House of Commons
Tuesday 11 July 2006
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Carlisle Railway Station
We have received no representations about the number of birds killed at Carlisle railway station, though I am aware that some have become trapped in roof netting and have subsequently died. Network Rail tells me that work is due to take place later this year in an effort to resolve the issue.
May I apologise to the House and to my hon. Friend for having to table that question? For three years many other passengers and I have been trying to get Network Rail and Virgin to take away the netting on the station. At present there are 40 dead birds decomposing on the netting. The starlings and pigeons get in and cannot get out. At this time of year, they are being roasted to death. Is it not ridiculous that it takes a parliamentary question to get action on the matter?
My hon. Friend is a great advocate for the west coast main line development and takes a great interest in all the happenings at Carlisle station, including those involving birds. The situation is clearly unacceptable. Network Rail and Virgin are working together and hope to do something about it later this year. It is possible that something could be done to remove the dead birds and deal with the netting and access in future, but it is a particularly difficult area to deal with because of the nature of the station. Hopefully, action can be taken in August to resolve the problem.
The Government’s strategy is based on three elements—first, sustained investment, adding road capacity where appropriate; secondly, making the most of the existing network through better management; and thirdly, in line with our manifesto commitment, the Government are exploring the scope for developing a national scheme for road pricing.
Saltaire roundabout is probably the most congested part of the whole of the Bradford district and is the responsibility of the Highways Agency. The Highways Agency, with Bradford council, has done a joint study on what could be done to alleviate the congestion there. Given the importance of Saltaire as a world heritage site, will the Secretary of State ensure that the money is available to put in place the recommendations made by that joint study?
I appreciate that the Saltaire roundabout on the A650 suffers from congestion. It is certainly the case that the Highways Agency and Bradford council are working together to find a solution to address both safety and congestion concerns in relation to the roundabout, and I hope to be able to announce the outcome of that work and decisions on funding in the autumn.
I welcome the announcement this week of £42 million of investment in the Greater Bristol bus network, which will play a major role in freeing up the roads and easing congestion in the centre of Bristol. Can my right hon. Friend advise me about the progress of the road pricing pilot, for which Bristol is always working on a bid?
My hon. Friend recalls the recent announcement, which is only one part of the £1.7 billion that is provided for buses annually by the Department. We are working with a number of local authorities, including the authorities in Bristol, looking at the pilot projects for road pricing. In recent days I met representatives of one of the other local authorities to hear directly of their plans, and I can assure my hon. Friend that a number of local authorities are moving forward in anticipation of bids being received by the Department in the course of next year.
Since I live only a few hundred yards from Saltaire roundabout, I agree with the remarks of the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). I was becoming a little hopeful because the island there is weed-strewn instead of being planted, as it usually is, so I had hoped that alterations would be made there. Is that not the case?
I do not feel qualified to comment on the specific detail that my hon. Friend has observed while passing the roundabout, but I am happy to note for the record that the A650, to which both my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) have referred, has already benefited from the £47.9 million Bingley bypass, which opened ahead of schedule in December 2003.
Last month, I pressed the Secretary of State to give some detailed answers about how his planned road pricing pilot will work, but he chose not to do so. May I press him about the overall principle of his policy? I heard what he said to the hon. Member for Bristol, East (Kerry McCarthy), but is he still planning a major single pilot project of his proposed national satellite-based road pricing system in an area such as Greater Manchester, the west midlands or Bristol in about 2010? Is it still Government policy to launch such a scheme on a national basis in about 2015?
I tested the thesis that the hon. Gentleman put to me at the last Transport questions in a recent meeting with the authorities in Manchester, and I do not recognise his characterisation of the pilots, which we are taking forward with local authorities, given my conversations with the Manchester authorities. The Manchester authorities are pressing forward on the detail of their proposed bid, which they aim to get to the Department by about next July with a view to the Department having reached a conclusion by the following December. Equally, we are already in close dialogue with the west midlands authorities, and we have made it clear to them that they need to come forward with specific proposals for the west midlands. The pilots will, of course, inform our thinking on national road pricing. We want to see them implemented by the earliest possible time scale, which will probably be four to five years. We hope to be able to develop a national scheme by about the middle of the next decade.
Given the fact that we are discussing probably the largest technology project ever seen in this country and the central part of the Government’s transport strategy, the Secretary of State’s responses are astonishingly vague, so I shall press him again. When will most people in this country start to experience road pricing? When does he expect to tell us in detail how his proposals will work? And will any national scheme that he plans be revenue neutral?
We hope that the pilots will be operational in four to five years. We face considerable technological questions, which is why we want to gain experience from local pilots to inform our thinking on the national scheme. On the national scheme and revenue neutrality, road pricing involves moving away from the present system of motoring taxation.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware of the recent report on road pricing by Professor Glaister of the independent transport commission. Professor Glaister has concluded that revenue neutrality will be difficult to achieve and that it is almost inevitable that road users in urban areas will pay more than everybody else. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that if there is a pilot project in Manchester, it will not be a scheme that effectively transfers taxation from rural areas to urban areas?
I urge the Secretary of State to be a little less cautious on road pricing. He has outlined three legs of his policy today, of which road pricing is by far the most important. He will be aware that the difficulties that he anticipates have not been experienced by the scheme in Germany. What lessons has his Department drawn from that?
We have looked at the international comparisons—indeed, a study examining the international experience of road pricing has been published in the past couple of weeks. A balance needs to be struck between advancing a national debate and gaining individual experience within the discrete pilot areas, which will cover a significant portion of the population. As we seek to build a national consensus, it is incumbent on us all to engage with the discussions and to gain practical experience, which only the pilots can provide.
We encourage bus companies to work in close partnership with local authorities and the communities that they serve. That can be done through voluntary agreements, quality partnerships or quality contracts.
I could give countless examples of how the bus deregulation policy introduced by the Tories is failing the people of Halifax. As part of any policy review, will the Minister consider re-introducing a system of regulation to ensure that buses are run in the interests of local people and not of the profit margins of cherry-picking bus operators?
Like many hon. Members, my hon. Friend is rightly concerned about bus services in her area. I assure her and the House that we intend to take a long hard look at the various issues over the coming months to identify the right framework to reverse declining bus patronage outside London. I emphasise that no decisions have been made. Our job is to find the right framework, because local circumstances dictate what works best.
Does the Minister agree that one of the reasons for declining bus patronage is that companies such as Yellow Buses in Wiltshire and Dorset are removing their services from the people they are meant to be serving, namely pensioners living in my constituency? Is it not time that we gave the traffic commissioners some teeth to deal with the haughty way in which these bus companies change routes without consultation?
In order to change a route or a timetable, a bus operator must give 56 days’ notice to the traffic commissioner and the local authority. There is a specific reason for that—namely, to give the local authority time to replace the bus service if necessary. Of course, local authorities are able to do that if it is the right decision for the local area.
My Department continues to work with Network Rail and the train operating companies to secure further improvements in performance. Punctuality and reliability is now at 86.8 per cent., the highest level for six years, and continues to improve steadily. The industry has committed to achieving in excess of 88 per cent. by March 2008.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the huge investment in the west coast main line, which benefits services from London on the important Euro-route to Holyhead in my constituency. He will be further aware that the post-2008 timetable refers to additional through trains. However, there is confusion as to whether those trains will go from London right the way through to the north Wales coast. There is also the question of a maintenance depot in the area, which is vital to improve the railways for the future. Will my right hon. Friend agree to meet a delegation of myself and hon. Friends to discuss these important issues?
I am always happy to meet parliamentary colleagues. The scheme in relation to the Holyhead rail depot is being discussed between Network Rail and the train operators but is also being considered by the Welsh Assembly Government. The post-2009 timetable is being discussed by officials in my Department but also by Network Rail and Virgin Trains, with further discussions between the Department, the Welsh Assembly Government and local authorities.
What is the Secretary of State’s current thinking on the thorny problem that was described by his predecessor as transporting fresh air around the country?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I find myself agreeing with my predecessor that we want to see an expanding rail network. During previous questions in the House, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg), posed a challenge to a questioner who suggested that we had secret plans to close a number of stations. We are still awaiting word on what stations Opposition Members were suggesting that we intended to close. None the less, a feature of an expanding rail network would be our ability to take serious decisions reflecting the changing nature of the network given changing patterns of demand in the future. We need to keep all options open, but we have no plans to reduce the number of people travelling on the railways; indeed, numbers have significantly increased in recent years.
My hon. Friend is right. There has been a 46 per cent. increase in rail freight since 1997, sitting alongside the significant uplift in the number of passengers choosing to use the rail network during those years. We are giving serious consideration to what scope there is for further investment in rail freight. That is why only last month I announced that we would take forward several of the transport innovation fund productivity bids, which included rail freight as one of the considerations.
On average, a £10 fare will carry a passenger 38 miles in the UK, 107 miles in France and 315 miles in Poland. Why is it that, nine years into a Labour Government, we have the most expensive, most overcrowded and least punctual rail service in Europe?
I welcome the improvements that have been made in the train services for my constituents, especially the introduction of the new improved high-speed rail link. However, is my right hon. Friend aware that the new Virgin lines that have been provided are not guaranteed post-2009? What reassurances can he give my constituents that those services will be not only kept but improved post-2009?
I know that my hon. Friend represents an area that is close to the growth areas, which were so designated by the then Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. I assure her that the needs of the growth areas will be considered when we publish the high level output specification next summer.
The biggest problem on our railways today is overcrowding. Lloyd’s corporation has estimated that 60 per cent. of commuters into London travel on overcrowded trains. It is estimated that passenger growth nationally will increase by 30 per cent. between now and 2014, yet there are no plans for capacity increases. The Government’s strategy emerged a couple of weeks ago—they intend to do deals to price commuters off the railways by increasing fares. Will the Secretary of State confirm that his solution to overcrowding is pricing people off the railways?
No, that has never been the Government’s approach. We recognise that capacity will be a challenge in the years ahead. That is one of the main criteria for the high level output specification, which will be published next summer. We must acknowledge that the challenge that we now face on the railways is that of success. More people want to use them, with significantly increased passenger usage in recent years. Few solutions to capacity do not involve a sustained commitment of public investment. It is incumbent on parties that raise capacity to commit themselves to the amount of funding to which Labour Members remain committed.
I saved the taxpayer a fortune by getting a cheap ticket down here from Leeds. However, my connecting train was late and the guard told me that I would have to pay up. I refused point blank to leave the train or pay any more money. [Interruption.] Indeed, direct action. What will we do about the confusing multiplicity of fares, which leads to people becoming victims without realising it?
I know that my hon. Friend has a long history of direct action, although I would not recommend that he engage in such action on the railways now or in the years to come. However, he makes a fair point. Notwithstanding the significant uplift in passenger numbers in recent years, the Transport Committee has identified a genuine problem with the complexity of fares. When one considers, for example, the discount airline carriers, one realises that it is possible to have variable fares and simplicity for the customer. That is why it is important both that the Government reflect on the Transport Committee’s report and, more directly, that the train operating companies recognise that they have a responsibility to tackle the problem, which is a genuine concern for passengers.
