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House of Lords

Monday, 3 November 2008.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Chelmsford.

Introduction: Lord Pannick

Lord Pannick—David Philip Pannick, Esquire, QC, having been created Baron Pannick, of Radlett in the County of Hertfordshire, for life, was introduced between the Lord Woolf and the Lord Lester of Herne Hill.

Death of a Member

The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, I regret that I have to inform the House of the death of Lord Cuckney on 30 October. On behalf of the whole House, I extend our condolences to his family and friends.

2.42 pm

Education: Adult Learning

Baroness Sharp of Guildford asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Lord Young of Norwood Green): My Lords, we published the report of the consultation—I have it here—and the DIUS response on our website on Thursday 9 October. The DIUS has received around 5,500 responses. Its officials are developing and impact-assessing proposals arising from the consultation as the foundation for a new informal adult learning strategy to be published early next year, surely an appropriate time for a lengthier debate on such a vital issue.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. I am grateful for the two-page response from the department to the 5,500 responses to the consultation. I have two questions for the Minister. First, will he confirm that the Government still believe, as they did in 1998 when they published The Learning Age, that continuing adult education has a catalytic value in achieving social and economic goals as well as being of intrinsic value in itself? If so, why are they transferring this year some £128 million from the adult learning budget to the higher education budget?

Secondly, the department, in its response, made much play of so-called “self-organising adult learning”; namely, organisations such as the University of the Third Age. Without in any sense wishing to detract from the University of the Third Age, for which I have great admiration, does the Minister think that such organisations attract into the system new learners rather than those who are already well learnt?

Lord Grocott: Yes or no.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, I was just pondering how much of a multiple question that one was. We want to create national connections between government departments, whether it is the DCMS, the Department of Health, the Department for Children, Schools and Families, or those dealing with social mobility and a whole range of other factors. We believe in the catalytic value of informal adult learning to the nation as a whole. As for the £120 million to adult education, we maintain that our commitment to sustained funding with £210 million available every year until 2010-11 is genuine and important.

I am sorry; as it was a multiple question, I missed the last point.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, some time ago when I was in the employment department, the goal of using informal adult learning as a criterion for moving into work was desirable but elusive? There were many interests at stake. Does the Minister not agree that this is, in fact, a cross-governmental issue?

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Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, I absolutely agree with my noble friend that this is very much a cross-governmental issue. As I said in answer to the last point, we are already working with government departments, such as DCMS, Communities and Local Government, the Department of Health and the Department for Children, Schools and Families, which all have an interest in this area.

Baroness Verma: My Lords, if the Government recognise that there is a catalytic effect, why have they cut 1.5 million funded and part-funded adult learning places?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, we do not agree with that figure. The accusation is based on the latest full-year statistical first release for 2006-07, and refers to the reduction in places across all Learning and Skills Council-funded further education provision for over-19s. This is not just about informal learning. With our funding, we are maintaining our commitment. Our moral for adult learning is, “Quality, not quantity”.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will understand why those of us who have been arguing for more money to be spent on adult education will feel disappointed by the number of places cut. Can he explain the future policy and, in particular, whether ICT will be taught to the older generation—not least if they are to be expected to go straight on to websites?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, we must be careful that we are using the right figures when we talk about cuts. There has been talk of a 42 per cent cut, and we do not accept that figure. There will be a reduction by the end of the year by 14 per cent.

We believe in IT as a means of delivery. To pick up on a point that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, made, traditional methods are not the only route to informal adult learning. People lead busy lives. It might be IT, or it might be one-off courses. The staggering increase in people interested in genealogy because of television programmes, for example, as well as readers’ groups and book clubs, are all invaluable parts of informal adult learning.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, whether or not the Minister agrees with the figure of 1.5 million, will he at least confirm that the largest percentage drop, something like 55 per cent, is in engineering and manufacturing technologies? Does he agree with me that we really need extra adult education in those areas if we are to upskill the workforce?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, we have shown our commitment to extra adult education in the recent Education and Skills Bill, on which we have had extensive debate. The Government do not need to apologise for their record of commitment to improving the skills set of the nation.

