House of Commons
Thursday 5 November 2009
The House met at half-past Ten o’clock
[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]
Business before questions
Canterbury City Council Bill (By Order)
Third Reading opposed and deferred until Thursday 12 November (Standing Order. No. 20).
Nottingham City Council Bill (By Order)
Third Reading opposed and deferred until Thursday 12 November (Standing Order. No. 20).
Bournemouth Borough Council Bill [Lords] (By Order)
Consideration of Bill, as amended, opposed and deferred until Thursday 12 November (Standing Order No. 20).
Manchester City Council Bill [Lords] (By Order)
Consideration of Bill, as amended, opposed and deferred until Thursday 12 November (Standing Order No. 20).
Leeds City Council Bill (By Order)
Consideration of Bill, as amended, opposed and deferred until Thursday 12 November (Standing Order No. 20).
Reading Borough Council Bill (By Order)
City of Westminster Bill [Lords] (By Order)
That so much of the Lords message [12 October] as relates to the City of Westminster Bill [Lords] be now considered.— (The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.)
To be considered on Thursday 12 November.
Bournemouth Borough Council Bill [Lords] (By Order)
That the promoters of the Bournemouth Borough Council Bill, which was originally introduced in the House of Lords in the Session 2006-07 on 22 January 2007, should have leave to suspend any further proceedings on the Bill in order to proceed with it, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament according to the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 188A (Suspension of bills).—(The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.)
To be considered on Thursday 12 November
Manchester City Council Bill [Lords] (By Order)
That the promoters of the Manchester City Council Bill, which was originally introduced in the House of Lords in the Session 2006-07 on 22 January 2007, should have leave to suspend any further proceedings on the Bill in order to proceed with it, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament according to the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 188A (Suspension of bills).—(The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.)
To be considered on Thursday 12 November
Canterbury City Council Bill (By Order)
That the promoters of the Canterbury City Council Bill, which was originally introduced in this House in the previous Session on 22 January 2008, should have leave to suspend any further proceedings on the Bill in order to proceed with it, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament according to the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 188A (Suspension of bills).—(The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.)
To be considered on Thursday 12 November.
Leeds City Council Bill (By Order)
That the promoters of the Leeds City Council Bill, which was originally introduced in this House in the previous Session on 22 January 2008, should have leave to suspend any further proceedings on the Bill in order to proceed with it, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament according to the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 188A (Suspension of bills).—(The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.)
To be considered on Thursday 12 November.
Nottingham City Council Bill (By Order)
That the promoters of the Nottingham City Council Bill which was originally introduced in this House in the previous Session on 22 January 2008, should have leave to suspend any further proceedings on the Bill in order to proceed with it, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament according to the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 188A (Suspension of bills).—(The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.)
To be considered on Thursday 12 November.
Reading Borough Council Bill (By Order)
That the promoters of the Reading Borough Council Bill, which was originally introduced in this House in the previous Session on 22 January 2008, should have leave to suspend any further proceedings on the Bill in order to proceed with it, if they think fit, in the next Session of Parliament according to the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 188A (Suspension of bills).—(The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.)
To be considered on Thursday 12 November.
Oral Answers to Questions
Energy and Climate Change
The Secretary of State was asked—
Carbon Mitigation (Developing Countries)
The Government are working to ensure an ambitious, fair and effective international agreement at Copenhagen. The recent European Union decision to support €100 billion a year of public and private finance by 2020 is designed to help developing countries both to adapt to climate change and to pursue low-carbon growth. We now want other developed countries to join us in supporting this financial commitment.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Front-Bench team on the lead they are taking on Copenhagen, which is very pleasing to see. Does he accept, however, that there is an awful lot to do, particularly with reference to the developing world? From trips to Africa, for example, it is quite clear how far it has to come. Will my right hon. Friend make sure that he talks to the Department for International Development about the way in which it can provide real resources to ensure that we get mitigation in those countries?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In a sense, one of the cruellest things about climate change is that the people who have done least to cause the problem, including in Africa and elsewhere, face the worst consequences, while at the same time we have to persuade developing countries to do not as we did, which is to grow in a high-carbon way, but to do as we say, which is to grow in a low-carbon way. That is why it is right that we make a financial contribution to make that possible.
While the EU offer of €100 billion is welcome, it is clearly not yet persuading the developing nations that it is sufficient for mitigation and adaptation. Will the Secretary of State tell us whether our Government are willing to take a lead in suggesting an international levy on airline and maritime fuel as a way of adding to the international fund to deal with the needs of the developing world?
We are looking at the way in which aviation and maritime can, through a trading regime—as a number of airlines have suggested—play a role in providing the necessary finance for a Copenhagen agreement. I think the most important thing—we will be debating the issues again later today—is that countries make clear commitments on finance. Sources of finance are important, but the real prize at Copenhagen is a clear sense that countries are going to put their money where their mouths are. That is what we are striving to achieve.
Given the difficulties in the Barcelona talks this week, particularly in getting the annexe 1 countries to agree to more ambitious targets, does my right hon. Friend sympathise with the Africa group for walking out of those talks?
I am not sure that walking out is a great way of achieving progress, but that shows that the United Nations framework convention on climate change talks have a history, I am afraid, of mistrust, so progress has been too slow. That is why we have to find other forums, such as the Major Economies Forum that we hosted in London, to pursue success. The truth is that the way to overcome that history of mistrust is to do what the EU and, indeed, Britain has done, which is to start to break the deadlock in the negotiations—for example, by saying to developing countries that we are willing to make a financial contribution so that they can make the necessary changes in their economies.
For more than 20 years Britain has had a record of leadership on climate change, and that leadership will be vital at Copenhagen. Everyone at Copenhagen should know that there is complete unity of purpose between us on this issue, and that we need to achieve a deal that proves equal to the challenge of climate change. Does the Secretary of State agree that the principles of such a deal are that it must be fair, that it must be ambitious and that it must be binding on all countries?
I do agree. We set out exactly those principles in our “Road to Copenhagen” document, which was published in June, and I entirely endorse them.
I think that ambition is very important. We know that temperature rises of more than 2° will have devastating effects on many parts of our world, including the United Kingdom, and I believe that we need an agreement at Copenhagen that can put us on a path towards preventing them.
I am grateful for the Secretary of State’s answer, but we all know that international summits have their final photo calls and their leaders’ handshakes booked well in advance. We all want success at Copenhagen, but the worst kind of failure would be an inadequate deal dressed up as success. Does the Secretary of State agree that one of the most important roles that Britain can play at Copenhagen is to cut through the diplomatic language and tell the truth about whether the deal is rigorous enough?
I do, but on this occasion, although the photo calls may have been booked, I have not heard about them.
This is an issue that will go all the way to the wire. The hon. Gentleman is right: the choice at Copenhagen should not simply be between no deal and a deal. We must choose the kind of deal that we want, and we shall be striving for the most ambitious deal that we can get. It will have to involve finance, and I urge the hon. Gentleman to look again at the important question of official development assistance in the form of financial additionality. As I have said, however, we need the most ambitious deal that we can get, and that is what we shall be striving for.
I am glad to say that there seems to be a strong degree of consensus between us. I agree with the Secretary of State that for a deal to be worth having, it must be consistent with what science demands, namely a global warming limit of 2°. I also believe that the deal must help the world’s poorest people to cope with the effects of climate change, that it must be in addition to, not instead of, fighting their current poverty, and that it must involve immediate action to halt the destruction of the rain forest. Does the Secretary of State agree that those are the tests of a rigorous deal?
I do, and I am pleased if the hon. Gentleman is giving a commitment—as he has not done on previous occasions—that climate finance will be additional to official development assistance. That is an important assurance that we need to give to developing countries. If we transfer money out of ODA and into climate finance, the effects will be negative.
I also agree about the rain forests. Rain forest deforestation represents about 20 per cent. of carbon emissions—more than the percentage of emissions from the world’s transport sector—and we need to make progress on that as well as part of a Copenhagen agreement.
