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House of Lords

Wednesday, 7 March 2007.

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

Carbon Emissions: Deforestation

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, afforestation and reforestation projects in developing countries are eligible for crediting under the clean development mechanism. However, they cannot currently be traded for compliance purposes under the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme. This is now being examined as part of the review of the scheme. The United Kingdom is working with partners in international negotiations to find a solution that would also allow crediting of projects that seek to avoid deforestation.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer and am delighted to hear of the intention of the Government. However, given that deforestation accounts for nearly a quarter of global carbon emissions, does he not agree that conservation of the forests should be a priority in post-Kyoto agreements, especially in the light of the recommendations made by Sir Nicholas Stern? Will he convey to colleagues negotiating at the EU summit tomorrow the dismay of those people living on the continents of Africa, Asia and South America at how the European Union and the G8 countries seem so reluctant to do this?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am more than happy to pass on the remarks of the right reverend Prelate before the EU Council at the weekend. The Stern figure quoted by the right reverend Prelate is going up by the day. My brief states that the Stern review said that around 18 per cent of global greenhouse emissions come from deforestation. At lunchtime, I saw a paper saying that Stern said 20 per cent, while the right reverend Prelate has just referred to almost 25 per cent. In other words, the percentage is very substantial; we are talking about around a fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions. Nevertheless, we want to be positive and seek to include the avoidance of deforestation in future climate change agreements. This is not simple and certainly cannot be done within the EU’s emissions trading system at the present time.

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Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, has honoured his word and has written to me about the EU Emissions Trading Scheme following our debate on 8 February, and I have passed his letters on to a number of people who have expressed great interest in what he said. However, there is one matter that the noble Lord will recognise may cause some difficulty. I asked when clean coal technology would come within the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, and the noble Lord, Lord Truscott, said that it would not be until 2013. Why can we not bring clean coal into that scheme as soon as possible?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I shall seek to have early discussions with my noble friend Lord Truscott about the answer to that question because I am not briefed on it. I am briefed as well as I am able on the developing world and forestry. Of course I realise that coal starts off as forest, and perhaps some would like to make the connection. Obviously there is a big benefit to everyone in clean coal technology. It is something that we can lead the world on in terms of selling our intellectual property rights and getting a benefit—indeed, a benefit for the planet and a benefit economically. I will check the particular dates to which the noble Lord referred.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, how does this fit in with the President of the United States of America’s publicly stated notion about biofuels? He has clearly stated that, if a lot more biofuel crops are grown, that will mean a great deal of deforestation.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, that is why this issue is much more complicated than simply a soundbite to make a populist argument. Chopping down forests to grow other trees to create biofuels—trees that may soak up less carbon—could have a negative effect on the planet. The simple answer of biofuels is not a simple answer. The issue is much more complicated than the President of the United States seems to understand.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, what effect does deforestation have on the potential for flooding?

Lord Rooker: An enormous effect, my Lords, as far as I am aware, if the deforestation is in the wrong place and unplanned. That is why these things have to be part of a management plan for the environment of the whole planet.

Lord Teverson: My Lords, the European summit is coming up in the next two days, and the environment and the Emissions Trading Scheme will be top of the agenda. Key issues around that include forestry, but also national allocation plans and ensuring a positive price for carbon for the long term. What are the Government doing to advocate that strongly at this week’s summit?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, we shall be telling our European Union partners this weekend that next week we shall publish the Climate Change Bill.

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Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, there have been a number of afforestation schemes in Africa, particularly in north Africa. Have any of them been successful?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I will have to take advice on that. I understand that only one of the schemes that are part of the clean development mechanism has been registered as a forestry scheme. These are early days to try to get some kind of mechanism where one can capture carbon and have a credit. To go back to the original Question, it cannot be part of the European emissions trading system at present.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, to bring the matter closer to home, what steps have Her Majesty’s Government taken to ensure that timber used in government projects comes from certifiable sustainable sources?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the UK timber trade has told us that Britain’s sustainable timber procurement policy has been the single most important driver of change of behaviour in the UK private sector. We are aiming our procurement policies at the real problem of forest degradation and destruction, and avoiding gold-plating standards that countries with serious forest governance problems cannot hope to achieve in the short term. In other words, there is a beneficial effect, and the UK timber trade has informed us of that.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, will Mr Miliband be proposing that 35 million British drivers, and perhaps 250 million EU drivers, be subjected to an emissions trading scheme at some time in the future?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am not sure of the details, but I do not think that that is included in the Climate Change Bill next week.

