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Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, we looked at the whole question of clean coal technology plant review and whether there should be a demonstration project. That was part of the clean coal technology demonstration project that published its report in 2001. We found that most of the commercially available technologies had already been fully demonstrated and that there was little support for major demonstration projects so far as the industry was concerned. As we go forward with some of these technologies, international co-operation with the United States, Canada or the EU is a sensible and important proposition.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, will the Minister explain how the Government will manage to keep the nuclear option open when the skills have been run down, the technology has been in decline for a long time and the research effort is almost nil?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I am not sure that any of those points is correct. A considerable

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amount of training is still going on. Research continues and we take part in research projects on an international basis. The foundations are there, so if we brought the nuclear option back in due course it would need to be ramped up very quickly. Nevertheless, it could be done.

Baroness Lockwood: My Lords, coal mines are still being closed. Would it not be better for the Government to give more support to the clean coal industry and try to maintain a reasonable output from British coal mines before the whole industry disappears?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, as I said, we are keeping the clean coal technology programme going. However, the industry's main problem is not that but the fact that today it is very easy to import coal from much cheaper sources from around the world. However, we are keeping that technology programme going and we are about to have a carbon abatement technology strategy. That is on a slightly wider basis, but will help to deal with the problem.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, the Minister and his colleagues regularly refer to keeping the nuclear option open, as does the White Paper. However, since it takes about 15 years from decision to operation, when will they come off the fence?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, we have said that we will keep the decision under review. If it appears that we cannot meet our targets with renewables, we will open that option again.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, how can we keep the nuclear option open, if we do not make a decision on the management of nuclear waste?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the whole question of how we deal with nuclear waste is subject, at the moment, to consultation. That is as it should be. If we are to make progress, we must get consensus on the best way of doing it.

Faith Communities

2.50 p.m.

Lord Peston asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Why a committee has been set up to consult "faith communities" on policy making, while non-religious people are not similarly consulted.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, the Government have a manifesto commitment to review the ways in which they consult the faith communities. The time-limited steering group taking that forward is identifying the most effective ways for departments to involve faith communities in developing and implementing policy, where appropriate. It is not itself a mechanism for

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consultation. Bodies representing non-believers, such as the British Humanist Association, are frequently consulted on policy. That will continue to be the case.

Lord Peston: My Lords, I must extend the usual courtesy to my noble friend and thank her for that Answer, but I cannot see any connection between it and the Question. I wish noble Lords to know what precisely there is about the nature of these religious groups and public policy itself that makes the Government think that the two should be conjoined. What is there about secular views that makes it appropriate not to have any formal mechanism for taking them into account in the same way? Why are the two being treated differently?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am disappointed that my Answer did not find favour with my noble friend. He will know that 76.8 per cent of the United Kingdom's population regard themselves as having some religious affiliation.

For many people, their faith determines the way in which they conduct their life and the values that they hold. By consulting faith groups, the Government can ensure that all the issues raised by different faith communities are given full consideration in the development of policy. As I said, the review is not inviting consultation on policy issues but is seeking to discover better ways of consulting those who have faith.

I can reassure my noble friend that Fiona Mactaggart is holding meetings with secularists and humanists separately to discuss the review and other policy issues. She met the National Secular Society on 24th September and will meet the British Humanist Association on 20th November.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, given that 76 per cent of people have deeply held religious views, which one must respect, would it not be easier just to include the other 24 per cent and call it an election?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we have already had one of those, and it was entirely successful for the Government.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that it is very difficult to find out—from the Home Office website or otherwise—the names of the members of the committee that advises Miss Mactaggart? Having discovered who they are, I ask the noble Baroness whether she is satisfied that they are truly representative of the faiths in this community. Many people believe that, if we are going to conduct such an exercise, it should be based on the widest possible consultation. The members seem to have been chosen from a rather narrow range of beliefs.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I do not agree that they have been chosen from a narrow range. The point is that, regrettably, the faith communities have not been as good as many other groups at making their views known. Some do not have a proper method

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of consulting. We hope that, by having the steering group, we will be able to understand better what we need to do to make sure that they can make a full consultation.

The noble Lord will know that many faith groups deliver on-the-ground services to many people in our community. Understanding what they do and how they do it, so that we can help, is rather important.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many people with a secular outlook have, nevertheless, a strong social commitment? We care very much about what happens to our fellow citizens. I speak as vice-president of the British Humanist Association. It seems to me that we are not consulted in the same way as faith organisations, and we ought to be. We represent a large number of people, and we have a great deal to contribute.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I agree that many people who have secular views have much to contribute and do contribute. We have taken every opportunity to consult. Secular and humanist societies are consulted on many occasions by most departments. We do not think that we are detracting in any way from that. We are trying to deepen and enhance the opportunities for people to come together to do a bit of good.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, is it not a fact acknowledged by the Government and the Opposition that the faith communities play an important role in tackling social challenges? Often, they find themselves on their own. Is the Minister aware that their basis of faith is often the reason for their exclusion from public funding? Will she look into the issue of the poor access to funding from which some faith-based charities suffer? The matter might be considered as part of the current review of the Government's interface with faith communities.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord says. I agree that faith communities can have an important role in helping to tackle social issues, as do many other groups. That is important.

I cannot say that I agree with the noble Lord that such groups are excluded improperly from assistance, but I shall inquire into the matter and write to him about what is available.

The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, after all the rhetoric about moving towards a post-Christian society to which we were subjected in the latter decades of the 20th century, over 70 per cent of the population of England and Wales—over 80 per cent in Cheshire and the North West—declared themselves to be Christian. To that must be added the other faith communities. Does the Minister agree that the need to consult the faith communities is one of the key

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priorities of the 21st century? World events have demonstrated that, if we can achieve peace between religions, we are well on the way to achieving aspects of world peace.

In saying that, however, I must emphasise that, in no way do we want the consultation to be exclusive. It must be part of the full range of consultation with bodies in society. However, no one should underestimate the importance of consultation with faith communities.

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