House of Commons
Wednesday 27 February 2008
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
Employment (Cynon Valley)
I have regular discussions with Welsh Assembly Government Ministers on a range of issues including employment levels in Wales. Employment is still at record levels, which reflects the success of our policies and our aim to secure employment opportunities for everybody.
First, may I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend to his rightful place on the Front Bench? [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I am grateful to him for that answer. As he knows, unemployment has been cut by half in the Cynon valley, but 88 acres of prime land in the centre of the valley were the site of the former Phurnacite plant, and contain a lot of toxic waste. Nearly 20 years after the closure of the plant, the development remains unfinished. When can the people of Abercwmboi expect that eyesore to disappear?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her kind words. She will recall that I answered a question from her on this subject eight or nine years ago. I hope that my answer is a little different this time. I have met the Assembly Deputy First Minister to discuss this issue, and I know that my right hon. Friend has also talked to the Deputy First Minister. There is a strong case for development on that site, and I hope that we can get some progress in Abercwmboi. It is very important to develop what used to be called brownfield sites. In the north of our valleys, and certainly in the Cynon valley, there is a great need to provide employment opportunities, and I hope that we will achieve some success in that.
May I also warmly welcome the Secretary of State to his place? I am sure that he will do a very good job. When he considers employment levels, will he also look into the record levels of people claiming sickness benefits? What is he doing to ensure that those who are capable of working are out in the workplace and not signing on for invalidity benefit?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. He and I share the new town, as it was, of Cwmbran, and I look forward to working with him. He will know that the pathfinder project has been highly successful and that the work of the Assembly Government and of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions together are making an impact on both the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and mine. He will, I am sure, remember that it was not long ago that unemployment levels in Monmouth and Torfaen were very high. They are now very low.
May I, too, start by warmly welcoming the right hon. Gentleman back to the Front Bench? I am certainly looking forward to our exchanges, as I know that we both share a desire to see Wales prosper. With that in mind, the Western Mail reports today that Wales ranks bottom in the UK for school results and that Rhondda Cynon Taf is one of the poorest performing education authorities in the country—at least a quarter of its lessons are not up to standard. Is he not ashamed that after 10 years of Labour Government our young people, particularly in the Cynon valley, are leaving school without even the basic skills for finding employment?
I thank the hon. Lady for her kind wishes. I look forward to waltzing with her this evening to “Me and my shadow”. As for Aberdare and other valley communities, of course there is still work to be done in education and in upskilling people. I saw the article in the Western Mail this morning. I do not have the slightest doubt that there has been an increase in our schools’ standards in the south Wales valleys. In addition to that, the number of pupils in classes has been reduced and the old schools are gradually disappearing with new ones being built in their place. Although there is work to be done, an awful lot has been done, too.
May I, too, welcome my right hon. Friend back to his rightful place on the Front Bench? I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) on the sterling work that she has done over many years to attract business to the Cynon valley. May I suggest that the Secretary of State enters into discussions with the Labour-led Rhondda Cynon Taf authority and the Wales Co-operative Centre? Those excellent organisations have done much excellent work in attracting business and employment prospects to the valleys.
Yes, of course. I know that Rhondda Cynon Taf is doing very good work in that respect. I thank my hon. Friend again for his welcome, and remind him that the last time I spoke from this Dispatch Box he was my special adviser. I know that he does excellent work as Chair of the Welsh Affairs Committee, and I am sure that the subject that he has raised will be a great issue for the Committee to deal with.
I regularly meet the First Minister, when we discuss a range of issues including NHS hospital waiting times for cross-border patients. The Assembly Government are investing record amounts in the NHS in Wales and delivering real improvement in the standard of services to all Welsh patients.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but official Government figures show that while 82 English patients are waiting more than 13 weeks for their first out-patient appointment, the figure for Wales is 47,698, so there does not seem to have been a lot of improvement. Does the Secretary of State agree that there is not so much a health postcode lottery, but deliberate Government discrimination against the people of Wales?
No, I cannot agree with that. The hon. Gentleman is aware that nearly £6 billion has been spent on the health service in Wales. However, he raises an important point about cross-border health arrangements. I was surprised to learn that, in 2006, more than 19,000 patients resident in England were registered with a general practitioner in Wales, while nearly 14,000 patients resident in Wales were registered with a GP in England. Whether we are dealing with primary care or waiting times, there must be an arrangement between the Welsh Assembly Government and the Department of Health, probably an improved protocol on cross-border issues, to deal with any discrepancies. It is fair to say that waiting times in Wales have dropped dramatically over the past year or so and that there are far fewer differences between England and Wales than there were in the past.
I respect the right of the Welsh Assembly Government to determine their priorities in health. We welcome the fact that a third of the patients of the Countess of Chester, which serves my constituency, come to that first-class hospital from Wales. Will my right hon. Friend use his good offices to ensure that quick progress is made on ensuring that there is fair funding for the Countess of Chester hospital?
Yes, I will. My hon. Friend and I discussed this issue only a couple of weeks ago. There are particular problems with dealing with cross-border issues in the north-east of Wales and the north-west of England, and discussions are ongoing about how to deal with them. Of course, the national health service is genuinely national to the United Kingdom and we should not allow cross-border issues to deflect from that basic principle. When the new protocol is agreed, I am sure that it will cover my hon. Friend’s points.
On behalf of Plaid Cymru, may I welcome the Secretary of State to his post?
Does the Secretary of State accept that one of the difficulties with this debate on health provision is that it is bedevilled by both a lack of statistics and conveniently quoted statistics? Will he therefore cause the publication of a set of statistics on the number of Welsh people being treated in England, the percentage of Welsh people being treated in England, waiting times, and costs to local health boards, so that the debate can be properly informed and transparent?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. He is absolutely right that statistics should be available so that we can compare notes on the separate systems in Wales and England. I can give him some statistics. As I said, there are just under 20,000 English patients registered in Wales and 14,000 Welsh patients registered in England. However, we need the figures for hospitals, too. When the statistics are compiled, they will be a useful tool to ensure that there is a proper protocol to deal with the issue. I know that the hon. Gentleman, as a north Wales Member, is especially interested in the matter.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that Welsh patients waiting for treatment in England are part of the overall waiting list in Wales? Does he also agree that today’s figures show a dramatic decrease in the number of Welsh patients waiting for out-patient appointments and in in-patient waiting times? Will he join me in congratulating all the health workers involved in that improvement?
I certainly will agree with my hon. Friend. A great deal of work has been done in the past couple of years to improve waiting times for people in Wales. Her point about today’s figures is very telling. All Members who represent Wales will appreciate that we do not get the number of letters about waiting times that we used to. There is no question but that the situation is better than it used to be, although that is not to say that we can become complacent.
I too welcome the Secretary of State to his post. He has given distinguished service to Wales and to UK politics.
Many patients in north Wales are worried that they will not have access to neurological services in Walton. My constituent, Mr. Narborough, has to go to Wrexham for artificial limb services, rather than Hereford; young Ieuan Baynhan has to go all the way to Morriston for plastic surgery; and Owen Williams cannot get treatment for ankylosing spondylitis in Bath. Will the Secretary of State emphasise to his colleagues in the Assembly and in Westminster how important cross-border services are, and will he ensure that we bring common sense to bear on the situation?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. I agree with him that there is a difficulty. Many of his constituents, for example, go to Neville Hall hospital in Monmouthshire, and some cross the border into Shrewsbury and elsewhere. However, we have to put the distances into perspective: a seriously ill person with a rather specialist complaint will inevitably, I suspect, have to travel some distance for treatment. Obviously, the patient him or herself will want the best treatment, but the nearer it is to home, the better. I shall take his concerns up with the Welsh Health Minister.
I am sure that the Secretary of State has seen this month’s report from the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, which highlights the difficulty many patients have in accessing services in England. Indeed, one local Welsh health board is unable to commission services at the specialist centre in Oswestry because of funding constraints. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that Welsh patients, who, after all, pay their taxes at precisely the same rates as English patients, are entitled to a service of at least equal quality? Does he not share my regret that they are clearly not getting it?
I have seen that report. I understand that the Welsh Assembly Government will consider its recommendations and that Edwina Hart will respond shortly. However, I agree with the general thrust of his question on muscular dystrophy services.
HMRC and DWP Offices
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues at Her Majesty’s Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions, including on that very important issue. We shall continue to take a keen interest in the restructuring and its impact on Wales.
My hon. Friend will be aware that Treasury colleagues undertook to have discussions not only with colleagues in other Departments, but with the Welsh Assembly Government, to try to safeguard HMRC jobs and services in west Wales. What progress has been made, and can he report to the House on the matter?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that vital issue. Wales Office Ministers have suggested options—co-location, for example—in meetings and in correspondence with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and others; we have also raised the matter with the First Minister. WAG officials have discussed the option of co-locating offices with HMRC officials, but opportunities for co-location are limited, because HMRC is focused on achieving cost savings and is not taking on new premises. However, co-location may well be a possibility where a building housing an inquiry centre is given up and an alternative building has to be found nearby. I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend and others have done to raise this important matter and push the case forward.
May I, through the Under-Secretary of State, add my welcome to the Secretary of State on his return to the Front Bench? He did a lot of sterling work in the north of Ireland, and I am sure that he will do the same for Wales.
The answer that the Under-Secretary of State gave is not good enough in the light of the concern felt across the House. Twenty-eight of the 33 DWP offices to close in Wales are within the objective 1 area, as are 550 of the 750 jobs to disappear from the HMRC sector. More must be done—not tinkering with buildings, but acting to secure those jobs.
Once again, the hon. Gentleman raises an important point, which is worth putting in context—Wales has now received more than 2,700 posts as part of the Government relocation—but the issue of substance that he raised is important. We understand that the review process is now complete for the Wales urban centres of Cardiff and Swansea, and that last week HMRC told staff that its decision would be announced this Friday. He will understand that I cannot pre-empt the announcement of that decision, but we are all looking forward to hearing it and seeing how it will affect all parts of Wales.
My hon. Friend will be aware that his office has been dealing with the matter for the past 12 months. One of the key issues has been the principle of co-location and joined-up government. The Treasury needs further pressure to consider seriously co-location and joined-up government with other Departments, including Welsh Assembly Departments, as well as with the NHS and even the private sector, so that we can secure those very important jobs, particularly in the area covered by the west Wales and the valleys conversion fund.
My hon. Friend reiterates the case that he and others have been advancing for some time. I am grateful to him for mentioning the role played by the Wales Office in raising the issue of co-location. We await with interest the announcement on Friday, and I know that he and others will continue to press their case hard for the effective use of co-location as part of the strategy.
