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House of Lords

Tuesday, 7 October 2008.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Liverpool.

EU: Emissions Trading Scheme

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change and Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, the Government welcome the provision contained in the European Commission’s proposal for new crediting mechanisms, under an international agreement, which would give the flexibility to include credits from avoided deforestation and other land use activities in developing countries in future phases of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme from 2013.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. Given that today the Environment Committee of the European Union is meeting to vote on the inclusion of forest credits in the Emissions Trading Scheme, would a vote in favour by that committee encourage Her Majesty’s Government to respond positively to the President of Guyana, who has offered the entire rain forest of his country to the United Kingdom to help him sustain it in a manageable way?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is right about a vote today on the revision of the effort-sharing decision. On that matter, the UK supports the inclusion of land-use change and forestry from the non-traded sectors. I hope that I can answer him in the affirmative. On Guyana, the Eliasch review is relevant. There is a risk that conservation in one area might displace deforestation elsewhere, which is why we favour an international agreement. We remain in close touch with the Guyana Government. We have given them a grant of £100,000 to assess the cost of work on forestry conservation. We will continue to maintain relationships with them.

Lord Clark of Windermere: My Lords, bearing in mind that 18 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions are caused by deforestation and that forestry was excluded from the original Kyoto agreement because of the difficulties, I welcome the Government’s support for the EC amendment. Will the Government press further to ensure that forestry is included in all EC and international agreements? In saying that, I declare an interest as chair of the Forestry Commission.

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I very much take my noble friend’s comment on that. He is right that deforestation is a major problem in relation to the current challenge from climate change that countries of the world face. We will continue to move positively in that area. I would stress that we have to ensure that there is a robust methodology, that any scheme can be monitored effectively and that it does not have an undue impact on the stability of carbon prices.

Lord Eden of Winton: My Lords, is it not generally accepted that deforestation in the tropics and sub-tropics contributes something between 18 per cent and 25 per cent of global carbon emissions? In those circumstances and in the light of the fact that deforestation continues apace due to the steady demand for timber, beef, soya and, now, biofuels, should we not be looking at this whole question afresh and putting a real value on forests as they stand in a format which can be traded?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I note with great interest the comments of the noble Lord. The figure I have is that it is approximately 18 per cent of global CO2 emissions, so clearly this is a critical area. That is the importance of the agreement reached in Bali to go forward to the talks in Copenhagen next year in relation to deforestation which, it is hoped, will lead us on to a new international agreement. I am convinced that this needs to be tackled at the international level. We will do everything we can to ensure that that happens.

Lord Teverson: My Lords, the figure for CO2 emissions is in fact 25 per cent, with 18 per cent for greenhouse gases, so the issue is even more important. All sides of the House will see the importance of including forestry in the EU ETS, but is there not a risk that where forestry is used in voluntary offset schemes, there are no guarantees that the trees are ever planted or maintained? What will the Minister do to ensure that offset money is regulated and used properly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Lord has asked an important question about the robustness of any methodology that is put in place. He will know that one of the reasons for deforestation not being included in previous agreements is that no such methodology was in place. As we go forward, it is essential that effective monitoring mechanisms are in place to ensure the robustness of any system that is agreed internationally.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on his new role—on both his portfolios and the deputy leadership of the House. I am sure that the whole House will wish him well in his roles. I hope that there will be a suitable opportunity to pay tribute to his predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, for the remarkable role he has played in the life of the House.

Following on the Minister’s previous response, what representations have the Government made to ensure the environmental integrity of any system before it is introduced into the EU ETS scheme?

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his kind remarks. It is a great pleasure to move off the field of Lords reform into such an important area. My noble friend Lord Rooker is a formidable person to follow, and he has made a great contribution.

We understand that there is no point in going into an agreement to include deforestation either within the European scheme or internationally in the new global climate agreement unless we can be assured that the methodology is satisfactory and robust and can be monitored effectively.

Minimum Wage

2.44 pm

Baroness Prosser asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Brett: My Lords, around 1 million workers are covered by the latest national minimum wage rise. We are determined that they receive it. Building on our record of effective enforcement, with £29 million recovered to date, proposals in the Employment Bill will strengthen the enforcement regime by making it clear that underpayment is unacceptable and what the consequences will be. This will support workers and businesses by deterring non-compliant employers from underpaying their workers and competing unfairly.

Baroness Prosser: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he agree with his ministerial colleague, Pat McFadden, who, when speaking at the launch of the report of the Vulnerable Worker Enforcement Forum, said:

operate? Given that the vast majority of vulnerable workers who are at risk in this way are women and members of ethnic minority communities, what further measures do the Government intend to put in place to ensure that such workers receive their rightful dues?

