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House of Lords

Wednesday, 30 January 2008.

The House met at three o'clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of St Albans): the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Energy: Electricity Generation

Lord Ezra asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Bach: My Lords, the Energy Bill will strengthen the framework for investment in power stations to help the United Kingdom to ensure secure supplies of energy and tackle climate change. Measures in the Bill will help to achieve a tripling of the amount of electricity from renewables by 2015 and pave the way for the demonstration of carbon capture and storage. The Government’s White Paper invited energy companies to bring forward plans for new nuclear power stations.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that encouraging response but I wonder whether he can be a bit more precise about what the position might be in 2020, which will be a key year in the consideration of forward electricity policy. Does he recall that the Government estimated that, on present trends, the electricity mix could contain 55 per cent of gas, compared with 37 per cent at present? That would be entirely unacceptable in terms of security and emissions and contrary to present European policy. Can he therefore indicate, without precise commitment at this stage, what the Government would like the mix to be in 2020? Specifically, what could be the share of coal with carbon capture and storage, to which he referred, of nuclear in the light of the recent White Paper, of renewables, bearing in mind the EU proposals, and of gas? Furthermore, can the noble Lord indicate what would then be the proportion of distributed electricity?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord for his great expertise in this field. He will know that generating capacity at the end of last year was: coal, 38 per cent; nuclear, 16 per cent; oil, 6 per cent; wind, 1 per cent; hydro, 5 per cent; and gas, the remainder; plus a two-gigawatt interconnector from France. Of course, I cannot be specific about what the figures will be in 2020, but the noble Lord will know that nine power stations will have to close by the end of 2015, which amounts to a total of 12 gigawatts—about a fifth of our peak electricity demand and around 15 per cent of our total generating capacity—and some of our nuclear power plants must close by 2018. How will this capacity be replaced? There are five gas-fired power stations where construction work has already started, three more have received approval from the Secretary of State, seven more have applied for approval, and—perhaps most significantly—there

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are 276 renewables projects with approval and a further 259 under consideration. So far as concerns new nuclear power stations, none is likely to have been built by 2020.

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, in the face of this lack of planning by the Government and in the absence of the Minister, again, what does the noble Lord plan to do if the Scottish Parliament blocks the plan to build a new nuclear power station in Scotland?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Baroness does not think that I am a Minister. I think that some Members of the House do think that I am, but I understand. If I am not good enough for her, I again apologise. She asks an important question, although of course its premise is pure nonsense. The fact is that it is this Government who have looked to our energy future. At long last, the party opposite has come around to supporting what I would argue is absolute common sense: that there should be a nuclear element in that civil policy. I very much hope that the Liberal Democrats will do the same in due course.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, consequential on the very firm commitments now being made on carbon reduction and supported by all parties—Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat—does my noble friend agree that if we are to achieve these, electricity generating costs, as well as consumer energy taxes more generally, will increase, partly to reflect extra input costs and partly to choke off demand?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I do not entirely agree with the point that my noble friend makes. Electricity generating costs are determined by a number of variables, including fossil fuel prices, operating costs and the costs of purchasing carbon allowances. Our policy is to encourage low carbon generation within our market-based framework—renewables, nuclear and carbon capture storage. However, I agree with him to this extent: other things being equal, higher carbon prices will increase the cost of generating electricity from carbon-emitting plants. Those plants will continue to play a role in the UK generation mix for at least the medium term.

The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, when does the Minister expect the first commercially viable and economic carbon capture plant to be operational in this country?

Lord Bach: My Lords, that is a difficult question to answer. As the right reverend Prelate knows, a very important demonstration project is going on at the present time. We have high hopes of CCS; we think that it is a very important process. However, I am afraid that it is impossible to give him a date when the first project will be on stream. A great deal of work is being done at present, and this particular demonstration is of great importance for the future.

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Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, the Minister has already indicated that the price of carbon is crucial to the future investment in electricity generating capacity. The White Paper referred to the Government being prepared to take extra measures to support the Emissions Trading Scheme, if that proved necessary to encourage investment. Could he tell us what the Government have in mind by way of additional measures to help the trading scheme?

Lord Bach: My Lords, the scheme is of considerable importance to us.

The noble Lord, with his expertise as an ex-Secretary of State, will, I am sure, have had to find the bit in his briefing that deals with the question. He may remember those days; he may not. Let me tell him that it is not particularly comfortable. I will reply to him in writing as to our exact plans, but he can be sure that they are very effective.

Political Parties: Expenditure

3.09 pm

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, limits on the amount that parties can spend on regulated campaigning activities in the 365 days prior to a general election were introduced by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. The question whether expenditure between elections should be further limited was considered by the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee, by Sir Hayden Phillips’s review and during interparty talks. The Government committed in the Queen’s Speech to bringing forward proposals on party finance and expenditure.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply, but is there not still a paradox in our having strict limits on spending by parliamentary candidates at elections but only a rather modest limit on what can be spent, for example, on TV advertising and billboards across the country by political parties? Does that not leave the political parties overspent and wide open to corrupt influences?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Lord’s point on expenditure—what counts and what does not—is very important. That is, of course, why the Hayden Phillips review was established and why interparty talks took place. It is the great regret of the Government that the Conservative Party withdrew from those talks.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, does my noble friend have any evidence that spiralling expenditure on publicity, market research, telephone banks and other expensive practices has had any beneficial impact

