House of Commons
Thursday 27 May 2010
The House met at half-past Ten o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Business of the House
May I ask the Leader of the House to give us the business for the forthcoming week?
Mr Speaker, you informed the House on Tuesday of the subjects for debate on the Queen’s Speech. The business for next week will be:
Tuesday 1 June—The House will not be sitting.
Wednesday 2 June—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech. The subjects for debate, as you announced, Mr Speaker, will be education and health.
Thursday 3 June—A general debate on European affairs.
The business for the week commencing 7 June will include:
Monday 7 June—Continuation of the debate on the Queen’s Speech. Constitution and home affairs will be debated.
Tuesday 8 June—Conclusion of the debate on the Queen’s Speech. Economic affairs and work and pensions will be debated.
Wednesday 9 June—Second Reading of the Identity Documents Bill.
Thursday 10 June—General debate: subject to be announced.
In accordance with the Standing Orders, the House will meet at 2.30 pm on Wednesday 2 June.
As previously announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, the Budget will be on 22 June.
Colleagues will also wish to know that, subject to the progress of business, the House will rise at the end of business on Thursday 29 July and, subject to the will of the House, return on Monday 6 September for two weeks.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for setting out the forthcoming business and I would like once again to congratulate him on his appointment as Leader of the House. As I said yesterday, he has served as shadow Leader of the House for some years, so he brings a wealth of experience to his position. Indeed, he brings such a wealth of experience that it is rather a poor show that he has not been made a full member of the Cabinet. Some say he would have brought a touch of class to the table. I am confident that, had he been a full member, there would have been an element of common sense and consideration for the House in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government’s handling of the £6 billion cuts announcement and the leaking of the Queen’s Speech.
The fact that we read about the contents of the Queen’s Speech in newspapers at the weekend before it was announced to Parliament displayed a disturbing lack of courtesy to the House. The response from Downing street is that although they are disappointed, there will be no leak inquiry. That demonstrates extremely poor judgment from the Government, and I ask the Leader of the House to explain why no investigation will be carried out.
It was also extremely disturbing that the Government chose to announce £6 billion of spending cuts while the House was not sitting. I am sure that you, Mr Speaker, recognised that that was not the way to treat the House when you granted the urgent question tabled by the Opposition yesterday. We thank you for that. In effect, we saw the Chief Secretary to the Treasury being virtually dragged to the House so that Members could question him on the cuts. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the other hand, did not even bother to turn up. I understand that he was spotted walking around Whitehall—but clearly in the opposite direction from the House so that Members could not question him on the cuts.
I think the Chancellor refused to give details of his cuts announcement to the “Today” programme because he did not want to be discourteous to the journalists who were assembling for him at 10 o’clock. I have to say that it is a shame he did not have the same worries about showing discourtesy to the House.
Rumour has it that the Chancellor might be popping in for the Budget statement, which we on the Opposition Benches are obviously quite excited about. Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Chancellor will actually be there in person, and not his new friend?
I am sure the Leader of the House is more than aware of the concern among not only the Opposition but his own Back Benchers about the proposal providing for the Dissolution of Parliament only if 55% or more of the House votes in favour. The new Government have no mandate for this change, which could theoretically allow a Government to rule without the confidence of Parliament. That would weaken Parliament and strengthen the hand of the Executive considerably. Given that the Deputy Leader of the House told us on Tuesday that there will be a full process for considering the Bill in question, with no guillotine, and acknowledged that there is a strong case for pre-legislative scrutiny, will the Leader of the House confirm that there will be pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill?
The Leader of the House said yesterday that the Government intend to abolish Regional Select Committees and the important scrutiny function they provide. Do the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government intend to keep Regional Grand Committees, given the importance of scrutinising the regional effect of the cuts that have been announced?
Finally, I am sure the Leader of the House will be aware of early-day motion 105, which followed concerns raised by the Leader of the Opposition on Tuesday about proposed changes in prosecuting rape cases that could grant anonymity to rape defendants.
[That this House believes that the Government's proposal to grant anonymity to defendants in rape cases sends a message to juries and rape victims that the victim is not to be believed; fears that this could inhibit the effective prosecution of serial rapists; is further concerned that this will reverse the progress made on the prosecution of rape cases noted in the independent Stern Review; is further concerned that the Government has put forward the proposal without any research, evidence or examination of these issues; and calls on the Government to withdraw its proposal.]
As the Leader of the Opposition has said, that could turn the clock back on rape cases, and I ask the Leader of the House to make time for a debate on this serious issue.
Before I reply to the right hon. Lady’s questions, may I welcome her to her new post as shadow Leader of the House? She was a respected Minister in the last Government and she has always been a popular Member of the House; I look forward to working with her to further the interests of the House. May I also pay tribute to my predecessor, the right honourable and learned Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman), the now acting leader of the Labour party? She took her responsibilities seriously and although she did not go quite as far as many of us had hoped on parliamentary reform, many reforms to the way in which the House works did take place while she was the Leader of the House.
There is a vital task ahead in rejuvenating parliamentary life and reconnecting it with the people we serve. My hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath)—I welcome him to his post—and I want Parliament to be strengthened and to be more effective and relevant, and it is the Government’s intention to allow that to happen. Of course, that will be challenging, but this is an opportunity for a fresh start.
