Skip to main content

Commons Chamber

Volume 496: debated on Thursday 16 July 2009

House of Commons

Thursday 16 July 2009

The House met at half-past Ten o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Business, Innovation and Skills

The Minister of State was asked—

Automotive Assistance Scheme

As we said at the time of its launch, the automotive assistance scheme is for long-term reinvestment in the industry, not short-term rescue funding. The Department has been in contact with about two thirds of all companies that may qualify for assistance under the scheme, resulting in 19 formal expressions of interest so far. Projects in the pipeline could involve total Government support of about £1.45 billion.

I thank the Minister for that reply. There seems to have been some delay in allocating loans or guarantees under the scheme. Could the Minister clarify why that is? Is it because the conditions set out in the scheme’s criteria are too strict? Clearly, the money has not yet found its way to most manufacturers.

As I said, it is important to understand that this scheme is about long-term reinvestment projects, not short-term rescue. The Secretary of State said at the time of its launch:

“There is no blank cheque on offer and there are no operating subsidies. We are committed to ensuring that anything backed by the scheme offers value for taxpayers’ money, enables us to green Britain’s economic recovery”


“delivers significant innovation in processes”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 27 January 2009; Vol. 707, c. 178.]

We are working through these projects with the companies concerned. I can assure the hon. Lady and the House that there is no delay on the Government’s part. We are working closely with the companies concerned, but we also want to ensure that we get value for money and the long-term benefits of reinvestment for the industry concerned.

I endorse what my right hon. Friend says about the automotive assistance scheme being about long-term investment in green technologies, and so on. However, that does not necessarily mean that the process of approving the money needs to be long term. There needs to be greater dispatch in bringing things to a conclusion, particularly where strategically important companies are involved that are part of the global and regional economies, one example being Jaguar Land Rover in the west midlands and in the north-west.

Constructive discussions between the Government and Jaguar Land Rover are continuing. The Government are keen to help, but of course the terms must be right. I assure my hon. Friend that the Government are not seeking to delay help at all, but we want to ensure that the help that we give is in line with the aims of the scheme as set out when we launched it. I remind my hon. Friend, who represents the area covering Longbridge, that only last week we were being criticised for being too ready to put Government money into the car industry. It is absolutely right that we ensure that in doing this we get appropriate value for money and do it for long-term reinvestment projects that can help to secure the long-term health of the UK automotive industry.

I fully endorse the concerns expressed about the urgency of dealing with Jaguar Land Rover, but the supply chain in the automotive sector is also in crisis. Is the Minister able to clarify his position on closing the gap in eligibility under the enterprise finance guarantee scheme and the automotive assistance programme to help the supply chain?

The hon. Gentleman echoes a point that has been raised by several potential applicants under the scheme about the £5 million threshold. My officials have worked with companies in that position to help them to brigade potential projects. We want to take a flexible and helpful attitude to this; we are not in the business of turning away companies for no good reason.

I have listened carefully to what the Minister is saying about long-term investment, but that does not mean long-term lead-in. If we look across the channel to France and Germany, and then further afield to the US and Japan, we can see that they have already delivered substantial amounts of assistance, so I do not understand why it is taking so long in the United Kingdom. For the past six months, while Parliament has been sitting, nothing has happened—not a single penny has been given to any automotive company. Now that we are going into recess, perhaps the Minister could give a guarantee about at least some funding coming through to the automotive sector—and during his holidays, perhaps he would like to pop over to France and Germany to see how they have managed to do it there when we cannot seem to do it here.

I have to disagree with the hon. Lady when she says that no help has been given to the automotive industry. She ignores the car scrappage scheme, which has been in place for some months and has helped to boost a significant number of sales in the UK automotive industry. That is giving real help in the short term to automotive companies. I think that it is widely recognised as being a success. This scheme is different in that it is geared towards long-term reinvestment, not only towards the short-term issues facing the car industry. We are working diligently, carefully and productively with the companies that are making applications under the scheme.

Learndirect Programme

2. What recent representations he has received on the future of the Learndirect programme; and if he will make a statement. (287049)

There has been recent interest in Learndirect’s proposals to develop its technology and support more learners directly over the internet and telephone. We are examining the results of the trials, but for the foreseeable future we will continue to see face-to-face contact as a core aspect of delivery for many learners.

With more than one in 10 young people not in education, employment or training, it is good news that the Train to Gain programme in Learndirect centres and elsewhere has increased its uptake by 60 per cent. to 800,000. Why, then, is the Learning and Skills Council struggling with its current Train to Gain budget and the university for industry shutting down all Learndirect centres in 2010? Is there a real future for Learndirect and Train to Gain?

First, Learndirect will not be shutting down all its centres by July 2010. It has been consulting its network of providers about a possible new approach, but as I said earlier, that approach is being tested and the Government will be consulted before any final decisions are taken. On the future of Train to Gain, we will be spending £1 billion in 2011, building on the expenditure this year. Train to Gain is safe with this Government, although not with the Opposition, who would cut it.


3. What recent assessment he has made of levels of growth in the manufacturing sector in (a) Coventry and (b) the West Midlands. (287051)

The manufacturing sector remains absolutely vital to the west midlands economy. Advantage West Midlands and its partners are focusing investment on major markets in which the region has strength and which offer the best prospects for wealth creation and employment as we come out of recession. We have an industry growth programme worth £30 million in the current financial year and £25 million next year, of which 75 per cent. is focused on the manufacturing sector.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, but I recently attended a conference in Coventry organised by the Warwickshire partnerships, which are part of the sub-regional CBI. They voiced concerns about the slowness in getting help to small businesses in the west midlands, particularly in the Coventry area. How can Advantage West Midlands assist small businesses to speed that help up?

As my hon. Friend is aware, my hon. Friend the Minister for the West Midlands, through his taskforce, has looked very closely at how to help small and medium-sized enterprises. I know that the Advantage West Midlands transition bridge fund has made offers of loans totalling some £9.3 million to 55 local businesses to date, and I believe that nine of those are located in his constituency in Coventry and Warwickshire.

Yesterday, the chief executive of Jaguar Land Rover, such an important business in the west midlands, announced 300 job cuts and said that further action would depend in part on how quickly the agreed loan from the European Investment Bank was forthcoming. Given that Ministers agreed on that loan three months ago, why are the company and its workers still waiting? The French and German Governments delivered their loans from the EIB months ago. Why is it that under this Government, car firms in Britain are the last to get the help that they have been promised? Is it deliberate Government policy or just incompetence?

Yesterday’s decision was not connected with the ongoing negotiations about working with Jaguar Land Rover. It was to do with a particular type of production coming to an end. The support that the Government are giving to the west midlands, working through the regional development agency, has ensured that we have been able to safeguard jobs and help businesses. The Opposition, of course, would abolish RDAs, which would mean that the type of help that we have provided would not be available.

My right hon. Friend is quite right in her comments. The west midlands suffered two major recessions in the 1980s. Does she accept that urgent steps are now necessary to help places such as mine in the west midlands that rely heavily on the manufacturing industry? We do not want the curse of mass unemployment to come back.

My hon. Friend is right. In that context, the last thing we want is public expenditure cuts, as proposed by the Conservative party. I think that the manufacturing advisory service has been able to give some direct help. Last year, the MAS helped approximately 2,600 companies in the west midlands and increased the value of business up to £85 million. My hon. Friend is right: we need to get that direct help out there quickly.

London Metropolitan University

5. What recent discussions he has had with the Higher Education Funding Council for England on its funding for London Metropolitan university. (287053)

I have been in regular touch with HEFCE about the serious situation at London Met. I fully support HEFCE’s decision to commission an independent review of its actions, which it will publish shortly. A similar inquiry into the university’s actions is necessary. It is therefore right that the new acting vice-chancellor of the university has asked Sir David Melville to conduct such a review, which will investigate all aspects of what happened, including issues of governance.

I thank the Minister for his answer, but what happened at London Met is a national scandal. Is he aware that dozens of other higher education institutions are facing significant budget deficits next year? According to the funding council, seven higher education institutions are already described as at high risk of financial failure, including London Met and Thames Valley university in my constituency. According to sources at the funding council, that could increase to as many as 30 next year. Can the Minister confirm the scale of the financial crisis and tell the House exactly what he will do about it?

With due respect, I think that my sources at the funding council are slightly better than the hon. Gentleman’s. The situation at London Met is very serious—and extraordinary. It is not unusual for institutions to have problems during the course of a year in relation to students who drop out of courses. In that case, money has to be clawed back from the funding council. However, the scale of the problems that has been revealed at London Met is unusual. The review that is now being conducted is therefore important. The Government will look at the recommendations—

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry for taking a while to get to the Dispatch Box—there are many colleagues on the Front Bench.

London Metropolitan university offers excellent scientific research, high level science degrees and an ultra modern science centre. The Minister’s answer was not good enough because, on 20 May in a debate in Westminster Hall, following serious allegations of collusion between HEFCE and LMU over the drop-out rates, which led to the crisis, he gave a clear and unambiguous commitment to the House. He said:

“There will, of course, be an independent inquiry”.—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 20 May 2009; Vol. 492, c.457.]

When will that independent inquiry begin? The Minister has a choice: he can either confirm the inquiry or apologise for the misinformation.

The hon. Gentleman is not over the detail. There has been an independent inquiry by KPMG, commissioned by the funding council. It will report to the board of the funding council and be published in due course. Sir David Melville, the former vice-chancellor of Kent university, is undertaking another inquiry into what happened at London Met. That, too, will report in the autumn. At that point, the Government will consider the recommendations and, if there is something for us to do, we will do it.

Creative Arts (Thurrock)

6. What progress has been made in funding the proposed co-location of the National Academy for Creative and Cultural Skills and the Royal Opera House production campus in Thurrock. (287054)

I have asked the Learning and Skills Council to review all national skills academy funding proposals in the light of the funding that is available. The Learning and Skills Council expects to be able to make an announcement soon.

“Soon” is ambiguous. Does the Minister mean in the next few days? In that case, I would tick the box marked “joined-up government”. However, if he does not provide funding—approximately £650,000—immediately, this side of the recess, the project will be put in jeopardy. It is a flagship project—culturally, through its co-location with the Royal Opera House project, and in its relation to the Thames Gateway project and the projects for the Olympic games. I want to know whether we will get our money so that the design and the work can commence soon. I need to know that before we go into recess. Answer now.

