House of Commons
Thursday 1 July 2010
The House met at half-past Ten o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Energy and Climate Change
The Secretary of State was asked—
We support modern energy generation from waste where local communities want it and where it makes good environmental sense. It is the responsibility of local authority managers and planners, and the local authorities themselves of course, to decide on the best waste management arrangements in their areas. Recognising the concern that incineration can raise, the Government are committed to a huge expansion in energy from waste using anaerobic digestion, and we are taking steps to drive progress and greater ambition in that area. In Germany, for example, combustion recovery energy-from-waste plants provide 7.5% of renewable energy.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. In light of the policy, does he understand the concerns of my constituents in Shepshed, who are facing the building of an incinerator at Newhurst quarry, which is both a site of special scientific interest and on the edge of the national forest, as well as another possible incinerator not 6 miles away? Will he encourage local authorities seriously to pursue alternative waste management strategies?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. The latest scientific evidence on the health effects of modern municipal waste incinerators—this might be reassuring for her constituents—was reviewed independently by the Health Protection Agency. Its report, published in September 2009, concluded that although it is not possible to rule out adverse health effects completely, any potential damage from modern, well-run and regulated incinerators is likely to be so small as to be undetectable.
I commend to the Secretary of State the report on energy-from-waste issues by the New Local Government Network, which I had a hand in writing a couple of years ago. In particular, will he consider ameliorating some of the concerns that residents can have about incinerators, even the new generation incinerators? Although, as he says, they can be quite successful, local people get very concerned about them. Given the controversies that can arise, giving back to local residents the proceeds from the sale of some of the energy generated could make them slightly more palatable.
That is certainly an interesting model. It has been tried with other schemes, such as with wind turbines. I know of a wind farm in the highlands where that was the case. It certainly helps to get local support for particular schemes. However, fundamentally it has to be a local decision for the local authority. Local authorities know very well that we want to recycle first before going through to waste and energy recovery, but very high rates of recycling and energy from waste can co-exist. In the Netherlands, for example, there is a 65% recycling rate with 33% energy from waste. Local authorities must make their own decisions on this, but if they get the waste hierarchy right they can get the whole mix right.
2. What plans he has for the development of nuclear power in the UK.
The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Chris Huhne): The Government are committed to removing any unnecessary obstacles and allowing the construction of new nuclear power stations to contribute to our energy security and climate change goals, provided that they receive no public subsidy. The Government will complete the drafting of the nuclear national policy statement, which will be put before Parliament for ratification as soon as possible. The Office for Nuclear Development continues. The Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), has announced a new streamlined system to replace the Infrastructure Planning Commission. We will publish an updated timetable for the production of all national policy statements, including the energy national policy statements, later in the summer. On new public subsidies, the former and new Chief Secretaries to the Treasury have pointed out that there is no money left. (4934)
The Secretary of State has referred to nuclear power and nuclear energy as a tried, tested and failed source of energy with huge costs and huge risks. That is in stark contrast to the policy of the Tory Government. Given this huge conflict in policies within the coalition, will the Secretary of State tell the House what impact those differences will have on the future energy requirements of the UK and, in particular, on the development of new nuclear plants?
The hon. Gentleman knows that it was precisely because there were very clear differences between the Conservative part of the coalition and the Liberal Democrat part of the coalition that we dealt with that as one of the key issues—we reached agreement on how we would treat it—in the first coalition agreement. We set out very clearly that there will be a framework in which there will be no public subsidy for nuclear, but that if investors come forward with proposals they will without any doubt be able to get them through the House of Commons, as there is a majority on the hon. Gentleman’s side of the House in favour of nuclear power, and the Conservative party is in favour of nuclear power.
I must say that the hon. Gentleman does a slight injustice to my personal position, which has been very clear. As an economist, I am sceptical about the economics of nuclear power, but I recognise that it is entirely up to investors to make that decision. If there is no public subsidy and if investors think that it is worth taking the risk, as they increasingly do, looking forward to rising oil and gas prices and a rising carbon price, they will take those decisions.
Will my right hon. Friend reassure the House that he will not be put off building nuclear power stations by exaggerated fears of the dangers of disposing of nuclear waste in one or two sites, especially as those who promote those fears seem to have no doubts about the problems of sequestering CO2 from carbon storage and capture in thousands of sites for thousands of years?
My right hon. Friend makes a very good point about the importance of continuing the Government’s efforts to deal with the legacy of nuclear waste and decommissioning as a reassurance to those involved in new nuclear build that the problem will be dealt with properly. The Government have that very much in hand.
Can the Secretary of State explain why it was right to give a grant to Nissan to make electric cars—a proposal we support—but wrong to provide a commercial loan to help a British company, Sheffield Forgemasters, to be at the centre of the nuclear supply chain, particularly in light of the admission by the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk), that £110 million would have come back to the Government from that loan and that the Government would have got extra money if the company had made a profit?
The right hon. Gentleman knows that the loan to Sheffield Forgemasters was not a commercial loan. If it had been, it would have been arranged through the banks and not the Government. It was precisely because of the public subsidy element and the fact that that was not affordable that the Government decided not to proceed with it.
The Secretary of State is quite wrong about this, because the money was set aside from the strategic investment fund. A process was gone through at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills about whether the loan would give value for money, and the Industrial Development Advisory Board concluded that it would be. Is not the truth that we have a combination of the short-sightedness of the Conservative party, which sees no role for Government in creating the green industries of the future, and the prejudices of the right hon. Gentleman against nuclear power?
I assure the right hon. Gentleman that my prejudices, whether they exist or not other than in his imagination, did not enter into this decision. It was simply unaffordable in the context of the fiscal legacy that he and his friends left this House. We have it on no less an authority than his colleague the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury that there is no money left.
We want communities to benefit directly from any wind farms that they host. That is why we will allow councils to keep the additional business rates paid by wind farms and support communities in having a stake in appropriately sited renewable energy projects such as wind farms.
I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware of the proposal to build a wind farm near to Stoke by Clare in my constituency, which is in the area of the country that was most often painted by John Constable? What powers will local people have to decide whether that would be appropriate?
I am very much aware of that proposal because my hon. Friend has been so assiduous in promoting the concerns of his constituents. We are very keen to ensure that such developments have local support. We want to see more local community partnerships in this area and more financial benefit going to those communities. Of course, planning decisions should take account of environmental concerns as well.
The Secretary of State has mentioned the coalition Government’s new streamlined planning policy. Does that include, in relation to wind power and large wind farms, a Welsh dimension? Will the Welsh Assembly Government be consulted on it and will there be Welsh representation on the new planning unit?
We have had discussions with members of the Welsh Assembly Government and we are keen to find a way of continuing to make key infrastructure decisions within the Department of Energy and Climate Change, but of course we understand the desire of local communities in Wales to have their voices fully heard.
In addition to considering the opinions of the public and residents regarding the location of wind farms, does the Minister plan to give any guidance to local councils on how close to private homes such wind farms may be built?
We have looked at that issue. It seems rather peculiar to set a minimum distance for a wind farm but not for a nuclear power station. We need sensible and sound national policy guidance that enables local councils to make the appropriate decisions, but we will continue to look at all the environmental issues relating to the applications.