On the questions that the right hon. Lady poses, my role as attending Cabinet makes no difference whatever to what I say or do; there is an abundance of common sense in the Cabinet without any need for it to be reinforced by me. I deplore the leak to which she referred. It was a discourtesy to the House and to Her Majesty, and steps will be taken to minimise the risk of such leaks occurring again.
On the statement about cuts, I was surprised to hear the right hon. Lady’s comments, because she was a Member of the House in 1997 when the then Chancellor announced the independence of the Bank of England four days after the election, before the House was sitting, and that was not even in the party’s manifesto. The right hon. Lady will have seen the relish with which my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury dealt with questions yesterday—a bravura performance—and no doubt the Opposition will think again before they ask to put another urgent question to him. Of course, the Chancellor will deliver the Budget.
On the 55% issue, we had a very useful debate on Tuesday, during which my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome was able to allay some of the concerns that were raised by Members. The Bill will be a constitutional Bill, all stages will be taken on the Floor of the House and there will be adequate opportunity for the House to debate it.
We have no intention of reintroducing Regional Select Committees as they were not a great success and were opposed by the Liberal Democrats and my party. We will announce our decision on Regional Grand Committees, which are a different proposition, in due course.
The right hon. Lady has raised a serious issue about rape and anonymity. I recognise the concern about this issue, and there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind about this Government’s determination to tackle rape and sexual offences and to ensure that those who commit such offences are convicted and properly sentenced. No quarter will be given to those convicted of rape. However, the House will also be aware that some people’s lives have been wrecked by being falsely and maliciously accused of rape. That is why we have said that we will undertake a careful and sensitive analysis of the options and implications before we bring any proposals to Parliament. Of course, any proposals to change the law will have to go through this House and the other House.
Order. A large number of Members are seeking to catch my eye. As Members from the last Parliament will know, I have always sought to accommodate everyone if it is at all feasible to do so, but I need a single short supplementary question and a typically pithy reply from the Front Bench.
I welcome my right hon. Friend to the Front Bench and his commitment to a sweeping redistribution of powers from the Government to Parliament. May I urge on him rather speedier action for the setting up of the House business committee, which the coalition document talks about being set up within three years? Surely, it could and should be set up this year.
I can reassure my hon. Friend that we propose, in the week after the week for which I have announced the business, to introduce the proposals of the Wright Committee to establish a Back-Bench business committee—which the last Administration singularly failed to achieve before Parliament was dissolved. The three-year period refers not to the Back-Bench business committee but to the House business committee, which is a different proposition. I am as anxious as anyone else to get the Back-Bench business committee up and running. We will table the appropriate motions before the House in good time for the debate, which I anticipate will take place in the week after the week for which I have already announced the business.
As someone who argued in the last Parliament strongly for full and total transparency over Members’ claims and opposed the Tory private Member’s Bill that would have exempted Parliament from freedom of information legislation, may I ask the Leader of the House whether he is aware that the new system that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has established is deeply bureaucratic and complex, and that it undermines both the work we have been elected to do and that of our staff? Do the chair and chief executive of IPSA not bear a heavy responsibility for discrediting what we all hoped, and certainly the public hoped, would be a new start to end the scandal of what occurred in the previous Parliament?
I recognise the concern on this issue. I attended a meeting between returning Members and members of IPSA a few days ago, and it was a lively meeting. No one wants to go back to the old, discredited system whereby the House fixed its allowances and they were administered by the House, and it was absolutely right to hand them over to an independent body. None the less, I recognise the legitimate concerns that have been expressed by Members.
Members are concerned about the staff whom they employed during the last Parliament—they want to go on employing them—and about their ability to retain offices in their constituency. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will have welcomed the communication, which we all received, that indicated some flexibility from IPSA on both issues and said that there is no need to make staff redundant or, indeed, to give up one’s constituency office. IPSA hopes to come to an arrangement whereby, later this year, funds will be made available for that to continue.
A large number of other issues need to be resolved. I am in the foothills of the technological mountain of making a claim. We need an intelligent conversation between the House and IPSA to resolve these issues. It needs to exhibit some flexibility in the rules it has set out. There needs to be a more thorough review of the regime in the very near future. To the extent that I have any responsibility, I should like to play my part. It is absolutely crucial that the allowance regime enable Members to do their jobs and the House to hold the Government to account, and we cannot have an allowance regime that gets in the way of that process.
I wonder whether the Leader of the House could find time for a debate to follow up the excellent question asked by the hon. Member for Walsall North (Mr Winnick). In his opening remarks, the Leader of the House mentioned Parliament reconnecting with the people. May I suggest that a debate on IPSA would be useful, so that we could share best practice? Perhaps hon. Members could visit IPSA, so that we could see its working conditions and how it operates. By the same token, perhaps members of IPSA could come to constituency offices to see how we work.
The chairman and the acting chief executive of IPSA will have heard the generous invitation that the hon. Gentleman has extended to them. I go back to what I said a moment ago: we need intelligent and serious discussion between the House and IPSA to resolve the real issues that he raises. Together with the usual channels and perhaps the political parties, I would like there to be a channel of communication that can resolve such issues without the sort of shouting matches that we have heard in recent days.
