Lord Teverson: My Lords, I am disappointed by that reply, which is most callous. I remind the Minister that hospitals and local authority operators alone raise some £1.25 billion from parking charges; 10 per cent over-payment means £100 million perhaps wrongly collected. There is a wide range of new technology. Is this not exactly where the OFT ought to get involved? Where else can traders take your money and get away with refusing to give you change?
Lord Bach: My Lords, I repeat that this is not a matter for central government and I am thankful for being able to say so. However, perhaps I can help the noble Lord to this extent: car park operators, whether local authorities or not, should ensure that ticket machines are clearly labelled and that consumers are aware that change will not be given. Failure to do so could lead to a breach under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, which came into force on 26 May this year, and might be subject to investigation by both trading standards and the Office of Fair Trading.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is the Minister aware that a very simple solution used internationally is to have a change machine beside the other machine, but that that works only in secure areas? Is he also aware that Westminster Council has been forced to take away coin meters completely in large areas of the city because people have found such skilful ways of robbing them in just a matter of seconds, and it lost a huge amount of revenue due to that?
Lord Bach: My Lords, I was not aware of the noble Baronesss last point, but it does not entirely surprise me. There is a debate about the future of machines of this kind. The future will probably involve credit and debit cards and mobile phone payments being made so that cash is not there to be stolen.
Lord Borrie: My Lords, is there not missing from the Ministers Answer the perfectly correct implication from the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, that in many situations the car park operator is a monopolist? In the case of hospitals, you may be miles and miles away from a hospital before you can find another car park. If there is a monopoly, surely any form of exploitation is something that he should be concerned about?
Lord Bach: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I did not say that I was not concerned about it, but that the matter does not directly affect central government. It was devolved, as it were, in 1986 to local authorities or the National Health Service as appropriate. However, if there is incorrect and unclear labelling, and a failure to do what should be done to ensure that consumerswhether patients at hospitals or othersknow about it, there is now some sort of remedy under the regulations passed in 2008.
Lord Razzall: My Lords, I sympathise with the Ministers response that this has nothing to do with central government, but would he nevertheless comment on what seems to be increasingly dictatorial behaviour by a number of local authorities? Time obviously does not permit me to list all such items of behaviour, but the most extreme is the practice of some local authorities of putting microchips in wheelie bins.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I do not think that I would be prepared to comment on that; it would be extremely dangerous. The House prides itself on supporting local authority freedom and objects when central government take too much of it.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that car-parking arrangements at hospitals fall under the Governments responsibilities? Does he agree that it is difficult for people visiting patients, who do not necessarily know for how long they are going to be there if the patients are rather ill? They park their cars, put money into the parking meter and then find they have an enormous surcharge because they have overstayed. Does my noble friend agree that this is real difficulty, and can he make some suggestions?
Lord Bach: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend and I agree with my noble friend Lord Borrie who earlier made the same point. There is a real problem, which should be tackled through the local hospital and the NHS. Of course, the Government eventually have responsibility for that. Today, however, I am pointing out that central government do not have a responsibility for whether or not machines offer change.
Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, I am sure the Minister will know that hospital car-parking charges have been scrapped in Wales because when the relations of people with serious problems parked their vehicles it cost them a great deal of money to do so. Can special circumstances not be taken into account regarding hospital car parking?
Lord Bach: My Lords, the House obviously feels strongly about this. I shall take the hospital matter back and write to noble Lords on the issue and, perhaps, on a possible way forward. I know from personal experience, as I am sure many noble Lords do, that this is a real issue for people going to hospital and must be looked at.
Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that change machines occasionally do not give change? I recently put £5 into a change machine in a hospital car park and got £3 back. That does not seem to be very good value.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I am aware of that from personal experience, as, I am sure, are many other noble Lords. For central government to step in and say that every machine must be of a certain type would be too much central government.
Why they are intervening before the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Horst Schalk and Johann Kopf v Austria (Application No. 30141/04) to contend that same-sex relationships fall outside the ambit of family life for the purposes of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, the Government have intervened in the case of Schalk and Kopf v Austria primarily to support the proposition that Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights does not require same-sex couples to be allowed to marry. The noble Lord has raised an important technical issue about our observations in this case, for which I am grateful and upon which I am reflecting in consultation with my ministerial colleagues.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I am grateful to hear that Ministers are considering the matter further. I have put the observations in the Library, so that those who want to can see exactly what the Government have said. It is not correct that they have confined their observations only to the right to marry. They have also said that the court should not develop its case law so that same-sex partners living in an enduring family relationship are protected by Articles 8 and 14 of the convention against sexual orientation discrimination in the enjoyment of the fundamental right to respect for family life. I have two questions. First, is that the Governments aim because, if so, it seems bizarre? Secondly, in the light of our laws recognition of civil partnership and recognition that for the purposes of adoption a couple includes two people of the same sex living as partners in an enduring family relationship, why on earth do the Government negatively seek to persuade the Strasbourg court that
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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Lord raises important matters and I am sure that all noble Lords will wish to see the memorandum he has placed in the Library. The Government are very proud of the legislation introducing civil partnerships and we strongly encourage other countries to do likewise. However, we do not think it appropriate for other countriesmany of which have very different social attitudes towards marriage and relationshipsto be compelled to introduce similar systems. That was the principal aim of our intervention. We would be concerned if an interpretation suggested that Article 8 compelled legal registration of any family relationship. However, I assure the noble Lord that we are considering this point very carefully.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, the UK-France summit in March covered the key issues on the French presidencys agenda. Since then we have continued to work closely together at all levels, from the Prime Ministers meetings with President Sarkozy in Japan this week and Paris last month to numerous phone calls and meetings in London and Paris between Ministers and officials. I visited Paris in June.
