House of Commons
Thursday 23 April 2009
The House met at half-past Ten o’clock
[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Energy and Climate Change
The Secretary of State was asked—
Clean Coal Technology
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
We have received representations from the NDF on a range of issues, but not specifically on the NDF itself.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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—
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—
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?
Leader of the House
The Leader of the House was asked—
Representation of Women
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
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.
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.
Business of the House
The business for next week will be as follows:
Monday 27 April—Continuation of the Budget debate.
Tuesday 28 April—Conclusion of the Budget debate.
Wednesday 29 April—Opposition Day [10th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate entitled “The Erosion of Civil Liberties and Freedoms” followed by a debate on the situation in Sri Lanka. Both debates will arise on a Liberal Democrat motion.
Thursday 30 April—House business.
The provisional business for the week commencing 4 May will include:
Monday 4 May—The House will not be sitting.
Tuesday 5 May—Remaining stages of the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill.
Wednesday 6 May—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.
Thursday 7 May—Topical debate: subject to be announced followed by a general debate on the Intelligence and Security Committee Annual Report 2007-08.
Friday 8 May—Private Members’ Bills.
I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for giving us the business.
Most of us in the House will be pleased that the case of the arrest of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) has now been satisfactorily resolved. Even though the issue became rather heated, surely we should now stand back and study the implications of what happened. May I therefore ask the Leader of the House to reflect on early-day motion 1307?
[That this House notes the statement of the Director of Public Prosecutions on 16 April 2009 announcing his decision that no charges would be brought against the hon. Member for Ashford in relation to the documents leaked and stating that, ‘Mr Green's purpose in using the documents was apparently to hold the Government to account'; and calls for the House to be given the opportunity to debate a motion to refer the matter to the Committee on Standards and Privileges.]
Will the Leader of the House support the motion that was originally tabled on the Order Paper before the Easter recess to ensure that the House can refer this matter to the Committee on Standards and Privileges as soon as possible? Now is the best time to learn the lessons of this affair so that all the confusion can be cleared up for the future. It is no good her saying that the Attorney-General’s opinion was that there was no confusion, because there was. There is a perfectly good process available to us, and we should invoke it; will she confirm that she will co-operate in doing so?
We have still not had a satisfactory report on what the Leader of the House intends to do about the policing of Parliament square. On Monday, the road was shut all day. When will she tell the House how she intends to stop Parliament square becoming a site of permanent protest?
May we, perhaps rather esoterically, have a debate on road signs? We have heard this week that the Government intend to ram through their proposals on reducing national speed limits. Can we have the right hon. and learned Lady’s absolute guarantee that this will not lead to a new forest of pointless metal poles and bossy signs that completely wreck the landscape of our streets? Will she ensure that Government policy is designed to reduce street clutter as much as to reduce accidents?
More importantly, may we have a statement and a full explanation from the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families? Yesterday, in highly significant evidence to the departmental Select Committee, Dr. Ken Boston, the former head of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, accused the Schools Secretary of smearing his name by, as he put it, “sexing up” evidence and dodging the blame by presenting “untrue and false evidence” to last year’s inquiry into the SATS fiasco.
Order. I say very gently to the hon. Gentleman that he cannot criticise a Minister in this way. Criticism of any hon. Member of this House has to be with a substantive motion of the House. He has made the point, so perhaps he can move on to another matter.
I will move on, Mr. Speaker, but I was responding to a sedentary intervention. I assure you that I had notified the Secretary of State of what I intended to do, but I hear what you say—it is understood. I would certainly say, however, that he should explain himself at some stage about what has happened and is being seen on television and read about in our press.
May we have a debate on the guarding of Budget secrets? By yesterday morning, we were already aware of several of the Chancellor’s headline schemes, including the car scrappage and HomeBuy initiatives. Is there to be an inquiry into these indiscretions? Obviously, it is unthinkable that Ministers would ever have passed those details to journalists themselves, but will the Leader of the House deplore such leaks and urge an investigation?
On Tuesday, the Prime Minister published his proposals for reforming our system of expenses. If I may be a little personal, may I ask whether the right hon. and learned Lady feels sufficiently appreciated by the Prime Minister? Does she feel that she can still be the guardian of Parliament’s voice in the Cabinet? Is it not clear that she was completely bypassed by No. 10 and then bounced into making a written ministerial statement, as the presentable face of Government, after the Prime Minister’s deeply weird statement on YouTube? Is it really true that No. 10 has said that Labour Members who do not vote for the Prime Minister’s proposals will be deselected? How can she possibly defend his barmy plan for an automatic daily allowance, for which no receipts will need to be presented, as an improvement on what we have already?
May I take this opportunity to wish the right hon. and learned Lady a happy St. George’s day? I hope that I am not too much of a dragon against this maiden in distress. In the spirit of St. George, will she now renew her pledge to fight for the rights of this House, the freedoms of the country, and the power of MPs to scrutinise and hold to account an unsuitable and arrogant Executive?
The hon. Gentleman asked about the arrest of the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) and the issues of parliamentary privilege that arose from it. The House has already made a resolution to refer the matter to a Committee of the Speaker, and I do not think that it would be a good idea to set up a twin-track approach. All the issues about entry to the premises of Parliament, the searching of parliamentary offices and constituency correspondence and what is, or should be, available to the court can be considered by the Speaker’s Committee, which the House agreed should start its work after the criminal proceedings had come to a conclusion. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman that we should set up a twin-track approach and a separate inquiry into the same issues via the Standards and Privileges Committee.
The hon. Gentleman says that, but he would need to explain why the Speaker’s Committee could not consider the issues that he is concerned about and believes need to be looked into. I am obviously keen for the House to be able to have all the issues that it wants resolved looked into, and I have no vested interest in the House not looking into them and coming to a satisfactory conclusion. I just do not want there to be a twin-track proposal or for us to undermine a resolution that the House has already made at your request, Mr. Speaker, that there should be a Speaker’s Committee to look into the matter.
The second point that the hon. Gentleman raised was about the policing of Parliament square. It is obviously very important that people have the right to demonstrate and are able to make their views known publicly and peacefully, but we have to ensure that the business of this House and the very important site of Parliament square are properly protected, and we do not want the undue tying up of police resources. The matter is under consideration by many authorities and is the operational responsibility of the police. I know that there is ongoing concern and discussions about it, but I do not have anything specific to tell him or the House today.
The hon. Gentleman talked about road signs and a forest of bossy signs. Speed limits are a very important issue, because they are about cutting deaths on the road through traffic accidents, and particularly about cutting pedestrian deaths. This is not being done for the sake of it, and, by the way, it is a consultation; it is not being pushed through. The evidence is that lower speed limits save lives, and particularly the lives of children who would otherwise be killed in road accidents if they were hit as pedestrians. I ask him to reflect on that, and anybody will have the opportunity to involve themselves in the consultations. If it comes to an ugly road sign or a child being killed, I would go for the ugly road sign.
We all want to be certain that the national curriculum tests, which are important, are properly marked and the information made available to schools promptly. That did not happen, and there was great concern about that. The Sutherland inquiry was established jointly with Ofqual, and it looked into the situation and made proposals for change. Ken Boston resigned, and he has now given evidence to the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families. Incidentally, the Minister for Schools and Learners, who gave inaccurate information, corrected it is as long ago as February, and Lord Sutherland said that it was not material to his findings anyway, so I urge the hon. Gentleman not to make so much of that. We await the report of the Select Committee, and there will be Children, Schools and Families questions next Monday, so hon. Members who want to ask questions about the matter can do so to the Secretary of State and his ministerial team.
As far as prior publicity about car scrappage is concerned, that first came into the public domain as a demand from the automotive industry. Hon. Members on both sides of the House whose constituents have interests in the automotive industry proposed that scheme to Business Ministers and the Treasury. There was debate and consultation, and the matter could not be kept as a national security issue in those circumstances. There was some discussion in advance—indeed, some of it was in the papers. Rather than focusing on that bit of the process, however, the hon. Gentleman should welcome the car scrappage scheme.
