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House of Lords

Wednesday, 14 January 2009.

3 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham.

Energy: Carbon Capture and Storage


3.06 pm

Asked By Lord Ezra

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 continue to promote the development of carbon capture and storage technologies. The CCS competition remains on track, and we are committed to an operational project by 2014.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that carbon capture and storage has now moved centre stage having regard to the fact that many new coal-fired stations are likely to be constructed both here and elsewhere and, on the other hand, that we are committed to a 20 per cent carbon reduction by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050? In these circumstances, should the Government not be expanding their efforts and testing out other aspects of CCS? Can he indicate what progress has been made in other EU countries, especially Germany?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right to draw attention to the importance of carbon capture and storage. My understanding is that the International Energy Agency estimates an increase in global coal demand of 73 per cent by 2030, driven mostly by China and India. Therefore, there is great potential in the UK developing and putting into practice technology not just for reducing carbon emissions in this country but as regards export opportunities. I know the noble Lord is concerned that we have selected one technology in the competition that we have started, but we have had to focus our efforts in a particular area. We think that the post-combustion technology that we have chosen is the right one because it is the most globally relevant.

Lord Teverson: My Lords, the climate change package that was agreed in Europe in December contains a specific commitment to invest the revenue raised from auctioning 300 million allowances in up to 12 carbon capture and storage demonstration projects. How will the UK Government take advantage of that in relation to the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, about diversified interests and investment?

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right to report the outcome of the negotiations in Europe, which we believe were very encouraging and in which the UK played an extremely proactive role. Clearly, the next question is how the UK will take advantage of the allowances that will be made available. We already have a competition process in place. We have chosen a technology which we think is the right one.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, does the Minister accept the judgment of the International Panel on Climate Change that carbon capture and storage could account for up to 55 per cent of the global carbon reduction targets? It is a huge percentage. But does he also accept that there is growing impatience among industrialists in this country not only in the energy industries but in other high emitters such as cement and iron and steel at the painfully slow progress that seems to be being made in the Government’s policy in this regard? We do not even know who the winner of the competition is. When will we know that?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I cannot give an exact date for that because we are in the competition process. There is no doubting the fact that this is very important: it is important in terms of this country meeting the hugely challenging targets to reduce emissions and in terms of UK jobs and skills. The Government are not at all complacent. The UK played a very important part in the successful outcome of the negotiations in Europe in December. We continue to invest energy and time in CCS and we are confident of a good outcome.

Lord Rees of Ludlow: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a minimal chance of meeting the global targets for CO2 emissions reductions unless carbon capture and storage is widely adopted within 20 years and that it will be in the economic interests of the UK and the EU to spearhead the development of this technology with far more urgency than seems to be happening at the moment?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I agree with everything that the noble Lord said except for his last few words. The Government are not complacent; we fully understand the importance of CCS. We will do everything we can to ensure that the UK is the leader in this field to our great advantage and that of many other countries.

Lord Blackwell: My Lords, I recognise the importance of carbon capture but, given the potential energy shortage in the next decade, will the Government commit to not stand in the way of new build coal power stations while we are waiting for CCS to become available?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Lord knows that an application is under consideration in Kingsnorth and that it would not be appropriate for me to comment. He is right to suggest that the electricity generating industry faces a stiff challenge in terms of sufficient supply over the next few years. He may be aware that a number of coal and oil plants may go out of commission over the next few years; we are very much alive to that. I can also report to the House that

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there is new energy production. EDF’s takeover of nuclear power stations in this country will also lead to investment in new nuclear processes.

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, did the Government support the Peterhead project and, if so, how?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath:My Lords, I cannot respond to the noble Baroness on that, but I will certainly let her know.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, would it not be preferable if the Government made more effort in relation to carbon capture systems rather than spending a lot of money on wind generation? That provides power only when the wind blows whereas coal-fired stations and other kinds of power stations provide it when it is really necessary—in the winter, when the wind may not blow if it is very frosty.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Lord on that; we should look at all sources of supply. We are pledged to increase the amount of renewable energy that we use in this country but CCS is also very important. It is important that we have diversity of supply and that we redouble our efforts to ensure that we meet these very challenging targets on greenhouse gas emissions.

