House of Commons
Thursday 29 June 2006
The House met at half-past Ten o’clock
[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]
NOTICE OF MOTION FOR AN UNOPPOSED RETURN
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, That she will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House a Return of the Report of the Zahid Mubarek Inquiry.—[Mr. Cawsey.]
Oral Answers to Questions
Education and Skills
The Secretary of State was asked—
In 2006-07, we plan to invest £4.8 billion in further education for young people and adults, an increase of around £2.5 billion since 1997. Our overall investment in adult learning will be broadly maintained at £2.9 billion and will be focused increasingly on our priorities of providing support for those adults who lack basic skills or the level 2 platform of skills for employability, and of ensuring opportunities for developing skills at level 3. It is essential that funding is prioritised on those areas if we are to address skills weaknesses and improve productivity.
In Cornwall, courses aimed at people with special educational needs have been cancelled because of reductions in the additional learner support funding stream. Given the Department’s targets for concentrating money on provision for 16 to 18-year-olds, can the Secretary of State give any hope to the vulnerable people who depend on those SEN courses that no further cancellations will be made?
I should very much like to know about what is happening in Cornwall. We should not cut funding for the 640,000 people with learning difficulties and disabilities in this country. That provision must remain a priority, and it is not part of the reprioritisation that I set out in my response. If the hon. Gentleman will write to me, we will look into the matter further.
There is much to be applauded in the priorities that my right hon. Friend has just set out, but does he agree that community education is the basic building block that allows people to get back into education? Often, it is the glue that holds the whole system together. Will he look carefully at how his decisions are impacting on community education for adults?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. I do not think that he, or his Committee, would disagree that there is a need to reprioritise, but there is concern about the community support that he mentioned. We are maintaining funding at £210 million for learning for personal enrichment. That is safeguarded and ring-fenced in the Learning and Skills Council budget.
My hon. Friend asked about courses designed to introduce people onto the ladder of opportunity and skills, but the effectiveness of some courses has been questioned in the past. For example, with regard to entry into employment, the statistics do not show that the courses always lead to progression. That is why we are looking at the foundation learning tier, as we want to turn the current complex structure into a much more coherent set of units that is easier to understand and operate. My hon. Friend makes an important point about a matter that we will look at in the future.
The Secretary of State will know that the Leitch review of skills made it clear that, because of demographic change, it is vital that we reskill and upskill the existing work force to meet the challenges of a changing world economy. However, the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education has said that the Government’s target culture has discouraged hard-to-reach groups from returning to learning. Will the right hon. Gentleman say why the number of people studying at further education colleges—not just those with special needs, but including all those between 25 to 59—has fallen by 9 per cent. in the past year?
I do not accept that comment from NIACE. The Leitch review, and the review that we have had from Andrew Foster, will be crucial in pointing us in the right direction, as will the further education White Paper that will subsequently become a Bill. The problems in FE were highlighted in Andrew Foster’s report, which showed that the sector has put up with poor provision for too long. There are some very good FE colleges, but others still believe that employers should accept their thesis about the education that they require for their work force. There has been too little engagement with employers, but we are putting them at the heart of the matter and trying to do something about the alphabet soup of qualifications that currently exists. We are also working to sort out the units available in foundation learning to which I referred earlier, and I believe that we can tackle the problems in FE by adopting those approaches. Certainly, the FE sector is much more of a priority now than it ever has been for previous Governments.
I accept the merit of the reprioritisation policy, but will my right hon. Friend look at how the funding formula operates? Last year, for example, the better that learning and skills councils seemed to do in encouraging participation among 16 to 18-year-olds, the worse they seemed to do with the 19-plus allocations. That was especially true in north Yorkshire.
I will look at the point that my hon. Friend raises, but I am glad that he supports our reprioritisation policy. The problem with FE and adult skills is that to prioritise everything is to prioritise nothing. We are concentrating on longer courses for people with no level 2 qualifications whatsoever, whatever their income, and we will also introduce an entitlement to level 3 for 19 to 25-year-olds on a similar basis. That must be our priority, but I shall certainly look into whether provision for 16 to 18-year-olds is affecting adult participation rates, as described by my hon. Friend.
The Secretary of State will be aware of concern in Hull and the East Riding about the reduction in courses, particularly for older people. The Government’s policy is a commitment to lifelong learning: education does not exist purely to increase skills to help people into the workplace and to aid the economy but is about broader issues. I am sure that he, like me, will have had concerns raised at his constituency surgeries. Will he respond to those concerns, perhaps giving reassurance to those who see courses that add to their quality of life being cut back? Will he give a message I can take back to those I represent?
The hon. Gentleman is right to say those problems have also been raised with me. There are problems across the country, and saying that we will reprioritise or that we will increase the level of fees in further education is not easy. There was always an implicit expectation that there would be a contribution of 25 per cent. from students, but very few colleges introduced that. We are gradually moving towards the expectation of a contribution of 50 per cent. by 2010. From constituents I have spoken to, and this is reflected in the MORI poll, I think that most people accept that if they can make a reasonable contribution to a course that they are pleased to be taking—whether in languages, learning for recreation or learning just to increase knowledge—they should make a contribution. When that is explained, along with our priorities for the country and the economy, people tend to accept what is, I accept, a sometimes difficult message.
I acknowledge the excellent work that my hon. Friend is doing to raise the issue of children and young people who run away from home. They certainly need someone to talk to and somewhere to go, but they also need help with the underlying problems that cause them to run away in the first place. It is the responsibility of local children’s services, working closely with the police and the voluntary and community organisations, to provide the help that young runaways need. The Government are supporting them strongly through the Every Child Matters programme, which is driving improvements for all children and young people but particularly for the most vulnerable.
I thank my right hon. Friend, particularly for considerable improvements in safeguarding vulnerable children. May I draw her attention to National Missing Persons Helpline, a charity that has set up a 24-hour helpline for runaways, and which, in 2005, took 57,000 calls? Will she, with me, meet people from the helpline to discuss the role that it can play in safeguarding very vulnerable children who run away?
The helpline is one of a number of important vehicles by which children and young people who run away can get some immediate advice, although I think it is worth bearing in mind that the vast majority of children who run away return home within 24 hours, which should be our primary objective. The helpline also gets considerable funding from the Home Office—about £900,000 this year, including £600,000 core funding. I am certainly willing to arrange a meeting to discuss the work of the helpline if that is thought to be useful.
In addition to the other support that they rightly receive, when, how and to what financial tune will children who run away from home or care be offered personalised learning, either to prevent their falling behind, if at all possible, or to assist them to catch up and fulfil their potential?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that. The position of children who are looked after by the local authority—in care, as we used to call it—is of considerable concern, not only because some go missing but because in their general outcomes they are falling behind other children and young people, which should not be the case. That is why the Government, across a number of Departments, are working hard to see what are the barriers to progress for looked-after children, including issues around why they might run away. We shall publish a Green Paper outlining a range of issues, including precisely the point that the hon. Gentleman rightly raised, which is the need for dedicated personalised support so that children do not drift in care and achieve the same improved outcomes we want for all young people.
The objective of the second phase of the Prime Minister’s initiative for international education is to secure and sustain the UK’s position as a leader in international education in both the further and higher education sectors. We are working with the British Council and the higher education and further education sectors to increase the number of international students studying in the UK and to support UK universities and colleges in developing collaborative partnerships with institutions overseas.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer and I am very pleased with the Government’s measures to attract more foreign students. My constituency certainly houses one of the best international schools in the country, Concord college, and I invite the Secretary of State to come along and see the work that is done there. Its impact on the rural local economy is huge, with so many foreign students coming in and contributing to it, so it is important that we continue to get our fair share of foreign students coming to learn in our country.
In Atcham and in action. The hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) is absolutely right to stress the importance of overseas students, particularly to the UK economy. It is estimated that overseas students bring in £5 billion in fees and other spending while they are over here. Overseas students studying in the UK are crucial to our need to address the economic problems of the 21st century, particularly in respect of globalisation. I agree with the hon. Gentleman, which is exactly why the second phase of the Prime Minister’s initiative was announced in April
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the Labour-led Scottish Executive’s fresh talent initiative, which not only encourages students to study in Scotland but to live in Scotland after they have qualified. Can the Government learn any lessons from that initiative?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and we are already learning the lessons in our discussions with the Scottish Executive. The Scottish Executive and the UK Government are involved in a constant process of learning from each other in respect of such initiatives.
But the Secretary of State will be aware that Scotland’s fresh talent initiative offers overseas students a two-year visa extension if they go to a Scottish university. If they go to an English university, however, it is only for one year and it applies to a much more restricted range of subjects. Is it right to have separate visa regimes for overseas students going to Scottish and English universities?
We make different decisions, which is what devolution is about. Our decision to extend the visa by 12 months, which we recently announced, is based on the demography and availability of work in this country. It is a different decision, but along the same lines as that reached by the Scottish Executive. As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Devine), we will learn the lessons from Scotland, but the circumstances are different north and south of the border. We believe that the extension to 12 months is the right way to proceed.
I have with me a list of reserved subjects post-devolution. Among the reserved subjects for UK policy are
“Nationality; immigration, including asylum and the status and capacity of persons in the UK who are not British citizens”.
Although education is a devolved matter, visa rules are not. Is the Secretary of State really telling the House that he believes that having different visa regimes for students in Scotland and England are consistent with the devolution settlement that his Government introduced?
Yes, but there is no contradiction between that and our deciding that there are different circumstances—demographic factors, employment prospects and so forth—in Scotland as opposed to the UK. Actually, the extension to 12 months has been widely welcomed by UK universities and there has not been a big debate about what happens north and south of the border. The circumstances are different. The hon. Gentleman is right that it is not a devolved issue, but it does not detract from the different circumstances in the two countries.
In figures given in the Official Report on 6 June at column 536W, the Department showed that, in higher education institutes alone, there are almost 1.9 million students studying in Britain. Incidentally, 100,000 of those study at the four universities in Greater Manchester. Does my right hon. Friend agree that not only the impact on the local economy while the students are studying in Britain but the continued contacts and influence that they take with them when they return to their countries are important?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right and has identified a crucial element. Not only the money they spend in this country but the links that they retain with this country after they have left university are important. That is one of the principal reasons for the Prime Minister’s initiative, alongside other separate initiatives for considering links with, for example, Russia and China. All the initiatives are important for the future of this country.
The overall picture of drug misuse among young people is one of stability with some downward trends in the use of specific drugs. The Government have set out a comprehensive national programme to deliver local universal, targeted and specialist services for young people to make a further impact on reducing drug misuse. Local areas have been very effective in focusing children’s services’ attention on substance misuse issues.
I am grateful for that answer but I hope that my hon. Friend is aware that the amount of money for the young people substance misuse partnership grant in Stoke-on-Trent is around half of that of Nottingham, which is a comparable city with similar problems. Given that overall funding for drugs services in Stoke-on-Trent is around £11 a head compared with £23 a head in Nottingham, what extra resources are the Department prepared to direct towards tackling that curse on our young people in Stoke-on-Trent?
