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House of Lords

Monday, 22 October 2007.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Rochester.

Death of a Member

The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, I regret to inform the House of the death of Lord Oliver of Aylmerton, on 17 October. On behalf of the House, I extend our condolences to his family and friends.

Personal Statement: Lord Davies of Oldham

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, with permission, I should like to make a short personal Statement. On Monday last, 15 October, I was asked a question on corporation tax by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. In reply—Hansard at col. 523—I said that the reduction in the rate of corporation tax makes the British rate one of the lowest in the OECD. I had intended to say that it is one of the lowest in the G7. I apologise unreservedly to the House for that mistake.

Energy: Renewable Technologies

2.37 pm

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government have made significant progress in developing renewable energy policies. As a result of policies outlined in the energy White Paper, the generation of renewable electricity in the UK is forecast to treble by 2015. The renewable transport fuel obligation aims at ensuring that biofuels comprise 5 per cent of total sales of road transport fuel by 2010. Once individual member states’ contributions to the EU’s 2020 target have been agreed, we will bring forward appropriate measures beyond those set out in the White Paper to make our contribution to meeting those targets.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, which was reasonably satisfactory. He will be aware that the DTI report on draft options on renewable energy cast some doubt on whether the Government would be able to achieve 20 per cent of energy supply from renewables by 2020. The report suggested using the European Emissions Trading Scheme or statistical manipulation to achieve

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this very challenging target. That seems a rather dubious way of achieving your targets. Would the Government care to expand on how we will actually get to it?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord is right that the 2020 target is challenging. We recognise that we will require additional measures and possibly additional legislation in order to hit it. That is why we are preparing for the possibility of legislation for 2009 in good time for us to implement the measures necessary. At this stage, we have not determined the strategy for 2020. The House will recognise that we have quite enough on our plate to deal with the targets for 2010 and 2015. Although progress at present is encouraging, I do not think that the House would fail to recognise how challenging these targets are.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, will my noble friend ensure that the contribution that tidal power can make to the generation of electricity is taken fully into account? Is he aware that in the 100 square miles around the island of Alderney in the Channel Islands, there is reckoned to be enough tidal power to provide electricity equivalent to that of two Sizewell B power stations? Will he look at that experiment, which will start next year, and give every encouragement to the islanders to ensure that their electricity can be landed in the United Kingdom?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government are certainly interested in tidal power and tidal barrages. That is why we are examining closely the concept of the Severn barrage scheme, which, if it proves to be successful and economic, could contribute as much as 5 per cent of UK electricity. The House will recognise that although we have had a favourable assessment by the Sustainable Development Commission on the feasibility of that scheme, which the Minister responded to positively in September, there is still a great deal to be done. I assure my noble friend that electricity suppliers will be keen to obtain their electricity from renewable sources, and if Alderney develops its tidal barrier scheme more rapidly than anywhere else and they can buy from Alderney, it will be up to the electricity companies to do so.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, the Minister said that to meet our renewables targets we have to develop things such as the Severn barrage. Does he agree that without massive government commitment behind this at a very early stage, there is no way that the Severn barrage will be built by 2020, especially if he is talking about looking at further studies into its viability?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government have to look at the economics of any potential strategy. The noble Lord will recognise that the Minister made absolutely clear that he very much welcomed the report which indicated that the technology was possible and that the Severn barrage scheme could make a very substantial contribution indeed. Of course examination of costs, the resources to be put into it and who should put in those resources, are all to be evaluated. The noble Lord will recognise that we had the report only in September, so it is a little premature for us to have cut and dried responses to his question at this stage.

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Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, the Government are going to great lengths to introduce renewable energy as part of their campaign to combat global warming. Does the Minister agree with David Bellamy in the Times today that temperatures have not gone up since 1998?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I have not looked with scientific rigour at that contribution. The noble Lord will recognise that David Bellamy is a somewhat controversial figure in this debate, although an articulate and useful one in prodding everyone to examine their analyses. But there is no serious scientific position in the world that does not recognise that global warming is both a development and a threat to mankind.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, will my noble friend acknowledge that the economics of the Severn barrage have been transformed favourably in the past 10 to 15 years with a fall in the cost of long-term capital and a very significant increase in the price of energy? The project should be manageable with far less subsidy than might once have been contemplated.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I welcome that contribution. The Government are indicating that there has been a step forward with regard to the Severn barrage development and therefore we are about the business of examining carefully the costs involved and the viability of this project. As I have indicated to the House, there is not the slightest doubt that if it proved to be economically viable it would be a very significant contributor of electricity. However, we had the report from the Sustainable Development Commission only on 25 September. The House will recognise that the Government need to draw breath before they can confirm that they will commit to this important development.


