It is a privilege to open this debate on the Gracious Speech and its plans on energy and the environment. Both of these areas are very clear priorities for this Government. Just as the first Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), worked with hon. Members on both sides of the House to ensure that long-term climate change targets had cross-party support, I look forward to continuing to develop the necessary consensus on our long-term energy security and climate change goals. I hope that we can all remember that there is much that unites us on this agenda.
I am delighted that one of the first actions of this Government has been to announce the cancellation of the third runway at Heathrow. Given the speed with which the right hon. Gentleman gained nominations for the leadership after making public his “very heated arguments” in Cabinet over Heathrow, I hope that by 25 September leaders of all parties will agree on this matter.
Although there is no specific legislation relating to the environment in this Session, my right honourable colleague the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will be driving forward an ambitious agenda: protecting the environment and biodiversity for future generations; ensuring thriving biodiversity and wildlife by preventing habitat loss and degradation; making our economy more environmentally sustainable by ensuring that the economic value of our natural resources is understood by both Government and society, so that those resources are managed better and will continue to provide for us; improving our quality of life and well-being by ensuring clean air, clean water and healthy food; and supporting the farming industry and encouraging sustainable food production, working across the whole food chain to ensure a secure, sustainable and healthy supply of food, while minimising food waste.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his new post.
During business questions, the Leader of the House was asked why the grocery market ombudsman legislation had not been included in the Queen’s Speech, given that the grocery supply code of practice has been in operation since February. Will the Secretary of State enlighten us? Has he made representations to his colleague at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to ensure that the legislation is introduced at the earliest possible opportunity? There is cross-party consensus on the issue, I presented a private Member’s Bill on it, and it was in all our manifestos.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, that legislation is not my departmental responsibility, but it did appear on the coalition Government’s programme. As he also knows, it is not always possible to legislate for everything in a Government’s programme in the first Session, but there is a fairly weighty programme for the first Session, and I hope that the legislation to which he has referred will be introduced rapidly.
My right honourable colleague the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will also be working with the businesses for which her Department is responsible to help them to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and to help businesses and communities to adapt to the effects of a changing climate. Climate change is one of the gravest threats that we face, and we have a very short period in which to tackle it before the problem becomes irreversible and out of control.
The Secretary of State has told us that there will be no environmental legislation as such, but given his emphasis on the importance of environmental issues, will he give the House a guarantee that—notwithstanding the announcements that have been made about cuts elsewhere—the essential work that is being done on the environment and climate change will be protected financially, and will not be compromised? I am thinking particularly of the Committee on Climate Change, which has a very important role in relation to the House.
I agree that the committee has an extremely important role to play. However, the hon. Lady must be aware of the financial legacy that this Government have inherited from the Labour Government. We have inherited the largest budget deficit in Europe bar none. It is even larger than, for example, the budget deficit of Greece, which, as we know, has experienced a substantial loss of market confidence in recent weeks. For precisely that reason, I do not think it would be wise for anyone to suggest that we should continue to seek all possible ways of ensuring that we can live within our means. If the hon. Lady looks at the manifesto on which she stood for election, she will observe that no such commitment was made in that manifesto; and it was not made in ours either.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his new post, in which I am sure he will serve with distinction. What are his views on carbon capture and storage? He will recall that in 2003 the last Government stressed the urgent need for action. I have seen no plan to move forward to 2050 that does not include carbon capture and storage if we are to meet our ambitious targets, and yet that Government failed to make any real progress on that when they were in office. The demonstration projects were endlessly delayed. Will my right hon. Friend supply the commitment and drive that were so sorely lacking when the Labour party was in power?
If I may make a little progress first, I will happily give way again.
It is because of the urgent need to deal with climate change that we are committed to making this Government the greenest ever by taking that urgently needed action at home and abroad. This is not merely an aspiration; it is essential. The actions of this Government in this Parliament will define our ability to combat climate change in the decades to come. That is why, in the first week of the new Government, the Prime Minister announced that Departments would reduce their carbon emissions by 10% in the next 12 months—an early indication of our intention to take real action rather than merely setting meaningless targets.
One thing that was mentioned in the Queen’s Speech was high-speed rail. Will the right hon. Gentleman please give us a commitment on the date on which high-speed rail investment will begin? Will it begin in 2012, and will high-speed rail come to Leeds? The Labour Government made both those commitments in the last Parliament.
Parties on both sides of the House were committed to high-speed rail and it is crucial that we make progress on this agenda, but the hon. Lady would not expect me to announce quite the detail that she is awaiting at this stage of the Government’s work. There is no doubt that we will be making serious progress on that agenda.
Internationally, we will work towards an ambitious global climate deal that will limit emissions. We will explore the creation of new international sources of funding to support countries both in limiting emissions and in adapting to the unavoidable consequences of climate change. Often the very poorest and most vulnerable countries are at greatest risk from the impacts of climate change, yet they have the least resources to participate in discussions that directly affect their future, so we will explore ways of helping those countries to take part in the international climate change negotiations—for example, in providing technical support.
Does my right hon. Friend recognise that 2010 is the United Nations year of biodiversity and the very countries that he is mentioning are losing many species? Our own bumble bees and other species are under threat. Without a Bill, what specifically will he do to help stop the loss of species?
Biodiversity is absolutely crucial, particularly in those tropical areas where concentrations of biodiversity that are under threat potentially have enormous implications for our collective human future if they are lost. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will address that point in detail when she winds up.
I want to bring the Secretary of State back to the answer that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) on high-speed rail. The previous Government—supported by the Liberal Democrats—had a very clear commitment that one branch of high-speed rail should go to Sheffield and to Leeds. Is he now saying that the Government are not necessarily committed to that policy? Is he saying that it is being reviewed and reconsidered? What is the position, because people in Sheffield and Leeds want to know?
Let me be absolutely clear for the hon. Gentleman: this is a matter for the Department for Transport in due course, and my colleague the Secretary of State for Transport will come forward with plans. I remind the hon. Gentleman that he supported a Government who have just left office and who did not make clear those details. It is unreasonable at this point to ask for that level of detail from this Government.
The EU has the opportunity both to press for ambitious action internationally and to show the world its commitment to making the transition to a low-carbon economy. We will push for the EU to demonstrate leadership in tackling international climate change, including by supporting an increase in the EU emission reduction target to 30% by 2020. We cannot expect poorer developing countries to cut their emissions if we do not take the lead.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his promotion. I worked in the European Parliament when he was a Member of it. Will he use his powers of persuasion to persuade some of the Tory MEPs to act and to vote on climate change issues in that Parliament, given that the EU is a force for good on climate change? Without those MEPs voting for legislation on climate change, that will not be possible.
I certainly agree about the importance of the EU in tackling environmental issues and the climate change agenda. We would not have made as much progress as we have internationally on climate change had it not been for the efforts of the EU.
We also need to ensure that our energy supplies are secure—we will be putting energy security at the heart of both our energy and security policies.
I am aware that I have to be slightly limited in giving way, as Mr Speaker will be after me. I am happy to give way, but let me make a little progress.
There are two major threats to our energy security—our growing dependence on imports of fossil fuels and the retirement of much of our electricity generating capacity. After years of self-sufficiency in the production of fossil fuels, we are now becoming ever more dependent on imports. For example, National Grid suggests that gas imports will account for 70% of UK gas demand by 2018, up from 1% in 2000.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on taking up his post. What message on gas imports, gas security and the whole pricing structure of gas will he give to my constituents—and, indeed, those of my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley) and for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt)—among whom there are manufacturers of ceramic ware who are dependent on that gas and, more importantly, on fluctuations in the price of that gas, which can vary widely from week to week, and almost from day to day?
The key to many of these issues will be long-term contracts ensuring security of supply, and I have not seen any projections of our energy security that do not involve a very important continuing role for gas in the transition to a low-carbon economy. I hope that that provides some reassurance to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents.
Much of our generating capacity is reaching the end of its working life or will not meet the increasingly stringent controls on emissions that will be imposed by the large combustion plant directive. By 2020, at least a third of our coal-fired capacity and nearly three quarters of our nuclear capacity is likely to have closed down.
I think the hon. Gentleman is unwise to assume that the policy of Government is different from the policy I am putting forward, but I will very happily come on to those issues in the next section of my speech.
In order to meet these climate and energy challenges, we must diversify our energy mix, making better use of our own natural resources such as wind and marine, and developing the clean coal technologies required to allow coal-fired power stations to continue to be part of a low-carbon mix. It is a scandal that in 2009 the UK still generated only 6.6% of our electricity from renewables. We have outstanding potential within the EU for renewable energy, yet we come second to bottom in the class of all 27 member states in our attainment from renewables. That must, and will, change.
My right hon. Friend last week took time to visit the all-energy exhibition in Aberdeen. Will he acknowledge from his experience there that running the North sea oil and gas industry and the expanding offshore renewables industry is, in fact, a partnership rather than a competition as the same companies and technology can deliver both, provided that they move in tandem?
I fully agree with my right hon. Friend, who makes an extremely good point. I was very struck when talking to some of the companies involved by the fact that the expertise and technology that had been developed in very hostile environments in the North sea for the offshore oil and gas industry can now be pressed into service to provide platforms for renewable wind.
The coalition agreement also clearly envisages a role for new nuclear, provided that there is no public subsidy. I hope there will be cross-party support for that, as I believe it was also the position in the Opposition’s manifesto. We also have to reduce our overall demand for energy.
I would be grateful for a reassurance to the House, and the people of Sheffield, that the personal opposition of the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend the Business Secretary to nuclear will not get in the way of confirming the substantial beneficial loan to Forgemasters, and therefore its ability to create jobs and to produce and export to the world the tremendous forging capacity for nuclear that was agreed by the previous Government.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question. That is obviously an important interest for the city of Sheffield and for his constituents. As he knows, the Government have announced that they are re-examining all the contracts that have been signed off since the beginning of this year. That process is under way and will be completed in due course, and further announcements will be made.
I wish to make a little more progress.
We have to reduce our overall demand for energy by making a step change in the levels of energy efficiency in our homes, our businesses and the public sector, helping people to heat their homes and meet their fuel bills affordably. We need to put the right incentives in place to ensure that sufficient generating capacity is available and to promote the reliable supply of energy imports by deepening trading relationships, improving the working of EU energy markets and global gas and oil markets, and promoting investment in new infrastructure, both in the UK and overseas.
Will the Secretary of State explain to the House the new Government’s policy on trading in nuclear enrichment? What is the policy on the treaties of Almelo and Washington? Will the UK have a clear position that applies to all other treaties involving European countries? Presumably any such treaty would be subject to a referendum if changes were involved.
The hon. Gentleman will know that Governments always have a clear position on treaties, because they intend to uphold any treaties that they have signed.
The transformation to a low-carbon economy is critical in meeting our climate change objectives and our energy security objectives. We will use a wide range of levers to cut carbon emissions and decarbonise our economy. Achieving the rapid progress that we need to make up for years of inaction and indecisiveness—in that regard, I am looking at some Labour Members—will be a significant challenge, but it also presents a massive opportunity for Britain. The global market in low-carbon and environmental goods and services was estimated at £3.2 trillion in 2008-09, and is projected to rise to more than £4 trillion by 2015. By taking action to secure energy supplies and cut emissions we can enable British businesses to seize the benefits of that transition, creating new businesses and thousands of jobs across the country.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment. I am not sure who he was looking at just then, because Labour Members were very decisive about the need for new nuclear power. When you examine the transition to a low-carbon economy, are you factoring new nuclear power in or out? Similarly, do you factor nuclear power in when it comes to—
If the right hon. Gentleman were to read the coalition Government agreement, he would recognise that a clear framework is in place for new nuclear power. I am pleased that some of those most interested in investing in new nuclear, such as EDF, have welcomed the clarity with which the new Government have set out their position. If he is concerned about that, he needs to update himself on some of the potential investors.
The steps that we need to take—
I should make a little progress, because answering one intervention and then moving straight into dealing with another without even delivering a few of the sentences in my prepared text would be—[Interruption.] I am sure that Labour Members were trying to help me, and I am very grateful.
The steps that we need to take do not relate just to the supply and demand of energy; our energy infrastructure is in urgent need of new investment. Much of our national grid was built during the 1950s and 1960s, when consumers were passive and electricity came from predictable, large-scale sources. We need to move to a 21st century system where supplies come from a range of sources—from large to small scale, and from the predictable to the intermittent—and consumers adjust their consumption much more flexibly. Achieving our objectives is not just about having the right regulatory framework; we must act urgently to improve the availability of finance in support of the UK’s transition to a low-carbon economy. That is why we will create a green investment bank to unlock private capital and provide individuals with opportunities to invest in the infrastructure needed to support the new green economy. The energy Bill announced in the Gracious Speech is a key part of our programme to deliver a low-carbon future, demonstrating that we are ready to make the difficult decisions and to take swift action to put the right legislative framework in place. The Bill will deliver a framework that will transform the provision of energy efficiency in the UK by enabling a “pay as you save” approach.
The Secretary of State might be aware that in order to reduce domestic energy bills and fuel poverty, and to cut through the confusion caused by having about 4,000 different tariffs, a number of hon. Members campaigned on the issue of obliging energy companies to inform their customers on each bill whether they were on the cheapest tariff and, if not, how to transfer to that tariff. The previous Government compromised by suggesting that that information would be put on an annual statement. The coalition agreement does not make it clear whether that will remain a firm commitment from our side. Will the Secretary of State clarify the situation for the House?
I am grateful to my honourable colleague for that question. The coalition agreement states very clearly that the fundamental objective is as he has described, and the Department will examine the best way in which we can deliver it, taking account of the administrative costs.
We know that many people want to take steps to make their homes more energy efficient, but the up-front cost can be prohibitive and there can be uncertainty about the results of measures. Our green deal will enable householders to benefit from energy efficiency and to repay the cost of the work over time, through savings on their energy bills.
I, too, congratulate the Secretary of State on his elevation to his new post. He will be aware that energy efficiency in the home particularly relates to the ability of that home to operate efficiently, and the emergence of a feed-in tariff and the renewable heat incentive is an important part of that process. Will he tell the House whether he is prepared to stand by the feed-in tariff and its financial implications, and the renewable heat incentive? Will he guarantee the finance that will accompany that, in order to ensure energy efficiency and the development of small-scale generation in the domestic sector?
I am always pleased to hear questions from the hon. Gentleman, because he is a neighbour in Hampshire and has followed this agenda closely, with great passion and commitment, for many years. The issues that he raises are key. He will note that the coalition Government agreement contains a firm commitment to feed-in tariffs, and we will take that forward. Renewable heat is an important issue and we want to ensure that we make progress on that. The Department will have to come up with the exact ways in which we do that, but this is a crucial part of the whole package. Broadly speaking, a quarter of our carbon emissions come from our housing stock, much of which will still be there in 2050; people will still be living in it. Given that, what we are trying to do, particularly with the green deal, is move to a situation where we can retrofit that stock with insulating measures that will make a dramatic difference. Our Bill is designed to do that, and I very much look forward to working with people from across the House, including those on the Opposition Benches, whose substantial commitment to this agenda over many years I recognise, to make this a really effective, long-term piece of legislation. We want it to be something that we can all take pride in, that will be on the statute book for many years and that will stand the test of time.
My right hon. Friend knows that I warmly welcome him, with his fantastic commitment over many years to the green agenda, to his post, as well as the greenness of this Government. Given that our party had the most ambitious programme, with a 10-year programme for home insulation across the country, and that the commitment is continued in outline in the coalition Government agreement, will he assure us that as he and colleagues across Government work out how that can be delivered, they will be as ambitious as possible, not just for five years but over 10, and that every home that it is technically possible to convert will be able to have that programme met most generously from reduced fuel bills? It would make the most fantastic transformation for real people in their homes.
My hon. Friend has stated precisely what the objective of this key centrepiece of the legislation will be. It is essential that we deal with the issue and leave a legacy that will stand the test of time and will genuinely modernise all our old housing stock, including the pre-first world war housing stock. There are a lot of problems, such as solid wall insulation, of which we are all aware, and such measures can make a dramatic difference to our ability to meet our climate change targets. Indeed, we are all committed in the Climate Change Act 2008, which was taken through the House by the right hon. Member for Doncaster North, to a very dramatic cut in carbon emissions. We have to accept the logical consequences of that commitment, one of which will be measures across the economy to decarbonise the economy and to save energy. I agree with the emphasis put on this subject by my hon. Friend.
As well as reducing carbon emissions and helping to reduce energy bills, the investment in energy efficiency will support our green recovery. It will create more green jobs in the building industry as we convert our old housing stock to state-of-the-art standards. It will help industry grow and build a thriving green economy for the UK, as well as help to close our energy gap in the most efficient way possible by saving energy that we waste.
We are also committed to using our Bill to put in place the building blocks for our low-carbon future. The economy of the future is likely to be powered by electricity and we need to be able to generate enough electricity to meet future needs from low and zero-carbon sources. We are still working on the detail and identifying where legislation is required, but these measures might include the reform of our energy markets to meet the challenges ahead in delivering security of supply and the transition to a low-carbon economy, including the introduction of an emissions performance standard to regulate emissions from coal-fired power stations.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way for a second time. He was clear and detailed in his response to the questions posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) and the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes). However, he was less so in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon North (Malcolm Wicks). On nuclear power, will he be absolutely clear whether, if there was a vote in this House to go ahead with new nuclear power stations, he would, as Secretary of State, give the leadership vote for that, vote against it or stay away?
The coalition agreement is very clear. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that investment in particular sources of energy is up to private investors. The agreement in the coalition Government—I hope that this extends to those on the Opposition Benches—is that there will be no new subsidy for nuclear power. Frankly, given the state of the public finances that we have inherited from the last Government, that is a commitment that I can make with the total backing of my colleagues in the Treasury and elsewhere in the Government. If investors want to come forward on that basis, taking account of what is likely to happen to the carbon price and of the framework that we have laid out in the coalition Government, I believe that there will be an overwhelming majority in this House for new build. That is something that we have had to recognise, even though my party has taken a different view on that. The hon. Gentleman’s party has supported nuclear power. Our partners in the coalition Government on the Conservative side have been supporters of nuclear power. We have to recognise that there is an overwhelming majority in this House. I come back to the point that I made earlier, which is that if we talk to investors who are considering this, such as EDF, they welcome the clarity with which the coalition Government have put out our statement.
Let me make a little progress.
The measures might also include a requirement for energy companies to provide more information on energy bills in order to empower consumers, including information on the cheapest tariff available and how a household’s energy usage compares to similar households, and a framework for the development of a smart grid to revolutionise the management of supply and demand for electricity in a low-carbon future. Again, the emphasis is on saving as well as on new generation. If we can have a smart grid that enables us to take some of the peaks out of electricity demand, that in turn will allow us to install less capacity and provide what we have to provide in a more economical manner.
It was remiss of me not to have congratulated the Secretary of State on the important role that he is now playing. On the issue of the grid, may I refer him to the offshore valuation research that shows that there is huge potential for the net export of renewables? Will he assure the House that as the legislation is introduced there will be scope for a supergrid so that we can have all the advantages, which will also cover energy supply, of being able to export to Europe?
There are a number of issues, but I was excited, as I am sure the hon. Lady was, by the report on the potential for renewable energy around our shores. It is right to point out, as that report did, that in due course we might once again be a net energy exporter, as we were at the peak of oil and gas production in the North sea. That is a very exciting prospect. We have enormous potential when it comes to renewables produced through tidal power, wave power and wind power—perhaps less, given our climate, when it comes to solar power. We have an enormous capacity, and we need to ensure that we have the framework to exploit that.
We will also need the right institutional framework to support the reform of our energy system, and we may use the Bill to put any necessary changes in place. Overall, the Gracious Speech has put forward a programme to ensure we have a stable economy underpinned by a robust national infrastructure. The energy Bill will be an integral part of that agenda, as it will kick-start the transformation to a real low-carbon economy and help to drive the country out of recession by creating thousands of new green jobs. I commend the Gracious Speech to the House.
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on taking up his post as Secretary of State. He has had a distinguished career as an economist, as a Member of the European Parliament and as an eloquent Member of this House since his election in 2005. He was also one of the architects of the coalition agreement and he deserves his place in the Cabinet. We will be a constructive Opposition and I welcome him to his post.
As the right hon. Gentleman is a Liberal Democrat, I know that he practises what he preaches. I am told by friends that he is going to follow his new leader, the Prime Minister, in putting a wind turbine on his house, but that he is going to go even further and put a wind turbine on all seven of his houses. We look forward to the regeneration of the wind turbine industry that that will produce.
My right hon. Friend mentioned that the Secretary of State would be putting wind turbines on his house. I wonder whether local Lib Dems will campaign against that, as they always seem to campaign against wind farms, whether onshore or offshore, whereas at a national level they say that they support them.
No doubt that will be the case.
Let me say right at the outset that now we are in opposition, I intend for us both to hold the Secretary of State to account and to be constructive. In that spirit, there are some measures that we welcome, which would have been in a Labour Gracious Speech. The help for the home energy efficiency pay-as-you-save proposal is very important and we look forward to scrutinising the measures that come forward on that. The measures on the smart grid are also important, as is reform of the energy market—the work that we started in government. Internationally, we will fully support his efforts to try to get the binding treaty either at Cancun or in Cape Town that we failed to get at Copenhagen, and I will happily share with him some of the scars of Copenhagen if I can be of any help in advance of the Cancun summit.
The issue at the heart of this Gracious Speech, in this area and in many others, is whether the Government can provide the long-term direction that the country needs. In the area of climate change and energy, above all others, the country needs a clear sense of direction. The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives had different positions on some key issues at the election. I suppose we cannot blame them for that, as they did not know they would end up in bed together, but the test will be whether they produce a coherent long-term plan on those areas of disagreement or simply try to paper over the cracks, and thus fail to provide the long-term direction the country needs. We should set three tests: whether the new Government have a coherent strategy to deliver on the transition to low-carbon energy, whether they have a plan to secure a green industrial future for Britain and whether they have a commitment to make the transition fair.
Let me address the biggest challenge of all, which is the pre-condition of all other challenges on climate change that we face—the need to take carbon out of our electricity supplies. Our answer, in the low carbon transition plan we published last summer, which I hope was a plan for a decade, was the trinity of low-carbon fuels—clean coal, renewables and nuclear. On clean coal, I am pleased that the coalition agreement supports our investment and the levy that went through the House, as well as the tough coal conditions that we introduced, which are the toughest in the world.
My right hon. Friend raises the issue of clean coal. We must also raise with the Government the immoral cost of importing coal from countries such as China and Ukraine, where thousands of miners are killed every year so that we can get relatively cheap coal. When he was the Secretary of State, he agreed to take forward this issue in the international arena. Will he join me in asking the new Secretary of State to do the same?
My hon. Friend raised this important issue at the end of the last Parliament. We hope to work with the Government on that, as I am sure it is a cross-party concern. No doubt he will campaign on this issue as eloquently as he does on many others.
We will scrutinise the Secretary of State’s plans for an emissions performance standard. There is concern about whether that will lead to uncertainty in investment in coal and gas, but, again, we will judge the Government on the measures they introduce. There is some urgency on this issue, so I hope that plans will be produced speedily.
On clean coal, I think the Government are broadly in agreement with our plans, but what about renewables, which are the second part of the trinity of low carbon that we need? The Conservatives said in their manifesto that they agreed with our target of 15% renewable energy by 2020. The Liberal Democrats said they wanted a figure of about 40% by 2020, which I think is completely unrealistic. How have they resolved that difference? The new Government do not seem to have a target. They have 15% as a baseline, but say that they want the figure to be higher, and they have referred the issue to the Committee on Climate Change. There is a deeper problem here, because the Government say they want a larger target, but they are not willing to support the measures needed even to deliver existing targets. The Secretary of State made much of our record on renewables. We are the world leader in offshore wind generation, but it is true that we lag behind on onshore wind. However there is one very good reason for that, and he knows it as well as I do—most wind farm applications are blocked by Conservative councils. One might put it this way:
“At local level, Conservative councils are simply not heeding Cameron’s green call.”
Those are not my words, but those of the Secretary of State, writing about Conservative opposition to wind farms, so he knows that is the root of the problem.
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House why his Government failed to take the decisions or create the climate to have new investment in electricity generation, and why they left this country with insufficient capacity and the danger of the lights going out?
I do not agree with that. The question for Britain is whether to meet our security of supply needs in a high-carbon way, by building gas-fired power stations, or in a low-carbon way, by building renewables and nuclear. That is why what I am saying is so important.
Coming very recently from a Department for Communities and Local Government brief, I can help all Members of the House on this. It was the original Conservative plan, and is now the coalition’s plan, to allow local communities to keep the business rate from the tariff that comes with the wind Bill, so that communities who take wind turbines in their local communities will also gain from them. That is part of promoting that form of renewable energy.
I am sure that the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change will be very grateful for that help from his right hon. Friend, but I do not think that that is enough. Let me explain why. I gave that quote not to embarrass him, but to raise a very important issue.
In a moment.
We said in our manifesto that every council should have a local target to help meet the overall 15% target for the country as a whole—not that they should have a disproportionate target, but that they should make a contribution to the overall target. The Conservatives, including the right hon. Lady, were against that, but I thought that the Liberal Democrats were in favour of our strategy. I attended a Guardian debate on climate change with the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) during the election, and he said that he supported my policy. By the way, I regret that he is not in the Government, because I think they are poorer without him. Now, what do we see in the coalition document? The Tories have won the argument: there will be no local obligation to contribute to the national target, because of the abolition of regional strategies. So what is it? It is a charter for every council to be able to say, “Not in my back yard.” The Secretary of State said in his first interview in The Times that he is going to build 15,000 wind turbines—he is going to make a start by putting seven on his own houses—but that will not happen without a strategy, and so far, I see no strategy from him.
The right hon. Gentleman needs to distinguish between setting a Government target and delivering on the ground, which is much more important. One thing that the Government are going to do is to under-promise and over-deliver as opposed to what happened with the last Government, who over-promised and under-delivered. On the point that my right honourable colleague the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs made, we should remember what the evidence shows, from good examples of installing wind farms such as the Gigha wind farm in the highlands, where sharing the benefits led to support for it and its rapid installation.
The right hon. Gentleman is going to have to do better than that—it is just a load of old hot air. He is trying to increase our target, but he is taking away one of the key levers needed to help us meet the target. You do not have to take my word for that, Mr Speaker—you can take the word of the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, who supported our position. If he would like to intervene to tell me, or his former right hon. Friend, who is now the Secretary of State, that he agrees that local councils need to contribute to the 15% target, I would be very happy to give way to him. [Interruption.] I think that says it all. The splits are already appearing.
Surely, it is worse than that. By starting again with the planning regulations, we are going to lose all the momentum we have developed over the past three or four years, and we are going to encourage investors to go to other parts not only of Europe but of the world.
Have I missed something here? Up and down the country, whenever I have seen protest flags and signs saying, “No wind farm here”, they have never said, “No wind farm here unless of course you want to give us some money.” Poorer communities will have to put up with wind farms as the only way of getting money into their communities while better-off communities will say, “Not in our back yard, thank you very much.”
My hon. Friend eloquently makes his point. I am afraid that the truth is that the right hon. Gentleman, in his first few days in the job, has obviously sold down the river his former Liberal Democrat colleagues, and they will take note.
Let us move on to the next part of delivering the low-carbon agenda: nuclear power, which was a very small feature of the right hon. Gentleman’s speech. He spoke one line through gritted teeth about nuclear power. I wonder why. I think that I know the reason. Let us be clear that our position on nuclear power is that the challenge of climate change is so great that we need nuclear as well as renewables and clean coal, because the challenge of climate change is so big. That is the position of the vast majority of Conservative Members––they are nodding away, which is great because we agree with them.
Of course, the Liberal Democrat position was against new nuclear power. The Liberal Democrats say in their manifesto that they
“reject a new generation of new nuclear power stations”.
But I am in a generous mood, so let us not criticise them for that, because the judgment is one of whether they have managed to achieve a proper long-term agreement, with a clear position, or whether they have just papered over the cracks.
The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), is instructive on the issue. He said about nuclear investment that
“Clarity is essential if new investment is to happen.”