I share the concerns about the fact that the coalition agreement included a commitment—to my mind it was a firm commitment—to give anonymity to defendants in rape trials. May we have an urgent debate on that, and will the Leader of the House confirm that the issue is so controversial that it should be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny and considered in the round, along with the issue of the number of rapes that go unreported, and the number of reported rapes that do not result in a prosecution?
The hon. Lady will know that no legislation on the issue has been proposed in this Session. In the debate on home affairs on Monday 7 June, there will be an opportunity for the real concerns that exist on the issue to be ventilated. Of course we need to have adequate discussion. The proposal is that we go back to the regime that existed until, I think, 1988, in which there was anonymity. In her recent report, Baroness Stern did not come out on either side, but she said there should be full debate on this very sensitive issue, and that is what I want to promote.
May we have a debate on the 2008 report from the Procedure Committee on electronic petitioning, an opportunity that the previous Government denied this House? Is my right hon. Friend aware that a system of e-petitions would make this House more accessible for many, and would also mean that there would be no need to maintain the rather useless system on the No. 10 website?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for all the work that he and his Committee did in the previous Parliament on e-petitions. We are anxious to take the matter forward. He will have seen in the coalition agreement specific commitments on the issues he has raised, so the answer is yes, of course I want to take forward the Procedure Committee’s recommendations. I would also like that Committee to look at the commitments given by the coalition in the agreement to make even faster progress on this important issue.
May I ask the Leader of the House when more information will be available about the £1.1 billion-worth of cuts to local government? In Lewisham, 18,000 homes are due for improvement under the decent homes programme. The previous Government indicated that £154 million would be made available for that work. Will the new Government honour that commitment, and when will the House have a proper opportunity to debate the future funding of social housing?
I am sure the hon. Lady will welcome what the Chief Secretary to the Treasury said yesterday about the additional resources that were found for investment in affordable housing. I hope that some of that money will go to her constituency. Frankly, the previous Government’s record on building social housing was deplorable.
Will the Leader of the House give us a debate on the awarding of jubilee medals? I have been approached by immigration officers who live in and around my constituency, who are understandably upset that immigration officers were not awarded the golden jubilee medal, unlike other important public servants such as police and prison officers. Immigration officers are on the front line against terrorism. Will the Leader of the House agree to speak to the relevant new Minister, so that we can recognise the good work of immigration officers, retrospectively award them the golden jubilee medal, and consider them for the diamond jubilee medal?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. He may want to seek an opportunity for a wider debate on the subject, either in Westminster Hall or on the Adjournment. Of course I will pass on to my ministerial colleagues the forceful case that he makes.
This morning, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions made a major speech on welfare reform. Not only did he not come first to this House; he made the speech at half-past 9, and as a result it was too late to table an urgent question. When will the Leader of the House assert himself and require his colleagues to make announcements to this House?
When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has some specific policy proposals to put before the House, he will of course make them. He made a general speech about his approach to welfare reform. He is committed to abolishing the root causes of poverty; and I hope the whole House will join him in expressing that ambition.
The Leader of the House will be well aware that before the general election, there was strong cross-party support for the creation of a supermarket ombudsman—yet there was no mention of that in the Queen’s Speech. We know, however, that the measure needs to be implemented soon in order to enforce the regulation that the Competition Commission brought forward on 4 February, so will the Leader of the House reassure the House that the Government will find time to introduce the necessary primary legislation in order to bring forward that important measure?
I would be misleading my hon. Friend if I said that we could find time. That specific measure was not in the Queen’s Speech, as he will have seen; nor, from memory, was it in the coalition agreement. For that reason I cannot give the immediate commitment he has asked for. None the less, I shall raise with my right hon. Friends in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills the important point he has made, in order to clarify the coalition Government’s approach to supermarkets and competition.
During the general election, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) said in the north-west that he questioned the legitimacy of some of the grants and financial support that had gone to industry in the recent past. Given the importance of protecting the manufacturing base, can we have an urgent debate on whether there is any truth in some of the stories that have been running, such as the Government’s seeking to claw back the loan guarantee given to Vauxhall Motors and the moneys given to Sheffield Forgemasters?
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s constituency interests, and he might have an opportunity to raise those either in further debates on the Queen’s Speech or, when the time comes, through direct questions to the Ministers concerned.
I have now refreshed my memory of the coalition agreement, which does in fact refer to an
“Ombudsman in the Office of Fair Trading who can proactively enforce the Grocery Supply Code of Practice and curb abuses of power”,
so I hope my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Andrew George) is reassured by that.
In opposition, my right hon. Friend, now the Leader of the House, expressed himself robustly against the permanent colonisation of Parliament square, and against the guillotining of Bills as they went through the House. Will he make a statement to the House on what we propose to do about those two matters now that we are in government?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for taking such an interest in the speeches I have made in the past. It is certainly the Government’s intention not to guillotine Bills automatically in the way that the previous Government did, and to allow adequate opportunity for debate.
On Parliament square, we need to strike the right balance between, on the one hand, the right to protest and, on the other, the conservation of a very important site, right in the middle of the capital, next to Westminster abbey and the Houses of Parliament. In my view, the balance at the moment is not right. The House will know that the Mayor of London is seeking to enforce the byelaw under the Greater London Authority Act 1999, under which it is an offence to erect tents or other paraphernalia without permission of the Mayor, so I hope we can come up with the right balance. People should protest there but they do not have to live there all the time and create what is becoming a shanty town, which does not do credit to the environment in which Parliament square is located.
