Debate (4th Day)
Moved on Wednesday 18 November by
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
“Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament”.
My Lords, today’s debate covers the important fields of transport, climate change, energy, communities, the environment, housing and local government. I am delighted to be sharing the ministerial stage with my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, who will be winding up, and we much look forward to the maiden speeches of the right revered Prelates the Bishop of Blackburn and the Bishop of Lichfield. None of my informants can find a recent precedent for two Bishops making maiden speeches in the same debate, so we are blessed indeed.
The gracious Speech promises legislation,
“to protect communities from flooding”.
Since it was delivered, Cumbria has experienced one of the most serious floods in British history, so I know that the House would wish me to begin with an update on the situation. A month’s worth of rain had already fallen across the region in the first half of November. Then, in just three days between Tuesday and Friday of last week, places such as Keswick and St Bees Head experienced a further month’s rainfall. On Thursday, 314 millimetres of rain fell in Seathwaite and Borrowdale. It is thought to be the wettest 24-hour period ever recorded in the UK. Further heavy rain is forecast this week. Already, at least 1,300 properties have been flooded, several bridges have collapsed and the road network has been badly affected.
We are doing everything that we can to help Cumbria County Council and local communities to deal with the severe flooding. A particular issue is the loss of road bridges in Workington, which presently has only a functioning rail bridge. The county council is considering the construction of a temporary road bridge, and relevant government agencies, including the MoD, are offering support. Network Rail also starts work tonight to build a temporary railway station in Workington on the north side of the River Derwent—in addition to the station on the south side—to ease the access problems that the town is experiencing. My department is also providing emergency funding to cover the cost of repair and maintenance work to roads and bridges, just as we did two years ago when the last floods struck. I will return to the issue of floods later in my speech.
In respect of the other subjects of today’s debate, the gracious Speech commits the Government to “strengthening the national infrastructure”; to,
“respond to proposals for high-speed rail services between London and Scotland”;
“combat climate change, including at the Copenhagen summit”;
“support carbon capture and storage and to help more of the most vulnerable households with their energy bills”;
and to improve the management of water supplies.
I begin with transport. It is the lifeblood of the UK economy, moving people, goods and services, helping to generate growth and enabling trade and industry to flourish domestically and internationally. However, transport also accounts for around 21 per cent of the UK’s total domestic greenhouse gas emissions. It is therefore central to our efforts to tackle climate change. Achieving the twin objectives of transport that supports the economy and reducing carbon emissions is a significant challenge. To meet it, my department has a three-pronged approach: first, a sustainable infrastructure strategy, to provide additional capacity in the most efficient way; secondly, a green industrial strategy, to make the UK a global centre for low-carbon transport industries; and, thirdly, a transport reform strategy, to encourage public transport and healthier, as well as greener, choices such as cycling.
Expanding motorway and trunk road capacity sustainably is a key element in our infrastructure strategy. The £6 billion strategic roads programme for the next five years was announced in January and is now being implemented. A significant innovation in this programme is investment in making possible hard-shoulder running on motorways, following the successful pilot on the M42 near Birmingham. That demonstrated that the hard shoulder can be turned into a running lane at a fraction of the cost of conventional motorway widening—but with equivalent benefits—and that, with the installation of regular lay-bys and appropriate traffic officer supervision, there is no compromise on safety. The £6 billion programme extends this successful model to congested parts of the M1, M6, M4 and M5.
On high-speed rail, until recently Governments saw rail in the United Kingdom as in a state of inevitable and irreversible decline and they failed to invest in new infrastructure. As a result, today we are behind most other developed countries in building a high-speed rail network. Yet over the past decade rail has experienced a tremendous renaissance in Britain. High-speed rail has the potential to meet future inter-conurbation capacity requirements and to transform, sustainably, the transport connections between our major conurbations, with substantial economic, social and environmental benefits.
International experience bears this out. Before high-speed rail, just 24 per cent of journeys between Paris and Brussels were by train. Since the introduction of a high-speed line between these cities, the proportion of train journeys has more than doubled, to 50 per cent, with a huge increase in capacity. In Germany, high-speed rail is so popular that Lufthansa has scrapped flights between Cologne and Frankfurt—little wonder, now that the new high-speed line has slashed the 110-mile journey time by train from 2 hours 15 minutes to just under one hour. Before high-speed rail in Spain, two-thirds of journeys between Madrid and Seville were by plane; just a third were by train. With the advent of a high-speed line, the railway now takes 84 per cent of the market. A similar dramatic change is taking place on the Madrid to Barcelona route, with the opening of the high-speed line between the two cities earlier this year.
The question now is where we go in Britain. In January, the Government set up the High Speed Two company to advise on high-speed rail services from London to Scotland. By the end of the year, High Speed Two will have advised me on a detailed route plan for the first stage of a north-south high-speed line, from London to the West Midlands. I have also asked it to advise me on options for extending high-speed services to conurbations further north and to Scotland. The Government will respond to the HS2 report with a statement of policy next spring.
I wish to forge as broad a consensus as possible. I welcome the fact that Theresa Villiers and Norman Baker, as spokespeople for their parties, have been engaging constructively with High Speed Two. I will endeavour in the new year to agree a strategic approach with them, so that the development of high-speed rail in Britain becomes a national and not a party cause. I also look forward to discussions with colleagues in this House on high-speed rail. It is my firm belief that a project of this magnitude, with such long-term investment and planning timelines, will succeed only if we all work together, across the parties, on a shared national strategy. That will be my principle of action in the months ahead.
Turning to our wider transport strategy, perhaps I might highlight electrification in respect of rail, cars, vans and buses. On rail, we are investing £1.1 billion to electrify the Great Western main line from London to south Wales and the line from Manchester to Liverpool via Chat Moss. The benefits of rail electrification are huge. An electric train typically emits up to a third less carbon per passenger mile than does a diesel train; electric trains are also far more reliable and far cheaper to buy and maintain than diesel trains.
On road transport, significant further improvements in fuel efficiency will come from the internal combustion engine, but manufacturers are developing mass market electric and hybrid cars; government policy is to encourage their uptake and to make the UK a leading global centre for designing and building them. The Government have committed more than £300 million to subsidise the purchase price of ultra-low-carbon vehicles, which are more expensive than conventional cars because of their batteries. Last week I took a significant further step by launching the £30 million Plugged In Places scheme, which will set up charging points for electric vehicles in a number of towns and cities nationwide. I have also established a £30 million Green Bus Fund, for which bus companies and local authorities in England can compete to help them to buy new low-carbon buses from next year, and a £20 million scheme for public sector fleets to trial up to 180 low-emission and all-electric vans supplied by four British companies—Ashwoods, Allied Vehicles, Smith Electric Vehicles and Modec. This pilot scheme will be tested in six local authority groups and by six large public fleets. The Government will continue to work in the EU to develop regulations for further reducing CO2 from new vans.
Most journeys in this country are local—40 per cent are less than two miles and 68 per cent are less than five miles—so local authorities, too, have a key role to play in decarbonising transport. Bus patronage is now at its highest level for two decades and through the Local Transport Act we have made it easier for bus operators and local authorities to work together to deliver better services for passengers. I also want buses to be easier for people to use. As we have seen in London with the success of the Oyster card, which from 2 January is to be extended to overground train services as well as Underground and buses, smart ticketing makes public transport far more attractive to passengers and is helping to make a reality of what for my predecessors seemed like an unachievable holy grail—a genuinely integrated transport policy. We recently consulted on a smart and integrated ticketing strategy. Following a very positive response, I intend to publish final plans shortly with further significant incentives to spread the smart ticketing approach to other cities.
In policy terms, I have also placed particular emphasis on cycling, not as an occasional travel option but as a mainstream form of transport that is viable, healthy and sustainable. Cycling England has a three-year budget of £140 million and is doing much excellent work, including the designation of cycling demonstration towns. Across the six towns, cycling levels have increased on average by 27 per cent over three years. But we need to do far more. Nearly half of adults own a bike and 60 per cent live just 15 minutes from a railway station, but only 2 per cent of train passengers travel to the station by bike, so I am boosting cycling facilities at stations with a £14 million package of investment. I am also encouraging employers to provide staff with much improved cycling facilities through a new Cycle to Work guarantee, which is being supported by leading public and private sector employers. This commits employers to provide their staff with safe bike storage, changing facilities, a bike repair service, training and access to the Government’s generous tax break scheme, Cycle to Work, for new bikes and cycling equipment.
In all these areas, our strategy is to improve transport while also cutting carbon emissions. Of course, climate change is also a global challenge, requiring global solutions. This, again, is partly a transport issue. Aviation and shipping are fast-growing sources of emissions and they are, by their very nature, global sectors which are regulated at international as well as national level. That is why, in addition to setting targets to reduce emissions from UK aviation to below 2005 levels by 2050, we successfully negotiated the inclusion of aviation in the European Emissions Trading Scheme, which will begin from 2012. We are leading moves to achieve international agreement to reduce carbon emissions from both aviation and shipping at the Copenhagen summit and after.
Sectors beside transport are equally important in tackling climate change. One of the major challenges in the transition to a low-carbon economy is ensuring secure and sustainable energy supplies. Britain is now a leader in the development of offshore wind power and we are putting in place a new framework for delivering the significantly greater clean energy generating capacity required for the future. We recently published draft national policy statements on energy infrastructure to guide the decision-making of the new Infrastructure Planning Commission. In July, we published the low carbon transition plan.
The Energy Bill promised in the gracious Speech is a key part of this. Clean coal has an essential role to play in our energy future. However, we need to fund the projects that will demonstrate the carbon capture and storage technology required to reduce the emissions from coal-fired power stations. We recently published our response to the consultation on a framework for clean coal. This includes a commitment to financial support for up to four carbon capture and storage demonstration projects and the retrofitting of additional carbon capture and storage capacity to those projects, should it be needed. The Energy Bill will provide the necessary financial support mechanism.
As energy costs rise, it becomes more important that we help the most vulnerable consumers with their energy bills. The Energy Bill will therefore introduce a framework for mandatory social price support to alleviate fuel poverty. Building on the success of the current voluntary agreement with energy companies, which already helps more than 1 million customer accounts, this mechanism will further enhance support. It will allow the Government to give greater direction on the types of households eligible for support and ensure that more of the available resources are targeted at households most in need.
The Energy Bill will also clarify the principal objective of Ofgem to ensure that it reflects the interests of consumers in reducing emissions and ensuring secure energy supplies. It will also make it clear that, while promotion of competition is the foundation of consumer protection over the long term, Ofgem should act proactively to remedy cases of consumer detriment. We will also introduce a licence condition to make it easier for Ofgem to tackle market exploitation where companies take advantage of constrained electricity transmission capacity.
I turn now to the provisions of the Flood and Water Management Bill, to which the House paid close attention after it was introduced in draft last year. This Bill answers the urgent need—still more urgent after the events in Cumbria this past weekend—for the legislative changes recommended by Sir Michael Pitt and it takes forward proposals set out in the Government’s water strategy, Future Water. After this past weekend, the House hardly needs reminding of the gravity of the 2007 floods, which claimed 13 lives. By implementing Sir Michael’s recommendations in response to those floods, we hope to reduce the impact of flooding on communities and businesses in future.
Legislation is only one part. We are also investing a record £2.15 billion in flood management over the current spending period. But it is necessary, in law, to define clearly the roles and responsibilities of all involved in flood risk management. Under the Bill, the Environment Agency will take a full strategic overview, while local authorities manage the risk to homes and businesses of local causes of floods. The Reservoirs Act will be modernised. Regulation will be based on the risk posed by a reservoir breaching, not just on its size, making communities living close by safer.
Homes and workplaces also need greater protection from surface water flooding. For the first time, the Bill gives responsibility for addressing the causes of run-off flooding. To reduce such flooding and to prevent sewers from overloading and rivers from being polluted, the Bill encourages the installation of sustainable drainage systems in new developments.
The Bill safeguards consumer interests and ensures continuity of supply. Provisions leading to more efficient delivery of large infrastructure projects will help to protect water customers from escalating costs. The Bill also enables government to give water companies more flexibility and scope to restrict non-essential domestic uses of water during droughts by updating the existing hosepipe ban powers. The Bill allows water and sewerage companies to operate concessionary schemes for surface water drainage charges, so that community groups will no longer face unaffordable rises in their bills. Floods can happen at any time. We must be ready and this Bill is of immediate importance.
I turn to local government. Over the past decade, the Government have steadily transferred powers to local government. In the case of the Mayor of London—with whom I am happily joined at the hip in promoting Crossrail—we have created a new and powerful tier of local government for our capital that Members on all sides of the House will regard as a success.
One key role of local government is to promote community cohesion, which is particularly important in a recession, with all the tension that it brings. Strong and positive community relationships can be built only where people feel able to speak up about their concerns and feel confident that their voice is being listened to. Our Connecting Communities programme, launched in October, is part of that process. We are investing £50 million between 2008 and 2011 to promote community cohesion, with £34 million going directly to authorities in greatest need. Of course, money is only part of what it takes to promote social cohesion. Strong cross-community civic institutions are the bedrock of a strong society—I know that this will be a major theme of our debate today.
Another critical responsibility of local government, working in partnership with the voluntary and private sectors, is the provision of social housing. The Government are taking forward the biggest council house building programme for nearly two decades. Work began on nearly 30,000 homes between April and June this year; 55,000 affordable homes will be built this year and the same number will be built next year.
Across the broader field of local government, four significant developments are in train, which, taken together, have the potential to improve the delivery of local services. First, the Total Place approach is mapping all public service spending within each area to evaluate the potential for far greater use of shared services, innovative procurement and joint commissioning by different public bodies in each area. Secondly, local authority scrutiny powers will be extended to all local public service spending. This will enable councils more effectively to campaign, to hold spending bodies to account on behalf of citizens and to challenge public services to improve. Thirdly, there will be new roles for local government, including the ability to generate new income. This is not about new or higher taxes but about exploring the significant commercial opportunities for local government in the transition to a low-carbon economy, for example in generating energy from renewable sources. Fourthly, it is critical that our public services are transparent and open to examination. The work being undertaken by Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Nigel Shadbolt on making data more accessible to the public must extend across the whole public sector, including local government and local services.
I have set out an extensive programme of reform and improvement flowing from the gracious Speech. It is far more than a list of Bills, policies and proposals. It is a statement about our core values as a Government, about an economy and infrastructure that will promote wealth and prosperity for all, about an environment that is sustained and safeguarded and about a society that values cohesion and the rights and responsibilities that we all owe one to another. This is our mission as a Government. I am confident that it is widely shared across the House, to which I commend the gracious Speech.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, for updating us on the floods in Cumbria. We on these Benches would like to extend our sympathy to those families who have lost their homes, to the many people who have lost their jobs, to the many others who are feeling insecure and to those who have lost family members. I should like to say how very sorry we are and how much it overshadows everything that we do here today, safe in London.
While the floods in Cumbria cannot be directly attributed to climate change, the statistics show that the frequency and intensity of such events are increasing dramatically. The importance of preparing our country to withstand the effects of global warming, while making every effort to reduce carbon emissions and establish renewable energy sources, has never been clearer. My noble friend Lord Taylor, who will be speaking for these Benches on the Flood and Water Management Bill when it comes to this House, will focus on the necessary measures to be taken in the future. I look forward to hearing his remarks as he winds up for us on these Benches at the end of the debate and speaks on the environment, agriculture and local government.
I thank the Secretary of State, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, for opening today’s debate on the gracious Speech with his usual wonderful enthusiasm. It was a valiant effort to talk up the Government’s legislative programme this Session, despite having very little material to work with, as witness 12 minutes on transport from a 21-minute opening speech, which he himself described as an odyssey.
I shall focus primarily on energy and climate change matters. Looking at the list of 35 speakers, I anticipate a very interesting afternoon and evening listening not least to the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield, who I believe is to speak on agriculture, and that of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, who I believe will speak on transport—a brace of Bishops to welcome to your Lordships’ House and to this debate today. I wish them well.
However, I fear that many of my noble friends will share my disappointment at the draft Energy Bill, published last week, and at the lack of hard commitments that the Secretary of State, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has been able to give us today. I am of course happy that we finally have before us for consideration provisions dealing with carbon capture and storage and a social tariff.
What we have been given is largely welcomed, but there is not nearly enough here to reassure us that Labour has genuinely accepted the critical importance of addressing both the causes of climate change and the looming energy crisis. For the first 10 years in power, this Government swept both these enormously important issues under the carpet, leaving the United Kingdom falling behind the rest of the world in every area of energy security, from investing in renewable energy sources to providing sufficient gas storage. Over the past 12 years, we have seen 15 Energy Ministers come and go, giving each of them an average of only nine months to get to grips with a complex and highly technical brief. It is no surprise then that, with such lack of focus in the Government, so little has been achieved.
The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, had the temerity to warn us recently that we were on the brink of a catastrophic future. It is this Labour Government who have brought us to this, with 12 years of denial, dithering and delay. Even now, when mounting evidence makes it impossible for Labour to continue to prevaricate any longer, their response is lacklustre and entirely inadequate. I can only hope that the Prime Minister will not be taking any of his party’s apathy to Copenhagen in December. The role that we must play as a developed country, and as part of the European Union, is a large one. We have a responsibility not only to lead by example but also actively to help less developed countries to find a way to combine economic growth and poverty reduction with responsible development. That will not be easy but there is a growing awareness around the world of the terrible consequences of the failure to act. Gordon Brown must resist any temptation to settle for a statement of intent or anything less than a rigorous, binding agreement to take meaningful action on an international scale; nor must this Government take the easy way out of blaming inaction at home on difficulties abroad. No matter what comes out of Copenhagen, we still have a responsibility to cut our own carbon emissions and develop alternative green energy sources.
Getting meaningful policies out of the Labour Government has been like pulling teeth. Their commitment to the rollout of smart meters—something that they put on the front page of every publication coming out of the Department of Energy and Climate Change—was, as your Lordships will remember, accepted by Labour only because of a Conservative amendment to the Energy Bill in 2008 which would certainly have been won in this House. The proposals in this Session’s Energy Bill on carbon capture and storage are also long overdue.
It is not just on legislation that the Government are taking a ridiculously long time to come to any sort of decision: it took two years of pressure before the Secretary of State for Energy released the planning guidance necessary for getting the next generation of nuclear power stations under way. It was not until the Government’s own analysis identified the very near certainty of power blackouts in the near future that they were able to take this controversial but absolutely critical decision.
We welcome with relief the news that the Government have finally admitted that our country needs a high-speed rail link. From the way the Secretary of State tells it, the issue has only just come on to the agenda, but we have been calling for improved high-speed rail links since 2007. These proposals should have been introduced long ago. They would provide not only a stimulus to the economy in the north but a much needed, more attractive and greener alternative to driving or flying.
I have covered what has been promised by the Government and turn now, finally, to what has not. Once again we are looking at an Energy Bill that fails to include so much that is necessary. By missing this opportunity the Government are wilfully delaying the programmes and schemes that are critical to reducing our carbon emissions, meeting our international commitments and ensuring a safe and affordable supply of energy for the United Kingdom. If the Government are serious about addressing our carbon emissions, their provisions on carbon capture and storage are only the tip of a very big iceberg. Their promises are also undermined by their past bungling of the Kingsnorth plant. I hope the Minister can give the House some assurances that that sort of bureaucratic dithering and delay will not happen again.
Labour has brought forward no new ideas for encouraging renewable energy in this Energy Bill. We need new sources of renewable energy on line immediately, not in several years. Where is the diversity of energy supply by amending the regulatory regime to enable biogas production? Where is the freeing up of local authorities to establish renewable heating networks? Where is the establishment of marine energy parks to encourage innovation in promising sources such as tidal and wave power? These are such missed opportunities.
The cruellest omission is the Government’s silence on fuel poverty. The social tariffs are good as far as they go—and I heard the Secretary of State’s promises today—but where are the necessary provisions to stop energy companies taking advantage of price fluctuations to make excessive profits when energy prices fall? We would introduce proper transparency into energy tariffs to allow homeowners to make sensible decisions over which plans are the most suitable for them. I hope that the Government will listen to our advice on this.
As for real answers to the question of domestic carbon emissions, we would provide an entitlement for every home to have energy-efficiency work, and we would introduce a scheme to identify energy-efficient household goods. We would seek to help the public save money and reduce their carbon emissions. I hope that during the Bill’s passage the Government will listen to our advice on this as well.
I have spoken long enough as many other noble Lords are waiting to contribute. Suffice it to say that, when the Energy Bill reaches this House, we will do our usual thorough job of scrutinising legislation and, I hope, make some improvements too. In the mean time, I look forward to hearing the rest of the debate and the response of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.
My Lords, not much transport legislation was foreshadowed in the gracious Speech. What we have had from the Secretary of State is something of a progress report on initiatives that were already in train. In making my points, I should be very grateful for a response in writing if there is no time to give one at the end of this debate.
I should say to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, that this is also a challenge to the Conservatives. We do not buy very easily into the idea that they were first in the field with high-speed rail. I remember working for the railway when a Conservative Government sent a member to the British Railways Board with a remit to preside over the orderly running-down of the railway, so I will take no lessons from them on that.
Three things matter: congestion; energy use; and climate change—perhaps, following the noble Lord, Lord Lawson of Blaby, I should say pollution. I will give two examples of congestion. Congestion in London is forecast to rise by 17 per cent by 2031. Last year, on the A34 between Oxford and Newbury, it rose by 16 per cent. These figures are alarming. I bring to noble Lords’ attention the words of Reuben Smeed in the 1930s, who described congestion as a self-exciting phenomenon. That is, it will get worse and worse until very quickly you get gridlock. We want the efficient use of public transport and a greater restriction on road use.
An item in the Observer two weeks ago said that Thameslink and Crossrail were under threat of £750 million of budget cuts, and referred to the usual Treasury mandarins carrying out a “value for taxpayers’ money” exercise. That may be journalistic licence, but I would like to know from the Minister whether these schemes are really going ahead as planned, and from the Conservatives whether they will support them if they become the Government.
Are there any other plans in hand for road-user charging, because many people—including Boris Johnson, because he said so in his draft transport strategy—believe that it is inevitable? The Government really do need to do some serious work instead of pretending that there are technical obstacles. There are no such obstacles, because this works in so many parts of the world.
The electrification to which the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, referred is vital for reasons of climate change, efficiency and the cascade of rolling stock. Many areas of the country are dependent on rolling stock from the electrified lines being transferred to them to keep services going. The very old trains in many parts of the country are well past it; many Members of your Lordships’ House who have travelled in Pacer trains know exactly what I am speaking about.
I do, however, suggest that the electrification programme outlined by the Secretary of State is wrongly conceived. I still believe that there is a much better case for electrifying the Midland main line and the Gospel Oak-Barking line rather than the Great Western line beyond Oxford. I say that as a user of the Great Western line, but I know the advantages that would come particularly for freight and for linking Nottingham, Leicester, Derby and Sheffield into the electrified network. I do not know whether the Conservatives have a policy for electrification. Perhaps we will hear about that.
It is absolutely essential that the east coast line remains in public ownership until the Government have sorted out what the franchise system is supposed to be about. What the passenger experiences should be the centre of our attention. You do not monitor franchises by measuring train punctuality very approximately, because that is not what the passenger experiences. Train companies have become very well able to manipulate train times to show how good they are, but passengers do not get the quality of service that they should. I know that Passenger Focus is doing some work using sampling methods of passengers’ actual experience rather than these crude punctuality measures. If the Minister does not know about it, no doubt he will familiarise himself with it. The week before last I was perchance given one of these forms on Banbury station. It is very long, with around 80 questions, but it does test everything connected with your journey.
Everyone who uses the railway knows that there is not enough luggage space in carriages, that the fare structure is almost impossible to understand, and that the impact on the tourist industry—I imagine that my noble friend Lord Glasgow will refer to it—must be awful. The Secretary of State has published a paper on station improvement, and that is welcome because many stations are almost slums. Indeed, I shall pick up on one point he made about battery charging points for cars. Railway car parks would be excellent places to recharge cars, and it is my view that we should be making friends with the motorist, not treating him as the enemy.
More rolling stock is desperately needed. I know that 200 extra diesel carriages were cancelled. That was absolutely wrong and I do not believe that it would have required money from the public purse. Provided that we had come to an agreement under Section 54 of the Railways Act 1993, I know that the roscos would have financed them out of their own resources. Those carriages are urgently needed in many parts of the country.
We strongly support high-speed rail, but that would not involve spending a lot of money during the next Parliament. The east coast railway needs action now. It is overcrowded and could be substantially improved. My noble friend Lord Mar and Kellie will refer to this when he speaks. The Secretary of State may have seen an article in the Yorkshire Post yesterday which appeared to be a transmission of a Railtrack press handout about a second high-speed line from London. I am somewhat puzzled as to who is calling the shots. Is it the Secretary of State, is it Sir David Rowlands or is it Network Rail? If people are putting forward different schemes, in reality they are enemies of one another because they will simply start debates rather than take action.
Some time ago, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, and I went to see the Secretary of State about NATA, the new approach to traffic and transport appraisal of all forms of public transport. We are still awaiting a real response to our requests. If you use econometric measures to analyse the impact of schemes, while that makes work for civil servants and accountants, it does not usually produce anything. We need schemes that treat issues such as congestion and pollution as important ones.
I shall describe Network Rail in very short terms. It is inefficient and arrogant, it is not under public scrutiny and is not delivering a 24/7 railway service. I should like to know what the Government are going to do about it and I should be interested to know what the Conservatives are proposing to do about it. Network Rail is totally dependent on government funding yet we seem to have no influence over what it does. I have suggested a few things that we could spend money on, but there are some things that we might not spend money on, such as the intercity express train, the ERTMS new signalling system and the sheer complexity of the system we are trying to operate.
I turn briefly to buses, which provide more journeys than any other means of public transport. However, they are plagued by congestion and by a lack of enforcement of traffic law. A debate has been started by the department on a fuel duty rebate apparently based on the thinking that operators might buy buses that are not fuel efficient. The fact is that every operator buying new vehicles looks at fuel efficiency as one of its major concerns. There is too much regulation in the bus industry. The concessionary fare business is, apparently, being sorted out—I have read the paper and I know it is out to consultation—but it is a running sore.
The Secretary of State may have seen an article in the Evening Standard last week about where bendy buses go to die. There is a picture of all the bendy buses off route 38 parked, it looks like, in a field—certainly among a lot of trees—and I wonder what this has to do with efficient Conservative policy. So may he wonder, because these buses cost a huge amount of money and they are not being used. As far as I can tell from riding on them and talking to users, they are a popular means of transport.
I shall stop there because I have gone on for long enough. I hope I have given the Minister a few things to respond to, either in writing or at the end of the debate.
My Lords, I declare a range of interests, current and historic, which, if events in this place develop the way they appear to be developing, may eventually exclude me from contributing on the only subject I know anything about—food. I am a director of two family farm businesses, a trustee of the Lawes Agricultural Trust and was for many years the chairman of a company called Northern Foods. I am also hoping to locate five wind turbines on my family farm.
The Queen’s Speech will make a number of useful contributions to mitigating the causes of climate change. However, I would like to highlight two fundamental nettles which must be grasped if Governments, both nationally and globally, want to make a real difference, and they both relate to food. It means taking on two powerful, opposing, warring pressure groups which, from their different perspectives, deny the science. On the one hand, there are some green pressure groups which oppose scientific research for irrational evangelical reasons; and on the other, there are free-marketeers such as the noble Lord, Lord Lawson of Blaby, who deny that human beings are to blame for the problems of global warming.