Several improvement schemes are under way on, or proposed for the A5 around Hinckley. They include: safety works at Stretton bends, including new lighting, surfacing and footways; anti-skid surfacing schemes at Nutts lane and Smockington hollow; the signalisation of the junction of the A5 and the M69; a scheme to improve the capacity of the Dodwell’s island junction; improved warning signs at Hinckley rail bridge; improvements to the A5/A444 Red Gate junction, and changes to speed limits and associated signs.
Additionally, preliminary design work is under way for improvements between Stretton house and the M69 junction.
I thank the Minister for that list but, given that the Hinckley and Bosworth area has to build 9,000 houses in the next 20 years, thanks to the local development framework, is not it time to put dualling the A5 between the M69 and the A47 back on the agenda? Although the Minister talks about improvements at Stretton bends, will he confirm that they will not take place in July, as promised, nor will the £5 million improvements at Dodwell’s island, which the Government also promised? Will he confirm that the works to realign the M69 island will take place in January 2007, as promised, or is that another broken promise of the Government’s?
The Government break no promises. We are delivering sustained improvements in the area around the A5 at Hinckley. There are safety problems on that road—that is why such a list of improvements has been made to it. On a major scheme such as dualling the A5, I advise the hon. Gentleman to work in his region to influence the prioritisation of major schemes when the regional funding allocation is reconsidered in two years.
The Minister has rightly given the House a long list of works scheduled to take place on the A5. However, he did not include the nearby project that has just been announced to bypass Earl Shilton on the A47 on the eastern fringes of Hinckley. Does he agree that this is a demonstration of the success of the tenacity, patience and energy of the people of Earl Shilton, led by the Labour councillors Dennis and John Bown in this Labour enclave in a Conservative and Liberal Democrat area? Does my hon. Friend also agree that, no matter how persuasive and effective the campaign, what was needed in the final analysis was the commitment of the resources to be allocated by the Government to achieve this long-delayed and much-welcomed bypass for Earl Shilton?
Humility prevented my hon. Friend from mentioning his own role in that campaign. He is absolutely right; it will provide a much-needed improvement. It has been included in the regional funding allocation, and that is because local people made the case locally to ensure that we received the necessary advice about the importance of the scheme. The advice that I would offer to Members on both sides of the House is that, if they want to influence major projects such as these, they should become active in their own region and their own local community to ensure that the regional funding advice that the Government receive reflects the true priorities of the local people.
The A5, which runs through my constituency south of Hinckley, is horrendously congested. The Comptroller and Auditor General wrote to me recently to say that the Highways Agency intended to put in a new junction, 11A, at the same time as widening the M1 to save £10 million. However, I learned from a letter from the Secretary of State yesterday that that is only a possibility. Will the Minister write to me to tell me exactly what the Highways Agency is doing?
The situation to which the hon. Gentleman refers has arisen because the region did not prioritise that particular piece of work. We want to stick as closely as possible to the advice that we receive from local people, local councils, regional assemblies and regional development agencies—people who know what the priorities are on the ground—and the road scheme to which the hon. Gentleman refers was not prioritised. However, we want to ensure that if the region changes its priorities, the work will be able to go ahead as expeditiously as possible. That is why we will continue with the work around that particular scheme, in case the region changes its mind in two years’ time.
Closer to Hinckley than the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous)—about five miles to the south-east on the A5—is the hamlet of Wibtoft. To the north and the south is a dual carriageway—the old Watling street—along which very heavy traffic thunders until it gets to Wibtoft, where a single carriageway snakes its way through the village. There is no speed limit; nor is there any proper visible traffic calming. The Highways Agency has refused to contemplate imposing a speed limit or laying a quieter road surface. Will the Minister ask the agency to reconsider its decision, and to impose a speed limit of, say, 30 mph through the residential area of Wibtoft? Many other places along the A5 have exactly that.
I will certainly pass on the hon. Gentleman’s comments to the Highways Agency. I would also advise him to engage with his local road safety partnership to see whether it can make representations to the agency. If such villages need a speed limit, and if there is evidence of safety concerns, I will certainly do what I can to encourage the agency to be helpful.
Advice on the design and implementation of road humps is given in the Department’s traffic advisory leaflets, and a bibliography of these is available in the Library of the House. The Department also plans to publish a local transport note later this year. This will draw together all previous advice on traffic calming policy, including advice on the use of road humps.
The evidence on the use of concrete cushion road humps over the past 10 years is not very good. People can drive motorbikes between them, they fail to take into account on-street parking, and 4x4s can straddle them at great speed. Would the Minister care to come to Market Warsop in my constituency to road test the concrete road humps there?
I am happy that I get to road test many things in my job, but so far a road hump has not been one of them. I am happy to come to my hon. Friend’s constituency at some point, but I would point out to him that certain types of road calming measures are suitable in certain locations. It is for local authorities to decide which type of traffic calming is most appropriate, which type of road cushion is used, and whether it should have gaps in the middle of it for motorcycles. Local people should make decisions about improving those road humps, and I hope that the advisory note that we produce at the end of this year, to which my hon. Friend has contributed, will help them to make those decisions.
While road humps obviously have an important safety role, is the Minister aware of the study by the London Ambulance Service three years ago, which suggested that if one minute could be saved on ambulance times by removing unnecessary road humps, 500 lives a year would be saved in cases of stroke, heart attack and so on? Another issue is the reluctance of paramedics to fit drips to critically ill patients who must travel over road humps.
I am, of course, aware of that study. That is why, when local councils decide on traffic calming measures in a particular area, it is important that they consult the emergency services and take into account the advice of the ambulance service, fire brigade and police about what is appropriate. I remind the hon. Gentleman, however, that road safety is the reason why local authorities install traffic calming measures, and that road humps might avoid ambulances having to do quite so much work in future.
Further to the motorcycling Minister’s last response, and in the interest of getting traffic moving, is he aware that the A406 was brought to a complete halt by an accident early this morning? Strong men wept behind the wheels of their cars and toddlers sobbed in the back seats as they saw the school day recede from them. What can the Government do to try to get traffic moving faster after accidents?
I was not aware of that particular problem this morning. One of the things that we are doing, however, is making available nearly 1,500 highways officers around the country to clear up after accidents, remove debris from the road and keep traffic moving as fast as possible. Those highways officers work with the police, relieving them to perform other more important duties, and concentrate particularly on keeping the traffic moving. That is one practical way in which the Government are keeping the traffic moving on the trunk road network.
In addition to the Minister’s advice to local authorities on road humps, will he advise them to consider the cost and effectiveness of installing equipment that merely flashes the speed rather than taking a picture, as I think that they will find that that is both cheaper and more effective than road humps and speed cameras?
I entirely agree that those types of speed advisory sign have their place and can be very effective in the right location. I repeat, however, that it is for the local council and local people who know the area best to decide what is the right sort of traffic calming. The sort of signs to which she is referring can be very effective, and I would always ask local councils to consider them.
Reading Railway Station
A business case for upgrading Reading station has been prepared by the borough council working with the region and rail industry partners. The plans include additional platforms and improved passenger facilities. We are working with the council, its partners and Network Rail to explore how the plans can best be progressed.
Does the Minister accept that upgrading Reading station to improve track and platform capacity from 23 to 60 trains an hour is vital to removing the bottleneck from the Great Western main line? Does he also acknowledge the importance of the partnership working between Reading borough council, the local business community and other stakeholders in making such a powerful case for a 21st century station for Reading?
We do recognise the need for work at Reading station. I praise my hon. Friend again for his help in developing the good partnership working with Reading borough council. As he knows, Network Rail’s progress plans for resignalling work for 2011-2014 include Reading, and its business plan base case submission last week included Reading as part of the high-level output specification.
I hope that the Minister has been made aware that I have been working for some time with all interested parties—both public and private-sector organisations—on the Reading station development. As a result, there is now a major opportunity to bring about a transformation of the entire area which will create jobs, regenerate part of the town centre and give Reading one of the best station developments in Europe. That can be done through a Government contribution of about £80 million to start it off. Will the Minister now offer his support for that further ambitious project and will he meet me and other interested parties to take it forward?
A great deal of good work has been done in partnership and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) has been working for some years on taking these developments at Reading station forward. It is important that such partnership working takes place. The programme has already been set out by Network Rail in its progress plans, and its business case has been made about what it would like to see included in the high-level output specification. We will consider that. As I have always said, if Members seek a meeting with me, I will do my very best to ensure that it happens.
The primary responsibility for combating vandalism on the national rail network lies with Network Rail, which works closely with the British Transport police, train operators, local authorities and, of course, the wider community. The cross-industry national route crime group steers the industry’s efforts to reduce the risks posed by trespass and vandalism.
The Government’s 10-year transport plan promised that people would be able to travel safely and feel secure, yet only about a third of stations have CCTV. The Minister may think that I am a big toughie, but I have to tell him that even I do not feel at ease at Congleton station on a cold winter’s night with the wind whistling down a poorly lit platform, with nowhere to shelter because of vandalism, no CCTV and no information to reassure one that the train that is already late is actually coming. Will he knock together the heads of the train operating companies and Network Rail and ensure that passengers indeed feel secure, especially when they are waiting for that train?
I of course accept that vandalism and trespass are serious problems on the railways and we need to deal with them in the best way possible. That includes making sure that we have a good partnership approach to finding solutions to deal with those problems. It is also important to deal with the wider community. The British Transport police are also involved and we have seen a significant increase in their number, as well as a significant increase in the number of CCTV cameras on stations. In respect of the south-west franchise, we are looking to improve the accredited secure station status in terms of 80 per cent. of the footfall. There are therefore a number of areas that we can seek to improve. The industry needs to take that forward and address those problems.
The Minister knows that I am not even a little toughie. I hope that he will agree that the British Transport police in the north-west have not only followed the programme that he mentioned, but put forward imaginative schemes to involve children and schoolchildren in protecting non-manned stations. Will he pay tribute to that work and ensure that the specialised knowledge of the British Transport police is not in any way dissipated in the future?
I will not comment on her toughness, but my hon. Friend always makes a very important point. She is absolutely right that one of the approaches of Network Rail and others is to work with schools and young people at a variety of community events or to provide information through websites. It is important to get home to young people the dangers of trespass and vandalism on the railways—dangers not only to themselves, but to those who work on the railways and those who use them. It is important for the industry to take that sort of community work forward. It is right to work with schools and young people to reduce the amount of trespass and vandalism on the railways.
I am sure that the Minister will agree that combating vandalism on railways and at railway stations is a problem not only in England and Scotland, but throughout the United Kingdom. May I therefore encourage him to speak to his colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office, to ensure that the problem is dealt with in Northern Ireland as well, because there is no other forum by which we can deal with the situation and ensure that our passengers feel safe at railway stations?
The Minister of State was asked—
I intend to table an amendment to the Compensation Bill, which is due to be debated in the House next Monday, to provide that negligent persons should be jointly and severally liable in mesothelioma cases, so that the claimant can recover full compensation from any relevant person.
