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House of Lords

Thursday, 16 November 2006.

The House met at eleven of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Truro): the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Mental Health Bill [HL]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner): My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to amend the Mental Health Act 1983 and the Mental Capacity Act 2005 in relation to mentally disordered persons; and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Bill read a first time, and ordered to be printed.

Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Bill [HL]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Truscott): My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to make provision for the establishment of the National Consumer Council and its functions; to make provision for the abolition of other consumer bodies; to make provision about the handling of consumer complaints by certain suppliers and provision requiring certain suppliers to be members of redress schemes in respect of consumer complaints; to amend the Estate Agents Act 1979; to make provision about the cancellation of certain contracts concluded away from business premises; and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Bill read a first time, and ordered to be printed.

Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill [HL]

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to make provision for protecting individuals against being forced to enter into marriage without their free and full consent; and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Bill read a first time, and ordered to be printed.

Palliative Care Bill [HL]

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to make provision about palliative care for persons who are suffering from terminal illness; and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Bill read a first time, and ordered to be printed.

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Debate on the Address

11.02 am

Debate resumed on the Motion moved yesterday by the Lord Giddens—namely, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to open the debate on the detail of the Queen’s Speech. The last and only other time I did this was in my maiden speech in 2001, when I applauded the fact that there were not many Home Office Bills that year, if I recall. Local government, the environment, transport and agriculture are substantive issues relating to the content of the Queen’s Speech and the Bills therein and I shall deal briefly with the Bills that the House will be discussing in due course.

Certainly the Bill relating to climate change will be crucial. We said on the day the Stern report was published that the potential for damage to the climate was the greatest long-term threat faced by humanity and all countries are affected. The Stern report made clear that the costs of inaction outweigh the costs of action. It is estimated that the cost of inaction could be five to 20 times more than the cost of doing something about it. We still have time to avoid catastrophic climate change but, in order to do so, we have got to ensure that global carbon emissions peak in the next 10 to 15 years. That means we need a cut of 25 per cent in global carbon dioxide emissions by 2050—that is 60 per cent for the rich or higher- emission countries. We are confident that climate change can be tackled and that the technologies to reduce energy use, improve efficiency and create a low-carbon society are well within reach.

But, of course, global as well as domestic action is required; that is why the Government are encouraging world action. As we have said before in this House, we make no apology for taking a lead on this issue even though our emissions are only about 2 per cent of global emissions. We need to work with others to increase the use of biofuels and to reduce deforestation. At home we are on track to double our Kyoto targets.

The proposed Climate Change Bill will provide a clear, credible long-term framework for the UK to become a low-carbon economy and it will put into statute the Government’s long-term goal to reduce by 2050 carbon dioxide emissions by 60 per cent on 1990 levels. As we said on the day the Stern report was published, the Bill will establish an independent body, a carbon committee, to help to reduce emissions and it will create enabling powers to introduce the new emissions reduction measures needed to achieve our goals. It will also be able to assess what additional

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reporting and monitoring arrangements are necessary to support our transparent emissions reduction framework.

The Stern report made it clear that we need to develop emissions trading schemes around the world. We are committed to strengthening the European Union emissions trading scheme as the nucleus of a global carbon market. We need to extend it to new sectors such as aviation and link it to other emerging emissions trading schemes. We have proposed that the EU commits to new targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2020 and at least 60 per cent by 2050.

Farming is completely at one with the climate and climate change. Efforts to stop dangerous climate change are not just down to large-scale manufacturing or energy generation operations. I think that that is appreciated in this House. Farming is not in the dock on this, but it is responsible for about 7 per cent of the country’s greenhouse gases, notably nitrous oxide and methane. Farming needs to play its role, like other industries, in reducing our environmental footprint.

Farming has a major role in our lives. It dominates our land use—by and large we have no wilderness; all the countryside is purely manmade—and it has a massive impact on the environment. Farming contributes to the landscape and biodiversity. It helps us live within environmental limits, for examplethrough replacing fossil fuels with bioenergy or meeting consumer demand for high-quality, seasonal produce delivered through strong local food chains. The more we can do that the less impact on the environment there will be in this country and across the world. We value the farming and food industry. Our goal is to develop a profitable, competitive, domestic farming industry which contributes to the environment and reduces the environmental footprint of food production.

I am not saying that this applies to every aspect of farming, but I was delighted that when the National Farmers’ Union published its latest Farming Outlook report on Friday 3 November, it made the point that recovery in the fortunes of many of Britain’s farmers is set to continue. Many positive trends were identified in the industry by a sector analysis of agriculture and horticulture. The NFU is predicting various aspects where consumption will remain strong and improved wheat and barley prices are set to continue. The chief economist went on to say that there has been a remarkable turnaround in the fortunes of farming, even in the past few months. People are waking up to the demand for renewable energy measures and to the fact that the comfortable assumption that there will always be unlimited supplies of cheap food on the world market is no longer valid. There are aspects of farming where there have been a lot of pressures, particularly in the dairy sector. Nevertheless, the NFU’s assessment is that the situation is good.

