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Commons Chamber

Volume 471: debated on Wednesday 30 January 2008

House of Commons

Wednesday 30 January 2008

The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock

Prayers

[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

International Development

The Secretary of State was asked—

Gaza

The Government and I are extremely concerned about the situation in Gaza and we are monitoring it closely. Gazans scrambling over the Rafah border last week secured essential supplies, but the underlying humanitarian situation is still dire. Although we understand Israel’s security concerns, we do not support the decision to close Gaza’s crossings. The Foreign Secretary and I have called on Israel to open them and to lift immediately all restrictions on humanitarian supplies. So far this financial year, the UK Government have given more than £11 million in humanitarian assistance to Gaza and the west bank through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the temporary international mechanism. The majority of that money went to Gaza.

I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s answer. Does he agree that it is completely unacceptable for the Israelis to stop goods coming in, in particular for the Umm al-Nasser project? That project is needed to drain a lake to prevent potential flooding for 10,000 people in Gaza, but the Israelis are blocking the supplies that are coming in for that. The Israelis made a commitment to the special envoy to the middle east that they would honour the project, but what is the point of having a special envoy and getting him to do deals with the Israeli Government if they will not deliver—

I have had the opportunity to discuss with the Quartet’s envoy the quick impact projects, including the project in Gaza. He is determined to continue his work to ensure that those projects are taken forward. Ordinary Palestinians should not suffer because of the actions of extremists, and any response by the Israeli Government to the rocket attacks by militants should be in accordance with international law. We are therefore keen not only that humanitarian supplies should be able to enter Gaza but that we have the kind of economic progress that is necessary to support the peace and reconciliation process in the middle east that we all want to see.

Is the Secretary of State aware that Israel’s collective punishment of the people of Gaza is probably illegal under international law and the fourth Geneva protocol? The closure of the Erez crossing means that basic humanitarian medical supplies and all food supplies cannot get through to Gaza. Even a humanitarian convoy put together by Israeli human rights organisations has been blocked at the Erez crossing. Will the Secretary of State put immediate pressure on Israel to open the crossing, allow medical and food aid to get through and allow the humanitarian supplies to arrive quickly? Israel’s refusal to do that means that the anger and poverty of the people of Gaza simply gets worse and worse.

I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that he seeks. I travelled to the Palestinian Authority’s territory in December and took the opportunity to meet Ehud Barak, the Defence Minister who is responsible in the Israeli Government for the policies about the crossings. I impressed on him the long-standing position of the British Government that, notwithstanding the legitimate security concerns of the people of Israel, we believe that the crossing should be open. We recognise that there are deficiencies in the medical supplies available in Gaza and continuing requirements for fuel for generators, not least for the hospitals. That is why I and the Foreign Secretary have made repeated pleas to the Israeli Government to recognise their obligations and ensure that the crossings are open for humanitarian supplies.

I welcome the pressure that the British Government are putting on the Israeli Government to reopen the crossings and the humanitarian support that we are giving through the non-governmental organisations in Gaza. However, what steps and systems has the Secretary of State put in place to ensure that British taxpayers’ money is not being diverted in Gaza to be used to create rockets to be fired into Israel?

I hope that I can give the hon. Gentleman the assurance he seeks. There are clearly established mechanisms, principally through the UN and the ICRC, to provide support. We are providing about £100 million through UNRWA to the Palestinian territories over a period of five years. However, in addition to those assurances, we continue to speak to the Palestinian Authority, principally to President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, and to impress on them the importance of taking forward the work in the Palestinian community to find a way forward, not least in relation to Gaza.

While the Government’s actions on this matter are impeccable and the efforts of Tony Blair are wholly admirable, is it not a fact that only international action can bring to an end the humanitarian disaster caused by collective punishment imposed by the gang of amoral thugs who comprise the Israeli Government and violate not only international law but the historic Jewish conscience?

I know of the long-standing concern about and the interest in the middle east with which my right hon. Friend speaks. The British Government have been unequivocal in stating that Israel should abide by its commitment under the fourth Geneva convention. We recognise the legitimate security concerns of the people of Israel, but it is vital that the Israeli Government act in a way that is consistent with their obligations under international law.

My right hon. Friend made another substantial point about international action, and I welcome the steps taken by the Quartet’s special representative and the recent visit to the region by President Bush of the US. The whole international community should speak with one voice to impress on both the Israelis and Palestinians the urgency of finding a way forward in the middle east.

We are appalled by the scale of the humanitarian disaster in Gaza, but does the Secretary of State agree that we have reached an extraordinary state of affairs when a UN representative can say:

“Gaza is on the threshold of becoming the first territory to be intentionally reduced to a state of abject destitution, with the...acquiescence…of the international community”?

We all condemn the rocket attacks on Israel, but does the Secretary of State think that the scale of the Israeli response is disproportionate?

I begin by welcoming the hon. Gentleman to his Front-Bench post as Liberal Democrat spokesman on international development. We are extremely concerned by the humanitarian situation. I have seen the reports to which he has referred and which were written by an UNRWA representative. Since July 2007, when the closure regime was tightened, we have made active diplomatic efforts to ensure that the humanitarian situation has eased. In December, I took the opportunity to discuss the Israeli Government’s defence posture and humanitarian obligations with Ehud Barak. As recently as last weekend, my colleague the Foreign Secretary raised those matters directly with Minister Livni, the Israeli Government’s foreign affairs spokesman.

At least no one in the House of Commons is trying to defend the Israeli Government’s inexcusable actions. Cannot the western powers—certainly this country, and I would hope the US—be much firmer with Israel and say that its actions cause dismay throughout the civilised world? How would Israeli citizens like to be subject to what the citizens of Gaza are subjected to by Israeli occupation?

As I said, we have been unequivocal in urging the Israeli Government to recognise their humanitarian obligations in Gaza. We have also been unequivocal in our support for the Palestinian Authority’s efforts over recent months to reform the system of governance in the west bank and to take the peace process forward. Ultimately, both the Palestinians and the people of Israel have legitimate security concerns, but that is no reason why humanitarian supplies should not reach Gaza, nor why rockets should be fired on the Israeli population. It is imperative that all sides recognise their responsibilities, and it is essential that the international community communicates that with one voice.

Afghanistan

I next anticipate holding comprehensive discussions on aid to Afghanistan with my European counterparts at a conference on Afghanistan to be hosted by France this summer. The conference will take stock of achievements to date and donors will make pledges of support to the Afghan national development strategy, the Government of Afghanistan’s own five-year strategy for reconstruction and development that is due to be finalised in March.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that reply, but does he agree that it is most unfortunate that President Karzai first criticised British intervention in Helmand province and then vetoed Lord Ashdown’s appointment as UN special representative? What will the right hon. Gentleman do to ensure better co-ordination of the aid efforts undertaken by his Department and the hundreds of other aid agencies in Afghanistan?

First, I am sorry that Lord Ashdown has felt obliged to withdraw his candidacy for the post of UN special representative, as he would have served with great distinction and ability in that role. Before he withdrew his candidacy, I had an opportunity to discuss these matters with President Karzai at the end of last week. Although the question of who should be the UN special representative should be discussed with the Afghan Government, the judgment ultimately rests with the UN Secretary-General, with whom I have also therefore taken the opportunity to speak. It is right to recognise the urgency of stronger co-ordination within the donor community, but ultimately the initiative rests with the Secretary-General of the UN.

What role does my right hon. Friend think that specific and targeted EU and UK aid can play in reducing Afghan farmers’ reliance on growing cocaine and poppies, and in reducing the level of violence in the country?

Inevitably and appropriately, because British troops are serving with such distinction in Helmand, much of the coverage of Afghanistan in British newspapers focuses exclusively on the counter-insurgency campaign. It is right to recognise that there has been a significant uplift in poppy production in Helmand but, at the same time, there has been a significant increase in the number of poppy-free provinces in Afghanistan. That speaks to the fact that the key to eradicating opium, which will be a long-term endeavour, is making the environment secure and ensuring the rule of law. That is why we stand four-square behind the Afghan Government in their efforts to find a way forward, not simply in the areas affected by the insurgency but more broadly across Afghanistan.

Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that the recent criticisms voiced by President Karzai and other members of the Afghan Government might have something to do with impending elections? Figures suggesting that UK aid is three times more efficient than American aid reinforce the need to co-ordinate aid and its impact on the ground. Will the Secretary of State use his offices within the international community to engage with other partners to ensure local impact and an understanding by the people of Afghanistan that there is real benefit in partnership, and that a long-term commitment has been made?

The right hon. Gentleman speaks with obvious authority as Chairman of the Select Committee on International Development, which recently visited Afghanistan. I assure him, as I assured the Committee, that we are engaging actively with our American partners. When I visited Afghanistan, I met the American ambassador, and I am in regular contact with Henrietta Fore of the United States Agency for International Development. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that discussions with the Americans are going on at every level about how we can ensure maximum impact for international development assistance to Afghanistan.

In his discussions with his European counterparts, will my right hon. Friend ensure that much greater priority is given to reforming the justice system in Afghanistan? Women there are still arrested and routinely jailed for years simply for running away from home or choosing not to marry the man their families have chosen for them. I ask that the issue of gender be given much higher priority as well.

My hon. Friend speaks with great authority and expertise on these matters. The Americans have led on issues relating to the Ministry of Interior while, within the European Union, our German colleagues have done much on police reform. An active dialogue is taking place in the international community about how best we can support the Afghan Government’s efforts. I am encouraged by the recognition at senior levels in that Government of the importance of both the issues identified by my hon. Friend.

During my service in Afghanistan, I experienced at first hand the challenges of trying to deliver meaningful development on the ground. The keys to success, as highlighted by the Afghanistan compact, are capacity building, co-ordination and a bottom-up approach through the production of community development plans. Tomorrow marks the second anniversary of the signing of the compact, yet the Afghan Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development remains the only vaguely functioning Department in the provinces and only a tiny percentage of communities have produced meaningful plans. Why has so little progress been made, and what specific action does the Secretary of State intend to take to address the situation?

I do not share the universally negative view suggested by the Opposition’s Front-Bench spokesman. Of course there is a long way to go and a great deal of work to be done in terms of building the capacity of the Ministries, as I just acknowledged in the case of the Ministry of Interior. On the other hand, real progress is being made. Back in 2001, 900,000 boys were in education in Afghanistan; there are now more than 5 million children in education, and more than 2 million of them girls. More than 9,000 km of roads have been improved since 2001. One force commander told me when I visited Afghanistan that where the roads end, the Taliban begin. Both physical work and social and economic development are under way, but I fully recognise that there is still a long way to go.