My hon. Friend has made his point with his characteristic command of the colloquial and plain-speaking, so perhaps I can put it this way: I’m on it.

Perhaps the Minister’s honesty will continue in his answer to my question. He will know that creative and cultural skills are vital for our economy. The UK has the largest cultural sector in the world in terms of proportion of GDP, employing 1 million people. However, a recent report by Tom Bewick, the director general of the sector skills council, says that there are more than a

“hundred employers queuing up to take part”

in new creative and cultural apprenticeships,

“but they cannot currently do so because government is failing to actively engage”.

In revealing precisely how few businesses in the sector receive funding, will the Minister scotch the rumour that the Government intend to transfer powers from sectors to regions?

Well, yes. Obviously, the creative sector is an extremely important and growing part of the economy. We recognise its critical importance, and I recognise the importance of the capital bid that my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay) featured in his question. We are committed to the sector and to providing support to national skills academies.

Steel Industry

7. What recent discussions he has had with representatives of the steel industry on its future prospects. (287055)

We have had regular discussions with steel industry representatives in recent weeks. I have spoken on several occasions with Mr. Kirby Adams, the chief executive of Corus, and Mr. Michael Leahy of the trade union Community about the future of the industry in the UK. The Prime Minister will be meeting representatives of Corus later today.

The announcement last week of further job losses at Corus in Llanwern, coming on top of the 500-plus job losses already announced earlier this year, is more bad news for Welsh steelmakers and their families. Can the Minister reassure me and my constituents that progress is being made on the crucial issues of stimulating demand, energy prices and more money for training?

In my discussions with the company, Corus has said that demand is the critical issue. Global demand for steel has fallen sharply, and the United Kingdom is not exempt from that. At the moment, Corus has the capacity to produce around 3 tonnes of steel for every tonne that it sells in the UK market. That is why it is critical that we maintain both the capital expenditure programme, in construction for example, which uses half the steel that Corus produces, and the car scrappage scheme, which has helped to boost automotive sales, and that we resist the pressure for public expenditure cuts, as advanced by the Opposition, which would hit demand and threaten steel jobs even further.

In supporting the hon. Member for Newport, East (Jessica Morden), may I ask the Minister to go a little further? Steel is an essential part of the UK manufacturing sector. He has talked about bringing forward construction projects, but could he be more specific? Major civil engineering projects could take up quite a lot of the product of Corus, so could he give us any indication of the sort of projects that the Government are genuinely bringing forward at this time?

Just last week we announced more social housing, which will help to stimulate demand in the construction sector and increase demand for steel. My advice to the hon. Gentleman would be to speak to his Front-Bench colleagues, because I very much agree with the sentiments of Mr. David Blanchflower of the Monetary Policy Committee, who has said:

“If you want to transform a recession into a depression, go ahead and cut public spending. I would advise against it…Voters want jobs.”

I heartily agree.

In congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Jessica Morden), let me say that her campaign goes well beyond Wales, vital though that is. In my county of Lanarkshire we have men and women with the skills and potential to do still more, but we would like to know what Corus’s strategy really is.

I believe that Corus values its work force, and that it is doing its best to maintain capacity in a very difficult trading situation. As I have said, it has the capacity to produce roughly 3 tonnes of steel for every 1 tonne that it is able to sell at the moment. In those circumstances, it is also working with the Government on extra training help for the work force, and we have offered £5 million of help for that training effort in order to work with the company to help maintain its work force through this difficult period.

Graduate Job Prospects

8. What steps he is taking to assist students graduating in the summer of 2009 to find employment. (287056)

These are undoubtedly tough times for graduates, but we should not forget that a degree remains a strong investment. Businesses are continuing to recruit through the downturn, and the Government are obviously committed to helping graduates. Working with employers and universities, we are boosting the number of internships and offering more loans to support further studies, so graduates should remain positive in difficult times.

Recently, there was an announcement of 1,000 new jobs, training places and internships in the west midlands, and young people, their parents and their lecturers in my constituency and in the wider west midlands certainly welcome that. In Dudley, however, we are already suffering the effects of a botched school closure programme and a failure to take up Building Schools for the Future. What future does my hon. Friend foresee for the young people in my constituency if they are to suffer possible cuts alongside that idiosyncratic education policy?

I know that my hon. Friend is a keen advocate for the young people in her constituency, and I am very pleased that internships are coming up in the west midlands for them. It is important to get that regional spread. She will be aware of the September guarantee to ensure that young people in her constituency are offered training or guaranteed a job, should they face unemployment. The Government are doing all they can, working across the Departments, to support young people, because we do not want to see a lost generation, as we saw in previous downturns.

Graduation parties taking place around the country at the moment are not the joyful occasions that some of us might remember, as graduates discuss their miserable job prospects. Yesterday, we heard the announcement of the Government’s aspirations for green jobs and a greener economy, but we cannot meet our 2020 climate change targets without investment in skills—particularly in our engineering base—or without innovation. Would now not be a good time to ensure that all new graduates in physics and maths have a good chance of getting on to a research programme? At the moment, two thirds of such applications are turned down.

That is why we are supporting the innovation fund, which the Minister for Science and Innovation, my noble Friend Lord Drayson, brought forward. That is also why we made the announcements yesterday on low-carbon jobs. And that is why we have established knowledge transfer partnerships to support young people, particularly those doing post-doctorate studies, working with businesses, often in low-carbon areas. All of this is going on because we have balanced and managed funding for higher education, which is something that the Liberal Democrats have yet to commit to.

Many proud parents will be attending their children’s graduation ceremonies this week; indeed, I am one of them. I can report to the Minister that there is a lot of concern about the job prospects for graduates. Why does not he back the proposal that we have put forward to ensure that there are more opportunities for young graduates to go on to do taught masters courses at university? We have identified specific savings this year to make that opportunity available for 25,000 graduates. Is that not far better than his tiny internship scheme, which does nothing to match the scale of the problem, when one in five young people are now unemployed?

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman; this must be a wonderful time for his family. May I also remind him that we have seen a massive increase in masters courses and other postgraduate study over the past 13 years? The figures are up, not by 30 per cent. or 60 per cent., but by 90 per cent., and 450,000 young people are now in postgraduate study, 350,000 of whom are studying STEM—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—subjects. The Opposition’s proposal is a little bit too late.

Overseas Students

10. What his latest estimate is of the number of overseas students in universities; and if he will make a statement. (287059)

According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, in total, there were 112,150 non-UK EU students and 229,640 from elsewhere studying in UK higher education institutions in 2007-08.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Gosh, we have reached question 10 and it is only just 11 o’clock!

Given the additional administrative and legal requirements that the Government have placed on all universities for the handling of visa requirements for overseas students, does the Minister recognise that there is additional complexity and inconsistency in the way in which these applications are handled in the various home countries? There is also the length of the appeal process to consider and the fact that if a foreign student studying at a university in Britain has to apply for an extension, they now have to go via the UK Border Agency at an average individual cost of £357. Does not all that cut against the university policy encouraged by the Government to win more overseas students to the UK generally?

The hon. Gentleman is right that there has been concern in the higher education sector about the new points-based system. We have worked consistently, particularly with Universities UK, to address those concerns. I am pleased that application rates are now equivalent to last year’s levels and that the number of refusals has come down. There will be a meeting next week on 20 July between university vice-chancellors and the UK Border Agency to address any outstanding concerns, but there have been regular discussions and progress is being made as we make this transition.

Economic Downturn

12. What assessment he has made of the role of higher education in assisting individuals and businesses during the economic downturn. (287062)

Universities play an important role in helping businesses and individuals through the downturn, but also in securing our future success in a knowledge-driven economy. The Higher Education Funding Council for England has a £60 million economic challenge fund, which is expected to help 11,000 business and 50,000 individuals through a range of activities.

I am grateful for that reply and I am sure that my right hon. Friend would wish to pay tribute to the university of Derby at Buxton, which is co-ordinating work with nine major companies in the food industry to promote and co-ordinate apprenticeships and the upskilling of the work force. Will he recommend that regional Ministers throughout the country follow the example of the east midlands in taking the university sector on board as members of the regional economic cabinet?

My hon. Friend is right. I was pleased that universities acted so swiftly to ensure that they were plugged in and engaged with businesses regionally. It is right to say that the university of Derby has provided an excellent example. As well as the project to which my hon. Friend referred, there is the economic challenge fund bid, which is £2.27 million worth of support for the unemployed in the area, working with industry and business. The university of Derby’s corporate project is also about engaging with highly skilled people in the area. I congratulate the university, and I also congratulate the sector on what it is doing to support businesses in a difficult time.

Further Education Colleges

13. If he will bring forward proposals to increase capital funding for further education colleges. (287063)

The Government have already made a substantial commitment to extra funding for capital investment in further education colleges in the Budget. We will be spending over £300 million more in the next two years, taking total planned spending to £1.2 billion.

The recent announcement of funding for FE colleges did not include a single college in the south-west region. Will the Government make available the papers that show the decision-making process here, so that people can see that the entire process was transparent and that there was no political agenda behind the choice of colleges to receive funding?

A robust and thorough assessment by independent consultants took place, and the chief executive of the Learning and Skills Council has already committed to give the colleges their individual scores under the system, and to publish them in full in the near future. The process will be open and transparent, as recommended by the Foster review.

Last week, I visited the brand new York further education college once again. It draws students from my constituency and neighbouring Liberal Democrat and Tory constituencies. It was made possible by capital from the Government, and is a fantastic £60 million new college. Will the Government continue to fund the building of new colleges so that young people and adults in other towns and cities in the country get the benefits seen in York, and that building workers get jobs during the downturn?

Yes, we will continue to do that. We have a forward programme, and so far, since 2001, 700 projects have been built and nearly 330 colleges funded under the scheme. That has transformed the further education estate for learners. How do we judge a party on such an issue? We judge it on what it does and what it says it will do. The Conservative party did nothing when it was in power, spent nothing on FE capital in its last year in power, and has no plans for the future either.

Basingstoke college of technology has already spent £1 million on developing plans for future expansion. Basingstoke is, as designated by the Government, one of the most important employment areas in the country, and is part of the country’s future economic growth. Will the Minister reassure me that such important strategic investments will get the priority that they deserve, because that has not always been indicated in the past?

