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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 457: debated on Tuesday 27 February 2007

Scotland

The Secretary of State was asked—

Carbon Capture and Storage Technology

1. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on the use of carbon capture and storage technology in Scotland. (122160)

I have regular discussions with Cabinet colleagues on a range of issues. This includes the matter of carbon capture and storage, which may offer considerable potential in the fight to combat the effects of climate change and reduce carbon emissions.

I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. He knows of some of the exciting carbon capture schemes under consideration in Scotland, but what is he doing specifically to ensure that such projects receive funding and when will he make a statement to the House about how quickly that can be enacted?

I know of the hon. Gentleman’s considerable interest in the Peterhead project. Consulting engineers are advising the Government and they are due to report to us in March—next month. We have made it clear that in the course of this year we expect to be able to make a decision in light of the engineering report.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the tragedy at Pennyvenie open-cast pit in my constituency where two miners were killed. That terrible tragedy will be felt deeply by the mining community who have lost so many in the past. It is also a reminder that mining remains an arduous and difficult job. I am sure the whole House will join me in sending our condolences to the families; our thoughts are with them and their work colleagues at this time.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the development of environmentally sensitive technology to obtain a mixed energy policy is important, and that it is also important that such development is undertaken jointly with the Scottish Executive, the UK Government and international Governments? In that regard, does he welcome the £7 million investment at Garleffan pit in New Cumnock for a conveyor that will allow coal to be taken off the roads and carried by rail at a saving of 54,000 road movements a year? Does he agree that is the kind of practical step—

First, on behalf of the Government and the whole House, I associate myself with the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Sandra Osborne). Mining communities the length and breadth not just of Scotland but of the United Kingdom have suffered terrible tragedies in the past and the regrettable incident involving her constituents is a timely reminder to us all of the risks people take whether in open-cast or deep-cast mines. I understand that inquiries are already under way to try to understand the basis of the accident and to ensure that there is no repeat of such an accident in future.

On my hon. Friend’s second point, she is right to recognise the importance of a mixed energy policy, and I understand that within a matter of weeks my ministerial colleague at the Scotland Office is due to visit the project at the new facility that she described. I hope that is testimony both to the Government’s interest and to their commitment to ensuring that mining, along with other energy sources, can continue to make a significant contribution to the diverse energy mixes in the United Kingdom.

May I, too, associate myself with the comments about the open-cast mining fatality? Open-cast mining is an important industry in my constituency and we all know the dangers involved.

It would appear that on carbon capture there is, for once, agreement on both sides of the House. My colleague, the shadow Chancellor said in Aberdeen recently that carbon capture is likely to play a crucial role if we are to meet our international commitments on reducing carbon emissions. I, too, believe that the North sea has the potential to be the centre for carbon capture and storage for the whole of northern Europe, so does the Secretary of State agree that after an energy White Paper, the Stern report, the pre-Budget report and his earlier answer it is time for action, not just warm words, from the Government? They can give business a signal so that it can move forward and enable that technology to fulfil its potential in Scotland and, indeed, so that Scotland can fulfil its potential as a world leader in that field.

In light of the hon. Gentleman’s warm words, I shall explain the action the Government have already taken. The United Kingdom has already taken the lead in proposing amendments to the London convention on the prevention of marine pollution by the dumping of waste and other matters. As a result, the London convention has been amended to allow carbon dioxide to be stored in the sub sea bed, including in the North sea. The Government have also taken action by setting up a joint taskforce with Norway to establish the underlying principles on which such carbon capture and storage can take place. As I said, we have already instructed engineers to advise us and they are due to report to the Government next month so that we can take forward detailed work in relation to the suggestions about funding—for example, to Peterhead.

I am proud to represent the city of Aberdeen, the energy capital of Europe. The potential that we have in carbon capture is to make Scotland a world energy capital, and it is important that we make the right decisions. Does my right hon. Friend agree that although it is important that the Government research the cost and the technological options, we must remember that the clock is ticking? The main project, the Peterhead project, is a world leader at the moment, but it may not stay that way for very long.

I am certainly aware of Aberdeen’s huge significance, not just in the Scottish or indeed European economy but in the world economy, based on oil production but, I am happy to say, broadening into a more diverse range of energy technologies. I know that my hon. Friend is keen to ensure that energy technologies extending beyond petroleum are added to the portfolio of skills in Aberdeen. On the specific issue that he raises, I am sure that he will be aware, given his Select Committee role, that the Prime Minister talked at some length at the last Liaison Committee meeting about the importance that the whole Government attach to the Peterhead project, and I hope that that will give him some comfort. We will reach a decision within months—in the course of the year.

Let me associate the Scottish National party with the condolences expressed to the mining families.