Food is probably the greatest source of the greenhouse emissions which are changing our climate so dramatically. This situation is set to get far worse as the world’s population increases by 40 per cent, further exacerbated by rising affluence, which will lead to more people eating more food and, especially, more meat. On present trends, the world will have to double its food production over the next 30 years. What can Governments—collectively, as at Copenhagen, or separately—do to alleviate this dire situation? What can we, as citizens, do by changing our own behaviour?
The first major nettle for Governments to grasp is that while most environmental pressure groups are right to be concerned about the impact of modern intensive farming systems on biodiversity, they are wrong to conclude that such methods contribute more to climate change than low intensive farming systems. The reverse is the case. The intensive farmer who produces 10 tonnes of wheat per hectare will almost certainly create lower CO2 emissions per tonne than an organic farmer who is producing only five tonnes per hectare. Yes, the latter is not using oil-based fertiliser, but he must plough and cultivate more than his counterpart; his need for organic fertiliser requires him to rely on methane-emitting livestock for this purpose; and, of course, his productivity or yield per hectare is half that of his conventional neighbour.
If Governments and the public accept this argument—never mind the reality that a world totally dependent on organically produced food would be faced with a massive endemic famine—then all kinds of mitigating actions can be considered based mainly on backing responsible research into agricultural science and technology. These would include developing plants—probably but not exclusively through genetic modification—which reduce the need for ploughing, a very unhelpful practice; developing plants which can capture carbon rather than release it; developing plants which are more drought resistant and reduce the need for irrigation; developing plants which would be less dependent on nitrogen to produce a heavy crop; and developing machines which would apply fertiliser and chemicals more precisely and therefore less wastefully. At present these materials are applied haphazardly across a field. If each plant received only its own needs, far fewer chemicals would be needed and the environmental and cost benefits would be enormous.
Next, farmers in the richer parts of the world have dramatically increased their outputs over the past 40 years, because they are big enough to raise the debts necessary to invest and apply modern science and technology. Sadly, farmers in the developing world have not been able to avail themselves of these technologies because they are far too small to raise the necessary collateral and, even if they did, their farms are too small to enable them to apply these methods. The level of waste experienced by poor farmers is shocking, as they cannot afford to protect their crops from insects, disease and weeds and lose much of them to the weather because of inadequate harvesting equipment.
Many well meaning NGOs argue for a rural status quo in the developing world, understandably worrying about what might happen if, by applying more modern technology, vast numbers of farm workers would lose their jobs and have to migrate to the cities. They are wrong to adopt such a Canute-like position. Any time now, for the first time, the world’s urban population will exceed the rural one. That trend is accelerating in all parts of Asia, and even Africa. Such migrations create enormous social problems, as they did in 19th-century Britain, but they must be managed and not resisted. However bad urban poverty may be, rural poverty is almost always worse. I know this from observing rural poverty in Ireland as a child.
If the social revolution takes place, the remaining fewer but larger farmers in the developing world will be able to raise the collateral to invest and dramatically increase their productivity although, as in the West, they must expect to be tightly regulated to minimise the harm caused to the environment by modern systems. In order to enable all this to happen, Governments must increase their support of agri-scientific research and not reduce it, as has been the case in recent years. But Governments can do only so much and, unless human beings, especially the rich ones, change their ways and their behaviour, the crisis will not be averted. Put simply, we eat too much, and too much of the wrong type of food, and we waste too much. By far the largest subsidy that rich consumers give to farmers is the huge amount of food that they buy from them and never use but throw away.
More than 30 per cent of the children in my home county of East Yorkshire are obese. They are probably overeating by 20 per cent and they are probably consuming 50 per cent more, largely meat-based, fat than they should. Eventually, the penny is surely going to drop and, if it does, there will be a significant reduction in food demand, especially for meat, with a huge impact on slowing down climate change, never mind a dramatic improvement in the health of our citizens, especially the younger ones—and the capacity of the world to feed itself. Excessive food waste is a shameful reflection of a modern consumer society. We buy more food than we can possibly consume at home and in restaurants. We no longer bother to make a second meal out of our leftovers. As a result, 30 per cent of the food purchased in shops and restaurants is dumped. Think of the impact that there would be if we could significantly reduce this figure, both in reducing the emissions created in producing such food, and in reducing the environmental impact of disposing of this waste.
Governments will, eventually, have to seriously penalise citizens for such dangerous practices through taxation and regulations. Sadly, however, most citizens would still appear to oppose such action and would punish any political party in the polling booths if it pursued such policies. That is why politicians are understandably reluctant to do the right thing, preferring instead to be champions of the motorist and the avaricious, self-indulgent consumer, and leave the market to sort it out, as the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, suggested last night. The world will remain on the precipice of disaster as long as this nettle is not grasped and, as a result, the Copenhagen conference will be no more than a platform for frustrated but worthy people to let off ineffectual hot air and for the flat-earthers to deny that we have a serious problem. I hope that the next Queen’s Speech will be less timid in tackling these issues once the main political parties have got the general election behind them.
My Lords, I am honoured to be a new boy in your Lordships’ House. I begin by thanking noble Lords for their generous and warm welcomes, and I am grateful to the staff of the House for all their help to me in the induction process.
The diocese of Lichfield, where I serve, contains some of the most deprived urban areas in the country, including Wolverhampton, West Bromwich, Walsall, Burton, Tamworth and Stoke-on-Trent, as well as some of England’s most beautiful rural areas: the Peak District, the Staffordshire moorlands and the hills and rolling plains of north Shropshire.
When I was a boy, you could still sometimes see horses ploughing fields alongside tractors. Rapid mechanisation in our lifetime has meant that fewer people live on the land, fewer earn their livings from it and fewer still are acquainted with the routines and rewards of farming the land. As many of your Lordships will have done, I decided to test my little granddaughter on her agricultural knowledge recently. She got milk right—she knew that it came from cows—but she could not agree with me that potatoes came up through the soil. She knew that they came from the supermarket on the Camden high road.
“Give us this day our daily bread” is not an abstract prayer for most people in the world, and while the effects of climate change will impact hardest on the poorest, the fierce weather of the past weeks reminds us that none of us, even here, will be exempt from the need to cope with a rapidly changing climate.
While the last few decades have been tough on most farmers, the agricultural sector has been relatively resilient to the shocks of the recession. Total income from farming rose by 36 per cent in real terms last year; so did income from farming per person. And—whisper it not in Gath—I have even known farmers admit, with some embarrassment, that because of the weaker pound they have done rather well out of the EU recently.
New technologies, as we have heard, are revolutionising agricultural yields. The Government have been keen to champion the role of choice in driving up standards in public services. I am pleased, therefore, to be able to report to the Minister that in Shropshire the principle has been extended also to its bovine inhabitants. The latest carousel for cows, where the cows themselves choose when they want to be milked, has led to a very successful increase in milk yield.
Elsewhere, I have started to understand the new biomass generator technology being piloted at the Harper Adams University in Shropshire, and I am proud that JCB, which started in 1945 in a lockup garage in Uttoxeter in Staffordshire, is now the world’s third largest manufacturer of construction equipment. These success stories have brought companies such as Dairy Crest and Müller to my patch. Müller proudly claims that the milk used in its products comes from within a 30-mile radius of its factory at Market Drayton. So the next time you pick up a Müller Light yoghurt, you might remember that it originated in a cow grazing peacefully somewhere in my diocese.
The dairy sector, though, has been pretty hard hit. Staffordshire and Shropshire are leading dairy counties, and dairy farmers face another decline in UK wholesale milk deliveries in the year ending this August. Dairy farmers continue to suffer from unpredictable swings in milk prices, exacerbated by the large chains undercutting local dairies. Bovine TB continues to take its toll, with the loss of milk sales and the compensation for slaughtered stock lagging well behind stock prices. I also mention with concern the collapse of Dairy Farmers of Britain, the co-op that went into administration in June and took with it the closure of a dairy near Uttoxeter with the loss of 250 jobs.
As those of us who listen to “The Archers” know, there are five local facilities that are most highly rated by village people: the pub, the village hall, the post office or shop, the school and the church. Many of your Lordships will have seen the research sponsored by Defra that says that the churches, as the largest voluntary bodies in our country, play a vital role in community vibrancy. Indeed, for farmers facing the kind of difficulties that I have described, the churches’ rural stress network has been an invaluable support. However, there is some feeling in our villages that lawmakers need to give wider recognition to the contribution of churches and faith-based organisations in providing the social glue that holds communities together.
In that spirit, all of us on these Benches are grateful that the Flood and Water Management Bill will contain measures to enable water companies to charge lower tariffs for surface water drainage to churches as well as to scout huts and community halls, which were otherwise facing crippling increases in their water bills. This will enable them to focus on worship and work in the community, rather than fundraising to meet increasing bills. I thank the Minister for the fact that the Government have listened and acted. We hope that the Bill will make it into law in the time available.
None of these issues is without its complexity, and many of them have important moral and spiritual dimensions. In the UK and worldwide, it is essential that farmers respond to the issues of climate change and population expansion. In the UK, we are fortunate, as the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, recently affirmed, to have the knowledge and research bases necessary to meet these new challenges. I look forward to playing my part in the work of your Lordships' House.
My Lords, it is a very great privilege to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield. I am told that he started his working life by picking hops in Kent; I suspect that that was not intended to lead to a profession in the brewery industry or, indeed, in public houses. Similarly, my first job as a bricklayer’s labourer did not encourage me to go into the construction industry. Instead, the right reverend Prelate has had a long pastoral ministry in the church, during which time he became the Area Bishop of Southampton and, since 2003, he has been bishop in his present diocese of Lichfield.
The right reverend Prelate described, very movingly, the diocese that he represents, some of the problems which the people there face and some of the achievements for which they have been responsible. A mixture of the Black Country and the Potteries on the one hand and the rolling acres of Shropshire on the other must give him plenty of opportunity to study life in all its aspects. He had an early calling for missionary work but, happily for us, his evangelism has been here in the UK. That was probably a very wise decision, when one considers the falling congregations in many of our churches.
The right reverend Prelate’s speech was a remarkable demonstration of his expertise in a number of fields. I have to emulate the late Sir AP Herbert who, when giving his election address to the electors of Oxford University, said very simply when it came to agriculture, “I know nothing about agriculture”. It is perfectly clear that the right reverend Prelate knows a great deal about agriculture. His story about people not knowing where potatoes come from reminded me of the story of the little girl who discovered where eggs came from and said that she would never eat another one.
The role of the church is enormously important, as the right reverend Prelate has said. We look forward to hearing more from him in the years ahead.
The gracious Speech confirmed that we will have the Energy Bill, which has already had its First Reading in another place. I will resist the temptation to comment on the Bill, save for one point. It outlines a new electricity supply levy, as the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, described, to provide financial support for the clean coal policy via carbon capture and storage demonstration projects. Of course, we must look at the merits of the scheme when we have the Bill, but the details will be in regulations: that is very clear. I applaud the provision in the Bill that these regulations will be subject to scrutiny in both Houses of Parliament.
Those who remember the Planning Bill and the community infrastructure levy will remember that when we sought that procedure for that levy we were very firmly rebuffed by another place. After that, the noble Baroness the Leader of the House told me that she very much wanted to avoid that happening again, and I have to say that she appears to have been as good as her word. Whether or not she was responsible, we are grateful to her. It also shows that it pays to make a fuss!
The draft national policy statements published on 9 November require scrutiny by both Houses of Parliament. How will that be handled in this House? They are huge documents and very detailed. I believe that the handling may have been discussed through the usual channels, but when will the rest of us know how that will be done?
In the remaining few minutes I will raise two issues on nuclear energy policy. First, so far it has been claimed by the nuclear industry and firmly accepted by both major political parties that there should be no subsidy for new nuclear build. The market will provide. Companies and consortia have been buying land, developing applications and working with the regulators in order to put themselves in a position to invest. The Government are for their part—and I agree with my noble friend on the Front Bench: after wasting years in delay and dither—now working hard to remove the barriers and facilitate progress so that the first new nuclear power station may come on stream by 2017 or 2018. But is that enough?
Any major investments face uncertainties, but given the long timescales, the uncertainties of future electricity prices and doubts about future carbon prices, it has been suggested in some quarters that more reassurance is needed. In particular, those people are asking for some guarantee that the price of carbon will not fall to the point where the low-carbon advantage of nuclear is reduced compared with other sources. Putting a floor under the carbon price has become a watchword and would reduce the risk to investors, but could the UK conceivably do that on its own? We are, as the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, reminded us, participants in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, which is where the carbon price is set. For the life of me, I do not understand—and have not had a convincing explanation—how this country could act unilaterally to put a floor under the carbon price.
I suggest an alternative. A better response would be to develop, on our own, the concept of a carbon credit for low-emission technologies. The ETS is intended to impose a high and rising penalty on the high emitters in their bids to buy and pay for permits. But why should not the proceeds of that be used to reward the low emitters through a system of carbon credits? I spelt out that argument in rather greater length in a recent issue of The House Magazine.
I am advised very firmly that it would not be regarded as a subsidy. It is simply the converse of the penalty on high emitters. It has also been suggested that it would not fall foul of the ETS or contravene EU competition laws, but it needs further study. It is a possible solution. Are the Government studying this solution as a help to the investors?
My second question is about nuclear waste. The national policy statement EN-6 says that we now have an acceptable solution for waste, that it will be developed and that this can be relied on by the Infrastructure Planning Commission when dealing with individual applications. It will deal with spent fuel from new build as well as legacy waste. However, the relevant paragraph in EN-6 says that there is,
“a presumption of a once through fuel cycle for new nuclear power stations, as set out in the Nuclear White Paper (and therefore assuming no reprocessing of spent fuel)”.
This is described as an assumption, but does it reflect settled policy? A once-through fuel cycle leaves spent fuel with vast potential reserves of fissile fuel for further use in reactors, provided it is reprocessed. Moreover, it could be used in conjunction with the stocks of plutonium which are currently in store to produce mixed oxide fuels. This is happening abroad but not yet in this country. I ask again: what consideration are the Government giving to recycling spent fuels so as to use this potential energy source, rather than putting it away in a deep repository? I am told that the Minister’s department is considering proposals for a new MOX plant, perhaps via a PFI. Could this possibly be feasible without recycling?
We await the Energy Bill’s arrival in this House. It will certainly, as my noble friend on the Front Bench said, need very careful examination. I look forward to taking part in that process.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield on his excellent maiden speech, which mixed a certain charm with a definite edge. He is a major addition to your Lordships’ Chamber.
I will comment on the Government’s programme to combat climate change. It was good to hear some significant additions to this programme in the gracious Speech and discussed by my noble friend Lord Adonis. It has also been good to hear the topic mentioned so substantially in the speeches given to date. We should recognise how important it is to keep the pressure on. The Climate Change Act and the Energy Act have deservedly won plaudits, but they are largely projects for the future. They do not reflect current reality, which is that in many respects in this country we lag way behind the avant-garde states, such as Sweden, Denmark and Germany. In terms of the proportion of energy delivered by renewables, for example, we are near the bottom of the league of European Union countries. A sharp and steep rise in the proportion of energy delivered from renewable sources is a prerequisite to meeting our targets for greenhouse gas reductions.
However, I stress that there are quite serious mistakes made on this issue in a good deal of the literature on climate change. These mistakes are also contained in some government literature. It is often suggested that delivering a certain proportion of energy from renewable sources will, ipso facto, deliver a similar reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. This premise is false. Much depends on what happens in the rest of the economy. It is possible for a country to have a high or increasing proportion of energy come from renewables and, at the same time, for greenhouse gas emissions there to rise substantially. A good example of that is Spain, which gets a higher proportion of its energy from renewables than Germany does, but where, over the Kyoto period from 1990, greenhouse gas emissions rose by around 14 or 15 per cent. The reason for this is the significance of the building industry and of tourism in the make-up of the Spanish economy. From that, it follows that we must target not just production but consumption.
It is not enough to concentrate on delivering a high proportion of renewable energy sources in the energy mix. In my eyes, the best recent publication to raise this issue—and to deal with it, if I might say so, very adventurously—is from the Sustainable Development Commission, which has produced a number of publications. The most important of those came out in the form of the book Prosperity Without Growth?, produced by Professor Tim Jackson. That came out just this year, although the reports that gave rise to it were produced some years before. The work of Tim Jackson and the Sustainable Development Commission makes it clear that we must target consumption. In other words, lifestyle change is an absolute prerequisite to reducing overall emissions within the economy.
The work of Tim Jackson fits neatly with the report produced for President Sarkozy in France. A number of prominent economists, including Professor Joseph Stiglitz, worked on that commission, which provides a means of measuring welfare over and beyond GDP. A core contribution of the Sustainable Development Commission’s work is simply to pose the question—and to try to answer it in a fairly detailed way—of why simply measuring welfare in GDP terms will not do. What is the point of the endless piling up of GDP if it does not increase human welfare? We know that, in many circumstances, it actually reduces overall human welfare.
Lifestyle change is therefore a prerequisite of climate change policy and I have some questions for all three political parties here about that. It is a myth to suppose that lifestyle change can be produced largely through persuasion. Many people use anti-smoking campaigns as a way of showing what could be done, in producing lifestyle change through persuasion, to persuade people to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Smoking is, however, not a good example; it took some 30 years to make significant changes and, even today, about 37 per cent of the population in this country still smoke. My recipe for lifestyle change is like the motto of the suffragettes, which, it might be remembered, was “Deeds, not words”. Deeds are what will change public opinion.
To me, taxation is the main means that has been demonstrated to change behaviour. If you compare, for example, average fuel consumption in the European Union countries with that of the United States, you see that fuel consumption in the EU is about half that of the US. Why? Well, it is simply because there is much higher fuel duty in Europe than in the United States. The work of the Green Fiscal Commission is important on this issue. Noble Lords will probably remember that the commission suggested that green taxes should rise from about 7 per cent, where they stand now, to 15 to 20 per cent by 2020. To me, that is not radical enough; we need much more fiscal innovation, too.
I close by posing three questions to all three Front Benches. One must take seriously the fact that climate change is not a party political or a left/right issue. Therefore, we need to sustain important substantive political consensus on it. Will the Government and other major parties make a serious and committed response to the report of the Sustainable Development Commission? What would this response be like on a detailed policy level? Secondly, what strategy is envisaged for a serious move away from GDP as a measure of welfare? What strategies do the Government and the other two parties have to make a serious move away from GDP as a means of indexing the relationship between growth and welfare? Thirdly, in a speech that has been trailed, and I believe is being given, today by George Osborne MP at Imperial College, he says the following:
“I want a Conservative Treasury to be in the lead of developing the low carbon economy”.
I commend him for that and for the other comments in the speech. My question to all three parties is: what prospects are there for a radical shift in taxation structures geared to reducing emissions in the relatively short term? I should like to hear a range of responses from the three Front Benches to these three questions.
My Lords, I travelled down this morning on a train marked “East Coast”. I understand that that railway company is now run by the Secretary of State, or at least is controlled by him at some level. Signs in the train read, “We are providing a service as usual”. As usual, my sliding seat was broken, so I thought, “Yes, it is service as usual”. However, the train arrived on time, so from that point of view I gave the noble Lord a tick.
I do not know whether the noble Lord knows just how much envy there is among probably the great majority of Members of this House who dabbled in railways and railway engines when they were small at the fact that he is running a railway company. We all enjoyed the Reverend Audrey’s books featuring Thomas the Tank Engine, Henry the Green Engine and a big, rather arrogant engine called Gordon, painted blue—but perhaps I had better not go further into that. We all wanted to be engine drivers. I am sure that the Secretary of State had ambitions beyond being an engine driver and wanted to be the Fat Controller. However, he is the wrong shape to be the Fat Controller. Whenever I think of the noble Lord in future, I shall think of him as the Thin Controller. We all wish him the very best of luck and success in running the east coast railway for a while.
I am supposed to be talking about local government and the environment, but as a railway freak I cannot avoid picking up one or two issues. I was rather disappointed by the churlish way in which the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, dealt with high-speed rail. Some of us remember when none of the political parties supported it. However, the Liberal Democrats supported it long before the others. I think that it was the 2002 general election when the Conservatives sent out a letter to those on their target mailing list saying, “Don’t vote for those Liberal Democrats; they want to build a high-speed railway line to the north of England. This will be a dreadful waste of money and it will put your taxes up”. I have a copy of that letter if anybody wants it. Back in the 1990s when I was a member of Lancashire County Council, that council was campaigning for a high-speed line to the north of England. Now there is a general consensus on it. The argument has been won in principle and it is a question of how to do it, how practical it is and where it should go—not just to the north of England but to Scotland and other parts of the UK. Given the scale of the investment that will be required and the length of time that it will take to begin to catch up with countries such as France, all-party consensus is necessary on this issue. At this stage we really ought not to make the party political points on it that the noble Baroness made.
I, too, congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield on his maiden speech. While I listened to him, I thought, “I don’t know much about his diocese”, but I know a great deal about the diocese of his right reverend friend, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn, whose speech I very much look forward to. Pennine Lancashire—we now have to call it east Lancashire—which his diocese more or less covers, will, I hope, be well served by having another voice in this House.
The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, spoke about the dreadful flooding in Cumbria. The three points that I should make on this are based on what happened last year in Hull, parts of South Yorkshire and other places. The Government and agencies must not underestimate the scale of need that will result from the flooding in Cumbria. The national agencies in particular at first underestimated the scale of need as a result of the flooding last year. I went to Hull three or four months after the flooding and met many people who were still not in their homes and were waiting for compensation or insurance payouts. They were in dreadful circumstances through no real fault of their own. There is a huge scale of need.
When I saw on television that the Prime Minister had offered £1 million as his first reaction during his very welcome visit, I thought, “Do people really understand that they will need not just £1 million, but probably £100 million—perhaps more?”. It will take months for some houses to dry out. Simple things such as getting industrial dehumidifiers quickly into the area are important, because you cannot start to clean up your house or live in it properly until it has dried out. Early action is important and should be co-ordinated by the local authorities, which come into their own in situations such as this. So long as there is delay, there will be local disillusionment; people will think that they have been forgotten and the opportunities for tackling many of the problems quickly will not be there. Manpower and resources are required and there is a need to get all the agencies working together.
It is perhaps a fortunate coincidence that we shall discuss the Flood and Water Management Bill, the genesis of which lay in the previous round of floods. I am sure that the discussions that we will have on that Bill will be more serious and detailed as a result of recent experiences.
I should declare that I am a member of a local authority in Pendle, Lancashire. I wish to say one or two things about the legacy of this Government over the past 12 years as regards local authorities. The Secretary of State said that the Government had a good record and that many powers had been delegated to local authorities. I have to say that, although some welcome changes have taken place, it does not feel like that on the ground. Local authorities have been encumbered by targets and ever more detailed requirements. Whenever a set of detailed requirements and top-down administrative orders are done away with, because they are seen not to be working, they are replaced by another set.
This relates not just to local authorities. The wider system of local governance is an unbelievably complex tangle of local quangos, partnerships, forums and endless consultation, a great deal of which is meaningless. I am totally in favour of properly consulting and involving local people; I have worked for all my political life to bring that about. However, a great deal of consultation is just form-filling and box-ticking; it is a complete waste of time and resources. A plethora of consultants are involved, because the Government say that you must do this and that and local authorities do not have the resources to do it, so they bring in yet more consultants. Regeneration schemes, for example, spend hundreds of thousands of pounds employing consultants to produce schemes, appraisals of those schemes, then financial appraisals of the schemes, then appraisals of the consultation process—and so it goes on. It is madness.
It is also linked to a string of acronyms—RDAs, the HCA, the LSP, the LAA system, the crime and disorder reduction partnerships, which we call CSPs—I will tell noble Lords why some time—and the new MAA system. There is now also Total Place, which at least is not an acronym. However, that does not matter because, if you tell people what these acronyms mean, they still do not have the slightest idea what you are talking about. If you tell people that something is being done by the local strategic partnership, they gaze at you blankly. The body that they know and understand is the council, because that is the body that they elect and can go to—there are councillors whom they can go to. The council is the body that they think does everything, yet in the Total Place pilots we discover that only 14 per cent of spending in those areas is carried out by the council. The system is hopeless. It requires root and branch reform and I am afraid that we will not get it from this Government.
I look forward to hearing the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn.
My Lords, I, too, am most grateful to noble Lords and to the support staff for their help and warm welcome in my early days in your Lordships’ House.
Immediately to the north of my diocese of Blackburn, which is the Church of England in Lancashire, lies the diocese of Carlisle in Cumbria. Like your Lordships yesterday, I want to express the heartfelt sympathy of my diocese for the people of Cumbria who have lost so much in recent days. I will also say how encouraged we were to hear the statement of support read out yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Davies, and what was said today by the Secretary of State—not least that the suitability of the transport infrastructure across Cumbria will be given urgent attention.
Earlier this month I had the privilege, granted to few bishops in the Church of England, of taking the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury for a ride. We took a tram journey along Blackpool promenade, where I was allowed to operate the controls under the supervision of watchful experts—a lifelong ambition. The tram in question was an antique dating from the 1920s, but it had been restored and given new purpose. Our brief journey took us past other sites and symbols of regeneration, where millions of pounds are being invested in a resort that has seen hard times. We went past another contemporary shrine where “Strictly Come Dancing” was being televised from the Blackpool Tower ballroom.
The Primate of All England was transported on this occasion from a church on the street to a church helping homeless people off the streets—from a church-led joinery project teaching new skills to those on the margins of society to a town centre church running a night shelter for the most needy. Even during those few minutes along the route of the illuminations, which is known to many noble Lords, we could reflect on history and opportunity, on progress and light coming into our world, on a world of change and on the potential for practical compassion.
The diocese of Blackburn has been called “England in miniature”. It covers some 1,000 square miles between Merseyside and Cumbria and between the Irish Sea and the Yorkshire border. Its varied communities also illustrate great change. In terms of transport, the diocese of Blackburn and the county of Lancashire face times of change and opportunity—the potential of history to become the future. Cinema enthusiasts will need no reminding of the fraught emotions, clipped accents and screaming engine whistles which formed the soundtrack to “Brief Encounter”, filmed at Carnforth in the northern part of my diocese.
While much has been made recently of the 50th anniversary of the M1 motorway, its predecessor was of course the Preston bypass, which formed the first part of the M6, opened in 1958. Transforming history into opportunity requires consideration of future transport needs. A Christian perspective, as outlined in the Church of England’s recent policies, includes respect for the environment. Here, public transport can and must play a leading role. This was also highlighted in the Government’s warm welcome to recommendations for station improvements advocated in the report Better Rail Stations. A key recommendation was for improved car and cycle parking to encourage what might be called “joined-up travelling”, as more journeys are planned to include public transport.
Transport influences a broader range of social policy, not least a shared concern between the church and the communities it serves for assisting the least advantaged. I wish to mention the Skipton East Lancashire Rail Action Partnership. Although I hesitate to introduce yet another acronym into your Lordships’ House, the campaign known as SELRAP seeks to reconnect communities separated by historic decline and, through that restored connection, to enable social and economic renewal. The partnership aims to reconnect Colne and Skipton, Lancashire and Yorkshire, the north-west and the north-east, and the three other discernible city regions, Leeds, Manchester and Merseyside. Reconnection would clearly help to reduce marginalisation. SELRAP argues that the 33 per cent of the Blackburn diocese without access to mainline rail travel is noticeably poorer. There is already considerable support for SELRAP’s campaign, including from 57 Members of your Lordships’ House. At a cost of £80 million, the reconnected rail link could promote environmentally sustainable transport and enhanced community cohesion, and reduce regional economic imbalance—literally joined-up thinking.
Such joined-up thinking emphasises contact, the importance of which was underlined to me through another element of the gracious Speech—the Digital Economy Bill. While persuading some of a virtual future, it will remind others of the continuing need for human contact. The Church continues to value face-to-face relationships and the Bill reminds us to balance the personal and the technological: the pragmatism of cyberspace and the primacy of shared space, out of which flourishes genuine, life-giving encounters, which awards us a return ticket to the Blackpool tram.