I agree with him, so let us apply his test to the new Government. The coalition agreement says that the Government will introduce a national planning statement and that the Liberal Democrats can continue to maintain their opposition to nuclear power, but it does not end there. It says that
“a Liberal Democrat spokesperson will speak against the Planning Statement…but…Liberal Democrat MPs will abstain”.
Let us be clear that there is not one Government position on nuclear power, not two Government positions, but three positions: the Government are notionally in favour of it; a Liberal Democrat representative will speak against it—I do not know who that will be; it might be the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, or, presumably, the right hon. Gentleman—and the party itself will sit on the fence in any vote. We always knew that being a Liberal Democrat in opposition meant not having to choose, but old habits seem to die hard: they seem to think that being a Liberal Democrat in government means not having to choose either.
The right hon. Gentleman seems to have passed responsibility for new nuclear power to his deputy, the hon. Member for Wealden. The responsibilities of the Department of Energy and Climate Change have come out and the Secretary of State seems to have abdicated responsibility for this issue. Delivering on new nuclear power is a very big task that needs the personal role of the Secretary of State. I used to chair the Nuclear Development Forum, bringing together all the different partners in industry to drive things forward and ensure that we would deliver on time. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will think again about abdicating responsibility to the Minister of State, much as I admire him.
My right hon. Friend says that the challenge of climate change is so great that we need nuclear power as well as renewables and energy efficiency, but given that we have to reduce our emissions in the next eight to 10 years if we listen to the scientists, we need to consider what is the most cost-effective and the fastest way to do that. Is nuclear power not a massive distraction in that debate? Even if we doubled the amount of nuclear power, we would cut our emissions by only 8%. Putting money into renewables and efficiency is far more effective.
I welcome the hon. Lady to the House. I wish that the Labour party had won her seat, but she comes to the House with a distinguished campaigning record on green issues, and she will inform our debates and bring great expertise to them.
I disagree with the hon. Lady about nuclear power, because we have to plan for the long term. She is right that we have to meet an urgent challenge, but we also have 80% targets for 2050, and we must drive our targets for 2020 beyond 2020 to 2025 and 2030. The Opposition’s view is that nuclear power needs to play a role.
The right hon. Gentleman is part of the Labour party’s conversion to nuclear power, and he knows that my party has not done so. As well as the fact that nuclear power cannot deliver quickly, is it not true that the contribution that it could deliver is so far away that it will also make a minimal contribution, if one at all? Can he honestly tell the House that he believes that nuclear power can be delivered in this country without public subsidy, unlike in the United States, Finland or any other country in the world?
Yes, I can, because we have learned the lessons of Britain’s past on nuclear power, as well as international lessons. What have we said? For example, we said that companies will have to put aside money to cover legacy waste. I honestly believe that that is necessary. That is not to say that nuclear power has no challenges, but the challenge of climate change is far bigger, and we reject the alternatives at our peril.
The mystery is that the Secretary of State and the new Government seem to have three positions on nuclear power, but there is a revealing history, and we need to be clear and honest about the fact that Liberal Democrats said in the past that, if they ever got into government, they would do everything that they could to stop nuclear power happening. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood), who is not in his place, said:
“I assure any investors who may be watching our debate...that their investment will be at risk if we play a part in any future Government, because if we had the chance we would seek to slow down, and if possible to stop, the development of nuclear power.”—[Official Report, 30 April 2008; Vol. 475, c. 322.]
I have to tell the Secretary of State, whom I greatly respect, that people will think that that is his and the new Government’s hidden agenda. He has said no to nuclear and described it as a “dead end”. It is quite simple: to show the clarity that the Minister of State says is necessary and to send a clear signal, I urge the Secretary of State to say that he was wrong to say, “Our message is clear: no to nuclear.” The grown-up thing to do is to admit that he got it wrong and that he wants nuclear power to be part of this country’s energy mix. Surely, if he believes in his own policy on public subsidy, all the Liberal Democrats should vote for it. He has set a policy—we do not disagree with it—and Liberal Democrat Members should vote for it. Sending those mixed signals is not good for the business community.
Let me end my comments on nuclear power by making the point that there is a very strange thing in the coalition agreement at the end of the section on nuclear power. I have been scratching my head about it. It says that they—presumably, the people who wrote the coalition agreement—want
“clarity that this will not be regarded as an issue of confidence”.
What an extraordinary thing for a Government to say about their own policy. Oppositions normally say that they do not have confidence in a Government’s policy. The Government are saying that their do not have confidence in their own policy. What confidence can the world outside have in the Government’s policy when they say that they do not have confidence in it?
The person whom I feel most sorry for is the Minister of State. He must be tearing out his hair. He spent many distinguished years in opposition. He persuaded the Prime Minister to abandon his position that nuclear was merely a last resort, and now he ends up with the right hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) in charge. Someone said rather unkindly last week that it really is like having a vegan in charge of McDonald’s. I think that that is very unfair, but Tory MPs, most of whom support nuclear power, must be shaking their heads. The coalition has given us the dogma of the Tories on wind farms, which will mean that they find it difficult to deliver, and the dogma of the Liberal Democrats about nuclear power. Neither side is willing to face up to the tough decisions that we need to make as a country to make the low-carbon transition.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, although the new Secretary of State seems to wish to adopt a laissez-faire approach—“It’s nothing to do with me; it’s up to the industry on nuclear”—the reality is that, whether on the generic assessment of the technology, siting arrangements or deep geological disposal, one needs a Secretary of State to drive things forward? The Secretary of State talks about clarity. People wish for nuclear fusion one day. Is not the reality that we now have nuclear confusion?
My right hon. Friend, who has a distinguished record on these matters, is right.
We face a third problem with low-carbon transition: planning, which my hon. Friends have mentioned. I am afraid that both sides of the coalition subscribe to the idea that they should abolish the Infrastructure Planning Commission. Its abolition is absolutely the last thing that we need. For years, the thing that has held up large-scale energy projects is planning. We have worked with business to establish a system to provide certainty in which directions are set by accountable politicians and specific decisions are resolved independently. Business welcomed it and the CBI said that it was
“vital for the strategic infrastructure”,
but now the Government want to scrap it. And who gets to make the decision on new nuclear plants under the new system? None other than the Secretary of State, because politicians have retaken control, but he has a policy in which even the coalition agreement does not have confidence. On the essential test of the long-term direction on climate change—on how we decarbonise our energy supply—I fear that the Government are already failing.
I should like to raise the issue that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) mentioned: the proposed £80 million loan for Sheffield Forgemasters to which the previous Government agreed. Is it not vital, if we are to develop a new nuclear industry in this country, that British industry is given the best chance to compete for work in building new nuclear reactors? Is it not worrying not only that the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change will take the decision on nuclear, but that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills will take the decision about the review of the grant to Sheffield Forgemasters?
Let me welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and welcome you back to the House.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts), and he prefigures the next part of my speech, because the second test is whether we can show that low carbon is about not just climate change, but the future of our economy. To his credit, the Secretary of State talked about the importance of an industrial strategy.
In the last 18 months, the previous Government pursued an active industrial strategy. Four of the world’s five biggest offshore wind manufacturers all said that they were coming to Britain: Siemens, GE, Clipper, and Mitsubishi. Nissan said that it would make electric cars in Sunderland. We also created the chance to be at the centre of the nuclear supply chain through Sheffield Forgemasters. Those things happened not by accident, but because we had a plan that recognised that even in a market economy, Government must nurture new industries that the private sector will not invest in on its own.
In their manifesto, the Liberal Democrats promised £400 million of Government investment in shipyards in the north of England and Scotland, to convert them to wind energy. We no longer hear anything about that; we do not hear of it in the coalition agreement or in the Gracious Speech. It is worse than that, as was indicated in the interventions on the Secretary of State’s speech. Now the Government say that every spending decision since January will be reviewed. That includes decisions on grants to companies such as Mitsubishi to make wind turbines; port investment for offshore wind manufacturers, which is very important; money for Nissan to build electric vehicles; and the £80 million loan to Sheffield Forgemasters regarding the nuclear supply chain.
Remember, the Liberal Democrats said at the election that they agreed with Labour that spending should not be cut this year, so I have to say to the Secretary of State that this uncertainty is a total betrayal of their position at the election. They went round the country telling people that there should not be spending cuts this year; they agreed with us. People will have voted Liberal Democrat, apparently confident in the knowledge that the Liberal Democrats were with us on the question of industrial investment.
The right hon. Gentleman will remember that during the election campaign, quite an important event happened on the international markets: the international markets beat up a country in southern Europe called Greece, which happens to have a smaller budget deficit than that bequeathed to this Government by the Labour Government.
So there we have it—the Greek defence. A person may vote Liberal Democrat, but along sails the Greek defence, which means that one does not need to keep one’s promises. Promises do not mean anything from the Liberal Democrats if something happens in Greece. The Secretary of State will have to do a lot better than that.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that Greece’s debt is 110% of its gross domestic product? That is twice as high a ratio of debt to GDP as that in the UK. That, and not the budget deficit, is the important point with regard to sustainability. The budget deficits of Greece and the UK are comparable, but in terms of sustainability, the issue is the level of debt. As the UK’s debt is half the level of Greece’s, those comparisons are scaremongering excuses for policies that the Conservatives always wanted to pursue.
The truth is, though, that since the Budget of my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor in March, tax revenues have been stronger and the budget deficit is lower than it was at the time of the election. The Greek defence will not do, I am afraid. The uncertainty that the Secretary of State is causing with his willingness to look again at the decisions that I mentioned is a total betrayal of the Liberal Democrats’ position at the election.
I think that we can hear the sound of old scores being settled, because the orange book, as represented by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, is winning, and the Secretary of State, who, to be fair to him, is at the more progressive end of the Liberal Democrat party—or so I thought—has lost. I say to the Secretary of State in all seriousness that it would be the worst sort of short-termism—something that the Government are supposed to be against—to cut those investments, which are essential for the long-term health of the British economy. If he is serious about the green industrial agenda, as he said he was in his speech, it is his responsibility to defend those investments, and we will judge him on that, because those investments are essential to make Britain part of the green industrial revolution. I hope that in the coming weeks he will defend tooth and nail those investments in the green industries of the future.
I agree with my hon. Friend, and that speaks to the attitude, which I hope the Secretary of State does not share, that the only thing that is needed to make our economy work is for Government to get out of the way. I do not think that that will create the economy of the future.
I thank my right hon. Friend for the support that he gave my community and my constituency on new nuclear build, with Wylfa being one of the first in line. On planning, do we not have the worst of both worlds, with the scrapping of the Infrastructure Planning Commission on the one hand, and no planning commission or planning statement in place on the other? That uncertainty is costing business—
Does my right hon. Friend agree that industry requires not only certainty of future energy supply but—given the long-term planning and investment needed for new nuclear and related technologies—certainty and conviction on the part of the Government promoting those technologies, rather than the dithering and delay symptomatic of the new Government?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we all accept that we would like a transition towards electric cars instead of petrol cars, it will naturally breed a massive increase in the demand for electricity, which will require many more nuclear power stations? The Government do not seem to see further than their nose on this.
That is not true, because when we look at what we have achieved, in terms of the reduction in carbon emissions in this country and the transition that we have started on new nuclear, which was initially opposed by both parties on the Government Benches, we see that we are making the transition that needed to be made.
Let me move on to the third test, because I want to allow time for people to come in.
On the third test and the key challenge to ensure that the low carbon transition is fair, we welcome the measures on pay-as-you-save energy. However, there are two matters on which I cannot find anything in the coalition agreement or the Gracious Speech, and I hope that the Secretary of State will indicate at an early opportunity that he wants to move forward on them. The first is the regulation of private and social landlords for energy efficiency. The pay-as-you-save measures are important steps for home owners, but in the past few years we have not seen among private landlords the take-up of basic measures on loft and cavity wall insulation. It should not really be a matter of partisan debate, so I hope that the Secretary of State will move on regulation, because we are talking about some of the poorest people in our society, and they are living in substandard accommodation in terms of energy efficiency.
The second issue, which again I hope is not a matter of big disagreement, is about implementing the measure on compulsory social tariffs which we passed in the Energy Act 2010. In our manifesto we said that we would provide for money off the bills of older, poorer pensioners, and the Secretary of State will want to consider the options that are available to him, but again I hope that at an early opportunity he will make good on those measures.
Let me make one other point on fairness, and then I shall give way to my hon. Friend.
I also urge the Secretary of State, in his discussions on energy market reform, to look both at investment, which is very important, and at trying to open up the market beyond the big six energy companies, because the truth is that they control 99% of the market and it would be better for competition if we could find ways of opening it up. Ofgem has put forward some ideas, and if we had been back in government we would have wanted to push them forward.
On my right hon. Friend’s last point, I must say that it is not only the big six energy companies that are playing the market for profit, rather than for the consideration of the final user, but the banks and traders. I listened very carefully to the Secretary of State’s speech but heard no mention of the Warm Front scheme. I have had my concerns about its operational levels, but does my right hon. Friend share my concern that, because of yet another uncertainty, my constituents and those of other hon. Members do not know whether to press ahead and see if they can obtain some funding through Warm Front?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Warm Front has done a lot, and I hope that the Secretary of State, in the discussions that he will no doubt have with his colleague the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, will defend that scheme.
We do wish the new Government well in this crucial policy area, both at home and abroad, but I say in all candour to the Secretary of State, as I have said in my speech, that if they carry on as they have started, fudging key differences and papering over the cracks, they will produce a recipe for muddle and confusion, and not the long-term direction that we need. Their renewables policy does not yet add up, because they have Lib-Dem targets with Tory planning policy; their nuclear policy does not add up, because they have three positions; and on industrial policy the risk is that short-term cuts will deny us the long-term economic strength that we need.
In the months ahead, we will hold the Government to account on delivery, because it is in the interests of everyone in this country that we deliver on fairness, on jobs, on energy security and on climate change.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband). I suspect that some of his speech was aimed at a slightly wider audience than even the very large number of colleagues present today, and of course we wish him well with his leadership ambitions. However, I found it rather difficult to tally his enthusiasm for nuclear power with the appalling record of the previous Labour Government, who did not add a single watt of new nuclear generating capacity in 13 long years. We are entitled to a better explanation of why they failed so dismally to do that.
I want, first, to make a little progress, if I may.
I welcome the Queen’s Speech, because it tackles three of the biggest issues that we as a country face. It makes a start on restoring our public finances, on mending our broken society and on modernising our political system, and I shall say a little about each of those issues.
On public finances, we have already welcomed the strong start that the Treasury made on Monday by making immediate savings in public expenditure. A start simply had to be made. If one spends £700 billion a year but raises only £540 billion a year in taxes, something must be done, and I welcome the fact that this Government, unlike their predecessors, did not sit on their hands but made a start. I welcome also the Chief Secretary’s recognition on Monday that that was only a small step: £6.2 billion is well under 1% of total Government expenditure, and more significant savings will have to be made.
I, unlike the right hon. Member for Doncaster North, was pleased by the reference to Greece, because there is a parallel between our deficit situation and the one in Greece. The Greek Government, like our previous Government, were warned successively by the European Commission, the OECD and the International Monetary Fund, but both Governments ignored those warnings and let their deficits continue to accumulate. So there is a warning from Greece: if we do not tackle the fundamental causes of our deficit as rapidly as possible, we are likely to lose the confidence of the markets.
I therefore look forward to the much more difficult task that my right hon. Friends face in the spending review that they will conduct through the summer and autumn. It seems obvious to me, even from Monday’s announcements, that the necessary elimination of waste and the search for efficiency savings, although worth while in themselves, will not be enough. If we are to protect the front-line services that we support and the basic budgets of Departments that are not wholly protected, it seems obvious that, first, some established programmes, however cherished, will have to be revised; and that, secondly, we will have to look at annually managed expenditure—the so-called benefit element of public expenditure. It remains the case that many benefit entitlements go relatively high up the income scale, and, if we are to spread the burden of the painful adjustments that are necessary, it does not seem credible to exempt those who are on middle or higher incomes and currently enjoy a wide range of benefits. Importantly, however, the spending review must be conducted fairly and responsibly, spreading the load that is imposed when either expenditure is withdrawn or taxation increased.
The Queen’s Speech also makes a start on building a stronger society, and just as important as abstractions, such as the big society, are the practical measures that will extend choice throughout our public services, improve the service that our constituents receive when they use public services and promote more responsibility by users and, perhaps, more awareness of the obligations that come with their use.
In education, I particularly welcome the new drive to attract fresh providers into our system. However, important though that is—and it is important, particularly in some of the inner-city areas of our country, where standards need to be much higher—there is also great advantage to be gained from the additional freedoms that are proposed for all schools, existing and new. Those freedoms will give head teachers and their governors the real power, which they have long wanted, to get away from Government targets and to set their own terms, conditions and priorities. I see nothing wrong in encouraging our schools to be different. Since my days in the Department of Education and Science, I have wanted to get away from the homogeneity of council schooling and encourage more schools, which, while following the core curriculum, are different in their outlook, and cater for the different abilities and talents of the children whose parents choose them. That will be a test of the new education legislation.
While I am on the subject of the new academies Bill, perhaps I could put in a plea, notwithstanding my earlier remarks about public expenditure, for the Government to follow through fully the commitment to the new Knole academy in Sevenoaks. The commitment was signed in January and my constituents will expect that to be followed through.
In west Kent, we have a particular problem, to which I would like to draw to my right hon. Friends’ attention—the pressure on grammar school places. We have a grammar school system in Kent, and it has always been made clear that the demand for more places needs to be addressed. There is not only an increasing birth rate and more demand for grammar school places, but some 300 pupils now come across our border from East Sussex, Bromley and Bexley and take places in our grammar schools in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells. That issue needs to be tackled.
I want to consider the measures in the Queen’s Speech to reform our politics. I understand the need for a coalition agreement and the compromises that bind it. I must say that when I was campaigning for re-election in Sevenoaks, nobody asked me for a fixed-term Parliament or came to the door and said that we needed the alternative vote plus system. Those issues were not raised with me, but I found that people were crying out for a more proper and fuller connection with their political institutions. I found, as I am sure that my hon. Friends did, a frightening gap between people with problems and the layers of local, country and national politicians who were supposed to deal with them.
Nowhere is that better illustrated than in the St Mary’s ward of Swanley in my constituency, where in February last year the British National party won what had hitherto been the safest Labour seat in Swanley and secured its first council seat on Sevenoaks district council. St Mary’s was not just the safest Labour ward in my constituency, but the poorest. It is striking that that ward, which I visit frequently, despite all the efforts of those who work in it—community workers, schools, including Amanda McGarrigle and her team at St Mary’s primary school, and local councillors—as well as the efforts of Government, has not shared in the increased prosperity and job prospects that the rest of the county enjoyed under the previous two or three Governments. We need to reflect more deeply on the reason for that.
There was a fashionable debate in our party a few years ago about whether Winston Churchill or Polly Toynbee was the better marker to follow. Churchill famously said that a rising tide lifts all boats, whereas I think Ms Toynbee argued for her vision of a caravan proceeding across the desert at the pace of its slowest members. Neither approach has worked in some of our poorest wards in the past 10, 20 or 30 years. If I concede that the benefits of markets alone have not trickled down sufficiently to some of the very poor areas of our country, I hope that the Labour party will concede that a whole raft of Government action, ministerial targets and misdirected public expenditure has not succeeded either.
That means that we must look to another way for those pockets of deprivation that remain. I hesitate to call it a third way, but it is in the Queen’s Speech: it is, of course, localism. It means giving power back through the rafts of politics and politicians to the local community and encouraging people who live in those wards to take much more responsibility. It means giving them the freedom to take responsibility for finding the solutions to their problems. It may well be, having sorted out the public finances and helped rebuild a stronger society, that the Government’s success will ultimately depend on the genuineness of their commitment in practice to delivering localism to our communities.
I welcome the Queen’s Speech.
Today’s debate specifically relates to the coalition’s proposals for energy and climate change as well as for environment, agriculture and rural affairs. What is striking about the coalition document is the number of things it contains that the previous Government had done, planned or set under way and that are now claimed to form the coalition’s targets and aims for environment and rural affairs and, indeed, energy and climate change. In a sense, that is reassuring because a key observation that should be made is that the arguments about climate change cannot call upon the Greek defence. A similar argument cannot be made that less should be spent on countering it because particular circumstances have arisen recently. The timetable for the measures that need to be put in place to ensure that we can move to a low-carbon economy and reach the targets that have been agreed universally in the House for reducing carbon emissions remains in place. The time available to make those changes also remains the same. Superficially, therefore, having the aims in place is an important part of the recognition of the urgency of the matter.
We need, however, to ask questions about the detail of the targets and consider whether the commitments in the coalition document provide the reassurance that we will move with the speed that we need on not only climate change but on renewing our energy sources, ensuring that energy efficiency is uppermost in the conduct of our building and refurbishment programmes and progressing with the energy economy.
There are a number of important commitments in the document, including the aim of rolling out smart grids and smart meters over the next few years. That follows from the previous Government’s commitment to rolling out smart meters within 10 years and to moving towards much smarter management of the national grid system. Indeed, there is an urgent need to renew and strengthen the grid system so that it can deal with the changing nature of how energy enters and is redistributed from it. It will be a very different grid in future. In the past, essentially, a number of large power sources delivered energy in one direction towards business and households. A new grid that takes energy from local and renewable sources and distributes it in an entirely different fashion is an essential element of that renewal process.
However, we must face up to the fact that those changes will cost a large amount of money to introduce. It is up to the incoming Government to express early their commitment to the idea that those changes essentially involve front-line services as far as the future energy economy is concerned. The lights must stay on, but our economy must be on a much lower-carbon footing. The question we need to pose for the new Government at this early stage is this: is there a commitment to funding, underwriting, and ensuring the success of those new ways of delivering energy for our economy?
Similarly, I welcome the commitments on pay-as-you-save and energy efficiency. The proposed new energy Bill and the coalition agreement emphasise such arrangements, but again, they will cost money to underwrite and underpin. It is not sufficient simply to say that Tesco or B&Q or another body will come along and sort out the question of energy efficiency in homes and the necessary investment. Rather, it will be necessary to set out the financial programme to underpin the commitment on energy efficiency in homes, and to say how much that will cost and what the return on the investment will be.
We must invest in more than passive energy efficiency in homes. If we are to move toward the targets—I assume that the new Government wish to maintain them—it will mean radically increasing the energy efficiency of homes so that we can save energy in the future. It will also involve ensuring that new homes are zero-carbon by 2016, which was the previous Government’s target. It will not be possible to achieve that change simply by introducing passive energy efficiency measures for homes. Among other things, if we are to achieve those targets, we will need to introduce microgeneration, energy-producing devices both to new build homes and by retrofitting. If, as was recently suggested, the pay-as-you-save measures will apply only to energy efficiency in homes and not to microgeneration, a key way of achieving those targets will be lost. It is therefore essential that early commitments are made to ensure and underwrite the introduction of microgeneration devices.
The previous Government gave key undertakings on feed-in tariffs, small-scale generation and, as important, the renewable heat incentive, which will ensure the rapid development and deployment of renewable heat sources in this country. My eyebrows were raised by the statement in the coalition document about a full roll-out of a feed-in tariff in electricity. That might have been a mistake, but if it was deliberate, the suggestion is that there is no commitment on renewable heat, which is a way in which to ensure that renewable energy moves forward rapidly in the domestic sector. I will be delighted to be proved wrong, either in an intervention from someone on the Government Benches now or later in the debate. I hope that it is not the Government’s intention to change or resile from renewable heat arrangements and underwriting, and that the finance and commitment are in place. I hope that I am told later that my suspicions about what the document includes will not be borne out.
Finally, I come to the curious statement in the coalition document on nuclear power. I have considerable sympathy for the position in which the Energy and Climate Change Secretary finds himself, because I too do not think that new nuclear power is a good idea for the future, as I have said in the Chamber on a number of occasions. However, I am clear that there should be a new nuclear programme and that will need to be planned, because it is no longer good enough simply to leave the replacement of aged energy supply and the development of new energy to the market. Left to its own devices, the market will probably ensure that we have a new generation of gas-fired power stations, which will ensure that we go way off our climate change targets. If the sole contribution of the Secretary of State to the nuclear debate is simply to say, “Well, someone may come along and build a nuclear power station,” they may well not do so. Without other plans, we will simply get a new generation of gas-fired power stations, which would be catastrophic for our approach to climate change.
Following that logic, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary must take positive action on new nuclear power. If the national planning statement is to be rewritten, he must agree on sites for new nuclear power stations. If he does not do so, there will be no such power stations. His position urgently needs to be made clear to ensure that when it comes to planning the new energy economy, there is clarity rather than muddle and chaos.
It is an honour and a privilege to speak under your presiding eyes, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I congratulate you on your new role.
I welcome the Queen’s Speech and the commitments to a green economy, which is essential for the restructuring of our economy, which has been so dependent on the financial services that have failed us so badly. However, I thought I might give the House the benefit of my personal history of engagement in energy issues. I worked as a young research and information officer for the North-East Scotland Development Authority in Aberdeen in the 1970s. At that time, it was struggling to find 16,000 new jobs for the area simply to stabilise the decreasing population. I doubt whether we would have succeeded in that but for the serendipity of the discovery of huge quantities of oil and gas in the North sea.
There was an unseemly scramble to get the oil and gas into production against the background of the first oil crisis and the foundation of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries. It also coincided with the first miners’ strike and the three-day week. A few weeks after his defeat as Prime Minister in the February 1974 election, Ted Heath came to Aberdeen, and I and others briefed him in our offices about the scale of development activity in oil and gas that was taking place in the North sea. He was duly amazed. I am not sure that he appreciated it when I told him that had he come before the election he might still have been Prime Minister, but it certainly brought home to him that we needed a strategy. The value of coal, as well as of oil and gas, had been dramatically changed by the OPEC crisis.
People may remember that at that time there was lively discussion about the need to reduce the industrialised world’s dependency on oil and gas, while trying to maximise production from our own resources, where they had been discovered. I wrote pamphlets on the subject with Ross Finnie, who distinguished himself for eight years as the Environment Minister in the Scottish Administration. We called for a drive for greater energy efficiency and for policies to develop alternative technologies using smaller-scale generation, moving away from dependency on fossil fuels. Somehow, as the oil price fell and the crisis diminished, all those high ideals fell away, and I find it extraordinary that 35 years later we are still talking about how we might implement them to any significant degree.
As someone who had, and has, no visceral objection to nuclear power, I became increasingly aware that far from being the cheap option that we were promised, nuclear power was economically unaffordable and we had been lied to big time by the industry. However, the problem of trying to develop alternatives was made much worse by the fact that the Atomic Energy Agency was put in charge of supporting and evaluating alternative renewable energy. I might say to the shadow Secretary of State that that too was like putting a vegan in charge of McDonald’s, because the result—predictably—was that if anything looked as if it might become remotely commercially viable, the plug was pulled on further development. So, although Britain developed the first large-scale wind turbines, in shipyards on the Clyde, we had no policy for deployment. It was therefore left to the Danes, who did have a policy for deployment, to become world leaders in that technology. I do not know if Salter’s ducks would ever have generated electricity commercially from marine sources, but I know that the technology was never allowed to prove that it could, because the AEA was determined to ensure that there was no alternative. I wonder whether we are being subjected to the same propaganda today.
At the time it was also argued that we needed large generation stations to power the national grid and, given its format, we probably did. But even then it was clear to me that we should be thinking of moving to smaller-scale generation. Over the years, high-energy manufacturing—of which we have less in any case—has increasingly provided its own power generation as an integral part of its operation, requiring only top-up flows in and out of the national grid. So when I was first elected to this House in 1983 I joined what was then known as PARLIGAES, the parliamentary group for alternative energy studies, and I am currently a vice- chair of its successor, PRASEG or the parliamentary renewable and sustainable energies group. They are not very snappy acronyms, but they are important all-party groups.
