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House of Lords

Monday, 16 April 2007.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Worcester.

Health: Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Lord Fowler asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, our policies to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections are assessed through a number of measures. These include monitoring the local NHS delivery plans, including the national target on 48-hour access to GUM services, evaluation of mass media campaigns and data on new diagnoses from the Health Protection Agency.

Lord Fowler: My Lords, is it not a fact that the latest figures show that compared with 1998, new diagnoses of HIV have risen by 165 per cent and of chlamydia by 125 per cent, and that inside the health service, money intended for sexual health has been diverted away for other purposes? Is that not a totally unsatisfactory and unhappy position and is it not time that the Government mounted a concerted and properly financed campaign on sexual health in this country?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord for his work on and involvement in the 1986 AIDS campaign programme. But the circumstances are different now—much less was known then, and the programme targeted the whole population. We now know that the main area of concern around HIV and AIDS is for gay men and those with contact with various parts of the world where the disease is prevalent, and the programme of action the department has enunciated is targeted at those at-risk groups.

The noble Lord is right to refer to some rises in instances of sexual illness. This is a priority for the Government and a great deal of progress is being made, particularly in developing enhanced GUM services.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, does the Minister agree that sex education is very important in combating sexually transmitted infections? If so, will he say how the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills are collaborating to improve the situation with regard to young people?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. I can reassure her that my department and the Department for Education and Skills work very closely together to promote sexual health through the healthy schools programme. It is worth reporting that there has been a reduction in teenage pregnancy rates: between 1998 and 2005, the under-18 conception rate fell by 11.8 per cent, evidence that the programmes that have been developed are proving effective.

Baroness Barker: My Lords, given that the AIDS Funders Group report showed that services, particularly those of prevention and support, are being stopped and then started again only because different commissioning streams come on stream at different times, does the Minister agree that there is something ineffective and wasteful about the way services are being commissioned by the NHS?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: No, my Lords. Local primary care trusts have first responsibility for ensuring that services are commissioned appropriately and it is important that they should do so. Of course we want to see consistency in that approach, but the fact that PCTs have enhanced GUM services and that the target

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we set for people to receive an appointment within 48 hours has now been achieved—70 per cent as compared with 45 per cent in May 2005—shows that they are having a positive impact.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, when the Minister referred to a fall in teenage pregnancies, did he mean a fall in pregnancies commenced or in births to teenage girls?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am referring to the provisional 2005 under-18 conception rate, which is 41.1 per thousand girls aged 15 to 17. That represents an overall decline of 11.8 per cent since 1998. The under-18 conception rate is at its lowest for 20 years, which is very encouraging.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, is the Minister fully aware of the very strong impact of the campaign initiated by my noble friend Lord Fowler when he was Secretary of State? Is it not time that we had a similar campaign now?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am aware of the effect of the noble Lord’s leadership at the time, which I have already commended and I am happy to commend again. He will know that I was then director of the National Association of Health Authorities and there was close collaboration between him and his department and the National Health Service on those issues. At the time, very little was known about HIV/AIDS, which is why a campaign aimed at the general population was the most appropriate. However, we now understand that the groups at increased risk of HIV sexual transmission remain gay men and people who have had links to countries overseas where there is a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, such as sub-Saharan Africa. The campaigns that the department is involved in funding are focused on those groups.

Of course, other sexual health campaigns are targeted at the general population, including encouraging the use of condoms and responsible sexual behaviour. Those, too, are very important in ensuring that we grip this issue.

Lord Colwyn: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the most important policy to prevent AIDS and many other diseases is the development and maintenance of an effective immune system?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am sure that that is right. Good sexual health is one aspect of a healthy lifestyle in general, which we must do more to encourage.

Lord Patel: My Lords, what is the Government’s strategy for the availability of HPV vaccine for the prevention of cervical cancer, which is a sexually transmitted virus?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, my understanding is that uptake of the first dose of hepatitis B vaccine should be 90 per cent by the end of

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2006 and uptake of three doses of hepatitis B vaccine in those not previously immunised within one of the recommended regimens is targeted to be 70 per cent by the end of 2006. Clearly, we are working hard to meet those targets. The figures for 2005 are 89 per cent for the first dose of vaccine and 39 per cent for uptake of three courses of vaccine.

