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House of Lords

Monday, 30 March 2009.

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Chelmsford.

G20: London Summit


2.36 pm

Asked By Baroness Rawlings

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, security for attendees at the G20 event will be based on a thorough threat and risk assessment which considers the full range of factors, including public order risks.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Is he aware that fears about the scale of the demonstrations and protests set for London on 1 and 2 April have meant that, let alone all the awful inconvenience to anyone trying to get around London, estimates of the cost of policing London in those two days have hit around £7.2 million, with an acknowledgment that the cost could soar? What does he think is a realistic estimate of the cost, and can he explain how it will be funded?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the figures quoted are the ones that we are working on in calculations and in discussions with the Metropolitan Police Service. The intention is that the Home Office will cover part of the figure, and we are in debate as to exactly what percentage will be covered and how it will be done. However, it is a standard thing to hold big events in the capital, and we are particularly good at it. I think that people often like to hold events in London because we are so good at policing them and maintaining public order.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, can the noble Lord assure Members of this House that they will be able to attend this week without let or hindrance?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I see no reason why we should not be able to do that. Advice has been given to some in the City that they should perhaps dress down, so to speak, but I certainly have no intention of dressing down—indeed, I thought that I might even dress up slightly. However, a lot of things are happening and we must not underestimate it. We are expecting demonstrations from April Fuels Day, which is to do with climate change; Financial Fools Day, an anti-capitalist protest; a Stop the War march

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in central London on 1 April; the G20 Global Meltdown, which is a march to the City; and a march to the ExCel centre. So an awful lot of people are involved, and when that happens one sometimes gets troublemakers. However, the aim is to allow people to demonstrate peacefully, as happened on Saturday. That is what the police will be trying to achieve.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, should we not be very proud that the G20 is being held here rather than carp about it?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. It seems to me rather important and pertinent that we are having a meeting like this at this stage and we should be proud that it is being held in this country. All the coverage of the meeting seems to be negative and that is rather unfortunate because something good might actually come out of it.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is a pity that the spin has been put on our younger generation? They are concerned about climate change and financial issues, but they have been called anarchists and it has been implied that they all will be violent, whereas they simply want to protest. Can he also assure me that very strict guidance will be given on the use of Tasers? It is to be regretted that they are to be used at all.

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I certainly agree with the noble Baroness. I have a number of youngsters myself. The young people in this country are generally very good. I have been very impressed with the cadet forces and all sorts of groups, so I would certainly not say that they are all anarchists. However, as I said, when there are so many thousands of people involved some will be troublemakers who are not there to be peaceful demonstrators. They do not have deep-held feelings about these things but are there for other reasons and ulterior motives. That is extremely unfortunate. There are very strict guidelines in place for Tasers, and they will of course be implemented.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the best way of ensuring one’s security during the meeting of the G20 is not to look like a banker?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, my noble friend raises an interesting point, but I do not think that I would go there; particularly with my colleague sitting here on my left it would be a frightful thing to say. When large demonstrations are going on there may be some merit in dressing down slightly, as some City firms have advised, but, as I say, I have no intention of doing so.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, are the police satisfied that they have an organisational link between the multifarious groups that are due to take part in the demonstrations, so that there is some control and someone they can talk to about preventing a major outbreak of violence if one seems to be arising?

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Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I have great faith in the Metropolitan Police Service. It has tried to get that co-ordination and has talked with the groups involved. As I said, London has a very good record of being able to hold these sorts of events. There is also another point, which is interesting. I looked at the policing of the Kingsnorth power station and what happened there and I was not very happy with what I saw. We are looking into that and giving advice on how these things should be policed. That sort of thing will be taken into account on this occasion.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, will the state visit of the Mexican President this week be an added complication or dealt with entirely separately?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, it will almost inevitably be an added complication but, as I say, the Metropolitan Police Service is used to arranging and dealing with a number of things at the same time. I am sure that it has been completely factored in and I see no difficulty with it.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, the estimated cost of the G20 summit is £20 million. As there is no agreement among the world’s major economies on the way forward in the economic crisis facing us, is it not rather a lot of taxpayers’ money to be spending on the Prime Minister’s desperate effort to save one or two seats at the next election?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I think that that is symptomatic of the unbelievably curmudgeonly attitude to this. This is a very important opportunity. I do not like to talk figures but it may well cost about £19 million in total. But if action agreed at the summit makes a difference of 0.1 per cent in economic growth, it will be worth more than £1 billion to the United Kingdom next year. So any small change is welcome. Part of it is to do with confidence. Confidence is important and yet everyone seems to try to undermine it.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, how will Parliament be informed about the hoped-for success of the outcome of the G20 summit? Will there be a Statement to Parliament or will we learn of it in some other way, as the House will be in recess?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Lord raises a pertinent point. I do not know the answer, but perhaps I may get back to him in writing on it.

