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House of Lords

Monday, 3 March 2008.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Chester.

Children: Infant Mortality

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, we welcome the annual The State of the World’s Children report by UNICEF. While showing that good progress has been made in some countries, it highlights the need for a concentrated push to accelerate progress in west Africa and parts of Asia to cut child deaths. That is why my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has called for 2008 to be a year of action towards meeting the millennium development goals.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Are we funding the International Baby Food Action Network to promote immediate and continuous breastfeeding for the first six months of an infant’s life as the most effective and cost-effective means of reducing infant mortality in the first year of a child’s life? Given that 3 million children a year are reported to die from the forgotten killer, pneumococcal disease, what are the Government doing to complement the work of the GAVI Alliance’s PneumoADIP in funding mechanisms and delivery systems in the 22 west African countries that are identified as the highest priority in the countdown to 2014 list?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely correct to say that feeding in the first months of life is critical. However, we are not funding the group to which he referred because it is not UK-based and therefore not eligible for DfID’s funding window for such purposes. As he is aware, behind pneumococcal disease lies a range of childhood diseases, many of which go back to the basic roots of public health and nutrition. Not only are we supporting the fight against the specific disease, but we are putting a huge proportion of our funding behind trying to tackle those root factors of basic health and good food.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, declaring an interest as a trustee of UNICEF UK, may I ask my noble friend whether he is aware of a recent article in the

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Lancet that says that malnutrition is responsible for about 35 per cent of the deaths of under-fives? DfID’s excellent annual report in response to the International Development Act does not isolate DfID’s spending on malnutrition. Can my noble friend give me any information on that?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I will get back to my noble friend with the specific detail of our spending on malnutrition. About half our spending goes into the MDG areas of nutrition, public health and basic education because they are so critical to children’s welfare.

Lord Naseby: My Lords, is not one of the world’s biggest tragedies the recruitment of child soldiers in the northern region of Sri Lanka? UNICEF calculates that, since 2002, 5,700 have been so recruited, and recruitment continues every day. Should not the world community put extensive pressure on Prabhakaran and the Tamil Tigers to stop this ghastly dimension, whatever their views may be on having an independent nation?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the Government are deeply opposed to the use of child soldiers in all situations. We have expressed our support for the under-secretary-general for children in armed conflict in her work in northern Sri Lanka, Uganda and other parts of the world where that phenomenon sadly still exists.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that some 10 million children die under the age of five every year? Will he spell out to the House the principal diseases that claim their lives? Will he also confirm that in sub-Saharan Africa 160 out of 1,000 children under the age of five die each year? Would he care to tell the House what he thinks the links are between poverty and conflict that have led to the millennium development goals being pushed back to 2045 instead of 2015, when we had hoped to see the number of deaths of young children reduced by two-thirds?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord is right that nearly 10 million children a year die before the age of five. Almost 40 per cent of those die in the first few days of life because their condition is related to that of their mother. Therefore, we have to tackle maternal health in order additionally to solve the problem of the health of under-fives. Beyond that group, the core issues are malnutrition, malaria and dirty water. If a set of public health and nutrition interventions could be made at very low cost, the situation would dramatically change. On the postponement of the date for achieving the MDGs, if we can all support the intention of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister to make this a year of emergency action to get the world back on track to achieve the millennium development goals, I do not think that we will have to wait until 2045.

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Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, is not one of the problems of maternal health the fact that people are having far too many children? They are marrying too young, before they reach their teens, and are forced to have children. That is putting pressure on maternal services. Will the Government target aid and contraceptive services at Governments who co-operate in trying to reduce fertility levels, from seven children in Niger, where I was recently, to a more sustainable level?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, my noble friend is correct. We believe that about 200 million couples do not have access to effective contraception. That leads to 80 million unintended pregnancies every year. Providing choice for them in family planning assistance is a critical goal for us. Every $1 million invested in family planning avoids 360,000 unwanted pregnancies and 150,000 induced abortions and saves the lives of 800 mothers and 11,000 infants. We cannot get better value for $1 million.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords—

Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords—

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords—

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, my calculation is that, if we are going in order, it is the turn of the Liberal Democrats.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, the United Kingdom has a distinguished record of training and educating people from west Africa so that they can go back to help to improve the welfare of mothers and children. How will the new immigration points scheme, which restricts people coming from overseas to the UK, affect educating those from west Africa to take up posts after training in the UK?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I am tempted to say that I have no idea. I shall look into it. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, has been doing a lot of work on how we can use training and other means to support the development of healthcare professionals in Africa and elsewhere.

Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords—

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords—

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, when the clock says 8, we are in the ninth minute. The difficulty, if we go on, is that other Questions do not get their full time.

Armed Forces: US Missile Defence

2.44 pm

Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Her Majesty’s Government:

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My Lords, first, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the family and friends of Sergeant Duane Barwood, who was killed on operations in Iraq on 29 February.

On the Question, missile defence is an important security issue for NATO and continues to be discussed regularly at a high level. The alliance has carried out its own studies into the military and political implications of ballistic missile defence and how that might link with the US system in Europe.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we on these Benches offer our condolences to the family and friends of Sergeant Barwood and to the seriously injured soldiers who continue to come back both from Iraq and from Afghanistan.

On the Question, I congratulate the Government on their ability to maintain whatever consultations are taking place in this country entirely outside the press or any report to Parliament, in sharp contrast with the Czech Republic and Poland, where at least there appears to be a public debate. Is the Minister aware that several of us in this House heard former Senator Sam Nunn say here on Thursday, as part of the Nuclear Threat Initiative: “I don’t think NATO has been at all well enough engaged in missile defence discussions”? Given that there is talk in the US system about a mid-course, ground-based defence system for Europe—in other words, something that serves the United States but does not protect Europe—how far is NATO discussing a much more collaborative, multilateral missile defence system than this American system?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, the situation in the Czech Republic, and indeed in Poland, is very different from the one that we have here, because they have specific proposals for placing interceptors in those countries. Therefore there is a high level of engagement among their parliamentarians and in their Government. We do not have that situation here. If we did, we would have further parliamentary engagement, but there are no plans to go down that route.

The noble Lord asked about NATO involvement. He will be aware that NATO had a feasibility study, which reported in 2006 and which recognised the growing threat from long-range missiles. Further research has been undertaken in the NATO context, and a significant amount of information has been made available. There will in fact be a NATO summit in Bucharest in April this year, and it is anticipated that further discussions on this matter will be placed on the agenda.

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Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, whatever the rights and wrongs of the lack of consultation both with Russia and within NATO before the US took the decisions with the Czech Republic and Poland, the most important thing now is surely that, in the period ahead, consultations continue with Russia and a serious effort is made to see whether the offer made by the Russian Government to join up with anti-missile defences can be turned into a viable process? If the Government do believe that, are they making that view known to the US Administration, and what are they doing within NATO to try to ensure that there are further talks with the Russians?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, there are discussions between the Americans and the Russians, and various proposals have been made on both sides. We think it right that those discussions should continue in good faith and that NATO is informed of the general progress of those discussions. We support the search for a solution wherever possible. This will also be discussed at the NATO conference to which I referred earlier.

Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, did not Presidents Bush and Putin agree as long ago as 2002 in Moscow on the case for consultation on this between those two countries? Have not former Secretaries of State George Shultz and Henry Kissinger repeatedly expressed their view that such multilateral, co-operative discussions on ballistic missile defence systems should include agreement on plans for countering missile threats to Europe, Russia and the United States from the Middle East?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: Yes, my Lords, the noble and learned Lord is right to make those points and considerable discussions have taken place. The US has provided Russia with considerable assurances that the ballistic missile defence system does not threaten Russia and is not aimed at protecting the US against a Russian ballistic threat. The proposals put forward by both sides are serious and are being considered at a very high level. We should all hope that those discussions lead to some resolution and some agreement being reached on the way forward. It is always better if we can work multilaterally.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, in view of the extreme importance of very close Russian and NATO co-operation on issues concerning nuclear proliferation, which is, of course, crucial—without it we cannot get very far— does the Minister agree that fresh consideration should be given by NATO to that earlier Russian proposal for co-operation, which is now to many senior Americans appearing as a much more attractive possibility than they thought at the time?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, all I can do is reassure the House that those who are entering into these discussions are doing so in good faith. Assurances have been given and there is an intent to find a way forward. However, this is a complex issue and it is one on which we have been trying to assist

