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Climate Change: UN Report

3.22 pm

Lord Clinton-Davis asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, the report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the most comprehensive assessment of the science of climate change to date. It leaves us in no doubt that mankind is affecting the climate system and will continue to do so unless we take urgent international action to reduce emissions. We welcome the report and fully endorse its conclusions.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I am impressed, as many Members of this House will be, by his Answer? Is it not right that an unprecedented warning was given that the increased incidence of hurricanes and cyclones is directly related to climate change, which most scientists argue is caused by human activity? How do the Government consider that this dire situation can be cured, and when should we start confronting it?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, it is a complex issue, but we expect the intensity of cyclones to increase as the world warms. That is the inevitable consequence of the warming process. We believe that by reducing our emissions, we can reduce the risk of the high levels of warming, indicated in the report, and curb the increased intensity of the cyclones. However, we do expect an increased intensity.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, these United Nations reports do not arise in a vacuum; they are the result of long years of studying. What part did the United Kingdom Government play in the arrival at these conclusions? More importantly, it is agreed that it is essential to get international agreement that all countries should be involved in action to right this particular difficulty. What discussions are the Government involved in to advance that particular point?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I cannot give the precise number. Literally thousands of scientists were involved in putting together this report. I understand that some 600 key scientists were involved from 2001 to 2007, the period between the third and fourth report, but with several thousand more peer- reviewing the work of those scientists to come to the unanimous report that was produced. I cannot say how many of those were British, but there is a contribution from this country.

As for the international action, we are required under the international agreements—the Kyoto agreement and others—to produce a climate change

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programme, which we did last March. There are ongoing discussions around the world at various times. This is a further scientific assessment of where we have got to, in some ways complementing the Stern report, which concentrated more on the economics.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, are the British Government one of those who signed up to the agreement in Paris last week that the United Nations structures needed to be strengthened when dealing with the environment and that there needed to be an agency or organisation more powerful than the environment programme of the UN to handle this issue? If they did subscribe to that view, what are they going to do about it?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am sorry, but I do not have an answer to the noble Lord’s specific question. The point is that we have welcomed the report and fully endorsed its conclusions at its publication last week. I shall have to take further advice on the detail of the other part of the noble Lord’s question.

Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the press conference in Paris last week given by United Nations bureaucrats in this area bore very little relation to the careful conclusions of the scientists themselves as manifested in the report, which is there in summary form for policy makers and anybody else to read? What the scientists say—

Noble Lords: Question!

Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, is the Minister aware that what the scientists say does not determine what is sensible economic policy? That is the big question in this area. Finally, may I congratulate the Government on their insincerity on this issue, in making it quite clear by their actions that they do not actually mean what they say about this?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the noble Lord himself was present at a counter-report by the Fraser Institute which, according to Wikipedia, is a reactionary conservative think-tank based in Canada. That report, published yesterday, which the noble Lord endorsed, misrepresents the international panel’s conclusions, selectively quotes from the report and distorts the evidence by presenting it out of context without any recognition whatever of the full breadth of the analysis. I can give examples to back up every one of those assertions if required.

Lord Teverson: My Lords, one area that the Paris meeting emphasised was the warming of the oceans and the accelerating rise of sea levels. When will the Government start to put together and present a strategy to the House on adaptation, especially in relation to sea defences, particularly given the fact that we have extreme weather events? However successful we are in reducing emissions, we will have rising sea levels for several years to come.

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Lord Rooker: My Lords, indeed we are, and an awful lot of work is being done by CEFAS, the laboratory agency of Defra, on rising sea levels to know where to place defences so that they can be effective. It is not necessarily the case that all sea defences can be effective. There is evidence in the report published last week showing potential rises in sea levels that are going to cause catastrophic problems for people around the world. Those problems are not just for one Government to deal with; they are intergovernmental. There will clearly have to be sea defences as well as organised movements of population.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, on that point, have the Government taken into account what the Stern report and this international panel of experts have said about the danger of tidal surges—not least the consequences for London, the public transportation system in London and the Thames barrier?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am not au fait with updates on the Thames barrier, but it has probably been used a lot more than was planned. Work is in hand longer term on reinforcing the Thames barrier because, on the evidence of the Stern report and the report issued last week, it will not do the job that will need to be done. The position is much more serious now.


