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, made some interesting comments about the role of scientists and the IPCC in particular. It is worth making the point that its most recent report, its fourth assessment report, was written by 619 named scientists and reviewed by another 622, and that objectivity is ensured by the broad and open review process and shared responsibility for the report. No one Government, organisation or individual has sole responsibility for any part. On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, on the influence of the political process on that work, the IPCC is very careful to keep science separated from the political negotiations that take place at UN climate change convention meetings. The scientists in the working groups write their reports, which are then extensively reviewed and edited in draft before government review and final acceptance. IPCC assessment reports are not written or changed by Governments. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Rees, was persuasive on that point. I understand that there will be disagreements about the science, but one should not ignore the rigour of the IPCC process.
Let me come on to the role of carbon budgets. We debated that last week. The Climate Change Act, which introduced the binding long-term framework to limit greenhouse gases in this country and the carbon budgets that provide the engine room, if you like, for reducing carbon emissions, are critical to our success in the UK. At the Budget—the statutory instruments that we debated last week follow on from it—we announced the levels for the first three carbon budgets for the periods 2008-12, 2013-17 and 2018-22, representing respectively more than a 22 per cent, 28 per cent and 34 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases compared to 1990 levels. These budgets correspond to the interim level recommended by the Committee on Climate Change. However, we have made it clear that we will tighten these following a global deal to reduce emissions and subsequent agreement within the European Union.
On the expertise available to the Committee on Climate Change, I should say that the seven members of the CCC include three scientists and an engineer—the noble Lord, Lord May, Professor Jim Skea, Sir Brian Hoskins and Professor Julia King—all of the very highest calibre. I have been impressed by the quality and rigour of their advice to the Government. All of this is in the context of seeking international agreement in Copenhagen so that we can take action to ensure that we see the kind of progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions that is necessary.
I said last week that we are confident. It is going to be very tough; we have always known that negotiations at Copenhagen would be tough. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has taken part in extensive international meetings; he was recently in China. There are positive signals. We should not ignore the impact of the change of Administration in the US. There is a long way to go, and I am sure that these negotiations will be very difficult. However, we are optimistic.
I take the point about the energy needs of developing countries. That has to be taken into account; that cannot be inconsistent with a global deal. I understand the points about the importance of India and China that a number of noble Lords have made, and I will come on to carbon capture and storage. It is clear that the Chinese Government are extremely interested in carbon capture and storage technology, which is why our decision, made only three weeks ago, is so important; not just for what we can achieve in this country, but for the opportunity for the export of technological and, we hope, other know-how in this area.
On the international dimension, the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, once again made a very measured and interesting contribution. She raised some inevitably difficult and ethical points about population issues. She was right, I am sure, to mention the pressures that population growth will bring to the globe. She also mentioned the role of religion. I suspect that she probably absolved the Anglican diocese of Liverpool from those strictures, given the remarkable progress that the right reverend Prelate has made. What he had to say was very interesting. When one thinks of climate change and the poorest countries, one thinks of the impact of the rise in sea levels and the flooding, drought and disease that will inevitably follow. That is why international action and agreement are so critical. The noble Baroness made some very important points about women and their role in the very poorest countries.
The noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, and other noble Lords put a great deal of emphasis on energy. That is absolutely right. We should focus on energy, as this House has done on very many occasions. We all understand that decarbonisation of our power supply is an essential foundation in moving towards a low carbon economy. It is an approach that looks for a diverse supply of energy in the future. We see a new generation of nuclear power stations in prospect. We are overseeing what is, undoubtedly, the fastest growth in renewable energy in Europe. Yes, it is from a lower base, but the progress that has been made recently must give us a great deal of encouragement for the future, including on pioneering carbon capture and storage.
Let me make it clear; I know that noble Lords are concerned about what they call the energy gap. Security of supply has to be my department’s most important obligation. We are aware of the plants that are due to close and of the decommissioning of a number of nuclear power stations. We should not ignore the plants that are now in construction, the plants that are with consent and other proposals that will come along in the next year or two. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Rees, about storage. Good progress is being made.
There was a very important announcement on coal. As I said, we think that this has huge potential for up to four new projects to demonstrate carbon capture and storage. I have the privilege of attending a conference in Norway on CCS next week to discuss this and the question of international co-operation and collaboration. It is quite clear, if one looks at the amount of coal that is used globally, that we need a great deal of international effort and co-operation. In the UK, we are in a very good position to influence that because of the announcement that we have made.
On the takeover of British Energy by EDF, we signalled the way for new nuclear. Since then, other companies have also intimated their desire to develop new nuclear power stations. It is very encouraging. There are questions about the supply chain and to what extent we in the UK can take advantage of this investment. That is something my department is very concerned about.
On renewables, the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, talked about estuary tidal wave technology and its potential. I agree with him. I recently visited the Orkneys to look at some of the technologies there. It is very exciting. If we can really pull it off, the UK is undoubtedly in a technological lead. There are some major companies involved. It has yet to be developed at scale. The next two years or so will be very important but, if we can pull it off, it will bring huge advance to this country.
The noble Lords, Lord Rees and Lord Dixon-Smith, again emphasised the potential of solar. It will be very interesting to see how these proposals develop. I confess that I thought the noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, was with me when it came to renewables, until he started to talk about wind. We are not going to meet the renewable energy targets that we have been set without wind. Wind will be an important part of the mix in the future. In our renewable energy strategy, which we will publish in the summer, we will say much more about it. I understand the issue of intermittency; it is why we need a diverse source of supply.
Renewables come with a cost. However, we must remember what the noble Lord, Lord Stern, said on the economics of climate change that, essentially, the sooner we get on with taking the actions that are required, the cheaper it will be in the long run. We also have to bear in mind the costs with regard to the issue of energy saving potential in the future, which I will come to in a moment.
The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, made a point about daylight saving in relation to energy saving. I know that he is very frustrated by what from his point of view is an utterly logical argument seeming to run up against what I think he feels is a brick wall. I hope he will not cease to make the case for that. It is a powerful case, but noble Lords will know—we have debated this on a number of occasions—that it is not a simple matter. Noble Lords will also recall the issues that arose when it was introduced for a short time some years ago.
The right reverend Prelate also made a point about energy saving and procurement. He is absolutely right; it is a very important point. The Office of Government Commerce looks at these matters very seriously when it gives guidelines to those who will procure in the future. I was very interested in his points about the involvement of his regional development agency. It is the lead RDA on climate change, and I am impressed with its work. I am also interested in the way in which it uses its resources to lever the kinds of changes about which the right reverend Prelate spoke. The carbon fast is a brilliant idea. Let us hope that it develops and grows globally in the way that he has suggested.
We need to do much more about energy saving. We can do more. We know that families lose at least £300 a year from inadequate energy efficiency. Energy efficiency is one answer to the question of cost because, although developing renewables may have a cost, the more energy efficient we become the more the costs to the customer are reduced. We have strong ambitions, which we need to develop.
The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, made the point that once we have got beyond cavity walls and loft insulation—in some homes much more needs to be done— funding is very important. We are working through ideas about how one can establish a financial framework that one way or another makes it worth while for the householder, who will not get support from the public purse to make what can be very expensive changes. Again, this is part of the work that we are undertaking at the moment.
The noble Baroness is right to emphasise the potential of CHP and district heating. Again, this is work that we are undertaking at the moment. She may know of the work in Birmingham on district heating. We have been talking about this for a long time, but a district heating system has been established in the past 18 months and is being extended. The cost of the infrastructure for district heating is an issue, but again the RDA, Advantage West Midlands, is putting in resources to extend it, and it will be very interesting to see how that works out.
The noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, talked about the grid. We readily accept that we need to move from what might be described as a passive grid network to one that becomes much smarter. The smart meter rollout will be an important step in laying the foundations for a smarter grid. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, thinks that this should be done rather more quickly than it will be within the 10-year timetable, but she will know that we looked into this very carefully in the context of the Climate Change Act and we will, I hope, be able to come up with more details about the rollout.
My noble friend Lord Bhattacharyya talked about social change and the potential of technological solutions. That was a very important contribution, in which he talked about the demands of the electricity supply, an off-grid electricity supply for vehicles, components and the fact that car manufacturers must produce sustainability. He urged us to work with other countries and companies across the world. I agree, although I hope, like him, that the West Midlands has a critical role to play in that, not least in his work at Warwick University.
My noble friend Lord Soley and the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, talked about energy-saving buildings and the Government’s own performance. I have to admit that it is a fair cop, because noble Lords will know that my own department’s building is not rated as highly as we would wish. It was of course inherited, and we are now taking action, but their substantive point is right; if the Government are going to put mechanisms into place, we must practise what we preach. We are very exercised about it. One of my offices is in Defra, which would look beautiful with solar panels on the outside and wind farms above it, but I am not sure that we will get away with that. No doubt one of our quangos will rule against us on environmental grounds.