What assessment has my right hon. Friend been able to make of this morning’s reports that, according to influential voices in the United States, an agreement may not be reached until after Copenhagen?
I do not think that we should be in plan B territory. I think that we need to be in plan A territory, and plan A territory is about striving for an ambitious deal in December.
The truth is that this is not going to get any easier. We face very difficult issues. Why is it so difficult? It is difficult because the world is trying to do what it has never done before, and cut global emissions. Kyoto and previous agreements never achieved that. It is tough, but I think that we must strive all out for December. In a sense, the deadline is concentrating minds. We have to raise the stakes and make sure that we get an agreement in December.
With 10 GW of new generation under construction and another 10 GW with planning consent, we are on track to replace more than the 18 GW of stations scheduled to close by 2018. We are therefore confident that the risks to security of supply are low. To accelerate the pace of building new generation, we are reforming the planning system to ensure faster and better decision making. We still hope to receive all-party support for those measures.
No; the chief executive has not said that. If the hon. Gentleman is concerned about low-carbon generation, he should tell his Front Benchers to support our planning reforms. What has been holding up low-carbon generation such as renewables, in this country, is precisely the planning system. That is why we are reforming the planning system, why we will publish national policy statements, and why we have the Infrastructure Planning Commission. Unfortunately, the Conservative party wants to abolish that commission, and that will do nothing to obtain the low-carbon generation that the hon. Gentleman says he wants.
The Secretary of State has said that the Government need to take more of a role in delivering security of supply. Given that he acknowledges that we must replace one third of our generating capacity in the next 10 years, why have the Government left things so late?
I do not agree that we have left things late. Indeed, it was this Government, in the teeth of opposition from the Conservative party, who said that we would end the nuclear moratorium and start building nuclear power stations.
I know that the Conservatives oppose onshore wind, but I was interested to see what the hon. Gentleman says about offshore wind, which is important, on his website:
“It is also a classic Labour state-focused centralised project.”
In other words, he seems to be against it, and that will not achieve the low-carbon generation that we need in this country, will it?
Will my right hon. Friend say how much gas there is in 10 GW? I understand that demand is for something like 22 GW of gas-fired electricity. If that is correct, in the next 20 years we could be over-dependent on gas, so does he intend to take measures to cap gas in the energy mix?
My hon. Friend has asked exactly the right question. The majority is gas, and to obtain the low-carbon revolution that we need, we must press ahead with renewables, for example. The low-carbon transition plan that we published in the summer shows that we can stabilise levels of gas imports, but only if we move ahead with renewables and nuclear. Part of that involves standing up and saying, including to local councils throughout the country, that it is right to go ahead with renewables. Again, the Conservative party singularly fails to do that. Sixty per cent. of wind turbine applications to Conservative councils are turned down. That will not achieve the low-carbon revolution that we need, will it?
Does the Secretary of State agree that the negligence suffered by Britain’s energy supplies was during the ’80s and ’90s, when the Tories blasted a hole and closed 150 pits? We are now importing 54 million tonnes of coal a year from countries that we do not even trust because of that action. May we have a guarantee that now that the world price of coal is going up, we will use coal technology to ensure that those pits that are reopening and the miners who work in them are given a chance?
My hon. Friend is right in his historical analysis and his analysis of the future. The truth is that we know that carbon capture and storage can make coal a fuel of the future and not of the past. That is why we propose a levy to fund carbon capture and storage in this country. Again, I hope that we can have all-party support, because that is what will make coal a fuel of the future and create thousands of jobs in this country.
It is good to know that dinosaurs are still with us.
If the Secretary of State does not want to listen to us, he should at least listen to his own advisers. In the past few weeks, Ofgem’s excellent Project Discovery has said that the Government’s estimates of energy supply are optimistic. Their own energy adviser, the excellent Professor MacKay, has said that power cuts are likely by 2016. Even the Government’s low-carbon transition plan refers to power cuts in 2017, but in Government-speak it calls that energy demand unserved.
It is on the Government’s watch that the mistakes have happened—
No, I do not accept that. The hon. Gentleman is normally a sensible fellow, but on this occasion he does not seem to be. On the crucial issues that will guarantee security of supply and make the low-carbon transition happen, the Conservative party is on the wrong side of the argument. It is on the wrong side of the planning argument, and it is on the wrong side of the carbon capture and storage levy argument. Also, the shadow Business Secretary has said that we should have “no onshore wind” in this country. That will do nothing for security of supply or low carbon. Therefore, the truth is that the Conservative party would be a risk to the low-carbon transition and to security of supply.
The latest analysis indicates a short-term fall in global emissions as a result of the global economic downturn, but long-term projections show a rising trend. Securing a global agreement at Copenhagen is essential to making the transition to a low-carbon economy.
I thank the Minister for that answer. Does she agree that the Government should use tackling climate change as an opportunity to develop green manufacturing jobs in the UK, which would be good for the economy, good for climate change and good for working people—our people?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, and that is exactly what the Government are doing. In this year’s Budget, we added an extra £1.4 billion of targeted support to help the transition to the low-carbon economy; that was building on previous commitments, so that £10.4 billion is now being enabled. The low-carbon economy currently supports about 880,000 people in work, and it is a fast-growing sector. This Government will continue to invest. We think that the 15 per cent. renewables target could create as many as 500,000 new jobs. Therefore, this Government will continue to make the investment that is necessary to create jobs, which is more than we can say of the Opposition.
Is the Minister aware that the Committee on Climate Change reported that the reductions in carbon emissions in the United Kingdom over the last four years amounted to a very modest 0.5 per cent. per annum? Does she agree that if she is to have credibility at any international summit on this issue, she will need a better track record than that?
No, I do not agree at all. The fact is that we have more than doubled our Kyoto commitment in respect of the basket of greenhouse gases, which has already been reduced by 21 per cent. on 1990 levels. Therefore, we have got a track record that is recognised in the international forum. Yes, we have had small reductions, but that was during a period of 34 per cent. growth in the economy, so that is still an achievement, and a step change is under way: levels are going down faster, and we have a transition plan that will make them go down faster still.
My hon. Friend knows that there is a double whammy for developing countries in the current economic crisis: not only are the poorest being hit by the state of the economy, but climate change affects them first. We hear that €100 billion is being made available for mitigation and working with developing countries, but can the Minister give an assurance that that sum will actually be achieved? Those of us who have worked on international debt relief for many years know that promises at conferences very rarely turn into cash on the ground, so can she give an assurance that that will happen?
What I can tell my hon. Friend is that we have learned the lessons from the donor conferences of the past where many countries made promises but did not deliver. We believe there needs to be a new architecture and a new framework, within which the money will be collected according to a formula possibly based, we think, on greenhouse gases and emissions combined, and with every country except the least developed of them having to contribute to the pot. That is the way in which we can make a difference, and that is what we are hoping to achieve in the Copenhagen agreement.
Vestas and Siemens, which manufacture wind turbines, calculate that for every gigawatt installed, 3,000 new jobs are created. Given the amount of offshore wind that is planned around our shores—and, indeed, off the coast of my constituency—what can we do to ensure that these jobs are created in this country, rather than exported?
We are incentivising the generation of offshore wind. We have already made a commitment of £120 million, and we have seen that by increasing the renewables obligation certificates and agreeing to review them, we are encouraging that industry to come to Britain. I recently visited Aberdeen. The industry there, which has so much expertise in oil and gas, is standing ready to make that transfer into renewables, for which it is very well suited.
I am in intensive dialogue with my international counterparts, as I was last weekend in Barcelona at the United Nations talks and last month at the Major Economies Forum in London. Along with the Prime Minister and others, I expect to engage in further discussions in the run-up to Copenhagen. We are determined to do all that we can to secure the best possible outcome in December.