In the autumn, the Learning and Skills Council will consult colleges on the future capital programme, and a strategic approach will be taken based on priorities—learning priorities and so on. I assure her that the process will be fair, transparent, thorough and objective.

Vehicle Scrappage Scheme

More than 110,800 orders for new vehicles have been placed since the scrappage scheme was announced in the Budget. July vehicle registration figures are not published yet, so I cannot give an exact answer. However, industry has indicated that total sales in June were 15 per cent. higher than forecast. To date, £15,080,000 has been paid out, and a further £14.5 million-worth of claims from manufacturers are being processed for payment.

I thank the Minister for that response. May I also draw his attention to a slight discrepancy in the rules regarding cars that were first registered in Northern Ireland on or before 31 August 1999? My constituents, Andrew and Rachael Budd, found that although Ford, Renault and Citroen would gladly scrap their vehicle, Vauxhall and Peugeot said that they would not. Therefore, there are different interpretations of the rules. Will the Minister assure the House that cars first registered in Northern Ireland are covered by the scheme?

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing my attention to that individual case. I will certainly look into the matter and try to take it forward. There have been glitches in the scheme, which the Department and officials working with me have been anxious to address. I am grateful to Members of Parliament for bringing individual cases to my attention, and I urge them to do so again.

Here is another case for the Minister. One of my constituents has had a car in her family for many years, but sadly, her husband, in whose name the car was registered, died a few months ago, and it appeared that the car was now outside the rules. I e-mailed an urgent inquiry to the Minister’s Department on 5 June, and followed it up on 23 June and 2 July. It is now 16 July, and there has been no answer on a clearly sensitive issue. I would be grateful if this was one of the glitches he ironed out.

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I am surprised that he has not received an answer, because the circumstance to which he refers is one that we have worked to address, and we hope that we have found a solution to the problem. I will come back to him immediately after questions.

Automotive Assistance Programme

16. What progress has been made on the automotive assistance programme. (287067)

Well, Mr. Speaker, it certainly was well worth waiting for.

Have any specific discussions been undertaken with Nissan, and, if so, have any assurances been given about jobs located in the United Kingdom?

I regret to say that the discussions taking place with individual car companies are subject to commercial confidentiality. However, we are having active discussions with many car companies. In particular, we are investigating the development of green technologies, and discussing, in the context of the automotive assistance package, the impressive way in which car companies—including Nissan—are developing, for example, electronic vehicles. We hope that announcements can be made about the sector very shortly.

Small and Medium-sized Enterprises

20. What recent progress his Department has made in securing greater access to finance for small and medium-sized enterprises. (287071)

The Government continue to ensure that small and medium-sized businesses have access to the finance that they require. Since January we have secured lending commitment agreements with banks, introduced the enterprise finance guarantee—which to date has received over £0.5 billion of eligible applications—and, recently, launched the innovation fund as part of the Government’s strategy for ensuring the UK’s future economic success.

The small firms loan guarantee scheme and the enterprise finance guarantee scheme have produced less than half the target amount of lending. Meanwhile, firms in my constituency with good order books and good prospects are still screaming for credit. What are Ministers going to do about it?

What the Government are anxious to do is use public finance to help to guarantee the funds that are available from banks. That is a very positive and innovative approach. The hon. Gentleman must answer this question: where would the money come from under a Tory Government?

It has nothing to do with the next Tory Government, and everything to do with this Government. They have nationalised the banks—billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money have been put in—but small businesses in my constituency are going bust because the banks are not lending to them. What are the Government going to do about it?

I have described the active steps that the Government have already taken. I am a constituency Member of Parliament too, and I speak regularly to businesses in my constituency. These issues have been raised, and businesses are well aware that the Government have taken action. However, we will act when individual cases are raised. We will support industry and business, and we know that other parties would not.

I fully recognise that my hon. Friend and other Ministers are doing the best they can, but there are still significant difficulties out there with some of the main banks. Are my hon. Friend and his colleagues making it abundantly clear to Treasury Ministers and officials that small and medium-sized enterprises are, regrettably, still suffering at the hands of the major banks?

We all recognise that we are experiencing extremely difficult economic circumstances at present. We are working in the Department to assist small businesses, and of course we liaise closely with the Treasury in discussing the steps that need to be taken to enable us to improve the service that we are giving as much as we possibly can.

I suggest that the Government have not been doing all that they can. Is it not the case that the French and Germans had been facilitating credit for their companies months before we got around to it? Is this not too little, too late?

I am beguiled by the conversion of the Conservative party to adoration of what is happening across the channel. It seems that the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) is having rather more influence than I thought.

We are taking action. Great progress has been made in the way in which we are delivering support for business. We will continue to do so—and Conservative Members have still not told me where they would find the money to pay for these programmes under a programme of cuts.

Pubs are, of course, small businesses, and evidence from pubs around the country shows that they in particular are not receiving assistance and credit from banks. Will the Minister agree to look into that, and meet a delegation from the save the pub group to discuss this important issue?

Mr. Phil Liddell of the Peal O’ Bells pub in Holt in my constituency has been very active in trying to draw attention to the difficulties of pubs in the locality. Before I was a Minister, I attended the hon. Gentleman’s event on licensing so I am very well aware of the difficulties in the industry. The particular area he raises is not in my remit, but I will speak to my ministerial colleagues concerning this matter and they will get back to him.

Topical Questions

Our Department is focused on creating the conditions for business success, promoting enterprise, innovation and science and making sure people have the skills and opportunities to succeed. To that end, this week we have published the life sciences strategy and, together with our colleagues in the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the low carbon industrial strategy. That is because we take the view that the Government have an active role to play in helping Britain make the most of the changes we will need in how we transport ourselves, how we build and heat our homes, and how we produce our energy for the future.

And another thing: why is it that someone who is languishing on jobseeker’s allowance has to wait six months before they can retrain? Why can they not start retraining straight away—and perhaps be retrained in some of the skills for the wonderful strategy the Minister has just described?

The focus for those who are unemployed for a short time is to help get them back into work as soon as possible. That is why it makes sense to give the extra help for retraining for those who have been out of work for that bit longer. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that if he thinks there should be more expenditure on helping the unemployed, perhaps he should resist his own party’s plans to cut public expenditure now in the middle of a recession.

T6. The “Digital Britain” report recommends putting a levy of 50p on all copper lines. Is it fair to ask particularly the people of Glasgow and my constituency where 70 per cent. do not take up broadband to pay that 50p levy? I think the Minister will have to agree that that is totally unfair. Would it not be fairer to get broadband users to pay that extra levy? (287080)

The “Digital Britain” strategy published a few weeks ago is a very good example of the active role we take in helping to shape the economic future of the country and making sure that opportunities in it are maximised. The report said that those on low-income tariffs would not have to pay the levy mentioned, so it is not universal regardless of income; instead, it is a measure that would step in where the market would not to make sure the opportunities presented by next generation broadband are not just enjoyed by those two thirds of the population or so that the market would provide for, but are enjoyed throughout the country.

Has the Minister of State noticed that Royal Mail is losing business at a rate of about 10 per cent. annually, that it faces a pension deficit that will probably be valued at £10 billion, which it is unlikely to be able to fund, and that it now faces strike action? The Government have suspended all progress on a Bill that we were supporting, and which the Minister said was urgently necessary to secure the future of Royal Mail. Is the Government’s policy one of benign neglect, or is he simply doing nothing?

As the Secretary of State announced in the other place a couple of weeks ago, the market conditions have not been conducive to getting the best value for the taxpayer from the partial sale we have proposed. Where I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman is that that does not mean that Royal Mail does not face significant problems and challenges. It is important that the company gets on with its plans for modernisation, and that the union, which has said it is up for change, shows that that means something in practice—and I have to say that continued strikes and industrial action within Royal Mail will do nothing in the end to help it on the necessary road to modernisation, which is absolutely essential for the future of the universal service.

T8. The consumer White Paper has just been published, so will the Minister take a look at credit reference agencies, such as Equifax and Experian, to see what more can be done with this industry to make the reports that such agencies provide to consumers more accessible and easy to interpret? (287082)

Yes, and I thank my hon. Friend for her welcome for the consumer White Paper. The Government want to ensure that all consumers have access to the right tools to help them understand credit reference files better. Of course, people can request a paper copy of their credit reference—that will cost them two quid, so it is not that expensive. We will work with the industry to look at improving people’s access to and understanding of their file, including whether it can be made available online.

T2. Could the Minister explain why hard-pressed graduates in Southampton and the rest of the country have to pay 4.8 per cent. interest on their student loans, given that we now have a deflationary economy? (287075)

As I have explained before, the rate on income-contingent loans is based on the retail prices index over the year period. We examined this closely, finding that the loan rate is still one of the cheapest loan products available in the developed world.

At the close of business today, I shall present a petition on the steel industry. It has been signed by about 5,000 of my constituents and others, and was assembled in a matter of just eight or nine days. I welcome the announcement made by the Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills that the Prime Minister is meeting Corus this afternoon—Lord Mandelson is, of course, coming to the steel industry in Yorkshire tomorrow. On a very narrow point, before the Prime Minister meets Corus and before Lord Mandelson comes up north tomorrow can the Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills examine credit risk insurance? It has been put to me that that is one of the issues to address. Providing such insurance does not cost the Government a lot of money and it is something that they can do. Taking such an approach would send a powerful signal that our Front-Bench team is on the steel industry’s side.

I know that my right hon. Friend has been campaigning hard for the Corus workers in his constituency. As he said, the Secretary of State is to visit Rotherham tomorrow. We appreciate that credit insurance has been an issue, not only in the steel industry, but in other sectors of the economy. That is why we put a credit insurance scheme in place and recently announced that we would backdate the help available under it.

T3. Those businesses that survive the recession face a 0.5 per cent. increase in employers’ national insurance contributions in 2011, at an additional cost of some £2.7 billion. Given that the subscription payments we make to the EU are set to more than double to £6.5 billion by 2011, would it not make sense to save that money and offset the unnecessary rise in the tax on jobs? (287076)

I see that the Conservative party is now free from whatever influence the mainstream centre-right in the European People’s party had on it and is giving full rein to the instincts that would see us look away from the European Union. I remind the hon. Gentleman that 3 million British jobs are dependent on trade with the European Union, and I do not think that his proposal would advance the interests of those people or of the UK economy.