Government Borrowing


2.43 pm

Asked By Lord Higgins

The Financial Services Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Myners): My Lords, since the formation of the Debt Management Office in 1998, the Government have fully funded their net financing requirement and

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will continue to do so. The Government’s financing framework is set out in paragraph 4.1 of the Debt and Reserves Management Report 2008-09 which states:

“The Government aims to finance its net cash requirement plus maturing debt and financing required for additional net foreign currency reserves through the issuance of debt”.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that interesting reply. Does he agree that funding policy is the crucial link between monetary and fiscal policy and that underfunding of the borrowing requirement has a similar effect on the money supply to buying back government debt? Given the enormous size of the borrowing requirement, is there not a danger that underfunding will result in huge increases in the money supply and inflation? Even if last week’s failure to sell government debt was a miscalculation, does he agree that there is no prospect of continuing to fund the enormous borrowing requirement at present interest rates?

Lord Myners: My Lords, the noble Lord asked several questions. To cease to follow the policy of fully funding the Government's net cash requirement, the policy adopted in 1985 under the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, would be to conflate fiscal policy and monetary policy. We are clear from the initiatives taken in 1997 to give the Bank of England responsibility for monetary policy that we should not allow those two factors to combine. The management of fiscal funding is entirely separate from monetary policy. If we were to conflate the two, we would undermine the independence of the Bank of England in monetary management.

The uncovered gilt auction of last week, an auction of a security that has been on auction four times this year and has been fully covered on three of those occasions, was the third such uncovered auction since the DMO was launched. It represented the circumstances of a single day. The capacity to fund the public sector borrowing requirement was clearly evidenced by the confidence of the chief executive of the Debt Management Office, and the fact that we are borrowing at record long-term low interest rates, 3.3 per cent for 40-year gilts, is evidence of how popular UK government securities are with investors.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that at 86, I find it extremely difficult to understand the present situation? Why not hold a seminar with the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and my noble friend Lord Higgins?

Lord Myners: My Lords, I have previously recorded, and am happy to record again, my inestimable praise and admiration for the adroitness and knowledge of the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, and my noble friend Lord Barnett, who I see is even now poised like a greyhound in the trap. Whether I need a seminar is for others to judge. I am confident that our funding strategy for the Government's requirements is in very strong health and will be admirably managed by the DMO.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, I would never have any intention of lecturing my noble friend, or anyone else for that matter, but does he accept that a 93 per cent take-up of the gilts that were issued last week was a

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perfectly reasonable response, given that I did not take any because 40 years’ maturity seems a little beyond me—slightly, anyway? Does he further accept that what really matters is how we are going to get through the current situation economically and financially? Will he confirm that those policies are in the hands of the Government and not those of the Governor of the Bank of England and that he will ignore everything that the governor said recently and concentrate in the Budget on helping at least some of the poorest members of the community? Will he at least confirm that that will not be ruled out?

Lord Myners: My Lords, it seems to have fallen to me to answer questions with multiple subquestions within them. The fact that £1.4 billion of a 40-year gilt was sold at 4.41 per cent annual interest was an admirable step forward by the DMO. Seven per cent of the auction was not covered, but, as I said, that should not be totally surprising. If all auctions are fully covered every time, it could be that we are paying too much.

I took the advice from the governor to be quite sensible. He said that we should be careful in fiscal management, and that is precisely what my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer are doing. I certainly did not think that his remarks were anything like as stark as those of Lord Cromer to Harold Macmillan in the early 1950s.

Lord Newby: My Lords, the Minister raised the question of fiscal stimulus. Will he clear up exactly what the Prime Minister is hoping to achieve at the G20 this weekend? We had understood that he was seeking a massive global, concerted fiscal stimulus. Yet the Australian Prime Minister stated yesterday that that was never the intention. Will the Minister say what the intention was?

Lord Myners: My Lords, there is absolute alignment between the views of Mr Kevin Rudd and the Prime Minister; fiscal stimulus by individual countries, in an environment in which the IMF is forecasting for the first time in 60 years a decline in global economic activity, carries a significant risk. If all countries broadly increase public sector demand at a time when private sector demand is falling short, we will have a concerted move forward. Otherwise, there is a real risk of leakage from one economy to another. That is the primary intention of the G20: to ensure that we never again experience what we saw in the early 1980s and early 1990s—the damage done to business and to people’s lives by an economic recession.

