Trade and Industry
The Secretary of State was asked—
Good morning, Mr. Speaker.
The renewables obligation is the Government’s key mechanism for encouraging renewable generation. This is supported by around £500 million of spending between 2002 and 2008 in the form of research and development, and capital grants on emerging low-carbon and renewable technologies.
We can all be encouraged by several developments, such as the Chancellor’s allocation of another £50 million for microgeneration, which will mean that there will be £80 million in all for that kind of technology. The successful private Member’s Bill—it is now an Act—that was promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mark Lazarowicz) includes several measures to encourage microgeneration. There have also been big developments in planning that will make it easier for people to establish microgeneration in their homes. That all shows the Government’s support for such new energy technology.
There are significant parts of the country, especially rural areas, in which there is no mains gas. Until now, householders there have felt forced to rely on carbon sources such as oil and solid fuel to heat their homes. Is not the energy review an opportunity for us to make a reality of decentralised energy, as proposed by Greenpeace, in such rural areas by promoting, as a Government, district heating systems using power such as biomass, so that we can get renewable energy into significant parts of the country and give people a real choice for the first time about their sources of heat and power?
There is now an interesting debate, with much evidence, about the balance that we will need to strike as the century further unfolds, between the traditional system of power stations and the national grid—we will still need that, given the power that we require for our economy and householders—and newer kinds of technology, even though some of the ideas are quite old, such as combined heat and power, district heating—which some people are now calling distributive energy—microgeneration and the rest. We reflect on such issues as we approach the final stages of our energy review.
Is the Minister aware that a single giant electricity turbine is to be built in a very exposed position on the Mendip hills next to an area of outstanding natural beauty? The planning inspector who passed it ignored all planning considerations and gave priority to central Government targets for renewable energy. Does the Minister really think that vandalising the countryside in such a way, by putting up an expensive, subsidised and inefficient wind turbine, is anything more than a gesture that fails to measure up to the real problems of global warming?
This discussion shows the challenge that we face. We will need a great deal of investment in power in the future, whether that is wind farms, marine technology or more traditional power stations of one kind or another. Although local issues are absolutely crucial—which is why we have a planning process—hon. Members cannot keep saying no to things. We will need to start saying yes if we are to have the energy, especially the clean energy, that our economy demands and our people expect.
I am not sure that I am the right Back Bencher—
Despite the increased promotion of such energy, does the Minister agree that one of the things that is inhibiting take-up is confusion about green tariffs? Is it not about time that we had an accreditation or rating system so that consumers could know that their suppliers were providing exactly what they said they were, because uncertainty might lead them to conclude otherwise?
While there are major roles for the Government, industry and the rest to play on our future energy strategy, we also need individuals to become more aware of energy sources so that they can be the vanguard for the climate change agenda. More and more people are taking an interest in where their energy comes from—perhaps the development of smart metering is an idea that needs to be tested—and in microgeneration. We hope to encourage and enable that interest.
Clearly, in terms of the environmental agenda, we all need to recycle more materials. Soon, the UK will implement what is inelegantly known as the WEEE directive on waste electrical and electronic equipment so that some of those materials can be recycled rather than going into landfill. There is the issue, too, of biomass and the use of new kinds of fuels in traditional power stations as well as smaller, perhaps mini, combined heat and power stations. The theme of using materials responsibly on our planet in waste policy—not wasted policy—and energy policy is particularly important.
The Minister for Trade and I are the living embodiment of microgeneration. Is not Britain far behind other countries in harnessing renewable power, and is there not a desperate need to spark a green energy revolution here? The Carbon Trust reports today that the Government’s renewables obligation is not working. Unless it is urgently revised, the UK will meet only half of its renewable energy targets by 2020. Will the Minister make a commitment to undertake a fundamental overhaul of the renewables obligation to help us take a quantum leap forward?
I will not go down the route of considering whether microgeneration contributes to hot or cooler air, as that is too easy a follow-up. To be serious, although we welcome late arrivals at the party to save the planet, it was our Government who initiated the renewables obligation and who will spend £500 million by 2008 on such technologies. Some of those late arrivals are talking—and I welcome that—but we have acted on the environmental agenda. The renewables obligation is not cheap stuff, as it will be worth up to £1 billion to the renewables industry by the end of the decade. It is a substantial investment, mainly paid for by customers, both industrial and domestic, and it is the major way in which we are developing renewable technologies.