The Minister will be aware that the issue has been dragging on for almost 18 months. Is he aware of the impact that that is having on staff at HMRC offices— [Interruption.]
Order. The noise level is too high. There should not be conversations. [Interruption.] That goes for Members on the Labour Benches as well.
I am grateful, Mr. Speaker.
Is the Minister aware of the enormous and unacceptable uncertainty facing staff at HMRC offices such as the one in Haverfordwest, which employs 60 people, and the impact that that uncertainty is having on the morale of the HMRC work force, who provide a vital front-line service? When will staff find out whether they will be made redundant, or whether they might be offered a relocation package or work elsewhere? The uncertainty faced by people in my constituency is the most worrying thing for them at the moment.
The hon. Gentleman rightly says that one of the biggest issues at the moment is the uncertainty of people looking at their futures in HMRC. I agree. Any process of reform such as this brings uncertainty, but as I said in response to previous questions, we hope for some conclusion in the announcement on Friday, to which we look forward with interest. He is absolutely right to say that people want to know where they stand as a result of the consultation.
The Secretary of State has spoken eloquently and wisely on these matters in the Welsh Grand Committee, but will the Minister deal with the inconsistency of an objective 1 area losing jobs on such a scale? We are asking for highly paid, highly skilled jobs, but HMRC offices such as the one in Aberystwyth could be reduced to a rump of only three employees. Will he ensure that the outcome of any discussions and the report on Cardiff and Swansea will not prejudice the case of rural tax offices in west Wales, not least because relocation means very little to people in Aberystwyth, Haverfordwest and similar places?
Again, the hon. Gentleman, along with many other hon. Members, has highlighted the importance of the issue right across Wales, not only in west Wales and the valleys, but in the north, south, east and west. I cannot pre-empt Friday’s announcement, but the points that he and others have made have been noted and fed into the consultation. We look forward with great interest to the result.
I have regular discussions with representatives of several organisations regarding rail performance in Wales, including Arriva and First Great Western.
Given the Government’s willingness to nationalise failing industries, will the Minister consider nationalising Arriva trains? If not, will he convene a summit with Liberal Democrat MPs, MPs from other parties and interested groups, including Arriva itself, on how to improve the poor service on the Cambrian line, and will he consider practical options such as combining infrastructure and operations management of the rail service?
The hon. Gentleman tempts me down the branch line of nationalisation, but at least not in to the failed sidings of Tory rail privatisation. He raises an important issue about the Cambrian line. In August 2007, the Deputy First Minister announced that the Welsh Assembly Government will spend £8 million on capital improvements on the line between Aberystwyth and Shrewsbury. That funding will be matched by £5 million from Network Rail. Of course, I am always more than willing to meet him and other Members who want to raise issues of vital concern to rail users in Wales.
I speak as the chairwoman of the recently formed all-party group on rail in Wales. In light of the announcement made yesterday about franchise breaches by First Great Western trains, will the Minister meet the company to discuss cross-border issues?
Yes, I undoubtedly will. I congratulate her on her leading role in the all-party group on rail in Wales. I am sure that she will do great service. On the announcement made in the papers today, in consultation with the Welsh Assembly Government, Arriva is to lease on a short-term basis five class 150/1 units to First Great Western that are not currently being deployed, for the Wales and borders franchise, but that sub-lease will be available to meet future demand and can be recalled at three months’ notice. I undertake to meet Arriva and First Great Western to discuss the issue.
Last October, the Under-Secretary of State said that he was keen to see the borderlands line between Wrexham and Bidston electrified, and that is crucial to the north Wales economy. He must be disappointed that the Plaid Assembly Minister totally omitted any mention of the scheme when laying out the Assembly’s transport funding priorities for the next four years. Is that not an instance of Labour having sold out to Plaid in return for propping them up in government, to the extent of sacrificing an important infrastructure project?
Not at all, and I point out that the Welsh Assembly Government and Merseytravel have jointly commissioned Network Rail to undertake a study of the scope and cost of options for a full or partial electrification of the Wrexham to Bidston line. The results of the study will be available sometime in spring 2008, and we await them with interest.
The creative industries make a significant contribution to the economy of Wales, not just through the direct investment of funds in facilities and jobs, but through the creation and stimulation of subsidiary industries and other smaller businesses.
Budding David Leans and Nick Parks at Yale college and NEWI—the North East Wales Institute of Higher Education—are producing film-work and animation-work of the highest quality. The real challenge is to ensure that more people see that work. Will my right hon. Friend meet representatives of broadcasting organisations in Wales and press them to showcase more new talent on our airwaves?
I would be more than delighted to do so.
Military Training Academy
I have regular discussions with the First Minister on a range of issues. The defence training academy at St. Athan will be a massive boost to south Wales, providing widespread benefits to the local economy.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. When he next meets the First Minister, will he impress on him how vital it is to provide a road link to the M4 motorway by 2013, so that the whole of Wales can benefit from the record-breaking, multi-billion pound investment in training in my constituency, Vale of Glamorgan?
I am sorry to spoil the party of the hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (John Smith) over there, but the fact is that the Minister will know that Metrix and the Ministry of Defence have just scrapped package 1 of the defence training review. Can the right hon. Gentleman give a 100 per cent. guarantee that package 2 is safe?
No, I cannot give such a guarantee—I am not the Secretary of State for Defence—but what I can say to him is that the preferred bidder for package 2 could still be Metrix, but that package 1, so far as St. Athan is concerned, is absolutely safe, and that £11 billion is to be spent on St. Athan, the biggest ever investment in Wales by the Ministry of Defence.
The Prime Minister was asked—
Before I list my engagements, I am sure the whole House will wish to join me in sending our profound condolences to the family and friends of Corporal Damian Mulvihill of 40 Commando Royal Marines, who was killed in Afghanistan last week. We owe him and others who have lost their lives a deep debt of gratitude.
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.
Last week the parliamentary Labour party was united in voting enthusiastically to nationalise a bank. On Friday two thirds of the parliamentary Labour party stayed in Westminster to vote for the Temporary and Agency Workers (Equal Treatment) Bill, so ably promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Andrew Miller). After that vote we gathered in New Palace Yard for a team photograph and sang “The Red Flag”. Does my right hon. Friend accept that with more of the same, he will lead us to a famous victory at the next election?
I believe that the whole country believes that we were right to take the decisions that we took on Northern Rock. I also believe that the whole of the European Union, all 27 countries, want to see an agreement on agency workers. We are working throughout Europe to get such an agreement. I think that my hon. Friend will agree that since 1997 we have introduced the first legal national minimum wage, which has benefited millions of workers in this country. The unfortunate thing is that it was opposed by the Conservative party.
I join the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Corporal Damian Mulvihill. He died serving our country, and we should honour his memory.
One of the burning issues this week is this place. Is it good value for money? Are we sufficiently transparent? Do we debate the issues that people care about? Do we do it in a way that switches them on, rather than turns them off? I wanted to ask the Prime Minister some questions about that. Let me start with pay. I have long believed that Members of Parliament should not vote for their own pay. I know that the Prime Minister has instituted a review. Will he put it beyond doubt today and give us a guarantee that MPs will not vote for their pay again?
I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that the House has already agreed that MPs should not vote on their pay in future. Perhaps he should read the decisions that have been made by the House. On a general point, I agree with him. The message should go out today clearly that decisions in this country should be made in the Chamber of this House and not on the roof of this House. That is a very important message that should be sent out to those people who are protesting. As for pay, I hope we will reach an agreement in the summer.
I am glad of that guarantee that the Prime Minister has given. It is a real step forward. Allied to—[Interruption.]
Order. The right hon. Gentleman must be allowed to speak.
Allied to the issue of pay is the issue of pensions. Many of our constituents look at our pension arrangements and, having seen that their final salary schemes have been cancelled—[Interruption.] I think people at home watching this want to know the answer to these questions. Is not the least that we should do to reassure people to close the parliamentary pension scheme to new members and to start again in the new Parliament?
On the first question, I remind the right hon. Gentleman, so that he is absolutely clear, that the House has voted for the decision about MPs’ pay to be taken out of the hands of MPs. It was a unanimous vote of the House of Commons. He has already supported that, as have we. On pensions, he can table that proposal as part of the discussions. It is one thing that can be looked at, but that must also be a decision of the House.
Of course, eventually, these are matters for this House, but it is right for party leaders to say where they stand and give a lead.
Allied to the questions of pay and pensions are the issues of allowances and expenses. Irrespective of what the information tribunal agrees for the past, does the Prime Minister agree with me that for the future, the very least we should do is have openness and transparency and the publication of the details and breakdown of allowances and expenses for all Members of Parliament?
If the right hon. Gentleman had done his research, he would know that I have already written to the Speaker saying that that is exactly what I want to see. I wrote to the Speaker immediately after the case that was raised about one particular Member, and said that there had to be transparency on allowances. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that that is my position, and that will continue to be my position.
I welcome this clarity. I read the Prime Minister’s letter very carefully, and I have to say that I did not think that there was that level of clarity at all.
Another issue, which probably does more to undermine people’s faith in politics—[Hon. Members: “It’s you!”] Why don’t you just wait for the question? Then you can shout. [Interruption.]
Order. The right hon. Gentleman is right; hon. Members should wait for the question and listen to it. It is not the place of hon. Members to barrack anyone in this Chamber.
One of the things that do undermine politics is the repetitive shouting of Labour Members.
One of the things that most undermine faith and trust in politics is the fact that we make promises and then do not keep them. Today hundreds of people are marching on Parliament asking for the referendum that they were promised on the European constitution—not just in our manifesto, but in everybody’s manifesto. I know that the Prime Minister is not going to change his mind, but will he at least accept that it cannot be right to ask his own Members of Parliament, many of whom really feel a conscientious belief that they signed up to a manifesto, to vote against their consciences? Can that be right?
First of all, on the question of allowances, let us be absolutely clear about what happened. We voted as a House to refer this to a Committee of the House to look at these very matters. The right hon. Gentleman agreed that we should do so. I have sent in my views to the Speaker about what should be done; perhaps others can add their views too, to the Committee. But the right hon. Gentleman should remember that he agreed that a Committee should look at these matters, and that the judgment should not be pre-empted by decisions that he wants to make.
