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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 491: debated on Thursday 23 April 2009

Energy and Climate Change

The Secretary of State was asked—

Clean Coal Technology

2. What assessment he has made of the future use of clean coal technology in England; and if he will make a statement. (270299)

Coal has a vital role in our energy mix, particularly in ensuring that we maintain our energy security. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer yesterday outlined plans for a financial incentive to support up to four commercial-scale carbon capture and storage demonstration projects. A new framework for the development of clean coal will be announced very shortly.

I thank the Minister for that reply, but does that mean that the coal industry in this country has a clear long-term role in energy generation in the UK, and is that not marvellous news for coal mining and for UK industry on this, the 25th anniversary of the miners’ strike?

I hope that our announcement will indeed secure a long-term future for coal in this country. Today coal generates around a third of the electricity that we use annually, and in peak times particularly, such as when it was snowing in February, that can go up to 50 or 60 per cent. However, coal emits carbon and that is why carbon capture and storage is important. The CCS announcement is good news. A commercially viable CCS power station could secure the future of miners such as those at Daw Mill in my constituency for decades to come. There are still about 5,000 miners and 800 companies supplying the industry, many of which are small and medium-sized enterprises, so our announcement is, I hope, good news indeed.

The Minister will be aware that under BETTA—the British electricity trading and transmission arrangements—clean coal generation in England may well have to be balanced by generation in Scotland. However, the new system being promoted by Ofgem and the National Grid Company for balancing charges may lead to huge new costs for Scottish generators and could undermine investment in clean coal. Will he look into that and ensure that no such charges are introduced?

I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a guarantee that no such charges will be introduced. However, I am very happy to meet him and discuss some of those issues, which are enormously important. We meet regularly with Ofgem and we want to ensure that discussions about such issues are conducted appropriately.

Will one of the four clean coal pilot schemes to which my hon. and learned Friend referred be at Tilbury in Essex? If so, what sort of generation of jobs and skills, as well as energy savings, can my constituents expect?

I am afraid that I cannot indicate at this stage where each of the projects will be, but bids can be put in. My hon. Friend is a great advocate for his area and has been throughout his service in the House. I cannot indicate where the sites will be, but we will consider the projects in due course. We hope that we will be able to get a project in place and producing with carbon capture and storage between 2014 and 2016.

Many of us who have long supported carbon capture and storage as the best option for an interim technology to get us through to a more renewable energy supply system will welcome the announcement. However, we have also long been worried about the Government’s dithering on the issue, which we suspect might have something to do with the fact that the closest rival of carbon capture and storage is nuclear. Will the Government now apologise to all those environmental campaigners who have been treated almost as if they were a terrorist threat over the past couple of years for putting forward a proposition that the Government now appear to be on the brink of accepting?

I am not quite sure what the hon. Gentleman means by various environmental campaigners, because people in the green movement have all sorts of views on the issue. There are some in the green movement who have been strong advocates of carbon capture and storage and there are others who have said that under no circumstances can we have coal power generation in this country. As with other groups of people, there are differences. However, we need electricity generation for the future in which we ensure a base load of nuclear and a clear component of renewables. The problem of intermittency needs to be addressed and that can be done by having the flexibility that gas and coal-powered generation with carbon capture and storage can provide.

Given the prerequisite of carbon capture technology, I would welcome an expanded role for coal in power generation. The last Leicestershire miners work in the Daw Mill colliery in the Minister’s constituency and the coal is burnt at Ratcliffe power station just yards from the constituency boundary. Does he agree that there is a risk that an expanded role for coal will encourage UK Coal in its expansion of open-cast coal extraction, which is absolutely unacceptable almost wherever we find it? UK Coal’s vultures will be flying over the residual shallow seams left by the closure of deep mines and we cannot countenance that as the price of an expanded role for coal.

As my hon. Friend knows, the issues that surround planning and open-cast are matters for the Department for Communities and Local Government, but we want to ensure the future of miners—as he said, some of his constituents have worked at the colliery in my constituency at Daw Mill—and that deep mines have a long-term sustainable future. That depends on ensuring that we have CCS. As for open-cast, the Government and minerals planning guidance 3 have a presumption against it.

The news that the Government have effectively abandoned their previously slow, embarrassingly unambitious and unfunded CCS competition and moved towards the vision for CCS that was articulated by my right hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) last year is welcome, but there is still huge scepticism that this is just another Labour smokescreen of spin and rhetoric. We are to have a statement shortly on CCS, but can the Minister answer one fundamental question? Can he guarantee that not a single new coal-fired power station will be built without CCS being up and running from day one? Or is this just another Labour “Sometime never; well into the future; not on my watch” strategy to get the Government through a difficult political period?

We can see that the Conservative party’s attitude towards the coal industry during the 1980s and early ’90s, when the Conservative Government closed the pits, remains in place. The vehemence with which the hon. Gentleman put his points demonstrates how miners in this country have faced the Conservative party’s opposition to their even being employed.