Lord Elton: My Lords, the Minister has kindly said that he will take a message from the right reverend Prelate to the negotiators. Will he take on board the fact that many others support that message, not merely the Bishop?

Lord Rooker: Yes, my Lords, but I pay tribute to the work of the right reverend Prelate on this issue, as would the whole House. This is a much wider issue. I fully accept that the concerns about what is happening to the planet’s forests are shared by everyone. Wrong emissions and destruction in one part of the planet affect everyone, which is why this is a global issue and should not be confined just to the EU; we have to get it internationalised.

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Debt: Consumer Credit

3.08 pm

Baroness Miller of Hendon asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Truscott): My Lords, we hold many discussions with banks, building societies and credit card companies on a variety of issues in support of our goals of creating an open and competitive consumer credit market while minimising over-indebtedness. This includes regular meetings with Ministers and discussion with the advisory group on over-indebtedness, as detailed in the Government’s Tackling Over-Indebtedness: Annual Report 2006.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, is the Minister aware that during the passage of the Consumer Credit Act 2005 I twice moved a simple amendment requiring loan providers to see that debtors had some means of meeting their new obligations? In the light of the recent especially high rate of insolvencies and repossessions, do the Government now think they were wrong to reject my modest amendment? What are they going to do to remedy this most appalling position that so many people find themselves in today?

Lord Truscott: My Lords, the noble Baroness took an active part in the passage of that Act but, ultimately, it was a decision for your Lordships' House and the other place. In association with the Financial Services Authority, the Government have a national strategy for financial capability, which will reach 10 million people and help them with money management. The Treasury has commissioned work in developing financial capability further. We are spending more than £47 million on a debt advice project, and the DWP is rolling out £36 million in a growth fund to increase access to credit unions. We are taking in hand other matters to deal with indebtedness. It is a serious issue, and we are taking steps to ensure that lenders are responsible when they lend to people.

Lord Borrie: My Lords, will my noble friend recognise more fully the public interest points that the noble Baroness raised? Does he agree that the grasping attitude of some of the organisations referred to in the Question suggests that competitiveness, which the Government strive for in every aspect of business, is not very successful in the banking world when unduly high profits are made, to the detriment of the consumer?

Lord Truscott: My Lords, my noble friend has a valid point; I will take on board what both he and the noble Baroness have said. The Government are ensuring

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that lenders take a responsible approach, and the consumer credit reforms will help in that respect. For example, regulations will make consumer credit advertising clearer and fairer. We have introduced pre-contract information to help consumers become better informed before entering into a credit agreement. The Consumer Credit Act 2006 also strengthens the existing consumer credit licensing regime, which will ensure that the OFT can take into account irresponsible lending practices when considering who should hold a consumer credit licence.

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, with Britain’s personal debt increasing by £1 million every four minutes, it is right for the Minister to be as concerned as he is, and I am delighted to hear what he is doing to help prevent the problem worsening. What is he doing to prevent the unethical marketing of individual voluntary agreements? Will he support the Conservatives’ calls on the Advertising Standards Authority to enforce the rules governing the marketing of IVAs more rigorously than at present?

Lord Truscott: My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a fair point. We are taking action on individual voluntary agreements. A very small proportion of individuals obtaining credit have difficulties. IVAs are not sold; they are contracts between debtors and creditors, which must be approved by 75 per cent in value of those creditors. IVAs can be administered only by licensed insolvency practitioners, who are subject to stringent regulation. As the noble Baroness said, there have been concerns about the quality of the advertising of IVAs. The OFT has recently taken action and written to 17 IVA providers regarding areas that it feels require attention.

Lord Newby: My Lords, does the Minister accept that this is a classic area where prevention is better than cure? Can he update the House on the Thoresen review and indicate when the Government expect to put in place a proper national system of consumer advice on financial matters, rather than the series of piecemeal initiatives we have had to date?