My hon. Friend makes his point about his constituency in his customary manner. I expect him to champion his constituency and its causes and he is doing that today. I reassure him that there is no postcode lottery for drug treatment, but a formula that was set up with the assistance of academics at the university of York. We specifically examined local demographics and the prevalence of misuse, and we ensure that the overall pooled budget—the young people substance misuse grant—is spread around the country by focusing on those elements through the formula. However, there are 30 high focus areas and another 18 will be announced shortly.
What assessment has the Under-Secretary made of the quality of some of the printed material that is used in drugs education? Does he share my concern that some of it contains far too much value-free information and not enough of a robust warning to young people about the dangers of drug taking to their health, education and career prospects?
The hon. Lady makes a fair point but it is important to talk to young people not necessarily in the language that she and I speak but in a language that they understand. The information and advice service FRANK has been especially useful—there have been 1.3 million calls to the FRANK helpline, 11.3 million hits on the website and more than 82,000 e-mails. From 1998 to now, the British crime survey figures show that, among 16 to 24-year-olds, the use of cannabis has reduced by 16 per cent., that of amphetamines is down by 66 per cent., that of LSD has decreased by 83 per cent. and that of glues has reduced by 66 per cent. There is much more to do but information and advice services such as FRANK help to solve the problem.
In the 1990s, the total number of engineering students in our universities was falling. Since 2002-03, there has been a 6 per cent. increase. We are committed to continuing that trend. Our 10-year science and innovation investment framework sets out our strategy to develop a strong supply of engineers, scientists, and technologists.
I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Has he seen the report that the Royal Academy recently published, called “Educating Engineers for the 21st Century: the Industry View”? It concluded that university undergraduate engineering education needs to be completely overhauled. The academy has also asked for stronger collaboration between industry and universities as well as schools so that we can have engineers in the 21st century. I ask my hon. Friend to take those recommendations seriously and implement many of the ideas in the report.
I thank my hon. Friend for his detailed interest in these issues. The report is interesting; we are already responding to a number of the issues raised in the research and I know that the academy welcomes many of the steps we are taking. Links and collaboration between the education system and companies are important to ensure that the needs of industry are understood and reflected in the curriculum. In particular, the establishment of the sector skills councils, the move on specialised diplomas and the establishment of foundation degrees are helping us to change the situation.
But of course the number of first degrees in engineering has fallen from 21,000 in 1996-97 to only 19,500 last year. The Minister will be aware of his Department’s report, “An Assessment of Skill Needs in Engineering”, which concluded that one of the main reasons for that reduction is the limited number studying maths and science subjects at school, where there has been a drop in entries for A-level maths, for example, from 56,000 in 1997 to just 46,000 last year. What steps are the Government taking to boost the uptake of maths and science at A-level? Will they allow the state sector to opt for the IGCSE in maths and the three sciences, which many schools in the independent sector are adopting because of their dissatisfaction with the new curriculum?
However the hon. Gentleman plays with the figures, it is a fact that since 2002-03 there has been a 6 per cent. increase in the number of students of engineering. That increase is on the record and it is important. Undoubtedly, we need to stimulate greater interest and demand at school in the stem subjects. A range of initiatives is in place to achieve that, and there is some evidence of improvement. However, we also have to enthuse young people about the importance of science, and some of the changes that we are developing in the curriculum to get young people to look at the processes of science rather than just learning by rote will be important. We need to get some practical issues across, too, such as the fact that in terms of the graduate earnings premium a person with a stem degree will earn a third more than someone with a non-stem degree. If we start getting those facts across to young people, I think we shall be able to shift the trend.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the opportunity for schools, such as Ridgewood school in Scawsby, Doncaster, in my constituency, to apply for specialist engineering status will have a positive impact on the number of students who will study engineering at university in future?
My hon. Friend is correct. The specialist schools programme has helped us to take the agenda forward. In addition, our commitment by 2008 to ensure that all pupils achieving at least level 6 and over at key stage 3 will be entitled to study three separate science GCSEs, if necessary through collaboration, is an important step forward.
Child Sex Offenders
We recently published revised guidelines, “Working Together to Safeguard Children 2006”, which set out three key principles for local agencies working with children who abuse others: first, there must be a robust, co-ordinated approach on the part of all agencies concerned in a case; secondly, the needs of children who abuse must be considered entirely separately from those of their victims; and, thirdly, there must an overall assessment of risk, which must include the risks to the victim, the abuser and others, particularly other children, whether in a family setting, in a school or in the wider community.
I thank the right hon. Lady for that answer and in particular for her emphasis on the last point. Will she tell me why it is believed that abusers between the ages of 16 and 18, or indeed over the age of 18, in further education colleges where there are youngsters as young as 14 should be treated any differently from employed abusers?
First, those who are employed are in a position of authority and trust vis-à-vis children and young people, which is not the case for those who may be students. I know that the hon. Gentleman is rightly concerned about the issue so I want to reassure him. Where an abuser is a child and the victim is a child there are many cases of a different nature: in some, the risk to other children will not be very great at all, because the abuse has arisen in a specific situation, but in others, there will be a more generalised risk to other children, which is why I stressed in the final part of my answer the need for agencies to look at each case individually and to make decisions on the basis of the risk posed by an individual young person to any other young people. Indeed, in some cases that will include the need to provide for education—whether further education or education before the age of 16—that is not in a mainstream education facility. That option is open to the agencies concerned.
As one of a number of very useful initiatives, the Labour-led Scottish Executive have appointed a team of professionals with expertise in the area of adolescent sex offending to work urgently to produce a strategy that will produce swift, effective action to deal with those young people. Can the Minister say whether we on this side of the border are learning lessons from that group and working with them to ensure that our own strategy is improved and made as effective as possible?
Yes. There is close collaboration. We also have on this side of the border our own joint programme, including all the relevant agencies and victims’ organisations, to develop national service guidelines based on research evidence of interventions that we think are effective and that have been properly evaluated. That is an important point in this difficult subject. We have also supported, through the Department of Health, the development of sexual assault referral centres for children—one initially in London and one at St. Mary's centre in Manchester. They are providing beacons of excellence and setting standards of good practice in this difficult area of work for professionals to draw on.
The application by Churchdown school for permission to sell part of its playing fields is under consideration. The School Playing Fields Advisory Panel will discuss the application at its July meeting, which I understand is on 20 July, and a decision will then be taken by the Department.
I thank the Minister for that reply. The importance of the project to the area will be confirmed by his ministerial colleague, the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda), who represents the next-door constituency. A while ago, the school had a lottery application turned down that would have funded very important sports facilities in an area in which some 10,000 people live, and which lacks such facilities. That extremely important project is a community partnership, so will the Minister do all that he can to speed up the decision? I believe that it has been on the Minister's desk for some time now, and I ask him to treat it with the seriousness that I really do think the project deserves.
It has not been on my desk for some time. As I said, it is currently with the School Playing Fields Advisory Panel but I have spoken today to officials who have been looking at the case, and, assuming that the panel’s decision is unanimous and uncontroversial, I will ensure that the school receives the decision by the end of this term.
The new variable fees regime starting this year will make a strong contribution to giving our universities the funding they need. It is providing, for the first time in a generation, a step change in funding for our universities while maintaining access. We have made it clear that we shall appoint an independent commission to look at the performance of the new system in 2009, and that no changes to the cap will be made before the commission has reported to Parliament.
I am very grateful for that response. It is worth reminding the House that it was this Government who legislated to ban top-up fees and the anarchy and cut-throat competition that they would have produced. It is important to have a system, but every time it changes there is a dip in the number of applications, so will my hon. Friend redouble his efforts to ensure that young people in particular are aware of the advantages that the new funding scheme brings both to them and to universities, and encourage young people to take up those opportunities?
I thank my hon. Friend. We should certainly do that. We should take some encouragement from the fact that the underlying trend in applications this year is upwards. We also need to continue with the joint communications campaign that we have established to get across the real benefits of the new student financial support system that is coming in this September. For example, students no longer have to pay before they go to university and only pay the money back when they are in work and earning more than £15,000 a year. The repayment terms are very affordable and, crucially, for students from poorer backgrounds, we are bringing back non-repayable grants. I am confident that if we get those messages across, we will get many more people going to university.
The student income and expenditure survey this year found that one in four students considered not going to university because of concerns about debt. Does the Minister not think that lifting the cap would only make the situation worse?
I have made the position on the cap clear. I saw that piece of research and it simply does not bear out in any way, shape or form the reality of what is happening with applications for this academic year. If that were the true situation, we would see a significant downturn in applications. I am sometimes challenged about the stance of the Liberal Democrats on this issue. In Scotland, under the Scottish Executive, where the Liberal Democrats are in a partnership Government, they are supporting a postgraduate repayment system that, in principle, is no different from the system that we are bringing in this year.
Citizenship remains an important part of the national curriculum. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is currently reviewing the key stage 3 curriculum, which includes citizenship. We have recently announced a review, led by Keith Ajegbo, to explore the possibility of including British social and cultural history in the citizenship curriculum. Any changes will come into effect from September 2008.
I am extremely grateful to the Minister for that most helpful and comprehensive reply. Would he accept from me that citizenship should include the teaching of tolerance, freedom, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, civil and community responsibilities and an understanding of democracy, and also, more than ever perhaps, an understanding of the history of the United Kingdom and the huge achievements of the British people over the centuries throughout the whole world?
I am in danger of agreeing with the hon. Gentleman. The framework for key stage 4 of the citizenship curriculum specifically refers to students being taught about the legal and human rights and responsibilities underpinning society. It does not mention the European Union and the value that that has brought to British cultural and social history, but I am sure that he would agree that that should form part of that curriculum, as well.
May I welcome what the Minister has said? I hope that, in any citizenship course, there will be reference to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) as being an essential part of British history. Has the Minister seen a leaflet produced by the Children’s Legal Centre that sets out the rights and responsibilities of young people from the age of 13 onwards? In discussing citizenship, is it not important to look also at the rights and responsibilities of young people? Will he ensure that that is included in any discussion of citizenship?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The citizenship curriculum covers issues relating to social and moral responsibility, political literacy and community involvement. Within all of that, the rights and responsibilities of every citizen in this country, what they are and how they can be exercised, and how young people have rights and responsibilities and can exercise them, must form a key part of what goes on in the classroom across the whole of school curriculum, as we generate an ethos of understanding and encouraging active citizenship by all our young people.
I am sure that the Minister would agree that education in global citizenship and sustainable development is vital. What financial arrangements are in place to support the development of curriculum materials and teacher training in that?