We will be making a statement within the hour—or very shortly; it depends on the first statement, so perhaps in two hours—in which we will set out in detail how we will be taking CCS forward. The hon. Gentleman’s claim that the Leader of the Opposition has been in some way an advocate for the coal industry is laughable. Ensuring that we have a low-carbon economy, with coal as a part of that, and that we generate electricity from coal using CCS, is a key component of our policy.

Nuclear Power

3. What recent assessment he has made of the contribution made by nuclear power to a balanced energy mix; and if he will make a statement. (270300)

In the nuclear White Paper, the Government made clear their view that new nuclear should have a role to play in the UK’s energy mix. Nuclear is a low-carbon energy source that can help address the twin challenges of tackling climate change and ensuring security of energy supply. We are taking active steps to facilitate early deployment of new nuclear build in the UK by increasing certainty for investors and removing unnecessary obstacles.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Rightly, the Government are committed to a low-carbon future. Can he explain how the recent announcement of 11 potential sites for nuclear power stations will contribute to that low-carbon future?

My hon. Friend is right. It was significant that the announcement about the strategic siting assessment and the 11 sites was broadly welcomed. That is a sign of the way in which the debate on nuclear has changed. Many people who once had doubts about nuclear have changed their view in the light of the threat of climate change. The strategic siting assessment is important for taking forward our plans for new nuclear. It will be followed in the autumn by the national policy statement, which will have the strategic sites attached to it. This is genuinely a consultation. There will be a month for the public to register their views, which precedes the formal consultation—a proper 12-week consultation. So we want to listen to people’s views, but broadly the announcement seems to have been welcomed, including by those who live near the sites, which is a positive development for climate change and energy security.

As vice-chairman of the all-party nuclear energy group, I certainly join in welcoming the decision, which is not before time. However, it often takes as long to get planning permission for a new nuclear power station as it takes to build it. Can the Secretary of State reassure me that the Government’s Planning Act 2008 will do what it says on the tin and get planning permission through rapidly and effectively?

I can give the hon. Gentleman that reassurance. It is only regrettable that the Opposition did not think it appropriate to support the Planning Act and its Infrastructure Planning Commission, which is designed precisely to do what he says should be on the tin—to speed up the development of new nuclear. Just to make it clear to the House, the process will involve the publication of a national policy statement in the autumn with the strategic sites attached to it. There will then be a period of consultation—including, I think, with a Select Committee. The plan is then to designate by the spring. So, all being well, we have tackled the big issue around planning and I hope that we have done so in a fair way that gives people a chance to air their views. I am pleased to hear the hon. Gentleman’s support for our plans on planning.

Will the Secretary of State update the House on his plans for the nuclear waste repository? Will he tell us specifically where it is going to be, how much it is going to cost and whether it will be open before the first new nuclear power station is built?

I can update my hon. Friend. We should be honest about this: this is one of the two most difficult issues around nuclear. The other is to reassure people about safety. I can tell him that three councils have come forward with proposals for the site of the repository. Preparing the repository will be a long-term process, but those plans are on track and we are talking to those councils about the kind of financial help that will be required. This is important for existing and new nuclear waste. Another important point is that the cost of decommissioning will be borne by the companies; that is a very important part of the Energy Act 2008.

In answers to parliamentary questions, the Department has made it clear that the office for nuclear development now costs the taxpayer £72 million a year and has more than 60 staff. Answers to similar questions about the office for renewable energy deployment have been much less clear, however. Given the importance of renewables, will the Government reassure the House that the renewables office will be the same size as the nuclear office, if not bigger and better funded? Or is this simply the first concrete example of the Government’s commitment to new nuclear squeezing out resources for renewables?

Normally, the hon. Gentleman and I agree on a lot of issues, but we will have to agree to disagree on this one. In the debate on the low-carbon energy of the future, there is a danger that we might pick and choose between the technologies, when in fact we need all of them. We need renewables, new nuclear and clean fossil fuels. On the question of the size of the new office, I am sure that it will have the quality that it needs. The question about the renewables industry is completely right, and the announcements that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor made yesterday are significant for offshore wind, for the increase in the renewables obligation—which we intend to introduce—and for the funding for renewables. I can also reassure the hon. Gentleman that the office for renewable energy deployment—ORED—will be up and running and will make an important contribution to renewable development.

Following on from that answer, will my right hon. Friend give us the reassurance that microgeneration—particularly at domestic and community level—will form an important part of the mix? Will the same level of effort be put into microgeneration, given that it will surely play an important part in ensuring energy security?

I agree with my hon. Friend about this. Yesterday, the Chancellor made an additional £45 million available for microgeneration, to take us up to the introduction of the feed-in tariff in April 2010 and the renewable heat incentive in April 2011. Those are important steps to help the micro-power industry, from which we have had strong representations. Microgeneration can play an increasingly important role at individual and community level, and I hope that we are now putting in place the mechanisms that will support it.

