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House of Lords

Tuesday, 28 April 2009.

2.30 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Southwark.

Introduction: Lord Collins of Mapesbury

2.37 pm

The right honourable Sir Lawrence Antony Collins, Knight, having been created Lord Collins of Mapesbury, of Hampstead Town in the London Borough of Camden, was introduced as a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary and made the solemn affirmation, supported by Lord Irvine of Lairg and Lord Hoffmann.

Climate Change: EU


2.42 pm

Asked By Lord Dykes

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change & Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government have had regular engagement with the Czech presidency since January 2009. We continue to work with the presidency towards the June councils, where the EU position for Copenhagen will be further discussed.

Lord Dykes: My Lords, with thanks for that Answer, perhaps I may say that this presidency has in a way been easier than this president has been. The Czech Government’s recent loss of a majority and the president’s bizarre attitude to climate change reform and certain other related matters has caused anxiety in the UK and in the EU. Can the Minister confirm that the Swedes, with their enthusiasm for climate change reform, will nevertheless take things further on an accelerated basis and that their Government’s international policy priority is to ensure the chance of a united EU position for the eventual agreement in Copenhagen?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, there has been a great deal of discussion and debate within the EU over the past few months. The Czech president is of course entitled to his own view on climate change and there is no evidence that it has undermined the Czech leadership of the presidency as a whole. The noble Lord is right that there has been a vote of no confidence in the current Czech Government, who are continuing as a Government in resignation. I understand that it is hoped that a new Government of experts will

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take over within the next week and that they will conduct the Government until the elections which are expected in October.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, does the Minister agree that if the European Union is unable at the end of June to firm up its position on burden sharing between developed and developing countries and to make a genuinely generous offer to the developing countries, there is very little chance of getting a successful outcome at Copenhagen? If he does agree with that, does he think that the Czech presidency has hoisted that on board?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the Czech presidency has certainly accepted as a key priority the need for continuing discussion towards the EU negotiating position for Copenhagen. Intensive discussion at the spring council meetings addressed in some detail the issues that the noble Lord has raised. On Copenhagen, it is essential to agree not only ambitious developed country targets but, as the noble Lord suggests, finance and technology flows to support developing country action on reducing carbon emissions.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, what is a “Government of experts”, and is it a good idea?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I do not know whether it is a good idea, but my understanding is that the proposed leader of the Czech Government of experts is to be a statistician. Of course this Government are a Government of all the talents.

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, what progress has been made on the pan-European carbon capture and storage pilot projects, and what is the latest on the UK candidate sites? Perhaps I may also take this opportunity to congratulate the Government on finally adopting the Conservative Party policy on CCS.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, CCS is carbon capture and storage. Last Thursday, the Government announced in a Statement that we would take forward proposals for up to four demonstration at-scale projects for carbon capture and storage, which are essential because 40 per cent of global energy requirements are met through coal. We will not achieve the required GHG reductions unless we can develop carbon capture and storage effectively. This Government’s action in leading globally in this area will be critical. This Government have also played a very large part in securing agreement within the EU on providing some funding for up to 12 projects within the EU. This country’s position was pivotal to that agreement.

Lord Teverson: My Lords, one of the key issues for the developing countries will be adaptation as Bangladesh and other low-lying countries, particularly in the Pacific, are threatened by climate change. The Commission has just released a White Paper entitled Adapting to Climate Change: Towards a European Framework for Action. Does the Minister agree that there needs to be concerted action by Europe to help developing countries to adapt to climate change and to stop population displacement and the misery that follows?

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Yes, my Lords. The work leading up to Copenhagen is towards agreeing very challenging and tough targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in order to prevent a disastrous increase in global temperatures. However, it is not possible to prevent some increase, which is why the globe will have to adapt to some climate change. I very much agree with the noble Lord on the need for international action. However, it is also essential that this country takes appropriate adaptation action.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is it not wrong to describe the views of the Czech president on the future of Europe and the Lisbon treaty as bizarre? Would not many of the suggestions he makes for the reform of the EU be supported by this Government and a majority of the British people?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the Czech presidency’s theme of a Europe without barriers and an outward-going and dynamic EU is certainly one that the UK Government would share. If the word bizarre was used by a Member of your Lordships' House, I think it was directed not at the Czech president’s views on the EU and its future but at his somewhat sceptical view of climate change.

