House of Commons
Thursday 6 July 2006
The House met at half-past Ten o’clock
[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
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.
Business of the House
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has given notice of a previous commitment that keeps him from the House today. In his absence, I should like to announce the business for the coming weeks, as follows:
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 home information packs, followed by a debate on progress towards the millennium development goals. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.
Thursday 13 July—Remaining stages of the NHS Redress Bill [Lords].
Friday 14 July—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the following week will be:
Monday 17 July—Remaining stages of the Compensation Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 18 July—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Health Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Government of Wales Bill, followed by motion to take note of the outstanding reports of the Public Accounts Committee to which the Government have replied. Details will be given in the Official Report.
Wednesday 19 July—Opposition Day [19th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion in the name of the Liberal Democrats. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 20 July—Remaining stages of the Commissioner for Older People (Wales) Bill [Lords], followed by a debate on international development on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.
Friday 21 July—The House will not be sitting.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 20 July will be:
Thursday 20 July—A debate on boundaries, voting and representation in Scotland.
The information regarding business on Tuesday 18 July is as follows:
The following reports fall within the scope of the motion
2005-06 Fourth Report Fraud and error in benefit expenditure HC 411 (Cm 6728) Seventh Report The use of operating theatres in the Northern Ireland Health and Personal Social Services HC 414 (Cm 6699) Eighth Report Navan Centre HC 415 (Cm 6699) Ninth Report Foot and Mouth Disease: applying the lessons HC 563 (Cm 6728) Twelfth Report Helping those in financial hardship: the running of the Social Fund HC 601 (Cm 6728) Thirteenth Report The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Tackling homelessness HC 653 (Cm 6743) Fourteenth Report Energywatch and Postwatch HC 654 (Cm 6743) Fifteenth Report HM Customs and Excise Standard Report 2003–04 HC 695 (Cm 6743) Sixteenth Report Home Office: Reducing vehicle crime HC 696 (Cm 6743) Seventeenth Report Achieving value for money in the delivery of public services HC 742 (Cm 6743) Eighteenth Report Department for Education and Skills: Improving school attendance in England HC 789 (Cm 6766) Nineteenth Report Department of Health: Tackling cancer: improving the patient journey HC 790 (Cm 6766) Twentieth Report The NHS Cancer Plan: a progress report HC 791 (Cm 6766) Twenty-first Report Skills for Life: Improving adult literacy and numeracy HC 792 (Cm 6766) Twenty-second Report Maintaining and improving Britain’s railway stations HC 535 (Cm 6775) Twenty-third Report Filing of income tax self assessment returns HC 681 (Cm 6775) Twenty-fourth Report The BBC’s White City 2 development HC 652 (Second Special Report, HC 1139, 2005-06) Twenty-fifth Report Securing strategic leadership in the learning and skills sector HC 602 (Cm 6775) Twenty-sixth Report Assessing and reporting military readiness HC 667 (Cm 6775) Twenty-seventh Report Lost in translation? Responding to the challenges of European law HC 590 (Cm 6775) Twenty-eighth Report Extending access to learning through technology: Ufi and the learndirect service HC 706 (Cm 6775) Twenty-ninth Report Excess Votes 2004–05 HC 916 (N/A) Thirtieth Report Excess Votes (Northern Ireland) 2004–05 HC 917 (N/A) Thirty-first Report Northern Ireland’s Waste Management Strategy HC 741 (Cm 6843) Thirty-second Report Working with the voluntary sector HC 717 (Cm 6789) Thirty-third Report The Royal Parks and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain HC 644 (Cm 6789) Thirty-fourth Report Returning failed asylum applicants HC 620 (Cm 6863) Thirty-fifth Report The refinancing of the Norfolk and Norwich PFI Hospital HC 694 (Cm ????) Thirty-sixth Report Tackling the complexity of the benefits system HC 765 (Cm 6863) Thirty-seventh Report Inland Revenue Standard Report: New Tax Credits HC 782 (Cm 6863) Thirty-eighth Report Channel Tunnel Rail Link HC 727 (Cm 6863) Thirty-ninth Report Consular services to British nationals HC 813 (Cm 6863) Fortieth Report Environment Agency: Efficiency in water resource management HC 749 (Cm ????) Forty-first Report The South Eastern Passenger Rail Franchise HC 770 (Cm ????) Forty-second Report Enforcing competition in markets HC 841 (Cm ????)
Fraud and error in benefit expenditure
HC 411 (Cm 6728)
The use of operating theatres in the Northern Ireland Health and Personal Social Services
HC 414 (Cm 6699)
HC 415 (Cm 6699)
Foot and Mouth Disease: applying the lessons
HC 563 (Cm 6728)
Helping those in financial hardship: the running of the Social Fund
HC 601 (Cm 6728)
The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Tackling homelessness
HC 653 (Cm 6743)
Energywatch and Postwatch
HC 654 (Cm 6743)
HM Customs and Excise Standard Report 2003–04
HC 695 (Cm 6743)
Home Office: Reducing vehicle crime
HC 696 (Cm 6743)
Achieving value for money in the delivery of public services
HC 742 (Cm 6743)
Department for Education and Skills: Improving school attendance in England
HC 789 (Cm 6766)
Department of Health: Tackling cancer: improving the patient journey
HC 790 (Cm 6766)
The NHS Cancer Plan: a progress report
HC 791 (Cm 6766)
Skills for Life: Improving adult literacy and numeracy
HC 792 (Cm 6766)
Maintaining and improving Britain’s railway stations
HC 535 (Cm 6775)
Filing of income tax self assessment returns
HC 681 (Cm 6775)
The BBC’s White City 2 development
HC 652 (Second Special Report, HC 1139, 2005-06)
Securing strategic leadership in the learning and skills sector
HC 602 (Cm 6775)
Assessing and reporting military readiness
HC 667 (Cm 6775)
Lost in translation? Responding to the challenges of European law
HC 590 (Cm 6775)
Extending access to learning through technology: Ufi and the learndirect service
HC 706 (Cm 6775)
Excess Votes 2004–05
HC 916 (N/A)
Excess Votes (Northern Ireland) 2004–05
HC 917 (N/A)
Northern Ireland’s Waste Management Strategy
HC 741 (Cm 6843)
Working with the voluntary sector
HC 717 (Cm 6789)
The Royal Parks and the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain
HC 644 (Cm 6789)
Returning failed asylum applicants
HC 620 (Cm 6863)
The refinancing of the Norfolk and Norwich PFI Hospital
HC 694 (Cm ????)
Tackling the complexity of the benefits system
HC 765 (Cm 6863)
Inland Revenue Standard Report: New Tax Credits
HC 782 (Cm 6863)
Channel Tunnel Rail Link
HC 727 (Cm 6863)
Consular services to British nationals
HC 813 (Cm 6863)
Environment Agency: Efficiency in water resource management
HC 749 (Cm ????)
The South Eastern Passenger Rail Franchise
HC 770 (Cm ????)