When we come back in October, it will be three years since the collapse of the Farepak Christmas savings scheme. The directors who ripped off tens of thousands of decent, hard-working families have never appeared in a civil court or a criminal court. Will the Minister, through his Department, organise a meeting with concerned MPs from both sides of the House and the liquidators?

Yes, I would be happy to have that meeting. The report on this was completed in May 2008. It is long and detailed, and counsel has been considering it and its supporting information. If any proceedings are initiated as a result of the report, they obviously have to remain confidential until they reach court.

T4. May I commend to Ministers and to the House two excellent reports that the Select Committee on Business and Enterprise published recently on pubs and on post offices? If Ministers were to embrace warmly the constructive proposals in both, they would do a great deal to safeguard the vital services on which many deprived, vulnerable and isolated communities depend. (287077)

I am always happy to pay warm tribute to the work of the Business and Enterprise Committee, chaired so ably by the hon. Gentleman. The report on post offices was something that the Government and the Committee worked on together. It is a good and constructive report, and I assure him that it will be considered positively.

I feel especially well disposed to the Department today. Tomorrow I will open a new packing plant at the Nestlé factory in York that will provide an additional 100 jobs initially and 200 in the longer term. It received support from the Government’s enterprise finance guarantee scheme for a smaller company, IPS First, which is the co-packer. The new plant will reduce carbon emissions, because the Nestlé factory will no longer have to truck its Kit-Kats, Aeros and Polos to west Yorkshire for packing. I went to see—

In a sentence, the Secretary of State—I went to see him about this—moved like lightning to get the money through and I would like my thanks to be passed to him.

The Secretary of State is always a speedy mover, and I will pass my hon. Friend’s thanks to him. The story shows the advantages that this Labour Government are clearly having for the people of York.

T5. May I encourage the Minister to respond to the Business and Enterprise Committee report not just positively, but swiftly? Having recently worked with the local community in Hillswick in the north of Shetland to obtain an outreach post office in the local shop, I can confirm that the suggestions in the report would make an enormous difference not just to the profitability of the post office, but to the shop as well. (287078)

Outreach post offices can be very successful, especially for small rural communities, such as the many in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. In some ways, we have already responded to the need: for example, my colleagues at the Department for Transport were able to announce a new contract with post offices for the renewal of driving licences. That comes on top of the decision taken some months ago to renew the Post Office card account. So already the Government are putting more work the way of post offices.

The Opposition parties fought tooth and nail in overnight sittings to prevent one of our finest achievements—the national minimum wage. However, far too many of the recipients of that national minimum wage rely on gratuities to top their incomes up to that level. Will my right hon. Friend consider tabling appropriate amendments to the legislation at some stage, and can he publish some research on the numbers of people in that category?

We have already published a consultation on the number of people in that category, and I am pleased to inform my hon. Friend and the House that regulations to prohibit the use of tips, gratuities and service charges to make up the minimum wage were passed some weeks ago. That change was overdue, and I have been committed to it since I came into this job. It is good news for service workers throughout the country.

My heart was warmed by the glowing account by the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) of the building of colleges in his constituency. May I ask a simple question about the college in my constituency? Frome community college is waiting for a response from the Learning and Skills Council about the building project to replace its tertiary blocks that it plans in conjunction with the LSC, which is already more than matched by local authority funding. That project will fail unless the LSC answers by 28 August. Is it asking too much for a positive response from the LSC for that modest building programme?

I will certainly look into the individual case of Frome community college, but an announcement was made on 26 June about the future of the further education capital scheme, which set out, thoroughly and rigorously, the projects that would be going forward in the next spending round. I undertake to look into the hon. Gentleman’s case, but we need investment to proceed with these college building projects—I hope Opposition parties will commit to that investment.

T7. My question follows the excellent one from my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone), which the Minister totally failed to answer. In Wellingborough today there are 3,276 people unemployed, compared with 1,712 in 1997. That is an increase of 91 per cent. I do not want that figure to go any higher, so will the Minister answer my hon. Friend’s question? Will he freeze our contributions to the EU, and scrap the increase in the job tax? (287081)

The Government have every sympathy for people who have lost their jobs as a result of the recession, and we are trying to do everything that we can for them. We know that there are many such people, in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency and around the country. Yes, unemployment has gone up, but I remind him that when the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) was Chancellor unemployment was running at 10 per cent., with 3 million people out of work. The position was a great deal more difficult than the one that we face today.

Business of the House

The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 20 July—Second Reading of the Child Poverty Bill, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.

Tuesday 21 July—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by motion on the summer recess Adjournment, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.

The House will not adjourn until the Speaker has signified Royal Assent.

The business for the week commencing 12 October will include:

Monday 12 October—Remaining stages of the Health Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 13 October—Remaining stages of the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill [Lords].

Wednesday 14 October—Opposition day [17th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced.

Thursday 15 October—General debate on defence policy.

Friday 16 October—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 19 October will include:

Monday 19 October—Opposition day [18th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced.

Tuesday 20 October—Second Reading of a Bill.

Wednesday 21 October—Opposition day [19th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on a Liberal Democrat motion, subject to be announced.

Thursday 22 October—Topical debate, subject to be announced, followed by motion to take note of the outstanding reports of the Public Accounts Committee to which the Government have replied. Details will be given in the Official Report.

[The details are as follows: The 1st to the 6th, the 8th to the 11th, the 13th to the 23rd and the 31st Reports of the Public Accounts Committee of Session 2008-09, and the Treasury Minutes on these reports (Cm 7568, 7622 and 7636)]

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 15 October will be:

Thursday 15 October—A debate on Sure Start progression.

It will also assist the House to confirm that the state opening of Parliament will be on Wednesday 18 November.

Finally, I should like to thank all of the staff of the House for their hard work and commitment since the start of this Session last December.

I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for giving us the business of the House. Perhaps she can tell us at what time the House will meet on Tuesday, as it often meets earlier than normal on the last day.

First, will the Leader of the House explain why such an absurd number of written ministerial statements have been published today? There are no fewer than 53 on today’s Order Paper, which means that we have had 90 published this week. Does she agree that we have the right to accuse her of rather taking the mickey? We know full well that the whole process is designed to dump everything on us at the last minute before the recess and so forestall Members’ ability to hold the Government to account.

One of today’s statements is from the Communities Secretary outlining the Government’s flawed and highly unpopular plans on eco-towns. Will the Leader of the House make time available for a full debate on the proposals as soon as the House returns? I can tell her and the House that a delegation from Leicestershire is even now delivering a petition to Downing street with the signatures of 15,000 local people who have registered their implacable opposition to the development of Pennbury eco-town. We are relieved that the Co-op scheme to desecrate green fields will not be on the shortlist, but does she appreciate the depth of anger about the proposals over the past few months?

I note that amidst all these written statements, there is not one on Equitable Life. Last week, the right hon. and learned Lady once again ducked my question about whether we will have a full oral statement, before we rise, on how the Government intend to compensate policyholders. Given that the policyholders have been waiting nine long years for the Government to act on their plight, does she accept that it would be a total insult to them if there were not a full, oral update in this Chamber? Will she confirm that that will definitely happen?

Does the right hon. and learned Lady intend to abide by the spirit of Mr. Speaker’s statement on 2 July that Ministers should

“ensure that the backlog of written questions that remain unanswered is cleared before the recess”?—[Official Report, 2 July 2009; Vol. 495, c. 496.]

Does she not agree that it would be completely unacceptable for the Government to pump out a whole raft of new announcements before the recess without properly responding to the scrutiny by Members of previous announcements? Will she guarantee that those questions will be answered?

The right hon. and learned Lady will know that I wrote to her, and all members of the House of Commons Commission, to ask whether we might introduce a new system during the recess of having what has been described as a “virtual statement” from a Minister. The swine flu outbreak is bound to require further comment over the summer. Might we allow the Secretary of State to make a formal statement online and then allow the Opposition to ask questions that are then given a formal response? That could be a very simple and sensible innovation that allows formal scrutiny without the excessive mechanism of recalling Parliament.

May we also have a debate on how the Government intend to pay for their scheme to “build Britain’s future”, as they call it? Last month, the Prime Minister published his grand national plan, but unlike any other major announcement on Government policy, there has been no parallel publication of an impact assessment. Will the right hon. and learned Lady confirm when it will be published, or is it simply that the whole of the Prime Minister’s so-called future plan is completely uncosted?

The Leader of the House has always been a champion of greater equality, so may I take this opportunity to welcome her reappointment of Sir Treasure—I mean, Sir Trevor Phillips, although “treasure” is perhaps a better description—in his post for a second term as chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission? However, this week it was briefed from her office that she wants to bring more northerners on to the boards of Government quangos and to break the monopoly of southern, white men. Given her wish to be an equalities role model, that puts her in a slightly difficult situation: she benefited from a private education, she hails from the aristocracy and she is a product of the south. It is a great relief, however, that at least she is a woman—and a champion one at that.

Mr. Speaker, I wish you, the right hon. and learned Lady, all hon. Members and the staff who serve us a restful and revitalising summer break.

I can tell the House that on Tuesday we will commence our business at the normal time [Hon. Members: “When?”] We will not sit earlier than normal, because one item of business is the consideration of Lords amendments, and we have to give time for their lordships to have their deliberations before the legislation, as amended by them, comes back to this House. That is why, unlike what usually happens on the last day before the House rises, we will sit at the normal time.

In relation to written ministerial statements, obviously it would be better if they could be spread more evenly, but there is something about the summer recess that concentrates Departments’ minds to ensure that, if they have material that they have to make accountable to the House, they do it before the House rises. If they have put out some ministerial statements today—rather than doing it on the last day—that is some time before the House rises, which is important.

The hon. Gentleman asked about eco-towns. We remain strongly committed to the fact that we need more housing for people in this country and high ecological standards for those new homes. We have had many debates in the House about eco-towns. Ministers have remained fully accountable to the House for the policy, and for the individual announcements made. I am disappointed that the Opposition do not welcome the extra eco-homes that will be in those eco-towns.

The hon. Gentleman asked about Equitable Life; he will know that at Treasury questions earlier this week, there was extensive discussion about it. I would like to emphasise that the ombudsperson, in her report, looked at the generality of the situation, and drew conclusions about the principles of the approach. Sir John Chadwick is taking the matter forward, looking at which individuals have suffered from action for which there is culpability, and which have suffered an injustice. He will have to set up a system of paying money to individuals.