Lord Truscott: My Lords, I will write to the noble Lord with details of the Thoresen review. I have already outlined the considerable steps the Government are taking to ensure that there is proper advice for people in debt. Only a minority of people get into serious debt—something like 1 per cent of all borrowers. Nevertheless, we are taking a number of measures, including providing the National Debtline to give advice, to which the DTI alone is giving £1 million per annum.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, noble Lords on all sides of the House are concerned about the problems that many people are now encountering with loans that they have taken out. Given the massive profits that we have seen banks receive recently, will the Minister consider having discussions with the Opposition and the Liberal Democrats about the possibility of all parties coming together to agree the reintroduction of windfall taxes?

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Lord Truscott: My Lords, my noble friend makes an interesting point but, to be frank, I do not think that that is on the cards. There are no plans to go down that road. Indebtedness is a problem, but one of the major drivers of indebtedness is unemployment. I am glad to say that, under this Government, we no longer have mass unemployment; we have record levels of employment, which assists people greatly in the financial sphere.

Health: Hospital Cleanliness

3.15 pm

Lord Sheikh asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, every NHS trust must show that it meets the national specifications as part of the Healthcare Commission's annual health check. Trusts must declare themselves non-compliant if there has been a significant lapse from those standards.

Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that response. I declare an interest as my company provides specialist insurances to the cleaning industry. We all appreciate that there are problems relating to hospital cleanliness. Does the Minister support the conclusions of the recent Patient Environment Action Team survey, which shows a better performance from contracted-out cleaning services?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the comparison of in-house services and outsourced services has been discussed by noble Lords on a number of occasions. I have not seen any hard evidence to suggest that a decision to outsource services has a direct impact on the quality of cleaning. Ultimately, it depends on the nature of the contract in relation to outsourced services or the nature of management in relation to in-house services. The key factor is leadership. When NHS trusts give a clear indication that cleanliness is a high priority, good services follow from it.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, what are we learning from the Dutch about cleanliness and MRSA?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, there is much to be learnt from other countries, as other countries have much to learn from us. MRSA is much less prevalent in Holland compared with this country. Therefore, some of the measures that the Dutch are able to take are not practical for this country. But the latest figures show that we are starting to see a reduction in MRSA infections. We have set a tough target to reduce infections by 50 per cent by 2008 and we are determined to keep up the pressure on the NHS to do just that.

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Baroness Tonge: My Lords, has the Minister visited the Florence Nightingale Museum across the river in St Thomas's Hospital, where he can purchase a book entitled Notes on Nursing written by the great lady? The implementation of those recommendations saved many thousands of lives in the 19th century. When will he make it obligatory reading for everyone who works in the health service?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I have not had the pleasure of visiting the museum, although I have visited St Thomas's Hospital many times. The noble Baroness makes a good point. I am sure that if we were to go on to discuss the issue, one thing that would come through is nurse leadership. It is abundantly clear that where modern matrons and ward sisters make it their business to ensure that their wards are clean and that the cleaners—whether employed directly or by contract companies—are part of the team, cleanliness follows. I very much endorse the sentiments behind her question.

Lord Winston: My Lords, although every effort to keep a hospital clean is greatly to be recommended and commended, does my noble friend agree that there is very little evidence that the organisms mentioned, and Clostridium difficile, have any relationship to dirt in hospitals and that cleaning hospitals is not the issue when dealing with, for example, MRSA?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, my noble friend is right to suggest that there is no direct causal relationship between general cleanliness and the incidence of MRSA or C. difficile. However, a hospital that in general takes cleanliness seriously is, I think, much more likely to take the issues of MRSA and C. difficile seriously. Patients expect hospitals to be clean. The clear evidence is that there has been tremendous improvement in cleanliness standards. Of course, there is more to be done, but we should acknowledge the efforts made by the NHS in the past few years.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, the Dutch are certainly doing better on this issue than we are. What are the Dutch doing—the Minister suggested there was something—that we cannot do?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the essential difference between the Dutch approach and the UK approach—there are similarities—is that in this country, many people carry MRSA, whereas in Holland far fewer do. It is much more practical for Dutch hospitals to take preventive measures than it is for hospitals in this country, in terms of the number of people who can be isolated and the facilities that they have. However, with the development of more isolation facilities, we see huge improvements in the way in which NHS hospitals deal with these matters. On MRSA, the hand-washing regimes and the collaboration between bed managers and infection controls teams means that we are beginning to see a downturn in the number of serious infections. We shall redouble our efforts to gain further improvements in the next few years.

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