Jobcentre Plus: Dyslexia


3.14 pm

Asked By Lord Addington

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My Lords, Access to Work advisers are already able to call on expert advice from contracted providers or the Jobcentre Plus Work Psychology Service if they need help dealing with individual customers. Access to Work advisers also have access to disability employment advisers who have expertise in dealing with a range of disabilities, including dyslexia. Recently, Jobcentre Plus has been in discussions with the British Dyslexia Association about delivering dyslexia awareness sessions to Access to Work advisers during 2009.

Lord Addington: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he not agree that the fact that we are actually in the process of making sure that this cover arrives raises questions as to why it was not there in the first place, especially considering the amount of attention that there has been from the Government to making sure that all disabilities, not just dyslexia, are covered?

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Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I first pay tribute to the noble Lord’s engagement and that of the British Dyslexia Association in this field. I do not accept that there has not been activity and support in this area, but it is a welcome development that we are working with the British Dyslexia Association. Half-day events have been organised for February in three locations, which will be focused on understanding what dyslexia is and the associated conditions, providing a specific idea of the kind of difficulties that the condition poses at work and an awareness of coping strategies, including and beyond IT, that can help as an adjustment.

Lord Elton: My Lords—

Lord Rix: My Lords, what is the proposed timetable for the doubling of the Access to Work budget, which the Government have said will take place by 2013-14? Will this funding be provided incrementally or in a lump sum? Will it be in real terms?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, the Access to Work budget is a hugely important component of the Government’s support for disabled people. The budget has already been increased from £15 million in 1994-95 to £69 million in 2008-09, and we have agreed to double it. The proposal, I believe, is to do that incrementally through to 2013-14, by when it is anticipated that the budget will help some 48,000 people access and keep employment.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, will the Minister take this opportunity to repudiate the remarks, reported by the BBC today, of Graham Stringer, the Labour Member of Parliament, who says:

“Dyslexia is a cruel fiction ... The sooner it is consigned to the ... dustbin of history, the better”?

These remarks are deeply irresponsible and will cause great concern to many, many hundreds of thousands of parents throughout the country.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, the noble Lord makes a telling point and I am very happy to refute those comments that Graham Stringer made. The Government are very clear on that: dyslexia is a specific learning difficulty, and that is why it deserves the support it gets through special educational needs provision and the sort of employment programmes that I have spoken about.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that his answers are helpful, but not adequate, because the Question specifically asked for a trained, skilled person to be in every jobcentre? Having “access” to an adviser can mean anything, but what we really need is someone specialising in dyslexia to be able to give guidance immediately, rather than calling them in at some later date. Will the Minister think again?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, there are three operational centres, which is the primary route by which claims customers can obtain Access to Work support, but there are specialists in each district and in most individual jobcentres; so information, access and support are available. However, this is also about making sure that not only specialist advisers but individual personal advisers at the coalface in jobcentres are aware of the issues around dyslexia. A whole raft of

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support needs to be given and, I believe, it is available; but we should never be complacent and we need to keep focused on this.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, having specialist advisers in jobcentres is one thing, but much of the Access to Work operation is done through contracts to outside bodies. Are the monitors of those contracts suitably qualified, so that, in the case of dyslexia or any other incapacity, we can be assured that the contract remains viable?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I do not think that the noble Lord is right in his assertion that this work is largely contracted to outside bodies. Access to Work supports individual tailored programmes which affect individuals and individual employment opportunities. It is about special aid, equipment, adaptations to premises and equipment, support workers, communication support and travel to work support, helping individuals to access or stay in employment. In that respect, the system is not contracted out.

Lord Low of Dalston: My Lords, given the Government’s stress on the importance of apprenticeships and the potential importance of apprenticeships as a route into the labour market for disabled people, will they ensure that the forthcoming apprenticeships Bill includes measures to promote diversity and accessibility for disabled people in the apprenticeships programme?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I am not specifically focused on the detail of that but the thrust of the noble Lord’s point is entirely reasonable.

Lord Elton: My Lords—

Baroness Thomas of Winchester: My Lords, is the noble Lord confident that all Jobcentre Plus staff understand something about dyslexia? If one in 10 of the population is dyslexic, that means that a lot of people who visit Jobcentre Plus offices do not really understand the forms and they may be pretending to fill them in without really knowing what they are doing. Therefore, is he confident that all the staff have some knowledge of dyslexia?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, we must never be complacent. We need to continue to ensure that every adviser at the coalface is aware not only of dyslexia but of a range of other conditions that disabled people endure.