There are nearly a million policyholders, many of whom have lost out, and given that public money is about to be expended, it is important to look at setting up a framework for doing so. Information on who the policyholders are, what their policies were, when they took them out, and whether individuals made any changes to their policies has been forwarded to Sir John Chadwick’s actuarial advisers, Towers Perrin, which is going through that information. Hon. Members, as well as everybody else, have been asked to make their views known to Sir John by this Friday, and he will produce an interim report in August. If we were tipping money out without a proper framework, the Opposition would rightly object and ask us what we were doing. There will be a statement, and there have already been oral questions on the subject.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the backlog of written answers. I look at the issue regularly, but I did so particularly in response to the points raised on the subject by hon. Members at the last business questions. I looked particularly at the Treasury backlog of questions and letters. There is an 80 per cent. standard for responding to correspondence within 15 days, and in the last 12-month period that was reported on, that standard was adhered to. Since then, because of the economic crisis, there has been a doubling of the number of questions and letters, and there needs to be a commensurate response. It has taken a while for that response to be forthcoming. In defence of the Treasury, there has been a doubling of questions and letters, but in defence of the right of the House to hold the Treasury to account, we want to make sure that standards of timeliness do not slip, precisely because the issues are so important at this time.

The hon. Gentleman asked about accountability during the recess, and that, too, is a very important point. He identified the question of swine flu; hon. Members will want to be able to hold the Department of Health to account on how it is dealing with the issue. I also suggest that the issue of Afghanistan will remain of concern to hon. Members throughout the recess. On swine flu, Cobra will meet fortnightly throughout the recess. The Secretary of State for Health hopes to update the House before it rises for the recess, by way of an oral statement. He is considering how he will keep hon. Members informed during the recess. That will include all hon. Members getting a weekly update on figures in their constituency from the strategic health authority and/or primary care trust, so hon. Members will be given the figures as a matter of routine, without their needing to ask for them.

As I say, Cobra will meet every two weeks. If there are issues that need to be communicated to Members in particular areas, those concerned will make sure that they find additional ways of ensuring accountability, while, of course, recognising the particular interest of members of the Health Committee. The Secretary of State is considering how he can ensure that accountability does not suffer during the recess, and any new technology, such as telephone conferencing or the online activity that the shadow Leader of the House suggested, will be used. In fact, last summer, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs did exactly that and communicated with those hon. Members who represent areas that were flooded.

There will be a debate on Afghanistan and defence this afternoon, there was a statement this week, the Prime Minister answered oral questions yesterday, the Secretary of State for Defence answered oral questions on Monday, and there will be a debate during the week that we return from the recess. That leaves the question about the period over the summer, and, like the Secretary of State for Health, the Secretary of State for Defence is concerned that there should be specific arrangements, which he will communicate to the House, about how we will ensure that accountability does not slacken when the House rises.

I thank the shadow Leader of the House for welcoming the reappointment of Trevor Phillips as chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission. I was slightly baffled by the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that I had said that there should be more northerners on quangos, not because it is not a good idea, but because I cannot remember ever having said it. However, I am sure that if he says that I said it, I must have done. I remember that there was lots of shouting about northerners during Prime Minister’s questions yesterday. I wondered what it meant, and I think that I have worked it out: the problem is that there are not enough northerners on the Conservative Benches—and long may that remain.

The Leader of the House gave a commitment that there would be a statement on Equitable Life before the summer recess. Can she confirm that that will take place? Yes or no?

What should we make of the Government’s commitment to cleaning up and reforming Parliament and our democratic system when it appears that the right hon. and learned Lady cannot provide one and a half hours to debate the setting up of the Select Committee on the reform of the House of Commons? The Political Parties and Elections Bill deals with essential matters concerning the conduct of elections and the funding of political parties, but there is no timetable for its return from the House of Lords, and if it does not receive Royal Assent, it will not be operable by the next general election. Mr. Speaker, you said earlier in the week that you did not do irony; I think that there is something deeply ironic about the fact that we cannot set up a Committee to organise the time of this House because the Government will not let us.

I have the honour of representing Royal Naval air station Yeovilton, where the Royal Naval helicopter squadrons and the commando helicopter force are based. There has been a great deal of concern from all parts of the House about the provision of helicopters for our armed forces. The report by the Select Committee on Defence is being published today, and the indications are that, in some respects, it will be extremely critical of helicopter provision. I note that we have a debate about defence on 15 October, but can we be absolutely sure that the Government will provide a full and comprehensive response to the Defence Committee’s report, answering its points in detail and acting on its recommendations during the summer, so that we can be sure in turn that we are not putting our young men and women in the armed forces at risk?

Can we avoid my having to ask, when we return from the recess, for debates about either the so-called rain tax or the levy that was implicit in yesterday’s Green Paper? On the rain tax, we have a holy alliance of bishops, scouts, test match cricketers and international rugby players, all saying that it is quite wrong to impose a levy on charities, community groups and sports clubs for surface water drainage. That issue needs to be sorted out this summer, and the Government must commit to doing so.

The Green Paper’s implicit levy may impose up to £200 a year on people in rural areas who depend on domestic heating oil or liquid petroleum gas for their heating. Those people are most likely to pay the most to heat their houses and least likely to be able to afford it, and it cannot be right that the proposed social tariff includes no provision for them.

Finally, many Members, Officers of the House and those who work in the parliamentary estate will be going on their holidays shortly. Some will no doubt go abroad, and it will be recommended that they take up the European health insurance card, which provides for health service treatment in the rest of Europe. Mr. Speaker, if you apply for that online, the search engine will direct you to two sites:, which sounds very official, and One is organised by a company called Portcreek in Gosport and the other by Imap (UK) Ltd in Bolton. Each charges £9.95 for the European health insurance card application. However, if you go on the NHS or Department of Health site, the service is free.

To apply for the card, people will, in ignorance, go through the companies that come up first on the search engine, but those companies are charging nearly £10 for a public document that is free. May we have a written statement—I do not expect an oral one—from the Secretary of State for Health about the practice, giving clear guidance? I want everyone to have an enjoyable holiday, and I do not want them to be ripped off before they go.

The hon. Gentleman asked about Equitable Life. I shall not repeat what I said in response to the shadow Leader of the House, except to say that there will be a written ministerial statement about Equitable Life before the House rises. Treasury Ministers answered questions from hon. Members about the issue at some length during Treasury questions only this week.

The hon. Gentleman took rather a gloomy view about the prospects of the Committee whose establishment we want the House to support and which will operate under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright). It will consider opportunities for members of the public to place matters on the agenda of the House and bring them forward for debate. It will also consider whether we can make progress on how we appoint the Chairs and members of Select Committees and look at the important question of the allocation of both Government and non-Government business.

I urge the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) to have faith and confidence that we are determined that the matter should be put before the House before it rises. We will seek an opportunity for such a debate; having made the proposal, we would like the House to have an opportunity to put it through. We have put the matter before the House on a number of occasions. There was all-party agreement and we sought to address the issues put forward in amendments when we first tabled the motion. We accepted all amendments, but that is still not good enough for some Members, who want a debate. Even when their amendments are accepted, that is up to Members: they are perfectly entitled to insist on a debate, however annoying everybody else might find it.

We will therefore find time for that debate to take place before the House rises, because the Committee will have work to do during the summer. I detected a note of scepticism in the voice of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome; I do not know whether it is just that he needs a holiday, but he sounded a bit irascible and unlike his normal, avuncular self. I reassure him that we intend to get there on this issue, and we will.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the Defence Committee’s report. There will be a general debate this afternoon. As he will know, we originally scheduled the topic of climate change in advance of the Copenhagen conference for the general debate and had planned a shorter, topical debate on defence. However, because of the importance of that issue, particularly given our troops in Afghanistan, we have made defence the topic of the full, general debate this afternoon. Obviously, there can be an initial response to the Select Committee’s report then, and there will be a further opportunity to respond to the Committee’s report not only by action during the summer recess, but in the debate when we get back to the House in October.

The hon. Gentleman talked about water charges. The Deputy Leader of the House has reminded me that there was an all-party group meeting, which many hon. Members attended, including her.

The hon. Gentleman did too. They will know that Ministers are working on the issue and that Ofwat guidance is coming next week.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about unfair charging for information that should be made freely and publicly available. I shall ask the Secretary of State for Health to write to him about that.

Order. Twenty-seven Members are seeking to catch my eye; as ever, I want to include as many as possible. Members will be conscious that there is very important business to follow. I therefore look to each right hon. or hon. Member to ask one brief supplementary question. I look to the Leader of the House for characteristically succinct replies.

The Leader of the House has asked us to have confidence that she will schedule the debate, which so many Members on both sides of the House want, on the Committee to be chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright). We do have confidence in her, of course, but it is extraordinary that she should announce the business for next week without having announced when that debate is to be scheduled. Does that not emphasise the need for a business committee that can organise these things?

Even a business committee would have to deal with the eventuality that I have faced: finding that there is an objection even when something appeared to have consensus, and needing to find time for a debate in the short period before the House rises. Whatever arrangements result from the Committee’s proposals, such a problem could happen. I certainly hope to deal with the issue before the House rises.

I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for assuring us that the Committee on the reform of the House will be debated before the summer recess and will be established. That is important. May I draw her attention to one point that she made? There is a tendency for her and her counterparts on the Front Benches of the other two parties to feel that if something has been agreed between them, there is no need for it to be debated. There are far more Back Benchers than Front Benchers in the House, and that tendency underlines the need for a business committee to look into such issues and make sure that Back Benchers get our fair share of input. I disagree with the continued intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope), blocking the motion, but it is his right to make it. I hope that we will debate the motion before the House rises.

I have acknowledged that it is the right of the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) to make his intervention. We did not consult only Front Benchers; indeed, we had extensive consultation with Back Benchers who showed an interest in the topic by tabling amendments. We have accommodated all the amendments, including those from the hon. Member for Christchurch, but there is still a desire for a debate—so we will have it. I am glad that there is so much support for it, and I hope that all hon. Members will show up and vote for the motion when it comes before the House.

This year, we celebrate the 10th anniversary of Labour’s minimum wage, but non-UK seafarers sailing on British ships and going to British ports are still exempt from the Act. Now that the new Shipping Minister is considering that loophole, and others, what can the Leader of the House do to help amend the Act and bring some fairness into the system?