All of this predated any inkling of the threat of climate change. It was about reducing our dependency on fossil fuels and finding cleaner, more diversified and more sustainable ways to generate energy. We have wasted at least 30 years getting to this point. As a young researcher in 1972, I compiled the first directory of oil and gas operators and supply companies in north-east Scotland, which included an estimate of the number of people employed and a forward job projection. Interestingly, at the time there were several dozen companies employing a few hundred people. I projected that the number could rise to as many as 5,000, with the same number of jobs indirectly generated, and I was accused of gross exaggeration. Today, the Gordon constituency sustains more than 65,000 oil and gas-related jobs. They are not all based in the constituency, but they are payrolled out of it, and the industry employs an estimated 450,000 people across the UK.
As I said in my intervention on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I was very pleased that last week, in his first week in office, he visited the All-Energy exhibition in Aberdeen, covering companies engaged in all aspects of renewable energy technology. He saw for himself the impressive emerging technology for offshore and marine renewable energy, and the useful overlap between the technology and systems required by oil and gas and those required by renewables in an offshore environment. Installing a platform, sub-sea connectors, pipes or cabling requires the same equipment and engineering expertise, and there can be a crossover. The important point is that if we can run the second generation of North sea development—which probably has as much oil and gas again to be extracted, although in much more challenging conditions—alongside an expanding offshore renewable industry, we could benefit from huge economies of scale and efficiency by using the same equipment.
My hon. Friend is, as ever, making a powerful speech. Not only do we have renewable energy and oil and gas, but carbon capture and storage. We have the skill sets and the ability to store carbon, and I hope that the failings of the previous Government will not mean that we lose the opportunity to be a world leader in that area, because it could produce jobs and wealth if we can sell that technology instead of having to buy it from others.
The benefit for apprenticeships and jobs is also manifest. People who are training to work on offshore oil rigs understand that in their careers they might work on renewables or carbon capture and storage, so we have to see this area as an apprenticeships, skills and jobs opportunity as well as an energy opportunity.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend.
I hope that the Secretary of State took away several points from the exhibition. Exciting as the development of renewables is, it will not replace oil and gas soon in investment, jobs, tax revenue or exports. That will take some years—but if we run them in tandem, we can build one up as the other declines. Renewable technology will require a number of push-and-pull measures to realise its full potential. For both of them, we require substantial onshore investment in ports and transport infrastructure. As a representative of part of the city of Aberdeen, I am concerned that our infrastructure is not appropriate for a city that claims to be the energy capital of Europe. Our promised bypass has not happened, our commuter rail service has been postponed indefinitely, our city finances are in a considerable mess and we have the two most underfunded councils in Scotland, with money being diverted to other parts of the country. In those circumstances, my message to the Secretary of State—and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland—is that it is the UK Government who stand to lose if that infrastructure is not right, because some of the investment will go out of the UK altogether.
I welcome several of the proposals in the Queen’s Speech to promote marine energy and to support home energy efficiency, which can help move us away from dependency on the national grid and huge power stations, and make microgeneration genuinely part of the national grid, rather than just a domestic alternative to current generation. As I keep asking at every event I attend, when will we get micro combined heat and power? What steps will be taken to provide an easy way for people to take up feed-in tariffs? I defer to the point made by the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) about renewable heat, which is part and parcel of that issue. What can be done to help people with hard-to-heat homes—a question asked earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes)? We have many such in Aberdeen, and they are expensive and difficult to tackle.
I would like to address the international dimension. I am a vice-chairman of GLOBE UK and GLOBE International, which played an invaluable role in testing potential policies and negotiating positions in the run -up to the various climate change summits. In fact, in advance of Copenhagen, GLOBE clearly identified China’s concerns, through the climate change dialogue that we run.
My hon. Friend acknowledges that point.
Unfortunately, had they been properly addressed, we might have mitigated the fallout in Copenhagen. GLOBE gave the UK Government the opportunity to ensure that what happened would not happen, and to see that Europe played a part in the process rather than being marginalised, so GLOBE has an important role to play.
It is unreasonable for developed countries to tell developing economies that they cannot enjoy the same development opportunities that we did—development that led to the climate danger. It is also realistic to recognise that China will not give up its commitment to double-digit growth, which after all has helped 400 million people out of poverty, although hundreds of millions are still left behind. It is also right to acknowledge, however, that China knows the damage that pollution and climate change are causing for its people and environment, and wants all the help it can get to grow sustainably. That is why I and the International Development Committee, which I previously chaired, do not want an abrupt end to the UK’s aid programme for China. It is on the climate change front that we can work together most constructively. We have to give China space, share technology and innovation and recognise that many of the poorest countries are the victims of climate change, not the perpetrators. As the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change has already acknowledged, China may well get ahead of us if we do not participate in initiatives with it, so it is in our interests to partner it as much possible.
Poorer and developing countries must be helped to adapt and mitigate the impact of climate change, be given the means to grow sustainably and not find the anti-poverty aid hijacked to fund climate change measures. The previous Government put in place a 10% limit on money being diverted in that way, and I hope—I will hold them to account—that the current Government will not weaken that commitment. Britain can lead the world on climate change policy, and in many ways, despite the criticisms that have gone back and forth across the House, it is fair to say that we have made significant progress, although it has been more about ambitions than delivery, so we now have to deliver.
Only if our targets are turned into policies for practical action can we demonstrate by our results and developing technology what we can offer the world. I would suggest—if I can put it constructively—that we should build on the initiatives of the previous Government and recognise that we can take them forward. If we do that, we will deliver credibility and prestige abroad, and jobs and exports for our domestic economy, and it will give us a new dynamic sector to take up the slack left by the abuses that damaged so much of the financial services sector, which I suspect will never make as big a contribution again. The lesson is quite simple: we can help save the world from climate change disaster, but only if we first save ourselves.
I would like to comment on issues of particular importance to my constituency, now named Sheffield South East. It is virtually the same constituency as Sheffield Attercliffe, but the Boundary Commission decided for some reason to give it a slightly less attractive name, in my view.
First, I want to talk about the situation at Sheffield Forgemasters, which has already been referred to in interventions both by me and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett). It is clear that a new nuclear programme and industry will be built in this country. There is majority support on both sides of the Chamber. It is equally important that, if we build this new nuclear industry, as much of it as possible should be built by firms in this country, with British workers getting the jobs. Sheffield Forgemasters is a wonderful success story. The firm was owned by an American company virtually on the brink of collapse. It became a management buy-out when the previous Government, with great ingenuity, used the pension legislation that they had introduced to support not the pensions schemes of people in a bankrupt company, but the pensions deficit being transferred from the American parent company to the new management buy-out company, to enable the buy-out to take place.
Since then, those jobs have been secured, 17 new apprentices have been taken on, the company has full order books, with most of the orders going abroad, and now it has seen the potential to invest in a massive new forging press—one of the biggest in the world—to produce parts for nuclear reactors that only two other companies in the world can produce. If this forging press is not built at Sheffield Forgemasters, that work will go abroad; there is no alternative. That is quite simple.
Sheffield Forgemasters is not the only company that would be affected, given its links with other industry in the city. Davy Markham, which machines the parts that Sheffield Forgemasters make, would also lose out in that process, and Siemens, another firm based in my constituency, would lose out on design work. A whole supply chain will be crippled if this investment does not go ahead. I can understand any new Government wanting to review the previous Government’s decisions, but this is a commercial operation and is supporting a commercial loan. The company is already using that loan and working on, and putting money into, this project, and it will be a tragedy if it is now stopped. We need not only a decision that it can go ahead, but a quick decision, so that this company and the future of British manufacturing in this area does not lose out.
The second issue, linked to the first, is the previous Government’s decision to invest in a new nuclear research centre in the advanced manufacturing park. That is actually in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron), but it is right next door to my constituency. That park is a wonderful development: it has the university of Sheffield, Yorkshire Forward—the regional development agency—Rolls-Royce, British Aerospace and Boeing, and all are contributing to turning research into practical measures that could improve the technological efficiency of British manufacturing. They are wonderful examples. We need to take that forward into nuclear research, and consider how British manufacturing can learn from the great research and inventions in this country and turn them into innovations and practical projects that can deliver jobs. That was a challenge in which the previous Government were willing to invest. Is that decision now to be reviewed as well? Will this new research centre go ahead? That is a fundamental question.
That is linked, of course, to the decision to cut back on funding for organisations such as Yorkshire Forward, which has an excellent track record of working with industry in Yorkshire and the Humber to deliver what industry wants. In a recent regional Select Committee report, the Engineering Employers Federation, the CBI, the Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses all said that they welcomed what Yorkshire Forward had done. The problem is that, when the Government say at short notice to organisations such as RDAs, “Make cuts, but protect your investment in manufacturing, industry and schemes with an economic benefit”, RDAs are left in an impossible position.
The only cuts the RDA can make are on schemes that are not committed, and the problem is that, even if the schemes that are not committed are the ones that would have the greatest economic impact and benefit, they will still be cut. It is the fact that those cuts have been rushed through that will cause the damage. They have not been considered and do not leave time for organisations such as Yorkshire Forward to consider them properly. I am concerned about the future of our RDAs and the help they provide in difficult times to industries, in particular our manufacturing industry. The question again is: are the Government committed to the new nuclear research centre, which will give great opportunities for British workers and firms to share in the development of our nuclear industry?
I now turn to the Infrastructure Planning Commission. I had reservations about Secretaries of State giving up their ultimate right to sign off decisions, although I had no reservations at all about getting away from the enormously long and complicated inquiries that we have on virtually every major scheme that we try to bring about in this country, whether on transport, energy or whatever. The process was impossible to deal with. The problem now is not merely that the Government seem determined to turn the clock back and recreate a situation in which inquiries are simply benefit days for lawyers and decisions on schemes are not made quickly or in due time with due process. However, the very fact that they are now proposing a change to the IPC and to replace it with something else, or the old system, leads to uncertainty, which will itself lead to delays.
On the Department for Communities and Local Government brief, I think that I can give the hon. Gentleman some reassurance. All the expertise within the IPC is within the planning inspectorate and will be retained for big projects that need to be dealt with in a timely fashion. There is no question of losing that expertise; it remains within the planning inspectorate. The difference is that the decisions will have to be taken by an elected politician—the Secretary of State.
That seems slightly different from the information that we were given before. I am not necessarily opposed to the Secretary of State having to sign off those decisions; what I am opposed to is returning to the old method of inquiries and to the length of time that they took. If the right hon. Lady is saying that all that we are having is effectively a name change, so that the IPC will now be a branch of the Planning Inspectorate but the process and procedures in the Planning Act 2008, which introduced the IPC, are to be retained, that is different. It would therefore be helpful for a clear statement to be made at some point about precisely what will happen.
Let me turn to high-speed rail, which I also raised earlier today. Again, we have a clear difference in policy between the two parties in government. The issue is important to transport generally and to making our transport greener and more environmentally friendly. The Conservatives in opposition proposed a ridiculous scheme that was going to take a rail line out of Heathrow up to Birmingham, then up to Manchester and then somehow across the Pennines to Leeds. The reality is that the people in Leeds did not want the scheme, because that convoluted route to Leeds would not have saved time; that was one of the few times when Sheffield and Leeds were at one on the issue. We both wanted the high-speed line to branch off from Birmingham and go up through the east midlands to Sheffield and Leeds.
Unfortunately, the Secretary of State gave an incorrect statement to the House earlier—I am sure that he did not do it intentionally—when he said that the previous Government did not have a clear policy on the issue. The previous Government’s policy was absolutely clear: it was that a branch of the line would go through the east midlands to Sheffield and Leeds. The Lib Dems supported us on that, and the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) and I campaigned on the issue. Indeed, we had a cross-party campaign, involving the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) as well. However, the Conservatives in opposition had a different policy—a policy of going up to Manchester and then across to Leeds.
What is the position now? Will someone please tell us? The Government’s announcement the other day said that they supported a high-speed line. However, they mentioned Birmingham and Manchester, but they did not mention Sheffield, Leeds or Scotland. We have all been forgotten about. As I said to the Leader of the House in business questions earlier, the councils on the route of the line to Sheffield and Leeds, which were due to have a meeting in the next few days to discuss the exact route that the line was to take, have had that meeting cancelled, as though the decision has been taken at least to put a high-speed line to Sheffield and Leeds on the back burner. However, no one is telling hon. Members about that in the House. That is another example of the Government seeming to make decisions, but not informing Members about them in the House. Can we have a bit of clarity on that subject, too?
There are two other aspects of trying to get a greener transport system that I would like to be made clear. The tram-train project is due to pilot in Sheffield. The scheme chosen is a Sheffield to Rotherham connection, with the tram-train coming into Sheffield city centre. The scheme offers a great opportunity, in that although the costs of building new tramlines are particularly high in urban areas, linking underused railway lines into a tram system that already runs into the heart of a city offers real potential. Is the tram-train project one of the schemes to be cut, because it is not up and running, or are the Government committed to it?
Another issue that I would like to explore is the complete absence, as far as I can see, of any comment in the coalition agreement on another area where the two parties have distinctly opposite views—quality contracts for buses, which are important for getting people out of their cars and on to public transport, provided that that public transport has a degree of certainty and integration, and is reasonably priced. As we have seen in London, quality contracts work; as we have seen in places such as Sheffield, deregulation does not. The previous Government introduced the Local Transport Act 2008, which gave local transport authorities the right, after consultation, to go for quality contracts, if they considered them the best way of running transport in their areas.
We were castigated by the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker)—now a member of the transport ministerial team—for not going far enough in Committee on that Bill. My right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) changed the Bill substantially on Report to give greater powers and opportunities to local transport authorities to introduce quality contracts. However, in Committee as well as on Report and subsequently, the Conservative transport spokesperson said that the Conservatives were committed, if they got into government, to repealing the part of the Local Transport Act 2008 that gave transport authorities the ability to introduce quality contracts. What is the coalition’s position on quality contracts? Is it now intent on repealing the legislation, or will transport authorities that are about to consult on moving to quality contracts—such as South Yorkshire integrated transport authority and the transport executive—be allowed to go ahead with their plans? Again, could we have an answer on that issue, which appears to be missing?
I have two final issues to raise. Recycling was not much mentioned. I accept that recycling and how it is done is a matter best left to local authorities, but when the Secretary of State reads Hansard, perhaps he could have a word with the Lib Dem-controlled council in Sheffield. The council is seeking to remove from many of my constituents the green and blue bins for garden and paper waste, which are extremely popular, and replace them with green sacks, which rose thorns poke through and which people complain about, and, for paper waste, with blue boxes about the size of the Dispatch Box, if hon. Members can imagine that—boxes which, first, in many cases people cannot get two weeks of paper waste into, and which, secondly, people who are elderly or have a back problem cannot lift. That is a major disincentive to recycling. We are talking only about a local issue, and in the end it is a matter for the local council. However, now that the Lib Dems have so much power in the coalition, perhaps they could at least encourage some of their local councils to behave a bit more responsibly.
There is a lot more that I would like to say, particularly about the future plans for local government. I would support any moves to decentralise and devolve powers, but I just suspect that part of the agenda is about giving local authorities more power and less money, and then blaming them for the decisions that they have to make. However, we will no doubt have discussions about those issues in future. If the Government are really serious about reforming local government finance and giving more powers to local government to raise money, they will have my support and I will want to engage with them on the issue.
The Government could do an awful lot to reassure me. Let us deal properly with the decision on Sheffield Forgemasters, ensure that the nuclear research centre goes ahead, have a proper agreement on bus deregulation and get the high-speed rail link to Sheffield, and I will be happy.
Thank you for allowing me to make my maiden speech in this debate on the Gracious Speech, Mr Speaker. It is a particular pleasure to see you in your place, as I recall receiving public speaking training from you 20 years ago, so I hope that this speech shows that I have absorbed some of the wisdom that you imparted.
I wish to start by congratulating my predecessor on his achievements in the House on behalf of the people of Suffolk Coastal. John Gummer was, and is, one of the nicest, and most charming and immaculately turned-out former Members of this place. He had real intellect, capability, foresight and integrity, and he was an excellent debater in this House who commanded great respect. He will be remembered for his distinguished record in government—there are too many posts to list. However, not quite so often recalled is that he was chairman of the Conservative party at the time of the Brighton bombing, when he showed his cool under pressure, a quality that shone through in all his service as a Member.
John was ahead of others in recognising the challenge of the environment, although my noble Friend Baroness Thatcher, in her 1989 speech at the UN, also warned of the issues that we face today and will face in future. However, the environment was the main reason for John’s departure from the House, so that he could make progress on global environmental initiatives. I believe that it was his wife Penny who commented that he is the only MP to give up being a Member in order to spend less time with his family, rather than more.
John was a man of principle in the House who will be remembered fondly by his constituents for his many years of diligent service. I was often told on the doorstep that I had big shoes to fill—luckily I take a size 8. John championed many local issues that I will continue to fight on. For example, he fought for better cardiac services at Ipswich hospital, and he was a strong voice on estuary and coastal erosion, as well as on farming and so many more issues that affected his constituents. I will keep fighting on those same issues, although I will not be John Gummer mark 2, and nor will my hon. Friend the new Member for Ipswich (Ben Gummer).
I am very different from John, in that I am the first woman to represent a Suffolk seat. I am proud of that fact, which conveniently allows me to say a little more about my wonderful constituency of Suffolk Coastal. It is a truly pioneering place. Not only did we have the first woman mayor in the country, back in 1908 in Aldeburgh, in the shape of Dame Elizabeth Garrett Anderson—one of her pioneering achievements, in addition to those in the field of medicine—but radar was developed at Bawdsey. Indeed, the first text message was sent from Martlesham, where also fibre optics were developed by BT.
I hope that hon. Members will indulge me if I take them on a quick tour of my constituency. There are more than 100 parishes—hon. Members will be pleased to know that I am not going to name them all. They are special places, starting at the very top with Henver with Hulstead and continuing right down the A12 to the edge of Ipswich and on to the tip at Felixstowe, the premier container port of the UK, with a variety of market towns such as Halesworth, Saxmundham, Leiston and Woodbridge in between. There are also many special villages, including Westleton, where I live.
There are so many wonderful places in my constituency that I have to boast about them. Indeed, I have been approached by green-eyed Members who have visited my constituency. I welcome you all, especially if you are going to spend money there. Indeed, there are current and former Opposition Members who have second homes there, and many bird-twitchers come to visit the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds’ world-renowned Minsmere reserve.
The defining feature of my constituency is its 74-mile coastline, with its delightful tourist hot spots of Aldeburgh and Southwold. However, the coastline—along with the estuaries—is really suffering from erosion, and I warn my hon. Friends on the Front Bench that I shall be fighting hard to change the policies at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which seems happy to allow parts of my constituency simply to wash away into the sea, and to allow its devolved agencies to spend tens of millions of pounds on consulting on how we can allow that to happen, rather than using the cash to shore up the defences. I am not trying to be Canute—I am not telling the waves to go back—but nor do I want to be the person who is happy just to throw up their hands in the air and surrender.
I shall be pursuing many other rural issues, including farming. Suffolk Coastal is well known for its pigs, poultry and potatoes—and many other vegetables. I shall also be pressing on key rural issues such as access to health services, fuel poverty—especially among those who depend on oil and liquefied petroleum gas—our post office network and, of course, broadband access.
My diverse constituency also contains our beloved nuclear power station at Sizewell. I hope that we shall have many more reactors there—certainly at least two— before the end of the decade. Several offshore wind farms are also being constructed, with more planned. Suffolk Coastal is ready to take the lead in the low-carbon economy, and I hope that our coast will be able to take on the new alias of the “Green Coast”. So I welcome measures in the Gracious Speech on the low-carbon economy and the green investment bank.
I am really pleased by the calibre and pedigree of our new Ministers. If I may be so bold, I should like to extend an especially warm welcome to the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. and real Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) and the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. and real Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Mr Paice). They are people who really understand and value the countryside, and my constituents have been crying out for that for the past 13 years. Indeed, I hope that my hon. Friends will visit my constituency soon, not only to see how wonderful it is but to see the challenges that we face. Sadly, houses in Thorpeness are losing their gardens as we speak.
The Gracious Speech offers an ambitious programme for our country. I, too, am ambitious for my constituents of Suffolk Coastal, and I hope to play my part as the Member for that constituency in delivering success for Suffolk Coastal and for Britain.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) on her excellent maiden speech. Her love for her constituency really shone through.
As I rise to make my own maiden speech, I am conscious of, and deeply humbled by, the great privilege that the people of Islwyn have given me by electing me as their Member of Parliament. It is also a great honour to follow in the footsteps of two great champions of the Labour cause. The first MP for Islwyn was Neil Kinnock, and I do not think that I am exaggerating when I say that his vision and foresight as the leader of my party contributed greatly to our victory in 1997.
I am also extremely honoured that my immediate predecessor was Don Touhig. I was fortunate to work for Don during the last four years of his 15 years as a Member of Parliament, and I witnessed at first hand the determination and commitment with which he fought for his constituents. The lives of countless constituents have been improved through his efforts, and, as a result, he is held in the highest regard by the people of Islwyn.
Don Touhig was also a great servant of this House, serving as a Minister at both the Wales Office and the Ministry of Defence. He was held in high esteem by all who worked with him. On a personal note, I am proud to call him my friend, and his words of advice and guidance in my first days in the House have been invaluable. I, too, have some very big shoes to fill, and I can promise the people of Islwyn that I will do all that I can to live up to the high standards set by my predecessors.
Islwyn comprises a series of small towns and villages scattered along the mountains and valleys of west Gwent, nestling comfortably in what could be termed the bible belt of Welsh rugby union. My constituency, like many parts of south Wales, suffered terribly at the hands of the last Tory Government. As a former mining district, Islwyn lost many jobs with the closure of the pits. Whereas the Tory Government abandoned the people of the valleys, I am proud to say that the last Labour Government stepped in to encourage companies to invest in south Wales.
One example of that is the support that the Government gave to General Dynamics, which was encouraged to come to my constituency, and which is still creating jobs for us. One of the last acts of the Labour Government was to award the contract for the new specialist vehicle to General Dynamics. In my constituency alone, that decision will create 200 new jobs and secure a further 250. That is the sort of support for industry and jobs that is so vital to delivering economic recovery, and I urge the new Government to follow the example set by the previous one in that regard.
Those of us fortunate enough to be born in the south Wales valleys grow up with a deep sense of community and belonging. Above all, valleys people are known for their generosity, kind hearts and resilience. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the campaign to restore the Newbridge Memo, the memorial hall in the centre of the town. The Memo was built in 1924 by the contributions of local miners, as a lasting memorial to local servicemen who lost their lives during world war one. The name of every serviceman from the town who answered the call to serve our country is listed on the walls of the Memo. The names are not just of those who gave their lives, but of everyone from Newbridge who was ever called to the colours.
The House should be aware of how important coal mining was for the Welsh valleys. Sadly, however, many people have forgotten how significant coal mining was to our communities in south Wales. It is, therefore, extremely important that the restoration of the Memo goes ahead, because, for some of us, it is our last link to the historic past of the valleys in which we were born. The Memo is not a celebration of the great and the good; rather, it serves as a tribute to the role that working-class people played in making this country of ours great. Thanks to the efforts of the Friends of the Newbridge Memo, it is much more than just a memorial to a bygone age. It is the living, beating heart of the town of Newbridge. It is a palace for the valleys—a palace for working people to enjoy and celebrate. It deserves a great future. Like my predecessor, who threw his weight behind the campaign, I will do everything that I can to see it restored to its former glory.
For me, that campaign demonstrates the strong and vibrant sense of community that is prevalent in Islwyn. However, that is not to say that we do not have our problems. The credit crunch has come to our attention on a national scale in the recent past, but many people in Islwyn have been experiencing a crisis of credit for many years. Unlike many other EU countries, the UK does not guarantee people legal access to affordable credit. Lenders can refuse to lend to anyone, for any reason, and they can charge any price for their lending. They can, and do, impose interest rates at percentage rates in the thousands.
When I did some research into this, I found that Safe Loans, for example, charges a typical annual percentage rate of 2,120.1% on 30-day loans, and that Wonga charges a typical APR of a huge 2,689%. I can well remember that, when I was a child, doorstep lenders such as Provident would charge high interest rates and hammer on doors while people cowered inside because they did not have the money to pay them. These extortionate rates of interest are simply disgraceful, and we should not allow companies such as those to take advantage of the vulnerability of some of the poorest in our society. The fact that we tolerate such practices means that many people are unable to obtain credit without extortionate cost.
One answer is for the Government to provide support for the credit unions, which provide credit at reasonable rates to people who would otherwise not have access to it. The Islwyn Community credit union, like all credit unions, is committed to building its members’ wealth. By contrast, our banks seem to have been committed for too long to building wealth only for themselves. Banks really should take a leaf out of the credit unions’ book, and see their role as being a part of the community, rather than trying to profit from it.
The last Government provided £98.75 million-worth of support to credit unions and community development finance institutions, which provide support for small businesses. They also legislated to ensure that credit unions can fairly compete with mainstream providers of financial services. As a result of these measures, credit union membership has more than doubled since 2000, yet strengthening the credit union movement is only a small step in tackling financial exclusion. In their last Budget, and in subsequent announcements, the last Government pledged to introduce a range of measures to tackle financial exclusion, including requiring banks to provide bank accounts to all consumers with a valid address, transforming the Post Office into a people’s bank, and consulting on requiring banks to disclose the extent to which they are under-serving their communities. If seen through, these measures would ensure that bank operations serve all parts of the community, so they can really make a difference to tackling financial exclusion. I urge the new Government to adopt and pursue these measures with all the vigour they can muster.
In addition to the problem of financial exclusion, we find ourselves in a unique economic situation that will require us to make large cuts to public spending, which will affect all parts of the United Kingdom. In making these cuts, we must ensure that we do not hurt the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.
Under the last Government, hundreds of thousands of people were lifted out of poverty, and we must ensure we do not send those people back into it. There are some in this House who propose cutting tax credits. To do so would pass the burden for reducing the deficit on to families that are struggling to make ends meet. To cut tax credits would punish the poor for the greed of the very rich. This would be morally reprehensible, and I urge the new Government to protect tax credits, as doing so would shield the poorest and most vulnerable in our society from the impact of the crisis.
I am also deeply concerned about the Government’s plan to abolish the child trust fund, which will jeopardise the future of our children by cutting down on their options as they enter adulthood. For well-off parents, it might—just might—be possible to fund trust funds to support their children, but for those who are already struggling to get by, the state-supported child trust fund is the only chance they have of producing a nest egg for their children. I therefore urge the new Government to reconsider and ask them to reinstate the child trust fund and protect the future of our children.
We face great challenges ahead, but in facing them we must strive always to make choices that are fair and equitable. As we tackle the deficit, we must strive to protect the vulnerable and the young. We must also seize the opportunities this crisis presents to build a fairer financial system in this country. If we do, we will build a fairer and more just country, which will mean a greater Britain—not just for some, but for all.
I am very grateful indeed to you, Mr Speaker, for calling me to speak on the Gracious Speech. May I say how well the hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) spoke in his maiden speech? I must also pay tribute to my predecessor, Laura Moffatt, who represented the Crawley constituency for 13 years. Laura did that job extremely diligently. I pay tribute to the work that she, a former nurse, did in speaking up in this place on behalf of, and seeking to change the regulations for, health care workers who suffer from needlestick injuries. She certainly helped to provide a safer environment for the front-line health care workers whom we rely on in our national health service. That is highly commendable. Even before she was elected in 1997, she had a long and distinguished career as a member of Crawley borough council and she was also a former mayor of the borough, holding such important positions as chair of the housing committee. We should all pay tribute to Laura for her long public service as a nurse—she was the first nurse ever elected to this place—as a borough councillor, as a mayor and, most recently, as Member of Parliament for Crawley.
Crawley is a great borough and a great constituency, and it is my great honour to have been elected by the people of Crawley to represent them in this Chamber. Crawley is a new town, but has a long history. The three principal villages that made up the original area were Crawley, Ifield and Worth, all of which were mentioned in the Domesday Book, but it was perhaps in the middle ages that, through its iron working, Crawley really started to flourish as a centre of industry. Many of the remnants of that industry, in the form of hammer ponds, still exist in the area: there is still a hammer pond in the centre of Tilgate park—the premier park of the constituency—now providing a great leisure facility for families to enjoy when the weekends are sunny.