I thank the Government for what they are doing and I pay tribute to other hon. Members and organisations, such as the GMB union and Thompsons solicitors, in helping to bring about this change. On Saturday, I attended the Durham miners gala, which is a celebration of traditional industries in the north-east; but because of that industrial legacy, up to 5,000 people die from asbestos-related diseases each year in the north-east. Will my hon. Friend ensure that the proposed changes to the law are retrospective, so that people who lost out under the Barker decision can claim their full original compensation, so that what may well be their final days are dignified and comfortable?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point and I have every sympathy with all he says. I want to put on record my thanks to my right hon. and hon. Friends who have been campaigning on this issue for some time—in particular, my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham). The Government also realise that the Barker decision makes claims much more difficult, and I am hopeful that the amendment will enable us to achieve the retrospectivity that my hon. Friend seeks.
Does not the Minister recognise that the Barker v. Corus case, which she mentions, was brought by the Government and therefore that she is seeking to overturn with that amendment what the Government argued for in court? We welcome that, but does not she accept that that is hardly joined-up government? Many victims of this crippling disease still cannot trace an employer or an insurer, so they will not be able to make a claim at the moment. Will she examine my new clause 6 to the Compensation Bill and the proposals of the Association of British Insurers and others to consider whether it is feasible to set up an independent body to assess claims and pay out compensation speedily to all those who contracted mesothelioma in the workplace, and then to recover the money from all those who should, in fairness, share liability?
Of course the hon. Gentleman is right that all those who are responsible should share liability where it is possible to trace them. That is why we have been working very closely with all relevant stakeholders, including the ABI, to find a scheme that will be fast, efficient and fair and will reach the people who, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright) rightly said, are in incredible pain and in the last days of their lives in some cases, so that we can secure some comfort for them and their families.
I thank my hon. Friend for all the work that she has done in introducing the amendment. May I tell her that retrospectivity is very important? I received an e-mail from the Liverpool asbestos group yesterday, to say that a request for deferment had been made in a certain case until such time as Parliament had sorted out the Barker decision. The judge would not allow a deferment. The case went ahead, and the person suffered a substantial reduction in the compensation received. I hope that there is a way—perhaps in the Appeal Court—to review that case.
I understand exactly my hon. Friend’s point, and it was of course entirely up to the judge to make that decision; it would not be right for me to intervene. Judicial process can still obtain in that case, but we are aware of the gap that might now exist in terms of ongoing cases, which is why we are looking carefully at getting a proper scheme in place that will ensure that everyone involved in this terrible, harrowing disease is properly compensated.
A few weeks ago, Councillor David Childs died of this terrible disease and Rushden lost a dedicated person who looked after the interests of the town. His death was a great tragedy. I welcome what the Minister has said, but despite all the words, what many sufferers are looking for is fast action to relieve the problem. I urge the Government to act quickly.
I convey my deepest sympathy to the family of Councillor Childs and to the town of Rushden, which has lost such a dedicated and public-spirited person. We are very aware that the big issue is making sure that we get as fast a response as possible, and we are ensuring that that will happen.
I congratulate the Minister on the great work that has been done. As one of the people who raised this issue when it first became clear how bad the problem was, I am very proud and pleased that my party and my Government have put it right. But can we go a step further by introducing what I, as somebody who always wants more, shall call the Oliver Twist clause? Will the Minister ask the Secretary of State for Health to request that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence lift the limits on the use of the drug Alimta, so that people can have not only proper financial compensation but their lives extended?
I again congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that he has done in this area. I will of course express his concerns relating to the drug and NICE to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, and if his suggestion is a suitable and helpful solution, I hope that it will be progressed.
I welcome what my hon. Friend has said, but there are two other issues that need to be looked at. One is the Crown Proceedings (Armed Forces) Act 1987, which forbids claims by members of the armed forces exposed to asbestos before 1987 who only now exhibit the symptoms of the disease; that is a manifest injustice. The second issue is pleural plaques. The Court of Appeal recently indicated that no claims could be brought for asymptomatic pleural plaques, despite the risk of mesothelioma, which might well occur later. Perhaps my hon. Friend will look sympathetically on the new clauses to the Compensation Bill that I have tabled today, so that we can take this opportunity to ensure that we address the issue of mesothelioma compensation claims properly and comprehensively.
My hon. Friend warned me that he would table amendments to the Compensation Bill and I will take a careful look at them. I should point out to him and to the House that pleural plaques is a significantly different disease in terms of how it manifests itself; diagnosis is not as straightforward as it is for mesothelioma. I do not want to go into that issue any further as I am not a medical expert, but that is my understanding. However, I will of course look at his amendments to see whether they can ensure that the principle that we are setting out today can be carried through.
I meet magistrates on a continuous basis and discuss a wide range of issues with them, including improvements to court buildings.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Lady for that reply, but when looking at improvements to magistrates courts, will she ensure that her Department always makes a priority of ensuring that justice is kept close to local communities? Does she agree that local hooligans and vandals need to be tried as close to their homes as possible, so that they learn to respect the administration of justice? Does she also agree that it is important that there be no further court closures in East Anglia?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the need for people to see justice happening in their local area. In addition, we want to ensure that the courts in which people are tried have proper facilities for victims and witnesses, and disabled access. If possible, we also want to ensure—certainly on the civil side—that people can get disputes resolved without having to go to court. We must balance all those issues and get good value for money out of the courts estate—including judges’ lodgings.
Obviously the courts estate budget is part of the Courts Service budget as a whole. People want value for money from all public services. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Government have invested across the piece in public services such as health, education, law and order and indeed the justice system, but we must make absolutely sure that we secure value for money, and that is what the Courts Service will try to do.
I have met a good many Court of Appeal judges in my time, two of them very recently, but I have not met any to discuss verbal testimony, and I have no plans to do so in the immediate future.
Every day many prisoners who witnessed serious crimes are interviewed by the police in prisons up and down the country. I am immensely concerned about the integrity and transparency of the procedure, as many of those prisoners subsequently claim compensation. Having discussed the matter with many senior members of the judiciary, I share their view that such interviews should be video-recorded. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree?
Matters relating to the way in which police procedures are carried out are for the Home Office, and of course my hon. Friend’s suggestion has resource implications. However, when it comes to the hearing of such evidence in court, I can only agree with her, and with the senior members of the judiciary to whom she has spoken, that taped or even video-recorded interviews with witnesses in serious cases who are vulnerable or whose evidence is likely to be strongly contested would provide better protection for all parties.
Asylum and Immigration Tribunal
The Asylum and Immigration Tribunal did accrue a sizeable backlog between April and October 2005, which has caused delays in some appeals. We expect all those appeals to have been heard by the end of the year.
I thank the Minister for her answer, and for a letter that she sent me earlier in the week. Does she agree that part of the problem lies outside the AIT—in some embassies’ delays in sending information and in the quality of judgment elsewhere, which the Court of Appeal then reverses? What steps can she take to ensure that information is given to the tribunal speedily so that it can set a date, and also to ensure that decisions made elsewhere do not necessitate the hearing of appeals?
I have a great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman has said. I can tell him two things. First, last month we began trying to streamline the entry clearance process. We hope that that will reduce the period that elapses between bundles being received and being sent out by seven weeks, which I believe would make a substantial difference. Secondly, it is expected that 100 new judges will be recruited this year. That will also help to reduce waiting times.
I intend to visit some of our high commissions to see what problems entry clearance officers face, and to establish whether we can take direct action to improve their procedures.
I appreciate the enormous efforts that the Minister has made personally to deal with the backlog at the AIT, but the hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) is right. Part of the problem is the decision-making process in posts abroad—I welcome the Minister’s proposed visit to the subcontinent—but there is also the fact that documents are being lodged at Loughborough and Leicester, photocopied, sent back to the posts abroad and then returned. That means a 56-day period at the beginning of the process which adds to the delay.
Will the Minister undertake to examine the appeal process and ensure that it is revised so that cases, once lodged, can be dealt with as quickly as possible? Then constituents of ours who want to attend weddings here will be able to do so, and the appeal process will not be taking place when the wedding has already happened.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his recent appointment to the Privy Council. He is right, in that the system he describes has existed in the past; but we are trying to persuade posts abroad to stop engaging in the lengthy photocopying procedure and to use slightly more modern techniques such as e-mail so that the information reaches us more quickly. The listing times for entry clearance and family visitor appeals currently average 11 weeks across the AIT, which is down from the 16 weeks that it was earlier this year.
The Minister’s replies to the previous two questions were helpful, but if appeals are submitted at foreign missions, they can take only six weeks—and that is good. Can she direct that such times should also be achieved if appeals are submitted here in London? On some occasions, the tribunal has allowed entry clearance officers to take 11 weeks or even up to 17 weeks just to get their papers ready. That means that the service can be up to three times worse. If an appeal is successful, but the Home Office wants to challenge it, can it be required to do so promptly, not six or nine months later? That sort of delay is disgraceful.
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point and I understand the problem as I, too, have many constituents making such appeals. We are continually looking for ways to reduce the time taken, and he will know that I have held forums with MPs to discuss some ideas, many of which have now been incorporated in the system. I understand that my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality will visit the tribunal here in Britain and I hope that, through co-operation, we will be able to achieve a better standard across the piece.
A coroner has the duty to investigate a death abroad where the death was violent, unnatural, sudden or of unknown cause.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that reply. In July 2000, my constituent, Alison Miller, lost her son, Matthew, when he was knocked over and killed by a speeding driver on the island of Minorca. In Spain, when a death is accidental, prosecution has to be requested by the injured party, but because of a clerical error between the Foreign Office and the British consulate, the time limit expired before Ms Miller could file for a prosecution and she could not get access to justice for her son. What contact have my right hon. and learned Friend and her officials had with the Support Abroad for Equal Justice Foundation, which my constituent set up to ensure that other bereaved British families get access to justice abroad when they lose loved ones in such tragic circumstances?
As it turns out, before my hon. Friend tabled her question, I had already arranged to meet Alison Miller as part of a group of families who were coming to see me about the coroner system and about how we can ensure that those who are bereaved by a sudden death get answers to their questions. Relatives want answers to sudden deaths when they happen in this country, but it is especially difficult for people to get information when it happens abroad. If a local coroner cannot get information from Spain or another country that they need to complete an inquest, our new proposed chief coroner—part of the reform of the coroner system that we will put before the House—will be able to ensure that they get the information instead of struggling to do so or failing, as they often do at present.
I will look into the staffing situation in south-west London. As the hon. Gentleman will know, we plan through the coroner system reform to have national standards so that we do not have delays in certain areas. We want to have proper training and we need an overview of what resources there are to support coroners’ offices in their work. At the moment, we do not have a proper national picture and we cannot monitor the situation, but I will look into his particular concerns. Bereaved relatives need to know that there will be a prompt inquiry and that their questions will be answered.
There are 93 Crown courts, 88 of which of have dedicated witness facilities. Of the 355 magistrates courts, 302 can provide dedicated facilities for witnesses and victims.
One of the successes of the domestic violence court pilots was that better facilities for witnesses and victims improved people’s experience of the system. Will my right hon. and learned Friend elaborate on any plans that the Department might have to roll the provision out further and to invest in more facilities throughout the court system?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. In the past, no one was surprised that many domestic violence cases did not stay the course. Abused wives and girlfriends did not give evidence because that meant that they had to sit in the court waiting area, opposite the defendant and all his friends and relatives. The introduction of proper facilities for victims and witnesses is long overdue, especially as they are often intimidated. We are therefore planning to roll out the provision across England and Wales.