In a debate in Westminster Hall earlier today, there was no indication that the Scotland Office had done or was doing anything decisive to help the Peterhead project; in fact, there was no mention of the Scotland Office. I know that the Secretary of State is busy with many other things, such as leading the Scottish election campaign, but can he give us an indication of what his Department is doing to push forward that technology, which is not just world leading but potentially planet saving? The project will give us a foothold in the hydrogen economy. What impact does the right hon. Gentleman see that aspect having, and how will his Department support Scotland in this matter?

I am glad to confirm that we see significant technological potential for carbon capture. On the point that the hon. Gentleman makes about my involvement and that of the Scotland Office in the issue, of course we take a close interest in the Peterhead project. Given the two other Ministers directly involved in the matter—the Chancellor of Exchequer, as it is also a Treasury matter, and the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, both of whom represent Scottish seats—it is rather difficult to substantiate the argument that Scotland’s voices are not being heard. The time that it would take to address some of the nonsense spoken by the SNP prevents me from extending my remarks across a wide range of policy.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the developments taking place which mean that carbon capture can be pushed back into the coal reserves in the United Kingdom, thus allowing methane to come out the other side? At a later stage, we may even be able to extract that coal. Will my right hon. Friend look at some of the developments that are taking place in Scotland and pay a visit to some of the projects in the central region?

I have had the pleasure of visiting my hon. Friend’s constituency in recent months. We have had the opportunity not only today but on previous occasions to discuss the potential for such technology in former deep mines, and I believe that it can potentially make a significant contribution in the central region of Scotland in years to come.

UK Borders Bill

2. What recent discussions he has had with Home Office Ministers on the likely effect of the UK Borders Bill on Scotland. (122161)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues about the effect of Bills on Scotland.

I thank the Minister for that totally inadequate reply. Given that we are supposed to be a United Kingdom, for the time being at least, with a common border, is it not extraordinary that in the UK Borders Bill there are key clauses that Scotland is to be denied which have to do with the power of detention for border control officers and the forfeiture of property? Is it not extraordinary that the Scottish people will be denied the tighter border controls that the Government want to introduce in the rest of the country?

If my answer was inadequate, that supplementary was completely ill-informed. Border immigration officers in Scotland will have the full suite of powers on immigration, including dealing with allegations of illegal immigration, that officers in England will have. The Bill allows border immigration officers to detain an individual for up to three hours until such time as a constable can arrive for reasons to do not with immigration but with other criminal activity.

The hon. Gentleman may or may not know that most matters relating to criminal justice are devolved in Scotland, so any decision to extend those powers would quite properly be a matter for the Scottish Executive. In the meantime, the Scottish Executive and the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland have come to an understanding that an operational solution can be provided. There are only seven international ports in Scotland, as opposed to 44 in England, and they all have a full-time police presence, so it is not necessary to give immigration officers those additional powers because there are police constables at the seven international ports. There is absolutely no difference in the effect, which is that we are protecting our borders and will ensure, not only on immigration but on other criminal activities, that the relevant authorities have the power that they need.

May I draw my hon. Friend’s attention to today’s Order Paper, and to the fact that the Northern Ireland Grand Committee is meeting this afternoon at 4 pm? That made me realise that I cannot remember the last time that the Scottish Grand Committee met. Does the Minister support me in thinking that the Scottish Grand Committee would be an excellent forum in which to discuss the UK Borders Bill and its effects on Scotland? [Interruption.]

That was very well done. There is a key difference between the situation in Northern Ireland and the situation in Scotland, which is that there is not yet an Assembly established in Northern Ireland. As part of the arrangements for operating under suspension, there was a commitment that the Northern Ireland Grand Committee would meet on a regular basis until devolution was re-established. The whole House will share the hope that, following the elections in Northern Ireland next Wednesday, there will be a return to a power-sharing Executive, so that the Province can emerge, after decades of sectarian hatred, as a decent and forward-looking place; that is what the vast majority of its people desire. As for the Scottish Grand Committee, decisions on whether it should sit are a matter for the usual channels and the House authorities.

May I for once commend the Minister on achieving, under the Bill, a solution on detention that recognises the integrity and independence of the Scottish criminal justice system? Any hon. Member who thinks that they know better than ACPOS or the Scottish Executive when it comes to the Scottish criminal justice system would need good reason for doing so. Does the Minister accept that we have established the principle that immigration, asylum and nationality matters can be treated with a bit more flexibility in Scotland, and will he continue to promote that within Government?

The Government do not need me to promote that view, as the Home Office entirely accepts the principle that the hon. Gentleman outlines. That is why there is a national director for the immigration and nationality directorate in Scotland, Phil Taylor, and he is doing an outstanding job. I know that he communicates regularly with all the political parties. We are introducing a new asylum model, so that one individual or team can work with an asylum applicant all the way through their application. We have agreement, in principle, on introducing lead officers, who will consider the wider implications for families. That has all been established through excellent, close co-operation with the First Minister and the Home Office. We fully respect the devolution boundaries, but we recognise that matters to do with immigration and asylum are reserved.