As far as the European referendum is concerned, the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that in Brussels last summer the decision was made that the constitutional concept be abandoned. In other words, this is an amending treaty and not a constitutional treaty. We have said that there is no necessity now to have a referendum. That will be voted on in the House in the next few days. The question that he will have to answer is: when the House, if it does, votes against there being a referendum, is he going to insist on a referendum after ratification? Is he going to insist on renegotiating the treaty? Is that going to be the Conservative party position for the future?
If the Prime Minister is so confident of his position, given that all of his Members of Parliament agreed the manifesto, he should give them a free vote.
I want to put to the Prime Minister one other point that could help to restore some invigoration in our politics. It is this: there is no doubt that one of the reasons why the American elections have caught people’s imagination is that night after night the contenders debate in live television debates. Does the Prime Minister agree with me that the time for such live television debates at general election times has now come? Will he agree to hold television debates with the leaders of the main political parties so that people can see us discuss the issues, the policies and the challenges for the future of this country?
In America they do not have Question Time every week, where we can examine what the different policies of the different parties are.
I come back to the question of the European referendum. The right hon. Gentleman says that he is demanding a European referendum; there are members of his party who say that now that the constitutional concept has been abandoned, there should be no referendum. He has not got unity in his party on this issue. He should face up to the vital fact that there is a disagreement about this issue, but the constitutional concept in Europe has now been abandoned.
I have to say to the Prime Minister that if he really thinks that these exchanges once a week are a substitute for a proper television debate, then he is even more out of touch than I thought. We have to be honest with ourselves: not many people watch these exchanges, and not all those who do are hugely impressed with them. There are parliamentary systems that do have television debates; we have seen them in Italy, Australia and Poland. The Prime Minister has no objection in principle: when he was shadow Chancellor, he did a television debate against the then Chancellor of the Exchequer—so I have to ask him: what on earth is he frightened of?
This is the man who makes speeches about the primacy of Parliament. This is the man who says that we should keep our promises, and also said that there would be an end to Punch and Judy politics—and what did he then do?
On the European referendum—[Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman raised the issue of the European referendum, so perhaps he will now answer the question: if we ratify the treaty, is he still committed to a referendum and still committed to renegotiating the treaty? The country will need to know the answers from him as well.
Since my grandmother and many other members of my family were murdered by the Nazis in a holocaust that slaughtered 6 million Jews, together with Gypsies, homosexuals and vast numbers of other innocent people, will my right hon. Friend reaffirm the Government’s support for the Holocaust Educational Trust’s “Lessons from Auschwitz” programme, which takes sixth-formers to see for themselves where and how these atrocities were committed? Will he condemn with scorn those who label as a gimmick an essential project to ensure that one of the vilest ever crimes against humanity will never be forgotten?
I will ensure that the Holocaust Educational Trust can continue its vital work and that thousands of school pupils can go to Auschwitz and see for themselves the horrors that happened and then report back to their schools. I would have hoped that there would be agreement in all parts of the House on this.
May I —[Interruption.]
Order. Allow the right hon. Gentleman to speak.
May I add my own expressions of sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of Corporal Damian Mulvihill.
The NHS spends more than £300 million a year on anti-depressant drugs, which we learned yesterday probably do not help many of the people taking them. Is it not time the Prime Minister developed a mental health strategy that helps patients rather than pouring millions of pounds into the pockets of the pharmaceutical industry for drugs that do not even work?
First of all, I say to the right hon. Gentleman: welcome back. I hope that this time he can stay long enough to hear the answers.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we should do more so that people are not dependent on the drugs that he is talking about. That is precisely why the Secretary of State for Health is investing in providing more therapists to help people. We have made a decision to employ 3,600 more, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will support that.
It is good to be here. It is a shame that the Prime Minister seeks to defend clapped-out 19th century procedures in this House, which are preventing the British people from—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”]
Order. [Hon. Members: “More!”] Order. I just say to the right hon. Gentleman that he should be careful where he goes with this. [Interruption.] Order. Now, let the right hon. Gentleman speak. The Speaker has given him some advice; I give hon. Members advice all day. It is all right.
Of course I will be careful, Mr. Speaker. I was talking about procedures, not people—procedures that prevent the British people from having a say in this Chamber, which is what they want.
On the issue of mental health, has the Prime Minister forgotten what his own expert, Lord Layard said? He said that we need an additional 10,000 therapists, not the 3,000 that the Prime Minister is talking about. Why is he taking half measures when we have the scandal of some patients waiting up to three and a half years just to see a therapist?
Lord Layard has said that he supports the policy we are putting forward. That policy will receive the support of £173 million, to invest in the psychological help that people can give. We are looking at piloting some of Lord Layard’s proposals on how we can help people get into work, so we are doing exactly what the right hon. Gentleman is asking us to do.
As for the matter of the European vote, which the right hon. Gentleman also raised, I just remind him that his party put that issue to a vote only a few weeks ago, on 14 November 2007, when it said that
“the Gracious Speech fails to announce proposals for a referendum on the United Kingdom’s continued membership of the European Union.”—[Official Report, 14 November 2007; Vol. 467, c. 781.]
When they put their proposal to the vote, 464 voted against them, and only 68 for them. That is the level of support for their proposal.
The Prime Minister will be aware of the huge disappointment in Blackpool when we were not awarded a super-casino after years of campaigning. Will he therefore agree to meet me, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden), to discuss further the regeneration package announced for Blackpool, and especially to discuss how we can lever in private sector money to match the announcement that the Government have made about their investment?
I applaud what my hon. Friend has done to put the case for Blackpool, and she and my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South have argued the case for regeneration. We have looked at the proposals that she and others have put forward. We are in favour of a substantial scheme of regeneration. We cancelled the super-casino, but our view has always been that not only Manchester but Blackpool should have more measures of regeneration allocated to them by Government support. I will be happy to meet her to discuss that.
I do not think the hon. Gentleman understands that every year about 180 million people are moving around the world. They are moving to study, to work and to find new lives for themselves. It is inevitable that there will be higher mobility in future years. The question for us is one that all parties will want answered. We have to have a system of managed migration for our country, which is precisely what our proposals of last week were determined to achieve.
I am sorry that the Opposition last week said that the cervical cancer screening times that we are introducing were a gimmick. What we are doing is introducing vaccination against cervical cancer, available to teenagers. That is a big investment that we are making because it will save lives. I hope that there will be support in all parties for the action that we are taking.
The right hon. Gentleman may know that we have provided £650 million to local authorities over the next three years to cover the extra cost of national travel. We have done it in that way after a great deal of consultation with local authorities, which asked for the scheme to be developed in the way that it has been. As a result of that consultation, the right hon. Gentleman’s council will receive £275,000 for that national scheme, and I believe that other councils in his area are receiving similar amounts of money. By April, we will be able to say that there will be free off-peak national concessionary travel for every pensioner in the country. That is a substantial advance, and I hope that it will have the support of all people in the country.
I join my hon. Friend in thanking and congratulating the police and those involved in bringing a successful prosecution for the murder of these prostitutes in Ipswich. Our country is proud of the professionalism and dedication that the police and all the prosecuting authorities show. My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of DNA. I can tell the House that the DNA database produced matches that enabled us to prosecute in the case of 452 homicides, 644 rapes, 222 other sex offences and 1,800 other violent crimes, all in the past year. That shows that we are in a position to make the best use of the DNA database to catch people who otherwise may go free. I hope that other parties in the House will reconsider their opposition to the 2003 Act that extended the DNA database, to the benefit of successful prosecutions.
The most recent election in Scotland took place last week in the Highland ward in Perthshire, where the Scottish National party secured 60 per cent. of the vote and Labour came in last at 3 per cent. What particular UK Government policy does the Prime Minister think motivated those 97 hardy souls to vote Labour?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, in the last Scottish elections, even with the success of the SNP, 68 per cent. of the population voted against parties supporting separation. On any opinion polls conducted, support for independence has not risen since last summer, but fallen. That shows the views of the Scottish people: they want to be part of the United Kingdom.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has taken a big interest in such matters. Although the numbers of people on drugs are down and the numbers of drug-related crimes are down, we still have a major problem to deal with, in respect of the number of people dependent on drugs in our country. Dealing with it starts with proper education in primary and secondary schools, and with proper systems for treating people who are drug-dependent, and includes programmes for treating people in prison, where we want to move the number of people on drugs who are treated to an additional 1,000 a week.
I also believe that we must do more to help people who are on benefit back into work. It is right, then, to look at the system that we have for paying incapacity benefit, to see whether there is a better way of ensuring that the 300,000 people on incapacity benefit who are drug-dependent can receive the treatment necessary, allowing them to be in a position to get back to work and not be wholly dependent for ever on one benefit. We are going to come forward with proposals to reform the system to ensure that people who are on drugs have the best possibility of getting off drugs, with the best possible treatment.
If proposals are made to give communities better means of providing postal services, and if they include a financial way forward to do so, we are very happy to look at them. On present proposals for post offices, the hon. Gentleman will know that we have set aside £1.7 billion for the next three years to implement the programme of post offices changes. Under the previous Government, no money was provided when post offices were going under, but we are providing the money to make it possible. About 10 per cent. of the proposals have already been turned down, and if the hon. Gentleman brings forward proper and financially costed proposals, we will look at them.
I congratulate the new President-elect on his victory. Cypriots have clearly demonstrated that they want a comprehensive settlement, or progress towards it, in the next few months. I have invited the new President to come to London to talk about these issues, and I believe that there is new hope that such a settlement can be achieved.
There can be no defence against the abuse of democratic rights in any country.
I am sorry that the Conservative party chose last Friday to say that something as important as controlling the supply of alcohol and stopping binge drinking in our community is simply a gimmick. It is right to confiscate alcohol from under-18s, it is right to prosecute shops and retail outlets that sell alcohol to under-18s, and it is right to step up the measures that we will be taking in the next few days against binge drinking in our country. I believe that the whole country wants us to take those measures, and that they do not see measures that make a difference as a gimmick. That idea is just playing politics, but we are getting on with the business of governing.
Does the Prime Minister share my concern about the worrying increase in tension in Serbia and, even more worryingly, in parts of the Republika Srpska, following the granting of independence to Kosovo? Does he agree with Carla del Ponte that more effort must be made to send a strong signal to bring General Mladic and Karadzic to justice in The Hague in the very near future?
Bringing these two men to justice is a very important part of reconciliation after what happened in that area of Europe. I would say to the hon. Gentleman also that what has happened in Kosovo is the right way forward. The supervised independence that is happening has happened with peace and stability. I hope, as a result of the NATO force and the European Union civilian force there, that that will continue, and I hope that Serbia, where there are tension and understandable anxieties, will see that it has a European future, and we will support it in that.