My hon. Friend makes a good point about when what is sometimes called “red tape” is actually protection for people who could otherwise be vulnerable to exploitation. I shall bring his comments to the attention of the relevant Minister.

(Christchurch): A journalist told me this morning that on Monday the Government were going to give time for a debate of one and a half hours on the setting up of the new Select Committee. Will the Leader of the House confirm that it will indeed be of one and a half hours’ duration and on Monday? Why did she not say that in her initial statement today, and why was the motion taken off the Order Paper last Thursday, when there would have been time for such a debate if the Government had wanted it?

The motion was taken off the Order Paper because we wanted to table it again, having accepted the hon. Gentleman’s amendment. We were trying to be helpful. Whoever gave a briefing to the media about the business of the House has not done so with my authority or that of anybody from my office. I take a very dim view of such briefing. I shall have a discussion with the hon. Gentleman after these questions so that he can grass up the journalist and I can get the journalist to grass up whoever it was who gave out that information. Until information is announced by me at the Dispatch Box, it is not confirmed and is not to be relied on by hon. Members. The hon. Gentleman has brought to my attention something that is extremely annoying, and I shall get on to it.

As Members of Parliament, we probably all regularly visit schools in our constituencies, but is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that we will now personally need Criminal Records Bureau checks and certificates to do so? I have been informed that we cannot apply individually—our place of work needs to sponsor and reference us. I know that locally elected councillors, for example, are automatically put through and get certificates. Will she and the House authorities sort this matter out for us, preferably before September?

This is something about which my officials and I need to have discussions with officials from the Department for Children, Schools and Families. We should all agree that if people are going to be on their own with very young children, whether they are councillors or Members of Parliament, we need to ensure that that does not put at risk the safety of those children. I am afraid that in the past there have been cases where people have been elected as local authority councillors and then child protection issues have been raised. I do not think that we should turn away from the idea that we want to ensure that children are protected. This must obviously apply only where there is unsupervised access: somebody who speaks to an assembly of 600 sixth-formers will not need to go through a vetting process. It will have to proceed on the basis of common sense. If people are to be left alone with children at a sports event, the parents need to have the reassurance of knowing that those who are in a responsible position with vulnerable children are properly vetted. I will ensure that my officials liaise with the appropriate DCSF Minister and we get a common-sense, workable solution.

The House will know about the capital funding crisis in further education colleges, with 150 colleges being encouraged by the Learning and Skills Council to devise expensive schemes. The House may not know, however, that tomorrow a Select Committee report on that subject is to be published. Will the Leader of the House make time for an urgent statement or debate on that report? Members will want to know where the buck stops. Was there insufficient scrutiny, oversight and risk management by those on the Treasury Bench as well as at the LSC?

The buck stopped at 11.30 am when Ministers from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills had answered questions specifically on that point.

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 1886, which stands in my name?

[That this House considers that the Donaghy report on the construction industry, entitled One Death is Too Many, sets out in its 28 recommendations the necessary structure required to improve health and safety; and calls on the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions to accept and implement the report's recommendations as the basis for putting in place a durable health and safety architecture for the industry to drive down numbers of fatal accidents and serious injuries.]

The motion draws attention to the Donaghy report that was produced for the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. The report is about the construction industry and contains 28 recommendations that would put in place a health and safety architecture to help to end the increasing fatalities and serious injuries in that industry. Will the Leader of the House consider making that report an item for a topical debate when we come back after the recess?

It would be good to find time to debate the Donaghy report. I should like to place on record my thanks to Rita Donaghy for the good work that she has done. This is another example of where Government action is not red tape but provides protection to people who might otherwise be exploited or find that their safety, or indeed their life, is at risk. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority has helped to protect vulnerable migrant workers and others in spheres such as agriculture. Donaghy’s suggestion that it should be extended to the construction industry would ensure not only that taxpayers do not lose out through tax avoidance in that industry but that, importantly, the safety of workers can be protected. It would be a good subject for a debate in the autumn.

Much has been said about the importance of the recent allegations about the tapping of answerphone messages. I note that it is not just celebrities with huge amounts of money or politicians like yours truly who are the victims, but our constituents who are much less able to defend themselves in public or likely to have the resources to challenge journalists who break the law. Could the Leader of the House ensure that in the first week after the recess a Home Office Minister comes to the House to report on the three inquiries that have now started—by Committees of this House, by the Director of Public Prosecutions and by the Information Commissioner—so that if the law is not tight enough, it is tightened, and if people ought to be prosecuted, they are prosecuted?

I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. We should not just wring our hands and say, “It’s just one of those things. We expect powerful newspapers to be able to evade the law, and we’ll just put up with it.” People should not think that they cannot challenge the newspapers because they are so powerful. The work being done by the Information Commissioner, the DPP and the Select Committees is very important, and the House will want to see the results when we return in the autumn.

Does the Leader of the House welcome, as I do, the news that Nissan of Sunderland is to move into the mass production of electric vehicles? Is she aware of the wider involvement in this field of north-east companies, not least Sevcon in my constituency, which produces the control systems that make electric vehicles an attractive and practical proposition? May we have an early debate on how these developments might contribute to Building Britain’s Future and the fight against climate change?

This is a very important part of our manufacturing agenda. More jobs are going to be green jobs. The automotive industry has a strong future, especially with environmentally friendly cars. I strongly endorse the points that my hon. Friend has made and will look for an opportunity for us to consider the matter in the autumn.

May we have a debate on the BBC as we try to drag it kicking and screaming into the 21st century, and on public sector pay? We are now told that its viewers are going to be consulted on whether its so-called top talent are worth the money they get. The only way that viewers can really come to a judgment on that is if they are told exactly how much those people are earning, but the BBC refuses to tell us. We are told that transparency may now lead to a 40 per cent. cut in Jonathan Ross’s £6 million-a-year pay; how he can possibly survive on £3.5 million we will never know. Surely we need transparency on top talent pay at the BBC.

I share the concern that there should not be lavish spending at the top of the BBC, whether it is on managers, governors or celebrities. However, I am slightly concerned that while we hold the BBC to account for licence payers’ money, we should not tip over into BBC bashing, which has started to colour some of the Opposition’s comments.

I would also like to place it on record that I think it absolutely shocking that Arlene Phillips is no longer going to be a judge on “Strictly Come Dancing”. As the Minister for Women and Equality, I am suspicious that there is age discrimination there, so I should like to take this opportunity to say to the BBC that it is not too late—we want to see Arlene Phillips in the next edition of “Strictly Come Dancing”.

My right hon. and learned Friend may be aware that the Stockline inquiry report is due to be published today. May we therefore have a debate as soon as possible on this terrible disaster, as the families of the victims who lost their lives or were seriously injured are extremely anxious to find out what lessons, if any, have been learned from it?

The bereaved families do of course have our sincerest sympathy, as do the injured survivors. The Government hope that that report will provide some comfort to the families seeking answers to questions about this terrible accident. We thank Lord Gill for the recommendations in his report and for the very thorough inquiry that he has undertaken. We have taken his recommendations very seriously; my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions recently met him to discuss them. In particular, we support the recommendation to develop a sharper, clearer safety regime. We will now fully assess the implications of the recommendations and how we can take them forward. We intend both Houses to have an update in October, with a full response to the report in January next year.

The Leader of the House knows that I strongly support her Equality Bill, but I support even more the need of Members to scrutinise it—those who support it and those who have concerns about it. Given the widespread concern about the treatment of Report stages, including the lack of time and the number of groups of amendments not reached, and given that she said three weeks ago that she recognised that the Equality Bill needed full scrutiny, will she explain to the House how she proposes to take forward the discussions that she promised with Front Benchers and beyond on how we will deal with that Bill so that it is not added to the list of Bills not properly scrutinised on Report?

My hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General, who has taken the Bill through Committee, will discuss with Members such as the hon. Gentleman who were on the Committee how we should handle it on Report. She will discuss that with me, as Leader of the House, and we will want to ensure that we make the Bill an exemplar of how the House should scrutinise Bills on Report, especially as the hon. Gentleman is so assiduous on that point as well as being supportive of the Bill.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend provide time for a debate on Lord Archer’s report on the contaminated blood and blood products disaster, as a result of which 2,000 people died and thousands more were infected with hepatitis C and HIV? There is huge concern about that in my constituency, and we would like a debate on it.

This has been discussed on a number of occasions, including in a statement to the House about the increased compensation levels available and the wider remit for people to get compensation on the basis of having suffered from contaminated blood. This is one of those awful situations in which we need to do as much as we possibly can for people whose lives have been blighted and who need to be helped to get on with their lives, having suffered through no fault of their own. I will raise my right hon. Friend’s points with the relevant Minister.

Will the Leader of the House give me and the House an assurance today that the motion on the reform of the House of Commons, which is to be debated on Monday or Tuesday—we do not know which—would give the House and the new Committee an opportunity to ensure that responsibility for Standing Orders was handed over from the Executive to a Committee of this House?

Responsibility for Standing Orders is for the House. The Executive do not lay down what the Standing Orders of the House are. That is a matter for the House to decide.

Order. May I make the point, I think for the fourth time this week—I expect it to be heeded by all Members—that I do not want loud, sedentary heckling from hon. or right hon. Members? That is not a request, that is a ruling, and I say to the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) that that is the end of the matter.

As the hon. Gentleman will have seen from the resolution that defines the new Committee’s remit, it will have quite wide powers to examine whatever it feels is necessary in the interests of the House. I hope that he will be among the Members who vote in support of setting up that Committee, so that it can get its work under way in the summer and throughout September.

Did the Leader of the House notice that many of our Scottish colleagues, in solidarity for which I am very grateful, voted so that I could attend the East of England Grand Committee in Bedford? When will I be able to reciprocate and vote for the Scottish Grand Committee to meet—maybe in West Lothian—bearing in mind that it has not met since 13 November 2003? Why has it not met? Are things so wonderful in the kingdom of Scotland, like the Garden of Eden, that it does not need to meet?

There are different governance arrangements in Scotland following devolution, but there have been representations made to me by Members representing Scottish constituencies that there needs to be an opportunity for the Scottish Grand Committee to meet, and I will look for an opportunity.