As we travelled two weeks ago with the most reverend Primate the Archbishop through Lancashire’s varied communities, nurturing encounters, we found that experiences could be shared, realities established and Christian understanding developed. Transport in all its ramifications provides the means, but the object is the journey. It is through journeys of encounter that policy can come alive and become not a static code but a vehicle of new life to those it seeks to serve.
I again thank your Lordships for your welcome. It will be a privilege to take part in future business of the House.
My Lords, I am very glad to have the honour of thanking and congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn on an outstanding maiden speech. The quality of his reflections augurs well for his future contributions in this House. As one who lives in west Cumbria, I particularly welcome what he said about recent events. It will be deeply appreciated by the community.
The right reverend Prelate brings a great deal of north and south, church and community experience. I gather that he enjoys modern political and ecclesiastical biographies. I just hope that his experiences at Westminster will not dampen his enthusiasm in the political context at least. Evidently, among his active interests are steam trains and cycling, which could not put him in a stronger position to influence effectively my noble friend Lord Adonis in the matters we are debating today.
It is good to have my noble friend at the helm on transport. It is exciting that he has made the railway system central to his strategy and commitment. He is right. Railways are a key element of social and economic well-being in the United Kingdom. I have just three observations on what he advocates. First, high-speed links, not least between the south and Scotland, are essential. Internal air routes should become obsolete, but dedicated high-speed routes cannot become an alternative to good provincial, regional and local services integrated with other forms of transportation where appropriate. We need both. Already there are anxieties, for example, that the speeding up of the timetable on the West Coast route could encourage people to drive further than they would have done, as places like Oxenholme and Penrith feel the negative impacts.
Secondly, in rail travel, people look for decent and assured seats, adequate luggage space, cleanliness, including functioning lavatories, decent catering and, above all punctuality and reliability. The absence of well appointed, properly staffed stations can be a deterrent to rail travel for which the wonderful shopping malls at some termini are no substitute. The special needs of frail and disabled people should invariably be met.
Thirdly, I hope that my noble friend and the Government will not allow themselves to be ensnared by an ideologically motivated target date for reprivatisation of East Coast. Surely it should be an open-ended and honest experiment, with the time to develop and properly evaluate the merits of a contribution to be made by the public sector.
I live near Cockermouth. What west Cumbria has experienced in recent years must for all but the most blinkered dramatically underline the vital significance of Copenhagen. The nightmare endured in the past few days by too many in Cockermouth, Workington, Keswick, Kendal, Lorton and similar places on both sides of the Solway Firth has been literally terrible and terrifying.
As I was able to say yesterday, when the TV cameras have gone and the very lengthy task of physical and psychological reconstruction continues, the solidarity and financial support of the Government and the nation must not falter. The spirit of the people is a challenge that deserves a continuing generous response. Effective flood defences for the future must quickly be ensured. Meanwhile, for pressing economic and social reasons, the restoration of transportation must be an urgent priority.
It is not only west Cumbria and places like it in the UK that have been affected. Across the globe, accumulating evidence is already disturbing and grim. The total destruction of coastal and island communities, droughts, famine, tornadoes, typhoons, crumbling ice, melting glaciers and rapidly disappearing species are stark illustrations of what already confronts us. The immense adverse agricultural, economic and social consequences of it all, with their grave implications for massive migration, conflict and exploitation by extremists and terrorists, leave absolutely no room for complacency or cynical rationalisation at Copenhagen. The Prime Minister and the Government have been giving commendably strong leadership on what is required. The world’s leaders must not now in effect succumb to short-term vested interests and fudge it. To fail to make cast-iron commitments at Copenhagen to act urgently will literally betray humanity.
Meanwhile, leading NGOs are absolutely right to keep reminding us that millions in the third world perceive the situation to be to a major extent the result of the methods by which the privileged nations have polluted their way to wealth and advantage to which less prosperous nations have still not gained fair access. It is difficult to overstress the resentment felt by many in the third world at being lectured on their responsibilities while they are still excluded from the wealth of the privileged and while they therefore lack the resources to implement such policies when building their futures.
Success at Copenhagen inescapably demands meeting this sense of injustice. It has been estimated that at least €110 billion per year is needed by developing countries if they are to adapt to climate change and ensure the low-carbon futures that are essential. The European Union’s proposal for €22 billion to €25 billion is just not realistic if the third world is to be brought on board. What is more, it is not yet clear that what is offered will be in addition to existing aid commitments and separate from market-offset mechanisms. It is imperative to mobilise that €110 billion per year in additional public funding. I fervently hope that my noble friend will reassure us on this and that the opposition parties will give their unqualified support. By the same token, it is essential that the United Kingdom and other wealthy nations deliver by 2020 their share of a 40 per cent aggregate cut in domestic emissions from 1990 levels.
As the gracious Speech proposes, if we are serious in our commitment to global social justice and determined to build a more secure world, the Government’s strengthened commitment to meet 0.7 per cent of GNP for foreign aid by 2013 should have the support of the whole House. It is, after all, 39 years since 1970 when the wealthy nations of the world undertook to do this. In June 2001, I was able to initiate a short debate in the House on the merits of the Tobin tax as a means of mobilising funds for world development. Surely we should now be prepared to introduce it. A more just and sustainable world community cannot do without it.
In conclusion, I declare an interest as the honorary president of the Friends of the Lake District and an honorary vice-president of the Campaign for National Parks. We must beware of making anti-windmills a new ideology, especially if the case is to rest on the relatively small amounts of electricity they produce. Alternative energy will always be an aggregate of schemes generating modest amounts of power. Other means of wind power, community-based water generated power, ground source background heating and other communal projects will all be necessary. The issue is not whether they are needed, but where. We really do need a national plan.
I for one, however reluctantly, accept that at least an interim part of this has to be a new generation of nuclear power. However, the crucial issue of safe nuclear waste disposal for thousands of years ahead has still to be convincingly resolved, and it must be resolved before we go ahead. The threats of terrorism and the possible substantial impact on soil and rock structures of events like those recently in Cumbria, not to mention possible earthquakes and tremors, demand it. Existing arrangements for storage are clearly hazardous in both respects. But in all this we must never forget that the reason we need energy is in order to have a society worth living in. Our countryside, national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty are part of our priceless and timeless heritage. With all the stresses of modern society, they are more vital than ever for physical and psychological regeneration. Contrast and tranquillity are central to their role. As with aircraft noise and light pollution, we would be wantonly foolish and irresponsible to allow their erosion. In our new streamlined planning procedures, a crucial priority must be to ensure that energy sites, power lines and other infrastructure are in no way permitted to harm these wonderful and irreplaceable assets. The implication of three nuclear power stations and a possible strategic nuclear waste disposal site in west Cumbria, so close to one of the finest national parks in the world, surely demands very careful evaluation.
The responsible media have a critical part to play in this. We must also have joined-up government because it is not a matter to be left only to Defra. Arguably, the timely and important new marine Act indicates a way forward. I hope I will be forgiven for saying that no price can be put on the views from the Lakeland fells, not least across the Solway Firth during a spectacular sunset. I know I speak as a resident of Cumbria, but in a highly materialist age, the spiritual value of such an experience is inestimable. We lose it at our peril.
My Lords, I begin by reminding noble Lords of my farming interests. I am a member of the NFU and the CLA, an honorary associate member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and of the BVA, and currently president of the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers and of LEAF. My thoughts this afternoon will reflect the contributions of other noble Lords today: all are born out of our regard and concern for changes in the climate, the future of world food production and, alongside that, respect for the environment for future generations. I wish Ministers every success when they go to Copenhagen because it is extremely important that we achieve a good resolution at that meeting.
This time last year I drew attention to the plight of farmers, particularly the losses being suffered by many dairy farmers and the minuscule rewards earned by hill farmers. I wish I could say that things have radically improved for those sectors, but I cannot do so. At the same time I also welcomed the Marine and Coastal Access Bill. But having passed through its parliamentary inauguration, it is already being shipwrecked because of the way in which this Government are carrying out their mission. It is not the legislation itself, but where the new organisation has been located.
Even as we debated the clauses of the Bill, the Government were consulting on the location for the flagship Marine Management Organisation. Plymouth, with its history, its Marine Laboratory and its Marine Institute, had a strong case. However, alas, Defra did not have an office there and so it lost out to Newcastle in the north-east. Last Monday, the Western Morning News carried the report that only 11 out of 78 staff have agreed to locate to that city. What a waste of skill and knowledge. If 78 staff were considered necessary to run the organisation, what hope is there that a mere 11 can achieve the vision to,
“create a new marine planning system designed to bring together the conservation, social and economic needs of our seas”.
Last year, too, I drew the Government’s attention to the amount of money they spend on their IT systems, voicing concerns that the country would be faced with bills for overrunning projects. Last month I sought to know how much the Government have spent on the IT system for the single farm payment scheme. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, replied that the National Audit Office value-for-money report quoted costs totalling some £246 million over four years, made up of some £63 million for the years 2005-06, 2006-07 and 2008-09, with a lesser £53 million for 2007-08. So this cost is not falling.
I turn to the value-for-money report, under its official title A Second Progress Update on the Administration of the Single Payment Scheme by the Rural Payments Agency. I was astonished to read on page 5:
“In the absence of reliable records we estimate”—
“that the IT costs of the scheme”,
and then it goes on. This amazing statement was closely followed by:
“around a third of the changes made to the finance system have been ‘invasive’, requiring changes to the source code, although the Agency did not keep an accurate record of the changes made”.
On page 6 it states:
“In the absence of proper documentation or quality control, not all original payment errors were corrected”.
There are pages of similar criticism.
The cost of the administration is running at £1,743 per claim per farmer, compared with a Scottish average of only £285. Under the heading “Value for Money Conclusion” the National Audit Office states:
“The cost of administration … is very high”—
I think we would all agree with that—
“and there are no signs of it coming down. Efficiency has not improved, the IT systems are expensive and cumbersome, and the information in those systems is still inaccurate”.
How can a Government who preside over such a fiasco possibly aspire to restructure the financial sector? I have read again the list of legislation to be introduced to Parliament in this Session. How much better it would have been to concentrate on correcting some of the existing machinery rather than introducing new ways of failing.
Over recent years I have tried to emphasise the excessive quantity and cost of regulation. Last month I asked yet another question on the subject. Much of this burden is introduced through statutory instruments which, as we know, can be debated but only accepted in their entirety or rejected as a whole. Many of these SIs stem from Bills going through our House. The record of SIs registered in each year from 1950 to 2006 shows that in only four of the first 40 years did the number exceed 2,400. Since 1992, it has not fallen below 3,100, and the creation of the Scottish Parliament resulted in an additional 204 to 667 in each year after 1998. It is frightening to note that, prior to 1965, the total number of pages of legislation contained in SIs was lower than the number of SIs in each year since 1992. We now have to read and study more than 10,000 pages of secondary legislation every year. What a pity it is that the Government have not tackled this.
On 26 October this year, the Daily Mail reported on quangos. Its research indicated that, in 2007, quangos cost the British taxpayer some £77 billion and that the total rose by £13 billion to £90 billion in 2008. Between them, quangos employ more than 534,000 people, the top echelons of whom are selected, appointed or approved by Ministers for recompense well above average earnings. Many of them are tasked with carrying out vital parts of the Government’s plans. Success is appropriated by the Government, but they sometimes distance themselves if there is a hint of failure.
The Government do not limit their spending to departments, agencies or quangos. They also finance, with taxpayers’ money, various schemes for improving the lot of citizens. Among them is tenancy deposit protection, whereby the Government support three independent arbitration schemes. The operators are under contract until the end of April next year. I should be grateful if the Minister could tell me whether they will have to apply for these contracts to be renewed or whether the Government intend simply to extend the term for a further one or two years.
I turn to affordable housing. Can the Minister explain a Written Answer that was given on 8 June? In response to an inquiry from my honourable friend Grant Shapps about expenditure on additional housing stock, the Minister supplied annual figures from 2000-01 for,
“allocations made through the Affordable Housing programme specifically for new affordable housing provision”.—[Official Report, Commons, 8/6/09; col. 750W.]
The figures show a fairly steady rise in expenditure from £493 million in the first year to £2,587 million in 2008-09, representing a total of just over £13 billion. How many houses does this represent and at what average cost? What proportion has gone on land and infrastructure, what on building the houses and what on other overheads? This is probably too detailed a question for an immediate answer, but for that amount of money account needs to be provided.
I welcome the Flood and Water Management Bill and associate myself with other comments. The deluge in Cumbria has been disastrous. The Minister said in his opening remarks that responsibility for overall management would fall first to the Environment Agency and secondly to local authorities. But where does that leave the Secretary of State?
Two Bills not included in the gracious Speech were the anticipated animal health Bill—in particular, cost-sharing and the Government’s continuing unwillingness to tackle the causes of bovine TB—and a food labelling Bill, which would be small and precise and benefit consumers when making choices.
I have not spoken a great deal about the challenges facing British agriculture or about its contribution to making our society and the environment a better place. The reason for this is that I have been lucky enough to secure a debate on 10 December.
Today, we are reflecting on some of the Bills announced in the gracious Speech, but one has to wonder how many will see the light of day.
My Lords, I start with some special thanks to my predecessor, my noble friend Lady Hamwee, who has moved to take on the home affairs brief for our group. In addition to being a long-standing friend of mine, she has held the local government brief in its various different names and incarnations for no fewer than 18 years in this House. I feel sure that that has to be some sort of record. Surprisingly, she felt that it was time for a move, and I picked up—or had thrust into my hands—the chalice. As my Chief Whip is sitting in front of me, I assure him that I harbour no ambitions whatever to break my noble friend’s record. I thank her particularly because in those 18 years she has made a huge contribution to local government legislation in this House. If successive governments had listened to her more attentively and taken her advice, as we always did, local government would be in a much better condition than it is now.
Next I must make my declaration. I have been a councillor in the London Borough of Sutton for 35, coming on 36, years. I am a member of its executive—which in other places might be called its Cabinet. I add another declaration, which I rarely make in this House although I sometimes wonder why. I have been a member of the European Union’s Committee of the Regions since its formation in 1994. It seldom gets a mention in this House, which I find a little surprising because at least eight Members of your Lordships’ House have at various times been members of that committee, including the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, who is sitting next to the Minister and may be able to tell him what it is.
My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that I am well aware of what the committee is. He will know that I am a former member of Birmingham City Council and that my own local authority played a major role on it.
My Lords, I am reassured. For the benefit of those of your Lordships who are not as well informed as the Minister, I can say that the Committee of the Regions is in very simple terms the voice of local and regional governments in the EU’s decision-making process. I declare my interest there for very particular reasons. I very much welcome the ratification of the Lisbon treaty, but very few people in local government recognise that it is rather an important treaty to local government. I want to be sure that your Lordships recognise its importance.
The treaty gives to the Committee of the Regions as well as to national Parliaments the power to monitor the subsidiarity principle in all European Commission proposals and, if necessary—and one hopes that it will never be so—to take the Commission before the European Court of Justice. That is an important power. I welcome the fact that discussions have already started on a very positive basis between officials of this House and those of the Local Government Association as to how we will work together closely and positively to effect the very short eight-week early warning system to the mutual benefit of your Lordships' House and local government. I felt that the coming into force of the treaty was an opportune moment to mention the importance of that and to recognise that the co-operation between this House and local government can only improve further in the coming months and years.
On less happy matters, my noble friend Lord Greaves made reference to some of the changes in local government over 12 years of a Labour Government, changes which he felt were not wholly for the best. I have to say that I entirely agree with him. I have been a leading councillor throughout that period; indeed, I was the leader of a council when it started. We have been beset by targets, inspections, assessments, new regimes and new initiatives. We have a plethora of new bodies but transparency and accountability—particularly democratic accountability—have progressively declined. I wondered whether that was just a view from two old local government hacks, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and myself, so I looked back to some work that I shared in in your Lordships' House as a new Member, in 1995-6, when I had the pleasure and the privilege to serve on this House’s Select Committee on Relations Between Central and Local Government. I looked at its recommendations, which came after 16 or 17 years of Conservative government. Then I had a look at the report published this summer by the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee on the balance of power between central and local government, a report written 14 years later after 12 years of Labour government—and it is almost word for word. It is depressingly similar in its findings.
Some relationships have undoubtedly improved, I recognise that, and there is now a better understanding in central government that local government has its own democratic legitimacy and mandate and is important in its own right, not just as a delivery arm for central government. I think that local government is beginning to understand that central government is never going to leave it alone to get on with the job.
The House of Commons Select Committee report pointed out that the United Kingdom remains one of the most centralised states in Europe. It stated:
“The relationship between central and local government in England deviates from the European norm in at least three areas—the level of constitutional protection, the level of financial autonomy, and the level of central government intervention. All serve to tilt the balance of power towards the centre”.
I shall look briefly at those three aspects. The first is constitutional protection. This is not the time to debate constitutional reform in its wider sense, but the place of local government in that wider debate needs to be recognised, and it seldom is. There needs to be far more clarity and security for the only other elected sphere of government in this country. It cannot continue to be simply at the mercy of the whims of successive central governments.
The Local Government Association has proposed two complementary ways that it believes that this could be achieved, and both are at least worthy of serious consideration as part of the constitutional reform debate. The association proposes that Parliament should legislate to impose on central government what it calls a “statutory duty to devolve” as a counterpart to the duty to involve imposed on local government in the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007. The LGA also proposes that Parliament should legislate to provide that councils should be presumed to have the powers to provide any public service not explicitly reserved as the unique responsibility of a national body in the interests of ensuring uniformity of service. That is another way to say that local government should have the power of general competence, which many of us have been arguing for many years. Speaking from personal experience, I have to say that even with such a power there would still be innumerable restrictions and barriers in the way of allowing local government to do what it wants. Nevertheless, that must be right.
Next we come to the vexed question of financial autonomy and local government’s tax-raising powers. I was fortunate enough to be in Strasbourg in June 1997—with the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, if I remember rightly—when the newly elected Labour Government signed the European Charter of Local Self-Government. It was a great occasion; indeed, it had been one of the recommendations of your Lordships’ Select Committee in 1995. We hoped that this might be the start of a new dawn.
Article 9 of that charter describes the degree of financial autonomy to which local authorities are entitled. The UK, particularly England, is manifestly still failing to meet that obligation. I would argue that that is this Government’s biggest failure in local government. After 12 years in power with sizeable parliamentary majorities, they have failed completely to tackle the difficult issue of local government finance. After 12 years of a Labour Government, we still have an unfair and regressive council tax based on 1991 property values. Local authorities still raise only a small proportion of their own revenue. Capping is still with us. The business rate remains nationalised. All of this was criticised in your Lordships’ 1995 Select Committee report; all of it was opposed by Labour when in opposition; and all of it is still with us after 12 years of a Labour Government.
Thirdly, from the CLG Select Committee report, I refer to central government intervention. Anyone who sat through the various stages of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill needs no illustrations of unnecessary central government intervention. We spent hour after hour dealing with eight pages of primary legislation telling local authorities how to deal with petitions. That has been the bread and butter of local government for all of my 35 years’ experience, and probably much longer than that. We have demonstrated time and again that local government knows far more about that than CLG. That was an example of completely unnecessary interference.
I turn briefly to the future. I think that the public sector recession has hardly started. We all know that we face hard times ahead; public expectations and demands on local government will grow, and the resources to meet those demands will reduce greatly. The LGA produced a report, either this week or last week, in which it suggests that £4.5 billion of public expenditure could be saved and urges the Government to announce measures to do that simply by cutting red tape—the endless inspections, the monitoring—and leaving local government to do its job.
I believe that local government generally is ready to meet the challenges it will face, but if it is to do so, it must be trusted by central government to get on with the job that it is elected to do. Not for nothing was that 1995 reported entitled Rebuilding Trust. Now is the time to do so.
My Lords, after eight years of annual debates during the past decade on the lack of strategy in the privatised electricity supply industry, common sense has prevailed. Those debates criticised the lack of any commitment to nuclear power, the failure to provide for replacement of ageing power stations, the growing reliance on imported gas from unstable markets, the overreliance on expensive and unreliable wind power and the inevitability of extensive power interruptions in the next 10 years or so. I and other noble Lords had these concerns dismissed as unfounded so complacently that I eventually gave up the annual debate on the subject, convinced that the Government were firmly set in their mistaken ways.
What a change we have seen recently. Nuclear power is now a priority, the possibility of substantial power interruptions is accepted and we are embarked on a large programme of building many more gas-fired power stations to fill the gap produced by the absence of even the most superficial strategy in this key industry.
So far so good, one might be tempted to think. But the national and global economic situations have changed fundamentally for the worse during the past decade and the building of new stations of any kind has now to be undertaken in an unprecedentedly serious economic situation. That is partly due to the worldwide credit crisis, in the creation of which we played our part earlier by economic mismanagement, and partly due to the large increase in money supply caused by the bank rescues and what has become known by the benign description of quantitative easing. Whatever name is given to this massive experiment—for that is what is it—the inescapable fact is that it will have to be followed, and quite soon, by serious corrective measures. The experiment, born of desperation, rests on no experience of money creation on this scale or of any substantial economic theory for the process. So we are rolling the dice with no knowledge of the odds and with staggeringly high stakes. It is difficult to see that we had a credible alternative, but the consequence will be to put severe pressure on public spending and employment, and new power stations will have to compete with other claimants for very limited resources for at least the next decade.
Meanwhile, faced with this new problem, the Government proceed as they did for so long on the power capacity front: they pretend that there is not really a pressing problem, so deferring the necessary corrective measures until after the next general election. Both these sagas of complacent disbelief are likely to produce very serious consequences. The example of Mr Micawber seems to lie at the heart of contemporary politics.
Among the rival claimants for a share of severely restricted financial resources will be pressure groups, including renewable energy groups. They will have the task of arguing the case for uneconomic sources of low effectiveness in the reduction of CO2 and the fact that all alternatives to wind power are more expensive than that expensive resource.
Strangely, the inactivity of the Government in these matters contrasts with their enthusiasm for renewable resources, no matter what the cost and the financial case. This seems to stem from a conviction that an apocalyptic climate change is a matter of fact rather than of conjecture. This impending view of doom, fostered by politicians and the media, overstates the case. The meteorological models in use are horrendously complex and some of the mechanisms that they employ are poorly understood and greatly simplified. Many of the important factors are cyclical in character and many are extraterrestrial in origin. The evidence from these models suggests a causal link between CO2 and global warming which is then extended to an explanation of climate change. But the hard evidence for such a mechanism is slender. That is not to suggest that it should be ignored—the preventive principle may be brought into play—but it must take account of the fragility of the theory, as evidenced by constant revisions and explanations of unexpected anomalies. The research efforts are prodigious and will remain so until a satisfactory predictive base emerges—if it eventually does.
In the mean time, the international efforts to reach a reduction in carbon emissions are enthusiastic and unrealistic in equal measure and seem certain to spend huge sums of money to little practical effect. It may be preferable to devote more effort to infrastructure developments designed to reduce the adverse effect of global warming while being of practical use in the present and near future.
I believe that such a new realism is likely to emerge from the international financial crisis that is currently threatening world stability and seems likely to fill that role for the foreseeable future. The economic crisis and the proposals for CO2 reductions may otherwise prove to be incompatible.
There is no quick fix for these massive uncertainties and certainly not a pain-free one. Politicians should avoid deceptively tidy scientific solutions and concentrate instead on practical measures to minimise the additional problems likely to be caused by misguided enthusiasts.
My Lords, I was going to welcome and support the introduction of the Flood and Water Management Bill, but I think that the last speech may have diverted me. Perhaps I can at some stage address some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Tombs.
I declare an interest as a former chief executive, until quite recently, of the Environment Agency and a current member of the climate change adaptation committee. The Flood and Water Management Bill is a really positive step to update some of the ageing legislation that covers flood and coastal erosion management and reservoir safety. It is a good step forward in providing clarity on the roles and responsibilities of a whole range of bodies, including the Environment Agency, local authorities and others that play a role in managing flood and coastal risk.
It is poignant that the Bill is being introduced around the time when we would have been talking about the dreadful floods in 2007, which are already becoming the floods of the past. We now have our current, dreadful scenes from Cumbria and the real disruption to lives and livelihoods that they represent. There is a pressing need to get this Bill on to the statute book so that floods can be dealt with more effectively. The provisions that absolutely need to go through are the establishment of a lead local flood authority for county and unitary councils to give them responsibility for preparing local strategies for dealing with flood risks from surface water and groundwater, which, certainly, in the 2007 floods, were as large a part of the flooding impact as anything that came from the rivers. At the moment, we absolutely have no effective framework for those flood risks to be dealt with.
The Bill also defines better the framework for managing surface water and for establishing sustainable drainage systems. It brings into the 21st century the legislation around reservoir safety, particularly looking at a risk basis for more rigorous measures to prevent reservoirs from posing a risk to life in the event of their failure.
The Bill is important and it is vital that it goes through in this Session of Parliament if flood and coastal risk is to be managed effectively. It is a pared-down Bill: it was fatter in its draft form. Everyone has exercised a huge amount of self-restraint in bringing it forward in a slimline version. I call on all three Front Benches to work together to establish a cross-party consensus on getting the Bill through as quickly as possible. I urge all noble Lords in this House, when the Bill does come forward, to exercise a little self-discipline and avoid fiddling with it, a phenomenon that our House is very good at. In the interests of better flood and coastal risk management, please restrain yourselves from the pleasure of fiddling, at least in this case. Bearing in mind that we have remarkably little time to get the legislative programme through, this has to be one that makes it, I hope.
Your Lordships can work together very effectively and I want to pick up one other point that the gracious Speech brought to mind: the effectiveness with which many of your Lordships worked together to bring the Climate Change Act into being and, in particular, to create the Adaptation Sub-Committee, of which the noble Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Taylor of Holbeach, both of whom are in their places, were huge supporters. That committee was set up under the Climate Change Act to look at the Government’s programmes on adaptation to the impacts of climate change and to take account of the fact that, no matter how effective we are about carbon reduction, the reality is that there is enough carbon out there in the atmosphere to cause major impacts already. The likelihood of us achieving globally all the carbon reduction necessary is slight, in the view of the noble Lord, Lord Tombs. Therefore, the impact of climate change will be even greater.
The committee, which is chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs—it is a bit of a House of Lords bunfight committee—is now up and running and I hope that noble Lords across the House will lend support to its work as it scrutinises the preparation of the Government’s climate change risk assessment and the Government’s adaptation plan to ensure that they are genuinely fit for purpose and capable of protecting the people of this country from the adverse impacts of climate change.
We have seen in Cumbria one of those adverse impacts—not only the flooding of homes and businesses but the total disruption to the infrastructure of this country that time and again we see as floods occur. In all the floods that took place while I was chief executive of the Environment Agency and in this current flood in Cumbria, we see transport routes, telecommunications, bridges and a whole variety of vital pieces of infrastructure at risk as a result of flooding. Yet flooding is only one of the impacts of climate change. We need to prepare this country adequately to take account of higher temperatures, heat waves, lack of water and the impact on biodiversity and on agriculture, as well as the clear impacts that we have seen in the past few days in Cumbria on basic infrastructure.
I hope that noble Lords will support the work of the Committee on Climate Change Adaptation Sub-Committee and press the Government to make sure that the work on risk assessment and action plans to meet those risks moves on apace, as well as making sure that we show the real intent to work together that produced the climate change adaptation committee in pressing forward the Flood and Water Management Bill. The people of Cumbria would have every right to blame us if we did not.