There will be a cost as a result of the measures that have to be taken, but I ask noble Lords to remember the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Stern, when he said that a low-carbon economy does not mean a low-growth economy. The noble Earl, Lord Cathcart, surely got it right when he spoke about the huge potential for jobs and exports for this country in leading the world in having a low-carbon economy. That is a wonderful prospect for us, and we should not ignore the potential benefits to our economy.
I thank again the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, for introducing this debate and for the quality and breadth of his speech.
My Lords, one of my ambitions has been very well fulfilled this morning: to draw on the pool of intellectual power in this Chamber to discuss the subject of the Motion that I brought forward. I am most grateful to all those who have contributed to the debate and made it so very interesting.
I shall make two very brief points. First, my concern is that, in meeting the needs of global society, we need to be very certain that we do not in some physical way curtail the needs and ambitions of our own society. It is not the quantity of energy that we use that is a problem; it is the way in which we source it. We should always keep that in mind.
The second point that we need to bear in mind—I aim this particularly at my noble friend Lord Reay and to some degree at the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw—is that the cost of our existing energy infrastructure is met by consumers, as all these costs are. Even if the Government of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, are offering financial support, in the end the taxpayer has to pay. Our existing energy is relatively low-cost because the cost of the environmental damage that it is doing is not charged to the consumer. If it were, we might see a very different approach to the whole subject, but that is a matter for yet another debate.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, for his winding-up speech. I am bound to say, as always, that it was masterly, but I look forward with keen anticipation to July and to what he actually puts into the report. I would like to think that what Members have said in this Chamber today might have some influence on it. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Namaste, my Lords. With the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on new settlement rights for former Gurkhas and their families.
As the House will know, all Gurkhas who retired after July 1997, when the brigade was relocated to the United Kingdom from Hong Kong, are already eligible to settle here under current Immigration Rules. Since 2004, more than 6,000 Gurkhas and their families have done so.
On 29 April, honourable Members on all sides of the House made clear their view that the Government should reconsider plans to increase by 10,000 the number of Gurkhas and family members who could come to the United Kingdom to live.
As my honourable friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth set out in his Statement to this House that evening, we undertook to respect the will of the House and to come forward with revised proposals. I am most grateful to my honourable friend for the work he has led to deliver this commitment. I am also grateful to members of the Home Affairs Select Committee and to the Gurkhas’ representatives, who have helped us to establish the basis for these proposals. Our policy will be put into effect through guidance, which we will publish shortly, having first shared it in advance with the Select Committee and Gurkha representatives to seek their views.
Our new guidance will reflect the will of the House, while remaining affordable and consistent with our broader immigration policy. All former Gurkhas who retired before 1997, and who have served for more than four years, will now be eligible to apply for settlement in the United Kingdom. Gurkha representatives have indicated that it will take time for former Gurkhas and their families to make their applications. I welcome the willingness of the representatives to set up a form of resettlement board to assist the process of their integration into British life.
On the basis of the figure of 10,000 to 15,000 main applicants that has been suggested by Gurkha representatives, I expect to be able to welcome these applicants and their families over the course of the next two years. I am making resources available within the UK Border Agency to do this, and I am making it clear that there should be no time limit on these applications.
The Select Committee has recommended that former Gurkhas should be entitled to bring with them their spouses and dependent children under the age of 18, and I am pleased to accept this recommendation. The 1,400 or so outstanding applications for settlement that are now being considered by the UK Border Agency will be processed on the basis of the policy I am announcing today. I have instructed the UK Border Agency to process all of these cases as a matter of urgency by 11 June of this year.
This guidance recognises the unique nature of the service given to the United Kingdom by the brigade of Gurkhas. It is offered to them on an exceptional basis. I hope that the House will understand the importance of maintaining the distinction upheld by the High Court between Gurkhas who served before and after 1997. That is why I welcome the agreement of all parties to our discussions that there is no direct read-across between settlement and pension rights. As the chairman of the Select Committee wrote in his letter to the Prime Minister on Tuesday this week, the question of equalising Gurkha pensions should not and need not be conflated with the debate about settlement.
On the basis of the measures I have set out today, I am proud now to be able to offer this country’s welcome to all who have served in the brigade of Gurkhas and who wish to apply to settle here. I am sure that all who do come here will make the most of the opportunities of living and working in the United Kingdom, and I am delighted that we have now been able to agree—across government, across the House and with the Gurkhas’ representatives—new settlement rights that all those who have served us so well so highly deserve. I commend this Statement to the House”.
My Lords, that concludes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord West, for repeating the Statement and making early copies of it available to the House. This Statement is most welcome, most of all to the Gurkhas, some of whom are outside the House now. This has been a great victory for a well-run campaign that has publicly embarrassed Ministers. It has also reminded all of us of the role that the Gurkhas have played in helping to defend this country over the centuries.
This case was about basic decency. Many people from around the world have come to live in this country in the past decade. There never was a justification to deny that right to a group of people who have long lived in the nation’s affections and who have risked, and often given, their lives for its protection. We have always been very clear that those who risk their lives for this country should have the right to come and live in this country. It is just a shame that the Government had to be dragged kicking and screaming through the courts, and then through the crowds of Gurkhas outside this place, before they finally accepted the inevitable. It is also a tribute to the very determined and effective campaign by Joanna Lumley to persuade Ministers to change their minds. Do the Government finally accept that it was a massive mistake not to listen when we told them to accept the court ruling and not to fight it?
Will the Minister provide the House with more detail about the cost of all this? A few weeks ago the Prime Minister was putting forward almost doomsday financial forecasts about the cost to the British taxpayer of allowing the Gurkhas to settle here. Will the Minister now confirm that those figures were wrong, and will he tell us what the latest forecast is?
What impact will today’s announcement have on former members of the Armed Forces who come from other Commonwealth countries, and indeed from non-Commonwealth countries? What rights do the Government intend to offer them in the future?
The Gurkhas and their many supporters have won a great victory over the Government. I echo my honourable friend in another place, who has this morning reiterated our party’s commitment to honour this agreement, should there be a Conservative Government after the next election. We will make sure that Gurkhas who want to come here are treated as honoured veterans of our Armed Forces and not as an unwelcome addition to the pressures on our immigration system.
My Lords, like the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, I very much welcome the Statement.
During the Second Reading of my Immigration (Discharged Gurkhas) Bill last July, I argued for full settlement rights for all Gurkhas who had served in our forces. All noble Lords who spoke supported me—including the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, who is in his place today—with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, who was speaking for the Government. He said:
“We think that the 1997 cut-off is reasonable and fair”.—[Official Report, 4 July 2008; col. 503.]
Well, thanks to sustained pressure from parliamentarians in both Houses, the court and the campaign so enthusiastically and skilfully led by Joanna Lumley, involving the media and overwhelming majority of the general public, the Government have finally thrown in the towel and effectively accepted defeat. Why they resisted for so long, only they know. Indeed, the sooner the Home Secretary, and this whole Government, follow the Speaker in the other place, the better.
I should be grateful if the Minister would answer three specific questions. On the one hand, the Statement uses the phrase:
“All former Gurkhas who retired before 1997, and who have served for more than four years, will now be eligible”.
But the Statement later says:
“I am proud now to be able to offer this country’s welcome to all who have served in the brigade of Gurkhas and wish to apply to settle here”.
What is the difference? Where does the four years come in?
Secondly, the Statement says:
“Our new guidance will reflect the will of the House, while remaining affordable and consistent with our broader immigration policy”.
What lies behind that phrase?
Thirdly, why are the Government now appearing to accept our figure of 10,000 to 15,000 main applicants, whereas last July they were talking of 40,000? What has changed? Perhaps, once again, it has been proven that accountancy is not this Government’s strong point.
In conclusion, I hope that Joanna Lumley continues her public campaigning. Perhaps she should consider standing as a future Mayor of London. She certainly has the intelligence of the present incumbent and is certainly far better looking.
My Lords, I am glad that the Statement has been welcomed. There is no doubt at all that it is very good news; it is a very good news day. The Gurkhas have served this nation very honourably, very loyally and very well over many years—I think that all of us would agree on that. Indeed, perhaps I may take the opportunity to congratulate all our servicemen on the service they give. On a personal note, perhaps I may also remember my 22 boys who died 27 years ago today when my ship was sunk. I remember them as well. I have pride in all these people.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, talked of the court order, as did the noble Lord, Lord Lee. The court decision clearly said that the 1997 cut-off date was not discriminatory. So, I think that one needs to look quite carefully at the court decision and everything that was said in there.