Order. The hon. Lady must stop.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Fair trade is important to the poorest countries of the world. The Fairtrade fortnight that is taking place means that there are many local celebrations that we should be supporting. UK shoppers have bought nearly 500 million fair trade products this year. That is up 40 per cent., which shows the great support that there now is for fair trade. Fair trade is not a gimmick. It is an important part of building justice throughout the world.
Personal Debt (Advice and Regulation)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require schools to provide education on personal money management; to make provision about advice centres on personal finance; to impose conditions on the activities of money-lending companies; and for connected purposes.
Debt has always been a problem for some, but we live in an increasingly materialistic society and that is fuelling a growing debt crisis. Yesterday we heard from the Children’s Society about the increasing materialism shown by children and the pressure that that can cause. Children are keen to conform, and that is a particular problem in the teenage years. A separate survey of 14 to 18-year-olds revealed that more than half of them are in some sort of debt by the age of 17 and a further 26 per cent. saw credit cards and overdrafts as a way of increasing their spending power.
Last year, 106,645 people were declared insolvent or bankrupt. That is 272 people every day. Many others are wondering whether they will be next, but the problems start building up early in life. Quite simply, many 18-year-olds today start their adult life in debt. A student loan, topped up by tempting deals on credit cards and store cards, causes the problem. Faced with the offer of 10 per cent. off if a person signs up for a store card today, many teenagers and young adults are ill equipped to consider fully the long-term cost of so much cheap credit. A survey by the Nationwide building society revealed that 75 per cent. of people in the UK do not understand the monetary value that a 1 per cent. difference in mortgage rates can make. It is probably safe to assume that that lack of knowledge can be extended to credit card repayments.
In the UK, personal debt as a proportion of income is the highest it has ever been and the highest in the developed world. We are, quite simply, the debtor of Europe. If the problem is not to deteriorate further, we need to take action at a number of levels. First, we need to get people while they are young. Currently, the teaching of personal financial management is not compulsory in schools, although there are opportunities for pupils to learn about managing their money through personal, social and health education, citizenship and maths lessons. However, the reality is that PSHE lessons are not always taken as seriously as they should be and there is no monitoring of what is taught. Some schools have found it difficult to teach financial literacy: some staff do not feel confident about teaching it, and that is combined with the difficulty of fitting the lessons into an already crowded timetable. Above all, however, education should equip people for life, so the subject deserves to be taught in its own right.
Financial education will be part of the national curriculum from 2008, but that will cover only the role of business and financial services. What children really need are lessons in budgeting and money management, as they will help them understand the implications of any simple financial decisions that they make and, hence, help them to avoid future debt.
Given the Government’s desire for individuals to take more personal responsibility for their long-term financial well-being, the only real surprise is that that education need has not been addressed already. For many adults, however, debt is a problem that already exists. People in debt simply do not know how to climb out of the debt trap, and in many cases some simple advice and support can help people to turn their lives around.
Yet the problem is growing. Since 1997, total British household debt has risen 170 per cent. The average interest paid on debt by each household per year has risen to approximately £3,800—an increase of £500 over the past year alone. According to Credit Action debt statistics, 80 per cent. of Britons regularly admit to overspending.
One tool for decreasing the problem is to ensure that people have access to free independent advice and assistance. The Thoreson review is currently looking into the matter, but Otto Thoreson has stated recently that providing a national, generic financial advice service would improve financial capability across the UK, and that the benefits would outweigh the costs by about three and a half to one. He has already identified the cohort of the population most in need of the advice, and calculated that there are 19 million or so people with significant needs. That represents nearly half the UK adult population.
Some advice is available already, but the organisations offering it face an increased burden. The National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux received 434,592 requests for help in November last year. That is 30,000 more than in the whole of the 1996-97 accounting year, which shows how the problem has grown.
The Government should be working actively with the financial services industry to achieve a national roll-out of independent advice centres that would provide financial health checks. Currently, NACAB provides a valuable service but it usually offers help only once people have got themselves into considerable financial difficulty. It has recently trialled a new initiative called Moneyplan, whose aim is to find a way to meet the advice gap that has been identified in the provision of generic financial advice.
The main findings so far suggest a great deal of unmet demand. The project does not deal with crisis management, but it often has to deal with explaining financial documents that the individual simply does not understand. Also, the Resolution Foundation has investigated the feasibility of establishing a new national financial advice resource, funded by a public-private partnership, to provide financial advice targeted at people on low incomes. The foundation makes the point that a significant proportion of that group are currently making poor financial choices. I suggest that making poor financial choices is not restricted to people on low incomes.
The Resolution Foundation report also concludes that, by drawing on technology and harnessing learning from existing services, the financial advice needed could be provided at high volumes and at a reasonable cost. The time has come for Government to take a lead on the problem, rather than wait for some third-party organisation to try to get people together.
My Bill would provide a mechanism for achieving a national roll-out of independent advice centres that provide financial health checks. A network that provides genuinely independent advice would be in the best interests of the financial industry. It would be in the industry’s interests to finance the scheme collectively, as it would help to restore battered confidence by providing advice of a high professional standard that is not linked to any particular product.
However, it is no good having improved financial literacy if lending practices are confusing to the consumer. There is a need for greater transparency in a number of areas. Young people often collect store cards and, despite recent changes, some of the charging remains complex and fairly opaque. We need to have a simpler mechanism for explaining to people what their average monthly repayments will be for each £100 that they borrow—both in the initial phases of the loan, and once any offer period has expired. The current concept of APR—the annual percentage rate—is meaningless to most people.
There is also a need for tighter guidelines by the Financial Services Authority over non-income verified mortgages. We do not want to return to the days when the self-employed found it hard to obtain loans, but the recent growth in the number of unverified mortgages suggests an eagerness to promote competitive lending. Lenders should have more responsibility for ensuring that a mortgage is granted only if it is proven that the suggested repayments are feasible. The issue is hugely topical. Only this morning on the “Today” programme, Hector Sants, head of the Financial Services Authority, acknowledged the need to return to a rather more old-fashioned world in which banks lent money, kept risks themselves, and had to make rather fuller judgments about the people to whom they lent.
The aforementioned measures can only go so far, and there is a pressing need to find ways in which to put the brakes on irresponsible financial behaviour. One way of doing that would be to adopt greater debt-inflation pooling, in order to prevent irresponsible lending and borrowing. At present, about 60 per cent. of debt data are pooled; the 40 per cent. that are not includes student debt, and figures show that more than 59,000 graduates are in arrears of student loan payments by more than six months. Clearly that information needs to be part of the bigger picture, so that young adults are not allowed to get further into debt and lenders have the greatest possible amount of information on the people to whom they are lending.
This is very much a 21st-century problem. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable), who has done much to highlight the issues in the past. The Bill is a modest contribution to tackling the problem, and I hope that the Government will support its aims.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Sandra Gidley, Rosie Cooper, John Bercow, Peter Luff, Mr. David Drew, Mr. Don Foster, Dr. Vincent Cable and Lorely Burt.
Personal Debt (advice and Regulation)
Sandra Gidley accordingly presented a Bill to require schools to provide education on personal money management; to make provision about advice centres on personal finance; to impose conditions on the activities of money-lending companies; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 25 April, and to be printed [Bill 77].
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you considered the instruction on the Order Paper in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg), and will you be selecting it?
I understand that the matter does not arise today, so the question is rather hypothetical.
Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry about this—
As I have said in the House before, the cares of tomorrow are for a day still to come.
I am very aware of that, Mr. Speaker. I am keen that none of us should have this care tomorrow or the day after, which is why I am raising it today.
On the issue of Standing Order No. 66 and instructions, may I ask your advice on whether you might be able to help us in two ways, Mr. Speaker? I think I am right in saying that, under the present arrangements, when an instruction is issued there is no early indication of its selection like the indication through your office of the selection of amendments, for instance, or other selection in the Lobby. Will you consider whether it would be possible for you to indicate selection or non-selection of instructions with some notice, so that the House as a whole knows in advance whether an instruction has been selected? That is my first question.
I cannot possibly give an answer just now, but I will consider the hon. Gentleman’s point. That is question No. 1 out of the way. As an engineer, I like to do one thing at a time. Now let me deal with the next question.
You have been very helpful, Mr. Speaker. I have one more request, to which I hope you will be equally sympathetic.
There are some instructions which it seems to me may not be necessary—although they are perfectly legitimate as instructions on the Order Paper—because the legislation to be debated could include the business that is the subject of the instruction. I have been present—as you have, Sir—on occasions when instructions have been issued and it has been accepted that the matter in question is one with which the Bill could deal: Crossrail is one example. Will you, Mr. Speaker, give consideration to whether I might be spared the need to have to raise such an issue in future because you are able to rule that a Bill covers the matters dealt with by an instruction so we do not have to put it on the Order Paper?
The hon. Gentleman must understand that I deal with the business of the day, and I therefore cannot give hypothetical rulings.
BUSINESS OF THE HOUSE (LISBON TREATY) (No. 7)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Order [28 January],
That the Order of 28th January be further amended as follows: in the Table, in the entry for Allotted Day 8, in the third column:
(a) for ‘4½ hours’ substitute ‘3½ hours’, and
(b) for ‘1½ hours’ substitute ‘2½ hours’. —[Mr. Watts.]
Question agreed to.
Treaty of Lisbon (No. 8)
[8th 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).
I beg to move,
That this House approves the Government’s policy towards the Treaty of Lisbon in respect of provisions concerning climate change.
I am sure that the whole House welcomes the opportunity to debate the part that Europe should play in tackling dangerous climate change. Leadership on this most important task facing our planet is exactly what we need Europe for, and in providing that lead Europe is building on the environmental foundations it has created since its early days. It was in 1987 that environmental protection was first brought into the treaty of Rome, with the signing of the Single European Act. In 1993, the Maastricht treaty established the environment as an activity of the EU. The treaty of Amsterdam in 1997 included balanced and sustainable development as a new objective of the European Union. There was a declaration by member states alongside the treaty of Nice in 2001, which expressed determination that the EU play a leading role in promoting environmental protection both in the EU and globally. Finally, the Lisbon treaty specifically recognises combating climate change as an important strategic objective of EU policy.
Regardless of what we think of the nature of the protests that have taken place today on the roof of Parliament and a few days ago at Heathrow, they point to a major contradiction in EU policy. On the one hand, the approval of the open skies treaty between the United States of America and the EU could lead to 25 million tonnes of carbon being released into the atmosphere, while on the other we have this debate today about climate change. Will the Secretary of State press for the treaty’s provisions on climate change to trump the other things that are pushing to make matters worse?