Will the Minister look again at clauses 1 to 4 of the UK Borders Bill, which make it clear that the powers that the House is being asked to give to police officers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland relate to border controls, which are not devolved? He has not explained why a comparable power is not being sought in this place for the Scottish police. Our border controls are not a matter for the Scottish Executive, and there should be parity of treatment throughout the United Kingdom. I understand that in this morning’s Public Bill Committee, the Minister alluded to the fact that the matter might be sorted out after the next Scottish general election, but what does that have to do with it?

I am sorry to tell my hon. Friend that he fundamentally misunderstands the position. On immigration, which is a reserved matter, the immigration officials at ports in Scotland will have the full suite of powers that immigration officials in England have. The measures are about extending those powers to matters that are not related to immigration. For example, if a British national committed a crime in the UK and then attempted to flee the country, and if the crime related not to reserved matters, but devolved matters, that would be a matter for the Scottish criminal justice system, which is devolved. As I said in answer to the first question in this batch, we have an operational solution that respects the devolution divide, but because there are only seven international ports, all of which have a police presence, it is not necessary to extend the powers to immigration officers in Scotland, when it is a devolved matter that is being dealt with.

It is all very well for the Minister to come regularly to the House and lecture us on his party’s Unionist credentials, but on a matter such as protecting our borders, which is pivotal to the purpose of our united kingdom, his Government have failed to deliver a united approach. What possible rationale can the Minister offer to explain why his party proposed different arrangements for immigration officers in Scotland, apart from it being another example of Mr. McConnell allowing the Liberal Democrat tail to wag the Labour dog?

That is a classic example of the perils of writing a question before listening to the first answer. I explained in detail that immigration officers in Scotland will have exactly the same powers on immigration as immigration officials in England. I respect the devolution distinction, and criminal justice on those matters is devolved. The hon. Gentleman spends his entire political career fighting devolution, so we will simply not take any lectures from him on how to preserve the devolution settlement.

2018 World Cup

3. What recent discussions he has had with his ministerial colleagues on Scotland co-hosting the 2018 World cup. (122162)

While I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues regarding matters that affect Scotland, I have received no representations from parliamentary colleagues on this matter.

When the Chancellor launched a feasibility study on the 2018 World cup bid, he said that he wanted England to win. He believed that Scotland was capable of winning but not, it seems, of hosting the competition. The Conservative party is the only one that supports the World cup coming to Scotland. [Interruption.] There is a strong case, as Scotland has fantastic fans and stadiums. The Scottish Football Association says that it would welcome any approach from the English FA, and FIFA would welcome a joint bid. It seems that the only person blocking the move is the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Why is that so?

I think that I have a slight advantage over the hon. Gentleman, as I was at Hampden Park when Margaret Thatcher, a previous leader of the Conservative party, came to the Scottish cup final and received a very warm Scottish welcome. It will take a little more to convince the people of Scotland either that the Conservatives are concerned about the needs of the people of Scotland or, indeed, that they understand much about football. This is a matter for the football authorities, and essentially it is the FA that has promoted the bid. Of course, there is an option, as in previous tournaments, to submit a joint bid, although I believe that questions have been raised within FIFA, given the experience of the Japan-Korea bid.

While the 2018 World cup is important so, too, is Glasgow’s bid to host the 2014 Commonwealth games. Will my right hon. Friend update us on the efforts by his office to secure those games for Glasgow, Scotland and the United Kingdom?

We were glad to host an event in the Scotland Office, and on the Prime Minister’s recent visit to Glasgow I took the opportunity to discuss the Commonwealth games bid with him. I was accompanied by Steven Purcell, the outstanding Labour leader of Glasgow city council. During that discussion at the Glasgow chamber of commerce, the Prime Minister made clear his support for Scotland’s bid.

Of course, the first opportunity for an international competition is the 2016 European championship. Does the Secretary of State not agree that Scotland’s top grounds—the magnificent Ibrox, the historic Hampden, the splendid Murrayfield and the famous Celtic Park—are tremendous venues, and would make tremendous showcases in 2016 for what will be by then an independent Scotland?

The hon. Gentleman began to lose me when he mumbled Parkhead and missed out Love Street. He lost me completely when he started to talk about an independent Scotland.

Climate Change

4. What discussions he has had with the First Minister on the co-ordination of policy on tackling climate change. (122163)

My hon. Friend will be aware of aviation’s growing contribution to greenhouse gas emissions in the UK and elsewhere. In Scotland, however, the Liberal Democrat Minister for Transport, supported by other parties, is busily giving big subsidies to airlines to encourage even more flights and cheaper air travel. Will my hon. Friend discuss with the Executive how consistent that policy is with commitments by the UK Government and, indeed, by the Scottish Executive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? .