The right hon. Lady is very much aware that we have a legally binding requirement from the EU that renewable sources must supply 15% of our total energy needs by 2020. The former Labour Government set a target for achieving that, whereas we are working out how to deliver it—something that they signally failed to do—in order to make sure that we have a robust policy that stands the test of time.
So the Tories won again. In our manifesto, we said that every council should have a local target to help meet the national target, which was indeed 15%. The Liberal Democrats agreed with that. Is that now the Government’s policy, or have the Tories won again? Will Liberal Democrat and Tory councils still be saying, “Not in my back yard”?
The right hon. Lady fails to understand how the coalition works. We have—[Interruption.] We have identified ways to work very constructively together. We are absolutely committed to the principle of localism, which means allowing local people, communities and councils to decide on the issues that affect them most. That lies at the heart of our approach, but we are working out how to deliver on our policies—something that she significantly failed to do in government. It is fine to have ambitious targets, but without the real road map for 2020—and way beyond, to 2050—that we are putting in place, there was no hope of delivering on her high ambitions.
Energy Supply Security
The coalition agreement set out that we will reform energy markets to deliver security of supply and investment in low-carbon energy, and to ensure fair competition, including a review of the role of Ofgem. We will instruct Ofgem to establish a security guarantee of energy supplies, and we will give an annual energy statement to Parliament to set strategic energy policy and guide investment.
In addition, we are bringing forward a green deal as part of the key legislation for the first Session. That will help to close the gap between energy demand and supply in the cheapest way possible, through energy-saving measures.
I have enormous respect for engineers. There are an awful lot of them in my constituency, which is a very manufacturing constituency. Therefore, I think and hope that the country will go on providing greater status to engineers than has often been the case in the past. I am afraid that the question of whether the Government should appoint a chief engineer is above my pay grade, but perhaps my hon. Friend would like to raise it at Prime Minister’s questions.
The UK’s energy import dependency will increase over the next 10 or 20 years, at a time when global demand for energy could increase by 40% over 10 or so years. Given that, what plans are there to reorganise the machinery of government, so that DECC, the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and other agencies can get a better assessment and grip of the geopolitical risks that the UK faces?
I am very grateful for that highly intelligent question which, given his interest in this area, is what I would expect from the right hon. Gentleman. The National Security Council is explicitly charged with the co-ordination of energy security. That will go across Government: it will not be confined to my Department, but will include the Foreign Office and other interested Departments.
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, in that the figures show that, on the worst possible projections, our energy import dependence may well rise from 27% to over half in the space of just 10 years. This is a really key issue, which we need to address.
The move to a low-carbon and eco-friendly economy is a key priority for the coalition Government. Issues relating to increasing the number of green jobs in the economy were discussed when I met my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills in June, recently in the context of low-emission vehicles when I met the Secretary of State for Transport, and at the regional Cabinet on Tuesday.
I am grateful for the answer. North-east England and in particular the Tees valley have major opportunities to develop green jobs and approaches to energy generation that could make a significant contribution to the national economy. That would be further boosted if the Government stood by the Lib-Dem election promise of £400 million-worth of investment in former shipyards to create those green jobs. Can he please tell me what commitment there is to support the development of demonstration activities such as carbon capture and storage, and to the investment promised by the Lib-Dems but omitted from the coalition’s programme for government?
Let me make it clear that we continue to be committed to carbon capture and storage, and the four demonstration projects are going ahead. It is a key part of our energy strategy for the future, because it is the swing form of electricity generation. If we have intermittent wind and nuclear comes on stream if investors make those decisions, which because of the economics will be running at full tilt, gas and coal carbon capture and storage will be the key elements. That is a clear commitment—I hope—across the House.
We are also looking at the provision through the ports competition scheme of facilities for offshore wind. I was particularly impressed when I recently visited the All Energy conference in Aberdeen and talked, for example, to Burntisland Fabrications about the way in which it has converted from oil and gas to offshore wind.
One of the projects in my constituency which has a great deal of potential to create green jobs is the wave hub project in Hayle. One of the obstacles to taking that forward is the lack of a strategic environmental assessment. Under the previous Government, the Department was slow to look at this issue. Is the Secretary of State willing to have conversations with officials about how to speed things up?
I am happy for my hon. Friend to write with the details. We will certainly do whatever we can to speed up the project. Wave is a key new technology which can provide us not only with our renewable energy needs but give the UK a real comparative advantage.
Given that it has been admitted in a written answer that the coalition has no target for green jobs, would the Secretary of State like to borrow ours? It was 1.2 million by 2015.
I welcome the hon. Lady to her new role and I am glad to see that she is getting stuck in. I thought the whole point about new Labour was that it believed in a market economy. The last sort of organisation that set targets for jobs sector by sector was the Soviet Union’s Gosplan, and we all know what happened to that.
Carbon Dioxide Emissions
6. What recent estimate he has made of the likely cost to the public purse of the implementation of the Government’s commitment to reduce the level of carbon dioxide emissions by 10% in the next 12 months. (4939)
The target will be met at no overall cost to the public purse. Where savings cannot be made through no-cost measures and behavioural change, Departments will be responsible for finding any additional investment in their existing budgets to deliver the Government’s commitment, or using innovative shared saving contracts or similar energy service company—ESCO— arrangements. Showing real leadership in this area is an important part of our plan to be the greenest Government ever and will help us to deliver savings from reduced energy bills, but as I have said, it is only the first step in a long-term strategy to reduce Government emissions and increase efficiency across the whole public sector.
The hon. Gentleman is slightly misinformed as to what we promised. We said that there was a clear need for Government to take responsibility for getting their own house in order, which the previous Administration signally failed to do in 13 years. We are committed to 10% in the coming year, but we see it as part of a much more ambitious longer-term strategy across the public sector.
In the emergency Budget the coalition Government confirmed their intention to establish a green deal for all households and for business. The green deal will enable individuals to invest in home energy-efficiency improvements that can pay for themselves from the savings in energy bills, without any up-front costs and without their incurring any form of personal debt or charge on their property. We have committed in the Queen’s speech to legislate in a first Session energy Bill for finance tied to the energy meter, which should allow for the full green deal to be available by 2012. Only yesterday the Government announced that we are extending the carbon emissions reduction target through to the end of 2012.
I thank my hon. Friend for that very full answer. In my constituency many households are living in fuel poverty. Will my hon. Friend explain exactly how households will be able directly to access the grant to help tackle fuel poverty and reduce fuel bills?
The green deal is not a grant; it is designed to be repaid through the savings made on bills over 25 years. The beauty of the green deal is that, unlike any previous proposal, it will be totally unrelated to the household’s ability to pay. It will simply be repaid, regardless of the credit scoring or wealth status of the individuals in the household. Of course, other measures will always be needed to make sure that fuel-vulnerable and hard-to-treat properties have direct financial support.
Is the Minister aware that another source of useful efficiency savings in the domestic sector would be ground source heat pumps, as part of the renewables initiative? I see the Secretary of State nodding. Through his Minister, I can tell him that a company in my constituency which is very big in this area has jobs that it can create and orders in hand that it is ready to commit to. It seeks a meeting with the Secretary of State; it is not for the Minister to reply on that, but I would be grateful if the matter could be taken seriously in the Department.
