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22 Oct 2008 : Column 1126

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we should always look at those involved in administering regulations to ensure that they do their job effectively and that, where we can make value-for-money changes, we do so. It is important that an effective regulatory system is in place for the whole range of cross-compliance, but it should be proportionate. I fully accept the point.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the issue is not really one of flexibility but one of basic sanity? If the land is too wet to support a combine harvester, surely it is too wet to harvest the crop.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I see the logic of what the noble Lord says, but I say to him that the conditions of this year’s harvest put farmers under a great deal of pressure. They were faced with the problem of wet conditions and crops being left in the field, then the difficulty of bringing them in and drying them. It must be recognised that the farmers were under considerable pressure, which is why my department tried to respond as flexibly as possible to the situation.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, is it not a fact that the people who draw up these regulations are not the Council of Ministers or the European Parliament, but a whole lot of bureaucrats who probably do not have the slightest idea about combine harvesters and certainly do not know anything about soil composition? Why do not the Government do something to ensure that these stupid regulations do not feed through?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, as ever, the noble Earl has a point. This Government have been extremely earnest in arguing in Europe for a more proportionate approach to regulation, as we have taken internally, in farming and other sectors. I assure him that we will continue to argue for sensible and proportionate regulation to be used as flexibly as possible. Surely that must be the right way forward.

Lord Richard: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the last question he responded to was absolute and utter rubbish? No one who has had any experience of the workings of the Commission, particularly the agriculture directorate, would have any doubt whatever about the extraordinary competence of the people involved and, indeed, their deep knowledge. The noble Earl should withdraw his comments.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, as ever I am happy to be corrected by my noble friend. One has to distinguish between what might be regarded as unnecessary bureaucracy and the worthy work of the European Commission in seeking to ensure that environmental and other standards in farming are protected. To that extent, these overall standards are to be supported. I believe that it is essential that they are operated as flexibly as possible.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, in an earlier response the Minister referred to the “relevant English standard”. Is he implying that different standards are observed by different countries? Have any other EU countries been taken to task with regard to this regulation?

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I do not know the answer with regard to other countries but I can certainly find out. Scotland has a different, more flexible system. That, of course, relates to the traditional, perhaps rather wetter, summers that Scotland has. Alas, we seem to be following it down that route.


3.25 pm

Lord Blaker asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, along with other EU states, we have condemned Robert Mugabe's unilateral allocation of ministerial portfolios. The allocation of portfolios needs to be agreed by all parties and reflect the will of the Zimbabwean people as expressed in the 29 March elections, which gave Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC a clear majority.

Lord Blaker: My Lords, noble Lords will agree that the proposed allocation is wrong, unfair and leading to deadlock. Is not Botswana, as a neighbour, one of the countries which has suffered most from Mugabe’s rule? Has not the President of Botswana recently suggested that there should be a rerun of the presidential election under international supervision? Might not this suggestion be of interest to other neighbouring countries such as the members of SADC and of the African Union?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord is right that the President of Botswana has several times made this suggestion. It is for the neighbours to determine first whether this is the way ahead. I remind the noble Lord that there was extraordinary violence during the second round and we do not want to recreate a circumstance where Mugabe and his butchers again start to slaughter the civilian volunteers of the MDC.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, in view of the controversial and highly unpopular decision by Mr Mbeki to approve the allocation of ministries and the protests which are taking place now in South Africa against that decision, does not the Minister agree that it is time for Mr Mbeki to step down and to be replaced as mediator by Mr Jacob Zuma, as has been suggested? How will this get on to the agenda of the next SADC meeting?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, as the noble Lord is aware, there was an attempted troika meeting yesterday which, in an indication of Mugabe’s lack of trustworthiness, Morgan Tsvangirai was unable to attend because the Prime Minister-designate could not be given a passport. There is to be another SADC meeting next week and there is talk that it might be of the whole membership. It is incumbent on that meeting, whether it is of the troika or of the whole membership, to address the fact that the current mediation effort has clearly run out of steam and not arrived at a resolution of this problem.

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The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, does not the Minister think that the Kenyan model may be helpful in the sense that it has a much more robust system of arbitration and monitoring? Why cannot this be done at a higher level, through SADC, and perhaps without Mr Mbeki?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, that is a question which SADC will have to answer. Invidious comparisons are increasingly being made between the efforts made in Kenya, where two parties were brought into a relationship of trust and co-operation, and those in Zimbabwe, where the distrust grows every day.

