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House of Lords

Tuesday, 23 January 2007.

The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Manchester.

Introduction: Lord Walker of Aldringham

Lord Walker of Aldringham—General Sir Michael John Dawson Walker, GCB, CMG, CBE, having been created Baron Walker of Aldringham, of Aldringham in the County of Suffolk, for life—Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Glenarthur and the Lord Boyce.

Supreme Court

2.42 pm

Lord Lloyd of Berwick asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, the capital construction costs for Middlesex Guildhall remain within the estimate of £30 million, at 2004 prices. The capital construction costs for the redevelopment of the Crown Courts at Isleworth remain in the region of £18.2 million, at 2006 prices. In addition to the capital construction costs, further costs will be incurred, such as DCA professional adviser fees, the project team costs and the non-capital element of the fit-out costs, including loose furniture, IT services and library books, as identified in my Written Ministerial Statement on 17 October 2006. Spend to date on both projects has been £5.9 million capital and £1.8 million resource. I will provide further information on reaching closure with the preferred bidders, which are Kier Group plc for the Middlesex Guildhall and Geoffrey Osborne Building Limited for Isleworth. I apologise for the length of that Answer.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that Answer. Will he recognise, even at this late stage, that the removal of the Law Lords to the Middlesex Guildhall to do exactly the same job as they are doing at the moment is a complete waste of public money? What useful purpose will it serve? Will he confirm that the bulk of the money will come not from his own department or the Treasury, as it should, but from a levy on members of the public seeking justice in the lower courts? How can he defend that decision?

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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, Parliament debated the question whether we should have a Supreme Court and the matter was passed by both Houses. Instead of seeking to redebate an issue on which Parliament has made a firm decision, we should work together to get the best possible Supreme Court. Civil litigation incurs fees, and some of those fees will contribute to the costs.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, in estimating the cost of converting the Middlesex Guildhall, has my noble and learned friend taken fully into account the fact that the building by James Gibson is listed Grade 2 starred and that English Heritage considers its interiors to be unsurpassed by any courtroom of its period in the quality and completeness of their fittings? While I have no doubt that Feilden and Mawson will handle the brief with appropriate sensitivity if the project goes ahead, what assurance can my noble and learned friend give that the quality of what is installed will be as fine as the quality of what is removed?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, we are very conscious of the importance of the interiors of the Middlesex Guildhall and, in particular, the court furniture, which my noble friend rightly identifies as being among the best of its kind. Before the local authority gave planning permission it was extremely concerned that appropriate homes should be found for the exquisite court furniture. That has been done—and only once it had been done was final planning permission given.

As to what the building will look like after it has been completed and the interiors have been done, I very much recommend that noble Lords look at the work done by Feilden and Mawson and see its extremely high quality. Although there is exquisite court furniture in Middlesex Guildhall, it might be said not to be looking at its best on the inside if noble Lords were to visit it now.

Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord aware that in the most recent accounts of the House, the costs recorded of the judicial activities in the House, excluding Law Lords’ salaries, were less than £200,000 for the year and that the interest costs, let alone the capital costs, for the Middlesex Guildhall will be 12 or 15 times higher than that? Are not the costs of this House, as the report of accounts states,

whereas the costs that will be incurred in the new premises will be much more closely supervised by the Treasury? Therefore, apart from being higher, are they not likely to generate even higher charges for litigants who go to the court?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, once again, this is going back over issues that were fully debated at the time. Parliament, having heard all of these issues, concluded that we should have a Supreme Court. The reason why it is worth having a Supreme Court is that there should be a separate and identifiable court at the apex of the judicial system and that we should separate the legislature from the courts.

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Lord Goodhart: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord agree that judges should not be legislators and legislators should not be judges? Having taken the decision in 2005 to get rid of the archaic anomaly of the highest court in this land being technically a committee of your Lordships’ House, would it not be ludicrous now to revoke that decision?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I agree with every single word of that.

Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, is it correct, as reported in today’s Times, that magistrates are faced with a 3.5 per cent annual cut in their court costs, year on year, over the next three years? Is it not grotesque to be spending these moneys on this unnecessary court building and its consequent replacement court buildings rather than providing a proper court service for everyday users?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, no, I disagree with that entirely. Since 1997, expenditure on the Crown Courts, according to an independent survey, has increased by 116 per cent. In order to accommodate the fact that there will no longer be seven courts at Middlesex Guildhall, additional courts are to be built at Isleworth. The one group that will not suffer is the Crown Courts.

Lord Henley: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord has some experience of rising costs, as he will remember from his time as Minister in charge of the Dome. He has just quoted a figure of £30 million at 2004 prices. In an answer given to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway last year, he quoted a figure of £35 million, which strikes me as being considerably above the rate of inflation that his right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer quotes. Is the noble and learned Lord right or is the Chancellor of the Exchequer right in terms of the rate of inflation between 2004 and 2006?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the figures I have given have always been based on 2004 prices; they are consistent. In relation to the mention of the Dome, imagine what I have learnt from that experience.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord agreed with every word that fell from the lips of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. Is he not aware that there are part-time judges sitting as legislators in this House?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, there are, and that is part of what they do, but the principle referred to by the noble Lord was separating full-time judges from the legislature. That is plainly right as a matter of principle.

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Energy: Clean Coal Technology

2.50 pm

Lord Ezra asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, since the publication of the energy review in June last year we have made considerable progress in developing our thinking on a number of fronts regarding the development of clean coal and carbon capture and storage technologies. We are developing a regulatory regime for carbon capture and storage in the UK. In the Pre-Budget Report, the Government undertook to consider the cost-effectiveness of CCS demonstration. We are therefore undertaking a consulting engineer’s study. This should be completed by the end of March.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reasonably encouraging reply. Is he aware that presently, in global terms, no less than 40 per cent of electricity is generated from coal; that it is growing very rapidly, especially in China and India; and that according to the recently published Stern report on climate change, by 2030 one-third of all emissions will come from coal? Does it not therefore follow that measures to bring about the collection and storage of carbon should be introduced urgently? Furthermore, is the noble Lord aware that a number of firms have expressed an interest in building commercial plants using this system—which has been fully developed at the experimental stage? Can he give us an assurance that the Government will give them every possible support in so doing?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the House will be aware of the long period over which the noble Lord has campaigned on these issues. He must therefore be very pleased by the progress that is being made and was reflected in my Answer. On his general position, the noble Lord is absolutely right: coal will play a very important part in electricity generation worldwide, particularly in China and India. There are opportunities which we are looking at closely. If we are successful in developing clean coal and carbon storage in this country, we may be able to make progress on behalf of both the Chinese and the Indians to mutual advantage. On the overall issue of climate change, clean coal and carbon storage are of the greatest importance.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that there is considerable advantage to be gained by combining the underground gasification of coal with carbon sequestration and storage? Can he tell us anything about the project which has been proposed as a feasibility study, costing around €3.5 million, by a consortium of European universities and commercial interests to investigate that possibility? Is he aware that no fewer than three universities in this country—Newcastle, Keele and Nottingham—are showing great interest in this feasibility study? Can he tell us what is happening to this proposal?

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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, it is certainly a welcome development. However, as the noble Lord will recognise from the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, a number of very large and well resourced private companies also are interested in this whole development, and particularly in carbon storage. The Government are committing themselves to this consultation, which will cost £35 million. Should satisfactory progress be made, we would then foresee very significant commercial developments to which the research work being done by universities across Europe would make an important contribution.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, first, I congratulate the Minister on becoming such an expert in clean coal technology in 24 hours. Do the Government have a view on how important it is for coal produced in England, mostly by open-cast mining, to have a role in clean coal technology in the future?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, coal burning in power stations in the UK will continue for a considerable time and contribute to our energy needs for the foreseeable future. The greater part of that coal will be imported. However, my noble friend is right that there are coal resources in this country which are still to be exploited. Very little is now available in deep mines, but some is available through surface mining.