Several centuries ago, Crawley expanded further as the main stopping-off place for people travelling from London to the south coast. Notable buildings include the medieval George hotel in the high street, which is still a hostelry today. Perhaps Crawley really came into its own when it was designated as a new town after the second world war. It was originally designed to have a population of approximately 50,000 people, although it has grown to in excess of 100,000 people today. It is a very successful community.
Whether they be first or second generation, people in Crawley have typically come from somewhere else either in this country or from around the world. I am a migrant to Crawley constituency myself. However, there is an extremely strong sense of community for a new town, which holds the local community in very good stead indeed.
One of the most significant industries—in fact, the most significant—in the constituency is the nation’s second-largest airport, Gatwick. It is a major local employer and driver of the local economy. I am delighted that the new coalition Government, West Sussex county council, Crawley borough council, the new owners of Gatwick airport, as well as myself, all agree with the future way forward for the airport in that we all want to see passenger numbers grow from the current 35 million throughput passengers a year up to a potential 45 million, and we want to see many more scheduled flights rather than just charter and low-cost flights departing and entering the airport. Equally, we agree with the new coalition Government and the new owners of Gatwick airport in rejecting runway expansion at this time. I think that that will provide the economic growth that we need for the airport and therefore for the local economy, while safeguarding and helping to protect the local environment. The balance between achieving economic development while ensuring that we protect and enhance our environment rather than destroy it as we go forward was debated earlier today and it will continue to be debated not just as an issue relevant to my constituency, but to the country as a whole.
I wish to raise another issue relevant to the Crawley constituency—health care. It was a source of great regret when, five years ago, Crawley hospital saw its A and E department downgraded so that people had to travel 10 miles up the road into another county to receive those vital services. Several years prior to that, Crawley hospital saw its maternity unit transferred out of the constituency—indeed, out of the county as well. During the obviously happy time when my two children were born in 2003 and 2005, it was a source of regret that they could not be born in their home town. Another source of regret is that Crawley is the only settlement in the UK with a population of more than 100,000 that does not have a hospital to supply A and E and maternity services. I was involved in an important campaign which I co-chaired with my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr Maude) to get those hospital services brought back to the important population and transportation centre that the Crawley constituency represents.
I want to mention one special community that has come to live in Crawley. I mentioned that many people have chosen to settle there from around the country and around the world. Citizens of the Chagos Islands, particularly of Diego Garcia, were exiled from their home islands in the late 1960s. A decision was made by Order in Council—it did not come to this place, which I think was quite wrong—to make way for an airbase on Diego Garcia, which meant that those people were deported from their home island against their will, and they had to live in relative poverty in Mauritius and the Seychelles. Seven years ago, they started to arrive at Gatwick airport and they have been very successful in making Crawley their home. There is now a population of nearly 2,000 Chagossian and Diego Garcian people and their descendants in Crawley.
I look forward to arguing on behalf of those people, during my time as Member of Parliament for Crawley, that they have a human right to return to their islands should they so wish, either to visit or to live there permanently. I believe that, having been removed in quite a shameful way, they should be allowed to claim that human right. It is an honour to be given the opportunity to speak on their behalf in my maiden speech.
Tomorrow, I shall cease to be leader of West Sussex county council, a position that I have been privileged to hold for nearly seven years. I cannot help thinking that, after being a somewhat big fish in a small pool, I am now a somewhat smaller fish in a somewhat larger pool. I hope that, as I become used to these larger waters, I shall be able to speak up for the rights of local government and the principle of decentralisation of power away from Whitehall to our local authorities. I believe it is a very important principle that, where services are largely locally delivered, they should be largely locally decided on. I look forward to playing my part in this coalition Government in the devolving of power down to our elected local governments, and the extension of the authority that individuals and communities have over the important public services that are locally delivered.
Let me again thank you very much indeed, Mr Speaker, for calling me during the debate on the Gracious Speech. I am grateful for the attention of the House.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) and the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), both of whom were generous to their predecessors and passionate advocates for their communities. They are welcome additions to the House and I have no doubt that they will benefit our public life.
Let me also pay tribute to the former, now shadow, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband). He undertook his duties with rare passion, commitment and insight, and I believe that all of us, in the House and in the country, are the better for it. In Copenhagen no one worked harder to secure a deal, and at home I expect the heavy lifting represented by the last Government’s energy policy to bring substantial relief to the new Government. I urge them to build on what we achieved. I certainly hope that they will do so, especially when it comes to nuclear energy, on which I declare my usual interests.
Let me also congratulate the new Secretary of State and the new Minister of State, the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), on their appointments. It would have been an unlikely pairing only a few weeks ago, but I wish them both every success. Energy policy is undoubtedly one of the most important issues of our age, and as such it should be above the often petty squabbles of party politics both inside and outside this place. Energy policy and the increasingly vital set of policies that rest upon it—particularly environmental and economic policies—require a common approach supported by a broad consensus of support. I look forward to playing my part in helping to achieve that and achieving it quickly, because time is running out for us all. Critical decisions must be made now, and the momentum established by the last Government must be maintained in the national interest, the interests of the House and the interests of the people of this country.
Although I was pleased to note the reference to energy policy in the Queen’s Speech, I regretted the absence of any specific mention of nuclear energy, on which I now wish to concentrate. Some important issues need to be clarified and I hope that either the Secretary of State or the Minister of State will address them.
Let me begin with the subsidy for nuclear power generation. Much has been said today, and written in recent weeks, by the new Ministers, but clarification is now urgently required, not just for the House but for investors. I have always supported public subsidies for new nuclear generation, which I consider necessary to facilitate its establishment in the United Kingdom. After all, nearly every energy source in the UK receives, or will soon receive, one subsidy or another—for instance, through grants for landowners to grow biofuels or erect windmills, for the establishment of gas storage facilities, or for the development of carbon capture and storage. All those activities are in some way subsidised by the public purse. It is recognised throughout the developed world that energy policy and power generation are too important to be left to the market; they need the strategic support and intervention of Government. Why should nuclear be different?
Let us consider what subsidies will be necessary for new nuclear generation in this country. The Civil Nuclear Constabulary is an essential part of our nuclear industry, as are the Office for Civil Nuclear Security and the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate. All those bodies exist to support our nuclear industry, and all are supported by significant sums of public money. Does that funding, which is wholly and exclusively required by and because of the nuclear industry, represent a subsidy for the industry? By any definition, it does. Will the Secretary of State confirm that he has no plans to remove these organisations or reduce their budgets?
The national grid requires serious public investment to facilitate the new generation of new nuclear power stations that the nation needs. The case for it is unarguable. Is that a subsidy? Will the Secretary of State commit himself today to making the necessary investments, along with new nuclear developers, to make new nuclear happen now, particularly in my constituency?
The process of establishing an underground deep waste repository—physically, economically and politically—will require billions of pounds of public money, some of which will be required during the present Parliament. New nuclear development demands that the project finally be implemented. Is that a subsidy? Will the Secretary of State commit himself today to continuing the policies of the last Government in that policy area, particularly in connection with the principle of voluntarism?
Britain’s nuclear renaissance could and should create about 100,000 new jobs, well paid and highly skilled, but our manufacturing base requires strategic help to maximise the benefits of our nuclear programme. Sheffield Forgemasters, and other crucial elements of the supply chain in West Cumbria and Barrow, require financial support from Government to help us to develop our industrial capacity and capability and to deliver our programme. Is that a subsidy, and can the Secretary of State confirm today that all pledges of financial support for the supply chain made before 6 May will now be honoured in the national interest?
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which is by far the biggest departmental financial responsibility of the Secretary of State, undertakes remarkable and unique work. Its establishment was necessary and a real success of the last Government. I shall deal with NDA issues in more depth shortly, but let me say now that the NDA sustains the UK’s nuclear work force and the skills base that is necessary if our new nuclear programme is to succeed. Public money is required. Is that a subsidy?
I thank the Secretary of State and the Minister of State for visiting the Sellafield site in my constituency yesterday to apprise themselves of issues associated with it and with the NDA. It was a welcome portent, and I am grateful for them for visiting the site at such an early stage. However, it is important for those who pursue policies in this sphere to recognise not just the successes but the failures of the past. I do not think that we should look to the United States for examples of what to do; it is probably better to look to it for what not to do. It is imperative, however, that funding for the NDA and for nuclear decommissioning, particularly at Sellafield, is not only ring-fenced but increased. The decommissioning mission, and the credibility of the nuclear industry and the nuclear renaissance, depend on our ability to undertake those tasks.
Once again, my hon. Friend is showing great expertise. Would not one way of helping the NDA to obtain resources be to extend current nuclear power station generation? Nuclear power stations are safer now than they have ever been. Such action would not only help the NDA, but meet our future energy requirements.
My hon. Friend is entirely right. I hope that he and I can lend our expertise to the new Government so that the issues can be examined in a considered, grown-up way, and solutions found that will benefit not just the NDA but our communities. The commercial missions for which the NDA is responsible, particularly reprocessing and fuel manufacture at Sellafield, must surely continue. THORP, the thermal oxide reprocessing plant at Sellafield, is still the largest single yen earner in the United Kingdom economy.
The Sellafield MOX plant has had its problems—they are well detailed and we know them—but it has just secured some new contracts. Together, they represent potentially billions of pounds of investment into the UK economy and the local economy. Increasing commercial revenues is also the single most effective way of reducing the decommissioning burden upon the taxpayer. I look forward to working not only with the Minister of State and Secretary of State, but with everybody who has an interest in these issues across the House to make sure that that takes place.
I will always work with anyone on either side of the House who understands the needs of my constituents and recognises and supports the ambitions of my community in the way that the last Labour Government did. So far, however, there are a number of weaknesses that I am duty bound to point out in the approach towards nuclear that the coalition Government have expressed. I want to help the Government to remove these weaknesses, but it will require change on their part.
The notion of no new nuclear without any public subsidy should be abandoned. Public money inevitably will be used in the way in which I have outlined. Funding for the NDA must not only be maintained, but increased. The NDA, a vital and uniquely important body, must itself be maintained and unequivocally supported. Above all, the energy coast programme, enthusiastically supported by two previous Prime Ministers and the last Government, must be supported and funded. The programme of works within the plan is entirely within the national interest. Let me be clear; if the funding pledged by the last Government to the new West Cumberland hospital, to our cottage hospitals in Keswick and Milham, to our new health centres, to our new schools and to higher education investment and more is cut by the Government, the consequences of that for my constituents, and for the Government, will be profound.
We must continue to secure new reprocessing contracts and fuel manufacturing contracts at Sellafield. Refusal to do this would be to work against the best interests of this country. As an Opposition Member, I am paid to scrutinise but I will not oppose for the sake of it. Where I believe the new Government get energy policy right, I will support them. Where I believe they get it wrong, I will not. I wish them well. Let us quickly remove these potentially very serious weaknesses and work together.
Mr Speaker, congratulations on your re-election and thank you for giving me the privilege of speaking in the Queen’s Speech debate.
I have had the privilege of being elected for the same part of my borough for the eighth time and I say to colleagues elected for the first time, to whom I pay tribute, the excitement does not pale just because we have gone through the democratic process again. The honour is always as great and the sheer equality of the democratic process, which means that everybody’s vote counts the same, reminds us to be humble about the privilege we have of being here.
I am seeking to speak in this debate because, in the last Parliament, I was responsible in our party for these issues. I enjoyed that task immensely and have taken a long interest in environmental and energy issues. I wish the two Secretaries of State and their ministerial team all the best in what is one of the most important areas of public policy for us to get right.
As someone who sat for 27 years on the Opposition side of the House, haranguing Government to be greener—[Hon. Members: “Come back.”] No, I am certainly not coming back. I plan to stay on this side of the House for the rest of my career. It is encouraging to hear the Government say—I believe them—that this will be the greenest Government ever, which will be in everybody’s interest. It was great that one of the first things the Government did was to sign up, as a Government, to the 10:10 campaign, which I endorsed on behalf of my party on the day it was launched last September at Tate Modern.
I draw the attention of the House, and those outside, to the huge number of policy commitments made in the areas of energy and climate change and environment, food and rural affairs; 24 specific commitments of policy made under the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and 18 made under the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. That shows the seriousness of intent of both coalition partners to the enterprise of changing the way in which we do business in Britain.
It would be remiss of me to fail to pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband). He knows that I hold him in high regard and had a very good working relationship with him. I applauded him when I thought he was doing the right thing and encouraged him in the work he did at Copenhagen. I thanked him for that and I do so again. He also talks a good talk as well as having real convictions in policy terms. I wish him well in his leadership election and I say to him that we were glad to have him as the first Secretary of State for the Department. He set a high standard to be followed; I am sure it will be. We had disagreements on certain issues, but I would not want that to undermine the value of what he did. The Government did not always meet their targets—on biodiversity, fuel poverty or renewables, for example—although one would not normally have known that to hear the then Secretary of State. I hope that the new Government will do better.
I want to select a couple of subject areas that I think are important and to encourage the Government to be strong. I will then deal with two things of huge importance. First, it is important that the Government have made the commitment to the green investment bank. If we are to have a sustainable economy, we need the mechanism to fund the initiatives that come with it. That relates to the future of apprenticeships and sustainable jobs in the manufacturing industries of the future. We have missed many tricks over the past 25 years by not being ahead of the game. Other countries have overtaken us and we must now catch up and go forward. Colleagues who are warning that the review of investment decisions made by the previous Government means the end of that should bide their time. This Government will not want, as a matter of policy, to pull the plug on good green investment decisions made by the last Government.
Secondly, as I indicated in an intervention on my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, it is a real challenge, but a real opportunity, to make every home in Britain that is practicably able to be a warm home. More than 25% of the emissions in our country come from the domestic sector, or badly insulated homes. The programme that the Liberal Democrats put in their manifesto was ambitious; it granted people up to £10,000 to be spent in a home that passes the test and worked that through the devolved Administrations and local government in England. I hope that the new programme will allow a programme to start in 2012 for 10 years. That would make a fantastic contribution, not just to reducing fuel bills for people, to preventing untimely deaths of the old and vulnerable and to reducing our emissions, but it would produce huge numbers of jobs and apprenticeships in the building and construction industries. It is a win, win, win, win agenda item. As a postscript, let us not forget the homes that are off the mains, because they need assistance too.
Thirdly it is important that the Government continue to build and support small rural communities that have suffered too much from the loss of primary schools, post offices and, sometimes, pubs, as well as the loss of cheap housing for people who work on the land. That must remain a focus of Government across the UK and I know that Ministers are aware of the importance of them as the lifeblood of rural communities.
Lastly, it is great that we have had so quickly the decision that there will not be a third runway at Heathrow and that we will not have expansion at Gatwick and Stansted. We must understand that it is not necessary to go on building more airports and airport capacity in the south-east. If we go ahead, as we will, with a high speed rail network—not just in Britain, but across Europe—people will begin to understand the environmentally better ways of travelling. That requires other things; my friends in the Department for Transport know that it requires fare structures that work better and encourage people to use trains by making travelling across Europe something one can do as easily by train as one has in the past by plane.
The first of the two big issues that I want to flag up is biodiversity, alluded to by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. This is the international year of biodiversity but the EU target to halt the loss of biodiversity by this year has been missed. I ask all Ministers to look at the report issued last week by the United Nations and the international committee set up to deal with these matters. The report makes it clear how badly we are doing and how serious the issue is. It says:
“The target agreed by the world’s Governments in 2002, ‘to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on earth has not been met…Species which have been assessed for extinction risk are on average moving closer to extinction…Natural habitats in most parts of the world continue to decline in extent and integrity…Extensive fragmentation and degradation of forests, rivers and other ecosystems have also led to loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services…The five principal pressures directly driving biodiversity loss (habitat change, overexploitation, pollution, invasive alien species and climate change) are either constant or increasing in intensity.”
I hope the Government will take this issue seriously in all their Departments, and not only at home in the four countries of the UK, but across Europe and internationally. Unless we save the land of which we are the stewards, we may not have a land worth saving, and there may be greater risks as well.
It would be surprising if the second matter I commented on was not the nuclear industry, especially as I am following the hon. Member for Copeland (Mr Reed), who stands up vigorously, and very coherently, for his constituency, which is what I would expect. My party and I do not agree with nuclear power. I have not changed my view as a result of the election. We think that it would produce too little in terms of energy, that it would be too late and too expensive, that it would need public subsidy—in effect, the hon. Gentleman accepted that—and that it would be too dangerous. The process that has been negotiated and agreed has been arrived at as a result of an acceptance by my colleagues in government that there is majority support in the Government and across the House for nuclear power, but it does not seek to change the mind of those of us who think it is the wrong way to go.
I hope that that approach will be coupled with one other thing. I have made this request to both the previous and current Secretary of State. The Government are required formally to justify proceeding to nuclear power. That is called the process of justification. It is required under European Union law, and it looks at the cost-benefit analysis and the health risks. A draft justification has been written, but the Secretary of State is entitled to call for a public inquiry on the justification for nuclear power. It need not be a long inquiry—it could last for a year—but I believe that if we are to have science and evidence-led policy, the right way to proceed towards making the decisions on these matters, coupled with the view that there should be no subsidy, is for the Government to announce in the near future that there will be a public inquiry into the justification. I might add that I do not believe that we in this country will ever have a future generation of nuclear power if the private sector has to pick up the pieces, but we will wait and see.
Although the hon. Gentleman and I hold diametrically opposed views on nuclear power, I respect the firm stance he takes on the matter. What he has just said about kicking things even further into the long grass will dismay those people who want to invest in the industry now, and are prepared to do so. Will he explain his party’s policy—not the coalition’s—on the extension of current nuclear power stations, which are generating safely as we speak now? Will they have the opportunity to extend their generating life and thus maintain high-skill jobs in this sector?
First, let me say that, in the context of the hon. Gentleman’s beautiful island, I understand why he holds to his position on this matter. I understand, of course, that Wylfa has produced jobs in the nuclear industry, as Trawsfynydd did before it, and that the people in north Wales need jobs. We hold different views, and that is the result of all sorts of factors working on us. My party’s policy is that we would continue to use the existing fleet of nuclear power stations, but we would not artificially continue them and we would not want to build new ones. That has been the Liberal Democrat policy over the years. We are obviously in new territory now, and there will be new processes, and the hon. Gentleman and I will, no doubt, continue to participate in the debates on the matter.
The fact that part of my constituency, which is just over the bridge, has had MPs continuously since 1285—or, perhaps, 1295—reminds us that we are all just passing creatures in this place. There are two big issues that my constituents would expect me to mention. We still need affordable housing in large measure, and that must be a Government priority. Of course tackling this is difficult, but things need to be improved and we need many new properties to be built. I do not think there is a single constituency in the country that does not have an affordable housing need, and Bermondsey and Old Southwark certainly has that need. We will also continue to need apprenticeships and jobs in lasting industries, and I will take every opportunity to encourage the Government to address that.
I want to end in a slightly unusual, personal way. For my family, 27 May is a difficult day, as it is the anniversary of both our grandmother’s death and my dad’s; he died on 27 May a long time ago—in 1976. He would have been very excited, as any parent would, at his son sitting in Parliament, although he never lived to see that, but he would have also wanted me to be here to do something, because that is what he was all about. His agenda would have been, “Make sure you support manufacturing industry.” He was a brewer and understood that unless we make things, we do not earn to pay our way. He would also have said, “Make sure that young people have the chance of going on to college even if they cannot afford it.” He would have encouraged me to oppose tuition fees, which I do. Lastly, he would have said, “Make sure we continue to look after our troops in the front line, when they go and fight for our country,” which we must do. I will say one other thing in his honour. He died of cancer, and we must continue the research and development to ensure that fewer people die of cancer and that diagnosis happens quickly so that people have the best chance of being treated, for all our families and all our constituents.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech. I also thank the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) for laying the runway for me to take flight today, and for touching at the end of his speech on some very poignant issues, which are relevant to many Members of all parties. He talked about supporting our troops, supporting employment and job development, and supporting cancer patients. That last issue is personally relevant to me and my family, and I echo the hon. Gentleman’s call that this Government must release funding to ensure certain cancer drugs are available for cancer sufferers, so they do not have to pay for them themselves. I support that call.
All new Members are awestruck when we enter the Chamber. There is anticipation about what lies before us as parliamentarians, and we are also fully aware of the history of this place. I was graciously mentioned by speakers in Tuesday’s debate, including my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds) and the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). They both encouraged me by saying, “Don’t worry, it’s okay to be talked about in this place. It’s when you’re not talked about that things are not so good.” They gave me a very warm welcome: they said, “Welcome home.”
Being welcomed home here is a bit more relevant to me than it might be to some other Members whose fathers have sat on these Benches for 40 years or so—I am thinking of the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), although he beats me in one regard, as his father sat on these Benches for 50 years. Although it was said earlier that most people leave this House to spend more time with their family, I suppose it could be said that I come to this House to spend a little more time with my family members, who have sat in this House or sit in the other place now. It is therefore good to be here.
I have to follow in giant footsteps. My constituency boasts the Giant’s Causeway and I have to follow, ever so lightly, in the footsteps of a giant public representative, who represented North Antrim for four decades and made the case on behalf of its people without fear or favour. He made an imprint on not only Ulster politics, the politics of this House and British politics, but on Irish politics, and I salute him for the stand that he made. I know that when making a maiden speech one has to say something complimentary about one’s predecessors. One hon. Member advised me that I could use parliamentary privilege to say what I want about my father, but I must say that what you see is what you get with him; there is nothing else to tell hon. Members, and perhaps that will come as a relief to many.
I am very proud of the former Member of Parliament for North Antrim, my father, who represented the constituency so well. He set me a challenge before the election, saying, “If you don’t get elected, you are no son of mine.” I am glad that the 19,000-odd people who voted for me confirmed my parentage on election day and did not leave me with that scar. As I say, it is a privilege to follow someone who has been not just part of history, but a history maker. That greatly encourages me and I salute my father, the former Member, today.
Given the longevity of my father’s service, I do not have many texts to look back through to read maiden speeches made by former Members for North Antrim. Mr Deputy Speaker, I have to warn you that the previous maiden speech made by a Member for the constituency was considered to have broken every rule in the book. By all accounts, it was far too long and was definitely controversial—the Member was called to order while making his speech—and I understand that, at times, it was even far too loud. I hope that you will indulge me today; I will not commit any of those misdemeanours. Perhaps on other occasions you will indulge us Ulster Members as we continue our controversies from time to time.
The contrast between the time when the former Member for North Antrim made his maiden speech in 1970 and the time when I do so could not be more stark. When he made his speech, Ulster was tearing itself apart; there was civil unrest, economic uncertainty and political instability. I am glad that today, when I have the privilege of making my maiden speech on behalf of the electors of North Antrim, we know that the helplessness has given way to hope and that the heartache has given way to heart rejoicing, and we see that terrorism has been turned on its head and that there has been a dramatic change in the situation in Northern Ireland. It has lead to hope and to economic opportunity, despite the cuts being threatened by the Government. It is an opportunity for all the people, and I welcome that. I look forward to working in this Parliament to make that hope become a reality for all my constituents and all the people of Northern Ireland, because that is incredibly important.
I also believe that instead of terror being the order of the day, criminality has, in many instances, taken over in Northern Ireland, as it has in any other part of this United Kingdom. The Independent Monitoring Commission reported on Northern Ireland yesterday, but by and large terrorism has been checked, although problems with dissident republicans remain. I am aware that combating crime is as relevant to dealing with the issues in my constituency and my country as it is to dealing with issues in the rest of this nation. I wish to concentrate my remarks and make an appeal to this Government on combating crime.
Fuel smuggling and fuel laundering in Northern Ireland account for a loss to the Exchequer of £245 million a year, but it could be stopped almost immediately. It could be checked, with the criminals put in the dock, and people whose lawful trade is affected by smuggling would see it brought to an end. How can that be done? I shall make two suggestions and I hope that this Government are listening. I hope that they will reduce fuel duty in regions such as Northern Ireland. It shares a land border with another member state whose duty is lower than ours and therefore attracts the smugglers. The Government should fingerprint or DNA our fuel, so that it is impossible to launder and so that we can catch the culprits involved in that illegal trade. I hope that the Government will do that and make moves to build on some of the development work that was done by the previous Administration, who were examining that approach as a way forward. I also appeal to this Government not to increase that duty in a region whose energy costs are already so high that they are disproportionate. They affect business and the wherewithal of the economy to cope at this time. I hope that the Government are listening to that plea.
I shall conclude by commenting about my constituency. Although I was attracted by many of the remarks made by some of my colleagues in their maiden speeches about how wonderful their constituencies are, I believe that my constituency is the finest constituency—not because it has returned me but because it is a wonderful place. It has the geographic splendours of the Giant’s Causeway and the Slemish mountain and enjoys some wonderful cities that have brought forward some wonderful people. For example, the market town of Ballymoney brought forward my sporting heroes—the motorcycle racers Joey Dunlop and Robert Dunlop. The market town of Ballymena is known as the city of the seven towers and I hope that during my tenure as Member of Parliament, Ballymena will get city status and become a city not just in name but by charter. There is, of course, the holiday resort of Ballycastle and the 20 or so villages in between that make up the backbone of a large rural constituency that boasts tobacco manufacturing, bus making and whiskey brewing in the oldest whiskey distillery in the United Kingdom, and indeed in the world, Bushmills. Of course, we also have the manufacture of tyres at Michelin and of agri-food, which is probably our largest single industry. Those industries alone employ the vast bulk of people in my constituency.
Today, we are dealing with DEFRA issues, and I was disappointed that the Queen’s Speech said very little about agri-food production, as I believe that agri-food production is the way forward. It certainly is for my part of the United Kingdom. It is important in creating jobs, employment and development. I wish that there was a little more coming from those on the Government Front Bench about frustrating a European agenda that is clearly against Northern Ireland producing its food, and which frustrates the production of that food. I hope that the Government and this Parliament will stand up to those who would seek to frustrate us in the production of our food, just as we stand up to other more powerful nations, such as Brazil, Argentina and other countries across Europe, that produce milk, beef and lamb. I hope that we will get support from the Government. One way that they could do that would be to make good on the promise that was made before the election about an ombudsman for the supermarkets. I hope that that is done, because it will be essential in stopping the perception that prices are fixed.
I want our farmers to be a success. I want to see new talent and new blood coming into farms. Although I am delighted that my father worked until he was 84, I meet farmers every day who are still working at 84 and their 50-year-old sons cannot get into farming. I want to see their grandsons getting into farming and that will only happen if the Government stand up to support our agri-industry.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley). It seems that his constituency has yet another passionate and powerful advocate to represent it in this Chamber. I am sure that Members will also have been delighted to see his father present in the Gallery to witness his speech. I, too, have the distinction of following in giant footsteps, and I am particularly pleased to have the opportunity so early in this Parliament to pay tribute to my predecessor, Michael Howard.
Michael Howard will be known by many Members on both sides of the House for his 27 years of service to his constituents and his fine record in Government, too, as Secretary of State for the Environment and for Employment and—I hope that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May) will allow me this observation at this moment—as possibly the finest Home Secretary that this country has seen since the war. He will also be fondly remembered by Members on this side of the House for his leadership of our party. He did not lead us to ultimate victory, but we would credit him with turning the corner of our fortunes and laying the foundations for the success that we enjoyed at the last general election. I was also privileged in my four years as the prospective parliamentary candidate for Folkestone and Hythe to benefit from his friendship, judgment and insight. I was very grateful for that.
In an interview for a book published recently, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister mentioned that Michael Howard had one of those brilliant lawyerly minds that meant that he could win an argument even when he was in the wrong. I am sure that all those who have known him and worked with him will have seen that quality represented first hand. He was undoubtedly one of the finest politicians of his generation in the Conservative party and we remember him warmly for that. He was also dogged and determined in the pursuit of the interests of his constituents. In that regard, he was certainly a man who had something of the fight about him and something of the right about him.
I have the distinction of being the fourth Member to be elected to serve the constituency of Folkestone and Hythe since its creation in 1950, although the Cinque Port towns of Hythe and New Romney, within its boundaries, have been represented continuously since the very first Parliament was summoned by Simon de Montfort in 1265. I am conscious—as were previous speakers, as the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) said—that I follow not just one distinguished predecessor, but a long line of people who have represented the people of Folkestone and Hythe in Parliaments over the years. That is certainly a great honour.