Lord Tanlaw: My Lords, is the Minister aware that scientists are saying that there are certain anomalies on the surface of the sun that may affect the climate in rather a different way from what is anticipated by the present situation? Is this being taken into consideration?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am reliably informed that any change in the sun’s cycle of activity has nothing to do with daylight saving time. My understanding is that the sun’s 11-year cycle of activity is currently at a minimum. Although its brightness is lower than during other recent minima, scientists expect its activity to increase again in the coming months. I understand that contrary to what has been reported, the influence of the sun’s natural variability on the climate is small compared with the impact of anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, last week in Washington I learnt that the Americans are now seeking licences for over 50 new nuclear power stations as their major response to global greenhouse gases. We seem to have stopped dithering here over nuclear and the Government have at last changed their mind and are getting on with things. Have we the support of the Czech presidency and, indeed, of the whole EU membership in carrying forward these matters with vigour after the years of delay?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am not aware of any inhibition by the EU presidency of the Government’s energy policy. As the noble Lord has suggested, we have given a green light to the development of new nuclear power stations, and EDF’s takeover of British Energy signals a great deal of investment. Other companies are also interested in investing. New nuclear is one of the necessary components to ensure

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energy supply and low-carbon emissions. However, that has to be laid alongside our renewable energy target of 15 per cent by 2020 and, as we heard, the impact of carbon capture and storage in coal energy production.



2.51 pm

Asked By Baroness Warsi

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, the Government do not support or approve of polygamous marriage. It is not possible to enter into a polygamous marriage in the United Kingdom under UK law. A person who is domiciled in the United Kingdom cannot enter into a valid polygamous marriage abroad.

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, but is he aware that Chapter 13.20 of the entry clearance guidance issued by the UK Border Agency to entry clearance officers states:

“Even where it is suspected that a divorce of convenience has taken place and that a man ... is continuing to live with a previous wife, entry clearance cannot be withheld from a second wife, even if a polygamous household will be created as a result”?

Does he accept that this guidance effectively means that the Government are turning a blind eye to polygamy and that it does exist?

Lord Bach: No, my Lords, I would not accept that for a moment. I have set out the Government’s policy as clearly as I can. This country recognises, and has done for many years, a marriage that has taken place abroad as being valid in England and Wales provided that it has been created in accordance with English private international law. To be recognised as valid, it must have been contracted between parties of full capacity and the marriage ceremony must have accorded with the formal requirements of the law of celebration in the country where it took place. If these conditions are satisfied, the marriage in question is normally recognised as being compliant with English private international law. This includes polygamous marriages but is not government approval of such marriages.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware of reports of marriages with Islamic religious ceremonies taking place in this country that are not subsequently registered with the state? What may the Government do to protect the women and children of such non-legally registered marriages, especially in the event of a divorce that may be inflicted on the wife, who then has no recourse to the recognition of rights under a legal marriage?

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Lord Bach: My Lords, those marriages that are religious ceremonies only—save for those of the established church—are of course not valid under English law; those ceremonies do not set up a valid marriage. There is protection for the innocent parties of such a ceremony. For the wife, these include various abilities to get injunctions for domestic violence, approvals under the trusts of land Act and rights on the death of the purported husband. There are also rights for any children of such a union under the Child Support Agency rules and there are lump sums for children. There are some protections for those who are the innocent victims of such a ceremony.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, does it follow from what the Minister has helpfully said that it is the clear public policy of the United Kingdom, and should remain so, that one man is allowed to marry one woman and that that applies to everyone who lives in this country? That is my understanding of what the Minister said. Does he agree that it is also part of UK public policy to mitigate the serious disadvantages suffered by women in polygamous marriages in this country and that one way in which to do that would be to grant legal protection to unmarried cohabitant couples so as to provide a safety net for multiple wives whose polygamous marriages are unrecognised, as the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, suggested in a recent debate? If that is not the right approach, what is the right approach?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I agree absolutely with the first question that the noble Lord asked. That is exactly what I said, I hope, in answering the Question. But whether the Cohabitation Bill that the noble Lord has introduced to this House is the answer is much more questionable. We think that it is unnecessary and takes the wrong approach towards addressing the mistaken perception that cohabitation confers a quasi-marital legal status. We believe that sufficient provision for financial and property protection is already available to adult couples who live together. However, although we do not support his Bill—the noble Lord knows that already—we want to consider the Scottish experience and extrapolate from it the likely balance between cost and benefit that the Bill involves.