In recognising the excellent lobbying of this Government by environmental campaigners in this country, will he use his offices to urge those campaigners to contact their sister groups around Europe and the rest of the world in order to put pressure on their leaders, so that they take climate change seriously at the Copenhagen summit and, like our Prime Minister, promise to step up to the mark, if needed?
My hon. Friend is right. The role of campaigners, not only in Britain, but around the world, in securing the agreement we need is very important. There is still a long way to go to get the kind of agreement that we need, despite the summit being only a month away. The ambition has to come not only from Governments and from leadership, but from popular pressure, so I completely agree with him.
Can the Secretary of State tell us what talks he has had about including forestry in the discussions at Copenhagen to try to prevent the indiscriminate destruction of forests by fuel-hungry nations looking for biomass fuel, which is obviously causing global warming and often rides roughshod over indigenous peoples and their needs?
My hon. Friend is right to say that deforestation is a very big part of the climate change problem. The issue also involves how we help people in forest nations to carry out the environmental service that we want them to provide to the world, which is not cutting down the forests. Any agreement at Copenhagen needs to include a way to provide the necessary finance for those countries, so that they are incentivised to do the right thing—to manage forests sustainably, rather than cutting them down, as often happens at the moment.
Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating Copenhagen on securing this conference, which is a measure of Denmark’s record on this issue? Why should any other country take any lectures from his Government on climate change policy, given that they have failed, on adaptation policy, to implement the Pitt recommendations following the floods two years ago?
We do not tend to lecture other countries, and if the Conservative party were ever in government, it would find that that is not necessarily the strategy that works. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is implementing the recommendations of the Pitt report. I must say to the hon. Lady that when one talks to people around the world, one finds, as my ministerial colleague has said, that people see that Britain has achieved a huge amount on tackling climate change—it is one of the few countries to exceed its Kyoto targets. Of course there is more to do, but the question is: who is going to make that low-carbon transition happen? As I have tried to explain, it is this Government, not the Conservative party.
Following up the excellent question put by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), may I ask how much discussion there is in these international forums about the use and development of clean-coal technology in ensuring future energy supplies to this country, which are so crucial?
There is discussion about this matter, and the hon. Gentleman has asked a pertinent question. The International Energy Agency has estimated that without finding a carbon capture and storage solution, the cost of the world’s tackling climate change will be 70 per cent. higher. In my view, there is no solution to the problem of climate change without a solution to the problem of coal. It is part of the discussions that we are having, and I very much hope that the finance that might be made available will ensure that we have demonstrations in not only developed countries, but developing countries. The good news is that a country such as China, which was more sceptical about CCS a couple of years ago, is now enthusiastic about taking it forward. That is a sign of the way the mood is changing on these issues.
I wish to remind my right hon. Friend of his very good visit to Ensus on Teesside, which related to some very complex scientific analysis. During that visit, he stated that his chief scientist would visit Ensus. When will that visit take place, because we seriously look forward to it?
I unfortunately did not bring with me the diary of the chief scientist, but on returning to my Department I will make sure that he is reminded of my suggestion that he visits my hon. Friend. It was a good visit, and it related to one particular point about the biofuels debate in this country. We all know the dangers of biofuels in relation to issues of food security and other things, but we also know that we have to have a nuanced debate about these questions. Biofuels can play a role—and a very important one—if they are managed in the right way and if we ensure that they have the right land use effects. I think that that example was demonstrated in my hon. Friend’s constituency.
We attach great importance to ensuring vulnerable countries are engaged in discussions on climate change. At the London-hosted Major Economies Forum on 18 and 19 October, participation was widened for the first time to bring vulnerable countries to the table. The Maldives was among those in attendance and Minister Aslam participated in the finance session. Last week, I also met Vice-President Waheed at climate change negotiations in Barcelona.
I think we were all moved by, and not a little admiring of, the recent cabinet meeting held by His Excellency President Mohamed Nasheed underwater to highlight the plight of his country and show what climate change will mean to them. Following an initiative this year, when he said that his country would go carbon neutral by 2019, the President said that that in itself would not decarbonise the world and save them from annihilation but
“at least we could die knowing we’ve done the right thing.”
Does the Minister believe that following Copenhagen every world leader will be able to say exactly the same, no matter how dramatic it was?
I hope very much that that will be the case. We are working tirelessly to that end. Of course, our Prime Minister has said that he will be there, if necessary, to get a deal. There is no question about the Government’s commitment. We support the Maldives and encourage it to keep its voice very strong in these negotiations to make the facts available to the world. Its argument is, of course, the most powerful one. If a whole country is to be lost, there can be no more powerful argument than that. We need to keep hearing those messages.
We announced in the low-carbon transition plan last July our proposals to strengthen the enforcement powers of the regulator Ofgem in order to improve consumer protection. Ofgem itself has also made major changes to industry rules to prevent unfair pricing as a result of its retail markets probe.
Reports show that last year npower changed its tariff year for gas customers three times in 12 months, ensuring that customers were kept on the higher rate for charging longer than advertised and overcharging customers by £100 million. What steps can the Minister take to ensure that a tariff year is a firm 12-month commitment and cannot be changed at the whim of energy companies?
I fear that the hon. Gentleman prepared that question before he listened. The Government intend to strengthen the powers of Ofgem in order to ensure that the consumer’s interest comes first and that Ofgem has the powers to act immediately when abuse is affecting consumers.
Does the Minister agree that one of the best things for consumers in the business sector and the domestic sector is to have the best knowledge of what they are using and the prices that they are paying? In that respect, can he give some indication of the progress in the roll-out of smart meters, which contribute towards that? I have heard that there is some delay and wonder whether he can comment on that.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for reminding us all that consumers include business customers as well as domestic customers. This country has a very ambitious smart metering programme to complete an entire change in all businesses and domestic properties, with more than 40 million meters by the end of 2020. There is no delay to that programme, and I assure my right hon. Friend that we are very excited about it and that we intend it to go ahead.
Given that Energy Ministers in the past, and Ofgem up to now, have been so feeble in dealing with abuses by the big energy companies, will the Minister commit to giving us the opportunity to have an energy Bill in the next session whereby we can give real tough powers to Ofgem? Secondly, will he consider referring the energy industry to the Competition Commission?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the power to announce the Government’s next legislative programme. As I said in my first answer, subject to the proper procedure of this House we do intend that there will be legislation. The regulator, Ofgem, has the principal responsibility for referrals to the Competition Commission, but I hope the hon. Gentleman will have regard to the new quarterly publication of the relationship between wholesale and retail prices. I think that is starting to turn consumers’ heat onto their energy suppliers.
Some licence changes have taken place, and some are about to, but three things taken together—the results of the probe, the licence changes and our legislative proposals—will ensure that the heat continues to be kept on suppliers.
Some of the worst forms of overcharging have typically involved the exploitation of pre-payment meter users. Ofgem has started to tackle that, but will the Minister be taking up one of its present campaigns, which is for a more formalised social tariff system that would help the oldest and poorest consumers to meet their bills over the coming winter?
One licence change that has been implemented is on pre-payment meters, and I answered a parliamentary question last month in which I showed that the difference between standard credit and pre-payment charges has already been all but eliminated as a result. I am very pleased about that because some of the poorest consumers were affected by overcharging on pre-payment meters. As for social price support, in our legislative proposals we hope to expand on the voluntary scheme that is already helping more than 1 million households.
Despite the huge drop in wholesale prices in recent months, the Department’s own statistics show that more than 4.5 million people will be in fuel poverty this winter, which is a massive increase on last year. When we called last year for an investigation by the Competition Commission, the Minister dithered and said he would talk to Ofgem, because he thought that that would offer a quicker solution. Will the Government now commit to taking real action and holding a quick, forensic investigation into why the consumer is getting such a raw deal from the energy companies under this Government?