We are very supportive of new technology, and I am well aware of the potential of ground source heat pumps. We want to enable a whole universe of new technologies to be part of the renewables solution. If the hon. Gentleman’s constituents would like to meet me, I would be very happy to do so.
Oil Fabrication Construction Sites
8. What recent assessment he has made of the potential for former onshore oil fabrication construction sites to be used for construction activity relating to sustainable forms of energy; and if he will make a statement. (4942)
Many UK sites have potential for development in areas such as offshore wind, as indicated in the “UK Offshore Wind Ports Prospectus”, and for wave and tidal energy. Many of them are in Scotland, where the Scottish Government are currently taking a strategic approach to the sector.
In thanking my right hon. Friend for that reply I draw his attention to the great potential offered by the Nigg site, which is built around the largest dry dock in Europe, and, on the west coast of my constituency, the Kishorn site, which successfully contributed to massive North sea oil platform construction in days gone by. Will my right hon. Friend work as closely as possible with the Scottish Government, the Highland council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise to promote internationally the interests of those two sites?
I am very pleased to reassure my right hon. Friend that my officials have already advised me about the potential for Kishorn and Nigg, and we will be working closely with all the relevant authorities to try to create the maximum number of jobs and make sure that their potential is realised to the full.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement. He was scornful about Gosplan a few moments ago, but there is a role for Government, as the right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Mr Kennedy) indicated. The Secretary of State really cannot write Government out of government.
The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that I am not one—nor are any of my ministerial colleagues—to write Government out of government. There is an enormous difference between the Government’s facilitating and setting a framework for the development of decisions made principally by market actors and what the hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) was suggesting, which was a sectoral jobs target. I have not seen that in any economy in western Europe or any developed market economy; it has been seen only in the former plan economies.
Electricity Transmission Lines
It is for transmission network companies to put forward proposals for new transmission lines. The regulatory price control and planning processes then determine the appropriate balance between the need, costs and impacts of transmission lines in each location. Each case has to be considered on its merits.
I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. Is he aware that the people of Wells in particular and Somerset generally—some 26,000 people—are hugely dependent on tourism? That is inextricably linked with the environment, the landscape and people’s health, and even though a large area of my constituency has the potential to become the 17th world heritage site, potential is not enough in itself to protect people from the environmental vandalism, attendant health risks and other matters that come with placing 152-ft pylons across the landscape.
My hon. Friend made those points very effectively in her eloquent maiden speech yesterday, on which I congratulate her. I know that she and her constituents will make active representations to National Grid during its consultation process. That is absolutely the right way for her to take her concerns forward, and I urge her to take every opportunity to do so.
Have the Tory-Lib Dem Front-Bench team detected that their lofty ideals are being frustrated at every turn by every Government Back Bencher who is frustrating the development of a real green policy by constantly putting forward objections to any proposals for development in their constituency? How will the Minister solve that problem?
It is called local democracy, to which we are absolutely committed. If people have concerns about 150-ft pylons going through their communities, they should be able to express them. If people have concerns about new development, they should be allowed to express them. We are trying to ensure a realistic balance between bringing on stream renewable energy sources, which are in the national interest, and allowing communities to express their views.
Carbon Capture and Storage
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. The Government will continue public sector investment in carbon capture and storage—CCS—technology for four coal-fired power stations. The Committee on Climate Change has recommended that we give serious consideration to funding at least one gas CCS project as part of that programme, and we are carefully evaluating whether a demonstration project on gas would prove beneficial and add value to the programme.
My hon. Friend puts his finger on one of the most important issues that the previous Government failed to address. If we are to make a real success of carbon capture and storage, we have to develop the infrastructure of oversized pipelines and encourage clusters of those facilities in certain areas. We have to take a long-term strategic view, and a good deal of work is being done in Yorkshire and Humberside, on which I congratulate all those involved.
Has the Minister had any discussions with the Scottish Government about the development of carbon capture in Scotland, and in particular has he received any representations on the proposed new coal-fired plant at Hunterston?
I had an initial discussion with the First Minister last week, and we are determined to work closely through the respect agenda to ensure that the taking forward of devolved issues is fully within the Scottish Government’s remit. We want clean coal to play an active part in our energy policy, but it must be genuinely clean coal.
Projected Electricity Generation
It will be important to ensure that the UK has secure electricity supplies and an adequate capacity margin over the course of this decade and into the 2020s. Our programme for government is clear: we will reform energy markets to deliver an appropriate security of supply mechanism. The lights will stay on.
We will come forward with a lot more detail on that in the annual energy statement, which the hon. Gentleman will be able to examine for himself, but I assure him, as I said, that the lights will stay on. Inevitably, as new generating capacity comes on stream we will see the margin increase, and as the economy recovers we can expect that margin to shrink. However, he should also bear in mind what is going on with energy saving and, particularly, the development of smart meters and smart grids, whereby in the long run there will be a possibility of, for example, turning off freezers during power peaks, to reduce the need for electricity generation.
The Secretary of State’s faith in market solutions is touching—like that of all those with great religious fervour. However, can he give an example of anywhere in the world where the market has actually allocated secure energy supplies?
The hon. Gentleman should first be aware of what happens with some of the schemes in the United States—we are looking at them very closely—where there is a forward market in supply. That ensures that distributors have to buy forward supplies, while they can also, for example, buy forward commitments to energy saving, and in that way assure security. However, I would not want him to run away with the idea that I am somehow a market fundamentalist. I merely pointed out to the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) that there is an enormous difference between setting a good framework as regards this aspect of regulation and legislation and making micro-management decisions of the kind that the hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) seems to want us to make.
New Nuclear Power Stations
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. The coalition agreement is clear that there will be no public subsidy for new nuclear power stations—a view that I have communicated to a variety of stakeholders with a diverse range of views. In particular, I have received strong representations from the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer. Does he agree that while the costs of generating nuclear power may well be competitive, there is still considerable work to be done to ensure that the costs—as yet unknown—of decommissioning and waste disposal are included in any calculations and do not end up posing a significant risk to future taxpayers?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight that matter. The effect of failing to take account of these costs can be seen very dramatically in my own Department’s budget for dealing with the nuclear legacy of the very many years when we failed to make adequate provision for waste and decommissioning. It is precisely because of those warnings that we in the ministerial team are absolutely determined that that will not happen again.
The Secretary of State implied that my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery) and the shadow Secretary of State were in some way misleading—in fact, I think he referred to fantasy—in their suggestions about his prejudice against nuclear power. Does he recall his own representation of 5 November 2007, in which he said,
“Ministers must stop the side-show of new nuclear power stations now”?
Can he reflect on that representation and see whether he is going to take it on board?
The hon. Gentleman knows very well that my line on new nuclear has always been based on scepticism about the economics. As he knows, no nuclear power station has been built on commercial terms anywhere in the world since Three Mile Island. That may be about to change because of the framework of prospective oil and gas prices and carbon prices. It is up to investors to take those decisions.
