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House of Lords

Monday, 17th July 2000.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Derby.

Energy Policy

Lord Hunt of Chesterton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their energy policy in the light of the 22nd report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution.

The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, the recommendations in the report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution will be taken into account when the Government finalise their climate change programme in the autumn. We aim to make a full response to the report's 87 recommendations within a year. That is the normal time frame for responding to Royal Commission reports.

Lord Hunt of Chesterton: My Lords, what will the Government be doing, along with United Nations agencies, to monitor other countries' actions in respect of the convention?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the UK is working closely with the commission and the International Energy Agency to monitor projections of emissions and how they compare with the Kyoto targets and the policies to deliver savings.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, can the Minister give us any indication when the House will be able to debate that very important Royal Commission report? In view of the great urgency of countering climate change, as set out in the report, will he prevail on his noble friend Lord Whitty to reconsider his comment in the House a week ago that, on CO 2 emissions, the total volume of traffic is not the issue? Even at this late stage, road and air traffic limitation targets could be introduced in the Transport Bill.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, it will be for the usual channels to consider when such a debate can take place. I think that I can speak authoritatively for my noble friend in saying that the answer to the question about the Transport Bill is "No".

Lord Ezra: My Lords, will the Government's forthcoming statement deal with the period beyond 2010? They have a demanding objective for 2010 that we may get somewhere near, but with the withdrawal

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of the nuclear-powered stations, the problems after that date will be much more serious. We ought to be planning for that now.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the finalisation of the climate change programme, which will come in the autumn, will give more consideration to the long-term position. As the noble Lord says, the target for 2010 is very demanding, but the situation after that will be even more difficult, particularly on the assumption of a run-down of nuclear energy.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, has the Minister been made aware of the increase in pollution arising from Internet shopping? A study in the Netherlands has shown that Internet shopping has already added 17 per cent to the traffic involved in buying household goods. If that carries on, the Government will have a real problem with increasing road traffic pollution. What do they propose to do about that?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, although I know quite a bit about Internet shopping, I was not aware of that fact. There is another school of thought that equally confidently believes that Internet shopping will help by cutting the transport requirements of major supermarket chains, which is clearly a highly desirable goal.

Water Supply

2.40 p.m.

Lord Ezra asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are the prospects for a national water grid.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, watercourses and pipelines already transfer water over long distances in several parts of the United Kingdom to provide water supplies. The development of further transfers will be subject to assessment of their environmental impact, future demand for water, and the availability of sustainable supplies. In a proposed joint venture with the private sector, British Waterways is examining further use of the canal network to supply water of all qualities, including potable, linking the North West and the Midlands to London and the South East.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, will the Minister give us more information about that interesting proposal? For years, we have been trying to devise a scheme for moving water from the North, where it is more plentiful, to the South, where it is lacking. It seems that there is now a real prospect of overcoming that problem. When could such a project come about? Might it seriously alleviate the problems in the South

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over the next few years, bearing in mind the Government's plans for building so many more houses in the South East?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the noble Lord is right that the main pressure on water supplies is in the South East and the main supply of water is in the North. The canal system can deal with only part of that, because it is not a universal network. However, I assure the noble Lord that the proposed public/private partnership has passed its initial feasibility study. There is a prospect of the supply of water of different qualities to ultimate suppliers through the canal system. That may come into play within a few years. There has been definite progress.

Earl Russell: My Lords, my noble friend has been asking this question since 1989. Have not the Government had long enough to think of a rather less preliminary answer?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I cannot answer for the first eight years of that period. Since my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister has had responsibility for waterways, he has been extremely anxious that British Waterways should look at the way in which it can use its assets for wider purposes--both regeneration and, in this case, developing long-term ability to transfer water. We have gone ahead with the study. The technical side has been addressed and we are looking at the financing side. We believe that if we can provide different qualities of water for different consumers, there will be a strong commercial case for the proposal. Therefore, we are now well on the road.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I recognise the desirability of transferring water from the wetter regions to the drier regions and I note the contribution which the canal system can make to regional transfers. But will the Minister take note also of the very considerable energy costs which would be involved in any large-scale and long-distance grid system transferring water over very considerable distances? That was certainly one of the factors which influenced the view of the National Rivers Authority during the time that I was its chairman.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, if we were looking to use the canal system and existing waterways for a total transfer and a total national grid, clearly there would be substantial energy implications. There will be some energy implications even for those areas which we are looking at, but we believe that those will be taken care of in terms of the investment that is required, the commercial return and the environmental benefit which could be achieved by using British Waterways' assets in that way.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, it seems that there is a proposal to transfer water from the North West to the

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South East. Surely, if energy is needed to pump water up hills, hydro-electric energy can be generated beside locks when the water comes down hills?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am sure that, in principle, my noble friend is absolutely correct on that. However, the water course does not operate quite as systematically as his question implies. There will be points at which a degree of help with the flow may be necessary; but in general we shall be working with gravity rather than against it.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, perhaps the Government may find it easier to make it rain when the water is required than to use some of those very complicated systems. What research is being carried out into rain-making in the areas where it might be required?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, judging by recent days, that requirement is perhaps less immediately necessary than the noble and gallant Lord suggests. However, there are longer-term climate change issues which must be addressed. It may well be that the South of England will become drier and the prognostications tend to suggest that the North of England will become wetter. In those circumstances, the proposed scheme would be even more desirable, without intervening directly with precipitation in the way in which the noble and gallant Lord was considering.

Part-Time Police Force

2.45 p.m.

Lord Bradshaw asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress is being made in considering the potential of a part-time police force to support regular forces.

Lord Bach: My Lords, the Government are currently looking at whether a part-time or retained police officers scheme would be a viable and useful tool in the fight against crime, particularly, although not exclusively, in rural areas. Creating such a force would not be straightforward. We shall need to discuss the issues it raises with the police service and police authorities before reaching any firm conclusions on the merits of the proposal.

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