3.30 pm

Lord Grocott: My Lords, with the leave of the House, my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will imminently repeat a Statement on the White Paper. For this Statement only—this is without precedent—the usual channels have agreed that the noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, should have the opportunity to speak within the initial 20-minute period set aside for the Front Benches, along with the noble Lords, Lord Strathclyde and Lord McNally. As usual, there will then be another 20 minutes for noble Lords from all sides of the House to put questions. As far as I can judge, there are no losers there.

I remind the House that the Companion makes it clear that the 20-minute question period should be for questions. Obviously, the shorter the questions are kept, the more answers that can be. I reassure the House that we shall no doubt find time to return to this subject.

House of Lords: Reform

3.31 pm

The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made earlier today by my right honourable friend the Leader of the other place. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, with permission, I should like to make a Statement on reform of the House of Lords.

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Accompanying this Statement is a detailed White Paper, The House of Lords: Reform (CM 7072), available in the Vote Office. The White Paper has been informed by the excellent report of the Joint Committee on Conventions, which the other place and this House debated and approved on 16 and 17 January respectively.“The White Paper’s publication follows nine months’ intensive discussion within government and with the other parties. I have chaired cross-party talks—the first such government-led talks to be held for nearly 40 years. The cross-party group has met eight times since June. I am very grateful to those on the group for their work and constructive approach to this complex issue.“The starting point for the cross-party talks was that each of the three main parties was committed by its 2005 manifesto to seeking reform of the Lords. My party, as well as pledging, without qualification, to remove ‘the remaining hereditary peers’, said that a,The Conservatives promised,and the Liberal Democrats to replace the Lords with a,“In the cross-party talks, a significant degree of consensus has been found on several, but not all, of the important issues. Where the Government do not agree with the Opposition or the Liberal Democrats, they have done their best in the White Paper accurately to reflect the areas of disagreement.“All members of the group were of one mind on the fundamental primacy of the Commons, and that the House of Lords should be a complement to the Commons, not a rival to it. There was agreement that a reformed House should be partly appointed, partly elected—hybrid—consisting of at least 20 per cent non-party-political members, and that it was essential that no political party should have a majority of the whole House of Lords; that membership of the reformed House should reflect the diversity of the United Kingdom and its people, and the range of religious opinion in the country; and that the special arrangements for membership of the upper House of a limited number of hereditary Peers should come to an end.“The group decided that introducing reform over a long transitional period would be essential. But with opinion divided in all three parties, and each committed to a free vote, we did not come to a view on the proportion of elected and appointed members, nor on the precise method and timing of any elections, although all parties agreed that any elected element should be by a form of direct election.“It is palpable that Lords reform has been unfinished business for at least 100 years. This is