Lord Teverson: My Lords—

Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, in supporting the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and in line with the church’s enthusiasm for reducing CO2 emissions, I press the question which the noble Lord opposite asked about the progress that has been made on the gasification plants that were promised as long ago as 2003. Will the Minister comment in more detail on the prospect of underground gasification, which many in County Durham believe would offer a cleaner and more efficient long-term—albeit expensive in the short term—energy alternative? Does he agree that this would reduce the proverbial silliness of importing coal to Newcastle—nearly 50 million tonnes per year—and also give new hope to communities that are still suffering the effects of the 1980s? I declare a second-hand interest in that the mineral rights in County Durham used to belong to my predecessors, the Bishops of Durham. After the demise of nationalisation, those rights have now reverted to the Church Commissioners.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate makes an important contribution. As he will recognise, however, we have a great deal of work to do before we are able to establish a commercially viable technology. As I indicated, at least nine major, well resourced companies are pursuing various potential strategies on this work. The Government are investing their own £35 million for effective development to demonstrate and establish confidence in private industry that the huge investment necessary will produce the

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required results. What that would do for British coalfields, whether deep mine or open-cast, is bound to be marginal in comparison with future coal burning in our power stations.

Economy: Outdoor Recreation

2.58 pm

Lord Greaves asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, outdoor recreation forms a significant part of the UK tourism industry, generating £3.5 billion a year from walking, cycling and related activities, including overnight stays. Since 2003, the Government have invested £750,000 in promoting activity tourism through VisitBritain’s outdoor England marketing campaigns.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. I am glad that his figure is more or less the same as mine. We are talking about activities such as walking in the mountains, swimming in the sea, rambles in local country parks, cycling along lanes, bird-watching and many related activities. They might be classed as informal countryside recreation, which, by and large, people undertake with friends or family or on their own, and not in an organised way. The Minister suggested that the Government regard such activity as high priority. Should it not be a higher priority, given the potential for growth that it offers through its impact both on the economy and on the health of the people of this country?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government are encouraged by the response to VisitBritain’s campaigns. The noble Lord is right that there are benefits. Visitors from abroad bring resources in, and areas also see economic growth from internal tourism from the rest of the UK. There is also benefit from improving the health of the nation in the healthy activities involved in this tourism, as the noble Lord identified.

Lord Luke: My Lords, in light of the Chancellor’s comments in the Daily Mail last October, do Her Majesty’s Government intend to allow informal recreational activities such as those described to count towards the target that school children should have at least four hours per week of sport by 2010?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the increase in the hours that school children should spend on physical activities is greatly to be welcomed. We all recognise that it is part of an important campaign to reduce obesity in children, and so improve the health of the nation. Aspects of these activities certainly fit into that pattern, but we should recognise that mountain climbing and so on are much more accessible to certain school children than to others.

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Lord Addington: My Lords, the Minister has recognised the health benefits from this. How much are the Government prepared to spend on, for instance, making sure that footpaths are signposted and that many of them are available throughout the year, perhaps by building better surfaces? How can that be offset against higher spending in the Department of Health? If this calculation has not been done, is it not about time that it was?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, my impression is that it is not Governments who keep footpaths open. Governments can commit the countryside to be available to the nation, as we did with the right to roam in the Act that we passed a few years ago. It is the voluntary activity and insistence of meritorious organisations such as the Ramblers’ Association that keeps footpaths open and available to the public.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, the Government have put the legislation in place, but are they aware that the last England Leisure Visits Survey found that since 1998 there has been a continuous downward trend in the number of leisure visits made in England?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, there have been difficulties in recent years. We all recognise the blight upon activity during the foot and mouth period, which closed down great parts of rural England, but there is recovery. The amount of money being spent in the countryside—the number of overnight stays in village hotels and so on, which the tourist industry reflects—shows growth.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, have the Government done any research into the number of new people visiting the countryside following the CROW Act, as they were going to? Secondly, will the Minister ensure that all departments get behind the initiative to get school children on to farms in the countryside, which runs from September 2007 to July 2008? At the moment Defra, the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills are sponsoring this, but it should go across all government departments.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that we should seek the widest possible co-operation across government for that worthy aim. She will recognise that those three departments are bound to be the lead departments for this activity. We have no doubt that this campaign will bring great benefits.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, if the Government are so supportive of informal recreational activities such as walking, cycling and mountaineering, why don’t we oppose proposals coming from national parks on vehicle access charges and bed taxes?

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