EU: Energy Policy

2.43 pm

Lord Dykes asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Truscott): My Lords, since our 2005 presidency, the EU has made great progress in developing a common energy policy. Following the Commission's January strategic energy review, the European Council recently adopted an ambitious set of measures to address our common energy and climate change challenges.

Lord Dykes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. He will recall that this specific common policy was requested strongly by member Governments. The Commission, too, is understandably preoccupied with common imperatives such as secure energy supplies, common technologies and new sources. However, will the Government also specifically suggest to the Commission that it should now start developing the ideal European-wide eco-dwelling as a target project for builders and estate developers throughout the single market, including in Germany, which was a pioneer, and in Britain?

Noble Lords: Reading!

Lord Dykes: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the ideal passive eco-model can be produced to consume only 15 kilowatt hours per square metre per annum, against the staggering 200 kilowatt hours per square metre per annum of the classic conventional dwellings?

Lord Truscott: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his question. He is very knowledgeable on European affairs, as he has displayed again this afternoon. He will be aware that the European Council came to the decision that the EU should reduce carbon greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 unilaterally and up to 30 per cent if developed countries act together internationally. Eco-dwelling is an interesting idea, but the noble Lord will know that the UK Government are committed to having carbon-free dwellings by 2016 in the UK.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, should the Government’s priority not be in respect of our domestic energy policy and the requirement to ensure

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security of supply? Does that not mean committing to building nuclear power stations now on existing sites before the lights go off—because when the lights go off Governments get thrown out?

Noble Lords: As you know!

Lord Truscott: My Lords, some noble Lords have said that the party opposite knows that full well. The Government are very aware of the issues that the noble Lord mentioned. The White Paper that we are producing on energy has two drivers: first, the issue of security of supply and, secondly, tackling climate change. He will be aware that the Government are producing the White Paper in May, which will contain the Government’s proposals and views on nuclear, subject to further consultation.

Lord Tanlaw: My Lords, could the Minister say that as part of the harmonisation process of energy with Europe, daylight saving is on the books, as that would save energy and lives on the road? If the Government are not thinking about this, could he go on record as saying that he is not for daylight saving in any form or kind?

Lord Truscott: My Lords, I would be very happy to answer that question but perhaps at another time, as I think that we are straying quite widely from the Question.

Lord Teverson: My Lords, the Government at the European Council last month agreed a binding commitment with other EU member states of renewable energy becoming 20 per cent of total energy use by 2020. Given that at the moment the UK’s renewable percentage is 1.5 per cent, making us 26th equal out of 27 member states, how are we going to meet whatever our target becomes?

Lord Truscott: My Lords, clearly the 20 per cent target for renewable energy was stretching and visionary, but it is important because it will give a huge boost to the deployment of renewables, not only in the UK but throughout the European Union. Under this Government we have seen a doubling of renewable energy, with something like 100,000 microgeneration installations in the UK. We have invested something like £500 million in renewables between 2002 and 2008, and the renewables obligation will be worth something like £1 billion to the renewables industry by 2010. We are taking a lot of measures in this area and we will have to work with the Commission and other member states to ensure that the targets are met appropriately.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, given the very great difficulty that the Common Market has had in agreeing pricing arrangements for emissions trading across Europe, which is at least an attempt to arrive at an agreement, and given the widely differing national circumstances with regard to energy supply, does the Minister really think it very likely that in the foreseeable future there is any chance of an agreement on a common energy policy?

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Lord Truscott: My Lords, that is exactly what the spring European Council agreed on—a common energy policy and an action plan for that policy. Of course, there is a lot of work to be done and the UK Government support the position of the European Commission that the Emissions Trading Scheme that the noble Lord mentioned should be strengthened, particularly in its third phase.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, what progress has been made in altering building regulations to encourage the maximum use of proper insulation, installation of solar power and so on?

Lord Truscott: My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware that the Department for Communities and Local Government recently announced a consultation particularly on microgeneration, to ensure that those people who apply to install, for example, wind turbines or solar energy panels on their homes do not in all circumstances need to apply for planning permission. That will greatly encourage microgeneration installation in people’s homes. Individual homes are responsible for some 25 per cent of CO2 emissions in the UK. We anticipate up to 1.3 million of those types of microgeneration installations in coming years.