3.21 pm

Asked By Lord Wallace of Saltaire

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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, the UK is offering to host a conference of the treaty-recognised nuclear weapon states, and we have supported an independent study of the requirements for a nuclear-free world. The Atomic Weapons Establishment is researching the verification of nuclear disarmament work, including working with Norway and the non-governmental organisation VERTIC. Furthermore, in designing the replacement assembly/disassembly facility at Burghfield, we are considering how we might help to facilitate the future verification of weapons dismantlement.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. I have two follow-on questions. I had understood that part of the AWE’s role in this would be helping to expand the next generation of monitors for verifying the elimination of nuclear weapons on a multilateral basis. Is anything moving on that? Secondly, on 18 December, in the traditional way in which important but embarrassing announcements are slipped out on the last sitting day of Parliament, there was a one-paragraph announcement on the BNFL website that the AWE is now passing to majority American control. Does this have implications for Britain as a nuclear disarmament laboratory?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, with regard to the noble Lord’s first point, the AWE’s work is very much focused on developing methods of verification. As to whether we are training individual monitors, if I understood the noble Lord’s question correctly, I am not so certain and I shall need to look at that. However, we are working on the methodology of verification. On the noble Lord’s second point, I reassure him that, while the sale of a share of the AWE management company to an American owner is indeed taking place, control of our nuclear programme and sites and indeed strategic control of the management company itself remain in the hands of Her Majesty’s Government.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord can explain that further. I declare an interest in that I live in Reading on the Thames and discharges from Burghfield and Aldermaston are made into the Thames. People living in that area would certainly want an assurance that there will be no loss of government control and indeed that the controls that already exist will either continue or be improved.

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, let me give the noble Lord the assurance that while the commercial details of the contract remain confidential for sensitive reasons, it is structured in such a way that it is a management contract to ensure the sale of a share of the company that deals with the management of the facilities, which in no way disrupts the British ownership of them.

The Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells: My Lords, can the Minister say whether the perception that the grand bargain on nuclear disarmament has changed, leading to an effective abandonment of a commitment to disarmament, is accurate, and can he offer guidance on the current steps being taken by Her Majesty’s Government towards nuclear disarmament here?

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Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I very much hope that I can reassure the right reverend Prelate that the grand bargain remains. The issue of non-proliferation is at the core of the NPT—disarmament by the existing nuclear powers and the proper protected use of nuclear energy to be available to those who need it. Obviously the bargain needs refreshing in the light of the strategic changes that have occurred in the world, and the growing turn towards nuclear energy as an energy source by many countries. We are much more confident today than we were, say, 18 months ago that the next NPT review conference in 2010 will be able to renew that bargain in a way that will re-establish a framework of nuclear non-proliferation in the world in which we can all have confidence.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, now that the Secretary of State-elect of the United States has said that the new Administration will send forward the comprehensive test ban treaty for ratification, reopen negotiations for a fissile material cut-off treaty and begin talks with the Russians about how to handle a number of bilateral issues, surely it is time for either the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary to set out the British view on these crucial issues about how we move towards nuclear disarmament, in an overall approach similar to the one that the former Foreign Secretary used shortly before she left the Government.

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I certainly think that the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary in a number of statements have indicated our support for a much more ambitious non-proliferation agenda than in the past. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has made sure in her role of advising the Prime Minister that we do not lack ambition. It is probably correct that we now face the prospect of an open door that was previously closed, and it is enormously important that we press on it and work with the US as well as our other P5 partners to raise our game on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: My Lords, in his answer to my noble friend’s second question the Minister said that strategic control of the firm now in effective US ownership remains in British hands. What exactly does he mean by that and how is it exercised?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, let me assure the noble Lord that AWE sites and assets continue to be owned by the UK Government. The AWE management company is responsible only for the management and operation of the AWE but does it under contract to the MoD. This sale does not affect UK sovereignty or the independence of the UK’s nuclear deterrent. The UK’s strategic requirements and the deterrent programme will continue to be set by the UK Government and we are confident that the change in ownership of AWEML does not alter that in any way.

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