Later today, we will publish the interim findings of our own review, which I hope the Minister will welcome. If we share common ground, that is good for the country and for investment. The fact of the matter, however, is that UK CO2 emissions have risen in five of the past seven years, and are higher than they were when his party came to office in 1997. The Government have not done enough to reduce emissions. Should we not have an enhanced long-term carbon trading framework to guarantee emissions reductions and to incentivise renewable energy technology, so that the country’s electricity supply can deliver green security both for us and for future generations?
I know that there is media, parliamentary and public interest and excitement about the outcome of the energy review—I had assumed that it was our review rather than the hon. Gentleman’s—which we welcome. For once, politicians do not exaggerate when they say that the environmental question of safeguarding our planet for the future is vital not only for our democracy, but for all other democracies. That is why the Government have set a mid-century target—it is the most ambitious target that any Government have set—to reduce 1990 levels of CO2 emissions by 60 per cent. by 2050. That target is driving the energy review, but the hon. Gentleman must be a little more patient before we say exactly how we will tackle the problem. However, we are committed to doing so.
The Government will publish their proposals shortly.
The outcome of the energy review with regard to nuclear power has hardly been the best kept secret in Whitehall. I assure the Secretary of State of the support of many Opposition Members during the difficult months ahead. However, in the light of the delays identified by the Environmental Audit Committee in delivering a new generation of power stations in the United Kingdom, does the right hon. Gentleman think we need to review the planning system in that regard before we embark on that route?
Yes, I do, and I have said so on many occasions. The planning system is a major obstacle to new energy generation, from whatever source. The right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory) has highlighted some of the problems. Of course, we must allow people to make their voices heard if they object to a particular proposal, but it is not in the national interest that applications, many of them for wind farms, are being held up for years. Bearing in mind that possibly a third of our generating capacity needs to be replaced in the next 20 years, the planning system needs to be overhauled.
Given the Prime Minister’s confirmation to the Liaison Committee on Tuesday that the Government have decided that there will be a new generation of nuclear power stations in the United Kingdom, can the Secretary of State tell us today, please, how many the Government intend to build and at what cost, and what the time scale will be?
The Government do not intend to build any generating plant of any description. The hon. Gentleman will have to wait until I publish the conclusions of the energy review. I think, though—following on from the earlier exchanges—that a mix of generating capacity has served this country well over the past 40 or 50 years, and I believe that a mix will continue to serve it well in the future.
In answer to the original question, the Secretary of State recognised that there is a problem with the planning system, but he did not offer a solution. It took 20 years to get a spark out of Dungeness nuclear reactor. What does the right hon. Gentleman intend to do to ensure that that does not occur again?
I take the hon. Gentleman’s contribution to mean that he would support a reform of the planning laws. The last time the Government tried to reform the planning legislation, they ran into stiff opposition from the Conservatives and a great deal of opposition in the other place. I hope that this time, if we can get something approaching a consensus on how we generate our electricity, we can also get a consensus on how we achieve that. When I saw that the Leader of the Opposition had described wind farms as bird mincers, I began to wonder whether he was prepared to back his words on making sure that we have greener energy generation with the necessary action to ensure that we deliver it.
Does the Secretary of State agree that nuclear power is desirable in order to guarantee security of energy supply and also to meet our environmental obligations in the future? May I urge him to stop dithering on the issue and face down those on the left wing of his own party, who want to put dogma before the best interests of the country?
The hon. Gentleman might want to have a word with his own Front-Bench team. The shadow Secretary of State made it clear earlier this year that he was hostile to nuclear power. We will make our proposals fairly shortly, but the Conservative party had better decide whether it is for or against nuclear power.
I declare a registered interest. If the decision taken in due course is to replace some of our nuclear power stations as well to expand alternative technologies, we will clearly need expertise to take forward these complex sites. What reassurances has my right hon. Friend received from his colleagues in the Department for Education and Skills that efforts are being made now to develop such skills, particularly across the engineering disciplines which will be vital?
I agree with my hon. Friend. Right across the whole energy sector, there is a continuing need to make sure that we have people with the necessary skills and expertise. That does not apply just to nuclear. It applies to the oil and gas industry, for example, and to renewables—where, incidentally, we have an opportunity to show a lead, particularly in the development of wave and marine generation, which is underdeveloped so far. My hon. Friend is right: it is important that we build and maintain our expertise in that regard.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that there have been complaints from British manufacturing industry that it is the victim of an energy supply market, particularly in Europe, whose failure to liberalise has been a factor in increased prices in the UK? Does he agree that in order to reduce the vulnerability of British manufacturing industry, it is essential to have a varied range of sources of future energy supply, including nuclear energy?