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to speak today in support of the gracious Speech. I intend to concentrate my remarks on the environmental aspects of the speech and, in doing so, declare an interest as a non-executive director of WRAP, which is funded to drive forward resource efficiency and recycling.
With the Copenhagen summit nearly upon us, I very much welcome the leadership already shown by our Government. The commitment to reduce greenhouse gases to 80 per cent of 1990 levels and the low carbon transition plan focusing on energy conservation are important markers of intent. However, I hope that I can persuade your Lordships that there are greater opportunities to make carbon savings through more intelligent production and consumption of products and services, which could help us to meet our targets.
My starting point is a recent contribution made by the Secretary of State at Defra. He reminded us that we are rapidly sucking the planet dry of its natural resources. The world’s forests have shrunk by half in the past 300 years, we have lost half our wetlands since the beginning of the century and we are running out of fresh water for agricultural use. Meanwhile, in the UK, escalating consumer spending, population growth and increases in single household occupancy demand ever more natural resources and threaten our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For example, a recent report from the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York calculated that, between 2004 and 2050, UK consumer greenhouse emissions measured across the whole life cycle of goods and services will increase by 40 per cent.
As my noble friend Lord Giddens argued today, if we do nothing to improve manufacturing efficiency and curb rampant consumerism, we stand no chance of meeting our 2050 carbon reduction target. Clearly, there are some sectors where manufacturers are already becoming more resource and energy efficient, but those are offset by key areas where consumption growth is outpacing technological advance. That is particularly so in agriculture, transport, manufactured goods and the service sector. To give a simple example, fuel use alone has increased by more than 10 per cent between 1992 and 2004.
Not only are we consuming more, but we are doing so inefficiently. Every year, the UK consumes 680 million tonnes of materials, about 50 per cent of which end up as waste. Overall, it is estimated that, in the UK, 33 per cent of all products thrown away are still working. That includes, for example, businesses discarding 59 per cent of office machinery and consumers throwing out 44 per cent of working telephones. The challenge for all of us—businesses, legislators and consumers—is to avoid waste and to manage our scarce resources more efficiently in the first place. That is our only chance of achieving our carbon reduction ambitions, and it is possible.
The Stockholm Environment Institute report has identified a range of quick wins and best practice scenarios across the production and consumer sectors that would reverse the otherwise inexorable rise in carbon emissions and instead contribute a 10 per cent reduction by 2050. Central to this strategy is the need to modify consumer behaviour. Currently, purchases are more often made because of fashion and peer pressure rather than need. Sometimes goods will be replaced by more energy-efficient goods, but this is rarely the motivation. In the future, more efficient products with a longer lifespan need to be not only produced but valued. Similarly, the true economic cost to household budgets of discarding working goods needs to be highlighted. The report also suggests that consumers could increasingly rent or share goods that are rarely used or expensive, such as high-end clothing, tools, equipment and cars, rather than constantly aspire to individual ownership.
As the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, eloquently argued, we cannot ignore the contribution that dietary changes can make. Even though meat and dairy account for less than a quarter of the weekly average food intake, they generate nearly 60 per cent of food-related greenhouse gas emissions. We need to promote healthy eating not only for the obvious reasons but to encourage a lower-meat diet.
Equally, there is much more that businesses can do to play their part. I give just a few examples. First, much has already been said about the need for retailers to reduce excess packaging. They have already achieved a 35 per cent weight reduction by applying intelligent design to calculate optimum material use, but they could do more. This approach could apply right across the manufacturing sector to produce more lightweight materials. Secondly, food waste remains a major problem. While half of UK food waste arises in households, the remainder comes from retailers, food manufacturers, agriculture and the commercial sector, with hotels and restaurants producing 3 million tonnes of food waste alone. Better planning, storage and usage could cut these levels considerably. Thirdly, the simple act of banning junk mail—by its very definition, no one wants to receive it—could save 550,000 tonnes of paper, amounting to 4.4 per cent of the UK’s consumption of paper and board. Fourthly, there is some evidence that modular homes, assembled off-site, can reduce building waste by 70 to 90 per cent through better material management. Alternatively, if we concentrated on retrofitting existing homes, rather than building on new sites, we would save the 80 per cent of the total materials used in housebuilding that are poured into the foundations.
These are just a few examples, but it has been estimated that UK business could save £6.4 billion a year through low-cost resource efficiency. In the current economic climate, it makes good business sense to cut costs, reduce waste and exploit new markets in low-carbon and environmental services. As Marc Bolland, latterly of Morrisons, soon to be the new CEO of Marks & Spencer, said:
“In our world resources are valuable assets and sources of economic wealth … and waste costs money”.
The Government’s low carbon industrial strategy begins to address these issues but greater intervention is needed. The public sector is a major purchaser of goods and services. It should use modern public procurement techniques to insist on the supply of resource-efficient products and low-carbon certified services. There is no reason why delivering sustainability should not be a standard clause in government contracts. This would inevitably set best practice models that the private sector would follow.
In conclusion, I hope that the Minister will agree that better interventions, such as incentives, price, consumer awareness, improving business tools and regulation, can all play their part in delivering some quick wins that would signal that we were serious about carbon reduction and strengthen our hand in the coming Copenhagen talks and beyond.
My Lords, the grand pageantry of the royal opening last week, impressive as ever, on this occasion hid the rather vacuous content of the Speech that the Government put in Her Majesty’s hand. Ministers’ comments since the delivery of the gracious Speech, and indeed the leaks prior to that, have indicated that it is only a short introduction to the Labour Party election manifesto, which promises to be equally vacuous.
What interests me particularly in the gracious Speech this evening is this statement:
“In Scotland, my Government will take forward proposals … from the Commission on Scottish Devolution and will continue to devolve more powers to Wales”.
I have read Sir Kenneth Calman’s report on Scotland, and I am sure that we will all be interested in which proposals precisely are to be taken forward. Are the proposals for the appropriation of taxes raised in Scotland, for exclusive Scottish parliamentary use, to be acted on, for example?
The Welsh equivalent, the All Wales Convention report produced under the leadership of Sir Emyr Jones Parry, was published only last Wednesday, the day of the state opening, and of course the Government can be exonerated from expressing a view on its contents. It was commissioned by the Welsh Assembly Government. I hope that the Minister, in replying to this debate, will comment on this most valuable report. It has involved a great deal of work and effort and has cost, I am told, some £1.3 million to produce.
The overall conclusion of the report is that Part 4 of the Government of Wales Act 2006,
“offers substantial advantage over the present arrangements in Part 3”.
Therefore, it should, by implication, be implemented. While some would dispute this conclusion, there is not much doubt that the present arrangements, which we are familiar with, are complex and imperfect. Primary legislative powers are devolved to the National Assembly for Wales on an ad hoc, piecemeal basis, either through framework clauses in England and Wales Acts, or by the passage of legislative competence orders. This is a slow and cumbrous process, as the report describes, compared with a once-and-for-all transfer of legislative powers over devolved areas, as proposed under Part 4 of the 2006 Act.
Of course, there is ample scope for improving Part 3 procedures. But, leaving that aside for a moment, the crucial rub in all this is that Part 4 cannot be brought into effect without an affirmative referendum of the electorate in Wales. That has to be demanded by a two-thirds majority of Assembly Members, endorsed by the Secretary of State within 120 days and then approved by both Houses of this Parliament. Bearing in mind the very slender majority of 0.6 per cent by which devolution was approved in Wales in the referendum of 1997, these hurdles are as daunting as the fences of the Aintree Grand National. The convention report’s judgment is,
“that a ‘yes’ vote is obtainable but the evidence we have collected underlines that there can be no certainty about this”.
This lack of certainty about the outcome helps to explain why the present Secretary of State, Mr Peter Hain, has always warned against holding a referendum prematurely. As Secretary of State he has a critical role in that, even if the National Assembly were to take the lead and call for a referendum by a vote of two-thirds in favour, he could still bar the way during his 120 days’ consideration of that vote. He may well be encouraged to do so by a substantial cross-party selection of Westminster MPs, who might support such a stand. A battle line would thus be drawn between the National Assembly in Cardiff Bay and the Wales office in Whitehall and Westminster. Mr David Cameron, the Conservative leader, has said that if he were in government he would not oppose a referendum if the Assembly called for one, and I am told that the Conservatives in Wales would have a free vote on the issue. Here, perhaps, is another reason for a change of government.
Meanwhile, as Sir Emyr’s report indicates, people in Wales have a great deal to learn about the intricacies of their governance, but that is likely to be among their lesser worries over the months and possibly years ahead. One of the early declared aims of devolving powers to Wales was to raise Welsh GDP in relation to the rest of the United Kingdom. Alas, that has not happened during the decade of comparative prosperity; Welsh GDP has declined in the UK context. As Professor Kevin Morgan, who headed the “Yes” campaign in 1997, acknowledged in an article last May, it is time that we recognised “devolution’s dirty little secret”—his words, not mine—that there is no economic dividend necessarily from political devolution.
Unemployment in Wales currently stands at 8.7 per cent, nearly one whole percentage point higher than in the UK as a whole. Meanwhile we have not yet seen the end of the recession or the beginning of a fall in unemployment. Last week, the OECD forecast worse to come, with nearly 10 per cent unemployment in the UK in 2010-11. Like the rest of the United Kingdom, we in Wales are particularly concerned with our young people without work who threaten to become a lost generation.
The full effect of the recession on devolved government in Wales and elsewhere is yet to be seen. Devolved government has thrived on fulsome budgetary provision, with more and more money year after year, but we know only too well that there are lean years to come and severe reductions in expenditure. This Government, after all, are committed to reducing borrowing and to halving the deficit—how, we do not yet know. Devolved government will not escape the cuts and will have to learn to live in straitened circumstances. Of course, they will blame central government and bite the hand that feeds them.
Finally, the convention’s report judges that moving to Part IV will be financially neutral, but I suspect that the Treasury and, indeed, the rest of us will take a lot of persuading on that particular score, in view of the past exorbitant increases in the bureaucratic costs of devolution. The prospects as I see them, then, are far from bright and, indeed, we need a radical new approach.
My Lords, this contribution will be a little different. Had I been able to make a contribution last Thursday, I would have put the accent on international development. Had it been yesterday it would have been constitutional affairs, but today it is transport. However, I would like to return to international development, and indeed to the gracious Speech, where Her Majesty stated:
“The Duke of Edinburgh and I look forward to our visit to Bermuda”.
Bermuda is, of course, the place with the greatest GDP in the world. It could have been the British Virgin Islands or the Cayman Islands; those are places known as dependent territories. They are clearly not financially dependent, but some places are; those are St Helena, Ascension Island, Tristan da Cunha, Montserrat and the Pitcairn Islands.
On the one hand we talk of the dependent territories, where less than a quarter of a million people live, as a group. Yet there does not seem to be a relationship of one with another. It strikes me, for example, that the rich little people could assist the poor little people, and I would have thought that that ought to be encouraged. The Government have in recent months taken a great interest in looking at the richer places, with the Foot review looking at Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man and the nine dependent territories, which are far from being financially dependent, and which have their feet well and truly into financial services. They are often thought of as tax havens, whether they are or not.
The other side of the coin is the really dependent territories. In the first day of debate on the gracious Speech, there were many contributions that I would describe as aspirations to influence events in other countries. In the really dependent territories, there is opportunity for real action. It is to the Government’s great credit that even now, with all the implications of the credit crunch and the financial circumstances, the aid budget is still earmarked to rise to 0.7 per cent of GDP. However, the first call on the aid budget is to meet the needs of the overseas territories—and hence I come to the issue of transport.
I declare an interest as one of the three parliamentarians who went on the Commonwealth parliamentary visit to St Helena last February. The case has been made, both here and in other places, for the St Helena airport. The RMS “St Helena” currently makes 26 visits a year to that island but the ship is nearing the end of its life. An airport is essential to meet people’s mobility needs, to get them to and from the island, to meet their health needs, and, not least, to meet the economic needs and prospects for tourism if the island is to have a future.
On 8 December 2008 the Government decided that there had to be further consultation. Until that time it had been believed that there would be an airport. Further consultation took place with people who lived on St Helena, on Ascension Island, on the Falklands or in the UK. Last week the response was received, with 70 per cent of respondents saying, “Build the airport now”; 29 per cent saying, “We’ll cope with a new ship”; and a handful saying, “We’ll wait and see”. Wait and see was, of course, the Government’s preferred option.
There has been an abundance of consultation, and indeed of consultants, but the view of the people is clear: build the airport now. That in itself involves a delay because it will take five years to build an airport. However, the DfID budget is still on the rise, so surely this is the best time to take on a capital project of this type, before there is a settled disposition of the resources of the 0.7 per cent between the various areas within DfID.
As I say, the construction will take five years or so, but the economy would be assisted during the construction period, and it would foster confidence to stop the population decline. Will the Minister ensure that an announcement is made? There are only 15 days to wait until the first anniversary of the pause. It would not be a bad thing to give St Helena a Christmas present, the prospect of the airport. An airport would be not just for Christmas but an economic lifeline for the century ahead.
My Lords, since I want to speak about energy issues, I should first declare my non-financial interest in a renewable energy company, Water Power Enterprises. This small company, of which I am chairman, seeks to develop low-head hydro schemes to harness the power of our rivers, particularly in the north of England, and to do so on a not-for-profit, community interest basis. Given the amount of water in our rivers, potential for this form of local generation is significant, and low-head hydro schemes have the possibility of directly involving local communities in generating a proportion, albeit a small one, of their own electricity on a sustainable and thoroughly green basis.
The educative effect of this technology is also becoming apparent, with considerable interest being shown by children and schools, so it would be rather churlish of me not to acknowledge the encouragement which the Government have given to this sector, particularly since the creation of the new Department of Energy and Climate Change, and I readily do so.
However, that is not the issue I wish to raise today because, notwithstanding the important contribution which renewables can and should make to the overall mix, the really burning issue is the future of the large power plants. There is a need for greater urgency in bringing on-stream a new generation of large power plants which will deal with the issue of replacing the essential base-load capacity, and in particular nuclear.
When I made my maiden speech in your Lordships’ House almost five years ago, I drew attention to the mounting evidence of climate change and emphasised the need for the Government to take a brave and bold decision to restart the nuclear programme. I have to admit that at that time, in early 2005, I had been strongly discouraged from making such an apparently provocative proposal, especially in a maiden speech, but I am hugely heartened by the fact that the Government were heeding such calls, even if at the time it was still the policy, as expressed in the 2003 White Paper, to maintain that while the door was not firmly closed to further nuclear stations, it was not considered necessary to embrace such a bold step. Five years on, the consensus having shifted, it feels as if it was always the case that a new generation of nuclear stations was just around the corner. It is even more amazing, in the run-up to Copenhagen, to remember that the evidence for man-made climate change was by no means as widely accepted then and publicly discussed as is the case today.
The vital breakthrough came when Prime Minister Tony Blair propelled this issue to the top of the agenda for the G8 Gleneagles summit, and with the subsequent initiative of the 2006 energy review and the publication of a fresh White Paper on energy, published by the DTI in May 2007 when Alistair Darling was the Secretary of State, and the White Paper on nuclear power, published by the then Department for Business and Regulatory Reform in January 2008, when John Hutton was Secretary of State. It is now clear that Tony Blair had been listening to scientific advice, notably that of the Government's then Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King.
In the five years which have elapsed, attitudes have significantly changed. My noble friend, and fellow Munro bagger, Lord Smith of Islington, who is now doing a splendid job as chairman of the Environment Agency, is just one of those who are now described as “greens for nuclear”. We discussed this thorny topic on more than one occasion when roaming the Scottish hills together and I welcome his change of heart, although I do not think I can claim any particular credit for it. I think the scientific evidence has prevailed over the more emotional response to the Chernobyl disaster and the era of bumper stickers saying “nuclear power, no thanks”.
However, despite a sea change in public attitudes, we are a long way off seeing the new generation of nuclear stations up and running and in the mean time many of the existing stations—nuclear and fossil-fuel powered—are drawing ever closer to the end of their lives. I recall that the chief executive of EDF Energy, Vincent de Rivaz, stated emphatically to a meeting of the All-Party Group on Energy Studies that he was hopeful that the first of the new nuclear plants which he wishes to develop will be producing electricity “in time to power the Christmas lights in 2017”. That was in early 2008, but as we approach the Christmas lights season of 2009, it is beginning to look a little overoptimistic.
I welcome the recent publication of the draft national policy statements to guide planning decisions on energy infrastructure, but the process gives the impression of moving with glacial slowness, even if we are thinking of melting glaciers. I am sure that it depends on a speeded-up planning process, as now provided for by the Planning Act, but an enormous black cloud is coming over the horizon. Should the Conservatives win the next election, given their stated policy of doing away with the Infrastructure Planning Commission, how much longer will it take for new and necessary large plants to come to fruition? My question to the Minister, which I hope he can address in his winding-up speech, is whether the Government have made an assessment of the likely effect of such an abrupt reversal of the planning regime which has so carefully been put in place. Is it likely to cause delays of several years, or just a few? Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, might also like to comment on this worrying point from the opposition Front Bench when he also comes to wind-up.
I have a further worry and a further question for the Minister. In this case it is about the speed at which large coal-fired power stations are due to close under the EU's large combustion plant directive. I noticed a Written Question very recently asked by the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke. As he is a UKIP member, it would not surprise me if he was seeking to make some point about the insidious practices of the EU and probably the wicked nature of Brussels bureaucrats finding every opportunity to hamper British independence. However, the directive was issued for a purpose which we surely should support—drastically to reduce harmful pollutants being released into the atmosphere. We ought to be grateful for that. Atmospheric pollution does not respect national borders. The noble Lord asked how many power stations in the UK the Government expected to be shut down before 2015—I suspect he meant before the end of 2015—on account of their having used up their 20,000-hour operating limit. The Government’s reply was interesting. The Minister said:
“The timing of the closures of the stations opted-out of the large combustion plant directive is a commercial matter for the owners, within the limits imposed by the directive”.—[Official Report, 10/11/09; col. WA 139.]
That is absolutely true, but what does it tell us? Does it mean, “We know when the plants are likely to be turned off but we do not intend to tell Parliament”, or does it mean, “We do not know”? If it is the latter, it is indeed very worrying. I hope that the Minister can be more forthcoming about this in his reply to the debate.
With these two worrying questions hanging in the air, and hopeful of eliciting some answers, I conclude by again warmly welcoming what the Government have done to encourage the development of renewables, particularly low-head hydro. I especially welcome the renewed commitment to nuclear energy, as emphasised by the recent announcement to Parliament by the Secretary of State. These are indeed major steps to moving to a low-carbon future. The forthcoming Energy Bill will also provide an opportunity for the Government to address in a practical way issues relating to fuel poverty and is also greatly to be welcomed.
Your Lordships may not be surprised to hear that I wish to make a few remarks about agriculture. I declare my interest as a farmer and member of several food and farming organisations. Those who have spoken about the disaster in Cumberland have spoken well and I support their views. However, as we speak and meet in this warm environment, I hope that we can spare a thought for the shepherds who, probably at this moment, are on the hills or at the base of the hills, caring for their flocks in a disastrous area.
There was no specific reference in the gracious Speech to agriculture or the importance of food security or land use. I hope that we all accept that farming plays a crucial role in delivering a fair and prosperous economy for families and business. The part that it can play in confronting the first truly global recession is underestimated; it can save imports and help the balance of payments on trade. It is ironic that “digging for victory” becomes popular in times of adversity. When the pound falls to match the value of the euro, farmers, at long last, are on a level playing field with the rest of Europe, thereby creating export opportunities against imports.
We could do much more, but, sadly, over the past 10 years, the number of dairy herds has halved and we import 1 million litres of milk per day. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield referred to modern methods of farming, to cows helping themselves and deciding when to be milked, thus increasing yields. We need a lot more plants such as Harper Adams before we reach a point of growth in the milk industry.
I remind your Lordships that in the past decade some 213,000 animals were lost through TB, which continues to spread like a prairie fire across the country, causing a level of compensation of around £90 million per year. That is a total disaster. The beef herd has fallen by 10 per cent, sheep flocks have reduced by one third, from 21,500 10 years ago to 14,500 today. Now there is the added cost of electronic tagging and a movement has to be recorded for every sheep. Pig and poultry producers are facing significant costs and burdens from legislation and by far the most comprehensive environmental regime that we have seen. Arable farmers benefit from improved science and technology, but, as with all commodities, farmers face increased costs of fertiliser, seed and cultivation. All would benefit from a bonfire of red tape.
However, farmers look to strengthen their businesses at a time of relatively low interest rates and borrowing which is at a record high of £11.7 billion, to cover investment and new technology against problems like the nitrate vulnerable zones and cash-flow shortfalls. But farmers will rise to the challenge—they always have. It is encouraging to note that agricultural colleges are full of young farming enthusiasts who see a future in feeding a growing population, dealing with climate change, water availability and energy.
Decisions have to be based more on sound practice with science, and less on emotion, to increase self-sufficiency. Farmers have to be prepared to diversify further to minimise risk and maximise opportunities. Sadly, they have not been helped by an unnecessary and complicated system of support, and a rural payment system which was broken almost before it started when Defra chose the most complex system, creating chaos and a shambles at all levels for England, while Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been more successful. Can the Minister say why it costs the RPA £350 million to pay £1.6 billion to 100,000 farmers?
It is not always realised that although the common agriculture policy represents more than 40 per cent of the EU budget, it accounts for less than 0.5 per cent of total public expenditure by European Governments. Let us also not forget that 90 per cent of direct support payments have been decoupled from production since 2005. Rural development policies are growing in importance to support agri-environment schemes which support environmental enhancement of farmland. Nor is it realised that the EU is the largest market for imports from the developing world—larger than the USA, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand combined. This is due to duty and quota-free access, but member states last year released more than £1 billion of unspent CAP money for agricultural investment in developing countries. Thereby, the CAP becomes more market led, but more needs to be done to help farmers to improve their marketing and competitiveness.
The UK agri-food system accounts for a total estimated gross value of nearly £80 billion. That represents some 6.5 per cent of the total economy, and 531,000 people are involved in primary production. Agriculture makes a big contribution to the economy of this country. The farm-gate share of retail prices has diminished over recent years. In the decade to 1998 it averaged 43 per cent, but by the end of 2008 it had fallen to a 35 per cent share of the basket of food items. Unfair dealing damages farmers’ ability to innovate and invest for the future, and ultimately the consumer loses out through reduced availability and choice. It is understandable, therefore, that the NFU would like to see the establishment of a grocery market ombudsman, as proposed in the Competition Commission report in 2008, to see fair play between all who are involved in the food industry. I should like to hear the Minister's response to this and his views on the importance of clear and unambiguous labelling, stating the country of origin of meat products—particularly where the animal is reared.
I referred to the growing importance of rural development supporting agri-environment schemes. Natural England is encouraging more progress and the best use of funds from Pillar 2. There seems to be some contradiction, however, since farmers are expected to become more entrepreneurial, but the rules of the scheme prescribe that payment should be made on the basis of costs alone.
We have learnt many lessons from the past 20 years of the many CAP reforms; and now that we are part of a union of 27 countries, the next change will be difficult. We need a strategy less driven by ideology, which is more concerned to achieve reforms that meet the needs of farming and feeding the world—a simpler and more common policy.
This has to be backed by more research and development, planning to encourage the use of waste and renewables for energy, and further development of anaerobic digesters, copying many countries in Europe. We seem to be preparing for the 21st century, but working on a 20th century system, often held back by local government planners when applications are made for the sort of things needed to deal with the energy problem. Therefore, the farm of the future should be not only a production unit, but one that offers all kinds of experience to the public, in particular to schools, so that people can see the countryside as a natural asset and also meet the farmers who are trying to preserve it.
My Lords, I will mention transport, the constitution and wood fuel. I had anticipated no mention of transport in the gracious Speech. However, Her Majesty did say the following, of which I approve:
“My Government will respond to proposals for high-speed rail services between London and Scotland”.
Of course, it depends on how they will respond. It could be negatively, but I do not expect that of this Secretary of State, whose enthusiasm for railway development is well known. No matter what outcome there is to political autonomy for Scotland, there will be a strong need for high-speed rail services to the south, England and Europe. Co-operative working on the Dublin to Belfast main line establishes that political independence is not an issue in transport planning unless someone wants to be awkward.
Her Majesty did not mention IEP, the express passenger project, but I will do so. I am concerned that the proposed super-express for use on the east coast main line, among others, will not be an improvement on the existing HST and Class 91 225 sets. In particular, the bi-mode version—electric engine at one end and diesel at the other—seems to be underpowered in both electric and diesel modes. This will lead to the diesel engine being required even under the wires, let alone north of Edinburgh. I have read that the diesel MTU engine does not perform until it is fully warmed up. This suggests that it will be necessary to have the diesel engine ticking over throughout the journey, awaiting those parts of the electrified route where additional power is required. In a power station, this is called being “in spinning reserve”.
At present, there are high-speed trains and Voyagers running on routes wholly under the wires. It is right to avoid using diesel where electrification has been installed. It would be a mistake to perpetuate this error. Should not the bi-mode super-express have sufficient power to run on electricity alone, and to use the diesel engine only where there is no electrification? Will the Government confirm that they will review plans for the bi-mode super-express, as it would be stupid if the new train were unable to romp over the hard road up to the east coast to Aberdeen, or through the Pass of Drumochter and over the Slochd summit? Perhaps they will revisit the concept of using a diesel loco to haul an electric set on the non-electrified lines. Modern auto-couplers should allow this to happen speedily. At present, only four east coast trains go north of Edinburgh—three to Aberdeen and one to Inverness. It would be a relatively rare daily operation to adopt this mode.
My noble friend Lord Bradshaw referred to the complaint of Yorkshire about being left out of High Speed Two. I understand the benefit of High Speed Two following the existing west coast main line into Scotland—a natural route. However, I hope that the Government will consider upgrading the east coast main line with not too many realignments, so that the 225 sets can run at 140 miles per hour, as they were constructed to do. A conventional east coast upgrade could bring sufficient improvement to Yorkshire quite quickly, as opposed to a wait of many years for what may have to be High Speed 2A or High Speed 3.
My penultimate point is my ritual swipe at the Government for not encouraging the people of Scotland to become a democracy and to cease being an unnecessary British backwater. What is on offer in the Calman report would increase government in Scotland from, say, 55 per cent to 60 per cent in favour of the Scottish Parliament, but with no chance of re-establishing an international identity. Why do the people of Scotland have to live under arrangements made by my predecessor as Earl of Mar in 1706? Surely they should determine their future in a referendum as a free people.
Finally, I return to the normality of this debate’s scope to mention sustainable energy and forestry. I declare an interest as being involved in woodland management in Scotland and having a practical interest in firewood coppicing. This green fuel source is utterly sustainable, giving a harvest every nine to 15 years: that is, six to 11 harvests per coupe per 100 years. Do the Government recognise that this traditional management system, requiring no fertilisers but only the sun and rain, delivers renewable wood fuel with minimal machinery and inherent benefits for wildlife and the landscape? I hope that the Government will agree with me on this matter at least.
My Lords, I will speak about some of the inter-relationships between manufacturing, energy policy and climate change. My speech covers business and economic topics that will be discussed tomorrow, but their relationship to energy and the environment prompted me to speak today.
In assessing manufacturing and its impact on the economy, I draw upon a recent report of the Electrical Research Association entitled The Sustainability of the UK Economy in an Era of Declining Productive Capability. The report points out that the UK’s adverse trade balance has intensified at a rate of 20 per cent a year since 2000, approaching a negative £60 billion, nearly 5 per cent of the UK’s GDP, in 2007. Finished manufactured goods showed the largest gap, being offset only partly by the surplus in financial services. Sir Alan Rudge, chairman of the ERA, said:
“This is a picture of a country consuming more goods than it is able to pay for by means of its export of goods and services and its earnings from overseas investments”.
