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House of Lords

Thursday, 14 May 2009.

11.00 am

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Leicester.

Death of a Member: Viscount Bledisloe


11.06 am

The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, it is with deep regret that I have to inform the House of the death on 12 May of Viscount Bledisloe. On behalf of the whole House I extend our condolences to the noble Viscount’s family and friends.

Disabled People: UN Convention


11.06 am

Asked By Lord Morris of Manchester

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question in my name on the Order Paper and declare an interest as chairman of the World Planning Group that first called for this convention.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My Lords, we aim to deposit our instrument of ratification of the convention with the United Nations on Monday 8 June.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, as ever, I am most grateful to my noble friend. Is he aware that while the constancy of his commitment to ratification is well understood—like that of Jonathan Shaw, as exemplified by the signing of the optional protocol following my last starred Question and his announcement yesterday of a ratification date—it is widely felt that some other departments could have done much more to expedite progress? Can my noble friend now say what plans are in place for implementing the convention and for proclaiming, loud and with Wagnerian clarity, that henceforth Britain’s 10 million-plus disabled people have and must be able to enjoy the same enforceable human rights as everyone else in this country?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, let me start by paying tribute to my noble friend for the supreme engagement that he has had with bringing this convention into being, as have other noble Lords. He mentioned my colleague Jonathan Shaw. We should not forget in this Anne McGuire, who for a long time was Disabled Persons Minister.

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We envisage that implementation of the convention will have a number of strands, such as awareness raising, developing reporting and monitoring processes and commissioning new statistics and research. We will be developing these over a period of time, working closely with disabled people and stakeholders.

Lord Addington: My Lords, although we are very glad that the ratification has been brought forward, can the Minister tell us exactly what this Government think they have learnt about the process of getting this convention ratified and exactly what lessons they would take to any further ratification of treaties in making sure that they are expedited?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I guess that the first lesson, which we probably already knew, is the importance of a meticulous and robust approach, so that when we actually sign and ratify we are clear that we are consistent with the terms of the convention. There is also the importance of consultation with stakeholders; we have a good record of engaging with stakeholders involved with disabled people. There has been some criticism that perhaps we were not as robust in this case as we might have been; I think that that is part of the learning, as well. But we take with us the importance of continued engagement as we monitor and implement the treaty going forward.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, the Minister will remember that we had a long debate on this subject on 28 April, in which he performed with his usual astute clarity. Can he tell us what number down the list we will be in this country in ratifying the convention? How many countries need to ratify it to make it operational for all the signatories? Lastly, does he know when the EU is going to ratify this convention?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, on the latter point, no, a process of discussion is taking place between the Commission and member states. Our ratification does not depend on the EU’s ratification. As of 30 April 2009, 139 states have signed the convention and 82 have signed the linked but separate optional protocol; 53 states have ratified the convention and 32 states have ratified both the convention and the optional protocol. Enough states have ratified to bring the convention into being.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, does the Minister accept that of more than 600 conventions from the United Nations, a quarter have yet to be ratified by the United Kingdom? What are the Government doing to speed that up or to explain why so many still await ratification?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, that is straying a little from the Question before us, which is about our role in relation to a particular convention, but I am happy to take away that point and see whether I can provide a written answer to the noble Lord.

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Higher Education: Universities


