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My noble friend is right that the Severn barrage is mentioned in the White Paper. In terms of electricity generation, it would provide something like 5 per cent of the electricity needed for this country should we develop it. There are arguments for and against. In generation and renewable terms it would clearly be significant. We need to look at environmental issues closely, including EU regulations, the habitats directive and the impact on wildlife. The Sustainable Development Commission is undertaking a study on tidal and wave power. As part of that, it will look at the Severn barrage. It will report in September and we will take careful note of its report.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there are many ways to harness the power of the River Severn that do not include the barrage? It is not a question of either/or; the generation of 5 per cent of our electricity could be achieved by accessing the tidal stream on the Severn in a variety of ways. Can he comment on power loss during transmission through the national grid? Are the Government considering the development of more localised, regional grids?

Lord Truscott: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right that we can look at other options in the context of the river Severn; the barrage is just one of those. It would be a large, extremely expensive and complicated project, but it would have real potential benefits in terms of renewable generation. However, as I say, we can look at other options. We are looking closely at the distribution of energy through the national grid so that the barriers to distribution are reduced to make the grid work more effectively, and ensure that we bring on the localised use of energy, in particular from renewable sources.

The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, I want to ask about two related areas in the White Paper. The graph on page 109 is alarming. It shows that by 2030 it is likely that we will be producing only about 10 per cent of the gas we produced in 2000. Even on the best case scenario for indigenous gas supplies, we will be importing the vast majority of our gas in the foreseeable future. Does that not cause a question to be raised about the dash for gas, as well as whether burning most of it in our power stations and thereby producing energy for essentially just one generation will be seen by future generations as rather short-sighted? Linked to that is the issue of carbon capture. Coal is out of fashion because of the absence of economic carbon capture technology. Can the Minister tell us a little more about where the problem lies? Is it in the separation of carbon dioxide from other flue gases, the transmission of carbon dioxide to a storage site, or the costs of actual storage itself? For all that it says, the White Paper does not come clean on where the problem is in this matter.

Lord Truscott: My Lords, I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate. On the question of the dash for gas, I agree with him that we need a diverse energy mix and that we should not be over-reliant on any one particular form of supply. Gas currently generates approximately a third of our electricity, as does coal, but this can vary. When we encountered tightness in energy supplies a couple of winters ago, the amount of electricity generated by coal rose by 50 per cent, but as a result we found that CO2 emissions went up. We have to have a diverse energy mix both to ensure security of supply and to reduce CO2 emissions. One of the ways of doing that is to develop carbon capture and storage. However, a number of issues arise with CCS. Several countries are already using parts of the available CCS technology. The Norwegians, for example, already store gas offshore, and the energy sector has often used the injection of gas to enhance the exploitation of oil and gas fields. There are regulatory issues in this area, such as the London and OSPAR conventions, which need to be amended to ensure that we can store gas under the North Sea. While the London agreement has been amended, the OSPAR agreement has not, so there are legal issues to consider. But the main point is that no one in the world has put all the different elements of the technology together and shown that they can work on a commercial scale, and that is really the task of this programme.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, I have been studying the consultative document on the future of nuclear power issued alongside the White Paper. In particular, I have been looking at Chapter 13, which sets out the proposals for the Government’s facilitative action that they would undertake if, after consultation, they conclude that energy companies should be allowed to invest in new nuclear power stations in the United Kingdom. Bearing in mind the long lead-in period before a nuclear power station becomes operational and the long decommissioning period at the end, have the Government made a real study of the likely cost of the electricity produced, particularly in so far as the consumer is concerned? How can they be so sure, when they talk about facilitative action, that some government financial assistance will not be necessary?

Lord Truscott: My Lords, the Government have carried out extensive modelling on this issue and some of the costs were outlined in the energy review last year. One of the reasons we are putting forward the nuclear consultation at this point is that the cost picture has changed compared to the position in 2003 when the previous energy White Paper was published. It was the Government’s assessment in 2003 that nuclear was not viable. Since then, bearing in mind the increase in oil and gas prices and the likelihood that they will remain relatively high for the medium to long term, that cost picture has changed. The Government’s assessment now is that, given the energy mix and the likely change in prices in the future, nuclear will be competitive compared to other forms of energy generation. We believe—and some energy suppliers say this themselves—that that can be done without subsidy. However, we need to create the right framework in the development of nuclear if we go down that path. We have overhauled the planning system and we are looking at the strategic assessment processes mentioned in the chapter. We also want to ensure that there is a real and robust price for the cost of carbon because that will be a key to the development of low-carbon energy in the future.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, building on that last interchange, will my noble friend take the opportunity to knock on the head the contention that the White Paper gives special privileges to nuclear? Is it not the case, leaving aside the fact that the underlying price of gas and oil is rather higher than it was a few years ago, that not only has nuclear hitherto not had privileges but the tax treatment of nuclear can, in some respects, be considered less privileged than other renewables? We are looking for a level playing field, which is exactly the basis of the economics of the White Paper.