I agree with my hon. Friend. We face two big challenges: first, we need to tackle climate change; secondly, we need to address the issue of security of supply. As the House knows, the supply of gas into this country was very tight last winter, and this winter will be difficult, too. Yesterday, I met representatives from the generating industry, the regulators and, importantly, consumers of electricity. We must ensure that we have adequate infrastructure to get the right amount of gas into this country.
My hon. Friend is right about Europe. People talk about the need to have a liberalised energy market in Europe, but there are far too many member states where that is simply not happening. We fully support the Commission’s efforts to make sure that that market works.
My right hon. Friend will be aware that coal will make a major contribution to the energy review. In my constituency, it is estimated that some 500 million tonnes of coal have still not been mined, and my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) has told me that more than 700 million tonnes of coal have still not been mined in his county. Does my right hon. Friend agree that clean coal can make a major contribution and that we should tap into that resource as part of the review?
My hon. Friend has made a good point. Coal is an important part of the generating mix. Scottish Power owns the Longannet power station, which is in sight of his constituency, and earlier this year it announced plans to install equipment to burn cleaner coal, and it is co-firing biomass there, too. We want to encourage developments and technologies such as carbon capture, which will be important not only in this country, but across the world.
The Secretary of State’s Department has been looking at the economics of energy in detail for some time. Will the right hon. Gentleman name any British nuclear power station that has been built on time, on budget and without any taxpayer or consumer subsidy? If he cannot do so, perhaps he will name such a nuclear power station somewhere in the world at any time, ever.
The hon. Gentleman has made a good point—although I do not think that he intended to make it—about the time that it takes to build any sort of power station, let alone a nuclear power station, which is partly due to planning difficulties. I commend what the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), who is sitting behind him, said earlier this year:
“Dogma about new nuclear power is unhelpful, for and against.”
He should reflect on those words when he responds to my proposals in due course.
Any company could today apply to build a new nuclear power station. Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that the Government will not offer any subsidies whatsoever for the construction or operation of new nuclear power stations either directly in cash or indirectly through subsidies for waste disposal, guaranteed prices, guaranteed purchases, insurance liability cover and so forth?
I can see that my hon. Friend is anxious to get more nuclear plant built at the earliest possible opportunity. We will set out our position when I publish the conclusions of the energy review. In the meantime, we have made it clear that it is for the private sector to come forward with proposals in relation to any generating capacity, and we expect it to meet the cost.
Earlier, the Secretary of State said that there is an urgent need to take action to save the planet, and we clearly agree with him. When we asked about the time scale, however, he said that he would “announce it shortly”. What is the big secret about announcing the timetable for the review? The Prime Minister has given the lead, and we know what he thinks about nuclear power. Is it not time for the Secretary of State to tell us when the statement on the energy review will be made?
It is now three months since the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management said that Britain needed to find a long-term solution to the disposal of nuclear waste. Does the Secretary of State accept that regardless of whether new nuclear power stations are being built, we cannot go on drifting without that issue being addressed? What assessment has he made of the approaches being taken in other countries, particularly in Scandinavia, that are developing deep burial facilities and where, crucially, the open approach that they have taken means that they have managed to carry public opinion with them?
The hon. Gentleman is right that for many years, under successive Governments, there has been much debate on what we should do with this waste, which is with us regardless of what we do in terms of any new generation of nuclear power. CoRWM published its interim findings in April, and I understand that it will publish its final conclusions this month. It suggested a course of action in its interim statement, and I will respond to that when I deal with the energy review as a whole.
Bank of Credit and Commerce International
My hon. Friend the Minister for Consumer Affairs and Competition Policy will be pleased to meet the liquidators of BCCI.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I remind her that on 21 June, the Governor of the Bank of England said at Mansion house that he felt that our legal system was incapable of resolving financial disputes such as BCCI in a timely and cost-effective way. The Minister is aware that the last litigation lasted 256 days and that the liquidation has taken 15 years to complete. I am glad that the Minister will be meeting me. Let us hope that, with ministerial action, this very long liquidation—the largest insolvency in history—will be brought to a speedy conclusion.
First, I congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment to the Privy Council. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Having looked at the history of this in preparing to answer his question, I completely understand that it has taken an inordinately long time to settle. When I looked at the judgment in the recent case of the Bank of England v. BCCI, I could detect no suggestion from the judge that the liquidators had acted other than in good faith on the basis of the professional advice available to them. Indeed, the judge’s anger seems to have been directed rather more at the legal profession than at the liquidators.