Lord Brett: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that question, because she has a very distinguished record in the Low Pay Commission on advocating protection for minority and, in particular, women workers. The Government have already taken a series of actions following publication of the Vulnerable Worker Enforcement Forum report in August. We intend to develop a sustained three-year government-led campaign to raise vulnerable workers’ awareness of basic employment rights and to encourage the reporting of workplace abuses. We also intend to establish a single enforcement helpline to which vulnerable workers will be able to report abuses and have access to advice on rights enforced by government. This will significantly simplify and streamline the current five helplines. We are also setting up a Fair Employment Enforcement Board, bringing together the authorities devoted to key workers’ rights as well as the CBI, the TUC, Citizens Advice and small businesses.

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The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, as the Minister will be aware, a number of childcare workers have been paid below the minimum wage. I welcome what he has said so far but is he monitoring the situation in day care, and what progress has been made?

Lord Brett: My Lords, I can perhaps be less loquacious than I was in my previous answer. There is a series of vulnerable workers and the noble Earl has described one group. The question is how to identify those at risk and those who are subject to non-compliant employers, and how to put in place a regime which says that it is not fair that any employer should defeat the law of the land on the minimum wage. The Government have a number of proposals in the new employment legislation that will meet that objective.

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Brett, to the Front Bench for the first time. It is a harrowing and worrying experience. When I get to that side of the House and have to start answering questions, I shall find it difficult too. I shall therefore ask an easy question as a starter for 10. I am sure that the Minister will agree that the voluntary sector plays a critical role in the enforcement of the national minimum wage through its information and advice services. What plans do the Government have to support this vital work?

Lord Brett: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her kindness, which I hope is contagious and lasts for another five minutes. As noble Lords will understand, I am not used to being heckled—as a trade unionist in my previous life, it is not something that I can easily handle.

This is about the guidance that we will give when the new legislation is in force following Royal Assent. The first aim is to ensure that vulnerable workers understand their rights and that those in the voluntary sector who seek to aid them are able to ensure that they understand their rights. This will be achieved through a series of advertisements; through a number of employer websites, which will make clear the employer’s responsibility; through the employers’ bulletin, which goes out to 1.5 million small businesses across the UK; and through the national minimum wage helpline. We are very grateful to the voluntary sector, to trade unions and to responsible employers—who are put at a disadvantage when they pay the minimum wage, and understand why it has to be paid, when other employers seem not to.

Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, what proportion of the workforce that has benefited from the minimum wage is made up of women? Is there to be an inspectorate that deals with immigrant workers, who frequently do not know their rights and are often grossly exploited under the present system?

Lord Brett: My Lords, I am pleased to say that 590,000 of the 950,000 recipients who benefit from the new minimum wage are women, a part of our community which we have undervalued, underpaid and not brought forward as we should have done for more than a century. Indeed, it is 125 years since the TUC carried its first resolution on equal pay.

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Lord Razzall: My Lords, I share in the congratulations to my friend, but not my noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Brett, on his elevation to a position on the government Benches from which, over the past 11 years, a number of noble Lords have gone on, if not to better things, then certainly higher things. Does he agree that the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Prosser, about the number of rogue employers still in this country are justified? Is he also prepared to confirm that the Government will not only look at exploitation regarding the minimum wage but also take account of a campaign that Citizens Advice has been running for some time regarding the significant issue of helping women who are not very well off to enforce unfair dismissal or redundancy judgments when they have a clear claim against the employer but lack the funds to do so?

Lord Brett: My Lords, we cannot identify precisely the number of people who are the subject of non-compliance when it comes to the national minimum wage. As far as the Government are concerned, any non-compliance is unacceptable. We are investing £2.9 million to ensure that enforcement is more efficient. As to the detail of the question, I cannot answer it—it is neither in my brief nor my brain, but I will write to the noble Lord.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, what do the Government intend to do to help into employment those people who, through either intellectual or physical impairment, cannot actually justify even the minimum wage in normal commercial employment? What can be done to help them into normal paid employment?

Lord Brett: My Lords, on a personal basis, I am not sure that I agree with the idea that someone does not qualify for the national minimum wage. In terms of policy, we are looking to protect the vulnerable groups which the noble Lord describes. They are some of the groups that the change in employment law will help to protect.