Lord Truscott: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that we are aiming for a level playing field.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, the Government have had 10 years in which to make a decision on how they are going to prevent the lights going out in this country. It would appear from the White Paper and all I have heard from the Minister today that no decisions have yet been made. The Government are right up against the backboard. Will they, in a very short space of time, come back to the House and tell us that they have made a decision and have a clear strategy on how they are going to stop the lights in the United Kingdom going out in the not-too-distant future?

Lord Truscott: My Lords, yes, yes and yes.

Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and ordered to be printed.

Offender Management Bill

4.25 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Viscount Allenby of Megiddo) in the Chair.]

Clause 3 [Power to make arrangements for the provision of probation services]:

Lord Judd moved Amendment No. 38:

The noble Lord said: For the convenience of the Committee, I propose to speak to Amendments Nos. 39 and 40 as well. I should first make it clear that I have worked for much of my life in the voluntary charitable sector and am still a trustee to a number of organisations in that sphere.

Perhaps I could say a brief word about Amendment No. 39. If we are talking about relationships between government institutions, the public sector and, for example, the voluntary sector, it is terribly important to understand the nature of governance in the voluntary sector. It is very important that the language should be clear to those who operate within its culture. While I quite understand what is intended in terms of accountability and the rest, to refer simply to “a person” is confusing for the voluntary sector. Its great strength is that it indulges in meaningful collective leadership in which trustees, for example, are individually and collectively responsible for everything the charity does, everything it says, and all its expenditure. To include words such as “institution” would be helpful in making clear what is really involved in a genuine working together.

I have a few more words to say on Amendments Nos. 38 and 40. I am a little troubled that we are going rather far in a new concept of the voluntary sector—and, indeed, charitable organisations within it—having a primary role as subcontractors to government with whom contracts are made because they can deliver, to their credit, efficiently, sensitively and more cheaply than the public sector itself.

My anxiety is that we will throw the baby out with the bathwater. In our history, charities and voluntary organisations have been about a great deal more than that. They have, at their best, been about leading in social responsibility, creating, by their pioneering work, a situation in which society as a whole faces up to responsibilities and moves in. They have a catalytic role. It therefore seems to me that when a relationship is being struck in the context of the Bill between the Government or their agents and the voluntary sector, it has to be a negotiated partnership. The best NGOs—if I can put it that controversially—will not make bids simply to get contracts. They will make bids because they are concerned about work in that sphere and because they believe that they can bring additionality and that they have special insight and qualities to offer in meeting the need. It should be very clear that in undertaking a relationship, there has been a genuine dialogue and that the conclusion about the nature of the relationship is mutual and shared by both, with as few reservations as possible, preferably none.

I referred to this at Second Reading, when I drew attention to a voluntary organisation with which I had been associated. It had been doing work in a young offender institution and its contract was to get people into jobs. It was marked under the competitive bidding system by its success in getting people into jobs, but it was concerned about the pressure that came to bear on it when it could see that some of the people with whom it was working were not yet ready and that a lot more support was needed before they could be shoved into a job, which would probably have been a counterproductive experience if more work had not been put into preparing them. It was going to lose points. It received absolutely no credit for the work that it did in counselling. There must therefore be a spirit of imagination, flexibility and room for adjustment in the way in which this co-operation is undertaken. There has to be a working partnership, and not simply a detailed contract, cast in stone, by which the voluntary organisation will be judged.

There is a further anxiety. It is a controversial point and it is only right to make it in the context of this debate. Among some of the better NGOs, with a history of working in spheres such as this and with real concern, insight and experience, there is an anxiety about—how should I put it?—less reliable NGOs springing up, largely motivated by the concept of getting contracts to undertake government work. Due to their more limited and narrow approach, such NGOs might well be able to underbid organisations that, by their nature, will have a more professional, considered and thorough approach to what they are undertaking. That is why I have proposed these two amendments. They are obviously probing amendments, but I hope that my noble friend, with all her personal experience, quite apart from her ministerial responsibilities, will accept my point and be able to make some reassuring observations when she replies. I beg to move.

4.30 pm

Viscount Bridgeman: I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for raising this important point. We on these Benches certainly share his high regard for the work of NGOs in many fields. I listened with great interest to the definition of “negotiated partnership” that was presented. While partnership between probation providers of all sectors is greatly to be encouraged in principle, the best way of achieving this is through contestability—I acknowledge the noble Lord’s concern about the less worthy applicants. Nevertheless, my noble friend Lady Anelay will speak at much greater length on the role of charities. In responding to the noble Lord’s amendment, I note that improvements are clearly due in the way in which contracts with charities are made and implemented, including the arrangements for, and consistency of, funding. It is important to get these matters right in the context of making contractual arrangements through contestability, but I suspect that the noble Lord’s amendment, in widening the way in which agreements are made to extend to negotiated partnerships, would drive a coach and horses through contestability.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: We on these Benches have a great deal of sympathy with the amendment. It opens up the question of the future relationship between commissioners of probation services and the various bodies from which they commission, be they private, for-profit providers or non-governmental organisations. As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, remarked, the not-for-profit sector—the charitable bodies—has divided views on this.