My hon. Friend will know that we are consulting on how to ensure not only that justice is done in family courts, but that it is seen to be done. We want those courts to be more open and accountable, and we are proposing to allow the press in, subject to reporting restrictions. Hon. Members are welcome to engage in the consultation, but we are concerned to ensure that people waiting to give evidence in family courts are property protected, and not hassled by journalists.
Learning Disability Services (Cornwall)
To ask the Secretary of State for Health if she will make a statement, pursuant to her written statement of 6 July, on the timetable for implementing the national recommendations contained in the joint inquiry into the position of learning disabled services at Cornwall Partnership NHS Trust by the Healthcare Commission and the Commission for Social Care Inspection.
Let me begin by apologising, on behalf of the NHS, to the vulnerable people in east Cornwall who have suffered from individual and institutional abuse, and to their families, who have shared their distress.
As I told the House in my written statement on 6 July, the Healthcare Commission and the Commission for Social Care Inspection recently published a report of their investigation into abuse at the Cornwall Partnership NHS Trust. I fully accept the conclusions and recommendations of their report, and have already agreed to the immediate application of special measures.
The failings identified by the two commissions are horrifying. People with learning disabilities are entitled to be treated with the same dignity and respect as every other member of the community. Abuse of those particularly vulnerable people is absolutely unacceptable and I am determined both that matters should be put right in Cornwall and that lessons should be learned nationwide, where necessary.
In 2001, our White Paper “Valuing People” set out the principles of rights, independence, choice and inclusion for people with learning disabilities. Had those principles been followed in practice in Cornwall, then of course the abuse would never have happened.
Action has already been taken in Cornwall. An external team was appointed in October 2005 to start improving services. Disciplinary action was initiated against seven members of staff, five of whom have been dismissed. More than 200 community care assessments have now been completed for everyone using the trust’s services. However, more is still required.
The special measures now being taken include an external independent review of the board’s membership and workings. They also require the external team to remain in place in the trust for a further 12 months to oversee the necessary transformation of the service.
It is not only Cornwall Partnership NHS Trust that needs to take action. The North and East Cornwall primary care trust is shortly to be joined with the West of Cornwall and Central Cornwall PCTs to become the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly PCT. Along with Cornwall county council, those PCTs are responsible, as commissioners of the services involved, for ensuring the highest possible standards of care. They signally failed to do that.
As we said in the White Paper “Our health, our care, our say” in January:
“We expect PCTs to be robust in their management of services that do not deliver the necessary quality. Where there are deficiencies in service quality, PCTs will be required to set out a clear improvement plan”,
“may include tendering for the service where standards fall below those expected.”
Let me make it clear that unless, in the very near future, fundamental improvements are seen in those services in Cornwall, I expect the new PCT and the county council to look to other providers, in line with the White Paper principles, to ensure that they discharge their responsibility to those vulnerable people.
We are also considering the implications for learning disability services across the country. The commissions say in their report:
“While we accept that there may be other pockets of poor practice found elsewhere in the country, this does not excuse poor practice at the trust and, in our view, the extent of unacceptably poor practice in Cornwall is unusual.”
None the less, I strongly welcome and endorse the Healthcare Commission’s decision to conduct a national audit of services for people with learning disabilities. My Department is working with the Healthcare Commission and the Commission for Social Care Inspection in developing that national audit, which will assist in addressing national recommendations; for example, it will check that services are properly registered under the Care Standards Act 2000, where required by law. The audit process will be tested on three sites in September this year and will then be implemented nationally from January 2007.
Let me stress, however, that there is no need to wait for the conclusions of the national audit, necessary though it is. If any service user or their family, any professional or member of the public believes that abuse is going on in any setting elsewhere, they should come forward now. Any allegations will be fully and properly investigated.
I shall be asking strategic health authority chief executives to take immediate action to ensure that NHS bodies that provide services in a housing association, voluntary or charitable sector are registered with CSCI and, if they are not, that they apply for registration immediately.
As I said in my written statement, my Department is already taking other steps to provide additional safeguards for the protection of vulnerable adults. The Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill is currently going through Parliament, and will assist in responding to the national recommendations for safeguarding vulnerable adults. In particular, it will ensure that unsuitable people are not employed by the NHS in future. We have also issued statutory guidance to directors of adult social services, stressing their responsibility for ensuring that local arrangements for safeguarding vulnerable adults are working effectively. We will have further discussions with the Healthcare Commission and CSCI to ensure that, if necessary, regulatory arrangements are strengthened so that that learning disability services are properly inspected everywhere in future.
What happened in Cornwall was shameful and must not be allowed to happen again. But the situation in Cornwall should not be allowed to cast a shadow over the excellent services provided for many adults with learning disabilities by thousands of staff—in the NHS itself, in social care services and in the private and voluntary sectors. Many people and their families are immensely grateful to those staff for the care and support they provide. While thanking those staff for the services they provide, I underline to the House our determination to take the necessary steps, both locally in Cornwall and nationally, on the basis of the reports that have been presented.
I thank the Secretary of State for her statement, and on behalf of my constituents, particularly those affected, I thank her for her apology on behalf of the NHS.
People all over the country, as well as many of my constituents and the House, will be deeply concerned to learn of the unacceptable treatment of individuals with learning disabilities, and to learn that although those abuses were reported, action was not taken by the trust management in response. It is entirely right that we have the opportunity to discuss these matters on the Floor of the House, and I am sorry that the Secretary of State did not choose to do so of her own volition, bearing in mind the seriousness of the findings.
It is important that every effort is made to ensure that the physical, mental and financial abuse of vulnerable adults with learning disabilities, such as has been reported at the Cornwall Partnership NHS Trust, can never be allowed to happen again—in Cornwall or anywhere else in the country. The national recommendations in the report will go only part of the way to achieving that—
Has the Secretary of State assessed how many NHS bodies will be affected by the national recommendations contained in the report? How long will they take to implement? What proportion of those providing services for the learning disabled are currently not in compliance with the recommendations? What are the cost implications of the recommendations for NHS bodies and local authorities? Despite existing budgetary pressures, both Cornwall county council and the primary care trust are facing additional unanticipated expenditure of roughly £2 million each this financial year.
In addition, will the Secretary of State please look again at the inspection system? The Healthcare Commission found terrible levels of abuse in its inquiry, but failed to pick up any of those problems in its two previous inspections of the trust, which covered the same period and which resulted in the trust being awarded three stars and two stars respectively. Does she agree that that points to failings in the inspection system that are not covered in the report’s recommendations? They must be urgently addressed. How could the management failings go unnoticed in those inspections, and why was the widespread abuse and mismanagement not dealt with on those occasions? Although registering with CSCI will ensure that minimum standards are met in relation to homes and domiciliary care, without performance indicators, the treatment of adults with learning disabilities will not be integrated into the strategy—
Order. We have to bear it in mind that the House has other business. I agree that this is an important matter— I would not have agreed to the urgent question otherwise. However, if there are any other supplementary questions, the hon. Lady must write to the Secretary of State.
On the first group of questions that the hon. Lady asked, the Healthcare Commission said that it believed that the situation was unusual—not only in relation to the extent of the outrageous abuse that was taking place, but in the sense that, although the NHS trust claimed to be offering treatment and assessment services, it was actually providing something in the nature of a long-stay residential home that, if it was going to provide services, should have been registered with CSCI. We will not know until we have conducted the national audit whether there are other organisations in that unusual position or others not in compliance with the national recommendations. At this stage, we have no reason whatsoever to think that the situation in Cornwall is replicated in large numbers of organisations in other parts of the country.
The hon. Lady asked why the failings were not picked up earlier in inspections by either the Healthcare Commission or CSCI. That matter is addressed, in part, in the report of the two organisations. In part, there is the rather unusual structure of the trust and the fact that, after the earlier merger of the provider trusts, responsibility for learning disability services was not passed to the social services department of the county council, as it was in most other parts of the country. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health will discuss that matter further with the two commissions.
As for why the management failings went unnoticed and the complaints in 2001 and 2003 were so inadequately dealt with, that comes down to issues about board governance. In line with the Healthcare Commission recommendation, we will now review that matter by means of the external independent review of the board’s operation that we will be commissioning very shortly.
The police are involved in looking at the cases. The cases of 40 vulnerable adults have now been referred to the team responsible for protecting vulnerable adults. The police are part of that team and therefore they will make the necessary investigations. Other cases involving irregularities in the handling of service users’ money have already also been referred to the police. At this stage, obviously, I cannot say whether proceedings will follow, but certainly the police are involved.
I share the Secretary of State’s sense of concern and outrage at the extent of the abuse disclosed at the Cornwall Partnership NHS Trust, particularly given that in so many places across the country—such as Meldreth Manor in my constituency, where Scope is looking after young people with profound learning disabilities—such considerable care and quality of care is given to those with learning disabilities. She responded to a number of questions. The report made some particular recommendations that bear on the national circumstances and were designed not simply to buttress the process of inspection and the audit that is to come next year, to which she referred, but to try to build some of the principles of valuing people into the care that is given to those with learning disabilities. May I just ask a few questions about those?
First, one of the things that are rather disturbing is quite how far away from home people with learning disabilities live, which is on average 74 miles, but in some cases up to 300 miles. What steps can be taken soon to try to reduce how far people with learning disabilities are from home?
Secondly, the debate on the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill has disclosed that whereas it was originally intended that the IMPACT computer system to enable the exchange of data between agencies would be in place by 2007, it will not be in place in full until 2010. Will the Secretary of State say whether she, or indeed the Home Office, which leads on this, will be able to improve on that, because the delay might have serious implications?
Thirdly, one of the important recommendations in “Valuing People” back in March 2001 was that everyone with a learning disability should have received a
“Health Action Plan by June 2005.”
Will the Secretary of State say whether that has indeed happened? If it has not happened yet, when will it have happened?
Finally, a recommendation in the latest report was that the supported living fund should be paid to individuals and managed locally. The Secretary of State said that she accepted all the recommendations, but that had no timetable attached to it. Will she thus attach a timetable to that important recommendation as well?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about the distance that many people with learning disabilities live away from home. That is very much a matter for commissioners. As primary care trusts and social services authorities review services, in accordance with the White Paper principles, they should take that into account. In some cases, there might be good reasons why people are living a considerable distance from home—for instance, so that they can get the services that they need—but clearly being so far away from their home and family is likely to increase their vulnerability to poor services, or even abuse. I would expect commissioners to take that issue into account when considering whether more services need to be provided locally for this particular group of people.
The hon. Gentleman asks about the exchange of data between agencies. I am aware that there are various difficulties in ensuring that the barriers to exchanging data are removed. I will write to him with further details of the progress that we are making on that point.
The hon. Gentleman asks about health action plans for people with learning disabilities. I understand that some areas have put those in place for all people covered by the recommendation. However, that is not the case universally, and, again, it is something that commissioners and health providers need to consider.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the recommendation about the supported living fund. I would add to that the work that we are already doing following the January White Paper on extending individual budgets and direct payments, which is already giving many adults with learning disabilities much more choice about, and control over, where they live, what kind of support services they have, and who provides those services. Those features were almost wholly absent from the experiences of the people in Cornwall. All those issues and others will be considered in more detail by the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis), who will be leading a high-level group in the Department of Health to ensure that the recommendations are implemented and that we follow up to ensure that this does not happen again.