Some £600,000 is being invested to provide continuous professional development over the next two years for some 1,200 teachers who teach citizenship in one shape or another in our schools. Within that continuous professional development, there will be opportunities for teachers to examine a variety of ways of engaging young people in that topic in the classroom and to do so in ways that involve young people in an active process to explore the role they play locally in their communities, nationally, in Europe, and, of course, across the planet in terms of global citizenship education. There are great opportunities to improve and deepen the quality of the citizenship education that young people experience.
May I agree with the Minister that it is the delivery of a high-class, high-quality curriculum across the piece that will best develop the ideas of citizenship, both as a national of Britain and a citizen of the world? He might wish to pay a compliment to Oxley primary school, which, on every standard, has been found to be outstanding in every aspect of the curriculum. The children who arrive at that diverse, inner-city school have many problems, but they have none the less achieved magnificently. The contribution that the school makes to the idea of citizenship is far in excess of any narrow understanding of what may be put forward elsewhere.
I am more than happy to celebrate along with my hon. Friend the achievements of Oxley primary school in his constituency. It is important to recognise that citizenship starts at the primary level in our school system and runs right through the secondary curriculum. In key stages 1 and 2, for primary school children, PSHE—personal, social and health education—and citizenship education are combined to give young people the kind of experience that my hon. Friend describes. Most importantly of all, as well as being taught in discrete lessons, the subject features right across the curriculum—in maths, English, history and geography classes—so that young people can see and experience the values and ethos of active citizenship and we can bed in the spirit and attitude of becoming positively engaged in local communities.
Local authorities are responsible for planning school place provision in their area, as I made clear last time we had oral questions. Decisions are taken locally and Ministers have no role in the process. The Milton Keynes and South Midlands learning and skills group meets regularly to enable joint and long-term education planning across the area, which includes Kettering. The group includes the Government office for the east midlands, local authorities and other key stakeholders, and its last meeting took place on 27 February 2006.
With 100,000 new houses planned for Northamptonshire over the next 15 years, there is growing local concern that the present strain on school places will be exacerbated. Will the Minister guarantee that there will be sufficient Government financial and other support to the local education authority and other agencies involved to ensure that there will be full and complete provision of school places for Northamptonshire’s growing population?
We are confident about the level of capital support that we are giving Northamptonshire and, indeed, the country as a whole. Northamptonshire and its schools are receiving capital support of more than £90 million over the current spending period. That includes more than £8 million that is based on the new pupil places criteria. It is up to the Tory council in Northamptonshire to spend that money wisely. We must not try to learn any lessons from the Conservative party on capital funding. When it left office, it was spending £600,000, but we are now spending 10 times that on capital.
I welcome the £120 million that the Labour Government are spending on schools in Northampton, which means that every single school in Northampton is being either rebuilt, or substantially extended. Will he join me in praising the head teachers who have managed their schools superbly through a difficult reorganisation and, in many cases, while their schools have been building sites? We are now seeing the first real signs of improvements in performance in the schools. Will the Minister come to Northampton to see some of the wonderful new buildings that are being completed and to meet the head teachers to talk about the improvements that the children are achieving?
I would be delighted to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency and pay tribute to the head teachers who do a superb job to sustain high-quality education, despite the building work that goes on around them as a result of our £6 billion capital spend—that is the budget for this year and it is, of course, rising. I visited a school in Lancashire last week on which a big capital spend had just been completed. The teaching of art classes had carried on in a room with only three walls for a few months while the building took place, yet the school still produced absolutely first-class GCSE results.
Would the Minister, after visiting Northampton, North, come to Wellingborough to see John Lea school? Unfortunately, the school is not there now. Instead, there is a housing site. That is because the Government and a Labour-controlled county council knocked the school down. What a disgrace.
I know that the hon. Gentleman gets agitated about these issues. It is difficult for me to visit a school that is not there; I would struggle with that. I know that the hon. Gentleman is continuing to talk to his hon. Friends who run the county council to ensure that they provide proper provision for his constituents.
Building Schools for the Future
Derbyshire has an excellent Labour authority. I have met excellent Labour members from that authority, who brought along a delegation from the county council to talk to me about the strong case that they are making for a local education partnership model for Building Schools for the Future. I am considering the case that has been made with colleagues on its own merits and against the national precedent which, if I were to accept the case for Derbyshire, would be set.
I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. He rightly draws attention to the strong performance in comprehensive performance assessment terms of Derbyshire, but does not mention—he could have done—the strong track record of delivering major capital programmes within the county through a locally developed model. Will my hon. Friend carefully consider the risks of adopting a national framework that is as yet untested in a county that currently has the capability to do exactly what is required to time and to budget?
There are many things that I could mention about the excellence of Derbyshire. I wanted to leave some things for my hon. Friend, who is an excellent advocate for his constituents and his county. As for whether there is an untried national framework, there is the Building Schools for the Future programme. It is an enormous capital programme; it is a huge injection of capital spend into our education system to replace or renovate all secondary schools by 2020. In doing so, we have to be conscious of how we manage the market in terms of construction and how we integrate information computer technology, construction and design to produce transformational education as part of the new buildings scheme. We must balance our national programme against any precedent that may be set by Derbyshire. My hon. Friend and his colleagues have made a strong case.
Does my hon. Friend agree that when we met him, along with the four-star representatives from Derbyshire county council, we played a better game than Federer did yesterday? We scored on every point. Does my hon. Friend agree also that if Liberal Democratic control of Liverpool can be provided with an exception to the rule, a four-star authority should also qualify? Will it help our case if we agree now to meet that nice man, the Secretary of State, to clinch this?
Certainly they were four-star reps. I was not delighted with the result in the tennis yesterday. I cannot say that I was immediately reminded of the performance of my hon. Friend’s friends from Derbyshire. Now he mentions it, his friends were very effective during the meeting. The precedent set by allowing Manchester and Liverpool to have their own model was due to particular circumstances, given Manchester’s proven track record in delivering for the Commonwealth games, which was a major capital programme, and Liverpool’s ability properly to integrate the elements which I outlined earlier. I will be discussing the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State this afternoon. We may well decide that we need a further discussion with my hon. Friend and his colleagues from Derbyshire. I will make that decision with the Secretary of State later this afternoon.
In that further discussion, will my hon. Friend note that a precedent would not be created, given the unique combination of Derbyshire’s consistent track performance record assessment and the timing of the waves in Derbyshire for Building Schools for the Future, which means that he could allow the first wave in Bolsover to proceed with the existing partnership? Will he note, too, that the people whom we met were quite unable to explain to Derbyshire Members what a private sector company such as Capita could offer the learning experience and IT integration, compared with experienced Derbyshire county council staff and existing partners?
I am certainly aware of the timing of the two waves—I think that there is a four or five-year gap between them. As my hon. Friend knows, there was a strong case for allowing the Derbyshire framework to proceed with that early wave, largely in Bolsover, before making a judgment about whether or not it worked. It is a strong argument, but as I said, I must weigh it against other arguments on precedent and project risk.
The Government’s proposals for a metrics-based research assessment and funding system to be introduced after the 2008 research assessment exercise were published on 13 June. Consultation will close on 13 October and final decisions will be announced before the end of the year.
I congratulate the Minister, both on his answer and on his sprint to the Dispatch Box. I shall allow him to get his breath back, and ask whether he agrees that any changes must be accepted by the university community as a whole. While a metrics-based system may well benefit science-based universities such as Loughborough, Sussex university, my alma mater where I did my masters degree, may be at a disadvantage because it is humanities-based. Will he bear that in mind to ensure that no single university will be disadvantaged by that approach?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his interest. He will know that the research assessment exercise has been successful in driving up quality, but we must ensure that the new metrics-based approach continues that trend. The approach has some advantages, as it reduces costs and administration, but we must get it right. That is what the consultation is designed to achieve, and we will work with universities in the coming period.
Order. The hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) complained that I called three Members from one side of the House, so may I point out that he should put in his book the fact that I called him after the allotted time? It is important to be even-handed, so he should hold back his complaints until he sees what the Speaker does.
The Solicitor-General was asked—
Prior to 10 February 2003, the CPS prosecuted cases of human trafficking under a wide variety of offences, so it is difficult to be specific about numbers. Since that date, new laws have been put in place, and CPS statistics show that 43 human trafficking charges have been brought. It is anticipated that further charges will be brought as a result of the success of the recent Operation Pentameter.
I thank the Solicitor-General for his answer, and I congratulate the Government on what they have done so far. Does he agree that one problem for the CPS in prosecuting the evil people who engage in human trafficking is the fact that the young women are often scared to give evidence because they fear deportation?
That problem sometimes arises, and we are looking at ways of tackling it. As part of Operation Pentameter, a close working relationship was developed with the Poppy project, which enabled the police to provide some reassurance. We are looking, too, at other safeguards, and we recently consulted on a convention that may assist with the process of enabling those women to testify, but there are some concerns that we still have to work through.
How many of those cases involved the trafficking of children? Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that just as it is hard to deal with the trafficking of women, it is also hard to deal with the trafficking of children, who are often unable to explain what has happened to them?
My hon. Friend is right. A ministerial sub-committee has been set up and is being co-chaired by me and a Home Office Minister, and it will examine the trafficking of children and the trafficking of adults for sexual exploitation and for forced labour. My hon. Friend is right to point out that there are particular problems in dealing with children, and we need to develop police, immigration and criminal justice agencies. We also need NGOs to provide support and ensure that the future of such children is safeguarded not only in this country, but if they return to their parents in another country.
The Solicitor-General will be aware that the 43 cases since the new Act came into force reflect only a small proportion of the problem, because the evidence is clear that the rate of human trafficking has been growing rapidly in our country. Can he tell the House any more about how the CPS is liaising with the police to deal with the matter? Given his knowledge of what is in the pipeline, are we going to see an increasing number of such prosecutions, and is that an area which requires specialist casework within the CPS?
The CPS is developing champions in each area who will deal with liaison on human trafficking. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the problem is growing. Operation Pentameter was more successful than expected, in the sense that it revealed the scale of the problem across the country. The police visited 515 premises, 232 arrests were made and 188 women were recovered, of whom 84 were identified as victims of trafficking—it is probable that more of the women were trafficked but were not prepared to admit it for reasons that we have already discussed. We also recovered £280,000 in cash assets. That was only a short project, so the hon. Gentleman is right to say that the problem is developing, which is why the CPS has identified champions in each area. The police also developed their expertise through Operation Pentameter, and we must ensure that the lessons are learned to deal with the problem in the future.
Northamptonshire CPS should be praised for doing its best successfully to prosecute repeat offenders. Is the Solicitor-General as concerned as me that while the CPS is prioritising persistent and prolific offenders, the courts are not giving those offenders the exemplary sentences that the public expect?
The courts must decide the appropriate sentence, and probation reports inform them about the backgrounds of particular offenders. We look to them to use the powers that they have been given in order to ensure that persistent and prolific offenders are dealt with properly and appropriately and that effective sentences are given.