Enforcing competition in markets
HC 841 (Cm ????)
The reference number of the Treasury minute to each report is printed in brackets after the HC printing number.
I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for giving us the business for the coming fortnight.
At business questions last week, I noted that Monday’s BBC debate was taking place the day before the BBC’s annual report was due to be published. I am pleased that the Leader of the House has acted on that, although he has chosen to change not the date of the debate but the publication date of the BBC’s annual report. I understand that that will now come out this Friday, but I am grateful for the action that has been taken.
I am sure that the Deputy Leader of the House will have noted the vote in Standing Committee this morning that has changed the Company Law Reform Bill into the Companies Bill. Interestingly, the Minister for Industry and the Regions and the Solicitor-General took different sides in the vote. It is good to see that the Government know what they are doing. A more serious point is that there are to be 400 new clauses to the Bill. They have yet to be tabled and the Government have refused to allow the Committee time to consider them. Will the Deputy Leader of the House ensure that there is enough time on Report to discuss those significant changes?
The forthcoming business made no mention of the Road Safety Bill, which left Committee in April. The need for the Bill is recognised and it has broad cross-party support. Why are the Government dragging their feet when it comes to completing its passage through the House?
Today, the Select Committee on Education and Skills published its report on special educational needs. It refers to the 2004 SEN strategy “Removing Barriers to Achievement”, which sets out the Government’s vision on SEN. The Select Committee notes that the guidance given to local authorities states “unmistakably” that
“the proportion of children educated in special schools should fall over time”.
In evidence to the Committee, however, the Education Minister Lord Adonis said that the Government
“have no policy whatever, I should stress, of encouraging local authorities to close special schools”.
The Select Committee goes on to say:
“What is urgently needed is for the Government to clarify its position on SEN—specifically on inclusion…It is the view of this Committee that…the SEN system is demonstrably no longer fit for purpose and there is a need for the Government to develop a new system that puts the needs of the child at the centre of provision.”
May we therefore have a statement from the Education Secretary before the recess, clarifying the Government’s policy on SEN?
Yesterday, another British soldier was killed in Afghanistan. I am sure that hon. Members from all parties will join me in sending condolences and sympathy to his family. May we have a statement before 24 July—from the Defence Secretary, and not a junior Minister—on any planned increase in the deployment of troops and/or equipment in Afghanistan?
Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Health announced funding for community hospitals. She somehow omitted to mention the 81 community hospitals that have closed, or which are threatened by closure or the loss of services. Examples are St. Marks in Maidenhead, which may lose services, and Townlands in Henley, which is under threat of closure. Both those hospitals serve my constituents. She said at Hansard, column 817, that primary care trusts might want to extend their local investment finance trust schemes, known as LIFT schemes. Did she not know that the Public Accounts Committee said that LIFT projects cost eight times more per patient than the accommodation they replace, and that the higher cost could squeeze out other spending on primary care? May we have a debate on community hospitals?
By the way, do not the Government realise that it is all very well giving money to build new premises, but the problem for the health service today is finding the money to staff them and to treat patients? The Government get more like a “Yes, Minister” sketch every day. Talking of which, up to now, Ministers have told us that we should not talk about job cuts in the NHS, yet today the Health Minister, Lord Warner, has written to Members and his opening sentence is:
“I wrote to you in May clarifying the position on job cuts within the National Health Service.”
Perhaps all Ministers could use the same language in future.
May we have a debate on control of policing? The Government are apparently to set up a national policing board chaired by the Home Secretary. Exactly how do they think policing will be improved by putting it under the control of the Home Office—the very Department that the Home Secretary has said is dysfunctional and not fit for purpose?
Finally, last week in business questions, the Leader of the House said that we had
“squandered some Opposition days on the most eccentric subjects”—[Official Report, 29 June 2006; Vol. 448, c. 390.]
Since the new Leader of the House took office, we have had Opposition day debates on the BBC, housing and planning policy, tax credits, volunteers and carers and the NHS. Which of those subjects does the right hon. Gentleman consider eccentric? Or is it just that on the health service, the work of carers or problems with tax credits the Government simply do not want to know?
I thank the right hon. Member for being as predictable as ever.
The whole House will want to express its condolences to the family of the brave soldier who was tragically killed yesterday in Afghanistan. As the Prime Minister made clear to the House yesterday, commanders on the ground are the judges of their resources. Anything they need and ask for to protect our troops will be given to them.
The large number of clauses for the Companies Bill results from the fact that it is a consolidating measure, and I thank the Opposition for their general support in respect of that. I am sure that there will be adequate time on Report to cover any outstanding issues. The Bill is important and its time is ripe.
We are determined to get the Road Safety Bill right. I hope that we can count on the support of all Members of the House for some of the key measures that have been taken, such as speed cameras and speed humps, where appropriate, and other devices, which in my constituency in Edinburgh and the borders have resulted in no child deaths for the past three years. For the first time since records began in 1927, no children have been killed. I shall look with confidence to support from all the Opposition parties for appropriate road safety measures.
I commend the work of the Select Committee on Education and Skills, which reported today on special educational needs. It is important to reflect that, in recent years, spending on such children has risen by 50 per cent., from just under £3 billion to £4.5 billion. I hope that the right hon. Member and the House will forgive me for saying that it may take a little longer than the two weeks or so available to us for the Government to formulate a considered response to the report, but we shall make an appropriate response and I am sure that there will be ample opportunity for the House to discuss it.
As the right hon. Member knows, a major review of policing is being undertaken. It is right that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is considering the best way of making police forces more effective and making the input and experience of the police more effective in formulating Government policy. It is also right that we ensure that the best practice of the best police authorities is extended to others.
The right hon. Member mentioned community hospitals, but she neglected to say that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health yesterday announced £750 million as an investment for those community hospitals. The right hon. Member also voiced her concerns about falling hospital numbers, but my right hon. Friend would want me to remind the right hon. Member that, in her strategic health authority, there has been a 22 per cent. increase in the number of nurses—up by more than 2,700—and there are 1,418 more doctors, a 40 per cent. increase. I am sorry that she is not absorbing those facts.
As for the Opposition days that the right hon. Member wanted to defend, hon. Members believed that there were more serious issues than back gardens and one or two of the other things that have been chosen for Opposition days. Indeed, I await with interest the many suggestions that will come in the next few minutes from hon. Members for important debates that should be held, and I hope that I will be able to suggest an adequate slot for them.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the serious concerns in my constituency about the fate of the George Eliot hospital? [Hon. Members: “Ah.”] No, it is not the Government; they have poured a great deal of money into the health service in my area and we are grateful to them for that. However, the acute services review is suggesting that things should happen at that hospital that will be bad not only for my community, but the communities around us. All the people who have made those suggestions are unelected quango people. May we have a debate to talk about not only how the acute services review affects Nuneaton and other areas, but how those non-elected people can bear down on our constituents?