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not a criticism of the work of the members of the other place, many of whom give great service and the nation the benefit of their expertise and experience. But it is our judgment, shared by the other parties as their manifestos show, that the status quo is no longer an option. But moving forward is difficult. Great passions on this issue are aroused in both Houses and in all parties. Given this, the White Paper is self-evidently and unapologetically a compromise, both in terms of destination and transition. I believe that the choice we have is either making progress on a scale and to a timescale of the kind indicated in the White Paper, or seeing the whole exercise aborted altogether, in which case there would be no further progress on this for a generation.“Time and time again, fundamental reform of the House of Lords has failed because, for some, the best has become the enemy of the good. Deadlock this time round would be easy to achieve; the prize of progress means moving forward gradually and by consensus. “The basis for a consensus on a hybrid House already exists. All recent inquiries into the future of the Lords—including those by the Royal Commission chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, the Public Administration Select Committee chaired by my honourable friend the Member for Cannock Chase, and the cross-party ‘breaking the deadlock’ group—have come to this conclusion. “The Government have used the White Paper to illustrate how a hybrid House might work, using a model—it is a model—where 50 per cent of the House is elected and 50 per cent is appointed, with 30 per cent from the political parties and 20 per cent with no party-political affiliation. This model, in my view, provides the most effective balance between election and appointment in a reformed House. There are myriad other views, and the free vote, including by Ministers, will enable those views properly to be expressed. “The White Paper proposes that the size of the House should be reduced to 540 Members. Elections would be held at the same time as elections to the European Parliament and would use the same constituencies, but on a different electoral system—that of the partially open list. One third would be elected at each election. The Church of England Bishops would continue to be represented. “Should Parliament opt for a system in which appointments to the second Chamber continue, all appointments would be made by a new statutory appointments commission, assessing both suitability as well as propriety. The commission would be independent and report directly to Parliament. The right of the Prime Minister of the day to make appointments would end. “The proposals in the White Paper would also break the link between the peerage and seats in Parliament. Members, including current Members, would be able to resign their seats. Disqualification provisions for any Member of the Lords convicted

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of an offence would be brought into line with those in the Commons. All Members would be able to vote in general elections. “The position of Peers currently sitting in the House has been an important consideration. We propose that no existing life Peer will be forced to leave. “Let me now turn to the procedure that the Government propose for the free vote in this House. The whole House will recall that when the free votes took place four years ago, there were eight options before it: five of them—from abolition, to 100 per cent appointed, to 100 per cent elected—were put to Divisions. Every single option was voted down. “One system of voting in this House is well tried and works to give a clear-cut decision on any straight ‘yes-no’ choice. It is plainly essential when it comes to determining the content of law. But this system is no good—it does not work—for indicating preferences; in mathematical terms, a binary system is not designed to elicit preferences and cannot do this job properly. “Instead, the system that the Government are proposing is specifically designed to enable those voting in this House to come to a decision on this issue. Members will be invited to rank preferences in numerical order and the successful preference will be the one gaining at least half of all votes, after the successive elimination of the least successful choices. “The Government propose that there should be three substantive votes, with the first two in the normal way: on whether there should be a second Chamber at all, and then on whether there should be any further reform. If and only if a decision is made by the House that there should be a second Chamber and both of these are in the affirmative, the House would then move to an alternative vote on preferences. “The detailed arrangements for the alternative vote ballot itself would be under the direction of you, Mr Speaker. It is for the other place to decide what procedure it adopts. “Although the alternative vote procedure is an unusual method of voting, a broadly similar approach has nevertheless been agreed by this House and the other place for choosing the Speaker of each House. “I am aware—and this will, no doubt, be reflected in the questions—that the doctrine of the dangerous precedent says that nothing should ever be done for the first time. But every one of the traditions that we cherish in this House was once an innovation. “To allow this House to give proper time to consider this procedure, a resolution to give it effect will be put to the House a week before the substantive debate on composition. It is intended that the debate on composition itself, with the free votes, will last for two days. “I believe that, following the cross-party talks and the report of the Joint Committee on

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Conventions, this White Paper represents the best opportunity to make progress that we have had for many decades. As our manifesto stated, there are many reasons why we should move ahead with reform of the House of Lords: to increase its effectiveness, to make it more representative of the United Kingdom and to increase its legitimacy. “But there is a wider issue as well, and that is to seek, through this process, to strengthen Parliament by enhancing the way in which the Lords complements the work of the primary Chamber. By doing this, our democracy as a whole would be better served. “I commend the White Paper to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.39 pm

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, your Lordships might be forgiven for thinking that they had come to the House this afternoon at last to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Instead, we have been offered a House of 57 varieties. The Government promised consensus but, instead, are giving us a mudge of compromise, which has itself been compromised once again by the Cabinet, no less.