The hon. Gentleman must surely agree that we would still be waiting for the result if we had taken his course of action a year ago. Instead, in that time we have had the changes to the licence conditions that are making a difference, and we have also committed to legislative changes. In the meantime, the Government’s programmes and spending have saved between 400,000 and 800,000 other households from falling into fuel poverty. That is an achievement in itself.
The decisions made at Copenhagen will affect everybody in the UK and around the world for generations to come. So that everyone in the UK can see what we are arguing for in the negotiations, the Government have published the “Road to Copenhagen” which, for the first time, explains our position to the wider public. We also keep people informed through our website and through advertising.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. In the run-up to Copenhagen, will she confirm her Department’s support for low-carbon transport initiatives such as the Parry People Mover, which is a light rail car that runs on the Stourbridge line? It makes an important contribution to the local economy in terms of jobs and green technology. Will she, or the Secretary of State, accept my invitation to come and ride on it?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for her final offer. I fear that the Secretary of State and I are so preoccupied with the international discussions that we are frequently out of the country, but we will of course try very hard to make a new year resolution to accept her invitation.
I should tell my hon. Friend that we are keeping people informed through the Act on Copenhagen website, to which there have been 80,000 unique visitors. In addition, 60,000 copies of the document have been distributed, including to schools, GP surgeries, libraries and so on. It makes a real difference when people can see local examples of how to move to low carbon, such as the transit system to which she referred—which has, of course, been supported by the Department for Transport. It is through seeing what happens on the ground that people will learn what it is possible to do to meet our low-carbon aims.
Was it wise of the Government to spend £6 million of taxpayers’ money on a propaganda film showing a father telling fairy stories to his daughter, particularly when the stories turn out to be alarmist tales of British cities drowned under water? Might not one result of that be that it has put the idea into people’s minds that this is all a fairy story, with fewer people in this country giving credence—
The right hon. Gentleman is someone who does not accept the science and the consensus around it—[Interruption.] That is what he appears to be saying. The people who have expressed concerns about the advertisement tend to be in that category. We are trying to make it clear to adults that the science has a great worldwide consensus, that climate change is under way, and that if the Government and everyone else do not act, their children will suffer owing to catastrophic climate change. This is not an exaggeration; we have already had terrific floods in this country as a consequence of climate change. It is important to let people understand the truth, and it is the Government’s responsibility to allow that to happen.
I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me, but I have only a figure for the overall spending over three years by my Department and its predecessor: £6.3 million on marine projects ranging from the Severn tidal project to infrastructure support and environmental research. There has been other spending by the research council, the Technology Strategy Board, the Carbon Trust and the Energy Technologies Institute. Additionally, the Government announced an extra £60 million for measures to accelerate the development and deployment of wave and tidal energy in July’s renewable energy strategy.
I am intrigued by the way in which my hon. Friend has managed to get nuclear into a question about marine energy. As far as marine projects are concerned, it will depend on the final announcements that are about to be made and, of course, the size of the project proposed. At the beginning, I think it would be unlikely that marine projects would be of the size relevant to the new commission.
Ministers meet Ofgem frequently to discuss a range of current issues, including consumer issues in the energy markets. Ofgem has recently established new standards for energy suppliers, including requirements that suppliers must not sell a customer a product or service that he or she does not fully understand or that is inappropriate for their needs and circumstances, and that they must not offer products that are unnecessarily complex or confusing.
Competition is inherently good, but when one has so many tariffs, they simply obfuscate rather than clarify, and it is difficult in such circumstances for the consumer to compare like with like. Does the Minister think that there should be greater simplification of energy tariffs?
The hon. Gentleman clearly articulates the conundrum that while we want open markets, competition and innovation, we do not want people to be bamboozled by enormous changes to the offers made, meaning that they are not comprehensible. One of the licence conditions put in place by Ofgem in September—I referred to it earlier—was the new requirement for information on every bill and for an annual statement to consumers. It is hoped that that will enable consumers to be better informed about the decisions that they make and therefore more empowered.
It must clearly be absurd that consumers are faced with dozens—and sometimes hundreds—of alternative tariffs, which must only add to confusion rather than to choice, so will the Minister use an energy Bill to provide greater clarity? Does he accept that social tariffs should always be the lowest tariffs available? Does he accept that consumers should be able to see how much less they would be spending if they were on the cheapest tariff on offer from their provider? Does he accept that consumers should also be able to see how much electricity—
Ofgem has already ruled that if any energy company is to say that it is offering a social tariff, that must be the lowest tariff that it offers. When we have the opportunity, we intend to legislate for mandatory social price support. If such a measure is in an energy Bill in the near future, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman and I will be able to debate its precise terms.
Under the Energy Act 2004, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is responsible for the decommissioning and clean-up of the UK’s public civil nuclear sites. The cost of disposal is influenced by many different factors, including the inventory of waste, the timing of waste arisings, the geology at the site in question and the design of the geological disposal facility. The NDA’s estimate, as given in its 2007-08 annual report, for the undiscounted total lifetime costs of a geological disposal facility for higher activity wastes is £12.2 billion.
The hon. Gentleman must make a distinction between the historical cost, which we as a nation are picking up and our taxpayers are paying, and the future cost, which we will require the energy companies to cover in their propositions. They will make the decision whether it is economic to go forward on that basis, and so far some of those companies have made decisions totalling £13 billion of investment in new nuclear in this country.
Low Carbon Transition Plan
I and my ministerial colleagues have received a large number of comments and representations since the publication of the transition plan and its associated documents on 15 July, including from key international partners involved in negotiations at Copenhagen and the organisations and bodies that will help us to deliver the required emissions reductions in the UK.
I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, but most of my constituents probably do not know what a low carbon transition plan is, so will she explain to the House and to a typical resident of north Cleethorpes, living in small, terraced accommodation, what the Government will do to make their homes more energy efficient?
First, I can tell my hon. Friend that a small leaflet is available, and we would be very pleased to give one to her with a simple explanation for her constituents. On the point about homes, we are channelling about £3.2 billion to help households to become more energy efficient; we are piloting a pay-as-you-save programme to help people to invest in more expensive means of insulation; next year we are introducing the clean energy cashback scheme so that people can generate their own energy and be paid to do so; and we will be rolling out smart meters. There is thus a huge programme of activity to help householders such as my hon. Friend’s constituents.
In the summer, my Department set out the UK low carbon transition plan. Central to that is planning reform, and we will shortly publish the energy national policy statement, which, alongside the Infrastructure Planning Commission, is designed to speed up the planning process for the benefit of all citizens of Britain.
Further to the meeting of 100 legislators from large economies in Copenhagen two weeks ago, will the Secretary of State agree to meet the cross-party delegation and ensure that the principles agreed are shared with not only UK negotiators but European Union negotiators?
It will be my pleasure to do so. I was actually due to attend the conference, but family responsibilities took precedence, and that was right for a range of reasons. However, I will definitely meet the legislators to which the hon. Gentleman refers. GLOBE International plays a very important role and will be very important in the next month, too.
I had my most recent meeting with the Legal Complaints Service and the Solicitors Regulation Authority yesterday, and I was saddened and disappointed to hear of so many lawyers who have taken money from vulnerable mineworkers and their bereaved widows when the state has paid them for their services, too. The Legal Complaints Service tells me that it has pursued so many solicitors for overcharging and poor services that it has made them repay about £3 million to their clients. The Solicitors Regulation Authority has prosecuted a number of firms, and they have had to make repayments of more than £3 million to their customers. For such an ethical profession as law, and as a lawyer myself, I am very disappointed.
The Secretary of State earlier highlighted the importance of new investment to secure our electricity supplies. Will he ensure that people are not driven into fuel poverty just paying to keep the lights on?