I share the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend and, as he rightly said, it is for the primary care trust to take account of local views and strategic needs locally and to take appropriate actions. I hope that the PCT listens to the sort of concerns that he and others are enumerating and that it takes whatever action is appropriate to ensure that the 3,000 more front-line staff available to the strategic health authority are best deployed to ensure that waiting lists are cut further and that the most appropriate treatment is given in the most efficient manner to his constituents.
Many of my constituents will be surprised by the hon. Gentleman’s disparaging remarks about back garden land, not least because many of them find it hard to understand how the Government have designated back gardens as brownfield sites, thus making them ripe for development.
The statement contained no reference to the Welfare Reform Bill. Is it still the Government’s intention it should have a Second Reading before the summer recess? Given that the Government intend to leave most of its detail to regulations, will the hon. Gentleman ask the Leader of the House to use his good offices to ensure that, if it receives a Second Reading, the regulations are published in draft form before the Bill is debated in Committee?
May I draw the attention of the Deputy Leader of the House to early-day motion 393, entitled “Protecting Runaway Children”, which has been signed by 394 hon. Members on both sides of the House?
[That this House warmly welcomes the Children’s Society’s Safe and Sound campaign to make England safe for the 100,000 children who run away from home or care each year; is alarmed at the Society’s findings that almost half of all children who have run away for over a week are physically or sexually hurt; calls on all local authorities to put into place the safeguards recommended by the Department of Health to protect young runaways; and further calls on the Government to undertake an early evaluation of the six pilot schemes for flexible community-based accommodation for young runaways across England which have now completed their first year, in order that the lessons can be incorporated in the swift establishment of a national network of safe places for children and young people.]
May we have some time to debate the issues that that early-day motion covers, to explore what more needs to be done to safeguard the welfare of the 100,000 children who run away each year—in particular, by securing for them long-term funding for a national network of safe shelters for children and young people?
Given the concern about the lack of give and take in our extradition arrangements with the United States, can time be made for a debate on Second Reading of the Extradition (United States) Bill, which receives its First Reading today and is promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg), so that extradition proceedings require the presentation of prima facie evidence to a judge before a person can be extradited to the US?
Finally, given the overwhelming decision of the House yesterday to agree to the dates of our summer recess, can the Deputy Leader of the House confirm what arrangements are in place to ensure a rapid recall of the House if events require that to happen?
The Welfare Reform Bill will be adequately debated and considered. I appreciate the concerns and the expertise that the hon. Member brings to the issue. There are hon. Members on both sides of the House who take a particular interest in welfare reform. It is important that we get the measures right and that we give opportunities to people who feel that they are not only jobless, but excluded from the job market, to enter that market in an appropriate way.
Protecting runaway children is vital. I am sorry that I cannot promise a debate on that matter here before the recess, but there may be other avenues for it to be debated and for Ministers to respond.
On extradition, the Prime Minister has made it clear that, as he said yesterday, he wants his officials to investigate the support that is available to the people in the specific case that has been mentioned. However, there are no plans at present to amend our extradition laws and I do not see such changes planned in the foreseeable future.
The hon. Member also raised the important issue of the recall of Parliament. There are precedents for recalling Parliament, as he will know. Parliament has been recalled several times. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will, of course, liaise with his opposite numbers and Mr. Speaker should such a demand or eventuality occur, and Parliament would be recalled in the normal way.
As we recall again this week the 52 people who were murdered and the many who were seriously injured on 7 July, will my hon. Friend carefully consider a statement to explain why there is so much delay in compensation being given—the final sums—to those who were most seriously injured? I am talking about those who lost both legs, or arms, or, in the case of one person, both legs and an eye. Is it not totally unacceptable that there should be so much delay, bearing in mind the anguish of the people involved? The last thing that they should be concerned about is having to fill in endless forms to get the compensation that is their right. That has nothing to do with the compensation measure that is to be debated the week after next. I seriously urge Ministers to give this matter top priority.
I know that everyone will be grateful to my hon. Friend and other hon. Members for highlighting this case. I know that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) responded, I hope sympathetically, to my hon. Friend when he raised the matter in an Adjournment debate on 3 July. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary also undertook to write to him setting out how the compensation payments could be made more speedily and reminded the House that, at that stage, 370 awards, totalling £2.3 million had been made, and in 217 cases a final award had been accepted. I appreciate the anguish that is caused by people having to wait for a final settlement, and so does my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who is addressing the issue seriously.
The Leader of the House has been charged by the Prime Minister with two sensitive and important tasks: dealing with the roadblocks to House of Lords reform and with party funding. Safe in the knowledge that his boss is not here, will the Deputy Leader of the House give me an assurance that, before the House rises, the Leader of the House will make a statement on the progress that he has made with both tasks?
I can tell the right hon. Member that my right hon. Friend will be here next week to answer that. There are no plans at present to give such a statement, because talks with the Opposition and other parties have not reached any conclusion and it might be premature to make a statement on party funding at this stage. There will, of course, be ample time to debate and deliberate on this issue when the report from Sir Hayden Phillips is published.
On the House of Lords, I am pleased to inform the House that my right hon. Friend is making progress in the range of options that are available to the House and hopes at some stage in the not-too-distant future to be able to put proposals before the House. I hope that, unlike the last time such proposals went before the House, we come to a majority view on the future composition of that institution.
Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the statement by the Secretary of State for Transport today giving an extra £244 million to the Greater Manchester passenger transport executive to enable it to start the construction of the extensions of the Metrolink within the next two years? Will he make time for a debate on other transport issues in Greater Manchester?
I do welcome that and I know that it will be widely welcomed in Manchester. Although I cannot give an undertaking for a debate, I know that my hon. Friend will want to take the opportunity at Transport questions next Tuesday to thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in person and to press him on the timetable and other issues that concern her.
May we have a statement from the Prime Minister to explain his interview in The Times today calling for the formation of a Great Britain football team? Is it the Prime Minister’s wish to have such a team just for the Olympics or does he wish, like previous Labour Ministers, to abolish the Scottish football team altogether? With so much to do and so little time in which to do it, why is the Prime Minister attempting to bully the Scottish Football Association and the Welsh authorities into doing something that they believe would jeopardise their position in international football?
The hon. Member leads me into the Scottish minefield. He will forgive me if I tread delicately through it—suffice to say that I did enjoy going, at my own expense, to see Scotland play Italy earlier this year, when they acquitted themselves very well. I have no hesitation in saying that I deeply regret England’s loss in the World cup. As for whether there should be a United Kingdom football team, or, I suppose, a British Lions team—a British Lions team does not in any way threaten the individual states having teams playing rugby—that is a matter for FIFA and for the Scottish federations, too.