I shall address aviation later in my speech. Interestingly, although the abandoned constitution did not contain a specific reference to climate change, the Lisbon treaty specifically recognises the need to combat climate change as a strategic objective of the EU. I hope my hon. Friend acknowledges that. [Interruption.] As my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe says, it is an improvement. That is because it recognises the changes in politics, in science and in understanding and awareness. If I may say so, that makes the Opposition amendment look pretty strange. I am looking forward to hearing the speech of the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth), because what on earth would the rest of the world make of us if, having put that into the Lisbon treaty—for reasons that many Members have advanced—we were to take it out? What message would that send to the world about how serious Europe is?
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that those who are concerned about the precise, detailed wording of the Lisbon treaty, lest it should lead to uncovenanted results, ought to be particularly keen on the introduction of these words, because the results to which they will lead will be covenanted? They will mean that the European Union makes this a much more central issue than it would otherwise be.
The right hon. Gentleman absolutely makes the case. I pay tribute to the work that he has done over many years to advance the cause of environmental understanding in the UK and in Europe. That is absolutely the argument. Bluntly, it would look really odd if, having gone into this recognising that we all understand the problem, we were then to argue that it should not be in the treaty and that we should take it out. What sort of message would the House be sending out if that were to happen?
Does the Secretary of State accept that adding six words to the Lisbon treaty is hardly going to transform the centrality of climate change to European policy making? As he has set out in his speech, the EU already has the powers and the established position to take action on this matter. With respect to my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), whose point I take on board, might not the practical effect of the measure be that international treaties on climate change would need the approval of the European Parliament, which could put a brake on action on climate change, rather than leading to an improvement?
Methinks the hon. Gentleman doth protest too much. Yes, this measure will institutionalise what the European Union has already been doing—I will say more about that in a moment—but that is not an argument for not putting it in the treaty. If we recognise, as we all do—I am sure that that goes for the hon. Gentleman as well—that climate change is one of the two greatest threats that the world is facing, why would we not want to put in the treaty a reference to dealing with the dangerous consequences of climate change as a strategic objective of the European Union, given the opportunity and given what Europe has done up to now? I have to say, in all honesty, that I really do not get the hon. Gentleman’s argument, which is why his speech on the subject will be very interesting to listen to.
Is it not clear that the suggestion in the Conservatives’ amendment that
“the Treaty of Lisbon is effectively irrelevant to the vital issue of climate change”
is completely absurd? Is it not also clear that their attempt to set the purpose and policy of the European Union against the processes of the European Union is also based on a false dichotomy? Without streamlined processes, the European Union would not be able to advance its policies.
I agree with my hon. Friend entirely. Indeed, part of the purpose of the Lisbon treaty is to enable Europe effectively to address the challenges that the world faces, and today we are discussing climate change, which is one of the greatest of them all.
The Secretary of State has warned the Opposition about the danger of sending baffling messages on climate change. May I put it to him that actions speak a great deal louder than words, and that the decision to expand Heathrow is utterly baffling to my constituents, and to people all around the world? I really must ask him to reconsider it.
I will come to the emissions trading scheme and aviation later. The hon. Gentleman will know that a consultation is taking place, and that, in the context of the much lower total of carbon emissions that we will be able to emit if we are to achieve our international objectives, society has a choice about where it decides to make those emissions. It is because of Europe that aviation will now have to make a contribution; it did not have to do so in the past. Aviation has a particular set of characteristics, along with shipping, including the fact that it is international, and we will need to agree on a system for divvying up responsibility for coping with the consequences of those emissions. We now have a vehicle for doing something about that, but only because the European Union has acted.
I am following what the Secretary of State is saying, but is it not the case that, although aviation will come into phase 3 of the EU emissions trading scheme, there will be an opt-out for industries in competition with businesses in countries without comparable carbon restraints? Does not that mean that international flights from the EU to the United States or the far east, which do not have carbon restraints comparable to those of the ETS, will not be included in the scheme? Will not the scheme therefore affect only flights within the EU?
The EU has competence in relation to flights that come in and out of the Union. Frankly, if the International Civil Aviation Organisation were doing its job properly, it would be addressing this issue, because ultimately we need an international solution, as we do in the fight against climate change. That is not an argument for Europe not trying, however, and the significance of the agreement that we reached at the Environment Council in December was that member states said, “Yes, we wish to see aviation included.” Britain would have liked aviation to come into the scheme earlier than 2012. It looks as though that is when it will happen; it now depends on negotiations with the Parliament. The cap that will be applied, subject to those negotiations, will be based on 2004-06 emissions. That means that any rise in emissions above that level will have to be compensated for by emission reductions elsewhere.
That example, and the inclusion of climate change in the Lisbon treaty, demonstrate that the development of the EU’s policy on the environment reflects our evolution of understanding as to why the environment—and now climate change—matter so much. Why did this happen? Very simply, it did so because the countries of Europe realised pretty early on that what we could achieve by working together would be much greater than what we could hope to achieve by going our separate ways. We know that environmental pollution does not respect national borders. It is a statement of the obvious, but there is no means by which we could say, “Okay, we’ll look after the UK’s emissions and you can look after yours.” By definition, this is a problem of interdependence. It is a global problem that requires action at international level, and the EU is giving the lead.
In view of what my right hon. Friend has said about aviation, would he agree that an equal, if not stronger, case needs to be made for shipping? Everything has been concentrated on aviation, and it is now vital to press through the International Maritime Organisation for a proper carbon regime for shipping. That can best be done through the EU.
I agree with my hon. Friend entirely. As she will know, the challenge is even more complex in relation to shipping. It is not simply a question of divvying up the emissions according to which port a ship leaves and which one it arrives in. We need to address the question of fuel bunkering; if that happens in international waters, who is responsible for the emissions? We also need to deal with the question of flags of convenience, because if the trading were arranged on that basis, some countries might suddenly find that they had to take responsibility for a lot of emissions. This is a complex issue, and it needs to be dealt with on an international basis.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that people throughout the world, not just those who live in the EU, look to the EU to provide a lead on climate change? In November, the UK branch Commonwealth Parliamentary Association held a conference here in London that was attended by 85 parliamentarians from Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth countries. The conference called for a new international treaty, and for the promotion of the creation of durable carbon markets. The majority of the people there were from non-EU countries, and they look to the EU to provide a lead because our carbon emissions trading scheme is the best and strongest so far developed in the world, and because they see the EU as the most likely base on which to build an international agreement on these matters.
I agree with my hon. Friend completely. This is about providing leadership in the world. If we all wait for someone else to act, “After you” will do for all of us. That is the truth. I congratulate those who took the initiative to call that conference together. Parliamentarians are part of the process by which this change will take place, because we, too, represent the change in awareness and the growth in understanding. As I shall illustrate in relation to Bali, Europe’s leadership is hugely significant in this regard, and gives encouragement to others around the world.
The Secretary of State has just mentioned the subject of my question. On the international situation, does he not agree that the impact of the Conservatives’ amendment would be to undermine the strategic direction that Europe took in Bali, which was so vital to the success of those negotiations in bringing pressure to bear on countries such as the United States to come on board and join the international consensus?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very fair point. In truth, people will look at that amendment and think, “What? What is that all about?” It makes no sense whatever. Let us debate the substance of what we need to do. To focus a lot of attention on saying, “Can you please remove the words ‘climate change’ from the EU treaty?” would be greeted with a lot of perplexed looks and exasperation around the globe.
The Secretary of State is being very generous in giving way and he is making his case most eloquently. He has repeatedly referred to what the EU will do, to the EU’s actions and to what it is enabled to do. Will he tell us, simply, whether there is any new power in the treaty that was not provided for already?
No, there is not. The treaty does not change the shared competence and qualified majority voting applies. However—I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept this, on reflection—it institutionalises the point that the EU, as it moves forward, recognises that tackling climate change will be an important part of what it will need to do.
Does that not underline how confusing the Opposition amendment is? Surely, if climate change is important, which we all accept, it should be institutionalised. The debate should be about shifting resources from agricultural subsidies to fighting climate change. To do that, the policy should be part of the institutions of the EU.
Of course it should. Given the strength of the argument against the Opposition amendment, maybe some on the Opposition Benches will see the error of their ways.
I am sorry that Labour Members appear to be confused by the amendment, as it is very straightforward. I am also sorry that the Secretary of State says that the amendment would also remove reference to climate change from the Lisbon treaty. It would do nothing of the kind. The point made by the Opposition’s amendment is that
“the Government’s priority on climate change in the European context should not be institutional change but the strengthening of measures to drive down greenhouse gas emissions”—
there should be actions, not words.
I have read those words very carefully. I have also read the amendment that will be debated later, which will be dealt with by my hon. Friend the Minister for Europe, that indeed seeks to remove the words.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that that is a Back-Bench amendment? Yes or no?
I do recognise that; if Opposition Front Benchers are saying that they will not support it, that is fine. [Interruption.] Good, I am pleased to hear that.
Will they be supporting it?
I think that those on the Opposition Front Bench have indicated that they will not. It would not make any sense. I do not understand why they are carping about the inclusion of those words which they say make no difference. My argument is that they do make a difference. Since the Opposition are not arguing in favour of the treaty they will, in the end, be understood by the position that they take.
Every one of us has an interest in a healthy and natural environment. We all recognise the improvements that have been made as a result of the efforts of the EU. Pollution control is a good example. Air quality legislation has been in place since the 1980s and has been responsible for dramatic improvements in air quality across Europe. Sulphur dioxide emissions, which are one thing about which we should be concerned, are down by 68 per cent. compared with 2004. Nitrogen oxides are down 32 per cent. Volatile organic compounds are down 43 per cent. and ammonia is down 22 per cent. That is one example of European action making a difference.
A second example is the quality of bathing water. In 1976, EU legislation protected bathers from health risks. What has that meant for people in the UK? Significant improvements have been made to the quality of our bathing waters. As a result, nearly all coastal bathing sites consistently meet the European standard. Seven in 10 waters now achieve the tougher guideline standards. Those are two examples of Europe acting to improve our environment. They both represent real progress.
Some of us heard an interesting speaker from Surfers Against Sewage last night, not far from this House. The speaker pointed out that if it had not been for European regulation, Surfers Against Sewage would never have achieved what it has as a successful pressure group that has changed the quality of sea water around our country. Does the Secretary of State agree that every environmental group that I talk to believes that nothing would have happened in this country without leadership from Europe?