The hon. Gentleman is right, and we need to be candid about the issue because it is a very big challenge. The pressures on energy prices will be upwards in the coming decade, and we need to do all we can to protect the fuel poor. That is why my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary rightly talked about compulsory price support. I know that the hon. Gentleman campaigns, in particular, on behalf of people who are off the gas grid and who face particular issues. We must ensure that they too receive proper protection as we make the low-carbon transition.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. There is a balance to be struck between shocking people and enabling them to think about an issue and resolve to act on it. We have carefully researched how to advertise in a responsible way. We will continue to do that, because it is essential that the British people understand what we are trying to achieve, why we need to move to a low-carbon economy, and why they can be part of it, given that 42 per cent. of all emissions in this country are the result of our own individual actions.
Is the Secretary of State aware that the town of Kettering was recently chosen by the United Nations to be the United Kingdom’s representative on a pre-Copenhagen international consultation on climate change in which 93 per cent. of participants said that the Government should attach a high priority to signing up to any climate change deal at Copenhagen?
We are very keen for local people to be involved in any discussions. That is why we published the document entitled the “Road to Copenhagen”, why we have a website, and why we encourage people to be in contact with us. It is important that people understand these issues and that they have a sense of ownership, because this is a global problem where we can all feel that we can contribute and have our voices represented by our Governments in getting the most ambitious, effective and fair deal possible.
Population is definitely an issue in relation to climate change; my hon. Friend is absolutely right. Many people make that point to me at meetings that I attend. As she implies, the answers to this are the traditional answers that we know work, particularly in developing countries, in terms of women’s education and ensuring that development aid goes to women. The economic growth that the world will see over the next 50 years far outweighs, in terms of its impact on carbon emissions if we do nothing, the impact of population issues. The real challenge is to break the link between economic growth and carbon emissions.
In January, the UK was down to only a few days’ gas storage, while Germany typically has 99 days and France has 120 days. Current Government plans extend this only by a few hours. Does the Minister agree that it is time to secure our gas storage facilities?
We do need more gas storage in this country, and there are 18 projects under way. A new gas storage project at Aldburgh is coming on-stream this winter. This is not only about gas storage but about our import capacity, which is up by 25 per cent. since last winter; indeed, our import capacity now represents 125 per cent. of total demand. We need more gas storage—the hon. Gentleman is right about that—but we also need to have import capacity as North sea capacity declines, and to make the transition to other low-carbon fuels.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. CESP, a new programme that began in September, is designed to apply to areas that have the very lowest decile income groups. His constituency certainly meets that criterion. A total of £350 million will be invested in energy-saving measures over the next three years, coming from suppliers and generators in 100 low-income communities. I can tell him that British Gas has already announced agreement in principle to work with local authorities in 10 areas: Dundee, Glasgow, Swansea, Preston, Knowsley, Birmingham, Walsall, Blacon in Cheshire, Southwark and Haringey. We hope that they will undertake measures such as solid wall, which we have long pressed for as a means of helping those with the most difficult homes to insulate.
We said in the low carbon transition plan, which is getting a lot of airtime today, that the impact of the climate change measures that we announced in it would be about 6 per cent. on bills by 2020, or about 8 per cent. including previous measures.
It is important to say that we do not believe there is a low-cost, high-carbon future out there, even if we wanted to pursue it. As we import more gas and as demand from China, India and other countries goes up, if we do not transition to other fuels we will be subject to more volatile prices as a result of growing demand from those countries.
I will draw on the compliment paid to us by my hon. Friend that we are advancing with the speed of a striking cobra as far as the nuclear industry is concerned. I am sure that Opposition Front Benchers agree with that point.
On the sloth issue, in the marine industry part of the challenge has been proving the marine technology. I think there was some recent good news on that from a company called Marine Current Turbines. We set up the marine renewables deployment fund of £50 million, and the condition agreed with the industry was that the technology had to work for three months. The problem has been that it has not been able to work so far, which is why we have set up an intermediate fund to help companies over that barrier.
The Secretary of State wants to speed up the planning process for public planning inquiries. Will he therefore go out and educate the public on energy from waste plants? If he truly believes that they are not harmful, why is he not explaining that to the Great British public?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The experience of Sizewell B in the 1980s is a very good reason for changing the planning system. The Opposition Front Benchers are nodding, and I hope that their nods will be translated into support for our Infrastructure Planning Commission.
We are in the midst of a consultation on this question, but I say to my hon. Friend—this goes back to the question that the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) asked—that we always have to remember not just the people who want to have wind turbines and solar panels, important though that is, but those who pay the bills, who are the consumers. There is a balance to be struck, but we are in the middle of a consultation and will of course listen, as we always do.
Are Ministers aware of the reception held in the House yesterday by National Energy Action, which among other things drew attention to the health through warmth programme? Will they congratulate npower and all those involved in the programme? How can the Department help that programme to continue and grow?
I am delighted to congratulate my hon. Friend on raising this issue and the health through warmth programme, which also exists in my constituency. I have visited schemes in the past and I offer to draw attention to the successes of the programme soon, because it is one of the ways in which organisations such as local authorities, the health service and energy companies come together to identify people in need of help to insulate their homes, improve their health, save on their budgets and cut carbon emissions at the same time.
What opportunities are presented by the likely signing of the Lisbon treaty for Europe to work together to tackle climate change?
My hon. Friend asks a very important question. It is important that Europe speaks with one voice—we have seen that in relation to the finance proposals—but we should also be careful about the company we keep in relation to Europe and the issue of climate change. We should be in the mainstream, not on the fringes. Frankly, I think hanging around with climate change deniers is a very big mistake.
Business of the House
The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 9 November—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Coroners and Justice Bill.
Tuesday 10 November—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Health Bill [Lords], followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments to the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Bill [Lords].
Wednesday 11 November—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.
Colleagues will wish to be reminded that the House will meet at 2.30 pm on that day.
Thursday 12 November—If necessary, consideration of Lords amendments, followed by consideration of Lords amendments to the Policing and Crime Bill, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.
The House will be prorogued when Royal Assent to all Acts has been signified.
: I am grateful to the Leader of the House for the forthcoming business.
Yesterday, the right hon. and learned Lady said that she would table the motion on Professor Sir Ian Kennedy’s appointment as chairman of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority within the next few days. Will she ensure that the House is given fair warning so that that does not just pop up on the Order Paper by surprise, as the appointment of the Speaker’s Committee on IPSA did last week?
May I repeat the call for a debate on how Sir Christopher Kelly’s report will be implemented? Despite what the right hon. and learned Lady said yesterday, of Kelly’s 60 recommendations, I have counted at least 12 that are decisions that need to be taken by the House, and another 10 recommendations on strengthening IPSA will require primary legislation. That means that more than a third of Sir Christopher’s report requires the attention of the House rather than that of the independent regulator. The right hon. and learned Lady said yesterday that she did not think that we should be addressing the question of legislating to change the IPSA structure, but is it not clear that that is exactly what we shall have to do if, as she said yesterday, we implement Kelly’s proposals in full?
May we have a statement from the Prime Minister on his assertion on 10 June that Government action has saved 500,000 jobs? Both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have repeatedly used that figure in the House to justify Government decisions over the past 12 months, but last night the Treasury published documents under the Freedom of Information Act showing that the advice given to Ministers before this year’s Budget was that a figure of
“between 250,000 and 450,000”
could be used, but that any
“public statement should be worded carefully”.
Moreover, the documents make it completely clear that it could be seen as spurious for the Government even to claim that number, because monetary policy, which we have consistently supported, is independent of Government. Will the Prime Minister and the Chancellor take an early opportunity to correct the record?
The Committee on Reform of the House of Commons is due to set out its findings by the end of next week. Will the right hon. and learned Lady confirm that when it is published she will make an oral statement to the House on how the Government plan to take forward that Committee’s recommendations? When might we have an opportunity to debate that Committee’s important report?
Next Monday, we were due to debate secondary legislation on the 2011 census. That debate has been unexpectedly postponed. Given that we have expressed real concerns about the intrusive nature of some of those questions, is that an indication, as we hope, that the Government have decided to reconsider the invasive format of the new census?