May we have an emergency debate on the political crisis that is gripping Leicester city council following the decision of the leader of the Conservative group to regard himself as a Liberal Democrat? He told the Leicester Mercury last night:
“I am to be considered a member of the Liberal Democrat group”
for the purposes of voting. He is also considering himself to be a member of the Conservative group for the purposes of leading that group. At the same time, several Liberal Democrats have now been expelled from the Liberal Democrat group and have formed their own “Focus” group. May we please have an urgent debate on this important matter so that those issues can be cleared up once and for all?
I would like to have an urgent debate, but, more importantly, I would like to have an urgent vote. I understand that the electors will be able to vote next year. Doubtless they will look at the chaos in the Liberal Democrat and Conservative groups on that council and choose to vote Labour.
Despite the answer given to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), it is essential that we have a debate on the future of community hospitals. I have two in my constituency, in Swaffham and Thetford, and I am extremely concerned about their ability to cope with local needs as the acute hospitals in King’s Lynn, Norwich and the eastern region face cutbacks. The Secretary of State for Health has promised that community hospitals will be safeguarded, but there is little evidence that that promise will be fulfilled.
I regret that I do not believe that there will be Government time for a debate, but I urge the hon. Member to make representations to Opposition Front-Bench Members to see whether one of the subjects that they have chosen for debate—perhaps home information packs—might be delayed in order to debate what he rightly considers an important issue.
Four people were killed and 102 were injured in the Hatfield rail disaster. Subsequently, Railtrack was fined the derisory sum of £3.5 million and Balfour Beatty the token amount of £10 million. Is the Deputy Leader of the House as shocked and astonished as I am that the Appeal Court yesterday reduced Balfour Beatty’s fine by 25 per cent. on the basis that it pleaded guilty at the court hearing? Does that not show that a privatised rail system elevates profit above the safety of passengers and staff? Will he arrange a debate on the whole debacle, which might also allow us to consider the possibilities of returning the rail system to public ownership and introducing a law whereby company directors could be jailed for encouraging their more junior managers to abandon safety in the pursuit of profit?
Without commenting on the individual case, may I say that there is concern that there are not appropriate sanctions against the tiny minority of directors who are highly irresponsible? The Government have been considering appropriate legislation, or the appropriate strengthening of existing legislation, to take account of the concerns that my hon. Friend voices.
This morning, I have been struck once again, as no doubt you have, Mr. Speaker, by Members’ eloquence. However, communicating is not so straightforward for many people with disabilities such as cerebral palsy. Those afflicted thought that they were finally getting the help that they needed when the Department for Education and Skills launched the communications aid project in 2002 to provide technology and support to more than 4,000 children. However, only this year, the scheme was suddenly dropped, cruelly leaving 500 children on the waiting list. The House deserves a statement that makes clear what steps the Government plan to take to ensure that local health and social care agencies are meeting vulnerable children’s communication needs. We must listen and speak for those who cannot.
I take the hon. Member’s comments very seriously. Although I cannot promise a statement, I will make sure that the Secretary of State for Health responds directly to him on that issue. I will ask her to place a copy of the correspondence in the Library.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. I am sure that his concerns are widespread throughout the House. The United Nations Security Council met yesterday. The UK supports urgent action and the adoption of a tough resolution that urges the Government of North Korea to refrain from further launches and return to the six-party talks immediately. I hope that the North Korean Government will respond to the UN Security Council and the unanimous condemnation of the actions that they have taken.
Now that London has a dedicated policing team of six front-line officers for each local authority ward, will the Deputy Leader of the House find time for a debate on rolling out that excellent scheme to the rest of the country so that residents in Cheadle and elsewhere can enjoy genuine community policing, more bobbies on the beat and the high-visibility policing for which areas such as mine are crying out?
Obviously, that was a manifesto commitment by the Labour Government, so I am glad that it is being carried out. Additional policing has been provided in some areas without the support of Liberal Democrats, I am sorry to say. I can give the hon. Member chapter and verse on that. It is certainly true that Liberal Democrats in Edinburgh voted against funding 32 extra police officers. Setting aside the party political points, I know that people want to ensure that the 14,000 extra police who have been funded since 1997 are visible in the community and are carrying out work. I will ensure that the Home Secretary is made aware of the hon. Member’s comments and question.
When may we have a debate on the future use of reservoirs that are allegedly no longer needed for their water supply? In Cardiff, North, Western Power Distribution is planning to concrete over part of the Llanishen reservoir, despite huge public opposition and the fact that a site of special scientific interest has been identified. There is also a successful yachting club on the reservoir. The area has been a beauty spot for many years, but that is being replaced by spiked metal poles and barking Alsatians. When may we have a debate about such changes?
Obviously, the appropriate body with which to raise that is the Welsh Assembly Government—I am sure that my hon. Friend has done that, too. It is important that the amenity of local areas is taken properly and fully into account when reaching such decisions. I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is made aware of general concerns about the possible loss of the use of reservoirs, which sounds somewhat paradoxical at a time of water shortages.
Although the Deputy Leader of the House appears to believe that debating house building is frivolous, may we have a debate on the implications for the house-building targets that are being imposed on our local authorities of the level of net immigration into this country? Ministers have made 17 statements to the House about house building over the years, but they have not discussed or quantified the implications of net immigration for those house-building targets in any of them. In the light of the remarks of the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) that we neglect these issues at our peril, should there not be an opportunity for those of us who believe that immigrants are decent, hard-working and loyal members of the community none the less to consider rationally and calmly whether the implications of the current level of immigration for house building in the most densely populated major country in Europe are acceptable?
I believe that the right hon. Member is wrong. There has been ample opportunity to discuss the subject in previous debates, although the issue was perhaps not such a hot topic then because it was not being linked to immigration. I do not believe that immigration is a major driver behind the need for more housing. The break-up of marriage, the smaller family unit, the fact that people are delaying getting married or forming relationships until their 30s and 40s and the fact that a vast number of people now choose to live singly because they like that lifestyle make a far bigger contribution to demand on housing and the shortage of housing than immigration. I would welcome a debate on the subject.
May I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to early-day motion 2145, which is in my name, on labour rights in Iraq?
[That this House applauds the recent Labour Friends of Iraq (LFIQ) delegation to Erbil and Sulamaniyah to meet unions, parties, and ministers from Iraqi Kurdistan as well as 22 union leaders from Baghdad, Basra and Babel; is concerned that Iraqi Ministers, through Decree 8750 of August 2005, have frozen the monies of unions including those affiliated to the Iraqi Workers' Federation, leaving organisations which represent up to a million Iraqis and which are the bedrock of a non-sectarian civil society unable to organise and play a positive role in both the workplace and in wider society; fears that some may create sectarian client unions; urges the British Government to make representations to the Iraqi government to lift Decree 8750 and the continuing ban, first introduced in 1987 by Saddam Hussein, on public sector trade union organisation; is concerned that this ban is the basis of hostile actions against the Port Workers' Union in Khour Al-Zubeir; further notes that the LFIQ delegation was told repeatedly by union leaders and others of the potential of private foreign investment in Iraqi Kurdistan, whose Parliament is keen to encourage investment, not least in tourism and mineral extraction; and believes that those concerned for Iraqi democracy should heed the call of the Iraqi unions for urgent assistance to retrieve their independence and to increase their power as a social partner in reconstructing Iraq, which has long been isolated from modern thinking and must contend with the enormous physical and psychological legacy of dictatorship, sanctions and war.]
