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Lord Hylton: My Lords, does the Minister agree that what is needed is not just more research but the actual starting-up of decentralised electricity generation—for example, through combined heat and power stations, using wood and biomass?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, no one source of energy will meet all our needs. Combined heat and power can play a part, but to think that it is going to make the big impact is simply to ignore the realities of the situation.

Lord Ezra: My Lords—

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords—

Noble Lords: Ezra!

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, is not standing up—I am.
 
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Will the Minister ask his colleague who does building regulations whether it would be a sensible idea to ensure that every new house that is built has solar panels on its roof, which would automatically take electricity out of and put it into the electric grid? That would not add significantly to the cost of building a new house.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, one has to pay some attention to the cost factors involved in that debate. Photovoltaics is still by a long way the most expensive kind of energy, so to put that into building regulations would build a huge cost into our energy bills.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, my noble friend, in her Question, referred to an Ofgem study, which concluded that the capital costs of tidal lagoons would be competitive with offshore wind. However, the Minister said that his study showed that they would cost four times as much. Would he get in touch with Ofgem and try to co-ordinate what the real situation is?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I do not know of that study, and I shall most certainly find out what it said. The briefing that I had was based on the latest figures, and I think that the figure that the noble Lord mentioned would have been taken account of, if that was the case. I shall certainly look into the matter and write to the noble Lord and the noble Baroness if I have got it wrong.

Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, does the Minister agree that major long-term projects, such as the Severn barrage, which has been spoken of, will never be viable until a guaranteed major long-term financial preference is given to green forms of electricity generation rather than conventional fuels? Until that is done, the Severn barrage and everything else is pie in the sky.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, it is extremely expensive at this point, and it is difficult to see that the cost will decrease in future. We are talking about a large amount of concrete, and I do not think that that cost will decrease. Clearly, if you are prepared to put in enormous sums to subsidise it, you can make it viable on that basis—but only on that basis.

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, I acknowledge that an energy review is taking place during 2006, but what steps have Her Majesty's Government taken so far since they made their commitments—they were, after all, made in the 2003 White Paper—to reconcile the growing need to meet the carbon reduction target of 20 per cent by 2010 with their duty to ensure the integrity and security of electricity and gas supplies?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, we have debated in the House for many months the question of wind turbines and renewable obligation certificates. Those are all methods by which to do exactly what the noble Lord is asking.
 
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Legal Services Commission

3.24 pm

Baroness Howe of Idlicote asked Her Majesty's Government:

What analysis has been undertaken of the likely effects of the decision taken by the Legal Services Commission to cease funding of specialist support services in England and Wales from July this year.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, specialist support contracts form part of the Legal Services Commission's special projects budget. That programme was reviewed and consulted on last summer. Given the pressure on the limited legal aid budget and the number of clients needing front-line legal advice, the commission concluded that the money would now be better spent on direct front-line advice to vulnerable legal aid clients.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I thank the Minister for, if I may say so, her somewhat disappointing Answer. Does she not agree that the commission's decision will have the effect in practice of withdrawing expert support from the front line? As the CAB, a truly front-line organisation, points out, that will have serious implications for its most socially excluded and vulnerable clients, who cannot secure such expert advice for themselves. Will the Minister therefore urge the commission to reconsider that decision?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am always sad to disappoint the noble Baroness, especially on her birthday. I do not agree with her proposition. The £2.3 million that will not be used from the end of the current contracts in July will be used to fund about 9,000 new front-line opportunities for people to get clear advice. In addition, £78 million is being spent on not-for-profit organisations, including CABs, to provide specialist support.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor have no wish to deny anyone access to justice, but will that not be the exact effect of the decision? Would the Minister care to admit that this, like other decisions taken recently—for instance, the substantial increase in family court fees—has been forced on the Legal Services Commission and the DCA against their will by the other Chancellor in 11 Downing Street?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, there is only one Lord Chancellor and only one Chancellor of the Exchequer. There could never be another Chancellor in any context. I disagree fundamentally with the noble Lord's assertion that this has been forced on anyone and that somehow the changes in the scheme will reduce the opportunities to get advice. The noble Lord will know well that there are probably
 
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about 1 million occasions where problems are unresolved because people do not know their rights or how to access advice. Anything that we can do to get front-line advice to people effectively and appropriately should be welcomed, and the change should be welcomed on that basis.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, will the Minister indicate what kind of specialist support services will no longer be funded?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, there were 17 specialist support contracts in England and two in Wales to barristers' chambers, solicitors' firms and 11 not-for-profit organisations, with a budget for a whole year of approximately £2.9 million. I have already indicated that £78 million is available to not-for-profit organisations to provide their own specialist advice. The fundamental change has been to the quality of front-line advice. The contracting arrangements brought in have improved that dramatically. Together with peer review and other quality standards, that means that we can make the change and, as I indicated, create up to 9,000 opportunities to get front-line advice.

Transport for London Bill [HL]

3.28 pm

Read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee.

Whitehaven Harbour Bill [HL]

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Bill read a second time, and referred to the Examiners.

Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill

3.29 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Bach): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.
 
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[The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]

Clause 14 [Grants]:

On Question, Whether Clause 14 shall stand part of the Bill?


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