House of Commons
Thursday 17 July 2008
The House met at half-past Ten o’clock
[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]
London Local Authorities (Shopping Bags) Bill (By Order)
Order for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Thursday 9 October.
Manchester City Council Bill [Lords] (By Order)
Order read for resumed adjourned debate on Second Reading (12 June).
Debate to be resumed on Thursday 9 October.
Bournemouth Borough Council Bill [Lords] (By Order)
Canterbury City Council Bill (By Order)
Leeds City Council Bill (By Order)
Nottingham City Council Bill (By Order)
Reading Borough Council Bill (By Order)
Orders for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time on Thursday 9 October.
Oral Answers to Questions
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
The Secretary of State was asked—
I have had no recent discussions with the Secretary of State for Health on food labelling regulations, but I have met the chair of the Food Standards Agency to discuss the EU Commission’s proposals.
There are no legal terms to define “vegetarian” or “vegan” in this country or the EU. What plans are there to define those terms in law, and how will they work with the FSA so that labelling complies with them, taking into account the fact one in 10 people are vegetarian?
Yes, I suppose that I should declare an interest. As far as I am aware, there are no plans to define those two terms, certainly not as far as the Commission’s proposals are concerned. The Commission’s proposals will enable us—I am sure the whole House will welcome this—to deal with the problem that we face, which is that certain types of meat products can be described as British meat although the meat does not come from the UK.
One of the lessons of the food labelling that the Department of Health oversaw is that Tesco, which thinks it runs the country, did one thing, while other supermarkets and manufacturers did another. Is there a lesson in that when it comes to carbon labelling? Will DEFRA ensure that carbon labelling is done consistently across all products and not let one supermarket do its own thing?
There is of course a lively debate taking place about the traffic light system, which the FSA favours, and the guideline daily amounts. We have just completed a consultation on that, to which my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary will respond in due course, and the EU is proposing a framework that would allow national systems to be in place. On the other point that the hon. Gentleman raised, about consistency in carbon labelling, we certainly should aspire to achieve that.
On 28 May, DEFRA launched the invasive non-native species framework strategy for Great Britain, jointly with the Scottish Executive and Welsh Assembly Government. The strategy contains measures to tackle invasive species, improve the effectiveness of legislation, integrate activities and programmes, and better focus research.
I thank my hon. Friend for her reply. I raise the issue on behalf of the tens of thousands up and down the land who weekly do battle with invasive non-native species. In my case, it is the Japanese knotweed, which until three years ago I would not even have recognised, but which has been identified as the species crowding out the other plants and wildlife at the bottom of our chapel garden. I am aware that getting rid of it is probably a five-year mission—in fact, the Japanese knotweed has been described to me as plant life, but not plant life as we know it. I urge the Minister to recognise that most people are totally unaware, as I was, of what non-native species look like or how to combat them. I urge her to redouble her efforts with the Environment Agency to raise public awareness of non-native species and how to deal with them and eradicate them.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising the issue. He is absolutely right to say that the public need to be much more aware. That is of course one of the reasons why we have launched the strategy. As he said, Japanese knotweed is a very troublesome invasive species. Not only is it a problem for gardeners, but, more critically, it damages biodiversity. It has to be cleared from all construction sites, because it can grow through tarmac, and causes major difficulties on river banks, creating flood risk. We are doing a great deal on that, but we need to do much more. We have tasked a working group on media and communications with developing a clear plan, including consideration of how the Government can work with stakeholders to target audiences more effectively. There is information available on the website of the non-native species secretariat, and DEFRA makes available fact sheets
I am grateful to my parliamentary neighbour, the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Sir Peter Soulsby), for raising this issue. I am sure the whole House will remember the Eradication of Mink Bill in 1995—or possibly not. The point is that mink destroy any good work done for water voles through the biodiversity action plan, because they eat them. Will the Government take action to eradicate mink, which are doing huge damage to wildlife across the country?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that contribution. I recently visited a site that was conserving water voles; indeed, the Department is doing a considerable amount of work in that respect. Some measures for dealing with mink are already in place. I will look further into what the hon. Gentleman suggests, but I do not believe that an eradication programme is likely to be successful.
As the RSPB survey published today demonstrates, one is more likely to see green parakeets and hear cuckoos in the Thames valley nowadays, largely on account of habitat measures—protecting woodland, hay meadows and other valuable sites of special scientific interest such as Otmoor. That is one reason why—I want to flag this up to DEFRA Ministers—the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire wildlife trust is so opposed to Department for Communities and Local Government proposals for a so-called eco-town at western Otmoor. There are some real biodiversity issues there, so given that the machinery of government is based in Whitehall, I hope that DEFRA Ministers will be consulted on them.
I commend the work of the hon. Gentleman’s local trust; as a Department, we greatly value what it is doing. However, when it comes to eco-towns, a proper procedure is in place whereby all biodiversity and sustainable development issues have to be considered in the development plans. I give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that they will be.
Is the hon. Lady aware that the best way of dealing with the plague of mink that afflicts this country is to hunt them? Will she go and talk to Baroness Golding, our former revered colleague, who will tell her exactly how to set about doing that? As a preliminary, will the Minister say that she will repeal the ridiculous anti-hunting Bill?
What a temptation is presented to me! I assure the House that there is absolutely no question of any repeal of the Hunting Act 2004, which was sought by the public and was supported by all the animal welfare charities. None the less, I am more than happy to look again at the issue of mink.
I might have said in response to the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) who mentioned parakeets, that we are very concerned about a small colony that has established itself in north London. In some cases, eradication is the right way forward, as, indeed, with the action we are taking to deal with the ruddy duck.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, criminal activity that targets farmers is clearly a matter for the Home Office and the local police. My Department has, however, been in contact with the Association of Chief Police Officers because we were concerned that criminal activity targeting farmers was on the increase, and we wanted to ensure that there was good liaison between the National Farmers Union and the police. We have been assured that there is.
I thank the Minister for that reply, but given that the figures show a substantial increase in thefts of low-cost red diesel from farmers across the country as well as of household oil of domestic dwellers in rural areas, and given that the cost of farm equipment theft rose by some 16.5 per cent. last year in the UK, what particular detailed discussions is the Department having with the Home Office and the police in order to put a stop to this very considerable cost to rural dwellers?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising this important issue. As he said, red diesel is being stolen, along with valuable farm equipment and other materials that can be recycled and sold around the world. It is a sad phenomenon that globalisation is demanding more of the world’s resources and that criminal activity is targeted at rural areas. We are in close contact with the Home Office, and, indeed, with ACPO. As I said, we want to make sure that there is good liaison between such organisations as the NFU and the police. We sympathise with farmers and many others who have been the victims of crime—there have even been deaths.
I hear what my hon. Friend says, and I sympathise with those landowners and farmers who have been affected, but surely one of the best ways to ensure that our countryside is secure is to allow appropriate development, particularly where there are redundant buildings, so that we get a living and working countryside and one that is more secure. I hope that DEFRA will talk to the Department for Communities and Local Government about how that will be possible in future.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who gives me an opportunity to advise the House of our minimum target of 10,300 new affordable rural dwellings, for which we have put in considerable resources. DEFRA and the DCLG are working closely together. We want families who are from the countryside to be able to remain in the countryside, and that is why we included the target for communities of fewer than 3,000 dwellings.
There are fewer crimes in the countryside than in our towns, but is it not the case that if a bicycle is stolen from a town centre it is recorded as one crime, while a combine harvester stolen from a field is also recorded as one crime? What can the Minister do with his colleagues in the Home Office to try to emphasise the disproportionate impact of the theft of agricultural equipment?
I am advised that we publish figures by value. The investment that farmers must make in agricultural equipment is considerable, and if a farmer cannot take their stock to slaughter or harvest their crops, the impact is not only on the farmer but on all of us. With less food, the prices will rise. As I said, we are in touch with other Departments, and good liaison between the local police, NFU and farmers is vital. We will do what we can to ensure a reduction in such crime. As a consequence of the phenomenon of globalisation, there is a pull on resources, but we must remain ever vigilant—not just farmers but everyone, whether rural, suburban or urban.
Obviously, the isolation of farms makes them vulnerable to crime in the first place. With high diesel prices and metal prices around the world, they have become more vulnerable to crime. A college in my constituency trains police officers around the country in specialist countryside crime issues, and my hon. Friend’s Department already supports specialist wildlife crime issues. Will he work more closely with the police and farmers on adopting farm watch schemes, as we have neighbourhood watch and shop watch schemes, with his Department as the co-ordinator rather than the Home Office?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making those points. I assure the House that we take the issue extremely seriously, for all the reasons that I have set out. We want to work with the farming and rural communities so that the increase in recent months, and in the last year or so, does not continue. We will do what we can, and I will take back his suggestion of what more we could do. I will write to him with our conclusions.
I have had no recent discussions with the Mayor of London—[Hon. Members: “Shame!”] He is a very busy man. The good news, however, is that my officials have been in discussions with their counterparts in the Greater London authority on the issue of air quality and pollution, and we will continue to have regular meetings at an official level.
Why does the Minister not support Boris’s campaign against a sixth terminal and a third runway at Heathrow? The Government’s own Environment Agency points to the risk of an increase in morbidity and mortality in densely populated areas of west London such as mine if that huge expansion goes ahead. When will the environmental voice be heard at the Cabinet table in discussion on Heathrow?
I would be delighted to meet the Mayor of London and I will ensure that my diary is available to him, but, as I say, he is a busy man. On Heathrow, the hon. Gentleman rightly brings forward the concerns of his constituents. The Secretary of State for Transport set out to the House on 8 July what we intend to do in terms of the consultation on Heathrow. The hon. Gentleman mentions the report from the Environment Agency. Obviously, all reports that are submitted in relation to the proposed expansion of Heathrow will be taken into account, as has been set out by the Secretary of State for Transport.