Lord Dykes: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. The ambitious agenda of the French presidency, announced on 30 June, includes CAP reform, an immigration pact, the defence arms agreement and the solidarity agreementor whatever it may beon environmental and energy matters. That is a huge agenda. Will it not need to be strongly supported by other member states? What is HMGs reaction to those four key objectives?
Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord is correct to say that this is an ambitious agenda. On climate change and energy, President Sarkozy was supported by the other European leaders at the G8 and has already made progress. We strongly support what is being done on the CAP health check, which is intended to get better value for money. The defence work is now proceeding in a good direction, as is migration. This is an ambitious but good agenda, which we hope we can support strongly.
Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that a very useful message to send to President Sarkozy during the French presidency is that it is in
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Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, my noble friend is right. I cannot think of any Government for whom the instruction to do less and do it better is not valid. The internal European single market and the Doha round, which is now at the one minute to midnight stage, demonstrate that we need a trade breakthrough. The actions taken by France are critical in achieving that.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, should not one of the priorities of the French presidency be to remove the EU ban on the PMOI? Is it not highly improper that the EU should persist in this ban when the original proscription was based on the British proscription alone, which has now been removed, on the order of the Court of Appeal?
Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, that is an issue for the Council of Ministers to take up. It is correct that, in the light of the changed British position, it would be appropriate for Europe to revisit that.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, just supposing the treaty of Lisbon is not enacted, given the reticence of the Irish and other member states, can Her Majestys Government identify any of its new provisions that cannot be enacted under the existing treaties with the support of the court? Will they undertake to veto them if they are nevertheless proposed?
Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the whole House will sympathise with any Minister who says that it is very dangerous to answer hypothetical questions from the noble Lord. We continue to believe that the treaty will proceed. We watch with interest to see what will happen in Ireland. We are now, in the light of the court decision, proceeding towards ratification, and we will have to see what happens.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, my question is not hypothetical, but I am afraid that it is a bit more technical. The French have talked a lot about climate and energy being their priorities, and it is obvious that they will be distracted by the Lisbon imbroglio to some extent. I notice that the excellent French ambassador, when he appeared before your Lordships European Union Committee, said that the French intended to press for including nuclear power generation in the category of renewables. That seems a very sensible idea which, if adopted here, would obviate the need to scatter the country with wind pylons, offshore wind plants and so on. Will the Minister confirm that that is our aim as well and that we will agree with the French on including nuclear power in the definition of renewable energy?
Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I wish I could give the noble Lord a categorical answer at this time, but it would be imprudent of me to do so. The Government have made clear our commitment to nuclear energy as part of our energy solution, for just the reason that it is an energy source that does not heavily hit the environment or deplete natural resources. I would resist agreeing to that precise categorisation until I have taken advice.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will welcome President Sarkozys intention to co-operate much more closely with NATO in the future, which will be a very welcome change for France. Two of the objectives set out in the French presidency conclusion are for a civilian emergency group that could step into some of the terrible global emergencies that we have seen, partly as a result of climate change, and, secondly, for a move towards an EU anti-proliferation plan with regard to weapons of mass destruction. Will the United Kingdom be engaged closely in discussions with France on those two issues, given that it is the only nuclear power in Europe apart from France?
Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I can confirm that we share both objectives. The Prime Minister has made clear in his initiative for international institutional reform his support for a civilian corps of the kind the noble Baroness mentioned. We have always felt that it would be best to do that on a Europe-wide basis. As she knows, on the non-proliferation point we are, with France and others, casting around for a way to renew the non-proliferation treaty and regime. Therefore, the French proposals in this area are intrinsically of interest and are worth supporting.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, could my noble friend add to the suggestions for President Sarkozys agenda measures to increase rail freight through the Channel Tunnel? I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group. That project was set up by treaty. There are only about five trains going through at the moment, when there are 200 trains worth of trucks going up the parallel motorway. Action is needed.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, taking up the theme of doing old things better, does the Minister agree that a Palestinian Government of national unity or, failing that, at least an interparty negotiating team with Israel would be a very welcome result of the French presidency?
Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I certainly would. This Question ranges quite widely. The quartet, in which Europe is a participant, is the vehicle for raising these ideas. As the noble Lord will know, there are quartet principles about discussions with Hamas, which
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Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, in considering the question by my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford about whether nuclear power is to be regarded as a renewable energy source, will the Minister take the trouble to consult his former colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury of Turville, who, in a debate, said very clearly in response to a question from my noble friend Lady OCathain that he regarded nuclear power as a renewable source?
Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I think that I will be able to answer the noble Lord, Lord Howell, in terms that will satisfy both the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, and him. However, I want to take advice on this before making British policy in an area for which I am not responsible.
Lord Harrison: My Lords, given Frances renewed interest in rejoining NATO, and that countrys recent White Paper on defence, is it not a propitious time to renew the idea of developing a common defence procurement policy with France and our partners in the European Union? It would strengthen this countrys defences, throughout the European Union and, indeed, within NATO.
Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, one reason that we are so pleased with the direction of the French proposals on European defence is precisely that they preserve under national command national armies and navies. Earlier fears that somehow there would be a loss of national control have been replaced. It remains a good idea that we combine as a European defence force when NATO was not the right formula. I do not want to go further in terms of the procurement implications, because, again, I am not the right Minister to do that.
Lord Lang of Monkton: My Lords, the Minister mentioned trade and the Doha round. Given President Sarkozys strongly protectionist reputation, would the noble Lord give a commitment that Her Majesty's Government will be robustly proactive in seeking to advance free trade and to succeed in the Doha round?
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