Palestine

3. What steps he has taken to ensure that aid allocated to Palestinians is spent on the purposes for which it is intended. (182971)

Aid to the occupied Palestinian territories is subject to the highest possible level of scrutiny. Projects are run by internationally respected organisations, with rigorous checks on each payment and independent auditing. UK aid is spent on helping Palestinians pay for their doctors and teachers, maintain water and electricity supplies and support refugees. In addition, the Department for International Development is supporting programmes to tackle corruption and improve the management of public funds.

But on 29 December a lorry was found to be taking 6.5 tonnes of bomb-making potassium nitrate into Gaza, disguised in a bag labelled “EU sugar”. Again on 14 January a lorry was found to be taking bomb-making equipment into Gaza disguised as aid. In view of that, does my hon. Friend not think that more urgent attention should be given to ensuring that only humanitarian aid goes into Gaza, so that the very genuine needs of the people are met?

My hon. Friend rightly highlights the need for constant vigilance where aid is concerned, but it is important to put the matter in context and in perspective. The Israeli authorities accept that the bags had nothing to do with EU projects and were fraudulent. EU aid was thus not misused. Such opportunistic frauds are an attempt to undermine the peace process. There is also the problem of weapons smuggled through tunnels, and I take her point about vigilance. We are clear that the Palestinian Authority are committed to the middle east peace process and to tackling extremism and terrorism.

What assurances can the Minister give that, contrary to recent reports, no British aid whatever is being used to fund extremist educational materials in the Palestinian territories that indoctrinate children and young people in Palestine with the belief that martyrdom or the murder of apostates is a legitimate political or religious aim?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue, which has been raised a number of times over the past 10 years or so. I can categorically say that UK aid does not fund textbooks or the Education Ministry. The allegations relate to textbooks that were used pre-1994. Since 2002 the Palestinian Authority have had a new national curriculum that is hatred and violence free. Importantly, that has been confirmed by both the European Commission and an Israeli civil society organisation that was commissioned by the US. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which we support, supports education in the occupied Palestinian territories and produces textbooks, but they are UN approved and endorsed and are free from extremism and violence.

My hon. Friend mentioned UNRWA. Is he aware that John Ging, the UNRWA director of operations in Gaza, came to Parliament in the autumn? Was he not right when he said that the problem with Israel’s action is that it

“presupposes that the civilian population in Gaza are either themselves responsible for, or somehow more capable of, stopping the rocket fire than the powerful military of the occupying power”?

Is not the collective punishment being imposed by Israel unjustified? What are the Government doing to ensure that the United Nations passes an appropriate resolution to bring the situation in Gaza to an end, or at least to express much firmer international disapproval of it?

We constantly call on all sides in the dispute and conflict to adhere to international law and to respect human rights. Israeli security and justice for the Palestinians will not be achieved by cutting off fuel, closing crossings, or firing rockets. That is a recipe for continued misery on all sides.

Given the nature of the Hamas regime in Gaza, can the Minister explain to the House whether the controls on aid going to Gaza are tighter than the controls on British aid going to the west bank?

The hon. Gentleman will know that aid to the Palestinian Authority was suspended following the establishment of the Hamas Government in March 2006. All aid to Gaza goes via the temporary international mechanism and is checked and audited by the World Bank or the European Community. Payments for salary allowances are checked against five different internationally recognised terrorist lists. UNRWA also works in Gaza and the budget is approved by the United Nations General Assembly, which has a strong audit unit. Donors such as the UK receive regular financial reports. We are as assured as we can be under the circumstances that aid is going to the areas where it needs to go.

HIV/AIDS

4. Whether his Department’s strategy for tackling HIV/AIDS in developing countries includes measures to support children orphaned, or made vulnerable, by that condition. (182972)

Children, including those orphaned or made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS, are at the heart of the UK’s strategy for tackling the epidemic and its effect in the developing world. We are committed to spending £150 million to help meet their needs over the three years to 2008.

I welcome my hon. Friend to her new position, which I am sure she will find rewarding. It is a very important role. Is she aware that the non-governmental organisations that work on these issues particularly want to see the UK devote 10 per cent. of its funding stream on HIV/AIDS to support for orphans and vulnerable children? Furthermore, they want Government systems to improve to make sure that the aid gets to the orphans. What assurances can she give those NGOs?

I thank my hon. Friend for her kind words of welcome. She is a tireless campaigner on this issue; just last week, she met my predecessor to discuss it. I assure the House that following the public consultation on the UK’s strategy for tackling HIV/AIDS in the developing world, we will continue to work and build on what works best so that the needs and rights of orphans and vulnerable children remain absolutely central as we move forward to tackle the issue.

Will the hon. Lady, whom we congratulate on her promotion, look carefully at the valuable report produced by Business Action for Africa, and note the enormous importance of business and the private sector in the fight against HIV/AIDS—a recognition that has not always been part of the Minister’s Department’s DNA?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for welcoming me to my post and look forward to working with him and his team. I certainly agree about the importance of economic development and growth in combating HIV/AIDS and I look forward to considering the report to which he refers.

My right hon. Friend the leader of the Conservative party and I have been pressing for clear, interim targets for scaling up access to HIV prevention and treatment. Some 93 countries have now set such targets and 60 have developed national action plans. Does the Minister accept that, without those targets, we will miss the goal of universal access by 2010? Will she ensure that her Department encourages all developing countries to set such targets and develop those plans?

I assure the House that we lead the world towards achieving universal access to comprehensive prevention programmes, treatment, care and support by 2010. We remain firmly committed to that goal. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will remember that the UK has made an unprecedented, long-term commitment of £1 billion to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Indeed, in wanting to strengthen health care systems across the world, our Prime Minister launched the international health partnership initiative in September last year to improve the co-ordination of donors working on health and to support countries to develop better health care systems.

My hon. Friend will know that accessing health care sometimes depends on being literate. In many developing countries, the level of literacy is incredibly low. In the measures that she is proposing, will my hon. Friend ensure that, as well as the provision of registered sister nurses, there is some incentive to improve literacy in those countries?

I certainly share my hon. Friend’s views; a boost to education is the most effective and cost-effective means of HIV prevention. We promote that as a major part of our international work in addition to improving people’s knowledge, changing their attitude and behaviour, giving women more control over their own lives and promoting the availability and use of condoms.

Humanitarian Assistance

6. Which country received the most humanitarian assistance from the UK in the latest period for which figures are available; and how much it received. (182974)

Sudan received the most humanitarian assistance from the UK in each of the last three financial years. It received £78 million in 2004-05, £98 million in 2005-06, and £84 million in 2006-07.

What steps is the Minister taking to secure greater and far more effective international co-ordination of humanitarian assistance?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s concern. We have been working with a range of other donors to raise more resources for the United Nations central emergency response fund, to secure more effective humanitarian co-ordinators on the ground, and to enable aid agencies to work much more effectively together in response to emergencies.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister was asked—

Engagements

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall have further such meetings later today.

Why do the people of Wales have a full-time Secretary of State, while our armed forces and the Scots must make do with a part-timer?

The new Secretary of State for Wales has responsibilities in addition to his responsibilities for Wales. He is overseeing the British-Irish Council, he is responsible for the joint ministerial committees on devolution, he is the Minister responsible for digital inclusion, and he is responsible for data security and information assurance. Those responsibilities are in addition to his responsibilities as Secretary of State for Wales.

Q2. Yesterday I met senior managers from Rosyth and Clyde shipbuilding firms, who were delighted about the MOD’s investment in their yards. As a result of that investment some 10,000 people are in jobs in Scotland, but the most pleasing aspect of our discussions was the substantial number of apprentices who are now being employed in the shipyards. Does my right hon. Friend agree that investment in training, education and apprenticeships is the way forward for Britain? (182955)

We want 90 per cent. of our young people to be in apprenticeships, at college or at university by the end of the next decade, and we are doubling the number of apprenticeships so that we can give young people those opportunities. I want to see every young person who has the skill to do so acquire an apprenticeship, whether it is in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or England.

I believe that our policy of expanding investment in education and training is the right one for the future of the country. It is unfortunate that the Opposition are not supporting us, and do not even support education up to the age of 18. We want opportunity for all, not just for some.

For more than three years the Conservative party has argued that we should scrap the form—[Interruption.]

—that we should scrap the form that the police must fill in every time they stop someone. It is a foot long, and takes seven minutes to complete. Will the Prime Minister confirm that the Government will now scrap the “stop” form?

It is true that for the last three years members of the Conservative party have been arguing among themselves, about Europe and about many other issues. The Flanagan report, published in November, recommended that we reduce and remove the bureaucracy associated with the filling in of forms. Flanagan will publish his final report next Monday. We are taking the action that is necessary, and the right hon. Gentleman should be supporting us.

I know that the Prime Minister is physically incapable of answering a straight question, but this is such a straightforward question. In just one police area in one year the police had to fill in 79,000 forms, using 9,216 hours of valuable police time. Does the Prime Minister accept that the form, introduced five years ago, has been a colossal waste of police time?

Let me ask the Prime Minister the question again. This is the form; will he scrap it?

I can only refer the right hon. Gentleman to the Flanagan report, which we accepted in November. It states that the form can be better administered, and that bureaucracy can be significantly reduced. We will publish the conclusion next week.

The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that that is happening. We are taking action.

Why does the Prime Minister not stop flannelling about the Flanagan report and answer the question? This is the form; we think it should go. What does he think? Will it stay—yes or no?

Once again, the right hon. Gentleman has prepared his questions yesterday and cannot react to the situation today. The issue is this: our Government are taking action to reduce bureaucracy in the police. There are more police officers than ever before in the history of the country. We have more police officers and more community support officers. That is why, last week, crime was down. Crime is now down 30 per cent. We are the first Government since 1945 to see crime down. He should be congratulating us, not condemning us. [Interruption.]

Mr. Ruffley, I cannot always see you because you are behind me, but I recognise your voice. You have got to be quiet.

What people will have heard is that the Prime Minister cannot answer a straight question.

Let us try another one. Keeping our streets safe also means tackling terrorism. Two months ago, I identified and named in this House a number of specific preachers of hate who should not be allowed into this country. Will the Prime Minister confirm that the Government have accepted that as well, and that he will not allow Yusuf al-Qaradawi into Britain—yes or no?