May I ask the Leader of the House yet again to provide us with the date of the pre-Budget report? The Chancellor had his opportunity at Treasury questions on Tuesday, but did not take it. There are reports that the Prime Minister is clashing with the Chancellor over the former’s plans for a massive new spending spree before the election. Do the Government not owe it to the public to come clean on their spending plans?
Finally, on the economy, may we have a statement on the recent outburst from the Government’s enterprise tsar, Lord Sugar—that the majority of small firms are just “moaners” who need not a bank but an insolvency practitioner? Is that not a rather unusual way to champion a sector that is normally referred to as the lifeblood of the economy? With the Federation of Small Businesses calling for Lord Sugar to go, does the Leader of the House think that he still has the confidence of the companies that he is meant to be representing? Or is it time to say, “You’re fired”?
I have undertaken to the House that we will bring forward the motion as soon as possible to endorse your choice, Mr. Speaker, of Professor Sir Ian Kennedy as the chair of the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. Notification to the House will be made in the normal way.
On the issue of decisions that need to be taken by the House and those that would need legislative change, it is helpful to look at the Kelly report proposals for substantive changes in respect of a new allowance system. Effectively, Sir Christopher Kelly has proposed a new allowance framework, and that should be the priority, along with setting up the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. As far as the House is concerned, we need to help the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority get on with its work by endorsing the appointment of the chair. It will then be for the authority to take forward the Kelly proposals and implement them. That is the central and important objective. The other issues can be looked at, but they are not germane to the aim of having a new allowance system, based on Kelly’s proposals, in place and ready for the new Parliament.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the half a million jobs that would have been lost had the Government not taken action. Perhaps I may identify for him the action that we have taken which, had the Conservatives been in government, would not have been taken, but which has made such a difference in protecting jobs. First, we brought forward capital projects, which not only ensures good capital investment in schools and health centres, but provides jobs. If we had not done that, it would have cost jobs. We also brought forward our time to pay proposals for businesses, so that they are not put out of business because they cannot pay their taxes as a consequence of the global financial crisis and the credit crunch—
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Some 200,000 businesses have been able to defer payment of tax and stay in business through the difficult economic times, and that has saved jobs. If those firms had been put out of business because they had been made insolvent by HMRC, that would have cost jobs. Then there is the temporary 2.5 per cent. VAT cut, which helped the economy, and that has helped jobs.
We have also taken other fiscal stimulus measures, including the increase in child benefit and pensions. All those measures have preserved at least half a million jobs, and we therefore stand by that figure. There will be further discussion in the pre-Budget report about the economy, and our plans will be laid out. If hon. Members want to ask anything else, they can discuss the matter, no doubt, in the economic part of the debate on the Queen’s Speech.
The right hon. Gentleman asked for an opportunity to debate the proposals from the Committee Reform of the House of Commons, and I will look for, and discuss with him, when is the best opportunity for the House to discuss those important proposals. He also asked about the census. I do not know the answer to that question. I will have to find out—or perhaps someone will tell me before the end of business questions. If they do, I will interpose it in an answer to somebody else’s question.
I think that is it. [Hon. Members: “Lord Sugar?”] That is certainly it.
First, I thank you, Mr. Speaker, and all the Officers of the House, for the conduct of the meeting of the Youth Parliament last Friday. I thought that it was a huge success, and we should mark it as such.
Will the Leader of the House consider the way in which the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill has been timetabled? That constitutional Bill is in Committee of the whole House, and 16 clauses and one schedule have already gone through without any debate, simply because of timetabling by the Government. That is simply unacceptable. Will she ensure that the following days of Committee will not be curtailed in that way and that we have full and proper discussion of the very important matters that should be under scrutiny?
The whole country is debating, almost on a daily basis, the grim news from Afghanistan. The only place where there has not been a recent opportunity to do so is in this Chamber. It is time that we had a full day’s debate on the policy being pursued in Afghanistan, not simply from a military point of view, but from a foreign affairs point of view too. We need to ask some serious questions about the position in which we are putting our very brave and professional troops in Afghanistan. It is time for the House to have that debate.
May we also have a debate on the Government control of IT systems? The computer system for criminal justice managed to waste £41 million through delays and cost overruns, and £161 million cannot be accounted for in the management of that project. Two years ago, it was abandoned. We are used to appalling IT procurement, but that really is a humdinger. It is time that we had a debate on the matter.
Finally, may we also have a debate on consumer protection? I am concerned that many trading standards departments, including mine in Somerset, seem no longer to give consumer advice. That is wrong. It means that consumers are not provided with protection from being ripped off over shoddy goods, false claims or cast-iron guarantees that prove worthless.
The hon. Gentleman stole a march on me and the shadow Leader of the House in thanking you, Mr. Speaker, and everyone else who took part in helping the Youth Parliament. It was a brilliant occasion, and I hope that we will do it again. It was fantastic.
All proceedings of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill in Committee are being taken on the Floor of the House, and it was agreed without Division that we should have four days in that Committee of the whole House. Then it came to dividing up the subjects for each day. The day before yesterday—or was it yesterday?—25 of the 27 groups were gone through. The Bill was, of course, subject to detailed pre-legislative scrutiny by a Committee of both Houses, but in reality there is discussion across the parties about how to organise the debates. It is not possible to predict with complete accuracy how many speakers will be attracted to each debate; it is not an exact science. However, we have no interest in anything other than ensuring that the House has as much time as it needs, and that it is apportioned properly across each section of the legislation.
We all remain deeply concerned about the situation in Afghanistan. It is always addressed at Prime Minister’s questions, and I think that we will need to return to it. As I have announced, we have no space for general debates before the Queen’s Speech, because we have all the Lords amendments coming back from the Lords prior to the House proroguing before the Queen’s Speech. There will be the debates after the Queen’s Speech, but I will need to look for an opportunity for us to have a debate on Afghanistan shortly.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned what he described as the humdinging computer issue in the Ministry of Justice. I would simply say that Justice questions are next week.
While the Kelly report is to be welcomed, some aspects of it need clarification. Can my right hon. and learned Friend help us by explaining the transitional arrangements for the communications allowance?
There are a number of transitional issues, including the communications allowance. We have put in place transitional arrangements, following the decisions of the House in April, May and June. We now have the Kelly report, and the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority will come into place for the next Parliament. Colleagues will want to be sure that they are aware of how they should be doing things in the post-Kelly, pre-Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority transitional period that we are now in, particularly in respect of the property valuation date of 4 November that Sir Christopher Kelly has proposed.
I am grateful to the Chairman of the Committee on Members Allowances, my right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig), who has undertaken to identify the issues that hon. Members are asking about and to liaise with Sir Christopher and the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, as well as the House authorities, to ensure that the House authorities issue clear guidance to Members on the matters of concern to them in the interim period. Members will therefore receive proper guidance right away from the House authorities on the decisions that they will have to take.
On the communications allowance, the issues are the use of communications expenditure and the regulated period for election expenditure under the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009, under which new expenditure limits will come into force. There is also the ceasing of the use of the communications allowance in an election period. There have been discussions across the parties, and, having reached an agreement, the Justice Secretary has indicated that he will sign the order bringing into effect the new financial limits for election spending, which will start from 1 January. The proposal is that the use of the communications allowance should end on 31 December, after which the new election expenses limits will come into force.
I know that hon. Members will be concerned about how they advertise their advice surgeries, for example, once the communications allowance has ceased. We will have to have some guidance on that from the Members Estimate Committee. Indeed, it might be possible to deal with that under the office cost allowance.
My right hon. and learned Friend shares my concerns about the position of women in the financial services industry, but does she share my concern that the Government mandate for the Walker review on banking governance does not refer specifically to the position of women in banking? Will she organise a debate on that important subject, so that we can ensure justice for women in the financial services industry?