Will my hon. and learned Friend bear in mind the fact that there has been criticism in Northamptonshire and other areas of the quality of staff performance by the CPS in court? Many of those staff are relatively inarticulate and some do not even have a decent command of the English language. There has been criticism from the magistracy of the quality that they see in their courts.
Some of my hon. Friend’s criticism is not justified. I have no doubt that there are examples of poor advocates, but the CPS is developing higher court advocates who undergo special training and appear in higher courts as prosecutors. That shows the improved quality of advocacy among CPS lawyers, and we want to ensure that that improvement continues. The Director of Public Prosecutions, the Attorney-General and I want to ensure that the CPS is completely fit for purpose.
I know that my hon. Friend has worked hard, particularly in Bassetlaw, to ensure that drugs-related issues are dealt with. I welcome the experience that he had when he visited New South Wales. I will ask officials to brief me fully on the powers available there, and if there are lessons to be learned no doubt we can learn them.
Will the Solicitor-General talk to his colleagues in the Department for Constitutional Affairs to see whether courts could organise their lists so that drugs cases can be taken together for a day, a week or a couple of weeks, so that there are people in court who can suggest alternative non-custodial disposals such as appropriate treatment? If we do not take some action, our prisons will be full of addicted drug offenders who will derive no great benefit and could be better served by court list and CPS activity being concentrated at one particular time.
That is an interesting idea that has been considered by some courts, particularly in the London area. It may be possible to bring certain lists together to identify support agencies and other means by which offenders can be dealt with more effectively. That is feasible in large cities where a certain number of drug offenders are going through the courts at a particular time, but in more rural areas, such as mine, it is much more difficult because courts are likely to deal with only one drug offender a day. Complex issues are involved. Nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point, and I will ensure that the DCA is made aware of it.
Business of the House
The business for next week will be as follows:
Monday 3 July—Estimates [3rd allotted day]. There will be a debate on human reproductive technologies and the law followed by a debate on the work of the Electoral Commission. Details will be given in the Official Report.
At 10 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.
Tuesday 4 July—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) (No. 3) Bill, followed by Ways and Means resolution on the Finance (No. 2) Bill, followed by progress on remaining stages of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.
Wednesday 5 July—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Finance (No. 2) Bill.
Thursday 6 July—A debate on armed forces personnel on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
Friday 7 July—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the following week will be:
Monday 10 July—A debate on the BBC on a Government motion.
Tuesday 11 July—A debate on the Intelligence and Security Committee annual report 2005-06 on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
Wednesday 12 July—Opposition Day [18th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 13 July—Remaining stages of the NHS Redress Bill [Lords].
Friday 14 July—Private Members’ Bills.
Following is the information: In so far as they relate to human reproductive technologies and the law: Fifth report of the Science and Technology Committee, session 2004-05(HC7-1) and the Government response (CM 6641) and the Review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, A Public Consultation, Department of Health, 2005.
The House may wish to be reminded that, subject to the progress of business, we will rise for the summer recess at the end of business on Tuesday 25 July and return on Monday 9 October.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the business for the next two weeks. As he announced, on Monday 10 July there will be a debate on the BBC on a Government motion. Because the Government have timed that debate to take place just hours before the BBC publishes its year-end results, Members will not have up-to-date information. What is it about the BBC’s results that Ministers do not want questioned in this House; or is simply that that the debate has been timed for the convenience of ministerial diaries, not the benefit of Members? Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore look again at the timing of that debate?
On 6 July, a debate is to take place on armed forces personnel, and I know that it has already been drawn to the right hon. Gentleman’s attention that the Defence Committee is visiting UK forces abroad during that week. Will he undertake to ensure that in future such debates do not take place when the relevant Select Committee is away on a fact-finding visit? Otherwise—taking this and the previous issue together—the suggestion is that the Government will debate matters only when the facts are not available or when Members who know about the subject are not around.
Over the past few days, we have seen yet further job cuts in the NHS. On Tuesday, 320 job cuts were announced at the United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust, on top of 300 cuts last year. Yesterday, 500 job cuts were announced by the East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust, with the equivalent of two to three ward closures planned. Yesterday also saw the loss of 500 jobs at Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust. The local union leader Karen Jennings said:
“Thousands of staff have been taken out of the NHS in the last year, which will lead to permanent reduction of services…Patient care is now being put at risk by trusts desperate to balance the books.”
This week, I received a letter from the chairman of the Windsor, Ascot and Maidenhead patient and public involvement in health primary care forum. She has written to the Health Secretary saying:
“We are concerned that, because of the many changes introduced over the last four years, tax-payers’ money is being spent on administrative changes, form-filling and box-ticking exercises instead of being used on the clinical needs of the patients.”
And this, according to the Health Secretary, is the “best year ever” for the NHS. Can we have a debate on the NHS before the recess?
Recently, I have been getting complaints from constituents about train fare increases by First Great Western. As one put it,
“the annual increase is over 5 times the rate of inflation…how do they explain such a dramatic increase in prices twice in a year?”
And that comes at a time when the service is being cut. Today, we read that after a secret deal with the Government, fares on the Thameslink-Great Northern franchise—also run by First—are increasing dramatically. A spokesman for the Department said:
“We accepted that this was a good commercial solution to the problem of overcrowding.”
So the Government are doing just what British Rail used to do—raising the fares if trains get busy, and pricing people off the trains and into their cars. But the Government’s policy is to get people out of their cars and on to the trains. It is not even a different Department that is involved; it is within the same Department. Can we please have a debate on train services and fares?
Yesterday’s judgment on control orders raised yet another problem in the operation of the Human Rights Act 1998. This morning, the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee said:
“There is a constitutional crisis emerging here”.
We have made our views clear. Ministers have hinted at reviewing the Human Rights Act. When will the Home Secretary come to the House to make a statement on the future of the Human Rights Act?
Debates before the facts are available, Departments contradicting their own policy, Ministers having to rewrite their own legislation, Ministers out of touch—are not those yet more signs of a Government in paralysis? Did not the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) explain all that earlier this week when he said:
“I do think there is a sense of Tony having lost his sense of purpose and direction.”
Is it not the case, however, that the whole Government have lost their sense of purpose and direction, and that time is running out not just for the Prime Minister, but for this Government?
I am sorry to disappoint the right hon. Lady, but as a matter of arithmetic, this Government have a couple of weeks less than four years to run. Let me just run through her points.
The right hon. Lady’s first point was about a debate on a Government motion. There has been no conspiracy, but I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to ask the BBC whether its results can be made available earlier. In the case of quoted companies it is important for the times at which results are announced to be kept to exactly, but as the BBC is a public corporation with no share price to worry about, I see no particular reason why the information should not be available to the House in advance. I will do my best.
The right hon. Lady’s second point concerned the debate on armed forces personnel. First, there are, quite properly, five debates a year on different aspects of the armed forces. Secondly, a problem for the Chamber, with which we all have to deal, is the intensive activity of Select Committees, which means that their members are often abroad. I do not honestly think it is possible to programme debates to take account at all times of whether Select Committee members are abroad. I experienced the same problem with foreign affairs debates. I should have preferred members of the Foreign Affairs Committee to be present for those debates, but sometimes it simply was not possible.
Let me say parenthetically that we shall have to do something about the fact that Select Committees are increasingly meeting exclusively on Tuesdays or Wednesdays. That is affecting attendance in the Chamber, and putting disproportionate pressure on the facilities of the House. I hope that the Chairman of the Liaison Committee will be prepared to talk to me about it.
As for job cuts in the national health service, the right hon. Lady knows that, in a context in which spending on the health service has more than doubled, there are some temporary difficulties in the management of budgets. I wish that she and her colleagues would stop scaring patients in their constituencies, and implying that a golden age existed when the Conservatives were in power. She knows that to be completely untrue.
The right hon. Lady mentioned the Windsor, Ascot and Maidenhead health forum. That is fine, but why did she not mention that in her area, which is covered as a whole by Thames Valley strategic health authority, there has been an increase of 2,700—22 per cent.—in the number of nurses and a 40 per cent. increase in the number of doctors? There is no way in which marginal, temporary reductions in the overall level of spending will take away from patients in the right hon. Lady’s area, and in every other area in the country, that dramatic increase in the number of doctors and nurses, and the huge increase in levels of health care for the right hon. Lady’s constituents.
The right hon. Lady went on to talk about rail fares. Although her comments were rather opaque, I understood her to be complaining, root and branch, about the consequences of rail privatisation. I know that she was not in the House when the Railways Act 1993 was passed, but I gather that she would have supported railway privatisation. [Interruption.] I can read too, and what the right hon. Lady’s newspaper says is wrong.
It is true that in the case of one or two privatisations we may not have got things entirely right, but we were absolutely right when it came to the method of railway privatisation. The fares have been changed as a result of decisions by the train operating companies, which the right hon. Lady and her colleagues set up under the rail privatisation deal. Let her explain that to her constituents, along with the fact that since 2001 we have more than doubled spending on the railways.
The right hon. Lady’s last point concerned the Human Rights Act and the decision on control orders. I do not intend to comment on that, as it will go before the Court of Appeal shortly. All I will say is that I think that the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), a former Chancellor of the Exchequer who now chairs the Conservatives’ democracy group, was probably correct in describing the Leader of the Opposition’s proposals in respect of the Human Rights Act as “xenophobic” and wrong-headed. [Interruption.] What is the Government’s view? We have set it out.
Vernon Bogdanor was even more correct to say that, as the Leader of the Opposition’s former tutor, he would have sent his most recent speech back to him had it been an essay, and asked him to rewrite it.
If the current World cup competition has confirmed anything for us, it is that the position of the ticket tout is stronger than ever. Ticket touting robs many people, especially people from poorer backgrounds, of the opportunity to experience live music and sporting events and to witness their heroes in action. Could we have a debate to formulate a strategy with a view to eradicating ticket touting completely, whether it takes place via the internet or people skulking around theatres and football grounds?
May I congratulate the Leader of the House on the signal distinction of being the answer to 10-across in the crossword in The Daily Telegraph yesterday? The clue however was
“Foreign Secretary no longer clutches at it”,
which may be a description of his performance.
I thank the Leader of the House for his response on the BBC debate and I hope that that is a successful initiative. I ask him again for a debate on the national health service, although not in the expectation of hearing a long list of the extra investment, because we acknowledge that. If I acknowledge that, I hope that he will acknowledge that many parts of the country are seeing the closure of community health facilities, such as cottage hospitals and maternity units. The great concern is that those closures are taking place on the basis not of strategic planning, but of short-term financial expediency. A debate could discover whether the Government intend to have a quasi-market approach to provision, which would greatly disadvantage many parts of the country—not least rural areas such as my own—or a planned national health service, providing facilities for all of our constituents.