An announcement will be made on that very soon. I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that we do not expel people from this country other than through proper judicial process. In the last two years, 200 people have been expelled from the country: 70 per cent. for unacceptable behaviour, 130 on grounds of national security. We are not slow to expel people who should not be in this country. The fact of the matter is that we have got to go through the proper judicial processes, and he, for one, should appreciate that.

This is not about expelling someone. This guy wants to come to our country, and we do not think that he should be allowed in. He was banned by a former Conservative Home Secretary, so why will the Government not ban him? Let me explain what this man, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, believes. He thinks that gay people should be executed, and encourages people to turn their bodies into bombs. Why can the Prime Minister not tell us his decision now? Does he think that Yusuf al-Qaradawi should be allowed in or not? A simple one—yes or no?

Order. Let the Prime Minister answer the question—[Interruption.]—in his way, without jeering him down.

In 2006, a decision was made not to exclude al-Qaradawi. We are looking at that again. He has applied to come into this country, and a decision will be made in due course. I have to say that it has to go through the proper judicial processes, but he has not been allowed into this country at this stage.

I think that people watching this will just conclude that this Prime Minister cannot answer a question and cannot make a decision. People are starting to say about this Government, “Never mind the complete lack of vision, never mind the relaunches; just focus on keeping us safe.” In a week when the prisons adviser says that they have got no prisons strategy, when President Musharraf says that they have no terrorism strategy and when the only good idea that they have about police reform has come from the Conservative party, should he not just accept that people are not safe under Labour?

I want everybody to be safe and feel safe. Crime is down 32 per cent. under Labour. Violent crime is down 31 per cent. under Labour. It is precisely because we want people to feel safe that we are introducing neighbourhood policing. In every area of the country, neighbourhood policing will be introduced over the next few months. The Conservative party should be supporting that. More police than ever before, more community support officers than ever before, more people brought to justice than ever before—that is a record that they could never boast of, but we can say is working.

The most recent figures on teenage pregnancy show that Britain has the highest rate of any country in western Europe. It also shows that the map for teenage pregnancy is the same as that for poverty and deprivation. Do not we need to do more to tackle those high rates of teenage pregnancy—I see that the Leader of the Opposition is sniggering; he should not do that because the people of Britain will not take him seriously if he does not take such issues seriously. Do not we need to ensure that every youngster has a chance?

As my hon. Friend says, rates of teenage pregnancy are too high in too many areas of the country and we need to take action to deal with that. He has presented proposals this week and we shall look at each one. I believe that the whole country will benefit from a better strategy on teenage pregnancy.

Does the Prime Minister think it acceptable that, at a time when British soldiers’ lives are at risk in Iraq and Afghanistan, half their single living accommodation is still of the lowest standard, half our Apache helicopters remain unfit for service, and more than 60 per cent. of Army officers cite military overstretch as a reason for leaving the Army? Is he surprised at the widespread view that he simply does not care about our armed forces?

It is precisely because of the backlog in accommodation over many decades that we are spending £5 billion to improve service accommodation. The hon. Gentleman should welcome the fact that, as a result of the spending review, an announcement was made to do that. He should also know that we have ordered additional helicopters for both Afghanistan and Iraq and that there will be more helicopters in the field in the next few months. We are therefore taking action on each of the matters that he mentioned.

I should also remind the hon. Gentleman that defence spending has risen every year under this Government and it will increase in the next few years as a result of the spending review. Defence spending was cut by 20 per cent. between 1992 and 1997 and it is rising under us, but under no Liberal policy could that party ever afford to spend what is necessary on defence.

Why should any British soldier’s family take the Prime Minister’s word seriously when they feel so let down? Only this week, the Defence Committee produced a report that highlighted drastic shortages in Army medical services. There is a 46 per cent. shortfall in anaesthetists, a 62 per cent. shortfall in orthopaedic surgeons and an 80 per cent. shortfall in radiologists. If the Prime Minister cannot be bothered to provide decent medical care for our servicemen and women, how can he ask them to put their lives on the line for our country?

We have been spending substantially more on medical services. I have visited some of them and seen the improvements that have been made. Many people say that Britain has some of the best medical services for members of the armed forces in the world.

I repeat that we are spending more on defence, and we will continue to do that, and that every urgent operational requirement of the armed forces is being met. The hon. Gentleman would not be able to provide the necessary money for the defence forces; because of our economic success, we have been able to do so.

Police Pay

I am in correspondence with the Police Federation about police pay. I have explained to the federation that, as a result of staging public sector pay awards, it was not possible to pay in full the police pay award over the past year. However, I look forward to discussing with the Police Federation a long-term pay deal, which is based on the arbitration award.

The Prime Minister knows that, this time last week, almost a sixth of the entire police force of England and Wales marched through the streets of Westminster. May I take what he has just said as an assurance that future awards will be made not on an annual but a longer-term basis, and that they will recognise that, every day, police officers put their lives at risk to protect him, us and the rest of the country in the fight against organised crime and terrorism?

I not only have great admiration for the police, but, as I said before, we wanted to pay them more. A national policy to cut inflation meant that every national public sector pay award in which the Government had a role to play was staged over the past year. That is one of the reasons that inflation was brought down. However, I said to the Police Federation in my letter to Jan Berry that I hope that the police will enter into a long-term agreement on pay, based on implementing future years’ arbitration awards. The Home Secretary has asked the police negotiating board to consider a multi-year deal. Teachers have already agreed a three-year deal, and the process of agreement will start when the police negotiating board meets on 6 February. I hope that we can make progress.

Engagements

Q4. rose— Hooray! After yesterday’s warning from the financial regulator that 1 million homes are at risk of repossession and that negative equity has returned, will the Prime Minister now admit that he was wrong and complacent in dismissing as scaremongering the warning from our Benches and others that his reckless boom, based on lending, was going to lead to bust? (182957)

It is nice to welcome the hon. Gentleman back. Even his own party may be pleased to see him back in the position of asking me questions. However, he has misunderstood yesterday’s Financial Services Authority report. The fact of the matter is that mortgage repossessions over the past four years are a fifth of what they were in the early 1990s, that mortgage rates have averaged 5 per cent. where they averaged 11 per cent. in the period before 1997, and that there were half a million people in negative equity under the Conservative Government. There are more home owners in Britain now than ever before. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will see on reflection that it is because we have a policy for low inflation, have maintained low interest rates, have rising employment and have avoided any quarter of recession in the past 10 years that we can tell people that we will steer them through the difficult times. That could not be said of any other party in the House.

Q5. Many of my constituents are concerned about hospital-acquired infections, but today the Health Protection Agency published figures showing a dramatic improvement in the rates of MRSA and C. difficile following the deep clean of our hospitals. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating our health workers on their hard work, despite the cynicism of the Opposition? (182958)

Since June last year, we have put in an extra £50 million, so that we could inspect wards and improve infection control. We doubled the improvement teams in our hospitals and we have now introduced a new dress code. There will be screening in the future, while deep cleans, which the Opposition described as a gimmick, are already under way. We will always be vigilant. Matron numbers are to be doubled to 5,000. For those reasons, we can now report that MRSA infections are down 18 per cent. on the last quarter and that C. difficile infections are down 21 per cent. We are making progress and we will continue to make progress in the next year.

Is the Prime Minister aware that when the Defence Committee visited Afghanistan last summer, President Karzai made it clear to us that he wanted a high-profile international envoy to help co-ordinate the international effort there? Will he convey to President Karzai our disappointment that Paddy Ashdown has been refused? Will he also explain to the House what action will now be taken to co-ordinate the international effort in Afghanistan, for which so much sacrifice has been made?

I met President Karzai last Friday and talked to him about those very issues. The fact of the matter is that the decision is for the UN Secretary-General, after consulting all the coalition forces. That consultation is still taking place. I believe that Lord Ashdown would have been a great candidate for the job, but there has to be agreement among all those people involved, and that includes the decision by the UN Secretary-General. I hope that we will have a strong development co-ordinator, as the hon. Gentleman wants.

Q6. Will my right hon. Friend personally congratulate Chief Superintendent Steve Kavanagh, his officers and police community support officers, and especially the safer neighbourhoods teams on their achievement in cutting crime in Barnet by 8.6 per cent. so far this year, on top of 16 per cent. last year, with 24.6 per cent. in total? That is one of the best records in the Met. With 5,600 extra officers and 3,700 PCSOs in London provided by the Mayor, what does my right hon. Friend think the result will be of the cuts in the budget proposed by the Tory candidate for London Mayor? (182959)

In the London area alone, there are 6,000 more police than there were in 1997. As my hon. Friend rightly said, in graphic detail, crime is down in his constituency. The choice in London will be between an administration that wants to employ more police and wants to get crime down, and what the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) has said, which is that he wishes to cut spending on the Metropolitan police. That would be disastrous for the police, disastrous for London and bad for the whole country.

Before Christmas, the Justice Secretary said that his Department would be building three so-called titan prisons. This morning, he said that those prisons “may” now be built. Will the Prime Minister tell the House whether this is a titanic failure or a titanic U-turn?

We will go ahead with these prisons following the consultation that my right hon. Friend said would take place.

Q7. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating South Tees Hospitals NHS Trust, which has recently been named as one of the top health trusts in the country by the Health Service Journal? Will he reassure me that this Government—our Government—will provide all the financial support necessary for the trust to flourish and maintain its excellence in serving my constituents? (182960)

It is because there are 80,000 more nurses and 20,000 more doctors that we are making progress on waiting times and waiting lists. It is because of that that the rates of cancer are down and we are making progress on stroke and heart disease. My hon. Friend is right to refer to the award that has been won by the trust in his area. I congratulate the trust, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on pushing for more resources for the health service.

In light of the Government’s decision to ignore the findings of the independent arbitration tribunal on police pay, will the Prime Minister please explain to the House what would be the point of any future pay disputes being taken to independent arbitration?

We made it clear throughout the whole year that we were staging public sector pay awards in the interest of getting inflation down. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that the Bank of England, in its recent report, said that this was one of the reasons why inflation now stands at 2 per cent. in Britain while it is 4 per cent. in America and 3 per cent. in the rest of Europe. While we wanted to pay the police more, it was necessary in the interests of national policy to get inflation down so that we could reduce interest rates, as we have done over the last few months of the year. The Home Secretary has, however, written to the Police Federation, and I have followed that up with a letter in the past few days in which we say that we look forward to a long-term pay deal based on the full implementation of the arbitration award.

Nottingham

We are building Sure Start centres in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and we will continue to invest in under-fives provision. I congratulate him on pushing for that in his constituency.