Lord Peston: My Lords, does my noble friend agree, and will he convey this view to the Chancellor, that when unemployment is rising—so far as I can see, it will go on rising for at least another 18 months—this is not the time for people to bellyache about the dangers of inflation? If they really believe that the Governor of the Bank of England wants to pursue a disinflationary policy, they are certainly not going to engage in the investment that this country requires to get the economy moving again.

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Lord Myners: My Lords, I shall convey my noble friend’s sentiments to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I remind the House that the policy of quantitative easing is being introduced at the request of the Bank of England and that the Governor of the Bank of England and the members of the Monetary Policy Committee continue to have the overriding objective of achieving a 2 per cent inflation target.

Health: Immunotherapy


2.51 pm

Asked By Lord Taverne

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, immunotherapy is a suitable treatment for a specific, small group of patients with specific types of allergy. Due to the risk of life-threatening side effects, the Government’s guidance is that immunotherapy should be offered only in specialist centres. However, the Government are committed to increasing the provision of specialist allergy services and have asked NHS North West to develop a model for these services, which can then be extended to the rest of the UK.

Lord Taverne: My Lords, I am somewhat disappointed by that reply because, as the Science and Technology Committee report on allergies recently pointed out, this country is way behind other countries, especially those in Europe, that regard immunotherapy as one of the most effective treatments for many forms of allergy, particularly hay fever, which seriously impairs the quality of life and often leads to more serious conditions such as asthma. If one looks at the figures, the availability of immunotherapy in this country is way behind. We have something like 5,000 treatments a year; France and Germany have more than 300,000 treatments a year. Will the Government reconsider their position and regard this as a matter of real urgency?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, it is certainly true that the work of the Science and Technology Committee in this area provided the Government with a boost, and we welcomed its findings. Indeed, its work, and that of the noble Lord, has pushed this issue up the agenda of the health service, which is why we are working hard to do several things, including to increase the number of specialists and clinicians who deal with this and to create a model that can be rolled out across the NHS to deal not only with immunotherapy but with the generality of allergic therapies.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, will the Minister say whether the other recommendations in that report—I declare an interest, having been chairman of that sub-committee of the Select Committee on Science and Technology—such as the recommendation that NICE should produce guidelines on the management of allergy in primary care and should urgently look at immunotherapy, are being acted on with a degree of urgency?

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Baroness Thornton: My Lords, there is already a range of NICE guidance on allergies, and NICE is working very closely with department officials and leading experts in this field to draft detailed and focused clinical guidelines on effective diagnosis, the assessment of food allergies in adults, the management of anaphylaxis in children and adults, drug allergies, seasonal allergic rhinitis—hay fever, to the rest of us—in adults and children, and various technological appraisals in immunotherapy. We expect that, in its topical selection, it will consider a whole range of these in July 2009. It will decide which topics should be prioritised and will make recommendations to Ministers.

Lord Colwyn: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, will be sorry to hear this, but is the noble Baroness aware of the beneficial use of homeopathy for the treatment of allergic sensitivity, treating like with like, without any risk of severe reaction?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the noble Lord will be pleased to know that a consultation on the regulation, statutory or otherwise, of practitioners will be launched shortly, although other noble Lords may not be quite so pleased to know that. Once that consultation and the responses have been analysed, a decision will be taken as to whether to move towards statutory guidance on those professions.

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, the United Kingdom has one of the highest prevalences of allergies in the world, which creates a huge cost for the health service and for the economy generally in work days lost. I do not think that we can expect the Minister to give a full answer to the questions on allergies and immunotherapy during Question Time. Will she undertake to ask her department to place in the Library a progress report on those recommendations made by the committee chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, almost a year ago, so that those of us who are interested can have a full account of what is going on?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, that is absolutely right. This weekend, I read the committee’s report, which has 37 recommendations. The noble Baroness’s request is perfectly reasonable and I will undertake to make sure that that happens. The report was, in fact, published two years ago and not one year.

Earl Howe: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the time commitments for patients during immunotherapy courses are potentially huge? Each session, I understand, can last for up to two hours. The possible time commitments for specialist NHS staff are also considerable. Has an assessment been carried out as to the cost implications of rolling out this treatment further?

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