22 May 2008 : Column 1549

House of Lords

Thursday, 22 May 2008.

The House met at eleven o'clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Chester.

Royal Assent

The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts and measure:

Channel Tunnel Rail Link (Supplementary Provisions) Act

Transport for London Act Church of England Marriage Measure

Rainforests

11.06 am

Lord Eden of Winton asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, the Government have discussed efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation with developing countries and other parties in climate negotiations leading, among other things, to the establishment of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility. The Government have also held negotiations with African and Asian countries about illegal logging, discussed the Congo Basin Forest Fund with the countries of central Africa and debated the conservation of rainforests under the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, I am grateful for that Answer. In spite of all the efforts that are being made, the global picture is still very worrying. Will the Minister look particularly closely at the situation in Brazil, where the enlightened environment Minister has resigned and where vast agribusiness interests are contributing to a net loss of more than 3 million hectares of forest per annum?

Before the international talks that are to be held later this year in Ghana, and as part of the Bali Action Plan, will the Government re-examine their whole policy towards tropical rainforest conservation so as to come up with more effective, lasting and better funded proposals for urgent international action?

Baroness Crawley: Yes, my Lords, the Government, like the noble Lord, take this very seriously indeed. The depletion of the rainforest is something up with which we will not put. As the noble Lord mentioned, we have supported and funded numerous international treaties, conventions and initiatives that recognise the

22 May 2008 : Column 1550

importance of sustaining forests and bringing regulation into the international trade in forest products.

The noble Lord talked about the resignation of the Brazilian Minister, Marina da Silva. Like him, the Government recognise the enormous commitment to the environment, and to the Amazon in particular, that Marina da Silva has shown. We look forward to working with her successor, Mr Carlos Minc, who, I understand, was the Environment Minister for Rio de Janeiro.

On the post-Bali agenda, the noble Lord is absolutely right that we must reinforce all our efforts. We are increasing funding and we are looking at demonstration projects of how we can better ensure that deforestation becomes very much part of the Kyoto process.

Lord Hunt of Chesterton: My Lords, will the Government be supporting local non-governmental organisations in countries with great rainforests? These organisations are doing excellent work for their local people and for biodiversity. Many of those working for these organisations, as we heard at the GLOBE meeting in Brazil in February, face great threats, even to their lives.

Baroness Crawley: Yes, my Lords, we are extremely concerned about any threats we hear about from campaigners and those working for NGOs, who put their lives on the line when protecting our rainforests—the lungs of the world, if you like. We wish to say to my noble friend Lord Hunt that we work with many NGOs and many campaigners. We fund directly and through country programmes.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, do the Government not recognise that their policy and that of the EU on biofuels is adding to the pressure on the rainforests, which are being felled to plant crops in order to meet the biofuel requirement?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, there is a big difference between sustainable and unsustainable biofuels. The Government support renewable transport fuels produced from crops that can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than half when compared with conventional fossil fuels. There are good biofuels and bad biofuels. We very much support sustainable development of biofuels and the processes in agriculture to produce them. However, we do not support unsustainable biofuels.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, the resignation of Marina da Silva exemplified the winning of economic considerations over environmental ones. What sort of discussions will the Government have at the forthcoming summit about giving an economic value to rainforests?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, we continue to discuss this pivotal point of giving an economic value, because in the discussion about how you incentivise people not to go through the process of deforestation, you come up against the issue of whether you transfer funds to

22 May 2008 : Column 1551

incentivise or whether you develop a carbon market. To do either of those, you have to work at finding a value and we are working at that. That is very much a part of the post-Bali work.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, further to the question of my noble friend Lord Forsyth, does the Minister appreciate that this is not just a problem in developing countries? The European advisory panel’s scientific committee has just published a report suggesting that deforestation in Europe is as bad, or even more rapid, than in some of the developing countries such as Brazil which my noble friend Lord Eden rightly mentioned. Will the Minister clarify whether Her Majesty's Government are prepared to break away from the 10 per cent renewable biofuel commitment of the European Commission, or are we still going along with it? It is important to know that.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, perhaps I may reply to the noble Lord by repeating the statement made by the Prime Minister on 22 April. He said that,

That was the gist of the answer I gave to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. The Prime Minister continued:

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, does the Minister accept that in our action against climate change, we should include not just reduction of emissions and protection of the rainforests, but protection and conservation of the plant biodiversity of the world, which is threatened as plants cannot adapt fast enough to climate change? I declare an interest as the chairman of Botanic Gardens Conservation International.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness. Just one of the ways that we are attempting to do that is by working with indigenous people, who know the forest and have lived there for generations, and helping them to manage the husbandry of those forests.

Armed Forces: Pensions

11.14 am

Lord Morris of Manchester My Lords, I beg leave to put the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest—not a pecuniary one—as honorary parliamentary adviser to the Royal British Legion.

The Question was as follows:



22 May 2008 : Column 1552

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, the Government published their response to the consultation on implementation on 19 May. Statutory instruments will be laid in the House before the Summer Recess to transfer the jurisdiction.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, while I am grateful to my noble friend, is he aware that it is understood that the statutory instruments for abolishing the Pensions Appeal Tribunal—seen in the ex-service community as their guarantor of fair treatment for the war-disabled and bereaved—were drafted even before the consultation period expired? Again, why were many ex-service organisations not directly informed or consulted on a policy change of such undoubted importance to the community as a whole?