We must all be concerned when we become aware of widespread institutional abuse. Part of the problem was that the Healthcare Commission realised that it had to involve CSCI. Does the Secretary of State agree that the sooner the two bodies are merged, the better, so that other people will not fall through the gaps in inspection? Does she also agree that it would probably be a good idea to increase the number of unannounced inspections because that could more easily pick up some of these problems? Most importantly, will she ensure that those who are accused of malpractice are not placed in a situation in which they are investigating themselves, because that happens far too frequently?
Finally, it took five families working with the help of Mencap to highlight the situation. What chance does she have of reassuring a single family that its voice will be heard and that we will not be in a similar position in the years and months to come?
We have announced our intention to merge the Healthcare Commission and CSCI by 2008. In the meantime, however, the two organisations are working together much more closely, and we will continue to ensure that they do so in anticipation of the merger and, indeed, even before that takes place. The hon. Lady is quite right about the desirability of unannounced inspections. As the Healthcare Commission and CSCI operate on the principle of better regulation, they have already ensured that their inspections are based on a proper risk assessment, complemented by both random and unannounced inspections to pick up problems.
The hon. Lady referred to the problem, which was particularly prominent in Cornwall, of people investigating complaints about matters for which they were responsible or in which they had colluded. That is completely unacceptable, and it should be standard good practice for the board of any trust that provides services to ensure that complaints are investigated. When they are investigated internally, that should be done by someone who is not implicated in the matters to which the complaint relates. As for ensuring that proper attention is given to complaints even from a single user or family, we have already taken steps to strengthen the NHS complaints procedure. From my own constituency experience, I have been impressed by CSCI’s response to concerns—for example, about the treatment of a vulnerable elderly person—raised by one family, and by the way in which it has looked at the situation in the care home or whatever is the subject of complaint. We certainly need to ensure that the voice of the most vulnerable people in our community is heard by the staff who look after them, by the board responsible for the organisation that employs those staff, by commissioning organisations and by the regulators. As Members of Parliament, we can assist with that process, but we must ensure, too, that the regulatory and complaints system is as it should be, and that is what we are doing.
People both inside and outside the House will be shocked by those appalling events, none more so than people in Cornwall. While there were terrible shortcomings at a local level, the Minister will accept that the inspection regime, which should have guaranteed that those individuals’ interests were well protected, failed. Can she confirm that there will be an immediate step up in unannounced inspections so that that can never happen again for such a long time without it being picked up? Finally, will she reflect on the fact that while appalling events have taken place, nationally and, indeed, in Cornwall, many people caring for individuals with learning disabilities do not treat their patients that way. An enormous amount of good work is done by many people, not least in the NHS in Cornwall, but they may believe that their efforts are unappreciated.
I have made it clear that the Healthcare Commission and CSCI, in particular, have changed their inspection regime, both to ensure that they look at organisations when there is reason to believe that people may be at risk and to use unannounced inspections. In Cornwall, the problem was not an absence of unannounced inspections but the fact that the inspections did not look at what was happening in learning disability services, partly because of a curious arrangement for services provided in what appeared to be a health service establishment. The regulators are looking at that problem. As for the excellent services provided by many staff and organisations in different parts of the country, I entirely concur with the hon. Gentleman and stressed that point earlier.
Further to the Secretary of State’s comments on the good work that is being done, many families in Cornwall who have experienced the care provided by the trust are far more positive about smaller establishments. They are particularly nervous about change, so can the Secretary of State provide reassurance that the needs of those clients and the preferences of their families will be taken into account as we move forward?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. In its report the Healthcare Commission stressed that most of the staff to whom it talked were warm, kind and committed to doing their best for the people in their care, but did not have the training, support and the proper systems in place to enable them to do that. Of course, it is a central principle of good care for vulnerable people that they and their families are fully consulted about any changes that may need to be made in the services that are provided. That is part of the purpose of the care assessments that have already taken place.
With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the energy review which was announced by the Prime Minister last November. Today I am publishing a report setting out the conclusions of that review. Copies will available in the Vote Office in the usual way. The report is extensive, and of necessity my statement has to cover proposals in some detail.
We face two major long-term challenges—first, along with other countries, to tackle climate change and the need to cut damaging carbon emissions, and secondly, to deliver secure supplies of cleaner energy at affordable prices. Increasingly, we will come to depend upon imported gas and oil as our own plentiful but harder to exploit North sea oil reserves decline. The proposals that I am announcing set out our approach to meeting our energy needs over the next 30 to 40 years. Many of the proposals contained in the report will need further consultation. Thereafter, the Government intend to publish a White Paper around the turn of the year.
The starting point for reducing carbon emissions must be to save energy. If we are to meet our goals of a 60 per cent. reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, we need not just to reduce carbon intensity through low energy sources such as renewables, but also to save energy. We therefore make a number of proposals to encourage greater energy efficiency.
For consumers, we need better information about the amount of energy used, smart metering, real-time energy use displays, better and clearer energy bills, and more information for new buyers and tenants on energy efficiency in homes. It is estimated that leaving electric appliances on standby uses about 7 per cent. of all electricity generated in the UK, so we will work with industry and others to improve the efficiency of domestic appliances and to phase out inefficient goods, thus limiting the amount of standby energy wasted.
We also propose a range of measures to take us towards a long-term goal of carbon-neutral developments. New homes can use around a quarter of the energy to heat, compared with the average home. We aim to make the Government estate carbon- neutral by 2012. We will also provide strong support for the use of on-site electricity generation, such as solar panels. Energy efficiency will help people on low incomes especially. The review sets out our approach.
If we are to make a real difference to reducing energy demand, we need a radically different approach. We need a stronger obligation on energy companies to provide energy saving measures and a radical plan to change the way in which they sell their services. Yes, we will encourage Britain’s 27 million homes to become more energy efficient, but it is also essential that we incentivise Britain’s big six energy suppliers to work with homeowners to make their houses more energy efficient. Today, companies have the incentive to sell as much as they can. Instead, we need to give energy producers incentives to make homes more energy efficient and to sell them more insulation products. We are consulting on the most effective way of doing that.
The European Union emissions trading scheme, which covers 11,000 high intensity users of energy, and the climate change levy are key to encourage businesses such as power stations or steelworks to save energy and to cut emissions, but there are in addition around 5,000 large businesses and public services in the UK that are not covered by the scheme. We want to reduce energy inefficiency for those companies too. One supermarket chain in the UK alone is one of the biggest single users of energy in the country. Those businesses should be incentivised to reduce their emissions, so we shall consult on a proposal for an emissions trading scheme for them, along with other options to cut the amount of carbon produced—something they support. That makes economic and environmental sense.
Saving energy in businesses and homes is essential, but so too is the need to cut emissions from road transport. Fuel efficiency in transport continues to improve. We will encourage the use of lower carbon fuels, especially biofuels, and there will be more cost-effective opportunities to save carbon as new technologies are developed. Company car tax and vehicle excise duty have been reformed to encourage energy efficiency, and we will continue to press the European Union to consider the inclusion of surface transport in the emissions trading scheme as well as aviation.
Last November, we announced the renewable transport fuel obligation—5 per cent. of all fuels to be from renewable sources by 2010. Today, we propose that that obligation, after consultation, should be extended after 2010, provided that some important conditions are met. That could provide a further carbon reduction of 2 million tonnes, which is equivalent to taking another million cars off the road, once it is fully implemented.
Providing the right incentives to reduce energy is critical, but we also need to do more to make the energy that we use cleaner. We have a number of proposals. Most of our electricity is generated in large power stations, and around three quarters of our heat comes from gas fed through a national network, which delivers economies of scale, safety and—crucially—reliability. However, the Government believe that we can do more to encourage the generation of electricity on a smaller scale near to where it is used. Today, less than 0.5 per cent. of our electricity comes from microgeneration, while combined heat and power provides about 7 per cent. We need to do more.
There are technical and other obstacles to overcome, but we want to remove barriers to the development of what is known as distributed generation. We can do more to make microgeneration more attractive and to make it easier to set up combined heat and power schemes. The Government believe that this is a major opportunity for the United Kingdom to invest in renewable energy and other low carbon technologies. The environmental transformation fund, which was announced recently, will provide investment for energy funding services. Details of the scale and scope of that fund will be announced in the spending review in 2008. We will also encourage low carbon alternatives such as biomass, solar and heat pumps.
Over the next two decades, it is likely that we will need substantial new electricity generation capacity as power stations, principally coal and nuclear plants, reach the end of their lives—their output is equivalent to about a third of today’s generating capacity. Power stations are long-term investments, and we need to implement the right framework to incentivise investment decisions to limit carbon emissions. We remain committed to carbon pricing in the UK through the operation of the emissions trading scheme, and it is essential that there is a carbon price to encourage us to use less of it. Today, around 90 per cent. of the UK’s energy needs are met by fossil fuels, so we need to do more to encourage the renewable generation of electricity.
The renewable obligation is key to support the expansion of renewables. It has resulted in major developments, particularly in onshore wind power generation, landfill gas and the use of biomass in coal stations. Far from getting rid of the renewables obligation, as some have proposed, we intend to increase it from 15 to 20 per cent. We also want to give a boost to offshore wind energy generation and other emerging technologies—for example, tidal—to encourage growth. We will consult on banding the obligations to encourage those developments.
The Government also see a continuing role for both gas and coal-fired generation. We will convene a coal forum to bring together UK coal producers and suppliers to help them find solutions to some of the long-term problems of UK coal-fired power generation and UK coal production. Coal-fired generation continues to meet around one third of electricity demand, and last winter it met as much as half, which shows the important role that coal can play in UK energy security.
If coal-fired generation is to have a long-term future, however, we need to tackle its heavy carbon emissions. Carbon capture and storage could cut emissions by 80 to 90 per cent., and we have some natural and commercial advantages such as a strong oil industry and old oil fields where CO2 can be stored. The next step is a commercial demonstration, if the technology proves to be cost-effective. We are working with the Norwegian Government and the industry on development, and a further announcement will be made in the pre-Budget report. Carbon capture could lead to our saving several million tonnes of carbon by 2020.
The Government believe that a mix of energy supply remains essential and that we should not be over-dependent on one source, which is especially true if we are to maintain security of supply in the future. We will continue to do everything that we can to promote more open and competitive markets, which is why we are backing the Commission in securing the effective implementation of the energy market. We will also take steps to secure gas supplies, maximising the exploitation of oil and gas from the UK continental shelf. Last month, we saw a record number of applications for further development in the North sea. We also need to facilitate the construction of sufficient storage and import infrastructure.
Against a background where Britain’s nuclear power stations are ageing, decisions will have to be taken on their replacement in the next few years. If we do nothing, the proportion of electricity generated by nuclear could fall from just under 20 per cent. today to just 6 per cent. in 15 years’ time. Moreover, nuclear has provided much of the electricity base load, contributing to consistency of supply as well as security of supply. While some of that capacity can and should be replaced by renewables, it is more likely than not that some of it will be replaced by gas, which would increasingly have to be imported. The Government have concluded that new nuclear power stations could make a significant contribution to meeting our energy policy goals. It will be for the private sector to initiate, fund, construct and operate new nuclear plants and cover the cost of decommissioning and their full share of long-term waste management costs.