The A406 North Circular road passes right through the middle of my constituency and 60,000 vehicles go in each direction every day, causing enormous noise and air pollution. Will my hon. Friend make it a priority to speak to the Mayor about air quality in particular? It is deteriorating daily and something needs to be done.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who sets out the concerns of his constituents in Edmonton about air quality. We have an air quality strategy, which sets out its purpose in London and the responsibilities of the Mayor. As I have said, I am more than happy to meet the Mayor to discuss how he, the Greater London authority and the Government can work best to reduce air pollution in London. My hon. Friend will know that London is a heavily polluted city, and that that pollution is principally brought about by traffic. What would life be like without the congestion charge in those parts of London? Pollution would be considerably higher.
Every mile of car travel emits 12 times as much pollution as a mile of rail travel. In his discussions with the Mayor of London, will the Minister consider commissioning a survey of the methods of reducing passenger and freight movements into and out of the capital and shifting them to rail? If we shifted the subsidies to non-road transport rather than the motorist, that would massively improve the quality of air in the capital.
This is going to be a long meeting! My hon. Friend will be aware that transport and trains are the responsibility of the Department for Transport. On freight, I can tell him that British Waterways is making a considerable contribution towards ensuring that aggregates being brought to the Olympic site will not be brought in lorries but by barges on canals. That is to be welcomed. Where we can do those things, we are, and the overall structure for ensuring that we keep pollution levels as low as possible for the development of the Olympics is, again, in the gift of the Mayor.
This is a bit of a one-man band today—[Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State says that he is right behind me, which is very reassuring.
The Government are committed to establishing by 2012 a network of well-managed marine protected areas that will conserve the richness of our marine environment.
I congratulate the Minister on reshuffling his entire ministerial team. What contribution does he think the Severn barrage will make to aquatic life, bearing in mind the dire warnings from the powerful coalition of wildlife and fishery groups about the damage that the barrage will do to migratory fish runs of salmon and sea trout, which provide such vital income and recreational assets to the Wye, Usk and Severn catchment areas?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has a proud and distinguished record as Labour’s angling spokesman; he has a done a great deal that has been welcomed in all sections of the fishing community.
On the Severn barrage, I am well aware that the Severn and its tributaries, including the Wye and the Usk, are valuable spawning grounds for a number of important migratory fish, including salmon and eels. Our feasibility study will examine the possibility of developing the barrage, which could provide 5 per cent. of this country’s electricity and make a huge contribution to our renewable efforts. However, we will need to balance that against the important environmental damage that would be caused. Those are the issues that confront us today, and we must make balanced choices. What my hon. Friend and anglers have said about the barrage will form part of our consideration as we move forward on the feasibility study.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that in the Marine Bill we are introducing changes in respect of salmon and freshwater and migratory fish; there will be new measures to allow the Environment Agency to ensure that particular species are not put into waters where they can breed and have an impact on native species.
As the hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position, they are already there. The Environment Agency is doing its best to tackle the issue, and we will be introducing further powers—this has been welcomed by the Environment Agency and by many anglers—to reduce these alien species and ensure that we protect our native species.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter), I have great concerns about the Severn barrage. The Severn estuary not only has the second highest tidal range in the world, but in winter its mudflats, saltflats and rocky marshes provide vital breeding grounds and overwintering habitats for 65,000 birds, which feed on a huge variety of invertebrate, insect and, sadly, fish life in the estuary. Will the Minister assure me that he will take care to protect the biodiversity of the Severn estuary and ensure that if this plan does, foolishly, go ahead, compensatory habitat will be provided for all those species.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. Of course, all those measures will need to be considered in the feasibility study, which will last roughly two years and cost about £9 million. It is also important to take into account the fact that climate change is also impacting on wildlife and that we need to reduce our carbon levels. We may conclude that the Severn barrage will make such a significant contribution that it will help wildlife and all of mankind. Those issues need to be considered carefully, and the environmental points that both she and my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Martin Salter) have made will form part of our consideration as we advance the feasibility study.
A great deal of the damage to marine habitats is done by fishing. Some £97 million of European fisheries fund money was supposed to be used to promote more sustainable and environmentally friendly fishing gears and practices. Is it not the case that that money is not available because the Government failed to agree with the devolved Administrations and failed to consult on and submit our programme to the Commission by the deadline? Perhaps the Minister can tell us when we will get our money and whether the EU has confirmed that DEFRA will not be fined for a late submission of the operational programme?
The hon. Gentleman will know that I was in Brussels till half-past 10 on Monday negotiating the changes to the European fisheries fund. New regulations will impact on all member states and will provide more flexibility within the fund. Obviously, we must look at the detail of those and discuss that with the industry. His question about whether we will miss out is obviously outdated because of the changes that were agreed in the Commission earlier this week.
On 28 April, DEFRA placed a report in the Library on its statutory instruments between January 2000 and December 2007. The report shows that DEFRA implemented 1,036 statutory instruments between those dates and revoked 840, dating back to 2000 and earlier.
I am grateful for the Minister’s response. However, with input costs rising and British businesses forced to compete on an uneven playing field with the rest of Europe, they can ill afford a regulatory burden that is increasing year on year. What is the cost to industry of those regulations, and will the Minister take steps further to reduce the bureaucracy and red tape that prohibits business from doing its job?
I would challenge the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s question. In fact, the direction of travel is downwards. The plan that DEFRA started to implement in 2007 will reduce the administrative burden by just under a third by 2010, so we are moving in the right direction.
I know that at least one of the ministerial team is aware of the case in my constituency of the greengrocer who was prohibited from selling kiwi fruit because they were 4 g too light. What plans are being made to review the EU grading laws and does he believe that, in an era of rising food prices and shortages, such decisions are best left to the consumer, instead of being the subject of regulation?
I have been informed about this particular case. My hon. Friend will accept that it is important that we have rules for quality produce, as that is what the buyers want and what the consumers want, as is supported across the House. The vast majority of traders play by the rules and do not want to be undermined by those who do not. However, we are of course aware of the case that my hon. Friend raises.
What effort is the Department making to reduce the burden of regulation, especially from the European Union, when it comes to the problem that hill farmers will face if electronic tagging of sheep is introduced? What effort is the Minister making to reduce that burden on farmers?
In relation to the DEFRA delivery agencies, which act as regulatory bodies to protect the environment and the consumer, we have a simplification plan, which is working. We are reducing regulation, but our goal is quality regulation, including for the hill farmers whom the hon. Gentleman mentions.
It seems to me that the Minister does not really know what he is talking about when he mentions reducing the burden of regulation. That is because his Department is perpetrating a complete con trick on the industry and the public, because it measures the burden of regulation only by what it calls “administrative burdens”. Why does he not allow for the full cost to industry of all these burdens? For example, DEFRA says that the admin cost of the catchment sensitive farming regulation is £391,000 a year; it is actually £210 million a year. DEFRA says that the cost of the nitrates directive is £1.5 million a year, but the true cost, including all the investment that industry has to make, is £250 million a year. Despite all the Government’s warm words about farming, the Department is stifling farmers’ ability to compete.
The hon. Gentleman is ungenerous in his remarks and his analysis. He refers to the costs of regulation but ignores the benefits. One person’s regulation is another’s protection—a point that is often missed. Many of the regulations to which he refers are supported by the industries because they help to ensure that the cowboys and bad guys do not get an unfair advantage. He has made an accusation about costs, but he has completely ignored the costs to the taxpayer of non-regulation of environmental protection. For example, what would he say to the water industry, which spends £288 million a year treating nitrates from run-off? I suppose that he would not include that as a cost.
In England, the following amounts were paid in compensation for cattle slaughtered under bovine tuberculosis controls in each of the last five calendar years: £26 million in 2003; £25 million in 2004; £27 million in 2005; £16 million in 2006, and £15 million in 2007.
The Secretary of State’s rapid production of the figures will not disguise the fact that, over the past 10 years, some 200,000 cattle—most of them perfectly healthy—have been slaughtered. Their carcases have been burned, needlessly, at a cost some £600 million to the public purse so far. This year, 40,000 cattle have been killed, at a vast cost, and the predictions are that £300 million a year will be spent on TB across England by 2012. Does he accept that that is appalling wasteful for the public purse, and that it is a tragedy that those animals are being slaughtered needlessly? Does he also accept that farmers in hot-spot areas such as North Wiltshire are distraught at his announcement this week that he will ignore the recommendation from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee that some culling of badgers in some areas may have some effect on restraining this appalling disease?
I would say to the hon. Gentleman and his constituents that bovine TB is an appalling disease that has a terrible impact. I have ignored nothing, however: I have looked at the science and, in the end, I have to make a judgment. I have reached my decision about what will be effective in dealing with the problem. As I explained to the House in my oral statement last week, the science and the practicality tell me—and the House—that badger culling will not contribute. That was the view of Professor Bourne, so we have to use the means currently at our disposal. That is why I want to sit down with the industry to discuss what further steps we should take, and it is also why we are significantly increasing the investment in vaccines.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State met representatives of Ofwat on 3 June. DEFRA is in regular contact with Ofwat on a range of issues, including the 2009 periodic review of water price limits.
I thank my hon. Friend for that response. When will the metering and charging review be set up, and when will it report? Will he reassure the House that it will report in good time for Ofwat to take its findings into consideration, and for all of us to have access to them?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her input to this policy area on behalf of her constituents facing high water and sewage charges. We are determined to ensure fairness. The review will be launched imminently and it will dovetail into the Ofwat PRO9 process—that is, the price review process for 2009. That will ensure that we can make better progress towards water efficiency measures and, through an examination of tariffs, a fairer system for her constituents.
A total of £34.5 million has been provisionally set aside to deal with the recommendations in Sir Michael Pitt’s report. I will fully consider the recommendations before making a final allocation and response with a costed action plan this autumn.
As Sir Michael makes no fewer than 92 recommendations, is the Secretary of State satisfied that the money that he has set aside will be sufficient to implement them? Many hinge on better joint working between the various agencies, and a good job of work remains to be done in that regard. What assurances can he give the House about Sir Michael Pitt’s ongoing reporting to Parliament about the progress of the implementation of his practical recommendations—or will we just have to wait for the recriminations after the next deluge hits us?