The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, what is the Minister’s estimate of the number of people in Zimbabwe who are dependent on food aid at the moment? Is the food that we are able to supply appropriate for them?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, it is an astonishing story. Zimbabwe was a country of 12 million people: 3 million have gone into exile; of the remaining 9 million, some 5 million will be dependent on food aid by the end of the year. We have just made an allocation to the World Food Programme of £9 million. Ours and other contributions will make sure that appropriate food is available in this manmade tragedy.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, my noble friend’s frustration with the situation in Zimbabwe is evident in the way that he is answering the questions. Does he see any solution in the near future to this appalling situation and the lack of real response from Zimbabwe’s neighbours? Does he see any breakthrough possible in the near future over this or will we repeat these endless exchanges where we all agree it is terrible and nobody knows what to do?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, my noble friend is correct to note my frustration, which I think the whole House shares. There is a clock ticking: Zimbabwe has 230 million per cent inflation, some 5 million people—more than half of those living there—will shortly be on food aid and the regime is coming under a lot of pressure as its support begins to disintegrate. On the outside, as has already been said, neighbours such as Botswana are being ever more forceful in their public condemnation of what is happening. At some point this will end, and the sooner the better for everybody in Zimbabwe.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, as Mugabe and his gang are obviously determined not to surrender power quietly or wisely, can we be assured that the hard currency money the UK is providing to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and through our UN and EU agencies is going towards the purposes for which it is intended and is not being siphoned off and manipulated for the benefit of the ZANU-PF gangsters?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord draws attention to an appropriate issue. The central bank is making every effort to find any source of foreign currency to keep its patronage operations for the top leadership ticking over. The noble Lord should be assured that we are making absolutely certain that

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our moneys in no way fall into the hands of Government and go directly to UN and non-governmental partners, mainly for purchases made outside the country.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, what does 230 million per cent mean?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Earl will not expect, in the few seconds allowed me, a lesson in economics. Let me therefore limit myself to saying “A lot”.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, in light of the announcement this week that former President Mogae of Botswana won the prize for good governance on the African continent, what is my noble friend’s assessment of improvements in governance on that continent, despite the deadlock in Zimbabwe?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, former President Mogae, whom we should all congratulate on winning this award, is one of those who signed the letter from African leaders that was published in the Financial Times and other places condemning the actions of President Mugabe. The fact that Botswana has had three admirably honest Presidents and now has a fourth in President Khama shows that the issue of honesty and quality of leadership in Africa is a vital individual determinant of the success of different African countries.


3.33 pm

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it has not escaped my attention that there is a strong desire from all sides of the House for a debate on the present economic difficulties. It may be helpful to know that I agree that there is a need for such a debate and that I am, in consultation with other representatives of the usual channels, looking to find time for it before Prorogation.

With the leave of the House, my noble friend Lord Mandelson will today make a Statement entitled “Measures to Help Small Businesses” at a convenient point after 4.15 pm. This is the Secretary of State’s first opportunity to make the Statement to the House. This opportunity happens to be later than I am sure we would all agree is desirable. As noble Lords will be aware, the House of Commons sits at 11.30 am on Wednesdays and because of this it has not been possible to deliver this Statement simultaneously with the Statement delivered earlier today in the House of Commons. Simultaneous delivery of the Statement would of course have been the preferred option. We will endeavour to achieve this with future Statements made by my noble friend Lord Mandelson.

Energy Bill

3.35 pm

Report received.

Clause 20 [Terms and conditions]:

Lord Davies of Oldham moved Amendment No. 1:

1: Clause 20, page 11, line 13, after “authority” insert “, after consulting the licence holder,”

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment is in the name of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. It concerns the terms and conditions of carbon dioxide storage licences. I hope that noble Lords will find it helpful if I briefly outline Clause 20 and explain why and how we propose to amend it.

This clause allows licences to be granted on such terms and conditions as the licensing authority sees fit. One such potential licence condition is specified in subsection (3)(d), which states that the licence may include a provision,

In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, proposed an amendment to this provision which would require the licensing authority to consult the licence holder prior to making any such modifications to a licence. She pointed out that such an express duty would provide certainty to commercial operators, and we agree with that broad objective. Therefore, while it has always been our intention to consult the licence holder in such circumstances, I agree with the noble Baroness that it is desirable for a duty to consult to be stated expressly in the Bill, which is why the amendment is proposed. I am therefore grateful to the noble Baroness for tabling her helpful amendment in Committee and ask the House to support this amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I thank the Minister for tabling the amendment in response to our debate on consultation in Committee. As he said then, putting in the Bill the explicit intention to consult properly before modifying the licence would add regulatory certainty and wider confidence in the regime. I am very pleased to accept the amendment as a result.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Teverson moved Amendment No. 2:

2: Before Clause 32, insert the following new Clause—

“Capture of carbon dioxide competition

In any competitive process relating to the capture of carbon dioxide initiated by the Secretary of State, equal status should be given to all technologies relating to the capture of carbon dioxide.”

