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House of Lords

Wednesday, 28 October 2009.

3 pm

Prayers-read by the Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds.

Energy: Security and Prices


3.07 pm

Asked By Lord Ezra

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, National Grid's winter energy outlook indicates that forecast gas demand will be 2.5 per cent lower than the weather-corrected demand for winter 2008-09. Overall, gas supplies will be comparable to last winter. Peak electricity demand is forecast to be down by about 1 per cent. The Government do not forecast energy prices.

Lord Ezra: I thank the Minister for that Answer. This is the fifth year in succession that I have asked this Question, and I believe it is particularly justified on this occasion because we are due to import more than 50 per cent and rising of our gas supplies. I have two questions to put to the Minister. First, if, in spite of expectations, there should be interruptions in supply for climatic or geopolitical reasons, what emergency measures do the Government have in mind to offset that development? Secondly, as retail prices remain high and are likely to get higher, what additional measures do the Government have in mind to help households in fuel poverty, now estimated to exceed 4,000?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on his energy and consistency of purpose in this area. On the second point about prices, he will know that a recent quarterly report by Ofgem identified that margins have increased. We hope that we will see further price reductions. The Government are very active in relation to fuel poverty programmes. On the first point, it is true that as North Sea production and reserves decline, more gas will be imported. However, I am confident that we will have the gas supplies we require. We have seen a big increase in our import facilities, and we have many commercial projects in relation to storage facilities. In the very unlikely circumstances the noble Lord raised, the Government can take contingency measures. However, I very much hope that that will not be necessary.

Lord Marland: My Lords, I have the honour of following the noble Lord, Lord Ezra. May I press the Minister a little harder? The National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux estimates that 5 million

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households will be in fuel poverty. There has been an increase of 20 per cent in the fuel price in the past six months, so will the Minister say more clearly how the Government will deliver support to those households?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the Government have shown themselves to be consistently active on fuel poverty. We have spent £20 billion on benefits and programmes, and we have a strong package of measures. We estimate that, without that package of measures, there would have been around 400,000 to 800,000 more fuel-poor households. We have a fuel poverty review, and we intend through legislation to make the current voluntary social tariffs mandatory; so we are very active in this area.

Lord Tanlaw: My Lords, it is now possible to convert the world's oil shale deposits outside Russia into enough natural gas to meet energy needs for the next 200 years. Will the Government increase gas storage facilities to switch more coal-fired power stations to gas to maintain stable energy prices, and will the Government's team for the Copenhagen conference ask attending IPCC scientists why they have not suggested methods of seeding the stratosphere with sulphur dioxide from the world's 8,000 coal-fired power stations as the only practical solution to reducing temperatures by 2020?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I can assure the House on the latter point. We can depend on the world's scientists to take great care and note of what the noble Lord has suggested. On shale gas, he is right to suggest, as I think he does, that the availability of gas supplies has changed and is much more liquid as a result of activities in the US. In a sense, this country is in a good position because of the increased possibility of LNG coming to this country and the increase in our import facilities. Again, I am confident-one can never be complacent-that we are in a good position in relation to energy supplies at the moment.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords-

Earl Onslow: My Lords-

Lord Teverson: My Lords-

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Davies of Oldham): My Lords, it is the turn of this side.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that emerging countries such as Ecuador are producing oil and retaining the operations underground? They will not damage their forests and will contribute to preventing their carbon footprint destroying the environment, but they require compensation to build an infrastructure. We must recognise that the price of oil will have to go up.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, it is clear that there will be rises in energy prices, and that there are elements of cost in moving to a low-carbon energy supply. Global investment in energy is down at the moment, and there are worries that, as the world moves out of recession in a few years' time, the lack of

28 Oct 2009 : Column 1161

investment now may have an impact on availability and price in the next few years. However, I agree that sustainability is very important. Of course, funding and technology transfer go to the core of what will be discussed and decided in Copenhagen.

Lord Teverson: My Lords-

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords-

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords-

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): My Lords, I think we should hear from the Liberal Democrats.

Lord Teverson: My Lords, this year, wholesale energy prices have more or less halved; yet the price of energy to households-to families-has gone down by only 4 per cent or so. Is this acceptable, and is it acceptable that some 6.5 million families will remain in fuel poverty over the winter, or should the Competition Commission be brought in to investigate the big six energy companies?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, this is a matter of great concern to many people. The noble Lord is right to suggest that the reduction in domestic retail prices is much less than the reduction in forward wholesale prices. He will know that these matters have been reported on by Ofgem. It has said that margins in electricity have risen, although they are still within historical average, while margins in gas and dual fuel are at the upper end of historical range. We continue to be concerned about those issues. We will do everything we can to encourage Ofgem to use the powers it has and we have promised to look at legislation to give Ofgem more powers.



3.15 pm

Asked By Lord Wallace of Saltaire

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead): My Lords, the current negotiations probably represent the best chance that Cypriots have to resolve the Cyprus conflict. It is important that a solution to the ongoing division of the island is agreed by Cypriots, for Cypriots. The process has the strong support of the UK, the European Union and the wider international community. The UK Government continue to meet with representatives of both sides on a regular basis in order to reinforce our support for a solution.

28 Oct 2009 : Column 1162

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. I am conscious that after 45 years of on/off negotiations this looks to be a possibility of a negotiation, but the arguments for failure are still there on both sides. We have a new Greek Government who are much more favourable to a settlement. We have a Turkish Government who are less in hock to the military or what the Turks call the deep state than before, but the locals have some difficulty in agreeing.