The review makes a number of proposals to address barriers to new build, and the Health and Safety Executive is developing guidance for providers of new stations. For nuclear new build, considerations of safety and security will be paramount, as they are now. We are setting out a proposed framework for the way in which the relevant issues on nuclear should be handled in the planning process, and we will consult on that before the publication of the White Paper. The Committee on Radioactive Waste Management—CoRWM—published its interim recommendations in April, confirming its preference for geological disposal of nuclear waste. The committee is to be congratulated on the open and transparent way in which it has conducted its work and the broad consensus that it has developed for securing the future long-term management of the UK’s nuclear waste. It will publish its final report this month, and the Government will respond thereafter.
If we are to see any of these developments, whether they be renewables or conventional power stations, we believe that we need to change the planning laws in this country. We will work with the devolved Administrations to ensure that we have an effective planning regime. We can make some changes now—for example, bringing together the planning process and consents on the Electricity Act 1989—but the Government believe that the current planning regime needs fundamental reform, and we will consult on proposals to do that later this year.
The proposals that I have set out will result in a reduction of between 19 million and 25 million tonnes of carbon by 2020, over and above the measures already announced in the climate change review programme. We are on course to achieve real progress in cutting emissions by 2020 and on the right path to attaining our goal of cutting the UK’s carbon emissions by 60 per cent. by about 2050. The proposals will help us to meet our twin objectives of tackling climate change and providing security of supply. The scale of the challenge is great. The proposals show how we can overcome them to secure our prosperity and the health of our planet. I commend the statement to the House.
First, I thank the Secretary of State for his courtesy in giving us advance sight of his statement.
This review has been much heralded, but sadly we find today that it amounts to almost nothing. After six months’ work, 2,000 submissions, and hundreds of thousands of civil service hours, the conclusion is that nuclear power
“could make a significant contribution”
to meeting our energy supply goals. This statement is not carbon-free but content-free. We have been told for months that urgent decisions must be made now. We have been told that delaying those decisions would risk the lights going out and that this is the most fundamental review of our energy needs ever undertaken—and then all we get today is this statement.
The statement proposes six new consultations—[Interruption.]
The statement proposes six new consultations and the convening of a new forum, and says that there is much to consider, yet there are no real policies, no real action, no real decisions, and no real energy review at all. There is nothing here. Everybody believed that the Prime Minister had made a decision to build new nuclear power stations and that this review followed to provide the air cover for that decision. Instead, the Secretary of State announced at the end of his statement that the Government believe that
“new nuclear power stations could make a significant contribution”.
Did the Prime Minister realise that he was so out on a limb that his views are not shared even in his own Cabinet, and that the Secretary of State for Wales agrees with us rather than with his Prime Minister?
Last week, we set out our findings. We said that the key aims are reducing carbon emissions and securing supplies—exactly what the Secretary of State echoed on the radio this morning.
We proposed a tougher carbon regime to tackle emissions; a capacity payment scheme to build security; a long-term framework to encourage investment, and a change in market structures to encourage decentralised energy and efficiency measures. Those combined proposals will spark a green revolution and guarantee reductions in carbon emissions. Almost everybody, even Stephen Hale, who used to be special adviser at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, welcomed our proposals.
The subject is very important. Does not the Secretary of State believe, like us, that political consensus is essential if we are to build the climate for investment in the energy sector that is badly needed? Even the Liberal Democrats announced today that they were not against nuclear power in principle.
Where there is agreement, we welcome it. The Government attacked our position on nuclear power, but now they seem to have changed their stance. They attacked us for saying that the renewables obligation was not working, but now they agree with us and say that they will consider—only “consider”—reforming it. They claim that they want to streamline the planning system—we agree. They say that there should be no subsidies for nuclear—we also agree. If they say that the costs must be transparent and a solution for waste must be found, we agree with that, too.
The Government say that they want to promote energy efficiency—we agree. They say that they approve of the EU emissions trading scheme—we do, too. Indeed, we went further because we made proposals for extending carbon trading. However, where is Government action? Perhaps we will have to conduct another energy review.
We do not agree that Nirex and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority should be joined up. Independent bodies are better placed to ensure that safety remains paramount in the nuclear industry. Will the Secretary of State therefore confirm that those bodies will remain separate?
What are the proposals in the statement for increased gas storage? Where are the exact proposals for supporting decentralised energy? When will genuine action be taken to amend Ofgem’s remit? We have to wait until paragraph 55 out of 60 to reach the words,
“There are some changes we can make now”.
Even that means simply a further period of consultation on the planning process. The review is vague even about the future of nuclear power.
Far from being back on the agenda with a vengeance, as the Prime Minister told us, the Secretary of State now says that nuclear power
“could make a significant contribution to meeting our energy policy goals.”
Is not it the truth that the Prime Minister’s rhetoric is only rhetoric? That applies to the announcement of the Franco-British nuclear forum last month. In response to my questions, the Secretary of State was unable to say what it would do, who would pay for it, what its remit would be or even if it exists after all.
The Prime Minister says that he wants new nuclear power stations. However, the review does not tell us how he will make that happen. What exactly will the Government’s role be in ensuring that new nuclear power stations are built? Is it their intention, as reported today, to take existing nuclear sites away from British Energy and place them under Government control? To what extent will there be Government interference to get new nuclear power stations built? What deals have the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State done, about which they have not told us? How many power stations does the Prime Minister expect? Does the Department of Trade and Industry have a target—six, 12, any more bids? Will a number be set? Does the statement contain anything to match the Prime Minister’s macho, pro-nuclear rhetoric?
We need to spark a revolution in energy and we need green security. After nine years, six Secretaries of States, three energy reviews and God knows how many Ministers for Energy, carbon emissions continue to rise. The review could have done so much more. Three years ago, we were promised final decisions. Today, we have not got them. The review appears to have done almost nothing. It is a grave and perilous let-down.
The hon. Gentleman says, “Get on with it”, but I suggest that he start in his own backyard. In January, he said in the Chamber:
“I have… an instinctive hostility to nuclear power.”—[Official Report, 17 January 2006; Vol. 441, c.779.]
Only two or three months later, the shadow Chancellor said:
“I am happy to see nuclear power.”
Then, last week, the Leader of the Opposition gave the impression that he was for nuclear power, but maybe not yet. Once the Conservatives manage to get a consensus on what their policy is, I will happily talk to them about what we might do in the future.
The Government believe that nuclear power could provide—[Interruption.] Yes, I use the word advisedly. It is for the generators to come forward with proposals, whether they are for nuclear, renewable, oil or gas. The Government believe that some of the barriers that make it difficult for such developments to proceed ought to be removed. Yes, there needs to be consultation in some cases. Apart from anything else, if we are to provide a clear statement of need for planning inspectors, there will need to be a White Paper, and that will require some consultation before we produce it. However, we have a very clear sense of direction. We need a mix of energy supplies. We are quite clear about that. That mix has served this country well over the past few decades, and it will continue to do so.
The hon. Gentleman seems to have some difficulty with renewables. In the policy announcement that the Conservatives made last week, they made it clear that, under the Tories, the renewables obligation would go. The Leader of the Opposition made a classic statement on this, saying:
“There must be a level playing field for renewable and decentralised energy to compete on equal terms with nuclear power.”
Is he saying that nuclear should be subject to the renewables obligation, or that nothing should be subject to it? If there were no renewables obligation, even the renewable development that we have seen so far would simply disappear, because it needs that incentive. Anyone who is contemplating a future with more renewable energy, not only onshore but offshore, as we are, should be in no doubt that there would be no renewables obligation under the Tories. They would throw that whole industry into uncertainty. All their green talk is completely undermined by their actual policy.
We have set out a clear sense of direction, and a framework that will allow development to take place. As I said, nearly a third of our generating capacity will need to be replaced over the next 20 to 30 years. There is now a clear sense of direction to allow industry to plan, and there are measures to ensure that we reduce our demand for energy and become more energy efficient. It is no wonder that the hon. Gentleman is so embarrassed.
I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and for making an early copy available to me. Three years ago, the Government had an energy review, which the Prime Minister described as a “milestone in energy policy”. The then Secretary of State said that her White Paper established an energy policy “for the long term”. What went wrong? Will the Secretary of State tell us, for example, why the Government are not on track to meet either their renewable energy targets or their energy efficiency targets, which were set only three years ago, and why carbon dioxide emissions are increasing, not falling?
On energy efficiency and conservation, I welcome much of what the Government are now promising, but is it not possible to go further and faster on energy efficiency? Why, for example, after this review, will our building regulations still be weaker than those in Scandinavia? The Secretary of State has said some very sensible things on renewables, but he must be aware of the range of major renewable energy projects such as harnessing tidal power from a lagoon-based Severn barrage, the proposed 10 GW North sea wind farm, and the massive potential for marine energy in the Pentland firth. What sort of leadership and encouragement will his policy give to the market for such ideas? Is not there a huge danger that, by going nuclear as well, the Government will undermine and crowd out investment in energy efficiency and renewables?
The right hon. Gentleman’s predecessor told the House in 2003:
“It would have been foolish to announce…a new generation of nuclear power stations because that would have guaranteed that we would not make the necessary investment and effort in both energy efficiency and in renewables.”—[Official Report, 24 February 2003; Vol. 400, c. 32.]
What has changed? Is not there also a danger that nuclear energy could crowd out investment in clean-coal technology and carbon capture and storage? Surely we should instead be finding new ways of bringing forward major investment in those technologies, as they have the potential to deliver faster than nuclear. The Secretary of State talks about security of supply, but will he confirm that, under his plans, it will not be possible to build any nuclear power station within the next 10 years? Will he also confirm that the difference between a nuclear and a non-nuclear strategy in terms of gas supplies is actually not very large?
The Secretary of State has laid out an attractive future for decentralised energy generation. Does he not accept, however, that nuclear power would tie us into a centralised grid infrastructure that would minimise the potential for microgeneration and local combined heat and power? He said in recent interviews that he is a late convert to nuclear. He said today that, under his plans, nuclear power will get no subsidies or financial favours. Will he now answer the question that he failed to answer at last week’s Trade and Industry questions, when he could not name a single nuclear power station in the UK or abroad that had been built on time, on budget and without public subsidy? Is he prepared to guarantee, for the entire life of the nuclear plants, that there will be no hidden subsidy, no super-long unfair price contract, no cap liabilities, no Government support for nuclear waste decommissioning, no assistance with waste disposal and no stealth nuclear tax for consumers? If business does not build nuclear plants as he proposes, what happens to his policy?
On nuclear waste, can the Secretary of State confirm that the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management’s interim report only dealt with existing old waste? It only offers a solution over several decades for past waste, which still needs yet more billions of taxpayer’s money. Will he admit that the committee’s interim report was not a green light for nuclear, especially when it talks of the need to consider
“the social, political and ethical issues of a deliberate decision to create new nuclear wastes.”
As for Nirex, surely merging it and NDA would threaten independence in waste disposal, which would be a disaster.