2.45 pm

Lord Sheikh asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, annual government spending on flood and coastal erosion risk management will rise to a minimum of £650 million in 2008-09, £700 million in 2009-10 and £800 million by 2010-11. These figures are the minimum that we propose to spend in each of the coming years, but it is too early to determine whether these will be the final allocations or whether it will be possible to go further.

Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I would like to declare an interest as chairman and chief executive of an insurance broking organisation.

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My industry has suffered losses approaching £3 billion following the recent flood damage. Will the Minister ask the Government to think again about this, otherwise I am afraid that there could be further problems with regard to the provision of insurance cover?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I can say only that I have exactly the same brief as I used last Tuesday. The figures and, indeed, the Question, are exactly the same, and the answer regarding insurance companies is also exactly the same. We are working with the Association of British Insurers and we are meeting the statement of principles. Indeed, the figure that I have given for 2010-11 is more than the Association of British Insurers was asking for before the recent floods. These are minimum figures, but there is some doubt about whether more can be spent in the first two years. Just chucking money at this will not necessarily solve it if you do not get value for money. We have a planned increase in expenditure and it is being done in line with the insurance industry.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, if the Minister is talking about value for money, does he recall a Written Answer that he gave me in the summer to the effect that the United Kingdom has spent some £63.8 billion on meeting unnecessary water purification directives from Europe? Does he not agree that, if we had not wasted that money, he might be in a better position to look after our flood defences now?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, purifying water is always a good thing. Since 1996-97, we have spent some £4.5 billion across England on flood risk management and flood defences, so I do not think that I have to be at all defensive with the noble Lord.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, has any thought been given to making grants available to people who have suffered flood damage to build their own flood defences in the same way that the Government give grants for loft insulation and things of that type?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, between 2005 and 2008, around 100,000 dwellings in this country are going to get better flood defences as part of the programme, but there are some areas where it is incredibly difficult to do this on a grand scale. Individual schemes are about, but I do not know whether there are grants as such. Programmes are in place, particularly to defend the infrastructure. Some 5,000 infrastructure projects to provide better defences are being surveyed at the moment. However, as I say, there are some areas where this is difficult to do and a one-off solution may be required.

Lord Teverson: My Lords, given the floods that took place earlier this year in the south Midlands and Yorkshire, when will the Environment Agency provide the Government with a comprehensive report covering what happened and how we might come up with a detailed strategy to make sure, in the most cost-efficient way, that those types of floods do not happen again? We need a factual look at what happened and how we can prevent this in the future.

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Lord Rooker: My Lords, an independent review chaired by Sir Michael Pitt is going on at the moment, but I do not have the date on which the report on the lessons learnt from the flooding is due. While I do not know about all areas of the country, I should say that in the south Midlands over six inches of rain fell in less than 24 hours. With the best will in the world, our flood defences and the water courses would not have been able to deal with that. It happened in the middle of the growing season and caused considerable damage. More damage was caused to land in the south Midlands and more damage was caused to property in the north of England. The report is independent; people are giving evidence and we look forward to receiving it in due course.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, one of the features of the summer floods was the vulnerability of key public services, such as electricity, water and sewerage. Can the Minister assure us that the protection of these vital installations is being given the highest priority and will he say who is paying for the work?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am extremely grateful for that question because it gives me the chance for the first time to pay tribute to the people who protected that sub-power station at Walham. The fact is that all we ever saw on television—this is not to knock them at all—were the Army and the police. But it was Environment Agency staff who got the equipment because they spotted what was happening at that station a few hours earlier; it was they who got stuff from a store that was used elsewhere and worked their socks off. They were, of course, assisted by the Army in completing the exercise to protect the sub-power station. I know that thanks are not always given, because the Environment Agency is not classed as an emergency service, but it certainly was one in protecting that sub-power station at Walham.