The hon. Gentleman’s last comment is a bit unfair. I will continue to report to the House about the progress being made in implementing the recommendations. As I told the House when I made my statement, Sir Michael will have a continuing role. Only last week, indeed, in the light of his report and together with him, I met the heads of all the agencies and bodies involved to see what further progress has been made, and what more we need to do together. From memory, Sir Michael has said that about 80 per cent. of his recommendations call for a different way of doing things, and do not require additional expenditure. I shall weigh all that up when, as I promised, I report back to the House with the plan in the autumn.
In Sir Michael’s report he lays emphasis on the importance of improving the resilience of utilities’ facilities where there are cases of severe flooding. What reassurance, pursuant to the last answer given by the Minister of State, can the Secretary of State give me that the cost of utilities improving the resilience of their facilities in view of flooding will not be passed on to consumers, but will come from the balance sheets of the companies?
As the right hon. Gentleman will know, ultimately that is a matter for the regulator, but I am able to report to the House that National Grid has purchased 1.2 km of relocatable defences like the ones that were used to protect Walham during the flooding last year; CE Electric has purchased seven temporary defence kits; and EDF Energy has also purchased a number. The National Grid and Central Networks have put defences around Walham and Castlemead substations following the floods last year. That demonstrates to the House how, now that all of us have had a wake-up call, the utility companies are responding.
My right hon. Friend will realise that one of the missing parts of the jigsaw is the Humber, the Trent and the Tame river basin flood strategy, which we shall probably have in two years’ time. Until that part is in place, does he believe that local authorities and other interested parties can take the best possible future measures?
We have made it very clear in the decisions that we have taken that the Environment Agency will now have overall responsibility for dealing with flooding from whatever source, and that local authorities will lead on surface water flooding. That was what Sir Michael recommended, and we shall now put it in place, through a flood and water Bill. Clearly it takes time for some of those plans to come forward. The other practical contribution that we are making, of course, is to provide more money for flood defence.
The Government are not displaying any sense of urgency whatever. They have failed to come forward with a detailed action plan, which is the least that the Secretary of State could do to satisfy the House, and to satisfy the victims of last summer’s floods; already one year has passed since then. The Government are embarking on a consultation on the restructuring of internal drainage boards. They probably have more engineers; we know from the Select Committee report that there is a shortage. What are the implications for ongoing maintenance of this restructuring? Will there be even fewer engineers at the end of the restructuring?
First, I do not accept what the hon. Lady says about how we have responded to what happened last year. Indeed, she does not have to take my word for it; she just has to look at what Sir Michael said in his interim report about the urgent recommendations, and what he said in his final report about the progress that has been made. Secondly, we are carrying out the consultation to ensure that the contribution of internal drainage boards can be as effective as possible, and clearly we have no intention of doing something that will make it more difficult for them to do their job effectively; on the contrary.
We have a cross-government programme on adaptation, and a framework for adaptation is established through the Climate Change Bill. DEFRA is working with regional rural affairs forums, Farming Futures and the rural climate change forum to help raise awareness and encourage best practice.
I am delighted that at last we have a cross-government framework on adaptation. What funding did DEFRA include in its budgets for research into, and knowledge transfer regarding, climate change adaptation in rural communities, including for productive agriculture?
I thank my hon. Friend. This is a very important issue, and next week I intend to launch the adapting to climate change website, which will show what is happening across the whole of Government. This is not just a DEFRA issue; it is across the whole of Government, and an accompanying document will be published. But I can tell him that £5 million per year has been given to a research programme on agriculture and climate change, which includes research on the impacts of climate change on agriculture and how the sector can adapt. We are also working with the rural climate change forum, as I said. We have provided £250,000 up to March 2009 to Farming Futures, which aims to provide for farmers practical advice on adaptation. There is not time to go into what we are doing on biodiversity, but enabling biodiversity to adapt to climate change is also very significant, and money is being spent.
Earlier this year, I raised the packaging recovery targets for 2008, 2009 and 2010, which came into force on 14 March. The targets for 2008 have been set to ensure that the UK meets the current EU targets. Targets post-2008 are designed to ensure continued compliance with the EU and to reflect ambitions outlined in the Government’s waste strategy.
The document referred to in my question—the Department’s framework for pro-environmental behaviours—makes only one reference to packaging. It is one line on page 49, which says the Government will seek to
“increase producer responsibility for packaging,”
despite the fact that only 3 per cent. of all the material that goes to landfill is packaging and, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, recovery targets have been increased. The difficulty for the industry is that it now cannot recycle much of the material collected, because it is of such poor quality. Will she take that on board and, with her colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government, try to improve the possibility of recycling better materials?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work on packaging, which is very important. The reason why we must pay a lot of attention to packaging is that in many cases it is avoidable. The public believe that it is avoidable, and they want something done about it. So we will not resile from that. We recently produced information through WRAP—the Waste and Resources Action Programme—which is the Government-funded organisation that deals with waste, that shows us that in the current market, kerbside sorting is more effective for local authorities than single co-mingling, and that costs are similar if two streams are co-mingled but paper is kept separate. So local authorities can benefit from kerbside separation. Kerbside sort achieves the higher-quality recyclates that my hon. Friend wants to see produced. So we are providing a great deal of assistance to local authorities and giving them advice. Contrary to the popular belief that co-mingling is the easiest thing for consumers, we have found that the size of bins matters in determining how much consumers recycle. We will not hesitate to try to get better recycling quality and levels from our local authorities, because that is what our citizens want.
DEFRA’s responsibility is to enable us all to live within our environmental means. I wish to inform the House that we are today publishing a discussion paper entitled, “Ensuring the UK’s Food Security in a Changing World”. The UK currently has a secure food supply, but with recent sharp increases in food and fuel prices, a growing world population and climate change, it is sensible that we think about the impact of those changes on food supply in the years ahead. I look forward to receiving views on the paper.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on taking a decision about badger culling, based on the science and the evidence. Given that we have a long and porous border between Wales and England, does he agree that any widespread culling of badgers in Wales would be bad for farmers in Wales and could be bad for farmers in England?
Those decisions in Wales are, of course, devolved matters, and we will keep in close contact with the Welsh Assembly Government as they take forward their proposals. I reached the view that badger culling could not make a contribution to the control of disease, in line with the advice given to me by the independent scientific group, for the reasons that I have set out very clearly to the House.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue. He is right to draw to the House’s attention the fact that the Fisheries Council met on 15 July, when we discussed bringing in new flexibilities and new regulations for the European fisheries fund. The flexibilities will allow for some decommissioning, not just of whole fleets but, as we discussed with the Commissioner, of fleet segments, either geographically or by sector. We will look closely at, and talk to the industry about, the changes that are being made, so that we can implement them to best effect. As I have said in previous debates, both to him and to the industry, I do not subscribe to subsidies for red diesel. I know that prices have gone up greatly, but for the fishing industry, no duty is applied. If I applied the full de minimis provisions, it would provide the UK fleet with one month’s relief at last year’s prices, and I do not think that that is a good approach, even in the short term.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In the city that he represents, Nottingham, the council reckons that it spends more than £12,000 on clearing up the flipping stuff. I know that he, as the chair of One Nottingham, his local area agreement, would rather use that money for things of far more advantage—
The hon. Gentleman makes jokey remarks about the subject, but chewing gum costs councils a lot of money, and it is antisocial. We can say to people, “Put it in the bin.” We have a campaign that supports local councils in encouraging people to put their chewing gum in the bin. Where councils have taken up that campaign, they have seen a reduction in the problem. On manufacturing—
Let us return to food. Was it prudent of the Prime Minister to take time out to lecture us all about the amount of food that we throw away when it turns out that 15 Government Departments do not even know how much of the food that they buy with our taxpayers’ money they throw away every year? Is that not just another case of “Do as we say, not as we do”?
No, it is not. May I say that it is very nice to see the hon. Gentleman back at the Dispatch Box? I have missed him of late. We published information on the amount of perfectly usable food that gets thrown away. The information had been collected as a result of research that was undertaken; that is common sense. I think that a lot of people will be surprised, as I was, to learn of the amount of food that was being thrown away; the information makes us more aware. If we can save money and not contribute to climate change—the methane that flows from that food goes into landfill—it is very sensible to do so.
Changing the subject, I am sure that the whole House will agree that it was a great day for wildlife conservation when, in 1989, the international community banned the trade in ivory. I am sure that most of us would also agree that it was a regrettable day when, in 1997, Robert Mugabe led a successful challenge to that ban. Are the Government proud that on Tuesday, acting on behalf of the EU, an official from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs voted to allow China to import ivory? Surely the best way to deal with the continuing illegal trade in ivory is to choke off demand, not stoke it in that way.
The hon. Gentleman knows, because I have written to him at length, that the decision was taken on behalf of the EU. Ministers were involved in that decision, which was not taken by an official. The decision was originally taken in principle by the international community in 2002 to allow a number of African states that had legal stockpiles of ivory to undertake a one-off sale. The conditions on the buyers in those sales were laid down by an international body that protects wildlife. Japan met the conditions, and China applied to meet the conditions. After a year of inquiry, China was found to meet the criteria, which are about safeguarding the import of legal stocks, ensuring that stocks are only moved around legally and making sure that illegal ivory is not laundered. After the last one-off sale, which went to Japan, may I tell the hon. Gentleman—
Local authorities can already introduce reward-only schemes. We have piloted such schemes in this country, which qualify for the incentive pilots that will be on offer next year. I understand that the Opposition are promoting such schemes, but the problem is that the shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles), has instructed Tory councils not to co-operate with the Government. Furthermore, the US schemes depend on chips in bins, which the hon. Gentleman has described as “an invasion of privacy”. The Conservative party is in a pickle over its waste strategy.
The answer is yes. I am more than happy to do that, and the hon. Gentleman has raised an important point.
I welcome the Government’s decision to publish proposals on tackling food security. Many of our constituents, especially those on low incomes, face real problems with rising food prices. What contribution does the Secretary of State believe that British farmers can make to increasing our food security and reducing prices in the shops?