May we have a debate about the ongoing injustice in Iraq of the so-called democratic Government continuing to deny rights to trade unions and to hold all trade union assets, in direct contravention of International Labour Organisation conventions?
The Government have made direct representations on the position of Iraqi trade unions and voiced similar concerns to those expressed by my hon. Friend. I know that he visited Iraq as part of a delegation and met Iraqi trade union leaders. I understand that that has been reciprocated and that they are here today—I hope to meet them later on with him. I hope to be able to assure them that we will continue to make representations on this issue. We firmly believe in the value of trade unions.
Last week, an education order that will have a far greater impact on education in Northern Ireland than the Education and Inspections Bill will have on education in England went through in a Committee Room upstairs after a paltry two-and-a-half hour debate. That caused immense anger in Northern Ireland. The order is opposed by the vast majority of people, and it might not be reversed, even if devolution were returned. Will the hon. Gentleman ensure that there will be an opportunity to debate the order properly in the House? Will he outline what plans he has to ensure that all Northern Ireland legislation is treated in the same way as the rest of UK legislation, rather than being fast-tracked through Orders in Council?
As the hon. Member knows, we have made detailed plans, and we hope that by 24 November the anger he mentions will be channelled to ensure that the Assembly reconvenes and undertakes that practical work. He objects to that work being undertaken by the House—with some justification, I am sure—so I look forward to his working with us to ensure that that reconvening comes about, and I urge all parties in the process to join us. I am sorry that he thinks that the debate was not adequate, but I shall certainly look at the issue and get back to him.
The Deputy Leader of the House will doubtless be aware that I have raised the issue of Remploy on a number of occasions, as it is very important to many of my constituents who are employed by the Remploy factory in Dundee, and it is emblematic of the general debates about the way in which we should help people with disabilities back into work. Bearing that in mind, will my hon. Friend use his good offices to ensure that when PricewaterhouseCoopers’ review of Remploy is published it will be accompanied by an oral ministerial statement so that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have the chance to question the relevant Minister?
Whether or not it is accompanied by an oral statement, I am sure that there will be a chance to question the Minister. Obviously, there are regular questions on work and pensions. The next such question time is on Monday, but I do not think that PWC will have reported by then. Once the report is available, I am sure that my hon. Friend will find a way to ask questions. If the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions makes an oral statement, my hon. Friend will have an opportunity to do so, but there will be other opportunities, too.
I am sure that the Deputy Leader of the House is aware that my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire), the shadow Culture, Media and Sport spokesman, has written to the Deputy Prime Minister to ask for the names of three civil servants who recently accompanied him to the ranch in Colorado. In his reply, however, the Deputy Prime Minister omitted the names. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House believes that that information should be in the public domain, so what will he do next week to ensure that it is placed in the public domain?
May we have a debate on irresponsible and dangerous journalism? My hon. Friend will be aware that the BBC was rightly criticised this week for attempting to entrap young Scots, but may I point out, too, that The Sun recently described Scots as “Tartan Tosspots” and said that the answer to the West Lothian question was to build Hadrian’s wall higher. Even more worryingly, however, it celebrated the fact that Scots died younger than their English counterparts. If such comments were made about any other race or religion there would rightly be a public outcry. When the Prime Minister next meets Rupert Murdoch will he ask him whether that is The Sun’s official view?
I will not comment on any one paper, but I deplore any such statements, just as I deplore the anti-English tone set in recent weeks by much of the Scottish media. My hon. Friend makes an important point—newspaper editors pick on any one group at their peril. He mentioned a newspaper whose circulation, I am sure, has not recovered in Liverpool after its comments about Liverpudlians. I urge newspaper editors and hon. Members to be cautious in their use of language about any group, whether it be a minority group such as the Scots or a majority group such as the English.
The Deputy Leader of the House will be aware that one thing the Government are good at is exporting manufacturing jobs. Birmingham faces the loss of HP Sauce, and this week hundreds of job losses were announced in Cornwall, mainly as a result of energy prices. Trade unions and business are concerned about the energy penalty in the UK, so a debate is urgently needed. If we held such a debate after the recess, it would be too late to have an impact on the situation, so may we have an early debate on manufacturing, particularly in the light of the energy crisis?
The hon. Member may not have attended Trade and Industry questions, in which hon. Members asked about energy. My colleagues share those concerns, and they are working with energy producers on supply and pricing, which are important matters. In the past, British companies, in contrast to their foreign competitors, have benefited from low-cost contracts, but there is no doubt that recently they have been feeling the pressure. Of course, climate change prompts the question of the charges that we will impose on fuel and what impact that will have on business, but that is a subject for another debate.
As a native of east Yorkshire, may I welcome the Government’s efforts to commemorate the life and work of William Wilberforce, both in this country and in north America? Can we find parliamentary time to commemorate him—he was, after all, Member of Parliament for Hull—and would not such an occasion bring a smile to the face of one of the present Members of Parliament for Hull?
I wholly endorse what the hon. Member said about William Wilberforce. The issue has been raised by other hon. Members who share the hon. Gentleman’s views, and we are looking at an appropriate way to recognise a terrific champion of the oppressed and one of history’s great figures.
May I please reiterate the request by my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House for a debate in Government time on the Floor of the House on special educational needs, in which I declare an interest as the father of a two-and-a-half-year-old boy who will almost certainly have such needs? Given the publication today of a report by the Select Committee on Education and Skills and, importantly, the widespread concern about the virtual omnipotence of local education authorities, which assess, decide, pay for and, more often than not, provide for those needs, is it not vital that we have an opportunity to air the issue in the Chamber and to decide a credible and attractive policy for some of the most vulnerable children in our community?
The programme before the summer recess is under considerable pressure, but we will do our best. I will consult my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, and tell him the views of the hon. Member and other hon. Members about the importance of the issue. May I say, too, that I am heartened that so many Members show such concern about this important issue?
May we have a debate on sentencing policy for very serious crimes? Such a debate would enable hon. Members on both sides of the House warmly to endorse the 28-year minimum sentence to be served by the vicious killers of Jody Dobrowski, who was murdered for no reason other than that he was a homosexual. That 28-year sentence will undoubtedly act as a deterrent. A debate would also give us an opportunity both to ask why murderers who kill people in exactly the same way as Mr. Dobrowski’s murderers do not have to serve anything like the same sentence and why that deterrent is not deemed necessary in such cases.
This is a serious issue. As I have said, I do not think that the pressures on the parliamentary programme will allow a debate before the recess, but I am sure that there will be an opportunity in the spillover or the new Session for a debate on this important issue, in which all hon. Members will want to take part.