The noble Viscount asked about the total cost, which we think will be between £300 million and £400 million per annum. The noble Lord, Lord Lee, asked whether it would be affordable and would fit in with immigration rules. When you are a group pushing a particular agenda or when one is in Opposition it is very easy, but when you are the Government you have to look at the full impact of these things. For example, what does it mean in terms of the links with immigration and the other people who might have served for us over the years? What does it mean in terms of cost? How much will it cost? What will be the impact of those costs on education and health within the areas where these people will move to? Where in the country will they go? What will be the focus?
All that work has been done. We have paid very close attention, as is absolutely correct, to the will of Parliament and, on this occasion, to the will of the British people. I think that both things reflect on each other. Sometimes on issues such as capital punishment they do not, but on this they did. We have paid attention to that and we have acted on that basis. We had prolonged debates—I congratulate my colleagues in the other place on this—with the Gurkha pressure groups and the Home Affairs Select Committee. During that debate we ground down the numbers from the total number of those eligible, which is 36,000. Adding on their dependents, we were talking in the region of probably 80,000 to 85,000, but we were assured by the Gurkha veterans lobby and the Home Affairs Select Committee that only 10,000 to 15,000 Gurkhas would want to come here. There was a long debate about this and we came to that conclusion.
We also had to look very carefully at pensions. As has been said very clearly in the Statement, these two things are not conflated. If we had to pay pensions to all those who served before 1997, we are talking about £1.5 billion, which would come out of the defence budget. We are sure that that will not happen. I am sure that it will go through the judicial process again and again, and we are clear that the two issues are very separate. But we had to take all that into account. At the moment, things like the defence budget are under huge pressure. That is why it is not always easy, but very easy sometimes to put on this pressure. We are delighted with what we have done today, which is absolutely appropriate.
Basically, Gurkhas will have to have served four years if they retired before 1997. It is extremely unusual for any Gurkha to serve less than four years. I think that there will be special circumstances, for example, for anyone who might have lost a leg or won a Victoria Cross or something like that.
I have covered the point on numbers and I hope that I have covered the point on pensions. But this is a good news announcement and I am delighted that it has happened. I, as have a lot of people in this Chamber, have served with the Gurkhas over the years. They are a fantastic bunch. I am very pleased that we have achieved this outcome.
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, was he stating that if a Gurkha lost a leg before he had done four years—
My Lords, it is not quite proper to catch the Minister before he sits down. The noble Baroness should make her contribution or ask her question.
My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place and I welcome its contents on behalf of all retired Gurkhas who served for longer than four years and who still want to live in this country. It is always good to see old Gurkha comrades-in-arms over here. They deserve unique consideration. They undoubtedly make loyal, co-operative and amenable citizens, and I hope that the Government and the general public will now build on the manifest support and sentiment they have expressed, and go out of their way not only warmly to welcome any new arrivals but to provide appropriate advice on integration, not forgetting housing, and gainful employment, without which some may find themselves in somewhat reduced circumstances.
As someone with the whole Gurkha operation very much at heart, perhaps I may ask the Minister three questions. First, have these concessions really been made with the long-term interests of the Gurkhas as a whole very much in mind or merely because the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister had been put in a highly embarrassing, if not impossible, situation politically, as he undoubtedly was, largely as a result of a remarkably well staged private campaign and the media interest in it?
Secondly, as the new concessions now go back to 1948, how do they, or how are they seen to, break the spirit and the letter of the tripartite agreement between Britain, India and Nepal, and how are they likely to affect relations with Nepal and its tolerance and support of the Gurkha operation as a whole? Finally—this has already been mentioned—will the Minister give reassurance that in the future these new concessions on top of many other generous concessions, will not generate significant extra costs and expenditure, such as perhaps retrospective enhancement in sterling of Gurkha pensions, even if there is further pressure for that? The Minister knows as well as I that that would fall on the totally inadequate defence budget in a way which, together with any disenchantment in Nepal, could rebound adversely on the sustainability of the whole Gurkha operation so rightly valued by the British Army and the country as a whole. This is my one concern. Perhaps the Minister can give me some reassurance about those points.
My Lords, I thank the noble and gallant Lord for his points. It is interesting to think that the first time we ever served together he was commanding all the British forces in Hong Kong and I was a very young officer about to command a small patrol craft. I know that the noble and gallant Lord has great knowledge of the Gurkhas over many years, as well as his other involvement. First, appropriate advice absolutely will be provided. As well as welfare groups to look after those coming to this country, they will be given advice and be helped to assimilate. These things will be done. Like many other immigrants who come to this country, they will add a lot to our great nation and they will be looked after.
On the noble and gallant Lord’s first question, we have done this really because it is the right thing to do. It was not done in terms of thinking, “Well, will this help their addition to the Army over many years and decades into the future?”. Parliament had given its clear view of what should happen and the nation felt the same way. There is no doubt whatever that the advocacy given by the Gurkha lobby and the divine Joanna Lumley—with whom, sadly, I have had no negotiations, but I am sure I would have folded immediately and given way on anything almost—helped. I repeat that it was the right thing to do, which I am sure everyone can see now.
On the tripartite agreement, we have had quite detailed discussions with the Nepalese. They have not indicated any concerns. We were worried because there is no doubt that the Gurkha pension is a significant amount of money in Nepal. For example, for a corporal and below, the money is about the same as that of a qualified engineer in Nepal. For a sergeant and above, it equates with a Member of Parliament, although I am a bit wary of talking about money relating to Members of Parliament. It is a significant amount of money, which therefore would have some impact on the local economy. We were very concerned about, and we did not suddenly want, an outflow of all these people with a huge impact. The Nepalese Government did not raise that as an issue, but we discussed it with them. I understand that we have talked to the Indians. There is nothing here in terms of settlement that will cause a problem. Effectively, the Nepal-India border is a free border in terms of settling. As far as I am aware, I can say to the noble and gallant Lord that it is not an issue as regards the tripartite agreement.
I have touched already on the future cost to the MoD. I agree entirely with the noble and gallant Lord that defence is under huge pressure and I am on record as saying that I would like more money for defence, but as always a balance has to be struck across government on where money should be spent. There is concern about trying to conflate what we have done with the pensions argument because the £1.5 billion would have to come out of MoD money over 20 years. It is clear from the findings of the Home Affairs Committee and from our dialogue with Gurkha groups that they are not conflated and for the moment I am content with that. However, the noble and gallant Lord was right to observe that that was one of the concerns that caused us to pause and look at this very carefully.
My Lords, I welcome the Statement. It might be of some small interest to the Minister that my father, Miss Lumley’s father and I all served and lived in the same Gurkha regiment. I know that if my father were alive today, and I think I can speak for Miss Lumley and her father, they would definitely believe, like us, that this is a deserving cause and that for once the Government have done the right thing. I also wish to thank the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall, for the interest that he has taken in this subject. Like the Minister, but in 1945 so some years before, I served with him out in the east and I know the sincere love he has for the Gurkha soldier and the trouble and care he took in his role.
We have not yet read the small print that will come out of all this, but I hope that the Government will keep their word. June 11 is close upon us and I hope that the Statement as it has been put makes it clear that the 1,400 immediate cases will be properly resolved by that date. For the rest, we can argue about how many Gurkhas will even wish to come but, given the state of our nation today, perhaps some of us might like to decamp to Nepal for a bit. I wonder if the figures cited will come to pass over the years. In Nepal the nature of family relationships means that children look after elderly parents and we have set, quite rightly, an age limit of 18 for sons and daughters. I am not sure that there will be the immediate rush that the Government were originally worried about.
I also echo the Minister’s statement about the expense. I should have thought that it was time the Home Office took a little more interest in the issue and financially carried some of the burden. In certain areas it would not be right for the MoD to pick up the full cost. We need not worry. Gurkhas understand the verb “to work” and they are very industrious. As the noble and gallant Lord has said, if enlightened arrangements are made to look after the Gurkha pensioner when he comes over with his family, we need not worry that hard work and success in many areas will be the lot of the British Gurkha. Throughout, we must remember that our Gurkhas are British Gurkhas and therefore our responsibility is great.
I thank the Minister for the Statement. Everything has turned out right and I suggest that the emotions that have been stirred up on this issue are now allowed to cool down. It is not edifying to see a unique and great body of men parading outside, albeit with good heart and discipline. The uniqueness of the Gurkha soldier must be retained, and I believe that everyone should now quietly go about their business. I know that the Gurkha soldier will continue to prove his greatness in battle and in all aspects of Army life.