It is unlikely that we will recover this situation without restoring the magnitude and competitiveness of our manufacturing industry—which even in its depleted state remains the leading contributor to the balance of trade—but this is not happening. Richard Lambert, director general of the CBI, speaking to journalists about the CBI report published yesterday, pointed out that over the past 20 years, while bank balance sheets everywhere expanded rapidly, powered in good part by the huge growth in financial transactions of all kinds, here in the UK other types of lending became increasingly focused on commercial real estate. Between 1986 and 2008, manufacturing’s share of bank lending to non-financial companies fell from 29 to 5 per cent, while the real estate share rose from 11 to 36 per cent. Doing the sums in a different way, the Bank of England said last Thursday that the real estate share is now close to 50 per cent. I will return to this at the end of my brief remarks.
I turn to energy and climate change. We have an energy policy that assumes that climate change is going to be extremely serious and we have set ourselves carbon reduction targets that are among the most aggressive in the world. With admirable intent we wish to set an example for others to follow. Many doubt whether we will attain the targets. The Government’s initial renewable energy strategy made little engineering sense, but what is certain is that it will significantly increase the cost of electricity. Official estimates released in July 2009 and quoted by Ruth Lea in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal Europe point to an increase of 70 per cent for business users and 33 per cent for domestic users by 2020. This may be unavoidable because of the global threat of climate change, but it will certainly further damage our manufacturing industry and must be taken into account. We need to reassure ourselves that our assumptions about climate change are reliable.
At present, estimates of the degree and rapidity of warming—the most serious consequence of climate change—vary hugely. That is not surprising because they are based on extrapolations made from temperature data, such as those quoted in the Government’s low-carbon transition plan, where the signal to noise ratio in the data is about only 2:1 and, as has been shown, the temperature increase over the past 95 years has been only 0.75 degrees centigrade. The retreat of glaciers and the reduction in Arctic ice are surer indicators of warming and seem to have been accelerating over the past two decades, although, as with the temperature data, it is difficult to use those to make accurate estimates of timescale. The lack of an adequate quantitative relationship between the percentage of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and warming adds to the uncertainty. We need to strengthen support to those who are modelling and measuring these phenomena to assure ourselves that we are taking appropriate action, neither underestimating nor overestimating the seriousness of the dangers.
At the same time as we work on improving our understanding of the seriousness of climate change, we should be getting on with what was referred to in the 2009 Budget as “Building a Low-Carbon Recovery”. I was greatly encouraged when I read this chapter of the Budget with the immense spending proposals that it lays out, which are intended to enhance manufacturing while meeting our carbon objectives. It boasted that £50 billion of low-carbon investment over the next three years to 2011 was already built into existing policies and that a further £1.4 billion was to be added. Some £405 million was committed to low-carbon industries and advanced green manufacturing to make the UK a world leader. But where is this money? Little of it seems to have arrived. In terms of R&D funds, the Carbon Trust has about £20 million, and renewed efforts are being made to distribute this money, which in a foolish error initially required the R&D to be completed before it could be funded.
Our inability to get going means that we may have lost the race in nuclear and wind, but there are other technologies where we might succeed and I will mention just one. Tidal turbine technology has the virtues of finite scale, predictable output and zero visual impact, and it is a technology where we have several small firms with competitive offerings that, with appropriate support, might be able to build worldwide businesses. There are other, comparable technologies, all waiting for funding to accelerate their activities.
Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us how much money has actually been deployed on the “low-carbon recovery” referred to in the Budget. Are we getting on with it at a rate that will ensure that we are competitive? Would the Minister also please reassure us that we have abandoned the idea that we can survive with an economy that depends on the service and financial sectors alone, and that we will do what we can to ensure that our banks focus on investing in manufacturing, especially in the manufacturing technologies that enable a low-carbon economy, rather than on the seriously flawed real-estate sector?
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Broers, who was the chairman of the Science and Technology Committee when I joined it. I got used to hearing his wise words, and this evening he had much to say that was provocative and thoughtful. It is also a pleasure to follow one of my former constituents, the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, who displayed the Ian Allan-type knowledge of the railway system that a lot of us knew he possessed. As a former constituency Member of Parliament, I was never very sure before he came to this place whether he was just one of my constituents or one of my voters, because the Liberals never got much support in that area. Although he talks the separatist talk, I never thought that he went so far as walking the walk on election day, but I pay tribute to the efforts that he made, along with many of us, to ensure that the Alloa-Stirling line was reopened. That is all I am going to say about transport today.
This Queen’s Speech has been accused by a number of detractors as being opportunistic and electioneering. Of course, in an election year, or within six months of a general election, no Government would be responsible if they did not do that because one of their purposes is obviously to be re-elected. Indeed, we may take comfort from the opinion poll in last Sunday’s Observer, which certainly suggested that the election is not yet a done deal. I think that in the coming weeks and months we will begin to see the credit for much of what the Government are doing to put the energy issue and the economy into key positions, and by the May or June election we may not have quite the foregone conclusion that some people would have us believe to be the case.
There was reference in the Queen’s Speech to carbon capture and storage, and I should like to spend a moment on this because we devoted some time to it during the Committee stage of the Energy Bill. At that time, we were considering the competition arrangements—that is, whether we should have one competition or three—and various matters of that nature. I think that the Government have now come to recognise that there are not only one or two opportunities of a commercial character in carbon capture and storage but in fact tremendous opportunities, and not just in the United Kingdom. Given that India and China will be the increasingly major consumers of coal, there will be a market there for various forms of CCS technology.
However, CCS technology is not a silver bullet and will not be achieved in the immediate short term. None of the companies committed to the development of CCS has been able to suggest that they will be able to offer whatever technology they have as a commercially attractive proposition before 2023. To put it very simply, you will not be able to buy a commercial carbon capture and storage facility capable of being bolted on to a 400-megawatt turbine, which is the standard component in most coal-fired power stations. The Longannett power station, which is well known to the noble Lord, Lord Tombs, and me, has 2,400 megawatts of capacity. Capturing the carbon from that station will involve four, five or even six carbon capture facilities—one for each of the turbines. Not only will that be extremely expensive but it will diminish the thermal efficiency of the plant because these facilities are run on electricity, as we have found with the current flue gas desulphurisation facility there. Therefore, CCS is no silver bullet and will not come about quickly, and even when it does come, it will result in the price of electricity going even higher.
For that reason, among others, I welcomed the proposal in the Queen’s Speech for legislation for proper social tariffs within the new price framework, and I welcome the Energy Bill, which has now had its First Reading. If we are to see investment in capital, in gas storage facilities and in new forms of electricity generation, then it will be necessary to protect the poorer and disadvantaged consumer in ways that we have not been able to do hitherto. We know that, as a consequence of the agreement between the Government and the energy utilities, there has been an increase in support for vulnerable consumers, and that is to be welcomed. This agreement is of a short-term character and will expire by 2011, and it is because of that that the Government are introducing this scheme. It is also the case that they will be able to do so because for the first time we will not have the constraints on personal data that were present hitherto. We will now see DWP data being made available to assist those groups—in particular, pensioners over 70 on pension credit.
If I have a qualification on my support for this that proposal, it is simply that it is unduly modest. The Government will have at their elbow data on winter fuel payments. The data show that something in the region of 4.1 million households are in receipt of winter fuel payments, 2.7 million of which are in the category of receiving pension credits because they are over 70. About 1.4 million householders are either chronically sick or on certain forms of social security taxation credit; or, in the case of families with children under five, in receipt of credits. These groupings should be considered as being part of the vulnerable and needy element of consumers who are currently in fuel poverty.
We know that when fuel poverty was falling it was because the price of energy was reducing. We know that a number of households are still hard to heat and we also know that a number of households are simply poor because they do not work, are chronically sick or have a number of children who require care and are identified by the social security system as being in need of financial support. Given that these families are part of the social security data which are available, it would be unfair not to consider them. If the Government are lacking in anything in this area, they are lacking in boldness. They have gone a great way in grasping several of the nettles that have beset them in this area, but I feel that they could go further. Were they to do so, they would get the kind of credit that they deserve but which they do not always get for the work that they have tried to do to pull people out of poverty.
Fuel poverty is one of the most frustrating forms of poverty because it can overtake people so quickly. If houses are not heated either because of their structure or because of householders’ inability to pay the bills, sure as night follows day the people who live in these houses are more susceptible to illness, more susceptible to absence from work, and more likely to be frightened to turn on the heating thinking that it would be too expensive to do so.
We correctly identify pensioners over 70 who are disadvantaged as being vulnerable and deserving of assistance, but there are other groups. The Government have evidence. They have created precedents and it would be a great shame if they were not to do this. I realise that this is almost a Second Reading or even a Committee stage speech, but on such an issue we are still at the stage when the criteria are open for discussion and debate. When a statutory instrument will ensue, let us try to get this on the agenda now and try to ensure that the hard-faced men at the Treasury are made to understand that the people who will be paying for this, sadly, will be the consumers. At the moment the cost of this increase would be something of the order of 29p per week—15 quid a year, I am told. We should set that alongside the £84 that is being paid for the environmental schemes and subsidies that go to quite often deserving causes. But, frankly, I think that renewable companies are not quite as badly off as the people whose plight I have been describing. It would be a relatively small cost to the domestic consumers of gas and electricity in this country if we could help families to the tune of £80 to £100. That is the figure we are talking about for supporting pensioners in the scheme.
Something should be done and it would not take a lot of effort. It should be put on the agenda and, with a bit of boldness from the Government, we could help a lot of vulnerable people, something of the order of 1.4 million households who at present have been cast aside in the pursuit of what is a desirable but oversimplistic solution.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to take part in a debate opened by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. He is an adornment to your Lordships’ House—although not at this precise moment—and all the more so since the Spectator last week awarded him the title of “politician to watch” in this country. He is rightly held in high esteem on all sides of the House. It is also a pleasure in anticipation to look forward to the wind-up of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, with whom all of us on this side have enjoyed friendly debates in the past. However, I shall be disagreeing with them both fundamentally—and with most others who have spoken, I regret to say—on the only subject that I intend to talk about, which is energy policy and climate change. I regret to say also that I did not hear anything in the Queen’s Speech or, it must be said, in reply to the Queen’s Speech that would give any of us any hope that this country will any time soon abandon its mad rush to economic self-destruction by jettisoning its crippling obsession with the pursuit of renewable energy.
As it happens, I am a climate change sceptic, a position that the Times revealed in a recent leading article that it had discovered to be one shared by the majority of the population of this country. I do not believe that it has been established that rising CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere bear any responsibility for increases in global temperatures when those have occurred, nor even that higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are necessarily harmful. Perhaps they are beneficial. CO2, as commercial horticulture has discovered, acts like a fertiliser promoting plant growth—possibly an advantage in a world threatened with food shortages.
Be that as it may, even if one believes in taking the precaution of seeking to reduce human-caused carbon emissions, which let us not forget amount to only some 3.3 per cent of the annual carbon releases from all sources, the pursuit of wind power, which is the chief focus of the Government’s renewable energy policy, is absurd. In the first place, it does not fulfil its raison d’être. Not even the Government claim that wind farms have had any responsibility for the reduction in UK carbon emissions that has been recorded in the past year or two. This is hardly surprising, as no conventional power stations can be shut down as the wind carpet, as it is known, expands; they must be kept in a state of constant readiness—spinning reserve, as it is known—to come on stream when the wind fails.
In the second place, the amount of electricity that wind farms produce is pitifully small—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, though perhaps more mildly. All the 2,300 wind turbines now in place, covering thousands of square miles, produce in a year half as much electricity as a single modern nuclear power station sitting on 30 acres. Even Germany’s 20,000 wind turbines cannot produce more than some 6 per cent of that country’s annual electricity consumption.
Thirdly, there is the collateral damage: the destruction of some of our finest upland scenery—I declare an interest as an opponent of wind farm applications close to where I live in the north-west of England, near the noble Lord, Lord Judd—and of our seascapes, and the oppression of local democracy by the Government. I draw attention to the second paragraph of the Queen’s Speech, which states:
“My Government will work to build trust in democratic institutions”.
How can the Government say that and at the same time do all that they are doing to stifle local opposition to wind farms? Are the planning process and public inquiries not democratic institutions? The Government are currently doing everything in their power to coerce all the bodies that they can reach, in particular local authorities and the Planning Inspectorate, to assume responsibility for the achievement of the Government’s—in my view—outlandish and unaffordable renewable energy targets.
Not only are the Government trying to pressure local authorities and the Planning Inspectorate to wave through wind farms over the heads of local opposition but they seem determined to rely increasingly on the so-called power of recovery, which involves the Secretary of State calling in the final decision for him to take, thereby reducing the inspector’s role to that of an adviser. In such cases, the Secretary of State or the official acting on his behalf will have heard none of the evidence that the inspector will likely have spent several weeks listening to and assessing. This seems to be guaranteed to undermine the perception in the public mind of the true independence of the Planning Inspectorate and risks destroying the reputation that it has built up over decades. I know of two local cases in which the Secretary of State has recently exercised this power. I should be most grateful if the Minister who winds up the debate would say how frequently and on what grounds he expects this power to be used in the future in wind farm application appeals.
There is also the small matter of the expense. No one would contract to buy wind-produced electricity unless the law obliged them to, because its supply cannot be guaranteed in any quantity at all from one moment to the next, and no one would erect wind turbines without a subsidy. The subsidy is currently double the price that wind farm operators receive for the electricity that they produce, and the cost is borne by the consumer. The noble Lord, Lord O’Neill of Clackmannan, referred to this. It is estimated that the cost is more than £1 billion a year today and will reach at least £4 billion a year by 2020 were the Government to reach their renewable energy targets. This lucrative prospect for the developer, paid for by the humble consumer, is what enables developers to enrich selected farmers and landowners, in some cases to bribe communities and everywhere to sow divisions in rural societies.
It is not surprising that the Government have made no progress towards their target of abolishing fuel poverty. Indeed, the movement has been in the other direction. On the Government’s figures, the number of those in fuel poverty has steadily increased year by year and has more than doubled between 2003 and 2007. The more general effect is to reduce everyone’s standard of living and to render our businesses internationally uncompetitive.
The European Union, which has played a leading role in the great renewable energy adventure—sadly, this now applies to the United States—is determined to saddle itself with the same handicap. Rising Asia, however, has no intention of doing so. It is in a hurry to reach western standards of living, using the same means that we did, and it will continue to use the world’s plentiful supplies of the world’s cheapest abundant fuel—coal—to produce most of its electricity. Our behaviour will have no effect on it whatever and will have a derisory influence on the world’s carbon emissions, even if we succeed by our efforts, which is highly unlikely, in reducing our own carbon emissions. If we want it to reduce its emissions, we will have to pay it and so advance even faster its economies at the expense of our own. That is what Copenhagen is all about.
However, is the bubble about to burst, as Professor Ian Fells of Newcastle University was recently quoted as forecasting? I would dearly like to think so, but powerful lungs continue to inflate it, as I have indicated. There have been signs of a widening realisation of the threats to our energy security, posed by our failure to install in a timely and effective way replacements for those of our power stations that are shortly to be phased out to comply with earlier European environmental legislation. More independent commentators seem to have taken a stand against wind power, and the debate on climate change has most certainly begun, as anyone can see who read the article by my noble friend Lord Lawson in the Times yesterday or listened last night to the debate on “Newsnight” over the apparent revelation that the Climate Research Unit attached to the University of East Anglia had been manipulating the scientific data on global warming.
In that context, will the Minister who winds up the debate say what the Government propose to do in the wake of these revelations, especially as both sides to the debate have now called for a public inquiry? Will the Government set one up? Do they not think it a very grave matter indeed if the integrity of the evidence on which the western world’s climate change policy is based can be thus called into question and the reputation of British science and of a government-funded scientific institution impugned?
We should have the debate on climate change in Parliament, too. Parliament should not be a climate change temple in which we all meet from time to time to say our prayers together. I only hope that the next Government will have the wisdom and the strength to reassert our national self-interest and above all to restore rationality to the determination of our energy policy. Otherwise, I fear for our national future.
My Lords, the Queen’s Speech no doubt marked the starting point for what could be a very long general election campaign, but, however long that campaign is, we can be sure that it comes at a time when politics and politicians are held in lower esteem by the public than at any time in the past. That must worry all of us.
Perhaps this is a reflection of my personal background in local government, but I feel strongly that democracy, like charity, should begin at home. If citizens feel disconnected from the political processes that are closest to them, how can they have any confidence in what we are doing and saying in Westminster? If they have to deal with litter-strewn streets or councils that cannot deal with paving slabs and potholes, how can they be confident in Governments who say that they can deal with climate change or the economic crisis? If their councils are continually overridden and the views of local people ignored, how can any politicians ever be believed?
I note that the Minister said at the start of today’s debate that he felt that this Government had a good story to tell about local government, that they had devolved powers and that they had done a huge amount for local government, but that is certainly not how it feels if you are a councillor or council official. A combination of policy decisions taken over several decades has led to the slow and steady transformation of councils into local administrations.
Some beacons try to be much more than that. I pay tribute to people such as my noble friend Lord Tope from Sutton. Sutton is a remarkable council, which has been at the forefront of environmental initiatives for more than two decades. It has done that in response to local people and to what they wanted, not as a response to government target-setting or the latest initiative. There was a deal between the council and the people who elect it, which is exactly how it should be.
For many years now, councils have been able to raise only £1 for every £4 that they spend. That is the heart of the problem because, when three-quarters of the money that they spend comes from central government, it is inevitable that central government, which after all is accountable for the money that it has raised from taxpayers, will tie up local councils in rafts of inspection regimes, target-setting, performance management, ring-fenced grants and all the other paraphernalia that comes with that.
I note that the Minister talked in his introduction about councils being able to raise more money from a variety of means. We should welcome that, but only as long as there is clarity about this deal and councils are not forced by the back door to charge local people for services that they previously had for free while the Government slowly and inexorably reduce their grants. If the question of who should pay for what local services is to be rethought, it should be done openly and honestly. We should have the sort of genuine debate about this that we have never had in the past. We came close to it when Michael Lyons produced his report—probably too close for the Government, because the report was just locked away in a cupboard. That means that, in years to come, when there are cuts in services and charges are being brought in, politicians from both local and national government will argue about whose fault it is and why it has happened. Local people will look on in bemusement and just think that all politicians are the same and no one is looking after their interests.
Like my noble friend Lord Tope, I have done my stint on the Committee of the Regions. When I speak to people from the rest of Europe, they are astonished at the extent to which this country has centralised control. It is a source of amazement to them. When I told them about the eight pages of primary legislation brought in by the Government last year telling councils how to look after a petition, they thought that it was funny. In a way it is, except if you are a poor benighted council that has to spend money on trying to do it all.
The 2007 Act is now beginning to kick in. What that legislation does, among other things, is invest all executive authority in a council either in an elected mayor or in a so-called “strong leader”. Local councils have no choice in the matter. If the Government think that this is a good thing for councils, they should let them come to that decision for themselves. In large councils, particularly rural ones such as Suffolk, where I come from, putting all the power into the hands of one person, however capable they are or wherever they come from geographically, leaves voters elsewhere feeling that the mayor or leader simply does not understand either them or the problems of their area. Also, the model does not leave any scope for the increasing number of councils that are under no overall control. It might be an administrative inconvenience for the Government if a council is under no overall political control, but that is, after all, the will of the electorate. What voters do not want is to see a mayoral or strong leader model imposed on them when they have made their view very clear.
The other issue that we are grappling with in Suffolk is local government review. This has been a shambles. We are now three years on from the start of the process and still mired in legal challenge, largely due to the inept way in which it has been handled. Not only has the review been massively costly but it has undermined partnership working across the county and created huge uncertainty for the workforce. I would be pleased to know if the Government have any views about the future of local government review because, if the door could be closed on this sorry episode, that would be a very good thing.
It is becoming increasingly difficult for people in a given area to work out who has made a decision in their area and why they have done it. As my noble friend Lord Greaves said, we now have an alphabet soup of local area agreements, local strategic partnerships, multi-area agreements and now something called Total Place. Whatever the arguments about how all this might improve service delivery, the fact is that accountability is completely blurred so that, when a decision is made, the people in the area have no way of knowing who made it and why. More importantly, it means that, when people go to the ballot box, they cannot express a view based on what has happened—and that is even before we talk about the £43 billion being spent by quangos that are not accountable at all.
The planning system, which in many ways is at the heart of local democracy, is becoming increasingly centralised. The Government are introducing the Infrastructure Planning Commission so that very large and potentially controversial planning applications will now be dealt with by a new quango that has no democratic accountability. But even before the commission comes in, there is a real problem. Recently I looked at a very controversial planning application that had been turned down by the local council. Local people did not want it; there were all sorts of good reasons why it should not happen and the council turned the application down. It went to appeal and the planning inspector agreed with the council, saying that it need not go ahead. Local people celebrated and thought that that was the end of it. Then the Minister intervened. The decision of the planning inspector, the council and local people was overturned by the Minister—a Minister from this House, someone with no form of democratic mandate at all. This, I suggest, is absolutely guaranteed to make people think that politics and politicians have nothing to say to them.
I genuinely believe that we will never rebuild faith in politics unless we start with local government. For that to happen, we need two things. First, we need a framework within which votes are cast freely, fairly and honestly, which means voting reform. Secondly, we need a system in which there is a very clear link between your actions as a voter and the outcome that you see. Unless we pay attention to this, local government will continue to weaken and our entire democratic process will weaken with it.
My Lords, a popular definition of madness is a predisposition to do the same thing over and over again in the expectation that at some point the outcome will be different. It is 40 years since this country experimented with daylight saving and, while I have not checked Hansard, I am confident that for most of the intervening decades the issue has been brought to the attention of this House or another place on an almost annual basis. The response from various Governments of the day has been as persistently negative as the proponents of the cause have been consistently optimistic. Perhaps this year the hope that springs eternal will crystallise into something more tangible.
I would ask noble Lords which party, in this argument, betrays the traits of madness? I will not rehearse once more the details of the arguments in favour of daylight saving. They have been proselytised on many occasions and restated today. Suffice it to say that the benefits would be felt across a swathe of national life: energy savings, enhanced economic productivity, improved road safety and better opening hours for the tourism and hospitality trades are but a few of the commonly cited examples. I would add that, as the years pass, the body of evidence which supports the case to seriously reconsider the current arrangements also grows. In the light of that growing evidence, I humbly suggest that it is not the habitual proponents of daylight saving who need to reconsider the soundness of their approach, but rather those who, on this issue, appear to be trapped in an impenetrable dark prism of the mind into which no extra light may be allowed to shine, no matter the time of day or the season.
One default argument against a new trial of daylight saving is the apparent plight of the farming community in the north of Scotland. It may well be that English Peers in particular are unwilling to invoke the wrath of some Scots for fear of conforming to the old stereotype of the “auld enemy”. But given the close ties between Ulster and Scotland and my longstanding and endearing fondness for both places and their people, I am under no such compunction. Northern Ireland is a tiny part of the United Kingdom, making up less than 3 per cent of the population. As some noble Lords will have gathered, we have our own particular and special likings and attitudes. Much as I might regret it, Her Majesty’s Government tend as a rule not to legislate for the entire kingdom based on the sensitivities of Ulster. On many issues, we in Ulster just have to accept that the rest of the country simply has not caught up with our enlightened position.
The population of northern Scotland, including the urban populations of cities such as Aberdeen, makes up just 1 per cent of the population of the United Kingdom. What proportion of that 1 per cent is directly employed in agriculture, and what proportion would be directly and adversely affected by the introduction of daylight saving? Is there something peculiar about the darkness in the northern reaches of Britain that sets it aside from Scandinavian darkness, where daylight saving operates without too much apparent difficulty?
It is not possible to govern by pleasing all the people all the time. That is not a charter to run roughshod over minority interests, but rather a balance needs to be struck between the needs of the many and those of the few. In the issue of daylight saving, I believe that not only is the balance out of kilter but the concerns of those who may be adversely affected are not as dramatic as some would argue. There is no need to perennially condemn this House to a debate that generates heat but, sadly, no light. There is an obvious solution that will prove the argument for or against for the foreseeable future, and that is to conduct a properly constituted and measured daylight saving trial.
For 40 years, the children of Israel wandered in spiritual darkness before they entered the promised land. For 40 years, we have wandered in literal darkness. Will we remain a stiff-necked people or will we take the opportunity to put the evidence in support of daylight saving to the test?
My Lords, I have some fairly trenchant views on agriculture, transport and local government. Indeed, I fully support the noble Lord, Lord Rogan—without his eloquence and scriptural references—in his campaign for daylight saving and I hope the Government heed him on this. However, I shall confine my remarks to energy and environmental policy.
We are on the eve of Copenhagen and the possibility that the nations of the world will come to an agreement on climate change. I am all for open debate on the issues of climate change, in particular on the most effective forms of economic and technological measures to deal with it—I do not believe that the Government, industry or scientists yet have all the answers—but we are past the point where we ought to deny that climate change is happening. While I have great respect for the noble Lords, Lord Reay and Lord Lawson, who is not in his place—although I have read his article and his book, in which there are some good points—I believe that it behoves politicians of all countries and all parties to recognise that this is the biggest change facing us. In both our domestic policies and individual household and business policies we must recognise that we need to change our behaviour.
I declare an interest in that I am on two quangos which are relevant here, the Environment Agency and Consumer Focus. I spend quite a lot of my time trying to intellectually reconcile the imperatives of an environment policy with those of consumerism. To a large extent I succeed in this but there are contradictions and clashes. In discussing energy policy it is important to recognise the complexity of the brief that my noble friend the Minister has in reconciling its various objectives. It is one of the most complex and important briefs.
Before I come on to that, I shall refer briefly to the Flood and Water Management Bill, which I welcome. We have only to look at the events of the past few days to see how improvements can be made in flood management. We need to do more in the organisation of flood defences and drainage but the Bill is a good step in the right direction on that front. Although I understand the shortness of this parliamentary Session, I regret that parts of the Bill which were consulted on last year in relation to water management and water resources are not in this Bill. I hope that those who lead us beyond the next election, whoever they may be, will pick up the very good work set out in that Bill, in particular in relation to extraction licensing, time-limiting of extractions, water metering and the introduction of greater competition, innovation and efficiency in the water sector. One of the side-effects of climate change is not so much the extreme events which may or may not be caused by climate change, but the inexorable pressures on water supplies in this country and throughout the world. Unless we have all the measures in place in regulation, in industry and in government policy we will suffer seriously from that effect, particularly in the south-east of the country.
On energy policy, there are multiple objectives: reduction of carbon, energy security, the need for a big investment programme and some very serious social concerns. In the short term, I, wearing my consumer hat, will argue that some energy bills should come down; that the relationship between the wholesale price of energy and the retail price of energy to consumers and to businesses is out of kilter; and that the energy companies should reflect that. In the medium term, however, the reality is that the price of energy is going to go up. If we are to meet the climate change objectives we need to ensure that the cost of energy reflects a switch to greener forms of energy whatever they may be—nuclear power, renewable energy or whatever.
Bills at the moment will not be offset by the current efforts on energy efficiency, either by government expenditure, by tax incentives, which are fairly limited, or by measures in industry and households to improve the energy efficiency of their own buildings. The failure to link tariffs with improvements in energy efficiency is one of the problems of the current regulatory regime. This will mean that the longer we go on, much of the cost of energy efficiency and much of the cost of switching to green energy will fall on consumers, and on disadvantaged consumers in particular.
We have an energy Bill most years. I was grateful to the noble Lord for being flexible and including in his energy Bill last year measures such as feed-in tariffs, and I urge him to get on with turning them into secondary legislation. I assume that he will be equally flexible this year. There has not been an energy Bill in the past eight years where Members of this House have not argued that something else should be in it, and I will be among those who argue it this time.