The hon. Gentleman talked about parliamentary allowances. Many Members have constituencies that are far away from Westminster, which inevitably involves extra cost. We do not want only those who can afford to pay the cost of living away from home to represent far-flung constituencies. I hope that there is general agreement on that point. It is important for us to say that, because sometimes the public do not recognise that that would be the result of not assisting with the extra costs incurred in representing far-flung constituencies. First, none of us wants that to happen. Secondly, we all want the public to have confidence in the way in which the House goes about its work and the way in which public money is spent. Thirdly, it is evident that the public do not have that confidence, and, fourthly, we need to do something about that. Fifthly, I hope that we still agree that it is important to involve an independent element.
I hope that the Prime Minister’s asking the Committee on Standards in Public Life to look at the matter will assist the House. I thank Sir Christopher Kelly for agreeing to take on that work, which he has started today. He needs to engage in consideration, deliberation and consultation, and he needs to take some time before he reaches his conclusion, even though he is going to do it expeditiously. In the meantime, because of the high level of public concern, it is important to introduce an interim change. A number of hon. Members think that we should leave the matter until after Sir Christopher Kelly has made his decision, but I do not think that that is right, because we need to introduce interim measures pending the outcome of Sir Christopher Kelly’s report.
My sixth point concerns the proposed arrangements in my written ministerial statement—if I am going on too long, please put me out of my misery, Mr. Speaker. We all agree that there is no perfect remedy and that all the solutions have different upsides and downsides. The flat-rate daily payment acknowledges the additional costs in far-flung constituencies and is tied to business being conducted in Westminster—if one were in one’s constituency all the time, there would be no additional expenses. That proposal includes a reasonable rate. I admit that we will not reach a perfect solution, but it would be good if we were to try to find as much agreement as possible.
The hon. Gentleman did not mention that it is Shakespeare’s birthday. [Interruption.] He has now. I shall call on the Shakespearean wisdom of the Deputy Leader of the House from his days in the National Youth theatre. He has mentioned a character whom I have never heard of, Autolycus, who might have been describing the hon. Gentleman when he referred to
“a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles.”
The National Burn Care Review group is looking at the future of burns units around the country. It has been pushing strongly for the unit in Manchester to be designated as the main one, but that would lead to the units at Merseyside’s Whiston and Alder Hey hospitals being downgraded. We were promised that we would be kept informed of progress, but we heard nothing for 18 months until being told this week that an announcement was to be made that Manchester would be the main centre. Could my right hon. and learned Friend possibly arrange time for an urgent debate on the review of burns units in the north-west?
First, may I say that I believe that the right hon. and learned Lady is quite wrong about the affair of the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green)? There are distinct differences between the events surrounding that affair and the more general question of privileges. That question should be referred to the Standards and Privileges Committee, whose job it is to look at it. I hope that she will reconsider the matter.
Will the Leader of the House confirm exactly what we will be debating on Thursday 30 April? I notice that the day is now to be devoted to “House business”, rather than to “motions relating to allowances”. Will she confirm that it is the Prime Minister’s motion that we are to be discussing that day? She spoke about the process at some length, but does it not illustrate how the Prime Minister sets about consultation? First of all, he scribbles something on the back of a fag packet, then as an afterthought convenes the leaders of the other parties to rubber-stamp his proposal. When they fundamentally disagree with him, he determines that he will carry on with the scheme that he first thought of anyway—a scheme that in effect proposes a daily banker style bonus to Members of Parliament, without transparency or any relation to real costs incurred. He believes that it will engender the support and confidence of the British people, but it will not. I hope that we will have a chance to debate alternatives to his proposal, because it is very important that we get this matter right.
If that is what we are to debate on Thursday 30 April, will the Leader of the House also confirm that there are a great many details to do with costs and definitions to be discussed? Her statement did not go into those details, which also include the position of staff and questions about whether there will be staff transfers. Will she produce detailed supporting papers for the proposition early next week, so that we know exactly what we are talking about, or are we to be asked to buy a particularly ill-smelling pig in a poke?
In 2002, the Public Administration Committee produced a report on special advisers entitled “These Unfortunate Events”. Given that there have been more unfortunate events over the Easter recess, will the Leader of the House confirm that it is the Government’s intention to introduce the provisions of a civil service Act, either as a stand-alone Bill or as part of the Constitutional Renewal Bill? That intention has been often stated, but when will we have statutory control of the civil service, including special advisers?
Can we have a statement or a debate on broadband? In yesterday’s Budget, the Chancellor referred to extra investment in broadband, but there is a great deal of concern around the country that it will not lead to Britain having the broadband speed that it will need to be truly competitive in the future. That concern is especially strong in rural areas, where people worry that they will simply not get the provision at all. Can we have a clear statement therefore on what will be provided, and the implications?
Lastly, after months of waiting and many parliamentary questions, on Tuesday we finally got the implementation of the homeowners mortgage support scheme that had been announced in December. However, does the right hon. and learned Lady accept that not one UK bank that is not under state control is participating in the scheme? I am talking about the Abbey, Nationwide, Barclays, HSBC, the Alliance & Leicester—none of the major lenders that are not directly controlled by the state is taking part. Is not that a huge omission, and will it not leave many homeowners in a very poor position when compared with others who have borrowed from those banks that have had to take money from the state? Can we have a clear statement on the operation of the homeowners mortgage support scheme, so that hon. Members can ask proper questions about the position of their constituents?
The proposal for a flat-rate daily payment does not come from the back of one of the Prime Minister’s envelopes. It is one of the alternatives that has been considered by this House over a period of time, including by the Committee on Members’ Allowances in its former incarnation. The flat-rate daily payment system proposal is not new and should take no one by surprise, but it would be transparent about the number of days, and precisely which ones, for which each hon. Member claims.
The hon. Gentleman asked about what the House will be asked to support. The motion for debate will be tabled in my name, and I hope that it will set out the situation with sufficient detail and clarity that the House will vote for it. This is obviously a House matter, and we will table the motion in enough time for hon. Members to consider the propositions that it contains. They will also be able to table amendments if they wish.
The written ministerial statement did deal with the issue of the status of staff. I can confirm that the Deputy Leader of the House will meet staff members’ union representatives, because we are aware of the very important work that staff do in helping us to serve our constituents and perform our duties in the House. They should not feel insecure or uncertain about how the proposals will affect them.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the Constitutional Renewal Bill, and he will be aware that it has been discussed by a Committee of both Houses. It proposes putting the civil service on a statutory footing, and will be introduced into the House when time allows.
The hon. Gentleman asked about investment in broadband, and I can tell him that Lord Carter is in the process of producing his second report on the matter. The post-recovery economy must be green and family-friendly, with a big emphasis on high skills and digital communications, and that is why investment in broadband is central to our proposals. Finally, I remind the hon. Gentleman that he will be able to ask further questions on the matter at Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills questions next Thursday.
There is undoubtedly public disquiet about the second homes allowances, although hon. Members are absolutely justified in claiming for the accommodation that is essential when they are away from home. However, if the new proposal is put forward, does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that people are bound to think that hon. Members are being paid extra money just for turning up to do our job? If a flat-rate payment is established, no documentary evidence will be required to show how we have spent the money, so what are we supposed to do—pocket all the money that we do not spend legitimately within the rules? The proposal needs much more explanation. I hope that there will be a vote next week to reform the system, but it is open to question whether the proposal as it stands is the sort of reform that will reassure the public that all is well.
My hon. Friend reiterates a criticism that has been made of the proposal, but the extra money would not be given just for turning up. Instead, it would go towards the costs of having a constituency away from London, but it would not be right for people to claim that money if they did not turn up here. They would not incur those costs if they never came to Westminster and only stayed in their constituencies. The proposal recognises the extra costs incurred by having to be in more than one place.
The system would be transparent because, as I said, evidence would have to be supplied showing that an hon. Member had attended Westminster or performed parliamentary or ministerial duties. Otherwise, claims for the extra expense incurred by having to do both constituency and Westminster work at the same time could not be justified.
Although it was most welcome to hear the Chancellor announcing £50 million in the Budget yesterday to upgrade the homes of our armed forces personnel, I understand that that is an acceleration of money and that there is probably only £500,000 of new money in that announcement. What he did not address, and what the House has not addressed, is our responsibilities to members of our armed forces returning to the communities in which they grew up, particularly when they have been medically discharged or disabled in some way. The Leader of the House may be aware, because it has been in the national press, of the case of a constituent of mine, Lance Corporal Paul Baker, who has been unable to find accommodation in East Devon. He says:
“You join up, serve your country and expect you will be allowed to come back to live where you grew up—then you find you’re not allowed.”
