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House of Lords

Monday, 25 January 2010.

2.30 pm

Prayers-read by the Lord Bishop of Liverpool.

Death of a Member: Lord Richardson of Duntisbourne

Announcement

2.36 pm

The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, I regret that I have to inform the House of the death of Lord Richardson of Duntisbourne on 22 January. On behalf of the House, I extend our condolences to the noble Lord's family and friends.

EU: External Action Service

Question

2.37 pm

Asked By Lord Howell of Guildford

Lord Brett: My Lords, the detailed organisation and functioning of the European External Action Service will be decided by the member states by unanimity on the basis of a recommendation from the high representative, the noble Baroness, Lady Cathy Ashton. The noble Baroness has set up a high level group, the Ashton group, comprising senior members of the Commission and the Council Secretariat and member states' ambassadors to work through the key issues to be addressed.

Lord Howell of Guildford: I thank the Minister for that reply. Did he hear Javier Solana's view that this is going to be "the biggest diplomatic service in the world"? Has he noticed that, since the Lisbon treaty came into force, 54 new super-delegations, previously EU embassies or delegations, have been set up around the world? To whom will this enormous force be accountable, what will it cost and how much of the impact will fall on the already squeezed Foreign Office budget?

Lord Brett: My Lords, we are looking not at the creation of a major new entity but at the reorganisation of the current external representation of the European Union into a much more coherent and effective body. We therefore do not see, as perhaps others do, a massive increase in representation or numbers.

It is not yet possible to give a detailed breakdown of costs. Any costs would have to be held within the overall EU budget for financial perspectives, which is €49.8 billion, but we are committed, in the form of Cathy Ashton's high level committee, to producing results by April this year, which is not far away. I regret to say that I do not have them at the moment.



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Lord Dykes: Although the Minister is not directly responsible, does he agree that it is sad that UKIP and the Tory Party continue with their deep hostility to the EAS proposal? Is it not important for the Government to insist and reassure the House that the Foreign Office's and EAS's representational activities in future will remain totally and self-evidently separate? Will he say a word about the possible indications of UK recruitment applications for the EAS?

Lord Brett: I should not make any comment on the first point for fear of stealing the thunder of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, who I am sure will be seeking to speak in a moment. It is clear, however, that, as has been said, there will not be an overlap between European external representation, which is about representation on those issues for which Europe has a clear, defined and unanimous policy, and the representation of Her Majesty's Government, which protects the interests of the United Kingdom. Undoubtedly staff will transfer to EAS and we hope there will be representational staff from a number of member states, not least the United Kingdom. We have excellent candidates and we will put them forward. We hope to have secondees in place to ensure that our voice is heard among others so that policy goes forward in a successful manner.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords-

Lord Judd: My Lords-

Lord Davies of Oldham: We have plenty of time. Can we hear first from the Cross Benches and then from my noble friend?

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that senior appointments in the External Action Service are made on the basis of professional competence, including knowledge of languages and experience in the matters most required for the post in question, and not by Buggins's turn or by a rigid national quota system?

Lord Brett: My Lords, the noble Lord makes an important point. It is very important indeed that appointments should be made through a transparent procedure and be based on merit, not nationality. The high representative will oversee the setting up of recruitment processes for EAS. We expect this to be unique. We will not want this to be on a traditional concours system. We do not want to see a long lead time or a long list; nor do we want to have mandatory requirements for candidates to have X number of languages. We need the right skills and experience for the job. For example, the Chinese may need to have an EU head of delegation who has a strong knowledge of the region and even speaks Mandarin if he wants to have the maximum impact. That is what we will seek to have in the appointments that we will be part of making and no doubt Cathy Ashton will seek to ensure that we have such representation.

Lord Judd: With so many of the global issues facing the international community only possible of solution by international co-operation, does my noble friend agree that there has never been a time when this service has been more needed and that the quality of

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the people within it will be crucial? It is absolutely essential that we begin to speak in harmony and establish common objectives on global warming, economic issues, security and the rest.

Lord Brett: My Lords, I could not agree more with my noble friend. We are delighted to have Cathy Ashton giving that leadership and to have a body of people that will represent the European Union coherently on all those issues where there is unanimity. There will be a greater degree of transparency and accountability to the member states, which will strengthen Europe and the United Kingdom.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: Can the noble Lord give us a clear assurance that there will be any British embassies left in 10 years' time? If he can give that assurance, will he tell us where they will be? If he does not have the answer at his fingertips, would he be good enough to put a letter in the Library?

Lord Brett: My Lords, I used to listen to with great interest, and enjoy, the questions of the noble Lord and the expertise and perseverance he showed on Europe. However, since he became leader of UKIP, his questions have got more esoteric and strange; I can think of no stranger one than this.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I understand that the United Kingdom is not represented directly in about 40 or 50 members of the United Nations. Can the noble Lord indicate how many of those countries the External Action Service may have resident representation in?

Lord Brett: The European Union has some 130 external delegations at present. There are some 200 countries and territories, as I recall, in the diplomatic world. Clearly, I cannot answer the question because it is part of the process that is being gone through by high representative Cathy Ashton and her colleagues. However, I am sure that we can expect a sensible solution.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: Can the Minister assure us that the creation of these missions will not lead the Treasury to have the brilliant idea of closing down our missions in those countries? However excellent the EU may be, it is not reasonable to expect a mixed EU representation to look after our national commercial interests and our national defence interests or indeed to handle the issue of passports and entry into this country. We shall need our own missions. I want to be assured that we shall not lose them in a splendid cost-cutting exercise by the Treasury.