We agree with the Secretary of State about the role for unsubsidised nuclear alongside renewables and gas and coal with carbon capture in a balanced energy mix, but does he recognise that the energy crunch will be with us by 2016 at the latest, as one third of our existing coal capacity is due to come offline before then, and that because of the Government’s failure to secure investment earlier, most of the new capacity, including all new nuclear, cannot come on-stream until well after that date? Does he understand why so many people believe that the Government’s failure to lead in carbon capture technology, their failure to secure adequate levels of gas storage and their over-reliance on onshore wind at the expense of other forms of renewables all mean that our energy security has been fundamentally compromised—and that without energy security, affordable and clean energy become much harder to achieve as well?

I have great respect for the hon. Gentleman, but it takes a real brass neck to say to us that we should have gone faster with new nuclear, when the Leader of the Opposition was opposing us on new nuclear and saying that it was a last resort; he was dragged, kicking and screaming, to support us on new nuclear. New nuclear will make an important contribution to our energy mix in 2017 and 2018. Carbon capture and storage can play an important role as well, as can renewables. We have plans in place to move towards low-carbon energy supply, and I am confident that we will meet them.

Wind Farms

4. What recent assessment he has made of the cost-effectiveness of (a) onshore and (b) offshore wind farms in electricity generation. (270301)

Our onshore and offshore wind farms are cost-effective, large-scale renewable energy generators and they are supported through the renewables obligation. The Chancellor announced yesterday that we are looking to increase the renewables obligation certificate support for offshore wind.

I am grateful to the Minister, particularly for the last part of his response. There is a great deal of concern in my constituency about an onshore wind farm. Although offshore wind farms are to be welcomed, would the Government consider the possibility of a presumption that onshore wind farms should not be developed unless the local community wants them?

I cannot comment on Nun Wood farm in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency; obviously, that is part of the planning process. If we are serious about dealing with the creation of a low-carbon economy, we must have both onshore and offshore wind generation; we cannot do it with offshore alone. Therefore, onshore wind is a key component of making the changes that we need to make in the generation of energy to create a low-carbon economy. Obviously, each planning application will have to be considered on its merits in the appropriate way. We want to ensure the focus to get the investment so that wind provides the renewables generation that this country needs.

If we are to take full advantage of both offshore and onshore wind, we need to ensure that the energy can reach the consumer. What steps are the Government taking to improve access to the grid for offshore and onshore wind and, in particular, what is the Government’s view of the proposals for a European super-grid?

The transmission access review has been looking at how we get access to the grid, because that is key to ensuring that we build up the capacity of wind generation, not only onshore but offshore. In the coming weeks, we hope to get agreement on about 1 GW of access, so we are in the process of working through with National Grid and Ofgem the need to ensure that the demands of the energy revolution—the low-carbon energy generation that we need to create—are met in access and transmission.

I fully support the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone): there is huge opposition to onshore wind farms. What is the subsidy for every wind turbine erected in this country? Is it not true that there is a shortage of such turbines and that we have to import them, which is certainly not helpful to the country’s manufacturing base?

The hon. Gentleman is right: we do have to import most of our wind turbines. Although until recently wind turbines were made in the United Kingdom, they were exported to the United States. We are talking to a number of manufacturers with the intention of returning those jobs to the United Kingdom in due course, because that is important to us in the long term.

I should point out to the hon. Gentleman that while the Leader of the Opposition says that he is in favour of creating a low-carbon economy, Conservative Members of Parliament are going around the country constantly running down the whole issue of the need to ensure that we have a level of onshore wind generation. We cannot build that low-carbon economy without onshore wind.

Appropriate levels of support are provided, although the precise level of subsidy varies according to the value of the renewables obligation certificates.

Surely it makes sense to put wind farms onshore in the windiest places, but according to the London Metropolitan business school, in 2007 the mean load factor of the 81 wind farms in England was just 23 per cent. In other words, they were working for less than a quarter of the time. How can that be an efficient use of resources?

The normal working level is about a third of the time. Intermittency has always been an issue in the build-up of the renewables economy, and, as the hon. Gentleman says, it must be addressed. We can reduce the intermittency problem by ensuring that, once it is switched on, nuclear generation has a reliable base load, and also by building renewables, including wind. We need to deal with both intermittency and the variability of demand and supply. In the case of gas and coal, that can be done through carbon capture and storage.

Broadly speaking, we need to create the right level of generation, but it is also important for us to deal with intermittency. The decision to locate wind farms in areas where they will generate must be made by the companies that fund them.

Aviation

5. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Transport on managing the effects on climate change of the Government’s proposals for the aviation market. (270302)

Tackling the impact of climate change on aviation is a key priority. That is why we led the way in ensuring that the EU emissions trading scheme would cover aviation emissions for the first time from 2012. It is also why we are the first Government in the world to make a commitment to returning aviation emissions to their current levels by 2050. We are also striving to ensure that international aviation is part of global climate change agreements.