It is helpful that the Deputy Leader of the House has put on the record the fact that the Government have been so long in office that they can dismiss people’s concerns about the loss of green space in our towns and cities as trivial or irrelevant. Our constituents, and some of his hon. Friend’s constituents, will be interested to discover that that is the case. However, can he say whether the Government Whips will object to my private Member’s Bill when it is debated next week, as they did last time?
No, I am not aware of the arrangements for that debate. I am sure that if the hon. Member has adequate support for his private Member’s Bill he will secure a closure, just as other hon. Members do. A measure of his support will be whether 100 Members are in the Chamber to secure that closure and the Bill’s progress.
Has the Deputy Leader of the House seen early-day motions 2445 and 2038 relating to access to inhaled insulin products for diabetics?
[That this House disagrees with the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence’s recent technology appraisal document which proposes the restriction of access to inhaled insulin products on the NHS to patients with ‘a proven injection phobia diagnosed by a psychiatrist or psychologist’; is concerned that diabetes sufferers often delay treatment for as long as four years due to a fear of injections, risking the complications of heart disease, blindness and kidney failure, a situation that will only be compounded by attaching the unfortunate stigma of mental illness to those with a phobia of needles; expresses concern at the additional workload that will be placed on already overstretched NHS psychiatric services; and believes that the judgement of expert clinicians should be trusted in managing each individual patient’s condition.]
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence says that before people may have access to such products, there must be a letter from a psychiatrist or a psychologist stating that they have a phobia about needles. Some diabetics inject four or five times a day. This is surely a quality of life issue, not just a phobia about needles. May we have a statement from a Minister in the Department of Health to say that inhaled insulin products will be made widely available to any diabetic who wants access to them?
May we have an urgent debate on unemployment in Shropshire? Is the Deputy Leader of the House aware that today the Office for National Statistics confirmed to my office that between May 2005 and May 2006 unemployment in Shropshire rose by a whopping 30 per cent. and in The Wrekin parliamentary constituency by 32 per cent.? Does not that underline the importance of the Ministry of Defence giving the defence training review to RAF Cosford, thereby safeguarding 2,220 jobs and expanding jobs throughout Shropshire and the west midlands?
I have spent my political life condemning unemployment and fighting for more jobs, and, although there are 2.5 million more jobs since 1997, I obviously regret any job losses. No Government have done more than the present Government to ensure that people who do lose jobs, often for structural reasons in the economy, are re-employed, often in skilled jobs, and reskilled. That has happened time and again in community after community in Britain, so I am happy to ensure that the local Jobcentre Plus works with the hon. Gentleman and his constituents to look at the skills that they have and the opportunities that are available to ensure that that trend, which has given us more people in work than at any time in our history, continues.
I have noticed that the Government have slipped out a U-turn in a written statement today on Sunday trading. Will the Deputy Leader of the House urge the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to make an oral statement or even make time for a debate on the matter, or is the Government’s reluctance to debate the subject on the Floor of the House in any way linked to the fact that the constituents of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry are able to enjoy the benefits of deregulation of Sunday trading, yet are depriving my constituents and people in England generally of the same opportunity to work and shop, if they want to, on a Sunday?
It is very important that the Secretary of State has put out a statement in an appropriate manner. He was in the Chamber an hour ago answering questions at the Dispatch Box. The position on Sunday trading is clear. There is no demand. In the consultation of 1,000, the representations were from hon. Members, Church groups and others overwhelmingly for the status quo in England. The Scottish system is quite acceptable to people in Scotland, where there is no demand for change either. Indeed, there are some communities that I could name in the United Kingdom where any opening of a retail outlet on a Sunday is not only frowned on, but does not happen. We live in a pluralistic society. My right hon. Friend, having held a consultation and taken the evidence, has concluded that there is not an overwhelming demand for change. I would be happy for a debate to be held in the House, to see how many hon. Members on the Opposition as well as the Government Benches support change, but the early-day motion demanding the status quo was signed by well over 200 people. I remind the hon. Gentleman that it is not just Church groups and others that objected to an extension of Sunday trading. The workers, through the shop workers union, USDAW, objected to their hours being extended. I am not sure whether I have an interest to declare in that, since my constituency has had support from USDAW in the past. If so, that is duly noted.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Yesterday you intervened on a contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), ruling that he could not discuss the Deputy Prime Minister’s links with an American businessman while that is being considered by the Parliamentary Commissioner. All of us in the Chamber naturally accepted your ruling as definitive. Since then, however, the Deputy Prime Minister has broadcast for 25 minutes on the “Today” programme on the issue. I should be grateful if you now ruled, first, whether in so doing, he was acting within the spirit of your ruling, and secondly, now that he has done so, whether the House should be free to discuss the matter. I raise this because I know that you, like me, believe the Chamber should be the pre-eminent place that holds Ministers to account and discusses issues of concern to our constituents, and it would be bizarre if, as an unintended consequence of the rules of our House, we alone were not able to discuss what the rest of the nation and the broadcasting media are free to debate with the Deputy Prime Minister himself.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman. He gave me some notice of the point of order. The Deputy Prime Minister’s radio interview has no bearing on my ruling yesterday, which related only to a particular question. Perhaps I can take the opportunity to clarify matters.
The House has established a mechanism for examining complaints relating to the code of conduct for Members. While those procedures are being followed, it is not appropriate for such complaints to be pursued in the House. The ministerial code is a separate matter, for which the Prime Minister is responsible, and questions on the application of the ministerial code in particular cases may be raised. I hope that helps the right hon. Gentleman.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I suspect that you are a devotee of the Radio 4 “Today” programme and might well have heard the rather long interview between Mr. John Humphrys and the Deputy Prime Minister. I hope you appreciate our frustration when we listen to such a debate, but cannot take part in it ourselves. Is the way round this for you to persuade the Deputy Prime Minister to come to the Dispatch Box and make a statement so that, like John Humphrys, I and other right hon. and hon. Members can ask him questions?
To clarify matters, Mrs. Martin is a devotee of GMTV, and upstairs she is the boss. Seriously, I think I have clarified matters. On the code of conduct for Members, it must be borne in mind that I am seeking to protect every hon. Member, whether it be the Deputy Prime Minister or the two new Members who came into the House only a few days ago. If there is a complaint against them, we, the House, have set up the procedure of the Parliamentary Commissioner. I seek to protect everyone so that they at least get a fair hearing before the Parliamentary Commissioner. During that period, the matter is not pursued on the Floor of the House. As I said to the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) on the ministerial code, questions can be asked and there is nothing to prevent hon. Members from putting down questions at the Table Office, and I understand that that has already been done. There is no problem in seeking answers from any Minister of the Crown if they have a responsibility under the ministerial code.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am glad the Secretary of State for Defence is present while I raise this point of order. I know that you have previously advised disgruntled Members on a number of occasions that the Chair is not responsible for the adequacy or otherwise of ministerial replies. Nevertheless, I draw your attention to the reply that I received yesterday to a question to the Secretary of State for Defence, asking
“whether he was informed of the proposed content relating to retention of the nuclear deterrent in the long-term of the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Mansion House speech, prior to its delivery.”