The Prime Minister is aware of the massive financial costs of failing to raise our young people properly. These include the cost of prisons, policing, drug rehabilitation and a lifetime on benefits. Does he agree that a better way is to intervene early and invest to save, by providing effective prenatal services and intensive health visiting and by comprehensive parenting skills being taught to all teenagers? Will he consider making such an early intervention strategy the centrepiece of the next comprehensive spending review, so that we can tackle once and for all the intergenerational nature of these problems that afflict our young people?

Let me say also that I look forward to visiting my hon. Friend’s constituency. I pay tribute to the work that he has done on making an issue of greater provision for the under-fives. This is part of the work that we are doing as a result of the comprehensive spending review. Our aim is to ensure that, for those children under five, any disadvantages that were previously built into their upbringing and prospects are removed as a result of Sure Start and other measures. I gather that there are 11 Sure Start centres in Nottingham already, and we are going to improve the numbers over the next few months. I also believe that Nottingham will be one of the first local authorities to benefit from the Every Child a Reader programme. We will do everything that we can to give more chances to every child under five in the country.

Engagements

Q9. In view of the disturbing events that continue in Kenya, including the massacre of women and children, tribal conflict and the assassination of an Opposition Member of Parliament, will my right hon. Friend continue to support the efforts of the international community and Kofi Annan to reintroduce peace and democracy to that country? (182962)

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who has taken a long-term interest in Kenya and in what happens in Africa. I talked to Kofi Annan and to Graça Machel, the mediators, last evening. I wanted them to send three clear messages to the Kenyan regime. The first is that democracy is not defended by killing people, and that those who are behind the violence will be held to account in the future. Secondly, dialogue and negotiation are the only way forward in resolving this crisis, and Kenya’s politicians must now show the leadership that the Kenyan people want. European Foreign Ministers have made that clear, as did European leaders in a statement last night. Thirdly, the international community will not let the people of Kenya down. We have given £2 million to the Red Cross to help to relieve urgent humanitarian needs, and we will do everything we can through the Department for International Development to provide help to those who have been displaced and harmed. We also stand ready to provide financial support to a genuinely representative Government who are prepared to put the interests of the people of Kenya first.

How does the Prime Minister reconcile his assertion that Parliament should be at the centre of our national life and his promise that the European Union (Amendment) Bill would have full consideration in this House with the draconian timetable motion that we have had thrust upon us this week?

The Bill is being discussed in very great detail. It was discussed last week, it is being discussed this week and it will be discussed next week and the week after that. I think that the country will know that there has been full and detailed discussion of every aspect of this legislation.

Q10. With the energy supply companies, including Scottish Gas, putting up domestic fuel charges by at least 15 per cent. at the same time as Scottish Gas declares an obscene 636 per cent. rise in profits to £700 million—proving, as Energywatch said, that the market is rigged against the public—surely it is time for Ofgem to return to its original role of restricting the price rises of these rip-off suppliers. What is the role of the regulator if not that? (182963)

The regulator has been asked by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to look into all those matters. The fact is that there has been a 60 to 80 per cent. increase in coal, gas and oil. We cannot deny that those increases are taking place in every country in the world, causing inflationary pressures, including on ordinary consumers. We have the winter allowance in place, which provides £300 for pensioners over 80 and £200 for those over 70. The energy companies have been asked to provide additional money, which is being raised from £40 million to £56 million, to support consumers and we will also do more to help fuel-efficient provision of energy services for households under the Warm Front programme. That will help people to insulate and draught-proof their homes. More money will be going into that in the next few years. We continue to look into all those aspects of the problems people face as a result of energy bills and we will make further announcements to the House.

The Prime Minister may be aware that the Post Office earmarked four post offices for closure in the Mid-Sussex constituency. It invited a detailed consultation for six weeks, to which there were more than 6,500 replies—all unreservedly in favour of retaining those post offices. On Tuesday, however, the Post Office announced that they are all to be closed. Why does the Prime Minister allow his Government to be party to such a rotten deceit of the public in respect of that consultation?

We have made available £1.7 billion to help post offices in this country and we will continue to make money available for Post Office services. There is a process of consultation and an appeals system, although I do not know whether it was taken up. I urge the hon. Gentleman to meet the Minister in charge of the Post Office. We are listening to what people say, but the fact of the matter is that many post offices are not used in any great detail. We will continue to put the money in to help the Post Office service.

Q11. Will the Prime Minister find time to examine the evidence heard yesterday by the Home Affairs Committee on how the Government’s own forced marriage unit cannot get even its own posters advertising advice and support for young people into local schools for fear of upsetting local opinion? Will he ask the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families to investigate this problem and introduce new guidelines to ensure that support services are available to young people at risk of being forced into marriages against their will? (182964)

I am extremely concerned by what was said there and by what my hon. Friend now says. I believe that Ministers with responsibility for schools will want to look further into this. Indeed, we will do so and report back to the House.

The Prime Minister will understand the importance for his constituency and mine of the construction of the two new aircraft carriers. Will he therefore explain why, although the Defence Secretary agreed the go-ahead for those aircraft carriers last July, the contracts for their construction have not yet been signed?

We were able to announce the two new aircraft carriers. They will benefit not only Rosyth, but many shipyards around the country. We are in the process of agreeing contracts to go ahead with them, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that it is our intention to go ahead with those contracts.

Q12. The Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh is renowned for the quality of the medical treatment and care it gives to its young patients, but as a result of a review being carried out by the Scottish National party Administration in Edinburgh it is currently facing downgrading, and in particular the loss of its children’s cancer services. Will my right hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the work of the hospital staff over many years, and in congratulating the Edinburgh Evening News on its “hands off the sick kids” campaign, to reflect the public concern over this threat? (182965)

I gather that the Scottish National party does not want this issue to be raised in the House of Commons. I have some knowledge of the Royal Hospital for Sick Children. It has given service to the community over many decades, and it is valued in the community. Unfortunately, the rate of increase of expenditure on health care in Scotland is not now the same as the rate of increase in England. That is the unfortunate result of policy decisions made by the SNP.

I must tell the Prime Minister that Shropshire’s local education authority is ranked 145th out of 149 LEAs for funding, and that all Shropshire MPs have to fight tooth and nail to save our primary schools in small rural villages. When will the Prime Minister give fairer funding to rural shire counties such as mine to sustain rural village schools, and not pour money into Telford? Why should Telford have £200 more than Shrewsbury?

We have doubled expenditure on schooling. We continue to increase the amount of money that is spent on education. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to increase expenditure on education, he had better change the policy of his Front Bench, who have opposed our increases in money for schools.

Points of Order

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Since I am sure that the Prime Minister inadvertently misled the House when he said I wanted to cut spending on—[Interruption.]

Order. I need to hear the hon. Gentleman’s point of order. I am the only one who has to stay and listen to it.

I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for staying. Since I am sure that the Prime Minister inadvertently misled the House when he said that I wanted to cut spending on the Metropolitan police, and since that is the exact opposite of the case—I want to get more police officers out on the beat to reverse the rise in violent crime over the past eight years and to restore to our streets, buses and station platforms a sense of safety and security—will you, Mr. Speaker, ask him to come as soon as possible to this Chamber to rectify that mistake?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance on the actions of Members in relation to the work they do in other Members’ constituencies, and in particular on the actions of the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace) in relation to the Tote in the Wigan constituency. The hon. Gentleman approached the Wigan Evening Post representative in the Press Gallery, and the paper ran a story about 650 job losses in Wigan because of the Tote being auctioned off to the private sector. I understand that the hon. Gentleman lists the Tote as paying him money in order to—[Interruption.]—bat on its behalf in his entry in the Register of Members’ Interests, but on the Monday following the story the Tote main board issued a statement refuting what the hon. Gentleman had said and saying that the story was untrue. Therefore, he was clearly not acting on its behalf at that time. At that time—

Order. The hon. Gentleman must give me clarity: what is his point of order? I have to be careful that a Member is not being attacked through the method of a point of order.

The point of order is whether or not it is right for an hon. Member from another constituency to brief the press about a false story, which has put fear into people and has undermined my work and that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) in our constituencies. That is interfering in the actions of my constituency, and it is against the rules of this House.

Having heard the circumstances, I must say that that is not a point of order—it is not a matter for the Chair. I make an appeal to hon. Members. I receive correspondence about comments made regarding one another’s constituencies, but it is best if the Speaker is not drawn into those matters. It is best if local MPs, regardless of party differences, can resolve the matters themselves without raising them on the Floor of the House. The matter ends there. It is not a point of order.

Order. I hope that the hon. Lady is not telling me about points of order, because I have forgotten more than she will ever learn about these matters.

Sorry, Mr. Speaker. It is just that Opposition Members do not listen to the rules of the House. I concur with my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Turner) about Opposition Members coming into my—

Order. Let me stop the hon. Lady there, because some of the correspondence to which I was referring is about wee local difficulties just north of this House, and I do not want to know about them. That is what I am trying to tell hon. Members—do not draw the Chair into these matters.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Turner) did not mean to mislead the House, but he made an allegation that I received payment from the Tote and that that was in the Register of Members’ Interests. Of course when he examines the register, he will see that no such entry exists—nor did I receive any such payment. Would he perhaps take the opportunity to withdraw that scandalous allegation?

Order. As I said, it was not a proper point of order, but the hon. Gentleman has put the matter clearly on the record.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is right, is it not, that no Member should attempt to mislead this House? The hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) commented on what the Prime Minister said, but it should be recorded that in fact it was the Conservatives in the Greater London authority who opposed the introduction of safer neighbourhood teams.

Order. What the hon. Member for Henley said was perfectly in order. He said that the Prime Minister may have “inadvertently” misled the House. Often it is the words that we use in this place that keep us in order, and he used the term “inadvertently”.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Prime Minister reiterated his intention that the European Union treaty should be debated at length and line by line—

Order. We are not going to extend Prime Minister’s Question Time—try that one next week, and who knows.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should like to draw your attention to the fact that during International Development questions we only got as far as Question 6. Would you try to do what you can to ensure that we make progress in these matters?

I always do. Of course, the hon. Lady will know that I called her on a supplementary, and that takes up time. If she did not stand, I would move on quickly, but that is not the point of the House, is it? The point of the House is to find a balance between getting through the Order Paper and allowing hon. Members to have their say.

I hope that the right hon. Member for Makerfield is not going to bring up the Tote again. I call Mr. Dismore.