Electric Power Distribution
The DTI and the regulator, Ofgem, now lead an industry group known as the electricity networks strategy group, which looks at our networks as a whole to ensure that they do not present any barriers to the meeting of Government energy goals. That applies not only to the national grid system, but to local generation.
I am glad to hear that. The Minister may know that I have a longstanding interest in renewable energy; indeed, I have a photovoltaic roof partly paid for by the DTI PV scheme. I should declare that interest. As he knows, decentralised energy can contribute to the efficiency of renewables. Will he therefore consider, following the investigation, extending Ofgem’s remit to provide for decentralised network generation?
This is a bit like waiting for Godot, although, for me, rather more interesting. We have to wait for the publication of the review on those aspects. However, I take the hon. Gentleman’s point about having more decentralised energy. I am pleased that his roof has photovoltaics. I hope that he voted for the money that allowed that to happen; we will check the record on that. A number of challenges are involved in providing more decentralised energy, not least in terms of planning and regulation.
UK Energy Mix
If I recall correctly, the tradition is that the question is answered first. In fact, my answer to questions 7 and 9 is broadly similar.
We have a well-balanced and diverse electricity-generating capacity at the moment. We need to keep that in the future.
Again, we will make our proposals when we publish the energy review. Although the amount of energy from renewable sources is not as high as we would like it to be, it has steadily increased because of the renewables obligation that we introduced in 2002. If there is to be a step change, there must be a change in the planning laws because far too many applications are currently bottled up in the planning system. Until that is sorted out, there will continue to be less use of renewables than we would like.
The Secretary of State gave an entirely adequate answer on the subject of legacy waste, which CoRWM is examining. However, if nuclear energy is to play a part in the future energy mix of our country, the new waste that is generated will also need to be treated, stored and disposed of appropriately. What work has been done by anybody—CoRWM has not done much—to establish how the new type of waste, which is smaller in volume but higher in radioactivity, will be disposed of?
The hon. Gentleman is right that CoRWM’s work has been directed at current waste, although much of that can apply to the waste that we may have to tackle in future. It is likely that a new generation of nuclear plant would be more efficient and therefore produce less waste, but the hon. Gentleman is right—essentially, we are dealing with the same problem. That is why much of the work that has been done in the past will be useful in future.
Does the Secretary of State agree that no energy review would be realistic without taking note of the massive amount of coal—not as great as it used to be—that is still used in Britain? Not many pits are left. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is necessary to keep them open? Is not it important to make sure that we use the coal from this country instead of relying on coal from other countries, which may not be stable in future? Will he therefore give a guarantee to the more than 50,000 people who will meet at the Durham miners’ rally on Saturday that coal will play a major part and that we will dig more British coal as a result of the energy review?
Yes, coal is an important contributor, which helped us substantially last winter when there was pressure on gas supplies. The Government have given a substantial amount of money to the coal industry in this country over the past few years and I hope that British coal will continue to play a major role in electricity generation. Of course, as the Government have always made clear, it is up to the generators and producers of coal to reach the appropriate agreement on how much coal is provided. However, the Government have made money available in the past and they will continue to do so.
Does the Secretary of State agree that combined heat and power units could play a far greater role in the energy mix? They are more efficient and produce less waste. However, I know of several plants that have been built but not used. Is there a reason for that? Can the Government do anything about it?
Yes, we could do better on combined heat and power, but there are several problems, and I will set them out as well as ways in which we might tackle them. Some relate to getting on to the grid and there have also been other difficulties. Other countries have made a success of combined heat and power and, although it has its limitations, we can do a bit more than we have done in the past.
In answer to an earlier question, the Secretary of State made the good point that we have enormous potential to exploit wave and tidal power. He knows that the highlands and islands have enormous potential in that context. One of the problems that companies that develop those technologies face is getting them into a commercially viable state. Can the Government do more to provide support for companies that are developing wave and tidal power technologies so that they can get those products to market faster and ensure that the highlands and islands can take a lead in that sector, and that a large share of our electricity is generated from those sources sooner rather than later?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. I would like to see more energy generated from marine and tidal power. As he knows, these methods have had a somewhat chequered past, and there have been many false starts. However, the Government have supported them with financial help. I mentioned the planning problems earlier. I would like to see more wind and marine generation of energy, but if we are going to achieve that, we must also provide the transmission lines to get the energy from where it is generated to where it is consumed, whether that is in the central belt of Scotland or in England. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that it is sometimes very difficult to convince people that if we are going to generate electricity in the north of Scotland, we will also need the power lines. If people continue to object to all these things, none of it will happen.