That is entirely the case. Europe has been a force for good in improving the quality of our environment. That is the truth. Those who carp at the EU and do not wish it to have those responsibilities and powers must then accept the consequence of the lack of action that would have happened if Europe had not taken the lead. That is precisely the reason that we need Europe to act on climate change. I would describe the Lisbon treaty as a further step in the journey in protecting the environment for us all.
The Prime Minister said in November last year that our membership of the EU
“gives us and 26 other countries the unique opportunity to work together on economic, environmental and security challenges”.
We all know that dangerous climate change is all three of those challenges and more. One has only to think for a moment about the possible consequences of reduced water availability in the world. What will we do when human beings start to fight each other about water? How will we cope with the consequences for crop yields of increased temperature? What will we do as a world when large numbers of people begin to move around the globe in pursuit of a safe place to live, because they cannot live where they lived previously as dangerous climate change has rendered their homes uninhabitable? I and other hon. Members have seen with our own eyes people who are experiencing that precise situation in the developing world.
The truth is that the world has come a long way since 1988, when the World Meteorological Organisation and the UN Environment Programme established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. At that point, few people were aware of what was going on, and in the years since things have changed dramatically. The science is no longer in doubt. Climate change is happening, and it is happening fast. Time is short and the world must act now.
The UK Government have played an important part in leading that debate in the EU and internationally. After all, in 1998 the UK Government, during our presidency, led the EU in pushing for the historic Kyoto agreement. The EU emissions trading scheme is based on the UK’s domestic scheme, which started three years earlier. We were the first country in the world to do that. The EU picked it up and, as has been said, it is now the bedrock of the EU’s efforts to reduce emissions by putting a price on carbon. The emissions trading scheme is the largest scheme of its kind in the world and covers the largest emitters, who produce almost half the EU’s CO2 emissions. We want other sectors to be included in the scheme, which is precisely why we pressed for aviation to be included. That was agreed at the Environment Council in December.
I am extremely grateful to the Secretary of State, who is as generous as ever in giving way. The six words—almost an aside—in the Lisbon treaty that refer to climate change are:
“and in particular combating climate change.”
Of all the strands in the comprehensive treaty, which covers so many areas of law and activity in the EU, that must be the slightest reference to any subject. Today is being spent trying to deflect attention away from the failure to provide the people of this country with a say on the Lisbon treaty by dressing it up as an important step in climate change. I put it to the Secretary of State, who is known for his honesty in this House, that that is nothing more than a charade. It is not giving a genuine impression.
I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman, but in preparing for the debate and standing at the Dispatch Box today I am not taking part in a charade, whatever he is doing. I do not accept the argument. However, maybe he is arguing that there should be a bigger reference to climate change in the Lisbon treaty. Is he?
I would have thought that as we are devoting a day to considering the Lisbon treaty as it relates to climate change, it would deserve a much bigger entry if it was felt to be important. We have already said that we do not think that it needs such an entry. Why are the Government spending this time on discussing six words? The EU has the powers. The point that we Conservatives will be making today is that it is action that counts. Our frustration and annoyance is caused by the lack of action and the Government’s desire to play politics by using climate change as a cover.
I am not trying to use climate change as a cover for anything at all. I was in the middle of pointing out that the EU is already getting on with it, hence why argue with the words in the treaty? We were the first country to put climate change at the heart of a G8 presidency and to argue that there should be a debate on climate change in the Security Council. We were the first country in the world, as a member of the European Union, to put together a Climate Change Bill. The hon. Gentleman will recognise that the Climate Change Bill, which is being considered in the other place, is an historic piece of legislation that will make us the first country in the world to provide for a legally binding, long-term framework to cut CO2 emissions. That UK commitment reflects Europe’s commitment. EU member states, as well as other countries throughout the world, are watching what we are doing in the United Kingdom with great interest.
Given that the Climate Change Bill was the product of Opposition pressure and Government willingness, and is thus a commonly supported Bill, does the Secretary of State agree that we are setting an important example throughout the world and that that ought to be the way in which we proceed on all these matters?
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman absolutely. All our thinking has evolved. That is reflected in the politics of all the parties of which we are proud to be members and the campaigns of non-governmental organisations—Friends of the Earth has worked particularly hard. The truth is that whoever is in government in any country in the world, they will have to deal with this threat, so we all have a shared interest in ensuring that we have the right framework, the right politics and, above all, the right action to get emissions down.
Brevity is not necessarily an indication of substance. The phrase
“all men shall be free”
underpinned the anti-slavery movement, which shows that even five words can achieve a great deal. To return to the substance of the debate, another phrase is “commerce always outbids conservation”, and it bothers me that aviation is being grandfathered. All other sectors in the ETS have a baseline of 1990, so why should aviation have 14 years’ growth grandfathered? Surely all other sectors in the ETS should be unhappy with that decision.
The straight answer to my hon. Friend’s point is that that was what the Council of Ministers was able to reach agreement on in the end. However, I am not sure that I agree that commerce will always trump conservation. In the development of our understanding of dangerous climate change, it is striking that the business community gets it, too. Even in the relatively short time that I have been in this job, I have seen the CBI taskforce report and listened to business people from around the world, especially from the UK and Europe. I pay tribute to Nick Stern, because if one was to put a finger on one bit of work that has done more than any other to change attitudes in the business community and broader society, it would be his fantastic report. He said very simply, “If you don’t get the moral case and you’re not wholly persuaded by the science, just have a look at the numbers.” People who understand numbers for a living can see that a case is being made when someone says, “Given a choice between a low cost and a much higher one, which do you fancy pursuing?”
Does the Secretary of State agree that Conservative Members would be able to make a more valid contribution if they focused on other aspects of the treaty relating to climate change more than on the six words that have presumably been crayoned on to their briefing notes for them? The Lisbon treaty clearly talks about the sustainable development of Europe, energy efficiency and new agreements on renewable forms of energy. Are they not crucial factors in tackling climate change?
They certainly are. If hon. Members read article 191 in the consolidated texts, they will find all those points. As we have come to learn, we need to see all these things in the round.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
I want to make a little more progress because many hon. Members wish to speak and I want to give them as much time as possible.
President Barroso himself has acknowledged the growing public recognition of the dangers posed by climate change. He says:
“It therefore deserves and demands to be seen as one of the new cornerstones of the EU’s raison d’être.”
I could not agree more, and that is what the treaty will achieve. That is reflected by the fact that, last spring, the European Council agreed an ambitious set of targets on carbon emissions, renewable energy and biofuels to push forwards the transition. Germany, as G8 president, played a role in getting agreement at Heiligendamm on the need for cuts in emissions, which was an example of European leadership.
In December, Europe’s united front in support of an agreement at the climate change negotiations in Bali played an important part in achieving a breakthrough. Something was achieved at Bali that had not seemed possible before, namely that all countries in the world—from the United States of America to developing countries—recognised the science and the need to make deep cuts in emissions, and agreed that we needed to negotiate a new climate deal over the next two years. On 23 January, the European Commission published legislative proposals in the climate and energy package that will put the emissions trading scheme at the heart of EU policy. An EU-wide central cap is being established for the first time precisely because Europe is learning from the experience of phase 1 of the ETS that if the cap is not right, progress will not be made.
Given that, according to the House of Commons Library, per capita CO2 emissions in the United Kingdom have increased this century, will my right hon. Friend say a little more about what articles 191 and 192 will do to assist us to adapt to climate change, on which Stern was particularly strong? There is a need not only to deal with the causes, important though that is—it has been a major focus of my right hon. Friend’s speech—but to say something about the inevitable consequences that he realises are already happening and that will get worse in the future.
The last point in article 191.1 refers to
“promoting measures at international level to deal with regional or worldwide environmental problems”.
Such problems are not just those relating to combating climate change, but those that will flow from climate change, such as the availability of water, crop yields and diseases that will spread to parts of the world in which they have not been found before. There must be adaptation now, because whatever we agree on mitigation, we will have to adapt to the changes that are irrevocably in the system.
The EU has set ambitious targets on renewables for member states. By demonstrating its leadership, it has said that if there is a global deal, the EU will increase its commitment further and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent. by 2020.
I agree with many of the general points that the Secretary of State is making. On the point raised by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris), I have had a quick look at article 174 in the previous treaty, which seems to include an almost identical provision to that to which the Secretary of State referred in article 191, except for the words to do with climate change. Is that the case?
What is new is the inclusion of the strategic objective of addressing climate change, which we should all welcome.
Europe is providing leadership, and its 27 voices are giving the same message to citizens, businesses and our global partners. Europe, this country and the world need to concentrate on five things if we are to deal with the problem. First, now that we have the deal at Bali, we need to agree on a goal.
That would be a start.
Well, Europe has made a start because it has a goal—a temperature target. There is a question of what temperature increase the world thinks that we can live with and what we must avoid. Europe’s target is no more than 2°C, which will require at least a 50 per cent. reduction in global emissions from 1990 levels across the world. We must get agreement, because once there is agreement on a goal, we can look at all the commitments from around the world that are on the table. We can then add them up and decide whether they will be sufficient. We know that they are not sufficient to deal with the task at the moment.
Secondly, we need bigger and more ambitious commitments from developed countries. That is why Europe’s commitment is important and why we need all the rich developed nations, including the largest economy in the world, to make binding commitments. Thirdly, we need a strong global carbon market, because putting a price on what is bad for the climate will encourage people to invest in what is better for the climate. We have to open up those markets to all countries, and the fact that the EU ETS is the largest of all the markets puts Europe in a strong position to ensure that that happens. As other trading schemes emerge in other parts of the globe, one of our tasks is to enable them all to fit together, so that we do not end up with—if I can put it this way—a VHS trading scheme in one place and a Betamax trading scheme in another, or different currencies; we need to be able to connect the schemes together.
Fourthly, we need a deal that is fair. This is fundamentally a matter of global social justice. We now learn that we have a finite resource that the world can cope with: CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions. The world can only take so much, so the question is how we divide that up fairly and equitably, both to save the planet and to lift every citizen out of poverty in the same century. That is why we need measurable contributions from developed countries, but we also have to show that those countries are willing to provide financial support, help with technology, assistance to avoid deforestation and support for adaptation to developing countries. Fifthly and finally, we need an agreement that covers all countries and all emissions and does enough to solve the problem.