Further to the point of order made by the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson), Mr. Speaker. I believe that I first raised the question of cuts in the police according to his policy, and that was based on a report in the Evening Standard

Mr. McCartney, I hope that we are not going the re-open the matter of the Tote. I know that you are a constituency neighbour of the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Turner), but if this is not a point of order, I shall stop you, albeit reluctantly.

May I reassure you, Mr. Speaker that the way in which I will put this matter is in order? It is in order to raise this point of order. The hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Wallace) is not a constituency—

Sale of Wine (Measures)

I beg to move,

That leave is given to bring in a Bill to require licensed premises which sell wine by the glass to offer measures of 125ml.

The current regulations state that wine that is not pre-packed must be sold by the bottle, by the glass in measures of 125 ml, 175 ml or multiples thereof, or by the carafe. The Bill would simply require all licensed premises to offer a 125 ml measure in addition to the other sizes specified in the legislation. That is important because there has been a move in recent years to serve only larger sized glasses of wine in bars and pubs.

I used to work in marketing, including for several leading marketing agencies, among whose customers were several leading pub companies, including bar and pub chains, so I know from my own experience that some of them made a deliberate policy decision to get rid of the 125 ml size and serve only the larger 175 ml and 250 ml glasses. Increasingly, therefore 175 ml has become the standard size or—awful word, but now often used in our increasingly Americanised language—regular size. The 250 ml measure then becomes a large size.

The introduction of the larger glass sizes has had something to do with changing wine-drinking habits, as wine drinking in pubs has become more popular, and indeed we have seen the quality of wine improve dramatically in the licensed trade, which is a very good thing. But it is of course also about money. If people can be persuaded to “trade up”, to use the business term, bigger glasses equal higher prices and greater profit.

The psychology is clear. People do trade up. Often people order “large” as the default measure—a group of young women egging each other on Friday night after work, a boss not wanting to look stingy buying drinks for his staff or a man wanting to impress on a first date. The trend is not universal, and 125 ml glasses are still served in many individual licensee pubs and in many community pubs, but the serving of only the larger measures has become standard practice and actual policy. The introduction to the “The Good Pub Guide 2006” says:

“This year we have spotted an unnerving trend for pubs to push up the size of their wine glasses, and of course the price of what’s inside them. A standard glass of wine was 125ml...Now, many pubs use a 175ml glass as standard…To them, a large glass is 250ml, or a third of a bottle. This isn’t generosity, it’s just a way of getting more money into their tills, leaving many customers drinking more than they want to, and perhaps if they are driving, more than is safe. We suggest all pubs selling wine use the 125ml glass as their standard size.”

There are two issues at the heart of this Bill. The first relates to alcohol awareness and health, and the second is consumer choice. The 2006 survey by the Office for National Statistics said that 36 per cent. of people who had heard about the Government’s guidelines on drinking could not say what they were. About a third of frequent beer drinkers and a quarter of frequent wine drinkers are not aware of the number of units that they are drinking.

The rules of thumb, on which people used to rely, have become increasingly outdated. People often wrongly assume that a glass of wine is about a unit. That was based on a 125 ml glass, but when that is not offered, people think that a glass of wine is the standard measure available, now usually 175ml.

Wine is also stronger than it used to be. A new way of representing alcohol consumption has been introduced, and that is a positive step. Now, a 125ml glass of 12.5 per cent. wine is deemed to be 1.5 units, a 175ml glass of the same wine is 2 units and a 250ml glass is 3 units. However, when the smaller glass sizes are not on offer, people fall into the trap of thinking, “I just had a few glasses of wine last night,” when, in fact, if they had three large glasses, they had a whole bottle of wine. Alcohol Concern backs that up, saying:

“Given the wide range of volumes provided on licensed premises… this creates a great deal of scope for confusion and accidental harmful drinking. A possibility that is now all the more likely given the normalisation, in many establishments, of large glass sizes”.

In the context of recent surveys and figures showing increasing health problems caused by excessive alcohol consumption, particularly of wine, women are of particular concern. Sixty-nine per cent. of women in this country drink wine and 55 per cent. of wine purchased in pubs in the UK is bought by women. Women are drinking more than ever before and it is having an effect on their health. Cases of liver disease in women aged 25 to 34 have doubled in the past decade. Alcohol Concern suggests that drinking two to five units per day increases the risk of breast cancer to 41 per cent. The incidence of breast cancer has increased by 12 per cent. in the past 10 years, with alcohol related to 4 per cent. of cases.

The Bill is also about choice. If a wine-drinking customer wants to have only a small glass of wine, just as someone may want only half a pint of beer, he or she will be able to do so. If customers want the larger sizes, they will be able to have them, but at least they will have the information that they are larger. Consumer education is also important, and many pubs and bar chains clearly advertise how many units are in each glass size, which is to be commended.

Let me say what the Bill is not about, lest there be any misrepresentation of it. It is not a means to stop licensed premises serving larger glasses, or to say that customers should not be offered a choice of sizes. It will not require pubs and bars to invest in new glasses: a 125 ml measure can be, and indeed often is, served in a 175 ml glass. Nor will it—or should it—stop customers who wish as a group to buy a bottle of wine, with a glass for each of them; that might give them the choice of having six 125 ml glasses, rather than four 175 ml. The Bill is not about decreasing choice for customers; it is about increasing choice for customers, as well as giving them better, clearer and more standardised information about what they are consuming.

I am delighted to have the support not only of right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House, but of related organisations. Tacade, which promotes the health and well-being of children and is at the forefront of alcohol education, fully supports the Bill, saying:

“Selling wine by the 125 ml glass would help enable people to have a better understanding of units of alcohol and adhere to the government’s safe, sensible drinking guidelines”.

Alcohol Concern states:

“In our view it is reasonable to demand that, as responsible vendors, licensees provide genuine choices for their customers by offering both small and large glasses. As such, we urge you to support it into a second reading.”

The editor of “The Good Pub Guide”, Fiona Stapley, says

“We absolutely agree with the sale of wine measure bill.”

I believe that this House and, indeed, the Government are committed to encouraging responsible drinking and to tackling the problems that arise when the guidelines are not followed. I therefore hope that the Government will genuinely embrace my Bill. There is no quick fix for the problems that we have seen recently in our towns and cities, but the Bill proposes a simple measure that could contribute to better awareness of alcohol consumption and the need to monitor it. That problem has already been highlighted by the Minister of State, Department of Health, the right hon. Member for Bristol, South (Dawn Primarolo), who said:

“Larger glass sizes and higher alcohol content of wine in particular over a number of years mean more of us are drinking more than we think.”

I hope that the Government will listen to the organisations that have backed the Bill and to the various experts from the licensed trade and the health sector, and that they will seriously consider incorporating the Bill into the Government programme.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Greg Mulholland, Dr. Richard Taylor, John Thurso, Mr. Andrew Dismore, Mr. John Grogan, Lorely Burt, Peter Luff, Mr. Don Foster, Dr. Howard Stoate, Kelvin Hopkins, Mr. Nigel Evans and Peter Bottomley.

Sale of Wine (measures)

Greg Mulholland accordingly presented a Bill to require licensed premises which sell wine by the glass to offer measures of 125ml: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 20 June, and to be printed [Bill 64].

Treaty of Lisbon (No. 2)

(2nd Allotted Day)

I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague).

The Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform
(Mr. John Hutton)

I beg to move,

That this House approves the Government’s policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning energy.

It is a great pleasure to introduce this important debate about energy. That is, of course, its theme. The twin challenges of tackling climate change and energy security are perhaps two of the biggest challenges that this generation of European politicians and leaders must resolve. If we are to succeed in resolving them, we will need tough and effective action, at both a national and global level. In particular, if we are to respond to those challenges, they call for closer co-operation between members states of the European Union. That is why I strongly support ratifying the treaty of Lisbon. I want the United Kingdom to continue to play a leading role in shaping our response to both those significant energy challenges. It is the view of Labour Members and, I believe, of other hon. Members that we can best do that by passing the European Union (Amendment) Bill and by ratifying the treaty. The case for doing so is compelling.

The treaty enables the European Union to move on from years spent debating institutional reform to look out on the world, not in on ourselves, and to deal with the issues that matter to the people of Europe. The efficient and secure supply of energy will be critical to our economic performance in the coming decades. Building European Union institutions that are better able to function more efficiently, negotiate more effectively and respond more quickly to the needs of its citizens must be our collective aim. However, that chance will be squandered if Opposition Members are allowed to get their way. We cannot afford to spend the next decade looking inward or retreating to the margins of influence in the European Union, as some would like.

Given that the Secretary of State says that there is a compelling case, will he explain why the Government originally opposed the powers and wanted them removed from the treaty, and said that they were completely unnecessary because all the necessary powers were already in existing treaties?

I shall come on to that point. The important thing about the treaty of Lisbon—I hope that this reassures the hon. Gentleman—is that all the energy red lines are fully reflected in it. Let me set out the three most important ones. First, the treaty protects and secures our rights over our national oil and gas reserves. I would have thought that he supported that. Secondly, it will make sure that we can always act to ensure security of supply in emergencies. I would have thought that a Conservative Member of Parliament supported that. Finally, the new article will not impede progress in opening up EU energy markets. We hear a lot—rightly so—from Conservative Members about the importance of energy liberalisation. That is why the treaty of Lisbon is important and why we are right to introduce it in the way that we have.

I am interested in what the Secretary of State says about the liberalisation of markets. Clearly, that is the important issue from the European Commission’s point of view. How will the treaty encourage that given the Commission’s proposals for unbundling ownership are being strongly resisted by France and Germany?

I shall come on to energy liberalisation. It is right to point out that the Commission’s current proposals are being strongly resisted by a number of member states. The important lesson that I draw from all of this is that we would not have reached this point in what I hope will be a substantial transformation of the EU energy market if it were not for qualified majority voting. It has provided a strong stimulus for reform of this important sector of our European economy. As I said, it would not have been possible to have reached this stage if it had not been for qualified majority voting.

If we were to follow the advice of those on the Conservative Front Bench—I accept that not all Conservative Members feel the same way—we would be looking forward to a decade of introspection in the European Union, which would be damaging both to the EU and also, in particular, to the interests of the United Kingdom, which is my principal concern. I find it genuinely hard to understand the position that the Conservative party—officially, at least—is taking for two reasons. First, it wants to disown its role in relation to the Single European Act and the Maastricht treaty, both of which were in Britain’s long-term economic and political interests and both of which rightly involved, in my view, extensions to majority voting in the Council. We would not have seen the opening up of markets in Europe without qualified majority voting.