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Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, as the Minister does not agree with the figure of 1.5 million cuts, given by my noble friend on the Front Bench, what figure does he have in his brief?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, I shall have another go. Funding for adult skills is rising from £4.6 billion in 2007-08 to £5.3 billion in 2010-11. That is an increase of 7 per cent in real terms. It is expected to support an average of more than 3 million adult learners per year over the Comprehensive Spending Review period. We have moved away from funding lots of lower-quality courses to funding the ones that give people the best chances of employability and further progression.

Lord Jones of Birmingham: My Lords, given the success of the learning and skills councils when it comes to a major attack on a community such as the closure of Vauxhall at Luton or the closure of MG Rover at Longbridge in Birmingham, will the Minister explain why they are being replaced by local authorities, which will be politically motivated, rather than business-driven, which has been the key to previous success?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, I was not aware that learning and skills councils were being replaced totally by local authorities. As I understand it, the Skills Funding Agency will be one of the groups, but I shall write to the noble Lord to give as accurate an answer as possible.

Nuclear Decommissioning Authority

2.50 pm

Lord Jenkin of Roding asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, the Government are funding the largest ever amount of expenditure on the UK civil nuclear clean-up programme. This funding allows the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to operate safely and effectively, in line with its priorities. Its top priority is tackling the risks at the most hazardous facilities, including those at Sellafield. The authority is satisfied that it has sufficient funds to enable it and its contractors to fulfil the priority programmes at Sellafield during 2008-09.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I certainly recognise that there have been increases in funding over the past two or three years, but does the Minister accept that uncertainty about future funding for what is, by its very nature, a long-term programme prejudices the ability of the NDA to plan its work in the most cost-effective way and, perhaps more importantly, impacts seriously on the supply chain’s development of skills and employment?

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I certainly agree that it is important that the NDA has certainty about funding. Its funding comes both from commercial operations and a grant from the Exchequer. It plans to spend £2.9 billion this year and there are similar plans for 2009-10. As regards certainty for companies, I believe that the future is bright. In addition to the work related to nuclear decommissioning, the proposed take over of British Energy by EDF and its proposals for new nuclear build suggest that, as a whole, this could be a very successful industry in the future.

Lord Teverson: My Lords, the estimated expenditure for decommissioning NDA sites from 2003-07 went up by an estimated 30 per cent to £73 billion. In the short term the estimate for decommissioning between 2008 and 2013 has gone up by 41 per cent. If we are so bad at estimating these costs, how can we guarantee that taxpayers will not land up paying for decommissioning of nuclear new build?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Lord is being a little unfair about the estimates. He will know that one of the key purposes of setting up the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority was to ensure that we had much better estimates of the cost of decommissioning over the many years in which it is due to take place. The result of its efforts has been to update the cost. My understanding is that it is expected that while costs may still rise in the short term, using the competitive approach to bringing in companies to manage the decommissioning programme may well reduce costs in the long term. The noble Lord will know that the approval process has to be satisfied that the companies engaged in new build will be able to meet the decommissioning costs.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords—

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords—

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): My Lords, there is plenty of time. I think that it is the turn of the Labour Benches.

Lord Berkeley: My Lords, after all the decommissioning has been completed, where will the highly radioactive stuff end up? Will it be in a tank in Sellafield, with the waste having a half-life of 1,000 years, or do the Government have a better idea about where it might go?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, my noble friend will probably know that the whole question of managing radioactive waste was discussed in a Defra White Paper in June 2008. Clearly, the preferred approach is for geological disposal. He will probably also know that the White Paper invited local communities to express an interest in opening up, without commitment, discussions with the Government on the possibility of hosting a geological disposal facility at some point in the future. My understanding is that one such community has already expressed interest.

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Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, the Question asks what funds are available. What funds are available?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I thought I had explained that to the House. This year, £2.9 billion is available, and the plan for 2009-10 is for £2.9 billion. The estimated liability over the many years of the decommissioning programme is £44 billion. That is the current estimate, but it may well change in the future. The hope is that, by bringing in expertise, the cost over the long term will come down.

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, the Government state that,

What is meant by “share”? Will the Minister assure the House that, with no exceptions, operators will cover the entire cost of dealing with waste from their facility for its entire lifetime?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, those matters will be taken forward as the proposals for new build are made. A funded decommissioning programme would have to be submitted by a prospective nuclear power station operator prior to construction and it must be approved by the Secretary of State. That programme will require a decommissioning and waste management plan that describes the costed steps for both decommissioning and waste management and disposal.