They offer choices but cannot even decide the name of the reformed House, and, when they make a decision, they make the wrong choice. So, while I thank the noble and learned Lord for repeating the Statement, I sympathise with him, for he has a difficult task today. On the one hand, he comes here with unpopular proposals, thought by many to be unnecessary, and, on the other, he offers an undertaking that the present House can stay for life. My response will not surprise the noble and learned Lord. This is a proud House. It does not deserve, and will not brook, another botched attempt at reform.

Whatever we think of the White Paper ideas—I find them still not fully thought through and, frankly, as they are, unacceptable—they mean much more major constitutional upheaval, more far-reaching even than in 1999. With a Government clearly at odds with themselves and thinking it out as they go along, there is not much basis for progress here.

Lords reform is like opening the lid of Pandora’s box: who knows where debate might lead if there is no firm guiding principle behind it? So will the noble and learned Lord answer, just this once, the basic question? Exactly what problem is this package aiming to solve? Is the House too strong or too weak? Is the aim to enable us to defeat all Governments more, with “more legitimacy”, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jay of Paddington, used to say, or what? The White Paper lacks real clarity of purpose or principle.

There is agreement in this House, to which I subscribe, but the only proper basis for major constitutional change is that, first, it should be undertaken only if it strengthens the authority of this House to control the Executive and, secondly, it should be attempted only with consensus across parties and across the two Houses. These proposals, I believe, fail both tests.

In other areas, too, the Statement assumes too much. For example, we have not agreed, and do not

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agree, that the undertakings given to this House by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, in 1999 that elected hereditary Peers will not be excluded before stage 2 is complete can be set aside just on the basis of a preferential vote in another place. Even to make the suggestions that the White Paper does is deeply dishonourable.

So areas of agreement there may be, but consensus there is not. Indeed, there is not even consensus inside the Cabinet. Confused and divided government can deliver only a confused and divisive reform. So can the noble and learned Lord say how many Cabinet members back these ideas? Has the Chancellor of the Exchequer approved them? And what of the Prime Minister himself? In 2003, he said that,

What made him change his mind? Can the noble and learned Lord explain the thinking about the timing? Why bring this all up now, when there is so much unwelcome police attention to the appointment of life Peers? How can we have a rational discussion about the role of appointed Peers against this background?

Can the noble and learned Lord give us some clearer sense of the time that this House will be allowed to reflect on its own future? Will it be three weeks or three months? Is the aim to have a Bill this Session or next? What would the Government do if the other place voted for election and this House did not? Would it use the Parliament Act and would the divided Cabinet be whipped into unity on that? I know that of course, as the government Chief Whip has just reminded us, we will have an opportunity to debate the White Paper. No Peer should feel under pressure not to contribute. This affects us all, and brings the method of our coming here into the full glare of the public gaze. That may not always be comfortable.

Can the noble and learned Lord tell us what plans the Government have to allow us to debate this new system of preferential voting? It is a major constitutional change in itself, and the House should have time to come to a view. Is it envisaged, for instance, that the process will be used more generally for legislation? It looks, from the papers that I have seen, that another place will need to vote 11 times before coming to a conclusion. Is the same envisaged for your Lordships? The noble and learned Lord proposes that 50 per cent of the House be chosen by party lists, and another 30 per cent selected by party bosses. What kind of a democracy is that?

If there were a firm government proposal for real reform—for example, truly elected political Peers with a 20 per cent balance of independents—we could get on and discuss it. But reform should be real, not a mush of PR and political correctness that is simply appointment by another name. It should be based on constituencies to which people can relate: cities and counties, not huge, remote Euro-regions as the White Paper proposes. Why is it on European election day? If we are to have election, then the terms must be long, non-renewable and with elections staggered. In that, at least, the White Paper is right and follows the reports

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of my noble friend Lord Wakeham and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay in some respects.

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