Carbon Emissions (EU Target)
The Government believe that despite the current challenging outlook for a binding global agreement on carbon emissions, the EU should be taking a more ambitious leadership role. We will be urging our European partners to agree an early EU move to the 30% reduction target. That would put Europe firmly on a path to a low-carbon economy, stimulating innovation and efficiency and meeting the twin challenges of climate change and energy security. The details of how the EU would implement a higher target are yet to be agreed.
I thank the Minister for that answer and for the leadership that the Government are giving on this issue. Can he give an indication of the realistic possibility of the EU’s actually hitting that target; and are other countries as committed to it as we are in this country?
I think it is fair to say that we are taking a leadership role. There are concerns among other partners about moving to a more ambitious target, but we will be playing a very positive and constructive role in Europe, and we hope to persuade them of our strong argument.
May I urge the Minister to come to Stoke-on-Trent in the near future to talk to the British Ceramics Confederation and pottery businesses to see how they are implementing their carbon reductions while trying to remain competitive in an increasingly globalised market?
One of the most important European initiatives for our future energy supply and the efficient implementation of renewable energy is the European super-grid. The previous Labour Government equivocated over the super-grid; what is the view of this Government?
The current carbon price is simply not providing a sufficient incentive for low-carbon UK investment. That is one of the reasons why we are pushing for the EU to increase its target for cutting emissions to a 30% reduction by 2020. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State discussed that when he met our European counterparts at the Environment Council on 11 June.
I thank the Minister for that answer, but is not the truth that the floor in the carbon price is a way of giving a hidden subsidy to new nuclear power stations? Given the difficulties that already exist in the emissions trading scheme with the free permits being given to heavy industry, how will he convince European partners to go along with the idea? If he cannot, is it the Government’s intention to introduce a carbon floor price in the UK alone?
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in the Budget that we would publish plans for a UK carbon floor price in the autumn. It is a key part of our plans for a transition to a low-carbon economy. We see that transition as an advantage and a competitive economic opportunity for the UK, but critical to that is providing a long-term strategic framework for industry to invest with confidence and certainty.
Energy Supply (Security)
I have to say, I thought we had had this question on security of energy supply before.
Excuse my reluctance to be repetitive, Mr Speaker.
We are determined to increase the UK’s security of supply, for precisely the reasons that I gave in answer to the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) earlier. Our energy import dependence will increase dramatically over the next 10 years as oil and gas production from the North sea gradually diminishes. We have to work on our renewables and on energy saving to try to ensure that we are energy-secure. One element of that is not just physical security but resilience against price shock.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for reminding me of his answer, but I shall ask him another question. Does he have any plans to support the development of greater gas storage in Britain, both as a means of enhanced energy security and as a method of developing our gas wholesale market?
The Government are committed to removing any unnecessary obstacles and allowing the construction of new nuclear power stations to contribute to our energy security and climate change goals, provided that they receive no public subsidy.
I can assure the hon. Lady that the decision on Sheffield Forgemasters was taken because the particular project concerned was simply not affordable. I refer her to the earlier answer that I gave, stating that not just the current Chief Secretary to the Treasury but the former one has assured us that there is no money left.
We are committed to harnessing the tremendous benefits that a successful wave and tidal renewable energy sector can bring to the UK and are considering specific measures, such as marine energy parks, to achieve that.
The hon. Gentleman makes a key point. Under the last Government, 95% of the infrastructure and turbines for one of the largest offshore wind projects was built abroad. We cannot allow that to happen, and we have a policy of marine parks to ensure that that does not happen with this nascent, potentially world-beating British technology.
I understand the hon. Lady’s interest in this potentially important project. Ministers are currently considering the evidence from the two-year cross-Government Severn tidal power feasibility study with a view to deciding whether the Government can support a tidal power scheme on the Severn estuary, and if so, on what terms. I cannot say anything today, but we expect to make an announcement shortly.
I have several engagements in the diary.
That is a very reassuring answer—[Laughter.] Every family in this country is paying extra on its electricity bill to subsidise non-nuclear wind and solar power. Will the Secretary of State ensure that in future each electricity bill spells out in terms the extent of the extra money that that household has to pay to meet this Government’s policies in relation to the renewables obligation?
There will be measures in the energy Bill that we will bring forward later in this Session to improve the transparency of electricity and gas bills. As part of the annual energy statement, we are also committed to ensuring that there is complete transparency about the levels of cross-subsidy for all forms of activity in which the Department is involved.
May I say to the Secretary of State that the free-market philosophy that he increasingly embraces has led to the announcement this week of the abolition of the regional development agencies? There is real dismay across the country about that. How does he think the abolition will help to promote balanced economic growth and green jobs?
The right hon. Gentleman knows that we are very committed to ensuring that there is growth across the UK, especially in those regions where unemployment is high. That has been a focus of our activity. I do not think that the regional development agencies in their entirety are necessarily the best way of ensuring that, but we are going ahead with local economic partnerships and a range of other measures to ensure jobs and growth in the regions.
T4. The Environment Agency has just failed to make a determination on a much delayed application for a 100 KW hydroelectric scheme on the weir at Avoncliff in my constituency. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss the energy potential of the River Avon and how we can prevent the Environment Agency from being an obstacle to making progress in the future? (4961)
T2. The Minister will, I hope, be aware that there is real uncertainty and nervousness in the energy industry about the decision to scrap the Infrastructure Planning Commission, which is based in Bristol. What reassurances can he give me that whatever replaces that body will not delay the approval of infrastructure projects and will provide certainty to the industry so that it can plan ahead? (4958)
I hope the hon. Lady will have seen the reaction from the major energy companies this week to the statement made by the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark). It showed that there is absolute clarity. There will not be a delay and there will be a strict time scale for making decisions in these matters. However, we are determined to introduce greater democratic accountability and to ensure that the risk therefore of judicial review can be reduced.
T5. The loft insulation programme is most welcome from the point of view of saving money for households and for the environmental benefit. However, can the Secretary of State assure the House that there will be a particular focus on the vulnerable and those most susceptible to fuel poverty? (4962)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. Loft insulation is key. It has a very short payback period—less than a year in many cases—and he is absolutely right that there must be a focus, particularly on the fuel-poor. One of the great difficulties in this area is that the energy use among the people in the bottom decile of income distribution is enormously varied—it varies by a factor of six—which makes it particularly difficult to reach them. Insulation and energy-efficiency measures are key to dealing with that problem.
T3. Does the Secretary of State accept one of the main recommendations of the independent Committee on Climate Change report this week, which is that the Government need to do more to support the development of electric-powered vehicles? If so, does he not agree that it would be a short-sighted cut were the subsidies for the purchase of such vehicles to be removed in the comprehensive spending review? (4960)
The Government are committed to bringing forward low-emission vehicles. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is an Office for Low Emission Vehicles, which is run jointly by the Department for Transport, my Department and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and we recently had a meeting on the subject to progress the agenda. He can be assured that we are completely committed to it.
We are absolutely determined to move forward rather more quickly on smart metering. The position that we inherited—to roll out smart metering by 2020—was pathetically unambitious, and we are determined to bring it forward by some years. It will bring exactly the benefits that my hon. Friend talks about: encouraging microgeneration, helping with fuel poverty and really helping us to move towards a low-carbon economy.
