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House of Lords

Thursday, 2 April 2009.

11 am

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Chelmsford

Health: Diabetes


11.05 am

Tabled by Lord Harrison

Baroness Wilkins: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Harrison and at his request, I beg leave to ask the Question originally standing in his name on the Order Paper.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, we welcome the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health report, which raises awareness of the close link between type 2 diabetes and obesity. We know that the number of people developing diabetes continues to increase and that is why we are working with the NHS to help prevent people from developing the condition. Initiatives such as Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives and the vascular checks programme will be key to achieving this.

Baroness Wilkins: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. In the light of these research findings, is she aware that the number of new cases of type 2 diabetes, which, as she said, is strongly linked to obesity, rose by 69 per cent in the six years between 1997 and 2003? It is vital that diabetes is identified early to prevent the onset of complications such as blindness and amputation. Does she agree that a wide range of measures needs to be taken to tackle this threatening time bomb? There are worrying reports that the diabetic specialist services are being cut back. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that these vital services are available to all people with diabetes in order to prevent the appalling complications that can ensue?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, my noble friend is right: the number of people being diagnosed with diabetes is increasing. Consequently this has led, for example, to increased spending on the drugs being prescribed. We are not aware that there has been any reduction in expenditure or workforce at local level. We are investing heavily in prevention, particularly in the programmes I have already mentioned—Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives and the vascular checks programme—in self-medication and in self-management, and we are encouraging comprehensive services for diabetes at local level. Indeed, the NICE guidelines issued in 2008 recommended a comprehensive programme for people with type 2 diabetes, encouraging lifestyle changes, healthy eating and increased physical activity.

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Baroness Morgan of Huyton: My Lords, are there any specific plans for dealing with diabetes in children, which is a growing problem and one that the health service at the moment sometimes overlooks?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, managing diabetes in children and young people is different and is significantly more complex than it is for adults. We estimate that there are 20,000 children with type 1 diabetes in England and there may be up to 1,000 children with type 2 diabetes. The close link between diabetes and obesity means that it is vital that we reduce the number of children becoming overweight and obese and we are focusing on that. We recognise that there are particular issues about helping children and young people both to have access to the best quality care and to provide them and their families with the support and training to enable them, over a period of time, to become competent at managing their condition.

Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that the serious cardiovascular, renal and ocular complications of diabetes, often thought to occur only in type 1 diabetes, occur with equally high incidence in type 2 diabetes? As she said, there is a positive correlation between the increasing incidence of type 2 diabetes on the one hand and the development of obesity on the other. What advice are the Government giving to the public at large about the risks of overeating?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. He is, of course, quite correct in his diagnosis. In January 2008 we launched a £372 million cross-government strategy, Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives, which set out our ambition to enable people to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. We launched Change4Life, a national movement that brings together community groups, health professionals, teachers, government departments, supermarkets and the media to help people make positive changes to their diet, levels of activity and lifestyle, leading to better health. Indeed, yesterday the vascular checks programme kicked in as we announced our programme of vascular checks for everyone in England aged between 40 and 74. This has real potential to prevent many cases of diabetes and identify thousands more cases earlier.

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the increase in obesity among the population, which leads to diabetes and to type 2 diabetes in particular, is not so much to do with eating junk food and overeating generally, which human beings have always done given the chance, but to do with lack of exercise? What plans do the Government have to address this problem? In particular, could not this House set an example, perhaps by jogging on the spot during debates or having a morning exercise session after Prayers and before business starts?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I shall not comment on the noble Baroness’s suggestion about the amount of exercise that Members get. I agree that it is up to all of us to take responsibility for taking exercise. The noble Baroness is also correct about the link between type 2 diabetes and obesity being clear. It is, indeed, due to lifestyle; not only eating, but exercise. It is also

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due to such things as an ageing population. Because diabetes is a progressive condition, as you grow older, your risk of diabetes increases, particularly if you are not taking care of yourself and not taking exercise. If people have better access to support and can identify what they need to do to manage their condition and health day to day, we will prevent diabetes and help to keep it under control.

Earl Howe: My Lords, following the earlier question about the worrying rise in the number of children with diabetes, what particular strategies and training are being provided in schools to handle that increase and, I hope, contain it?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, we recognise that, as the noble Earl said, diabetes care for children is very variable. As long ago as October 2005, we set up a working group to discuss that. Its recommendations are being taken forward by the clinical director for children at Diabetes UK, who is working with our educational specialists to make sure that teachers and nurses in schools have the right kind of briefing and know how to deal with young people who are striving to control their condition and lead as normal a life as possible, given their condition.