The most important contribution is to do what they are doing already, which is to produce food that people want to buy. If we are to deal with global price increases, we need a lot more agricultural production around the world, including in Africa. If Africa cannot increase production to feed a growing population, it will add to pressure on prices for the available stocks of food, which will affect UK consumers in the end. More production in the world is the single most important thing.
The Department knows that bluetongue strand 1 is spreading rapidly from south to north Spain, and is moving in our direction. I understand that the vaccines that we have in the UK are for a different strand of bluetongue. Will the Secretary of State tell us how useful those vaccines will be against that strand? If they are not effective, what is his strategy?
Like hon. Members, I am aware of the new strain that is coming up through Europe. It is a different type, and our vaccine deals with the bluetongue strain that we currently face; the vaccination is rolling out extremely successfully. We are carefully examining the implications of the change in the strain, when the strain might come to the UK, and what we need to do to respond. Vaccination has been shown to work, and I hope that it will deal with the new strain, if it comes. I shall be happy to respond further to the hon. Gentleman.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for asking that question. I am indeed impressed by how this has been dealt with. I also pay tribute to local Members of Parliament for the role that he and others have played. Giving good information and timely advice, and keeping people in touch with what is happening and when it is safe to start drinking the water again, is exactly how such incidents should be dealt with. I applaud all those involved for the efforts that they have made.
That is a very helpful suggestion. As I have said to the House, I want to establish a TB partnership group precisely so that all the means at our disposal that are effective—that is the heart of the debate—can be used. I am waiting for the industry to come and participate in the mechanism that I have proposed so that we can bring together all those who have an interest in this disease and all the effective means of dealing with it, and get on with it.
Business of the House
The business for next week will be as follows:
Monday 21 July—Topical debate on the Bercow review of services for children and young people (0-19) with speech, language and communication needs followed by consideration of Lords Amendments to the Housing and Regeneration Bill.
Tuesday 22 July—Motion on the summer recess Adjournment followed by consideration of Lords Amendments to the Crossrail Bill. Colleagues will wish to be reminded that the House will meet at 11.30 am on this day. The House will not adjourn until the Speaker has signified Royal Assent.
The business for the week commencing 6 October will include:
Monday 6 October—Second Reading of the Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 7 October—Opposition day (19th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Wednesday 8 October—Remaining stages of the Children and Young Persons Bill [Lords].
Thursday 9 October—Topical debate: subject to be announced followed by a general debate on defence in the UK.
I should like to wish all hon. Members and all staff of the House—the whole team of staff, from my excellent private office to the dedicated House of Commons cleaners—a good recess.
I am sorry—I did not turn the page over. It is that hard being Leader of the House!
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for October will be:
Thursday 9 October—A debate on the report from the Children, Schools and Families Committee on testing and assessment.
Thursday 16 October—A debate on the report from the Business and Enterprise Committee entitled “Jobs for the Girls: Two years on”.
Thursday 23 October—A debate on the 30th annual House of Commons Commission report.
Thursday 30 October—A debate on the report from the Public Administration Committee entitled “Politics and Administration: Ministers and civil servants”.
I think that the Leader of the House has lost the plot as well as the page. I echo the comments that she made, however, and as this is the last business questions before the recess, Mr. Speaker, I wish you, all right hon. and hon. Members, all staff of this House and Members’ staff a happy summer recess.
The Prime Minister is expected to make an oral statement to this House on Tuesday on Iraq or other matters relating to the middle east. Will the right hon. and learned Lady confirm today that the Prime Minister will be making such an oral statement on Tuesday?
Last week, I asked the Leader of the House whether the Chancellor would make a statement to the House when the report on Equitable Life was published. Her response was:
“Let us see what it says and then we can consider how to deal with it.”—[Official Report, 10 July 2008; Vol. 478, c. 1567.]
That report is published today. It reveals serious regulatory failure and calls for compensation for policyholders. The Chancellor has made a written statement today, but given that Members of all parties have constituents affected by this failure, and will want to question him on it, will the Leader of the House guarantee that the Chancellor will make a oral statement to the House on the Government’s response to the ombudsman’s report on Equitable Life when the House returns?
Last week, my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) raised the issue of the Modernisation Committee’s report on regional accountability. The report was passed on the casting vote of the Chairman, the right hon. and learned Lady, who is a member of the Government. The report endorses her Government’s proposals, as set out in the Green Paper, “The Governance of Britain”. The Committee’s recent report on debating departmental objectives also arose from the Government’s Green Paper, as did the Committee’s current inquiry on the recall and dissolution of Parliament. Select Committees of this House do not exist to execute Government policy, so may we have a debate on the future role of the Modernisation Committee?
Talking of that Committee, the Leader of the House today issued an illuminating single-paragraph written statement, saying that she will publish the Government’s response to the Committee’s report on regional accountability on Monday. As this is the last business questions before the recess, and the last real opportunity for the Leader of the House to take questions on future business, will she tell us when she intends to table the Standing Orders on regional Select Committees?
When the right hon. and learned Lady announced her proposals on the Equality Bill on 26 June, she said:
“Next month I will publish a further paper setting out our proposals in greater detail”.—[Official Report, 26 June 2008; Vol. 478, c. 501.]
As the House rises on Tuesday, will she guarantee today that that paper will be published before the recess?
On a similar theme, on 12 June, when asked about the procedure for choosing topical debates, the Leader of the House said:
“we are reviewing the operation of topical debates…I shall report to the House before the summer recess.”—[Official Report, 12 June 2008; Vol. 477, c. 462.]
Again, as the House rises on Tuesday, will she guarantee today that that report will be published before the recess?
In her written statement yesterday on Members’ allowances, the Leader of the House said that she had had
“a number of positive discussions…with many hon. Members.”—[Official Report, 16 July 2008; Vol. 479, c. 31WS.]
Will she now list those Members, and, as the House rises on Tuesday, will she guarantee that her consultation document on Members’ allowances will be circulated to Members before the recess?
Those questions can all be answered by the right hon. and learned Lady today. They are not matters on which she can pass the buck to other members of the Cabinet. They are important matters for this House and our constituents. Perhaps she should stop dreaming about becoming leader of the country, and start acting as the leader of this House.
In respect of the consultation document on allowances, which I announced by way of a written ministerial statement yesterday morning—we had an opportunity to discuss these issues during an Opposition day debate yesterday—it would be preferable for us to produce the consultation document before the House rises, but I cannot guarantee that. We had an opportunity in the ministerial statement to map out the issues that will be addressed in the consultation document, and they were the subject of the debate yesterday.
The right hon. Lady mentioned that I said that I had had discussions with several hon. Members after the debate on 3 July. I would never think it right to list hon. Members to whom I spoke as Leader of the House. I discuss many issues with many hon. Members and they do not expect their names to be published for having discussions with me. Hon. Members know that I welcome discussion with anybody who wants talk to me about such issues. The discussions have been positive, which is probably more than can be said about those that the right hon. Lady held with many Conservative Members.
I intend to issue the results of our review on topical debates before the House rises for the summer recess. I will also publish the detailed paper on the Equality Bill in response to the discrimination law review before the House rises. Standing Orders for regional Committees will be placed before the House in the autumn.
The right hon. Lady made several points about the “Governance of Britain” proposals for the House, which the Modernisation Committee considered. We could deal with the matter in several ways: the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice could make proposals and we could simply lay them before the House for debate and agreement, or the issue could be given to the Select Committee that is responsible for considering changes in the House—the Modernisation Committee. We think that the latter is preferable. If the right hon. Lady objects to the matter being discussed in the Modernisation Committee—
Indeed. We are not ideological about the matter. If something is more appropriate for the Procedure Committee to discuss, we are happy for it to go to that Committee. As a member of the Modernisation Committee, if the right hon. Lady believes that it is more appropriate to discuss some aspect of the “Governance of Britain” proposals in the Procedure Committee rather than the Modernisation Committee, she has only to say so and I am sure that we would be prepared to take up her suggestion.
The right hon. Lady asked about the Equitable Life report, which has been published, and I thank the ombudsman for her work on that. The report is detailed and comprehensive, and considers matters that range back over the past 20 years. It has some 2,000 pages, which the Government will consider. I note the right hon. Lady’s request that, when the Chancellor gives his response to that important report, not only about the past but for the future, he come to the House to make an oral statement.
The right hon. Lady asked whether the Prime Minister will make an oral statement on Iraq before the House rises. If there is to be an oral statement on Monday or Tuesday next week, it will be announced in the usual way.
May we have a debate on inaccurate reporting by the British press? The Leader of the House may know that I had a ten-minute Bill on Tuesday on the inadequate powers of the Press Complaints Commission. During my contribution, I highlighted the case of Robert Murat, who was found guilty and convicted by the British press in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. How many more Robert Murats will it take before action is taken to impress on the press its responsibility to society to report what is going on accurately?
I commend my hon. Friend for the points that he raised in his ten-minute Bill. We all believe that the press should report accurately and that, if they make a mistake, they should retract and apologise promptly. The Press Complaints Commission should act vigorously, and the Government will keep those issues under review.
I join the rest of the House in conveying best wishes to everyone for the summer recess. Although Members of Parliament may not be here, many staff will be working extra hard to ensure that the House remains in good order for when we return in October. I wish all the staff the best in their endeavours.
On Equitable Life, does the Leader of the House think that it would have been more appropriate for the Chancellor to make an oral statement today? The Government had the draft report for 17 months and every hon. Member will have constituents who have been affected. Should not the Chancellor have come here today to give at least an initial apology, even if he has to take time to consider exactly how he will respond to the need for compensation? I agree that there should definitely be an oral statement in October, when hon. Members can question the Chancellor about his reaction to the ombudsman.
On coastguard pay, which my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) raised with the Prime Minister yesterday, will the Leader of the House make sure that the Prime Minister comes to the House to clarify that the coastguard pay dispute is not part of the recent public sector pay round, but a long, ongoing dispute, which has been so badly handled that coastguards are having to have compulsory pay rises to make sure that they do not fall foul of minimum wage provisions? It is a totally different issue from the ongoing public sector pay dispute.