T7. According to a recent Conservative party report, “Rebuilding Security”, the party advocates “policies designed for hunting” new UK oil reserves as well as offering “the right incentives to explore for and extract the remaining reserves of oil and gas”Does the Minister agree that a moratorium on all new deep-sea offshore drilling is essential, at least until a full investigation into the spill in the gulf of Mexico has been completed? (4965)
I do not agree with the hon. Lady on this issue. We have in place in the North sea the toughest environmental regime in the world. In the light of the tragedy in the gulf of Mexico, we have doubled the number of inspections and increased by half the number of inspectors. We have a very tough regime and we have a national interest in ensuring that we get the best possible return from the natural resources in the North sea.
Drax power station takes an enormous amount of natural material from constituencies such as Thirsk and Malton. It is also a renewable power supply and reduces CO2 emissions. How do the Government think we can increase and encourage expenditure in this exciting form of renewable energy?
I am seeing the chief executive of Drax almost immediately after Question Time today, so I will have the opportunity to explore that further with her. The co-firing of biomass can make an important contribution, but we have to be certain that it is done sustainably. There are questions about the great deal of shipping involved in the transportation of biomass, but it can certainly make a contribution to reducing our carbon emissions.
T8. I am sure the Secretary of State would agree that not only is he responsible for energy but that, as far as climate change goes, he has a duty to drive this policy through every aspect of Government. In that light, can he tell the House how many times this has been an agenda item before the Cabinet? (4966)
The hon. Gentleman is right that this is on the agenda across the Government. As I said earlier, we discussed this at, for example, the regional Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. We discussed the importance of green jobs and the impact that the growth of the green economy is likely to have, including outside the golden area of London and the south-east. That will remain a key focus in the Government’s work.
In my constituency there is a reapplication for a biofuel plant burning palm oil and jatropha. There is great fear that although they are renewable sources of energy, they are not sustainable. Can my hon. Friend please tell me what assessment he will be making of the eligibility of such fuels for renewables obligation certificates, which make such applications possible?
I did not say that I objected to them; I said that local communities had the right to object to them. That goes to the heart of local democracy. What we are saying is that local voices have to be heard in the process, and we are absolutely committed to making that happen. We have not set a rule for how far wind turbines should be from habitation—we share that position with the previous Government—because the one house that they are near could be the house of the person who wants to put them up. Therefore, having a rule would be to take a completely self-defeating approach.
The timber industry is a significant employer in Hexham. All of us support wood biomass, but there is currently a cross-party team, with Members from both the Labour Benches and our own, seeking to change the distorted energy subsidy for wood biomass. Would the ministerial team meet the cross-party team?
We are very clear that wood biomass has a key role to play, particularly in local energy economies, which we want to see developed to encourage a greater link between local communities and the energy that they consume—coppicing, for example, has great biodiversity as well as low-carbon advantages—so I would happily meet my hon. Friend and his team.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that no decision has yet been taken on the location of the headquarters of the proposed green investment bank? That being so, does he agree that Edinburgh would be an ideal location, particularly given what he just said about ensuring that green investment is not focused just in the south-east of England?
The hon. Gentleman knows that Edinburgh is an ideal location for many things, including a number of my hon. Friends. Decisions on the siting of the headquarters are perhaps a little way off, as we are still consulting on the exact shape of the investment bank, but I am sure that we will bear in mind the considerable advantages of his constituency when we come to make that judgment.
Is the Secretary of State aware that some extraordinary technological advances are being made by British private companies? One in particular—Marshall-Tufflex in my constituency—would like to come and see Ministers to show them the advances that it has made that could help with general carbon reduction.
The answer to that is that we have had discussions in Cabinet about the situation in the Falklands and the possibilities, in the longer run, of there being oil and gas, but they are not at the stage where decisions need to be taken. However, no doubt when the time comes an announcement will be made.
Following on from the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke), may I ask the Minister whether any steps are being taken to look into evening out the tariffs for electricity usage by card meter payments and by billing? I believe that there is a differential, so are there any plans to sort that out and make it easier for everyone to pay the same tariff, purely and simply because that would lead to energy conservation?
We have been very concerned indeed about the relatively higher tariffs that people on prepayment meters pay for the electricity and gas that they use. Addressing that will be one of the most significant gains of smart metering. If we look at the experience of Northern Ireland, where smart meters have already been largely rolled out, we see that people on prepayment meters pay less than people on standard tariffs. That is the sort of gain that we want to achieve for people right across the United Kingdom.
The hon. Gentleman asks an important question about the likely impact on research and development. We will obviously assess that when we know more fully the shape of what will be happening in the wake of the comprehensive spending review, but tough decisions will have to be taken. As I have said already, the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury told us clearly: there is no money left.
Business of the House
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has given notice to the shadow Leader of the House and to you, Mr Speaker, that he is attending a memorial service this morning. I will therefore be announcing the business and answering questions on his behalf. The business for the week commencing 5 July will include:
Monday 5 July—Motion relating to the Clear Line of Sight project, followed by opposed private business named by the Chairman of Ways and Means for consideration.
Tuesday 6 July—Second Reading of the Finance Bill.
Wednesday 7 July—Opposition day [3rd allotted day]. There will be a full day’s debate on Government support for jobs and the unemployed. This debate will arise on an Opposition motion.
Thursday 8 July—General debate on defendant anonymity.
The provisional business for the week commencing 12 July will include:
Monday 12 July—Proceedings on the Finance Bill (day 1). At 10 pm the House will be asked to agree all outstanding estimates.
Tuesday 13 July—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill followed by proceedings on the Finance Bill (day 2).
Wednesday 14 July—Motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to counter-terrorism, followed by motion relating to police grant report, followed by motion to approve a European document relating to the European External Action Service.
Thursday 15 July—Proceedings on the Finance Bill (day 3).
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall will be:
Thursday 8 July—A debate on energy security.
I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for the business statement. I think it is in order to welcome him to his first business questions. I know that he has a long record of campaigning for respect for Parliament. Indeed, I was looking through his contributions to the last Parliament and noticed that he said Ministers should remember that
“their first responsibility in terms of information is to the House and nowhere else”.—[Official Report, 3 July 1998; Vol. 315, c. 657.]
I am sure that he was horrified when the Home Secretary was forced to come to the House to apologise for giving the media the statement on the immigration cap, which should have been given here.
Now at least the Home Secretary realised that this had been a step too far, but will the Deputy Leader of the House undertake to tick off the following offenders in respect of whom we would like to set up an early release of information scheme? First, there is the Defence Secretary for briefing on the departure of Sir Jock Stirrup. Secondly, there is the Secretary of State for Education for briefing on plans for schools. Thirdly, there is the Secretary of State for Health for briefing on the NHS operating framework. Then there is the entire Downing street staff for briefing on the whole Queen’s Speech. Then there is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has achieved a hat-trick here for briefing on spending cuts, financial reform and the Budget. Then there is the Secretary of State for Justice for briefing on prison reforms. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House can assure us that he has checked with the Foreign Secretary to ensure that nothing has been said to the media this morning that should have been said to the House first. I am sure that the Deputy Leader of the House will seize this opportunity to take up the cause for Parliament, as I know he would hate to be accused of saying one thing in opposition and another thing in government.