Finance: Equity Release


11.13 am

Asked By Baroness Hollis of Heigham

The Financial Services Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Myners): My Lords, since 2004 the Financial Services Authority has regulated mortgages, including lifetime mortgages, which are one type of equity release product. In 2007, the Government extended the scope of FSA regulation to cover home reversion plans, which are the other main type of equity release product, to help to ensure a level regulatory playing field for the equity release market. Equity release is a complex financial product. Consumers considering equity release should seek independent financial advice.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Does he agree that well regulated equity release can help to fund the adaptions and social care that will give an older person the choice of staying in their own home, rather than going into residential care? Will the Treasury therefore encourage other departments to assist—for example, by developing partnerships with local authorities and kitemark schemes and by disregarding equity release for pension credit?

Lord Myners: My Lords, I certainly believe that equity release can play a valuable part in managing people’s financial affairs, but it is an inherently complex product. My noble friend is therefore right to emphasise

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the importance of advice. Equity release is a very small part of the housing finance market—less than 0.25 per cent of mortgage loans relate to it—but for those who perhaps find themselves in a position where they have high assets but low income, it can be a valuable and important part of their financial strategy. I would like to see the Government encourage that, as long as the mechanism was well regulated and people were aware of the risk. The trade association representing those active in this area has developed a highly commendable code of practice.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords—

Lord Elton: My Lords, will the Minister answer the noble Baroness’s question about a disregard of equity release for pension credit purposes?

Lord Myners: My Lords, we would have to be very careful about encouraging a line of financial activity that may be driven by an outcome on pension credit rather than being in the best interests of the individual from a stand-alone financial point of view.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, is the Minister aware that many analysts are saying that one of the reasons for the low take-up is general discomfort about corporate safety, in terms of both the companies offering the products and the people doing the regulating? Does he not agree that the failure of the FSA in general to cover itself in glory is adding to people’s disquiet about taking up such products?

Lord Myners: My Lords, I am not aware of evidence that the FSA’s credibility as protector of consumers’ interest is a serious issue. It is clear that the FSA’s role in prudential supervision has come under challenge and the FSA acknowledges that it needs to do more to improve its standards. Today’s G20 meeting will probably set a framework within which some of that work will be taken forward. I am not aware that the FSA’s deficiencies in consumer protection are as grave as the noble Baroness’s question might suggest. As far as the credibility of those active in the market is concerned, it is clear that some quite major lenders do not want to be involved in this product because they see it as too fraught with hazard. However, the risk lies ultimately with the individual, which is why good regulation and transparency about risks and consequences are critical to the development of this interesting product area.

Baroness Greengross: My Lords, is it not important that the growing number of elderly people can remain in their own homes if those homes are properly adapted? Does the Minister therefore agree that safe schemes that enable them to purchase social care so that they can be with neighbours and friends are very important? Should not the Government try to promote the best of those schemes to enable that to happen, particularly while local authorities are so short of funds?

Lord Myners: My Lords, I think that I have already indicated that this financial product has considerable merit and I would like to see the Government take

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whatever action they can to encourage its growth, although I shall not be drawn further into pension credit at this point. However, if there are other things that the noble Baroness and others believe that the Government could do to encourage an outcome whereby people could remain in their homes, we would be pleased to hear them. I completely agree with the noble Baroness. I know that remaining in the community was important to my own mother in the final years of her life. Being forced to sell one’s home is a very unsatisfactory outcome, which the Government will take all reasonable efforts to avoid occurring.

Baroness Noakes: My Lords, the Minister wants to avoid talking about pension credit, but I would like to probe him a little further. Does pension credit act as a disincentive to elderly people utilising equity release, which may be a very valuable opportunity for them? Will he undertake to look at whether the pension credit rules can be relaxed so that equity release in appropriate circumstances—not all would be released as capital—would not be neutralised by the pension credit?

Lord Myners: My Lords, the noble Baroness and I seem to talk of nothing other than pensions at the moment. I am sure that Sir Fred Goodwin will not be looking at an equity release product at this stage, but I will certainly take it upon myself to look at this issue to become more familiar with the points that the noble Baroness is making and no doubt I will speak with my colleagues in the DWP. However, she will appreciate that I cannot make any commitments.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the Minister implied earlier that the FSA was entirely clean in relation to its consumer protection. I declare an interest as chair of Consumer Focus and I commend to my noble friend a recent report on regulating regulators from a consumer point of view, in which the FSA did not come out as in the clear as he perhaps implied. I am sure that he is aware of this, but I thought that I should draw it to the attention of the House.