My Lords, the noble Viscount spoke of serving with the noble and gallant Lord in 1945, and the noble Viscount’s father was a man of huge stature. I have great admiration for him as probably one of the best wartime military leaders. It is wonderful to see how these connections carry on. The noble Viscount is absolutely right to say that the Gurkhas are unique and flexible. I remember how once in the Far East we had to pick up some Gurkhas who had become cut off and had not eaten for three days. All we had on board my ship was steak and kidney pudding, but Gurkhas are Hindus and do not eat beef. The Gurkha officer came up to me and said, “Sahib, if you tell them it is lamb, everything will be all right”. I had to cross my fingers and say that the pies were lamb, and sure enough the soldiers ate them and felt a lot better.
The noble Viscount has been a little unfair because the Government absolutely intend to and will keep their word. This will be done by 11 June. As regards the state of the nation and going to live elsewhere, I should say that everything that crosses my desk in the Home Office shows that people want to come to this country. Indeed, as the man responsible for extradition and sometimes trying to get rid of some rather unsavoury people who say that they hate our society and our nation, getting rid of them to any other country in the world is almost impossible. I do not think that it can be too bad here.
I am delighted that the noble Viscount agrees that this is a good Statement.
My Lords, I apologise to the Minister because I forgot that this is a Statement rather than an ordinary Question. I am sure he did not mean to imply that if a Gurkha loses his leg or wins the Victoria Cross within four years of entering service, he would not be allowed to settle here. I want to try to get him to correct the record.
I echo the question put by my noble friend Lord Bridgeman about other British Commonwealth soldiers. Will this open the floodgates and has this been thought through? I do not say for a moment that we should change the arrangements made for the Gurkhas, but has another assessment been done into what might happen if pressure is applied by other Commonwealth soldiers?
My Lords, I do not say that such Gurkhas should not be able to come, but if they have not served for a period of four years there may be special circumstances that we will look into. These things will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, as will some of the issues regarding widows. We have looked specifically at each case to ensure that it can be done.
On the point about British Commonwealth soldiers, it is important to note the difference. We have soldiers from, for example, Fiji, which explains why the Army tends to beat the Royal Navy at rugby—it has so many Fijians—and from many other countries. They come to this country to serve in one of our regiments, in the Navy or in the Royal Air Force. However, the Brigade of Gurkhas is separate and Gurkha soldiers join that brigade; it is different. Without giving a long-winded answer, we have looked at these things in detail, and that is part of the reason that the situation is so complex. It takes time to consider all the ramifications. It is easy to be emotive about things, but as a Government we have to act responsibly on behalf of these very different cases.
To call attention to the effect of disease on the British bee population, the spread of the varroa mite and the consequences for the pollination of crops and fruit; and to move for Papers.
My Lords, the honey bee is under threat. There is no single cause, but uniquely in the insect world, we can have a direct impact on their survival since for generations we have harvested honey from these remarkable creatures and managed their welfare in hives. To a far-reaching extent, their future lies in our hands, which is why I wish to speak to the Motion standing in my name and seek assurances from the Minister regarding their welfare. I have no financial interest to declare. I am not involved with the industry, I own no hives, nor indeed do I carry the name of Lord Hives who, I understand, introduced a bee Bill in your Lordships’ House when this was last debated. I do not claim to be an expert, but I have grown to respect those who work with honey bees and commit their time and expertise to the protection and well-being of the bees. I am honoured to be a member of the East Sussex Beekeeping Association, expertly chaired by Brian Hopper.
One leading expert in this field is Professor Francis Ratnieks, our only professor of apiculture in the UK, whom I had the privilege of meeting last weekend. Rarely has public interest in the plight of the honey bee been more prominent. The written media have focused on the devastation of colonies from varroa mite, protozoa, viruses and bacteria. Martha Kearney, in her recently aired documentary, looked further afield to include the devastation wrought on honey bees from the uncertain world of colony collapse disorder which has dramatically affected pollination. Those whose radios are on soon after 5.45 in the morning have heard the welcome, necessary and detailed analysis as the “Farming Today” team on Radio 4 monitors the progress of honey bees in its own hives, the challenges posed by disease and the decimation of colonies of bees.
The Government have made welcome progress towards funding the necessary research to enable beekeeping to be modified so that the dramatic plight of the loss of bees and colonies can be arrested. With them, those of us interested in conservation and agricultural practice share a keen interest to reverse the decline in honey bee numbers and further understand the behaviour of these remarkable creatures. It was a month ago to the day that the Government announced that £10 million would be spent on research for pollinators, bees, butterflies and other insects. The objective of this announcement was driven in no small measure by a determination to arrest the decline in UK populations of all these insects. The funding was not 100 per cent new, nor exclusive to Defra. Indeed, it covered £2 million from the Government with the balance coming from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Natural Environment Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the Scottish Government.
Along with British Beekeepers’ Association I welcome the announcement, but I am concerned about three key issues. First, can the Minister provide assurance that the £10 million, while welcome, will not be watered down with myriad small and unco-ordinated research grants covering a wide range of the thousands of insects which, to varying degrees, can be termed pollinators? It is clear to those of us interested in the subject that research into the honey bee must take priority and the lion’s share of the funding. Even then, it is doubtful that the decline in bee populations will be managed without a further increase in funding.
Secondly, can the Minister ensure that the funding committee which will oversee the research acts quickly and co-ordinates effectively? Thirdly, can the Minister assure the House that the funding committee will be constituted of experts, with at least one member of it as an expert in the honey bee?
With the permission of the House, I should like to address these issues in greater detail. I believe that the main need is for further research and action in the following general areas: what is killing beehives; how to keep our beehives alive and healthy, including control of the varroa; and how to reverse the decline in hive numbers. At the moment it is unclear how the £10 million will be allocated. It may be helpful if the beekeepers, probably a representative of the BBKA—the British Beekeepers’ Association—were on the funding committee. I am hoping that a good share of the funding will go to the honey bee and that university researchers will be allowed to apply.
I am not sure what the timescale of this will be but I am concerned. In my experience it is likely to be something like this. First, there will be a call for proposals in a few months, after deliberations by funding bodies on priorities and so on. As there are six funding bodies, it may take longer. There will be a deadline for proposals to be submitted to funders. Probably at least three months is needed to allow researchers to do this. Then there will be a review of proposals. This can take up to six months, but must surely be speeded up in this case. As we can see, this process will likely take a year, and then the projects that are funded can be started. Again, it normally takes at least three months, and potentially more, to get a project rolling as it involves hiring researchers. In any event, it may well be the summer of 2010 before this money generates action. That timetable is, in my view—and I hope the view of the Minister—unacceptable.
I have a suggestion: I would be grateful if the Minister could look to fund existing projects as well, but only existing projects on a fast track which fully match the stated interests of Defra, which recently wrote a report, and the National Audit Office, which recently undertook an audit on bee health. In Healthy Bees: Protecting and Improving the Health of Honey Bees in England and Wales, Defra stated that:
“The plan describes the five main things we want to achieve working with, individual beekeepers, their associations and other stakeholders. These are: To keep pests, diseases and other hazards to the lowest levels achievable; To promote good standards of husbandry to minimise pest and diseases risks and contribute to sustaining honey bee populations—prevention is better than cure; To encourage effective biosecurity to minimise risks from pests, diseases and an undesirable species; To ensure that sound science underpins bee health policy and its implementation; and … To get everyone to work together on bee health”.
The NAO report pointed out the need for funding university-based bee health research and also commented favourably on the vital work undertaken on hygienic bees.
The potential for diluting the welcome investment in research into pollinators is critical. That is why I encourage the Minister to look for a swift rollout of support and a few key projects to be funded. As I have mentioned, there are thousands of pollinators but the bee population is unique and, in many respects, it is that unique nature that is likely to maximise the effectiveness of the research programmes. For the most part, bees are kept by beekeepers; as such, they are man-managed. They do the hard work for us. By interpreting their dances we can tell where they are going and where they are not going. By providing information about how honey bees use the landscape, we in turn can provide guidance to farmers and landowners about how they can improve the use of the precious resources of the countryside. This position was endorsed by the NFU. In welcoming the £10 million research programme it called for “accurate targeting” of the funds to identify and solve the real problems facing the key pollinators of crops.
Some specialists put down the plight of the honey bee to climate change alone. I do not share their view. On the contrary, the blame levelled on climate change for far-reaching change in our environment is too frequently abused, erroneous and oversimplistic. The rarely heard first cuckoo, the growingly infrequent songs of the nightingale, the millions of tonnes of poison on the earth, the pollution of the oceans and even the forest fires of Australia—a product of inadequate water retention rather than climate change—are more accurately ascribed to the challenge of environmental management, which lies in our own hands. Real environmental change will come from a change to our landscape. Just as bees constantly monitor the landscape to seek out the most profitable sources, so should we mirror their behaviour by protecting and nurturing the environment on which they depend.