It says here that the Government will publish their proposals shortly.
I thank the Secretary of State for that full and comprehensive reply. As part of the review, will he tell the House what consideration he has given to the role that green crops such as sugar beet could play in producing biomass, and particularly biofuel? Until recently, the Drax power station, in the constituency of Selby, was taking green crops from the Vale of York to co-fire, but it has now stopped doing so. I am sure that the Secretary of State will realise that this is becoming a matter of some urgency, as the sugar beet factory at York is scheduled to close next year, and we are looking for alternative means of creating energy from these crops.
The hon. Lady makes a good point. There is some potential in that regard. She mentioned biofuels, and she will be aware that I announced last November that we would impose an obligation that 5 per cent. of fuels had to be biofuels. The impact on carbon of that measure will be the equivalent of taking 1 million cars off the road every year. These matters are under consideration, and I will have more to say about them shortly.
What discussions will the Department be having with British Sugar to determine how sugar beet can be used for biofuels? Is the Secretary of State aware that its Allscott factory in my constituency is to close in April 2007, with the result that 650 Shropshire farmers will no longer have a market for this important cash crop? In addition, 120 people working at the factory will lose their jobs. Is it not time for British Sugar to start working with the Government to create co-operatives with farmers to deliver biofuels using sugar beet, rather than just talking about it?
I am not in a position to tell the House what discussions have taken place, but, as I said to the hon. Member for Vale of York (Miss McIntosh) a moment ago, sugar beet is an important resource. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is particularly interested in this matter, because of its agricultural and environmental significance. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that this is something that we need to look at in respect of energy and, crucially, of biofuels.
Does the Secretary of State agree that it would be easier to meet our carbon targets if we moved to the so-called distributed model of electricity generation, in which power is generated on a more local level and sold back into the grid when surpluses are generated? What proportion of our energy demand does he think could be produced in this way?
I am hoping that there will be a large attendance in the House when I make my announcement, because I shall be able to answer all these questions more fully at that stage. My hon. Friend is right: we could do rather more with distributed energy than we have done in the past. I would sound a note of caution, however. Some people say that all our electricity could be generated in this way, but I do not think that that is the case. We could do more with distributed energy, but we will still need a grid and large-scale energy production as well.
The Secretary of State said that the energy review would be published shortly. He will also be aware that one of the main concerns of the renewable generators in Scotland is the question of transmission charges. They are the subject not of the energy review but of a separate review recently announced by Ofgem. Ofgem has made some concessions by changing the need to produce financial guarantees up front, but it has said nothing so far about the actual cost of the transmission charges. After the publication of the energy review, will the Secretary of State ask Ofgem to look closely at the whole question of transmission charges, and at the impact that they will have on renewable generation in Scotland?
Yes, I will keep a close eye on that. The hon. Gentleman will recall that we had exchanges about the matter when I was Secretary of State for Scotland. I made it clear then that I am concerned about the impact of the regime. The fact is that most renewables are more likely to be sited in Scotland—probably in the north of Scotland—which means that the right transmission regime must be in place. As I said to the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Danny Alexander) earlier, that also means that those of us in politics who say that we believe in more offshore, onshore or marine generation must back that up with a willingness to have the means of transmitting that power to where it is needed.
This is a matter for the Office of Communications. Ofcom’s view is that, while overall competition has produced significant benefits in the form of lower prices and better services, the problem of mis-selling in telecoms continues. It affects a significant minority of customers, and Ofcom has therefore put in place clear rules to protect consumers and is taking decisive action to enforce those rules.
To give one example, I can confirm that Ofcom last week fined one company, Just Telecoms UK Ltd., trading as “Lo-Rate”, the maximum amount—10 per cent. of its annual turnover—for mis-selling. That is part of Ofcom’s ongoing enforcement programme to address this issue and to enforce tougher rules introduced last year. Ofcom is actively investigating a number of further cases.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her extensive answer. However, British companies operating from this country and abroad are contacting customers through third parties, usually from call centres in India. Those companies are mis-selling for other companies, but they imply that they represent the customer’s original company. What is she doing to try to stop that? Are those British companies, even though they are using a third party, still liable under British law?
