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House of Lords

Tuesday, 16 October 2007.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Coventry.

British Library Centre for Conservation

Lord Clement-Jones asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government have supported the conservation centre from the outset, providing more than £5 million of capital funding and significant and sustained grant allocations to support the library’s ongoing activity. The library’s board, which operates at arm’s length, apportions that funding according to its priorities. I am sure that the board will see it as a priority throughout 2008-11 to build on the early achievements of this impressive new centre.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Many of us, through the Turning the Pages programme in particular, will have had the privilege of seeing the British Library’s work on matters such as digitisation. However, the Minister has not been very explicit about the CSR settlement, which is being discussed with the British Library today. What priorities for conservation are the Government laying down under the CSR for the British Library, and what support are they giving to the British Library itself?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the decisions on that are being taken today. However, the noble Lord will derive the utmost satisfaction from the fact that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport came out of the spending review exceedingly well and healthily and is therefore in a position to meet its significant commitments to sports, heritage and the arts. The British Library fits firmly within that framework, in circumstances which help it to make an excellent case for some of the resources that the department has won.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, will my noble friend congratulate the British Library on the way in which it combines the most ancient with the most modern of conservation techniques and on its commitment to ensuring that other professionals and members of the public who wish to do so have the opportunity to learn from it? Will he advise the House on how, following the spending review, the Government plan to carry forward some of the recommendations on science and conservation of the sub-committee of the Science and Technology Committee of this House, in particular the recommendation that the DCMS should appoint a chief scientific adviser?

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Lord Davies of Oldham: Certainly, my Lords. My noble friend, who chairs the UK Literary Heritage Working Group, speaks with great knowledge and interest in this area and I am pleased to reply to him that of course we intend to support the British Library as fully as possible. We also take a great interest in the work of this House’s committee, which has produced some interesting proposals. The one which he identified with regard to the chief scientist is still being deliberated on and no decision has yet been reached, but the Government look upon the committee’s report with favour.

Lord Quirk: My Lords, further to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, are Her Majesty's Government fully seized of the unique value of the dual role of the conservation centre both in conserving fragile books and in conserving fragile skills which are in more demand as the years go by? I declare an interest as a trustee of the Wolfson Foundation, which helped to build the centre in the first place.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord has identified a significant area. We are anxious about the decline in the number of people with the relevant skills and some of our key people are reaching retirement age. That is why we have concentrated on the establishment of two new courses on book conservation. I am pleased to say that enrolment on these courses and support for students are healthy. We are therefore addressing this question of the potential skills deficit that could have opened up if we had not taken such action.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, when I visited our archives as a member of the Information Committee, I saw that there was a special programme of bookbinding and preserving antique ways of doing things. Is there any connection between the British Library and our archives?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the British Library acts as a resource of help and support, as well as looking after its prime responsibility, which are the books in its ownership and control. The noble Baroness will recognise that this level of expertise is in relatively short supply, so it is important that we can respond where requests are made. I think that the House will rest assured that the position of our own records is reasonably satisfactory.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I declare an interest as having chaired the Science and Technology Committee inquiry on science and heritage. I would like to push the Minister a little further on the appointment of a chief scientist. When will the department release the report of Dr Michael Dixon? Do we have any idea when the appointment will be made?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right to press me on this issue, as the report has been extant for a substantial number of

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months. We are working on this matter, but it is not simple. The issue is not delay of resources, which is the usual charge against the Government—people say that the Government are being dilatory because they are not prepared to allocate the resources. The delay is over the specification of the role, which is still the subject of considerable dispute. At this stage, I am not able to be any more affirmative than that.

Lord Luke: My Lords, we on these Benches support the work going on at the British Library, but is the Minister aware of an increasingly worrying shortage of trained conservators in other areas of the arts? What are the Government doing about that?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government are aware of that because they get the reports from the various bodies about their needs. My department is not exactly overflowing with milk and honey as a result of the Comprehensive Spending Review, but nevertheless it got a good settlement, which enables us to meet most of the legitimate demands on the budget. Where needs are accurately identified in such areas, as by the noble Lord, they will be addressed.