There is little doubt that we must, as a matter of urgency, breed disease-resistant, hygienic bees and provide breeder queens to beekeepers. Breeding disease-resistant, hygienic honey bees is at the heart of the Sussex plan. I live in that county and I commend the report to the House. To me, this is essential work. It will take another three or four years to realise the benefits of this research; after all, animal breeding never ends. Rearing honey bee queens is not a panacea but it is a string to the beekeeper’s bow. This debate is about strengthening that bow through improved, increased and urgently required research now.
We also need to address the question posed in the Sussex plan of research, development and extension. The main question was: how good is the British countryside for honey bees? The number of beehives in the United Kingdom has declined by nearly 75 per cent in the past century from approximately 1 million to 280,000. One major reason for this is a change in land use, leading to fewer flowers. Fields of wheat and barley now have few weeds. Fields of grass now have few wild flowers, and clover is less used. Much of the heather moorland has been ploughed up. To stay in business, commercial beekeepers need hives to produce reasonable honey crops.
I recommend that the Minister, in taking urgent action, also asks all government departments and related agencies to consider specific planting programmes to support the honey bee. The Forestry Commission could surely look at planting programmes for specific trees, such as acacia or limes. The city of Sheffield, by planting tens of thousands of limes, now produces a superb crop of lime tree honey when the weather is kind. Town planners should take a similar approach. The enterprising initiative by the village of Hailsham in Sussex to plant to support the honey bee population is a potential showcase example for towns, villages and cities across the country. Let us call for a return to planting clover. Let us ensure that the Olympic Park, the largest new urban park in Europe, is planted with bee colonies in mind so that local honey can be managed and bottled by local communities, which can bring that local produce to the table of the world’s athletes and the communities in the East End of London for many years thereafter.
That leads on to supporting the Sussex plan, not just for its own merits but as a blueprint for counties and regions across the country. Colony collapse disorder, leaving beehives deserted of honey bees; the growing prevalence of virus-based diseases; the use of insecticides, as evidenced by the gypsy moth spraying in the United States; the wider spread of the tracheal mite, pathogens, protozoa, viruses and bacteria; the impairment of bees’ navigational skills; the loss of 30 per cent of our colonies; and the year-on-year decline in honey bee numbers surely all require action today.
What is more, for once this is an area of government policy that would be widely popular. The protection of honey bees is popular with the public. Why not set up programmes in all our schools to monitor the waggle dance on YouTube for children to decipher this remarkable animal’s signal and learn about environment management schemes in their towns and countryside? “Farming Today” listeners and its cohorts of AB letter-writers will be penning their letters of support to the Minister, and Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells—I declare an interest as a resident of that town—will reach for the PC to send congratulatory e-mails, if, and only if, he can address the House today with the assurance that the £10 million will be fully committed to research projects by year end, that it will be directed principally towards honey bee research and development and that more money will follow on an annual basis until we reverse the trend of dying hives, reduced honey crops and colonies of dead bees.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, for initiating this debate. I declare an interest as an associate member of the Scottish Beekeepers Association. I pay tribute to the valuable part that such associations play throughout the country in the promotion of beekeeping and in the education of beekeepers.
I speak with limited knowledge, having kept one hive in an urban environment, but recent publicity about the plight of bees has aroused public interest in beekeeping countrywide, not least in towns and cities. For instance, a recent edition of the Scotsman featured a lady who about a year ago had taken up beekeeping and now keeps two hives in her small garden in Partick in Glasgow.
An increase in the number of beekeepers with what might be described as amateur status can be helpful in maintaining the number of honey bees within this country, but it may exaggerate some of the problems that now beset beekeeping. From my own experience, I am well aware of the problem of the varroa mite, which has been described to me by a professional beekeeper as the single greatest threat to the honey bee in Scotland. Despite fears voiced in recent documentaries, colony collapse has not been a significant feature of the Scottish scene.
However, the spread of the varroa mite in Scotland has been marked in many areas. Another beekeeper living in Argyll told me that until a year or so ago his hives had been free of varroa, but they had now been affected. He suspected that the mite had been introduced by bees transported from an area elsewhere in Scotland where varroa was rife.
I have been advised that there remain areas in Scotland where bee colonies have not as yet been affected by the mite—namely, remoter areas to the north and west of Scotland and some of the islands. Such varroa-free areas have the capacity to provide a valuable research resource. Among the bees that flourish in such areas is the native dark honeybee, Apis mellifera mellifera. Because of their remoteness, some such colonies are unlikely to be hybrid and therefore are a valuable, if not unique, genetic resource that should be carefully guarded from hybridity and consequential genetic erosion and protected from infestation by the varroa mite. The introduction of other species of bees into such areas can serve only to encourage the generation of hybrid strains, as has happened elsewhere. These factors suggest that urgent consideration should be given to the restriction of the movement of bees from areas where varroa is known to be prevalent to such varroa-free areas. Until some two years ago, restrictions on the movement of bees were in place in Scotland, but these restrictions were then removed and are no longer in place.
There is one further consequence of the spread of the varroa mite in Scotland. A major source of forage for bee colonies in Scotland is heather, which does not flower until relatively late in the season. The single authorised treatment for the varroa mite that is thymol-based works only at higher temperatures that often do not prevail after the heather honey harvest has been completed. That is essential because late summer treatment cannot commence until honey is removed from the hives. Research into more protective and longer lasting treatments for the varroa mite would be a valuable addition to the armoury of the Scottish beekeeper, and probably of beekeepers throughout the United Kingdom; there must be a community of interest in these matters throughout the country.
My message in this brief intervention is to encourage research as well as restriction of movement. I look forward to hearing further from the Minister on these matters with particular regard to the problems of Scottish beekeeping concerning unique genetic resources, movement controls and difficulties of varroa treatment, as well as on the other specific and more general points that the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, has raised and others will raise in this debate.
My Lords, I am full of agreement with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Cameron of Lochbroom, about the need to look into this important issue across the whole of the United Kingdom in an integrated way. Indeed, I would go further and say that it needs a pan-European look, because this problem affects much of western Europe. That said, I am not a scientist and I have absolutely no interest to declare in the issue except in the subject itself.
That the problem exists but cannot be easily explained and then shared is self-evident. This is not one of those crises that is amenable to some magic new law or freshly minted set of regulations, let alone freshly minted government expenditure of a huge amount—although my noble friend Lord Moynihan was quite right about the way in which the £10 million should be spent. In other words, this is a problem to which all the usual public policy panaceas are not necessarily easily applied. There are sometimes extraordinary population explosions in the animal world, mirrored by equally extraordinary population declines. There can be sudden or, on occasions, long-drawn-out declines. There is an unpredictable asymmetry to these swings and roundabouts in nature, in which mankind is sometimes a damage-doing participant and sometimes a surprised and worried spectator, as are many of us in your Lordships' House this afternoon.
The present honey-bee catastrophe made manifest in sudden or colony collapse disorder is not amenable to simple explanation. There are perhaps half a dozen possibilities which have been advanced. Some of them may be interconnected; it may not be just the mite, which I understand—I stress that I am no scientist—to be very much like a little spider. It may not be the varroa mite which is the cause of all evil, but the varroa mite related to other forms of practice. None the less, the population decline should be considered as urgent and, as I have just said, is of interest not only to the United Kingdom but to Europe as a whole. This may not be easy to grasp for the great majority of our population, not all of whom are up at 5.45 in the morning listening to “Farming Today”. The majority of our population is urban, and many, alas, still regard some country or farming practices as alien, for we still have a strong sense of there being two nations—the urban nation and the rural nation—one of which is very large and overweening and the other small and threatened. The rural nation is sometimes not fully understood, but it is in the interests as much of urban-dwelling people as of rural-dwelling people to be concerned about this problem—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Cameron, mentioned the lady with her two hives in her back garden in Partick—because the impact of failure is not just in honey production but, much more significantly, in the whole annual pollination cycle in many crops and most trees. This is most definitely not a minority rural issue.
I have been told by those who are more expert than me that up to one-third of our diet needs pollination. As my noble friend Lord Moynihan pointed out, while bees do not have an absolute monopoly on the activity—there are lots of other pollinators—they are probably the nation’s prime pollinators of ground fruits such as raspberries, of top fruits such as apples and pears and of legumes such as beans and peas. Any failure of pollination in those crops will therefore be manifested pretty quickly and in-year. For trees, it may be slightly different. Let us take one obvious example which I think we all know: the horse chestnut in the wild. Failure to pollinate that tree would equal no conkers. No conkers equals no later regeneration of that patch of woodland by that and other species of trees. So there may—I say only “may”—be a dendrological time bomb in woodlands whose effect would be generational rather than annual. It would not be noticeable for years, but it is an added dimension to the problem which my noble friend described so clearly.
