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House of Lords

Wednesday, 2 July 2008.

The House met at three o’clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham): the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Energy: Electricity Supplies

Lord Ezra asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Bach: My Lords, the provision of electricity to meet consumer demand is the responsibility of electricity supply companies. National Grid is responsible for ensuring adequate and reliable network capacity and for carrying out the residual electricity balancing activity. The electricity network has been well over 99.99 per cent reliable in recent years and National Grid indicates that for the summer and coming winter demand should be met in full in all but the most extreme circumstances.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Does he agree that at least 10 years are likely to elapse before large new generating capacity, whether nuclear or other, to replace the present ageing capacity can come into operation and that the major impact of the recently announced renewable energy strategy will also occur at about the same time? Is it not a fact that most of the Government’s energy policy declarations have been of a long-term nature? In those circumstances, is there not a case for an urgent review of short-term electricity prospects, with a view to the maintenance of security of supply and the avoidance of any further system failures?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I respect very much the noble Lord’s reputation in this field, but I am afraid that I cannot agree with him when he suggests that 10 years are likely to elapse before large new generating capacity comes into operation. Significant new generation capacity is already being delivered. By 2010, 8 gigawatts of new capacity presently under construction should be available. There is already consent for 2.5 gigawatts more and there are outstanding applications for consent for almost another 4.5 gigawatts. That amounts to 15 gigawatts, which is equivalent to around 20 per cent of current generation capacity. Of course, I understand the problems that the noble Lord mentioned, which the Government are addressing.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords—

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, makes a very acute point. Is not the central consideration, which with respect the Minister has slightly missed, that over the next seven or eight years we have to retire almost 40 per cent of existing generating capacity, from ageing nuclear, the ageing

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coal plants and various other sources? What will fill that 40 per cent gap? Even if we start building nuclear tomorrow morning, it is too late now for us to fill the gap with nuclear. There is talk of more gas, although the Russians are tricky suppliers. The idea that wind farms can fill the gap is totally unrealistic. What will fill the gap to prevent real power cuts and electricity rationing?

Lord Bach: My Lords, as the noble Lord suggests, over the next decade 22.5 gigawatts of generating capacity may close as coal and oil generation become subject to increasingly stringent environmental standards. Indeed, by 2020, our electricity generating system will need to be larger than at present in order to provide back-up for wind generation. However, the central scenario of the renewable energy strategy, which I had hoped that the party opposite would support, sees an investment of around 30 gigawatts of new renewable capacity and a further 17 gigawatts of new conventional capacity. I am sorry that the party opposite seems to have turned its head against any new coal-fired power stations because, as part of the mix, it is essential that we should consider having some of those, too.

Lord Tanlaw: My Lords, did not the noble Lord omit in his reply the one sure way of increasing the reliability of electricity supply, which is to reduce the winter peak load through the application of a daylight saving policy? That is the way in which at least 78 more enlightened countries now enjoy a reliable grid and lighter winter evenings. Where is the statistical proof that the darker evenings policy, which his Government and the Opposition have pursued since 1971, has reduced by one iota the winter peak load, household electric bills, road deaths or the grid’s ever increasing carbon footprint?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I think that the noble Lord has wide support throughout the House for what he has to say. I will make sure that, yet again, this is passed back to the Government. No doubt the Opposition have also heard what has been suggested.

Lord Christopher: My Lords, I should like to ask my noble friend two questions. Has he any information on how much we are relying on electricity from France and how far does that relate to assurances for the future? Given the problem that has been described by the opposition Front Bench, could the answer be a partnership in nuclear energy with France?

Lord Bach: My Lords, we have close relations with our neighbours in France regarding the generation of electricity. I do not have the details that my noble friend asks for, but the fact remains that the relationship is close and important. Currently, quite a lot of our electricity comes from French nuclear reactors, perhaps 30 miles off the English coast.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords—

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords—

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The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, the noble Baroness has tried to get in about three times.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the reply given to the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, by his colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Vadera, on 23 June when she said that wind, due to its intermittency, was not the best source for energy supply? In these circumstances, why do Her Majesty’s Government continue to subsidise wind power in such a huge way when new nuclear build would, if they were prepared to help, ensure security of supply and low climate change? Perhaps even better, it would ensure that our Prime Minister did not have to go to Saudi Arabia with a begging bowl.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I heard my noble friend Lady Vadera answer the noble Baroness’s Question nine days ago. I thought that my noble friend made the extraordinarily good point that, thank goodness, and perhaps through the noble Baroness’s good influence, the wobble that the Opposition had on nuclear power now seems to have disappeared. I am delighted to hear that. We believe that wind power will play a very important part in the mix in future, but so will nuclear, and it is this Government who have had the courage to take that decision.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: My Lords—

Lord Redesdale: My Lords—

Lord Rooker: My Lords, we are into the eighth minute—it is time to move on.

International Development: World Food Prices

3.08 pm

Baroness Quin asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the Government are deeply concerned about the impact of higher food prices on developing countries. While our policies in food and agriculture are robust and flexible, we are reprioritising our efforts and have committed £585 million to address this challenge, of which £121 million will be spent this year. The UK is also urging the international community to double its efforts to tackle global poverty and hunger, and to join together in a global partnership for agriculture and food.