I should like to indulge the House with reference to two former Members whose careers might be particularly relevant to the political times that we find ourselves in today. Sir Edward Watkin, who was a Victorian railway magnate and responsible for one of the early attempts to build a channel tunnel at Folkestone, rebelled from his party in 1886 and sat as a Liberal Unionist in support of the Conservative Administration of the time. Sir Philip Sassoon, who created the beautiful Port Lympne estate in my constituency and was a cousin of Siegfried Sassoon, the war poet, was elected as a Conservative Member, but in 1920 served as the Parliamentary Private Secretary to David Lloyd George in a post-war coalition Government.
The constituency is large and varied. It stretches for some 20 miles along the coast, from the Battle of Britain memorial just to the east of Folkestone, to Dungeness and the Kent-Sussex border. Inland, it includes the unique landscape of Romney marsh and the beauty of the Elham valley and the north downs. The entrance and exit of the channel tunnel is based in my constituency. Folkestone itself, although no longer a seaport and ferry port, is undergoing a very exciting process of regeneration, as it becomes a new hub for creativity and the arts, and I believe that it has a very bright future.
The constituency also included for the first time in an election the Saxon Shore ward, taken in from Ashford borough, but true cartographers would probably say that the constituency’s boundaries are constantly changing, not owing to the pains of the Boundary Commission but because of the shifting shingle peninsula at Dungeness, which is constantly moving with the climate. The force of nature is seen by the location of lighthouses that were once offshore but are now hundreds of yards inland. It is a truly unique place in the English landscape. Charles Harper referred to it in his 1914 guide to the Kentish coast as
“one of the most remarkable places in England...a waste of shingle, with here and there a sparse patch of gorse, and stretching as far as the eye can reach.”
That landscape has not changed much but for the notable addition of the arrival of nuclear power in the 1960s. Nuclear power at Dungeness is an issue in which my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), the Minister for energy, knows that I have taken a strong interest, and on which I have corresponded with him. I should like to address some remarks in this debate to nuclear power at Dungeness.
Dungeness A power station was given approval in 1959, and a B-generation power station was commissioned in the 1960s and opened in the 1980s. That power station is due to start being decommissioned in 2017. There had been a long-held assumption in my constituency that we would be benefit from a new generation nuclear power station, as part of the Government’s new build programme. Earlier in the debate today, the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) cautioned us against sending out mixed messages on the future of nuclear power. Certainly, my constituents heard a very evident mixed message from the last Government: Dungeness was originally included on the Government’s list of possible sites for new build nuclear power stations and was then removed last autumn, and there has followed a consultation process in which my constituents have taken an active and lively interest.
There is a great deal of support for nuclear power in my constituency. I am sure that hon. Members who have nuclear sites in their constituencies know that there is a good deal of support for them, because they generate a huge number of jobs and important support for the local economy. In my constituency, the area of Dungeness and the Romney marshes remains a relatively deprived part not only of my constituency, but of Kent and the south-east of England. Nuclear power could play an important part in my community.
It appears from the consultation process launched by the last Government that one of the main reasons why Dungeness was taken off the Government’s list of potential sites was the objections of Natural England. It is one of the Government’s statutory consultees, and in some ways it is only doing its job, but its assessment, based on the habitats regulations, was that the loss of the vegetated shingle in the area around Dungeness power station could not be mitigated, as the landscape was unique. All of us in my constituency would agree that it is a unique landscape, but we are also mindful that the potential development land for the new power station is only 1 per cent. of the entire protected site of special scientific interest around Dungeness, Rye and Romney Marsh; we are talking about a relatively small area of development.
When, in 1959, the Minister of Power gave consent for the first power station to be built, he reached the conclusion that the mitigation necessary, and the damage to the area, was so small that it could not be said that the building of a power station compromised the integrity of the whole site. I know that my constituents will hope that the new Government can look again at the case for nuclear power in Dungeness and will draw a similar conclusion—that it may be possible to work to mitigate the impact of the building of a new power station without compromising the integrity of the entire site, which is greatly valued not only by my constituents but by people across the country. We see the great value that nuclear power has for our community, and we would like to encourage and support it.
In conclusion, my constituents believe that having a sustainable environment is foremost among everyone’s interests in the decades ahead, but we should also have a sustainable sense of opportunity for people, so that there is an opportunity for work, for a decent life, and for people to provide for their families and children, so that people can hope that their children will have a better standard of living than they have enjoyed. We might say that those are eternal dreams and ambitions, held by every generation, but they are only delivered and realised by the decisions that we take in this House every day.
I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech today in this debate, as the Labour and Co-operative party Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins); indeed, I travelled through his constituency just a couple of weeks ago, while many other new Members were here having their photographs taken, on my way to see Fulham perform in the Europa league final in Hamburg. Sadly, we were not successful, but it was a great opportunity to go through the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.
It is a pleasure to take part in the same debate as the hon. Members for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), for Crawley (Henry Smith), and for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), and my hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans); they, too, are making their maiden speeches this afternoon. I note your entreaty for succinct contributions, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I will seek to ensure the appropriate conciseness in my remarks.
I would like to begin, as is customary, by paying tribute to my predecessor, the right hon. Tommy McAvoy. It is testament to the respect felt for him, and the affection in which he is held in Parliament, that I have, over the past couple of weeks, been approached by Members of all parties, Officers of the House, and staff in the Library, the Tea Room and elsewhere in the parliamentary estate, all of whom without exception have told me of their high regard for him. As many returning right hon. and hon. Members will know, Tommy held the record for being the longest serving Government Whip; his 13 consecutive years in post—first as the Comptroller of Her Majesty’s Household, and latterly as Deputy Chief Whip—are testament to his success in using his personal, particular mix of authority, subtlety and tactical acuity to help this place to run smoothly over many years. Over the course of this week, I have, from the Labour Benches, observed the frequent presence in the Chamber of his successor in the role of the Comptroller of Her Majesty’s Household, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael); I have seen him prowling contentedly in the Chamber, and I hope that he is able to live up to his forerunner, my predecessor.
Of course, as a Government Whip, my predecessor was not able to take part in debates in this House, so this is the first time that a Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West, as currently constituted, has had the honour and the opportunity to speak in a debate in the Chamber, but that does not mean that my predecessor was silent in the constituency—far from it. As many people have said, “You always know what Tommy McAvoy is thinking, because he tells you.” His robust defence of the interests of his constituents is renowned in Rutherglen and Hamilton West. I know that it is one of his proud achievements that although he entered this House in 1987 as the Member for Glasgow Rutherglen, by the time he left, he had been instrumental in ensuring that the historic royal borough of Rutherglen had re-established its separate and distinct identity as part of South Lanarkshire, and he had enabled the good people of Toryglen to be represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South (Mr Harris).
Whereas Tommy was born and bred and has lived all his life in Rutherglen, it does not take the most acute observer to work out that, like the hon. Member for Crawley, who spoke earlier, I am a migrant to my constituency. I am one of the many people who have chosen to settle slightly later in life in the constituency—in my case, in Cambuslang.
Indeed, in some ways it is perhaps the responsibility or, maybe, the fault of the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) that I am here at all. His visit to my school in Tonbridge in the run-up to the 1992 general election inspired me to join the Labour party, in the people’s republic of Tunbridge Wells. Although I am not sure that that was quite his intention in speaking to a group of sixth formers in his constituency, I am grateful to him none the less.
It is particularly appropriate that I am able to contribute in this debate, as my constituency has a long and proud association with the famous Lanarkshire coalfield. The legendary Mick McGahey is of course closely associated with Cambuslang, Scotland’s largest village, where I and my family are privileged to live; and in Blantyre we are fortunate to have, thanks to the efforts of South Lanarkshire council, the people of Blantyre and many other local agencies, one of the most successful reinstated and revitalised miners welfare facilities, serving the very heart of an historic and proud community. I look forward to welcoming my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr Hamilton) to sample the unique hospitality of the Blantyre miners welfare society and social club next weekend.
The communities that make up Rutherglen and Hamilton West are proud and principled places, with a strong and enduring sense of community and a welcoming and hospitable outlook. From Shawfield—once the home of Clyde football club and still the venue for arguably the best night out of greyhound racing in the United Kingdom—to Meikle Earnock up the hill in Hamilton and all points in between, the people of Rutherglen and Hamilton West are decent and genuine, and it is both a pleasure and an immense privilege to be their representative in this sovereign Parliament.
In preparing for this maiden speech, I was struck by how my predecessor’s maiden speech in 1987 focused on the importance of jobs and investment, during a debate about the then Scottish Development Agency. Over the past 13 years considerable investment in the constituency and all its communities has helped to improve facilities and support jobs, but as we begin to emerge from the worst global recession since the 1930s it is vital that we take the opportunity to rebalance our economy. The potential is immense for new jobs and skills in energy and related engineering, manufacturing and technology that can benefit the environment and provide export possibilities and skilled jobs for people in constituencies such as mine.
However, as various speakers in today’s debate have said, those skills and opportunities will be realised only with the right support and incentives for business. I was fortunate to be in the Chamber yesterday to hear the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Laws), and although he chose not to answer every single question that my right hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling) put to him, no one could fail to recognise the zeal with which he appeared to enjoy cutting the child trust fund for my constituents, cutting jobs for young people in my constituency through the future jobs fund and, perhaps most worrying of all, cutting the strategic investment that could provide jobs for my constituents in the future.
I welcome the green investment bank, which was also in our election manifesto, but it is a matter of real concern that £34 million of the cuts to the Department of Energy and Climate Change seem to be from business support schemes, which would help to start some of the work that we need to do to improve the way in which we produce energy. The cuts to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills also seem to endanger regional development agencies and the consequential funding for the equivalent bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Without wishing to be overly controversial, I should like to express my sincere hope that in this brave new world of the new politics of the alliance of the two old parties, the other wing of the Liberal party—notable in the comments of the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) and the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) earlier—will be able to assert at least some of what it stood for in the general election, in order to ensure that opportunities in energy, industry and manufacturing are not lost amid the rush and enthusiasm of the Liberal party’s other faction to adopt what I think is a dangerous, short-termist and unenlightened policy.
I am grateful to the House for extending me the courtesy of hearing my maiden speech in silence. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) said yesterday, although I do not expect to be heard in silence in future, I will not be silent in seeking to represent the interests of my constituents in Rutherglen and Hamilton West to the best of my ability.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to address the House for the first time and to take part in what is turning out to be a fascinating debate with some excellent contributions. I congratulate the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) on an excellent and heartfelt maiden speech.
I start by paying tribute to some of my predecessors. Ealing Central and Acton is a new seat and for the past five years it has been well represented by the now hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter), who drew on many years of local government experience and his legal background to offer wise advice and counsel. We locked horns on occasions, but on at least two, we were on the same side. The first was to oppose the attempt to impose the infamous west London tram and the second, more recently, was the opposition to any further expansion of Heathrow airport. I respect the fact that the hon. Gentleman put his principles before his career when he stood down from his Government position to pursue that campaign. I hope that he is as pleased as I am with the new coalition Government’s early announcement that there will be no third runway at Heathrow. It also seems that the British Airports Authority has finally got the message.
I would also like to mention the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound), whom I have got to know rather well in the past year or so. His boundaries were changed alongside mine and, as he put it to me rather graphically, “You got your best bits from me and I got my best bits from you.” So I say to him, thank you for that. I do not need to tell the House what a larger-than-life character he is. He is much loved for his work in the House and his commitment to his constituents. I hope that, in years to come, I can go about my job with the same good humour with which he goes about his.
However, the person I see as my closest predecessor is, of course, my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young). He represented the old Ealing, Acton seat for 23 years and, regardless of people’s political allegiance, he is remembered with warmth and affection throughout the constituency. He was the first famous bicycling politician—the bicycling baronet. In Ealing, we still have many photographs of him with his bicycle—and his bicycle clips. He deservedly has a towering reputation in Ealing and Acton. He is always welcome there and I am very aware that I have large shoes to fill—literally, as well as metaphorically.
Ealing Central and Acton is one of the most diverse constituencies one can imagine. The boundary changes have deepened that diversity—the constituency is truly a rich tapestry. We have a long-standing Polish community, an Asian community, an Arab community, a Japanese community and an African community, including a growing Somali community. I want to mention the brilliant work of the Tallo centre in south Acton, which operates on little funding and eases the path of Somalis who come to this country and into our community. When I called there recently during the election campaign, I found two of the staff embarking on their new campaign against female circumcision in the Somali community. That is perhaps a useful reminder to us all that not everyone who comes here to live a better life can leave all their torment behind them. As the local MP, I look forward with all my heart to supporting the work of organisations such as the Tallo centre.
Both Ealing and Acton have long histories. Acton was originally a Saxon village and the name comes from the word meaning “oak tree.” It was transformed by the industrial revolution and quickly developed a great reputation for its washing and laundry industry. Indeed, some of the names in Acton still reflect that history—for example, Bollo lane.
Of course, Ealing, too, has an illustrious history. Its icon is an oak tree, which links it neatly with Acton, but I suspect it also represents the famous oak trees on Ealing common and so many of our other wonderful green spaces, of which we are truly very proud. Ealing has for long years been known as “The Queen of the Suburbs”, and if any hon. Members would like to take a stroll with me through some of the streets, they will see exactly why it still is.
The earliest surviving census in this country comes from Ealing—from 1599—and John Quincy Adams chose Ealing as his place of residence in 1815 when he came to this country to serve as the American Minister. In 1901, Ealing adopted a coat of arms and a motto—“Respice Prospice”—which means, “Look backwards, look forwards.” The good voters of Ealing and Acton may have taken that rather literally when, as it transpired on election night, they voted for me as the MP but also for a Labour council. I will leave others to decide which is which.
There can be no discussion of Ealing without mention of the famous film studios, which are the longest continuously working film studios in the world. They bring great lustre to the borough and have played a significant role in putting the UK at the heart of the international film industry. Who can possibly not have heard of such titles as “The Lavender Hill Mob”, “Passport to Pimlico” and “Hue and Cry”? The studios are also just about to remake their “Doctor at Large” series.
On a more serious note, it will be imperative to keep all that history in mind when considering plans to regenerate Ealing and Acton town centres, for regenerated I believe they must be if they are to stride confidently through the 21st century. Crossrail will help. There must be development, but it must be done sensitively in order not to trample on the history and character of the place. I hope to work closely with the local council and other agencies to ensure that we get things as right as we possibly can.
I look forward to continuing some of the campaigns that I started as a candidate. I have a local transport committee, which meets regularly to discuss Ealing Broadway and Acton main line stations, and I shall continue to campaign—for as long as it takes—to ensure that we keep our A and E departments at both Central Middlesex and Ealing hospitals.
There is much in what we are discussing this afternoon for me to recommend to my constituents. Protecting the environment for future generations and finding ways to make our economy more environmentally sustainable are things that I know the people of Ealing and Acton care passionately about, and that I can support. I should like to put on record at this stage that I am proud of the Conservative record on environmental matters. After all, it was a Conservative Government who introduced the Clean Air Act 1956, which did so much to get rid of the smog in London, and another Conservative Government who introduced tax incentives to ensure that people switched to lead-free petrol. A Conservative council—Westminster city council—pioneered the low emission zone, and a Conservative Prime Minister, Lady Thatcher, was probably the first Prime Minister to choose to make a major speech on the environment, as she did in the late 1980s. In that speech, she reminded us that we are not freeholders on this planet, but leaseholders, and that our duty is to ensure, like all good leaseholders, that we pass on this planet to future generations in the same if not better order than that in which we found it.
However, one issue that I wanted to touch on—it comes within the DEFRA remit—is dangerous dogs, which have become an increasing problem in Ealing and Acton. I was delighted to see that the coalition agreement goes into some detail about tackling that. I am a little disappointed that it is not an immediate priority—I hope it will be, and I am sure it needs to be. We have problems in the parks throughout Ealing and Acton, and I think it is unacceptable that in this day and age, people cannot enjoy their wonderful green spaces because of the blight of such dangerous dogs.
We need to look again at what we do to protect people while supporting the vast majority of responsible dog owners. Principally, this is an issue of enforcement. I am not sure that yet another form of licensing will make any difference, because after all, as we all know, the good guys buy their licences and the bad people do not bother. It is an issue of enforcement. I hope that the Government will look at that, introduce measures, and see how we can toughen penalties and crack down on people who consistently flout the law.
I fully support the measures set out by the Government to increase energy efficiency. In particular, the green deal will make a big contribution to reducing carbon emissions across the UK, but it will also bring direct benefits to householders. People have often raised with me on the doorstep their worries about fuel bills, and these proposals will pay for themselves through savings on energy bills in the future, so it really will provide a double bonus.
I am proud to stand here representing Ealing Central and Acton and I look forward to speaking out on behalf of my constituents whenever the occasion arises.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray) on a very fine speech, and I also congratulate everyone who has made a maiden speech today. It was a real pleasure to be in my place, especially to hear the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley). I always believed that his father would one day look down on us all—I just did not think that it would happen this quickly.
I was concerned when the Secretary of State opened this debate by talking about consensus. I have been involved in the energy industry for almost 40 years, and if we had had some consensus over those decades we might not be in the mess we are in today. How can we have consensus when the Secretary of State opposes nuclear power, and his party is cautious—to put it mildly—on the use of coal? The Liberal Democrats in my area are completely anti-coal, no matter where it comes from or how it is burnt. Some of the partners in the new coalition are climate change deniers, so confusion is more likely than consensus.
Confusion is the last thing that we need in this debate, because we have had far too much delay already—and I blame the previous Government as much as the current one. My Government, in their 13 years, did not do as much as they should have done. In particular, they did not wake up quickly enough to energy security issues and the use of coal, especially coal from the United Kingdom. However, they did wake up to those issues more quickly than the Government before them, who spent 10 years decimating the coal industry in this country, which is an issue not just in the interests of security of supply, but because we were leading the world in clean coal technology. When we closed the coal mines in the 1980s and early 1990s, that clean coal technology went down the drain along with access to some of the most impressive coal reserves to be found anywhere in the world.
The Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change spent the last year and a half going through some of the many issues, and making good progress with little partisanship. However, we must face up to certain problems. For example, there is a huge skills gap across the energy sector, partly as a result of the privatisation of the industry in 1990s, with companies focusing on shareholder profits and driving costs down, not on investing in training and skills. Another question is where the finance will come from. It is estimated that we need £200 billion in 10 years if we are to meet the challenge facing us. If we compare that with the fact that in the past 20 years £100 billion was spent on upgrading the water system, we can see the scale of the challenge.
We have an opportunity to have the most integrated energy system anywhere in the world, with wind, tidal, nuclear, coal and gas—as long as it continues—and we must get to grips with that as a matter of urgency. We must also recognise that the national grid is not fit for purpose. I notice that the coalition’s document talks about building an offshore grid, and I welcome that, but we also need to put right the problems with the onshore grid. We have a regulator that, by its own admission, is not fit for purpose. Thankfully, it began to realise, with its report “Project Discovery” last year, that it was not doing the business—something that we have all known for a long time—and we need to make it do the business.
I intervened on my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State to make a point that I have raised several times already and will continue to raise—that this country is importing coal from countries where miners are being killed in their thousands every year. China kills six and Ukraine seven miners for every million tonnes of coal it produces. It is a scandal. If it was young, Asian kids stitching leather footballs, we would refuse to let the produce enter the country, but because it is energy, we close our eyes.
I want to raise another matter with the new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change: the increase in fatalities and injuries in the UK. Over the past 10 years, as the number of mines and miners has decreased, major injuries have almost trebled and fatalities have risen fourfold. I hope to take that matter forward with the new Secretary of State and energy Ministers.
I would be pleased to receive a delegation from the hon. Gentleman and others similarly concerned about those issues. I take them very seriously indeed, and I will be keen to address them at the earliest possible opportunity.
I appreciate that. I realise, from the work that the Minister and I did together on the Energy and Climate Change Committee, the genuineness of that offer, and I will certainly pursue it with him, interested colleagues and people in the mining industry.
In the past five years, there has been a huge step change in the north-east in relation to the opportunities and potential for finding a way forward in an economic way using the new green jobs. We have seen the potential of carbon capture and storage, and along with the university of Newcastle upon Tyne we are developing the potential of underground coal gasification to access some of the billions of tonnes of coal that still lie under the North sea. We hope to build wind turbines on the bank of the River Tyne, using the Narec facility in Blyth, which is developing cutting-edge wind turbine technology. The Secretary of State mentioned the development of electric cars by Nissan, and in my constituency, we are developing the infrastructure to charge those cars.
The reality, however, is that all that is being held together by one organisation—the regional development agency—and when we from the north-east say, “Do not do away with the RDA,” we do not say so because we like quangos or because we want to see civil servants kept in jobs; we say it because the RDA works. It has worked in the development of a low-carbon economy, and it is working in trying to make sense of what has happened at Corus. We believe that, if the RDA is removed, it will have a major impact on the economic development of our constituencies and our part of the country. I urge the Secretary of State to argue with the Treasury that the RDA in the north-east is a special case.
In preparing for this discussion, I looked back to the Queen’s Speech in 1979, because, from the commitments in the Conservative party manifesto, it seems that what it suggests is the way forward for the country now is similar to what was suggested in 1979. That Queen’s Speech read:
“My Government will give priority in economic policy…through the pursuit of firm monetary and fiscal policies.…and increase competition by providing offers of sale, including opportunities for employees to participate where appropriate… Members of the House of Commons will be given an opportunity to discuss and amend their procedures, particularly as they relate to their scrutiny of the work of Government… Legislation will be introduced to promote greater efficiency in local government… My Ministers will work to improve the use of resources in the National Health Service and…facilitate the wider use of primary care… Measures will be introduced to…control…immigration… My Ministers will take steps to…reform…the general law.”—[Official Report, 15 May 1979; Vol. 967, c. 48-51.]
There is nothing unusual there. It is what I would expect from a Conservative party trying to get back into power after 13 years in the shadows. However, I did not expect it to be supported in its attempts, unfortunately, by the Liberal Democrats, but it has been. The latter have signed up to a Thatcherite agenda: cuts to welfare; attacks on the public sector; attacks on workers’ terms and conditions; unemployment used as a tool of public policy; attacks on democracy; and attacks on political party funding. We have, indeed, gone back to the future. And what else? There is good news for the bosses: corporation tax cuts; national insurance for employers stopped, but national insurance for employees increased; and a review of the pension age, so that those who have worked all their lives will have to work even longer—it does not matter that they might have started work at 15, because in the near future, they will have to continue until they are 66.
Then there is “freeing up schools”—again, a matter of ideological dogma, with the terms and conditions of teachers and other classroom workers to be put out to the highest bidder—and the privatisation of Royal Mail, with the pensions, pay and jobs in the Royal Mail to be put at risk. Then there is political reform. I was surprised during the election campaign—although I probably should not have been—to hear the Liberal Democrats talking about the link between the trade unions and the labour movement as corrupt. That is an absolute slur on one of the biggest democratic organisations in this country.
The people in Blaydon had a clear choice in the 2010 election, and 7,000 of them made that clear choice when they voted for a gentleman called Glenn Hall, a man who stood firm and true in his beliefs, which were those of the Conservative party. Some 7,000 of my constituents said, “We’ll vote for that,” whereas 61,000 said, “No, we do not want that,” 13,000 of them saying, “We support the Liberal Democrats.” However, they did not support the Liberal Democrats to put the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr Cameron) into No. 10 Downing street. Unfortunately, Members on the Liberal Democrat Benches have let those 13,000 people down, because they have let the Conservatives back in with an agenda that takes us back to where we were 30 years ago, and we are going to end up in the same situation.
The people who voted for the Liberal Democrats in the north-east of England are now seeing the reality of what the Liberal Democrats have done and the mistakes that they have made. People such as me and other Members will ensure that they continue to see those mistakes. The excuse of the Liberal Democrats is: “It’s all about Greece.” Well, there is only one thing that the Liberal Democrats in this House have shown in connection with Greece—and that is that they want to climb the greasy pole.
I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and welcome you to your post, if only for a short period. I congratulate the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) on his speech. I did not necessarily agree with everything that he said, but I do not doubt the passion with which he said it. I should also like to congratulate all those who have spoken today, particularly the new Members, whom I welcome to the Chamber. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my constituents for returning me. I will do what I am sure everyone in the House promised to do—that is, to do my utmost to uphold that trust and serve my constituents’ interests in this place, but also try to pass good legislation.
We meet in interesting times, with our coalition Government in place. Lord Edward Cecil defined compromise as
“An agreement between two men to do what both agree is wrong.”
I hope that that does not define the nature of our coalition Government. I certainly hope that it will not, for the good of the country; and indeed, I welcome many aspects of the Gracious Speech. For example, on immigration, my constituents are pleased about the annual cap that we will introduce for non-EU immigrants, the creation of a border police force and transitional controls with regard to EU members, and I say that for a number of reasons.
First, immigration was a particularly important issue to my constituents in the general election. Secondly, there was a concern—certainly locally, if not nationally—that the fact that both parties seemed reluctant to discuss the issue lent support to the British National party. Many people in my constituency were tempted to vote for the BNP, but coming out with clear and strong policies has helped to stop that inclination, at least locally. By addressing people’s points, I hope that we can put their fears to one side. It is a sad reflection that when we left office in 1997, there were no BNP councillors anywhere in the country, yet today we have approaching 60. That reflects the fact that the former Government’s immigration policy was an absolute shambles, and people were rightly concerned about that.
I also disagree with the Labour party and even some of my Liberal friends, and particularly with my Liberal opponent, who said that we should not encourage the BNP on to the stage or give it the air of publicity. However, we have to pull the BNP out of the shadows and show people what it stands for if we are going to take the party head on. I therefore think that the immigration policies announced by the coalition Government are a positive step.
On law and order, I am pleased that we have made it clear that we are going to be tougher on the criminal. Real concern has again been expressed by my constituents that the recorded crime figures clearly show that violent crime is on the increase. The coalition Government’s assurance that we are going to get more police out of the police stations and on to the streets by reducing red tape can only be a good thing. The time has come to get tougher with the criminal. My constituents all know that the criminal chooses to commit a crime and that the victim has no choice in the matter. They are therefore very pleased with these policies.
I am also delighted by the announcements on Equitable Life. For too long, its policy holders have been denied justice, and it is about time that the ombudsman’s recommendations were implemented. It is good news that they are going to be.
I was reassured by what I heard from our Front Bench about the fact that we are going to work towards an obligation for energy companies to provide information on the cheapest tariffs on all domestic bills.
I was pleased by my Government’s commitment to bear down on the deficit. The larger the size of the deficit, the heavier the weight on our economy. That is something that the Opposition do not realise. If we want a prosperous economy in which we will be better able to pay for our public services, we must get the deficit down. The argument that any reduction in spending is somehow taking money out of the economy is fundamentally flawed. Every pound that is borrowed and spent, by any Government, is a pound taken from the private sector. A private sector-led recovery will be essential in our fight to reduce the deficit.
I have one or two questions to put to those on my Front Bench about the new coalition agreement, one of which the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs Spelman) is particularly well positioned to answer. It is about Travellers. She will know that the issue of Travellers is an important one not only in my constituency but in others, particularly in the south-east. My constituency has the largest illegal Traveller camp in the country—some say it is the largest in Europe—at Dale Farm. Travellers bought some green belt land there—there is nothing wrong with that—but they then illegally and speedily developed it, to the point where it is now the largest site in the land.
A forced eviction is now due. We have gone through the planning process and that has been flipped over into the legal process. We have gone through both processes and we are now, sadly, at the point of a forced eviction. I say “sadly” because I have been to see the Travellers, and I have tried to persuade them that we all want a peaceful resolution to the issue, and that the best way to achieve that is for them to move off peacefully. To date, however, they have refused to do that.