On Members’ pay, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow), in question reference number 217714, asked the Leader of the House how the calculation for Members’ pay would work and whether she could give him examples of the results that the formula would have produced over the past 10 years. Her deputy replied:
“The information requested is not easily obtainable within the normal time scale for answering written parliamentary questions. I will write to the hon. Member shortly”—[Official Report, 15 July 2008; Vol. 479, c. 229W.]
Surely, the fact that the House has a pay system that is so complicated that even the right hon. and learned Lady’s own Department cannot answer questions on it within the time scale available suggests that we have come up with a rather inappropriate system, and the House will have to revisit that.
The House will rise until October. Come October, it will be almost too late for the Government to come up with a serious strategy for tackling the rising cost of fuel as it affects our constituents going into the winter—particularly those who are not on the gas main, because the price of oil has gone through the roof. We need concrete proposals from the Government now, because the time taken to implement them will be an important factor. Will the Leader of the House make sure before the House rises that the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform makes proposals to tackle fuel poverty among those who are not on the gas main?
Finally, will the Leader of the House ensure before the House rises that the Department for Work and Pensions makes a statement saying what is happening to the card account and the payment of pensions and benefits. The Post Office is a unique institution—it is the only one with outlets throughout the rural areas of this country—but the Government have imposed access criteria on it. If the Department for Work and Pensions, for administrative convenience, awards the card account contract to anyone but the Post Office, people throughout rural Britain will find it difficult to collect their pensions in the way that the Government have promised they will be able to. Will the Leader of the House therefore ensure that a statement is made on the issue before the House rises so that Members can question and respond to it? Will she ensure that the statement is not left until the recess? If the Government do wait until the recess, will that not send a warning to our many constituents that the Government are planning yet again to ditch the Post Office and take more business away from it.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his appearance on the Front Bench at business questions, which is clearly very popular. He raised the issue of pay in the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, which has been raised on many occasions in the House. Great value is placed on the work of those in the agency, and there is concern that there should be a settlement that is acceptable to all as soon as possible.
On Equitable Life, we have all been concerned about the many individuals who have been affected one way or another by the problems there. That has had a very big impact. We are obviously pleased that the report has been completed, but the time for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make a statement about which of the proposals arising from the review he will take forward is when the report has been published and everybody has had the opportunity to reflect on it.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the question raised by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam, who wrote to ask what Members’ pay increases would have been in the past if the formula had been the same as the one that we have agreed for the future. There is no complexity about the formula, which takes the median increase for a basket of 15 different occupations; it is about tracking back to see what the pay increases for those different occupations have been over previous years so that we can do what is in fact a very simple calculation. However, I will deal with that as soon as possible.
On fuel poverty, the fact that the House is rising does not mean that the Government will not remain completely focused on and concerned about how we can do more to ensure that people have their homes insulated and that businesses are energy efficient, how we can increase the supply of energy through renewables and how we can deal with all the problems relating to energy. The fact that the House is rising will not mean that the issue will not be a major Government concern.
The hon. Gentleman raised another issue that is a concern in the House and more widely—the Post Office card account. Hon. Members will know that it is subject to public procurement rules, but the Post Office has put in a bid. However, no hon. Members will be in any doubt about how important the issue is to the post office network.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider having a debate on sentencing policy for those found guilty of human trafficking and modern forms of slavery? I ask that not in the light of highly paid footballers, but because of a recent case where an accountant trafficked a 14-year-old Ghanaian girl into the UK and kept her as an unpaid servant—or possibly slave—for a number of years, but was sentenced to only 18 months in prison. Should the courts not be giving exemplary sentences, to ensure that we send out the signal that those who traffic human beings will face the wrath of the courts and the retribution of the British legal system?
My hon. Friend raises an important issue. It is important that those who have committed human trafficking offences are brought to justice, not only for the sake of their victims, but as a deterrent to others. It is important, too, that the courts pass sentences that make it clear to people all around the world that this country will not be a safe haven for human traffickers. My hon. Friend made a point about sentencing. I understand that the Sentencing Advisory Panel considered the issue of human trafficking a couple of years ago, along with sexual offences more broadly. However, if I am not right on that, I will ask the Home Secretary whether it would be appropriate to refer the issue to the Sentencing Advisory Panel, bearing in mind the fact that she is looking into the question of human trafficking.
The Leader of the House will know that the instrument of ratification for the Lisbon treaty was deposited by written statement only about an hour ago. Does she accept that that is, effectively, bullying the Irish, who voted no unequivocally, that it is unprecedented, in the sense that when the French and the Dutch voted no, the Government did not proceed with ratification, and furthermore that there are a number of legal actions outstanding, including my own against the Foreign Secretary in the High Court, on the question of ratification. This is a gross impertinence and a disgraceful—
Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider having a debate on Northern Rock, particularly in the light of the revelation in the Daily Mirror this week that the current management are spending £130,000 pursuing the whistleblower who exposed the outrageous bonuses that the previous management were paying themselves? Is it right that what is now our money should be used in that way?
I shall refer the matter that my hon. Friend raises to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Everyone is agreed that those in the private sector should receive big rewards only where something has been successful—there should not be rewards for failure. People should bear in mind the law that the House passed setting out that remuneration must be decided while also reflecting on the average levels of remuneration in the company as a whole.
May we have a debate on the Government’s pharmacy White Paper? There is an awful lot of good in the White Paper, which I would support, but there is also a proposal that would devastate rural GP practices that dispense, such as Langport in my constituency. If I had had any doubts about the value that local people put on that GP dispensary, they would have been corrected by the volume of letters that I have received. May we have a debate about the implications of the White Paper on rural GP dispensing? Is the proposal perhaps not another example of the Government simply not understanding the needs of rural areas?
The hon. Gentleman will know that the issue is subject to consultation, which will precede the health Bill, which is in the Government’s draft legislative programme. However, he makes an important point about how we ensure that we understand the implications of all Government policy and Bills for rural areas, as well as for urban areas. Therefore, I will raise the point that he makes not only with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, but with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who has already answered questions in the House this morning.
May we have a debate on delivering quality public services? I should like to congratulate Lothian Buses—the only publicly owned bus company in Scotland and the largest in the UK—on winning the prestigious best bus operator award 2008. Pilmar Smith, the chairman, who lives in north Berwick in my constituency, has played an exemplary role in support of the work force and in the company’s success.
What is clear is that we need to have a congruence—that the main residence for tax purposes should be the same as the main residence for the purposes of claiming from the additional costs allowance. However, if hon. Members think that it would be helpful, I can, following the debate, write to them setting out the changes that have been agreed to main or second residences.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend have discussions during the recess through the usual channels about the arrangements for 11 November, which this year is a Tuesday? She will notice that this year is the 90th anniversary of the ending of world war one, with all the social, political, military and legal implications that go with that. Would this year not be a good occasion on which to reinstate the wreath-laying ceremony, which used to take place at our war memorial at St. Stephen’s entrance, but which was lost when the security boxes were put there some decades ago? This year will be a great occasion for Parliament to commemorate and use our war memorial in a very decent way, so I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will discuss this with you, Mr. Speaker, and others.
May I thank the Leader of the House for what she has just said? In view of the fact that there are many, in all parts of the House, who do not think that Front Benchers from any party should be on Select Committees, will she at least give us the assurance that when we debate the report on regional Committees, there will be a completely free vote, as there always should be on House of Commons matters?
Ever since it was established, the Modernisation Committee has been different from other Select Committees, in that not only does its membership include a Minister, but it is chaired by the Leader of the House, who is the Leader of the House, a Minister and a member of the Cabinet. On regional Committees, it is always the case that matters relating to the formation of Committees are matters for the House.
May we have a debate on the minimum wage—one of the great historic achievements of the first phase of our Labour Government—so that we can celebrate the current upgrading that will affect 1 million people, 100,000 of them in Yorkshire and the Humber? Could we use such a debate to say that we are going to get very tough indeed on firms such as the one in my constituency that employs young women on a day-by-day basis and gives them £25 cash after nine hours of work, only to tell them that they are no longer needed? The women are expected to keep quiet and not blow the whistle. Is it not time that we got tough with rogue or cowboy employers of that kind?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need strict laws to protect vulnerable employees from exploitation and we also need to ensure that they are effectively enforced. I congratulate him on the work that he, along with other hon. Members, has done to make sure that that is what happens.
I join others in thanking all the Officers and staff of the House for their hard work over this parliamentary Session and I wish them a restful recess.
Will the Government make it clear that over the summer recess period they will not join other European Governments and Heads of Government in the growing campaign led by President Sarkozy, who is due to visit the Irish Republic shortly, to bully and harass people who, on a free vote, made it clear that they reject the Lisbon treaty? Will the Government use the recess period finally to make up their minds to abandon a treaty that is, frankly, unwanted and undemocratic?
The reason that this House and the other place passed the provisions on the Lisbon treaty is that we recognise that, if we want a strong economy, we have to work closely with the European Union. Similarly, if we want to tackle the menace of climate change and cross-border crime, we have to work strongly with our partners in the European Union. We think that it is in Britain’s interest to be at the heart of Europe and that it is in Europe’s interest that Britain should play a leading part in it. We also recognise that, with more member states of the EU, we need to change the rules so that it works as efficiently and effectively as possible. Having established our position and discussed it here and in the other place, there is no question of the Government bullying or harassing any other country.
My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware of the concern of animal welfare groups, and particularly dog welfare groups, about the growth in the use of electric shock collars. What she may not be aware of is that both the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament are looking at ways of outlawing the use of those devices. Will she arrange for a statement to highlight how our Government will work with the devolved Administrations to ensure that there is a consistent approach, so that English dogs are not dogged by devolution?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on all the work that he does on the full range of animal welfare issues. I will pass on the matter that he has raised to the relevant Ministers. If we need to make any further changes to promote animal welfare, we will.
In case I created any confusion in my earlier response, let me clarify that the creation of Committees is House business, which means that the creation of regional Committees is House business and it is not whipped. The membership of Committees is whipped, but Select Committees elect their own Chairs.
Reverting to a question that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) asked about Equitable Life, last week the Leader of the House invited us to wait and see what the ombudsman said. What the ombudsman has said is:
“I recognise that my recommendations raise questions which are now properly ones for Parliament and Government together to consider.”