Baroness Quin: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply; I welcome the increased aid package as well as the aid record of the Department for International Development since it came into being. Has aid to individual countries had to be reprioritised as a result of this, particularly given that the IMF recognises that

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the Horn of Africa and the west of Africa in particular have been very badly affected by the crisis? What mechanisms have been set up across government, not only by DfID but also by Defra, the FCO and the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, to ensure a co-ordinated government approach to this vital issue?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the reaction of Her Majesty's Government has been principally through international programmes, particularly the World Food Programme, which has been very successful in responding to the general problem. Countries that we have helped specifically include Sierra Leone, with interim one-year budget support of £10 million. We have also helped Sudan, with an extra £40 million contributed to the UN common humanitarian plan. To Kenya, DfID contributed £5 million and, as an immediate response, is also offering £2.5 million of low-interest loans. On internal co-ordination, I am not sure that Her Majesty's Government could do better than the current integrated policies of DfID, which seeks to look to the future and to long-term investment to solve poverty issues.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that one of the significant contributors to increased world food prices, apart from the rise in the cost of fuel, is the lack of infrastructure in certain developing countries that inhibits the safe and sound transportation of goods? When the Minister, who today expressed the Government’s concern, last answered a similar Question, he said that there was no food shortage. What conversations has he had with the Foreign Office about encouraging the countries concerned to invest more adequately in their local infrastructure so that the benefit of our aid policies, with regard especially to food, has maximum effect?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I generally agree with the thrust of that question and so do the Government. The Government’s response to an emergency is almost never to give direct food aid but to provide it locally to retain and grow the local infrastructure. Part of our aid to Sudan, for example, is for creating new infrastructure. We sincerely believe that we have to look to the next five years, and infrastructure and research are key parts of that.

The Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham: My Lords, given that the United Nations World Food Programme has budgeted $5 billion to feed 90 million people this year, and that barely half of it has come in so far, how confident is the Minister that the rest of the money will come in? What leverage can he use with our EU partners? What would he like to say to churches and charities about any part that they can play?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I find it difficult to answer the question without suggesting that the world has properly reacted. The World Food Programme had spent 50 per cent of its money by the end of June—half way through the year; it has asked for another $755 million from the world community, which it has received. The EU has paid its part. The charities

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play an important part, particularly since the money tends go in-country and maintains infrastructure. Their support is greatly welcomed.

Lord Vinson: My Lords, is the Minister aware that some 500 million tonnes of GM soya have now been consumed without damage to anybody and without any litigation in sight, and that 12 million Indian children do not get rickets because an iron gene was put into the GM rice that India now exports? Will the Government review their whole GM policy, because GM food represents one of the ways in which it can feed itself through the use of fewer fertilisers, less water and better products?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the UK Government do not believe that GM foods will solve the world’s problems, but they have the potential to make a very important contribution. It is the role of developing countries to make their own decisions about whether to use them. We are contributing through aid for education and research, so that the individual countries can see both the benefits and threats and make their own decisions.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, has the Minister noticed a very sensible suggestion from the World Food Programme to exempt humanitarian and UN agencies from the export ban which does so much damage to the use of regional surpluses? It is an emergency measure that the Government should support.

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, my understanding is that Europe is supporting a temporary relaxation of that ban. If that answer is not correct, I shall follow it up with the noble Earl later.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords—

Baroness Tonge: My Lords—

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, it is the turn of the Lib Dems.

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, the world is having trouble now feeding its people. Could the Minister tell us how the world will cope when the population has risen from 6.5 billion now to 10 billion by 2050? Are the Government making an effort to ensure that policies are in place so that non-coercive family planning and the supplies necessary are available worldwide to help to curb population growth?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, those are two very big questions, and I fear that I can answer only one of them. The general position on food by the World Bank is a belief that global production needs to increase by 50 per cent by 2030. That is an entirely achievable prospect provided—in a sense—that the world gets its act together. Our contribution is an extremely important

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£400 million investment over five years in agricultural research, which will help the world to equip itself for that challenge.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, following on from the noble Baroness’s question, does the Minister realise that it took all the time from the pharaohs, the Greeks and the Romans to get up to 3,000 million people in the world by 1960, and that within 60 years—the lifetime of some people still on this planet—the population will be multiplied four-fold? How does the Minister reckon that those people will be fed if Governments and the European Union perpetually take a short-term view?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, certainly Governments in the G8 and the European Union are taking a long-term view. We believe that there are long-term solutions and we are committed to them.

Olympic Games 2012: Transport

3.16 pm

Lord Williams of Elvel asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the Olympic Delivery Authority is responsible for delivering transport for the 2012 Games. The ODA outlined its proposals in the first edition of the Olympic transport plan, published in October 2007. Future editions of the plan will become more detailed; it includes temporary and permanent works at a number of stations to provide for passenger demand during the 2012 Games and beyond.

Lord Williams of Elvel: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer, but is he aware that many important transport hubs in London are a complete mess? That mess needs to be cleared up before the Olympics. One such mess is South Kensington Underground station. Transport for London seems to speak with two voices; one is that of property development, which says that we have to build a Shangri-La over the top of the station; the other is the operating side, which says that we have to clean the whole thing up. Can we please issue guidance to Transport for London, saying that it should forget Shangri-La, clean up the mess in South Kensington Underground station and get it operational in time for the Olympics?

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