Overall, the impact on our rural productive economy of total failure in the pollination cycle has been estimated at many hundreds of millions of pounds. What can be done? I have sought advice from some experts. There seems to a consensus that solutions, whatever they are, must be broad brush and integrated—a thought that I owe to one expert beekeeper who is also a highly distinguished and very successful former chief executive officer of the Meteorological Office.
I have four suggestions for what might be done. First, there is the need for integrated pest and hive management, which not only strives to find ways of dealing with the mite but also involves better treatment of gut diseases by antibiotics, close attention to hygiene and careful temperature control in the winter. This and much more is needed. The message of integration needs to be spread.
Secondly, we need the promotion of cost-effective research, which my noble friend Lord Moynihan put his finger right on. The research effort must not be dissipated; it must be cost-effective. It should be across not just the United Kingdom but Europe as a whole. That would be a truly useful task for some of the less bureaucratic mechanisms of the European Union.
Thirdly, I turn to bee inspectors. I have never seen a bee inspector, and I do not know whether they wear a uniform or what it might be like, but I am told that those important people, with their unfettered and police-like powers of entry, have been much reduced in numbers in recent years. Can the Minister give us up-to-date numbers for bee inspectors and explain whether there are plans to increase their capacity, at least temporarily, during the looming catastrophe which we face with the honey bee? Perhaps we could lure former inspectors out of retirement and back to hive patrolling for a period of years to fill the gap and help out until a solution is found, as we all hope.
Fourthly, I say cautiously, because I am ideologically opposed to regulation, that the Government should consider for the period in which the problem is being tackled and resolved the need at least for temporary registration of all beekeepers—I do not say regulation but registration—to give an accurate geography of where the problems are and where the bees are being kept, be it in Hailsham in Sussex or a back garden in Partick, because people will need all the advice they can get. I say this with temerity, because I know how temporary registration schemes have a terrible habit of becoming permanent, but I speak of something which is strictly limited to allow solutions—if they are to be found—and good practice to be disseminated among all those who keep honey bees.
Many other measures in addition to those four can be taken, most of which have been clearly pointed out by my noble friend Lord Moynihan. In the week of the Chelsea Flower Show, wildlife-friendly gardens are very fashionable. Planting with an eye to bees can make a useful contribution to bringing the urban and the rural nations together, although it has to be handled with care. My noble friend mentioned the importance of the planting of lime trees in increasing honey production in Leeds. I can think of one species of lime, Tilia petiolaris, which is very floriferous and wonderful to smell but has a terrible narcotic effect on the bumble bee, which after a short period falls drunken on the ground with its legs twitching. Happily, it generally recovers but almost immediately returns to the flower—I guess that that is a habit also of some humans, on returning to the scenes of their intoxication. So, beware Tilia petiolaris.
The Minister, I hope, has found me uncharacteristically reasonable, muted and prepared not to blame the Government but to make suggestions and work with them. I see him nodding assent—he has never seen me in this state in all the years in which we have known each other, both in another place and in this one—and I find myself caught rather by surprise. He need not fear, first, that I am going to blame the Government for the entire problem—I wish that I could, but I cannot—or, secondly, that I am going to call for massive new public expenditure or an enormous new bureaucracy, although I do think that the money needs to be spent in the way in which my noble friend Lord Moynihan pointed out. He certainly does not have to fear that I am going to call for the appointment of some bee supremo or bee tsar by the Prime Minister to look into all the problems. By the way, what did happen to all those tsars that were appointed in such blazes of publicity since 1997? What did they actually achieve, and what have they done since the first photocall was completed? That is something for future political historians like my noble friend from the University of Hull to look into.
Neither am I going to suggest, the Minister will surely be relieved to hear, that there should be some sort of bee summit in No. 10, with the Prime Minister being forced to pose, looking interested, beside a hive introduced into the garden after the discussions are all over. No; we need a common-sense approach to this issue. I hope that the Minister will respond to my considered and modest suggestions, but respond much more clearly and in terms to the magnificent and highly important speech of my noble friend Lord Moynihan.
My Lords, I should draw the attention of the House to my declaration of interests; I own agricultural property, and my law firm has an agricultural practice which, I believe, includes beekeepers. Unlike Dr Vince Cable from the other place, I am not a beekeeper and, as will become apparent, my expertise in this field is limited. However, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, on calling for this debate on an important and far-reaching problem. I also congratulate the British Beekeepers’ Association and Mr Tim Lovett, its president, for alerting the country to the consequences of varroa and other diseases that are currently devastating the bee population in this country and much of the rest of the world. I also congratulate them on the work that they are doing to assist in overcoming those diseases and problems.
The Government’s announcement of additional funding on 21 April for research into bee health has also rightly been welcomed throughout the House. The role of bees is crucial in the pollination of plants and many other aspects of our ecology. Bee products, such as honey and beeswax, have great nutritional and other benefits. In a well-known shop the other day, I picked up some honey lip balm and some almond milk beeswax hand cream—not for my own use but for somebody else’s. The therapeutic effects of beeswax and honey are legendary, but the role of bees in facilitating pollination and the ecosystem is essential.
The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, was absolutely correct that there is considerable public interest in this matter. I learnt from an article in the Daily Mail of 19 May that Albert Einstein is reputed to have said,
“If the bee disappeared from the surface of the Earth, Man would have no more than four years to live”.
I also learnt from the article that:
“It is estimated that bees contribute about £850 million a year to Britain’s economy simply by pollinating commercial crops”.
I am informed that there is considerable concern about the threat of bee colony collapse disorder, which has been devastating the beekeeping industry in the United States of America. An inexplicable loss of worker bees has resulted in between 50 per cent and 90 per cent of colonies dying across the United States. I am informed that the factors considered important in the decline of bees are parasites and diseases, changes in the availability of forage, changes in beekeeping practices and, possibly, exposure to pesticides. Those factors do not work in isolation; nevertheless, the spread of varroa is universally acknowledged as the crucially important factor in the decline of bees. The presence of varroa has also triggered a dramatic increase in the spread of other viruses in the bee population.
As I have said, bees not only provide a potential pollination service for crops and wild plants—a very important service—but they are vital for world agriculture and horticulture, pollinating not only food crops but particularly fruit and vegetables. The decline of the bee population is having a terrible impact on subsistence farmers in many developing countries. The importance of the problem in the United Kingdom is also demonstrated, as I understand it, by the Scottish Government and the Wellcome Trust making contributions to research grants.
The honey bee is the principal pollinator and is of immense economic significance in plant pollination. The funding has been welcomed but, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said, it is essential to ensure that its bulk will go on bee health research. I hope that the Minister will reply on this point and assure the House and the British public that this is exactly what is happening. It would also be interesting to hear from the Minister what research is being done in the United States, as well as in other countries, and what level of co-ordination there is between our British research bodies and those of the United States—and, for that matter, those of other countries being blighted by this dreadful disease. It is a worldwide problem; all countries should learn from one another and be only too happy to pool research and information.
Finally, for agriculture there are a number of tax advantages: for example, tax averaging for income tax purposes. Can the Minister confirm whether those advantages are available to this country’s hard-pressed beekeepers? There is much important work to be done, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister on what progress is being made.
My Lords, the House is much in the debt of my noble friend Lord Moynihan for bringing up this timely topic for us to discuss. I declare my interest in the welfare of bees as a countryman and a farmer. I notice that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs estimates that the economic value of crops grown commercially in the UK that benefit from bee pollination is around £120 million to £200 million per annum. I presume that that refers to crops with an immediately marketable value.
Another aspect follows on from the debate that was concluded in this House earlier on the need for an intensive strategy to reduce carbon emissions if we are to meet the Government’s 2050 target. The area of relevance to the case we are considering is the substitution of artificial nitrogenous fertilisers—which represent a huge generation of CO2—with bacterial nitrogen fixation in crops, which at the moment is confined to leguminous crops. I do not know whether I can offer any comfort regarding the concerns of my noble friend Lord Moynihan, as both organic and grassland farmers are having to turn increasingly to these crops—particularly clover—to sustain viable production. This was particularly so when the price of artificial nitrogen went above £250 a tonne last year. Although it has now dropped back to about £180 a tonne, that is still twice what it was previously. Leguminous crops are highly dependent on bees and form an important base in the honey market. Has the Minister’s department any estimate of the value of leguminous crops to the economy in their role of nitrogen fixation, and will they consider adding that to the benefits that we obtain from bees?