May we have a debate on the ombudsman? The Leader of the House will be aware of the battle over the refusal of the Department for Work and Pensions to accept the ombudsman’s verdict on the payment of compensation to those who have lost their pensions. He will also be aware of the memorandum sent by Ann Abraham yesterday to the Public Administration Committee, which accused the Government of failing to address the basis on which she found that maladministration had occurred, making selective use of the evidence in her report and providing an unbalanced view of the role of Government. She said:
“I am concerned that the government’s response to my report, together with what appears to me to be an emerging attitude amongst government officials and ministers in relation to my findings of maladministration, has serious implications for the constitutional position of my office.”
That is a very serious matter, which requires debate.
Finally, what has happened to cross-cutting questions? I have asked this before and had no reply. We had a very good initiative of cross-cutting questions in Westminster Hall, which allowed hon. Members to ask questions on subjects that crossed several different departmental areas. Can that be reinstated? It would be easy to do so, because we would not need a range of Ministers when we could just have the cross-cutting Chancellor of the Exchequer to answer questions on everybody’s behalf.
It wasn’t bad, either.
On the national health service, I am glad that the hon. Gentleman acknowledged that there have been improvements—and there is a long list of them—and I note that the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) agrees. It would be good if the Liberal Democrats’ recognition of the improvement in services in the NHS were accepted, even ungraciously, by members of the Conservative party. I do not accept that the short-term financial difficulties are a result of privatisation, as the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) alleges: they are the result of trying to get a grip on total spending in the NHS in the context of substantial rises. I appreciate that there is great anxiety in areas where community hospitals are to close. My right hon. Friend the Health Secretary is very alive to that, and there are many opportunities—more than there used to be—to raise such matters on the Floor of the House or in Westminster Hall. Moreover, let us not forget that we recently had a full day’s debate on the health service.
The ombudsman issue was raised in a debate of only two days ago on pensions. We do not accept what the ombudsman says about her constitutional position; we are acting with full respect for it. We have committed more than £2 billion to the financial assistance scheme to help those closest to retirement who have been worst affected, to cover the lifetime of the scheme.
On cross-cutting questions, I just say that I am happy to look at that again, and to consult the Chairmen of the Modernisation and the Procedure Committees.
Will my right hon. Friend provide time for an urgent debate on the increasingly dangerous situation in the middle east, following the deplorable and despicable kidnapping of the Israeli corporal, Gilad Shalit, and the massive, and so far futile, Israeli response, which has, among other things, wiped out a power station, and which the Government have condemned? In view of the fact that the situation could reach a point of serious explosion, can we find time for a debate in which the Government can say what they are doing to put the road map back on course?
I understand the very serious concerns on this matter of my right hon. Friend and many other Members on both sides of the House. As I said at business questions last week, I hope—I continue to work on this—that it will be possible to find a slot for a foreign affairs debate before the summer recess.
If the Leader of the House is lucky enough to come to Hemel Hempstead, he will see that there is a fantastic general and acute hospital, which I freely admit has received a great deal of investment in the last few years; it has a new cardiac unit, stroke unit and maternity birthing unit, and there has been a great deal of expenditure on new staff and facilities. Sadly however, that is now all wasted because the hospital is going to be knocked down as a consequence of Hertfordshire’s deficit problem. Can we have a debate in which the Secretary of State for Health is brought before the House to explain to my constituents why this is the worst year ever for the health service in Hemel Hempstead?
I have always enjoyed my visits to Hemel Hempstead. The other day, I drove through the town that the hon. Gentleman represents and reflected on what a nice place it is. It used to be Labour, too, so it was even better in those days.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns, but in respect of the area he represents, I just say that Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire strategic health authority has had an increase of 2,500—30 per cent.-plus—in nurses and a 30 per cent. increase in doctors. Comparing the situation today with that of 10 years ago—as the hon. Gentleman seeks to do—it is the case that, despite the difficulties, health care is significantly better than it was.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the 76-day summer recess brings this place and us into discredit with our constituents and that, as a matter of principle, it is not acceptable in a democracy to give a Government an almost three-month holiday from scrutiny? Does he recall that when our friend, the late Robin Cook, announced reforms to the parliamentary calendar, he promised that there would be September sittings? Indeed, they were introduced for a year, but the following year we were given the excuse that the security screen needed to be set up, and they disappeared. What is the excuse this year for not sitting in September, and does my right hon. Friend have any plans to do something about that?
When I inquired into the matter, the excuse that was given was that it was too late to do anything because the maintenance had already been planned for this year—that may or may not be correct. Personally, I am in favour of September sittings—which puts me in a minority among some colleagues, so it is a risky career move—but we are too late to do anything for this year; that is understood. However, it is my hope that there will be a vote of all Members early next Session on whether the House wishes there to be September sittings.
If we continue not to have September sittings, we will have to increase the number of sitting days in the rest of the year, because the deal that the late Robin Cook agreed with the House was that we would get half terms in return for sitting in September. However, folk are getting half terms and not sitting in September, which is certainly unacceptable to our constituents and active Members of this House.
I have not said a word. May I thank the Leader of the House for introducing debates on a substantive Government motion on important issues? We have had a debate on pensions, and we are about to have a debate on the BBC, both of which are very important subjects. Will he continue with this experimental initiative, but perhaps have a feed-in to the subject that will be available for debate on a substantive motion from Back Benchers as well as the usual channels, so that the House can be more involved in business, and issues of current importance can be debated at the initiative of Back-Bench Members?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that approbation, and, indeed, I am seeking to ensure that there are more debates on motions that can be voted on. In respect of the one on Tuesday, both sides agreed. In my judgment, the quality of debate is in general higher if there are motions that Members can vote in favour of or against. That is what this Chamber is for, so I hope that we can continue doing that.
On the issue of substantive motions at reasonable times of the parliamentary week balloted for by Back Benchers, the hon. Gentleman knows that we are considering that in the context of Modernisation Committee reports. That was available to Members until 1994; it was abolished as what was in my view an inadvertent consequence of the implementation of some of the Jopling recommendations. I think that it worked well, but I obviously must get others to agree.
My right hon. Friend will know that in just a few minutes’ time the report will be published of the public inquiry into the death of my constituent, Zahid Mubarak, in Feltham young offenders institution, and that that report is likely to have major implications for the Prison Service—it might be as serious for the Prison Service as the report of the Lawrence inquiry was for the police service. In that context, I must say that I am surprised that there is no statement today to the House on this matter from a Home Office Minister, and that it is being dealt with by a written statement. When my right hon. Friend takes a look at that report, I hope that he will agree that it is of sufficient importance that it ought to be debated and that Members ought to be able to question Ministers on its recommendations and on their intentions of implementing them.
I hope that I have the approval of the whole House in expressing our deep sorrow to the family of Mr. Mubarak, who was murdered in his cell some years ago, for his death and all the anxiety that they have suffered since then as the inquiries have ground through. A preliminary response by the Government is to be issued today by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow that the recommendations will have to be the subject of debate in this Chamber or Westminster Hall. I cannot promise a debate in this Chamber before the summer recess, although it may be possible for there to be one in Westminster Hall. But in any event, those recommendations will have to be followed through.
Will the Leader of the House provide for a debate in Government time on the iniquities of the Extradition Act 2003, which stands to allow the extradition of the so-called “NatWest three”? Would he also observe that at present the United States can apply for the extradition of UK citizens without prima facie evidence, and yet a reciprocal arrangement with the US, whereby the UK can apply for the extradition of US citizens, does not yet exist?
I am not going to comment on that case, Mr. Speaker, if you will excuse me. I do not, however, believe that the Extradition Act is iniquitous; it is sensible and proportionate in dealing with a situation in which much greater movement of people occurs than ever did when previous such Acts were introduced.
It was clear during Tuesday’s excellent pensions debate that we are moving toward consensus in the House, but it was also clear that there is some way to go on certain issues. Will my right hon. Friend look at dividing up that debate so that we can examine specific issues, and particularly how pensions affect women? Given their broken work record and the caring responsibilities that they have to take on, if we can get the pensions issue right for them, all the other people with broken work records will also be helped.
Can the Leader of the House find time for a debate on audiology services in the NHS? Literally thousands of my constituents—and, I am sure, those of many other Members—are waiting up to two years for an appointment for a hearing aid. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman agrees that that is totally unacceptable and merits this House’s further attention.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s efforts to find time for a debate on the Israel-Palestine issue, for which, as he knows, Members in all parts of the House have been pushing for some weeks. The situation is becoming urgent, particularly this week, when we should perhaps be celebrating the opportunity for Hamas and Fatah to reach an agreement on a two-state solution. Instead, we are dealing with the appalling kidnapping of a soldier, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) mentioned, and the appalling abduction of 20 Palestinian parliamentarians and seven Cabinet Ministers overnight. May I ask my right hon. Friend to make all possible efforts to have that debate at the earliest opportunity, and, if possible, to arrange a statement by the Foreign Secretary?
May I echo the call of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) for fuller discussion in this House of the operation of the Human Rights Act 1998? I put it to the Leader of the House that the Prime Minister might be rather disappointed with today’s business announcement, given that yesterday he said the following about my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition:
“He finally announced a domestic policy—his own Bill of Rights…Come on….I am happy to debate the right hon. Gentleman’s policies”.—[Official Report, 28 June 2006; Vol. 448, c. 254.]
When is the Prime Minister, or indeed the Leader of the House, going to provide time for a debate, which we earnestly want, on that Act—or is he too terrified about the mess that it is in?
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, but the last question—about the possibility of a debate on the Human Rights Act and its merits, or otherwise—was the one that I was going to ask. However, I also think it important to consider some of the claims that have been made publicly about a Bill of Rights without further consideration having been given to the wider legislative framework within which such a Bill would have to operate.
I am glad to know that my hon. Friend is supporting Opposition Members—some Opposition Members—in putting pressure on their Front Benchers to use their Opposition time sensibly. I have to say that they have squandered some Opposition days on the most eccentric subjects—
As we approach the anniversary of 7/7, may we have a debate in Government time on a subject that I know is dear to the heart of the Leader of the House—how we can build a secure and tolerant multi-ethnic society? The need for a review of Government policy is urgent. The right hon. Gentleman may be aware that a recent freedom of information inquiry, which was passed to me, reveals that the Government have given a grant of £150,000 to the Muslim Council of Britain. He may not be aware, however, that its new chairman, Dr. Muhammed Abdul Bari, recently invited to Britain a Saudi cleric who called Jews “pigs and monkeys”, and who also said that Hindus were idol worshippers to whom it would be wrong to talk sweetly. Dr. Bari was also involved in inviting a Bangladeshi cleric who has called for American troops to return from Iraq in coffins if they do not convert to Islam. May we have an opportunity to examine where Ministers have gone wrong in tackling extremism?