We want farmers to be sustainable and profitable. As one of our goals, we have to remove as many barriers as we can to farmers who want to diversify

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and, while maintaining farming, do other things with their land. We cannot say that we want them to be sustainable and profitable and stand on their own two feet while putting in their way barriers relating to planning and other matters that prevent them diversifying. The Government are looking at these issues.

The common agricultural policy has not been good for the environment in some parts of Europe. Currently, it is an inefficient way to address the needs of rural areas and is not the best way to help farmers compete successfully in a globalising market. It is a poor way of using EU money in the best way for society, and it needs further reform.

We are not proposing to abolish the common agricultural policy; we believe that the European Union needs a common policy structure for agriculture just as much as it needs a common market in goods, services and jobs. Nor are we advocating radical reform overnight. The vision is for 10 to 15 years, but radical change is needed. We need to ensure that the pace of change is manageable for the farming industry. There have been enormous changes in agriculture in the past decade or more that I do not think farmers have been given credit for by other sectors of society and businesses. That is mainly because you cannot see it—you do not see the smokestack industry change, simply because of the way that farming is set up around the country. We hope that the farming and food sectors will seize the benefits of reconnecting with the public and becoming much more market-oriented.

I intend to be present for as much of this debate as possible, although I have a couple of duties to complete at Defra which means that I will come and go during the day. One of my pleasurable duties follows on from a visit I paid to the Royal Show in the summer when I came across an exhibition that had been put together by young farmers from Derbyshire. These are people coming into farming—and it is really great that people are coming in—who put together an exhibition of some good parts, bad parts and parts that needed change. It was such a fantastic exhibition that I said, “We should have this on display in Defra’s headquarters”. I have 25 young farmers and their families coming today and the exhibition will be opened at lunchtime. It will be there for a month, and if noble Lords want to pop into Defra’s HQ they will be more than welcome.

In respect of local government and communities, the Government’s view is that partnership is central to what we do. My experience—although I accept that it is not as a councillor—is that every good, well run local authority that I have ever come across as a Member of the other place and in carrying out my ministerial duties has used partnership with the public, private and voluntary sectors. If they do not have partnership in place, they will generally speaking not be well run local authorities.

The Local Government Bill that will be introduced in due course will provide the basis for a comprehensive and coherent new settlement between central and local government. It will allow stronger local leadership across the country with greater

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freedoms and capacity for local leaders to act and take the tough decisions to improve public services. It will also make it easier for voters to hold their councils to account through the ballot box by bringing greater clarity to the electoral process. Councillors will be given power to resolve issues of concern to the communities that they represent, if necessary by requiring overview and scrutiny committees to consider them. Communities will get more say in running local services through a new duty on local authorities to get more local people involved.

In line with the Government’s better regulation agenda, the Bill will cut bureaucracy in local government, promote greater transparency and allow more flexibility for local services to meet the needs of local communities. It will also create local area agreements between central government, local government and its partners on a statutory basis. These partners will generally be statutory bodies from the public sector but, as I said, no successful local authority will be able to work unless it has good contact with the private sector and the voluntary and community sector. Otherwise it will not be able to provide efficient services for local people and we will not get effective outcomes.

In due course, we will also receive the Greater London Authority Bill, which will help to provide better planned and co-ordinated strategic public services in London and help further to improve the quality of life for its inhabitants. The Bill covers a wide range of policy areas, including housing, planning, waste, health, climate change and energy as well as culture. We believe that the Bill will contribute to better strategic services in London by ensuring decision-making at the most effective level. In most cases, that means devolving powers from central government to London itself.

The Queen’s Speech also forecasted a Road Transport Bill. The Government will announce powers for local authorities through that Bill to meet transport needs for their local area through the proposals in a draft Road Transport Bill. Congestion on our roads has a negative impact on the economy, the environment and the quality of life—not to say on the increased blood pressure of people who cannot be patient. Congestion has a detrimental effect and, if we do nothing at all about it, it is estimated to increase by 25 per cent by 2015, which would be quite unacceptable. Our strategy for tackling congestion includes sustained investment, adding road capacity where appropriate, better management of the existing network and, in line with the manifesto commitment, exploring the scope for developing a national scheme for road pricing. In central London we have seen that our package of measures combining road pricing with real improvements to buses and other public transport services can make a genuine difference. There is no single factor and no one policy that will work everywhere—this is not a case of “one size fits all”. For local authorities outside London, measures in the draft Road Transport Bill will provide a range of enhanced powers to tackle their local congestion problems and improve local public transport to fit their particular circumstances.

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In and around London public transport will be boosted by the Crossrail Bill that will grant powers for the Crossrail project. This new railway is expected to provide a peak service of 24 trains an hour in both directions through central London, carrying nearly 200 million passengers a year. It would increase the capacity of the rail network into and across London, and relieve congestion and overcrowding on the existing national rail and Underground networks. It has the potential, we believe, to add an estimated £20 billion to the UK gross domestic product. We believe it could lead to the creation of up to 13,000 jobs by the year 2016—and 40,000 jobs by the year 2026—in the high-value financial and business centres of London, and attract an additional 80,000 jobs to regeneration areas.