There are some good elements in this Energy Bill which I strongly support. I welcome the extension and clarification of Ofgem’s powers, and I welcome the support for the fuel poor. As my noble friend Lord O’Neill indicated, the price of energy to the poor and the failure of incomes to keep pace has led to a doubling of the fuel poor in this country. I join my noble friend in urging that the Government’s measures in the Bill for support of the fuel poor should cover all the vulnerable groups that he mentioned.
It is an odd point for the Government to be cutting back on their direct expenditure on insulation of homes of the fuel poor. I declare a past interest as an adviser to eaga. Whether you use the Warm Front programme or other means of delivering the programme, it is important that the effort expended on improving the insulation of our homes and other buildings is co-ordinated and has the same measure of support that the Government have given it. They probably need to double that support, directly or indirectly, in order to offset the rising price of energy.
In the energy market, the bills that we receive through our post from our energy suppliers are regressive. The poor pay more per unit than the rich, and those who use a lot of energy pay less per unit than those who use the smallest amounts. This is a complete negation of two of the key objectives of energy policy. Meanwhile, within that, the costs of this plus the growing costs of subsidies for renewable energy, which I support, are near enough poll taxes. We need to look at the totality of the energy structure and try to ensure that those who suffer from fuel poverty and who have not yet been helped by our energy efficiency programmes pay less than the average consumer, and that the energy efficiency effort offsets the bill for all consumers.
This is, unfortunately, against the background of an increasingly unequal world. We have a less than progressive taxation system and, as we regrettably know, inequality has grown in this country over the past 25 years. There is no offsetting factor under which the poor can meet growing energy bills and we can meet our environmental and energy security objectives. The poor should not bear a disproportionate cost of the change in the energy market and the need to switch to decarbonised energy. The same is true on a global scale. Our leaders, who are in Copenhagen this week and next, should also recognise that the poorest countries should not pay a disproportionate amount to deal with the global problems of greenhouse gases and climate change. I hope that they solve some of these problems in Copenhagen, or at least get on the road to so doing, and I hope that the Government and all parties here will commit themselves to doing the same at a national level.
My Lords, it is surely not a moment too soon for this House to turn its attention to flood dangers, although they are taking up only a minuscule part of this walloping great ragbag of a debate. The horrendous events in Cumbria last week were described by a Minister as a “once in a thousand years” event. If he was trying to imply that such a thing rarely happens, he is wrong. We have had floods in Britain for years. Yes, they have been on a smaller scale, but that does not change the utter despair suffered by those affected. The brave and conscientious policeman who died on Northside Bridge in Workington is not the first person to die by flooding in Britain—many have died in that way over the years.
An untold number of people have experienced the same heartbreak and helplessness as we heard described last week by one young mother whose kitchen is under four foot of water. She has no electricity, gas or useable water, and is at her wits’ end to know how to feed her family. Past experience shows that it will be months before she can live in her house. Her floors, furniture, fixtures and fittings will be ruined, and the place will smell like a sewer. Even worse, she will not be able to get insurance and will find it impossible to sell her house, because no mortgage will be available.
These problems have been with us for years. I have raised them at least twice in your Lordships’ House. I have written letters to the Environment Agency, and attended many meetings in my home town, where we know about flooding. Northampton has suffered two major floods and many less serious. We have a committee—all volunteers—on flooding in my area, and I must declare an interest in that I am its president. I have not submitted my own research to it, but the committee has put together a huge pile of very important information on these matters.
We have had an uphill battle with the Environment Agency. First, it assured us that surveys of our area showed a very low risk of floods—such things would happen only once in 200 years. It then had to admit that this was wildly out: it was more likely to be once in 50 years and, in many parts of our area, once in 10 years. In some, it was even less than that. This has now been acknowledged.
Some efforts to help have been made by the Environment Agency. Sluice gates were put in. Unfortunately, they cannot be fully opened. If they were, Billing Aquadrome, which is an adjacent holiday spot, would be totally submerged within minutes—so they are not a lot of good. The River Nene rises ominously when no de-silting is done—sometimes, it is not. A man-made lake was dug to cope with the extra outflow of water from a new housing development, but the lake has never had the attention that it needed over the past few years and the area now floods regularly.
This brings me to the feckless way in which the Government habitually ignore the dangers of building on flood plains. To my utter amazement, there is not a word in the Bill which we suppose will shortly come before us that would halt that or disallow building until and unless it could be protected from flood waters.
I understand that the Government’s original plan to build 3 million new houses by 2020 is still in place. It is no small comfort to know that they will be out of office long before then—about 10 years before, I would say—so perhaps that will never happen. However, at one time, I actually thought that the Government had learnt the lesson that no new house-building should take place on flood plains. I read with a happy smile that the then Minister of State for Housing, Yvette Cooper, said on 8 January 2007 that,
“housing … should not be permitted in those areas unless it can be clearly demonstrated that the development will be safe”.—[Official Report, Commons, 8/1/07; col. 366W.]
My cheerfulness, alas, turned to utter despair when I read that the same Minister was reported as saying only six months later that such development would be acceptable so long as electricity supply lines were put into the houses on the first floor by the bedrooms instead of downstairs—dear, oh, dear.
A survey conducted last year revealed that at least 6 per cent of the brand-new houses promised are due to be built on high-flood risk land. That amounts to four towns the size of Tewkesbury—they know all about flooding in Tewkesbury.
I should perhaps remind the House that the troubles to which I have already referred are not the only ones linked to building on flood plains. In my own area, Anglian Water says that it cannot guarantee adequate drinking water and sewerage facilities for the present population, yet we have recently been told that 42,000 more homes are to be built in our area—Lord help us.
Fifty-six of the 209 local authorities which replied to the survey of 2008 to which I referred a moment ago said that they could not find out whether the planned new houses would be built on flood plains. They had asked everyone that they could, but nobody could tell them. I note that the Environment Agency reported only a week or two ago that more than 900,000 properties could face the highest risk of flooding unless money is made available generously and quickly. Is that what the Bill that we are shortly to debate says? I read it fast, I must admit, but I could not see that it said that. Nor is there any indication that local authorities will not have responsibility passed to them without the necessary funds being made available. Such a course would condemn thousands of families not only to misery but also to financial ruin, and untold numbers of buildings—factories, offices, schools, bridges and shops—would be destroyed, ruining countless businesses.
I am informed that the owner of a small business that was flooded less than two weeks ago in Arundel rang up the local council to ask for sandbags. “Oh, we don’t supply sandbags any more”, said it. “Well, where can I buy them?” asked the poor man. “Well, we don’t know”, they said. I do not know whether the man concerned lost his temper or what leverage he exerted, but he finally got the council to offer him two 6 x 12 sandbags—about the size of a small cushion. That was all that he could have.
Whatever happens to the promises in the Queen’s Speech, we must have legislation to protect our people as far as we can from the scale of the floods foretold. We shall have to look hard at the wisdom of building more and more houses, since it inevitably means more danger of flooding. Great information has been gained from experience. It is available, and I hope that it will be used. Too often, it has been ignored.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Knight, has just referred to this debate as something of a ragbag of a debate, as we switch rather randomly from environment to transport to local government. I shall talk generally about the issues of environment and climate change. Specifically, I shall address the need to ensure that we have people in this country who are trained with the skills necessary to ensure that the policies that are put into effect in relation to climate change can be implemented.
The gracious Speech contains two specific references to climate change—one in the third paragraph,
“to seek global and European collaboration to sustain recovery and to combat climate change, including at the Copenhagen summit next month”.
It goes on to say:
“Legislation will be brought forward to support carbon capture and storage and to help the most vulnerable households with their energy bills”.
We have already had the first reading of the Energy Bill. I join those who welcome the proposals to help the vulnerable households that are hit by rising energy prices. Equally, it is important to recognise that at a time of increasing energy scarcity, we want people to economise in their use of energy and that encouraging energy efficiency in their homes is just as important as compensating them for the cost of the energy that they consume.
In addition there is the Flood and Water Management Bill, to which many have referred. The noble Baroness, Lady Knight, concentrated on some aspects of that Bill just now. That Bill relates to climate change even if it does not specifically mention it.
In the coming year, the impact of the legislation that was passed last year, especially the Climate Change Act, is extremely important. That Act was a milestone in our efforts to combat climate change, committing the UK to ambitious and legally binding targets which in turn will require a radical change in our energy infrastructure. Side by side with this legislation, the Government published in July their own White Paper, The UK Low Carbon Industrial Strategy, and at the same time the UK Low Carbon Transition Plan. A whole clutch of energy White Papers were published at that time. The UK is now committed to 20 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020—and, one hopes, if the Copenhagen summit is successful, to a 30 per cent reduction and 80 per cent by 2050. The aim is that this will be achieved by a major expansion of wind power. I have to say, although I am not in any sense a climate change sceptic, that I share something of the scepticism expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Reay, about whether we should put as much emphasis on wind power as we do. There is also a new commitment to tidal and wave power, new-build nuclear, and, as mentioned in the gracious Speech, the development of carbon capture and storage. Again, I share the scepticism of the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill, about whether that can really play very much part.
This is all very encouraging. As the Observer leader of that time remarked:
“Mr Miliband has taken the Government from a position of merely making vague proposals for achieving carbon emission cuts and has, instead, given us a specific recipe for responding to global warming in the short term”.
But equally the two companion White Papers published at the same time, on transport and business, are not nearly so encouraging. It is all very well having a low-carbon vehicle strategy, but there remain many unanswered issues in transport, not least the question of emissions from aviation and shipping, and the electrification of the railways. To some extent, some of those doubts were answered by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, in his introduction. I was particularly pleased at what he had to say about the development of the high-speed rail links.
Business has yet to show that it really understands the aims of the emissions trading scheme, which is in many senses at the centre of the Government’s strategy towards a low-carbon economy. For that matter, the ETS has yet to prove that it can be an effective vehicle to cut carbon emissions. To date it has had very little impact.
Meanwhile, the evidence from scientists shows increasing urgency of action. There is evidence that Arctic and Antarctic ice is melting more quickly than had been predicted, leading to a faster rise in sea levels and temperatures than previously foreseen and in turn to the sort of unpredictable weather patterns that we have seen in the rainfall in Cumbria last week. It was presented as a once in a thousand year eventuality. However, among the weather experts brought on to various programmes to comment on the event, some admitted that in future it was likely to become a once in a hundred year eventuality. Only yesterday, Dr Tom Watson, chief scientist at Defra, was quoted as saying that the chances of holding temperature gain over the next 50 years to 2 degrees are increasingly small. As Dr David King—until last year Chief Scientific Adviser to Her Majesty's Government—has been stressing, the combined effect of an expected population growth from 6 billion to 9 billion, pressure on agricultural resources, running out of fossil fuel energy and climate change create a frightening scenario.
One problem that I find most difficult to deal with is with what I call the “free-rider” mentality. Free-riders are not necessarily climate change deniers, but those who argue that their contribution is so negligible to the whole that it is not worth making. It is, for example, quite extraordinary that, at a time when we needed to be moving to smaller, more energy-efficient vehicles, large four-wheel drive monsters became so fashionable. It is a mentality which says, “Why should I do it, if others do not do it?” and it applies as much internationally, among countries, as it does nationally, among people. But it is worth remembering the other side of that coin, which is, “I would do it, if everyone did it”. That is why at Kyoto, and now at Copenhagen, the aim is to get every country to buy into the package, and why it is so necessary for Governments to provide leadership.
People are prepared to change habits surprisingly fast when leadership is there. Just look as what has happened with smoking; it is a quite amazing change over the past few years. Look at what has happened to plastic bags over a very short period of time. What is so refreshing about the announcements last summer from Mr Miliband is that at last he seems to be providing a bit of leadership. I was a member of the Science and Technology Select Committee five years ago when we made a series of inquiries into energy efficiency and renewable energy. It was so clear even then that people were waiting for a strong lead from the Government, and this lead was not forthcoming. Looking back over the past two decades, many of us will see them as wasted years, when we could have been doing so much more.
If we are to meet the targets that we are setting ourselves for 2020 or 2050, it is vital that we have the skills to deliver on those targets. At present, one in three firms operating in what is termed the environmental sector says that it is hampered by skill shortages. For example, there are delays in installation of passive solar panels linked to hot water systems because of a shortage of plumbers who have the necessary training in this area. The nuclear sector reckons that it will need to recruit between 6,000 and 9,000 new graduates, mostly with engineering specialisms, and between 3,000 and 5,000 technician-level recruits. Add to this the number required to develop the new on-shore and off-shore wind capacity, wave and tidal energy developments planned, new coal-fired power stations if we develop carbon capture and storage, high-speed rail and upgrading our flood defences, not to mention the aim for Britain to become a centre for the production of low-carbon vehicles, and it becomes apparent that the number of young people graduating from our universities in engineering disciplines—some 30,000—is not likely to be nearly sufficient to meet future needs.
So what about these skills issues? There are three different issues that we have to look at. One of them is encouraging more young people to study the science, engineering and mathematical subjects at university. That is a huge problem at present because of the failure of departments in universities to recruit young people. That in turn goes back to the schools, which are not preparing young people to go forward in those subjects. There is a great deal to be said for a policy that ensures that young people, if they wish to, can study specific sciences at GCSE and take the triple sciences.
I do not understand why the Government have opposed what would be a real incentive for young people to take up the sciences—namely, to promise that they would not have to pay university fees if they studied maths, physics or engineering. This could have a considerable impact on numbers going to universities and studying these subjects.
Secondly, there are problems with technician-level skills. American research suggests that in areas such as energy efficiency and the retrofitting of old houses, what is required are people trained in traditional construction skills but provided with up-to-date training in energy-efficient construction. For example, when we have to move to feed-in tariffs we shall need electricians who know not only how to install and fit photovoltaic solar panels but how to integrate the connection into the power supply so that the power can feed back into the national grid. What this requires is add-on modules to an apprenticeship and, for older workers, short courses to cover those modules. While plans are afoot to expand the number of young apprenticeships, there are real problems in relation to older workers where funding for adult apprenticeships has been cut back.
The Government are putting much more emphasis on employer-led initiatives. The Leitch report says that adult skills are to be “demand-led”, and demand here means employers. Yet, as Defra has noted, there is a lack of employer engagement with environmental issues. The training costs of an add-on short-course module of the sort that I have mentioned might be between £2,000 and £3,000. Perhaps for a company that is not so much, but for an individual putting himself or herself through such a course, with no subsidised student loans such as higher education students get and only a commercial career development loan available, it would not be feasible to contemplate funding oneself. That is a major disincentive for such people.
Thirdly, in the UK there is a lack of management and leadership skills and of a general awareness of the need for resource efficiency. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, talked about the work that WRAP does with companies, and others have spoken about the Carbon Trust. We rely increasingly in this country on small and medium enterprises, but Defra has found that there is not a willingness on their part to engage with the environmental agenda. It has been an uphill struggle for the Carbon Trust, WRAP and their SME counterparts. Yet both organisations, when invited in, are able to point to considerable savings. The Aldersgate Group, in its pamphlet Mind the Gap: Skills for the transition to a low carbon economy, highlights as an example of what can be achieved the case of John Menzies, the newspaper and magazine group. With a small grant from the Department for Transport and with the backing of the sector skills council, Skills Council for Logistics, some of its long-haul drivers were each given half a day’s training in eco-driving. The result was a saving of 10 per cent on fuel costs. As a result, Menzies has now extended the training to all its drivers and claims considerable gains in both fuel costs and vehicle maintenance as well as, for society as a whole, a considerable drop in vehicle emissions.
With the clutch of White Papers and publications that have come from the Government in this past year, we are beginning to see the emergence of a clear strategy towards a low-carbon economy. Many, like me, feel that at present it is perhaps a bit too little and too late. Had we, like the Germans, recognised the opportunities that such moves would bring, we might, like them, be able to point to job creation in green technologies, which have brought something like 250,000 new jobs to that economy in recent years and provided a firm backing for its present moves out of recession. It is galling that much of the low-carbon technology that we are now installing comes from countries like Germany and Denmark, but for their part it is creating a vibrant new industry and many new jobs. The lessons to be learnt are ones we know quite well—that it requires a long-term, stable regulatory environment, supplemented by investment in the necessary skills. Sadly these are lessons that we have repeatedly failed to learn. Let us hope that this time we shall be more successful.
My Lords, it is a real pleasure to follow such a considered and well expressed speech by the noble Baroness. I shall comment on the Government’s commitment in the Queen’s Speech to strengthen the national infrastructure to foster growth and employment.
Taken in the round, and for a variety of reasons, we have the worst national infrastructure of any major country. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, has brought characteristic verve and attack, at long last, to developing a UK high-speed rail network—hurrah for that. But just one glance at a map of Europe’s existing and planned HSR network reminds us that we lag decades behind other major European countries.
Secondly, there is the issue of roads. As we all know, 92 per cent of all of our travel is on roads, yet our highway network is by far the worst of any major country. The contrast with our neighbours is startling and shameful. Our main arterial roads throughout the UK are bursting and the experience of driving on them is unpleasant and stressful. The position is forecast to deteriorate further. Yet the current level of national investment that we make annually in our roads is a rounding error in the budgets of other major spending departments.
We desperately need a system of universal road pricing, as the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, suggested. Perhaps the Minister and Boris Johnson, those unlikely twins, could be joined at the hip on this issue, too. However, we also need investment in a new fit-for-purpose strategic road network linking our major centres of population and our ports, airports and railheads. Carbon reduction will come not from constraining road capacity or individual liberty but in due course, as the Minister implied, from powering cars with electricity generated from nuclear and renewable sources.
The third issue is air. Heathrow’s runway capacity is already well behind those of Schiphol and other major European airports. As a result, Heathrow is operating without proper operating margins and at absurd levels of utilisation. If only for national economic reasons, we need to maintain a major hub airport in the UK, sited where it can continue to grow to meet 21st-century need.
Fourthly, there is the question of water and sewerage. The traffic-throttling roadworks in every nook and cranny of our capital city remind us that we failed to renew in time our superb 19th-century water and sewerage infrastructure.
The fifth issue is communications. Regulatory failure had us lagging well behind other leading nations in the development of our digital communications infrastructure, although the Digital Economy Bill to be considered in this Session offers the prospect of a catch-up.
The sixth issue is energy. As the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, suggested, our long-term planning to meet our national energy needs securely, and in carbon-reducing ways, has not been timely. Moreover, our national grid is designed around our coalfields and requires major investment to configure it for multiple and diverse sources of renewable energy generation. Here I declare an interest as a director of a renewable energy company.
We made great progress in the 20th century in many areas of our national life, but no area has been more neglected over the past 50 years than our national infrastructure. When I worked as the Prime Minister’s strategy adviser, I was party to some analysis of the reasons for our chronic and entirely measurable underinvestment in transport infrastructure compared to that in other countries. Put briefly, transport investment fell victim to the increased economic volatility and turbulence of our post-war years, to the distorting impact on public expenditure of high unemployment in the 1980s and to the understandable prioritisation of social and welfare spend over any kind of infrastructure investment since. This underinvestment is likely to have been a significant factor, although not the only one, underlying our national economic productivity remaining stubbornly behind that of our industrial competitors.
However, we are where we are and, however behind we are, I suggest that now is the time to begin to remedy those 50 years of underinvestment and to place the modernisation of the UK’s infrastructure firmly among our leading national priorities. In reality, this is a task for the next Government, whoever forms them, rather than for this Parliament. It will be for that Government to provide an overarching framework and an outline plan, even if financing and execution can be left largely to the private sector. It will need to be not a five-year plan but a 25-year plan if it is to measure up to the awesome nature of the task. We will need to shift from an emphasis on consumption now to prudent investment in our own future and that of coming generations, both for their economic benefit and to improve the quality of their lives. However daunting the task, we must start somewhere and we must start now.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Birt, who has over many years been working on transport. I welcome his speech tonight. I also welcomed the references to transport in the Queen’s Speech. At the start of the debate, my noble friend Lord Adonis reminded your Lordships of the three sustainable policies in transport which we would do well to remember in the final months leading up to the election, and which, I hope, will remain in place afterwards.
I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group. I was recently invited to participate in an expert group for the European Commission looking at future policy regarding the transport elements of the trans-European network.
I propose to speak this evening on high-speed rail and cycling, with a word or two about royal travel and finishing with air pollution, most of which is to do with transport. My noble friend said that the Government would produce a report on high-speed rail in the spring, which is very good. The date has slipped slightly, which is no great surprise; my noble friend has led a high-speed rail study over the past year, which is fantastic compared with the speed of previous government studies, and not just of high-speed rail. I hope that he does not have problems of purdah before the election which would delay this report further, because we all want to see it.
I would like to set down a few principles which are important when looking at the high-speed line work that High Speed Two is doing. We all recognise that the main reason for building this line, or lines, is to deal with the big problem of capacity on the railways. That reflects the success that the Government have had over the years in increasing rail passenger traffic by some 50 per cent and rail freight by 60 per cent.
It is important to learn the lessons from High Speed One, which is a great success. It is open and very reliable, but we seem to have ended up with two high-speed services on the line which go at different speeds. The domestic services to Dover and Ramsgate go a little slower than the Eurostar services. It does not matter much at the moment but when, as we hope, more trains run on this line, it will have an adverse effect on capacity. The best capacity we get on any line like this is to have all the trains going at the same speed. I hope that that will be taken into account with regard to HS2.
Secondly, let us please not have the Government as the independent regulator. It did not work on HS1. It has been changed, but it has caused a lot of difficult and unnecessary debate over the past 18 months.
Thirdly, let us have a structure that allows for open access for passenger operators, whoever they may be—some may be franchised, some not. Let us not tie the financing of the construction into revenue from one operator and then get tied up with European open access rules. A way has to be found to separate that out and have open access.
I hope that HS2 will be built to accept freight; obviously high-speed freight can use it. Container trains, for example, could at least use it some of the time, probably at night with a reasonable axle load.
The most important thing about this line is that it will be able to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I heard a nasty rumour that trains might not be able to run on it at night because the line might go through the Chilterns and the good residents of the villages there would not like trains going past their front windows at night. I hope that sleeper trains will run on this line, and maybe the odd freight. Day passenger trains run in the early morning and late evening, and if people accept that this line will be built—as I hope they will, especially with the new Planning Act—there will be a benefit. Noise barriers will be put up if the houses are too close, and the trains should be able to run 24/7 like they do on the rest of the network, because that is what it is for. After all, motorways are open 24 hours a day—people do not require the traffic to be stopped on the M1 so that they can sleep next door to it. It is exactly the same.
It is very important that the high-speed line trains are capable of going beyond wherever the end of the line is—London, Birmingham, Manchester or wherever—on existing lines. If you live in Wolverhampton or Shrewsbury and take the high-speed line as far as Birmingham, do you really want to get out there, cross the platform and walk to another station to get on an ordinary train? My noble friend the Minister who will reply to this debate has great experience of travelling around Birmingham, and I am sure that he will agree. It applies not just to Birmingham but also to many other places, including Holyhead and everywhere else.
Let us also make it part of the European high-speed rail network and let us have a proper connection with HS1 in London. We do not know where the station will be, because we have not been told yet. I do not really mind whether the connection is high-speed or even conventional-speed somewhere north of St Pancras, but let us not require all the passengers from Birmingham, Manchester or anywhere else who want to go to Paris to leave the station and walk up the road with their luggage to St Pancras to get on another train. That is not part of the high-speed European rail network and we would insult the rest of Europe, our partners and the people north of London if that happened. With those few remarks, I am greatly looking forward to the report coming out, and I congratulate my noble friend on the way that he has pushed this forward, consulted everybody and got as much all-party support as anyone could hope for.
My second point concerns cycling. My noble friend has also done a great job on cycling, of which I am a great supporter. It is good for health and good for carbon reduction. We all know that. Chris Green, who long ago developed Network SouthEast, has just produced a report for my noble friend on station improvements, and it is fantastic. I hope that it is implemented quickly. However, at the moment the target is for an average of 5 per cent of journeys to and from stations to be by cycle. Could we not be a little more ambitious? Five per cent is rather less than happens in the Netherlands, as he and I know.
Thirdly, I have a comment or two about the grant in aid for royal travel by air and rail. We do not often talk about this. I am not here to criticise the Royal Family because they do a very good job in representation, visits and meetings. But I question whether some of the travel costs are not a little high at this time of financial restraint, particularly the use of helicopters and charter planes. I refer to the Grant-in-aid for Royal Travel by Air and Rail Annual Report 2008-09. People will say that security is the excuse for not using a car or scheduled train and there is no detail given in this report, but over the year there were 190 uses of helicopters, which cost a total of £680,000 just for the UK. I wonder whether Prince Charles and his family should not try to save a little more taxpayers’ money. They could do a little less and do it in an environmentally friendly way.
I have one comment on their visit to South America, which was also pretty excessive, including a trip to the Galapagos. I am sure that it was a good bit of state duty, but it cost £645,000 for a chartered flight. There are certainly scheduled flights to South America.
Finally, I have a quick question on air quality in London. My noble friend will know that I have been asking lots of questions about this, because the Government seem to be in breach of regulations on PM10, dangerous airborne particles, in many roads in London and other towns—in London it is particularly bad—under legislation that has been in place since 1990, and some for 10 years. On the Marylebone Road, for example, there were an average of 115 micrograms per cubic metre in 2008 when the limit was 40. That still applies around the Stratford Olympics, which is why I have been campaigning for more of the freight to come in by rail and water.
I understand that the Government are likely to be fined by the European Commission if they do not comply with the reduced limits by next year. Being fined by the European Commission is not something that any Government would want, but I should be grateful if my noble friend would give an update on this. What we must do—and it can happen, especially if the mayor co-operates—is to get below that limit before the Olympics. Otherwise it will look like the high-carbon Olympics rather than the best Olympics ever, which I am sure we all want to see. I hope that my noble friend in his response will be able to give us some comfort that the limit will go down and we will have lovely fresh air around Stratford and other places in 2012.
My Lords, I am sure that, like the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, we all want to see in this country the best Olympics that have ever been held, but I do not wish to talk about that. Rather, I want to echo some of the remarks of my noble friend Lord Plumb by talking about the common agricultural policy—in particular, the health check that is due to be carried out in 2013. I am not a good mathematician, but I appreciate that that is after the next general election. The reason for my raising it now is that, in my view, unless the Government begin work now, they will fail sufficiently to influence the outcome of that work. In particular, we will also fail to have an appropriate impact on the decisions that will be taken if we set about the task in the wrong way. This is not least because of the extension of the co-decision procedures in the Lisbon treaty. Parliament needs to be told, and to be confident, that the Government’s approach and ideas are suited to European Union decision-making as it is currently configured.
Before going further I declare an interest. I am a farmer and an owner of agricultural land in Cumbria. I am also chairman of Carr’s Milling Industries, a FTSE-listed, Cumbrian-based agricultural supply business. As many noble Lords have said and recognise, many of my neighbours have had a pretty rough time recently. Of course, we appreciate, and are grateful for, the rest of the country’s concern and good wishes. However, it is also important to point out that fine words and feasibility studies, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, do not butter any parsnips. What is needed in those bits of my home county that have been so afflicted is concrete help.
In this country the common agricultural policy has become a kind of byword for much that is wrong with the European Union, although we must recognise that it has evolved for the better over recent years. Against such a background it is important that we distinguish between the policy’s aspirations, as set out in the treaties—which, it seems to me, have much to be said for them—and the mechanisms that have been adopted to put those policies into effect, some of which leave much to be desired.