May I urge the Leader of the House to ensure that we have a statement on the vetting and barring scheme, including on why prominent authors are not looking to visit schools even though they would be accompanied the whole time they were there? If the scheme is to apply, can we be sure that it will apply to all hon. Members, whether they are Back Benchers, Cabinet Ministers or the Prime Minister, and that Members will not be able to claim the £64 fee on their expenses?

I think hon. Members have raised a number of points today that will be important and worth while for those who are drawing up the final recommendations to consider. Those recommendations need to be practical and sensible.

The Leader of the House was extremely helpful earlier in the year in facilitating a number of debates on the conflict in Sri Lanka. I know that she will share the concern of many hon. Members that the Sri Lankan Government have recently asked the International Committee of the Red Cross to scale back its operations in the detention camps. Will she arrange for an early debate after the recess, so that the House can examine the transparency of those camps and the facilities being made available to those detained there?

My hon. Friend has been an assiduous supporter of the Tamil community in his constituency and in this country more generally, and he has been consistently concerned about what is happening to the Tamil community in Sri Lanka. I will bring his comments to the attention of my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Development.

The debate on the Select Committee on Reform of the House of Commons has to be on either Monday or Tuesday. The Leader of the House has declined to confirm that it will be on Monday, but she has also announced that the House will meet at 2.30 pm on Tuesday. If the motion were to be debated on Tuesday, it would make far more sense for it to be the first business, with the House meeting at 11.30 am or 10.30 am. Why does she not just get it over with and announce that the debate will be on Monday, to give us all proper notice of it?

Without having confirmed it 100 per cent., I do not want to keep hon. Members guessing. As there are only two days left and one is Monday and the other Tuesday, there is a 50 per cent. chance of its being on either. However, I think I can encourage Members that if they want to be around to either support or vote against the motion, Monday is probably the better day for them to be here.

May I put to my right hon. and learned Friend what is the biggest issue at my constituency surgeries, and which was the subject of my Adjournment debate a couple of weeks ago and was raised by Members on both sides of the Chamber earlier today? It is the banks and their lending policies. Can we make it clear to them before the recess that much as we supported the Government’s attitude to them and the extra resources that were provided, we do not expect small businesses and young people looking for mortgages to come to tell us that the banks are completely inflexible and irresponsible?

This has been of great concern to small businesses. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and no doubt he is listening carefully to businesses in his constituency. It was obviously right to recapitalise the banks and insist on lending agreements, and it is therefore exasperating that the lending agreements do not yet appear to be being fully honoured. We have tried to help businesses with cash-flow problems by allowing them to defer their tax payments, but it is nevertheless important that banks do not drag their feet but get lending again.

Given that this has been the most dreadful year yet for this Government, the Prime Minister clearly needs a holiday, and most of the country needs a holiday from him. May we therefore have a Government statement next week about which Minister will take over his responsibilities when he does go on holiday or if he is unfortunately laid low by swine flu? Will it be her good self, the First Secretary of State or the Lord High Chancellor?

It has been a most difficult year because of the economic circumstances that have faced this country, which have caused apprehension and concern among people who have built up their businesses over many years, those who are coming into the world of work as they leave education, and those who are worried that if they lose their job they will lose their home. That is why it has been a difficult year. That has been a major challenge, which the Government have faced. We have been determined to take action to support people as they face that challenge.

The arrangements for this summer will be the same as they were for last summer. The Prime Minister of course remains in charge, but he will be ably supported by a team of Ministers, including my good self.

Comrade Leader of the House, will the defence debate be sufficiently wide to allow those parties that have not already committed themselves to supporting the two aircraft carriers to do so?

It certainly will. Everybody in constituencies that depend on the work that will come from those contracts will be looking to hear the answer.

The Leader of the House has already mentioned ways in which Government accountability to the House and hon. Members will be maintained over the recess. Will she consider the question of Sri Lanka and refer it to Foreign Office Ministers? More than 300,000 men, women and children are crammed into camps, where they do not have freedom of movement, there are inadequate water and other supplies and they live in fear of what will happen to them. It is important that Members who have taken an interest in those issues are kept informed of the initiatives that the Government are taking to ensure that the end of the war becomes real peace.

Following my discussions with the Secretary of State for Health and the Secretary of State for Defence, I think I will have a further discussion with the Secretary of State for International Development so that Members who, throughout the year, have raised concerns about various humanitarian problems can be kept informed during the summer, and so that, if new issues arise, those who are likely to be most concerned are contacted and the Government make themselves accountable.

The motion on the Select Committee on Reform of the House of Commons, which is in the name of my right hon. and learned Friend, says that the Committee should report to this House in November. That would be impossible if the Committee were not established before the recess. I hear clearly from my right hon. and learned Friend that she and the Government are committed to the House’s having sufficient time to make the decision before we go into recess. There is extremely strong feeling among all parties, and I urge her as strongly as I can to make the time available on Monday so that we do not have scrappy exchanges in the last couple of days.

This morning has been an opportunity for the House to make its views clear and I welcome that. I am sure that we can reach a successful conclusion.

I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her help throughout the year and praise her for the occasions she has stepped in as acting Prime Minister. I woke up in a terrible sweat after having a nightmare last night—I dreamed that Lord Mandelson had been running the country. Can we get it quite clear that when the Prime Minister packs his Speedos, picks up his bucket and spade and goes on holiday, we will know who is running the country? The public have the right to know: is it Harriet or Mandy?

On Tuesday this week, a baby died in my constituency in transit to hospital. The ambulance drove past the local district hospital because there was no A and E department for children in Southport. Following the resignation this week of Lord Darzi, the leading advocate of gutting district general hospitals, can the Leader of the House be encouraged to ask the Secretary of State for Health to make a statement on the future of district general hospitals and the implications for patient safety?

We want to ensure ever improving patient safety. Obviously, we convey our sympathies to the family in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency who have suffered a bereavement.

I say to the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members that if they look at the figures, they will see that the specialisation and bringing together of services have meant that many lives that would have been lost have been saved. Patient safety has been at the forefront of those changes at a time of massive investment—so it is not a question of cutting back resources; far from it. There has been massive investment year after year, continuing last year and this year. Specialisation of services, where it has happened, has also contributed to saving lives.

I rebut the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion that Lord Darzi gutted services. I thank Lord Darzi for the great part that he has played in the improvements in the national health service. We all owe him a great tribute.

There is real concern about the “No Secrets” guidance on safeguarding vulnerable adults. The process seems to be neither transparent nor acceptable and is actually damaging the project’s credibility. Department of Health officials have said that they will publish responses tomorrow or early next week, yet the programme board has not sat for nine months or had the chance to review them. Will the Leader of the House ensure that a Health Minister makes an oral statement in the House before publication? May we have a debate in Government time on that important initiative, which appears to be stalling?

I am sure that the initiative is not stalling. I will ask whether it is appropriate for the House to be updated in some way before it rises. If not, a letter will no doubt be sent to the hon. Gentleman.

Bills presented

Parliament (Disclosure of Information)

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr. David Drew presented a Bill to require members of both Houses of Parliament and candidates for election to the House of Commons to publish financial and other information; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 October, and to be printed (Bill 139).

Media Owners (Residency Requirement)

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Mr. David Drew presented a Bill to prohibit from national media ownership persons not resident in the United Kingdom for tax purposes; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 October, and to be printed (Bill 140).

Common Land and Repeal of Inclosure Acts

Mr. Barry Sheerman, supported by David Taylor, Hugh Bayley, Joan Walley, Derek Twigg, Kali Mountford, Stephen Pound, Meg Munn, Mr. Gordon Marsden and Mr. Terry Rooney, presented a Bill to reinstate rights of common and to reopen common land; to repeal the Inclosure Acts; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 October, and to be printed (Bill 138).

Copenhagen Climate Change Conference

Topical debate

[Relevant documents: The Road to Copenhagen: The UK Government’s case for an ambitious international agreement on climate change (Cm 7659) and The UK Low Carbon Transition Plan.

Sixth Report from the Environmental Audit Committee, Session 2007-08, on Reaching an international agreement on climate change, HC 355, and the Government response, HC 1055, the Fourth Report from the Committee, Session 2008-09, on Reducing CO2 and other emissions from shipping, HC 528, and the Fifth Report from the Committee, Session 2008-09, on Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation, HC 30.

Fifth Report from the International Development Committee, Session 2008-09, on Sustainable development in a changing climate, HC 177-I and -II.]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of preparation for the Copenhagen climate change conference.

Today’s debate is held at an appropriate time—a week after the 17 countries of the Major Economies Forum met in L’Aquila in Italy and accepted the long-held scientific consensus that we should seek to prevent dangerous climate change above 2° C, and the day after we in Britain published our road map to 2020, the low carbon transition plan, which sets out our plans for a 34 per cent. reduction in emissions in the UK by 2020 compared with 1990.

We have set some ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions—I think it is 80 per cent.—by 2050. How is that compatible with increasing the population in the same period by more than 10 million? The Home Secretary said that he was relaxed about this country’s population increasing by 10 million, but that will increase the size of our carbon footprint.

It all depends on the actions that we take. Globally, there will be a significant increase in the population in the next decades. That argues for a transition to the low-carbon path and away from the high-carbon path. We must do that, whatever the size of the population, but obviously increasing population means increasing carbon emissions and we need to take action. I am confident that we can; that is within our projections.

I was saying that it was an appropriate time to hold a debate on the preparations for Copenhagen. I believe that it is a make-or-break year: President Obama in the United States is showing new leadership; China wants a deal, and the acceptance of 2° C as the yardstick by which we should judge success or failure at Copenhagen is important. However, there is a long and hard road ahead. I want to highlight in my brief remarks the five big challenges that we face between now and December.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that we need real leadership at local authority level? As much as Government may exhort and have the right policy framework, we need leadership in and from local authorities. We have some excellent ones—we all know about the Kirklees model—but we also have local authorities that lag behind, so we need a bit of a push to get them moving in the right direction.

I agree. The new carbon budgets regime that we set out yesterday could, in time, be extended to local authorities, which could take on their own carbon budgets. We will drive the system through in that way.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the key indicators is the extent to which capital funding from the Learning and Skills Council can ensure that we move towards green training and skills and the skill sets that will be needed throughout the economy? Will he ensure that those considerations are taken on board and that colleges like mine in Stoke-on-Trent benefit from that?

My hon. Friend makes an important point about skills in the UK and elsewhere in the run-up to Copenhagen. She is certainly right that learning and skills councils have an important role to play, and I know that she campaigns hard on those issues.