Lord Brett: My colleague, the Minister in another place, has given the assurance that there is no connection between the role that we have as a national Government, that of our embassies which represent us abroad and the new structure in the European Union. I am confident that that is the case. Judgments were made solely in relation to the merits of the case and the arguments for having embassies abroad.



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Energy: Performance Certificates

Question

2.45 pm

Asked By Lord Redesdale

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My Lords, the Government have no plans to transfer responsibility for energy performance certificates from Communities and Local Government to the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, is this not a case of non-joined-up government? Now that the Department of Energy and Climate Change is a year old, should not one of the major tools for finding out about emissions from the building sector be transferred to it? Is the Minister confident that DCLG is doing a good job with EPCs, given how few buildings that should have them by law have them?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I believe that the responsibility is with the appropriate department. Although DECC has overall policy responsibility in respect of climate change, CLG has broad responsibility for the built environment, including the planning system, building regulations and housing, so the responsibility is appropriately sited. We realise that there are challenges on quality and performance and those are being addressed.

Lord Bates: My Lords, when energy performance certificates were introduced in Northern Ireland, they were not attached to the costly and bureaucratic home information packs. Will the Minister explain why the same policy approach was not taken in England and Wales?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, home information packs are bedding down well and have proved to be a useful instrument to help purchasers. I think that the right decision was made.

Lord Tope: My Lords, how many buildings in the commercial and domestic sectors do not have EPCs?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, EPCs are needed for buildings that are constructed, sold or rented out. There are something like 4 million domestic EPCs and 141,000 non-domestic EPCs on the register. I cannot specifically answer the question how many there should be, but there are high levels of compliance, certainly in the domestic sector.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: Will the Minister comment further on his remark that the home information packs are bedding down well? Has he not read in the

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press comments by estate agents saying that the packs have not been any help whatever, which I believe is the general public view?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, more than 2 million HIPs have been prepared, providing important information up front to help to inform buyers' decisions. As a result, more than 2 million home owners now have an energy assessment and recommendations in their EPC that can help them to cut up to £300 off their fuel bills. Despite a difficult housing market, HIPs are helping to reduce transaction times. An estate agency survey, which looked at 37,000 transactions, showed that, on average, sales with HIPs go through seven days quicker.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, is the Minister confident that the air conditioning and heating systems in government buildings are properly managed?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I could not guarantee that every single government building is managed as it ought to be. Obviously, a good deal of attention is paid to this. It is important to seek to ensure that costs are contained, particularly in relation to energy. Certainly, so far as EPCs are concerned, I believe that there is a high level of compliance in public buildings.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, the Minister is confident that these certificates are now sited in the right department, but is that confidence shared by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, particularly given how the energy directive gave rise to the certificates in the first place?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, we are a joined-up Government and the view that I have expressed is the Government's view.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, on the home information pack figures that the Minister gave us, how many people have had to go back and get new information packs because there is a very short timescale for their viability?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I do not have that information to hand, but I can say that we intend to evaluate the effectiveness of HIPs by updating the 2007 HIP Baseline Research report. The new report should be available later this year.

Lord Redesdale: Can the Minister guarantee that all government buildings, which by law should have an EPC, have an EPC?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I asked that question in preparation for this exchange and I have not got an absolute assurance. One would expect there to be full compliance on the part of government.

Earl Attlee: If the noble Lord cannot answer the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, how can he answer mine?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I confess that I have forgotten the noble Earl's question.



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Earl Attlee: My Lords, I asked whether the heating and ventilation systems of government buildings were properly maintained. The noble Lord was able to answer my question, but he could not answer the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: With respect, the noble Lord was looking for some sort of absolute assurance that every single building was treated as it should be. I would answer that I hope that that is the case, particularly in relation to ventilation systems, as they are important energy emitters and they need to be properly maintained and surveyed. However, I do not think that anybody could sensibly give an absolute guarantee in those terms.

Immigration: "Bogus" Colleges

Question

2.51 pm

Asked by Lord Naseby

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): There are currently around 2,000 sponsors on the tier 4 register. In the past six months we have carried out around 600 inspections, suspending 140 and revoking 15 tier 4 licences. United Kingdom Border Agency staff are trained to spot forged loan documents. Applicants who use them are refused and may be banned from entering the United Kingdom for up to 10 years. On 12 November 2009, the Prime Minister announced a review of tier 4 that will report back shortly.

Lord Naseby: The Minister will know that I asked the question last July. Why is it still so easy for these bogus colleges to operate and to bring in illegal immigrant students? Why is it that at this time we have a large number of sham applications from Pakistani students? It would appear that the assessment of their entry requirements is done outside Pakistan by one of our embassies. Is that not a situation where that embassy has no idea of the tricks of the trade in that part of the world? Would it not be far better if the whole assessment was done by our own people in Pakistan?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Lord asks a large number of questions. First, I do not accept that we have not got a handle on these various colleges. There were initially some 15,000 colleges in the DIUS list, of which about 4,000 regularly had foreign students. After going through them and guaranteeing that they are bone fide colleges, we have now reduced that number to about 2,000. We have made careful checks of those colleges-I mentioned the number that we have closed down-so we have a very strong handle on that.


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