The Secretary of State has made the courageous and correct decision to set a target of 80 per cent. for carbon reduction emissions by 2050. Unfortunately, however, if aviation is to return its emissions to their current levels by that date, all other sectors will be required to make an 89 per cent. cut to cater for it. Given that fact, given the entirely unnecessary expansion of Heathrow, and given that transport is the only sector in which carbon emissions have increased since 1990, is it not time that the Secretary of State had a word with the Secretary of State for Transport and told him to stop derailing his climate change strategy?

Surprisingly enough, I do not see it that way. [Hon. Members: “Yes, you do!”] Let us not turn this into a pantomime, but no, I don’t.

There is a respectable position with which I disagree: the hon. Gentleman’s position, which is that we should make across-the-board cuts of 80 per cent. in every sector. In the case of aviation, that would mean returning to 1974 flying levels. I do not think Members could truthfully say that we have those levels now.

As was pointed out by the Committee on Climate Change itself, when it comes to decarbonisation it is inevitable that bigger cuts will be possible in some sectors than in others. I believe that we have been incredibly forward-thinking in making the ambitious commitment, on which the committee will advise us by the end of the year, to return aviation emissions to their current levels—to enable aviation to consume its own smoke, as it were.

Of course there must be a price for carbon emissions from aviation. That is what the EU emissions trading strategy does. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman and I will have to agree to disagree on this matter.

I noted the Secretary of State’s comments on this matter, but as travelling by air causes 10 times more pollution than travelling by train, why are the Government still intent on increasing aviation capacity, such as through the extension of Heathrow? Surely we should be looking at a shift from plane to train for short-haul journeys?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman on the issue of domestic flights; we should do all we can on that, which is why we have announced plans for high-speed rail. Let me make this point to him, however, which the Heathrow debate raises: even after the recession, and even after putting a price on carbon, passenger demand in the UK is expected to double in the next 20 years, and as we know, the world is getting closer together, not further apart. I cannot honestly say to the hon. Gentleman that the right way forward is to have no expansion of aviation. Indeed, in the debate on this issue the Conservative Front-Bench team said, revealingly, that they were in favour of aviation expansion in the south-east, but—this is the problem, and we suspect a bit of opportunism here—not at Heathrow, not at Gatwick and not at Stansted. I therefore do not quite know where the Conservatives want the expansion. We have a very genuine and thought-through position, unlike the Conservative party.

Nuclear Development Forum

6. What recent representations he has received on the work of the nuclear development forum; and if he will make a statement. (270303)

My hon. and learned Friend will be aware of the plethora of measures introduced in yesterday’s Budget to deal with the growing problem of climate change. Nuclear development is very important, because nuclear power can play a big role in the battle against climate change. It is safe and efficient, and it is now a crucial tool in that battle. There is a whole industry out there that this country needs to develop, particularly in the area of nuclear fuels—and I am proud to be able to say that Westinghouse, which can develop such fuels, is located close to my constituency at Springfields. When will the Government get their act together and develop the technologies that we need to combat climate change?

I hope that the Government have set out very clearly how we are going to create a low-carbon economy. We need to develop the base load of nuclear, so that we have new nuclear power stations to replace some of those that will come off-stream in the coming decade and a half. We also need to ensure that we have the renewables, particularly wind generated both onshore and offshore. Beyond that, we need to ensure that, with carbon capture and storage, we have the flexibility to deal with problems of variability of demand and intermittency, and that will come from coal and gas-fired power stations. So there is a clear vision of the way forward for energy generation in this country that will move us towards a low-carbon economy, and with the commitment to reduce our emissions by 80 per cent. by 2050, we are on a clear trajectory to ensure that we meet our climate change needs.

Fuel-poor Households

7. What estimate he has made of the change in the number of fuel-poor households between 2006 and 2009. (270304)

Between 2005 and 2006, the latest year for which figures are available, the number in fuel poverty increased to 3.5 million—down from 6.5 million in 1997. We are determined to do all we can, through measures to improve housing and increase the incomes of the most vulnerable and through proper regulation in the energy market, to tackle fuel poverty.

Given that the term “fuel poverty” does not seem to have been used once in yesterday’s Budget statement, can the Secretary of State confirm that Warm Front will be sufficient to address Age Concern’s assessment of the Budget that its failure to tackle fuel poverty will continue to leave more pensioners out in the cold?

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman—and, of course, the Conservative party cannot support any of the measures that we took on public spending, because as we know it is completely opposed to increasing public spending at this time. The measures that we took on housing, including specifically £100 million for energy efficiency in the social housing sector, will help precisely some of the most vulnerable people in our country. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change will announce in a written statement this morning an increase in the maximum Warm Front standard grant from £2,700 to £3,500. I think that will be widely welcomed, alongside other improvements in Warm Front, because it is helping some of the most vulnerable people in our society. I am very proud of the record of what we are doing to help some of the most vulnerable people in our country who are facing fuel poverty.