Lord Myners: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for reminding me. I think that I was talking about relative concerns as opposed to absolute concerns.

Energy: Power Stations


11.21 am

Asked By Lord Tombs

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, some 12 gigawatts of coal and oil capacity and

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10 gigawatts of nuclear capacity are expected to be withdrawn by 2025. Industry is responding well, with nearly 10 gigawatts under construction and 10 gigawatts with consent to begin construction. Government policy, including recent legislation, aims to ensure the right framework is in place for industry to invest and we continue to review this.

Lord Tombs: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply but it does not actually address my Question, which is the capacity expected to be withdrawn by 2025. The reason for asking this Question is the age-related nature of the problem. The great bulk of our power stations are more than 40 years old now and will fail over the next few years due to age. Would the Minister agree that it seems inevitable that for the next 10 years or so we will build nothing but gas-fired power stations, so increasing our reliance on imported gas from sometimes dubious sources?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I thought I had answered the Question because I said that by 2025 we expected about 20 to 23 gigawatts of generation capacity to close. The noble Lord is absolutely right to point out the challenge to ensure that there is adequate replacement. Gas capacity, at 7 gigawatts, forms the majority of what is under construction. With the EDF takeover of British Energy, there are now strong proposals for new nuclear to be built, not just from EDF; other companies, too, are showing considerable interest. We also have the challenging drive for renewables, so we expect to see much more renewable energy being put in place over the next few years as well.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, the Minister seems to have great difficulty answering questions clearly. I asked him a very simple question, to which he gave me a Written Answer, about when they expect to announce their choices for the location of the next generation of nuclear power stations. Instead of giving a date he said:

“We expect to include a list of suitable sites in the nuclear national policy statement”.—[Official Report, 30/3/09; col. WA182.]

He also said that the Government expect to consult on it by the autumn of 2009. When is the Minister going to announce the sites? When is the nuclear national policy statement going to be published? The Government look like leaving this country without any lights.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I really think that is complete nonsense. Of course I have answered the question, and there is nothing to add to the Written Answer.

Lord Teverson: My Lords, although clearly the energy capacity gap is important, one of the best ways to close that gap is by saving energy. One of President Obama’s first demands on the energy side was for smart grids to ensure major energy savings. Europe is also promoting such smart grids, yet I understand the British Government are not supporting that initiative. Is that wrong and can we make sure that the UK does support intelligent energy grids for the future?

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, of course the UK Government are interested in the discussions about the development of a smart grid. Our decision to support the whole concept of smart meters in this country shows that we see considerable potential in energy efficiency. The more that customers know, the more likely they are to understand the need for energy efficiency, and we have a number of consultations at the moment to encourage it. The noble Lord raises an extremely important point.

Lord Broers: My Lords, can the Minister reassure us that in choosing the location of nuclear power stations, the Government will take into account the fact that 40 per cent of the power generated by a nuclear power plant is in the form of heat? We do not want these power stations in remote locations, where that heat will be wasted. The French get this right; the Swedes do not.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am sure we need to take that point into consideration. The noble Lord will know that the process of looking at potential sites is going on, but he will also understand that at many of the current sites that will shortly embark on decommissioning, or those that are currently doing so, there is great anxiety among the workforce that new nuclear should be developed on those sites. There are many factors to be taken into account.

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, before the Minister dismisses my noble friend’s comment about the risk of blackouts coming, if he had listened more carefully to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tombs, who knows rather more about this subject, I think, than anyone else in the Chamber, he would know that at present we risk having a very narrow safety margin. If there are problems and setbacks with power stations, as has happened in my constituency with nuclear power stations, the Government will be exposed as having left this country dangerously at risk of blackouts.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I do not believe that I have given any impression of complacency on this matter. We fully understand that many power stations are due for either closure or decommissioning over the next 10 to 15 years, but I have indicated that there is a considerable programme of investment in stations that are now under construction and those that have received consent, and we expect further investment decisions to be made. This is a critically important matter. We carefully monitor the whole situation to ensure that we will not have an energy gap. I still say to the House that the signals are positive with regard to investment decisions that have been made and will be made in future.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, what is the most cost-effective technology for CO2 abatement—new nuclear or new coal with carbon capture and storage?

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