2.57 pm

Lord Blaker asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): We are in regular contact with states in the region both directly and via our high commissions and embassies. The political deadlock in Zimbabwe is a tragedy for the people who voted for change in March. We hope that the forthcoming SADC summit will help Zimbabwean political leaders reach the solution that is fair and reflects the outcome of the 29 March elections.

Lord Blaker: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that last week Donald Kaberuka, the president of the African Development Bank, said of the people negotiating for the future of Zimbabwe:

“We are keen that they reach a political agreement so that they can have a credible economic reform programme and credible people at the Reserve Bank”?

Does the Minister detect from that a recognition from within SADC of the sweeping changes of personnel of all kinds that will be necessary from almost every international organisation?

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Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I have had the opportunity to talk quite extensively with Donald Kaberuka, a remarkable individual who leads the African Development Bank. He is very well aware that ending the current situation of hyperinflation in Zimbabwe and restoring sensible economic policies require not just a new team but solid political will in government. At the moment, we are nowhere near achieving that.

Baroness D'Souza: My Lords, according to a report last week by Amnesty International, at least 180 people have been murdered and over 9,000 have been tortured since the election in March. What guarantees and sanctions were put in place by the SADC leaders who witnessed the power-sharing agreement in September?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the whole international community shares with the noble Baroness a frustration that in all the weeks since the power-sharing agreement was signed in September, it still cannot be implemented because of opposition by President Mugabe to the sharing of cabinet portfolios, which was called for in the agreement. The SADC negotiator spent four days in Harare last week without being able to break that deadlock. We expect there to be a SADC heads of government meeting of some kind next week, and we very much hope that it will resolve this issue before there is more economic hardship and loss of life.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that so much of the good in Africa is drowned out by the image of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe? Does my noble friend detect in his contact with not only the African Development Bank but regional leaders a recognition that Mugabe, having destroyed his economy and killed so many of his people, is marring the image and investment opportunities of the region as a whole? If there is such recognition, what is being done about it?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the leaders of the African region as a whole are in no doubt, in private conversations, about their dismay at the damage that President Mugabe is doing to his country and the region; but, as has always been the case, they often find it difficult to express that complaint publicly, for fear that it would merely strengthen Mugabe’s position at home.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, it is good news that the SADC summit will be held in the near future under the chairmanship of President Motlanthe, who, after all, had direct personal experience of the situation in Zimbabwe when he was head of a COSATU delegation a couple of years ago. Will the summit be able to consider the complete breakdown of humanitarian efforts in Zimbabwe, which has arisen from a trillion per cent inflation rate, the regime’s theft of $7.3 million from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and other hindrances that have been imposed on international humanitarian efforts?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, it is a SADC summit and its members will choose what to discuss, but the constraints on effective humanitarian assistance, because of the Zimbabwe

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regime’s corruption, are evident. I am, however, pleased that the World Food Programme and other humanitarian agencies hope to increase the size of their feeding programmes—from 2 million to 5 million people, more than half of whom remain in Zimbabwe—in ways that the agencies hope will prevent any siphoning off of funds by this corrupt regime.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, amid the growing horror in Zimbabwe, is it not tragic that the currency is, in effect, dead, given that it apparently takes more than 40 billion Zimbabwean dollars to buy one American dollar? In other words, the currency is beyond recall. Will the Minister forgive me for returning to the point that I raised with him the other day about what is happening to UK hard currency aid to Zimbabwe? Are we sure that it is not being pilfered by the regime, and is this not a matter that we should raise with SADC to ensure that the money reaches the points it is meant to reach and is not simply siphoned off by this monstrous group who are driving Zimbabwe deep into the ground?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I am happy to—I hope—reassure the noble Lord. I did, indeed, follow up on his previous question, because I am always worried that he may know something that I do not. In this case, the fact that our aid is overwhelmingly humanitarian and is provided through international agencies directly to NGOs means that the possibility of money being siphoned off within the reserve bank is extremely limited and is, we hope, kept to a small minimum. More broadly, it is correct that the essential “dollarisation” of the economy means that the army and others increasingly seek their pay in dollars—requests that are becoming impossible for the regime to satisfy.

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