I recognise in the language of the Bill all the terminology of new public management, which the Minister, too, uses with relish. There are contractual relations between the principal and the agent. The agent who provides the services is in a purely executive, thus subordinate, role. The principal sets the terms of the contract in targets, performance measures and other metrics. There are bonuses for good performance and penalties for bad performance. One has to ask whether, in relations between commissioners of probation services and charitable bodies, that is the correct relationship. We are talking about local provision of services for offenders, so we are at the heart of what probation is about.

For the private sector, this is entirely correct, but the problem that we need to address is whether one should treat the private and charitable sectors in exactly the same way and thus risk reducing the charitable sector, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, to being merely a provider of services in an executive capacity to commissioners who entirely set the agenda.

Lord Ramsbotham: I, too, support the noble Lord, Lord Judd, in his amendment. As the Minister knows, we are all with her in the ambition of what she seeks to achieve, but the question is the method. We have frequently drawn attention to the need to listen to the voice in the field. My contribution is based on six short statements made on 2 May in a keynote speech to the Probation Centenary conference by Ellie Roy, the chief executive of the Youth Justice Board, entitled “Commissioning—the Youth Justice Experience”. My concern, in line with what the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, is that a great deal of this Bill flies in the face of the practical experience of the Criminal Justice Board. I want to read the statements made in the speech, because I think that they explain why. Ellie Roy said that,

The risk is that,

She remarked that,

She also said:

that is, the public, the private and the voluntary—

that some have,

She also pointed out:

She sums up:

that is, the Youth Justice Board, over time—

I do not think that you could put it more clearly or succinctly than that. If we think that we can push change in a different way, we are deluding ourselves.

Lord Hylton: I share all the concerns that lie behind this group of amendments. However, I want to raise a slightly different point. Commissioning of probation and similar services outside the Probation Service will not occur until 2010, but it is very important for us to be clear in our minds now how it will work. The length of contracts will be very important, whether for privately supplied services or for work done by voluntary organisations. Such bodies will have to recruit and train staff and will then have to do the necessary work and provide the necessary services for the prevention of offending. Even when that work is completed, it seems to me that another two years will be required before it can be seen whether the treatment, supervision or support has been effective in reducing reoffending.

In this connection, it seems to me that an expensive course may be worth while if it is very effective whereas a cheap course may constitute money badly spent, and possibly wasted, if its results are negligible. Therefore, anything that the Government can say about the length of contracts that they envisage will be very helpful. I reinforce the points already made by my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham.

Baroness Stern: I support these amendments. I wish to comment particularly on Amendments Nos. 38 and 40, which concern negotiated partnerships. There are enormous difficulties involved in contracting out human services that are intended to deliver care of other human beings. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, will agree with me that the inquiry of the Joint Committee on Human Rights into the care of elderly people has highlighted the great difficulty that local authorities have in contracting for the care of elderly people and building values and flexibility into contracts. It is easy to state in a contract, “The floors must be very clean and so they must be swept every day, preferably between nine and 10”. It is more difficult to state, “Sweep the floors between nine and 10 but if an old lady is crying and is deeply upset stop sweeping the floors, put your broom away and care for the old lady”. It appears that we are not yet very good at drafting contracts that lead to such outcomes.

The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Anne Owers, produced an interesting report on Doncaster prison, I think; I hope that I shall be forgiven if that is not correct. It was pointed out that various matters that were not in the contract were not being dealt with. The contract did not state that lavatories had to have seats, so they were not replaced. It did not state that beds had to have pillows, so they were not replaced. That highlights another difficulty: how long should a contract be and what should it specify in order to achieve the outcomes that I am sure we all want?

4.45 pm

How can you, in a contract, deal with innovation? How can you go back to your contractor and say, “We have learnt that this should be done differently”? That is very well expressed in the contribution by Ellie Roy, the chief executive of the Youth Justice Board, which the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has already referred to. She said:

However, a partnership is a very different relationship. A partnership is based on people saying, “We will work together. We who are giving you the money and you who are doing the work will work together. We promise to be flexible if you come to us saying that something needs to change, and you need to be flexible if we come to you saying we have decided that there is a better way of doing this”. I cannot understand how there is any other way of delivering what the Minister has said to us more than once that she wants, which is that this should be based on the needs of the people who come for the service. One assumes that the people will be different every week and every month. How can the service be based on a rigid contract? There is going to be a need for a much more flexible approach.


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