The reply that I received states simply:
“I have regular discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on a range of issues.”—[Official Report, 5 July 2006; Vol. 448, c. 1107W.]
Do you agree that that does not even attempt to answer the question? In asking the question, I was well aware of the fact that the Secretary of State for Defence has those discussions. If he does not wish to answer the question, it would perhaps be more courteous to state that he refuses to do so.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, I want to raise the issue of answers to parliamentary questions. On Wednesday 29 March, I tabled a question asking the Secretary of State for Health
“how many and what percentage of people were registered with an NHS dentist on 31 March 2006 in each constituency in England.”
I received the following response:
“The number of people registered with a national health service dentist by constituency as at 31 December 2005 has been placed in the Library.”—[Official Report, 18 April 2006; Vol. 445, c. 209W.]
I have that information here. On Wednesday 28 June, I tabled precisely the same question, to which I received the reply:
“This information is not collected in the form requested.”
I believe that the information is not collected in the form requested because new contracts came into force on 1 April. Ministers are trying to avoid responsibility for the fact that many people are not registered with NHS dentists. How can I get the Minister to respond to the same question that I tabled six months earlier, even if the response is embarrassing?
It is not for me to tell the hon. Lady how to frame the next question. Perhaps she will obtain a response if she asks the Minister why she has been so inconsistent.
Extradition (United States)
Mr. Nick Clegg, supported by Mark Hunter, Lynne Featherstone, Mr. David Heath, Simon Hughes and Tim Farron, presented a Bill to require the presentation of prima facie evidence to a judge before a person can be extradited to the United States of America: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 14 July, and to be printed. [Bill 211].
Armed Forces Personnel
Motion made and question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Liz Blackman.]
I know that both sides of the House will join me in paying tribute to the soldier who was killed yesterday in Afghanistan, who was on patrol in northern Helmand. I would like to take this opportunity to offer our condolences to his family and friends. I have no doubt that hon. Members will add their condolences at the appropriate time, if they catch your eye, Mr. Speaker.
I regret that on Monday my constituency arrangements, which were designed to make up for recent absences from my constituency on Government business, meant that I was unable to be in the House at 3.30 pm, when an Opposition urgent question was due to be answered. The Under-Secretary of State for Defence, my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Watson), who was the duty Minister of the day, dealt with the question on the Government’s behalf, and I thank him for doing so—I think that he did a very good job.
I also regret that I was consequently unable to correct immediately in the House the impression emerging in the media about a possible increase in our deployment to Afghanistan. It is, of course, entirely right that the Opposition should raise their concerns about troop numbers, and I understand that. However, I reassure the House that their concern was wrongly placed on two counts—first, on the detail of requests from theatre, and secondly, in suggesting that those requests had got to the point in the process when recommendations were being considered by Ministers. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for correcting those points on Monday.
I have made it clear on a number of occasions that there would be lessons to learn from the first months of our deployment in Afghanistan and that commanders on the ground would review their force package in that light. Indeed, that process had started before last weekend, and it is ongoing. All those involved in it are taking it forward as fast as they possibly can, but there is a great deal of detail that must be got right to ensure that our troops are properly prepared to carry on and carry out their mission.
I confirm that today I have received advice on an additional deployment, which I am considering as a matter of urgency with the chiefs of staff, and I will announce my decision and the details of it to the House as soon as possible. This House will be the first to know. However, the House will also understand that there is a proper process to those decisions and that it would be entirely inappropriate and unhelpful, particularly to those who are in theatre, for me further to discuss the detail until that process is complete and until an announcement can be made. I have given this outline here today because I know that this is a matter of concern for hon. Members on both sides of the House. However, I hope that hon. Members will respect the process that I have described, that they will await the decision, which I repeat will be made very soon, and that they will concentrate on the subject of today’s debate, in which I know they take a keen interest.
There is indeed a process, which the House understands and accepts. I am sure that the Secretary of State wants to reach a speedy conclusion, but is he not being slightly disingenuous? The recommendation that has landed on his desk will probably have been staffed for longer than was necessary by the Ministry of Defence through the Permanent Joint Headquarters and the chiefs of staff in conclave. Surely the decision that he needs to take can be taken immediately.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He knows that the process to which I have made general reference involves communication from the MOD back to theatre, and I shall have more to say about that when I explain my decision to the House. Today, that process has been completed up to the point where it can come to me. The decision must be a Government decision, because we have collective responsibility. I ask the House and the hon. Gentleman in particular, who has recently expressed his frustration about me personally in very candid ways both inside and outside the House, to be patient. The decision will be made in the proper time with the proper urgency, and it will be reported to this House appropriately.
I understand what the Secretary of State has said. He knows as well as I that families—it does not matter where they are, but he knows—are waiting on tenterhooks to know whether their husbands, fathers and brothers are going to be deployed to Afghanistan to support the brave men of 3 Para. I beg him to put them out of their misery.
The hon. Gentleman has personally expressed to me both inside and outside this House his support for our troops and for what our troops are doing in Afghanistan. I am grateful to him for that, and I discount entirely the fact that he could not resist the opportunity during the course of last week to express that support in some colourful language in relation to my absence from the House—I understand what politics is all about. I am conscious of my responsibility not only to the troops who serve in theatre, but to their families, and I am also conscious of my responsibility to this House. When the decision is made—it will be made very soon—I will report it to the House. I will ensure that the information is communicated as quickly as possible to those who need it to provide certainty in their family life.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement and hope that he will take the decision quickly and smoothly. However, the Secretary of State needs to address one important point of process: on Monday morning’s “Today” programme, the brigade commander in Afghanistan, who must have done this intentionally—I do not intend to get him into trouble—announced that he had requested extra resources in terms of men. The Under-Secretary then came to this House and said that no such request had been received. It was odd, to say the least, to hear the brigade commander say one thing and to hear the Under-Secretary deny it two or three hours later.
I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a deep and constant interest in these matters. I say to him and the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) that my Ministers, the Department and I are not responsible for any of the speculation, which may have fed the anxiety of families—I meant to make that point in response to the earlier intervention by the hon. Member for Newark.
I have tried to be as clear and open as possible about this process. When my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary answered the urgent question, he did so on behalf of Ministers. When I was able to get back to London, I made it clear in long and detailed interviews, which were freely available to everybody, that I was aware that the commander had asked for additional engineering resources and enablers. That was part of the iterative process that was going on. That is in the public domain, and that is what Brigadier Ed Butler was referring to when he was interviewed.
Since then, a further process has been going on between the Department and theatre which has culminated in the request that has come to me today, the details of which I am not prepared to go into for obvious reasons that I think that everybody understands and accepts. I give a clear undertaking to the House that I will make the decision and announce it to the House as quickly as possible.