May we have a debate to define “affordable” or “social” housing? In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), the right hon. Gentleman referred to a commitment to build social housing, but he was asked specifically about council house building, so can we have some answers from the Government on whether they will renege on the commitment to build council housing?
Those in housing need do not mind whether it is the council or a registered social landlord who provides their home. What they want is a home, and it is a fact that, for a given amount of money, one can build more homes if the money goes through registered social landlords than if it goes to the local authority. So, I would not go along with the hon. Gentleman in endorsing the idea that such housing has to be council housing. What is needed is affordable, social housing, whoever provides it.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for an early debate on the working of IPSA? Other Members have commented on that, but for staff who have been told they will have to wait until to November to know whether their employment will continue, the position is frankly unacceptable. That needs to be sorted out earlier rather than later.
Of course, my hon. Friend can apply for a debate about IPSA. It is important to recall that IPSA is an independent body, and the House has decided that it will not get directly involved in fixing or paying the allowances. None the less, I agree that there is a need for a sensible debate between the House and IPSA to ensure that Members of Parliament can effectively do their job. If my hon. Friend wants to apply for a debate, he is free to do so.
The Government have announced that they intend to review all contracts signed by the previous Government. That obviously creates much uncertainty and concern, particularly in respect of the A400M military transport aircraft, which will create thousands of jobs in the UK. May we have an early debate to try to end the uncertainty?
Yes, and of course the hon. Gentleman can table questions to the appropriate Minister to get clarification of the important issue he has raised—he might like to follow that route to get a swift response. I understand the concern in his constituency.
Will the Leader of the House confirm that, in the Queen’s Speech debate that he announced on constitutional and home affairs, the Government will set out clearly their position on the Human Rights Act 1998? My right hon. Friend and I both stood on a manifesto to repeal the Human Rights Act. Since the election, we have been unable to deport a suspected terrorist because of that Act. It is crucial that action be taken as soon as possible to ensure that the human rights of terrorists, criminals and illegal immigrants are not put before those of decent, law-abiding people.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I assure him that the specific questions he has raised about human rights will be addressed in the debate on home and constitutional affairs.
May I draw the Leader of the House’s attention to early-day motion 75?
[That this House applauds the work of One North East in promoting sustainable economic growth across the North East of England since 1999; recognises the role One North East has played in regeneration and job creation in the region over the last 11 years; understands the importance of the support it gave over 4,000 businesses during the recent recession; supports its vision for a future North East economy that ensures the people of the region benefit from improved prosperity; and calls on the Government to strengthen the support given to the North East economy through One North East.]
One NorthEast, the regional development agency based in my constituency of Newcastle upon Tyne North, has brought great benefits throughout the north-east region. In the light of the recent announcement of cuts to regional development agencies, and the concern that that is causing throughout the region, will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on that extremely important issue?
The hon. Lady puts forcefully the concern in her constituency. May I suggest that she apply for an Adjournment debate or a debate in Westminster Hall, where the issues she has raised can be tackled in more detail and she can get a response from Ministers? She may have heard what the Chief Secretary announced yesterday, when he outlined his commitment to laying the foundations for recovery by getting the deficit under control—a huge deficit, which we inherited from the outgoing Government.
Does my right hon. Friend recall the prayer of St. Augustine, which can be paraphrased as, “Lord make me chaste, but not yet”? In that context, will he explain why it will take three years to establish a business committee, a principle for which I welcome his commendation?
The Wright Committee made several propositions and it suggested that they should be implemented in stages. The early recommendation dealt with the Back-Bench business committee—the one on which we plan to make immediate progress. There was a much broader recommendation about a House committee, and it was always envisaged that that would be set up towards the end of the process of implementing the Wright recommendations. We have given a commitment, which did not exist previously, to do that within three years. I hope my hon. Friend will welcome the progress that has been made on that—it is an advance on the position at the end of the previous Parliament.
May I draw the Leader of the House’s attention to early-day motion 85?
[That this House expresses concern that speculation over the future of the new hospital at Wynyard is causing anxiety for staff, patients and the community; and seeks an assurance from Government that the existing commitment to build a new acute general hospital at Wynyard to replace Hartlepool University and North Tees University Hospitals will be honoured; and recognises that the new facilities will help to address issues of health inequalities that are a feature of many communities within the catchment area.]
In view of the £6 billion cuts package, will the right hon. Gentleman make time for a debate about the NHS capital programme and, in particular, grant an opportunity to clarify the Government’s position on the new hospital at Wynyard?
The hon. Gentleman will have heard what the Chief Secretary said yesterday about exempting the health service from the cuts.
Presumably and hopefully during this Parliament we will continue the practice of holding topical debates. Therefore, may I put in an early bid for a topical debate in the week beginning 14 June, which is carers’ week, to support early-day motion 14, which commands the support of colleagues on both sides of the House?