11.11 am

Asked By Baroness Sharp of Guildford

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Lord Young of Norwood Green): My Lords, we have for some time been looking at how we can create a level playing field between the universities incorporated by the Education Reform Act 1988 and other universities which have more control over their governance arrangements. Specifically, we are proposing to amend Schedule 7A to the 1988 Act to allow these universities to determine the size and membership of their governing bodies, as other universities are able to do. We see this as a step forward.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. Will he tell us how far his department is influenced by what is known as the Carver model of governance, which looks to a slimline board of non-executives with probably no representation from staff or students? Will he further tell us how far the Labour Government, which in their past espoused the stakeholder model of governance, are supporting the new concept of governance? If they are, why do they need to revise the schedule, which gives universities considerable flexibility over their size and membership, in terms of a membership of between 12 and 24 members, and states that they may, not must, have staff and student representation?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, I can reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that we are not influenced by the Carver style: it would be more of a carve up if we were to utilise that. We are about giving flexibility, not reducing stakeholder involvement. We remain committed to that. As the noble Baroness rightly said, in the current regulation it is not mandatory; it is “may” rather than “must”. The new proposals are to have a new category of internal members. The corporations will consist of two or more persons who are members of staff or students at the institutions. I reiterate our commitment to stakeholder involvement.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the 1998 Act, which allowed the whole university community—students, lecturers, staff as well as the management and, crucially, brought in the expertise of outside business people and so on—was a powerful model and one that has enabled universities in the past 20 years to develop a strong management and governance structure?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, we agree with the noble Baroness. We want to continue the involvement of independent lay members; that will be

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a key feature of the revised schedule. We have had quite a bit of consultation; we have been working with HEC governing bodies and the AHUA. We take the point about the importance of independent members.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, is the Minister aware that it has often been members of staff or students who have brought to light serious difficulties with governance so that their role on the boards is extremely valuable? Do the Government really want to encourage universities to have small boards composed entirely of lay people? Surely the current banking crisis should warn them off such a model.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: No, my Lords, we do not want boards entirely composed of lay people. I reiterate the assurance that there will be members of staff and students on them. We will look closely at the question of numbers. We have not absolutely made up our mind. We were trying not to be unnecessarily prescriptive, but we understand the importance of the point made by the noble Baroness.

Lord Elton: My Lords, has the Minister noticed recent expressions of concern that major funders—persons or organisations endowing universities with very large sums of money—may be having an unacceptable influence on what is taught in those institutions?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, I cannot say that I have. Provided that there is a balanced board, provided that there are independent members and provided that stakeholders are represented, there should not be undue influence; but I understand the importance of the point made by the noble Lord.

Lord De Mauley: My Lords, taking my noble friend’s point one stage further, what reports have the Government received on the financial problems that universities are facing and expect to face in future?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, I think that that strays outside the bounds of the Question. I am quite happy to respond to that point in writing.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, to come back to the centre of the Question, given the reassurances that the noble Lord has just given, why have the Government brought forward what seems to be an unnecessary new proposal?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, we believe that it is an improvement in flexibility. We are making it mandatory that there should be what we define as the independent members on the board, rather than that there may be. We are trying to extend the flexibility enjoyed by some institutions—chartered universities, for example—to all higher education institutions. We think that there is value in that. We are not being prescriptive on size; we have deleted the minimum and maximum. We think that there is a real benefit in that approach.

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Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I point out to the Minister that there is already a mandatory requirement in Schedule 7A to have lay members on the board. I cannot see that that is a good reason to revise the schedule which, as I pointed out at the beginning, is already extremely flexible in the numbers that it allows. The only effect of this is to reduce the representation.

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, I think that I have already dealt with the points that the noble Baroness raised. I take her back to my point about the importance of independent members being mandatory rather than the current schedule’s provision of “may”.

Climate Change


11.18 am

Asked By Lord Stern of Brentford

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what they are doing to support the efforts of developing countries to shape an effective and equitable global agreement on climate change.

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 UK is helping to build capacity in developing countries to enable them to participate fully in the negotiations and has appointed a senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office official as climate envoy for vulnerable countries. That role is designed to help mobilise the voice of the smaller developing countries to enable them to make greater impact on the negotiations.

Lord Stern of Brentford: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. I trust he will agree that the poor countries, and the poorest people in the poor countries, will be hit the earliest and the hardest by climate change. Indeed, they are already being hit. They are the least responsible for the big rise in concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the past half-century. Thus, while we all face greater risks from climate change, there is a double inequity.

Further, since the currently developing world has 85 per cent of the world’s population, with many countries showing welcome growth that is essential to overcoming poverty, it will not be possible to reduce global emissions on the scale required unless those countries are centrally involved. Therefore I trust that the Minister agrees that the following are required. In addition to cuts of at least 80 per cent in greenhouse gases, there should be strong support for processes where developing countries take a lead, financial and technical support for action plans, and support for China, Brazil and India.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I agree, and I pay tribute to the noble Lord’s outstanding work on climate change, particularly its economics. He is absolutely

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right; the impact of climate change on some of the poorest countries in the world may be devastating unless we take action to mitigate climate change. That is crucial for a shared understanding and mutual agreement between all the nations of the world.

Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, the Minister was clearly unsighted when I asked him this question during yesterday’s debate. Will he tell the House today whether the Government accept or reject DfID’s latest report, which concludes that if any successor to Kyoto is to be effective, it must set up a new international institution with extensive, coercive and enforcement powers, and that any country that does not comply fully should be treated as a pariah and barred from all forms of international co-operation whatever?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I would not describe myself as having been unsighted. I recall that I told the noble Lord yesterday that we work very closely with our colleagues in DfID on these matters. I do not recognise the approach which the noble Lord has suggested is the Government’s approach to the agreement and discussions that must take place between developing and developed countries. He is really suggesting what is sometimes called conditionality. I see it as a mutual coming together. There are huge benefits for developing countries in there being agreement in Copenhagen. We must ensure that they have financial and technical assistance, but we must do so through mutual agreement and not in the way which the noble Lord has suggested.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, given that climate change really will affect developing countries first, fastest and worst, what is being done about adaptation? I note that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has just been appointed to the new adaptation sub-committee of the Committee on Climate Change. Will it have an international brief or only a national one?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the adaptation sub-committee is a sub-committee of the Committee on Climate Change, so in essence it has a UK brief. I am delighted that we have been able to appoint someone of the calibre of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and I know that it will have a very positive impact on advising the Government on adaptation policies, but that does not mean that we are not very well aware of the need for adaptation strategies in developing countries. Some climate change is inevitable. We will try to mitigate the rise in temperatures generally, but this country, as well as developing countries, will also have to adapt to the inevitability of climate change. Part of our strategy, our aid and our work with developing countries is to assist and support them in their own adaptation work.

Lord Clark of Windermere: My Lords, does my noble friend recall that the noble Lord, Lord Stern, pointed out in his excellent report that 20 per cent of greenhouse emissions were caused by deforestation, most of which is in developing countries? Bearing in mind the long lead time to get institutions working,

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will the Government assure us that they will urge our negotiators on climate change matters to start setting in process a system of paying some of these developing countries not to deforest? I declare an interest as chair of the Forestry Commission.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, my noble friend speaks with great authority on the question of forests, and he is right. We think that perhaps upwards of 18 per cent of global emissions come from the forestry sector. I want to reassure him that we want the deal in Copenhagen to include avoided deforestation and the future carbon market to encourage the trading of carbon credits generated from the sector.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, the question from the noble Lord, Lord Stern, refers to an “effective and equitable global agreement”. Would it not better to start off by conceding that there is not the slightest chance of achieving that?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: No, my Lords. I am sorry that my noble friend—who usually looks at life in an optimistic way—takes that view. We are cautiously optimistic about success in the Copenhagen negotiations. It is clear that the US Administration have come to the table in a positive mode, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, who was recently in China, was very encouraged by his discussions with the Chinese Government. Of course we cannot be complacent—there is a long time to go before we get to the table at Copenhagen—but at this stage I remain optimistic.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I strongly support the line that the Minister is taking; as the noble Lord, Lord Stern, pointed out, the moment is very late and the cause is crucial to the survival of the planet. The noble Lord, Lord Clark, asked about deforestation. Has the Minister seen reports of the dumping of substantial amounts of toxic waste on countries such as the Ivory Coast which are quite incapable of dealing with it? In the light of these reports, will the Government be speaking to major British companies about the need to deal with these toxic items themselves or by agreement with other developed countries, and not to land the problem on developing countries?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Baroness speaks with great authority and she raises a matter of concern. I can reassure her that these issues are very much in the mind of the UK Government in our discussions both with British companies and with other nations. Essentially, we want financial mechanisms that encourage—not force, but encourage—the poorer developing countries to wish to move to a low-emitting economy, which, in itself, will help them develop in a sustainable way.

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