The important thing is that the financial services industry should work properly and draw on the best talents and abilities of the country as a whole. It clearly is not doing that if it continues to operate as an old boys’ network, as it is now. Although my hon. Friend is a great example, as she is a member of the Treasury Committee, I am afraid that the Committee itself is setting a bad example, because she is the only woman serving on it. Good governance requires a meritocracy, and an old boys’ network is certainly not a meritocracy.
Will the Government find time soon to debate the proposals that I am publishing today on behalf of the all-party group on extraordinary rendition, to try to get a clampdown on extraordinary rendition and give the public confidence that Britain will no longer be used, either directly or indirectly, for that practice?
The Government have made it absolutely clear that we will not allow this country to be party to, participate in or be used for the process of kidnapping and abduction, or illegally transporting detainees across borders. That is not something that we accept or endorse, and all of those are already criminal offences.
My hon. Friend, the Chair of the Children, Schools and Families Committee, makes an important suggestion. Perhaps we can consider holding a topical debate on that subject, as it involves a number of issues about safeguarding children and the registration of people involved with them. Several of those issues have been raised recently, so perhaps we could do with having a debate on them on the Floor of the House.
As of this week, the footage and clips of what is going on here in Parliament are easily available to search and view on the excellent BBC Democracy Live website, so that the people out there can see the business of the House. The ability to share those clips with their friends or on their own websites is available for the European Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly—in short, everywhere but Westminster. Will the Leader of the House take steps to ensure that the public have equal access to footage of the business of this House?
My early-day motion 2237 on the question of the referendum on the treaty of Lisbon was approved by the Table Office last night and subsequently gutted by a senior official to remove the names of Members who said two years ago that they wanted a referendum even if the Lisbon treaty were ratified.
[That this House calls on those hon. Members who have previously expressed the view that a referendum should be held on the Lisbon Treaty before or after ratification to clarify their position now that the Treaty has been ratified by all Member States.]
May I ask my friend on the Front Bench whether we can have an early debate on the whole question of the referendum, to allow the 45 Opposition Members who said that they still wanted a referendum even after ratification to debate the issue?
I can give my hon. Friend a cast-iron guarantee that I will look into these issues. It is clear that we have had a cast-iron U-turn from the Opposition, who would put us on the margins of Europe and make it more difficult for us to pursue this country’s objectives on the economy, climate change and security. The content of EDMs is a matter for the House officials; it is a matter for them to ensure that EDMs are expressed in appropriate language.
On the subject of cast-iron guarantees, may I remind the Leader of the House of one that the Government have given on many occasions to hold a debate on the pre-Budget report? May I push her for an early indication on that—it will be a particularly important pre-Budget report—and for a commitment on such a debate, please?
We will look to have a proper opportunity for ensuring that there is a possibility of a debate on economic issues following the statement on the pre-Budget report. I am aware of the points that have been made by the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) and many others about this issue.
May we have a debate on the work and track record of the Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs, and, in particular, on its consistent refusal to recognise khat, a root that is chewed primarily by people in the Somali community and that has a dangerous and damaging effect on mental health in such communities? The committee keeps claiming that there is insufficient evidence from a broad population base that it should be a proscribed drug.
Will the Leader of the House apologise to my constituents for saying a moment ago that there had been no cuts in the NHS under Labour? My acute hospital has been decimated: the accident and emergency unit has been closed, as have the maternity unit, the intensive care unit and the high-dependency unit. All the beds have been closed. The diagnostic unit has stayed open, along with the out-patients and minor injuries units. Is that really what the Leader of the House meant by “no cuts” in the NHS under Labour?
There has been increased funding and improvement in services, resulting in fewer deaths from preventable diseases. If the hon. Gentleman is trying to say that the health service has got worse, he is not engaging with the reality. There has been more funding, more doctors, nurses and staff, and more equipment, and there are better outcomes for people’s health and for saving lives. That is the same in his constituency as anywhere else across the country.
We are all concerned about the situation in Afghanistan and about what happened in relation to the Afghan police, with the terrible loss of our soldiers’ lives. I will look for an opportunity to debate that as soon as we can after the Queen’s Speech has been concluded.
Now that the House looks set to adopt the Kelly review in full, will my right hon. and learned Friend introduce a similar review of all taxpayers’ money, whether it is spent by quangocrats, senior civil servants or retired civil servants, or whether it applies to the recipients of Government money through contracts, so that businesses—including newspapers that take Government advertising—can also be brought into this regime of openness and transparency?
My hon. Friend has made a wide-ranging point about transparency, and he makes a good point about the higher echelons of public sector pay. That subject is currently being looked at by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. We can all recognise that the top of public sector pay has got completely out of hand, with many people being paid more than the Prime Minister. We need to get a grip on that and sort it out. I also think that pay transparency is very important in the private sector, and that is one of the things that will be in the Equality Bill.
Given the greater attention that the House is now, rightly, paying to public opinion of this House, may we have a debate on why the British people continue to be denied their say on the relationship between the UK and the European Union? Why does there appear to be a conspiracy across all the main parties to deny the people of the United Kingdom their say? It is what they want; why can they not have their say?
The centenary year of Girlguiding UK has just commenced. May we have a short debate on the merits of that estimable organisation? It has 100,000 adult volunteer leaders and 20,000 supporters providing a framework that enables 450,000 Rainbows, Brownies and Guides to enjoy a girl-led programme that builds skills, confidence and self-esteem in a phenomenal way.
I have called for a debate on the legacy of the Olympics before, but there are now real concerns that the promise of increased grass-roots participation in sport is not being delivered. There are now 1,000 days until the Olympics. Does the Leader of the House accept that we need time in this House to debate the legacy of that event?
I welcome what my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) said about the Lisbon referendum, which proves that some of us have not changed our minds. I also welcome what my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House said in reply to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) about a debate on Afghanistan, but will she ensure that that debate is on a substantive motion?
The all-party save the pub group has received evidence to show that the Office of Fair Trading decision to ignore the super-complaint from the Campaign for Real Ale is deeply flawed and represents a dereliction of duty by this public body. May we have an investigation and an urgent debate in the House about this very serious matter?
May I simply endorse the request from a number of Members for a debate on Afghanistan? When we went into that country, one of our objectives was to support the establishment of democracy, but the farce of the recent election has led many Members and members of the public to question our strategy, so that debate should be held as soon as possible.
My constituents, Mr. and Mrs. Kemp and their eight-year-old daughter went to Egypt. As they went through the airport, they passed through an automatic temperature control. The little girl had a slight temperature: they had their passports confiscated, they were removed to a filthy isolation hospital and they were detained there against their will. May we have an urgent statement from the Foreign Secretary next week on the Egyptian policy of kidnapping British tourists?
On the eve of Remembrance Sunday and in a week that has seen a high-profile court case involving a young man who urinated on a war memorial, may we have a statement from the Ministry of Defence about the special and sacred way in which war memorials should be considered by the public and the sanctions available to the police and the law authorities to use against those who seek to ruin the memorials to people who have given their lives in the service of our country.
May we have a debate about how to measure accurately the difference in pay between men and women? In one of her other guises, the Leader of the House is always very fond of quoting just one figure, but the Office for National Statistics made it clear yesterday that pay rates are an important but complex matter, and that a range of measurements should be used. According to one of those measures, men who work part time are shown to be paid less than women.
I have had discussions with ONS about this and it has decided on three measurements. The top-line measurement is the average hourly pay difference between all employed men and all employed women. That is the top-line measurement. Below that, another measurement is the average hourly pay difference between men and women working full time, while the third measurement is the average hourly pay difference between men and women working part time. I would not want the hon. Gentleman to be under the misapprehension that somehow men are paid less well than women. That is not the case. If one looks at men and women going out to work, we find that women are paid a fifth less than men across the average. I do not believe that per hour of their work, women are 22 per cent. less intelligent than men, 22 per cent. less hard working than men or 22 per cent. less valuable to their employers than men. That is gender discrimination in pay, but, given the hon. Gentleman’s question, it very much sounds to me as though he is a gender pay discrimination denier. It is certainly not the case that men as a whole are paid less than women, even though the hon. Gentleman might dredge up a few examples.