Will that imminent decision include the immediate review to which the Minister referred on Monday in this House concerning armoured vehicles in Iraq and in Afghanistan? Will Warrior armoured vehicles be supplied to the front line, where there is a demand for them, thereby reducing casualties resulting from Snatch Land Rover use?
The hon. Gentleman expands the debate from one theatre to another. In the early part of the debate, I wanted to restrict my observations in order to keep the House informed about Afghanistan. He now wishes me to turn my attention to Iraq. [Interruption.] That is exactly what he asked me to do, and I am prepared to do it. I will deal with it specifically in a later stage of my speech, because it is relevant to the issue of personnel. The hon. Gentleman should not expect, nor should the House, that I will deal with an Iraq-specific issue in the context of a statement in relation to Afghanistan, although I understand that it has implications for the use of resources, particularly vehicles in other theatres. I point out to the hon. Gentleman that Warrior armoured vehicles are available to those in Iraq. The shadow Secretary of State has raised this issue with me during Defence questions. As I understand it, we identified a deficiency in capability as regards Snatch Land Rovers and the fully armoured vehicles and thought that it needed to be addressed. Because of changing circumstances in Iraq, I have accepted that I need to conduct a review, which is ongoing and will be concluded as quickly as possible.
With respect to hon. Members, I do not wish to expand the debate into a debate about operational matters. I wanted to refer to operational matters because I thought that the House deserved a response from me as Secretary of State so that it would know exactly what the position is. If hon. Members wish to ask questions about this part of my speech, I will be happy to answer them, but I am anxious not to expand the debate at this stage.
I think that what Members are looking for, and many of us are confused that we are not getting, is a general assurance that when our armed forces are put into a combat situation where their lives are at risk, there is a general principle, which is that whatever they ask for to secure life and limb they will get without question. Can the Secretary of State give me the assurance that whatever they have asked for, they will get if we can possibly give it to them?
The hon. Gentleman asks for an assurance that he qualifies at the end in a way that allows that me to say, “Of course.” Given the body language that I see around me, with the nodding heads and the responses to the hon. Gentleman’s question from his hon. Friends, I believe that everybody understands this. I do not stand here at the Dispatch Box with the operational experience or skill to be able to make decisions. As I have said before, I rely substantially on advice from people who have those skills. The process has been gone through, as a result of which recommendations have come to me. I have made it perfectly clear publicly, as I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary did on Monday, that we will be open to responding to those recommendations appropriately in any way that we can. I will announce that to the House in detail as soon as I can.
The reason why Iraq was brought up is that the governmental commitments mean that we have a case of overstretch. We have not seen more troops tasked to Afghanistan, because none are available. That is the quagmire that we now face. When I was in Afghanistan very recently, I heard from Brigadier Ed Butler, from General Jones, the head of NATO, and from General Richards, the head of the international security assistance force. They are all desperately in need of more equipment. They cannot do the job under present circumstances because the mission has fundamentally changed from peacekeeping to war-fighting. Until the Secretary of State and his Ministers recognise that, we will have more losses, as we had this weekend.
The hon. Gentleman puts me in a somewhat invidious position, because contemporaneous with the conversations that he reports to the House in shorthand, I had detailed conversations with all those same people, and I stand before this House unequivocally saying that that is not what they said to me. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman and I should have a more detailed discussion outside the Chamber in which he can report to me exactly what was said to him and who said it.
Let me say one other thing to the hon. Gentleman. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said at this Dispatch Box yesterday, we have part of a responsibility for the international effort in Afghanistan that is shared with more than 40 other countries. Not all those countries have sent troops but some 38 have. I think that 38 is the right figure, but it does not matter—it is a significant number. My responsibility is to ensure that in the context of our commitment to the task that we have taken on, and for the safety of our troops, I provide those troops with the very best resources.
At the end of the day, there is broad agreement across the House that not doing what we are doing in Afghanistan is not an option. It is not only about the Afghan people to whom we owe a responsibility, or about the security of the region, but about the security of our people on our streets in this country and across the developed world. The forces in Afghanistan who are resisting what we are seeking to do—to enable the Government’s writ to run in that country—were there before we ever became involved and were allowing the training of terrorists to go on in order to deliver the sort of activity that they delivered to the people of New York and potentially deliver to the whole developed world. There is no “do nothing” option.
I think that most fair-minded Members would accept that it is important that my right hon. Friend reaches his decision fairly in the way that he has outlined. He mentioned the 37 other countries that are already involved. Is he urging other countries to make significant further contributions as well? While British forces often form the glue that holds international coalitions together, it is also important that the expertise that some other countries can bring is provided in greater numbers and greater strength.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. Indeed, I am grateful for the support of Members on both sides of the House, particularly, through me, their support for those who are doing this very difficult job in Afghanistan and paying the terrible price that they have been paying recently for their engagement particularly with the Taliban. We accepted the responsibility for doing this in the context of ISAF and under the leadership of NATO. We have made it very clear to NATO that we expect our allies in NATO to step up to the plate and to provide the level of support that we know that they have and can be deployed to deliver the results that NATO has taken responsibility for delivering. I will continue to do that through the appropriate NATO channels, and through General Richards and others, to ensure that people deliver what they are capable of delivering.
My principal responsibility, as I have used the first part of my speech to repeat to the House, is to ensure that the troops in the Helmand taskforce whom we have sent to take part in the reconstruction of the part of Afghanistan for which we have taken responsibility are given the equipment to do the job that they need to do, and, in particular, given the security to be able to do it as safely as they possibly can, recognising that it is a very dangerous part of the world. In short, that is why we sent Apache attack helicopters with artillery and why we sent some of our finest troops there to do the job in the first place.
If hon. Members will allow me, it is time that I made some progress on the broader waterfront of our debate.
Yesterday’s death, together with other recent fatalities in Afghanistan and Iraq, remind us that, although the nature of modern conflict is different in many ways from conflicts of the past, the ultimate human cost is the same.
Over recent weeks, I have had the privilege of meeting many of our servicemen and women, who come from all parts of the UK, serve in all parts of the UK and across the globe and display the courage and professionalism that make our armed forces the envy of the world. However, I have also been reminded of how, as well as being ultimate professionals, they are, first and foremost, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, and sons and daughters. We must support and respect them not only as professionals—I stress that they are professional—but as people. That is the subject of our debate today—how we support our armed forces.
The first point to make is that we are asking our armed forces to do more than ever, placing greater demands on them and their families, and therefore placing a correspondingly greater duty on ourselves to support what they are doing. The Ministry of Defence currently has more than 24,000 service personnel on operations in more than 15 countries. That includes around 7,200 in Iraq, around 5,000 in Afghanistan, and around 900 in the Balkans. More than 300 are supporting various UN deployments around the world. There are approximately 8,500 in Northern Ireland, although the welcome political progress, albeit not yet completed, of recent years has allowed troop numbers to be reduced there.