Speaking of that, I was leafing through the Conservative-Liberal Democrat programme for government only this morning and came across the section on Government transparency. It is well worth a read, especially the bit that says:
“We will create a new ‘right to data’ so that government-held datasets can be requested and used by the public”.
Can the Deputy Leader of the House tell us whether that right extends to Members of Parliament, particularly when they are asking for figures such as those produced by the Treasury which showed that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been warned that measures in the Budget would lead to 1.3 million people losing their jobs?
Given the Prime Minister’s extraordinary performance yesterday, when he refused even to acknowledge that those figures existed, will the Deputy Leader of the House place the Treasury documents in the Library? Will he also ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make a statement to the House telling us when he first saw those documents, and why he did not include them in his Budget statement? In that statement, will the Chancellor of the Exchequer be able to confirm whether there was any contact between Ministers and their Office for Budget Responsibility before the publication of their job forecasts yesterday?
Will the Deputy Leader of the House tell us whether there will be any report to the House on the Cabinet’s visit to Yorkshire? I noted that during that visit the Prime Minister was quizzed on how the Government’s protestations of support for manufacturing tallied with the withdrawal of the loan to Sheffield Forgemasters. Perhaps the Deputy Leader of the House will also explain why the Leader of the House of the House said last week that
“the Deputy Prime Minister is meeting Sheffield Forgemasters tomorrow in his constituency.” —[Official Report, 24 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 433.]
I understand that no such meeting was planned, or took place. I can only imagine that the Leader of the House was misled by the Deputy Prime Minister. I am sure that the Deputy Leader of the House will want to clarify exactly what happened, so that Members can be clear about what support is actually being given to important manufacturing companies such as Sheffield Forgemasters.
Can the Deputy Leader of the House also help us out by telling us whether there will be a statement on the future of the Tenant Services Authority? Apparently the Housing Minister has called it “toast”, but the Chief Secretary has said that abolishing it would put the finances of housing associations at risk. It would greatly assist the House, and Opposition Members in particular, to know that there is absolutely no sense of disagreement between Conservative and Liberal Democrat Ministers. We certainly wish to be assured that the Liberal Democrats are 100% behind all Conservative policy, including putting up VAT, putting people out of work, and the huge cuts that are to be made in public services.
The shadow Leader of the House has asked me to restate a position that I stated many times in opposition, and I have no hesitation in doing so. It is entirely clear, not only to me but in the ministerial code of conduct, that announcements of substantive changes in policy should be made to the House in the first instance, and I know perfectly well that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House brought that to the attention of the Cabinet yet again only this week. You, Mr Speaker, made it very clear in your statement yesterday, and it is our clear intention that it should be the case. I have to tell the shadow Leader of the House that occasionally there will be mistakes—[Interruption.] Even Government Departments sometimes make mistakes, and that is obviously what happened in the case of the Home Office announcement last week. What happened was that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary came to the House to apologise for that mistake, and that is the right way of dealing with it.
It is important that we make sure that changes of policy are properly represented to the House, but I say gently to Labour Members that there is very little point in raising as points of order or at business questions issues raised by Ministers that are clearly set out in existing policy in the coalition document. I am so pleased that the shadow Leader of the House bothers to read that document. If it is policy set out in the coalition document, it should be no great surprise that Ministers adopt the policy and are prepared to speak about it. Therefore, it is not the case that that is an inappropriate way of addressing political issues.
I shall now deal with the other issues that the right hon. Lady raised. She mentioned an issue relating to housing associations. That is important and I shall take the matter back to the Departments and ask whether it is possible for a clear statement of the position to be given—we will ensure that that is the case.
The right hon. Lady asked about the position on the employment figures and the expectations set out by a variety of economists on what might happen. I have to say that I do not always have great faith in what economists predict; nevertheless this is an important issue. What I do have faith in is the newly established Office for Budget Responsibility, which is independent of Government and has set out the figures. I thought that the Opposition supported it. I thought that they saw it, as we do, as being a gold standard of accurate information presented to the House, but they prefer to bang on about figures that they want to choose instead. There will be an Opposition day debate next week, when the Opposition will choose the matters that we will be debating. So she asks for an opportunity to raise these issues with Ministers and she will have the opportunity to raise them with Ministers. Finally, I have to say to her that the figure that was given—the 1.3 million losses that she cited—was coupled with 2.5 million increases in employment in the very same breath. By my simple arithmetic that makes a 1.2 million increase, and the fact that Labour Members cannot do that simple sum explains to me why this country is in the position it is.
Has my hon. Friend seen early-day motion 328, which describes how Google allegedly mapped every wireless internet connection in Britain, including many millions in private homes?
[That this House is concerned by reports that Google allegedly mapped every single wireless internet connection in Britain, including many millions in private homes, for commercial purposes; is further concerned that the firm may have failed to disclose that it was building a massive database of wi-fi networks across the UK without people's consent; notes the reports that BT and other companies are using software to trawl social networking websites such as Facebook to identify anyone making negative comments about them; and therefore calls on the Coalition Government to balance innovation on the internet against individuals’ right to privacy and the new threat of a surveillance society.]
Is it not time for a debate on the balance of internet innovation, and on the individual’s right to privacy versus the new threat of a surveillance society, given that we have just got rid of the previous Government’s own one?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Yes, I have read his early-day motion and it seems to raise a very important point about surveillance. The whole issue of the increasing prevalence of what was called “the surveillance society” is something that the coalition Government are very aware of and want to address. I cannot promise him a debate in the next couple of weeks on this subject, but he may try to ask a question at questions to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills on Thursday 8 July. This subject may also be a suitable one for the newly constituted Backbench Business Committee to consider for future business.
May we have an urgent debate in Government time on the Chancellor’s grossly disproportionate attack on the benefits system, not least on housing benefit, which is causing grave anxiety and disquiet among some of my most vulnerable constituents? These feelings are exacerbated by the Government’s attempt to present all benefit claimants as workshy scroungers. May we have a debate urgently so that this particular calumny can be disproved?
I invite the hon. Lady to ask questions of the Department for Work and Pensions on 19 July. She also asked for a debate on this matter, and I suggest that she will find opportunities to raise it during our debates on the Finance Bill on Tuesday 6 July, Monday 12 July, Tuesday 13 July and Thursday 15 July.
The shadow Leader of the House—[Hon. Members: “Ah!”] I apologise, I meant the Deputy Leader of the House. He will be aware of the WWF’s Rivers on the Edge campaign. There has been great concern in the House for some time about the condition of English chalk streams, and the debate on the subject that we had during the last Parliament was over-subscribed. Will he bear this in mind and see whether we can fit in a debate on the chalk rivers of England?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I have great affection for the World Wide Fund for Nature because I used to work for it and promote its interests. I hasten to add that that is not a declarable interest. There might be an opportunity for him to raise this important issue at Environment, Food and Rural Affairs questions on 29 July. It would also be an entirely suitable matter for a Westminster Hall debate or an end-of-day Adjournment debate.