The practice to which my hon. Friend refers sounds pretty disreputable, and I would be happy to meet him to discuss it further, to see whether, working with Ofcom, we can take further action. If he agrees, I shall arrange a meeting as soon as possible.
World Trade Negotiations
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was in Geneva last week to emphasise our commitment to the Doha development agenda in meetings with the EU Trade Commissioner, Mr. Mandelson, and counterparts in other EU member states—[Interruption.] I knew that that would wake them up.
With or without water, I am better than the hon. Gentleman.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I continue to discuss the Doha development agenda with Trade Ministers of other World Trade Organisation member countries. In the past few weeks, between us, we have spoken to, among others, the Trade Ministers of the United States, China, Brazil, Finland, Sri Lanka, Botswana, South Africa and India, and the Deputy Foreign Secretary of Morocco. Other members of the Government have also been in contact with their opposite numbers. We also remain in regular contact with business and civil society.
The Minister will understand the paradox that we starve the poor by refusing to buy their food from them. Agricultural goods would not have been brought into the World Trade Organisation, however, had it not been for the success of Leon Brittan in outmanoeuvring the French during the Uruguay round. Unfortunately, Commissioner Mandelson has not been as successful. If the talks collapse, what is the Minister’s plan B in relation to the agenda of making poverty history? Did he see the remarks by—
That is another typical Conservative approach. In government, the Conservatives cut support to the world’s poorest countries by 50 per cent.; this Government have increased it by 140 per cent. Until recently, the Conservatives had never supported our objectives for the Doha negotiations. Those objectives include more trade opportunities and fewer unfair subsidies, from Europe, in agriculture, and from the United States. We want to see no strings, which means no quotas or duties on exports from the least developed countries to developed and richer developing countries. We want to see significant support for the poorest countries to help them to take advantage of increased trade by building capacity. We lead the world in that investment, and in liberalisation on those countries’ terms. That means that any liberation of developing markets must be consistent with their capacity to adapt development programmes.
We are leading the debate, and I am certain that our discussions over the next couple of weeks will move us to a point at which we can secure an agreement. An ambitious pro-development deal will lift millions out of poverty, and the Government are leading the drive towards it.
Given that the European Union currently spends €64,000 million each year in trade-distorting domestic support for agricultural production—the effect of which is dramatically to exacerbate the plight of the poorest and most destitute people on the planet—does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is essential for that support to be discontinued as soon as possible, so that the poorest people in the world can be given a decent opportunity to compete, to grow and to fend effectively for themselves?
The Government have been at the forefront of reform of the common agricultural policy and United States subsidies. The difference between our party and the hon. Gentleman and his party is that we can influence the outcome. At a time when we need more influence in Europe, the hon. Gentleman’s party is turning to the extreme right and rejecting the mainstream in Europe.
I will answer the question. As my favourite poet would say, “Haud yer wheesht”. [Laughter.] If the hon. Gentleman wants to know who that is, it is Rab C. Nesbitt. [Laughter.] That was a joke.
The Government are at the forefront of delicate discussions and negotiations to secure a package that is compatible with reducing agricultural tariffs, linked with appropriate access for the G20 countries to services and productive goods without agricultural tariffs. If we can secure that agreement, it will constitute a significant step forward for the world’s poorest countries. I assure the House that everything we are doing is aimed at achieving that delicate balance, and we will succeed.
Despite the Minister’s protestations about politics, is it not a fact that European Union protectionism is one of the major barriers to a successful conclusion of the World Trade Organisation talks—whether it takes the form of unwanted agricultural subsidies or Peter Mandelson’s shoe-dumping tax, which is costing some of the poorest people in the country £20 a year? Would it not be a disaster if the talks failed? It would be a disaster for some of the poorest countries in the world. What further representations can the Minister make to his friend, Trade Commissioner Mandelson, to ensure that the EU pulls its weight in the talks?
Every single country must make a move, and every single trade bloc must make a move. That is precisely what we have been doing in our discussions. This Government sit at the negotiating table, unlike the last Conservative Government, who left the negotiating table and did not participate in an effective way.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman’s party has now recognised the need to achieve a successful round of talks, but it has done so 10 years too late. This Government are taking action with our colleagues in Europe. I hope that during our discussions over the next fortnight we can get that delicate balance right, and secure a successful agreement to help the world’s poorest countries.
The Opposition’s commitment to the environment and recycling has influenced their questions. This question is a repeat of Question 1. It shows a good environmental approach. I think that the honest thing for me to do is to refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer that I gave earlier.