My hon. Friend raises an extremely important issue. Aviation does contribute to carbon emissions and global warming. That is why we have long argued that it should be within the EU emissions trading scheme. It is important for politicians to show leadership and consistency. Each of us who is a Scottish Member accepts that we fly more often than the average citizen and more often than is altogether good for the planet, but it is important that we are consistent. It ill becomes politicians to declare one day that they will not take any non-essential flights, and the next day to catch a flight down from Aberdeen to London to go to the BAFTAs. Perhaps that is just jealousy because I have never been invited to the BAFTAs, but the Deputy First Minister should show a little more personal consistency.

Is the Minister aware of the statement at the Globe climate change forum in Washington two weeks ago, to which American legislators signed up, that there was a need for a cap on greenhouse gas emissions of between 450 and 550 parts per million? That represents a complete turnaround of attitude in the United States towards climate change, and a great opportunity for Scotland to export energy technologies that will contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. What is he doing to ensure that Scotland has a full partner role, and in particular that the energy technologies institute comes to Scotland, with a key location in Aberdeen?

On the right hon. Gentleman’s first point, he is entirely right to highlight a misconception about the issue in the United States. Some of the most progressive work to develop renewable technologies is happening in the individual states, such as California. I was in Texas in the summer, where I saw the largest wind farm that I have ever seen—well over 1,000 turbines, in Texas of all places. In individual states, a great deal of progress is being made, but the right hon. Gentleman is correct. So much of the technology has been developed and nurtured in Scotland, and we have put in place a system of subsidies, both in grants and in the renewable obligations certificate, that has brought those technologies on. We have spoken about the very good case that he has made for the technologies institute to come to Aberdeen. I agree that an extremely strong case has been made, and I sincerely hope that Aberdeen will be successful. Of course, other places are bidding and a value for money exercise must be carried out to ensure that we get the very best result.

Low Carbon Buildings Programme

To date, 140 applications, totalling £306,000, for funding under the low carbon buildings programme have been approved in Scotland.

I assume, therefore, that when it reopens on Thursday, the scheme will run out in Scotland within hours, as it is anticipated that it will do in England. When the scheme was launched by the Chancellor in the Budget last year, it was a flagship programme for microgeneration. By June, the Minister for Science and Innovation described it as

“a significant demonstration of Government commitment”,

but last week the Minister for Industry and the Regions—that is the relevance—had downgraded it to only a “demonstration programme”. What is it?

The hon. Gentleman is clearly ignorant of the Scottish Executive’s Scottish community and householder renewables initiative which, together with the low carbon buildings programme, has given more than £7 million worth of grants. It has been a very successful scheme in Scotland. On my visit to Argyll and the islands I saw some of the work that is being done as a result of the initiatives being rolled out. We all share a common aim to encourage microgeneration, which we can do through the planning system. We must encourage more efficient use of energy in homes, which we do through the building regulations programme. Those are devolved matters, but the Administration in Edinburgh is working closely with the Government to achieve those aims.

Devolution

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Union that has served Scotland and England for more than 300 years has served the Scottish economy particularly well?

I find myself in full agreement with my hon. Friend. The record levels of employment, the low levels of inflation and the sustained growth that has been achieved by the Scottish economy in recent years make a powerful case that we are stronger together and would be weaker apart.

Given that when they are asked, the favoured option of the Scottish people is neither independence nor the status quo, but for more powers to be given to the Scottish Parliament, why is the Secretary of State so blinkered as to maintain that the current settlement is the end of the road?

Of course, we take a strong interest in the views of the Scottish people, but it is important to recognise the importance of consistency in political debate. The hon. Lady wrote in the last issue of The House Magazine that she was in favour of a further constitutional convention, but her erstwhile leader, the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr. Kennedy), who is two places along from her on the Front Bench, has said:

“There is always a temptation in human nature, where new institutions are concerned, to be drawn towards pulling up the roots just to see how the plant is growing.”

Once the Liberal Democrats decide their own policy, they can start giving advice to the Government.

Does my right hon. Friend agree, as a staunch devolutionist, that devolution is a process, not an end product, and that within the settlement, which is extremely successful, there is the right for discussions to take place if that is desired by the Scottish Parliament, but now is not the time?

Flexibility has always been contained within the Scotland Act 1998, section 32 of which contains powers to facilitate exactly that flexibility. That pragmatic recognition is fundamentally different from a view that says that now is the point at which to tear up the devolution settlement, eight years into what most people judge to have been a highly successful development for the people of Scotland.

Is not the real issue as regards the powers of the Scottish Parliament the way in which they have been exercised over the past eight years by the Lib-Lab pact that has run the Scottish Executive? I am sure that the Secretary of State agrees that the people of Scotland do not want any more constitutional wrangling—they want delivery, not divorce—and that the only way to do that is to elect more Conservative MSPs.