I cannot pass on without commenting, as I think my noble friend Lord Plumb did, on the English Rural Payments Agency, which quite simply is not fit for purpose as it currently functions. It was described by the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee in another place as a “master class in misadministration”. This is a domestic responsibility where the wider public, the agricultural community and, indeed, the European Union are being short-changed by the way in which England is carrying out—or not carrying out—its obligations. We seem to have devised a system which is intellectually superior and sophisticated, but more or less unworkable in the real world. It would be much better to have a simpler and cruder system, which could be competently organised and hence fairly operated as intended. This, it seems, is a textbook example of the best being the enemy of the good.
Equally worrying—I speak as someone involved in dairy farming and the supply of the dairy industry—is the workings of competition policy. It is difficult not to see abuse of dominant position by the oligopolic purchasers of milk from dairy farmers when the price they pay declines below the cost of production as wholesale prices rise. There are myriad instances of cheap promotional offers of milk and milk products by supermarkets, which are intended to promote the whole range of their wares. The cost of these promotions appears to be passed on exclusively to the milk supplier. This was neatly illustrated by one major supermarket buyer telling a supplier that the price of the milk products that they were buying would have to go down as the supermarket always, as a matter of policy, had a 40 per cent margin on its own selling price, whatever that might be. Its margin was not going to be sacrificed for the sake of the promotion; rather the supplier of the milk would receive less so that other categories of goods might be sold to the public.
We now live in an era when there is increasing concern about food security, as has already been mentioned in this debate. If we are going to have domestic sources of supply, the supplier must be able to earn a living, as is quite properly recognised in the principles underpinning the common agricultural policy contained in the treaties. However, as the honourable Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale commented recently, a couple of years ago the average hill farmer was working for approximately £1.60 an hour. That being the case, it makes a mockery of the idea of a minimum wage elsewhere in the economy. For this, the farmers not only produce traditional agricultural products, but many of them look after the landscape and national parks, providing the basis of much of our tourist industry, not to say doing important environmental work.
We as a nation seem to be in about as much of a muddle about our attitude to the agricultural sector as we are in our attitude to the European Union. I certainly recognise that some circles, some of whom sit behind me on these Benches, seem to think that I am, perhaps, excessively relaxed about the role of the European Union in contemporary political life. In fact I have very conventional views, but I cannot help concluding that the European Union exists, that the common agricultural policy exists and that agriculture exists, as do both its commercial and public good outputs. After all, in the real world we start from where we are and fantasising does not achieve constructive and concrete results. Politics and government are, at the end of the day, the art of the possible.
It seems to me that, in the enlarged Europe of today, the political dynamic of agricultural policy has changed, as indeed has the character of the budget rebate that is so closely tied to it. We need to be absolutely clear that the rebate does not, in itself, matter at all; what matters is the net contribution to the European Union budget. The rebate matters only if it is necessary as a final balancing mechanism to achieve an equitable outcome. If our country’s net contribution is appropriate without the introduction of rebate mechanisms—that might well follow by repatriating some aspects of common agricultural policy expenditure—then there will be no need for the rebate. It also does not matter that the spending profile of the European Union budget is different from that of member state budgets. After all, nobody has ever suggested that the spending profile of local government should mirror that of member states, so why should the European Union’s? What matters is that the total levels of expenditure are appropriate and are not wasted and that expenditure is made in accordance with the principles of subsidiarity.
I believe that the common agricultural policy poses a particular problem, especially in the mind of the so-called old Europe, because it was the political cornerstone of the treaty of Rome and has hence assumed an almost sacramental quality. We need to understand that and its implications, but we need at the same time—not least, in the bicentenary year of Charles Darwin—to recognise evolution. The world has moved on, and what was done in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s is not necessarily what is needed in the second decade of the 21st century. We must also be absolutely clear about the distinction between the policy aspirations and ambitions of the common agricultural policy and the policy mechanisms put in place to achieve them. The mechanisms, not the aspirations, should be the focus of CAP reform.
Equally obviously, many participants in decision making about the future of the CAP now have absolutely no direct—or even indirect—involvement or emotional link with that particular chapter of western European history, 50 years ago. They are potentially enormously helpful allies to us. If we as a country can come forward with a set of bona fide ideas that will deliver a fair deal for agriculture, the countryside, the consumer and the taxpayer—not only for our country but across Europe as a whole—and if those are not designed, and/or perceived to be designed, from a parochial United Kingdom perspective, I can see no reason why those will not receive a favourable hearing from others.
We must aim successfully to win over the hearts and minds of others among Governments, politicians, policymakers and those affected. I can see no reason why that cannot be done if we give ourselves enough time to do it. It is not that that will be easy, partly because of the domestic schizophrenia that seems to exist about the European Union, its budget, and agriculture, and partly because I never imagined that we did not gain the epithet “perfidious Albion” abroad for nothing. However, unless we go out and try to do that, we shall be selling our country short by not maximising the potential of what could be achieved.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Bradshaw told the House that I was going to talk on tourism. I rather wish now that I was going to, because so much of what I wanted to say has already been covered. No—like many other noble Lords, I want to talk about railways. It is my passion rather than my profession.
I may be one of the few people in the opposition parties who was really quite encouraged by the gracious Speech. It states:
“My Government will respond to proposals for high-speed rail services between London and Scotland”.
I would like to believe that that means—I think that the Minister has confirmed it—that high-speed rail has been given the green light and the Government intend that it should go ahead. This is something that many of us on these Benches, and many on the Labour Benches too, have advocated for a very long time. We did so a lot earlier than 2007, when, according to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, the Conservatives suddenly thought that it was a good idea.
The other critical words were,
“between London and Scotland”.
The best we can glean from Conservative policy is consideration of a high-speed rail service from London to Manchester and Leeds. Manchester and Leeds already have relatively fast and regular train services to London and a new service that takes three-quarters of an hour off the journey is very welcome but hardly revolutionary. Edinburgh and Glasgow, however, are more than twice that distance and an extra hour and a half off the present journey time would make a real difference. People like me find ourselves having to take the airplane to London because it is quicker. We would much rather go by train, but it just has to go a little faster.
That brings me to another point; High Speed Two, as the advisory body for the project has been named, is in the process of considering the most practical route for the line. I hope it will decide to take a route that links up all the major existing airports from here to Glasgow—Heathrow, Birmingham, Manchester, with maybe a link to Liverpool and Leeds, Carlisle and Prestwick. This in itself would help to do away with the need for so many short-haul link flights between airports in Britain. The flight from Heathrow to Birmingham, for instance, hardly gives the pilot time to get into the air before he has to come down again. Yet, in 2007, there were more than 25 million passenger flights from one domestic airport in Britain to another. If people taking domestic flights could be served by a high-speed rail service instead, it would surely have a significantly beneficial effect on our environment and there would be even less justification for a third runway at Heathrow.
I hope that the decision to start preparations for a high-speed rail service to Scotland also hails the beginning of a new golden age for railways in Britain as a whole. It has always seemed transparently clear to me that rail is the key to Britain’s future transport policy. It is the most practical and the least polluting means of transporting people and freight from one part of the country to the other. But to make this happen successive Governments must be seen to favour trains over airplanes and the motor car. Unfortunately, though, as we all know, a lot of people are going to take a lot of persuading that an efficient railway service is preferable to the convenience of the car. Of course the car will always be necessary for getting to work in the morning, particularly if you live outside a large town, and for shopping and visiting neighbours. I hope that in future it will be especially necessary for driving to your local station to catch the train. I would like to think that in the not too distant future any journey of more than 15 miles or so should be seen as the domain of the train.
Of course, our existing railway service is nothing like good enough to divert the addicted motorist. We need more reliable trains, more frequent trains, more electrified trains and trains in parts of the country where trains no longer exist. We need cleaner trains and we need longer trains with more carriages and more room for luggage and more space for passengers. We need more stations, longer platforms, and more manned stations where women in particular can feel safe when they return late on dark nights. Above all, we need cheaper trains with fares that everyone can afford and are perceived to be good value for money.
We are told that the present railways are an improvement on the ones we had before privatisation. But, even if that is the case, they still have a very long way to go. How, then, can we pay for all this? The answer is by diverting much of the huge sums of money presently earmarked for road building and new motorway construction on to the railways. I am certain that the noble Lord, Lord Birt, will disagree with this. We do not need more motorways and dual carriageways; we do need a better national rail service.
Like many others caught in a traffic jam or a line of slow-moving traffic, my first reaction is, “Why don’t they widen the road, build a bypass or take away those annoying pedestrian traffic lights?”. But what we should really be saying is, “What am I doing in this car anyway, helping to snarl up the traffic and polluting the atmosphere? I should be sitting in a train, reading a book or looking out of the window having creative thoughts as the countryside rolls by. Then I would not be going through all this stress and hassle”. Somehow we have to change the public’s mindset on this—cars are bad, trains are good. But I do not underrate the difficulties of providing a totally integrated and affordable train service in Britain—not while we have this fragmented privatised railway, with a Government understandably reluctant to grant longer franchises to train operators which might, but only might, encourage them to invest long term in more and better rolling stock.
One of our major lines, the east coast line, has been renationalised by default. The Government should seriously consider—maybe they already are—the gradual renationalisation of all or most of our railway network. Railways, after all, are primarily a public service; only secondarily should they be regarded as a business. In many cases rail fares would have to be subsidised, but as capacity increased, more and more people would be taking the train. A Labour Government who together with the Liberal Democrats strongly opposed the Conservatives’ railway privatisation should put their money where their mouth was and start the process of renationalisation.
Of course this would be strongly opposed by the car lobby, because renationalisation could only easily be achieved at its expense. But it and all of us will have to face up to the fact that, sooner or later—maybe sooner—and for a number of reasons, we will have to use our cars much less frequently. I am hopeful though, because I believe that at last we have a Secretary of State for Transport who really does care about this subject and who has some vision for the future of the railways. I hope, though I do not know, that he may even share some of my views. However, I am fearful that after a general election, the office of Minister of Transport may go back to being a transitory post heavily influenced by the forceful car lobby.
Finally, I should like the Minister’s assurance—or whatever assurance he can give us under the circumstances—that the high-speed rail project will definitely go ahead by all-party agreement, even if there is a change of Government.
My Lords, I apologise for not being present for the opening speeches. I became chairman of the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee at 3.15 pm, and the committee met at 3.30.
Much as I welcome the gracious Speech, I take this opportunity to raise concerns about a matter that was not mentioned—namely, the impact of proposed changes in regulations on flying hours over the whole of Europe, including this country, which could have serious implications for safety. I draw attention to the uncertainty felt by the British Airline Pilots Association about the strength of the Government’s resolve on this issue.
Flight-time limitations exist to prevent pilot fatigue, and the rules of the scheme in this country to which flight scheduling staff work are based on Civil Aviation Authority regulation CAP 371: The Avoidance of Fatigue in Aircrews. Its effect is to ensure that air crews’ flying hours are not excessive and should allow for sufficient rest between duties. Even with these regulations in force, a recent independent survey found that one in four pilots were fatigued by the end of their duty, and a third said that their companies’ rostering practices did not ensure sufficient rest. That in itself should be cause for concern, but the reality is potentially worse.
Since July 2008, all EU member states have to operate under EU-OPS regulation, subpart Q. However, thanks to the United Kingdom’s safety record, the EU accepted that the UK could continue to use regulation CAP 371, which provides for much stricter safety standards than subpart Q. However, that is about to change. In 2012 the European Aviation Safety Agency will take control of European flight time limitations, and its proposed rules substantially water down the Civil Aviation Authority’s regulation CAP 371.
The British Airline Pilots Association and its fellow pilot organisations that comprise the European Cockpit Association argued that subpart Q needed a major scientific review on the grounds that this safety-critical issue should be taken out of the traditional negotiating arena and placed in the scientific one. The European Aviation Safety Agency accepted this argument and commissioned a medical and scientific study of the regulations. Drawing together the findings of 10 respected scientists from across Europe, the Moebus report was presented in September 2008 and published in January 2009. It identified several key areas in which improvements must be made to ensure that pilot fatigue can be avoided and flight safety protected. Were the scientific recommendations to be implemented, we would see a welcome levelling-up of standards in Europe and the end of airlines undercutting each other through lower safety standards. If the scientific recommendations are ignored, the race to the bottom will gather speed, with a potentially serious increase in risk to the public.
Under pressure from airline operators who have been scathing about the Moebus report—which had the temerity to place safety before commercial interests—and with the European Commission and Parliament appearing to be distant bystanders, the European Aviation Safety Agency is ignoring the scientists’ recommendations and ploughing on regardless. In a letter dated 14 October, the chair of the Civil Aviation Authority said:
“The Civil Aviation Authority cannot ensure that scientific evidence is taken into account by the European Aviation Safety Agency”.
Neither, I fear, can the Government; so 2012 could be the death knell of safe fatigue rules. The principle of non-regression, which allowed the United Kingdom to opt out by continuing to operate the Civil Aviation Authority’s regulation CAP 371, will be abandoned.
I hope that the Minister will spell out what the Government are doing to prevent a lowering of flight safety standards being imposed upon us from 2012. This is a matter of sufficient importance to merit the involvement of the Secretary of State for Transport. I hope that he will agree to meet the British Airline Pilots Association to discuss how BALPA and the Government can work together to resist any moves to lower the standards for flight time limitation in the Civil Aviation Authority’s regulation CAP 371, which has been in existence, supported by Governments and backed by scientific knowledge, for the past 19 years. I hope that the Minister will respond to this point as well.
What are the differences between European law and the scientific recommendations in the Moebus report, which are much more in line with Civil Aviation Authority regulation CAP 371, which the Government support? European law says that a day duty for pilots of up to 14 hours is acceptable. The scientific recommendations in the Moebus report say that that is excessive and should be reduced. For a night duty, European law says 11 hours 45 minutes; the Moebus report says that this should be reduced to 10 hours. On weekly working time, European law says 180 hours in 21 days; the Moebus report says that this is inadequate since it allows three consecutive weeks of 60 working hours, and that a limit of 100 hours in 14 consecutive days is needed. On standby, European law says that a pilot can be assigned a full duty of 14 hours any time during standby; the Moebus report says that standby should be counted as flight duty for the calculation of maximum duty.
The European Aviation Safety Agency has produced the first draft of its rules implementing flight and duty time limits, which are inferior—assuming that one is more concerned with safety than commercial interests—to those contained in the Civil Aviation Authority’s regulation CAP 371. It was apparently due to time constraints that it was not possible for the European Aviation Safety Agency to take account of the results of the scientific study into flight and duty time limits. However, one wonders what kind of safety agency it is that cannot organise itself in such a way as to make sure that credible scientific evidence is available on which to base its initial draft proposals.
Although the European Aviation Safety Agency has expressed the intention of preparing a second draft of the implementing rules, there are no guarantees that there will be any changes from the deeply disturbing first draft, and, if the first draft is not changed, we will not be able to opt out and retain our present long-standing higher standards under CAP 371. Surely we do not want to find that our involvement in Europe leads to a lowering of our standards for flight time regulations, attractive though that would probably be to some European low-cost and charter airlines and to some of the airlines in nations that have recently become part of the European Union where industrial agreements have not kept standards above the present inadequate common EU rules, from which we are currently able to opt out.
I hope that when my noble friend winds up, he will be able to address the concerns that I have raised and respond to the specific questions I have asked.
My Lords, Britain has become one of the most centralised countries in the developed world. Over the past 10 years, this top-down, target-driven, tick-box-obsessed, regulatory and surveillance-obsessed Government have consistently placed their faith in laws rather than in people and in bureaucrats rather than in businesses. Thousands of new laws have been added to the statute book every year—3,071 in 2007 alone.
The humble Address confirms that this voracious appetite to legislate and regulate shows no sign of abating. The Government, the humble Address says, are going to,
“work to build trust in democratic institutions”,
yet there are now 1,152 quangos in the UK responsible to unelected boards rather than democratically accountable institutions. These quangos employ 534,000 people—more than the entire Civil Service at 522,000. They are responsible for the distribution of £90 billion of public funds, and 68 quango chiefs earn more than the £187,000 salary of our Prime Minister.
The Minister, in his opening address, claimed that greater responsibilities had been given to local government, yet according to the Local Government Association it is weighed down by more than 1,200 centrally imposed targets, costing councils an estimated £2 billion a year. Local government represents 25 per cent of government expenditure but 81 per cent of central targets. The responsibility to report, which has been given, is not the same as the responsibility to act, which has been taken away.
It is not just local government that is sinking under the burden of the box-tickers and bureaucrats. Recently I visited a young offender institution and met staff who were frustrated that, while they were having to cut back on essential education, they were required to produce more and more data to send to the Prison Service. They had a team of five individuals who were dedicated solely to the task of collecting information on 40 key performance indicators, such as how often the toilets were cleaned and whether inmates had had health and safety training. The one piece of data out of 40 that they did not have to collect was reoffending rates, which seems rather obscure and absurd given their purpose. Perhaps the answer that the Government will reach for is to appoint a reoffending tsar. We have a plethora of tsars and envoys. In fact, I was curious to know how many there are, so I tabled a Question and received an Answer, recorded in Hansard of 19 October 2009, from the noble Baroness, Lady Royall:
“The information could be obtained only at disproportionate cost”.—[Official Report, 19/10/09; col. WA 54.]
That seemed to make the point.
This kind of meddling and the new initiatives that seem to come from left, right and centre are very much crystallised in an established practice—namely, the census. The 2011 census will be the most extensive and intrusive ever in our history, running to 32 pages of questions. This time—for the first time—we will be asked to give the name, sex and date of birth of people staying overnight and we will have to state how many bedrooms there are. Noble Lords will see how this is being described as a sex snooper’s charter. Just because Governments can ask the question does not mean that they should. Those for whom disclosure may cause a difficulty could perhaps make a note in their diary for 27-28 March 2011 to sleep at home.
We have now overtaken India as the country with the longest tax code in the world. In 1997, Tolley’s Yellow Tax Handbook ran to 5,000 pages, which was the culmination of nearly two centuries of tax legislation. Yet in 2009 the handbook ran to 11,500 pages. You must need very big hands, but perhaps it now requires a big van.
Why does this matter? The design of legislation and government—the architecture by which we make decisions, hand out accountability and receive back responsibility—matters. First, it matters to this place so that we can hold the Executive to account and know what is going on. If we legislate too much, legislation does not get the required scrutiny. If it is too complex and opaque, we cannot get to the heart of the issue. Secondly, too much data can obscure rather than illuminate a problem, as anyone who has been involved in business knows. Thirdly, it damages morale. Many people are in public service to teach and care. They do not go into it to tick boxes and collect data. Fourthly—perhaps this is the most dangerous—it gives the illusion that something is being done when it is not.
The humble Address states:
“Legislation will be brought forward to halve the deficit”.
That makes you wonder why the Government need primary legislation to halve it when they managed to double it without so much as a statutory instrument. The humble Address continues that the Government will legislate,
“to introduce guarantees for pupils and parents to raise educational standards”,
when, after 10 years, only half the students leaving state school managed to attain just five decent GCSEs. We have plummeted in international league tables in maths and science. The Address continues that the Government will,
“enshrine in law its commitment to abolish child poverty by 2020”,
when over the past 10 years the numbers have fallen by only 10 per cent. That was before the recession, so how are we supposed to take seriously a pledge that legislation will eradicate the remaining 90 per cent over the next 10 years? In the millennium, Ministers said that they would halve child poverty from 3.4 million to 1.7 million by 2010. They then abandoned that and a new pledge has been brought forward.
The humble Address states that there will be legislation to,
“narrow the gap between rich and poor”.
However, as was written in the Guardian on 8 May 2009, so it must be true:
“Britain under Gordon Brown is a more unequal country than at any time since modern records began in the early 1960s, after the incomes of the poor fell and those of the rich rose …Overall, the poorest 20% saw real income fall by 2.6% in the three years to 2007-08, while those in the top fifth of the income distribution enjoyed a rise of 3.3%. As a result”—
listen carefully to these words from the Guardian—
“income inequality at the end of Labour’s 11th year in power was higher than at any time during Margaret Thatcher’s premiership”.
This Government and this Address are all about complexity and control. Good legislation empowers the individual. Bad legislation empowers the state. Good government promotes enterprise and celebrates creativity and diversity. Bad government promotes dependency, uniformity and conformity. The only hope is that this is the last Address before the general election so that this Big Brother Government, who have lived by a tick-box culture, will soon die by the ultimate tick in the box by the electorate.
My Lords, what a speech. I agreed with a lot of that, but things will get a lot worse if we change to the Big Brother state. I am not quite sure.
This has been a very wide debate indeed with a number of very good and interesting contributions. I congratulate the right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Blackburn and of Lichfield on their maiden speeches. We look forward to more of those and to their regular attendance in the House.
I was particularly interested in a number of issues. The noble Lord, Lord Reay, gave a climate-change sceptic speech to some degree. He was not right on everything. I am a councillor in Cornwall, and we have just passed a major wind farm which the Government have called in. I do not know quite what happened in that case; it seemed very strange to me. He mentioned the East powering in other ways. That is certainly true of the coal-fired power stations in China, but China also has one of the biggest investments in wind power. It has more difficulty connecting them to the grid than we do, even though Scotland has its problems in that regard. China is not that different and is moving in that direction. I will come back to some of the other wind power-related issues.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, is not here at the moment. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, was very pleased, as I was, to make sure that the climate change committee had a sub-committee on adaptation. Just as we have read the climate change committee’s first annual report to Parliament, we look forward to the Adaptation Sub-Committee’s work in due course.
Having a role in local government, as I do at the moment, I could not agree more with the speeches of my noble friends Lord Tope and Lady Scott on the powers of local government. We have certainly seen devolution over the time of this Government—that is inarguable—but as a newcomer to local government I have been absolutely astounded by the constraints on local authorities. Discretionary expenditure really comes only through bidding for money from central government departments, so it is very much ring-fenced and decided by central government considerations.
I was particularly interested in the contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, on consumption. I will come back to that later because it is particularly important. One thing that struck me particularly about climate change and energy is how they tie up with our debate on high-speed trains and rail. We were some three decades behind France in that area, if not perhaps in renewables—it was more into nuclear low-carbon energy—two decades behind Germany in high-speed rail, and a decade behind Spain, which has almost moved ahead of the rest of the pack. That has been very much true of us in climate-change policy as well. We are now very good at giving ourselves targets and leading the pack in our rhetoric, but so far we are less good at performing. Regrettably, progress has been very slow.
A number of noble Lords have read and referred in previous debates to David MacKay’s book, Sustainable Energy—Without the Hot Air. There are a number of strong lessons to learn from that. One of the points that he makes is that, between 2004 and 2007, we reduced our carbon footprint by only 1 per cent per year. Between 1997 and 2004, it was flat. To meet the carbon budget over the first of the budget periods, we will have to double that to 2 per cent or 3 per cent if we aim for a reduction of 30 per cent along with the rest of the European Union by 2020. There is a great deal of slowness in terms of putting our policies on the climate and the environment into action.
However, there is what is almost a catch in that over the past 12 months and probably the next 12 as well, the reduction in emissions will increase quite substantially. That is not particularly due to government policy or the policies of the opposition parties, but because of the economic recession. We face a problem trying to work out which reductions are due to lower economic activity and which can be attributed to policy considerations. There will be a temptation to take the foot off the accelerator in terms of our policies and their outcomes.
One of the things that is predicted as a result is a fall in the price of carbon. It is down to €13 a tonne and has been stuck there for about the past 12 months. It has risen from being completely on the floor, but it is now estimated that by 2020 it may not rise much above €20 a tonne. If we had not had a recession, it would have been something like €50 a tonne. That creates great difficulty in terms of pricing signals for industry into the future and how businesses will make decisions in this area. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, often raises this matter, although I do not think he did so in his speech today. But he is absolutely right to keep on making this point: given how the European emissions trading system is a core part of our policy, the price of carbon needs to rise. It is a disappointment to me that although we have known for years that this was going to be a problem, the Government as a part of Europe are not bringing forward a way that the signal can be changed. It could be done through carbon taxation or floor prices or a range of other things. None of the options is easy or a free ride, but they need to be undertaken.
The pace of change is slow. During the year the Government were accused of being perhaps slightly economical with the truth because their figures included the permits coming in in terms of their carbon reporting, but we are waiting for all sorts of other things that are still in the pipeline. One of those is feed-in tariffs. A victory for all sides of the House in our debates on the Energy Bill last year was that we have feed-in tariffs coming in, but we still do not know what the prices will be. Investment decisions are not being made by the energy supply industry because the financial framework within which it is going to operate is still not known. Smart meters are coming, yet questions still remain despite endless consultations. Consultation is important but at some point we have to make decisions. We need to know whether we will have meters with proper visual displays that people can use easily in order to control their energy consumption both in the home and in their businesses. Are they actually going to work?
A problem that David MacKay has highlighted is that if we make lots of little decisions, we will have only little outcomes. That remains one of the challenges of our energy and climate change policy. However, an Energy Bill is coming through, and we welcome that. However, I was surprised when I read through the opening clauses to see that once again we are back on carbon capture and storage. Could we not have got the financing side of this right in the legislation that went through last year rather than doing it this year? The Minister may disagree and tell me why, but I do have a fundamental concern about the way that carbon capture and storage policy—and, more importantly, its practice—is moving ahead in this country. Immediately after the war, coal produced 95 per cent of our energy; it now provides something like 18 per cent. However, it is still responsible for producing an important one-third of our electricity. It is an important part—and my party sees it as an important part—of any future energy equation.
Where have we got in carbon capture and storage so far? A competition was launched in 2007 but we still do not have an outcome. I understand there will be an announcement at the beginning of next year. However, certain experts are saying that that competition is already dead on its feet; that only one, or at best two, organisations can provide demonstration projects, and yet these are absolutely vital to how we tackle the issue of low carbon energy in the future. It was reported today that EU funding for a project in Hatfield in Yorkshire has been agreed. That is good news, but where were the United Kingdom Government in making that decision? On the international aspect, the low carbon project in China, which we say is one of the most important areas of international co-operation on climate change, is going nowhere very quickly. We are still in phase 1 and we have not yet got the financial allocations from ourselves or from Europe sorted out. Again, that project seems to be running into the sand. In all areas of carbon capture and storage which are so vital to our future, we are not making the progress that needs to be made.
I wish to address two areas of the Ofgem side of the Energy Bill. It seeks to ensure that competition in energy works better, which we welcome, and to ensure that there is not discrimination against consumers who do not have a gas supply—mainly people in rural areas. Again, in principle, we welcome that. However, surely the problems of competition in energy lie primarily in gas, not in electricity. Does it mean that by not discriminating against dual customers, gas prices will go up again? That will not necessarily help rural communities because they are not affected by dual pricing. Again there is an issue of competition. Wholesale gas prices have gone down by between 25 and 45 per cent over the past 12 months, and yet consumer prices have gone down by only 10 per cent at a time when incomes have been challenged. We therefore have fuel poverty levels rising from 1.2 million in 2004 up to an expected 4.5 million over this winter. Some 38,000 people died from the effects of cold weather last year and there is an expectation that that number will increase. So there is that problem as well.
There are a number of difficulties around the Energy Bill. It does not include measures for promoting anaerobic digestion, which could provide a further contribution to energy saving. The Committee on Climate Change highlighted the fact that we need to change 12 million conventional boilers in the country, insulate 10 million loft spaces and fill 7.5 million cavities. However, I do not see any financial measure within the Government’s present energy programme that would allow that to happen by 2022, which the committee is demanding. The provision of the infrastructure for tackling fuel poverty will not be met. However, the Smart Grid will allow wind energy and intermittent sources of energy to be used much more effectively so that appliances can use that energy when it is available. That will solve part of the problem.