As we made clear in an earlier discussion, we need to find ways to assist individuals who watch the climate change news and research on the television, who look at what is happening at the Arctic caps and who wonder what they can do about it. Many such people are relatively passive at the moment, but they want to play a role. As well as fostering Government and industrial action, we need to turn the concerned citizen into an active citizen on behalf of the environment. What does that mean in practical terms? It means thermal and loft insulation, better understanding of energy use in the home, microgeneration and, indeed, smart metering. We are interested in that development.
Minister for Women and Equality
The Minister for Women and Equality was asked—
There are more women working in the medical work force and in undergraduate medicine than ever before. The proportion of female consultants has increased steadily to 26 per cent. from 19 per cent. in 1995. We have a range of schemes in place to encourage women to enter and progress in medicine, including the flexible career scheme.
I thank the right hon. Lady for that reply. I am sure that she shares my pleasure at seeing so many undergraduates coming in, particularly at the Hull York medical school, where a huge proportion—more than 50 per cent.—are women. However, does she share my concern that both in hospital medicine and general practice, many women are choosing to go part- time for the very good reason of wanting to bring up a good family? That effectively means that we almost have to train two lady doctors for each position. The implications for senior positions in hospital medicine are alarming, particularly when the Government have removed the post of senior house officer. What does the Minister see as the way forward in encouraging more women to remain in full-time positions in order to gain the necessary experience to become senior hospital practitioners?
The hon. Lady makes an interesting point, but I remind her not only that the numbers of young women training in medical schools are increasing, but that the representation of women in senior positions has steadily improved at all levels and in practically all specialties over the last 10 years. I believe, as do the Government, that it is important to offer real choice to men and women to balance their work and family life. If we can facilitate flexible working, we should do so, and the same applies to flexible training. A year ago, the junior medical committee of the British Medical Association reached an agreement with the Government and other relevant parties on the introduction of a flexible training scheme that would allow the accreditation of flexible training. I believe that that is the right way forward rather than somehow artificially encouraging people to work full time when they would otherwise choose not to do so.
My grandmother was a GP in the Gorbals from the 1940s through to the 1960s—quite early on in respect of women practitioners in this country. There were not too many women GPs then and there are many more now, as my right hon. Friend said. Many women want a greater degree of flexibility in their career than the GP system allows for. Sometimes they are helped through the system by having more salaried GPs. Would my right hon. Friend talk further with her colleagues in Wales about the possibility of developing more salaried GP positions that would be available to women?
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point and I will certainly take up his suggestion of having further discussions with colleagues in Wales. It is important to offer flexible careers both in hospital medicine and for GPs. The flexible career initiative was first introduced for hospital medicine, but has since been extended to GPs, who are beginning to find it easier to combine work as a GP with different family responsibilities. That particularly helps women.
Will the Minister promise the House that in her desire to see more women in senior positions in the medical profession, she will not go down the politically correct route of having quotas, targets and positive discrimination? Will she always hold to the fact that jobs should be given on merit, irrespective of people’s gender?
Of course jobs should be given on merit, but if the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that the majority of female undergraduates who are currently training in medical school should not have the opportunity to have their careers progress at the same rate as men’s, I believe that he is mistaken.
The national domestic violence delivery report outlines a series of initiatives, including the specialist domestic violence court programme, and training packages for independent domestic violence advisers and prosecutors and the police. We also part-fund the national 24-hour freephone helpline to provide information, support and advice.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Unfortunately, in Swansea in 2005-06 there were 3,266 reported incidents of domestic abuse. She may be aware that the city has been invited to express an interest in having a domestic violence court, and I and a number of local agencies support that proposal. Despite that, will she continue to ensure that women who suffer domestic abuse get the assistance, guidance and support that they need and deserve?
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. She makes the very important point that victims of domestic violence are being properly supported, and she will no doubt be pleased to know that Swansea magistrates court was one of several in Wales visited this week by the national domestic violence group, which is considering its suitability for selection as a specialist court. I wish her well when the successful bids are announced later this year. I am also aware that Swansea police have been recognised for the great deal of innovative work that they do to support victims of domestic abuse. For example, they are targeting perpetrators through the “spotlight on suspects” campaign. That work, together with the Welsh Assembly’s efforts, is making a real difference to victims of domestic abuse, and it is important that it continues.