Education: Marshall Scholarships

2.43 pm

Lord Hannay of Chiswick asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers have not yet taken any decisions about the allocation of FCO programme funds following the announcement of the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review. However, I assure the noble Lord that the FCO places a high value on the scheme and will do all that it can to ensure that it is adequately funded.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that not entirely reassuring reply, which was rather obscure, but will she please confirm that the number of scholarships given this year under the Marshall scheme has actually reduced and that there is a risk that there will be a further reduction next year? Does she not agree that these scholarship schemes—the Marshall, the Commonwealth and the Chevening—are an excellent way for Britain to exert influence in the world, using what is called soft power? Therefore, cutting such schemes is a false economy and is particularly anomalous when the Comprehensive Spending Review is providing for increased spending overseas.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, it is true that, in the current year, pressure on the FCO programme has meant that the budget has been

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slightly reduced. However, there are still 43 scholars this year and the number has not diminished due to donations from third parties. I am afraid that I cannot tell the noble Lord what the number will be next year. As I said in my Answer, the Government place enormous value on the scheme. They recognise how successful it has been and must continue to be.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, do the Government agree that the value of these schemes is incalculable and that, in particular in the case of the Commonwealth fund, other Commonwealth countries from Canada to Ghana have matched funds to encourage scholars to go to their countries, including scholars from this country? Will the noble Baroness therefore suggest to the Foreign Office that it should value these schemes as they should be valued in terms of the very high standing that United Kingdom attachment may bring, and, if the worst comes to the worst, will she consider whether DfID might conceivably help with the funds that go to members of the Commonwealth?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I agree that the value of the scheme is incalculable. The noble Baroness’s idea in relation to DfID is interesting and I shall certainly take it back. The timing of this Question is extremely important because it is a matter to which the Foreign Secretary is giving thought at the moment, so I shall certainly take back the views of all noble Lords.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, I offer my wholehearted support to the concern that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has just put before noble Lords. Following my happy years as a Minister in the Foreign Office, I can stress to the noble Baroness the enormous importance of both Marshall and Commonwealth scholarships. They brought to this country some exceptional students who, when they grew up, often went into high positions in their country. That created a warm glow for Britain, which could be very useful at times. Will the Minister reflect to the Foreign Secretary that it would be a tragedy if, because of a tight budget at present, the Foreign Office sacked programmes rather than people? The latter can be restored; the former cannot.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I shall certainly take back the views expressed by the noble Lord, but I stress that we are certainly not looking at axing the programme in any shape or form. We truly value it. As our ambassador to the US has rightly said, it is a hugely successful brand in the US. It was established by Act of Parliament and has generated a self-replenishing stock of good will among its many alumni in very influential positions. That is the Government’s position.

Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve: My Lords, I speak as a former Marshall commissioner. Does the Minister agree that the Marshall scheme reflects a debt of honour? It was set up as a thank-offering from Britain to the people of the United States for the Marshall plan. Does that not create a special obligation to maintain the scheme?

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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, it is a debt of honour and there is a special obligation. However, there are many special obligations in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and across government. This scheme is one of many, but I assure noble Lords that we take it extremely seriously.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, rightly said, this scheme is a bit more than one of many. It was set up in 1953 by Parliament as what is called a “living thank you” to the United States, both for the Marshall plan and for saving us from a worse fate in Europe, so it is a very serious programme and I hope that no doubt is being expressed about it. The number of scholarships has reduced from 93 in 2004 to 43 now, which is quite a big drop.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: No, my Lords.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I believe that that is the figure, and it is important that the scheme is supported. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, also mentioned the Commonwealth scholarships and those, too, are vital. They are part of a soft power on which we should be concentrating, rather than some rather more lavish and ineffective schemes that are currently being pursued in our international policy.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I hope that my Answer did not portray the value of the scheme as being underestimated. It is special and the Government as a whole recognise that. The noble Lord is not quite correct about the numbers. The figure is 43 this year, but the 93 to which he alludes is for two years. The numbers are 43 this year and 40-odd last year, so the figure of 93 covers two years. I shall certainly put that in writing to him and shall place a copy of the letter in the Library of the House.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, since the end of the Cold War, the German and French Governments have invested significant extra resources in scholarships for people from the United States and its research centres because of their conviction that we need to explain to the American population why their European allies still matter? Are the British Government not a little too complacent in thinking that the upcoming generation of Americans will naturally understand Britain without putting in the necessary effort through scholarships such as these?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the Government are not at all complacent about this. I know exactly what the noble Lord is saying about France and Germany. We value the importance of the Marshall scheme. Indeed, there are other schemes now—not as special as the Marshall scheme—such as the GATE scheme. The Government are also exploring with the Marshall commissioners extending partnerships so that universities and private companies can work in partnership to extend the Marshall scheme.