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on turnout or on the quality of our democracy? If he does not, will he ensure that limits on expenditure—both during election campaigns and between them—are kept tightly screwed down?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, it is difficult to see any really hard evidence of the direct impact of expenditure on results and votes cast. Clearly, we appear to have an arms race in overall election spending. It is surely a good thing if we can bring that under control, and if we can do it by consensus. It is a great pity that the Conservative Party withdrew from the interparty talks.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, given that during an election campaign and the subsequent average length of a Parliament all the political parties put together will spend something like £50 million, is it really sensible for the taxpayer to spend £100 million on the costs of the Electoral Commission, which is meant to police them?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we return to the question that the noble Lord raised yesterday. I believe that the Electoral Commission has done a good job. He will know that various recommendations have been made in relation to its future responsibilities, which the Government are carefully considering. We will bring forward ideas in due course.

Viscount Tenby: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the saying of the late Henry Ford that everybody knows that half of every advertising campaign is wasted; the trouble is that they do not know which half? If the taxpayer had to fund election expenses, as has been suggested in some quarters, would not the waste involved reduce immeasurably? I declare an interest as someone who dabbled in the black arts of PR and advertising for more years than I care to remember.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I turn again to the outcome of the Hayden Phillips review, which looked into that question. He suggested donation caps, a limit on overall expenditure and some increased state funding, which seemed a particularly sensible way to go forward.

Lord Rennard: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the legislation introduced in 2000 has clearly failed in its primary purpose of cleaning up the reputation of politics? The solutions that he has just spoken about are clearly required—reducing considerably the amounts that parties can spend, banning large donations made to political parties, and replacing the latter with a limited increase in state funding. It is therefore incumbent on all political parties to get together again around the table to try and sort out this issue.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the one thing on which I do not agree with the noble Lord is his comment on the 2000 Act, because that brought great advantages. Clearly, we need to build on that,

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and it is much better that we do that through consensus. The Government have sought that consensus; the party opposite has, unfortunately, walked away from it.

Lord Strathclyde: It was the trade unions.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the Conservative Party now says that it walked away because of the trade unions, but I remind the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that the talks related to them were going very well. Indeed, I turn to a comment made by Mr David Heath, Liberal Democrat MP, in the Pink News of 3 January about the Conservative Party:

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, why is it that the Government will not talk realistically about the future of trade union funding of the Labour Party, particularly the future of the political levy?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the talks within the interparty review were leading to an extremely constructive outcome on all the proposals put forward in the Hayden Phillips review. My regret is that last March the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said:

It is a great pity that he and his colleagues have walked away from the discussions.

NHS: Malnutrition

3.16 pm

Baroness Knight of Collingtree asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, nutrition is important for all patients. In October 2007, we published Improving Nutritional Care: A Joint Action Plan to outline how nutritional care and hydration can be improved in NHS hospitals. We have introduced protected mealtimes and focused on nutritional screening.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, perhaps I may be the first to offer warm congratulations to the noble Baroness on the assumption of her new job. I hope that she enjoys great success and derives much satisfaction from it. However, is she as concerned as I am at the recent report that 140,000 patients recently discharged from NHS hospitals were found to be suffering from malnutrition? Although some of them may have been so suffering when they went in, her

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own department has shown that 8,500 were in a state of starvation when they came out. The Health Minister in the other place has admitted that starvation in our hospitals is really quite common. Will the noble Baroness please see that some urgency is injected into this very important matter, on which I have been pressing this House for many years?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the noble Baroness has an admirable track record of campaigning on these issues and I thank her for drawing them to the attention of the House again. We know that some patients are admitted at risk of malnutrition. Often this is part of their clinical condition, especially where illness causes a loss of appetite and where there is malabsorption. It is important that staff recognise patients at risk and take the necessary steps to help improve their nutritional state. The noble Baroness is quite correct about that. Indeed, recognising and recording patients with a diagnosis of malnutrition is an essential first step to solving the problem. This is and has to be a priority, and it is a priority in the Nutritional Action Plan. The work of the National Patient Safety Agency is undertaken to build nutrition screening into all treatment plans as a proactive means of avoiding the risk of malnutrition.

Lord Winston: My Lords, is not one practical problem the level of staffing on old people’s wards? What happens in practice is that at mealtimes food is dumped in front of patients who may be neither physically nor mentally capable of feeding themselves. Relatives to help these patients are often unwelcome on the ward. One of the real issues is to find ways of getting staff who can help patients to eat. Is there anything that the Government can do to try and stimulate health authorities and hospitals to do something about that?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, my noble friend is right to say that the Government’s job is to stimulate action at the local and hospital level. We have always placed caring at the centre of nursing, and indeed I have done a great deal to support the caring role of nurses. There is no excuse for anyone to be too busy to assist at mealtimes. The introduction of protected mealtimes is a key tool in ensuring that the right level of attention is given to ensuring that patients who can eat will enjoy their meals, while those who need assistance receive it.

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, on behalf of my party, I, too, welcome the Minister to her post. Does she agree that, together with infections and the indignity of mixed wards, malnutrition now has to be added to the risks facing us when we go into an NHS hospital? Will she admit that this is a result of the Government’s targets culture in the NHS, which forces managers to think only about the number of patients they are treating and not the quality of care they receive?

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