The effect of disease on bees seems fairly straightforward—they die. I am not a beekeeper and so am not aware of actions that may be taken to heal them after disease has struck, although I believe that it is possible to remove healthy bees from a hive containing European foulbrood. As mentioned by my noble friend, the Government have persuaded key research funders to devote an extra £8 million to bee health research. This is most welcome as the previous figure of £2 million was patently inadequate. From what my noble friend Lord Moynihan said, it seems that this extra money will come from other budgets and not directly from Defra.
The British Beekeepers’ Association has been active, and in its document, Honey Bee Health Research Concepts, has identified the key research projects that it would like to be pursued. Has this list been incorporated as part of the Defra bee health strategy, as I understand there has been criticism of the level of consultation that was undertaken in drawing up this policy? Like other noble Lords, I have received briefing from the University of Sussex’s specialist apiculture department. It is encouraging to see the four projects that it already has under way, and which in some ways mirror those mentioned by my noble friend Lord Moynihan. Do the Government have plans to extend this kind of research by similar outside agencies, or will their efforts be concentrated on their own research facilities such as the National Bee Unit?
The Government’s report, The Health of Livestock and Honeybees in England, makes a number of points that give me cause for concern. Defra estimates that there are 40,000 beekeepers and keeps a database containing details of 17,000 active beekeepers, which is roughly half of all those who keep bees in England and Wales. It also keeps a record of 14,300 who have kept bees but do not now have any. This sounds a little bit like the DNA database, and, one wonders, at what cost? Have the “several thousand revisions” identified through the Bee Unit inspectors’ survey been entered in the records?
Returning to the worries of my noble friend Lord Patten, I have been informed that one initiative springing from this new emphasis on the health of bees is to compile a complete register of all beekeepers in the country. What budget has been estimated for the cost of obtaining and registering the details of the remaining number? This type of exercise is a statistician’s delight but, given that so much research is required, is that really the most effective use of the money?
Most of my information comes from the National Audit Office’s excellent publication, The Health of Livestock and Honeybees in England, published on 4 March this year. Section 4.13 deals with imported exotic diseases of honeybees. The facts are astounding to one who seldom, if ever, considers bees and fatal disease in the same breath. The spread of the varroa mite—which was much mentioned this afternoon—has been inexorable. It has developed resistance to traditional treatments and is now regarded by Defra as impossible to eradicate. It was removed from the list of notifiable diseases in March 2006. Instead, the National Bee Unit has issued guidance on methods of killing the mite and the Veterinary Medicines Directorate has begun talks in Europe aimed at relaxing the licensing requirements for treatments. There are annual imports of some 9,000 queen honeybees into England and Wales. Of these, in 2008, 5,500 came in 103 consignments from the EU and were subjected to a 10 per cent physical check, which identified two cases of notifiable disease. Imports from the rest of the world came in the form of 63 consignments, containing a total of nearly 4,000 queen honeybees. All of them were physically examined and disease or pests were found in 24 consignments—that is, 38 per cent. None of the diseases found was notifiable, but some of them were known to weaken bee colonies, making them more vulnerable to more serious infections.
I find myself wondering how our bees have come to suffer both from varroa and sudden colony collapse. Is it because the infecting agent is airborne? Does it come in on imported fruit and foods carried by commercial transport, or conceivably in passenger luggage? Is it perhaps the result of the evolution of some other bug which lives here and in its original form may not even affect bees? However it begins, the disease of the varroa or sudden colony collapse variety threatens crop fertility in our fields, gardens and allotments. The severity of this threat ranges from the loss of output of £120 million per year, of which we spoke earlier, to the scenario mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Burnett, of the annihilation of the human race within four years. I do not believe either scenario and consider that such guessing games to be irrelevant, provided we take the actions necessary to protect our bees from disaster.
I have been involved in farming and country management most of my life and I regret that it is most unusual for any farmer or major landowner to keep his own bees for his own crop. There are increasingly those who have in recent years made considerable efforts to ensure that they grow the sort of products that attract bees to their land. They are aware of the importance of bees to husbandry in general, but do not seem to be able to take steps to import their own bees, to house their own colonies or to encourage others to keep bees close to their land. Have the Government discussed this possibility with the NFU or have they commissioned the Bee Unit to try to extend the range and numbers of those involved?
The report that I referred to makes a number of points that give further cause for concern. It speaks of an online database linked to a website, together known as BeeBase, which supplies details of the incidence of disease and guidance on best practice. The report, however, is critical of the website’s efficacy. I can do no better than quote the report, which states that,
“the website is not fully compatible with the minimum accessibility standards required for government websites, meaning that not all web-users would be able to view it properly. Typing search terms such as ‘bees’, ‘bee advice’ or similar words into an internet search engine did not find BeeBase on the first page of results, making it less likely that beekeepers previously unaware of BeeBase would have found the site. In addition, we found that some of the information on the website was out of date”.
This failing is made even more important by the finding, noted in paragraph 4.17, that,
“not all beekeepers are fully aware of the regulations for importing honeybees, and some do not know that there are controls relating to imports from within the EU”.
The report states that nearly 80 per cent of reported cases of notifiable disease are found by members of the Bee Unit in the course of inspecting hives; 17 per cent are notified by beekeepers already on the database, but only 3 per cent by non-registered keepers. The report comments that if disease is present in the same proportion in colonies belonging to unregistered beekeepers as in those whose details are on the database there is more than twice as much bee disease in this country than has been identified. The report goes on to suggest that this extra level of disease is not being notified because the beekeepers concerned do not know how to identify notifiable diseases or are unaware of the requirement to notify any they find. This is an important problem.
Will the Minister take urgent steps to ensure that the website conforms to government standards? Will he then instruct Defra to advertise the website in other publications that are likely to reach the 17,000-odd hobby beekeepers not on the database and not in regular touch with other beekeepers? I suggest, for example, putting an advertisement in county council newsletters that are delivered to local homes once or twice each year, on the premise that someone with one hobby may well have another. It might also be possible to put an advertisement on the main noticeboard of every further education college in England and Wales.
Let us hope that our efforts today will bring the issue of bee survival further up the agenda of people’s concerns.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, on introducing such an important topic and speaking to it in such a constructive way. I am grateful to him for several of the points that he made.
I should emphasise—this is a partial response to the anxiety expressed by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, about the means of communication—that there are 44,000 beekeepers in the United Kingdom and only 300 professional bee farmers. It is easy enough to relate to the professionals but much more difficult to deal with the enormous number of beekeepers who have only one or two hives and, as the noble Duke indicated, are difficult to communicate with and often lack essential knowledge. I assure him that we will take on board his point about how our communication might be more effective. I certainly accept his injunction about cleaning up the website and getting rid of some of its imperfections. Work is under way on that. We are all too well aware of how important it is for communication to be effective and accurate, and I am grateful to him for identifying areas where things could be improved.
I have absolutely no answer for the noble Duke on the wonderful question of whether we have a monetary analysis, which I think is what he really wanted, of the value of nitrogen fixation in leguminous crops in the United Kingdom. I can only just pronounce the concept, let alone produce an answer to his question. I have not the faintest idea about that and am not sure whether anyone in government has, but if an answer emerges I shall assuredly write to him.
There is one other point with which I want to deal briefly. The noble Lord, Lord Burnett, mentioned the United States, where there are very real anxieties about the bee population. The only point of solace that I can give in discussing a very real problem requiring urgent action is that, unlike the United States, we do not have a massive industry in bee movement for the specific pollination of farmers’ crops. That is particularly the case with almond nut crops in the United States, where bees are cultivated and carried vast distances to pollinate farmers’ crops at particular times of the year. We do not have that movement problem in the United Kingdom, so in that sense we can be a little more confident of keeping control over the issues than in the United States, from where we hear from time to time the most alarming messages about the bee population. Of course, those messages are a warning to us about why our action here needs to be effective.
We recognise the point that the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, made in introducing the debate about the significance of honey bees for pollination and their importance to the nation’s food and to our economy as a whole. Honey bees are facing a growing number of threats from pests and diseases, including the varroa mite, which poses a significant challenge to beekeepers. I say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Cameron, that certain aspects of this matter fall to the Scottish Executive and Scottish Ministers, as he will appreciate, but I assure him that they are addressing the issues in the same way and with the same urgency as Defra is addressing them in England.
With regard to the withdrawal of the regulations, given that the noble Lord, Lord Patten, has held out the olive branch of co-operation today, I am obviously going to have to co-operate with him, and therefore I find myself, rather as he indicated, in a possibly unique position. I agree with him entirely that we should not overregulate. The regulations are just not working because they are not controlling varroa, and there is absolutely no point in insisting on retaining them if they are not producing an effect. We should address ourselves to dealing with the problem, and I shall approach that issue in a moment. However, there is an element of deregulation, which I am sure will commend itself to the noble Lord.