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Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, a quarter of a century ago, two dozen Heads of State around the world had been educated in this country. What is the figure today?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, that is a valid question. I do not have the answer to hand, but I shall certainly write to the noble Lord and place a copy in the Library of the House.


2.51 pm

Baroness Masham of Ilton asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, information on hornets is not kept by the Government. I am advised by the Department of Health that anaphylaxis can occur after an insect sting. Most people do not experience an allergic reaction to insect stings. The incidence of anaphylaxis due to insect stings in the general population has been estimated at 0.3 to 3 per cent. The Anaphylaxis Campaign estimates that every year in the UK anaphylaxis from insect stings results in between two and nine deaths.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, but is he aware that the son-in-law of a very great friend of mine was killed this July in Sussex due to a single sting in his foot when he got out of his bath and stood on a hornet? The figures that I have had from the Library go only to 2005, when there was a huge rise in the number of people with stings going into hospital. Is the Minister aware that there is an increase in hornets in the south of England, as people have told me?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I sympathise greatly because of the individual tragedy that the noble Baroness has brought to the attention of the House. I learnt more about hornets listening to the “Today” programme today than I did from Defra. Basically, they are not part of the food production chain. In my first sentence I said that no information on hornets is kept by the Government, and I am in some difficulty. I understand from the expert on the “Today” programme that these are English hornets and not French hornets, so we must not be cruel to the French. It is a serious issue. I understand that the UK fatal anaphylaxis register has attempted to record every fatal acute allergic reaction in the UK since 1992. It has found 124: 55 of those were due to medical treatment, 37 related to food and 32 related to insect venom. Of course, it can be serious, but an incredibly small number of people are affected.

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Lord Redesdale: My Lords, can the Minister say which department or agency does record the rise in numbers in species such as hornets? As we have seen with bluetongue, which has been brought in by the midge population, the spread of different insect populations can cause massive economic hardship.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I cannot fudge this; I am definitely the bluetongue and the foot-and-mouth Minister. There is no Minister for hornets. The Government simply do not have any information. I have asked the National Bee Unit—we have a bee unit, as bees are part of the food production chain—but there is no hornet unit and there is no Minister for the hornet; I have no idea. The noble Baroness has, of course, asked about a human health issue. Defra is responsible for the health of the planet and the health of animals, and others deal with human health.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, can the Minister inform the House, from his breadth of experience, how noble Lords might recognise a hornets’ nest and what actions they should take when they come across one?

Lord Rooker: Visit the shadow Cabinet, my Lords.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, I declare an interest, having chaired the Science and Technology Committee inquiry into allergy, and I want to follow up the points made. Do the Government recognise that the lack of specialist allergy centres in this country means that we do not have complete disease registers, so that estimates of anaphylaxis may vastly underestimate the size of the problem? Do they recognise that the hornet, being more vicious than the wasp, is associated with anaphylaxis and that the tragedy is that young people die? Those dying of anaphylaxis are not older people but those in their prime. Death is extremely rapid and without warning. The lack of specialist centres often means that people have not been adequately diagnosed and therefore do not know that they should be carrying an EpiPen.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the Government pay tribute to the work of the Select Committee, which has recently reported under the chairmanship of the noble Baroness. I am very conscious of some of the statistics, particularly those in paragraph 4.48 of the report. I assure the noble Baroness that the Department of Health officials who have briefed me on this issue take the report extremely seriously.

There is a serious issue: knowing whether you are susceptible to such a reaction. If you find that you are, you can carry the necessary antidotes. Nevertheless, where it occurs, if it is sufficiently severe to be fatal, death can occur very soon. Collapse from shock is usually 10 to 15 minutes after an insect sting; with food reactions, after 30 to 35 minutes; with medicines, death can occur most commonly after five minutes. Knowing whether you are going to react to a sting, or constant stings, is important. This report is being considered very seriously by the Government.

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