The problem is that the Government have changed the responsibility in that respect. Although Lance Corporal Baker is based at Bulford camp, from which he is about to be evicted, under the current legislation it is Bulford’s responsibility to find him accommodation, not East Devon council’s. Will the Leader of the House agree to a debate in Government time so that we can look at allowing local authorities additional resources to provide accommodation for our returning armed forces personnel who have been discharged in that way?
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman seek a meeting with one of the Ministry of Defence Ministers about his constituent’s concerns. The hon. Gentleman will know, because he follows these matters closely, that we have given priority in the NHS to returning members of our armed forces. We are reviewing the provision in primary care for former members of our armed forces. There are major issues relating to housing, which he touched on and which were raised in our recent debate on the armed forces. However, perhaps he should seek a meeting with a relevant Minister to try to help his constituent further.
Mr. Speaker, I forgot to answer the important point about the home owners mortgage support scheme that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) raised. I think that there is a genuine misunderstanding. Eighty per cent. of lending for mortgages is covered under the scheme, because those who lend into 80 per cent. of the mortgage market have signed up to it. That means that we will back those lenders so that they can allow people who get into difficulty with their mortgage interest payments to defer them, either in whole or in part, for up to two years. That means that those people will not face repossession, which is very important indeed.
I reassure the hon. Gentleman that 80 per cent. of mortgages are covered by the scheme, but it is not the first thing that we have done. We have also brought forward the point at which people can claim payments through social security benefits for their mortgage payments, from 39 to 13 weeks, and we have increased the amount for which people can claim in interest. We have also issued rules for the courts, so that repossession ought to be the last resort and not the first, and agreed a moratorium with all building societies and banks, so that they should not take any repossession proceedings for at least three months. The home owners mortgage support scheme is not the first thing that we have done; it is one of a number of things that we have done, and it covers 80 per cent. of the mortgage market.
If my Tamil constituents who are demonstrating in Parliament square were in the House today, they would be the first to apologise to everybody here for the disruption that they may have caused. However, it is their anxiety, fear and terror for their families and friends in Sri Lanka that have driven them to these actions. They look to the Government to be a world leader in fighting against a Sri Lankan Government who spend 20 per cent. of their GDP on arms to use against their own people. We have to take a lead for our citizens who are protesting outside, so will the Foreign Secretary come to the House at the earliest opportunity to lend his support to the recent words of the American and Indian Governments?
As the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome said, there will be an opportunity to debate the issue next Wednesday on an Opposition motion. However, my hon. Friend makes some heartfelt points. The primary concern for the Government and for us all is the safety of the civilians caught in the conflict area. The Prime Minister has taken a leading role and was one of the first to call for a ceasefire. Although large numbers of civilians have been able to leave the conflict area, a longer pause is needed. We have to work internationally. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Des Browne) has also been playing a leading role, along with the Foreign Office, as has my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz).
What assurance can the Leader of the House give me, as someone who supports the principle that Members’ staff could be employed by the House centrally, that we would be voting on the general desirability of that and not on a motion that precluded proper consultation with all the staff affected or failed to recognise their rights? Members’ staff are diverse, they work in many parts of the country, some part time and some full time, and they are not subject to the political restraints that hon. Members’ House of Commons staff accept.
The right hon. Gentleman makes some important points, all of which I want to take up. Hon. Members make many diverse arrangements because of their different constituency work patterns, and they might not fall neatly into the working arrangements of, or the demands on, those who work for House. We need to put on a proper footing public recognition that the money is not part of our income, but financial support for work that we have done on our constituents’ behalf. However, we do not want to precipitate a load of unintended consequences—the point the right hon. Gentleman rightly raises. We will perhaps talk to him further about that before we table the resolution.
My right hon. and learned Friend was quite right when she said that speed can kill. However, I hope that the proposed restrictions on rural roads do not take a blanket approach but are based on risk assessments. I also hope that the Department for Transport will look at some anomalies. For example, on the A15, which is one of the most dangerous roads in the whole of Britain, there is a 40 mph restriction on lorries over a certain weight. The restriction relates to their braking capacity and goes back years, but the design and technology have moved on. Lorry drivers tell me that the restriction leads to big queues, tailbacks and people taking risks, thereby causing accidents; it is also not good for optimal fuel consumption. Those are issues that should be addressed as well.
I know that Ministers in the Department for Transport will take on board the point that my right hon. Friend makes. I was just responding to the general point that the shadow Leader of the House made, but there are also specific points about individual roads, such as the A15. That is why there is a consultation, so that the issues can be addressed not only in their generality, but area by area.
Bearing in mind that the Leader of House’s statement on allowances specifically excluded Northern Ireland Members, five of whom never take part in the proceedings, but each of whom draws £20,000-plus on average, and as Sir Christopher Kelly and his committee will almost certainly have to look at the proposal, does that not underline the need to avoid the extraordinary cost of interim measures that may well not meet with his committee’s approval?
I think that it is the case that, depending on how it is validated, a flat-rate daily payment would be cheaper to administer than processing the myriad receipts that come with the current additional costs allowance system. There have been further discussions about the situation for representatives in this House from Northern Ireland parties, but it will be possible to address that matter in the resolution.
May we have a debate on the positive contribution that trade unions make to our society and, in particular, the magnificent contribution of the late Jack Jones? Jack had many achievements, not only as a trade unionist, but as a campaigner for pensioners. I suggest that he deserves the proper recognition of this House.
I very much welcome the opportunity that my hon. Friend has given me and all Labour Members to pay our warmest tributes to Jack Jones, who has passed away. I knew him personally for some 30 years. He represented all that was best about trade unionism. He fought for his members in the Transport and General Workers Union up and down the country and, when he retired, he went on to fight for trade union retired members and all pensioners. He was absolutely tough and ferocious in the interests of his members, but he was also a kind, gentle and warm-hearted man. We are proud of him in the trade union movement; we are proud of him as a supporter of the Labour party; and we are proud of him in south London, where he lived.
Will the Leader of the House consider issuing a statement to the House on the way in which Members should expect to receive replies from Ministers? I received a letter the other week from the Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health, which is signed off:
“Approved by the Minister’s private office and electronically signed in her absence.”
As far as my constituents are concerned, the Minister never even looked at the correspondence. Can we have a position in which Ministers in the main sign off letters personally rather than electronically?
If the House is in recess, an interim reply to an hon. Member by a private office might well serve until the Minister can reply. We all accept the situation in which the reply is approved by the Minister and signed in their absence, but a reply signed by the private office in the Minister’s absence is a step further that I have not cognised before. I will look into the matter. Either the reply is from the private office or it is from the Minister. It can be from the private office on behalf of the Minister, but it cannot be from the private office instead of the Minister.
Every Member of the House will have in their constituency a number of war memorials and so will appreciate the sensitivity about any proposal to move the location of one. In my constituency there is some controversy surrounding the decision by the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers to move the historic memorial designed by Sir Edward Lutyens. Several thousand constituents have signed a petition asking for the memorial to stay where it is, but the regiment has a good argument for moving the memorial to a new site outside the new Fusiliers museum in Bury. May we have a debate on war memorials in which the case in my constituency and many other issues can be fully explored?
If my hon. Friend has already pursued the matter by raising it with the Fusiliers, the local authority and the relevant Ministers, perhaps he might pursue it further by initiating a Westminster Hall or Adjournment debate. I know that hon. Members will understand—for some reason my deputy has written me a note saying:
“Brevity is the soul of wit.”
It is very funny and I agree it was worth pausing, but let us now return to the serious issue of the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. I put it to the Leader of the House that the accusations made by Mr. Ken Boston to the Select Committee were immensely serious; he is a man who held a considerable job, so he cannot just be ignored. I further suggest to the Leader of the House that just saying that departmental Question Time is on Monday will not be satisfactory. It is vital, in the interests of the Secretary of State and the Minister for Schools and Learners and of good governance, that the Secretary of State comes to the Dispatch Box and makes a statement and answers the serious accusations, and that he does so next week.