Is this really the way to treat men and women who, uniquely, contract with the state to sacrifice their lives in our service? Moreover, when the statutory instruments are published, will Ministers also publish the admirably well documented criticisms of them by the PAT?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend for his work in this area and, of course, to service men and women. On consultation, a number of service organisations were able to comment; they did so. I understand their concerns, but we see advantages in changing the tribunal structure in the way that the consultation suggested. I want to make it absolutely clear to the House that the firm intention—this has been confirmed by the incoming senior president of tribunals—is that the undoubted expertise of the judges and members of the current tribunals will be transferred into the new service.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, does not this proposal mean that war-wounded applicants in England and Wales will be brigaded with criminal injuries and asylum support cases in one so-called Social Entitlement Chamber, whose judges and members will be required to handle multijurisdictional lists? Meanwhile, service personnel in Scotland and Northern Ireland will be able to appeal to a statutory PAT, with the dedicated expertise of its medical service and legal members. How can Her Majesty's Government claim that those arrangements are even-handed and serve the best interests of service personnel? Why have the Government failed to heed the very considered advice of the president of the PAT for England and Wales? Surely this is a failure by the Government to honour the military covenant.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am of course aware of the representations that the noble and gallant Lord has made. I do not agree with the word “brigaded”, which he used. I assure him that former service men and women will be treated with the utmost care and respect within the new tribunal structure. I repeat that the excellent work of the current members—including the judges and service members—will be transferred into the new structure.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I declare an interest as a former war pensions Minister—one of a number in this House. I know the excellent work that the Pensions Appeal Tribunal has done and the extraordinary expertise

22 May 2008 : Column 1553

that it has in looking after the interests of the ex-service community. I do not believe that this is a party political matter. I therefore ask the noble Lord to talk again to his friends in the Ministry of Defence and to those in the ex-service community and come back with a revision to these plans to allow the Pensions Appeal Tribunal to survive in England and Wales.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I respect the advice of the noble Lord, who speaks with a great deal of experience in this important area. I think that it is fair to say that the Government have come to a view and published the results of the consultation. We will be bringing a statutory instrument before your Lordships' House. I note the issues that have been raised. I am sure that there will be further discussion with service organisations, but the intention is to get the benefit of the new structure while taking the expertise currently within the Pensions Appeal Tribunal to ensure that that is in no way or circumstance dissipated.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, the rationale of the mixed jurisdictional Social Entitlement Chamber is for members of these tribunals to work across the board in all these various matters. On 25 February, I asked the Minister how he expects armed services members, to whom he referred in a previous answer, to judge on criminal injuries compensation, social entitlement, and so on. How will that be listed? Will there be one war pensions case among 10 for an armed services member to go to, or will they all be listed together? If they are all listed together, why abolish the Pensions Appeal Tribunal only in England and Wales, and not in Scotland and Northern Ireland?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Lord raises a fair point. Listings will be important; it is not for Ministers to dictate on them. My understanding is that the intention is for cases that come within a particular jurisdiction to tend to be listed together so that, in the case of a service member, the undoubted expertise that they can give will be provided in as effective a way as possible. It allows appropriate judges and members, when they have gone through appropriate training and induction, to sit in other jurisdictions within the same chamber. That is not a difficult matter. It is surely a matter of gaining greater expertise and learning from it. That will enhance the whole decision-making process.

Viscount Slim: My Lords, the present system is proven and much admired and used by veterans and pensioners. By withdrawing a proven system to within the legal morass, if I may say, of the Minister’s department, how will the individual and personal service be maintained? It is very doubtful that one will be able to maintain it.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I do not recognise the Ministry of Justice in that rather unkind description of it. I reassure the noble Viscount and the House that the intention is to get the benefits of the new system, but to take forward the excellent work of the Pensions Appeal Tribunal. I have no disagreement

22 May 2008 : Column 1554

whatever with the noble Viscount when he pays tribute to that; he is absolutely right to do so. We will gain by taking that expertise and the expert judges and members through to the new system. That will help to enhance the system as a whole.

Economy: Cost of Living

11.23 am

Lord Hamilton of Epsom asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, there is no universally agreed measure of the cost of living, but the Government conduct a broad range of analysis on factors that contribute to and influence the prices of goods and services. The Government are aware that recently the prices of some important items of consumers’ expenditure have increased by significantly more than the average inflation rate. This reflects developments in global markets; energy and food prices are rising across the world.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, the House would be interested to know what advice the Treasury is giving to the Bank of England and the Monetary Policy Committee. The governor recently said that inflation was running at above 3 per cent, and would rise to 3.7 per cent. Is its advice that he should adhere to the 2 per cent target that he has been set, and presumably raise interest rates; that he should lower interest rates and stimulate the economy; or that he should do nothing and we should suffer stagflation?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Monetary Policy Committee’s role at the Bank of England is laid down in statute. Its task is to have a target rate of 2 per cent inflation. The Bank will follow strategies to return to 2 per cent as soon as it can. We all recognise that that will not happen this year. In April, inflation was at 3 per cent. The indications are that it will go higher before it comes down. But the Bank of England’s remit is clear. The Governor of the Bank of England is merely reflecting the actions he will need to take to return to the target position.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, will my noble friend remind me of the average inflation and interest rates of the previous Government in the two decades to 1997?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am sorely tempted to spend considerable time on that record. But, succinctly, inflation rates over the past decade under this Administration have been about half those that the previous Administration were able to manage.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page