Although I welcome what the right hon. and learned Lady said about the Chancellor making a statement, does she accept that that does not go far enough? What we need is a debate in Government time on a substantive motion on which the House can vote. Will she undertake to provide that?
The right hon. Gentleman has made his position clear, as has the shadow Leader of the House. I think that we are all concerned about people who lost out as a result of what happened to Equitable Life and we are all concerned to understand where the responsibility lies and where regulation should have been improved—as it can and has been. There will be full consideration in government and we will see how we can ensure that this House has a proper chance to question, possibly debate—[Hon. Members: “And vote”]—and even vote on the results.
Will the Leader of the House consider giving time to debate the anti-family friendly policies introduced by Tesco? People can spend £50—say, on alcohol—and get a voucher for 5p off fuel, whereas if they spend £50 on infantile or baby food products, they do not qualify for a voucher. That seems absolutely absurd. It seems that “Every little helps”—except if you are a little one.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising that important point. Tesco will see that the matter has been raised on the Floor of the House and will note the response of hon. Members.
In respect of my previous answer to the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), the banking reform Bill is in our draft legislative programme, so if hon. Members want to table amendments to deal with issues surrounding Equitable Life, they will have an opportunity to do so and then to debate and vote on them. That is not instead of, but in addition to what I said earlier.
Given that the Chancellor has been panicked into rewriting his Budget in the face of the sustained Scottish National party challenge in Glasgow, East, will he make a full statement to the House? If the fuel duty freeze proves to be too little, too late, will it be the job of the right hon. and learned Lady to go to Downing street next Friday morning and tell this useless Prime Minister to go?
This week, the annual report of the chief medical officer was published. It dealt predominantly with tackling problems relating to young people’s health. Will the Leader of the House consider making time available for a debate on that important issue, particularly to allow Members the opportunity to raise concerns about their constituents—for example, about the screening of young women for cervical cancer. It would be beneficial if we had an opportunity to talk about the health issues faced by young people.
The Leader of the House will be aware that earlier this week the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government published a report on community cohesion, which found that the Government’s policy of uncontrolled immigration has caused sustained damage to community relations and community cohesion across the UK, including in my constituency. When may we have a debate on the linked issues of the population statistics of the Office for National Statistics, the audit of local authorities affected by large-scale immigration and the grant funding to authorities—including my own Peterborough city council—particularly affected by this issue?
The question of immigration and its effect on different local authorities has been considered, as the hon. Gentleman said, by the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government. It has produced its report, but it certainly did not include the point that the Government had a policy of “uncontrolled immigration”. The Government will reflect on the report and respond in due course.
Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that, in their wisdom, the football authorities have penalised Luton Town football club by deducting 30 points for misdemeanours perpetrated by previous owners? Will she allow an early debate on ensuring that the football authorities impose penalties on those who are truly responsible rather than on innocent fans, and will she ensure that the football authorities do not have a remit effectively to kill football clubs such as mine?
My hon. Friend has raised on many occasions the question of Luton Town football club, which clearly plays an important role in the life of the city that she represents. I will draw her point to the attention of Ministers in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
Next time the Leader of the House bumps into the Secretary of State for Defence—[Interruption.] I know that he is coming in a moment. Will she ask him for a statement on how much time he has been able to spend on the two medium-sized conflicts in which our armed forces are currently engaged, and how much time he has been having to spend, as Secretary of State for Scotland, on the battle for the by-election in Glasgow, East?
I welcome the announcement by the Leader of the House that she intends to publish a Command Paper next Monday responding speedily to the Modernisation Committee’s report on regional accountability. She will know that members of the Committee heard overwhelming evidence of the need for proper accountability for the £2.3 billion a year spent by regional development agencies, and a proper mechanism to hold regional Ministers to account. Will she be equally speedy in bringing forward to the House mechanisms to ensure that the proposals of the Modernisation Committee are put into effect?
When the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government first proposed eco-towns, she brought forward a list of 15 and said that the Government hoped to have at least 10. The only difficulty is that today, the fifth of those dropped out, so from 15 we are now down to 10. Will the Leader of the House give an undertaking that no further announcement will be made on eco-towns until the House returns in the autumn, when we can have a topical debate to discuss the merits of those eco-town proposals remaining? That will give the Government an opportunity during the summer recess to reflect on the wisdom of progressing with many of those eco-town proposals.
Over the past month, the House has had a number of opportunities to discuss eco-towns. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing set out, we will make progress on the question of eco-towns, to ensure that we have more housing and that it is sustainable.
That is right.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House answered a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South about the problems with Luton Town football club, and the fact that it was being treated badly. If she—or someone on behalf of the appropriate Committee—makes representations to the Football Association, will they bear in mind that it seems significant that small clubs such as Luton, and Chesterfield a few years ago, have points deducted, but West Ham got involved in a major wrangle over two players last year and did not have points deducted as was supposed to happen? It looks to me like there is one law for the small clubs and another for those in the premier league. That ought to be brought to the FA’s attention.
Hon. Members are well aware that the small clubs play every bit as important a role as the big clubs, and should be treated fairly. I will bring my hon. Friend’s point, and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Margaret Moran), to the attention of Ministers in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
Can we have an urgent debate on the powers and effectiveness of the Healthcare Commission? In my constituency, Milton Park hospital, run by Brookdale Care, has in its first three years of existence had four inspection reports from the Healthcare Commission, all of which have ranged from poor to appalling. It is currently going through another inquiry following the death of a patient. I am not sure whether the Healthcare Commission has all the powers and effectiveness that it needs, and a debate would help to clarify that.
Can we have a debate on grandparents’ rights? My constituents, Terry and Iris Lightfoot, who look after their grandchild, have been told that they can enjoy the formal and financial protection of becoming foster parents only by putting their grandchild into care with the local authority. They do not want to do that, because of the potential damage that it will do to the child. Although special checks are desperately needed, is it right that grandparents should have to take such action in order to carry on looking after their grandchildren?
With more and more mothers going out to work, the role of grandparents, which has become more important, is absolutely pivotal. Many families just could not cope without the active role of grandparents, and that is the case for all families, whether or not they are in difficulties—although it is particularly the case for families who get into difficulties. Improving support for grandparents is an ongoing concern, and I will bring the hon. Gentleman’s points to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.
Whether the Leader of the House publishes her recommendations before or after the recess, can she give a statement on the vexed issue of allowances in the near future, and particularly on the relationship between MPs’ allowances and MEPs’ allowances? Yesterday, she said that there is
“an independent financial audit for each”—
“MEP’s total expenditure every year, which is then published on their website.”—[Official Report, 16 July 2008; Vol. 479, c. 272.]
Unfortunately, that is not correct. It is not published anywhere. All that must happen is that
“The Auditors report has to be presented to the EPLP by 31st March.”
As we are discussing the business for next week, I do not want to detain the House on issues that were debated at length yesterday on an Opposition motion. On the question of expenses of MEPs, and how Labour MEPs deal with the issue, my understanding is that there is a voluntary arrangement whereby Labour MEPs put their expenses on their own websites. [Interruption.] That is what I understand the position to be.
In 2006-07, 2,500 fixed penalty notices were issued in Northamptonshire for crimes including shoplifting, drunkenness and criminal damage, but only 836 were actually paid. Can we have a debate in Government time about the effectiveness of the fixed penalty notice system as a part of the criminal justice?
Hundreds of thousands of Equitable Life policyholders know that the Government did everything that they could to obstruct the report that has been published, and to delay the time when that investigation reached its conclusions. That has been confirmed by the ombudsman, who said that it was “iniquitous” and “unfair” that the Government failed to establish a single inquiry in 2001. Policyholders, who have been waiting eight years, want to know whether the foot dragging will now end, so that they can find out how much compensation they will get. It seems that we are getting more foot dragging from the Leader of the House right now. Can we at least have a debate, even a short debate, in Government time, to establish the criteria by which compensation will be assessed and paid, or are the Government too fearful of the £4 billion overhang that will hit an already distressed public sector financial deficit?
I hope that the Leader of the House will respond to this question. She said earlier that the press should apologise promptly when they get it wrong. The Government have got it wrong on Equitable Life. Why will they not do the ombudsman’s bidding and apologise now? Why can they not put a stop to their weasel words on the issue?
I do not want to draw out the issue, because two important statements are coming up. However, hon. Members should recognise that the problems in Equitable Life started to arise under a regulatory regime that was the responsibility not of this Government, but of the previous Government. If Conservative Members have joined us in being concerned that there should be proper regulation of the private sector, we welcome that.
I must go back to the vexed question of Somerset. I have carried out the right hon. and learned Lady’s advice, but it now turns out that the deal with IBM, on which I want a debate, was negotiated on 21 February last year. They got the joint venture because of secret meetings, even though the bid was £25 million more expensive than the next nearest bidder. The only councillor who had the guts to stand up was Paul Buchanan, who was taken to the Standards Board for England on 55 charges by the chief executive of the county council. When I tried to sort the case out on his behalf, I was threatened with legal action by the Standards Board—
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but the questions are getting longer and longer. We have quite a long list of business items to deal with today. I think that the right hon. and learned Lady might have got the sense of what the hon. Gentleman is saying. [Interruption.] The look of puzzlement on her face induces me to allow one final sentence from Mr. Liddell-Grainger.
I have on previous occasions suggested that if the hon. Gentleman wants such a debate he ought to look to Westminster Hall or an Adjournment debate. I was looking slightly dismayed, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I think that it is very important that we do not stray into making serious allegations under the protection of the privilege of this House that we would not make outside the House or if we did not have that privilege.
I wish the Leader of the House an enjoyable recess and thank her warmly for next Monday’s debate on speech, language and communication services. May we please have a debate in Government time, preferably on the Floor of the House, on autism? Given that of the estimated 500,000 people in this country on the autistic spectrum only 15 per cent. become independent as adults, 40 per cent. live with their parents all their lives and a mere 12 per cent. are engaged in paid work, is it not timely now for us to debate the Government’s autism strategy in the interests of some of the most vulnerable people in our communities?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his report. As he says, the House will have an opportunity, which I know that it welcomes, to debate the subject on Monday. The question of provision and support for those with autism in their families will be centre stage in that debate.