[That this House expresses its respect for the six million people of all ages in the UK who provide unpaid help, care and support to a relative or friend who, because of frailty, illness or disability, would not otherwise be able to manage; notes that despite the huge contribution carers make to society, many carers continue to remain unsupported in their caring roles without the chance of a break or respite; is concerned that many carers are hidden, unheard and unable to access relevant and practical advice, information and services; further notes that Carers Week, a partnership of national charities, takes place this year from 14 to 20 June, with the theme A life of my own; and believes that without significant reform of the care and support system carers will not be able to access support at times of crisis, will not be able to work, which has a lasting impact on the economy, and will not have the chance of a life of their own that they deserve.]
Such a debate will be a good opportunity for the House to commend and celebrate the work of some 6 million carers throughout the UK who give invaluable support.
My hon. Friend’s bid is in pole position, because it is the only bid that we have received so far for a topical debate, and it would be appropriate. Of course, once we get a Back-Bench business committee up and running, it will decide the subjects for topical debates.
To pick up a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), it might be easier to have a topical debate on IPSA rather than him applying for an Adjournment debate.
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the difference between this Con-Dem Government’s rhetoric and reality? There has been lots of rhetoric about slimming down government, but so far they have created 33 commissions or other forms of inquiry—and that number is rising.
All the work will take place within a constraint on public expenditure, so it does not follow at all that those commissions of inquiry will lead to an explosion in public expenditure. The hon. Lady will recall from 1997 that the then incoming Government set up one or two commissions in order to clarify, get a better outcome from, and inform their policy.
May we have a statement from an Education Minister on the impact of a reduction in the subsidy provided by the teachers’ Training and Development Agency, which is causing severe financial hardship, especially to small primary schools in my constituency? They must find an additional £1,000 for each graduate teacher trainee that they take on, for which they could not have budgeted—and that at a time when they are already going through financial hardship. It would be helpful to have a statement on whether that reduction can be delayed until schools can budget for it.
My hon. Friend raises a good point which directly affects his constituency. During debates on the Queen’s Speech there will be an opportunity to raise education issues. He might seek either to intervene or to make a speech and make his point then.
Is the Leader of the House aware of the utter dismay felt by local people and businesses in Nottingham about the deferral of the planned widening of the A453, which links the M1 to the city of Nottingham from the south, and which is absolutely vital to our economic prosperity? Will he find time for a debate on that important issue?
As a former Transport Secretary, I should have been aware of the feeling on that issue. May I suggest that the hon. Lady apply for an Adjournment debate, which would be the appropriate forum to develop her case and explore with Ministers the possibility of a way forward?
First, does the Leader of the House accept that the larger demonstration in Parliament square represents a real security risk? At the start of this new Parliament, he must show the dynamism to do something about it. Secondly, when will the Embankment entrance between the Norman Shaw buildings open? It is inconvenient to Members that it is closed.
On the second point, I will raise the matter with the appropriate officials in the House and ensure that my hon. Friend gets a reply. On the first, I would be reluctant to comment on issues relating to security.
Is the Leader of the House aware that we need a very early statement on the question of Building Schools for the Future? Hundreds of schools up and down Britain are awaiting the knowledge of when the building is going to start, including two in my constituency at Shirebrook and Tibshelf. Instead of waffling on about welfare to work, would it not be sensible to get construction workers back into work, building those schools, and to start a new process—not this daft coalition?
The Chief Secretary did find extra resources yesterday for construction—he announced extra investment in affordable housing. There is a debate on education next week, when I hope the hon. Gentleman raises that matter with Education Ministers and gets an answer.
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the appalling situation following the centralisation of A and E units throughout the country that was introduced by the previous Government? My constituents have to travel 15 miles to a hospital in Blackburn—there are now no A and E units in Burnley, Pendle or Rossendale.
I understand the concern, and during the campaign we proposed a moratorium on centrally driven closures of accident and emergency departments. May I suggest that the hon. Gentleman seek the opportunity of an Adjournment debate to raise that important local issue?
May I welcome the rowing back by the Leader of the House from the explicit commitment to extend anonymity in rape cases to defendants? It contrasted with “we will consider” finding ways to invest in new rape crisis centres. I also hear that we are now “considering” anonymity. May we have an early debate on the Stern review, which said that there was no compelling evidence that anonymity protects men, but that there is a case for more research on that?
If the hon. Lady recalls what Stern said, she will know that the report also said that nor was there a case for the opposite. I have some sympathy with the case she makes for a debate on this important subject. Without making any firm commitments, and in light of the fact that I hope that we will have a Back-Bench business committee, I would like to find time for that important issue to be explored. However, I am not sure that what I said warranted the description “rowing back”.
May we have a debate to provide an opportunity for the Opposition to do something that they have not yet done, which is to say sorry? The terms of the debate will need to be set with care, given that the Opposition need to move on from their present condition of denial and being sorry only for themselves to one of penitence, regret and being sorry for the damage that they caused to the country while in government?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. What was remarkable yesterday in the urgent question was the total absence of any contrition from Opposition Members for the shambles in which they left this country.
I am looking at a photograph of a British National party councillor, Steve Batkin, with some individuals he describes as loyal patriots who are doing Nazi salutes outside a war memorial while clutching the British flag. It is even more poignant today, given the commemoration of Dunkirk. Will the Leader of the House consider making time for a statement, perhaps from the Minister of State for Schools, about the appropriateness or otherwise of BNP councillors who hold such appalling views and who consort with such individuals serving on governing bodies such as that of Edensor high school in my constituency?