One of the statistics that reaches out to me is that although we have met our Kyoto targets, effectively, for 2012 with a reduction of something like 15 per cent in our carbon production, our carbon consumption within this economy has gone up by 19 per cent—a 34 per cent difference. That is why I have introduced a Private Member’s Bill—it has had its First Reading and I hope that it will get a Second Reading—to ask that carbon consumption be measured and budgeted in the same way as carbon production. It is not right that we blame the developing world for its increasing carbon footprint when it is producing consumer goods for western societies. That is not equitable without it being realised within that context.
The Minister has sat through this whole debate, on which I congratulate him—I did not quite manage it all the way through. That shows his dedication and commitment to this subject. He also has the Copenhagen conference coming up, which will be perhaps one of the most important international conferences since Bretton Woods and even Versailles before it. That may be how it will be looked at in 50 years.
I am told that the European Union member states fall into three groups leading up to the conference: eastern Europe states which are looking to reduce targets and are seeking subsidy from more developed nations within the European Union; states such as France and Germany which want to protect their industries; and a third group, led by Britain, which is trying to get the best and toughest solution. I congratulate the Government on leading that process within Europe.
It is a huge task. We on these Benches believe that it is more important to get that agreement right than necessarily to achieve it next month. We would all prefer to achieve it next month, but if it takes another three or six months, that should be the priority.
Deforestation is one area on which we need agreement urgently, so that our rainforests, whose clearance accounts for something like 15 per cent of global emissions each year, can be preserved, and we do not have another six months of burning and all the emissions that come from it.
I congratulate the Government on their stance on Copenhagen, but, on their programme, we on these Benches think that many other things need to be done as well.
My Lords, it is a pleasure for me to speak as we come towards the end of a wide-ranging and fascinating debate. I offer my congratulations to the episcopal brace of Bishops, the right reverend Prelates the Bishop of Lichfield and the Bishop of Blackburn, on their maiden speeches. How much we enjoyed the keen observations of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield on the dairy industry and the excellence of Harper Adams University College. His comments were reinforced by my noble friend Lord Plumb in his customary, powerful overview of agriculture and by my noble friend Lord Inglewood. As a grower of potatoes—I must declare my interest as a farmer and grower involved in a number of aspects of the industry—I hope that the right reverend Prelate has been able to reassure his granddaughter that potatoes come out of the soil. It was an additional delight to be able to take an allegorical trip on the Blackpool tram with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. We look forward to hearing very much more from both of them in the future.
It is good to find myself reunited in debate with the Minister. I was reminded by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, of our association with the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, who along with other noble Lords reminded us of the Copenhagen climate change conference and the pursuit of a low-carbon economy. It was also a pleasure to hear the debate being opened by the Secretary of State, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, who is greatly admired around the House. He has done his best to inject his usual enthusiasm and common sense into the Government’s programme, but I fear that not even he can disguise a rather meagre legislative offering.
I pay tribute to the 34 noble Lords who have come between the Secretary of State’s speech and my own and found so much to say on so many issues, particularly railways from the Lib Dem Benches. Today’s debate is entitled, “Environment, Energy, Agriculture, Local Government and Transport”, but we have but two Bills to discuss. My noble friend Lady Wilcox dealt in some detail with the Energy Bill. I shall come again to that and to the Flood and Water Management Bill. Meanwhile, I am sure that the Secretary of State will accept our commiserations that he was unable to persuade the rest of the Government to allow him a Bill in his own area of expertise. We in this House like his style and we are pleased that he has managed to persuade his colleagues in government to accept the need for new high-speed rail links, following my honourable friend Theresa Villiers, who demonstrated a need for them in another place. As for the Queen’s Speech, we see the Government’s latest wheeze of attempting to legislate for targets—and as my noble friend Lord Bates pointed out, wishful ones at that. I should have thought that the noble Lord would have had no problem in getting a Bill into the gracious Speech to create binding rules to make trains run on time by 2012.
There is no local government Bill in the great baker’s dozen announced by Her Majesty in the gracious Speech last week. That may be to the considerable relief of the Government and opposition parties alike, given the rather sad local democracy Bill, which was produced to a great fanfare last year to little or no noticeable effects in the last Session. Indeed, the only effect appears to be to have highlighted the enormous stamina of my noble friends in withstanding many days of Grand Committee in the Moses Room. Why does the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, come to mind in recollection? I found much to agree with, however, in his critique of what he called the “madness” of current local government, with its quangos, forums and partnerships, talk and box-ticking. He has given up on the Government doing anything about things, and he is not the only one. But it was my noble friend Lord Bates who gave voice to the views of these Benches on the matter in a most entertaining speech, which conveyed a very powerful criticism of this Government and this gracious Speech.
For a party committed to localism, as we are on these Benches, there are plenty of measures to be concerned about. I have taken a look at the Infrastructure Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) Regulations 2009, which came into force on 1 October. I was astonished to discover that the developments that fall under the remit of the IPC will include installations for the intensive rearing of poultry or pigs, with more than 60,000 places for hens and 900,000 places for sows. Under Schedule 2, projects for restructuring land-holdings have to go to the IPC, along with packing and canning of animal and vegetable products and plants for tanning hides and skins, as well as ski runs, marinas, holiday villages, camp sites, golf courses and much else besides. What, if anything, will be left in the hands of local communities to decide?
That brings me to the wise words of my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy. The complexities of devolution are often overlooked in the big picture, but the House should be grateful for the penetrating analysis of my noble friend in this and other debates. Certainly my noble friend Lord Reay and perhaps other noble Lords will have been amused to have seen the letter in today’s Telegraph from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. He claimed, rather bullishly in my view, that 80 per cent of people would be happy to live within five miles of a wind farm. I would very much enjoy examining the methodology of that survey and hearing how much DECC paid to commission it. But I am concerned under the new IPC regime that anyone unhappy with what turns out to be an exceedingly broad list of projects and developments in their area will have no other recourse but to write impotently to the newspapers. That is, if the Minister leaves them column inches.
As my noble friend Lady Wilcox said, we are pleased that we finally have provisions for dealing with carbon capture and storage and a social tariff for consideration. It is sad that too many of the Government’s proposals to safeguard this country’s energy needs have come so late. We first heard about their support for carbon capture and storage in the Budget speech of 2006. While that support was very welcome, we are still waiting for any tangible results.
I sometimes think that the Government are adrenaline junkies, desperately leaving decisions to the last minute to avoid a crisis on which they are hooked. Indeed, we know that my noble friend has been calling for a decision on nuclear energy, as has my noble friend Lord Jenkin. Some people would say that leaving decisions to the last minute in this way was a form of dithering. We on these Benches, having urged the Government, want them to get a move on.
The number of people living in fuel poverty has tripled in the past five years, and the House will forgive the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill of Clackmannan, for his Second Reading speech, which so strongly argued on that topic. His comments were opportune, given the alarming figures from the Office of National Statistics on excess winter mortality that were published today. We will of course work constructively with the Government to achieve what must be done to stave off an even greater energy crisis. The whole House will have enjoyed the challenging speech of the noble Lord, Lord Tombs, who put the issues that the Government need to address against the background of the economic crisis and the dire state of the public finances.
Just as we seek to secure energy security, so, too, we must not neglect food security. We have heard nothing from the Government about their plans, if they have any, to encourage research and technology in the agricultural sector in this country. They lack any coherent strategy in this area. As my noble friends have asked, where is the food labelling Bill? Do the Government think it unnecessary?
There are myriad issues that the Government have too long neglected. The story of our whole rural economy over the past decade is one of frustration, lost chances and indifference from Whitehall. As many of your Lordships will be only too aware, many rural communities suffer from poor transport infrastructure, a lack of affordable housing and hidden poverty. We have heard too little from the Government for too long, and I look to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, to redress this.
I mean the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, I am reminded by my noble friend.
I would like to talk more on the vital issue of food security. Nothing could have driven it better than the Chatham House speech by the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, John Beddington, in which he articulated the perfect storm of an expanding world population, climate change and pressures on resources, particularly on soil and water, let alone the rapidly changing diets of an increasingly affluent world. The world of plenty on which the Government based their policy up to a short while ago has gone, probably for ever. There is a moral imperative behind a drive for a more productive agriculture globally and here at home, where the percentage of self-sufficiency in temperate foodstuffs has dropped by approximately 1 per cent each year over the past 10 years.
Farmers and growers need the support of science in improved technology transfer. I can point to many weaknesses in the Government’s position and their failure to provide British agriculture with the support that it needs. Instead it has become a nightmare of bureaucracy, as the Rural Payments Agency shows, and an expensive and inefficient one at that. This was a matter to which my noble friends Lord Plumb and Lord Inglewood referred, and which my noble friend Lady Byford pointed out with customary elegance. She drew the House’s attention to the burgeoning regulatory regime and the huge volume of secondary legislation that lies behind it all. We look forward to her debate on 10 December.
I come to the other piece of legislation which is being introduced in our subject area which, for some, is the most important of all in the gracious Speech. The events of the past few days, most acutely in Cumbria, but across large swathes of the rest of the country as well, have brought into sharp relief the pressing need for the Flood and Water Management Bill. We have already indicated that we support this Bill. Its importance was emphasised by my noble friend Lady Knight of Collingtree; it seeks, quite rightly, to address the increasing risk of flooding to infrastructure, homes and livelihoods. We will work with the Government to ensure that the necessary provisions are enacted. However, we will, as the Government and, indeed, your Lordships’ House will expect, make sure that the Bill is properly scrutinised and debated. We wish to see an effective piece of legislation, which may mean examining the correct roles to be played by national and local authorities so that we are able to deliver laws that put Britain in the best possible position to deal with flooding emergencies. Getting the balance right between national strategy and local responsibility and knowledge is critical, as can be demonstrated by recent events.
I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. I doubt whether they were inspired by the contents of the gracious Speech. Indeed, the Secretary of State managed to avoid talking about its contents, or lack of them, for much of his introduction. But the House has been inspired by the challenges facing the Government in this subject area, and the debate has been of a consistently high quality. It augurs well for this brief Session. The two government Bills which are the subject of today’s business are supported from these Benches and, I believe, from around the House. Notwithstanding that, I am sure that they will be given the House’s full attention and scrutiny.
My Lords, this has been an engaging and wide-ranging debate and it is a formidable challenge to respond in detail to the many very interesting comments that have been made. But it is my pleasant duty first of all to echo other noble Lords in congratulating our two right reverend Prelates on the excellence of their maiden speeches.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn took us on an interesting trip on a tram car in Blackpool with the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. He made the point about the interrelationship between history and opportunity. I thought that there was an implied message to the political parties to get back to Blackpool for our conferences, something that I would like to do. I am tempted to ask the right reverend Prelate whether he discussed, in the tram car, the most reverend Primate’s journey to Rome, but perhaps that is a subject for another day.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield reminded us of the deprivation that is suffered by many people in his diocese, but also of its outstanding beauty. He made an interesting point about young people’s need to learn about farming. I was reminded of my visit to the farm of the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, in Warwickshire, where his son is doing such inspirational work in terms of school visits to the farm. That is an interesting initiative, which we need to support.
One theme that has run through today’s debate concerns climate change. I know that in recent days there has been considerable comment about the science. The Government believe that the world’s leading scientists have shown overwhelmingly that the changes that we are experiencing are not down to natural variation. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, made an important contribution in this regard. As Professor Bob Watson, Defra’s Chief Scientific Adviser, has said:
“Evidence for climate change is irrefutable. The world’s leading scientists overwhelmingly agree what we’re experiencing is not down to natural variation”.
The noble Lord, Lord Reay, raised the question of the Climate Research Unit at UEA. Work undertaken by that unit has been peer-reviewed by independent scientists over many years. The temperature theories developed by that unit are independent of but almost identical to two similar theories generated independently by NASA and the NOAA in the US. The science behind those analyses is robust in representing global and regional temperature changes over this period.
My noble friend Lord Judd is right. We need international agreement to tackle the challenge of climate change. It is a global problem that needs a global solution. An ambitious climate deal is vital to our economic prosperity and national security. The science surely shows what is at stake in poor countries of the world if we do nothing, but projections also show that this country will suffer as well.
Whatever the outcome in Copenhagen, and I am optimistic, as are my department and the Secretary of State, there remains the huge challenge of what we have to do in this country to reduce our emissions. My noble friend Lord Giddens posed a number of questions to the three political parties. I noted that neither the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, nor the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, responded to them, but I should do so. I agree that smoking is not the best example to use, given that the first major report to hit the headlines was in 1963 at a conference of the Royal Society of Health, if I remember rightly, and it has taken many years since then. The problem with climate change is that we do not have that time. My noble friend said that the Government rely too much on persuasion, but in the end persuasion is important. Public ownership is important, but legislation has its part. We have legislated in the past two or three years very importantly in this area.
As for taxation and such matters, the Government have been open about the fact that there is a cost to our climate change policies and that some of that cost is being met in prices. We will continue to use those levers that are necessary, alongside education and persuasion, to make sure that we reduce emissions in this country. We should not underestimate the impact of carbon budgets on the performance and behaviour of individual government departments, because that will force through the necessary changes in policies.
My noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch made an important point in relation to waste resource. We must not forget the arguments over sustainability and resource efficiency, which are as important as direct climate change policies and reducing emissions. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, talked about the importance of adaptation. She is right and I thank her for her work on the Adaptation Sub-Committee. Also, we believe that the duty to report by public authorities on their adaptation plans with a parallel duty on local authorities is an important way forward in ensuring that we have the right adaptation strategies. We are building them in now so that in 20 or 30 years’ time we have the right kind of resilience in our infrastructure.
That takes us to the Flood and Water Management Bill. I echo the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox. She is right: we have seen that flooding can have terrible consequences. This flood has come on the back of the floods in the summer of 2007, which tragically took 13 lives, affected 55,000 properties and resulted in £3 billion of damage. Sir Michael Pitt’s review made it clear that a changing climate means that we have not just to invest but to modernise and make transparent our systems for managing flood risk, and water management generally, as the noble Lord, Lord Birt, suggested. The Bill is a crucial part of implementing Sir Michael Pitt’s recommendations. I am very grateful to noble Lords for the support that they have intimated today for the general principles of the Bill.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that we do not underestimate either the scale of the need for funding or the impact on householders affected. The noble Baroness, Lady Knight of Collingtree, was persuasive on that point. I know that there is some disappointment about the size of the Bill but, inevitably in the fifth Session of a Parliament, we have had to scale it down to meet the needs of a short Session. Again, the essential point is to get the Bill through because it contains essential elements of the progress that we need to make.
A number of noble Lords mentioned the role of the Environment Agency. I make it clear that we do not see the Bill as centralising power for managing flood risk to the Environment Agency. While the agency is responsible for a full national strategic overview, the Bill explicitly gives local authorities the lead role in handling local flood risk. That is but one example of the confidence that the Government show in local authorities.
On the question of building on flood plains, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Knight, that we do not believe that there should be an outright ban on developing where there is a risk of flooding. There is clear guidance to planning authorities on this matter. It is made clear that planning decisions must be based on a full appreciation of the risks, balanced against other community needs, which may well result in some further development of currently protected areas. However, the planning guidance makes it clear that current and future flood risk has to be taken into account in the planning process.
We have had a good debate on transport, particularly the railways. My noble friend has been listening carefully to that. I am delighted that there is such support for electrification and the building of a new high-speed line. My noble friend Lord Berkeley had some interesting points to make about developing High Speed Two—including learning the lessons of the highly successful High Speed One—and the needs of rail freight, which I know my noble friend will consider. I say to the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, on his point about linking airports, that the Government are, as part of the study, looking at interconnectivity with Heathrow. I also point out the strategic siting of Birmingham International Airport next to the railway system.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, that we are committed to delivering the full 24 trains per hour frequency for Thameslink. The department has set up a £15.9 billion funding package to cover all costs for Crossrail, including contingency and inflation. I listened with great interest to the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, particularly about the super-express trains. Of course, he knows that there are many key intercity destinations off the electrified main line, where the low number of services does not justify the capital cost of electrification. That is where a bi-mode train will provide a key off-wire destination with through services, while making use of cheaper, cleaner and greener electric power where available.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn and my noble friend Lord Berkeley made some interesting points about cycling. My noble friend thought that we could go further than the target of 5 per cent. I understand that the current figure is 2 per cent, so reaching 5 per cent would be an achievement. However, if we can go further, that would indeed be a very good thing to do. I see my noble friend beside me. It would be particularly welcome if there could be a few more bike stands at New Street station, given that there has been a problem of overcapacity for many years and the response of the railway managers is to put up notices saying that you cannot park your bike anywhere else.
My noble friend Lord Rosser raised an interesting point about flying hours and safety. I congratulate him on his appointment as chair of the Merits Committee; I think that is one answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, who complained about the number of statutory instruments. The Merits Committee has enabled the House to distinguish between routine statutory instruments and those which are very important and need additional scrutiny. I am sure that we wish him very well. On the issue of European safety in aviation, my noble friend is right that we are considering responses to the consultation on a first draft. I understand that those are unlikely to be finalised until 2011, but we are confident that they will ensure the same high level of safety as we have in the current CAA rules. Of course the safety of passengers and crew has to be, and is, our top priority. I know that my noble friend would be happy to speak to my other noble friend on this matter.
The question of air quality was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. We made an application on PM10 to the Commission in April. We have set out how we think compliance will be achieved in eight UK areas, including London, and how it will be achieved by 2011. We obviously hope to avoid infraction fines, and we depend very much on co-operation with the Mayor of London, who published an air quality strategy in October. Defra will be working with the mayor on the detail of those measures.
Perhaps I may turn to energy. It is a familiar refrain from noble Lords opposite and in other parts of the House that the Government have somehow neglected energy policy over the past few years. I stand here to reject that charge, utterly and totally. The Government have been forthright in taking forward their energy policy. I believe that we are in a very good situation in developing the trinity of low-carbon energy: nuclear, renewables, and clean coal. We see in relation to grid and planning reform the introduction of legislation on smart meters, feed-in tariffs and the renewable heat incentive. It is a heady mixture that will give this country the kind of energy policy that does not exist in others. I have heard other noble Lords say that this country is behind other countries, but that is not how those countries see it. In my travels around the globe as Energy Minister, I have frequently come across Energy Ministers in other countries who much admire the concerted and cohesive approach that this country is taking on energy.
On feed-in tariffs and smart meters, perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that I well understand the frustration that people feel. I know that they sometimes feel that there are too many consultations, but we have to get it right on feed-in tariffs and smart meters. The consultations have closed and I hope that we will be able to announce their outcome fairly shortly. I understand that companies need certainty on future investment decisions. I understand the need for speed.
My noble friend Lord Haworth asked about the future of large power plants, and I know that there has been concern about what has been described as an energy supply gap. Although 18 gigawatts of electricity generation capacity is due to close by 2018, there is nearly 22 gigawatts either under construction or with planning consent. We are not at all complacent, and we have been leading in pushing for flexibilities in the industrial emissions directive to help smooth the transition to a low-carbon electricity system and avoid more closures in 2016.
On the question of investment issues, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tombs, I assure him that the Government are not complacent. I recognise the scale of the investment challenge at the moment, particularly going forward over the next 10 years. The noble Lord, Lord Birt, spoke eloquently of the need for investment in national infrastructure. He is surely right: energy will have to be a particular area of focus in the next 10 years.
The noble Lord, Lord Broers, referred to the importance of the manufacturing sector. As someone who comes from the West Midlands, I very much share his view of the importance of the manufacturing sector in this country. I do not agree with him that we have lost the race in relation to nuclear. Our decision to turn to nuclear enables us to develop a very strong UK supply chain. I believe that many skilled jobs will be created for people in this country in the years ahead. On renewables, I say to the noble Lord that this country is the leading exponent of offshore wind, and there is also great future potential in wave and tidal. Many opportunities will be available but we need skilled people. I agree with the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, on the need to develop skills strategies. The business department takes the lead on that but I take a very close interest in it. I am keen to ensure that we take advantage of the huge opportunities for people in this country afforded by the nuclear and renewables sectors, and to point young people in the direction of the energy sector because it can offer them good jobs for many years to come.
On clean coal, I make it clear that the Government are determined to take forward proposals on the up to four scaled-up projects on carbon capture and storage. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, that of course it is right that the regulations under the Bill we are bringing forward should be subject to scrutiny in both Houses. I very much agree with him on that. I agree with my noble friend Lord O’Neill that there is great potential for the UK to have a leadership role in carbon capture and storage technology. It is very important that we take advantage of that.
I commend my noble friend Lord Haworth for the foresight displayed in his maiden speech with regard to nuclear energy. We are not being slow in this area. We have published our draft national policy statement on energy, including nuclear. We are working very hard on generic design assessment. I am confident that the first new nuclear power station will be ready by Christmas 2017. At this stage I know of no reason why that should not be so. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, that I understand that the Lords Procedure Committee has agreed a process with regard to the scrutiny of the national policy statements and that during the current scrutiny period there will be a debate in Grand Committee to which I will have the pleasure of responding. The scrutiny period runs until 6 May next year, so there is ample opportunity for the House to consider these matters in greater detail.
The noble Lords, Lord Jenkin and Lord Teverson, referred to carbon pricing. I very much understand the importance of this matter. The ETS cap is due to be tightened from 2013, but essentially we have to come back to Copenhagen. On the assumption that we get a good deal, Europe has to come back to the negotiating table to revisit its 2020 target. That would have a positive effect on the carbon price. The Government have said that they will keep this matter very much under review, and I continue to commit to that. I understand the importance of the matter, particularly as regards certainty in the energy sector and future investment plans.
The noble Lord, Lord Reay, is sceptical of wind energy’s potential. I do not think that we will ever agree on that point, but we do not believe that the changes in the planning system are undermining the role of local authorities. Most of the energy planning consent decisions submitted to the IPC arise under existing legislation. It is important to remember that the consultation process which developers have to go through has in essence to be signed off by the local authority, because if it is not satisfied that the local consultation is effective then the IPC can refuse to consider an application. On recovery powers, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Reay, that my understanding is that of the 27,000 appeals made each year, 110 are decided by the Secretary of State. That is an appropriate use of those powers and is justified. Only a small minority of appeals are decided by the Secretary of State, usually because the development is large or controversial and includes proposals of major significance. That power is used in a highly proportionate way.
In taking forward our climate change policies it is important that we ensure a fair deal for all customers. My noble friends Lord Whitty and Lord O’Neill made some very important points about fuel poverty—that we should ensure that the impact of climate change policies does not fall disproportionately on poorer people. We share that view and their view that the measures in the Bill that are important to the social tariff are taken forward. Of course, we will continue to redouble our efforts to make sure that prices now and in the future are fair.
I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, that the absence of comment on farming in the Queen’s Speech does not mean that we underestimate the importance of the farming sector. The noble Lord, Lord Haskins, made some important points about population growth and food production. The Government have taken forward the Food 2030 initiative, which is looking very much at issues around food security and sustainability and it will make an important contribution to the work needed in this area.
The noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, mentioned CAP reform, which we are very keen to see. The CAP health-check agreement in January set a timetable for a managed phase-out of quotas by 2015. We want a profitable and internationally competitive farming sector which is not dependent on public subsidy. At the same time, the uplands entry-level stewardship scheme will help fund upland farmers. I understand the points raised by the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, about the challenges faced by upland farmers.
The single payments scheme and the Rural Payments Agency is a well-tried area of debate. Perhaps we should not dwell on this too much. [Laughter] Indeed, I am sure that we should not dwell on it too much. However, the Government and Ministers have apologised for the problems that the scheme has caused to farmers affected. I have to say that progress has been made. Customer satisfaction ratings have risen, and for 2009 payments, the agency expects at least to match its performance of last year, when nearly £1 billion was paid to some 70,000 in December. A review of the RPA is continuing. I take on board the comments about efficiency and we will seek very much to learn the lessons.
On animal health and welfare, we intend to publish a draft Bill in the new year. Country-of-origin food labelling, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, is a very important issue. The long-term solution lies with the proposed EU food information regulation, which will not be adopted before 2013. However, we will continue to work hard in this area.
I turn now to the noble Lord, Lord Bates, who, in a highly entertaining but somewhat provocative speech, seemed to be concerned that the Government were too interested in targets. I understand some of his concerns, but most of my ministerial experience has been in the health department, in which we had targets. I do not think that we would have achieved the progress that we have made on getting rid of waiting times without those targets. I remind the noble Lord of the record of the previous Conservative Government. I do not recall that they were shy of centralisation tendencies when it came to local government. I recall the imposition of caps on expenditure and other draconian methods. He and other noble Lords who have spoken—the noble Lords, Lord Greaves and Lord Tope, and the noble Baroness, Lady Scott—rather glossed over the reform of the local government framework that has reduced the number of national indicators and encouraged local authorities to focus on outcomes.
I did not understand the point raised by the noble Lords, Lord Taylor and Lord Greaves, about the demands on local authorities in relation to governance. Surely they are consulted on so many issues, and other local agencies look to local government, because of local government’s leadership role. Local government should welcome the status and authority that it has been given.
The noble Lord, Lord Tope, referred to the centralised state. Some noble Lords will know that my father-in-law is Professor John Stewart, and the point is not unfamiliar to me—it has been raised over many Sunday lunches. It was he who proposed the “power of general competence” and we continue to discuss this. I repeat that what is not in doubt is the leadership role of local authorities, which has been very much enhanced.
My experience as a Minister is that very few people come to me and say, “Please, central government, give back powers to local government”. Most interactions that we have, particularly with stakeholders and national pressure groups, are about centralisation. There is a wider argument here that we in society should have. I understand the concerns about a centralising trend, but my experience, certainly in the health service, is that people dislike postcode prescribing. There is a genuine tension between the Government’s desire to establish national strategy and policy and how that fits with local determination and democratisation. Collectively, we have not yet found a way through.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, talked about Welsh devolution. The report has just been delivered and the Secretary of State for Wales is considering it. He will make his views known in due course. The noble Lord, as ever, made a very interesting comment.
The noble Lord, Lord Rogan, talked about daylight saving. I am not without sympathy for his comments. While there is no national consensus yet, I would welcome more debate on the matter.
The noble Lord, Lord Shutt, produced a remarkable tour de force that enabled us to discuss St Helena airport in the guise of a debate on transport policy in the United Kingdom. I shall communicate his passionate championship to the appropriate government department.
I will speak finally and briefly on housing. We have not heard much about housing today, but I was glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, raised the issue. She was right to do so. We are committed to a step change in housing supply to address long-term needs. The noble Baroness asked specific and detailed questions. I am afraid that I will have to duck them and write to her.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for answering one question that I raised. However, I asked another that I gave his office notice of before the debate. It relates to the climate research unit attached to the University of East Anglia, where serious accusations have been made following apparent revelations of manipulation of global warming data. There has been a call for a public inquiry, which has been supported by the Government’s adviser, who is a director of that institute, and by others. Will the Minister say whether the Government intend to institute an inquiry?
My Lords, I think that there are two issues there, one being the conduct of researchers at the institute, which is very much a matter for the university, and the other being an inquiry into climate change science. I thought that I had answered the latter point but I am confident that the advice that the Government have received on climate change science is robust. I do not think that a public inquiry is necessary.
I have gone on for 32 minutes, for which I apologise. I conclude by saying that ultimately I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, on his analysis of the contents of the Queen’s Speech. Taking into account the short time left before the election, I think that the Queen’s Speech is very focused and to the point. In terms of today’s debate, it contains two important pieces of legislation. They may not be lengthy but I am usually accused of bringing very lengthy Bills to your Lordships’ House. I am sure that when they reach your Lordships we will enjoy a very good and well informed debate.
I am grateful to noble Lords all around the House because I think that they have expressed general consensus on the legislation and on the wider matters that we have debated in relation to energy, transport and other policy issues.
Debate adjourned until tomorrow.
House adjourned at 9.56 pm.