However, if that were not bad enough, there is the second problem with the Conservative party’s position, which is that it now wants to blight Britain’s future in the new enlarged European Union by renegotiating the basis of Britain’s membership. It is that deadly combination of disowning the past and blighting the future that shows how grotesquely out of touch those on the Opposition Front Bench have become. [Interruption.] I believe that howling at the moon, which is the best description that one can give of the Conservatives’ policy on Europe, is no rational substitute for a sensible policy on Europe, but I am afraid that that is all we hear today from most Conservative Members.

No. The hon. Gentleman has had his go.

An enlarged but more effective European Union, because of the treaty, can help to support our national and global energy priorities.

More than 50 years ago, the founders of the European Union recognised the critical importance of energy, then in the form of coal, to the economic and political security of Europe. Coal and steel were identified as the two raw materials crucial to power and industry in the Europe of the time. Today, against an increasingly competitive and politicised energy landscape, energy sources are even more critical to the continued economic success of European Union member states.

In recognition of that, the Lisbon treaty establishes a specific article—176—for energy policy, to give any energy measures passed at the EU level a specific legal base for the first time. Previously, the European Union could introduce directives on energy only by using other related articles, the most common of which were article 95, to do with the approximation of laws for the internal market, and article 175, dealing with the environment. Existing legislation passed under other articles include directives on the internal market in gas and electricity, under articles 47(2), 55 and 95, directives on the promotion of renewables and co-generation and on energy end-use efficiency and energy services, and the directive on the EU emissions trading scheme, all of which were made under article 175. Without a separate article, considerable time has undoubtedly been spent by the Commission, officials, national institutions and lawyers on looking inward at the bureaucracy of the EU rather than on discussing how we can deal with our energy challenges.

I believe strongly that there is therefore a need to turn the aspiration of open competitive markets that secure affordable energy supply while working towards a global low-carbon economy into increased and better-focused action at an EU level.

Supply disruptions to any one member state affect the European market as a whole and demonstrate that long-term bilateral contracts alone cannot wholly insulate countries from the impacts of supply tightness across the EU. The new separate article will make it easier for member states to discuss the issues in more depth and to work on delivering the energy solutions that we need. It will help to ensure that EU energy policies are clear, coherent and, we hope, mutually reinforcing.

The new article will aim to do four things: ensure the functioning of the energy market; ensure security of energy supply in the EU; promote energy efficiency and energy savings and the development of new and renewable forms of energy; and promote the interconnection of energy networks.

Will the Secretary of State clear up some confusion? There seems to be an argument over the security of the energy supply, the stocks being held and the oil supplies, but it seems to me that the provision is perfectly reasonable. Can he tell me why it is coming under criticism?

I shall try to deal with that point, but I think that the criticism is coming from others, not from us. It is important to emphasise that it is clear that matters such as energy stockpiles are taken under QMV. That has been the position since the treaty of Nice. Perhaps this will answer my hon. Friend’s point: the European Union will not have control of the UK’s energy stockpiles. We will be required, rightly and sensibly, to maintain such supplies, but they will remain under UK control and nothing in the treaty affects that. I know that the Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen, at least, want to make such an argument, but those who have done so have not understood article 176 and its clear and express provisions.

We have also been able to ensure that the UK continues to have the right to determine the conditions for exploiting our natural energy resources, our choice between different energy sources and the general structure of our energy supply. Article 176 secures Britain’s energy red lines in the way that I have described, safeguarding the British national interest in the process.

Obviously, we are here in an effort to understand the detail of article 176 and its implications for the United Kingdom. Can the Secretary of State explain his interpretation of what would happen in the event of a conflict between the goal of energy security at an EU level and at a national level, given that the EU would be given legislative powers under the article?

It is important to understand that this section of the treaty of Lisbon is essentially a consolidation exercise in relation to QMV rather than a significant extension of it. The importance of article 176 has to be properly understood by Conservative Members if they are to sustain their criticisms.

The treaty contains a proper recognition in the laws of the EU, for the first time, of the sovereignty of member states over their national resources. That will trump any other provision in the treaty and ensure that the powers on QMV have to be exercised against the background of the clear wording of article 176.

The Secretary of State says that this is a consolidation exercise, but he knows that there are two new solidarity obligations—one in article 175 and one in amended article 100—to deal with periods of crisis. Given that the obligation could incur infraction proceedings by the Commission and, if judiciable, by the European Court of Justice, how does the Secretary of State think it might affect our freedom to supply oil, for example, to an non-EU member state in times of crisis—perhaps to another NATO member—rather than to other member states under the solidarity clause?

I think I understand the point that the right hon. Gentleman is trying to make. In this context, we are essentially talking about situations with which we have become all too familiar—those in relation to terrorism, and so on. I would have thought that there was a palpable case for co-ordinated action across the EU to deal with such issues. In relation to his point about social cohesion and solidarity, of course it was Maastricht that extended the activities of the Community in many areas, including in the field of energy. I am sure he will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that he voted for the Maastricht treaty and supported it.

The Secretary of State is missing the point. It is nothing to do with social solidarity; this is a specific, new obligation in the treaty to act in solidarity with other member states, both in normal market conditions and at times of crisis. Given that that the obligation is judiciable and can incur infraction proceedings, it is very serious and might—in my view, it will—affect our freedom of choice to supply energy to non-member states, that is, to our other military allies. We might need or decide to do so at the appropriate time. The Secretary of State did not answer that serious point, which has nothing to do with Maastricht as the obligations are new. Can he answer it now?

I do not want to prolong the exchange unnecessarily. As the right hon. Gentleman can see, I have rather a substantial speech to make.

Let me make it clear that I shall not give way at this moment in time. I want to come back to the point made by the right hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory).

The solidarity provisions to which the right hon. Gentleman referred have been designed to deal with national emergencies, including terrorism. With great respect to him, I would have hoped that he could find some common ground with us, on that point at least.

I shall give way to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform in a minute.

On the specific point about energy, it is important to bear in mind what the treaty says. It states:

“measures shall not affect a Member State’s right to determine the conditions for exploiting its energy resources, its choice between different energy sources and the general structure of its energy supply”.

Those are important guarantees to have in the treaty and the body of European law that were not there before. Given the perspective held by the right hon. Member for Wells, I would had thought he would be able to support them.

My concern, too, is about paragraph 87 of the treaty—this new paragraph 1 of article 100—with its reference to a

“spirit of solidarity between Member States”.

When I read that, I imagined that it referred to the problems with the supply of Russian gas to eastern Europe, for example, and the consequences for the British and western European markets. The Secretary of State is saying, almost by implication, that it is restricted to subjects such as terrorism. Will he be a little clearer about the range of circumstances in which he thinks the provision will apply?

I would prefer to make a little progress with my speech, but I shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman receives a proper answer as the debate proceeds.

Article 122 of the consolidated texts, which is, I think, the article 100 that is being discussed, states in paragraph 2 that the Commission, having consulted people,

“may grant, under certain conditions, Union financial assistance to the Member State concerned.”

Surely the article about emergency situations is to do with financial assistance from the EU, and not to do with diverting supplies from one country to another, or anything else.

May I say how much I appreciate my hon. Friend’s support? I am grateful to him for providing a clarification that we all regard as very helpful.

I do not believe that a fair-minded person could regard the provisions in the treaty as being of anything other than a positive benefit to the UK and the EU as a whole, unless opposition to this article is being used as a proxy by those who do not believe in tackling climate change or who want us to get out of the EU altogether. People will form their own opinion about that.

In the move to a separate article, the treaty confirms the role of QMV, and its retention is unequivocally in the UK’s national interest. For years the UK has been working to achieve energy priorities, such as the liberalisation of Europe’s energy market. We believe that the competitiveness of Europe’s energy markets is fundamental to the economic performance of the EU over the next 50 years. Although progress and agreement have been possible without a vote, the potential for a decision to be taken under QMV has removed many of the incentives for an individual country with protectionist instincts to try to block progress against the wishes of the majority.

It seems certain to me that without QMV we would have made little or no progress in liberalising EU energy markets. In fact, it is arguable whether the Commission would even have proposed them in the first place. We would certainly have had no chance of securing the latest package of liberalisation measures, which those on the Opposition Front Bench have repeatedly called for us to support—the so-called third package of energy liberalisation, which is being negotiated. The UK strongly supports those proposals, which represent a real breakthrough in opening up Europe’s energy markets. The aim is to prevent incumbent energy players from keeping others out of the market, and to promote competition. That would benefit energy consumers—individuals and businesses—in the UK. We are working with the Commission and our member state allies to make sure that that happens.

It will not be easy, as there is significant opposition to the proposals. Under a regime of voting by unanimity—which is what I suspect many Opposition Members would prefer—opponents of change could sit on their hands and resist any progress whatsoever, but with QMV we can make, and are making, real progress. We are unlocking decision making, breaking down time-consuming bureaucratic stalemates and helping to promote policies that we believe are in the interests of all the people of the EU.

I turn now to the important relationship between the EU and UK energy policy. Half a century ago, the European Coal and Steel Community brought European countries together in economic and political partnerships to build a lasting peace across the continent after the carnage of two world wars. Those early steps have borne considerable fruit. We have come closer together, and that is a good thing. Our continent is more prosperous and peaceful, and those are obviously positive developments. The threat of full-scale confrontation between European countries no longer exists.

In all those respects, the EU has played a positive role. I hope that hon. Members from all parties can agree on that at least, but we are undoubtedly still confronted by many difficult challenges, both at home and abroad. We are clear that every member state should be responsible for its own energy resources. That is not a Community competence, and nor should it be. It has been an important red line in the Lisbon treaty negotiations, and the treaty does not change that basic legal reality.

The Government have set out the objectives of our energy policy. We have focused on ensuring the secure provision of affordable and sustainable energy supplies for every UK citizen, as well as the successful transition of our country to a low-carbon economy. We are working with the energy companies and consumers to improve energy efficiency and increase our use of low-carbon energy sources so as to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. However, fossil fuels will remain a major part of our energy mix for years to come. The best way to protect ourselves against potential supply difficulties caused by either natural disasters or resource nationalism is to develop as diverse a mix of energy sources, suppliers and trade routes as possible.

The UK is also undergoing a long-term transition from being a net energy exporter to being a net energy importer. Unlike many EU member states, we had years of being self-sufficient in oil and gas production but, however successfully we manage our remaining North sea oil and gas reserves, by 2020 imports are likely to account for well over half of our oil and gas requirements.