I welcome the measures that my right hon. Friend is taking to help people with energy efficiency in the home, but many people in recent weeks have received some of the largest fuel bills of their lives. What discussions has he been having with the energy companies to try to ensure that they treat people fairly and well and take account of the difficult economic situation that people currently face?

My hon. Friend is right about this, and we are discussing with the energy companies how to ensure that people, particularly those in difficulty, are treated properly. I am also pleased that Ofgem is changing the law on pre-payment meters and the unfair pricing that was taking place. I have said from the time when I came into this job that we wanted the quickest change possible in terms of outlawing that unfair pricing, and that is what is happening. We want people to be assured that the kind of abuses occurring in relation to pre-payment meters will not continue.

The reason why there was no mention of fuel poverty in yesterday’s Budget is that the Centre for Sustainable Energy estimates that fuel poverty has

“at the very least doubled since 2003.”

So I suspect that the Labour party will not be mentioning it in its manifesto either.

My constituency is in Devon, where 21 wards, including Exmouth Littleham Urban, fall within the worst 21 per cent. of wards in England. However, the real problem lies outside the main town centres and urban areas; it is to be found in the rural areas, where Warm Front is less effective because of the lack of accessibility to gas boilers and the problems with cavity wall insulation. Those things are so typical of the kind of houses that exist in rural areas in my constituency. What can the Secretary of State do to ensure that the disguised fuel poverty in rural areas resulting from Warm Front’s failing in that respect can be addressed urgently?

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point in the second half of his question, if not in the first. On his first point, as I said, fuel poverty has increased because energy prices have increased, but since 2002, some 5 million houses have been insulated under our programmes. Our record on fuel poverty and what we have managed to do through housing and income are not matched by the previous Government or, indeed, by other previous Governments. He knows very well that fuel poverty would be far higher if we had not taken those measures, which have cost lots of money and which the Conservative party opposes.

On the second part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, with which I am more sympathetic, he is right to say that people off the gas grid face particular challenges. I think that he will see from this morning’s announcements that the non-standard grant level has also been increased. I hope that that will help people who are facing the circumstances that he describes. I also hope that if he has further concerns following the announcement, he will take them up with the Minister in charge of Warm Front.

The Secretary of State knows that the coverage of the Warm Front scheme is limited, but does he accept that for most homes investing in energy efficiency saves money on fuel bills?

I do, which is why we unveiled plans in February for “pay as you save” insulation, whereby people will be able to spread the costs of energy efficiency measures over a number of years; it will not be linked to the person in the house but to the house itself, so that the costs can be spread over 20 years or so. Therefore, part of the savings from the energy bills will be able to be used to fund to kind of insulation that we need. We have very ambitious plans for 7 million houses to have whole-house refurbishment by 2020 and all houses to have it by 2030. Unlike the Conservative party’s plans, those are costed plans; they have been worked through and they will work.

Yesterday, Greenpeace described the Secretary of State’s plans as strikingly lacking in ambition. If he accepts that savings can be made through investment in insulation, why, when households will face higher tax bills for years to come, is he resistant to our policy, which would give every home in the country an entitlement to £6,500-worth of immediate energy efficiency improvements, paid for from the savings that people make on their fuel bills? Why is he resisting that?

I will explain this to the hon. Gentleman. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change wrote him a letter—he may have replied, but I am not aware of his reply. His proposal is that £6,500 will be available to every household in the country. That would cost £170 billion up front. As far as I can see, he has no idea where that £170 billion will come from and how he will raise it. I hope that he comes forward with that. I look forward to his having interesting discussions with the shadow Chancellor about how £170 billion of funding will be provided. I think it is the largest uncosted commitment made by the Conservative party, but of course it is not the only uncosted commitment that the Conservatives have made, and it shows that they simply cannot be trusted with the nation’s finances.

Topical Questions

Yesterday’s Budget saw a series of measures to help tackle climate change and create the low-carbon jobs of the future, including action on carbon capture and storage, renewables and energy efficiency. It was also the first Budget to unveil legally binding carbon budgets, whereby the UK has pledged a 34 per cent. reduction in emissions by 2020. It underlines our commitment to domestic action by setting a zero credit limit in the first budget period up to 2012.

I am delighted and very grateful to hear that carbon capture and storage will be part of our future fuel security into the next decade. Will companies such as Doosan Babcock, which have pioneered this work and have put their necks out to ensure that this technology is available, be fully consulted as we move forward with these excellent technologies?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I have had a couple of meetings with Doosan Babcock, which is pioneering some of the most important technology in this area. As I shall say in my statement later and as the Chancellor made clear in the Budget yesterday, the task facing us is to trial as many of the technologies as possible. CCS is at an early stage. We all think that it will be a big hope for the future in terms of clean coal, but we know that we need all the technologies to be developed, including post-combustion, pre-combustion and a range of technologies. That is what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s announcements yesterday are designed to achieve.

