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Lord Elton: My Lords, is it not the case that a prison is a very complex organism which takes a long time for anyone to understand? Therefore, an important qualification of an effective governor is the length of time that he has been in service in post. That being so, would it not be better to increase the number of occasions on which governing governors are promoted from among the governors in a prison which they already know, rather than sending governors to sort out another prison which presents them with a completely strange problem?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord and I are on the same track. I agree with him entirely. It is for that reason that in many instances the second-in-command is promoted into the governing governor role. That provides for the good succession arrangement that we want. However, there will, of course, be occasions when we need to bring in specialist expertise when specialist support is required, and there are many excellent governors who perform that important job.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, the Minister said that he believed that my noble friend Lord Hurd was probably right in the disturbing figures that he gave. Will he be kind enough to write to my noble friend, preferably sending a copy to the Library, after he has had the opportunity to become fully briefed on the matter? However, I must admit to having some sympathy for the noble Lord's correspondence secretary.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I suspect that I am a victim of very imaginative questioning in your Lordships' House. I am more than happy to confirm that that is exactly what I shall do. I should apologise to the House as my briefing does not cover the precise point raised earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Hurd.

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Coal Generation

3.5 p.m.

Lord Dormand of Easington asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are satisfied with the progress of reforms introduced to remove market distortions working against coal generation.

The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, the reform programme is well under way but not yet complete. The Director-General of Electricity Supply recently published for consultation a helpful summary of developments in competition in the electricity market. That summary indicates that significant progress has been made on several fronts. The director-general will report to the Department of Trade and Industry in the light of any comments which he receives.

Lord Dormand of Easington: My Lords, the Government said that the Utilities Bill, which is yet to be considered in your Lordships' House, will change the way in which the generation market operates. However, given that the German, French and Spanish coal industries receive an average subsidy of £47 per tonne and that the British production cost is £29 per tonne, will my noble friend, first, clarify in some detail how such a huge difference can be met by the Bill? Secondly, will my noble friend say whether there is any truth in the rumour that the moratorium on gas-fired stations is to be lifted soon?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, with regard to my noble friend's first question, the Utilities Bill will, of course, change the trading arrangements. One hopes that that will provide proper remuneration of flexible plant, which is important to the coal industry. Subsidies are paid to some European coal industries and to the Polish coal industry, and the Government have taken all possible action to encourage the Commission to take action on that. Of course, the situation is made much more difficult by the arrangements introduced in 1993 when the UK Government put forward a position of no subsidy to the UK industry, although proposals were made to subsidise other industries. That makes our position difficult. Of course, the major problem in Europe arises because South Africa, South America and Australia, which have supplies of open-cast coal from very wide and deep reserves, are able quite legitimately to export coal into Europe at approximately less than 30 per cent of our costs of coal production. That sets the tone of the market. At this point there are no proposals to change the position of the stricter consents policy for gas-fired stations.

Lord Elliott of Morpeth: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the last coalmine in the north-east of England is currently, sadly, threatened with closure? Is he further aware that, since privatisation, 400 miners

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are producing the same tonnage as did 1,000 miners before it? Does he agree that in this case the reform of privatisation is in favour of future coal generation?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the Government are well aware of the particular situation to which the noble Lord refers. Of course, greater productivity helps in such situations, but that must be set against the overall position of the coal market in Europe.

Lord Mason of Barnsley: My Lords, will my noble friend say what proposals have been received from the European Commission to help the British coal industry, and what has been our response so far?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, no proposals have been received so far from the Commission. The Commission has made it clear that it is for the UK Government, if they so wish, to bring forward any proposals to help the industry which meet the European Coal and Steel Community rules and, of course, plans to meet the costs of any such proposals.

Lord Ezra: My Lords--

Lord Bridges: My Lords--

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I think we should hear first from the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and then from the noble Lord on the Cross Benches.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that the coal industry has suffered extremely seriously from the high level of sterling which was the subject of the first Question on the Order Paper? As a result of that, British coal has been supplanted in our power stations. Will not the noble Lord give some consideration to the points raised in a recent debate on that subject; namely, giving temporary subvention to the coal industry so that it can maintain its position in the power stations pending the day when sterling is reduced to a more normal level? That subvention would be vastly lower than the amount being paid to other continental coal industries.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, it is an economic fact that the higher level of sterling will affect the cost of coal coming into this country. The Government have been approached by RJB Mining (UK) Limited in relation to aid for the industry. We are currently looking at all the possible options, although at this stage we have not found a way forward.

Lord Bridges: My Lords, have the Government considered the effect of the purchase of London Electricity by Electricite de France, a state-owned entity in that country? Does that introduce a further distortion into the market which needs examination and reference to the competition authorities?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I do not believe that it does. On the supply side, the market has

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been vastly increased and, therefore, a simple change of ownership does not affect the situation. But I shall look at the matter and if, on closer examination, an issue arises, I shall come back to the noble Lord.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, what weight do the Government attach to the comparative emission costs of competing fuels? Has the Minister seen the recent report produced by the energy experts at Chatham House which has given the figures as regards costs in terms of pollution? For example, if those figures were translated into the costs of energy production, would it not show that the Government's policy of abandoning combined cycle gas-producing plants was extremely short-sighted?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, a basic axiom of any energy policy is that it has more than one objective. It has objectives which involve costs, environmental issues and security of supply. Clearly, we have taken the step of deferring some gas-fired power stations. On the other hand, we have permitted others because they involve extremely good quality combined heat and power. Therefore, the environmental aspect was a factor. One must always balance the two; one simply cannot consider one aspect alone.

European Communities (Amendment) Bill [H.L.]

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I beg leave to introduce a Bill to repeat Sections 2 and 3 of and Schedule 2 to the European Communities Act 1972. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.--(Lord Pearson of Rannoch.)

On Question, Bill read a first time, and to be printed.

Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

Representation of the People Bill

3.15 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [New system of electoral registration]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 1:


    Page 2, line 23, after first ("a") insert ("qualifying").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 2 and 3. These amendments give effect to a commitment that I gave in Committee to bring forward a government amendment to ensure that those who have not been given leave to enter or remain in this country should not be able to register and vote.

29 Feb 2000 : Column 456

These amendments do precisely that. In fact, in one respect, they go slightly further. The amendments will mean that a person who has entered the country illegally may not register. I imagine that it is unlikely that a person who is here illegally would do anything which may potentially bring them to the notice of the authorities. But I am sure that your Lordships would agree that illegal entrants should not have the right to vote.

The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, is similar in intent. However, I want to deal with one aspect of his amendment. The first part of the amendment refers to non-Commonwealth citizens possibly being able to vote. We discussed nationality for the franchise at some length in Committee and I do not wish to go over that ground again. However, I emphasise that it is only Commonwealth and EU citizens who have the right to vote in our elections and EU citizens who are not British or Irish cannot vote in parliamentary elections. We have absolutely no plans to change that arrangement.

The amendments standing in my name close a potential loophole and I hope that all noble Lords will support them. I hope too that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, will recognise that my amendments achieve the same objective and purpose as his own and when the time comes, I hope that he will not press his amendment. I beg to move.


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