Without transgressing the objective of my deputy’s note, which I have now worked out was telling me to shut up, perhaps I can try to engage in answering the right hon. Gentleman’s point. There were serious delivery failures by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and they caused delays to the release of results for 11 to 14-year-olds. That was unacceptable. Ministers had pressed on several occasions for reassurances that delivery was on track, and the Government acted swiftly to respond once it was clear that there would be unacceptable delays. We announced Lord Sutherland’s review. There was an error, which was put right, and we await the Select Committee’s report. If agencies are running something and it goes wrong, they must be called to account, an investigation must be conducted and action must be taken. That is the responsibility of Ministers.
Further to the reply that my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh), of course we appreciate greatly what the Government, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have done, and the statements by the Indian Government and Hillary Clinton yesterday. However, it remains the case that thousands of innocent Tamil people are being killed in Sri Lanka. A young man has been on hunger strike in Parliament square for three weeks. The situation is not getting better; it is getting worse.
The UK is a permanent member of the Security Council. Could we please take a resolution to the Security Council as quickly as possible? May we have a statement from the Foreign Secretary on the current situation before the debate on Wednesday? The point of being on the Security Council is that we can have an influence. This is our opportunity to influence what is happening in Sri Lanka.
The British Government are working to influence the action taken throughout the world to mobilise the concern and press for a peaceful outcome for civilians. As I said, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun has been to New York to discuss with Sri Lankan and UN officials how the matter should be taken through the UN, and a Department for International Development Minister is going to Sri Lanka later this week, so action is being taken. We want to reassure the Tamil community here, who play a big part in this country and who are very concerned about what is happening to their friends and relatives back home.
Reverting to next Thursday’s business, how committed is the right hon. and learned Lady to a 1 July start date for all the propositions, which seems to me extremely challenging? If there is some flexibility, does that not strengthen the argument for allowing Sir Christopher Kelly to complete the job that the Prime Minister asked him to do? How on earth can the House sensibly vote next Thursday for a new proposition when we do not know what the daily rate is going to be? There are public expenditure consequences, and we should not sign a blank cheque.
It may well be that we can put a daily rate in the resolution until such time as the Senior Salaries Review Body produces its proposal for the daily rate. The 1 July start date is stretching, but there are a number of simple propositions here. The point is that we have to take action. Public confidence has been draining away. We do not want Sir Christopher Kelly to have to truncate his work and complete it in an unsatisfactory way—obviously, he would not be prepared to do that anyway. He has to take some time to deliberate, but it is not acceptable to leave the present lack of confidence to continue until after Sir Christopher has reported. It is therefore right to take on the issue by way of interim proposals that can come into effect. The public do not accept the current situation and they want it to be changed. We can change it on an interim basis while Sir Christopher Kelly continues to reflect and until he comes forward with his independent proposals.
My right hon. and learned Friend will have heard earlier what I said about the shamefully low pensions that are payable under the present pension arrangements for Members’ staff. Before Thursday’s debate, will she commission some research into the proportion of Members’ staff and of House staff who are women? I think that there really is a problem of gender bias in the pensions available to our staff and House staff. Will she come to the debate on Thursday well prepared to discuss the matter of transferring Members’ staff to the House of Commons pension scheme if their employment is transferred to the House?
Given the typical state of the Liberal Democrat Benches throughout business questions, it is easy to see why that party is so strongly opposed to Members having to turn up at Westminster in order to be able to claim their allowances. However, my question is about NATO. One of NATO’s two supreme commands is based in America and the other in Belgium. There are reports that the one based in America might now be moved to France as part of the price for France reintegrating with the NATO military structure. That move would be important and very expensive. May we have a statement from the Foreign Secretary as soon as possible on whether Britain is involved in negotiations of that sort?
Millions of people have seen the videos and photos of the incidents during the G20 demonstrations in London. I accept that my right hon. and learned Friend will not want to comment on individual incidents today, but may we have an opportunity to debate the way in which such demonstrations are policed, so that we can ensure that the right balance is struck between maintaining public order—we all know that the police have a very difficult job—and maintaining the democratic right to protest?
As the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome has pointed out, there will be an Opposition day debate next Wednesday, the title of which is broad enough to allow those issues to be raised. My hon. Friend makes the important point that we want to defend the right of free speech and freedom of protest while allowing the City and the rest of the country to go about their business. There are thorough and rigorous investigations taking place into what happened to cause that tragic death during the G20 demonstration.
In supporting the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack), my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) and the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), may I ask how we can enter into the debate on Thursday when the proposed per diem allowance will be no more transparent than the present arrangement? It will not deal with Members who are away carrying out duties with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the Inter-Parliamentary Union or the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, or other parliamentary duties, but who still have to maintain accommodation in London. Furthermore, no mention has been made of how Members will pay for the accommodation that they have to maintain during the summer recess, when no per diem will be paid. This really is absolute nonsense. As many people have said, the proposal appears to have been decided after writing a few notes on the back of an envelope.
If the criteria involve parliamentary duties, duties involving the CPA or the IPU could certainly come within that definition. Obviously, the resolution will need to address these issues and satisfy Members that they will be able to carry out their parliamentary duties. In relation to that, we need to ensure that parliamentary duties are properly defined. As far as the recess is concerned, the proposal is that the new scheme would be introduced in July and that the flat-rate daily payments would depend on the days attended. Because there would be fewer such days between July and 12 October, owing to the recess, there would have to be transitional arrangements.
It is easy to think of all the things that are wrong with every proposal. Among the 650 Members of this House there are 650 different views on what would be the best system—in fact, there are probably more, because some people change their mind from day to day. Actually, there is not a perfect system. I hope that we will all try in good faith to establish a system that recognises the extra expense of representing a constituency outside London, while satisfying the public by showing that Members are claiming expenses for coming to Westminster, rather than simply claiming them because their constituency is far away.
May we have a debate on the funding, role and value of sixth forms in state comprehensive schools, including the excellent Ashby and Coalville King Edward schools in my constituency? Those schools and others around the country were seriously alarmed and unnecessarily impacted by the late changes introduced by the Learning and Skills Council in March. Yesterday, after pressure from many hon. Members, myself included, and from early-day motion 1295, which I amended, the Chancellor thankfully announced the money necessary to head off what would have been a problem.
[That this House is concerned by the late and unexpected reductions in funding allocations to schools and sixth form colleges; notes that these reductions place school managements in great difficulty balancing their budgets; is concerned that schools face the prospect of cutting staff, reducing student numbers, or both; and calls on the Learning and Skills Council and the Department for Children, Schools and Families to restore the cut in sixth form funding.]
It would be useful to reassure those sixth forms of their status in the eyes of the Government by having a proper debate on their work in our society.
I reassure all those concerned about sixth forms that hon. Members’ representations about the problem were responded to by the Chancellor yesterday. More young people want to stay on in education, and the Learning and Skills Council initially indicated to sixth forms and colleges that that would be possible, but then said that the finance was not available. Now, however, in response to representations, the Chancellor has said that finance will be guaranteed, so 50,000 more students will stay on and all concerns should now be allayed. The Department for Children, Schools and Families will write to all schools and colleges to reassure them that they can now get on with their work positively in September.
May I return the attention of the right hon. and learned Lady to early-day motion 1307?
[That this House notes the statement of the Director of Public Prosecutions on 16 April 2009 announcing his decision that no charges would be brought against the hon. Member for Ashford in relation to the documents leaked and stating that, ‘Mr Green's purpose in using the documents was apparently to hold the Government to account'; and calls for the House to be given the opportunity to debate a motion to refer the matter to the Committee on Standards and Privileges.]
The motion seeks to refer the issue of the arrest of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Damian Green) to the Committee on Standards and Privileges, and it is sponsored by three very senior Members of this House from all parties, notably the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), among others. The remit of the resolution passed on 8 December makes no reference whatever to the issue of privilege. It also insists that there should be a Government majority on the Committee in question, which is not in the spirit of the way in which the Committee on Standards and Privileges operates. The Leader of the House is now the only apparent obstruction to following the procedure set out on pages 167 and 168 of “Erskine May”—namely, to refer the matter to the Committee on Standards and Privileges in the normal way. Why is she obstructing the House in that way? Is she really comfortable with being so obstructive on a purely partisan basis, when she should be representing the interests of the whole House?
I object to what the hon. Gentleman says. I am happy for all these issues to be looked into. If there is strength of feeling about them, senior Members need to get together to look into all these issues, to reassure the House that they have all been examined and to produce their analysis of what went on and their proposals for changes, if any are needed. I am perfectly behind the idea that that should happen.
