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House of Lords

Tuesday, 4 March 2008.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Chester.

Imprisonment of a Member: Lord Black of Crossharbour

The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, I have to inform the House that the Clerk of the Parliaments has received notification from the Ministry of Justice informing him that Lord Black of Crossharbour has been convicted of four offences at the United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, and that the custodial sentence imposed by the court took effect yesterday.


2.34 pm

Lord Harrison asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My Lords, lifts installed in the UK are required to have an easily visible plate in the car clearly showing the safe operating load of the lift in kilograms and the maximum number of passengers that may be carried.

Lord Harrison: My Lord, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Given that half of the House of Lords’ bridge team, a rather sedentary number, was caught in the Lord Speaker’s lift for some 25 minutes before Christmas—I thank Black Rod for his solicitude on that matter—and given that the average weight of men and women has risen by some 10 per cent over the past 20 years, is my noble friend satisfied that the advice given in lifts is accurate and easily digested by those who use them? Is he concerned, as I am, that the data gathered by the fire and rescue services do not extend to the reasons why lifts break down, sometimes because they are overloaded?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, there is a robust regime covering the installation, operation, maintenance and inspection of lifts and regulations cover the installation of lifts. The regulations state that each car must bear an easily visible plate clearly showing the rated load in kilograms. The standards assume that each passenger has a mass of 75 kg and provide tables for working out the rated load based on floor area. The concept is that the lift can just accommodate the number of people of standard size

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that it is designed for. It should only be possible for it to be used by fewer people of larger stature. I am sorry to hear of the discomfiture of my noble friend and the bridge team, but there should be arrangements in place under the maintenance and inspection regime for failures to be logged and reported and for the HSE to be involved if appropriate.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, is the Minister aware that I am surprised by his mean figure of 75 kg? The National Diet and Nutrition Survey: adults aged 19-64 years, which was published in 2004, gave the average weight of a man as 87 kg and of a woman as 69 kg. Is he aware that when I surveyed five lifts in your Lordships’ House this morning, I discovered that when the maximum recommended number was made up of male Peers, not one of the lifts would fit into the weight standards that the Minister has enumerated? What does he intend to do across the country, because although I surveyed lifts in your Lordships’ House this problem exists across the country?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on his diligence in reviewing the lifts around the House. I have slightly different figures for average weights. According to the Department of Health, in 2006 the average male weighed 83.6 kg and the average female 69.9 kg, therefore the average for adults was 76.7 kg, which is not that far away from 75 kg, which has been around for a long while. The constraint on this is not so much the assumed average of 75 kg, but the floor area provided within a lift so that if people are heavier or stouter, it should accommodate fewer people. The standard has been around for a long time and has not yet been reviewed. It applies not only to lifts but to other machinery. The floor area is the key safeguard, but there are also provisions so that if lifts are overloaded there should be mechanisms to prevent catastrophe by halting their journeys.

Lord Boston of Faversham: My Lords, does the noble Lord realise that, sometimes, some of the advice given by the lady’s voice in some of your Lordships’ lifts is surprising? A few weeks ago, I took the lift just beyond the Bishops’ Robing Room. I pressed the button, and the voice said, in a rather intimidating way, “This lift is overloaded”. I was the only one in it. I had not realised that I had gained so excessively in weight. Could the noble Lord very kindly advise me what to do about it?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: Well, my Lords, I suppose that I would advise the noble Lord to have some travelling companions to see what happens next time around. I stress, although it is a matter for the House authorities and not the Government, that the lifts in your Lordships' House are routinely inspected and that there have been very few reports of failures. Clearly, if what the noble Lord describes is happening routinely, that should be looked into and reported to the House authorities.

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Lord Addington: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is no such thing as an average weight and that we will never find one? If we look for a dozen figures among our House, we will go even further away from it. Weight and number of people is confusing, so will the Government look at some other random way of telling us when there are too many of us in there?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I disagree with the concept that there is no such thing as an average weight, because it must arithmetically be capable of being computed. This standard derives from a European standard—although I hesitate to mention that because it might just engender some further questioning. It has been around for a long time and, as a practical matter, does not generally seem to be a cause of great confusion or problem.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, does my noble friend recognise that if a party of Ukrainian weightlifters was visiting the House of Lords for the purposes of discussing sports policy, it might not conform to the average of 75 kg that he mentioned?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I accept that, but the point is that it is very unlikely, unless they were extremely friendly, that they would all be able to get into the lift together. That is the purpose of having restrictions on the floor area.