2.53 pm

Lord Snape asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Lord Adonis): My Lords, the Department for Transport undertook an extensive review of the bus sector in 2006, looking in particular at partnership arrangements around the country. The conclusions were published in our Putting Passengers First policy statement in December 2006. The key finding was that, while partnership arrangements were working effectively in some areas, they were not in others. This led to the legislative proposals contained in the Local Transport Bill, which is currently before Parliament.

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Lord Snape: My Lords, in thanking the Minister for that reply, I declare an interest. Does he agree with me that quality partnerships in towns as diverse as Blackpool, Brighton and York, as well as in many shire counties, have been enormously successful in increasing bus usage? Following on from his reply, does he accept from me that it would be very dangerous to investor confidence in the bus industry to make any major changes in the Local Transport Bill, which will shortly be coming before your Lordships’ House?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right that we need to balance interests in this area. He is also right to draw attention to the examples of very good practice in partnership. Brighton saw a patronage increase of 15 per cent between 2001 and 2006 and an increase in satisfaction with bus services from 56 per cent to 80 per cent over the same period. There are many other examples. However, as my noble friend will be aware, there are also examples of areas where bus usage is declining. Since 2001, it has gone down by 20 per cent in Tyne and Wear, 8 per cent in West Yorkshire, 6 per cent in Merseyside, 11 per cent in South Yorkshire and 9 per cent in the West Midlands. Therefore, we are alive to the need to put in place arrangements to ensure that bus usership increases in areas where it has not done so in recent years.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on being the subject—in somewhat laudatory terms—of the third leader in the Times today. I hope that the words used about him will also apply to his work in his new portfolio. Congestion is the main enemy of buses. It leads to unreliability and rising costs. Will he say how far the Traffic Management Act 2004 succeeded in its main objectives, which were the avoidance, elimination and reduction of congestion? In the context of the Local Transport Bill to which he has just referred, will the Government send a clear signal that co-operation between bus companies and local authorities is beneficial and will not be subject to action by the competition authorities, except where fares are being fixed?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, after hubris comes nemesis, so I am not paying too much attention to leading articles in the Times, although it would be good if I were able to produce some of the results in transport that the noble Lord has set out. I suspect that achieving the free flow of buses down bus lanes and the elimination of all forms of congestion is an even tougher job than reforming the school system, but I shall give it what effort and attention I can. The Local Transport Bill seeks to ensure that competition law does not stand unnecessarily in the way of good and effective co-operation at local level. By promoting stronger partnership working, it will also make possible many of the objectives that the noble Lord set out, including more accessible bus stops, new bus lanes and other local arrangements that will facilitate the passage of buses.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, given the Minister’s previous brief, will he look particularly carefully at the possibility of granting homeless families with young children free bus travel and at how family friendly buses are in enabling pushchairs to be carried on

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them? Isolation of lone parents has been identified as a major contributory factor to post-natal depression. Given the rates of homelessness, perhaps the Minister would care to think of this matter.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the noble Earl makes a good point. Modern standards of bus design ensure the accessibility that he seeks and many local authorities have in place concessionary fare arrangements of the kind that he mentions, which also promote the interests of lone parents and children. However, I very much bear in mind the points that he makes.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, following on from that question, will my noble friend confirm that the introduction of free travel for senior citizens on buses has been a huge success? Will he in his new role as the lead Minister for railways in his department look at ways in which rail travel can become more affordable for older people?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, free concessionary travel for the elderly is one of the great achievements of this Government and we can take great pride in it. This year, we are spending around £1 billion on concessionary fares, which is a huge increase in investment in this area. I fear that I cannot wave a magic wand to reduce rail fares immediately, but I shall bear in mind my noble friend’s remarks.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, does the Minister recall the indefatigable battle of the late Lord Peyton of Yeovil against holes in the road? In recent months, transport in the centre of London has frequently come to a standstill because of holes in the road. Can he say what Her Majesty’s Government are doing to avoid them?

Lord Adonis: Not immediately, my Lords. I think that this is more under our control than the weather, which I was asked to seek to change yesterday, but I will need to come back to the noble Countess to set out the precise measures that we are taking in this area.

Lord McNally: My Lords, some 15 years ago, I was employed by the organisation NJUG—the National Joint Utilities Group—which was trying to co-ordinate road works to prevent traffic problems. I believe that a previous Government tried to get legislation on this and I see that Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, is taking new initiatives. However, despite those efforts, the fact remains that utility companies still seem to dig up the roads at random, do not co-ordinate and cause massive problems in traffic disruption. Although this may seem a slightly frivolous question, I urge the Minister to take it seriously and perhaps to take it up with the utilities.

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