It seems that the corpse is twitching. I have for many years struggled to understand how the Scottish Conservatives managed to drive their numbers quite so low; they may surpass themselves once again on 3 May.

Communities and Local Government

The Secretary of State was asked—

Local Government (Shrewsbury)

16. What account she will take of the results of the referendum on unitary status in Shrewsbury when taking decisions about such status. (123206)

We are assessing bids for unitary status against all the criteria specified in our invitation. We will have regard to all information available, including the results of local polls, when assessing against the criteria. Any change must be supported by a broad cross-section of stakeholders and partners.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Despite the fact that every single Labour councillor in Shrewsbury voted against my constituents having the opportunity of having a referendum, we have had it, and the great men and women of Shrewsbury voted overwhelmingly against proposals for a unitary authority. Nearly 30,000 of them turned out to participate in the ballot, nearly 70 per cent. of whom voted to reject this outrageous unitary authority. Will he give me the assurance that he will respect the wishes of the people of Shrewsbury?

There is no doubt where the hon. Gentleman is coming from.

Conservative-led Shropshire county council has put in a proposal to move towards a unitary authority. As I said in my original answer, all the information available, including the results of local polls, will be taken into account in judging against the criteria.

I am sure that the residents of County Durham will be very interested in the Minister’s response on Shrewsbury. Could he remind the House of the key criteria on which bids for unitary status, such as the excellent bid that has come in from Durham county council, will be judged, in the interests of local people?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. The major criterion is financial affordability in respect of the council tax payer and of the time envelope of five years through which costs must be met. Proposals must be self-financing. Proposals based on strong leadership are important, as are neighbourhood proposals, which will ensure that local people are involved in councils. A broad cross-section of support is important as well.

The Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill currently before Parliament explicitly requires the Secretary of State to consult any person with an interest in restructuring. Her predecessor, the Deputy Prime Minister, went as far as to set out a mechanism for consulting when he said that

“if you want to have a unitary, then you can have a ballot”.

Will the Minister therefore accept that the responsibility to organise referendums rests with the Secretary of State? If he would like a hand, I am sure that the great men and women of Shrewsbury would oblige.

The campaign that has now been taken up by the hon. Lady from the Front Bench in support of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) ignores the fact that the Government’s proposals are devolutionary. It is not up to the Secretary of State or me to determine the method of consultation; it is up to councils. I would have thought that the hon. Lady would want to heal the wounds that are clearly gaping in the Conservative party in Shrewsbury. I wish all the people of Shropshire the best.

Affordable Housing (Rural Areas)

17. What recent assessment she has made of the impact of Government policy on the development of affordable homes in rural areas. (123207)

Rural areas face particular pressures on affordable housing, which is why we set up the Affordable Rural Housing Commission. We have already implemented several of its recommendations and are looking further into others as part of the spending review. The hon. Gentleman and I are due to meet tomorrow to discuss this further. I apologise for the fact that the meeting had to be rearranged from last week.

In the past 40 years, housing stock in Cornwall has more than doubled—in fact, Cornwall has grown rather faster than almost anywhere else in the country—yet the housing problems of local people have worsened significantly. Indeed, last year, five times as many properties were sold to second home buyers as to first time buyers in my constituency. When will the Government give Cornwall and places elsewhere the planning and other powers necessary to ensure that local families stand a chance of getting a decent affordable home of their own?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have made some changes as part of our new planning for housing guidance to make it easier to build more affordable homes in rural areas. We are also giving the west Cornwall housing market area a more than 70 per cent. increase in funding for affordable housing as part of the current round. He knows that there are, of course, difficulties with second homes that are specific to some areas—including his, I know—but not to all. I am happy to discuss it further with him tomorrow.

If we decide to build new public sector housing in rural areas but it is sold on under the right to buy or an equity sharing agreement, will my hon. Friend consider returning the homes to the original providers, ensuring that we can retain them in the public sector?

My hon. Friend might be aware that there are particular provisions for rural areas, including rural exception sites and additional safeguards and protections around the right to buy, which we believe are important. It can often be harder to replace housing that is lost in rural areas, where social housing is needed. As part of our response to the John Hills review, and as part of the spending review, we are looking further into what more we can do to support new social housing.

On the devolution of planning powers, which the hon. Member for St. Ives (Andrew George) raised, will the Minister explain why the proposed planning gain supplement is going to be imposed on Wales, when planning is already devolved and existing section 106 arrangements are already producing major benefits in respect of affordable housing in rural areas? What is the point in having devolution if the Government choose to ignore it?