The Government have put forward some sensible ideas today on energy efficiency and renewables. By caving in to the nuclear industry lobby, however, they have destroyed the potential for cross-party consensus. I regret to say that that means much greater uncertainty in future energy policy.
If the Conservatives have problems with consensus within their party, so do the Liberals. I can only refer the hon. Gentleman to what his hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), who is in his place, said:
“Dogma about new nuclear power is unhelpful, for and against”.
One would not know that to listen to the Liberal spokesman today.
In relation to renewable energy, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for saying that he supports renewable electricity. In particular, he refers to renewable generation in the north of Scotland. Perhaps he will have a word with those Liberal Democrat Members who say that they are in favour of renewable energy and then object to wind farms when they are planned, and object to the power lines to take electricity from wind farms to where it is needed. If the Liberals are serious about those things, they must face up to the difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions, as well as the populist decisions that he set out.
When the hon. Gentleman talked about distributed energy, he gave the distinct impression that he was against having a national grid. I am in favour of distributed energy, and I think that we could do a lot more in that regard. However, having a national grid and being able to draw on such energy sources across the country, whether gas or electricity, serves us well. Apart from that, I more than happy to work with him on achieving whatever consensus is left between us.
The hon. Gentleman made points about wave and tidal power and mentioned the Severn barrage. In relation to the renewables obligation—which I believe is essential, although I am not sure what the Liberals’ position is—I said in my statement that we want to consult on banding that in future, so that it encourages newer and emerging technology. I think that we can do an awful lot more on that.
It is important that, when we consider our energy requirements, we have a mix of energy. I said to the hon. Gentleman that nuclear currently provides about 20 per cent. of electricity generation. If we do not do anything, that will decrease to 6 per cent., and the risk is that gas will be a bigger percentage, which would be deeply regrettable.
I totally reject the argument that if we go for nuclear, nothing else will happen. I remind the hon. Gentleman that, under the renewables obligation, the renewables industry will get the equivalent of about £1 billion a year subsidy by 2010.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on delivering a measured statement this afternoon. Will he clarify, however, the point in paragraph 49 of his statement that nuclear generators will be required to pay their full share of long-term waste management costs? Does that mean 100 per cent. of waste management costs, and how can we guarantee that, as we do not yet know what the waste management costs will be?
The statement does mean that they are expected to meet the full share of those costs, which I would have thought was self-evident. My hon. Friend will no doubt be aware that, following the CoRWM proposals, it will be necessary to make provision for existing waste, but the cost of any new waste generated by any new plants would have to be met by the generators.
I hope that the House will be given an early opportunity to debate the report at great length, as it relates to a very complex subject. In deference to your ruling, Mr. Speaker, I shall concentrate on one issue. Does the Secretary of State understand that while his analysis of valuing carbon is very good, his policy conclusions are, I fear, inadequate? He clings to the climate change levy and complex climate change agreements, which do nothing for the long-term market-based costing of carbon emissions and he invests too much hope in the EU emissions trading scheme. I do not believe that he is creating the stable market for carbon that will bring forward investment in clean-coal technology, renewables or, indeed, new nuclear power stations.
The EU emissions trading scheme is, at the moment, the only scheme, so I believe that we should invest substantial time and effort on trying to make it work. Given the nature of the problems that we have to deal with, it is important that any action is Europe-wide. I know that the hon. Gentleman has only recently got a copy of our proposals, but the Government have made it clear that they believe that there must be a long-term carbon price; otherwise, investors cannot make a sensible decision about whether to go ahead with proposals for new plant.
As to carbon capture, I believe that it is essential to do as much as we can. Britain can not only benefit itself from this technology, but benefit other parts of the world such as India and China, where they are building coal-fired power stations. Unless we take steps to capture that carbon, those power stations will be extremely damaging to the environment.
Finally, on the climate change levy, I know that the Conservative policy is to abolish it, but the fact is that, so far, it has made a major contribution to reducing the amount of carbon generated and I believe that it would be a big mistake to abolish it.
My right hon. Friend’s statement recognises that there is no single solution to our energy requirements. In welcoming the prospect of further investment in renewable energy, I am pleased that he also recognises the contribution that deep-mined coal can yet make to our energy needs. Research has shown that clean-coal carbon capture technology can deliver sustained and large-scale reductions in CO2 emissions.
My right hon. Friend has announced today that he plans to set up a coal forum, bringing together producers and suppliers. Would it not also be valuable to include Members of the House who represent former coal-mining areas and have experience of mining and mining communities, and also representatives of operations such as the hugely successful Tower colliery in south Wales, who would hugely benefit the discussions in the forum?
My hon. Friend is quite right that coal has made a substantial contribution. We relied on it very heavily last winter. The model we have in mind is similar to the system set up to bring together the oil industry and the Government, which is known as “pilot” and has been working quite well since 1998. That arrangement allows both sides of industry, suppliers and producers, to talk to each other and to the Government. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy will be happy to meet hon. Members who have coal mines in their constituencies and have further discussions with them. It is important to do whatever we can to encourage the coal industry and the point about carbon capture is equally important if we are to remove the harmful effects of CO2.
Can the Secretary of State foresee any circumstances in which he could meet his carbon dioxide reduction commitment without at least replacing, if not increasing, the share of nuclear generation in our overall generating capacity?
Without that generation it would certainly make it more difficult to meet that commitment, which is why I believe that nuclear should be part of the mix. The Government are not specifying that people should come forward with proposals for nuclear, but we have tried to set a framework—we have started the process today—that will encourage generators to consider that option. Nuclear does mean that we can generate electricity without carbon emissions and it has the further advantage that I mentioned earlier of providing a consistency or base load in electricity that wind power, by its very nature, cannot provide.
When the energy gap left by phasing out Magnox and advanced gas-cooled reactor nuclear power stations by 2020 is reckoned by the Government to be about 14 per cent. of electricity generated and when even the nuclear industry itself, no less, in the form of AEA Technology, has recently acknowledged in a comprehensive study that 25 per cent. of Britain’s electricity needs could be readily met by offshore wind power capacity within the time scale required, up from 4 per cent. today—in other words, far more than meeting the necessary gap—why are we going down the nuclear route at all? Nuclear power is far more expensive and hopelessly uneconomic. Decommissioning costs are enormous. There are mountains of nuclear waste, which we do not know where to put, and it will increase our risk of terrorism—
I think that I know where my right hon. Friend is coming from in this argument. As I said, in the light of the fact that we are likely to have a dramatic reduction in nuclear power generation, I believe that nuclear power ought to be part of the mix. I know that he does not. I said earlier that I want us to give a major boost to renewables, because they can do a lot, but I do not think that they can take the place of all the capacity that would otherwise go. I would add that my right hon. Friend has said—I know that he believes this—that we want more offshore electricity generation. I do too. However, those plants are equally as prone to planning objections as onshore plants. That is why the planning system needs to be changed as well.
The Secretary of State will know that hydrofluorocarbons will produce about 4 per cent. of our emissions. Why have the Government allowed the Home Office and almost every subsequent Government building to use HFCs, whereas the private sector is moving away from doing so? Why did they vote with the non-green group in the European Union not to put a date on banning HFCs? When will they actually do something about that essential issue and why has he not even mentioned it in the document?
I know of the right hon. Gentleman’s concern about these things. The Government took the view that the date was not practical, but I agree with him that we should do everything that we possibly can to try to make buildings as environmentally friendly as possible. I mentioned that we want to make the Government estate carbon-neutral by 2012; other measures are necessary as well.
If economic changes were to make nuclear power significantly more costly—for example, because of continued rises in uranium import prices—can my right hon. Friend advise the House whether, under the policy that he has announced this afternoon, the possibility remains that no new nuclear power stations would be constructed?
As I told the House earlier, the Government’s policy on all electricity generation is that it is for the generators to come forward with proposals. Generators, looking at what the Government policy is, at the carbon price and at the prospects in relation to fuel and so on, will form a judgment on whether or not it is economic to build a nuclear power station, the life of which might be 20 or 40 years. The generators say to us, “You set out the framework, so that we can make these plans. You tell us what the parameters are.” The Government are not going to build a nuclear power station or, indeed, any other sort of power station. We are setting out a clear direction so that generators can make their decisions on investment in nuclear and other plant as well.
The nuclear fuel workers in my constituency will welcome the Secretary of State’s remarks today on the future of their industry, but does he recognise that, if their skills are to be retained for the benefit of new nuclear build, the legislative and regulatory framework decisions must be made in the very near future? Can he assure me that those changes will be introduced for the House to decide upon before the end of this Parliament?
As the review document says, there are a number of things that we need to change, some of which may require primary legislation and some secondary legislation, but I very much agree with the right hon. Gentleman: we want to provide as much certainty for the industry as possible, including for those who work in it.
There is a great deal to welcome in the review, particularly the emphasis on energy efficiency, renewables and new technologies and the structures to encourage them. On the nuclear question, I very much welcome my right hon. Friend’s very clear statement that there will be no public subsidies, but he will know, as I do, that there has been a history in the nuclear sector of bankruptcies over the years. What guarantees will there be? For example, would he consider asking for a bond on new investment to cover decommissioning and nuclear waste charges?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his welcome for much of what is in the review. During his nine years as a Minister, he substantially contributed to the Government’s thinking, particularly on energy efficiency. In relation to nuclear, I refer him to what I said a short while ago about the costs, and about the contributions to be made by the industry. He mentioned the difficulties in the past. Quite simply, that is a classic case of something that happened to successive Governments too often: people did not make the right calculations and, in the case of the nuclear industry, they did not factor in all the costs that they would have to meet. I am clear that, if generators come forward with a proposal, they must meet the costs of the construction, running and decommissioning of a nuclear power station.
I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State did at least say on this occasion that we should maximise our oil and gas production as part of meeting our energy needs. As we have them on our own doorstep, it makes sense for us to get the best out of them, but how does he expect to deliver that? We are at a crucial stage in the North sea, in which, if anything goes wrong now, the oil and gas will be locked in forever, and investors will not return if we lose the infrastructure. Therefore, will he ensure that the Treasury has bought into the statement and that it will deliver a stable and reliable fiscal regime to encourage investment?
I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that the Treasury is in complete agreement with anything that I say this afternoon, and with anything I stated in the report.
I recognise the point that the hon. Gentleman makes about North sea oil. We need to ensure that we have the right fiscal regime, so that we can exploit the resources that remain in the North sea. There is a lot of oil and gas still to be got out there and we want to encourage that. He may be aware that, despite the fact that last autumn many people—including a Member sitting right behind him—predicted gloom and doom after the tax changes made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, last month there was a record number of applications for exploration in the North sea. That just goes to show what a vibrant sector this is.
The Secretary of State is right to say that there would not be renewable energy use if there were not some subsidy, largely because the unit cost of such energy has to be driven down to the level on the grid. However, although I accept that he is not proposing to introduce a subsidy for nuclear, will he make sure that the rules for nuclear investors are clear and that his remark about planning is rapidly clarified, because there can be no investment if there is uncertainty about the planning process?
I agree. It is evident that, without the renewables obligation, there would not have been even the comparatively modest development of renewables that there has so far been; everybody in the industry is clear about that. That subsidy will be worth about £1 billion a year by 2010. That is why we want to increase the obligation, not abolish it, as the hon. Gentleman’s Front-Bench team has suggested.