I believe that dealing effectively with those challenges means that we have to build a solid base of strong bilateral and multilateral relationships. Moreover, although our national measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can play an important part in tackling the problem, UK greenhouse gas emissions amount to only 2 per cent. of world emissions. Obviously, therefore, we need to work closely with other countries on a global level to make a significant difference. By acting with an enlarged and, thanks to the Lisbon treaty, more efficient EU, the UK will be able to help to deliver solutions for climate change and energy security at a European and international level.

The Secretary of State is right to say that the UK generates only 2 per cent. of global carbon emissions, but does he accept that we have a duty to set an example to the international community when it comes to tackling the problem and setting up solutions to it? Can he guarantee that the treaty will not interfere in any way with the UK’s drive to introduce new and greener sources of energy generation, such as nuclear? Will he give a cast-iron guarantee that the treaty will not result in any increase in our constituents’ energy costs?

The question of energy prices is complicated. I do not think that any Minister in any Government in Europe could claim to be able to hold down energy prices. That is not the world that we live in. We must tackle the problem of the fuel poor, and we are developing measures to that end, but there is nothing in the Lisbon treaty to impede progress on climate change or energy security—far from it, in fact. Moreover, the treaty builds the concept of sustainable development into the EU’s legal architecture for the first time. Such policies should secure support from all sides of the House, not opposition.

My right hon. Friend said that by 2020 we are likely to import half of all the gas that we use. He will know that the new gas pipe from Norway is likely to make more gas available and that that could trigger a second dash for gas. We need the diverse energy mix that he has described, so will he be considering capping the amount of gas used for electricity generation? It already accounts for 40 per cent. of our gas usage, and by 2020 that proportion could be 60 per cent. or more.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those questions, but we are not going to cap any source of energy. That would be entirely the wrong thing to do, and completely incompatible with the fundamental features of our energy market. The question of carbon capture is especially pertinent in relation to the future of gas and coal, and all hon. Members should take some pride in the fact that the UK is the only member of the EU that is committed to a carbon capture and storage demonstration project on a commercial scale. I hope that other countries will make a similar commitment so that we can look at a range of technologies—including post-combustion, pre-combustion, oxy fuel, coal and gas—that could begin to make a significant difference.

Taking CCS out of the equation would cause a problem on a global scale when it comes to dealing with climate change. Estimates made by the International Energy Agency, the Stern review and others show that as much as a third of our total global carbon mitigation strategy will depend on CCS technology. So my answer to the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. Clapham) is that we should not set about the problem by capping energy sources but we should maximise the energy that we get from renewable sources, and the EU has proposals to that end.

In addition, I think that we should look at nuclear, and the Government have made our position clear on that. Finally, gas and coal will be part of our energy mix for some considerable time, and CCS will be an important way to make sure that those energy sources do not make matters worse. However, I do not believe that placing caps on individual energy sources is the right thing to do.

I have strongly supported the emphasis that my right hon. Friend has placed on energy sovereignty at a national level, and his recently expressed view that we should move as far as possible towards self-sufficiency in the longer term. However, Germany’s installed solar power capacity is 350 times greater than Britain’s, and it has 10 times more wind power capacity than we have. That provision is the result of intervention by the state rather than by the EU. Should we not do what Germany has done? Should not the Government take action now rather than rely on the EU?

The German Government are playing an active and supporting role in relation to the new proposals from the European Commission, and they do not believe that Germany should not be engaged in shaping the new renewables directive. Indeed, the German Government have made significant progress on renewable energy in the past 10 or 15 years, and I pay great tribute to them for that.

I believe that the UK has made progress. We have doubled the amount of energy drawn from renewable sources in the past few years, and we are planning to treble it. We will have to do significantly more in the years up to 2020 if we are to meet the EU targets, but so far we have concentrated too much on the financial aspects of renewables promotion. We should not overlook some of the other problems with regulatory and planning consents that have got in the way of really moving ahead with renewable energy in this country.

For example, it is a matter of great regret to me that many local authorities around the country—run by the Conservatives, the Scottish National party and even my own party—have presented a brick wall to renewables schemes. There is no place for nimbyism when it comes to climate change, but there has been far too much of it.

My right hon. Friend mentioned the nuclear power industry. I have grave reservations about the Government’s proposals, which have been sold to the public on the assurance that the taxpayer will not underwrite any costs—such as clean-up costs—that are incurred. However, reports this week claim that EU directives and pressure from the European Commission mean that the British taxpayer will in fact have to underwrite the costs on any nuclear incident that might arise. Will he clarify the situation?

Governments in the United Kingdom and around the world have entered into binding international agreements for dealing with any serious nuclear incident to ensure that public health is protected and decontamination takes place. It would be grossly irresponsible for the UK Government to pull out of such responsibilities, and we have no intention of doing so. Yes, it is a potential issue for all of us, but there is no question at all of a responsible Government running away from that kind of responsibility, and we have no intention of doing so.

On the costs of decommissioning and waste disposal, we have been very clear about where new lines must be drawn if new nuclear is to play a role in the UK energy mix. The only sort of energy generation that we subsidise in the UK is renewable. We are not proposing a subsidy for nuclear power, and we have made it clear that sufficient funds will have to be accrued over the lifetime operation of nuclear plants to cover the costs of long-term waste disposal and decommissioning the sites. Those costs should not fall to UK taxpayers. That is the view that we have reached.

I do not know whether it has been put on the Secretary of State’s desk yet, but is he aware of the report by Dieter Helm, professor of energy policy at New college, Oxford? He says:

“The Government’s nuclear energy policy is fundamentally flawed because it relies on the ‘fiction’ that a new generation of reactors can be built without state support”.

He goes on to say that the way out is to have auctions for long-term reductions in carbon emissions over 20 to 30 years. I ask the Secretary of State to have a hard look at that idea, because I think that there is something in it.

Obviously we treat the comments of such a distinguished person with a great deal of respect and interest. I do not think that the professor made those comments during the consultation period; they came after it ended. I have been struck by how strong the power companies’ interest has been in developing new nuclear proposals on the basis of the terms that we have set out. We are not mandating nuclear; we are not requiring power companies to construct, build and operate new nuclear power stations. We have established the ground rules for how that can be done in future, and it is up to the power companies to respond with proposals. Personally, I think that the professor’s comments are not germane. It is likely that there will be significant interest in undertaking new nuclear projects that follow the lines that we have proposed, and energy companies have themselves strongly expressed that view to us.

I do not want us to get bogged down in a rehash of the energy statement. This country needs new nuclear power stations just to maintain the percentage of the power that is currently provided by nuclear. The key to this debate is that Europe as a whole is already 50 per cent. dependent on imported energy, 25 per cent. of which comes from Russia. Both of those percentages are rising. As a result, it is crucial that the treaty provision on solidarity is supported. I welcome what the treaty proposes, and I want to hear much more about what the Government will do to drive forward a more cohesive energy policy at the European Union level.

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support. He has taken a consistent view on all those matters, and I appreciate his remarks. Eventually—I know it looks as though it will be at some far distant point in the future—I shall come on to the points that he raised.

The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Richard Ottaway) mentioned the interesting report from Professor Dieter Helm and Oxera. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the report stresses that the United Kingdom has the most liberalised energy market in the European Union? That has given our consumers the benefits of a much greater choice of supplier and has lowered our prices. It also gives us lower prices than other parts of the European Union. That is the way forward for the EU, which is why all Opposition Members should support the Lisbon treaty’s provisions on energy.

I agree strongly with my right hon. Friend, and I pay tribute to her work on energy policy. We hear a lot from Opposition Members about the costs of Europe for energy consumers in the UK—I have been reading a briefing that was made available to Conservative Members this morning. What is always missing from such debates is any mention of the significant benefits of EU membership when it comes to energy, and which my right hon. Friend highlighted. It is true that the report to which she referred highlights the fact that the UK has the most liberalised energy market in the EU. It also makes it clear that it is the most competitive energy market in the EU. That simply would not be the case if it had not been for the extension of QMV to such issues. I am perfectly prepared to acknowledge that that is an achievement of the Conservative Government, but the sad thing is that not many Conservative Members present want to acknowledge that. That is a sad reflection on the direction that Conservative politics has taken.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that just over a year ago the Russians frustrated the supply of gas to continental Europe. That gave us all a significant shock and focused our minds on providing energy supplies in-country to meet our own needs. I therefore applaud the sentiment that he expressed: we need to strive towards ensuring that our country is energy-rich. I am also acutely aware that the provision of nuclear capacity will be constrained by suppliers and the availability in each country of people to manage those facilities. The UK currently does not have the capacity—

I am sure that that is true. The events to which my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas) referred were a wake-up call for all of us. The hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor) referred to some European Union member states being 25 per cent. dependent on Russian gas; some are 100 per cent. dependent on it. We in the European Union have to keep that firmly in mind, and consider what its long-term significance is.

I should try to make progress. On the proposals that the European Union has put on the table, I am sure that the House will be aware that the European Commission has published a package of ambitious climate and energy targets and measures for member states in a range of areas, including energy efficiency and new technologies. The UK played an important role in the development of those and other EU energy measures. As a result, we see the EU’s overall energy package as a good starting point for the negotiations ahead.

We believe that if the EU has a more stable institutional framework, as a result of the Lisbon treaty, it will be able to focus, and deliver, even more on energy. First, we can ensure that there is a liberalised energy market across the EU that encourages competition and facilitates the flow of energy to where it is most needed. Secondly, we can promote greater market transparency, to help market players deal better with shocks, avoid shortages, and invest in and deliver the best cost-effective low-carbon solutions. Finally, we can develop an external energy policy that supports the EU in working with other countries to address the economic and political pressures that are having an impact on energy supply and demand, and to enable energy companies better to secure the energy that the European Union needs in future.

The Secretary of State made a strong case about the UK influencing the European Union. If we have a united European policy on energy, we can influence other countries—emerging economies such as India and China. Is that not good for citizens of the UK?

I strongly agree.

It is one of the surprising ironies of political life that one occasionally finds oneself quoting people with whom one does not always agree. When preparing for this debate—and I did prepare for it—I came across the following comment, which touches on my hon. Friend’s point:

“we can take pride in the distance travelled”

in Europe,

“But we must also remember how far we still have to go. The Community is now launching itself on a course…which must make it possible for Europe to compete on equal terms with the United States and Japan….What we need are strengths which we can only find together. We must be stronger in new technologies. We must have the full benefit of a single large market.”