The hon. Gentleman says that section 106 agreements are raising funding for affordable housing—and they certainly are. We believe that more funding could be raised to support affordable housing and infrastructure from the increases in land value that arise when planning permission is granted. We think it right to look into finding more ways of raising funding and we have to recognise that the need for affordable housing and new infrastructure exists right across the country and in every part of the country. That is why the Treasury is looking into proposals for a planning gain supplement from which resources would indeed be devolved to the areas in which they were raised.

Deprivation

We have narrowed the gap between our most deprived neighbourhoods and the rest of the country in the crucial areas of worklessness, health, crime and education. By 2008, more than £5.4 billion will have been spent in neighbourhood renewal funding, which supports innovative projects in those communities.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. I want to raise a point on the measures outlined in the Hills report. The average annual income in Little Hulton ward in my constituency is £10,000 less than the national average and £6,000 less than the Salford average. It has poor educational achievement and substantial health inequalities, with life expectancy being seven years less than in a ward just down the road. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the suggestions in the Hills report to develop more mixed communities and to improve the income mix of estates and other areas will enable new initiatives to benefit wards such as Little Hulton?

Order. I must say as gently as possible to hon. Members that the reading of a supplementary question should be resisted. It is easy to ask a supplementary without reading it into the record. I do not want to do so, but I will stop hon. Members if this practice continues.

My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point about the concentration of deprivation in particular social housing estates, and asks what the Government can do to tackle worklessness. Although we have made huge progress in raising the standards of accommodation for social housing tenants over the past 10 years by investing £19 billion, we face a critical challenge in improving job opportunities for people. The Hills report was launched recently, and one of its suggestions was that the Government could do more to improve the mix of communities and to bring worklessness and housing support together. The Government intend to explore those areas further.

The Secretary of State will know that voluntary organisations make a huge contribution to tackling areas of concentrated deprivation. Five years ago, the Government promised that, by 2006, voluntary groups would receive the full cost of services that they provide to the public sector. Just last week, however, the Charity Commission said that only 12 per cent. of voluntary groups achieved full cost recovery on all their contracts. Will the Secretary of State tell us whether all contracts from her Department pay the full cost of services provided?

I do not think that anyone could argue that this Government and this Department are not doing a huge amount to support the involvement of the voluntary sector in turning around areas of deprivation. I shall come back to the hon. Gentleman on how my Department is dealing with the specific issue that he raised. More than anything else, the voluntary sector is asking the Government for sustainability of funding. In the local government White Paper, which was launched in the autumn, we made a commitment that when local authorities give grants to the voluntary sector, they should do so on the expectation that that funding will be sustained for a period of three years. If we can make that a reality, it will do more than anything else that we could do for the voluntary sector.

Local authorities are key to tackling social deprivation. Wigan is not unique in having a large proportion of super output areas, having 10 per cent. of the most deprived, yet it receives less in Government grant than the Government’s own formula says it should. How will the Secretary of State ensure that areas such as Wigan are able to tackle social deprivation if they are not given the resources to do the job to which the Government say they are entitled?

I understand my hon. Friend’s passion for his local area, which benefits not only from the formula grant but from additional neighbourhood renewal funding, which has been incredibly important over the past five or six years in helping to turn round areas of concentrated deprivation, in tackling the issues about which my hon. Friend is concerned, including worklessness and high crime rates, and in making a huge difference. As we consider the future of neighbourhood renewal funding and the formula grant in the next round, we will think carefully about the issues that he has raised, but no one could deny that this Government have done more than any other Government to tackle areas of concentrated deprivation.

Given that one cause of concentrated deprivation is low pay among women who are in work, and that the gender pay gap among part-time workers is higher in the public sector than it is in the private sector, how is the right hon. Lady proposing to address the phenomenon in local government?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I am sure that he is aware that, this April, we are introducing a new duty on the public sector to promote gender equality. As we raise awareness of that duty, and as it comes into effect, public authorities across the board—local authorities, central Government and other public agencies—will think about how they can open up opportunities for women and continue to close the pay gap.

There are areas of concentrated deprivation in my constituency. A new town in West Lancashire needs some redesign. What practical steps can the Secretary of State take to ensure that there is mixed development, to encourage the council and everybody else to get involved and to stop the concentrated deprivation?

My hon. Friend is right: a mix of incomes is essential to try to promote opportunities for everyone living in an area. The Hills review and the compelling analysis that Hills undertook proposed several ways forward for the Government, one of which was to continue the large-scale remodelling of estates programme on which the Government have embarked. The other proposal was to look at innovative schemes such as the one in York, where, when a property becomes vacant, the council buys a property elsewhere and sells the void to the private sector on that estate. That is a creative way of opening up opportunities and creating a mix of incomes. Those are the sorts of ideas that we want to consider further over the coming months.