The House decided, at the request of the Speaker, that a Speaker’s Committee would be the way forward, and the resolution says that that Committee will be able to make recommendations for the future. I could say, “I don’t care how many Committees look at it. As many Committees as want to look at it should be able to do so.” As there is so much complaint about the issue, I will look at the matter again.
This is not about being obstructive. The idea that the House first responds to a request from the Speaker to set up a Speaker’s Committee and, shortly afterwards, before the Speaker’s Committee has even started its work, asks the Standards and Privileges Committee to look at it—[Interruption.] They could be technically defined as different issues, but there is no reason why the Speaker’s Committee should not look at all the questions about privilege that Members are asking for the Committee on Standards and Privileges to look at. However, as people are complaining so much, I will have another look at it, and I might do something ill judged and unwise and set up a twin-track process. Then, when there is duplication and overlap, I will say, “I told you so.”
May we please have a debate in Government time on the Floor of the House on the method of composition of our Select Committees? Working on the assumption that, in a modern, healthy, vibrant parliamentary democracy, the Executive should not choose the members of the Committees that scrutinise them, would not such a debate provide an opportunity for the argument to be made for scrapping the present arrangements and replacing them with a sensible system in which the members of Select Committees are elected by a secret ballot of Members of the House?
Whatever people’s views on the processes for appointing the members and Chairmen of Select Committees, I think that our Select Committees do a damn good job on behalf of the House: they are robust, they are independent, and they are fair-minded and fierce in doing their duty of holding the Executive to account. I can see that there are many ways of twiddling how to get people on to Select Committees, but I would ask, “What’s the problem? If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” I think our Select Committees do a proud job; as soon as Government Members become Chairmen of them, they go native.
The Leader of the House will be aware of the concern felt on both sides of the House about the number of pubs that are closing each week—a concern that is particularly important to those of us who have breweries in our constituencies. She will be aware that the number of these small businesses closing each week has now reached 40 and she will be aware of the feeling in the industry that the provisions of yesterday’s Budget will only worsen the situation. Will she therefore make time for a debate on a Government motion on the future of the pub industry, particularly on the impact of pub closures on many small communities up and down the country?
I know that this is a matter of continuing concern, not just in urban areas but particularly in rural areas. A number of factors have come together to cause problems for publicans. Will the hon. Gentleman give me some time to reflect further and to talk to my ministerial colleagues before I get back to him? I know that he and other Members have raised this matter on a number of occasions. It is an important issue to which I do not have a snap answer, but I will get back to him.
May we have a debate in Government time about the current squeeze on university finances? The two universities in my constituency—the universities of Reading and of the Thames Valley—are facing considerable financial pressures, so is it not time that the Government started their promised review of funding in that sector and stopped kicking the issue into the long grass? If they did that, at least the sector would know where it stands.
I think the sector does know where it stands. It knows that it has the strong commitment of this Government, which has been exemplified in recent years by a steady increase in capital and revenue budgets. That is the case because we believe that the future of our economy depends on high qualifications, on our science base and on skills. The hon. Gentleman can reassure those in his constituency who are concerned about this issue that, as long as we are in government, we will maintain our commitment to capital and revenue public spending, whereas if his party were in government, they could expect cuts, starting right away.
May we have a statement from the Foreign Secretary on the deteriorating situation in Pakistan, the effective surrender to the Taliban of large parts of Pakistan’s north-west frontier and the strategic risk that presents to British troops fighting in Afghanistan, because of the extended and exposed supply lines through Pakistan?
Coal and Carbon Capture and Storage
With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on coal and carbon capture and storage. In our energy policy, we face three challenges: to transform our energy to low-carbon sources; to maintain security of supply; and to do so in a way that is right for the British economy and industry. To meet that challenge will take all the low-carbon technologies at our disposal.
We need renewable energy, and in the last five years we have tripled renewable electricity supplies. We have more offshore wind power than any country in the world, and yesterday my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced new support for offshore wind and new financial help for the wind industry to get through the credit crunch.
We need to facilitate nuclear energy, too. In the face of climate change, with assurances on safety and cost, many who once opposed nuclear power now support it. Thanks to decisions made by my predecessor, Britain is on track for a renaissance in nuclear power, and I announced last week the nominations for 11 potential sites.
The future of coal in our energy mix poses the starkest dilemma we face: it is a polluting fuel, but it is used across the world because it is low cost and it is flexible enough to meet fluctuations in demand for power. In the UK, a third of our existing coal-fired power stations are due to close in the coming decade.
To ensure that we maintain a diverse energy mix, including maximising our domestic fuel supply, we need new coal-fired power stations—but only if they can be part of the low-carbon future. Across the world, we know the challenge that coal presents. With many countries, including China and India, reliant on coal and many building new coal-fired power stations at a rapid pace, there is an urgent international imperative for us to make coal clean. With a solution to the problem of coal, we greatly increase our chances of stopping dangerous climate change. Without it, we will not succeed.
There is a solution to the challenge—through carbon capture and storage. Capturing the CO2, transporting it and locking it permanently underground would reduce emissions by 90 per cent. While this technology has been demonstrated in its different parts and at small scale—capturing emissions from 30 MW—it has never been tried on a commercial scale, and never as the complete process from start to finish on a power station, so the first task is urgently to drive the technology at scale. We are already running a competition for one of the first end-to-end demonstrations in the world, covering capture, transport and storage. It will be one of the biggest CCS projects in the world—more than 10 times bigger than the largest existing pilot.
Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced the public funding for the next stage. We will select bidders to proceed to detailed designs, but we know that we need to go further and, because of yesterday’s Budget, there will also be funding for up to three more demonstration projects, which we want to involve a mix of pre and post-combustion so that all the technologies can be tested.
To support that, the Chancellor yesterday announced plans for a new incentive mechanism to support CCS. It could be based on a CCS feed-in tariff, so that projects could receive a fixed price for electricity, or on a fixed price for carbon abated. We will consult on this alongside our new coal conditions by the summer.
We need to ally this reliable stream of funding for carbon capture and storage, which we now have, with a policy on coal-fired power stations to drive the demonstration and deployment of CCS. We consulted last year on carbon capture readiness as the condition for new coal-fired power stations, but I have concluded that while it is right to go ahead with this condition, it will not on its own drive the change we need. I believe that we need to signal a move from the building of unabated coal-fired power stations—it is right to drive our country towards low carbon as part of a progressive decarbonisation of our power supplies. That is also an essential part of a new industrial strategy, and it is necessary if we are to show international leadership on climate change.
I therefore propose two new conditions that any new coal-fired power station must meet to gain consent in England and Wales. We are proceeding with a strategic environmental assessment and will consult formally in the summer. First, we must send a decisive signal that change starts now, so I propose a requirement to demonstrate CCS on a substantial proportion of any new coal-fired power station. We will propose for consultation a requirement to demonstrate at least 300 MW of net capacity or around 400 MW of gross output as a condition of any consent. The demonstration condition would mean that henceforth unabated coal-fired power stations would not get Government consent. Secondly, alongside that, we must secure not just a commitment to demonstrate, but, when the technology is proven, a commitment that CCS will be fitted on the entire plant.
The Committee on Climate Change concluded that
“conventional coal-fired power generation should only be built on the expectation that it will be retro-fitted with CCS by the early 2020s”—
the earliest it believes will be feasible. With the demonstrations in the UK and abroad, we will plan on the basis that CCS will be technically and economically proven by 2020. There will be an independent judge of when the technology is proven and I envisage the Environment Agency playing that role. Every coal-fired power station built from now would have to commit to retrofitting CCS on the whole plant—100 per cent.—within five years of 2020, subject to the technology being ready. Once the technology had been judged as proven, every new coal-fired power station would have to commit to CCS, not just on a portion, but on the whole plant.
I believe CCS will be effective and can be shown to work, but I will seek views in the consultation on whether we need a safety net if it does not become proven as quickly as we expect. We will also consult on whether, through an emissions performance standard, it is possible to implement the conditions I have outlined.
The new conditions come on top of the requirement on every power station to buy carbon permits, which under the EU emissions trading scheme are capped and falling. I believe that the funding for demonstrations and the conditions I have proposed meet the criteria I have set out. They set us on a decisive low-carbon path, with the UK doing more than any other country to demonstrate and deploy CCS, and they are the most environmentally ambitious coal conditions of any country in the world. They protect security of supply by making possible the only sustainable long-term diversity there is—low-carbon diversity.