That, in summary, is the task that the negotiations between now and Copenhagen have to achieve. The truth is that Europe alone cannot ensure that we get that deal in Copenhagen; it depends on many other countries, too. But with the Lisbon treaty acknowledging Europe’s role—that is what it does, and so it should—we now have a firm basis on which to proceed. What the Lisbon treaty has to say on climate change recognises reality and embraces practical politics, and I think that the House should support it.
I beg to move, To leave out from ‘House’ to end and add
‘notes that the Treaty of Lisbon makes no substantive changes to EU competence on climate change; agrees with the Foreign Secretary that climate change agreements already reached by the EU “have done more to show the relevance of the European Union than any amount of institutional tinkering”; believes that the Treaty of Lisbon is effectively irrelevant to the vital issue of climate change; and concludes that the Government’s priority on climate change in the European context should not be institutional change but the strengthening of measures to drive down greenhouse gas emissions.’.
Conservatives always welcome the opportunity to speak in this House on the vital importance of tackling climate change. As the debates on the Lisbon treaty are demonstrating, we also welcome opportunities to speak on the role and influence of the European Union in the political and daily life of this country. Indeed, some hon. Members on both sides of the House seem to show an insatiable appetite for debating matters European. We are happy to debate climate change and our relationship with the European Union.
The other place has happily been debating the Climate Change Bill in recent weeks, and I am pleased to note how the Opposition have succeeded in persuading the Government to toughen up some key provisions of that Bill. We look forward to its arrival in this House in the near future. If we end up with a robust Climate Change Bill—one that really changes the mindset in Whitehall and in Westminster—it will be a great example of what a national Parliament can achieve.
There will be plenty of opportunities to debate climate change in the weeks ahead, and that is a good thing, given that climate change is the greatest threat we face. It would be surprising indeed if we were not debating it. I sense that, despite the fact that the science is still disputed by some, there is a real hunger for clarity and leadership on climate change, which affects all of us, whatever our job, wherever we live, whatever our income and whatever our faith. It demands a new politics.
Does my hon. Friend share my anger and concern that in the past few days, despite sensible opposition by Her Majesty’s Government, the European Union has decreed that from 2011 all motor cars will have to have daytime running lights? Is he aware that, in answer to a parliamentary question that I tabled, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick), revealed that that will result in an increase in fuel consumption of about 5 per cent.? Is not that a good example of what is rotten in the European Union—the blanket, one-size-must-fit-all approach, which in this instance will lead to an unnecessary imposition on the British motorist and will increase emissions?
Order. That was more like a speech than an intervention.
My right hon. Friend will no doubt have an opportunity to catch your eye later, Mr. Speaker, but he makes a good point. I shall later make some positive remarks about the role that the EU can play in combating environmental challenges and climate change, but producing a directive requiring all cars to keep their headlights on at all times is precisely the sort of thing that gets under people’s skin and annoys them about the EU. I know that Ministers have resisted that measure. The EU maintains that it will increase fuel use and carbon emissions by only 0.3 per cent., but the Government’s position is that it will increase them by 5 per cent. That is wholly unacceptable and counter-productive, and an example of what could go wrong if we do not persuade Europe to engage in the new politics that I just mentioned.
I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman on the need for a new politics and consensus on climate change. Can he explain why this week Conservative peers voted against having a target of an 80 per cent. cut in CO2 emissions?
My understanding is that Conservative peers abstained on that vote. However, I am pleased by the co-operation that has been taking place between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives in the other place. The first key task set out by the Secretary of State was to keep the increase in global average temperatures to less than 2° C. I shall be interested to hear the Minister who sums up this debate explain why Government peers voted against Conservative and Liberal Democrat peers on making that task a primary purpose of the Climate Change Bill.
In an intervention, the hon. Gentleman said that the Conservative amendment was all about adding substance and not flitting about with a few airy-fairy words. In terms of substance, therefore, will he tell us how the Conservatives would raise the price of carbon in the emissions trading scheme to a level that might deter people from flying?
If the hon. Gentleman is patient, he will hear me discuss the ETS later in my speech.
Just before the previous interventions, the hon. Gentleman said that climate change affects us all, but does he agree that it does not affect us all equally? It will have the greatest impact on the poorest people in the poorest parts of the world. In that sense, climate change is not only an environmental issue, but a social justice issue.
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. If the House will allow me to make progress, I am about to touch on that very point.
We need a new politics in the face of an unprecedented challenge. Our approach must not be tactical or short term, geared toward electoral advantage; it must be long term. We do not need insular and self-interested policies; we must be global and generous. As the hon. Gentleman said, climate change is not just an environmental or economic challenge. It is about our economy and the world’s, our society and some of the most vulnerable societies in the world. Ultimately, it is very possibly about our ability to survive at all.
Climate change needs to be debated but, above all, it needs action. So far, the Government have been long on words but desperately short on effective action: the rhetoric and the reality are far removed. This country’s climate change emissions have increased since 1997, and now key environmental projects are threatened by the latest consequences of DEFRA’s financial difficulties. Given the absence of dispute between the main political parties on the seriousness of the threat of climate change, it is astonishing that so little progress has been made towards dealing with the problem.
What I have been struggling to understand is why we have been invited to discuss climate change here and now, in the debate on the Lisbon treaty. The Lisbon treaty matters, too. It might not literally be a matter of life and death, which is what irreversible climate change might ultimately become, but it does go to the heart of how we are governed, our democratic values and our right to determine our own future in years to come. It is uncomfortable to say this, but I really think that the fact that the Government have devoted so much time to the issue of climate change in debates on the Lisbon treaty betrays a serious misjudgement of the importance of both issues. It may betray something worse: a cynical willingness to use the issue of climate change as a decoy, a means of avoiding more thorough debate about the constitutional implications of the Lisbon treaty.
We have already heard how many words in the Lisbon treaty are devoted to the issue of climate change: six. [Interruption.] When I say six, I mean literally that there are no more than six words in the whole treaty devoted to the issue of climate change, and I shall quote them:
“and in particular combating climate change.”
It is hardly groundbreaking stuff. There is nothing in those six words or anywhere else in the treaty that will help our collective efforts— [Interruption.]
Order. We cannot have hon. Members waving documents about in the Chamber.
What has happened is that the Government have dedicated three and a half hours today to discussing those six words. That is 35 minutes a word, or just over five minutes a letter. I suppose that I should be grateful that in this long series of debates, I am probably unique among Conservative spokesmen in not having to complain about any new powers arising from the treaty of Lisbon, but I must ask whether this is the most productive use of the House’s time.
Do the Government think that focusing on a thematic issue such as climate change, which they identify correctly as something that the public care about, enables them to avoid a more technical debate on the parts of the treaty that actually make important changes to our political relationship within Europe? Why have they arranged this particular debate on this subject?
I will give way to any hon. Gentleman from the Labour party who can answer that question.
The hon. Gentleman said earlier that actions speak louder than words. Are not the important vehicles for environmental change—measures providing for clean water, how we look after our landscape, how we dispose of our waste, climate change—being driven by Europe? We ought to be supporting them rather than carping about today’s debate.
If the hon. Gentleman will be patient, I shall come to some of those issues and some of the positive things that Europe has done to encourage a better environment for all of us.
I shall give way to my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer), but then I must make progress.
Is my hon. Friend not being rather kind to the Government? The truth is that it would be perfectly proper to have a whole day’s debate on climate change under the Lisbon treaty—it really is a very important addition—if we had had a proper debate on defence or a whole range of other matters in the Lisbon treaty. What worries me is that it is not the Secretary of State’s fault. The fault lies in the Government’s unwillingness to arrange for proper line-by-line debate on the treaty. Those of us who are deeply opposed to referendums should be most concerned that we ought to have had that debate.
My right hon. Friend makes a compelling and important point. I understand that none of the amendments dealing with defence was debated at all, which is a disgrace. I suggest to him that there may be another and rather more scurrilous plan at work: I suspect that somebody in some Government office thought it might be a cunning wheeze to table the motion that we are debating in order to paint the Conservatives’ considered opposition to the Lisbon treaty as being incompatible with support for collective EU action on climate change. If so, that is not only cynical but ignorant.
The question is whether the Conservative party speaks with one voice. The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) said how important it was for the EU to have a competence in climate change. Amendment No. 121 to the European Union (Amendment) Bill, tabled by some very senior Conservatives—including a former party leader, the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith), and a former Cabinet Minister, the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood)—says that the EU should have no say at all on climate change. Does that not show that the hon. Gentleman’s party is deeply divided and unable to provide leadership on Europe?
The evidence of these debates has been that the divisions are all on the other side of the House. I agree strongly with my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal.
The hon. Gentleman ought to know that the EU already has a competence in climate change; that is exactly my point. The provisions of the Lisbon treaty are about the distribution of power between the EU and its member states, and how the EU is organised. The treaty has been deliberately designed, some would say, to be as hard as possible to understand, which is presumably why the Government hope that they can renege on their pledge to hold a referendum, although I remind the Secretary of State that people notice when politicians fail to keep their election promises.
However, when the EU does useful things, it can play an important role, not least in tackling climate change. Again, it is about actions and not words:
“if the European Union is to show itself to be useful, it need not reform its institutions or become obsessed with institutional reform; rather, it needs to get on with tackling the big issues that people recognise cannot be addressed at national level.”
Those are the words of the Foreign Secretary.
If the hon. Gentleman is opposed to the provisions in the treaty relating to the reform of institutions, and if he argues that reform is irrelevant to the issue of climate change, surely he should be able to stand at the Dispatch Box and explain how a six-month rotating presidency shared among 27 member states can possibly advance climate change policy more effectively than the provisions in the treaty.
It does not need a treaty to take effective action on climate change. I refer the hon. Gentleman, whom I respect greatly and whose knowledge of environmental matters is impressive, to the further remarks of his own Foreign Secretary in December:
“People sometimes say, ‘You can't address those issues unless you reform the institutions,’ but to take the topical example of climate change…if you look at the conclusions of the March 2006 European Council, which offer a genuine leadership role for Europe on climate change issues and international negotiations, you will realise that they have done more to show the relevance of the European Union than any amount of institutional tinkering.”
That is exactly the point that I am making. I am at one with the Foreign Secretary on the matter.
The hon. Gentleman has just made the extraordinary statement that it does not need a treaty to take action on climate change. Does he seriously think that something as complex as the emissions trading scheme could possibly have been established among 27 member states without the offices of the European Union, which the treaty will reinforce?
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. I should have said “a new treaty”, as the existing provisions on climate change are, of course, undertaken through the treaty of Rome, and will not be changed by the Lisbon treaty.