No one is seeking to penalise or discriminate against Travellers. All we are saying is that anyone who lives in our community should abide by the same set of rules. There should not be one rule for the law-abiding majority and another for the Travellers. I say the same thing to anyone—Traveller or non-Traveller—who asks me about developing on the green belt, or who has already done so. The law needs to be upheld. I am concerned that there is no mention at all of our policies towards Travellers in the coalition agreement—
I might be able to help my hon. Friend on this matter. In the Communities and Local Government brief, there is mention of a Bill from that Department that will contain measures on this subject, as has already been made public. Those measures will close the retrospective planning permission loophole in this regard and extend the power of stop notices so that they can go beyond 28 days. Most importantly, given the part that my hon. Friend’s local authority has played in providing authorised sites, the measures will give an incentive to local authorities to provide more authorised sites. They will also recognise that the cost of that should not fall on the council tax payer, and that will be recognised in the local authority grant. I hope that that gives him some comfort.
It does, indeed, and I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. However, the Conservative Green Paper also discussed the provision of more sites. While I have been a strong advocate of the need to give councils much stronger powers to deal with Travellers who illegally develop the green belt, I also believe that we must look at the issue in a balanced fashion and realise that there is an acute shortage of sites across the south-east. It worries me that although our Green Paper mentioned the need for greater provision of sites, that was not in the manifesto and it was certainly not in the coalition agreement. Perhaps in the fullness of time, my right hon. Friend might be able to provide further clarification.
The all-party group on cancer, which I chair, conducted an in-depth inquiry into cancer inequalities in this country. All the evidence suggests that inequalities in both treatment and outcomes for cancer patients have been growing. We came up with eight recommendations, the most important of which was the introduction of a one-year survival measure. We felt that we should try to move the focus of the NHS away from input-based targets and more towards measuring how well the NHS actually performs in making people better. The one-year survival measure was our key recommendation, as it was clear from all the evidence that if we were to catch up with our European neighbours on average one-year and five-year survival rates, we had to improve on early diagnosis. That was key: the sooner we could get people diagnosed, the sooner the treatment could begin. That could save literally thousands of lives in this country.
The pledge in the coalition agreement states that the aim will be to measure success on results like improving cancer survival, so the question I am asking now—I do not expect an immediate answer, but one in the fullness of time—is whether that commitment extends to introducing one-year survival measures. The required statistics and information are already being produced, courtesy of the NCIN—national cancer intelligence network—so there would be no additional costs. We have to bring this out of the cupboard, shine a light on it and make sure that PCTs know that we are looking at the figures and seeing how well they are performing in improving survival and the outcomes for patients at the one-year mark. The eventual aim is to apply a five-year measure, as happens on the continent, but we felt that a one-year measure would be enough to get the ball rolling. I shall seek further clarification on this issue from my Government.
Finally, I would like to say a few words about Afghanistan. As you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and some other Members will know, I was against our involvement in Afghanistan from the very start. I felt that we fundamentally underestimated the task in hand and that it was never clear quite what the mission was. That was borne out last year when the Prime Minister seemed to flip-flop between justifying our presence there by saying that we were somehow protecting the streets of this country from terrorism, and threatening President Karzai almost in the same breath by saying that unless he cleaned up his act politically, we would withdraw our troops. Those two statements and positions did not, and still do not, sit well next to each other.
As an ex-soldier, I fully welcome the promise to rebuild the military covenant to support our troops and their families, particularly when it comes to mental health issues, and to make sure that our troops are fully equipped. I urge our coalition Government and Front-Bench colleagues to understand that on this issue we need not just fresh thinking, but a fresh approach. We need to ensure that our aims are clearly stated, so that we can measure according to them the criteria for bringing our troops home. If we cannot do that and the mission continues to be the fudge that was, unfortunately, only too apparent under the last Government, lives will be needlessly lost and we will be no closer to bringing our troops home.
I am grateful to you for calling me to speak today, Mr Deputy Speaker. As I am sure you know, the environment is a subject dear to my heart, and I shall return to it in a moment.
I think that anyone would find making their first speech in the Chamber daunting, given its history and traditions and the many momentous events that it has witnessed. However, I have an additional responsibility, which is to speak not only as the new Member of Parliament for Brighton, Pavilion, but as the first representative of the Green party to be elected to Westminster.
We must go back several decades, to the election of the first nationalist MPs in Scotland and Wales, to identify the last maiden speech made by a member of a new national political party. Perhaps a better comparison would be with the first socialist and independent Labour MPs, whose arrival over a century ago was seen as a sign of coming revolution. When Keir Hardie made his maiden speech after winning the seat of West Ham South in 1892, there was an outcry, because instead of a frock coat and top hat he wore a tweed suit and a deerstalker. It is hard to decide which of those options would seem more inappropriate today.
What Keir Hardie stood for, however, seems much more mainstream now: progressive taxation, votes for women, free schooling, pensions, and abolition of the House of Lords. Although the last of those is an urgent task that is still before us, the rest are now seen as essential to our society. What was once radical, even revolutionary, has become understood, accepted and even cherished.
I am helped today by the admirable tradition that in their first speech to the House, Members should refer to their constituency and to their predecessor. David Lepper, who stood down at the election after 13 years’ service as Member of Parliament for Brighton, Pavilion, was an enormously hard-working and highly respected Member whose qualities transcended any difference of party, and I am delighted to have the chance to thank him for his work on behalf of the people of Brighton.
It is also a great pleasure to speak about Brighton itself, or Brighton and Hove as the city is rightly called. It is, I am sure, well known to many Members, if only in connection with party conference time. My own party has not yet grown to a size that would justify the use of the Brighton Centre—although I hope that that will change before long—but I can tell Members who are not familiar with it that it is one of the United Kingdom’s premier conference venues. There are also the attractions of the shops and cafés of the Lanes and North Laine, the pier, and, of course, the Royal Pavilion itself, which gives its name to the constituency. Beyond the immediate boundaries of the constituency and the city is the quietly beautiful countryside of the south downs and the Sussex Weald.
Brighton has always had a tradition of independence, of doing things differently. It has an entrepreneurial spirit, making the best of things whatever the circumstances, and enjoying being ahead of the curve. We see that in the number of small businesses and freelancers in the constituency, and in the way in which diversity is not just tolerated or respected, but positively welcomed and valued. You have to work quite hard to be a local character in Brighton.
We do not have a single dominant employer in the constituency. As well as tourism and hospitality, we have two universities, whose students make an important cultural as well as financial contribution to the city. A large number of charities, campaigning groups and institutes are also based there, some local, others with a national or international reach, such as the Institute of Development Studies. All those organisations do excellent work, and I look forward to supporting them during my time in this place.
Many of my constituents are employed in the public and voluntary sectors. They include doctors and teachers, nurses and police officers, and others from professions that do not always receive the same level of attention or support from the media or, indeed, politicians. But whatever role they play—as social workers, planning officers, highway engineers or Border Agency staff—we depend on them. I am sure that Members on both sides agree that all those who work for the state should be respected and their contribution valued. Particularly at a time of cuts, with offhand comments about bureaucrats and pencil-pushers, that becomes even more important.
There is also a Brighton that is perhaps less familiar to hon. Members. The very popularity of the city puts pressure on transport, housing and the quality of life. Although there is prosperity, it is not shared equally. People are proud of Brighton but they believe it can be a better and fairer place to live and work. I pledge to do everything I can in this place to help achieve that, with a particular focus on creating more affordable and more sustainable housing. We have more than 11,000 people on the housing waiting list in the city and we need urgent action.
Brighton was once the seat of the economist Henry Fawcett, who was elected there in 1865. Shortly afterwards, he married Millicent Garrett, later the leader of the Suffragists, a movement he himself had encouraged and supported. He lent his name to the Fawcett Society, which is still campaigning for greater women’s representation in politics. The task of ensuring that Parliament better reflects the people it represents remains work in progress. As the first woman elected in Brighton, Pavilion, this is work that I will do all I can to advance. I pay tribute to the wide range of organisations in Brighton and Hove that work with women, which do some fantastic work. They include Rise, which works with women who have been subject to domestic violence.
I said when I began that I found this occasion daunting and perhaps the most difficult task is to say a few words about the latest radical move that the people of Brighton have made in electing the first Green MP to Parliament. It has been a long journey. The Green party traces its origins back to 1973 and the issues highlighted in its first manifesto for a sustainable society, including security of energy supply, tackling pollution, raising standards of welfare and striving for steady state economics, are even more urgent today. I cannot help thinking that if our message had been heeded nearly 40 years ago, we would be much closer to the genuinely sustainable economy that we so urgently need than we currently are today.
We fielded 50 candidates in the 1979 general election as the Ecology party and began to win seats on local councils. Representation in the European Parliament and the London Assembly followed and now, after nearly four decades of the kind of work on doorsteps and in council chambers with which I know hon. Members are all too familiar, we have more candidates, more members and now our first MP. A long journey; too long, I would say.
Politics needs to renew itself and to allow new ideas and visions to emerge. Otherwise, debate is the poorer and more and more people feel that they are not represented. I hope that if and when other new political movements arise, they will not be excluded by the system of voting. Reform here, as in other areas, is long overdue. That chance must not be squandered. Most crucially, the people themselves must be given a choice about the way their representatives are elected and that means more than a referendum on the alternative vote. It means the choice of a genuinely proportional electoral system.
Both before the election and afterwards, I have been asked the question, “What can a single MP achieve?” I may not be alone in facing that question. Since arriving in this place and thinking about the contribution of other MPs and what they have done over the years, I am sure that the answer is very clear. A single MP can achieve a great deal. A single MP can contribute to debates, to legislation and to scrutiny, work that is valuable if not always appreciated outside. A single MP can speak up for their constituents and challenge the Executive. For example, I am pleased that the Government are to introduce legislation to revoke a number of restrictions on people’s freedoms and liberties, such as identity cards. But many restrictions remain; for example, control orders are to stay in force. Who is to speak for those affected, or for the principle that people should not be held without charge even if it is in their own homes? House arrest is something we deplore in other countries and I hope that, through debate, we can conclude that it has no place here either.
A single MP can raise issues that cannot be raised elsewhere. Last year, hon. Members from both sides helped to shine a light on the actions of the international commodities trading group, Trafigura, and the shipping of hazardous waste to the Ivory Coast. There was particular concern that the media in this country were prevented from reporting the issues fully and fairly. That remains the case, for new legal actions concerning Trafigura have been launched in the Dutch courts and are being reported widely in other countries but not here. Those are the kinds of issues I will hope to pursue.
Finally, I wish to touch on the subject of today’s debate. I have worked on the causes and consequences of climate change for most of my working life, first with Oxfam, for the effects of climate change are already affecting millions of people in poorer countries around the world, and more recently for 10 years in the European Parliament. If we are to overcome this threat, we in this Chamber have a vital role to play. We must take the lead. We must act so the United Kingdom can meet its own responsibilities to cut the emissions of carbon dioxide and the other gases that are changing our climate, and we need to encourage and support other countries to do the same.
This House has signed up to the 10:10 campaign— 10% emission reductions in 2010. That is very good news, but the truth is we need 10% emission cuts every year, year on year, until we reach a zero-carbon economy, and time is running very short. If we are to avoid irreversible climate change, the current Parliament must meet this historic task. That gives all of us in this Chamber an extraordinary responsibility, but also an extraordinary opportunity, because the good news is that the action we need to take to tackle climate change is action that can improve the quality of life for all of us: better, more affordable public transport; better insulated homes; the end of fuel poverty; stronger local communities and economies; and many more jobs. I look forward to working with Members of all parties to advance these issues.
It is a great pleasure to be called to make my maiden speech during this debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) on her speech, and may I also say that it was a pleasure working with her in the European Parliament for 10 years, especially on animal welfare issues? The hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) has just left the Chamber, but I thank him for his comments on miners and for reminding us that so many are killed during mining operations. I also want to pay a quick tribute to my wife, who is sitting up in the Gallery; not only do I pay tribute to the fact that she has put up with me for almost 30 years, but I thank her for helping me through my political career, and I hope that that will continue.
It is a great pleasure to have the duty of thanking Angela Browning, the retiring Member for Tiverton and Honiton. Not only was she an Agriculture Minister between 1994 and 1997, but she was shadow Leader of the House for one year, from 2000 to 2001. She was also vice-president of the Alzheimer’s Society and the National Autistic Society, and a patron of Research Autism.
I have looked up her maiden speech, and I want to quote the end of it:
“As this is a maiden speech, I ask for the indulgence of the House in widening the debate and putting on record my interest in and my concern for a group of extremely vulnerable people, both urban and rural. I refer to people suffering from permanent disabilities—physical difficulties, learning difficulties and mental handicap. I hope that while I am Member of Parliament for the Tiverton constituency there will be an improvement in the quality of life enjoyed by that group of people and a clearer understanding of their needs and the difficulties that they face.”—[Official Report, 12 June 1992; Vol. 209, c. 608.]
I can state very clearly that Angela Browning stood up for what she said in her maiden speech throughout the whole of her political career. When she was talking about this topic in the early ’90s, it was not so easy to do so. I pay huge tribute to her for that great work, because what she said in her maiden speech 18 years ago she really lived up to. On a personal basis, may I say that it was a great pleasure to work with Angela? I know that many new Members say what a great pleasure it was to work with the retiring Member, but I can say with great genuine affection that she was a great supporter and a great help. If I can be half as good a Member of Parliament as she was over the previous 18 years, I shall do very well in this House. As I say, I pay great tribute to her.
Tiverton and Honiton has new boundaries. The constituency is now 40 miles long, starting up in Bampton, on the borders of Exmoor, and stretching right down to the sea—the first time that it has reached the sea. It passes through the Blackdown hills, an area of outstanding natural beauty. The Romans worked out what a wonderful constituency it is in the 1st century, because they landed at Seaton and proceeded inland; they obviously knew the value of Seaton. It is now a beautiful seaside town, but it suffers from having a proposed Tesco supermarket on its outskirts. We are rather fearful that that may dominate too much of Seaton and destroy some of our local shops. It is also about scale and development; much as we need regeneration in Seaton, particularly in some parts, we are worried about that. The constituency contains the excellent Colyton grammar school, which I look forward to supporting hugely during my period in office in Tiverton and Honiton. It will be a great pleasure to see that school progress, because it has a huge following and delivers a very good education.
As we walk around the corridors of this House, we think of Axminster and its famous carpets, because many carpets in this House were manufactured there—in fact, replacement new carpets for the House are still manufactured in the town, and I have seen them being made, which is a great thing.
Honiton is famous for its lace making. The Speaker used to wear the ceremonial robe—I shall not comment further on that matter—the lace for which was made there. The robes are now in the museum in Honiton, and I recommend that all hon. Members pay a visit, not only because mine is such a beautiful constituency, but because they can see the amazing spectacle of that lace.
When the previous Conservative Government came out of power in 1997, the A30 and A303 were just about to be dualled. Unfortunately, because of what was said by the one great, honest man in the previous Labour Government, the outgoing Chief Secretary to the Treasury—he left the note saying “There is no money left”—I am not expecting that road to be dualled quickly. However, I assure the House that I shall persist with the matter to ensure that we get that road, because it is essential, as not only does the M5 run through the constituency, but so too do the A303 and A30 and they can create a bottleneck through Honiton.
The constituency also contains market towns such as Collumpton, which contains many traditional shops but whose town centre is in much need of some help and regeneration, and junction 28 of the M5, which is in great need of repair. Tiverton is a very interesting town, because in 1815 the industrialist John Heathcoat bought an old woollen mill on the River Exe with a view to setting up a lace manufactory in the town. Following the destruction of his lace-making machinery in Loughborough by former Luddites in the pay of the lace makers of Nottingham, he moved his entire operation to Tiverton. As hon. Members can see, Tiverton has had an illustrious past. I hope that it can have an illustrious future and, as I have said, we look forward to furthering the facilities in the hospitals in Tiverton and Honiton.
The constituency contains a great mixture of market towns and small rural villages; it contains nearly 100 villages and lots of hamlets. I look forward to our rolling out broadband throughout the constituency and throughout rural areas. I also look forward to our building more affordable homes, because one of the problems in the constituency is that house prices are high and wages are not meeting those prices. I welcome the fact that we will put things right for people who invested in Equitable Life, because that was a huge travesty of justice under the previous Government. I look forward to that.
I should probably declare an interest as a farmer, and hon. Members would expect me to talk a bit in the rural affairs debate about agriculture, food production and the need for food production. My view is that the rising world population means that we need food. We need food in areas where we can produce it. In Devon, we have the rolling hills, the beautiful water and the right climate to grow excellent grass and produce good milk, good beef and good lamb. We should make sure that the whole country eats it, not just Devon, because it is among the best and healthiest that can be found. We have to promote our food more. I look forward to the Government introducing a food ombudsman, because farmers have to get a fair price for their food. It is not just about the subsidy that might or might not come from the common agricultural policy and the European Union, but about farmers being able to make a decent living from what they produce and to look after the countryside at the same time. Farmers are not the problem for the countryside and the environment, but the solution. That is something that I am determined to speak up about in this House. In the west country, we have a particularly virulent disease at the moment, which is tuberculosis in cattle. I look forward to this Government ensuring that we not only have healthy cattle but healthy wildlife.
My constituency is very much at the heart of what was Monmouth rebellion country. Ever since the Monmouth rebellion, we have thought that people should stand up and speak up for the area. I hope that the same does not happen to me as happened under Judge Jeffreys to many of those who would have been my constituents, but I look forward to standing up in this House—the one thing that I was taught in Young Farmers was to stand up, speak up and shut up—and to keep speaking up. I shall do so for the simple reason that my constituents in Tiverton and Honiton want a Member of Parliament to represent them, whether they are from the towns, the villages or the rural communities, and to ensure that we get a good deal for the west country and for Devon, whether it is on water rates and South West Water or on fairer funding for schools. All those things have to be put right. I am a great believer in the fact that throughout the constituency—it is a great constituency—we need to have support. I look forward very much to representing the constituency in future years.
I am grateful for the guided tour of Tiverton and Honiton that we have just heard from the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish). I was also grateful to hear the contribution from the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), the first Green Member of our House.
I thank the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for paying tribute in their Queen’s Speech addresses to Jonathan Burgess of 1st Battalion the Royal Welsh from Townhill in my constituency of Swansea West, who lost his life serving and protecting our country in Afghanistan. His family, including his unborn daughter, will know that the recognition of his service will remain on record throughout history in the tributes paid in this place.
This is my first speech as the new MP for Swansea West and I am privileged and proud to be able to pay tribute to my predecessor, the right hon. Alan Williams, in whose distinguished footsteps I follow. He served in this House for some 46 years, for 22 of which he was on the Front Bench, and served in four Departments in a ministerial capacity. I hope that in recognition of his fine service and of the fact that he was the most senior Privy Counsellor to leave in 2010, we will see him rejoin us in the House of Lords. I hope and expect that we all wish him well in achieving that elevation. In his maiden speech, on 2 February 1965, Alan mentioned that Swansea had a radical tradition that, between 1959 and 1964,
“temporarily flirted with the forces of Conservatism.”—[Official Report, 2 February 1965; Vol. 705, c. 949.]
I should say that I am very grateful that after 46 years Swansea did not feel the urge to do so again.
Those who know Swansea West will know that it has a beautiful bay with golden sands that is best admired from the highest elevations of Townhill. It has a bustling city centre and a famous market, and it stretches west to the Mumbles and north into the countryside into Waunarlwydd. It is a community of communities and a warm and friendly city—a city that has certainly benefited from a Labour Government, with thousands more people employed and paying taxes instead of drawing the dole, compared with what we saw in 1997 when millions were affected across Britain. That change has enabled our country to invest in a better health service, police service and schools.
In Swansea, with the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, the university, local government, police and defence, nearly 40% of the work force are gainfully employed in public services, and those incomes are feeding into the private sector, small businesses and other businesses in Swansea communities. The choice of whether the deficit reduction should be largely through economic growth, jobs and skills as Labour said during the election or through cuts from the Conservatives and their new-found friends is a big issue for the people of Swansea.
We should remember that the deficit figures in March were £22 billion less than had been projected and predicted just four months earlier in the pre-Budget report. That £22 billion figure shows the massive engine that growth can be in reducing deficits compared with the £6 billion we are about to cut by way of savings. If those cuts and further cuts were to produce a further million unemployed people, that would completely wipe out the £6 billion of savings because of extra costs in dole money and so on. We should also remember that unemployment in February last year was 2.5 million, and that it was predicted at that time that unemployment would rise to 4 million by now. If it were not for the fiscal stimulus co-ordinated by the previous Prime Minister, Barack Obama and other world leaders, we would have been facing probably the worst recession since the 1930s. When we talk about cuts, we need to think very carefully about how quickly and how deeply to make them. The fact that the election was lost by the previous Government does not change the argument and the risks we are playing with.
What we need to do, as we move out of recession, we hope, is to generate a green recovery out of the global downturn. In the past four or five years, I have been leading Wales’s adaptation to climate change in respect of flood-risk management—investing in flood defences for the Welsh Assembly Government through the Environment Agency—so green issues are very close to my heart. I know, as other Members know, that we face a critical time in the world with shrinking land masses caused by rising seas, alongside shifting habitats and with the spiralling global population lifting from something like 6.8 billion to about 9.5 billion by the middle of this century. With less land and more people, there will be food and water shortages and, obviously, there will be issues with migration and possible conflict.
The stakes are very high so we must tackle the emissions issue very quickly. We are fortunate, in a sense, that emissions have fallen due to the downturn. The focus should be on re-engineering markets and behaviour to keep them falling. Part of that is to ensure that the environmental cost of production is properly factored into the price of products that people buy, which currently is not the case. That should also be the case for imports. That might mean that we need to consider emissions tariffs on imports, certainly at the European level, but we must also know that the problem we face in the bigger global picture is that world trade is completely disfigured by agricultural and fossil fuel subsidies of $1 trillion a year.
Those subsidies in essence disable the rural economies of developing countries and worsen the environmental crisis we face. They are part of the resource gluttony of the old world that has led to this twin problem of economic and environmental crises that go hand in hand. Those subsidies need to be challenged and reversed. We need environmental costs factored into prices. We need the environmental benefits from forests and ecosystems that support us to be credited. We need companies and nations in their accounts to measure environmental and social impacts.
People will know—having read, I am sure, “The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity” study—that if we increase the network of global protected areas from about 13% to 15% on land and from 1% to 30% on sea, it would cost us about£45 billion, but it would save us 100 times that value— £4.5 trillion. Meanwhile, the world’s 3,000 biggest companies create damage to the environment worth £2.2 trillion a year, so perhaps they could pay the £45 billion to save the £4.5 trillion. It is up to world leaders and world Governments to get the maths right and to get the subsidies in the right place to help to save the planet. Let us remember that what the words “biodiversity” and “ecosystems” actually mean in the real world is food, fuel, fibre, clean air and fresh water—the stuff of life, and life that needs saving.
We all want clean fuel. We heard earlier about nuclear fuel and clean coal. I also call for international co-operation on green energy, which is crucial. The Desertec project in the Sahara is progressing, and people may know that it connects solar power to a network grid at a place where the sun is probably at its hottest. That could provide 15% of Europe’s future energy needs.
The North sea countries’ offshore grid, which has been established recently, can feed Europe with power matching that previously produced by North sea oil and gas, as estimated by the Offshore Valuation Group. Using information and communications technology to work at home instead of travelling to work around the globe on planes could reduce our emissions by a further 15%. Those opportunities and collective action globally need to be embraced, and alongside that, consumers must be given the choices, prices, information and help to promote sustainability collectively.
In a nutshell, Britain and Europe must take a lead together to secure a sustainable future beyond our shores and to protect and enhance our ecosystem, because it is up to us to shape the future. We share one world, so let us act together for all our tomorrows and put sustainability at the centre of our thinking, not into the bottom drawer until the economy recovers, because then it will be too late.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me this opportunity to make my maiden speech. I will start by paying tribute to the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) for his passionate, detailed and knowledgeable speech on climate change. Indeed, it has been marvellous to listen today to some great speeches. We heard the speech of the new hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), whose brother is a minister in my constituency, Waveney in Suffolk. We then heard the speech of the new hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray), who listed some films that had been made in the famous Ealing Studios. She actually missed out the most famous, “Kind Hearts and Coronets”, where the star had a particular way of getting into the other place. I think that constitutional reform will put an end to that.
I chose this debate to make my maiden speech because energy and offshore renewable energy is vital to the future of my constituency—Lowestoft and the surrounding area, which have suffered from industrial decline for the best part of 30 years. I pay tribute to my predecessor, Mr Bob Blizzard, for the work that he has done over the past 13 years. He has been a passionate advocate for Waveney and a hard-working and diligent MP. I thank him for all the work that he has done.
Waveney is the most easterly constituency in the country. Perhaps at times, we Suffolk people hide our light under a bushel and do not make the most of the virtues that we have. The constituency’s make-up is diverse. We have the coastal town of Lowestoft, famous for its fish, its maritime history, its decent, honourable people and its clean beaches. There is the fishing village of Kessingland, and the market towns of Bungay and Beccles, and wide open rural expanses in between. The people up there do at times feel that they have been forgotten down here. It is as if we were at the end of a line.
We have been crying out for better roads and railways for what seems like many, many years. I will continue to make that cry, as other Waveney politicians have done. In November 1959, Jim Prior, now in another place, described the road and communications system in East Anglia as the Cinderella of the country. It seems as if we have not got very much further in the past 50-odd years.
We have industries that have declined. The fishing industry is no longer what it was; shipbuilding has gone; and the canning factory has gone. That is what we need to address. I am not going to moan; offshore renewables present us with a great opportunity to bring Waveney into the 21st century. It was an opportunity that Bob Blizzard recognised, and I will be taking the baton from him to make sure that we deliver on that goal.
We need a new and radical energy policy. If we do not have it, the lights will go out. We need to be in control of our own destiny. We need energy security. We owe it to future generations to take a major step towards a low-carbon economy. We need a mixture of energy sources—green energy sources. To me, nuclear has a vital role to play; so, too, does clean coal, and micro-energy is also of great importance, but it is offshore renewables on which I want to focus. We have to get 15% of our energy supply from renewables by 2020. We have a lot of work to do, being at just over 5% now. There are great opportunities for green jobs; I see that it is estimated that there will be 1.2 million by 2015. If we do not do the work, we will fall a long way short.
Lowestoft has a great opportunity, and great advantages in setting about giving us those green jobs and taking us forward. It has a great location, close to where the offshore turbines will be—the East Anglia Array and the Greater Gabbard. We have a skills base, built up over many years, in fishing, in shipbuilding, and in the North sea oil and gas industry. Those skills are transferrable, and we can make best use of them in the renewables sector.
We have to improve our training and education. We have a further education college that is delivering skills, and there is the opportunity for University Campus Suffolk to provide higher education with regard to those skills. We also need to reinvigorate the apprenticeship system, which, in Waveney and Lowestoft, has been so important in our past. There are measures in the Queen’s Speech that will help to deliver that.
I am here to represent Waveney, but I must not be parochial. To deliver green energy, and get the renewables that we need, I have to think outside my constituency, and think about the surrounding constituencies. In East Anglia, we have great opportunities. There is a deep-sea port in Yarmouth; that will help us to bring opportunities there. There is land elsewhere in other constituencies, too. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) is not here at the moment; in the past, Lowestoft and Yarmouth have spent a lot of time fighting each other. We fought on opposite sides in the civil war, and we had the herring wars, but we are united now in seeking to deliver the renewable energy opportunities.
The energy Bill will be a foundation stone; we have to build on that for the benefit of Britain, East Anglia and—to go back to being parochial for a minute—Waveney. Looking at it from Britain’s point of view, we have the opportunity to lead the world in a transition to a low-carbon economy. We owe it to future generations to grasp that opportunity.
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), who, like me, represents a “periphery” constituency—he on the most easterly point of England, and me on the most north-westerly point of Wales. With your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker, I shall pay tribute to a number of maiden speech makers today. Their speeches bode well, and we can look forward to some excellent contributions. I pay tribute, in particular, to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), who is not now in her place. She said that she was the first Green Member of Parliament, but I remind her that in 1992 the Plaid Cymru Member for Ceredigion, Cynog Dafis, was elected on a Plaid Cymru/Green agenda. I refer to that because I think it is important. The Ecology party and the Green party have been very influential in shaping the green agendas of the main political parties over many decades, and I pay tribute to those in the Green party who have pursued such policies.