I of course wholly deplore the remarks attributed to those two clerics, as does the whole House. That said, I defend the Government’s decision to provide some modest financial aid to the Muslim Council of Britain. I, as Home Secretary, was the Minister who first did that, and I accept my responsibility in that regard. It is a sensible organisation that faces its own difficulties in trying to hold together a very diverse community that is itself under pressure. As for a debate on communities, there will be a debate on aspects of that issue. A debate is coming up—I am not being disingenuous in pointing this out—on the Intelligence and Security Committee’s annual report, which covers aspects of 7/7. That is an opportunity to raise some but not all of the matters that the hon. Gentleman referred to.
The Leader of the House will have heard yesterday’s exchanges at Prime Minister’s Question Time on Trident and its possible replacement, and on the legality of replacement within the terms of the non-proliferation treaty. Is the Leader of the House in a position to tell us when the relevant Select Committee reports will be available, and when the Government will make a statement on the cost and legality of replacing Trident, and on their strategy for fulfilling our obligations under the non-proliferation treaty? When, moreover, will there be a vote in this House, on a clear substantive motion, on whether we are to continue down the nuclear armament road?
The hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that such a debate will be on an Opposition day. No, it will not; it will be on a Government motion. I must point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) that there is no issue of legality. I am happy to give him a seminar outside this Chamber—or inside it—on our obligations under the non-proliferation treaty, but of the five nuclear weapon states that are under that treaty, we are the one that has made the most progress in meeting our obligations. We have reduced our nuclear warhead systems from three to one. I led for the British Government at last May’s revision conference, which sought to get an international consensus in order to make further progress. However, we were thwarted by other member states.
There will be a debate on this issue. As I told the House last week, I cannot anticipate at this stage the most appropriate form for that debate, but it will be one that shows proper respect for the House. My hon. Friend will excuse me if I remind him that he, as well as I, stood on Labour’s manifesto at the last election, which said:
“We are…committed to retaining the independent nuclear deterrent”.
Given the unsustainability of the imbalance of representation between England and Scotland and the worrying democratic deficit that that creates, may we have an urgent debate on the future shape of the constitutional settlement currently in place between these two great countries?
We have had plenty of debates on that issue. I shall just say two things to the hon. Gentleman. First, he and his party—which, as I reminded the House last week, was once called the Conservative and Unionist party—need to be extremely careful in pursuing the populist but wrong-headed line of suggesting that there is a contradiction between devolution to Scotland and the integrity of the Union. The second point that he needs to be aware of is that English MPs, of whom I am one, have overwhelming power over the Scottish Parliament in respect of one thing that is fundamental to all its operations: the allocation of money to it.
May I follow on from the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Kali Mountford) and ask for a debate in Government time on carers and the White Paper’s good recommendations on pensions? Carers were rather sidelined during this week’s pensions debate, and in fact we have a good strong message for carers.
I am sure that the Leader of the House will want to join me in condemning the sickening hate mail received by Scottish tennis ace Andy Murray simply because he favours one football team over another. Do we not need a statement to remind fans, the media, commentators and pundits that football is just a game? Good-natured rivalry is what makes it so special around the world, so should we not make an appeal to stop all the cajoling and browbeating about who should support whom?
Will the Leader of the House arrange for a debate so that we might get cross-party support to try to change the ridiculously undemocratic system of Orders in Council? This is an urgent matter. Yesterday afternoon, the whole of the Northern Ireland education system was changed radically—and in my view, detrimentally—by the vote of a Committee. No amendments were allowed, and no costings were brought forward. That is outrageous. The Order in Council procedure will apply until the Assembly returns, and it must be changed.
I shall certainly pursue those concerns with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, but at the end of her question my hon. Friend acknowledged that the fundamental problem is that the Assembly has been suspended. If it had not been, the matter to which she refers would be one for the democratic representatives in Northern Ireland.
May we have an urgent and early debate on our country’s chaotic immigration system? Yesterday, the Minister for Local Government, who has responsibility for community cohesion, said that of course we needed to debate it, and two examples from my constituency prove that. In the first, a person who has applied for indefinite leave to remain received a letter from the Home Office saying that his name appeared on the UN list of individuals belonging to or associated with the al-Qaeda organisation, but then apologised for “any delay or anxiety” caused by consideration of his application. My other constituent works for the European Bank for Research and Development, and is one of thousands of other Bulgarian nationals here on business visas who have been asked to produce 16 sets of additional documents within 28 days in order to prolong their stay. Surely our priorities are wrong if we are apologising to alleged al-Qaeda members yet harassing people with rare skills who are doing important jobs in this country in sectors such as international development?
I cannot comment on those individual cases, save to say that Bulgaria is one of those countries whose nationals need work permits in Britain. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and other Opposition Members would be the first to complain if we did not conduct proper checks of people seeking work permits.
Has my right hon. Friend seen early-day motion 2456, in my name?
[That this House notes with concern that representatives of Overseas Territories based in the UK are not invited to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph in London on Remembrance Sunday; recognises the huge contribution made by Overseas Territories to supporting the UK military both during war time and during peace time and the number of lives lost whilst serving on behalf of British forces; pays tribute to the residents of the UK's Overseas Territories for their loyalty to the British Crown; and calls upon the Government to allow one representative from an overseas territory to lay a wreath on behalf of all the Overseas Territories at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday.]
It is supported by hon. Members of all parties, and deals with the recognition of overseas territories. It proposes allowing representatives from those territories to place wreaths at the Cenotaph, whereas at present, that is done on their behalf by a Minister. It is absurd that London representatives of those territories are not allowed to recognise their war dead. Those representatives, in rotation, should be allowed to place wreaths at the Cenotaph themselves.
Can we have a statement next week from the Home Secretary about his intended treatment of Rwandan genocide suspects? A number of such individuals currently reside in the UK, and at least one has been granted indefinite leave to remain. A statement by the Home Secretary would enable him to make it clear to the House whether he intends to deal with such people by extradition or by domestic prosecution. In particular, he would be able to underline the important point that asylum should be granted to people fleeing persecution, and not to those seeking to evade responsibility for their suspected persecution of others.
I do not think that a statement is necessary. I cannot comment on the cases to which the hon. Gentleman refers, as I do not have the facts. However, the fact that people have been granted asylum is not a bar to their being extradited. Article 1F of the 1951 refugee convention provides that asylum status can be withdrawn if there is evidence that the person involved has committed a serious crime—which, plainly, genocide is.
I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to early-day motion 2447.
[That this House calls for a Government-led detailed inquiry into the pricing policies of the private utility companies to ensure that the consumer can make informed decisions on the provider and that the process for changing provider is simplified, which should create a truly transparent and competitive market.]
The motion has cross-party support, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will draw it to the attention of his Cabinet colleagues. Does he agree that it is wrong that energy companies are allowed to make significant price increases that have a devastating effect on all our communities?
I commend the Leader of the House for adding, in a speech outside the House, to the debate on party political funding and on the democratic deficit illustrated by very low election turnouts. Does he agree that there needs to be a debate in the House on the matter quite soon? That would enable those of us with doubts about parts of his policy to cross-examine him about them. I am referring to the fact that trade unions are excluded from funding restrictions, yet the restrictions apply to political parties outside election times. That policy seems to benefit the Government, whichever party is power.
Of course there should be a debate on party funding. Whether it will be held before we get the report from Sir Hayden Phillips is a matter for consideration, but I accept the point that the right hon. Gentleman makes. Meanwhile, I invite him to read the chapter on donations in the Neill committee report published in 1998.
May I offer an additional reason for a debate on the middle east? Other hon. Members have mentioned the high-profile issues, but every day the Israeli Government continue to annexe Palestinian land and expel Palestinians from Jerusalem. Effectively, Israel is closing off the possibility of a two-state solution in the area.
I ask the Leader of the House, for the third time in six weeks, when he will put on the Order Paper a motion to allow the European Scrutiny Committee to meet in public. Last time he said:
“we must not embarrass ourselves by setting up systems that subsequently fall into disrepute”.—[Official Report, 8 June 2006; Vol. 447, c. 414.]
There is nothing more embarrassing than the idea of that critically important Committee meeting in secret. Nothing would do it more good than the fresh air of public scrutiny.
Emissions Trading Scheme
With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make an announcement about the Government’s proposals for the second phase of the EU emissions trading scheme. Today, we are announcing the level of our cap. In due course, we will be presenting to the Commission our full and formal national allocation plan.
The case for tackling climate change, and the human contribution to it, is overwhelming. The scientific consensus is wide and deep, and the political consensus is widening and deepening. The need for international and domestic action, across all aspects of economic and social life, is very strong.
In the UK, we can take pride in the fact that we are projected to cut our emissions of greenhouses gases by 23 to 25 per cent. from 1990 levels over the Kyoto commitment period—nearly double the Kyoto targets. However, UK emissions of carbon dioxide are rising. We remain on track to meet our Kyoto targets, but on current trends, we will fall short of our national goal of a 20 per cent. reduction in CO2 emissions by 2010. Our challenge is to take action now to avoid the environmental and the economic and social costs of inaction.
The EU emissions trading scheme is the cornerstone of a Europe-wide drive to reduce emissions from highly energy-intensive sectors. It currently covers about 11,000 installations across Europe, and companies in the scheme in the UK account for some 45 per cent. of UK carbon dioxide emissions. The ETS gives a clear incentive to industry to invest in low-carbon technologies of the future, but achieves carbon reductions at lowest possible cost.
We are in the second year of the first phase of the scheme. The results from year one have provided a first opportunity to judge allocation against emissions, and most member states' caps for phase 1 do not provide the scarcity that the scheme demands. The UK cap was 245 million tonnes, and our system has worked well. The Government imposed the shortfall in allowances on the electricity supply industry, and all other sectors were allocated according to need. As intended, all but the electricity supply sector are living within their allocations.
The Commission has used the information from the first phase to assess what member states’ caps should be for phase 2, and has set out indicative figures that require substantial cuts from member states. Phase 1 has been, and is, in many ways a trial period. Phase 2 coincides with the first Kyoto period—2008 to 2012—and states that do not take the measures necessary within that period to reach their Kyoto targets will either have to purchase Kyoto allowances and credits from other states or face penalties for missing targets.
In March, in our consultation on the draft national allocation plan, we set out a range of UK reductions of emissions during phase 2, from 3 million tonnes of carbon to 8 million tonnes. At the time of consultation, that was equivalent to a cap of 234 to 252 million allowances a year, which, for the sake of clarity, I should explain represents 234 to 252 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.
I have to report to the House that there have been important changes since we published the draft national allocation plan. Our projections for emissions in 2010 have risen by 3 million tonnes of carbon for the UK as a whole—significantly, because of changes in household numbers—and by 1.1 million tonnes of carbon for the installations covered by the EU emissions trading scheme.
In those circumstances, we believe it is essential to make the maximum effort consistent with the range on which we consulted. In other words, that means reductions of 8 million tonnes of carbon per year below business as usual, which is equivalent to a reduction of 29.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. It may help the House if I say that that is roughly equivalent to the carbon emissions of 4.5 million households. This is now, since the change in projections, equivalent to an annual total allocation of 238 million allowances to UK installations covered by the scheme in phase 1. The figures may change slightly to reflect the expansion of the scheme and removal of the installations that emit the smallest amounts of CO2.