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I had the privilege of attending a House of Lords delegation to Russia and Siberia, from which I have just returned, where I looked at the security of energy supply that we can expect from Russia. I come back absolutely determined that we should try to sort it out in Europe. What discussions has the Minister had with his European counterparts about the essential liberalising and unbundling of the European market?

Lord Truscott: My Lords, we discussed the unbundling of the EU internal market at the previous Energy Council. This will be further discussed at the coming European Council. The Commission will bring forward proposals on unbundling this year. The UK Government firmly support its position on unbundling.

Prime Minister: Oversight

2.51 pm

Baroness Miller of Hendon asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, Prime Ministers are, and will continue to be, accountable to Parliament for the vast majority of their decisions.

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Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, the Minister’s Answer was not terribly helpful; nevertheless, I thank him most sincerely. Will he please comment on reports that Cabinet meetings under the present Prime Minister are much briefer than those under previous Prime Ministers and that often vital Cabinet papers are not circulated in advance to his Cabinet colleagues, so enabling him to adopt a presidential style rather than remembering that his power has been described as primus inter pares?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, although I was not privileged to be in any previous Prime Minister’s Cabinet, I can tell the noble Baroness that the Cabinet meetings conducted by the present Prime Minister are round-table. Business is conducted efficaciously.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord said that Prime Ministers were responsible to Parliament for the vast majority of their decisions. For what decisions are they not responsible to Parliament?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, certain decisions would have to be kept secret for reasons of national security. Inevitably, Prime Ministers do not bring all those before Parliament.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, does the Minister agree that this does not sound the same as the doctrine of collective responsibility, which is at least turning up at the edges?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, there is absolutely no inconsistency between what I have said and collective responsibility: an efficient, effective Government, all agreeing on the sensible issues, discussing them beforehand, reaching agreements and then standing by them.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, is not the time ripe for Britain to complete the new constitutional settlement, apt for the 21st century, embodied in a written constitution, reflecting the will of the people, in which, furthermore—unlike the arrangements in the 18th century, which we have inherited—by virtue of the royal prerogative, in accordance with the enacted will of the people, the Government’s actions are subject to the advice and consent of Parliament in all circumstances?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, that was quite a contradictory question. I am not in favour of a written constitution because I believe that the will of the people is expressed through Parliament, as the question implied. If you have a written constitution in the true sense, you have a document that is superior to Parliament, which means that the judges, whom I admire in every single respect—I am looking around at the number of judges—could express views about whether particular Acts were lawful. Our system, with judges able to ensure that the law is properly applied but Parliament able to pass the law, is the right one. I have no problem with our values being expressed in a document, but not in one that is superior to parliamentary sovereignty.

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Baroness Trumpington: My Lords—

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord recollect that when the Prime Minister tried to abolish the post of Lord Chancellor, it was discovered that this House could not meet unless there was a Lord Chancellor? Was that discussion around the Cabinet table thorough and vigorous?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, happily, the Lords met very quickly thereafter. The announcement involved accepting that there would have to be a Lord Chancellor during the transition. I am still, as noble Lords can see, in a transitional phase. After detailed consideration by this House and another place, the essential policy changes that underlay that announcement were given effect to.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord mentioned the judges and especially the Law Lords. The House will recall that in the discussion of Law Lords’ place here, which is to end, he delivered extended speeches, if not homilies, on the separation of powers. In other jurisdictions, the separation of powers is understood to mean some division between the Executive and the legislature. Does the noble and learned Lord think that attention need not be paid to that division, which is recognised elsewhere?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: No, my Lords; our system, where the Executive are drawn primarily from the elected House of Commons, works extremely well. A separation that everyone would accept is that judges and legislators should not be in the same body. I apologise for the length of my speeches, and I apologise if they sounded like homilies, but that was the essential point in creating a Supreme Court.

Lord Waddington: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord did not make much of a fist of his answer to my noble friend. Was there any discussion in Cabinet before it was announced by way of a press release that the office of Lord Chancellor was to be abolished?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the noble Lord will recall that I was not in the Cabinet at that point.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords—

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords—

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My Lords, it is the turn of the Liberal Democrats.

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