Baroness Flather: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the time has perhaps come when we should follow the lead of the Australian Prime Minister and start saying to the people who come to live here that they not only have to follow the law but have to accept the moral and ethical views of this country? We do not want a divided society and it is very important that a message should be sent to people who live here that they have to comply with the moral and ethical situation and not only the law.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I have to say to the noble Baroness that the vast majority of those who come to this country know full well that they must obey the laws of this country and do so. They add a huge amount to what this country represents in the world. Of course, in this particular field it is essential that anyone who comes here behaves in accordance with English law. Again, I think that that is widely understood.

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Lord Avebury: My Lords, what are the rights of an asylum seeker who is admitted to this country and has a polygamous marriage in his country of origin? Can he bring only one wife with him, or are the others allowed in, too?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I might have guessed that it would be the noble Lord who would catch me out. I do not know the answer to that question, but I suspect that the situation is very much the same whether it involves an asylum seeker or someone who comes into this country in any other way. However, I shall look into it and write to the noble Lord.

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I wonder whether I could ask the Minister another question that may be a little difficult to answer—but it is nice to ask. Does he know how many religious marriages are carried out each year that are not subsequently registered with the civil authorities? Is there any way of finding out how much that is going on?

Lord Bach: My Lords, it is difficult to find that out. One thing that we think might improve the situation—and this has been supported by a respectable organisation that calls itself the Muslim Parliament—relates to the fact that, of the 809 mosques in this country, only 159 are registered to carry out proper marriages. In other words, there is either a registrar present when the religious ceremony takes place or an authorised person already exists in the mosque to ensure that the civic element of any marriage that there must be under English law is provided. We would encourage more mosques to come forward and be registered for carrying out marriages.

Banking: Scotland


2.59 pm

Asked by Lord James of Blackheath

The Financial Services Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Myners): My Lords, the supply of banknotes is dictated by demand. There are three banks in Scotland privileged and authorised to issue commercial banknotes, and they are limited to doing so in Scotland. Their issuance is also constrained by the legal requirement to hold Bank of England notes to back their own notes in circulation. There is an estimated £3.3 billion of Scottish banknotes in circulation, compared with approximately £44 billion in Bank of England banknotes.

Lord James of Blackheath: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. As it is obviously such an important part of the Government’s economic policy to improve the money supply at this time, would he not consider it appropriate and timely to reintroduce

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the transparency that went with the old M4 report on the money supply, and provide a separate extraction line, as he has just indicated, for Scotland?

Lord Myners: My Lords, as I have already indicated to the noble Lord, Lord James, the information is available.

Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan: My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the notes that are issued by the Royal Bank of Scotland and bear the signature of Sir Fred Goodwin are worth £20 or £5, as they say, and that any of us who find ourselves in Scotland with such notes will be able to use them to the full extent of their value?

Lord Myners: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for the question. Sir Fred Goodwin is no longer signing banknotes—they are now signed, in the case of the Royal Bank of Scotland, by Mr Stephen Hester. As an aside, I have been advised that in the Royal Bank of Scotland’s headquarters in Gogarburn, Sir Fred Goodwin employed somebody whose sole job was to ensure that banknotes dispensed from the automatic telling machines in that building bore his signature and his signature alone.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, is it true that neither the Government nor the Bank of England have made any forecast of the money supply; and if it is not true, can this be published?

Lord Myners: My Lords, I am in the course of writing to the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, in answer to that question, which he asked me outside the Chamber. It will save me a stamp if I say now that we do not forecast money supply in the Budget document. This is because we have moved on to an approach to the control of monetary aggregates designed to achieve the 2 per cent inflation target. We have placed that in the hands of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee, which has done a truly excellent job over the past 10 years in achieving that target.

Lord Newby: My Lords, the noble Lord has reassured the House that Sir Fred Goodwin is no longer signing banknotes, but we all understand that he is receiving them in copious quantities. Are the Government pursuing any legal recourse against Sir Fred Goodwin to stem the flow of his personal money supply in the period ahead?

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