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House of Lords

Tuesday, 11 December 2007.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Salisbury.

Water Supply: UN Convention

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, the Government have no immediate plans to accede to the 1997 United Nations Convention on the Law of Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses. Only 16 countries have ratified the convention. With 35 countries required, there is little prospect of the convention entering into force. Despite that, its principles are widely applied. DfID supports water-sharing processes in the Middle East and Africa, and does not consider accession necessary for those to be effective.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer, although it is disappointing. Given the warnings about the impact of climate change on fresh water resources, and given the millennium development goal that hopes to reduce by half the number of people without access to fresh water, will the United Kingdom ensure at the Bali conference that priority is given to the allocation of funding for the management of fresh water resources?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate makes an important point, and can be assured that in Bali we will draw the attention of all delegations to the risk that Africa and poor countries elsewhere are confronted with. Africa is the region that is most vulnerable to climate change. It is projected that by 2020 between 75 million and 250 million people will be exposed to an increase in water stress due to climate change, and that agricultural productivity will have been severely compromised by at least a 10 per cent decline in rainfall. Therefore we will make the point strongly at Bali, although it is not a pledging conference so we may have to find other forums to secure more resources to redress the matter.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, does my noble friend regret that although the Labour Government co-sponsored the convention 10 years ago we have not been able to accede to it? Can he tell us anything about further consultation on the desirability of accession by any other government department?

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Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, my noble friend is right that the convention seemed extremely important at the time. The UK did not accede to it because of difficulties around the waters of Northern Ireland versus the Republic, which have subsequently been well resolved through EU arrangements. That means that we have no direct waterways of our own to be affected. However, that does not prevent us using the principles of the convention in parts of the world such as the Nile basin, where we are providing assistance to countries that share common water fronts.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, although it is good to know that we support practical approaches to transboundary co-operation on the equitable sharing of water resources in the Middle East and Africa, why do we adopt a different approach in Mesopotamia, where Ministers say that it is for Iraq, Turkey and Syria to reach agreement on the sharing of their water resources? Would it not be a good idea to adopt the same practical approaches, particularly bearing in mind that, since dams have been built on the Euphrates in Turkey, the quantity of water flowing into Iraq has decreased by 50 per cent?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord is correct. However, even in the case of the Nile basin, and other areas where we have successfully supported arrangements, such approaches are arrived at between the countries that share those common water tables. Again, we would be extremely open to supporting an agreement between those three countries. Given the state of political relations there, however, we will first need to see a change in bilateral relationships between the three countries. An outcome of that would be a chance to work on their common water problems.

Lord Blaker: My Lords, what is the status of agreement or disagreement about the waters of the River Jordan and such other waters as there may be nearby? It used to be a serious problem between Israel and the Palestinians. Is that still the case?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, it is still the case, and the noble Lord will not be surprised that it is a victim of the same kind of political difficulties referred to in the previous question. Water will become the most valuable resource in the shortest supply in this century, but it is hard to resolve these issues when countries are not living peacefully as good neighbours. Good neighbourliness is a precondition of settling disputed water.

Prisons: Population

2.41 pm

Baroness Stern asked Her Majesty’s Government:

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, the latest prison population projections were published on 31 August 2007. They cover the period from June 2007 to June 2014 and present three possible future scenarios: low, medium and high. The projections for June 2010 range from 87,500 on the low scenario to 93,000 on the high scenario.

Baroness Stern: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that depressing reply. He will surely be as sad as I am that, two weeks ago, a 15 year-old boy who had been sent to prison for one and a half months for breaking the terms of his supervision order hanged himself in his cell. How many people like that boy—mentally ill and vulnerable people and those with learning difficulties—will be among the 90,000 or so whom the noble Lord has told us he expects to be locking up in three years’ time? Why have the Government so far found it impossible to devise a policy to get people like that out of prison and into a place where they would get the help that they need with their problems?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, of course I cannot answer the precise question about projections, because nobody could. However, the recommendations of my noble friend Lord Carter will certainly be helpful in making a proper assessment in the future. Of course all deaths in custody are very much regretted and the specific case that the noble Baroness mentions will clearly have to be fully investigated. Alongside the announcement of the outcome of the Carter review, we announced that my noble friend Lord Bradley is to lead a short review looking specifically at prisoners with mental health issues. That is a joint review with the Department of Health, which I hope will offer a constructive way forward.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, does the Minster think that a prisoner who has been stacked in one of the Titan warehouses of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for a number of years is less likely to reoffend when he is finally turfed out upon the public?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Lord uses rather pejorative terms for my noble friend’s proposals. It is worth making the point about the Titan prisons that, as my noble friend pointed out, the investment in new facilities will allow a much better foundation for the kind of rehabilitative programmes that the noble Lord and I wish to see. Of course, we will look at that carefully in taking forward these proposals.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, in relation to population, we imprison more people than virtually any other European country and does he therefore think that British people are more criminal than other European people?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, in comparison with other European countries that is certainly so, although there are other countries, including the US, where there is a higher prison population. The trends