Social Care

19. What assessment she has made of the impact of the provisional local government grant settlement on social care provision. (123210)

We are committed to ensuring that local authorities are able to deliver effective local services without the need to impose excessive increases in council tax. In setting the overall level of grant for 2006-07 and 2007-08, we worked with the Local Government Association to look at the pressures that councils faced, particularly in relation to social services and waste management. The formula grant in 2007-08 therefore includes extra provision, over and above the previous plans, of £508 million.

What justification can there be for Poole council increasing transport costs to day centres by 160 per cent.—affecting vulnerable people—and Dorset county council reducing home care services for people with moderate needs? In the latter case, that is short-sighted if it means that people end up in a residential home sooner rather than later.

The hon. Lady cannot have her cake and eat it. She cannot argue and campaign on the one hand for lower council taxes and on the other for more formula grant. I am aware of the funding settlement campaign that was launched after the finalisation of the settlement—perhaps raising questions about the motive of the campaign. Poole has received extra formula grant and it is for Poole council to determine its priorities.

My hon. Friend will know that my two home local authorities—Barnsley and Doncaster—have lost out to the tune of almost £10 million each because of the damping mechanism deployed for social services this year. Will he give his categoric reassurance to the House that that iniquitous damping mechanism will not be used in next year’s financial settlement?

I commend my hon. Friend for raising the question of double damping. I would say that, rather than losing out, the local authorities have not gained. That is an important point. The impression may have been given that funding has been withdrawn, but it has not. That is more than just semantics. The point that he makes is about the damping mechanism in the social services formula, which is a matter for the review in relation to the 2008-11 settlement later this year.

Has the Minister seen the parliamentary answer that I received last week that shows that the local government grant settlement for East Sussex works out at £160 a head, but the settlement in, for example, Bolton works out at £408 a head? If East Sussex were funded at the same level as Bolton, we would have a further £125 million a year to spend on services. Does that not show the inherent unfairness and regional bias of the Government?

Hon. Members on both sides of the House should be commended for the ingenuity with which they put the special pleading argument. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman take up the point with Lord Heseltine, who devised the council tax system, which no doubt the hon. Gentleman supported at the time.

Does my hon. Friend agree that some of the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) might be addressed by the strength of local area agreements? If so, will he tell us what discussions he has had with the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Social Services on this matter?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. Through local area agreements, supported by the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Social Services, which I met last week, we can examine how better co-operation between agencies and partners can result in not only better service provision but better use of public money, both capital procurement and revenue expenditure, through the sharing of decisions, investment and savings. That is the way forward.

The Minister will know that the demands for social care have been rising rapidly—five times faster than the rise in his grant to local authorities. He will also know that the LGA says that a funding gap of £1.8 billion must be closed. What steps are he and the Secretary of State taking to impress on the Chancellor the need to take account of that funding gap in the comprehensive spending review, so that my constituents and those across the country who are in need of care can receive it?

I take very seriously the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. Hon. Members from all parts of the House know that the demands for care services are outpacing even the significant and generous increases in grant that this Government have made.

The hon. Gentleman shakes his head, yet he supports a macro-economic policy that would result in less money being available. We need to have strategies to deal with this. The Government and the LGA analyse demands so that we can take decisions to address the inflationary and other pressures on councils and examine those considerations in the round. I have to disappoint the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Andrew Stunell), because in my meetings with the Treasury I have not so far found the tree on which the money grows for free. The reality is that the Government have to take decisions about priorities. I invite him to engage in a debate about that.

Hull city council recently told me that it pays double the cost for social care that a very high quality local social enterprise could provide. Does my hon. Friend think that there is still room for local authorities to consider how wisely they are spending their social care budgets?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point, which addresses the real world rather than the other world that the hon. Member for Hazel Grove was addressing. I congratulate local authorities on making great strides forward. Through the Gershon review, local area agreements and their commissioning role, they are, in many cases, finding both the quality and the savings to provide the services that her constituents need.

Does the Minister recognise that as people live longer an increasing number of complex cases of social care arise, costing considerable sums in individual cases? What can be done to ensure that proper care is provided for very frail and vulnerable people, while at the same time ensuring that people who have a great need for care, but not at that deep level, will not lose out because of the resources available?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point in a serious way, and all in this House must recognise its truth. Over the past 17 years, while gross domestic product has increased by about 150 per cent., spending on social care has increased by 200 per cent. as a result of the pressures that he recognises. I understand that the Alzheimer’s Society today identified what it analyses as being a £17 billion shortfall.

The Government’s strategy is to address this question through the analysis of the grant and the spending review, as I mentioned in reply to the hon. Member for Hazel Grove, and through the local area agreement process, which allows a much more focused and better use of public funding across the spectrum.