There is one final travel-related Bill that I must refer to. It relates to concessionary bus travel. The Government recognise the importance of public transport for older people and the role that access to transport has to play in tackling social exclusion and maintaining well-being. Through the Concessionary Bus Travel Bill the Government will provide up to £250 million to enable around 11 million older and disabled people to take advantage of the concessionary fares. The scheme will offer guaranteed free local bus travel in England for those eligible, from 9.30 am to 11 pm on weekdays, and all day on weekends and bank holidays. I have no doubt that in due course, when the Bill comes to this House, most of us—although, from yesterday’s speeches, clearly not all—will be declaring our interest as being eligible for that concession. I have in my pocket my Freedom Pass, and when I use it, it is damned convenient to be able to do so. I am extremely grateful for that, and I declare my interest to that extent.

That is a brief summary of the package of wonderful Bills we are about to receive in relation to the Queen’s Speech. All those Bills will have a direct impact on people’s lives in this country. It is important to make the connection between what we do as legislators and the ordinary lives of people outside, as we try to make them better. After all, that is what we are here for.

11.17 am

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for what I can only describe as his brilliant and rapid skate around the issues that we are covering today. My remarks may be slightly more focused, but not much, because the central theme will revolve around the implications for global warming, which covers precisely what the Minister has been saying, but from a different angle.

It is a pleasure that we have four maiden speeches to look forward to today. My noble friends Lord Bruce-Lockhart and Lord Sheikh are standing here for the first time, and we look forward to hearing what they have to say. The noble Baronesses, Lady Ford and Lady Jones, are also going through the same test, if I may put it that way. I hope that they will feel some sympathy if I say that I hope that they feel as nervous as I do at this moment.

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All the subjects of today’s debate have a possible impact on climate change. If we do the right things we can make a major contribution towards limiting global warming, but if we get it wrong we can actually exacerbate the situation. The Minister mentioned Crossrail and the huge employment benefits that we stand to gain as a result of it. I entirely accept that, but 30,000 jobs have to produce something. That something, whatever it is, has to be transported. We have a continuous problem, in that we have to maintain a growing economy, which is absolutely essential if we are to be able to afford to get climate change under control. At the same time, that growth has implications that need to be taken into account to ensure that we do not do these things in a way that increases emissions. That has to be a real focus.

The Stern report two weeks ago focused our attention, as the Minister rightly said, on the potential costs of the damage that global warming can do. Sir Nicholas Stern also showed that the costs of action to relieve that damage will almost certainly be less than the costs of the damage itself. Yesterday the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, in his remarkable speech proposing this debate, made rather light of economists in his opening remarks. I thought that he was very modest because it was quite clear by the time he had finished that economists have a very major contribution to make. Certainly his remarks did nothing to lighten the implications of what that report says.

In today's debate, we are covering, as the Minister has acknowledged, all aspects of the work of government. The debate has implications for foreign affairs, European affairs, taxation—we inevitably must trespass on the work of the Treasury—and so on. But central to everything that we do from now on is going to be that we have to manage this problem without putting the economy into recession. My noble friend Lord Lawson of Blaby, who is not here today, disagrees fundamentally with the current approach to global warming. But he is right in one thing: he has a real concern that if we take unfortunate steps we could push the economy into recession. That raises the significance of the international aspects of what we do. If we cannot persuade people abroad that they must also move in the same direction, we could find ourselves isolated and not where we can do the things that need to be done.

So I look forward to seeing the Bill on climate change that was mentioned in the gracious Speech and that the Minister outlined in his Statement two weeks ago. But, of course, that does not mean that comment is inappropriate. The really significant thing to me is the statutory backing that will be given from the time the Bill is passed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from 1990 levels—that is a few years ago—by 60 per cent by 2050. Not many people have sat down and considered the implications of that. If we are to succeed, then fossil fuel emissions by 2050 have to be down to the level at least where they were in the middle of the last century and actually, because the increase in energy use has been fairly flat over the past 30 years, probably earlier than that. That is a

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total and dramatic change in how we use energy and almost certainly in how we obtain our energy.

One of the remarkable things about modern society is how effective the development of energy efficiency has been. A graph in the Science and Technology Committee report that we debated earlier this year revealed that quite starkly. It showed that over the past 30 years we have doubled our GDP. The energy cost per unit of GDP has fallen by nearly one-half. The really interesting line, in the middle of the graph, showed the national energy consumption, which is on a slightly rising plane. The great danger of keeping the economy growing, as we have to do, is that we will increase our energy consumption. If we do, it must not be fossil fuel based.

I will illustrate the question of energy efficiency with two modern paradoxes. Consider the modern internal combustion engine. It is vastly more efficient, vastly more powerful and vastly more economical to use than the engines that we were familiar with when we were young—certainly when I was young; there are others here today who are younger than I am. Theoretically, the efficiency there is vast. Consider the modern car. It is bigger, stronger, more comfortable, faster, heavier and, most important, safer. A large part of the benefit of fuel economy has been taken up with providing other improvements, which we all welcome and which are beneficial. That trend will continue.

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