We looked carefully at the possible effects on business and consumers before making our final decision. Our intention is that for industrial sectors, including those most open to international competition, allocations should continue to be on the basis of need. In respect of electricity supply, however, the sector is mainly insulated from domestic competition, and is domestically liberalised. That sector's allowances could therefore be set lower and be subject to auctioning.
Phase 2 of the EU ETS allows for a maximum level of auctioning of allowances of 10 per cent. We propose to set the level of auctioning in the UK at 7 per cent. Obviously, the final amount raised by the auction cannot be determined in advance—it depends on the price of carbon—but it will be substantial.
We will build on the trading scheme agreement and go further. We believe there is a major opportunity for the UK not just to invest in renewable energy, other non-nuclear, low-carbon technologies, and energy efficiency, but to build successful businesses in these fields. We will establish a new environmental transformation fund, held jointly by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Department of Trade and Industry, administered by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and myself, to grasp this opportunity. Final details of the scale and scope of the fund will be announced in the spending review for implementation, as in the ETS, in 2008.
The EU emissions trading scheme is also linked to a global carbon market and has been a major driver in its development. Project credits, which are credits generated in developing countries through the clean development mechanism, or in other developed countries by joint implementation projects, may be used to help meet the caps set for operators. The use of these credits provides a further driver for sustainable energy projects in the developing world and for technology transfer. However, member states need to ensure a balance between domestic and international effort. UK companies are already at the forefront of this market, and we want that to continue.
In the UK we are providing for the use of these credits to meet up to 66 per cent.—two thirds—of the effort in phase 2. In effect, that means that 5.3 million tonnes of carbon—19.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide—from clean development and joint implementation projects can be used, which is equivalent to 8 per cent. of the total cap. All installations in the UK may use project credits to meet emissions up to 8 per cent. of their allocation.
The EU emissions trading scheme has an impact on electricity prices via the cost of carbon allowances, and we have looked at that carefully. It is very important to realise that the cost is driven by the cumulative effect of all member states' decisions, not by the decision of any individual member state for the citizens of that country. Many factors drive electricity prices, including global fuel prices and the weather, but our estimate is that the impact of the proposal, relative to the phase 1 cap, will be a one-off rise in industrial energy prices in the region of 1 per cent., and approximately half that for domestic users.
Our decision to set the cap at the top end of the range of effort on which we consulted sends a clear message that the emissions trading scheme is here to stay; that the Government are committed to making it work, providing clear, progressive rewards for a shift to low-carbon technologies; and that the UK is determined to maintain its leadership role on this issue. Today's decision will set us on course to deliver a 16.2 per cent. reduction in emissions against 1990 levels by 2010. We said when we launched the climate change programme review in March that it was not the last word, and we will use further opportunities, including the energy review and the environmental transformation fund, to help us move progressively towards our 2010 target.
EU member states are required to use emissions trading as a means to deliver their Kyoto protocol commitments. The level of ambition that individual member states set for the reductions to be made by the sectors covered by the emissions trading scheme will be an important element in the price of carbon. Now that member states will need to show that they are meeting their Kyoto targets, and with the Commission having phase 1 emissions data, the UK expects to see more stringent caps enforced in phase 2. We will therefore encourage and support the European Commission in its efforts to ensure, tough caps, to provide greater long-term certainty and to help smooth the running of the system to avoid potential competitive distortions. I spoke to Commissioner Dimas, the Environment Commissioner, this morning to emphasise that point.
Phase 2 also forms an important element in the broader consideration of our long-term carbon policy framework. My right hon. Friend the Trade and Industry Secretary, who is in Geneva today as part of the World Trade Organisation negotiations, will next month be reporting the findings of the energy review in which the Government is reviewing the UK's progress against the medium and long-term Energy White Paper goals, including our 2050 carbon reduction goals, and the options for further steps to achieve them.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made it clear that climate change is a global problem that requires a global solution. This target for phase 2 will support the development of a global carbon market, and we will therefore continue to work with our EU partners to ensure that negotiations for future commitments under the Kyoto protocol make clear and convincing progress. We will continue to work through the Gleneagles dialogue, launched during the UK presidency of the G8, to search for consensus on practical measures for tackling climate change. The case for taking action is overwhelming; the speed at which the world responds to that case will determine the effectiveness and positive economic impact of our response. Today's announcement takes another step towards our long-term objective of a 60 per cent. reduction in C02 emissions by 2050. I commend it to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for prior notice of what is undeniably its hideously complicated content. As he said, the case for tackling climate change is overwhelming. It is the biggest environmental threat that we face; indeed, I would go further and say that it may well be the biggest threat that we face in our generation of politicians. We strongly support the European emissions trading scheme, and we are concerned to ensure that it works as effectively as possible.
I recognise that the Government have a difficult job in balancing the interests of United Kingdom industry with the need to cut carbon emissions. That becomes even more difficult and complicated in the context of the European Union, where we need to ensure fair competition across all member states and a fair allocation system that is robust and does not distort competition, but which also reduces carbon emissions.
Nobody said that any of this was easy. In that context, does the Secretary of State agree that the plans recently set out by Germany for a 0.6 per cent. cut under its national allocation plan are a matter for concern? Will he urge the EU Commission to make Germany raise its game?
We have argued for the UK to set ambitious targets and we have advocated the greater use of auctioning in the allocation process. In that context, the Secretary of State’s announcement provides some evidence of welcome progress. We are pleased that the Government have opted for the target of cutting 8 million tonnes of carbon, which is at the higher end of the range that they set out earlier this year. However, I note that, since March, the base case projection for business as usual has been revised upward. Does not that suggest that the range of emission cuts should have been revised upward proportionately?
I welcome the announcement that 7 per cent. of the UK’s national allocation plan will be auctioned. It is the way in which the allocations were made in phase 1—the horse trading and deals done behind closed doors—that has led to many of the problems that we have already seen in the working of the emissions trading scheme, and it explains some of the volatility in the market. Auctioning is a good thing, which we support, but has the Secretary of State given any thought to how the money raised from that process might be used? For example, it could be used to compensate the industrial sectors that are particularly exposed to international competitive pressure as a result of the emissions trading scheme.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that under the arrangements for phase 1, the UK power sector made windfall profits of in the region of £1 billion? What plans does he have to address that unacceptable situation in phase 2?
I take note of the plan to establish an environmental transformation fund to encourage UK investment in renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency—an area in which we are sadly lacking in progress and lagging behind our international competitors. We certainly need to encourage effective action on that front and we look forward to seeing the details, but how will the new fund relate to the work already undertaken by the Carbon Trust, the Energy Saving Trust and others? Would it not have been possible to use one of those existing bodies to undertake the functions that the Secretary of State envisages for the new fund?
Does the Secretary of State agree that setting five-year targets causes industry problems in failing to provide the long-term framework that they need to justify the long-term investment that they are being asked to make in carbon technology? Will he argue in favour of longer-term commitments in future?
Does the Secretary of State agree that there is a need for a clearer and more regular reporting system in respect of national progress towards meeting the targets for delivering carbon reduction, which would help to avoid the destabilising volatility that we have recently seen in the carbon market? What plans does he have to promote a more open, transparent and visible means of measuring progress? He made no mention of the plan to include aviation in phase 2 of the emissions trading scheme, so I would be grateful if he updated the House on that issue.
Overall, I congratulate the Secretary of State on winning some of the arguments that his Department has had with the Department of Trade and Industry. His announcement today represents a step in the right direction. I wish him well in the vital effort that needs to be brought to bear to ensure that realistic, robust and equitable allocations are made across the whole of the EU.
I wholly concur with the hon. Gentleman that this is a complicated area and I thank him for his congratulations. I wish him equal success in his doubtless robust discussions with the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood), whose views on environmental policy are well known, and who I note is not in his place today. The hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) is looking confused. He may have forgotten that the right hon. Member for Wokingham is leading the Conservative party’s review of trade and industry policy.
Let me respond to the questions. The hon. Gentleman made an allegation about Germany, but he must be careful—I think that his information came from the BBC website. He said that the German reduction was 0.6 per cent. That is wrong and it is important to correct it. The phase 1 cap in Germany was 499 million tonnes. The proposed second phase cap constitutes a reduction of 17 million tonnes and then a further reduction of 8 million tonnes arising from emissions in 2005. The Commission then said that the German Government will have to get down to 462 million tonnes. The Germans have already committed to a 3 per cent. to 5 per cent. cut and the Commission has suggested going further. I caution the hon. Gentleman to be careful about the 0.6 per cent. figure. New industries are included, but that does not invalidate the work being done. None the less, what I said in my statement holds true, and we are encouraging the Commission to take a robust approach with every single member state.
The hon. Gentleman asked about auctioning, but I believe that he was a little confused. As I mentioned in my statement, the auctioning figure is 7 per cent. The hon. Gentleman rather churlishly said that it was some evidence of progress, but given that the maximum was 10 and that the current level is zero, 7 per cent. is a pretty good whack at making the auctioning system work.
The hon. Gentleman also asked where the benefits will go. As I said in my statement, I view the environmental transformation fund as critical for non-nuclear carbon technologies of a range of different kinds. He made a perfectly valid point about ensuring that it is properly integrated with the excellent work of the Carbon Trust and other organisations. As I said, we will set out the details in due course in the spending review and we will certainly ensure that there is proper integration.
The hon. Gentleman then asked about compensation for the most internationally exposed sectors. As I tried to explain, our approach to the whole ETS system is that we allocate to internationally competing sectors on a business as usual basis. It is precisely because of the insulation of the electricity supply sector from international competition and the liberalised nature of the market, which is intended to drive down prices, that we have said that the burden of carbon reduction should be borne by that sector rather than by the internationally competitive sector. The compensation issue does not therefore arise.
Annual reporting is another issue. As the hon. Gentleman knows, my predecessor made a commitment to start it next year and then carry it out annually, so I can confirm that point. He legitimately asked about aviation. I had thought that the issues were complicated enough without getting into that matter, but it is very much on the table and the Government are fully committed to including aviation in the scheme. The Commission has made it clear that it wants to come forward by the end of the year with proposals for how to include the aviation sector in the scheme. It certainly represents a good step forward.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although it is a hideously complex area, it must be translated for general public as very good news for the environment? For anyone deeply concerned about global warming, it is indeed good news. Does the Secretary of State agree that seeing evidence of the DTI and DEFRA working together is also good news? Many in the environmental field hope that it means that they will work well together in other difficult areas such as the waste electrical and electronic equipment directive. Will he assure me that all this will not mean a lack of competitive equality between countries like ours that are leading and other countries that are lagging behind?