I have received representations that there should be 100 per cent. CCS on new coal from day one, but I believe that they do not appreciate the need that still exists to demonstrate the technology before full-scale commercial deployment is possible. Such a condition would reduce the range of technologies that could be affordably demonstrated, would mean that demonstration of post-combustion CCS would be far less likely, and would fail to meet our international obligation to drive forward low-carbon technology.
By embarking on today’s path to low-carbon coal, we shall be able both to meet our climate change commitments and to secure up to four new coal-fired power stations by 2020, whose operation will include the use of indigenous coal. This route to low-carbon coal is also right for the British economy, and will enable us to lead the world in carbon capture and storage. With a reliable stream of finance, we are investing in British skills so that our industries can lead CCS not just in Britain, but at power stations around the world. I hope that our industry, universities and scientists will respond to the challenge of creating a new industry in Britain.
Research suggests that CCS and other carbon abatement technologies could sustain 50,000 jobs by 2030. This is a massive regional opportunity for Britain. I pay tribute to our regional development agencies for what they are already doing on carbon capture and storage, and look forward to working with them. Teesside, the Thames Gateway, the Firth of Forth and the Humber are among the locations that could be suitable for a new CCS cluster. For our North sea oil and gas industry, CCS can herald a new low-carbon future. The 1960s and 1970s saw the development of a new North sea industry; in later decades, Britain can do the same with CCS.
The proposals that I have announced seek to combine the drive towards low carbon at home and around the world, meeting the need for security of supply, with the building of Britain’s industrial future. They signal that the era of unabated coal is over, but a new low-carbon future for coal with CCS can begin. I commend the statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for early sight of his statement. I know from our exchanges that he is an avid student of my policy documents, and he knows how long the Conservatives have been trying to persuade him and his predecessors to give Britain a lead in carbon capture and storage. Sadly, that leadership has now passed to China, Germany and the USA. It is two years since the Government’s characteristic dithering led to the collapse of BP’s CCS project at Peterhead. That work is now being done in Abu Dhabi.
A year ago, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition set out the policies on CCS that Britain should adopt: to build a network of pipes and connections that would allow captured carbon dioxide to be transported from generating plants to areas of storage in the North sea; to equip at least three new coal plants with CCS technology, financed by Britain’s share of receipts from the EU emissions trading scheme; and to introduce an emissions performance standard that would limit emissions from any new plant to the equivalent of those from a modern gas-fuelled power station.
Our criteria remain those against which today’s announcement must be judged, but let us be clear why the statement was so urgently needed. After 12 years, Britain's energy policy is as much of a horror show as our public finances, and for the same reason: the Government did not fix the roof when the sun was shining. We have known for more than a decade that a third of our generating capacity is to be turned off during the current decade, and that there is no remotely adequate plan to replace it with a low-carbon alternative. We have known for many years that North sea oil and gas are in decline, but our gas storage capacity is grossly inadequate. During the cold snap last February, storage dropped to just four days’ worth. No other major European country generates less of its electricity from renewables, although we have some of the best wind, wave and tidal resources in Europe. If anyone thinks that the Government’s handling of the economy was an aberration, let them look at the mess of their energy policy. While we welcome the Secretary of State’s Damascene conversion to Conservative policy, it is from that appalling position that we now need to recover.
The Secretary of State will understand our need for reassurance about his intentions. Will he confirm that the new coal-fired power stations to be developed with CCS technology will be required to achieve an overall emissions performance standard of no more than 500 kg of carbon dioxide per MWh from the outset? If there is consent for four pilots, each generating 300 MW of abated electricity, that will mean the abating of 1.2 GW of new capacity by 2020. How much unabated electricity does the Secretary of State expect to be generated by those plants by that date? Is there any limit on the proportion of unabated electricity generated by them? Can we expect to see a monster new coal plant generating massively increased carbon dioxide emissions of which only a small proportion are abated by means of the measures that the Secretary of State has described?
As for the funding for the CCS clusters and the demonstration plant, will the Secretary of State explain why the Government have chosen to raise the money by means of a consumer levy rather than from EU ETS receipts? Will he tell us how much that levy will be and on which consumers it will fall, bearing in mind the burdens placed on households and firms by yesterday’s Budget? Will he tell us how many clusters he expects there to be, and can he assure us that their locations will be chosen with technical viability rather than political convenience at the forefront of the considerations? Will he tell us plainly whether he will consent to new coal plants outside the cluster areas?
In yesterday’s Budget speech, the Chancellor vainly tried to distract attention from the wreck of Labour’s economic policy with a few meagre and meek environmental proposals. If the Secretary of State’s conversion on CCS is genuine, I welcome it, but I sincerely hope that today’s announcement does not turn out to be another example of Government greenwashing. The Secretary of State said that the Government must send a decisive signal, but much of the commitment that he has made is still subject to consultation. He has left it perilously late to secure our energy supplies for the decade ahead and to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, but it is absolutely vital that these decisions are finally acted on now, without delay.
I have respect for the hon. Gentleman, but I hope that when he reflects on his performance today he will reconsider his position and think hard about what policy he wants to pursue. I have to say that he gave a pretty disappointing response that did not show much understanding of the difficulties that we face.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the funding mechanism. He was right to point out that part of the challenge is finding the funding, but the problem with his proposal of using funds from the auctioning of the European carbon allowances is that that has already been accounted for in the Chancellor’s Budget plans. The money is not available. The hon. Gentleman’s proposal constitutes an uncosted commitment to providing billions of pounds without the faintest clue about where the money will come from. He does not have the money, because it is included in the general accounts published in the Budget. It is difficult to find the necessary finance, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor for deciding that we will fund these measures. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will reflect on the means of financing them; he has no such means at his disposal.
The hon. Gentleman asked how much unabated coal there would be. Let me say to him candidly that while he can pursue his demand for 100 per cent. CCS from day one—I dealt with that in my statement—I believe that it is a foolish approach. It is unaffordable, and it does not make sense in the context of a demonstration technology. It is true that 20 or 25 per cent. of the plant would be abated through CCS, and obviously we will consult on that, but I have thought hard about the matter, and I believe that we have struck the right balance between what is affordable and what is a proper way of demonstrating the technology.
We will of course consult on the level at which the emissions performance standard could be set, but I must caution the hon. Gentleman against plucking figures out of the air. I have given careful consideration to the proposal for 500 kg per MWh, and I do not think that it would necessarily be appropriate for the conditions that I have described. However, I shall be happy to engage in consultation.
We shall have more to say about clusters in the consultation document, but I believe that it will be possible to have a number of them around the country, and we will view the bids impartially. Many regions are already submitting proper bids.
I genuinely hope that we can build consensus in the House. I believe that the combination of the Chancellor’s announcements yesterday, the funded demonstration of CCS and my statement today represent a real step forward in security of supply and the environment. I hope that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman will be able to give our proposals a warmer welcome.
I genuinely welcome my right hon. Friend’s important and well-balanced statement, which has significant implications for the future of our country. I congratulate both him and the Minister of State, but, if he will forgive me, I congratulate particularly his officials in the Department and outside experts who, contrary to what we have heard, have worked on this for a number of years and unravelled the complexities.
Would it help if the Secretary of State organised a workshop to bring Opposition Front Benchers up to speed on the complexity of the issues, the economics involved and the technical work that has been done not only in Britain but in Norway, because this is too important an issue to play politics with? Does he agree with me—
Order. I think that that is enough for the time being.
I was rather enjoying my right hon. Friend’s contribution. I agree with all the points he made. Teach-ins were fashionable in the 1970s, but I am sure that the Opposition could benefit from a teach-in on this issue given the contribution we just heard.
I join my right hon. Friend in paying tribute to the officials who have worked on, and helped in, this incredibly complex policy area, and I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for the work on this issue that he did as an Energy Minister, and that he continues to do. He understands its international dimension, and I assure him that we will work with other countries to develop this technology. I have already talked to Secretary Chu, the US Energy Secretary, about how we can co-operate on our learning about CCS.
I too am grateful for receiving notice of the statement.
