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House of Lords

Monday, 14th July 2003.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Chester.

Clerk of the Parliaments

The House having been informed on 21st May that Her Majesty had been pleased to appoint Mr Paul David Grenville Hayter, LVO, to the Office of Clerk of the Parliaments, vacant by the retirement of Sir John Michael Davies, KCB, the letters of appointment dated 14th July 2003 were read; then the said Paul David Grenville Hayter made the prescribed declaration (which declaration is set down in the Roll among the oaths of the great officers) in terms as follows:


    "I, Paul David Grenville Hayter, do declare that I will be true and faithful and troth I will bear to Our Sovereign Lady the Queen and to Her Heirs and Successors. I will nothing know that shall be prejudicial to Her Highness Her Crown Estate and Dignity Royal, but that I will resist it to my power and with all speed I will advertise Her Grace thereof, or at the least some of Her Counsel in such wise as the same may come to Her knowledge. I will also well and truly serve Her Highness in the Office of Clerk of Her Parliaments making true Entries and Records of the things done and passed in the same. I will keep secret all such matters as shall be treated in Her said Parliaments and not disclose the same before they shall be published, but to such as it ought to be disclosed unto, and generally I will well and truly do and execute all things belonging to me to be done appertaining to the Office of Clerk of the Parliaments".

After which he took his seat at the Table.

Clerk Assistant of the Parliaments

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

As my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House informed the House on 21st May last, I have appointed Mr Michael Graham Pownall to be Clerk Assistant in place of Mr Paul David Grenville Hayter, appointed Clerk of the Parliaments. I therefore beg to move.

Moved, That this House do approve the appointment by the Lord Chancellor, pursuant to the Clerk of the Parliaments Act 1824, of Mr Michael Graham Pownall to be Clerk Assistant of the House in place of Mr Paul David Grenville Hayter LVO, appointed Clerk of the Parliaments.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to nemine dissentiente.

Reading Clerk and Clerk of Outdoor Committees

The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

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As my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House informed the House on 21st May last, I have appointed Mr David Richard Beamish to be Reading Clerk in place of Mr Michael Graham Pownall, appointed Clerk Assistant. I therefore beg to move.

Moved, That this House do approve the appointment by the Lord Chancellor, pursuant to the Clerk of the Parliaments Act 1824, of Mr David Richard Beamish as Reading Clerk and Clerk of Outdoor Committees of the House in place of Mr Michael Graham Pownall, appointed Clerk Assistant.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to nemine dissentiente.

Post Office Card Accounts

2.41 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many benefit recipients have opted for Post Office card accounts since the introduction of the direct payment programme.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville): My Lords, as of 23rd June 2003, 430,000 customers have opted for a Post Office card account.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister. When the Government decided to change the system of payments for benefits, they said that those who wished to receive cash payments across Post Office counters could continue to do so. Is the Minister aware that many such customers are finding the system of opting for cash accounts to be extremely difficult, very bureaucratic and time consuming? Will the Minister examine ways of achieving a level playing field, so that those who wish to have cash across the counter can do so?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the introduction of the Post Office card account has been extremely successful. Everybody who has one can get cash over the counter. I have also looked into the question of the forms that have to be filled in, and the form for the cash account is, for once, admirably clear and simple. I cannot see that it would prove difficult except in the very small minority of cases of people who have difficulty in using a PIN machine. We will take account of those people with a rule of exception later on.

Earl Russell: My Lords, did not the Minister gave an excellent impersonation of Dr Pangloss? I also draw his attention to a further declivity in the playing field, which is the growing programme of closure of urban post offices—most recently, that of Gladstone Park in

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Brent, in my constituency. As mobility is not the most conspicuous characteristic of the old, does he agree that that is further tilting the playing field against the use of post offices? Does the whole story cast any light on the question whether the commercial freedom of the Post Office is in fact compatible with its universal service obligation?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I was not trying to imitate Lord Pangloss. It is dangerous ever to assume that a computer system will not break down very shortly, but in this case, due to sensible procedures on the part of the Post Office of introducing the system carefully and slowly, it is working. What the Government always said, which is that people would be able to get cash over the counter, is exactly what they are able to do.

Urban post offices are a different issue, but even with the closure programme, the distance that people will have to travel is still in most cases perfectly reasonable.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, is it not the case that 45 per cent of pensioners are yet to respond to the Government's invitation? Is it not very important that benefit recipients—especially pensioners—should be fully aware of the Post Office option, because of the way in which credit rating agencies make it extremely difficult for anyone it has not had a bank account and has never borrowed to open a bank account?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, in fact, 57,000 people have already opened Post Office card accounts, which is running ahead of the operational figure projected by the Post Office. It was thought that about 3 million people would eventually use Post Office card accounts; it looks as if that figure will be considerably higher. That shows that there is no bias in the system, as Postwatch found when it analysed the system.

Baroness Greengross: My Lords, I agree that we must move forward into the 21st century and believe that the majority of older people can, or can learn to, cope with IT and PINs, but I have some concerns. Precisely how will the new system cope with housebound older and disabled people, but who may have different people every week—casual appointees from their family, volunteers or care agency temporary staff—collecting their money? How quickly will the department be able to deal with forgotten PINs and lost payment cards?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, there is already a problem for people who are housebound—that of the appointment of agents, which is similar in both the current and new situations. That is a difficult problem, but one capable of solution.

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Energy

2.46 p.m.

Lord Dubs asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What assessment they have made of the recent report by the Institution of Civil Engineers regarding a future shortfall of energy in the United Kingdom.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, maintaining the reliability of energy supplies is one of the four key goals set out in the energy White Paper that we published in February. The Institution of Civil Engineers' report does not raise any issues that were not addressed in the energy White Paper or that are not being addressed in the follow-up to it, or through the work of the DTI/Ofgem Joint Energy Security of Supply Working Group.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, while welcoming today's announcement, to which my noble friend did not refer, of plans to increase investment in offshore wind sources, does he agree that that must be set against the closure of the Magnox nuclear stations; the decline in the use of coal; the fact that North Sea sources of energy will also be declining; and that, before too long, we shall be heavily dependent on imports of natural gas from distant and potentially unstable parts of the world? What assurance is there that there will not be a day when the lights in this country go out?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, all those facts and projections were set out in the energy White Paper, where there was a proper debate about the uncertainties and vulnerabilities.

The Institution of Civil Engineers clearly asserted that there was no way that we could reach the renewables target—that was one of its two chief concerns. It is worth pointing out that the announcement that the Secretary of State made today, if it is fully implemented and picked up by companies, would lead to renewable wind power equivalent to 5 per cent of our total energy requirements. If we add that to the 1.25 per cent from an earlier round and the current amount, it is not difficult to see that we could well meet what is a very challenging target of obtaining 10 per cent of our energy from renewables by 2010. So the assumption made by the Institution of Civil Engineers was not correct.

As for the vulnerabilities that arise from the increase in our imports of gas, we have covered those. A great deal of action is already being taken to ensure that we have what is the key to reliability, which is diversity of supplier, route and type.


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