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through our relationships with NATO and through direct US/Russian discussions. People need a great deal of reassurance and as much clarity as possible would be helpful to everyone.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, in her response to the Question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, the Minister did not tell the House whether NATO and its member Governments had or had not been consulted. Were they consulted or were they not?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, NATO is kept very well informed of the discussions, but the decisions on whether to place interceptors in the Czech Republic and Poland are the subject of bilateral agreements between those countries and the United States. It is only proper that that is the case, and it is also only proper that NATO should be informed as much as possible.

Housing: Carbon Dioxide Emissions

2.52 pm

Lord Beaumont of Whitley asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My Lords, it has been assumed that the accumulating stock of new dwellings will fully comply with the minimum requirements in the regulations. Since 2002, standards of energy savings have been significantly raised and, starting this month, we shall be undertaking systematic sampling of new-build dwellings against these higher standards.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her reply, but why have the Government failed to implement the recommendations of the 2005 environmental Select Committee report on housing to increase compliance with the building regulations?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, to my knowledge we have not failed to comply. Our actions since 2005-06 to improve the technical efficiency of building will bring the savings that we have anticipated. Since 2002, we can look forward to a 40 per cent greater efficiency in the standards of house-building efficiency; not least, for example, because condensing boilers, which used to make up only 20 per cent of the market, are now up to 90 per cent. That alone will bring an extra 1 million tonnes of carbon reduction annually.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, will my noble friend give the House some information on non-domestic buildings and whether buildings such as offices, hotels, shops, et cetera, comply with the energy-saving requirements of

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the building regulations? If there is a problem, is she taking action to do more research on that?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, we clearly have to have greater compliance with non-domestic buildings than with domestic buildings. We announced that we would be moving towards zero carbon homes in 2016, and we have been looking at how we can set a road map equivalent for the non-domestic sector. We have commissioned the UK Green Building Council to provide a comprehensive analysis of the costs and barriers to that, which is on our website. We have set up two steering committees with external developers and government departments which manage large estates. We are working very seriously on this.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, the improvement in new-build quality is much to be welcomed. Can the noble Baroness tell the House what is being done about the 22 million pre-existing buildings, which of course create far more emissions than any new building is likely to catch up with for many years?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, the noble Lord’s point goes to the heart of the Question. There are things that we can do with the existing stock, but they are more difficult than with new build. For example, through the Warm Front initiative some £850 million has been allocated in the current spending round to improve carbon efficiency through insulation and so forth, and some 1.6 million people have been helped in this way. The initiative expected to generate around 500,000 tonnes of carbon savings by 2016. There is an investment of £20 billion in the Decent Homes programme to modernise, draught-proof and increase the thermal efficiency of some of our worst council housing stock. Further, we need to work with the Technology Strategy Board so that we can encourage industry to develop improved products and better devices to increase efficiency overall.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, how much energy would be saved if the nation were to switch its lights off at night?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, that is really important. Work is going on across government to watch things like only boiling the amount of water required in kettles and switching off lights. While I cannot give the noble Earl a precise assessment, I would be happy to write to him because I should like to know the answer myself.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, can the Minister clarify today whether developers and builders will be able to use emissions trading in order to claim that they are actually complying with the Government’s zero carbon initiative? Does she agree that if they are allowed to do that, it will seriously undermine the intentions of this policy?

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