That was said by Lady Thatcher in 1986, when she was Prime Minister. It would be an interesting test if we had a quick show of hands to see who on the Conservative Benches still agrees. I suspect that I know who would agree—there are a few decent Members there—but I suspect that a lot of Conservative Members have moved on.

I give way to the hon. Gentleman, because I suspect that he would be one of those who support what Mrs. Thatcher said.

Lady Thatcher achieved the changes necessary to secure a competitive market in Europe using the existing powers. The Commission already has the powers to secure a proper price for carbon to underpin new nuclear and renewable energy. Those powers already exist. The things that we need to do can be done with existing powers. I cannot understand—although as a reasonable man, I am open to persuasion—why we need new powers to achieve objectives that we can already achieve.

I wish we had achieved all those objectives. It is not true to say that we have achieved them all. I made the point—it seems a long time ago—that I regard the provisions relating to energy in the Lisbon treaty as essentially consolidating. On that basis they should be supported, because they provide a simpler and clearer legal basis on which we can act.

The difficulty for the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a great deal of respect, is that if he supports the provisions, and if he supports QMV applying intelligently in this context, he has a job of work to do to explain to people why he thinks it would benefit the European Union, even if the treaty had been ratified by the House, to go back and reopen it at some point in the future. I suspect that he does not believe that that would be in the UK’s long-term national interest, so he needs to do a job of work on his hon. Friends on the Front Bench.

As I said earlier, the UK strongly supports a liberalised European energy market, one built on strong ownership unbundling, strong and effective independent regulation and greater transparency. The decline of our own gas resources and growing supply interconnection with continental Europe means that UK prices are increasingly linked to those in the rest of Europe. EU gas markets are not as transparent as ours, and that is putting upward pressure on prices as well. Our experience shows liberalisation to be the best and most effective way to deliver secure, affordable energy supplies, increased choice and improved services, better efficiency and greater investment.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, West (Ms Hewitt) observed, independent research published today by Oxford Economic Research Associates again shows that the UK has the most competitive energy markets in the EU and the G7. That means that we ensure that no company can dominate energy production, generation or supply, that consumers can switch suppliers easily and quickly to get a better deal, and that third-party suppliers have equal and fair access to the market to help drive competition.

That should all help to keep our energy costs as low and as competitive as possible. As wholesale energy prices rise, having the most competitive market in the European Union is the best sort of protection for UK consumers against those pressures. That is evidenced by our lower prices over the past five years, despite the recent rises, compared with the EU 15.

I am interested in what the Secretary of State is saying, and in theory he is correct. How, then, can he explain the fact that when one energy company puts up its prices, most of the rest follow at a respectful distance thereafter? Is that not grounds for at least investigating how energy companies are acting in our so-called liberalised market?

The energy companies are subjected to the full rigour of existing legislation against unfair and anti-competitive practices. If there is evidence of any breach of our competition laws, we have the right mechanism to police it and to enforce those laws. The sad truth is that energy prices have been rising across the world, and it is inevitable that some of that will be reflected in prices here in the UK. As I say, if there is evidence of anti-competitive practices, we have the tools to address them.

The Commission has consistently credited the UK for the competitiveness of its energy market. The third package of energy liberalisation recently proposed is very much in line with the UK model, and could address many of the issues now inherent in EU markets. More transparent markets with clear, stable regulatory regimes would give market players the confidence that they need to invest, and would help reduce the costs of serving EU energy needs. Within the UK, liberalisation has led to sustained and substantial investment in new gas facilities: pipelines, LNG—liquefied natural gas—terminals and storage.

Independent research has indicated that full market opening in Europe could increase cross-border trade in electricity by 31 per cent. and reduce prices in the EU 15 by up to 13 per cent. Total savings in the EU could be of the order of tens of billions of euros. The lack of competition in EU energy markets is costing UK and EU consumers, and it is crucial that all member states press on until we have reached our goal of a true internal market in energy. Rejecting the Lisbon treaty would set back progress in this area.

The whole House would agree that liberalising Europe’s energy market is a good thing, but it can be done under existing powers. Will the Secretary of State tell the House why signing up to the Lisbon treaty will bring that about, if it is not coming about at present?

The treaty provides a clearer legal basis for taking forward such work in the future. That is important, and we have important guarantees about our national reserves and strategic supplies, which I should have thought the hon. Gentleman supported. The sad truth is that we have not completed the job of energy liberalisation in the European Union, but the treaty of Lisbon will provide a clearer platform on which to take that work forward.

We all have choices in this debate. The hon. Gentleman is expressing his support for energy liberalisation, which I am glad to hear, but the position of those on the Conservative Front Bench—which, as I understand it, is not to ratify the Lisbon treaty but to renegotiate the treaty basis of the UK’s membership of the European Union—would set back progress on energy liberalisation, not speed it up. That is the choice that he and others have to address.

As the House knows, last week the EU published its draft renewable energy directive, as part of a wider climate and energy package. The draft directive provides the framework for achieving the EU’s agreed target of securing 20 per cent. of EU energy from renewable sources by 2020. It also proposes specific contributions from member states towards this goal. The Commission has proposed that 15 per cent. of all the UK’s energy should come from renewable sources by 2020.

The directive also contains a target for 10 per cent. of all transport fuels to come from renewable sources by 2020. It is crucial that this biofuels target does not undermine global sustainability in any way. That is why we will continue to argue strongly for strict sustainability criteria to be applied to the biofuels that can be used to meet that target.

We see the proposals as a good starting point for discussion in the Council, and we believe that an EU working more effectively together can deliver the necessary action to match this ambition. We want all member states to be able to deliver their agreed targets in the most cost-effective way. We are committed to achieving whatever UK target is agreed following negotiations in the coming months, and we have made a strong start, with the announcement of a potential massive expansion of offshore wind, approval already given for the world’s largest offshore wind farm, which will be located in the Thames estuary, consent granted for one of the world’s largest biomass plants, which is to be built in Wales, and the launch of a feasibility study on harnessing the tidal estuary of the River Severn, the second largest project of its kind in the world.

There are many more important renewables projects in the planning system. The successful passage of the Planning Bill currently before the House will be vital to reduce delays in making the best projects happen. However, it is obvious that we will need to redouble our efforts to reach the 2020 target. This summer, we will launch a consultation on what more we should do to boost renewable energy to meet our share of the EU 2020 target. We look forward to a serious national debate about how we can best do that, to help feed into and shape the UK’s renewable energy strategy, which I hope will be published in the spring next year.

Through the Energy Bill, we will put in place measures to strengthen the renewables obligation to triple renewable electricity from renewables obligation eligible sources by 2015, and in April the renewable transport fuel obligation will be introduced. As many hon. Members know, that will require suppliers to include 5 per cent. of renewables in their fuel mix by 2011.

By drawing a line under institutional reform in the EU for the foreseeable future—whereas it is the position of the Opposition parties to bring it back into the full glare of publicity—ratification of the Lisbon treaty will give us the time and energy to focus on issues such as those that I have outlined, which really matter to EU members and citizens. That is why the position being taken by those on the Opposition Front Bench is so damaging to the UK’s long-term national interests.

Is the Secretary of State making the case that the long list of renewables projects he has just told us about are dependent upon the provisions of the treaty? Presumably, planning for them began before 23 June, when the intergovernmental conference mandate was agreed.

No. I know that my speech has been a long one, and perhaps the thread of it may not be as clear to the hon. Gentleman as I would like. That is not my argument. It is not a rational argument, because the proposals have been produced now and the treaty of Lisbon has yet to be ratified. However, my wider argument is twofold. The treaty provisions will be an improvement on how we currently deal with energy matters in the European Union, but my fundamental argument is that if we took the advice of the Conservative Front Bench, we would set back any realistic prospect of making progress on those areas and others. That is the fundamental choice for the House, and it is why those on the Conservative Benches with common sense are not supporting the views held on their Front Bench.

Strengthening the EU emissions trading scheme is another issue on which an outward-focused Europe can make a real and lasting difference. There is much for the UK to support—in particular, the Commission’s move towards EU-wide central caps with a clear and long downward trajectory. That is a fantastic boost to our work to meet our emissions reduction targets in 2020 and beyond. The energy industry has made it clear to me and others that to invest with confidence in low-carbon energy production, they need the long-term certainty that a strengthened EU ETS can bring to the carbon market. That is one of the many reasons why the Commission’s proposals on the ETS are so important.

The International Energy Agency estimates that carbon capture and storage has the potential to contribute up to 28 per cent. of global carbon dioxide mitigation by 2050, and will be crucial in moving towards a low-carbon economy. The EU’s proposed framework for the regulation of carbon dioxide storage is a necessary step towards the commercial demonstration and future deployment of CCS across Europe. The framework will provide valuable support for our work on a domestic regime, on which the House had a useful debate on Tuesday night.

As many hon. Members will know, global demand for coal is due to increase by 73 per cent. by 2030, driven mostly by the energy requirements of China and India. The support of the European Union and members states’ commitments to demonstrate CCS would add weight to the work of tackling emissions from developing countries. The Commission’s plans for a network of EU demonstrations would include measures to share knowledge about those demonstrations with countries outside the EU, which will be of critical importance. I hope that the UK’s project, for which we launched a competition in November last year, will form a full part of those activities.

I know that that competition is for post-combustion carbon capture, but I remind the Secretary of State that the merits of pre-combustion, pre-emission carbon capture are equally worth while. If this country is not going to have a project involving that, will he at least stimulate the European Union to spend some research funds on such a project?

I do not dismiss the importance of considering a variety of different carbon capture and storage technologies. In this country, we have to make a decision about the resources that we have available—that is, basically, to do one project here in the UK. Our clear legal advice was that to run an effective competition—and to have one, and one only—it was best to have a competition involving similar technologies that could properly be compared with one another.

I hope that there is scope for pre-combustion CCS demonstration projects to emerge from the European Union’s commitment to organise 12 demonstration projects in the next few years. We have chosen post-combustion, for good and strong reasons. It is probably the technology that will have the greatest impact in China and India, and it is where we have to focus our support.

Finally, engagement with producer and transit countries, old and new, at European level, is crucial to UK and European energy security. Although pipelines that flow into central Europe from the east may currently have little impact on existing UK energy supplies, as our energy markets become more integrated, the work done to develop diversity of supply in one part of the EU will increasingly boost energy security across the whole European Union. An EU dedicated to addressing global challenges rather than debating internal reform can speak with a stronger voice and establish a more powerful collective position on energy issues at international level—for example, in the permanent partnership council with Russia.