May I ask the Leader of the House to speak to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families and ask him to make a statement to the House on the chaos that has engulfed the key stages 2 and 3 SATs exams? The Secretary of State has admitted that 120,000 pupils will not have their results by the end of term and the Chairman of the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families, on which I sit, has said that those who have just recently passed A-levels have been marking those papers. Is it not time that the Secretary of State did what he has so far refused to do—that is, that he apologised in this House?
The Secretary of State gave evidence about those issues to the Select Committee yesterday. He has set up an inquiry under Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, which will report in the autumn. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has responsibility for the contract to manage the service. Many key stage 2 results for 11-year-olds went out on Tuesday and more will go out tomorrow. More key stage 3 results will go out tomorrow. The Secretary of State has said clearly that he believes that the situation is unacceptable and that is why he has established the inquiry.
With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the service personnel Command Paper, which I am publishing today and which has been laid before the House.
The men and women of our armed forces are a force for good. I know that the whole House is proud of the work that they do in dangerous and challenging circumstances, whether in Iraq or Afghanistan, or closer to home. All around the world, every day, they demonstrate their courage, dedication and professionalism, risking injury and death in the service of their country. They are a credit to the nation.
Increasingly, the level of support provided to our forces by the Government, and also more widely by the nation, has come under scrutiny from the public, the media and, most importantly, those in the services and their families. It is absolutely right that that should be the case. If we ask our forces to risk their lives in order to keep us safe, we should all be prepared to look after them while they are in service and afterwards. I believe that we have made a number of big improvements to the lives of our people in the past two years.
We have introduced the first ever tax-free operational bonus, we have invested substantial additional money to improve our armed forces’ accommodation and we have awarded them among the highest pay increases in the public sector. However, we can and should do more. Last year, the Prime Minister and I asked ministerial colleagues across government what more we could do and should be doing to demonstrate our gratitude for the service and sacrifice of our service personnel. The result, led by my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces, is today’s Command Paper—the first ever truly cross-Government approach to demonstrating our commitment to the armed forces.
The Command Paper was not just a cross-Government effort. We also consulted our external reference group, among others, widely and in detail. That group comprised the Royal British Legion, the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association, the Confederation of British Service and ex-Service Organisations, the armed forces families’ federations and the War Widows Association of Great Britain. I am delighted that they have so warmly welcomed the publication of this paper and will continue to work with us on its delivery.
This Command Paper is underpinned by two fundamental principles. The first is to remove any disadvantage. The nature of their work and the requirements of service life means that our people, and their families, can face disadvantage in their daily lives. Many of them move locations frequently, often with no choice of where or when, and schooling can be disrupted as a result. They might lose their place on a national health service waiting list, for example, or lose out on an in vitro fertilisation procedure. Many of the measures in the paper are therefore aimed at ending that disadvantage. They seek to ensure that service personnel and their families receive continuity of public services wherever they are based and wherever they are obliged to move.
The second fundamental principle is that where special treatment is required in order to recognise those who have sacrificed the most, we must and should provide it. This is a comprehensive package of 40 measures covering almost every aspect of life, from health care, education and transport to housing, resettlement and the care of veterans.
I want to highlight just a few of the commitments that we are announcing today. Right hon. and hon. Members are only too aware of the terrible price that some members of our armed forces have paid, suffering mental and physical injuries that will be with them and their families for the rest of their lives. Every Member of this House would agree with me that as a Government we should be willing to make the following commitment: if those personnel have been injured serving their nation, then the Government and the nation must ensure that we support them as much as they need for as long as they need. We must aim to offer the best possible continuous care from the point of injury, through to recovery and beyond, for the rest of their life. The measures set out in the paper are aimed at doing just that.
One of the key changes that we are announcing today is an increase in the compensation payments for personnel who suffer injuries due to their service. I understand that no amount of money can ever make up for the pain and sacrifice that these brave people have endured. However, we need to recognise the special nature of their sacrifice. The top-level tariffs in the armed forces compensation scheme will be doubled, affecting about 80 of the most seriously injured people who have already made claims since the scheme began in 2005. Obviously, it will apply to the most serious claims in future.
These things are quite complex as the compensation scheme has many different levels. In practical terms, though, that means that the lump sum awarded for the most serious injuries, which was previously between about £50,000 and £285,000, will double. The new maximum award for an injury will be £570,000. Everyone with an award for injury under the compensation scheme will benefit and the most seriously injured will benefit the most. On discharge, the most seriously injured will also continue to get tax-free income throughout their lives—the annual guaranteed income payment, which is also index-linked—so overall the lifetime payout could be in excess of £1.5 million. Furthermore, these compensation payments for those who are severely disabled will now be disregarded from the local authority means test when they are applying for the disabled facilities grant. That means that seriously injured personnel who receive a lump sum under the armed forces compensation scheme or war pension scheme will not have to spend that money adapting their homes. That money was intended by this House to be compensation for serious injuries, and this approach will guarantee that that intention is fulfilled.
That change is in addition to a host of other changes: seriously injured personnel will be prioritised in waiting lists for adapted social housing; we will roll out community mental health services for veterans nationwide, following successful pilots launched earlier this year; at the earliest opportunity, we will extend free bus travel across England to those service personnel and veterans under the age of 60 who have been seriously injured through service, and Scotland and Wales will do similar; and finally, severely disabled veterans will have an automatic entitlement to blue badges, which provide parking concessions, for life.
Everyone in this House knows that none of those things can make up for the injuries that some people will bear for the remainder of their lives. Nothing can do that. We owe this immense debt, and although it can never sufficiently be repaid, we should, and we will, do our utmost to acknowledge it. The Government will also strive to mitigate the disruptive consequences of mobility on family and everyday life. For example, we will provide continuity of national health service care for service families by ensuring that they retain their relative place on NHS waiting lists across the UK, however often they move, and we will take steps to improve NHS dentists for service families.
We will also minimise the disruption to education suffered by many service children. To that end, we will do the following: review admissions policy to ensure that service children are treated fairly in the allocation of school places; ensure that special educational needs support is uninterrupted when children move schools; and give service children priority access to places at state boarding schools.
Those who choose to leave the armed forces will enjoy a greater level of support, ensuring a smooth transition to civilian life. We will give free further or higher education to service leavers of more than six years’ experience, up to first degree level. That means that a soldier, sailor or airman can join the armed forces from school, secure in the knowledge that six or more years’ service will be rewarded with the chance of a college or university education free from tuition fees. We will also make it easier for service leavers to find homes, whether through the purchase of their own properties or through social housing. We recognise that the mobility of the average service career—typically, people move every two years—means that individuals often prefer to wait until they leave the armed forces before buying a home. For that reason, we will extend the key worker living scheme so that service personnel are eligible for its assistance to purchase homes for one year after they leave the forces.
Social housing will also be more accessible to service leavers. In the past, service leavers had difficulties obtaining social housing, as local authorities prioritise individuals with a “local connection” to the area. This legislation will be changed, enabling personnel to establish a “local connection” and so settle in the location of their choice. That is not all, because we will make empty MOD properties available to service leavers as an interim measure, and we will work with the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Housing Corporation and charities to reduce the incidence of homelessness, which will include building new supported housing on gifted MOD land.
In this Command Paper, the Government have listened to the real needs of the service community and responded to those identified needs, introducing real improvements. We are as committed to our armed forces and veterans as they are committed to us, and we will deliver on these promises; after all, it is the very least we can do. The measures I have outlined are the Government’s—and, indeed, the nation’s—commitment to honour and care for those who have sacrificed most in service to their country, and let me make it absolutely clear that this is for the long term. It is the product of many months of concerted effort by Government Departments and the devolved Administrations. We are determined to make this stick, and we will put in place mechanisms to ensure that we deliver. I commend this Command Paper on the nation’s commitment to our armed forces, their families and veterans to the House.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his statement and for prior sight of it. Conservatives welcome any measures to help our armed forces and their families, and indeed many of the proposals announced today echo proposals that we have made over the past year. Although it may have taken a long time for the Government to introduce this package of measures, if this is the beginning of a genuinely constructive and bipartisan approach to the welfare of our armed forces, their families and service veterans, the whole country will welcome it.
No other group in our society is asked to make the sort of sacrifices that our armed forces make on our behalf. Those on both sides of the House who have visited our troops in Iraq or Afghanistan know the hardships that they face. Those who have talked to service families about how they feel when they hear that another soldier has been killed or injured but they have not yet learned the name of the person involved marvel at their courage. Those who have visited young soldiers in Selly Oak or Headley Court have been humbled by the soldiers’ lack of self pity in the face of great adversity.
May I ask the Secretary of State to clarify a number of points in his statement, starting with the compensation issue? We welcome the doubling of the maximum award for the most seriously injured, but he will be aware that the points system determines eligibility for the most serious injury payment and that it has attracted much criticism. That issue has been raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Does he believe that the system is sufficiently holistic in its approach? What plans are there for a review of it, and when will that take place?
Secondly, the Secretary of State said, “Everyone with an award for injury under the compensation scheme will benefit”. Will he clarify that? Does he mean that there will be an automatic uprating of all awards made since 2005, and if so, when will such changes be made? What of those injured in Iraq or Afghanistan before 2005? What changes will be made to bring their treatment and compensation into line with the changes announced today for those injured after 2005? The public will find it hard to accept an arbitrary date for discrimination in treatment. May I remind the House that between 1 January 2003 and 31 December 2005, 33 UK military personnel were categorised as very seriously injured and 78 were categorised as seriously injured, and that in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2005, six were categorised as very seriously injured and four as seriously injured? What will happen to them?
Can the Secretary of State also tell us how many claims have been made by former service personnel against the MOD in the civil courts, how many such claims are outstanding and what the estimated liability is? What assessment has he made of the likely impact of today’s statement on those claims? Finally, will more money be made available from the Treasury for the changes that he has announced today, and if so, how much? We do not want the MOD to be forced to cut other parts of an already overstretched budget.