This is a step in the right direction: carbon capture is a vital technology in the transition to a lower carbon electricity-generating economy. It also has huge advantages over, for instance, nuclear, not only because it contributes to base load supply, but because it can provide variable supply, thereby tackling some of the problems of intermittency and peaks and troughs of demand.
I recognise that the Secretary of State might have had to overcome opposition from within his own Government. Last year, some of us battled against the former Minister, who has just spoken, the right hon. Member for Croydon, North (Malcolm Wicks), during the passage of the Energy Act 2008, when he fought tooth and nail against expanded competition, and I think it would be appropriate to say that we have the scars on our backs. Sadly, as a result, we have lost crucial ground to the United States, Canada, Brazil, China and others in benefiting commercially from this technology.
My first question is on funding, which the Committee on Climate Change and The Guardian seem to agree will come from a charge on the power system—in other words, on customers’ bills. Today’s statement was, understandably, a little cagier, because is there not a risk that this will contribute to fuel poverty without cuts in income tax for the least well-off, without mandated social tariffs—as suggested in the Bill proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath)—and without massive investment in energy efficiency for millions of homes, as proposed by the Liberal Democrats?
My second question is about emissions performance standards. I echo many of the comments from Conservative Members and hope that the Government will now support the private Member’s Bill promoted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr. Kennedy).
My third question is about the commitment to 100 per cent. retrofitting. That looks fine until we see the escape clause—whether the technology is ready. The critical question is: who bears the risk of it not being ready, the energy companies or the planet? If CCS is not ready, would a Labour Government close Kingsnorth? Unabated coal-fired power stations are the worst of all options—worse even than seeking a derogation from the European Union to extend the life of existing gas-fired power stations for a few more years until CCS is ready. This statement and policy proposal is well intentioned, but it contains a dirty great loophole that is big enough for some of the dirtiest possible power stations to fit into.
The hon. Gentleman started off well, but slipped into the same mode as the Conservative spokesman. We certainly look forward to being in power in 2020 to be able to answer some of his questions.
We all face a problem in respect of fuel poverty, and it is best to be candid about it: there are upward pressures on prices from both the high and low-carbon futures. If we carry on with the high-carbon future—I know the hon. Gentleman does not want us to do that—demand from China and India will force prices up, so that is no solution. We are looking at social tariffs—compulsory social tariffs is one of the issues—and the answer is to act on fuel poverty at the same time as driving towards a low-carbon future. Therefore, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need to take additional measures on fuel poverty.
I have said that we shall consult on the emissions performance standard. I told the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) that we need to be cautious about plucking figures out of the air about the EPS. I have set out the way in which we should demonstrate the technology, and I think we need an EPS that is appropriate for the technology. We should debate the precise figure, but I am not going to state a number today because I do not think that is a sensible way to make policy.
The technology for retrofitting needs to be proven. For us to demand that CCS must be fitted on a whole plant, it needs to work. I believe that it will work— obviously, we all hope that it will work—but I also said in my statement that, importantly, we must discuss the eventuality that it does not work and whether, in that case, there should be restrictions on the operation of the plant. However, we are performing a very fine balancing act between getting coal plants built—because, after all, energy companies and others could say they are just going to build gas—and driving towards low carbon. That is why I have set out a framework today, and I say, in the spirit of genuinely wanting co-operation, let us consult on the detail and get that right. The framework needs to last for some time, and I will want to engage in genuine dialogue with the hon. Gentleman about it.
I greatly welcome the statement. It sends very clear signals, and we should not underestimate the benefits that come from that in commitments. It is also balanced about what can and cannot be done at present. I am particularly pleased that my right hon. Friend mentioned regions and clusters. While the priority must be coal, as he will know, a lot of carbon capture work is going on in, for example, the steel and the petrochemical industries. In the south Humber and Yorkshire region we have, of course, Europe’s biggest coal plant: Drax. Regionally, there are some very exciting proposals for clusters and network collections of CO2. On the south Humber, there is a centre for the whole low-carbon sector, particularly the offshore sector. Would my right hon. Friend be interested in meeting a delegation from our region to talk about how regions can work with the Government to achieve the outcomes we all want?
I would be delighted to do that, and I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend’s work on these issues. I had the privilege of receiving a presentation from Yorkshire Forward about its plans. My right hon. Friend makes the important point that carbon capture not only could apply to coal-fired power stations, but could be of use for steel and other sectors. That network could play an important role, too.
My right hon. Friend makes another important point. There are huge industrial opportunities for this country—such as jobs—in this cluster approach. That is certainly the basis on which we will want to proceed, and we will want to work with his Select Committee again to get the details right.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his long-awaited and welcome statement. He understates his own contribution, however, because one of the reasons he has encountered a certain amount of scepticism from Opposition Members is that many of the measures he has announced today are those that we pressed for but which Labour Members said were impossible. Therefore, we will go on pressing him, as it seems to help him very much. Will he assure the House that he will take tough measures to make it clear to the industry, especially the generators, that this is not an easy push—that they will have to do their best to deliver, and that they cannot get out of it when we reach 2020?
Secondly, can the right hon. Gentleman point to the precise spot in the Budget statement that refers to the emissions trading scheme, because this remarkable statement suggests that the money has already been both calculated and applied elsewhere? That is something that we did not know, and there is a big question from the green movement about whether the money might be used for purposes other than the improvement of Britain’s green economy.
May I say that I benefited very much from conversations with the right hon. Gentleman about these issues? His contribution to this debate has been very important. He is right that, on coal, we are moving towards a need for the right form of smart regulation to drive the right investments by energy companies. I have also benefited from my discussions with them about these issues and about getting the balance right. The EU emissions trading scheme is calculated as part of the general accounting that is done by the Government and the Treasury and is part of those overall accounts.
My right hon. Friend’s statement tends to concentrate on new-build coal-fired power stations. Will he give some encouragement to technologies that I hope are being demonstrated? I am talking about pre-combustion capture technologies that use the old British Coal topping cycle—a technology that was abandoned by the Tory Government back in 1988. There are companies that believe that they could retrofit that old British Coal topping cycle technology to existing coal-fired power stations, which could extend the length of those stations after 2015. That could be part of the solution to this problem.
I pay tribute to the work that my hon. Friend has done on these issues. I shall examine his proposal, as it could certainly make a contribution. In respect of coal, and all kinds of other fuel, it is necessary to use all the technologies at our disposal, and co-firing with biomass can also make a contribution to reducing emissions. We will use all those technologies and I am happy to examine my hon. Friend’s specific proposal.
I, too, welcome this statement. I do not wish to be churlish, so I pay tribute to the work done by the right hon. Member for Croydon, North (Malcolm Wicks), who laid the platform for this particular statement—we should recognise that fact. May I also say that I hope that my own Front-Bench team will become more consensual once the Budget period is out of the way?
I wish to ask two very quick questions, the first of which relates to the coal-producing areas. We know that much of the coal required is being imported and there is a lot of work to do to involve our coal-producing areas, so what thoughts does the Secretary of State have about that? Secondly, I wish to press him on a decision about Kingsnorth, but, from day one, I also urge him to include that power station within the parameters that he has outlined today. We need a decision on the current proposal on Kingsnorth urgently, but we also need that power station to be included in the particular programme that he has described today.
I obviously agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman said, and I think that today’s announcement offers a big opportunity for the former coalfield areas from which they can really profit. Kingsnorth is involved in our competition, and the next stage of the process will be front-end engineering and design studies—the bidders will put forward their proposals and we will judge who will be the eventual winner of the competition. The good news is that there are a number of opportunities to benefit from the four demonstration projects.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on a very imaginative statement. Will he say a word or two more about sourcing? If we do nothing to develop new deep mines, for example in north-east Leicestershire, where 800 million tonnes of clean coal is available, what will inevitably happen is that there will be an expansion of imports from sometimes unstable regimes and, more worryingly, an expansion of open-cast mine extraction. That affects all mining constituencies, particularly those in England, where there are shallow, unworked seams that the open-cast coal people would like to access because of the low cost. However, the environmental and social impact of such mining is very significant, as we see in respect of the Minorca application in north-west Leicestershire, which is about to be submitted.
On my hon. Friend’s first point, indigenous coal does have an important future, and I obviously discuss that with UK Coal, the miners’ unions and others when talking about these issues. It is important to put that on the record. It also helps security of supply if we are able to benefit from such coal. On his second point, the existing planning guidance, which has been in place for some time, is obviously a matter for the Department for Communities and Local Government, and it remains the basis on which we are moving forward.