The next time—or perhaps the first time—the Deputy Leader of the House meets the Backbench Business Committee, will he raise the question of private Members’ Bills being discussed on Wednesday evenings to allow greater participation? Will he also consider doing away with the knives procedure under which such Bills can be talked out, and introduce deferred voting so that everyone can participate in the process?
The hon. Gentleman knows that I agree that we need to reform the process for private Members’ legislation. When we discussed this a week or so ago, it was agreed that the Procedure Committee would look into the matter and bring forward proposals. I hope that its members will also speak to the Backbench Business Committee so that we can have the benefit of the views of both Committees. It would certainly be to the benefit of the House if we could improve the way in which we deal with private Members’ business and put an end to the procedural nonsense that we have at the moment.
When is the motion on the fixed-term Parliament, which was promised by my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House on 25 May, going to be brought forward? He said that it would be put on the Order Paper at the earliest opportunity, and that we would have a debate on it before the summer recess. Is that still the position?
I think I am right in saying that the Deputy Prime Minister intends to make a statement on that subject in the very near future, so my hon. Friend will have to be patient for a little longer—[Interruption.] It will, of course, be made in Parliament, which is the right place for such statements.
A debate on police productivity would allow me to question Ministers on how much time police officers spend on the beat. Now that the policing pledge has been scrapped, how are we to guarantee that the police will spend 80 % of their time on the streets?
The hon. Lady will know that this has been a recurrent theme over many years, since long before she was in the House. Members on both sides have been concerned about the most effective way of deploying police officers and reducing the bureaucracy that often prevents them from doing the job that we want them to do—namely, being out on the streets catching criminals instead of sitting in a back room in a police station filling in forms. I hope that we shall be able to make rapid progress on these issues. As a former chairman of a police authority, I know that this has been a problem for a very long time. The hon. Lady is right to bring the subject up, and it is equally right that we should find time to debate it at some stage.
May I first declare an interest as a member of Portsmouth city council? That council, like many others, is heavily involved in the Building Schools for the Future programme. There is real anxiety about the delay in getting decisions on whether the plans are going to proceed as expected. The situation needs to be resolved quickly because of the amount of local authority money involved. Does my hon. Friend also agree that a shortage of parliamentary time prevented Labour Ministers from coming to the House to apologise for the number of times they briefed the media before speaking to us?
I hear what my hon. Friend says on the last matter. I could not possibly comment, but I am sure that some will recognise the issue.
My hon. Friend raises an important issue about Building Schools for the Future. I know that Members on both sides of the House are keen to hear the results of that review. We had hoped that there would be a statement this week and, last week, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said that he thought that a statement was likely to be made this week. He said that in good faith, but unfortunately it has not been made yet. I understand that it will be made very shortly—within days.
The hon. Gentleman has already explained why some information has been given not to this House but to other people. May I ask him to take up with his colleague the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Thornbury and Yate (Steve Webb), the fact that I tabled a number of parliamentary questions on the important issue of housing benefit, asking for simple factual information, and received the response:
“The Department for Work and Pensions undertakes an assessment of the impact on specific groups as part of the policy development process”?—[Official Report, 30 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 548W.]
We know that the Government have that information—they could not have published the Red Book without it—but we are being refused it. Will the Deputy Leader of the House take this matter up?
Well, I shall also assume that the question has something to do with parliamentary business—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] This is about business for the next two weeks; sometimes colleagues need to be reminded of that.
I do not think that I can guarantee that there will be a statement or a debate on the matter. However, I will mention the hon. Lady’s concerns to my hon. Friend the Minister of State and see whether more information can be obtained.
May we have a debate on supporting British citizens overseas? The Deputy Leader of the House might recall that last week I raised the case of my constituent, Ken Spooner, whose children have been abducted to Zambia. Unfortunately, the case has taken a turn for the worse and Mr Spooner is now in a Zambian jail, having not been charged. Can we possibly ensure that he gets the support from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that he was promised?
Obviously, it is always a matter of great concern to hon. Members when their constituents find themselves in difficulties overseas. It is part of the consular duties of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to provide such support as may be provided in country. I shall certainly make sure that these concerns are passed on to members of the ministerial team in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
May we have an urgent debate on pay for our brave servicemen and women, especially in the light of the written answer to the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) this morning from the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr Robathan), which announced that 140,000 members of the armed forces will have a pay cut next year? That is in marked contrast to what we did when we were in office, when we honoured in full the recommendations of the independent pay review body for the armed forces.
I seem to recall that there was a significant increase in the allowances made available to members of our armed forces serving in conflict areas. That seems to me to be a significant development. However, the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to raise these matters in the very near future, because Defence questions are on Monday 5 July.
Given the excellent agreement in New Forest East between leading Liberal Democrats and Conservatives that fluoridation should not be imposed on the community against its will, may we have a statement—not in the next two weeks, but perhaps in the next two minutes—from the Deputy Leader of the House, confirming that the fact that the Liberal Democrats have joined the Conservatives in government in no way vitiates the pledge given by shadow Conservative Health Ministers before the election that fluoridation should not and would not be imposed on communities that did not want it?
The hon. Gentleman will not have a statement from me on a matter of health policy, but he can quite properly ask hon. and right hon. Friends in the Department of Health to give a response. It seems to me that this is a very important issue—I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Gentleman’s position—and I am sure that his constituents would like some clarity on the issue. However, I also know that the legislative framework under which these proposals are considered is the legislative framework introduced by the previous Government.
May I press the Deputy Leader of the House on his earlier answer about the future of the Building Schools for the Future programme? First, I was disappointed that there was not a statement this week, following the comments made by the Leader of the House last week to the effect that Members could expect a statement on the programme’s future and the huge uncertainty that it is being caused. Secondly, will the statement give specific details about which schools will be built and which will not be built?
I cannot possibly pre-empt the statement, but the hon. Lady is right to press us on this. We are very clear that we want a statement to be made at the earliest opportunity. I can only apologise to her through you, Mr Speaker, that we were unable to bring forward the statement this week, which we had certainly intended to do. I can promise yet again that it will be provided shortly.
The Deputy Leader of the House is aware of the impressive lobby of this place yesterday by the Huntington’s Disease Association. Will he give us time for a debate to consider the challenges facing the 6,700 people diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, particularly those to do with accessing insurance and the adequacy of research into a hitherto incurable disease?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. I, too, yesterday met constituents who either had Huntington’s disease or who were caring for people with Huntington’s disease. It brought home to all Members of the House who had contact with those people how difficult the disease is to manage. It is a degenerative disease with a genetic component that imposes a great deal of stress both on those who contract it and those who care for them. I know that there are clear issues about future research and the sort of support that can be given at the point of diagnosis and the point of management in GP practices and elsewhere in order to help. I understand that an all-party parliamentary group on Huntington’s disease has been established and that is a welcome step forward. I cannot promise my hon. Friend a debate in the next two weeks, I am afraid, but he might care to apply for an Adjournment debate or a Westminster Hall debate on this important subject.