We welcome other moves that have been announced, but we will want to examine the practicalities. For example, providing good mental health services to veterans requires better integration between defence medicine and the NHS, and although the aim of providing better access to NHS dentistry for service families is desirable, it will not be helped by the fact that the number of NHS dentists declined by a further 500 in 2007.
We would also like to re-examine the issue of the educational status of those leaving the forces, which the Secretary of State mentioned. Many of those who have taken an interest in this issue point out that the underskilling of those who leave the services early is often a greater problem than the one in respect of those leaving after six years. I hope that the Government will re-examine how such people might also be helped.
Finally, may I thank all in the media, in charities and among the general public who have campaigned so tirelessly for the better treatment of our service personnel and their families, and our veterans? Specifically, may I thank Freddie Forsyth and his team, which includes Simon Weston, for the work that they have done for the commission that was set up by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition on service welfare? I hope that the Secretary of State will acknowledge what has been a great act of public service on their part.
How we deal with our armed forces is symptomatic of the values of our society. Ultimately, we will have to deal with the overstretch that contributes to many of the problems that those in our armed forces and their families face, but today there has been a welcome acknowledgement of how much needs to be done.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome of this package. I appreciate that he has not had the time to go through it in detail, but as he understands more about it and the impact that it will have, he will recognise that it faithfully represents the issues that members of the armed forces and their advocates, including those organisations he identified, have brought to our attention. We have been engaged in a detailed and ongoing consultation, which we announced last year.
I say to the hon. Gentleman that we should all avoid trying to stand on that small space normally occupied by The Sun, and claiming to be “the persons wot dunnit”. There will be significant competition for the credit for these proposals, but they are the result of a genuinely co-operative effort, which has been going on in some detail for a long time, to identify the needs of our service personnel. The announcement reflects the issues that service people and their families brought to us through various organisations and in several ways. For example, many people contacted us about their individual circumstances, but we have an obligation to keep those communications confidential.
The hon. Gentleman asked several questions about the uplift in the tariff rates of the armed forces scheme. I am satisfied that the tariff approach to a no-fault compensation scheme is the only fair way to conduct that process. He referred in passing to civil claims. When there is an allegation of negligence, one can treat the calculation of compensation differently, but when there is no fault, there has to be transparency and fairness, and some form of tariff. That is now well established in public policy, and previous Governments have had similar schemes.
I am satisfied that the scheme works and is fair. I am always prepared to consider reviewing it to make it more transparent and fair, but the doubling will go down to tariff level 6; the hon. Gentleman may be familiar with the structure of the scheme. Below that, there will be increases, but they will not be proportionately as large as those for the most seriously injured.
The hon. Gentleman asks when the changes will come into effect. He will know that, because it is a statutory scheme, they cannot come into effect until the relevant legislation has been laid. Secondary legislation has to be laid, and that requires a period of consultation. We will publish the detail so that people can see the effect of the scheme on the tariff levels as soon as we are able to do so. There will be a short period of consultation, and then I expect, because of the general welcome for the changes, that the House will approve the proposals. We will have a relevant benefit uplift for everybody who has made an application to the scheme since it started in 2005.
The hon. Gentleman asks me to do something that I am not aware any Government have ever done—to make the scheme retrospective and apply it to people who were compensated or supported under an entirely different scheme of compensation. I hasten to add that the previous scheme was inherited from the previous Government. There was dissatisfaction with that, and we have changed the scheme, but it is not appropriate, in public policy terms, to apply the changes retrospectively to people whose compensation or support was calculated under a different scheme, given that many people—not just those who have been in Iraq—still receive income under that scheme.
The hon. Gentleman asks whether additional resources will be provided. Substantial additional resources will be provided, but they will be gleaned from the budgets of other Departments. We joined with those Departments and the devolved Administrations to ensure that resources could be identified to meet the principles set out in this paper.
Finally, on the hon. Gentleman’s specific questions, he asked about the civil claims. He will appreciate that I do not have that information with me, but I will ensure that he gets it and that it is shared with him and made available to all Members. I thank him for the tribute that he paid to our armed forces. He knows that I share his view that they are excellent people who do excellent work very bravely and professionally. I am pleased that there is such consensus of welcome for the changes in the House and I hope that we will all work to ensure that they are implemented as quickly as possible and that the Government are kept to their promises.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving me advance sight of the statement and for the statement itself. I, too, wish to pay tribute to those who have sacrificed so much for their country, including one of my constituents, Sergeant Scott Paterson, who was recently badly injured in Afghanistan.
Who could disagree with these welcome proposals, which are a great step in the right direction? The bus travel, the blue badges, the further and higher education and the compensation uplift, as well as the priority in housing, health—especially mental health—and education for veterans, are all positive steps in the right direction. I will withhold judgment, however, until I see the final details, because many of the proposals include proposals to change priorities and move people up lists. Because such changes are complex and fraught with difficulties, I would like to see the details of the proposals before making a final judgment on them. I can pledge the support of this party in making the proposals work effectively on the ground, where support from local councils, the Scottish Parliament or the Welsh Assembly is required.
I was surprised that no proposals were made to speed up the upgrade of the notoriously poorly maintained single living accommodation. Nor was there anything on the rights of the Gurkhas. Especially given recent coverage of the issue, I would have expected something about their rights to live in this country.
I was disappointed, although not surprised, that no mention was made of the real issue—the elephant in the room. It is bunkum to suggest that these proposals will address overstretch in our armed forces. We are asking them to do too much on two fronts, in Afghanistan and Iraq. Until we address that serious issue, we will continue to see discontent among our armed forces. I urge the Minister to review our operations, especially in Iraq. The tempo of operations there is placing enormous pressure on our armed forces and their families, and unless the issue is addressed, including withdrawal of our troops from Iraq, we will for ever be fiddling at the edges.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s warm welcome for the announcements, although he did get to the “but” eventually. I thank him for his tribute to the armed forces and recognise the special contribution that his constituent, Scott Paterson, made. I know of his circumstances, but as Secretary of State, I cannot single him out. He is one of many who have suffered injuries and borne them with great stoicism and courage.
The hon. Gentleman suggests that the implication of the proposals is that service people will move up lists. That may be the case, but the intention and the principle, which we have stated at the outset, are that members of the armed forces and their families should not be disadvantaged by their circumstances. No member of the armed forces came to me and said that they wanted to be able to jump up lists for treatment or for their children to be treated better than any other children. They said that they did not want their lifestyle, which they accept, to operate to their disadvantage. We are trying to find ways to ensure that that principle is observed. We are not asking for people to jump up lists and, indeed, members of the armed forces and their families would be the last people who would want to queue-jump. They are much more likely to stand back and let others go first, but they do not want to be disadvantaged. That is the point, with respect to the hon. Gentleman.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned a failure to deal with the issue of accommodation. When he gets an opportunity to read the paper in detail—the devil is always in the detail—he will see that paragraph 3.5 and the following paragraphs are devoted to accommodation. In part, they point out what has been achieved, and that is something that I think that he does not appreciate. We have invested £1.4 billion in delivering single-living accommodation, and to date that has produced 26,000 new bed spaces. A further 30,000 are planned, as part of a planned investment in accommodation in excess of £8 billion over the next decade. So it is not correct to say that we are not giving accommodation the priority that it deserves.
Finally, the hon. Gentleman identified what he considers the real issue, and I shall say two things in response. First, I regularly meet our forces doing their jobs in the operational environment. They never complain to me about their morale when they are doing their jobs, because that is when they are at their happiest, most content and most professional. There is no morale problem when we ask people to do what we have trained them to do.
Secondly, I recognise that our armed forces are operating at a tempo that is beyond what we planned for. I have said time and time again at this Dispatch Box that it is our intention to deal with that. In my term as Secretary of State for Defence, we have already drawn down significantly in Iraq. We are in transition, and we intend to do more in the way of draw-down to resolve the tempo problem.
Order. May I appeal for the co-operation and understanding of hon. Members? There is another important statement to come and some important business thereafter. May I therefore ask for precise, singleton questions and brief answers? That would be extremely useful.
I warmly welcome the Command Paper. I have visited troops in Afghanistan and Iraq in the last three weeks, and they, too, will warmly welcome this paper. How will the paper be put into practice? During the inquiry into health by the Defence Committee, it came to light that although the MOD had clear policies, they were not being implemented with the necessary vigour in places such as the devolved Administration in Scotland. Will my right hon. Friend reassure me and other Members that there will be some over-arching Government body to ensure that the very welcome proposals in the Command Paper are put into practice?
My hon. Friend identifies an important point. I pay tribute to him for the lengths that he goes to, along with some other hon. Members, to make sure that he knows exactly the circumstances of our troops, both in the operational theatre and otherwise. At the heart of the proposal and the infrastructure put in place to support it will be a committee, chaired by the Cabinet Office. Its membership will include representatives of the external reference group who were involved in advising us, as well as representatives of all the Government Departments, including the MOD, that are required to deliver on these promises.
The committee will meet regularly and report. It will have champions for delivery in each Department, and they will be at director level in the civil service. More than that, the committee will send an annual report on delivery to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and myself, and there will also be a five-yearly review. Finally, given that the devolved Administrations also have a responsibility in these matters, the reports will be sent to the First Ministers in Scotland and Wales, and to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland.
May I echo the welcome that other hon. Members have given this Command Paper? However, will the Secretary of State reflect on the fact that people leaving the armed forces prematurely say that the single most important reason for their decision is the excessive separation from their families? That is a product of the fact that the armed forces have been operating well beyond the defence planning assumptions for most of the years since those assumptions were set in the 1998 strategic defence review. Is it not time now to have a debate about what the defence planning assumptions should be? Even if we were to succeed in withdrawing substantially from Iraq in short order—and I doubt that that is in our national interest—it would not be long before another theatre of operations demanded our attention. That is the role that we pursue in our national interest. Can we have an open and public debate over the next few months about the defence planning assumptions, so that we can begin to recalibrate our defence policy to reflect the world as it is—