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House of Lords

Monday, 10 December 2007.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Salisbury.

Introduction: The Lord Bishop of Ely

The Lord Bishop of Ely—Anthony John, Lord Bishop of Ely, was introduced between the Lord Bishop of Salisbury and the Lord Bishop of Norwich.

Energy: Efficiency

2.41 pm

Lord Dubs asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, the Defra-funded Carbon Trust provides business and the public sector with a range of energy efficient advice and support and encourages switching off lighting and equipment during non-business times and installing energy efficient lighting and controls. The forthcoming carbon reduction commitment—a mandatory emissions trading scheme for large non-energy-intensive organisations—and increased use of smart metering will also encourage businesses to become more energy efficient.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his Answer and am delighted that the Government are moving forward in this way. Does he agree that smart meters both for businesses and for domestic households would be a good discipline and a step forward, in that people would know how much they were using? Although this is not my noble friend’s responsibility, for the first time ever since becoming a Member of this House, on going into my office this morning I found that the lights were not on.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, my noble friend’s Question is, in effect, about smart meters. At present, they are mainly available only for electricity, but apparently displays for gas and water are being developed. They are small, portable, hand-held devices, which can be used in the business or at home, allowing one to read the meter. More important, they can transmit to the energy company the amount of energy used, so estimated bills are not required.

Lord Tanlaw: My Lords, will the Minister kindly confirm that daylight saving is already effective in 108 countries and that nearly 3 million kilowatt hours and more than 1 million tonnes of atmospheric carbon would have been saved if daylight saving had been in place here last year? Why did the all-party drafting committee exclude daylight saving from the Climate Change Bill, which we will discuss tomorrow, in favour of untried offset carbon trading and socially divisive taxes? Is it because the party managers cannot work out how to tax the difference between night and day or is there scientific evidence that daylight saving will not reduce electricity demand and rising emissions in this country when it clearly does in 108 other, more enlightened countries?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, in preparation for the start of the Committee stage of the Climate Change Bill, I confess that I was astonished to learn last week that we would not be having debates on daylight saving. But that is not a matter for me; as the Minister, I do not decide these things.

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Lord Teverson: My Lords, computers are an important aspect of energy use in offices. Can the Government, in their occasional meetings with Bill Gates, persuade him that, rather than having to go through a complex menu system in Windows to save your data, you could just turn the machine off or have it turn itself off after 20 minutes?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I do not think that we should go to Bill Gates for the answers to all problems. Frankly, people ought to be able to save energy and money. It is really common sense. They should not need to be told exactly what to do by the Government.

The Lord Bishop of Coventry: My Lords, there is little doubt that we on these Benches are more heavily clad than most Members of this House apart, perhaps, from our legal officers. Does the Minister agree that turning the thermostat down by two degrees would both reduce the hot air and make us all more comfortable?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I personally find this temperature comfortable, but it is being complained about on either side of me. The right reverend Prelate is absolutely right: turning the thermostats down a tiny amount—by one degree or a maximum of two degrees—would make a tremendous difference to energy saving and, therefore, carbon reduction.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: Fahrenheit or centigrade, my Lords?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I do not think that it makes a difference. If it is down a couple of degrees, it would still be a saving.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that any area with businesses and offices tends to be a blaze of lights from evening until morning? We really need to put the maximum pressure on business. If the cost of energy is not a sufficient deterrent, can the Government use its powerful position to initiate a debate with business so that it switches the darn things off?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, 80 per cent of carbon emissions from business comes from companies with an energy bill of over £50,000 a year. Those are the ones targeted by the Carbon Trust. I am told that sometimes—I am not up to date on this—the lighting system is part of the heating system, so the lights being on is not simply a pure waste of energy.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, concentrated on industry. Ought not energy savings start at home in the government departments? What is being done to save energy there and, indeed, in the Palace of Westminster, where lights are left on all the time? In winter, a huge draught comes through this part of the Palace, making the place freezing. For some of us who are getting on a bit, that is not healthy.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, on 6 December, the National Audit Office published a useful report—it is available only on the website, unfortunately, and not in the Printed Paper Office—on government departments and energy use. I am pleased to say that, leaving

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the Defra laboratories aside, Defra was lowest of all government departments, save for the Forestry Commission, on energy consumption and emissions and middle-ranking on carbon reduction, energy efficiency and renewable energy. The full list is available to see who the poor and good performers are; I will see that it is in the Printed Paper Office as soon as possible.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, is it not clear that the Government and Ministers in particular—with the honourable exception of the noble Lord—are doing all they can to save electricity? They seem to be working in the dark all the time.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Rooker: My Lords, no, I am not going to answer that.

Gulf War Illnesses

2.48 pm

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare a non-pecuniary interest as honorary parliamentary adviser to the Royal British Legion and as national vice-president of the War Widows Association.

The Question was as follows:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My Lords, first, I am sure that the whole House would wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the family and friends of Sergeant Lee Johnson, who was killed during operations in Afghanistan over the weekend.

The needs of Gulf veterans and their dependants remain a high priority for the Government. We hope shortly to award the contract for research aimed at assisting the rehabilitation of Gulf veterans. We intend that this should involve close working with those affected. The recent launch of pilots for a new community-based mental health service for veterans and the extension of priority treatment could also assist some Gulf veterans.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend and I warmly welcome her return to ministerial office. In a reply to me, her predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, accepted that the whole issue of Gulf War syndrome had been badly handled “from the beginning” and that the MoD had been,

What measures were put in place and with what success so far?