The whole House will share the hon. Gentleman’s views about the offensive nature of that photograph. Of course I will raise with the Schools Minister the specific issue about the appropriateness of certain individuals serving on school governing bodies.
First, may I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his appointment? I am sure that he will do a superb job.
I welcome his abolition of the regional Select Committees. However, will he consider reinstating an annual general debate on London, in Government time, so that we may have an opportunity to raise a wide variety of issues, as we used to have in the past?
I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend’s point as I used to be a London Member and take part in those regular debates. Without giving any firm commitment, I shall see whether we can move in the direction that my hon. Friend suggests.
May I thank the Leader of the House and his deputy for redeeming, in very short order, the promise to the House that Back Benchers should be able to decide which debates we have in Back-Bench time? We have heard today some very good examples from Members on both sides of the House. Does he accept that if Back Benchers can prove that they can run their own time effectively, and Parliament can run its own time effectively, it adds to the urgency of bringing forward a fully fledged business committee so that Parliament, not Government, decides the agenda of this House?
May I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s work in this and the previous Parliament on carrying forward the agenda for reform? I have seen the motions on the Order Paper that he has tabled. I hope that he will recognise that the commitment that we have given to introduce within three years a House committee goes further than we got in the previous Parliament. I want to get the Back-Bench committee up and running, and when that is firmly established, to move on to the next stage of merging it with a House committee. Therefore, I think that there is no difference between us on destination and I hope that there is no disagreement either on pace.
Could we have a debate as soon as possible on the allocation of health funding? Mindful, as I am, of the vote of the whole House shortly on the chairmanship of Select Committees, I must point out none the less that the Labour party put in place a gerrymandered allocation of health funding, which means that the good people of the East Riding, for instance, have only £1,200 per head spent on their health care, whereas the people of Hull, who are much younger and generally fitter, receive 50% more. It is simply wrong.
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and if he is quick he can table—I think—an oral question for 2 June, when the Health Secretary will be at the Dispatch Box and in a position to deal with the inequities to which my hon. Friend refers.
Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on advice given by civil servants to Ministers, with particular reference to the advice used by the Chief Secretary yesterday to say that the future jobs fund, which many of us regard as a major success of the previous Government, is not working? We would all like to see that advice. Will the Leader of the House assure us that we can have a debate on that matter?
There will be a debate on that matter, because the Department for Work and Pensions has a day in the debate on the Queen’s Speech. The fund is not being abolished; it is being phased out and fed into—[Laughter.] It is not being abolished with immediate effect; it is being run down, and the new work programme will take over. As I said, however, there will be an opportunity during the Queen’s Speech debate for the hon. Gentleman to press the issue about the advice given to Ministers.
Can I ask for a debate on Government co-ordination of business unemployment support? The biggest private sector firm in my constituency has just gone into administration, leading to the immediate loss of 650 jobs in Hartlepool. I am concerned that those people will find it difficult to secure alternative employment, yet the Department charged with helping business has been asked to find the biggest cuts. We have just helpfully heard from the Leader of the House that the future jobs fund, which has been so important and successful in Hartlepool, is being phased out. What reassurance can he give me that those workers, who, through no fault of their own, have lost their jobs, will be able to get support, despite the best efforts of the new Government?
All existing commitments under that programme will be honoured, and it will be replaced by a different programme that we hope will be more cost-effective. Of course, I will raise with Ministers at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills the hon. Gentleman’s point about support being extended to those in his constituency who face the loss of their jobs.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) has pointed out the uncertainty surrounding the future of One NorthEast, the regional development agency in the north-east. At the same time, the recent cuts targeted BIS and the Department for Communities and Local Government. We all know that we need to build up manufacturing and industry, particularly in the north-east and the green industries. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on how we are to do that and how regional development agencies will be funded to support it?
The hon. Lady makes her point very forcefully. Next Thursday there will be questions to the relevant Minister, and she may like to table a question and use the opportunity during questions to that Department to get a substantive answer.
Given that Ministers of this Conservative Government, particularly those sporting a yellow tie, are positively salivating at the prospect of imposing swingeing cuts which less than a month ago they were campaigning against, when can we have a debate on the economic nonsense of the Government’s saying that they will fully fund the Crossrail project—a good decision—and yet, at the same time, significantly undermining Crossrail’s value for money by cancelling the third runway at Heathrow?
We made a firm manifesto commitment on the third runway at Heathrow, which the hon. Gentleman would expect us to honour. I welcome his support for what we said on Crossrail. It is an important project that we want to take through. However, if he wants to press the Transport Secretary more fully on the funding issues, there will be an opportunity to do so at Transport questions.
The Leader of the House will know that, in the previous Parliament, all parties supported the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics in London. In the light of the change of Government and the many new Members, may we have an early debate—perhaps a topical debate—about the future of the Olympics, given that the Government have announced £6 billion-worth of cuts, including some to the infrastructure relating to the Olympic games, and more worryingly, cuts in the departmental spending of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which could affect the ability of our athletes and para-athletes who are now in training to be successful?