I am tempted to say better late than never. Scotland could have been well in the forefront of carbon capture and storage had the Government not pulled the rug from under the Peterhead project. Given that Scotland has some of the largest carbon storage reserves in Europe in the North sea saline aquifers and depleted oil and gas fields, and the expertise on how to access them, it would be a tragedy and a travesty if the firth of Forth was not one of the clusters chosen in this project. Can the Secretary of State tell us when the winning entry will be announced? Is he still committed to having a full-scale demonstration project up and running by 2014?
Two processes are involved—the existing demonstration competition, in which three bidders are still involved, and the new incentive mechanism, which will require legislation to go through this House. If the Scottish Executive also want to put some money into taking these projects forward, we would be interested in having some of it. The basic point that I wish to make is that the firth of Forth will be part of the competitive process. It is not part of the existing demonstration, but given our announcements about an extra three demonstration projects, there is the potential for it to be involved. We have to use all the means at our disposal to develop this technology, and that will be true throughout the United Kingdom.
May I offer a warm welcome to the very measured statement made by my right hon. Friend? It really will set us on a transformational agenda in terms of the future low-carbon economy worldwide. Given that carbon abatement technology is the new black gold, will he carefully examine what can be done in areas such as the former coalfields in north Staffordshire, where there used to be many jobs in mining? Will he work with the regional Minister and the regional development agency to see how the former Chatterley Whitfield colliery in my constituency, which produced more than 1 million tonnes of coal in its heyday, can be transformed so that the people still living around that site have opportunities for new manufacturing work in carbon abatement technology?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point in a characteristically eloquent way. There is a real opportunity, including in her area, and this will require work with the regional development agencies and others who are already getting involved. It will also require work with our scientists, our universities and others. I recently visited a university that is already working on carbon capture and the role that it can play. We need to mobilise all such forces in order to develop this technology and to win jobs for Britain and for our regions.
As I have said in earlier answers, indigenous coal has an important role to play. If the Conservatives are supporting indigenous coal supply, that is much to be welcomed—it certainly does not bear any relationship to their record in government. Indigenous coal can play an important role and some of the decisions made in the 1980s were a tragedy; we could have much more viable coal mines and many more mines than we have if those wrong decisions had not been made. We need to do all we can to maximise what we can get from indigenous coal.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement. The framework that he sets out will be very helpful, and I was particularly pleased to hear what he said about his meeting with Yorkshire Forward. He will be aware that the Yorkshire Forward project is an infrastructure project that would rejuvenate the engineering and steel industries in south Yorkshire, because it is proposed that it would create 55,000 jobs. May I say to him that we are likely to hit a real problem between 2012 and 2015, when there will be the simultaneous run-down of coal power stations and nuclear power stations? Perhaps we could consider some retrofitting with super-critical boilers, because we would thus be introducing a CO2-reducing technology. Such work would provide us with the opportunity to be able to have them fitted ready for carbon capture so that when the technology is proven, it could be fitted. That would get us through a crucial energy supply period.
My hon. Friend has huge expertise, and I pay tribute to him for the enormous amount of work that he has done for our coal mining communities.
My hon. Friend made a very important point about the Yorkshire Forward project, but I will generalise. We need public investment, and that is what we will see as a result of the Chancellor’s announcements, but we also need private investment. That combination, including investment in some of the industries that he was talking about and the networks that we need, can make a real difference in the future. I am very happy to discuss further with my hon. Friend his other points about new investment, retrofitting, flue gas desulphurisation and so forth.
I welcome the comprehensive approach that the Government are taking to these questions. Will the Secretary of State tell us what examination he made of the type of balance being struck by other European countries between different forms of energy generation? France, in particular, as we know, has a great degree of self-sufficiency based on nuclear power stations. What sort of balance does he think that we should have between nuclear power and the new technology that he has described?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The view about nuclear in this country was coloured by the experiences that we had, the plants that were gone for and the cost of waste and clean-up. I am pleased that my predecessor made the decisions that he did about nuclear. As I said earlier, I think that climate change has changed people’s view about the role of nuclear in the energy mix. On the subject of the French example, I am not sure that we would want to be wholly reliant on nuclear. It should be part of the energy mix along with clean fossil fuels and renewables, and there should still be a role for gas, at least for the time being. I think that that is the right way to go.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and the commitment shown by the Government to carbon capture and storage. Will he elaborate a little more on the use of indigenous coal? We know that, very sadly, many mines were abandoned after considerable investment in the ’80s. Sinking new deep mines requires considerable investment, and I want to know what steps the Government are taking to foster further development of deep mines so that we are not reliant on imports, which have a carbon footprint because of their transportation and which offer less security of supply, and so that we provide jobs for our own people here.
There are obviously limits—one should be candid about it—in terms of rewriting history on these things. Decisions were made in the 1980s and 1990s and it is hard to reverse some of them. I have mentioned Harworth, where a particular case has been made. It has been mothballed for a couple of years and we are in discussions with UK Coal about it. We will listen to all representations that we receive about deep mines and their potential. The mines that are open provide an important indigenous source of fuel for Britain and will do so for many years to come.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On 1 March, the News of the World smeared me in a story about parliamentary allowances, based on a false claim that I hardly visit the home in my constituency where I have lived every week for more than a decade. That story is now before the Press Complaints Commission. It was given credibility by a clear endorsement by the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), who knows that I am mentioning him and was in this Chamber earlier today, but who could not possibly have known whether the specifics of the story were true or not. Instead of apologising for not even consulting me first, the hon. Gentleman has claimed in correspondence that he gave only what he describes as “a generalised non-specific quote” that “does not even name” me, that he was “unaware” of much of the story’s contents before commenting, that he has not accused me
“of breaking the rules or indeed doing anything wrong”
and that he
“did not, for example, ‘fume’”
about my behaviour as the newspaper alleged.
I have now seen the newspaper’s evidence to the Press Complaints Commission. Its reporter, Jamie Lyons, states that
“before publication I had a lengthy telephone call with Mr Baker in which I went through in detail the specific allegations about”
“Lewis. He was then happy to give me the quote used in the story. I have spoken to Mr Baker since and he has absolutely no complaints about the quote.”
Is there any general guidance that you can give, Mr. Deputy Speaker, about standards of decency and integrity to be adopted by hon. Members when publicly criticising the personal conduct of colleagues, particularly when the person making the criticism has previously claimed very large sums of money from the public purse, including tens of thousands of pounds to pay rent to himself for a constituency office inside his own main home?
The hon. Gentleman’s point of order is obviously not a matter with which the Chair can deal in detail. I will say to the House, however, that I think that all right hon. and hon. Members should be very careful in their dealings with the media, particularly when reference is made to colleagues in this House. On every occasion, colleagues in this House should deal with each other with the greatest possible care and respect.
I think that I have dealt fully with that point of order.
It is a different point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. A month ago, secondary schools in my constituency were notified that their funding for sixth form places was going to be cut. It was rumoured today that there might be a statement from the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families on the state of play in returning that money to the schools. How can we persuade the Secretary of State to come to this House to make a statement on this important matter, which affects all our constituents across the country?
I am well aware of how important these matters are, not just to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents but to others. He will know full well that the Chair does not have responsibility for when and where Ministers make statements to the House, but his points are firmly on the record and I have no doubt that those on the Treasury Bench have taken note of them.
Ways and Means
Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation
Amendment of the law
Debate resumed (Order, 22 April).
Question again proposed,
(1) It is expedient to amend the law with respect to the National Debt and the public revenue and to make further provision in connection with finance.
(2) This Resolution does not extend to the making of any amendment with respect to value added tax so as to provide—
(a) for zero-rating or exempting a supply, acquisition or importation,
(b) for refunding an amount of tax,
(c) for any relief, other than a relief that—
(i) so far as it is applicable to goods, applies to goods of every description, and
(ii) so far as it is applicable to services, applies to services of every description.
It is a great pleasure to open the second day of this Budget debate. It gives us an opportunity to look at the detail of the Budget and to highlight the points that the Chancellor of the Exchequer entirely omitted from his speech yesterday lunchtime. It is also a pleasure to do so opposite the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. The Chancellor has let me know that he is on his way to an important meeting in Washington, and I entirely accept that.