The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) rightly said that legislation for a grocery market ombudsman was not included in the Queen’s Speech. I took a private Member’s Bill on that issue through the previous Parliament. The Bill received its Second Reading, went through Committee and obtained its money resolution, but ran out of time. That was disappointing, and I hope that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who is seated on the Government Front Bench, will take note, because the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs lobbied hard for the measure. My Bill united the Front Benchers of all political parties, the grocery market ombudsman proposal was in each and every manifesto, and it could have been introduced very quickly. The code of practice has now come into being; the legislation would have taken up a minimal amount of time in this House and in the other place because the foundations have already been laid, and it would not have cost any money because it was self-financing. So, I am very disappointed, and I urge the Secretary of State to urge forward her colleague the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills on that issue.
For clarification, the coalition programme makes the situation perfectly clear, stating:
“We will introduce, as a first step, an Ombudsman in the Office of Fair Trading who can proactively enforce the Grocery Supply Code of Practice and curb abuses of power”
that currently exist. There was no need to introduce legislation on that point, and just because it was not in the Gracious Speech does not mean that it will not be dealt with.
I am grateful for that, but it is not what the right hon. Lady’s party said in opposition. It pushed to ensure that we put that legislation on to the statute book, and that is important. Indeed, when I took my private Member’s Bill into Committee, the Opposition spokesperson at the time said just that—that we needed to make the proposal statutory. We still need to do so, because there will still be abuses and we need that referee in law. The position would be self-financing. Indeed, I think that the Conservative manifesto stated that the ombudsman would be housed in the Office of Fair Trading, so I still think that we need to do that. I shall not give up fighting for it, because the farming community needs it, producers need it and, I believe, consumers need it.
I want to concentrate on energy during my remarks on the Gracious Speech, because energy and food security are the two most important issues for the next few decades—and, indeed, generations. I, like the hon. Member for Waveney, am proud to be pro-nuclear, pro-renewables and pro-energy efficiency, and I see absolutely no contradiction in holding those views. It is important that we move forward, and I had hoped that in response to interventions on the new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change we would have had some clarity about the Conservative-led Government’s stance on the issue. However, we got quite the opposite.
I am passionate about this issue, because in my constituency, with the Wylfa nuclear power station, nuclear power is the biggest employer. We have moved on, however, because we have embraced the low-carbon economy and the jobs that it will bring; and I want to continue working with others to create there an energy island concept, where we develop the low-carbon technologies of the future, with wind power, tidal power, energy efficiency, and research and development. The former Secretary of State was good enough to help me with that and to establish the fact that Wylfa nuclear power station would be one of the first of the new generation of new build in this country. Horizon, which is a joint venture between E.ON and RWE, would have applied for planning permission next year so that we could build and have continuity of skills at Wylfa. However, the new Government’s doing away with the Infrastructure Planning Commission and not putting anything in its place has caused great uncertainty.
Two companies have come together and want to invest billions of pounds, which would create 5,000 construction jobs, sustain 800 jobs in energy generation at Wylfa and help form the foundations of the energy island concept. Like Waveney, Anglesey has natural deep water. Centrica has permission from the Crown Estate to develop wind energy offshore, and the port of Holyhead is perfectly placed to accommodate that. I want to build that skills base on Anglesey, but the Government’s current position jeopardises that. I urge Government Front Benchers to clarify the matter. The companies are French in origin and international by nature, and if they sense uncertainty in this country they will take their business and the potential jobs not only to other parts of Europe, but to other parts of the world. That shows the seriousness of the situation. We have the capability in this country, and for some years we have had the political will. Let us not jeopardise that through the uncertainty caused by scrapping the IPC and not replacing it immediately.
I have already intervened on this subject, but let me repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts). The position is clear: IPC staff sit in the existing planning inspectorate and their expertise will not be lost. However, we have said that the decisions on the recommendations of those staff for infrastructure projects must be taken by the Secretary of State so that there is democratic accountability. To avoid long delays, decisions on inquiries and decisions by Secretaries of State will be time-limited.
That reply is helpful, especially the first part, which explained that the IPC will still do its work and, I presume, make recommendations. However, it worries me greatly that the new Secretary of State will make the decisions, because we all know his views. The Conservatives have got form, because in the 1980s and 1990s Conservative Secretaries of State took 50 to 100 weeks to make decisions. The companies that I mentioned have chosen to invest in this country now, in the knowledge that planning permission would be streamlined. They now face a difficulty, and it is worrying. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has partly dealt with that, but I worry about the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change making a decision on political grounds rather than on the merits of the case.
Yes, I want democratic accountability—I have worked for a decade to get my local community on side, and it is 100% on side, but it could be overridden by an anti-nuclear Secretary of State. That is what we face on Ynys Môn because of the decision in the so-called coalition agreement. Worse, the coalition agreement provides for the Secretary of State to abstain on the issue in the House. I offered him an opportunity to respond to that and he refused, and I offer the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that chance. If we have a Liberal Democrat Secretary of State, will he vote for the plan or abstain? He must show leadership, and one cannot do that by abstention.
The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change is not here, but he answered that question. There is a clear majority in the House in favour of the new nuclear plants, and Labour Members should be careful about creating a myth of uncertainty. There is no need for a new nuclear power Bill in the Queen’s Speech because the legislation already exists. We are considering implementation, and the Secretary of State made it perfectly clear that he is actively engaged with the industry to ensure that the plan goes ahead.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady, but with the greatest respect, we have carefully worked on this matter for a long time to build confidence within the nuclear industry, and that confidence has been shattered by the coalition agreement. I know that that is an absolute fact, because I speak to people not only in the nuclear industry but in the supply chain. Hon. Members—including, for instance, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts)—have spoken in the debate about reviewing contracts. What kind of message does the coalition agreement send to multinational companies that want to invest in this country? That is a serious issue, and I hope it will be dealt with and clarified further. I offered the Energy and Climate Change Secretary the opportunity to intervene to do that, and he refused. He would not give the leadership that is absolutely necessary from a Secretary of State on that.
Renewables are very important, and I welcome some of the energy measures in the Queen’s Speech. How could we be against energy efficiency measures? I pay tribute to the Welsh Assembly Government, who have taken the lead on many of those things and are moving forward. I will work with the Government on those matters, to ensure that housing stock is brought up to the best standard, and that we build new houses with the best possible standards of energy efficiency. We are in agreement on that, and I also agree with the green investment bank proposal, which will be important in setting standards. I am still very worried about the nuclear problem. Nothing that the right hon. Lady told me today will allay those fears, and Opposition Members will continue to scrutinise the Government on it.
The energy island concept for Anglesey is under way. A few months ago, I had the pleasure of cutting the turf for an energy and technology centre with the First Minister of the Welsh Assembly Government. The centre will develop skills for the future, so we can see that a lot of work and investment has taken place already. That would link with a nuclear industry academy for higher skills. Because of that, young people within my area will know that they have a career path—we are talking about thousands of quality jobs for the future. Those people will have transferable skills, so they can work in other parts of the United Kingdom, which is why I am passionate about obtaining the clarity that we do not yet have.
The hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) was honest in giving his party’s appraisal of the matter and his difference of opinion with the Energy and Climate Change Secretary. There are big differences of opinion. In my election—I was one of the few Labour Members to increase my majority—all the candidates except the Liberal Democrat were in favour of nuclear power. The political parties in the area built a consensus with the colleges and universities to make it happen. This is how important it is: I not only want Anglesey to be the energy island for the United Kingdom, but I want the United Kingdom to be the energy island for the whole of Europe. The UK has the potential for, and needs, high-skill, high-value green jobs for the future.
That is why I am pleased to be a member of a party of government that introduced the Climate Change Act 2008, which was hugely significant. I am sure that Opposition Members will work with the Government to help them in the next phase of seeking international agreement on climate change. To use the old green cliché, we should be thinking locally, nationally and internationally on the environment. I make no apology for being pro-nuclear, pro-renewable and pro-energy efficiency. We need to grow up and introduce proper regulations so that we have a low-carbon economy, providing local and new jobs in future.
Order. On a procedural note, I should perhaps explain to all Members of the House that it is helpful if they rise when seeking to catch the Chair’s eye, which will give an indication of the number of people who are still trying to get into the debate.
I am grateful for this opportunity to speak. I must admit that I am surprised to be here, not just today but generally. I cannot pretend that my campaign team and I were brimming with confidence in the run-up to the campaign. In fact the bookmakers shared that view, as I was still 2:1 with Ladbrokes until the last moment. I therefore thank the residents of Richmond Park and north Kingston for giving me the very real honour of representing them in Parliament. After three years of campaigning, I hope that they know that I will do my utmost.
I wish to pay tribute to my predecessor, Susan Kramer. Our campaigns clashed, sometimes very noisily, but on a personal level we developed a good relationship and I have great respect for her record as a constituency MP. She was diligent, hard-working, well liked and respected. I wish her well wherever she goes from here.
It is customary for MPs to praise their constituency in their maiden speech. While that is a duty, in my case it is also a pleasure; I am sure that everyone will say the same. I had an interesting conversation yesterday with a former Labour Minister, just outside the Chamber, and he told me that had he been given an opportunity to stand in Richmond Park he would have crossed the Floor to do so. That was a hell of a compliment to the constituency, and I absolutely go along with that. It is where I grew up, I live there now, and it is the only constituency that I would ever seek to represent.
Richmond park is the heart of the constituency, and gives it its name. It is one of London’s greatest jewels, being raw, beautiful and not overly managed. I am told that it has more ancient trees than all of Germany and France combined. That may be an exaggeration—I am often told that it is—but I am happy to indulge in it. It is not the only jewel, as we also have Kew gardens. If they are not the world’s greatest botanical gardens they are certainly among them, and are rightly a world heritage site.
Like all constituencies, Richmond Park has its threats and pressures, to which—as its MP—I will have to stand up. We have now dealt with the third runway, thanks to the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. That was one of the major threats overhanging the entire community, but we need to maintain the pressure and ensure that we protect runway alternation, which offers residents a much needed respite from the relentless noise of aircraft flying overhead.
Other threats include those from developers, which affect many of the constituencies in the area. In the last few years, huge pressure from developers has led to the rapid erosion of our green spaces. Residents will look to this Government to introduce measures to protect what remains of our playing fields and gardens. Those measures are on the cards: they were in the Conservative manifesto and also, I believe, in the Liberal Democrat manifesto. I look forward to seeing those proposals become reality in the coming years, and that will certainly be appreciated in my constituency.
We have a shortage of school places at every level, and I believe that the plans of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education will resolve that problem rapidly.
Richmond also has pockets of real deprivation, and that is something that most people do not associate with the constituency, because it is generally an affluent area. But for that very reason, those pockets of deprivation tend to be overlooked. As an MP, my job is to address the threats to the community and ensure that they do not materialise, as well as to stand up for the entire community—something that I am absolutely committed to doing.
I hope that during my time in this House, however long that may be, I will be able to contribute to some of the wider concerns that have an impact on my constituency and every other constituency. One of the great challenges for this Parliament is rebuilding trust in the institution. Ronald Reagan used to tell the old joke, frequently repeated, that politics is the second oldest profession, but it can often look like the first. I do not believe that I am the only person who encountered people on the campaign trail who would buy into that line. People can regard politicians with something close to contempt, we have to address that. It is tempting to blame it all on the expenses scandal, but the reality is that people were disengaging from politics long before that, and the data on voter turnout and allegiance to political parties back that up. I do not think it has anything to do with the expenses scandal; it has something to do with how we deal with politics in this country.
Politics at every level has become far too remote. On the European Union level, how many people in this country genuinely believe that when they cast their vote in a European election it will have any impact on how Europe is structured, on what decisions will be made within the EU, or even on the quality of those decisions? I do not think that many people believe in voting in those elections, and one of the reasons is that increasingly decisions are being taken by people who are not elected, and are therefore insulated from any kind of democratic pressure.
Nationally, we have a choice—a limited choice—every 1,500 days or so, and in between there are very few authentic mechanisms for ordinary people to influence how decisions are taken. At the local level, I would say things are even worse. Local authorities have been stripped of powers over such a long time and to such an extent that even on genuinely local issues—local planning matters, local supermarkets, incinerators, for example—more often than not local authorities find themselves overruled by national quangos that are also unelected.
This Parliament needs to act decisively to shorten the distance between people and power. That should be one of our priorities. One of the best, cleanest and most effective ways to do that is to introduce much more direct democracy. It should be possible for people to earn the right to trigger a referendum on important local and national issues. It should be possible for people to recall and eventually possibly boot out councillors and MPs, not just for committing crimes but simply because they have lost the trust and respect of their constituents. If we introduce those mechanisms and turn increasingly to direct democracy, the quality of the national and local debates will improve, we will see much more engagement and we will have a much more politically literate country.
There is another challenge—there are endless challenges, but I thought I would focus on two—that has been the subject of the discussions today. The environment is the defining challenge of our era. It goes without saying—I hope—that without a healthy environment, we have no economy or future. It is the defining, underlying issue, and the basic maths tell us that we are heading in a dangerous direction: a growing population combined with an increasing hunger for resources means that the cost of living will at some point go up. If we take that to its logical conclusion, we will reach a point when conflict is almost inevitable.
We need only look at the facts. We can argue about climate change and our exact contribution to it, although I will not do that now, because other people have already done so today. The world’s bread baskets are being eroded. That is not a matter of opinion; it is a matter of fact. There is the destruction of the world’s forests, the loss of species and habitats and the collapse of the world’s great fisheries. These are real issues, and they are not subject to debate; they are matters of fact. They are not niche problems, but fundamental problems. I hope it also goes without saying that as we undermine the natural world and natural systems, we eventually undermine the basis of our own existence.
The cause of many of those problems is also, fortunately, the solution: the market. But if the market is blind to the value of valuable of things, if it is blind to the value of natural systems, and if it fails to put a cost on those things that should have a cost, economic growth can only be an engine of environmental destruction and a process that effectively means cashing in on the natural world until there is nothing left. Nevertheless, the market is the most powerful force for change that we know, other than nature itself. It is a tool, and if we allow the natural world to be plundered, it is simply because we have failed to understand how to use that tool. We need to put a price on pollution, waste and the use of scarce resources, and we need to invest the proceeds in alternatives. I do not think that green taxes should ever be retrospective—we have seen too much of that—and I do not think that the green agenda should ever become an excuse for raising stealth taxes. We have seen too much of that as well. However, whatever we introduce must be real, not synthetic. We need rapid change.
I want to read out something that Margaret Thatcher said 20 years ago—she was well ahead of her time on this issue—so I hope that hon. Members will indulge me:
“Many of the precautionary actions that we need to take would be sensible in any event. It is sensible to improve energy efficiency and use energy prudently; it's sensible to develop alternative and sustainable energy sources; it's sensible to replant the forests which we consume; it's sensible to re-examine industrial processes; it's sensible to tackle the problem of waste. I understand that the latest vogue is to call them ‘no regrets’ policies. Certainly we should have none in putting them into effect.”
Margaret Thatcher was way ahead of her time, but she was also following a long but occasionally forgotten tradition in the Conservative party of paying tribute to and understanding the importance of the environment. It is a tradition that goes all the way back—as far back as anyone wants to go—to Edmund Burke, who said:
“Never…did Nature say one thing and Wisdom say another.”
Stewardship; looking out for future generations and recognising limits, particularly nature’s limits; providing security—these are core Conservative values. For as long as I am able to stay in this House, they are values that I will stand up for.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) on an excellent maiden speech on a subject that is obviously dear to his heart.
I would like to look at the reality and the practicality of putting things into practice, as opposed to the fine words. Saying that we want stricter targets must be followed up with the right finance and help to make that happen. I am worried that the coalition agreement and the Queen’s Speech focus on wanting to do certain things, but do not put in the wherewithal to do so. One thing that manufacturers always bring up with me is certainty. They want to know whether they can have certainty that there will be a market for their goods or that the right forms of incentive will be in place for people to buy their goods, particularly in the case of microgeneration. If people are going to buy solar panels or wind turbines, there needs to be an incentive for them to do so. The manufacturers need to know in advance if we are going to promote electric cars. They do a lot of work to develop prototypes and they need to know that there will be an incentive for people to buy those products.
I am concerned that the cuts announced in the business budget this week could stifle the very types of manufacturing that we wish to encourage. We need to encourage that manufacturing now, otherwise we will miss the boat and other countries will take the opportunity to develop the new techniques that we need to make more sustainable cars and more useful devices that will produce renewable energy or be more energy efficient. There is a real danger. For example, one company in my constituency, Filsol, which makes solar panels, relies heavily on knowing not only what the situation will be for the individual private consumer, but what will be done through the public purse.
Filsol was a supplier in the huge renewable programmes in the heads of the valleys, making buildings in the housing stock more sustainable. However, those programmes were obviously directed and funded largely through the Welsh Assembly Government, who now face enormous cuts. Whether we are talking about public procurement or motivating the private sector to purchase, we have a responsibility to our manufacturing industry to ensure that we get ahead, do not miss the boat and do not lose the manufacturing base for a whole new generation of products to other countries. Indeed, what I have said of the Welsh Assembly could be said of the regional development agencies in England.
One thing that my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband)—he is now the shadow Secretary of State—did when he was in office was get through the feed-in tariff legislation, so that from April, people have been able to apply for feed-in tariffs for their microgeneration. However, I would like a reassurance from the new Secretary of State not only that the scheme will continue, but that it will be extended to cover the pioneers who installed their microgeneration equipment some time ago, so that the energy that they now produce can be eligible for feed-in tariffs. It is unfair that the people who made the effort when things were difficult and people were perhaps sceptical should now miss out on the opportunity to benefit from feed-in tariffs.
We talk a lot about localism, and, although I would be the first to champion local people’s rights to have their say and influence planning decisions, I am also concerned that there needs to be an overview. The example that I want to use is that of biomass. In many areas, local planners will decide whether a particular site is suitable for a biomass power station and whether to go ahead with it, but no one seems to be looking into the cumulative effect of all the applications. The Department does not hold statistics on the number of applications that have been submitted, which now number a couple of dozen; nor does it look at where the material to fuel the power stations is going to come from. It is no longer a matter of scraping up the material from beneath our forests; we are now talking about enormous volumes of forestry that are going to be destroyed in order to feed our power stations. We do not have that amount of forestry, and the vast majority of the material will have to be imported. Much of it will come from areas with forestry and biodiversity that we want to preserve.
Before the Copenhagen summit, we were excited by the thought that forestry was going to be included in the talks. We were discussing how to incentivise the preservation of the wonderful forests of the world. The situation that we now face, however, is similar to the realisation that we had about biofuels. Land has been taken over for the production of biofuels by ripping up forests or by taking over areas originally designed for food production, and the same could happen for the production of biomass. We have not reached that situation yet, because we have not calculated the volume that we would need to fuel the two dozen or so power stations that are currently going through the planning process. This worries me, and I think that the Department needs to have a strategic overview of where we are going with biomass.
I should also like the incoming Government to consider carefully the need to ensure fair competition, and to review the role of Ofgem. I note that that has been mentioned in the coalition document. I want to highlight the use of liquefied petroleum gas by householders in rural areas. There is an estate in a village called Llannon in my constituency, in which 20 houses are all linked in to one supplier, Flogas. By some extraordinary mechanism, no one is able to get out of their contract with Flogas, because as long as one household is tied in, they are all bound to be supplied by the company. They would like to look elsewhere—like everyone, they want to be able to look around and get the best price—but they are completely subject to the whim of Flogas. Ofgem does not seem to have the power to intervene in such situations. I would like to have a meeting with the Secretary of State, if he would allow that, to look into this issue and to see what can be done to free up the market for householders in rural areas who are dependent on LPG, so that they no longer need to be tied to one supplier.
Another issue that worries me considerably is the lack of any further legislation in the Queen’s Speech on water. We brought in the Flood and Water Management Act 2010, in which we were determined to bring together the issues raised in the Walker report, the Cave report and the Pitt report. The legislation was taken through the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) just before the end of the last Parliament. There remain, however, some outstanding issues relating to water poverty and to how we should deal with the disparity in water costs between the different regions. For example, Wales and parts of the south-west have huge costs compared with some of the more industrialised and urban areas of the United Kingdom. Coastal erosion was mentioned by the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) in her maiden speech today, and that issue also needs to be tackled. It would have been nice to see those issues included in the coalition agreement.
I also want to find out what support the Government will give to anaerobic digestion. A lot of work has been done on this matter to date. I note the use of the words “to promote” in the Government’s proposals, and I hope that that will translate into some proper help to get this excellent technology going. That will not be easy, as it can sometimes provoke local opposition. Community groups are trying to get it off the ground, but they need clear guidelines and help, as well as a guarantee of the prices that they can expect to get for the fuels that they produce. That will help them to raise the investment that they need to set up these technologies.
I very much welcome many of the fine words in the coalition agreement and in the Queen’s Speech, but we need an absolute guarantee that the money will be put in, as well as the words, so that we can make the necessary progress and not fall behind. We are determined to be the world leader, and we must not leave it to all the other countries to get on the new technology bandwagon and leave us behind. That would leave our manufacturing greatly depleted, rather than in the leading position that it ought to be in.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me to speak for the first time in the House. It is a great privilege to follow three excellent speeches by the hon. Members for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) and for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), who I am sure will contribute much to Conservative Members’ understanding of issues around the environment and climate change.
I have the considerable honour and privilege to represent the people of Salisbury and south Wiltshire. It is with great pleasure that I also offer heartfelt praise and positive words about my predecessor, Robert Key. Robert was an outstanding Member of Parliament for 27 years. Elected in 1983, he had the great privilege, as have I, of being brought up in Wiltshire and of representing Salisbury.
Robert’s Westminster career developed somewhat auspiciously in 1984—the heyday of the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher—when the Chief Whip called him in and sat him down to offer him the position of Parliamentary Private Secretary to Edward Heath, the former Prime Minister. Robert, a dutiful public servant, was delighted with his new role, but his local association members did not immediately grasp the significance of his privileged position. None the less, as with everything Robert has done for Salisbury over the years, he tackled his task with good humour and enthusiasm. Robert went on to find a home in Salisbury for his boss—Arundells in the Close—where Edward Heath lived for 20 years until he passed away in 2005.
It was six years later when Robert’s next big opportunity arose. On one autumnal evening, Robert took a call from the Prime Minister’s office and was summoned to the great lady’s suite at the party conference. He arrived and it is said that he was led through to her bedroom and she asked him whether he would like to join Her Majesty’s Government to be a Minister in the Department of the Environment. As Robert excitedly accepted and bounded out of the room, he realised—this was October 1990—that he would be responsible for taking the poll tax through Parliament. A month later, the Prime Minister resigned and the poll tax was axed, but Robert went on to serve in two further ministerial roles. He was a Front Bencher in opposition and latterly a highly regarded member of the Select Committee on Defence and a member of the Chairmen’s Panel.
Having examined a number of maiden speeches, I have noted how the previous MP is often referred to as having passed on or moved on to another planet, but I am happy to report that Robert Key is alive and well and continues to live in Salisbury with his wife, Sue. I am sure that they will continue to be regarded with great warmth and affection for the many years of dedicated service they have given to Salisbury and south Wiltshire.
Robert’s presence in Salisbury marketplace on Saturday mornings is a tradition that I intend to follow; the people of south Wiltshire expect it of me. I also intend to stand up for the stallholders of the marketplace, many of whom—or, rather, their predecessors—have been there since 1227, and are anxious to know that the mooted changes to the marketplace are going to be modest and not waste public money.
My constituency stretches from Tilshead on the Salisbury plain to Hamptworth on the edge of the New Forest, and from Cholderton in the north-east to Ebbesbourne Wake in the south-west—the finest pocket of English countryside anyone could wish to find. With the constituency reduced in size since the last boundary changes, I hope that the Government’s intention, as set out in the Queen’s Speech, to reduce the number MPs and equalise constituency sizes will allow Salisbury to reclaim the Nadder valley—a beautiful seam of England which, sadly, got cut out of the Salisbury constituency at the last boundary change. I look forward to lively conversations with my neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) and with the boundary commission in the months ahead.
One cannot mention Salisbury without mentioning the cathedral—an iconic building for Christendom, an institution in itself, certainly making a big impact on the culture, heritage and landscape of the medieval city. As my grandmother used to tell me when I was a child, its spire, 404 feet tall, was the highest in Europe when it was built, and it remains the highest in Britain today. We also have a vibrant Christian community in the city and the surrounding area. As a committed believer myself, I hope to be a parliamentarian who will stand up for Christian values and the importance of marriage and the family in our society.
The housing, shops and businesses in my constituency were laid out in a chequer system of streets in the 13th century, and that system remains today. Although I could focus on the considerable challenge that my constituency faces to deal with the need for more housing— I am pleased to note that the new Government will allow more local discretion in the number of houses that need to be built and where they should be built—I wish today to make the case for greater care for the rural communities that make up such a large portion of my constituency.
As one who grew up in a small horticultural business in Wiltshire, I am keen to see the new Government reduce unnecessary red tape and regulation in the farming and horticultural sector, a move that I am sure will be welcomed throughout south Wiltshire. I also hope that the new Government will be able to trust farmers more. Too often, Governments of all persuasions have considered it necessary to regulate a little more here and a little more there, but to little lasting effect. I hope that in the near future the Secretary of State will provide more detail about proposals in the coalition programme to reduce the regulatory burden on farmers.
I am delighted by some of the moves that have already been announced, including the commitment to investing in broadband, which is desperately needed in parts of my constituency. I am delighted by the new Government’s commitment to providing accurate information on food labelling, so that when something is labelled “Produced in Britain”, that is actually true. It should not mean that the product was cut up, washed, prepared and repackaged in Britain. I also welcome the Government’s promise that food procured by Government Departments, and eventually the whole public sector, will meet British standards of production wherever that can be achieved.
I hope that Whitehall will be able to source more of its food from British suppliers, as that would be a key way in which to help farmers in Britain and, hopefully, those in my constituency. At a time when less than 1% of bacon served to United Kingdom armed forces is British, I thoroughly recommend a good helping of locally produced Wiltshire ham as a reliable alternative. I also hope that the Government will get rid of the Agricultural Wages Board, which has become an unnecessary bureaucracy that achieves little for farmers or their workers. I hope that they will be able to act in the best interests of our farmers, who need less intervention, more trust and greater freedom at every point.
I believe that what is required more than anything else at this challenging economic time for rural Britain is a recognition that rural poverty needs to be addressed directly and urgently. We often forget that many of the lowest-paid members of our society are part of the rural economy and rely on a vibrant food-producing sector to survive.
Whatever else I am asked to tackle or may achieve in the House, I hope that, like Robert Key, I will serve my constituents faithfully, determinedly and selflessly, and fight for the interests of the vulnerable, the suffering and the insecure. I am utterly thrilled to be standing in the House today, and I give my support to a Queen’s Speech which I believe offers many good things to my constituents in Salisbury and south Wiltshire.
I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye in this important debate and enabling me to make my maiden speech. Let me begin by commending the maiden speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray)—a wonderful lady who will grace this side of the House very well—and my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins), who is a friend of mine. I am so pleased to see him elected and sitting on these green Benches.
Alas, I must also thank someone who, annoyingly, raised the bar in maiden speech terms just before I spoke: my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen). He talked a great deal about tradition and horticulture in his speech. I knew he was going to do that because I know that, on accepting the honour of being elected for Salisbury, he then sang the “Ode to the Turnip”.
As you will know, Mr Speaker, I was a member of the European Parliament between 1999 and 2009, representing the east midlands region of the UK in Brussels and the very expensive and completely superfluous Strasbourg. Many hon. Members here have asked me what the notable differences are between being a Member of the European Parliament and being an MP. There are very many indeed. For example, there is no obvious need for simultaneous interpretation here and it does not take me the best part of a day to commute to my place of work. However, the biggest difference I have seen so far is the amount of constituency work that hon. Members do.