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show that in many countries, whatever their baseline, there has been an increase in prison population. One reason why there is a higher prison population is that more offenders are being brought to justice. There is greater focus on the enforcement of sentences in this country and a greater emphasis on public protection. Crime is coming down. The Government have no need to apologise for that.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, many of us believe that at present the biggest prisons cause the biggest problems. Do the Government really believe that the Titan prisons, which are now under discussion, are the solution? I dare to cast doubt on this course of action because on the Isle of Wight there are three prisons—Parkhurst, Albany and Camp Hill—that are adjacent to each other yet serve different and distinct categories of inmates and can do so more effectively because they are separate and not part of one big institution.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, it is a great pleasure to respond to the right reverend Prelate. He almost makes the case for the Titan prisons. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, said that by going for these very large sites and new build there is every opportunity to ensure that conditions are as effective as possible and that good design can lead to good security and good rehabilitative procedures. Within such a site it would be possible, for instance, to have five separate units of 500 each, where one would have the advantage of managing smaller units. Obviously, we shall debate this in the months ahead, but I hope that noble Lords will not simply dismiss Titans without looking at what the noble Lord, Lord Carter, actually said.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, can the Minister give his projection of the number of children who will be in custody in the future along the lines that he gave before? Does he regret the fact that we in this country place in our secure estate so many more children than our neighbours do? Will he pay tribute to the social workers, the foster carers and the residential childcare workers who do so much to keep children who have been hurt in their previous experience from entering custody? Does he recognise that we very much need to raise their status if we are to prevent more children who have been harmed in the past from ending up in custody? That is not to abnegate the responsibility for other children, but we must admit that many of our children are not given the assistance that they need to stay out of custody.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, of course we must do everything to prevent children going into custody and, when they are in custody, to ensure that programmes are geared to make sure that they do not reoffend in the future. However, there will always be a need for some custodial settings. Of course I pay tribute to social workers and probation officers, but unlike many noble Lords I also pay tribute to the staff working in custodial settings, who have a very challenging job to do.

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Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords—

Lord Elton: My Lords—

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, let us hear from the Conservative Benches.

Lord Elton: My Lords, I hesitate to trespass on this. Can the Minister confirm that it is now planned to start weekend working in prisons on a Friday afternoon, producing a four-and-a-half-day week? What will the effect be on time out of cell for prisoners over the week as a whole? What will that be when the numbers rise to the predicted figures that he has given us and what was it at the beginning of this century?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, that proposal was made as part of discussions in the Prison Service about the implications for the future spending round review. As I understand it, no decision has been made. The idea was to focus more activity around those four and a half days. On the issue of unlocking, my understanding is that the average number of hours is 10.1 compared with 9.6 in 2001-02.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords—

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords—

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords—

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, we have heard twice from the Cross-Benchers, so I think that it is the turn of my noble friend.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, while I fully understand the concern over custodial sentences, can my noble friend answer these two points? First, if an alternative to custodial sentencing is implemented for these people, to what extent are the public protected? Secondly, if such an alternative method is implemented, to what greater extent will those people be rehabilitated?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Those are fair points, my Lords. We must of course have prison places for the most dangerous offenders, but the Government have also emphasised the importance of community sentences, which are not a soft option; they are very much a tough option. Overall, we have seen proven reoffending reduce by 5.8 per cent between 2000 and 2004. We have also seen a huge increase in the education and health programmes, which, again, I think noble Lords underestimate.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, not only do we incarcerate—

Noble Lords: Next Question!

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Energy: Efficiency

2.51 pm

Lord Ezra asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): Yes, my Lords, Defra and organisations such as the Energy Saving Trust already run a range of information programmes designed to encourage energy saving, and to raise awareness of the actions that individuals can take to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. The carbon reduction commitment is a new, mandatory emissions-trading scheme for large, non-energy intensive businesses and public sector organisations. It is expected to begin in January 2010 and will deliver emissions savings of just over 1 million tonnes of carbon per year by 2020.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer and note with interest what he said. However, does he not agree that there is much complexity about energy-saving measures, especially in the housing sector, which is among the most wasteful in energy usage? Would the impact not be greater if there was one over-riding and major fiscal incentive to reward greater energy savings in household usage, based on certified improvements by using the recently introduced energy performance certificates? Furthermore, should not much more emphasis be given to promoting microgeneration—including the setting of targets—in view of its much greater efficiency compared with central power generation? I declare an interest in microgeneration as patron of the Micropower Council.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I agree that much more could be done. On the use of equipment in households, for example, only last week Defra launched a consultation on improving the energy efficiency of consumer electronics—such as refrigeration, televisions, set-top boxes and air conditioning units—to try and get voluntary approval from the industry on changes in practice, as we did with light bulbs.

People will change their behaviour. I understand that 98 per cent of people are aware of climate change and the need to save energy, but two-thirds of them think that they cannot do much about it. Therefore, the connection has to be made between individual performance and behaviour in households to show that that performance is for the greater good. Action is under way on this.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, would the Minister be prepared to consider an old initiative, which proved extremely effective in saving energy during World War II, by introducing the measures on daylight saving that have been proposed from time to time in your Lordships’ House?

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