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the amendment relates to an important part of government strategy, which is the continued use of coal as an energy source in a low-carbon economy. The only way that we can do this is to take out carbon dioxide from the generation of electricity through coal. This is very important technology. It is interesting that, although we sometimes say that we lead in this area, Germany last month launched the first power station in Europe with carbon capture and storage technology, and the United States and Norway are on a similar path. Yet in the UK, competitions have been based solely around post-combustion technology. The Americans have gone down a different route. There is always an inherent danger in Governments trying to choose or restrict the technologies with which industry experiments to try to bring forward this important technology. The amendment would make sure that the criteria are broadened and that, in future competitions, both pre-combustion and post-combustion technologies are allowed to be tendered for. The European Parliament has recently debated in

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the context of the energy packages there being some dozen experimental sites for carbon capture and storage within the European Union, to be functioning by 2014. I hope that we will have a number more of those in the United Kingdom, but it would be very dangerous if we restricted it to a particular type as has happened so far.

Carbon capture and storage is absolutely key to medium and long-term energy needs within the United Kingdom, and towards our climate change objectives. It is, therefore, undesirable to restrict the technologies that the private sector is able to move forward, to experiment with, or to prove at this stage. I beg to move.

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, we have a great deal of sympathy with this amendment. I am in complete agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, about the inadequacy of government policy in this area. In Committee, the Minister said that:

“The Government’s commitment to all carbon capture technologies is clear”.—[Official Report, 12/6/08; col. GC 298.]

Yet he signally failed to demonstrate the effectiveness of that commitment. The Government’s competition was notable for its exclusion of promising technology, the delay that one has come to expect from the Government—not just in this area—and the eventual disappointment of many companies, which optimistically believed that the level of promised government support would be meaningful.

I would have more sympathy for the Government’s concern for the cost in supporting technological development in this area if they were not so keen to promise the world in statements to the press and to stakeholders. They claim to understand the importance of carbon capture and storage technology, but then talk of various bodies having CCS “as a possible theme”. As the private sector continually has to pay for the Government’s half-baked commitments that lead nowhere, it is becoming apparent that government policy towards CCS technology is not saving money, merely wasting it.

I feel that I am repeating myself. The Conservative Party policy is clear on this. We have learned how counterproductive it is when Governments try to pick the winner, and we would support both pre- and post-production technology.

Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan: My Lords, if there is to be a competition and the noble Baroness is saying that there should be a wider range of competitors, then if we are to take advantage of both technologies, or maybe even a third, should there not be three winners—one from each section? If they are going to have that, would she favour increases in expenditure or a reduction in the prize so that it could be divided into three?

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I always expect interesting questions from the noble Lord. As your Lordships know, my party will do anything rather than spend money unnecessarily.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, my noble friend’s question was very interesting because it related to the resources that should be deployed on this issue. As we had extensive debate in Committee, I understand the positions of the noble Baroness and the noble Lord,

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Lord Teverson, and I appreciate that in an ideal world the Government could conjure up resources from any quarter and invest in developing strategies and competitions for every conceivable solution to the enormous challenges that we face on the question of carbon capture and storage. However, government is about choice and the effective and accurate deployment of scarce resources.

I understand when the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, says that others are busy in this field. Of course they are: when this issue is crucial to how we tackle climate change and meet our carbon targets worldwide, does anybody think that the United States is likely to stand idly by, when it is all too well aware of the potential marketability and advantages of producing an effective carbon capture and storage system? Norway is, of course, also interested since it has extensive gas and oil areas, parts of which can now be used for carbon storage as they are exploited, provided the technology can be established. Those countries will play their part and, of course, Germany and other countries in the European Union are looking at this issue. What I want to emphasise is, contrary to the two contributions from the opposition Front Benches today, how much progress the Government are making in this area. We are significantly in the lead. The Bill is an enabling framework that will allow the safe storage of carbon dioxide offshore. It does not address the capture or transportation elements of the carbon capture and storage change and, as such, does not provide for government competitions for carbon dioxide storage demonstrations, or regulate the type of technologies that may be deployed via such competitions. In other words, the provisions are technology neutral.

3.45 pm

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