When I was elected to the European Parliament I was, like all new members of any Parliament, as keen as mustard to prove my worth to my constituents. However, I had to wait a very long time for my first constituent to actually contact me––over two months. When it came, it was quite unexpected, as the constituent in question had somehow got hold of my home telephone number and called me quite late on a Friday night. Never mind; this was my first real punter and I was going to help him no matter what. I asked him what his problem was and he said, “It’s about my drains.” This was not necessarily a European matter but I was keen to help. We spent ages going over what he perceived his problem to be and, at the end of our conversation, I told him that I had a plan. My plan was that, on Monday morning, I was going to phone his environmental health officer and get things moving. He said to me, “Oh no, I don’t want to take it that high.” It was then that I realised that perhaps the public do not hold politicians in very great esteem. I very much hope that this new Parliament can rectify that, given time. That story keeps coming back to me each morning when I receive the dozens of phone messages, the bags of mail and the hundred-odd e-mails from my constituents in Daventry.
The seat of Daventry itself has only been around in parliamentary terms for the last 92 years. I am only the sixth MP returned for it. Indeed, when the seat was created in 1918, it returned a man who occupied your chair for a very long time, Mr Speaker. Edward Fitzroy had quite a reputation as Speaker of the House. According to Harold Macmillan, his speakership was “severe but fair” and he had a particular method of dealing with bad, tedious and too-lengthy speeches. Mr Speaker Fitzroy would remark to himself in a voice audible to at least the two Front Benches, “Oh, what a speech!” or “When is this boring fellow going to sit down?” Whatever you might be thinking now, Mr Speaker, I am obliged to you for not saying it.
The hon. Member for Daventry for the past 23 years was the hon. Tim Boswell, a man well regarded and much respected on both sides of the Chamber and very much so in his constituency. If I had a pound for each time someone said during the election campaign that Tim Boswell was “such a nice man” or that I would have very big boots to fill, I could have afforded not to have had any dealings with IPSA at all in my first parliamentary term. It is with some trepidation that I come to this place as the successor of a man called a saint by some in the national media, as everyone is disappointed that he chose to retire at the last general election. I am sure that all hon. Members will join me in the hope that we will get to see him working in another place very near here in the not too distant future.
I first met Tim Boswell back in the 1980s. I was working in New Covent Garden market, in my family’s fruit and vegetable import and wholesale business. At about 5 o’clock one morning, a mild panic swept through the market. A number of men in suits were touring around. Obviously there was no need for people to worry because everyone there had, of course, paid all their taxes. Soon the mood relaxed when the junior Minister for Agriculture, who was in charge of wholesale markets, started to introduce himself. Yes, Tim Boswell took seriously every job he was given in government and opposition and did them better than anyone else had ever done. No one in New Covent Garden market could remember seeing a Minister beforehand and I know that no one has since.
It should be noted that the boundary Commission changed the constituency boundaries quite considerably, so the new Daventry takes in areas that were previously represented by my hon. Friends the Members for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) and for Northampton South (Mr Binley). Those Members all have excellent reputations among their former constituents, and they are all distinctive characters in this place, too.
The new constituency of Daventry has a great deal going for it, with almost 100 distinct and beautiful villages and the town of Daventry itself. Daventry, or Danetre for those who are truly local or like their Shakespeare, has its origins as a settlement back in the 9th or 10th century. It has had a market since the 12th century, which still continues to this day. The town once—but no longer, alas—had a railway station on the former London and North Western Railway branch line from Weedon to Leamington Spa, but it was closed back in September 1958. The local weekly newspaper, the Daventry Express, is nicknamed “The Gusher” after the steam engine that used to service the town.
If people know anything about Daventry, they will know that from 1932 the BBC Empire Service, now the World Service, broadcast from it. The radio announcement of “Daventry calling” made the town famous across the globe. They might also know that early in the morning of Tuesday 26 February 1935, the radio station on Borough hill, Daventry, was used for the first ever practical demonstration of radar by its inventors, Robert Watson-Watt and Arnold Frederic Wilkins.
Many beautiful villages are tucked away in the beautiful rolling countryside. Earl’s Barton is the home of Barker shoes—yes, I am wearing a pair now—a stunning Saxon church and a beautiful market square housing the famous Jeyes chemist, who invented and manufactured Jeyes fluid. Brixworth, with another Saxon church, lies just a mile or so away from a factory that builds McLaren’s Formula 1 racing car engines. Naseby is a beautiful village sited beside the battlefield where a decisive parliamentary victory was won in 1645, and at Ashby St Leger the plan was hatched to blow up the House of Lords during the state opening of Parliament on 5 November 1605.
Yelvertoft, Crick, Preston Capes, Hanging Houghton, Maidwell, Draughton, Lilbourne, Watford, Winwick and West Haddon are all stunning villages in my constituency, but they are also linked by the fact that every one of them has, or has had, proposed planning applications for wind farms with turbines of up to 126.5 metres tall, which is almost the height of the London Eye. The total number of turbines suggested for this small swathe of my constituency is 53.
This debate is about energy, and I must mention the folly that is onshore wind energy. Not only does it dramatically change the nature of the landscape for ever—and as we have very little beautiful English countryside left, so we should try to treasure the bit we have—but it does little to help us in our battle to reduce carbon emissions. Leaving aside the damage these turbines do visually, I believe that science is not on the side of this sort of wind power. We still need to have the ability to produce 100% of our energy requirements by other means for those times when the wind is not blowing, and when the wind does stop, there is plenty of research suggesting that firing up gas and coal power stations quickly to take the slack created by the wind stopping burns those fuels so inefficiently that much of the good that has just been done is undone. I also hope Ministers will give better planning guidance to local councils that have to deal with these matters. That guidance should perhaps borrow an idea from our European friends: a 2 km exclusion zone, meaning that no turbine can be constructed within 2 km of any dwelling.
I am a great believer in renewable, sustainable and locally produced solutions to our energy problems of the future. Plenty of miscanthus grass is grown as a true biofuel across my constituency. I also believe we have to face up to the fact that nuclear energy must play a part in the medium and long term.
Across Daventry, there is also huge pressure on housing, and there is also great concern that the previous Government’s top-down housing targets driven by quangos will mean building on greenfield sites and wrecking the countryside we love. I hope and expect to see this coalition Government return local planning to local people and incentivise the reuse of brownfield sites.
I imagine that everyone in this Chamber will have driven through my constituency, because the M1 carves it almost in two. At junction 18 stands Daventry international rail freight terminal, where what many people refer to as “big sheds” employs thousands of my constituents in skilled and unskilled work. My constituency is a key national hub for many large businesses, and I will always try to make the case for them in this place because I have noticed that wealth creators are often ignored, dismissed and perhaps even viewed with disdain by some in this Chamber. My constituents are excited about the proposals in parts of the Gracious Speech, especially those relating to the roll-out of high-speed broadband, because villages such as Spratton and Sibbertoft struggle to receive any connection.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye and participate in this debate. Daventry is very much a part of middle England, and I consider myself fortunate and privileged to represent it in the House of Commons.
I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this important debate. I congratulate all hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches, but my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) raised the bar even higher with his speech. Not only was it entertaining, but it had depth and content, and I warmly congratulate him on that. I also congratulate the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change on leading today’s debate on the Gracious Speech, which represents a triumph of localism over centralisation and prescriptive government. That will be particularly welcome in my constituency, as I shall explain a little later.
First, I wish to say a word about my predecessor, the right hon. Joan Ryan, who served the constituency from 1997 with such distinction and with such a commitment to campaigning on behalf of her constituents. I am sure that she would wish to hear no better message of thanks than that she was a fine and welcome constituency MP. Hon. Members may recall that her predecessor prior to 1997 was the right hon. Tim Eggar, who served Enfield, North from 1979 and served for 12 continuous years as a Minister. Tim was kind enough to support me during all my campaigns—those of 2001 and 2005, as well as the more recent one in 2010. People who remember Tim will recall him as the eternal optimist, with an outgoing and friendly nature; I did not know a day when he appeared a little down. Unfortunately, his optimistic outlook was put to the test in 2001 and 2005. With that same optimism, commitment, determination and self-belief he had assured me that we would win those elections with vast majorities, so it was extremely notable that in the most recent campaign he stayed silent.
As tradition requires, I shall spend a few moments telling the House about my Enfield North constituency, which I am so proud to represent. It is a constituency of contrasts. It is London’s most northerly constituency and it boasts some of the largest areas of green-belt land in its west. Many people say that it has the finest landscapes in the Greater London area. I agree with that view and I intend to work hard with local groups such as the Enfield Society, the Federation of Enfield Residents and Allied Associations—FERAA—the Crews Hill Residents Association and Friends of Hilly Fields, which, along with others, have worked so hard to preserve the character and nature of our constituency. Enfield Chase and areas such as Forty Hill have been blessed with many royal visitors during the past 400 years, the most regular of whom was Henry VIII, followed by Elizabeth I. The visits continue to the present day, but I can confidently say that nowadays most of our visitors come from the region; the area is very accessible, as it neighbours the M25.
Enfield town is, at heart, a traditional English market town, but I hasten to add that it has one unique distinction: it boasts the world’s first automated teller machine—it was known as “the cashpoint” in those days. I must say that it has been far more reliable in dispensing money than some of the banks that we got used to in the last couple of years, and it is still there to this day.
Eastern Enfield, by contrast, is a much more urban scene. My constituency has a diverse population. Diversity is evident in culture, ethnicity, language and religion. More than 40 languages are spoken by children attending schools in Enfield North, including my own school, Chesterfield, of which I have been fortunate enough to be an active governor for the last four years. The same local communities bring a vibrant economic and social mix to the area, with a wonderful sense of entrepreneurial spirit. The spirit of our Cypriot, Turkish, Greek, Asian, Kurdish and Somali communities is evident if one goes down the Hertford road. As someone mentioned earlier, hon. Members are most welcome to do so, so long as they are willing to part with some money to support our local business.
Above all else, Enfield is shaped by industry. Indeed, its motto is “By industry ever stronger”. This part of Enfield gave the world such things as Belling cookers, Scrabble and the first manufactured colour television, and it is of course famous for the Lee Enfield rifle, which, I believe, served the British Army until 1957. The subsequent disappearance of much of eastern Enfield’s old manufacturing industry has brought its challenges and its problems. Much of that industry has been succeeded by other entrepreneurial efforts but at the heart of my ambition for Enfield is the wish to ensure that we capitalise on the strategic advantages of the constituency to attract new businesses and a new economy, to support new local jobs and, above all, to deal with the plague of youth unemployment, which is far too high in my constituency. We have particular strengths, including an advantageous location next to the motorway network, direct connections into London on the trains and, of course, Stansted airport nearby. We have excellent communications, a reliable and skilled work force and a resilient enterprise culture with a burgeoning small business sector.
We have to create and attract new industries from the high-skilled sectors. We have to attract the creative industries that will be tempted to move from London and, of course, industries from the green economy that can and should come to Enfield. If, during my term—however long it might be—I can demonstrate that I can be the No. 1 salesman for our constituency, I will be a very happy MP as I would have improved the quality of life of many of my constituents.
On taking full advantage of the strategic location of Enfield, I noticed earlier that the Minister of State, Department for Transport, was in the Chamber. Perhaps she would have anticipated what I am about to say, because she is familiar with the need for us to compete, when the finances are right, for a northern gateway access road that that will link from the M25, and take mainly industrial traffic down through our eastern corridor. I join my colleagues who spoke earlier in knowing that this will be on our agenda. It will be a win-win situation, as it will help to develop our eastern corridor for business and take away one of the harshest environmental blights in the north of the constituency where the traffic goes along Bullsmoor lane—at its peak, 150 heavy goods vehicles a minute pass residential housing. Such a measure would be a win-win for the economy and for the local environment. I am sure that that is a subject that my constituents will ask me to revisit in due course.
One of the many qualities that Enfieldians have is that they are proud—proud of their area and of their neighbourhood. Many residents have grown up and spent all their lives in Enfield. They have strong views on their home town, and yearn for strong independent minded representation that will genuinely put their interests first and protect the environment and public services.
The localism that is evident from the Gracious Speech is one that I know the people of Enfield will welcome, so that they, and not remote politicians, can shape and influence the neighbourhood as they see fit. We were honoured when that localism was made acutely evident when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health visited our hospital, Chase Farm, within 14 days of the general election. He immediately stopped the top-down, London-led, unwelcome and unpopular reconfiguration plans for our hospital and returned the control and direction of our health care needs to residents and GPs, removing the threat of forced closures. That was a welcome demonstration of localism and of the new Government in action. That same localism is proposed across other key areas that dominate people’s day-to-day lives, including planning, which can literally have an impact on the street they live on. The Queen’s Speech marks the first real opportunity for an MP to work with his constituents, local authorities and public bodies to shape their neighbourhoods, services and environment and thus deliver real improvement to quality of life for all. I welcome that challenge and opportunity, as will my constituents. Mr Speaker, thank you very much for allowing me to speak today.
May I be the first to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) on his entertaining and interesting speech? May I also thank everyone else who has made a maiden speech today? I have learned a lot and I hope that hon. Members will learn a bit from me too.
In the few weeks that I have been here, I have been absolutely amazed that almost every Member I have spoken to, on hearing that I represent the City of Chester, has delighted in telling me of their happy trips to my city. Whether they have been to Chester races, studied at the law college or been there for a romantic weekend away, they have all, without exception, left with a wonderful memory of their visit.
I am proud to say that Chester has always welcomed visitors. Our first recorded visitors were the Romans, who established the legionary fortress on the lower reaches of the River Dee, built the city walls, laid out the road network and enjoyed themselves at the amphitheatre so much that they stayed for almost 400 years. In AD 973, King Edgar came to Chester and established himself as the King of all England when he got the kings of the other northern kingdoms to row him up the river and he started to lay the foundations of what is now the United Kingdom. That marked the start of the long relationship between the city and the Crown that Chester has enjoyed for more than 1,000 years.
The Normans came to our city, built a castle and our magnificent cathedral and then used the city as the base for their conquest of north Wales. The English did not get it all their own way, however: several times the Welsh raided the city, destroyed the bridges across the river and burned down many buildings outside the walls. It is from that period that our famous statute came into force, which forbids Welshmen from entering the city walls after dark and allows those who are in the city at night to be legally shot with a crossbow. Apparently, that statute was never repealed. Fortunately, we live in happier times and, except for the one day of the year when Chester play Wrexham at football, we live in friendship with our Welsh neighbours.
Speaking of football, I must congratulate my predecessor, Christine Russell. When Chester City football club went into administration earlier this year, she was at the forefront of the campaign to bring football back to Chester. I am proud to say that at the start of this month the supporters group City Fans United established a new Chester football club, and we can now look forward to football returning to the Deva stadium in the autumn. Much of that is due to the hard work that was put in behind the scenes by the previous Member for the City of Chester.
Christine also championed international development and improved child care, but she will be most remembered in Chester for her conscientious casework in the city and the help that she gave to so many local people. I have known her for more than 10 years, and although we had many disagreements over politics, I salute the good work that she did locally and I know it is not going to be easy to follow in her footsteps. I have also been delighted by the good will that still exists on both sides of the Chamber towards Christine’s predecessor Gyles Brandreth and his predecessor Sir Peter Morrison, and I hope to be a worthy successor to them all.
Chester is the jewel in the crown of the north-west of England, but there is still much that we need to do. Our Gateway theatre closed down in 2007 and we need help to ensure that our dream of having a new theatre and performing arts centre in the city is delivered. I was particularly pleased to hear that the new Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport had promised that lottery funding would be restored to the arts, thus providing many opportunities for towns and cities such as Chester to improve their arts facilities.
We are also lucky to have in the City of Chester Chester zoo, which is one of the leading visitor attractions in the country and a world leader in animal conservation. It has big plans to expand to help to conserve more endangered species, and I look forward to championing it and its good work within Parliament.
Our ancient city walls, our amphitheatre and the mediaeval rows have all been neglected in the past and now need us to protect and champion our heritage. That is why I will be supporting a bid, put in by the local Conservative council, to obtain world heritage site status for the city centre.
In Chester, we have huge ambitions to bring investment into the city, and I will be playing my part, from Parliament, to help my constituents to achieve their dreams.
Chester is also a garrison town. We are the spiritual home to the 1st Battalion the Mercian Regiment—the Cheshires—and I am proud to have a former commanding officer sitting before me. We are also the current home to the 1st Battalion the Royal Welsh Regiment, and all of us in Chester are proud to welcome the battalion back from its recent tour in Afghanistan and looking forward to its homecoming parade in front of Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in a fortnight’s time.
Chester has thrived as a tourist destination and as a shopping centre. Anyone can stand at the cross in the centre of the city and see visitors from almost every corner of the earth, and I urge all Members to come to Chester and to see for themselves why they, and I, love the city so much.
Chester is an ancient city, but it is also a modern city. Financial giants, such as Bank of America, Lloyds Banking Group and M&S Money, have major bases and employ thousands of people in the City of Chester. It is, quite rightly, a priority of the coalition Government to curb the excesses of the past few years and to re-regulate the banks, but I would implore the Government to remember that financial services create huge wealth for our country and for many places like Chester and that not all people who work in financial services are the greedy bankers of lore. We need to make sure that good financial institutions are able to expand and prosper and that new companies and products are able to enter the marketplace and by doing so improve the service and reduce the cost of the financial services offered to their consumers. We need stronger and better regulation, but we also need to make sure that it is simpler.
Within the City of Chester constituency, we are also proud to host Urenco’s uranium-enrichment plant at Capenhurst. We are all aware of the problems to our energy supply that we face over the next few years. Many of our older coal-fired power stations and nuclear power stations are due for closure. Since 2004, Britain has gone from being a net exporter to a net importer of natural gas, making us dependent on foreign sources and raising concerns over the security of our energy supply. We also, of course, have a duty to ensure that we reduce our nation’s carbon footprint. We want to ensure that all members of our society have access to affordable energy and to see a reduction in fuel poverty.
The 2006 energy review estimated that up to 25 GW of new generating capacity would be needed over the next two decades to fill the gap. That is 25 GW out of a current 76 GW generating capacity—a huge gap by any estimate. The UK is, quite rightly, committed to a renewable energy target of 15% by 2020, and renewables have an important role to play in the sustainability and security of Britain’s future energy supply. But, as the Secretary of State told us earlier, Britain currently generates only 6.6% of its energy requirements from renewable resources. The 15% target by 2020 is extremely challenging and will require a massive step change in the development of renewable supplies if it is to be achieved. Even if we do achieve that target, we will still have a gap of more than 10 GW of generating capacity to fill. As a Member of Parliament with a key part of the UK’s nuclear infrastructure in his constituency, I ask the Secretary of State and the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), to look favourably on the use of new nuclear power generation to help fill the gap.
Nuclear power is clean. It is a low-carbon source of electricity generation. We have secure long-term supplies of fuel. Modern reactors are incredibly safe, and it is a future technology in which Britain can still lead the world. Operators and owners of nuclear power stations have been jumping at the opportunities offered by the previous Government’s draft nuclear policy statement, and there are now 10 sites judged as potentially suitable on, or near to, existing stations. Those sites obviously have to be subject to the normal planning process for major projects, but the Government need to bring forward a national planning statement for ratification by Parliament as soon as possible.
Mr Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to make my maiden speech during such an important debate for our country, and for Chester.
I begin by congratulating the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and by warmly welcoming her to her position. She brings a great deal of expertise to a Department that is at the heart of the great challenge of our age, which is taking from the earth only that which it can give. I also congratulate the hon. Members for Newbury (Richard Benyon), and for South East Cambridgeshire (Mr Paice); the latter, of course, is returning to the Ministry where he once served as a Parliamentary Private Secretary.
We wish the Secretary of State and her team well in their new responsibilities. I know that they will be ably supported by the dedicated civil servants alongside whom I had the privilege of working for nearly three years. I want to thank them and my colleagues, my hon. Friends the Members for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), and for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), and Dan Norris, for everything that they did. It is a pleasure still to share a Front Bench with two of them.
The House will have noted that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is one of the few Departments without—in the new language that we are having to use—a Lib Dem ministerial ally, so I just want to say that I am sorry that I will not also face the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) across the Dispatch Box, but, I suspect, not half as sorry as he is. I want to pay tribute to him and to the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) for their courtesy and their eloquent contributions during their time in the DEFRA shadows, so to speak.
We have had a good debate, opened on our side with a spirited contribution from my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband). We saw today the outstanding leadership that he has shown in creating the Department of Energy and Climate Change and in fashioning it into a formidable and practical advocate in the fight against dangerous climate change, and it is the kind of politics that has a great deal to offer us in future.
In a forensic speech, my right hon. Friend laid bare the inconsistency that is the Government’s policy on nuclear power. If I may say so to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, his replies on the subject were anything but convincing; one could indeed say that no greater love hath a man for his new friends than to lay down his lifelong views on nuclear power.
In contrast, our debate has been illuminated by many notable maiden speeches. The hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) clearly benefited from your training, Mr Speaker, and will be a fine advocate for her constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) spoke movingly of the strong sense of community in an area that has suffered greatly in the past, and from which clearly springs his passion for fairness. The hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) was generous in his praise for his predecessor, and showed great confidence, which I am sure will stand him in good stead in the House. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), who spoke with understandable filial pride and warmth about the “giant”, his predecessor, has clearly learned much that is good from him.
The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) certainly has something of the fight about him, and great eloquence to boot, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex), who will be a fine voice for his constituency. As for the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray)—who, to use her phrase, is the new leaseholder of that constituency—I must say that her descriptions brought back memories of my time spent serving as a councillor representing a ward in her constituency that included the famous Ealing Studios.
The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) made a fine maiden speech, in which she reminded us of the history of the pioneers in this place—fittingly, as one herself. She may be a lone voice for her party, but it is one that we look forward to hearing again. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) will clearly stand up for his constituents, including the many farmers whom he is fortunate enough to represent. From the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), whose constituency has so much to offer in generating offshore electricity, we heard that such projects will have his very strong support.
The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) made a powerful plea for accountability and for the protection of the environment, and we will all join the hon. Member for Salisbury (John Glen) in opposing the idea of Wiltshire cured ham that does not actually come from Wiltshire. The hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) has a ready wit and a constituency with a great deal of history and character, as we learned. The hon. Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) spoke with insight about the character of his constituency and, movingly, about its potential. I can confirm from personal experience what the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) had to say about the enjoyment of those who visit his constituency, involving in my case a trip along the canal to Llangollen many years ago. All of them showed the promise of new Members from all parts of the House, and we look forward to hearing further from those who have taken the plunge today.
We also heard important contributions from other right hon. and hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) spoke about smart grids and meters, and the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) gave us a history lesson on energy policy and the link with development. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) spoke with passion about Sheffield Forgemasters and the need for a high-speed rail link both to Sheffield and to Leeds—to which I say, “Hear, hear”—and my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Mr Reed) asked for the momentum in energy policy for which my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North was responsible to be maintained.
The hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) has made a great contribution to these matters over the years, my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) spoke movingly about mine safety, and the hon. Members for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) and for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon) made wide-ranging speeches. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) reminded us why ecosystems matter, my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) spoke about the ombudsman and the need for a speedy planning system, and my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) asked, “Where is further legislation on water?”
As the Leader of the Opposition said on Tuesday, where we agree with the measures outlined in the Government’s programme and in the Gracious Speech we will support them, and where we do not we will be an effective Opposition. It says much about the achievements of the previous Labour Government that the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs wisely intends to continue with many of them, and I welcome that.
For example, on tackling illegal logging, I hope that the right hon. Lady will be as vigorous as we sought to be in seeking as part of the new EU timber regulation the prohibition that will stop illegal timber being placed on the European market. If Europe can ban, as it has, illegally caught fish from outside Europe being placed on the market, it can certainly do the same with timber.
On reducing waste, I am glad to see that the Secretary of State, having spent far too long trying to blame Whitehall for every decision on waste collection, has finally acknowledged what I have gently tried to tell her for some time: it is, and it should be, for local authorities to decide how to collect waste and organise recycling. In other words, they should decide on the means. However, it is the Government’s responsibility to set the vision, and we should stop putting into landfill a range of materials for which there is demand and other uses. I hope that she will do that, and we should turn food waste into clean energy, rather than leaving it to rot and create greenhouse gas emissions.
On the natural environment, we were very proud to put the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 on the statute book, and to have established two new national parks in the past five years, in the New Forest and on the South Downs—the latter during the year in which we marked the 60th anniversary of Attlee’s National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. I look forward to the creation of new places for wildlife—green corridors, bringing together the work of wildlife trusts, areas of outstanding natural beauty, the national parks, sites of special scientific interest and the marine conservation zones that the Marine and Coastal Access Act will create. The Lawton commission, which I established last year, will make its recommendations this summer, and we all look forward to them.
Farming, which, as we have heard, shapes our landscape, has so much to contribute to the future, as long as it develops the new skills that it needs—for example, in low-carbon farming—and has the support of the supermarket ombudsman that is to be created.
For all the fine words, there is nothing in the Gracious Speech about environment, food and rural affairs—apart from broadband, which we all support because it is the 21st-century artery of economic development, including in our countryside, just as the roads were in the previous century, the railways in the 19th century and the canals in the 18th century.
Of the omissions from the speech I warmly welcome one: the deathly silence about the Conservatives’ wish to overturn the hunting ban. Long may that remain absent. Given that so many Conservatives seemed so committed to the policy, it is strange that nobody wanted to talk about it during the election campaign and nobody has been keen to discuss it today. Perhaps it is because the Conservatives know that the public do not support them on that matter, or because among those who said that they backed the ban during the election campaign were those who are now the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Deputy Prime Minister. Labour Members will oppose a return to animal cruelty in our countryside, and we look forward to the support of Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members if the Government are foolish enough to introduce such a proposal. To those who might argue, “Let the House decide,” I say that the House has decided. It did that when it passed the Hunting Act 2004. Reversing the ban is not about some notion of libertarian freedom, but about whether we think that setting one creature on another to kill it in the name of so-called sport is animal cruelty. I believe that it is.
Let me now turn to the way in which we deal with animal diseases. The Government say that they want to share responsibility for that with farmers, but they have not yet been clear about sharing the cost. Perhaps the Secretary of State could explain the exact position. Apart from being right in principle that farmers should contribute to the cost because they share in the benefit, judging by the cuts that the Department has already had to make, she will need to find ways of offsetting costs. When will we see further details of the 5.5% cut —the £162 million that DEFRA must bear? Yesterday, I looked at the DEFRA website and found a total of 80 words about those cuts—that is approximately £2 million a word. May we have some information about the jobs that will not be filled? What about scientific research and investment in flood defence?
I hope that the cuts will not affect the fight against bovine TB, which was mentioned in the debate. It is a truly terrible disease, but the new ministerial team has hardly made an auspicious start on the matter. Last week the Secretary of State gave an interview to Farmers Weekly, in which she sensibly said that she favours
“a science-based approach…there isn’t an easy answer.”
When asked specifically whether a badger cull would be part of her policy, she replied:
“I am not going to rule options in and out. What we need to do is look at the science…Over and above that, I have really nothing more to add.”
She may not have had anything more to say, but the Minister of State certainly did. A couple of days or so later, he went to the Devon county show and said, as was also reported in Farmers Weekly,
“we will carry out a scientifically-led targeted cull of badgers in hot spot areas.”
As the House knows, there is a debate on what is effective in controlling the terrible disease of bovine TB, and I am clear that vaccination rather than culling is the way forward, but utter confusion helps nobody. It seems that the Minister of State is running a policy that contradicts the view of the Secretary of State. I have a very simple question: have the Government already decided that there will definitely be a cull? If so—and the right hon. Lady is supposed to be in charge—what happened to looking at the science?
Listening to what science has to tell us is extremely important in everything we do, and never more so than in fighting climate change and ensuring that we live within our environmental means. Anybody who read the recent Joint Nature Conservation Committee report on biodiversity, or who has seen the work of the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity project, which is so ably led by Pavan Sukhdev—I have long believed that that has the potential to do for our understanding of the economic benefits of biodiversity what Sir Nick Stern’s groundbreaking report did for our understanding of the economics of climate change—will know that what humankind has taken for granted for so long with barely a thought of the consequences can no longer be taken for granted. Why? Because the natural environment, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Swan