Meanwhile, is it not shaming that wrangling with veterans over pensions still drags on, 17 years after the conflict, and that it has now engulfed so grievously Terry Walker, who had his pension cut

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from 100 per cent to 40 per cent shortly before he died, leaving his two orphaned children in poverty? How can any apology ameliorate the depth of distress caused by the handling of his case?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his comments. I admire his tenacity in raising this issue on numerous occasions in this House. He is right to say that, in the example that he gave of Terry Walker, no apology can make amends for what happened. Great distress was caused to the family. I think that my ministerial colleagues have acknowledged that, as I certainly do. I believe that some progress has been made: I understand that arrangements have now been made to pay Terry Walker’s funeral expenses. I hope that that helps the family to understand that there is genuine concern about what happened and that the apology that was given was very sincere.

On the overall situation, the Government have tried to come to grips with the problem but, as my noble friend knows, research in this area is extremely complex and there is still a great deal of divided opinion. I am sure that many of the people involved, and their families, think that there is a simple causal link, but for those charged with responsibility for pensions and other payments certain issues have to be dealt with and that is what has proved so difficult. But it is a great shame that this issue has been going on for so long.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, as the Government have at last accepted, in answer to my noble friend Lord Morris of Manchester, that those suffering from Gulf War syndrome have a genuine grievance for which the Government have at last apologised, is it not time for the Government to reinforce that apology by making small ex gratia payments to those who have been affected? Can the Minister see any other way of bringing this long-running saga to an end?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord has a great deal of experience because of the work that he has done and I know that he has been in close contact with many of those concerned. We have acknowledged that there is an umbrella condition called “Gulf War syndrome”, but it is difficult to make the kind of ex gratia payment that he suggests without possibly being unfair to other people who have been injured or who have suffered as a result of conflicts in other areas. That is the basic problem that we face, although I understand that all involved would like to draw closure. I hope that some of the work that is being planned, including in particular assisting with rehabilitation and with mental health problems, will be of some benefit.

Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, this is clearly a very complex matter, but does the noble Baroness not agree that it is also one that causes great concern on all sides of the House? I refer both to Gulf War syndrome itself and to the Government’s treatment of its victims. Does she agree that it might be a good idea for the Science and Technology Committee of this

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House, which is held in high esteem on all sides, to find the time to inquire into this matter, not least to ensure that the lessons are fully drawn and that nothing of this sort is likely to happen again?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I have to agree that this is an extremely complex issue. It is also one in which all sides of the House have been involved, both in looking into it and campaigning about it. It is not an easy issue. A great deal of research has been carried out in this country and in the United States, but none of it has proved definitive. Whether the Science and Technology Committee wishes to look into it is a matter for the committee.

Lord Tyler: My Lords, does the Minister recall that, in his apology to the House, her predecessor apologised not just to the Walker family but on behalf of the Ministry of Defence to all those suffering from Gulf War syndrome? There have been a number of detailed inquiries, not least that headed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and the important report produced by the Royal British Legion, Gulf War: ALegacy of Suspicion. Does she now accept that the victims of Gulf War syndrome are looking for action, not more and more inquiries?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I agree that those affected want action and that there have been a number of inquiries, but it is not a simple cause-and-effect issue. That is what the inquiries have shown. I hope that we have made some progress with those cases outstanding with the Pensions Appeal Tribunal, but I also hope that there may be some way forward with the work that is going on with rehabilitation and mental health issues.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich: My Lords, does the Minister recognise that the continuing dissatisfaction with the Government’s treatment of Gulf War veterans creates anxieties among the forces serving in present conflicts about their future care? Resolution of these outstanding issues for Gulf War veterans would aid morale now.

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is quite right. We would all like to make the kind of progress that he is talking about. We have tried to take measures to ensure that those on operations now are monitored in a way that did not happen in the past. I hope that that provides some reassurance. I reiterate that this is not a simple issue.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, the Pensions Appeal Tribunal has determined that Gulf War illness is the appropriate label to allow compensation to be paid to Gulf War I personnel who became ill but do not have an established pathology. Do Her Majesty’s Government accept the Pensions Appeal Tribunal findings as legally binding? If so, what steps has the MoD taken to inform Gulf War I veterans whose claims were rejected by the Service Personnel and Veterans Agency because they did not have an established pathology that they should now reapply for compensation?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I know that the noble and gallant Lord has taken a close interest in this. Indeed, he raised the issue with my predecessor a

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short time ago. He asked about the number of veterans who have been written to about the issue, as he did on the last occasion. The numbers are slightly higher than they were in October, with 1,375 letters written and 234 responses given. As to what we accept by “Gulf War syndrome”, the Ministry of Defence has made it clear that we accept it as an umbrella term, and many of the conditions within it are catered for in compensation. We have respected the decisions of the Pensions Appeal Tribunal, but it does not set precedents when it makes decisions.

Government: Dual Ministerial Roles

2.58 pm

Lord Tebbit asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence and I apologise that a holding response to the Question, tabled on 9 October, was not sent to the noble Lord. The Defence Secretary has now written to him to explain the situation.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I should thank the noble Baroness for that reply, and extend to her my sympathy for having to answer two Questions running from totally indefensible grounds.

Two matters arise. First, why did it take more than seven weeks—from 9 October to 30 November—for the Secretary of State for Scotland to tell me that he could not tell me how much time he spent on each of his two jobs? Why did he tell a different story to a newspaper reporter of the Mail on Sunday on 23 November? Secondly, could the Minister confirm that Mr Browne is a lawyer? Can she say whether he found difficulty as a lawyer in apportioning the time that he spent on the affairs of his various clients, and that therefore he never billed them at all?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I shall steer well clear of legal matters that certainly has been predate the time during which my right honourable friend was Secretary of State. I take the noble Lord’s comments about sympathy for me in the way in which they were intended.

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