I can reassure my hon. Friend on all three points. It is good news for the environment and also for the economy. The opportunities for business development in renewables and other low carbon technologies are significant. We must not forget the importance of our manufacturing sector, but we also have a growing environmental technology sector. At the last count, I think that it was worth about 400,000 jobs. I certainly concur with my hon. Friend about that. As for co-operation with the DTI, I can assure him that we fully recognise how vital it is and that the whole Government are committed to it. The energy review, as well as my statement, will provide further evidence of that close co-operation.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving us prior notice of his statement. There is indeed a cross-party consensus on the principle of the emissions trading scheme, but it seems from today’s statement that there is a danger that a good idea will be undermined by poor implementation—not just here, I hasten to add, but in other EU countries, too. Only one EU country, Germany, seems likely to meet the legal deadline for the submission of its national allocation plan. Why is it that here in Britain, where the Government affect to believe that climate change is the greatest issue facing mankind—I certainly believe that it is—we are unable to meet the deadline for our own national allocation plan?
By raising the UK projection of business as usual emissions in 2008 to 1.1 million tonnes of carbon covered by the emissions trading scheme, the Secretary of State is implicitly weakening our commitment to cuts in emissions. Does not that raise the serious question of whether a more objective baseline in the past would have been more sensible than the business-as-usual projections, which have the disadvantage from country to country of being based on far-out projections, which are subject to considerable doubt about the assumptions.
Should not there be a more transparent and open process of peer review for each member state, perhaps with a voting procedure for approval, to ensure that countries make equal sacrifices? Are the reductions that our businesses are being asked to make in line with those elsewhere in the European Union? Are the reductions by business as great or greater than those implied for households and individuals by our Kyoto targets? Fairness, not only between our businesses and other businesses but between our businesses and households, is also important. The Secretary of State said that he had spoken this morning to Commissioner Dimas. Did he receive assurances about those matters?
The statement is silent on the scope of phase 2 and I welcome the Secretary of State’s reassurance to the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) that the Government intend to continue to press for the inclusion of aviation. I should be grateful to hear the Secretary of State’s view on the inclusion of surface transport, especially freight and fleet transport, in the emissions trading scheme.
We welcome the commitment to auctioning. However, why did the Secretary of State select 7 per cent. rather than 6 per cent., 8 per cent., 9 per cent. or 9.5 per cent. instead of the maximum 10 per cent., which is a modest figure? It is also notable that the entire auctioning element will fall on the electricity supply sector, as it is sheltered from trade, as the Secretary of State explained.
We all understand that there is uncertainty and I note the presence on the Front Bench of the Financial Secretary, representing the Treasury’s interest. I suspect that the Government have made projections—it would be appropriate for the Secretary of State to share them with us. Where will the revenue from auctioning accrue? What is his view of, for example, the proposal from some quarters for a revenue-neutral scheme? Does he believe that that might make the proposal more palatable and less prone to distort competition?
I would be grateful to know whether the Secretary of State or any of his colleagues who are involved in the process have had discussions with representatives of the nuclear industry on the matter. Will the likely incentives from the projection of the burden of auctioning on the electricity supply industry be enough to persuade nuclear generators to build new nuclear without further douceurs from the public purse or electricity consumers through higher tariffs?
Only someone with three PhDs and a background in journalism could read the statement and believe that it represents a weakening of our environmental commitment, as the hon. Gentleman alleged. Let me try to cut through the rhetoric—or perhaps the latest phase in his leadership election campaign—
Order. It would perhaps help if we could stick to the questions.
I am grateful for your help, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in keeping me on the straight and narrow.
The hon. Gentleman asked about assurances from Commissioner Dimas. I refer him to the commissioner’s public statements in his Financial Times article and his speech to the European Parliament. He repeated those assurances today.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the figure of 7 per cent. and why it was not 8 per cent. or 6 per cent. I am terribly sorry that the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) finds the subject dull—that was a large yawn. The continuing debate about the extra 20 million tonnes that we wanted as the cap in the first phase weighed with us in making the decision about the figure. The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) is right to say that, in the end, there is maths and there is judgment. However, the issue that I mentioned was a factor in not going for the full 10 per cent. and opting for 7 per cent.
The hon. Gentleman asked what proportion of electricity supply industry funds would be allocated. I do not have the precise figure but I shall write to him later today. He asked about projected revenue and suggested that there were secret Government projections. Nothing secret or governmental is necessary—there are plenty of public projections. They depend on the price of carbon. If there is €15 a tonne price of carbon, that is worth £150 million.
There are no assumptions built in, but we know that the market assumptions are based on a carbon price of between €15 and €20. A price of €15 a tonne would raise approximately £150 million from a 7 per cent. auction.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the scale and scope of the fund. As I said in the statement, that will be made clear at the time of the spending review. He asked about the nuclear industry—I have not had discussions with it about the matter. His final point about douceurs will have to wait until I consult my dictionary.
Order. I will endeavour to call as many hon. Members as possible, but could we now have brisk questions and answers?
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. It is a truism that anyone who tries to be a leader or go first will be the first to be criticised. That was the case for the United Kingdom in the first phase of the scheme. All the other nations in the EU that followed us last time escaped criticism. I am pleased that that fact has now been recognised.
Will my right hon. Friend hold discussions with electricity suppliers to mitigate the increases in phase 2 of 0.5 per cent. for domestic customers, given that the suppliers made windfall profits in phase 1? They should use them to mitigate the costs on consumers in the second phase.
I think that I am right in saying that the electricity suppliers took advantage of the fact that the industry is vertically integrated to cushion some of the impact on domestic consumers in phase 1. However, I hear what my hon. Friend says and I am sure that the electricity suppliers do, too.
I welcome the statement, but I am sure that the Secretary of State knows that, under the first phase of emissions trading, the clean development mechanism generated many projects that offered credits. That, together with some of the longer-term projections of falling energy prices over the second phase, calls into question the price of carbon and thus companies’ ability to fund the necessary investment to reduce their emissions. What steps can be taken at a European level to try to safeguard the necessary flow of investment to achieve the carbon reductions that are essential if ETS 2 is to be successful?
The first and most urgent priority is to ensure that the signal is given to business that the ETS is here to stay and that it will be stable and long term. That is one of the reasons why I stressed the 2050 goal. Business wants a long-term path. When the corporate leaders group met the Prime Minister and me, it emphasised, perhaps above everything, that it wants to know about the long-term commitment from the Government and the rest of Europe. In the next few months, under the Finnish presidency, we shall work to ensure the commitment to the ETS and therefore to business.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the key elements of the statement—the 8 million tonnes, the auction and the environmental transformation fund. They are essential to our climate change programme.
My right hon. Friend referred to the corporate leaders group on climate change, which will be delighted with the announcement. He has united keen environmentalists such as me and leading members of industry. Will he meet the group again to discuss its proposals for hydrogen storage and wave and tidal electricity generation technologies, which could make us a world leader? I believe—and I think that the group does—that they are essential for dealing with the problems that the electricity generating industry faces.
My hon. Friend has an incredibly distinguished record in this field and I am grateful for her kind comments. I can certainly confirm that we are working with the corporate leaders group to establish a work programme to further our discussions. Her point about non-mature industries, such as tidal, was important; when we talk about a level playing field for different forms of renewable energy we must recognise that some forms of renewable energy are more developed than others, and make sure that they all have every chance to develop to the full.
The Secretary of State talked about the corporate leaders group. Could he indicate more accurately how much input there was from industry and commerce in the decisions that the Government have taken? As he may know, I am deeply concerned about the position of the UK manufacturing industry, because we are competing with countries that are not in the least interested in carbon emissions—China and India, for instance, which are our major competitors. How much input was there from industry and how concern is there about the impact of the changes on manufacturing industry and its competitiveness?
I can strongly assure the hon. Gentleman that the consultation in which the Government have been engaged since March has had wide and deep industry involvement. I shall write to him with the exact number of responses that we have received. The hon. Gentleman made some important points about manufacturing; I certainly understand his point about the tough nature of the global competitive market in which manufacturers are working, but I hope that he is reassured by two things in my statement. First, I confirmed that the Government will continue to insulate internationally competitive sectors within the ETS from the burden of carbon reduction—although I emphasise that the extent to which they can reduce their energy use will save them a lot of money, especially at a time of high energy prices. The second aspect of my statement that is relevant to the hon. Gentleman’s legitimate concern about the role of manufacturing industry is that our calculations show a 1 per cent. base case impact on electricity prices of the decision, over the existing cap. One can live on 1 per cent. so one must not dismiss it as being the same as nothing, but given that it is 1 per cent. over the five-year period and not an annual increase, I think that we have struck the right balance both to grow the economy and protect the environment.
In my right hon. Friend’s statement, he said that as we build on the emissions trading scheme we shall create opportunities in the UK for investment in low-carbon technologies. Is he aware that Mitsui Babcock is producing supercritical boilers that are being fitted in China but not in this country? Will he discuss with his hon. Friend the Minister for Energy, who is sitting beside him, what we might do to encourage British generators to invest in that new technology?
My hon. Friend makes a profoundly important point. I think that I am right in saying that there has been an 85 per cent. shift in the UK boiler market towards condensing boilers, which is obviously good for the environment, but I realise that his point was about their production. I shall certainly talk to my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy about that and one or both of us will write to him about what the Government are doing in that regard.
In the Sellar and Yeatman “1066 and All That” sense there is no doubt that the ETS is definitely “a Good Thing”, but it operates over quite short time scales, so can the Secretary of State reassure me that he is talking to his colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry about how Britain can provide longer time frames for the mechanisms whereby carbon allocations should be set, to enable investors in low-carbon generating techniques the confidence to take informed investment decisions?
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement and welcome the announcement of the environmental transformation fund. I am optimistic that it will indeed catalyse greater investment in non-nuclear, low-carbon technologies, energy efficiency and renewable energy. On the basis of the Select Committee inquiry into biofuels, which looked at related areas in terms of investment incentives for business, it seems clear that my right hon. Friend may need to ensure that the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 2008—who may be a different person from now—opens his cheque book wider than he did for other incentive schemes. Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recognise that generous incentives will be needed to get business to invest, for the reasons given by the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff)?
My hon. Friend tempts me into the future of farming, which I spend part of my time addressing, because his point about biofuels is important to the vision of a diversified farming sector—as it is, too, to the future of our environment. The decision of the former Secretary of State for Transport a few months ago, that by 2010, 5 per cent. of all petrol bought will come from a biofuel basis is an important step in the right direction.
The Secretary of State said that allocations for industry will continue to be made on the basis of need. I think that is historical need, so what are his plans to review and reassess that need on a regional basis, given that manufacturing in Wales is a substantially larger part of the economy than elsewhere in the UK?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We have two years to make sure that phase 2 of the scheme works well from 2008. We shall be working closely not only with industry but also with the devolved Administrations to ensure that the scheme appropriately recognises different needs around the country.