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House of Lords

Tuesday, 8th July 1997.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Coventry.

Lord Alton of Liverpool

David Patrick Paul Alton, Esquire, having been created Baron Alton of Liverpool, of Mossley Hill in the County of Merseyside, for life—Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Hylton and the Lord Weatherill.

Global Environment Facility: Funding

2.47 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Croy asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, in his address to the United Nations General Assembly special session, the Prime Minister confirmed United Kingdom support for the replenishment of the global environment facility. He also stressed the importance of combating the loss of biodiversity and proposed enhanced co-operation with key developing countries in significant environmental areas, including forests. The text agreed by the special session calls for a satisfactory replenishment of the global environment facility.

Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her reply which, one hopes, bodes well for the future. But, as the special session was intended to review progress since the Rio Conference in 1992, are the British Government disappointed that, despite the good intentions of five years ago, world emissions of carbon dioxide have increased, large areas of forest have disappeared and many developing countries, whose co-operation is essential, seem disenchanted?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, at the United Nations General Assembly special session the Prime Minister reasserted the basic message from Rio that tackling poverty and protecting the environment are inextricably linked. Eliminating poverty is essential to caring for the planet and is a bridge which unites both the North and the South. Her Majesty's Government believe that improving the conditions of the poorest peoples helps look after the environment. I can assure the noble Lord that Her Majesty's Government will do
 
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what they can to go on persuading other nations, which may seem a little less enthusiastic than Her Majesty's Government, of the wisdom of that course of action.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, will the noble Baroness indicate the response to the Prime Minister's declaration that the United Kingdom would aim to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent. by the year 2010? Were any other countries ready to follow us in that ambitious target?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I shall have to write to the noble Lord with a list of countries which are following the United Kingdom's lead in that respect. I assure the House that the United Kingdom will continue fully to support the global environment facility and that we are committed to its further substantial replenishment later this year. I shall write with the details of other countries' commitment on that front.

Lord Judd: My Lords, in view of the very interesting observations of my noble friend about the relationship between poverty and environmental policy, does she agree that if third world countries are to play an effective part they will have a very heavy economic burden placed upon them and that consequently environmental policy should be central to our development policy under the new Department for International Development? When it arrives, will the White Paper deal with the environmental dimensions of development?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I can assure the House that it will. Her Majesty's Government recognise the very considerable strains put on a number of emerging countries' economies in doing what needs to be done to support environmental issues. Her Majesty's Government believe that they have taken a lead on this matter and are encouraging other countries—both wealthy countries and those less economically advantaged than ourselves—to support the targets.

Lord Dainton: My Lords, is the Minister aware that concern about the lack of clear policy in the global environment facility in this country was first expressed publicly in this House in the debate conducted on the report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology on systematic biology research? Is she further aware that since then the Department for International Development has been in regular contact with the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, and myself, and the department's representative on the global environment facility council has ensured that very considerable improvements have been achieved through his actions? Will she ensure that the Department for International Development will maintain the pressure which I am quite sure is necessary if the money is to be well used?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I can assure the House of the continuing pressure by the Department for International Development. The House
 
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may wish to note that the United Kingdom is the fifth largest contributor to the GEF and has met all its commitments in full. To date we have contributed £130 million. Thirty five per cent. of the bilateral projects of the Department for International Development are aimed primarily or partly at protecting the environment. The commitments add up to some £285 million.

Viscount Mersey: My Lords, the Minister will be aware that there is to be another conference at Kyoto towards the end of the year. Can she say what extra environmental undertakings the United Kingdom may be giving at that conference?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, it is a little early for us to be able to make any specific undertakings. I wish that I could. However, Her Majesty's Government will continue placing considerable emphasis on, for example, the importance of the world's forests at that time.

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, given the stress that the Prime Minister rightly placed on a satisfactory replenishment of the global environment facility in New York, can the Minister tell us exactly what figure the Government have in mind and therefore what contribution the Government are anticipating the United Kingdom can make? Can the Minister also tell the House when the final text of the special session will be available? That would greatly help this House and another place in answering these sorts of questions.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am unable to tell the noble Earl exactly when the special session record will be available. I shall arrange for it to be placed in the Library of the House when it is available. The extent of the replenishment is still a matter of negotiation. The negotiations began on 2nd May and the aim is to complete them by the end of the year. I am afraid that I cannot comment on the likely outcome at present, but I can assure the House that we are prepared to play a full part in reaching a satisfactory replenishment and to make a substantial contribution. We shall be encouraging other nations to do likewise.

Homes Owned by Central Government

2.55 p.m.

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, the total number of homes owned by central government
 
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departments at 1st April 1997 was 6,833. Of those, 1,009 were vacant, 28 of which were specifically identified as being derelict. As the House will be aware, MoD properties are owned by Annington Homes and are therefore not included in those figures. Guidance on securing better use of government empty homes encourages departments to let empty properties. We intend to look again at existing guidance to see what further action may be required to tackle government empty homes.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her helpful reply. Can she say how central government expect local authorities and housing associations to manage their properties efficiently unless a clear lead is given by the departments of central government?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I accept the point made by the noble Lord. It is important that government departments reduce the number of empty homes that they own, not only for themselves but in order to set an example to private, local authority and housing association landlords. That is why Nick Raynsford, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, and myself have arranged a meeting with the Empty Homes Agency to discuss the issue and, I hope, take it further.


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