Today, I particularly want to emphasise the work that we are already undertaking. I cannot answer the question about whether bee inspectors wear uniforms, but they certainly do not have police powers. There are only 70 bee inspectors and they are crucial to the work that we are doing to deal with the current problems that we face. The National Bee Unit and its inspectors are a crucial part of Defra’s current work. They receive funding from both Defra and the Welsh Assembly Government.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, who is being so helpful. It may be difficult for him to answer the question today, but I asked specifically whether in recent years the number of bee inspectors had been reduced. If the noble Lord cannot give an answer this afternoon, perhaps he will write to me. My noble friend Lord Moynihan and I wonder whether a call for volunteers to help the bee inspectorate would appeal to the Minister.
My Lords, it might appeal to the Minister, but bee inspectors have to be trained and need expertise. Transforming volunteers into effective bee inspectors is quite a challenge. I emphasise that the National Bee Unit is a serious unit, on which we rely a great deal as one of the weapons that we are deploying to tackle the issues that we face. The main activities are inspection and enforcement. The bee inspectors are out in the field, controlling notifiable pests and diseases. The unit is responsible for research and development. It also has that crucial role of communication, which the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, suggested needed to be fulfilled as effectively as possible. It has a crucial role in advising beekeepers, which is a significant task. The unit contributes to the evidence-based policy development, including identifying risks to bee health from current and emerging threats. The National Bee Unit is critical to this challenging issue that we all face.
The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, identified for the House aspects of government activity in terms of the Healthy Bees plan, which the Government published in March after considerable publicity. The plan comes from the recognition that honey bees are facing a number of threats from pests and diseases. It gives direction and focus for the Government, beekeepers and other stakeholders to work together to respond effectively to the threats and to sustain honey bees and beekeeping now and in the future. There is no doubt that the challenge to beekeepers is significant. The plan, as rightly identified by the noble Lord, sets out to keep pests, disease and other hazards to as low a level as possible. It sets out standards of good beekeeping and seeks to establish effective biosecurity to prevent the spread of pests and diseases. It will ensure that everything that we do is underpinned by sound science and evidence.
I shall come on to the science in a moment, because the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and other noble Lords put great emphasis on the research aspect, which is of the greatest importance. Of course, the plan is an attempt to get everyone to work together on a common problem, or I should say problems, because we do not know what the individual problem is. The challenge is enormous. In response, on top of the current £1.3 million a year that is allocated, the National Bee Unit will receive an additional £2.3 million over two years, which will be used for the following three priorities. The first is to get a more accurate picture of the numbers and distribution of beekeepers and a robust assessment of the health of their colonies, which presupposes that it will address the issues raised by the noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, of effective communication. Its second priority is to increase learning opportunities, because by definition, if we have an extraordinarily enthusiastic but nevertheless amateur industry on the whole, it is very important to support, educate and encourage beekeepers in good husbandry. Prevention is, after all, better than cure.
My Lords, is the £2.3 million part of the extra funding that the Minister talked about?
My Lords, the extra funding, which I am coming to in a moment, relates specifically to research. It is not part of that.
The third priority, which the noble Lord emphasised to me, is that we have our databases up to date. They are a key source of free advice, training and information for beekeepers in this interesting but diverse industry.
The importance of engaging beekeepers has been given renewed emphasis by the many reports of colony collapse, which raises the question of how seriously our bees are under threat. Of course, today’s debate has identified just how anxious the House is. There is no doubt that the varroa mite is a great anxiety. We cannot attribute to it the sole responsibility for the difficulties that we face. In fact, because we do not know the range and nature of the threats to bees and the issues of colony collapse, we are putting great emphasis on research, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, kindly identified in his opening contribution. By definition, however, because we do not know, we must be less than specific about research. I am grateful to noble Lords who have succumbed to our important and sagacious lobbyists. I heard the University of Sussex mentioned. The department has had the benefit of a note from that university. No one will underestimate the significance of its contribution, but it is too early to judge whether its submission is the best one for tackling this issue. We are inevitably involved in an evaluation of the submissions that emerge and I have no doubt that the University of Sussex will play its full part in that.
Unless we are extraordinarily fortunate, we will not expect to be able to identify only one research strategy. If one is unsure of the nature of the problem, the research must have an element of diversity to it by definition. However, I entirely accept the indication of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, that the problem with research is that it may take an undue amount of time. It takes time to reach decisions on who should receive the money and then more time to translate the allocation of the money into effective action. We are expecting research submissions to be packaged and presented in such a way that some of the issues that the noble Lord raises about how long it takes to appoint researchers and so on may be solved within that framework, because the people are already in post to carry out that work.
I entirely accept the noble Lord’s point that the necessity for research cannot be denied, as the noble Lord, Lord Burnett, also emphasised. It must not be an argument for delay when every noble Lord who has contributed to this debate has emphasised the urgency of the situation. That is why we are launching this important new research initiative, as announced in April, to tackle the decline in insect pollinators, including honey bees. As noble Lords have indicated, there are more contributors to this situation than just the honey bee, important though it undoubtedly is. Understanding the causes of its decline will help us to identify the best possible action to support and sustain the species for the future. This is of surpassing importance given the role of pollinators in local food production, which has been thoroughly identified by a number of contributions to this short debate.
Of the £10 million to be devoted to research, Defra has contributed £2.5 million. This is a joint initiative from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Natural Environment Research Council, the Wellcome Trust, the Scottish Government and, of course, Defra itself. I can assure the House that this research project will be treated with the requisite degree of urgency—a point that I have been enjoined to respond to in the debate. The timetable for research is such that we expect invitations to be issued in late June. We therefore anticipate projects to be commissioned in early 2010.
My Lords, will the Minister bear in mind the strength of opinion across the House this afternoon that the lion’s share of the £10 million research budget should go to honey bee research?
My Lords, I am careful about being too pre-emptive because of our necessary reservations about the research projects that will emerge, but I think that the noble Lord is right. We have identified the particular threat that exists for honey bees at present. That is why, as the noble Lord will appreciate, those who have expressed most interest at present have emphasised the honey bee.
My Lords, in the light of what the noble Lord has said about where funding comes from—I understand that part of it comes from the Scottish Government—can I be assured that the research will cover the problems of beekeeping throughout the United Kingdom? He suggested that Scottish beekeeping is the responsibility of the Scottish Government. I would like to be assured that the research is going on in consultation with the Scottish Government about problems that are Scottish, as well as United Kingdom problems.
My Lords, of course, as the noble Lord is keen to emphasise, the problems know no boundaries in the United Kingdom. By the same token, neither does research—not research as fundamental as this is bound to be. I talked about Scottish Ministers and Scottish responsibilities more in connection with communication with Scottish beekeepers and the Executive part of the issue. On research, I can give the noble Lord the greatest reassurance.
There is one point on which I cannot respond as positively as I would like, although on all occasions I take all suggestions in debate with the utmost seriousness, as, I know, do my civil servants. Defra cannot give assurances about the waggle dance being taught to schoolchildren. That is the responsibility of another department. I have not discussed the matter with that department yet, so the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, will have to wait for me to carry out my personal research before I can give him a positive response. Failing in that respect, I hope that he has been reassured, in raising these issues this afternoon, on the importance that the Government attach to those matters and the constructive response that we intend to make.
Before the Minister sits down, with regard to the timing of the debate, I wonder whether he knows the wise country ditty, “A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay; a swarm of bees in June still is quite a boon; but a swarm found in July is not worth a fly”. As a very amateur beekeeper, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, for initiating this debate, which has been extremely informative and useful for amateur and professional beekeepers alike.
My Lords, better than from this Dispatch Box, the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, has the authentic voice of the beekeeper to contribute to the debate.
My Lords, I am deeply grateful not only for the good humour but, more importantly, for the comprehensive and informative replies given by the Minister to the points raised, especially on the R&D programme. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Cameron, very much for his focus on the varroa mite. It is timely, as the mite appears increasingly resistant to current treatment and as the damage from varroa grows. I thank my noble friend Lord Patten for his emphasis on the need for a universal agreement on an integrated and cost-effective approach. The solution needs to be wider than a British one; it has to be European and international. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Burnett, for concentrating on the pollination aspect, which, as the title of our debate suggests, has a massive effect on the agricultural economy, with $14 billion of crops in the United States pollinated by honey bees. Finally, I thank my noble friend the Duke of Montrose for his characteristically insightful speech from a lifetime of experience in matters agricultural that my noble friend and I can never aspire to. I am considerably wiser for this informative debate but no less comfortable with the threat to the survival of honey bees. In that context, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
House adjourned at 3.40 pm.