T2. At a public inquiry last week on a potential biomass plant at Bishop’s Castle in my constituency, one of the objectors suggested that the Environment Agency is now indicating that the carbon emissions from electricity generated by biomass plants are greater than those generated by fossil fuel plants. Is that the Government’s view? (270317)

I have not heard that particular suggestion before, but I shall certainly consult the Environment Agency to see whether it has said that and, if so, what the basis for making such a claim is.

T8. I welcome the announcement of the rise in the Warm Front grant to £3,500. That will certainly help the off-the-mains people, such as my constituent Jon Kirkman, who has had a very poor service from Eaga in recent times. Has the Secretary of State had an opportunity to assess the green credentials of the scrappage scheme announced in the Budget yesterday, bearing in mind the fact that 20 per cent. of carbon emissions during a car’s life are associated with its manufacture? The logical way to approach the issue would be to encourage people to keep cars longer, not least because the average car in the UK fleet is less than five years old. It is a green coat of paint— (270323)

I am very grateful to you, Mr. Speaker.

Older cars tend to emit more products into the atmosphere, as a result of which they are greater polluters. The aim is to get some of the much more fuel-efficient cars on the road. The newer cars not only consume far less fuel, by and large, but emit less into the atmosphere. If we can get the newer cars, rather than the older ones, on the road, we will reduce the problems that we have with atmospheric damage.

T3. Yesterday’s Budget was a missed opportunity to invest in green measures and to stimulate the economy. The Government offered us £1.4 billion, but the Committee on Climate Change has estimated that £15 billion a year needs to be spent on green measures and this week Lord Stern said that it should be as much as £20 billion. Why are the Government rejecting the advice of their own experts? (270318)

We are not rejecting the advice of our experts. One very important point is that we already have a huge amount of investment going into green technology in this country. For example, the renewables obligation will mean that about £100 billion will go into green investment between now and 2020. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor added to that with what he did on the renewables obligation, on carbon capture and storage and in raising finance from elsewhere, such as through the European Investment Bank and other sources. I do not accept the hon. Lady’s portrayal of what we did yesterday. It is also worth adding that, as I said earlier, the carbon budgets aspect of yesterday’s Budget was a world first.

Returning to carbon capture and storage, may I urge my right hon. Friend to address the issue with some speed, regardless of which technology is used? If we decide to embrace the retrofitting of carbon capture and storage to existing coal-fired power stations, we will have to do so before they are decommissioned in 2015.

I will be addressing the matter with some speed, in an hour or so. My hon. Friend is right: there is urgency about this, but there is also urgency to make sure that we have a funded mechanism to ensure that carbon capture and storage happens. That was made possible by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor’s announcements yesterday, and that is why I will make a statement later today.

T4. In October last year, when oil was around $70 a barrel, a litre of unleaded petrol cost the motorist about £1.07, yet in June 2007, when oil was around $71 dollars a barrel, a litre of unleaded cost 97p. Does that not indicate a degree of market failure among some of the major petrol retailers? Why have the Government not instructed the Competition Commission to instigate an inquiry to make sure that the beleaguered motorist is treated fairly, not least because the motorist was clobbered again in the Budget yesterday? Does the Minister not realise that many people have no choice but to use their car? (270319)

It is the case, of course, that the escalator was introduced by a Conservative Government. But let us not go there; let us instead deal with the real issue of the price of fuel for cars. The price of petrol and diesel spiked last year; that was a substantial burden for the motorist, but the price has gone down sharply. It is dependent, obviously, on the overall world economic situation. The demand for oil responds very quickly to global financial circumstances and, as a result, prices have fallen, but it is interesting that they have started to rise again, albeit not to a substantial extent. On the price of oil there is not only a need to ensure that we are able to get out of the recession without it spiking too high; we also need to sustain investment in the oil and gas industry, particularly—from the UK’s point of view—in the North sea.

What support are the Government giving to the reopening of Harworth deep-mine colliery in my constituency?

The Government are working, and are in discussions, to ensure that we can encourage the process of reopening Harworth, but there are still further quite detailed discussions to be had.

T6. Can we not have a more balanced discussion on climate change? We are told so often that the north pole is melting, yet Arctic ice has reached a maximum area this winter, and the British Antarctic Survey has confirmed that over the past 30 years, the area of sea ice around the continent has expanded. In fact, the south pole has experienced significant cooling in the past 30 years. Why do we not hear the facts, so that we can make up our mind about what is happening? (270321)

I am all for unconventional thinking, but I say to the hon. Lady that on these sorts of questions, it is best to trust the science. [Interruption.] If she will let me finish my answer, I can point out that the overwhelming scientific consensus is that climate change is real, is happening, and is man-made. I really worry about an approach that says, “We can leave all this to one side, because perhaps it is not happening”, as that is not what the scientists are telling us. To take one year, or one fact, and say that somehow it shows that climate change is not happening is precisely what the scientists tell us that we must not do. We must look at the trend over 20 or 30 years, and that shows unequivocally that climate change is happening.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Parliamentary Scrutiny

1. How many Report stages of Bills there were in the 2007-08 Session; and in what proportion of these all selected amendments were debated. (270324)

There were 27 Report stages in 2007-08, of which 24 were on Government Bills. In seven of those cases, all the groups of selected amendments were debated. That represents a proportion of about one in four.