I am pleased that the Government have welcomed the Alzheimer’s Society’s report. However, surely there is some inconsistency here. Will the Minister confirm that under the national health service’s new framework for continuing care, thousands of people will lose their NHS funding for long-term care? There will simply be a transfer to local authorities’ social services departments, and local authorities will face a choice of either raising council tax or cutting help to the people—370,000 are at risk—whom my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) mentioned. The service is at breaking point, so what will the Government do? Will the Minister make a clear case during the summer spending review about the problems that social services will face? Will he tell the Chancellor that because of the Chancellor’s cuts in the health service, the problems can no longer be put aside?

The Government’s approach through the spending review and our arrangements for local area agreement spending, whereby primary care trusts, other health partners and local councils can increasingly work together, is designed to use public money more effectively—that is being achieved—while keeping the taxpayer protected, which I hope the hon. Gentleman will join me in welcoming. The response to the situation is certainly not a policy of reducing expenditure on social care and health. We have a policy of ensuring that primary care trusts balance their budgets and work closely on social care through local authorities to address the public’s needs.

Enterprise (Deprived Areas)

20. What support her Department is providing to increase entrepreneurial activity and support local businesses in deprived areas. (123211)

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
(Angela E. Smith)

The Government announced the local enterprise growth initiative in 2005. That was the first significant long-term Government proposal specifically to promote enterprise in the most deprived areas of England. Since February 2006, 29 authorities in England have received funding, from which residents in deprived areas are already benefiting.

My constituents were very disappointed when Bristol failed to secure funding under the second round of the local enterprise growth initiative, although having spoken to some of those on the periphery of preparing the bid, it seems that it was no great surprise to them that it failed. What support will the Department give to local authorities such as Bristol so that when they make future bids for similar sources of funding they will manage to make a better job of it?

I understand the disappointment of authorities that were not successful. When the proposals were evaluated, we had to make sure that the money—£300 million over three years—went to where it could make the most impact to bring about transformational change. There is support for the authorities that were not successful in this round. We ask them to engage with the Government offices to discuss the problems with their bids and how their bids could be improved. I regret that Bristol has failed to engage with its regional office. I urge my hon. Friend to use her best endeavours to ensure that the council engages so that we can give it support and help it to improve its bids.

I am sure that the Minister agrees that one of the main factors that stifle entrepreneurial behaviour on many of our estates is the fear of crime. On my Alton estate in Roehampton, shopkeepers are scared to reports thefts because of possible reprisals. The police oppose the only free ATM application for the estate because they are worried that it would be a magnet for criminals. At the same time, however, there are fewer trained police officers in Wandsworth than there were in 1997. What action is her Department taking to work with the Home Office to ensure that police officers are out on the street, where they are needed, so that the environment is safe for shopkeepers to get on with growing their businesses?

Despite the hon. Lady’s lengthy explanation, I do not recognise the picture that she paints. Crime has gone down in London.

The hon. Lady cannot deny the facts: crime has gone down and more money is being spent on ensuring that there is a police presence on the streets. However, she is right to identify the issues that we need to address, and are addressing. She would do well, however, to pay tribute to areas where we are bringing crime down and examining transport. Funding is going into neighbourhood renewal areas to address those very issues. I will take no lecture from the hon. Lady when crime went up under her Government.

Does my hon. Friend share my concern that, despite the city of Liverpool’s growing economic success, too many people remain deprived and without work? How confident is she that current initiatives, including the local economic growth initiative, for which the Government have approved Liverpool, will transform the situation?

The LEGI scheme to which my hon. Friend refers, for which Liverpool successfully submitted a good bid, is designed to address the very issues that affect entrepreneurship and business in an area. Such a scheme must be private sector-led, and will receive approval and funding from the Government only if we are confident that it can effect a transformational change and make a real impact. She has been supportive of the project, and we are confident about it. We need to monitor it, however, as it has not been in place long, and we need to ensure that it does the work that it is supposed to do. But we are confident that the right policies are in place.

Affordable Housing (West Midlands)

The west midlands regional housing strategy identified a need for an average of 4,000 affordable homes a year. We estimate that more than 4,400 affordable homes were provided last year. Nationally, we are on course to reach our target of providing 30,000 social homes a year by 2007-08, and a further 160,000 households will be helped through public and private shared equity schemes in the three years to 2010.

I welcome the commitment to helping 160,000 households through shared ownership in the next three years, but public awareness of such schemes is very low. What work can she do with developers, local authorities and funders to ensure that public awareness is raised and more people use that route?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. As we try to achieve and even surpass our goal of 160,000 shared equity homes by 2010, we must ensure, first, that the product is simple, understandable and marketed to people in the best way. In October last year, we relaunched the open market homebuy scheme to bring all the different products on the market together under a single brand. Secondly, we must consider whether we can open that scheme to far more people: for example, should social tenants be able to buy a stake in their home as well as those in the private sector? One of the recommendations of the Hills report is that we think about how to rationalise our approach across the social and private sector.