My right hon. Friend and I have been involved in environmental issues and campaigns against climate change for a long time, but time and again our efforts have been dogged by the lack of planning permission for ambitious and innovative schemes. Are we going to crack planning permission and are we going to do it fast?

Yes, and it is important that we are reforming the Infrastructure Planning Commission, which not only is important domestically, but will be seen as important by our international allies in the run-up to Copenhagen. I regret that the Opposition want to abolish the Infrastructure Planning Commission, but I hope that the good offices of the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) will persuade his colleagues in charge of local government issues to think again.

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, but then I want to make some progress—I feel like I am at the starting line of my speech.

I know that the Secretary of State wishes to promote renewables and as for wind-powered energy, I have no problems whatever with developments out at sea. However, I was concerned to read that the only major manufacturer of wind turbines in the Isle of Wight has closed. As for renewables, could he give a commitment to ensure that we will support research and development and the manufacturing of solar panels, batteries and wind turbines in the United Kingdom?

Absolutely. That is why we made available £120 million yesterday to support, for example, the offshore wind manufacturing industry.

Let me come to the five challenges that we will face between now and Copenhagen. The more consensus that we can achieve in the House on these questions, and particularly on the international side, the better, so I look forward to hearing other hon. Members’ speeches in this debate. First, we need to show that the mitigation actions by developed and developing countries are consistent with the 2° benchmark. When it comes to the targets and the commitments made by developed and developing countries, the question is: are they consistent with the actions that the scientists tell us are necessary to meet the 2° target and to contain temperature rises on the planet to below 2°? In Britain we have set an emissions target for 2020 of 34 per cent. below 1990 levels. However, we stand ready to tighten and improve that target as part of a global deal at Copenhagen.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—the scientific body in charge of those issues—said in its 2007 report that, for developed countries as a whole, we needed to aim for 25 to 40 per cent. reductions on 1990 levels by 2020. There is no doubt that that is a challenging objective, given the situation in America and elsewhere, but the 25 to 40 per cent. target is still an important benchmark. There may be other scientific pathways to get to the 2° target, but that benchmark is—at the moment, anyway—the dominant way in which we are thinking about such issues, and it indicates that all countries, but particularly developed countries, need to show maximum ambition.

Because the Secretary of State hopes for a more ambitious outcome in Copenhagen, and because the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has suggested that the target that we need to meet may be even bigger, can he assure us that he and his colleagues have done the necessary contingency planning for the further reductions that we will need to make, sector by sector, so that, without internal barriers, we can go for, say, a 42 per cent. UK reduction at Copenhagen in December?

Yes, we think that getting to that higher number is feasible. Because of the plans that we announced yesterday and the fact that we are overachieving on the 34 per cent. target by a couple of percentage points, to 36 per cent., we are in line to be able to move to a tightened target.

Developing countries also have to play a role in reducing emissions and meeting our long-term targets. About 75 per cent. of the increases in emissions over the next 20 years or so will come in developing countries, so even if richer countries cleaned up their act straight away, we would still need the involvement of developing countries if we are to meet our objectives.

My right hon. Friend will know of the concern in developing countries that the resources required to meet those mitigation targets should not come from official development assistance or Department for International Development budgets. I am pleased that the Government have given a commitment that we would do only 10 per cent. of double counting, as it were, where there are actions that can both reduce poverty and mitigate climate change, but is he confident that the Opposition share that view?

Obviously it is for the Opposition to speak for themselves, but my hon. Friend makes an important point, which I will come to in a moment. We need to ensure that the resources that we put into climate change finance are not simply taken from existing finance for poverty reduction, although I will come to that in a moment.

Developing countries have an important role to play. Studies have suggested that by 2020 they need to show a deviation from what we would otherwise expect them to do—that is, from what one might call “business as usual” and continuing to emit at current rates—of 15 to 30 per cent. That is an important part of the challenge that we face between now and Copenhagen.

The second challenge—this touches on the point that my hon. Friend made—is on the finance and the financial architecture of a global deal. There is no question but that that is one of the most difficult issues that we face in Copenhagen. Developed countries are hard pressed financially and resources will obviously be hard to come by. At the same time, however, on the basis of historical responsibility for emissions, there is no question but that developed countries bear responsibility for the emissions in the atmosphere—cumulatively, between 1850 and 2000, about 30 per cent. of global emissions came from the United States, about 30 per cent. came from the EU and 6 per cent. came from China. Per capita emissions in developed countries are still significantly higher than in developing countries, and obviously the development needs of developing countries are significantly higher as well.

That is why the Prime Minister made the speech that he did a couple of weeks ago, when he suggested—he was the first world leader to suggest this—that we should have a working figure for how much money we are seeking to raise, namely $100 billion by 2020. He also said that it should come from private and public financial sources—from the global carbon market and public sources—and that we needed new sources of finance, in addition to official development assistance. We are attracted by various proposals, including from Norway and Mexico, and importantly—this comes back to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Barry Gardiner) made—we should limit the ODA used to 10 per cent., so that we do not simply divert it away from poverty relief.

That is a very important point in commanding the confidence of developing countries in the negotiations. I urge those in all parts of the House, including the official Opposition, to think hard about that. They published a document earlier this week looking at overseas development, but it was not explicit on that point, so I hope that when the hon. Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark) responds he can say something about their attitude, because it would send a bad signal if it looked like we were simply going to transfer money wholesale from ODA to climate finance.

Would the Secretary of State accept that patents are also part of the equation? If we could transfer new technology fairly cheaply, as well as transferring money, that would also help developing countries.

The hon. Gentleman helps me to segue into my third point, which is about technology. For countries such as China, the key in the negotiations is not finance, but the big technological questions. From my experience of the discussions on this issue, it may not be the most difficult one that we face in the negotiations, but it is the most complex. We need to respect intellectual property rights, because they are an important part of the technology being developed, but, having been in China, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that it is sometimes hard to pin down exactly what is required.

To take carbon capture and storage as an example, the way I look at it is like this. Rich countries have a responsibility to demonstrate new technologies such as carbon capture and storage, which is crucial to the problem of coal production. People understandably campaign about new power stations in the UK, but in one part of China that I visited—Guangdong province—the plan over the next 10 years is to build 40 GW of coal power, or approximately 25 new power stations. The good news is that China is interested in carbon capture and storage and in the role that it can play in that country. Our responsibility is to help to demonstrate the new CCS technology and share our know-how on it as best we can. In the coming months, as part of the Major Economies Forum, we will be working out how best we can drive that new technology through, as well as transferring established technology.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that Copenhagen will provide an opportunity for us to jettison business as usual, and that what we need is a new environmentalism, not only in the run-up to Copenhagen but at Copenhagen, in which non-governmental organisations, businesses and Governments are all on the same page and pursuing the same aims?

My hon. Friend has made a crucial point. I have been very conscious of this in the discussions that I have had about Copenhagen. We need the broadest possible coalition in every country of the world on these issues, involving not only civil society and Governments but businesses, faith groups and the whole broad spectrum of people. Copenhagen will be hard enough, but the big challenge will be to sustain consensus on these issues across time, across developed and developing countries, across different Administrations in those countries and across different political systems. That is the scale of the challenge that we face in relation to climate change.

The fourth area that I want briefly to touch on is the need for a comprehensive agreement on forestry. Deforestation is responsible for 18 per cent. of global emissions, or about one fifth of the overall problem that we face. I think I am right in saying that, in Peru, an area of forest the size of 64 football fields is being cut down every 90 minutes as part of the process of deforestation. Any global agreement must therefore include forestry, and the UK has put forward some concrete ideas to make that happen. A key part of this is to find a way of incentivising people who live in the forests to manage them sustainably; that has to be the answer. There are good examples of sustainable forest management, but there are also difficult questions around the governance of these issues.

In the light of what my right hon. Friend has just said, it is possible that a forest the size of 64 football fields could disappear in the time it takes us to have this debate. Will he therefore look again at Government policy on biomass, and, in particular, on how we can control imports?

My hon. Friend is right to suggest that we need to be cautious on biomass—and, indeed, on biofuels generally. We need to ensure that they do not contribute to some of the problems that have been identified.

I have a problem on the question of biofuels. I thought that I was saving the planet by buying a biofuel car—Wellingborough has one of the few biofuel pumps in the country. Are we saving the planet by buying such cars, or are we destroying it?

To give a rather unsatisfactory answer, it depends on the type of biofuels that are being used. I understand that first-generation biofuels are more damaging that second-generation biofuels.

I am conscious of that fact that I am no longer getting any extra time when I take interventions. In the light of that, I must plough on and come to a conclusion, in order to allow more of my colleagues on both sides of the House to speak.

The fifth area that I want to mention is the system of governance that we will need in relation to Copenhagen. It is important that that system of governance commands respect from developing and developed countries. That means developing countries having a fair voice in the system of financial decision making, and we have put forward an idea for a compact involving a system in which developing countries wishing to have finance will submit low-carbon development plans to a body that gives an equal voice to developed and developing countries. In that way, we will give a fair voice to the developing countries in the discussions.

One important point for our public, and for the public around the world, is that we must have a robust system of monitoring, reporting and verification of all countries’ actions and commitments.

I will not give way, because I must wind up. I apologise to my hon. Friend.

We need a robust system of MRV—monitoring, reporting and verification—and good ideas have been put forward on how we can manage that process and ensure that developing and developed countries are clear about the actions that they are going to take.

Let me summarise the challenge that we face and end on a note of optimism. We want an ambitious agreement, with clear mid-term and long-term targets to keep us on—at the very worst—a 2° pathway. We want the agreement to be fair, because the poorest countries need to move from high-carbon to low-carbon growth, and we need to accept our responsibilities as developed countries. The agreement also needs to be comprehensive, covering not only the actions that each country needs to take but the actions required by international sectors such as aviation and shipping.

I want to end on this note of optimism. When I came into this job, many people talked to me about the chances of success at Copenhagen, and said that President Obama would not be interested in dealing with these issues because he would have too many other things on his plate. They said that he would get to them in his second year. What has actually happened is that, with new US leadership, with Chinese engagement and with wider developing country engagement on the issues, the chances of success at Copenhagen have significantly increased. We face a long, hard road ahead in the next few months, and the UK Government stand committed to straining every sinew to get the kind of ambitious agreement that we need to protect the planet for future generations.