The Deputy Leader of the House was a well-respected and highly regarded parliamentarian before he was plucked from the Back Benches and put on to the Front Bench. Not many people are listening today, so will he say what his personal view is? It really is not good enough—scrutiny is not great enough and the Government are failing.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the kind comments he made. On Shakespeare’s birthday, perhaps I could say that some have greatness thrust upon them.

All I can say to the hon. Gentleman is that there is no difference between my Back-Bench view and my Front-Bench view. I believe that many Members confuse the difference between Committee stage and Report stage. Many members of the Procedure Committee have told me that they would much prefer a system involving time limits on speeches on Report, although I am not sure that that is the right way to go. We would like to consider all amendments, but as he perfectly well knows, many amendments tabled on Report are a response to Committee requests from Opposition Members, so I think that that shows the system is working.

But it transparently is not working. Only a couple of months ago, Mr. Speaker, you intervened to allow a vote on a matter that a lot of Members felt was important, without any discussion at all. Does that not in itself illustrate the fact that we are failing to debate matters that Members of the House think are important, and instead conforming to a timetable devised by the Government Whips that reflects the Government’s interests and not those of Back Benchers? Is it not the duty of the Deputy Leader of the House and the Leader of the House to ensure that matters that Members want to debate on Report are debated properly?

My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House and I try our level best to make sure that there is adequate time for all the subjects that all Members want to debate. Just because one Member wants to debate one issue does not necessarily mean that he wants to prevent other people from debating other issues. In particular, the hon. Gentleman knows very well that on the day to which he refers, Members from the Government Whips’ office and I, and Members from his own team, were in lengthy discussions about how we could make sure that we had proper debate of every single item. Furthermore, on that Bill, there were two days for Report. My right hon. and learned Friend and I are keen to try to make sure that happens on every occasion, but we will not be able to achieve perfection.

In her very first business questions on 5 July 2007, at Hansard column 1091, the Leader of the House said that she was very keen to ensure that Back Benchers’ rights were protected and that there was proper scrutiny of legislation. However, as we have just heard, that simply is not happening, so even now, will the Deputy Leader of the House give an assurance that his right hon. and learned Friend’s original pledge will be honoured? Perhaps the right hon. and learned Lady could start by ensuring that instead of curtailing legislation she curtails our ever-lengthening summer recess.

I remember my right hon. and learned Friend’s comments on her first day as Leader of the House, and I know from every single week that she has been in that post that she has been trying to make sure that we have adequate debate on every single amendment. It is not always perfection. We strive, and we have constant discussions. If Members are ever unhappy with the process all they need to do is to come round and talk to my right hon. and learned Friend or me to see whether there are ways of making more space and time available. As the hon. Gentleman knows, quite often the discussions between the usual channels are not necessarily reflected in the comments that are then made from the Opposition Front Bench.

House of Commons Commission

The hon. Member for North Devon, representing the House of Commons Commission, was asked—

Employment Contracts

2. What recent discussions the House of Commons Commission has had with the trade union representing hon. Members’ staff on the development of a basic employment contract for such staff. (270325)

The House of Commons Commission has had no recent discussions with trade unions or staff associations on the basic employment contract for Members’ staff. The Commission and the House are not the employer of Members’ staff; each Member is an employer in his or her own right. However, it is a condition of drawing public funds to employ staff that Members use standard contracts, job descriptions and pay scales.

Pending the announced review of employment arrangements for Members’ staff, the Green Book says that a standard contract must be used, and in practice MPs use that contract as is. The present contract represents the lowest common denominator in employment standards and is poor compared, for example, with those held by civil servants doing an equivalent job. When will the House recognise the staff union Unite so that staff themselves can have a say in improving the standard contract and other terms and conditions?

If hon. Members, their staff or, indeed, trade unions or associations to which the staff belong wish to make representations about the basic contract, they are certainly welcome to make them to the Committee on Members’ Allowances, which has responsibility for the contract. The issue of recognition of the union goes back to my point that the House is not the employer of Members’ staff, and because the House is not the employer, it is not in a position to recognise the union for collective bargaining purposes. However, as the hon. Gentleman knows, staffing arrangements will be voted on next week, and perhaps there will be a different situation thereafter.

Given the discussions that we will have next week, will the Commission consider the feasibility of extending to Members’ staff the entitlement to join the House pension scheme? One member of my staff has worked for me for 16 years and is on one of the higher grades for Members’ staff. As a result of paying into the money purchase pension scheme that is available to Members’ staff, that employee would—the last time I checked—receive a pension of just £2,200 a year. I do not think that that is either satisfactory or a decent way to treat our staff, who are just as important to us Members discharging our duties as the staff of the House are. Will the hon. Gentleman ask the Commission to look at that very important issue?