Local Government: Code of Conduct

2.44 pm

Baroness Scott of Needham Market asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My Lords, the Government are committed to considering the introduction of a statutory model code of conduct for local government employees. In taking that forward, we wish to be able to take into account any lessons learnt from the first year’s operation of the revised model code for local councillors, which came into effect in May 2007.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. Does she accept that the introduction of directly elected mayors has fundamentally altered the role of council officers, who are now answerable to a single individual and not to the council as a whole? Does she agree that the lessons that are now emerging from London suggest that a code of conduct for officers is now becoming urgent?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, as I have said, we will certainly look at the lessons that have come out of the councillors’ code. We will consult over the summer, and we hope to produce something appropriate for employees in the autumn. In the mean time, the GLA

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is governed by the ethical framework that applies to all local authorities—by both voluntary codes for its employees and a statutory code for its councillors.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, if we are to have one of these codes for local government employees, will the Minister give the House an assurance that it will apply to all local government employees? I understand that the Welsh, who have stolen a march on the Government in this matter, have managed to exclude both teachers and firemen from their code of practice.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I can certainly give an assurance that it will cover all local authorities and local authority employees. I expect that it may in part be incorporated in the contracts of employment, which employees hold and which makes them different from councillors themselves. It will be interesting to look at the seven principles of public life, which are set out in most of the voluntary codes, and to see the extent to which we can make them exemplify, as the councillors’ code does, what exactly we mean by independence and selflessness in government.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, is there not the slightest danger that the introduction of this code will require legislation similar to the Civil Service Bill?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, that is not the case at all. It is something that we can do, as I understand it, under the Local Government Act 2000, so the legislative framework is already in place.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, has not the introduction of elected mayors, of the cabinet system of local government, and of the executive, overview and scrutiny split inevitably led to top local government officials becoming much more politicised than they were, because inevitably they are now working to the council leadership rather than to the council as a whole? Is this not an undesirable trend?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I do not recognise that picture, because the point about our local government officials is the historical integrity and seriousness of purpose with which they serve not only local government but the local area as a whole. It is interesting; we have 80,000 local councillors but a very small number of cases are brought to the Standards Board for England every year. That says a great deal.

Arts: Funding

2.48 pm

Lord Trefgarne asked Her Majesty’s Government:

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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government have a proud record of providing substantial support to the arts. Subject to parliamentary approval, we expect Arts Council England revenue grant in aid to be £421 million this year, rising to £429 million in 2008-09 and £443.5 million in 2009-10. Arts Council England lottery income is projected to be £146 million this year, £137 million in 2008-09, and £115 million in 2009-10. Grant-in-aid funding for Arts Council England will rise to £467 million by 2010-11—an increase of 3.3 per cent above inflation over three years, or an extra £50 million above inflation by 2010.

Lord Trefgarne: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Is he satisfied that the substantial funds are being spent wisely? Is he aware, for example, that in the regional theatre world there is great dismay at recent decisions by Arts Council England to the effect that many regional theatres may have to close?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, it is always a matter of concern when theatres, particularly the regional ones, have to close, but the noble Lord will appreciate that Arts Council England is responsible for its own decisions. The Government’s grant in aid is to provide it with the resources for those decisions. Arts Council England is of course concerned to reward and increase the opportunities for the innovative. Therefore there will be change, and some recipients of previous years’ funding will lose their support in order that others, who are being innovative, get increased support.

Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: My Lords, the recent settlement received by the Arts Council generally has been well received. However, due to raids on the lottery, the truth is that there is a huge shortfall across the sector as a whole, which is having a knock-on effect. The Government have promised a cultural festival to run in parallel with the Olympic Games, but a report published last week reveals that diversion of funds from the lottery has jeopardised the existence of the very groups which will deliver this Cultural Olympiad. What is the status of the funding and organisation of the Cultural Olympiad?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Cultural Olympiad is an important dimension of the work in progress for 2012. The noble Baroness is right that a plethora of institutions will provide that across the country. We are concerned that arts funding is maintained, which is why the Government have increased their level of arts funding. The Olympic Games make a demand on the lottery of a spectacularly significant kind. However, I bring it to the House’s attention the fact that the Olympic Games will cost only 19 per cent of the National Lottery’s disbursements. Therefore, we should not exaggerate its impact on other sectors.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, does the BBC get any contributions towards running the Proms every year? Will the Minister confirm that the promenade concerts are a great national institution, which is enjoyed not by thousands of people and not

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by tens of thousands of people but by hundreds of thousands of people of all sorts every year? Will he further confirm that it is the Government’s view that the concerts are not for just the middle classes, but that they are enjoyed by a very wide portion of society, not only in this country but from all over the world?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Proms are, of course, a national institution from which a very large number of people worldwide derive huge enjoyment. It is a BBC event and the costs and support for the concerts are borne by the BBC, in addition to the contribution received from those who pay at the door. The Proms are nothing to do with the Government and, are probably none the worse for that.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, how does the funding of the arts compare with the Government funding of the rehabilitation of servicemen wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq?

Lord Davies of Oldham: I must say that that is a tough comparator, my Lords. I do not know the funding for our service personnel who are wounded in Afghanistan, but I know that there is a clear obligation on government and the Ministry of Defence to ensure that they get the best possible care. They are not in competition with an arts budget, which involves an entirely separate department. The arts have proper demand on our consideration, too.

Airports: Heathrow

2.54 pm

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the Government’s support for a third runway at Heathrow, as set out in the 2003 aviation White Paper, remains dependent on our being confident that the strict local environmental conditions around the airport can be met. The Adding Capacity at Heathrow Airport consultation, which ended on 27 February, presented our analysis on meeting those tests. We are now analysing the responses. Decisions on the consultation are expected later this year.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer. Is he aware of the joint submission made to the Competition Commission by the Civil Aviation Authority and NATS? It states:

Does he agree that there is not much point in building more facilities such as runways if the planes do not have any space in the air to fly to them?

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, if we were to accept that analysis, we would not have undertaken a consultation. The consultation is relevant and we will come to a decision in due course.

Lord Vinson: My Lords, I hope that the Government will not flinch over plans for a third runway. We are in the 21st century and the rest of the world is getting on with a massive airport-building programme. Heathrow is the hub of our southern economy and, indeed, a major part of our overall economy. If we were massively to get on with base-load CO2-free electricity, which we could do by going nuclear quickly, we would offset so much carbon that we could keep flying with great joy.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, that was a wide-ranging observation. I agree entirely that Heathrow is vital to its local and our national economy, which is why we have to carefully develop our strategy with regard to the third runway.

Lord Soley: My Lords, I declare an interest as the campaign director of Future Heathrow. Is my noble friend aware of the seriousness of the situation now? Jet Airways, a rapidly growing Indian airline set up in this country, has announced—it is the first announcement of this type that I have ever heard—that it is now pulling out of Britain because there is no runway space available at Heathrow. If this continues, the circumstances, particularly for the Thames valley and west London, will be catastrophic. Organisations such as the Sunday Times and the Independent that are campaigning for the closure of Heathrow need to explain where the jobs are coming from. They might also stop doing irresponsible things such as giving details of how to get on to the roof of the Houses of Parliament and how to join organisations that want to do so. This is too important for Britain and too important for the Thames valley and west London.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I agree completely with my noble friend so far as employment is concerned. Some 200,000 jobs are dependent on the aviation sector in the United Kingdom. It is true that Heathrow is already operating at 98.5 per cent capacity, which is higher than the levels of our European rivals in Paris, Schiphol and Frankfurt. This is a critical issue and one that is vital to the south-eastern economy. We have to take those points carefully into consideration.

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, I have been campaigning against the expansion of Heathrow Airport since 1974—not terribly successfully so far, I must say. Does the Minister realise that the opposition to a third runway at Heathrow is of a totally different order from that to previous expansions? Will he give this House an undertaking to ensure that we have the full results of the consultation that the Government have carried out so that we know exactly what the view of the people of London is on this monstrous development?

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