As I said in answer to a question at the end of last week, the Environment Agency has identified 5,000 infrastructure sites in England and Wales as having a probability of flooding greater than one in 75. I will not list them all, but they include sewage works, schools, health centres and power stations. Work is going on to assess these. It is for the users and owners of those properties to ensure that they have adequate flood defences—that is their prime responsibility—but the Environment Agency is overseeing this because we now have the list.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, is the Minister aware that in rural Perthshire—

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, did the Minister read the reports in this weekend’s newspapers that the projections show that the population of this country will be 75 million by 2051? Many, many more houses and other infrastructure buildings will be required if that happens. Will he assure me that the Government will resist all the additional pressures to build on flood plains?

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Lord Rooker: Well, yes, my Lords. I am not going to comment on the potential increase in the population either of the planet or of the country, because that is a sensitive matter, although frankly it is not discussed enough. However, the issue raised by the noble Lord is important. Unlike two or three years ago, the Environment Agency is now a statutory consultee and, again unlike a couple of years ago, if the Environment Agency says that a local authority is about to give planning permission on a flood plain and points to risk, Ministers now have the power to call in such planning applications.

Prisons: Spending

2.52 pm

Baroness Stern asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, the prison budget for the next three years has not yet been confirmed but, given the CSR settlement to the Ministry of Justice, all areas of the department will need to ensure that they use their budgets effectively. The ministry is reviewing options for prison budgets at the moment. The review of prisons by the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, will be a crucial input into those discussions.

Baroness Stern: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that somewhat helpful reply. Does he accept that the prisons are already struggling to cope under the pressure of overcrowding? As reports by the Chief Inspector of Prisons show, the number of prisoners seems set to rise, and this larger number will have to be looked after with less money. It is suggested that “less money” will be of the order of cuts of 3 per cent per year. Does the Minister accept that, if that is the case, something has to go, and that that something will be purposeful activity, rehabilitation, visits and education work? Will he therefore tell the House what the reduction will be in the hours of purposeful activity per prisoner per week next year, compared with this year, if the 3 per cent cut that has been suggested goes ahead?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the overall settlement for the Ministry of Justice certainly assumes that the department will be able to achieve a 3 per cent value-for-money saving. Clearly, however, there is a lot of work to be done to look at the implications of that for various aspects of the department’s budget. So far as the pressures on the Prison Service are concerned, I do of course acknowledge that this is a very challenging time for the Prison Service. Many aspects of the budget are being discussed at the moment, but I assure noble Lords that the department will do its utmost to ensure that vital programmes in education and the prevention of reoffending are indeed maintained.

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Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, how much will be saved from the treatment of young offenders under the age of 18 with mental health problems or learning disabilities by the purchase of batons to beat them with, and is the Minister not ashamed of that policy announced at the weekend?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, it is the policy of the Youth Justice Board and the Prison Service that batons are not carried in juvenile establishments. A review of the current policy is being undertaken to ensure that procedures remain appropriate, although the Youth Justice Board has not indicated any desire that this policy be changed at present. It would be better to await the outcome of the review.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords—

Lord Elton: My Lords—

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, will my noble friend try his best to ensure that prison education facilities and programmes are not cut? Many of the young offenders can neither read nor write. If they are literate they have a better chance of getting a job, which is essential as 70 per cent of them reoffend.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I completely agree with my noble friend. However, spending on offender learning has increased considerably, from £57 million in 2001-02 to £164 million in 2007-08. It remains a priority.

Lord Elton: My Lords—

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords—

Lord Elton: My Lords, I really think it might be my turn. The Minister will know from the reports of HM Chief Inspector of Prisons that prisoners quite commonly spend no fewer than 20 hours locked up in their cells at present and that throughout the Prison Service they can no longer count on having even one hour of exercise in the open air. Given that pressure on the budget must be reflected in manpower resources, how will the Government live up to the duty of humane care for prisoners in the future?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, it is fair to say that there has been an increase in the workforce available to the Prison Service. In achieving the budgetary settlement, it is important that everything is done to ensure that core services, including those referred to by the noble Lord, are maintained. That is why a programme of work has been undertaken to identify the less essential services or administration systems to help meet the overall achievement of the budget.

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