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House of Lords

Wednesday, 17th September 2003.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich.

Energy Policy: Ministerial Responsibility

Lord Peyton of Yeovil asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why energy policy has ceased to be the responsibility of a single Minister.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, energy policy remains the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. Since 1992, however, energy efficiency has been the responsibility of the department dealing with environmental affairs. The Government have seen no reason to change this position.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I always understood that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry had other things to do. Still, it may not be so. I did not know that she had the spare time.

Perhaps we can imagine for a moment that the noble Lord is the Minister responsible for our energy supplies and ask him to reflect on whether he would find the soothing syrup of the White Paper a bit unsatisfactory; and whether he would be entirely happy with the idea that we imported no less than 80 per cent of our generally raw material supplies for the generation of electricity—and that through a pipeline, as yet undesigned, unbuilt, unfinanced, right across Europe. Does he agree that the target of a 20 per cent energy supply from wind is also a bit uncertain?

The noble Lord could go on to lament the fact that the Government have ignored the nuclear alternative and their shocking neglect of research. We are drifting into a very dangerous situation.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I am not certain that the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, relate in any way to his original Question: whether or not the responsibility for energy efficiency rests within Defra. That would not have made any difference whatever to the policies that we stated in the White Paper.

The noble Lord very graciously expressed his concerns to me previously. I find it very difficult to imagine myself as energy Minister; I have quite enough problems as it is with science. However, if I were, I do not think that I should agree with any of the noble Lord's points. I think that the energy White Paper set out a very clear strategy. There are of course issues in

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that document which are extremely difficult and complex. I am very glad that the House of Lords Science and Technology Sub-Committee II is undertaking an inquiry on what practical steps are needed to achieve a move towards renewables sought at the rate proposed in the recent White Paper. These are complicated issues. It would be very interesting to have further insights or evidence on whether our target is achievable of 10 per cent of electricity sales by 2010.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, following on from the Question put by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, on the need for a single energy department, is it not unsatisfactory that at present the Minister in the DTI—the noble Lord's own ministry—designated with the energy portfolio is only responsible part time for part of energy? He is also responsible for postal services and e-commerce. An important part of energy is the responsibility of another department; namely, Defra. Does not that complex ministerial arrangement suggest that perhaps the Government are beginning to lose interest in energy?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, for some time the Minister responsible for energy has had other responsibilities. That position has not changed with the new energy Minister. As I explained, there are very good reasons why energy efficiency was put under Defra in 1992. There are other considerations that relate to, for example, negotiations on climate change, and so on. Therefore, it is a perfectly sound and workable arrangement.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, perhaps I may give a specific example. Is the noble Lord aware that a small all-party group from this House has been seeking help for the coal mine methane industry? We have had to go around the houses in order to ask for support for this fledgling industry. We found ourselves talking to the DTI. On the question of admission to the emissions trading scheme, we were sent to talk to Defra. Both departments said that they wanted to help. Is the noble Lord aware that nothing happened? In desperation I went to the Treasury to ask whether there was a government view that might help this important industry. Again, nothing happened. As a result, the industry is now going abroad, taking its expertise and investment with it.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the noble Lord will know from his own experience of government that, however one divides these things up, inevitably different departments will have to co-operate and have joined-up government on certain issues. One cannot simply put everything into one department. For example, if one put energy efficiency under the DTI, it simply opens up another interface, which is the interface between energy efficiency and environmental policies. There are interfaces within government. The issue is not continually to move the pieces around, but to make certain that there is joined-up government across the interfaces.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, does my memory fail me? Was it not the Conservative Party

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which took the energy industry out of the control of government by privatising the gas and electricity industries—virtually closing down the coal industry—and putting them under a regulator? Under those circumstances, there is little left for a government to do, except to arrange overall energy strategy. I do not know that I agree with that strategy, but, nevertheless, that is what remains for them to do. If the Conservative Party wants complete control over energy supplies, perhaps we had better go back to owning the industries that create and provide energy.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I assume that the question about memory failing was merely a rhetorical one—

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: Absolutely.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: Of course, all that the noble Lord says is true—as is the point I made in my first Answer; namely, that it was a Conservative government in 1992 who took a single energy department and split it in two parts, one going to the DTI and the other going to Defra.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts: My Lords, perhaps I may press the Minister on the slightly cavalier reply that he gave to my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding. The DTI website reveals that Mr Stephen Timms is also responsible for sustainable development, e-commerce, communications and information industries, the Radiocommunications Agency, postal services, the Post Office and corporate social responsibility. Why should the House believe that the Government are serious about energy, given that he has that range of responsibilities?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I have already answered that question in more general terms. The answer is that we work extremely hard in the DTI and do not have the superfluity of Ministers to assign just one Minister to every subject; we share responsibilities.

Noble Lords: My Lords—

The Lord President of the Council (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I am sorry, but we are over-running our time.

Street Furniture: Control of Advertising

2.45 p.m.

Baroness Greengross asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What regulations apply to the control of advertising on lamp posts, road signs, traffic lights and other street furniture, and how such regulations are enforced.

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The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker): My Lords, outdoor advertisements are controlled under the Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) Regulations 1992. Local planning authorities are responsible for the day-to-day operation of the advertisement control system and for enforcing the regulations. Enforcement is entirely at the discretion of the local planning authority.

Baroness Greengross: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but does he agree that the problem is now getting out of hand? One might even say, "Bill Stickers is not innocent". Local authorities are apparently not taking their responsibilities sufficiently seriously. Would the Minister be prepared to consider introducing appropriate measures to ensure that they do?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, as I said, that is entirely a matter for local authorities. They have the legislative power to take action for enforcement. In fact, the power even runs as far as providing that those who are the subject of the advertisement—those whose goods, trade or business is being advertised—can in certain circumstances be held liable for the offence and prosecuted. Again, that is entirely up to the local authority. Coming in from the West this morning, I saw hardly a sticker on a lamp-post or traffic light; but when I was going up to Hackney and Tower Hamlets later, I could not see any paint on the lamp-posts or traffic signals for the stickers.

I may add, for the avoidance of doubt, that the Government have produced a booklet on the matter, as one would expect. As for legislation, there is a plan to strengthen local authorities' powers to combat fly-posting when a suitable legislative opportunity occurs. As noble Lords know, legislative time is incredibly precious and we must be very careful with our priorities. At present, our priorities are already set and fly-posting is clearly coming after other important issues.

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