Noble Lords: Question.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: Are the British Government and their allies in the European Union pushing hard enough to persuade both sides in the Cypriot debate to overcome their local opposition?

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: I thank the noble Lord and point out that, as I said in my Answer, the entire international community is intent on giving every possible support to the negotiators working hard in Cyprus. We very much welcome the number of weekly meetings-they have doubled-that now take place between the leaders. The European Union is actively supporting the process through the provision of technical advice through the good offices mission, which will help to facilitate this process and has contributed €259 million in an aid package to the Turkish Cypriots. Everyone is making a concerted effort at this time.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, perhaps I may ask my noble friend shortly and succinctly precisely what the United Kingdom is doing to help relieve the isolation of the Turkish community. Has the EU done enough?

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: Clearly, my noble friend makes a very important point. The isolation of the Turkish community concerns them very much and all of us who are observing the process. This is one of the difficulties we face, as well as property issues, the isolation of the north and trade. But the answer has to be that the only way to resolve all these difficult issues is to have a comprehensive settlement agreed by both sides. Those discussions are, thankfully, going on.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, following the admirable example of brevity set by the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, have we the British Government done enough? Are we backing President Obama who took special efforts to support Turkey and the increasingly crucial role of Turkey in the Middle East and, in energy terms, supplying Europe? Are we right behind him in seeing that the Turkish Republic-

Noble Lords: Order.

Lord Howell of Guildford: Are we right behind President Obama in seeing that the Turkish Republic gets a proper and fair deal in coping with the Cyprus situation?

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: We have clear evidence from both the President and the Prime Minister of Turkey of their commitment and engagement with this issue. They have regular discussions and they are in total support of the negotiations taking place between the north and the south. Like all of us, they hope that they have a successful outcome.

28 Oct 2009 : Column 1163

Lord Kilclooney: My Lords, given that the membership of the European Union includes Greece and the Greek Cypriots, and not Turkey or the Turkish Cypriots; given that the European Union dishonoured its promise to allow the isolation of Turkish Cyprus to end if it voted for the Annan Plan; and given the fact that several European Union countries are now carrying out joint military exercises with the Greek Cypriot forces, is it not better that our Government give full support to the United Nations sponsored talks in Cyprus for a settlement and do not involve an organisation which is perceived in northern Cyprus to be biased?

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, what I can say to the noble Lord on this issue is that the United Kingdom and the European Union are supporting and facilitating all the efforts that have been made for the reunification of Cyprus by encouraging economic development in the Turkish Cypriot community and bringing Turkish Cypriots closer to Europe through financial aid and trade liberalisation.

Lord Sewel: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that a resolution to the Cyprus problem is essential to a better working relationship between the EU and NATO? Will Her Majesty's Government give their full support to that resolution?

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: I thank my noble friend for the question. In terms of a closer relationship with NATO and many other issues, including those concerning the European Union, naturally a resolution settlement would bring all those things within our sights.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, does the Minister not agree that a key factor in the negotiations for Cyprus is the progress or lack of it in Turkey's own application to join the European Union? If she does agree, will she say what the Government are doing to bring home to those members of the European Union who are blocking the accession negotiations that they are actually putting at risk the best opportunity there has been for some time to reach a settlement on the Cyprus problem?

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: I thank the noble Lord and I know well his very strong commitment to the issue of Turkey's accession to the EU. Turkey's accession would of course contribute to our future security, stability and prosperity too. We have to establish a clear path towards EU standards in these negotiations. The recent European Commission report on enlargement paid particular attention to what is happening so far as Turkey is concerned and said that while serious progress is being made, we need to see acceleration on a number of points of which the noble Lord will be aware. We are conscious of a certain disaffection in some member states on this issue, but that is not the case for the UK Government. We will continue to maintain our position in the hope that in the future we can ensure that Turkey accedes to the European Union.

28 Oct 2009 : Column 1164

House of Lords: Lord Speaker


3.22 pm

Asked By Lord Campbell-Savours

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): My Lords, there are no institutionalised arrangements for discussions on the role of the Lord Speaker. The most recent Select Committee on the Speakership of the House, chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, in 2005, did not propose such arrangements. This is a self-regulating House and it is open to any Member to submit proposals on the role of the Lord Speaker to the Procedure Committee.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, my noble friend will be aware of the survey of Members carried out over the past 12 months on the Lord Speaker's role in the Chamber. Can we now have a review of that role in light of the fact that of the 317 Members who responded to the survey, many in long letters detailing their concerns, some 242 were in favour of a review; while 58 were opposed, 18 took a neutral view, and over the past few days a further seven Members have approached me in the Lobby opposing such a review? The House might wish to know that there was support from all parts of the House for such a review.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I was aware of my noble friend's own survey and his statistics are interesting. Let me say first that the Lord Speaker provides an excellent service to this House-

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: Personally, I agree that at some point after any new post has been created, there should be a review. However, I believe that more time is needed before the role of the Lord Speaker is properly embedded, and I suggest that at the moment a review would be precipitate.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I suspect that the words of the noble Baroness will be welcomed throughout the House. Is it not true that Speakers have served the interests of this House for many hundreds of years, that we reviewed the situation only three or four years ago, and that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, does an excellent job of presiding over our activities? Is it therefore not far too soon to review her role?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I have answered that question; I think that there should be a review. At the moment it would be precipitate, but there should be a review.

Baroness Boothroyd: My Lords, has the Lord Speaker been consulted about the proposition of Secretaries of State in this House answering questions in the House of Commons, and what was the result of that discussion? If she has not been consulted, why not?

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