The Government are determined to make the 2012 Olympics a success, but in view of the interest of a large number of new Members I take on board the hon. Gentleman’s point about a bid for a topical debate on the future of the Olympics.
I was going to welcome the right hon. Gentleman wholeheartedly to his new post, because he is a fine and decent man, and he will have a splendid deputy and wonderful staff to back him up. However, he has let himself down today. He should surely not be defending the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions announcing elsewhere what he is planning to do about benefits, which will affect many of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society, rather than bringing that decision to this House. The Leader of the House also said that he deplored the leaking of the Queen’s Speech, but he is not announcing any practical measures to ensure that the person who did it is sacked. Is he really going to be a proper Leader of the House or is he just going to use all the phrases that we used in the past?
Order. I feel sure that there was a request for a debate or a statement and I just did not hear it.
I recall the hon. Gentleman answering business questions in the previous Parliament, when the Leader of the House was not here, and using some of the expressions that I may have used this morning. However, on his substantive point, there was nothing in the speech by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions that announced any change of Government policy. It was a scene-setting speech about his approach to welfare reform, and it was perfectly appropriate for him to make his speech in that forum. He will appear before the House in the debate on the Queen’s Speech, when the hon. Gentleman can press him further.
This morning a journalist on the Sheffield Star, Richard Marsden, rang to inform me that a meeting to which local councillors in the east midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber had been invited to discuss the proposed route of the high-speed rail link to Sheffield and Leeds had been cancelled. That seems to be the clearest indication that the Government have decided to abandon the high-speed rail route to Sheffield and Leeds, and that the Deputy Prime Minister has abandoned my city of Sheffield. Once again a decision has been made with no statement to this House. Could we rectify the situation at the first instance?
I am always cautious when a reporter rings me up with a story, and I do not always believe everything that I am told. However, I will make some inquiries about the hon. Gentleman’s point and get somebody from the Department for Transport to contact him as soon as they can.
Can we have an early statement on the Government’s national planning statement, in view of the fact that they have scrapped the Infrastructure Planning Commission? The issue is particularly important to those of us on the Opposition Benches, on whom the Government will be relying for controversial decisions on nuclear power and energy projects, because they have decided that their junior partner can have the day off on those occasions.
There will be an opportunity to debate the Government’s proposals on housing and planning, because they will be in a Bill that will be introduced in this Session. That will be the opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to make his points.
I welcome the suggestion by the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) for a debate about saying sorry, so that those of us on the Labour Benches can say that we are not sorry that we prevented the global recession from turning into a global depression; we are not sorry that we kept half a million people in work who otherwise would not be in work; we are not sorry that we kept businesses going that would have closed; and we are not sorry that we will never ever say that unemployment is a price worth paying.
Again, there was absolutely no recognition at all from the hon. Gentleman of the problems that this country now faces because of the irresponsible way in which the outgoing Government borrowed £3 billion a week, with no plans for rebalancing the country’s books.
Can we have a debate about the poor quality of the teaching of history in our so-called great public schools? What else could explain the Deputy Prime Minister’s comment that his reforms represent the most important reforms since the Great Reform Act of 1832, including universal suffrage, apart perhaps from his innate tendency towards sanctimonious hyperbole?
I am not sure that that directly related to the future business of the House, but the Deputy Prime Minister will be replying to one of the days of debate on the Queen’s Speech. I will make a point of drawing his attention to the comments that the hon. Gentleman has just made and ensuring that he gets a robust reply.
Could we have a debate on the role, responsibility and competence of the Electoral Commission, following not only the well publicised problems during the general election but the less publicised problem that arose for Members such as myself who are historically described as Labour and Co-operative party candidates? We were told by the Electoral Commission that that description was no longer valid, which caused enormous confusion at a very sensitive time during the election campaign and could have disqualified us from standing.
I am sorry to hear that, and I wonder why that name had not already been registered with the Electoral Commission so that that problem need not have arisen. A large number of people were turned away from the polling stations at or around 10 o’clock, and that must never happen again. We must ensure that those who want to vote are entitled to vote. I take on board the hon. Gentleman’s request for a debate, before our memories of the recent election fade, to determine in what ways the quality of the election and the way in which it was delivered might be improved.
I am grateful to right hon. and hon. Members for their co-operation, which has enabled 42 Members to question the Leader of the House in 41 minutes. That is a very good start indeed, and I hope that that will continue.
I should like to make a relatively brief statement. May I congratulate all Members on their success in being elected to this, the 55th Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? In particular, I should like to congratulate those who have been elected to the House for the first time—the largest number of new Members since 1997. The House always has sympathy with former Members who have lost out in the electoral contest, but there is no doubt that it also benefits from the regular infusion of fresh blood. I am sure that that will be true on this occasion.
I draw Members’ attention in particular to the House’s code of conduct, which we should all observe in letter and in spirit. Members are answerable for their conduct in this place not just to the House but to the public. While the new Parliament gives the House the opportunity to put behind us the events of the last few years, we cannot expect to be under any less scrutiny than our predecessors. At the same time, we should explain to the public how we work on behalf of our constituents.
On receiving royal approbation for my re-election as Speaker, I made the traditional claim to Her Majesty for all the House’s ancient and undoubted rights and privileges, particularly to freedom of speech in debate. That is at the very heart of what we do here for our constituents, and it allows us to conduct our debates without fear of outside interference, but it is a freedom that we need to exercise responsibly in the public interest, and taking into account the interests of others outside this House. I would encourage any Member to research carefully and to take advice before exercising this freedom in sensitive or individual cases.
