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House of Lords

Wednesday, 26th March 2003.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Manchester.

Energy Efficiency and Waste Management

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the resources allocated to the Are You Doing Your Bit Campaign are sufficient to inform consumers how they can reduce their impact on the environment and climate change and to fulfil the Government's policy of decoupling economic growth from environmental degradation.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, the Are You Doing Your Bit Campaign was a successful stage in the Government's effort to raise the general level of public awareness, but matters have been moving on from there. The Government have been developing new strategic approaches for sustainable production and consumption, within which future information initiatives will build on the general awareness fostered by the campaign, but will have a more specific focus in areas such as energy efficiency and waste reduction.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. The campaign was very successful, and was recognised to be so. Does he then find it a particular shame that it came to an end with its funds taken away and redirected, albeit to the Rural Task Force? No new funds were found for the campaign, and consumers are now not informed of any way in which they can do their bit either to reduce CO 2 emissions or their waste. All the Government's headline indicators that are failing are doing so in areas on which consumers could have an impact.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I do not quite agree with that. The campaign was scheduled to run for a few years. It ran for a few years, and it certainly raised awareness. It did not dramatically alter behaviour. One reason for that is that information for consumers to make the positive choice on, for example, product specification, labelling and new energy efficiency measures was not in place for them to make that choice. It is on that that we are now concentrating.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, I declare an interest as a consumer and keen advocate of high economic growth. What would I need to decouple to improve that?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I would require more information than I regret to say that I have about the

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noble Lord's lifestyle. He could find ways, as were advocated by the campaign, of using less water and electricity and creating less waste than probably he and most of us do at the moment. The campaign was about the individual citizen's ability to change their behaviour to reflect environmental improvements. That meant that we could have economic growth with less demand on resources and less creation of pollution.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the contributions made by the Churches through the eco-congregations and parish pump networks, which help people to understand and do good things about the environment? Furthermore, does he agree that one of the factors most damaging to the environment is the large number of single-person households, with their separate energy bills and car ownership? Would he agree that the best action that anyone could take, far from decoupling, is to get married and stay married? Would he be prepared to endorse the slogan, "Tie the knot and save the planet"?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is driving me to wider issues. Household formation does have an effect on the demand on resources. Were the full teachings of the Church, in terms of "Go forth and multiply", to be pursued by the same married couples to the extent that sometimes seems to be the Church's policy, the demand on resources would be even greater. Having said that, I pay tribute to the work of the Church campaigns and, in particular, the parish pump workshops. Much alteration and improvement in behaviour and awareness can arise from local groups led by the Churches and others.

Lord Avebury: My Lords—

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords—

Noble Lords: Cross Bench!

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, I think that the Minister suggested that I could do a lot to save waste. How am I to save waste when every household necessity that I buy is packaged to within an inch of its life, to such an extent that sometimes I cannot even get into it and have to seek help?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I absolutely agree. I remember that, many years ago, when I was asked what piece of legislation I would favour most I said one on packaging that meant that someone with reasonable dexterity could open a package within 30 seconds. Regrettably, that has never been adopted by the House. There has been some tightening up of packaging regulation, but packaging is certainly one contributor to waste that clearly has not been decoupled from economic growth. In fact, the reverse is true, and we have more packaging than we need. Much of that is non-biodegradable material and we need to take action on that front.

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Baroness Byford: My Lords, the Minister said that the campaign had been successful, yet it has changed direction. What was not successful, and what new direction is the new campaign that has been allocated to the Rural Task Force taking?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the question of the Rural Task Force was one of rebudgeting within DEFRA in the wake of foot and mouth rather than decisions on environmental priorities. The environmental campaign was successful in raising awareness. As I said in response to the Question, what is needed is to make it easier for consumers and citizens to make the positive choices that they now know that they should make. That includes issues such as product specification, low-energy household products and better labelling of all consumer goods, so that we make the minimal energy-use choice. Awareness is there, and we need to turn it into reality.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, does the Minister think that the House of Lords itself is doing its bit? Would it not make it easier for the House if, for example, each room had separate waste-paper baskets, one for junk mail—noble Lords dispose of a great deal of that—and one for ordinary waste?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I suspect that the detail of that is a matter for the House authorities rather than for me. The central issue of our waste strategy is waste minimisation, which means preventing the junk mail being generated in the first place.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that we can indeed have recycling bins in our offices? In Room G-O5 there is a very good example which he can visit.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that information, which should be made known to Members of the House. Those of us in a responsible position here have a responsibility for ensuring that our activities in government departments and in Parliament give a lead to our citizens.

Gurkhas: Pay and Service Conditions

2.44 p.m.

Baroness Boothroyd asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What plans they have for improving the pay, pension and service conditions of Gurkhas serving with British defence forces.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Bach): My Lords, Her Majesty's Government greatly value the unique contribution that the Gurkhas continue to make. The fact that Gurkha pay and pensions represent a fair deal was recently affirmed by a ruling in the High Court. Take-home pay is equivalent to that of other Army

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personnel, and pensions, which are available after only 15 years of service, compare favourably with professional salaries in Nepal, where Gurkhas are discharged. We will, however, be studying the ruling carefully, particularly in respect of current provisions concerning married accompanied service.

Baroness Boothroyd: My Lords, I appreciate the noble Lord's response although he would not expect me to accept it all. Now that the legal case has been set aside, is it not time for the pay and service conditions of the Gurkhas to be re-examined by Her Majesty's Government with a view to improvement? After all, the Gurkhas have served this country as a great fighting force for more than two centuries, during two world wars and numerous conflicts. Does the Minister agree that social justice alone demands that we should not remain so stingy in relation to these very brave and noble fighting men, who have fought for us for all this time and who are most loyal and true to this nation? When can we expect a report on those issues?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for what she said about the Gurkhas. The whole House will agree with her about their role in many campaigns over many years of our history. She will know that brave Gurkhas are presently serving with Her Majesty's forces in Iraq—I understand that about 600 Gurkhas are currently serving. That demonstrates to the House how valuable a part they play in our military campaigns.

I am afraid that I cannot agree with the noble Baroness—I say this with some trepidation—about the pay and conditions of the Gurkhas being somehow "stingy". As I suggested in my Answer, the pay of Gurkhas is made up of two elements: the Indian army basic pay and the universal addition, as it is called. That gives Gurkhas broadly the same net take-home pay as a British counterpart in the United Kingdom. Pensions were reviewed just three years ago. All British Gurkha pensioners—25,500 of them—had their pensions at least doubled. Those pensions must be viewed in the context of the cost of living in Nepal, where all Gurkhas are recruited and discharged as Nepalese citizens. Matters arose in relation to the judgment to which the noble Baroness referred, which we will take up. However, on pay and pensions, as the High Court found, there is no injustice.

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