Nuclear will not be subject to a renewables obligation. What the industry needs is a clear framework that will allow it to make sensible investment decisions. It wants a carbon price—it wants the certainty of that, as the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Peter Luff), who chairs the Trade and Industry Committee, has said. It also wants a planning framework, so that it can get a sensible decision—a yes or a no—within a reasonable time. I hope that the official Opposition—indeed, the whole House and the other place—will support us when we make proposals to reform fundamentally the planning system. Without such reform, I find it difficult to see how we will get any large infrastructure in this country—for energy, transport or anything else.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the boost that he has today given to energy efficiency and renewables, although I believe that he is sending the wrong signals to the financial institutions by bringing new nuclear back on to the agenda. He said in his statement that, by 2020, the proportion of nuclear generation of electricity would be down to 6 per cent. What contribution would new nuclear generation of electricity make by 2020? What proportion of electricity would come from nuclear and what carbon savings would result?
I acknowledge my hon. Friend’s strongly felt opposition to new nuclear plant and I acknowledge that, on any view, nuclear power stations cannot be brought on-stream instantly. Given the planning process and the time taken to commission and construct such stations, they are bound to be some time down the line, but with respect, I do not think that that is a particularly good point. We are dealing with energy policy and generation over the next 20 to 40 years, which is why I believe that setting out a framework now that allows people to take long-term decisions, including in relation to nuclear, is the right thing to do.
The Secretary of State said today that he is giving the green light to the nuclear industry, that he wants companies to come forward with plans for new build, and that, to achieve that, there should be a price for carbon. I agree, so can he tell the House when we will have detailed and robust plans for carbon pricing? Without it, no companies will produce robust financial plans for building the nuclear power stations that he and I would like to see.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on adopting a slightly clearer position than did the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman. I agree that there needs to be a carbon price and the Government are clear that the best carbon price is the one that is fixed and Europe-wide. However, we have said that if, for one reason or another, that does not happen, the need for a carbon price remains very clear. We are working with the European Union, and there is a carbon price in Europe, which affects us. We should seek to maintain and build on that system, which is the best way to ensure consistency.
I welcome much of the statement, particularly what was said about reducing energy demand, but of course, nuclear is a contentious issue. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that there will be no indirect subsidies to the nuclear industry, such as guaranteed prices, guaranteed purchases or insurance cover?
On guaranteed prices, no. My hon. Friend will of course be aware of the European directive on insurance, which requires all states to carry a certain amount of insurance. I do not know where he stands on nuclear, and I know that there are many Members—in all parts of the House—who are against it, but I have tried to make the position as clear as possible. If people come forward with proposals to build nuclear, they have got to consider meeting all the costs that I referred to.
The limp and tentative language on nuclear power in the Secretary of State’s statement is a major disappointment. Will he be assured that, if the forthcoming White Paper firms up this commitment, he will receive the support of those who want to do something serious about the threat of climate change, and of those who are worried about security of national supply—a consideration not adequately captured by any purely market solution? Given the urgency of the situation, what is his target for reducing the presently long period between proposal and completion of a nuclear power station?
I can see now that the right hon. Gentleman must have been one of those whom the hon. Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) had in mind when drafting his e-mails on the conflict within the Conservative party. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there needs to be a degree of certainty for anyone considering making a long-term investment. On our consulting on the planning processes, the time that can elapse between first application and the ultimate conclusion of a planning inquiry is important. I want that to be reduced, so that we can have certainty, and it also helps objectors to know what the position is—yes or no—regarding a particular planning application. However, I disagree with him in that the Government’s position is now clear. We have a clear direction of travel not just on nuclear, but on renewables and other forms of generation.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement, in particular on behalf of the 40,000 nuclear workers in the UK and the 17,000 in my constituency; indeed, I welcome the nuclear element. Where the Government have shown courage on nuclear, the Liberal Democrats have shown confusion and the Conservatives have shown cowardice. May I suggest a new slogan: “Vote blue, go yellow”? The Secretary of State will of course be aware that time is of the essence. May I volunteer Copeland as a site for new nuclear reactors—at least one, but we will take more? May I also say that, as probably the only—
My colleagues and I are pleased that the Government are to encourage the use of electricity near where it is generated, especially as Scotland produces six times as much electricity as we actually use, and there is no need for new nuclear power stations. However, will the Secretary of State give a clear, unequivocal answer to this question? Does a full share of the long-term waste cost mean 100 per cent.—yes or no?
The internationalist tendency of the Scottish National party is there for all to see. The SNP is saying, “We do not need any more electricity, so we do not need any more power generation.” I am glad that the hon. Gentleman welcomed what I said about renewables. Let me tell him what I told the Liberal Democrats: that is fine, but let us now see a bit of support for some of these wind farms rather than the pretence that they can be built in someone else’s constituency. As for nuclear power, I have nothing to add to what I have already said.
I welcome what the Secretary of State said about facing up to responsibilities to the United Kingdom people and not being blinded by ideology, which seems to inform many of the arguments against nuclear power. I am sure he has considered the fact that since we began to run down Magnox, there has been an increase—between 2000 and 2004—of 3 million tonnes in the amount of carbon used just for electricity generation. Can he assure me that the carbon price will be set at a level that will allow people who wish to invest in nuclear power and other forms of carbon-reducing energy to be rewarded adequately for their efforts and their investments?
My hon. Friend is right: there has been an increase in the amount of gas and coal burnt. That was especially the case last winter, and it is likely to be the case next winter as well. We want to avoid precisely that problem in years to come. We do not want the gap between demand and supply to become so narrow that there is not enough capacity in the system. As for the carbon price, the motive behind it is to ensure that there is certainty. The European trading scheme is designed to reward those who are more energy efficient than others. By any reckoning, the present system needs to be tightened and improved, and we are working with the European Commission and others to ensure that that happens.
Does the Secretary of State welcome the fact that “consensus” seems to be the word on the lips of many Members? I certainly welcome the new consensus on the Government Front Bench and the chucking out of the old consensus. We are seeing a welcome U-turn.
Does the Secretary of State recognise that the consensus in the industry and beyond is that this debate is five years late? A good deal of urgency attaches to the Government’s discussions. The framework he described must be established as soon as possible to secure our long-term energy supplies.
I agree that the framework needs to be completed and consensus is highly desirable, but we shall have to wait and see. What I am clear about is that the review represents an important step towards providing a framework that will encourage people to make the long-term investments that the country needs.
Yesterday, representatives of the heavy energy using industries came to a meeting in the House organised by Amicus. They strongly expressed the view that the high gas prices that they face at present are due to a rigged gas market, and they pointed fingers at the owners of the interconnector. What hope can my right hon. Friend give those important industries that they will be in business next year, the year after and well into the future?
Along with the Minister for Energy, my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, North (Malcolm Wicks), I met some high energy users last week. There is understandable concern about high energy prices and about the fact that the market in Europe is not operating as it should. That is why we strongly back the European Commission’s action against some companies. We need an open, transparent system. There should be a market that functions properly across Europe so that we can obtain the gas that we need. If anything is preventing that, the Commission must take firm action to ensure that it stops immediately.
One of the greatest risks to climate stability is the degree to which we allow dirty coal to be burned in both the developed and developing world over the next 15 years. I put it to the Secretary of State that simply announcing today a talking shop for UK coal producers and reheating an old announcement about a demonstration project is a wholly inadequate response to the risk and opportunity of clean coal.
I thought that the hon. Gentleman was going to make a further proposal, but there we are. It is important that we develop carbon capture: I said that in my statement and repeated it in several exchanges this afternoon. However, as the hon. Gentleman will know—at least, I assume that he knows—the technology is comparatively young and much development work will be necessary to ensure that it is technically possible and cost effective. The Government recently announced an agreement with the Norwegian Government to do some further work on it and, if it is successful, we want to see it proceed. We have huge potential in this country to ensure that that happens.
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman on the coal forum. The oil industry and the Government entered into a similar arrangement seven years ago, which has been very successful, with both sides understanding the problems and the Government playing their part in encouraging the oil industry. As for the coal industry, I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman represents a coal mining constituency—I have my doubts—but he may find that those hon. Members who do take a different view.
My hon. Friend makes a sensible suggestion. Part of the rationale behind the coal forum is to try to ensure that more regular discussions take place. I hope that the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd), who is no longer in his place, has heard what my hon. Friend said.
Will the Secretary of State spell out the Government’s responsibilities when the market price of electricity falls below the cost of privately generated nuclear power, making the company insolvent? Is it not inevitable that the taxpayer will have to subsume the liabilities, as it did with British Energy in the past?
The system that we have in place should ensure that we have viable generating companies. The hon. Gentleman referred to problems in the past that, as I said earlier, largely stemmed from the fact that successive Governments did not pay enough attention to the true economic costs of generation, especially nuclear power. The system that we have now is far more robust than the system we had then.
I warmly welcome the Government’s statement that they will provide strong support for on-site electricity generation, including solar panels. That will be warmly welcomed in Wrexham and by Sharp, which manufactures solar panels. Some £50 million was made available by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in the Budget for microgeneration, but when will the detailed roll-out of that scheme be clarified by my right hon. Friend’s Department?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. He is right that solar panels have made a contribution, and I hope that they will make a greater contribution, to providing energy for households. We should be in a position to make some further proposals in the not-too-distant future.
Is the Secretary of State aware of how disruptive offshore wind farms are to inshore fisheries? Is he aware that there are no proper compensation arrangements in place for fishermen, especially those who fish in the Wash? Will he look carefully at that issue before the offshore wind farm programme is further rolled out?
I noticed that the e-mail from the hon. Member for New Forest, West said that wind power did not get a good review. He obviously had the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) in mind. I am well aware that many people find offshore wind farms visually intrusive and fishermen have expressed concerns. However, it is possible to reach a compromise on all those matters. I visited a wind farm off the north Kent coast this morning. It generates a substantial amount of electricity, enough for about 100,000 houses. The hon. Gentleman perhaps illustrates the problem that, whatever form of generation we decide on, there will always be people prepared to object to it. I happen to think that offshore wind generation should be encouraged, provided that we get the arrangements right in each case.
I have said that people coming forward with proposals to build a nuclear power station will be responsible for meeting the costs of building, operating and maintaining the plant, and of decommissioning it. I appreciate where my hon. Friend is coming from, but I happen to disagree with him as I think that it will be important to have a mix of energy generation in the future.
Given what Labour Members on the Benches behind the Secretary of State have had to say, I do not think that he is in a position to lecture anyone about consensus. I welcome his nod towards nuclear, but his statement leaves more questions than answers. A few months ago, the Minister for Energy announced that co-firing would be included in the energy review. I assume that the right hon. Gentleman knows what that process is—
Approximately 800 million tonnes of coal lie under my county of Leicestershire—part of which I represent—and under the constituency of the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), who speaks for the Opposition on these matters. I therefore welcome the references that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made to the role of coal in future energy policy, but within what time frame does he expect the investment in clean-coal and carbon-capture technology to bear fruit? There is a real risk that a continued and expanded role for coal will be met only through higher coal imports and more open-cast coal extraction, in England and elsewhere.