As I have already indicated, this is a matter about which the hon. Gentleman, staff or anybody else is welcome to make representations to the Committee on Members’ Allowances. In the event that the arrangements should change after next week’s debate, the issue could be looked at, but as far as I am aware, as long as staff are employed by Members, there is no prospect of their joining the House pension scheme, because it is not available to non-employees of the House.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that many people feel it is crucial that Members should continue to employ staff directly? It is wholly right and proper that they should be paid via the Department of Resources, as they are, and that they should have proper contracts that are lodged with that Department, but will he do all he can with his fellow Commissioners to ensure that we do not move to this central employment by the House?

This is a matter that I understand the House will have a chance to vote on next week, and the hon. Gentleman and others will have their chance to make their view known then.

Leader of the House

The Leader of the House was asked—

Representation of Women

3. If she will make arrangements for the House to mark anniversaries of significant historical events which led to increases in the representation of women in Parliament. (270326)

We are proud of every step that has been taken to increase the representation of women in Parliament, which is why we celebrated last year the 90th anniversary of a woman’s right to stand. We shall shortly introduce the equality Bill, and the Speaker’s Conference is already considering the issue of representation of women in the House. We very much hope that these events will become similarly important landmarks that Members will want to celebrate in 50 years’ time.

I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for that reply. One hundred years ago on Monday, suffragettes chained themselves to statues in St. Stephen’s hall, and to remove those women, the statues had to be broken. In fact, one can still see a piece of that history today, as the repairs form part of the parliamentary tour. How might we improve and better use such anniversaries to highlight the history of women’s representation and, most importantly, to encourage more women to become involved in politics?

The hon. Lady ends with the most important point, which is how we ensure that more women want to come to Parliament and have the opportunity to represent a constituency in the House. We could celebrate many more events. For instance, next week is the 80th anniversary of the first woman Cabinet member taking her post; Margaret Bondfield was, appropriately enough, the Minister for Labour; of course, she was a Labour Minister. We are also delighted that it is our side of the House that has produced the first elected black woman MP. [Interruption.] If the hon. Ladies want a commemoration of the first woman Prime Minister, I suspect that it will not be happening in the Rhondda.

As the hon. Gentleman, who chairs the Advisory Committee on Works of Art, points out, there is a very fine—if rather frightening—statue in the Lobby. I can assure him that if it were in the Rhondda, it would not get the same reception as it gets from Opposition Members.

Commons Business Committee

5. What recent representations she has received on establishing a Commons business Committee; and if she will make a statement. (270329)

We have intermittent representations on this issue, including, very regularly, from the hon. Gentleman. The last time the House considered a legislative business Committee, however, it rejected the idea.

Is the Deputy Leader of the House aware that there is a group in the House called Parliament First, which is fully representative of all parties? Its members are very senior and experienced, and they believe that the only way in which the House can meet the aspirations of the Prime Minister, who believes that the House should be the centre of our democratic procedures, is to have a business Committee representative of Back Benchers so that the House can attain some independence from the Executive, who currently dominate the House to the disadvantage of democracy.

I do know of the group to which the hon. Gentleman refers. Indeed, the Members on it are so senior that I try not to meddle with them too often. However, all that glisters is not gold. If we introduced a business Committee, I think that the hon. Gentleman would find that we would lose a lot of the flexibility that we have at present, which is enjoyed by Members on all sides of the House—

On both sides of the House. In addition, under our current arrangements, Standing Orders limit the Government in significant ways—for instance, they ensure that there are 20 Opposition days a year. Furthermore, after both the Budget and the Queen’s Speech there are five days of debate in which the topic is decided by the Opposition, not the Government. That is more flexible and a better system.

Delegated Legislation

6. What recent consideration she has given to the effectiveness of the House’s procedures for scrutinising delegated legislation. (270330)

As I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, delegated legislation is subject to a number of different procedures, usually depending on the provisions in its parent Act. My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House and I continue to monitor the effectiveness of all the House’s procedures.

The Deputy Leader of the House will know that a great deal of legislation goes through, necessarily, by statutory instrument, but he will also be aware that it is impossible to amend such statutory instruments; we are given a “take it or leave it” option when such an instrument is put before a Committee upstairs in the Committee corridor. Does he not agree that legislation might be better if amendments to statutory instruments were permitted during such consideration?

Again, this is a proposal that seems attractive but which in the end I do not think is a good idea. As Lord Rippon said in the Hansard Society commission back in 1992, an amendable statutory instrument would be very like a Bill, and all the advantages of the greater flexibility of delegated legislation would be lost. The truth of the matter is that if the Government want to provide for a full legislative process, with amendments possible, it should be primary, not secondary, legislation that is being brought forward.