In my excellent local women’s refuge, which I happen to be visiting tomorrow, there are women who are fleeing domestic violence, often with young children. What can the Minister do, through discussions with her Cabinet colleagues, to ensure that the perpetrator of such violence is removed from the family home, rather than the mother and children?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight that issue, which we are dealing with through our legislative proposals. But it is also important, as I am sure that she will agree, that we invest in domestic refuges, so that those women who want to leave immediately are able to do so. That is why we have invested more than £30 million over three years in new refuge provision, and in the refurbishment of refuges created through existing schemes.
While I welcome the substantial efforts that have been made to protect the victims of domestic violence—advisers, specialist courts and so on—I am concerned that we are not doing enough to prevent such tragedies, which lead to the deaths of two women every week. Does the Minister have any ideas that she can discuss with colleagues, such as working with young people, potential perpetrators and women who might be victims to reduce the likely future incidence of domestic violence, rather than merely helping victims after such incidents have occurred?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point, and I know that the Minister for Women and Equality has been working with colleagues across Government Departments—including in the Department for Education and Skills, for example—to look specifically at the needs of young people and how we can improve education about, and understanding of, these very important issues. It is right that we not only focus on the victims of domestic abuse—important as that is—but that we try at the early stages to prevent domestic abuse from happening in the first place.
Women in Public Life
Women are well represented at local level, holding 43 per cent. of appointments to NHS trusts, 49.4 per cent. of magistrates’ appointments and 54 per cent. of school governors’ appointments. Women currently hold 35 per cent. of public appointments overall—an increase from the figure of 32 per cent. in 1997. I look forward to working with Janet Gaymer, the new commissioner for public appointments, to make further progress on this issue.
In this, the week of the Local Government Association conference, does the Minister share my concern at the fact that just 27 per cent. of Conservative councillors, 29 per cent. of Labour councillors and 32 per cent. of Liberal Democrat councillors in the UK are women, with far fewer in some areas, such as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? If so, what steps is she taking—and what steps would she encourage others to take—to address this imbalance and to encourage more women into local government?
The hon. Lady will be aware that we introduced the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002 to allow political parties to make their own arrangements to encourage more women to stand in local and national elections. Our focus is on all-women shortlists, which we are using in some local elections, and I would be delighted if other parties joined us in that regard. I know that the hon. Lady’s party is struggling to get such a proposal through, and that the Leader of the Opposition is also struggling. In fact, the number of women selected since the introduction of his A-list has gone down, not up.
Last year’s intake of new Labour MPs was historic in that, for the first time, it included more women than men. Most of those women were selected from all-women shortlists. Unfortunately, our sisters in Opposition parties have not fared quite so well—[Hon. Members: “Sisters?] Yes, sisters. What policy does my hon. Friend think would be most helpful in encouraging more women to come forward for election to this place? Would it be all-women shortlists or the employment of bikini-clad women to serve drinks at a £400-a-head summer ball?
The Minister and the Liberal Democrats really must not worry about those of us on the Conservative Benches because in a very short time we will fill the Government side with many Conservative women—[Interruption.] That seems to have produced a reaction.
What guidelines have the Government laid down for the contracts of employment of women in public positions to allow flexible working conditions for high-achieving women, so that those at the very top of their professions, whatever they might be, will have the opportunity to work flexibly and therefore to fulfil their family and caring duties, as well as having the chance to break through the glass ceiling?
My tennis partner calls me sister. The hon. Lady talks a good talk, but she promised before the last election that there would be many more Conservative women MPs. That did not happen because they did not get selected in safe seats. As I said, the proportion being selected for safe seats has fallen since the introduction of the A-list. I am pleased to tell the hon. Lady that the proportion of women in the more senior grades in the civil service has continued to increase. On 4 April 2007, it had increased to 34.8 per cent. from 32.7 per cent. Individual Departments are introducing work-life balance champions who can ensure that staff have the opportunity to work flexibly up to the highest levels. We certainly want to see that happen in more Departments.
Does the Minister agree that child care facilities are key for any women who wish to put themselves forward for all aspects of public life and work generally? What message are we sending to women when, in the 21st century, the Westminster estate still lacks a crèche and other appropriate child care facilities for hon. Members and our staff?
The hon. Lady will know that the Government have given a high priority to child care and have invested in much more provision. It is a matter for discussion whether child care provision is most appropriate at a person’s place of work or near their home. That is a real issue for both women and men. I do not oppose considering the issue that the hon. Lady raises and that is something for the House authorities to do, as much for the employees here who have to work the same unsocial hours as we do, as for the Members of Parliament.