I should like also to reiterate three key points about security. First: wear your photo-identity pass while you are on the parliamentary estate and take it off when you leave. The pass is particularly helpful for enabling our security and police officers to get to know who Members are, and with large numbers of people working here and visiting, it must be immediately apparent that people are in the right place and helped when they are not. Secondly, you are responsible for the behaviour of your visitors and for ensuring they are escorted in non-public areas of the estate. Thirdly, security is everyone’s responsibility. Please be vigilant and tell the Serjeant at Arms about any concerns you have on the subject. I will write to all Members soon with my updated guidance on conventions and courtesies of the House. Most of these will already be familiar from the “New Members’ guidebook”.
I have one last request to make of Members: brevity. If I am to fulfil my promise to champion the rights of Back Benchers, I want to be able to call as many as possible to ask questions and speak in debate. It is a simple equation: the shorter each question, the more Members may ask one. I will inevitably show my impatience when questions—and answers—are too long, and the more concise you are in debates, the more likely it is that others can speak and that you can do so next time.
Yesterday, I announced the timing of the ballot for the election of Deputy Speakers on Tuesday 8 June. I am now announcing an extension to the time, in order to allow Members to take part in the ballot and to attend the service for the new Parliament in St Margaret’s, which is being held that morning. The ballot for the election of Deputy Speakers will therefore be open from 10 am to 12 noon on Tuesday 8 June.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. In this age of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, and in light of your remarks about seeking advice, will you reassure us that we will be able to talk to a human being and interact with the Clerks rather than have to put it all in an e-mail to your good self?
The whole issue of IPSA and concerns about it have already been significantly aired this morning, and the hon. Gentleman was in his place for business questions and can testify to that himself. He will also have heard the Leader of the House indicate his readiness to play his part, as appropriate, with others in ensuring that there is a good, smooth and fair new system. It would, frankly, be superfluous for me to say anything more on the subject today, but the hon. Gentleman has given another object lesson to new Members in how to ensure that he gets his point on the record.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. With regard to your particular comments about security, which is certainly a very important issue, the Leader of the House announced earlier that we will be coming back for a two-week period in September. If I remember correctly, on a previous occasion when that happened, we had security issues because of the amount of maintenance on the parliamentary estate, and I think that that is when the pro-hunt protesters broke into the Chamber. Will you provide some reassurance, Mr Speaker, that you will take this matter on board and ensure that the appropriate authorities are looking at issues of both maintenance and security on the parliamentary estate, given that we are returning for that two-week period?
The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly reasonable point. All these matters have been, and will continue to be, taken on board. Although what the hon. Gentleman says about the past is, of course, entirely right, he will be well aware that we have entered a brave new world. That is the situation.
Debate on the Address
Debate resumed (Order, 26 May)
Question again proposed,
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign,
We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
Energy and Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
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?
I shall deal with that issue later, but I certainly believe that it is crucial for us to inject a real sense of urgency into the aspects of our agenda that concern climate change and energy security.
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.
Will the Secretary of State explain to the House his policy on nuclear power and on nuclear energy meeting the future energy needs of this country, and while he is doing so, will he also explain the policy of the Government?
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—
Order. May I just say to the right hon. Gentleman that I am not factoring in anything?
Indeed. Is the Secretary of State factoring in new nuclear power when it comes to carbon emissions? Does he recognise that in order to drive forward new nuclear power he must play a decisive, hands-on role?
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.
Oh, some help from the right hon. Lady. How kind of her.
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.
Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?
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.
My hon. Friend anticipates a later section of my speech. He makes a very important point.
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.
Much as I admire the chutzpah with which the shadow Secretary of State approaches this leadership speech, I see no recognition in his remarks of the appalling legacy that he has bequeathed us.
Before the shadow Secretary of State replies, I remind new Members that the procedure is that you do not intervene on an intervention, even if it is a rather long one.
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.
My hon. Friend gives the House and the Secretary of State an economics lecture.
The Secretary of State is obviously feeling wounded.
On a matter of fact, may I point out that while Governments sometimes have to refinance parts of their debt, they have to finance their budget deficit? It is the budget deficit that is scaring the markets, not the levels of overall debt.
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.
What a great choice! I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson).
Does my right hon. Friend agree that part of the industrial revolution in the north-east is driven and supported by the regional development agency, another thing that will disappear under the coalition Government?
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—
It is. Business speaks to me. The Secretary of State might be talking to one company, but he has not talked to the companies that want to invest billions in my constituency.
My hon. Friend makes his point eloquently. The uncertainty and the scrapping of the IPC are dogma.
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?
I agree with my hon. Friend.
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.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point: the demand for electricity is likely to increase, not decrease—even with measures on energy efficiency.
The right hon. Gentleman delivers an eloquent speech, but would it not have much more credibility if he were to admit that the Labour party had 13 years to give us energy security and did nothing about it?
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.
Order. At this point in the proceedings, I must remind hon. Members that Mr Speaker has imposed a limit of 12 minutes on Back Benchers’ speeches.
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.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
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