I agree completely with the Foreign Secretary. We do not need more institutional meddling to deal with climate change; we need better policies and greater political will. The Foreign Secretary’s remarks serve only to emphasise how irrelevant today’s motion is. It is a distraction not only from the substantive issue of how to meet our carbon emissions reduction targets but from the issues of real relevance to the Lisbon treaty, such as defence and foreign policy.
The EU already has the power to tackle climate change. For instance, article 175 of the treaty establishing the European Community has already been used as a basis for the Community to pass many measures relating to climate change, which we have supported. Ratifying the Kyoto protocol at the European Community level did not need the Lisbon treaty. Adopting a binding decision on implementing the Kyoto protocol in the EU did not need the Lisbon treaty. Adopting a directive setting up the emissions trading scheme did not need the Lisbon treaty. Adopting a directive setting up a minimum target of 5.75 per cent. for vehicle fuel from biofuels by the end of 2010—I might have more to say about that in a moment—did not need the Lisbon treaty. So what is the Lisbon treaty offering us that will further enhance our collective European ability to tackle climate change?
The hon. Gentleman has been patient, so I shall give way.
I have been trying to follow the logic of the hon. Gentleman’s presentation for some time. If he does not think that the six words on climate change in the Lisbon treaty are at all relevant, does it mean that the 15 words on energy efficiency and renewable energy, and the words on sustainability in article 3, are not relevant? Would he excise all of them from the new treaty as, by his logic, none of them makes any difference?
Almost all the words to which the hon. Gentleman refers are imported from other treaties. My point is that the matters are not taken forward by the Lisbon treaty. I can only refer him back to the comments made by the Foreign Secretary.
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, and then I really will make progress.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He may not know this, but his party’s foreign affairs spokesman, the hon. Member for Rayleigh (Mr. Francois), suggested amendments to the Bill that would have removed energy from the shared competences. That would not leave us with the status quo that he describes, but would put European climate change policy into reverse.
I want to make it absolutely clear, with the Foreign Secretary’s explicit endorsement, that our opposition to the Lisbon treaty does not in any way compromise our commitment to tackling climate change or our belief in the EU’s role in enhancing environmental protection, both in our country and across Europe and the world. In fact, the Conservative party has long considered the environment to be one of the areas where pan-European co-operation makes eminent good sense. For example, it makes eminent good sense, when legislating to improve the energy efficiency of goods sold in Europe, to do so for a single market of 300 million people, rather than having a patchwork of different product standards in different countries. We need to harness the market power of the EU to drive up product standards across the world. However, it also makes sense to legislate in a non-prescriptive fashion—to say, “Yes, we should have a common quality standard across the EU, but each member state can decide how it wishes to implement that standard.” We do not support a one-size-fits-all approach.
I cite as an example the packaging directive, which is now an important part of our national effort on climate change and resource efficiency. It was introduced under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Coastal. It was designed to allow each state to decide its own implementation mechanisms. In government, we chose to base the implementation of the directive on a market mechanism and, as a result, last year alone the cost of implementing it in the United Kingdom was 10 times less than it was in Germany, where it was decided to use a different approach. We agree with common standards, but not with top-down prescriptive implementation.
It should be noted that the majority of the energy labelling directives and minimum efficiency performance directives, which have resulted in significant European energy efficiency improvements, particularly for white goods, began in the early to mid-1990s under Conservative Governments. On broader environmental issues such as wildlife and habitats protection, it was a Conservative Government who adopted the birds directive and the habitats directive, which have ensured that many of our loved wild creatures and places will continue to prosper. Those directives were incorporated in our law through the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and our habitats regulations.
Last month, we endorsed the EU climate change package announcement. We welcomed the economic opportunity inherent in the UK achieving our target of 15 per cent. renewable energy by 2020. The target means that we have a steep mountain to climb in the next 12 years, given that we are currently at 2 per cent., but responsibility for that weak position can be directly attributed to the piecemeal, inadequate policy mechanisms employed by the Government. Britain has the finest natural resources—wind, wave and tide—in Europe. We ought to be the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy, yet we are currently wallowing second to last in the EU league table, ahead of only Malta.
Our country has a strong entrepreneurial spirit and unrivalled access to financial capital in the City of London. We have some of the finest research universities in the world, where green technologies are being developed that could allow Britain to have first-mover advantage in the new energy economy. In fact, this afternoon my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne), the shadow Chancellor, will speak at one of our leading research centres, Imperial college, on that very issue—how the UK can take a global lead in green technology. We want to make it a policy priority to empower our entrepreneurs, our markets, our industry and our academic talent to engage in and benefit from the decarbonisation of our economy.
The UK certainly needs far better policy instruments than those currently on offer from the Government. I do not question the sincerity of the Government’s attempts to tackle climate change; it is their competence that is the problem. Their international leadership on the issue has been commendable, particularly under the former Prime Minister. It is not on the whole their approach to international and EU agreements that has been weak. I say “on the whole” because there has been the occasional lapse; for example, it was disappointing to see British Ministers in Europe supporting the polluters over proposals to phase out hydrofluorocarbons.
It is the Government’s domestic policies that have let them down. Those policies have been lacklustre and not sufficiently joined-up. As I said earlier, carbon emissions are greater than when the Government took office 10 years ago. The Labour manifesto commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 20 per cent. by 2010 has been quietly dropped. The support mechanism for large-scale renewable technologies has primarily benefited onshore wind power and landfill gas generation, to the neglect of other technologies further up the cost curve, many of which could play a major role in our low-carbon future, and particularly in microgeneration. That is why the Conservative party recently announced its feed-in tariff policy, which I commend to the Secretary of State. I hope that he is seriously considering it.
Feed-in tariffs have worked to great effect in other EU countries, particularly Germany, which now boasts up to 300,000 people working in the renewables industry. Germany has 10 times the installed wind energy capacity of Britain, and 200 times as much solar capacity. The House will observe that Germany is neither 10 times windier nor 200 times sunnier than the United Kingdom, yet Germany is benefiting from those technologies, and we are falling behind.
Does my hon. Friend agree that in the energy sector, the biggest challenge that climate change presents to the world is the need to capture the carbon produced by coal-fired power stations, including those that are coming on-stream in large numbers every week? Does he agree that it is disappointing that the Government have failed to drive forward the carbon capture and storage agenda, despite having said back in 2003 that they would move forward on the issue as a matter of urgency, given that it is one of the biggest technical problems that needs to be solved?
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. It was a disaster last year when, because of the Government’s failure to act, BP pulled its investment in a carbon capture and storage project. Of course, there is concern among Members on both sides of the House about proposals for a huge, new coal-fired power station in Kingsnorth in Kent. We have made it clear that we are seriously concerned about providing large-scale new capacity for coal when we cannot capture and store the carbon associated with it. If we cannot do that, it is simply not a safe technology, in view of climate change.
On the difference between wind developments in the UK and Germany, more than 100 onshore wind developments in this country are stuck in the planning system. How many of the councils holding them up are Conservative controlled, and what assessment has the hon. Gentleman made of the differences between the German planning system and ours? Will he say, at the Dispatch Box, that those Conservative councils ought to get on with approving wind developments?
The problem—I have touched on this already—is that the structure of the renewables obligation means that it drives investment into the nearest, most developed technologies, which are landfill gas and onshore wind. We all understand that there are strong feelings on both sides of the arguments, because of the visual intrusion and so on, but as the hon. Gentleman may know, as a result of planning difficulties, huge quantities of money are stuck in the system instead of being spent on renewables, which is a shame. The answer is not to impose wind farms on communities that do not want them, but to reform the way we support the renewables industry to develop less controversial forms of technology.
The Conservative party has welcomed the EU-wide plan for a 20 per cent. reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, rising to 30 per cent. when an international agreement is reached. We expressed, and continue to express, our serious concerns about the sustainability of the EU-wide biofuels agreement, which is also part of the package. Last month, the Environmental Audit Committee called for a moratorium on both EU and UK biofuels targets. The Committee’s report highlights the fact that demand for biofuels is already exacerbating the destruction of crucial rainforests in Indonesia and Malaysia. It is sheer madness to cut down the rainforest or threaten food security in the name of the environment.
We took a principled stand on the issue last year when we voted against the Government’s renewable transport fuel obligation for its failure to include sustainability criteria until at least 2011. We hold the same position in respect of the EU target of 10 per cent. biofuels by 2020. I hope that Ministers will go to Europe and argue the case that no mandatory biofuel targets be included in the renewable energy directive until a working sustainability criteria basis has been established.
I turn briefly to the EU emissions trading scheme. It is not the be-all and end-all of climate change policy, as the Government sometimes seem to imply. It is not good enough to say that we can massively expand aviation capacity and not worry about the carbon implications because at some future date it will all be included in the ETS. A properly functioning scheme could play a vital role in driving down carbon emissions within the European Union.
It is widely accepted that phase 1 has been a failure in reducing emissions significantly. Too many credits were handed out for free, which meant handing the industry a licence to pollute, and the costs were passed on to the consumer. That gifted energy companies more than £1 billion in windfall profits. That was not the object of the exercise. However, that was a political failure, not a market failure. Phase 1 has not driven innovation—with a market price of 10 cents a tonne of carbon, it will never do that—but it has proved that it is possible to devise a mechanism that could work in the future, and phase 2 already looks more promising. That is largely to do with the introduction of more auctioning. We believe that in phase 3 we should push towards 100 per cent. auctioning of those permits to pollute. If we bring the market in on the ground floor of the ETS, we will begin to get some real change and a real price in carbon, which comes back to the point that the hon. Member for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen) made earlier.
I am about to finish, so if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not give way again.
In conclusion, the Opposition recognise that there is a need to work at every level to tackle the threat of climate change. There are changes that we can all make to the way we live our lives. There is an important role for local government, and of course for national Government. We should be leading by example and setting a long-term framework to give confidence to the public and, importantly, to investors in the benefits of green growth. There is, as I hope I have made clear, a positive role to be played by the European Union. In the end the solutions to the issue of climate change will have to be found at a global level, because we are all in it together.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I did not want to misuse a point of order by interrupting the speech of the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth). You admonished me for seeking to show the hon. Gentleman the two pages of the treaty which deal with climate change. Although it is true that the treaty adds the six words “and in particular combating climate”—
Order. I am sorry to choke the hon. Gentleman off so early, but we are taking time up from the debate. I did not admonish him for showing the hon. Member for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth); I admonished him for waving documents in the Chamber, which is not to be encouraged.