We certainly want to make absolutely sure in future that, whatever changes are made by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority following on from the Kelly report, neither men nor women MPs will find it difficult to get home very late at night, so arrangements will have to be made one way or another to ensure that men and women can get on with their work in the House.
May I welcome the fact that the Leader of the House has said that she will find time for a debate on Afghanistan, and reinforce its importance? She should ensure that it is a full day’s debate in the middle of the week so that we secure maximum participation by Members who want to raise constituents’ questions. In that debate, will she ensure that Ministers understand and are reminded of why we ended up in Afghanistan in the first place? They should not forget the history of what happened in that country and should perhaps apologise to the people of Afghanistan for when we took our eye off the ball, which damaged the achievement of our goals and the aims that took us there in the first place.
It will be important to have a debate about the objectives of our mission in Afghanistan and how we achieve them, but I think that the central point—it is made by the Prime Minister when he answers questions about this at Prime Minister’s questions—is that the mission is not only important for the people in Afghanistan, but for the security of people in this country. Two thirds of all the terror plots in this country have links with the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. It is a question of this country’s security.
The House will recall the exchange during questions to the Prime Minister yesterday about serving members of the armed forces and their opportunities to see our proceedings.
I am glad to say now that we will ensure that up to six visiting serving members of the armed forces will always be found places in the Galleries, whatever the other pressures may be—for example, when we have Prime Minister’s questions and other high-profile proceedings. Should there be more than six who cannot immediately be accommodated, we shall arrange a brief tour or seats in the Lords Gallery until space is available here.
We owe a huge debt to those who serve in our armed forces. They will always be welcome in this place, and I am sure that the House will welcome this reflection of the respect that we have for them.
Points of Order
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
During business questions, there appeared to be a planted question to which the Leader of the House made a mini-statement about the communications allowance. Many Back Benchers would have liked to question the Leader of the House about that. Have you, Mr. Speaker, been given any indication that a proper oral statement will be made?
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The House will know of the importance you attach to answering written questions. The Government have issued new guidance to Ministers that the reply saying that it has not been possible to answer a written question ahead of Prorogation should be used only for those questions tabled in the two weeks before Prorogation. As of last Thursday, more than 1,500 written questions still awaited an answer. What advice can you give the House to ensure that those questions are indeed answered before Prorogation and that the form of words I mentioned is not used as a means of avoiding ministerial accountability?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. The short answer to his question is twofold. First, guidance is a matter for Ministers and it is not for me to interfere with that. Secondly, it is of the essence that there are timely and substantive answers to right hon. and hon. Members’ written parliamentary questions. In that context, the House will be aware—I have previously announced it—that a procedure is to be established for tracking the answering of written questions, and the transparency that that will bring should act as an incentive for Ministers speedily and comprehensively to answer questions. I am confident that that incentive will be effective, but if it is not, I expect the hon. Member and others will soon raise further points of order, when I shall have to reiterate the importance I attach to making progress on this matter.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We very much appreciate the way in which you have sought to ensure that questions are answered promptly. We, as Members of Parliament, are increasingly under pressure in regard to individual cases dealt with by the Home Office involving people who urgently need an answer, often when items have been very severely delayed, lost in either the post or the Home Office. As we are approaching some gaps during which Parliament will not be sitting, would it be possible for the House to invent a better system for enabling people to receive immediate responses? These are individuals who may be in serious individual difficulties, and we as Members of Parliament ought to represent them more effectively.
What I would say to the right hon. Gentleman, whose thoughtful point of order I appreciate, is that it would be very difficult and, arguably, constitutionally hazardous to seek to specify a procedure for one Department that differs from the procedure that would be expected to apply to others.
The key point here is that answers are needed, they are needed in a timely fashion, and they are needed in a comprehensive form. It is, frankly, for Ministers to recognise both the salience and the urgency of the questions, not least when individual cases are being put to them, and they must then respond in an effective fashion. If that requires the devotion of additional human or other resources to achieve the objective, those resources must be provided, because the House must come first.
Further to the point of order from the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone), Mr. Speaker. May I prevail on your good offices to ensure that all right hon. and hon. Members receive, as a matter of urgency, clarification of where matters stand post-Kelly in relation to all the allowances and so on? It appears to many Members that they must trawl through myriad different pieces of information—statements and so forth—to establish the current position, and it is vital that it be clarified for all Members.
I think that the Leader of the House has herself been clear about the need for maximum clarity. I can only say to the hon. Gentleman, and to the House, that there are also responsibilities for Departments in the House to communicate to Members what the current and the expected future position shall be. It is difficult for me to give the hon. Gentleman a more comprehensive explanation than the one that I have just offered, but he has put on the record a serious point and a legitimate concern, and the Leader of the House is in her place and has heard it.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, in regard to your very welcome statement about tickets for service men to attend Prime Minister’s Question Time. Has consideration been given to allowing servicemen to sit in the largely unused upper viewing Galleries for Members?
[Relevant documents: Sixth Report from the Environmental Audit Committee, Session 2007-08, Reaching an international agreement on climate change, HC 355, and the Government response, HC 1055; Fourth Report from the Committee, Session 2008-09, Reducing CO2 and other emissions from shipping, HC 528, and the Government response, HC 1015; and Fifth Report from the Committee, Session 2008-09, Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation, HC 30, and the Government response, HC 1063. The Road to Copenhagen: The UK Government’s case for an ambitious international agreement on climate change, Cm 7659. The UK Low Carbon Transition Plan: National Strategy for Climate Change, laid on 15 July 2009. Adapting to climate change: UK climate projections June 2009. Letter from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs dated 16 October 2009 to the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee enclosing a map showing the implications for the world of four degrees of warming.]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of climate change: preparation for the Copenhagen climate change conference.
As Members will know, the United Nations Copenhagen climate change conference will open in a month’s time. At this critical time, the Government believe that it is important for the House to have a chance to discuss our preparations for the conference. In the time available to me, I want to explain why we believe that we need an agreement at Copenhagen, the sort of agreement that we wish to try to secure there, and the steps that we are taking in that respect.
Let me start by addressing the question of why we need an agreement. In the last year, I have had the privilege of meeting people in places from the northern desert of China to the Amazon rain forest in Brazil. I think that in such places we see the reality of climate change, in the sense that we are utterly interdependent. Actions in one country will affect those in another, and it is often the poorest and most vulnerable in our world, who have done the least to cause the problem of climate change, who face the greatest additional vulnerability. None of us, however, can insulate ourselves from the effects of climate change.
The urgency of climate change and, indeed, Copenhagen lies in the science. Atmospheric concentrations are at their highest level for at least 650,000 years. In the United Kingdom, nine of the 10 warmest years on record occurred during the last 15. In 2007, for the first time in recorded history, the north-west passage of the Arctic was ice-free and open to shipping in the summer. All those facts are important, and remaking the case for the science seems to me to be important as well.
We hear siren voices saying that the science is not real and that it is utterly contested and divided, and coming up with a whole range of explanations. I think that all of us in the House have a responsibility in that regard. I am not a scientist, but I am advised by a range of scientists—many of whom do not work for me, but work for organisations from the Royal Society to the Hadley Centre and a range of other institutions—and I think that remaking that case is very important.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, not least for making that last point. Just lately, a number of those siren voices have been saying that there has been a little bit of cooling in recent years. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is entirely explicable within the models and the overall trend of global warming?
My hon. Friend is right. This may be the point at which the fact that I am not a scientist will come out, but I believe I am right in saying that 1998 was a particularly warm year. That was because of the El Niño effect, and that is why I have made the point that if we look at a longer period, we are struck by the fact that nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred during the last 15.