May I press the Deputy Leader of the House to get his master, the Leader of the House, to come to the House and give the statement that he promised two weeks ago on progress on setting up the European Scrutiny Committee, and to scotch the rumour that is going about that Ministers intend to vote in the 1922 committee’s election of the Conservative chair of that committee? I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will say that even the gelded Liberals would not stand for the Government’s trying to elect a Back-Bench committee’s chairman.
Happily, I have no responsibility whatsoever for what happens in the 1922 committee and that is no doubt a situation that will continue. The important issue is the setting up of the Select Committees, including the European Scrutiny Committee, and I understand the urgency of that. I was very pleased that the motion was passed by the House last night to make the small amendments to the number of members on Committees. That means that the Committee of Selection can now proceed in good order to make appointments to Committees. We should have all the Committees of the House up and running as soon as possible.
May I ask a question in a similar vein to the request from my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes North (Mark Lancaster) for a debate on how our consulates aid and advise our residents abroad in extreme circumstances? I am thinking in particular about the Calder Valley resident who died last week, Sarah Royle, and her family. She fell off a balcony watching the England match in the World cup. Sarah lost her parents at a very early age and her two remaining sisters, who are of limited means, are being asked to sign an indemnity against the costs of bringing the body home and paying the bills, because the insurance company believes that she might have been drinking at the time.
Obviously, my condolences go out to the friends and family of the hon. Gentleman’s constituent, who died in very tragic circumstances. Rather than securing a debate, the most effective thing I can do is to draw his comments to the attention of Ministers in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that they can, perhaps, give support.
May we have an urgent statement on the release of the documents on the Hillsborough disaster? The last Government agreed that those files and documents would be released. The Deputy Leader of the House will understand the concerns about the Culture Secretary’s comments. As someone who was at Hillsborough and who has in my constituency families who lost loved ones there, this matter is of great importance to me personally. Rumours are circulating that the Government are thinking about not publishing the files and that there are arguments between Departments about the cost. Will the hon. Gentleman clarify the situation or arrange for an urgent statement to be made as soon as possible?
I am afraid that I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the clarification he wants simply because I do not know and there is no point in pretending that I do. I recognise the circumstances of Hillsborough—the tragedy that it was—and the continuing effect that it must have on a large part of the population, not least his constituents. It is extremely important that we provide as much succour and comfort as possible to those people. I will certainly take the matter he raises back to the responsible Ministers and note the force with which he makes his case.
May we have a debate on the Government’s new sentencing policy so that we can point out to the Secretary of State for Justice that the apparent premise that people who commit minor offences are frogmarched to a court and sent immediately to prison is a false one? What happens in the real world is that the police tear their hair out over arresting the same people time after time only to find that the magistrates courts do nothing but give them a slap on the wrist. The people who eventually end up in prison do so only after all the community service and drug treatment orders have been tried and tried again but have failed.
First, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his election to the Backbench Business Committee, on which he will have some responsibility for ensuring that these very important matters are debated in full. What I heard the Secretary of State for Justice say was that he wanted a justice system that worked, and that disposals for people who are convicted ought to be the most effective disposals that will reduce the likelihood of their offending again. He said that many of the recurrent offenders whom the hon. Gentleman mentions—those whom the police pick up time and again—serve short sentences in prison and then go on to reoffend. Surely it cannot be right to continue with policies that fail.
The Deputy Leader of the House will know that yesterday afternoon the Government suffered an embarrassing defeat by 21 votes to seven on the Welsh Grand Committee, which rejected the proposition on the Budget and the legislative programme as they apply to Wales. May we have another meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee to consider these issues?
The hon. Gentleman is making an awful meal of the fact that he engineered a win of a vote in a Committee with 26 Labour members, three Plaid Cymru members, eight Conservatives and three Liberal Democrats. Not even the most incompetent Opposition could lose a vote on a Committee with those numbers.
Despite Tony Blair’s promise that they would result in a café culture, the late-licensing laws are having a visible impact in towns and cities across the country. In my constituency, in recent weeks, we have had a fatal stabbing of a young man and two brutal beatings, all of which involved late-night drinking establishments and late-night drinking. May we have an urgent debate on the failed late-licensing policy?
I certainly agree that the change of licensing policy that the last Government introduced has not produced the results that they claimed it would, whereby we would all sit sipping our chianti in perfect peace and serenity in our town centres until late in the evening. That does not seem to accord with the experience of most people in most parts of the country. It might therefore be opportune for the matter to be debated again. I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman a debate in the next couple of weeks, but he could make an application to the Backbench Business Committee for a debate on licensing laws, or he could seek a Westminster Hall or an Adjournment debate on the matter.
May I draw the Deputy Leader of the House’s attention to the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) in Hansard on Stockholm syndrome? Can we have a debate on Stockholm syndrome given that it may affect the judgment of leading Liberal Democrat members of the condemned coalition? The evidence base includes their support for regressive VAT increases, thereby displaying irrational emotional feelings and loss of concentration. Those symptoms are associated with this condition, and I think it would be useful and instructive if we could have a debate.
I was rather hoping that there would be a punch line. There might be a case for a debate on Stockholm syndrome as it applied to those poor benighted souls who supported the Labour Government through 13 years of mismanagement, particularly the candidates for the leadership of the Labour party, who appear not to have agreed with anything they did while in government.
May we have a debate on the annual report of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse, which was presented to the House on Tuesday? The report describes the position of treatment as “encouraging”, which is in stark contrast with the 30th report of the Public Accounts Committee in March, which concluded that £1.2 billion is spent on tackling drug misuse without the Government knowing the overall effect of that approach. Such a debate could focus on the fact that only 4% of addicts become drug-free and on the urgent need for reform of the drug treatment system.
We have known for a long time that the problems with substance, drug and alcohol abuse have not been sufficiently addressed in Government policy. It now needs to be addressed, and it is explicit within coalition Government plans that that will be the case. I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman a debate or a statement on this subject, but he might want to raise it by other means.
May I ask the Deputy Leader of the House for an early statement on potential venues for the next £100,000 Cabinet away day? The Cabinet could try Liverpool, which would have the beneficial side effect of enabling the Culture Secretary to explain in person to the people of Liverpool why, 21 years after Liverpool fans were exonerated from causing the Hillsborough stadium disaster, he suggested on live television that it was caused by hooliganism.
And he then apologised very clearly, which is an important point to note. It really is extraordinary for Labour Members now to complain about regional Cabinet meetings, having introduced them. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady was complaining about the cost of a regional Cabinet meeting, but it was much cheaper under the coalition Government than under the previous Government. She has put in a bid for the next such meeting to be in Liverpool, and I shall pass that on to the Cabinet Office. I have no idea where it intends to hold the next one, but Liverpool is always a splendid place to hold anything.
May we have a debate on the role of the Environment Agency’s policies on hydropower generation on our rivers? Two Secretaries of State have declined, on the Floor of the House, to comment on this matter, and I think that a debate would be fruitful in securing the resolve of Ministers to address it.
I have a great deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend, because I used to raise this matter very regularly. I have a whole series of micro-hydrogeneration plants on the Rivers Frome and Brue, so I know perfectly well the difficulties that those people have with the EA’s regulations on water abstraction. Of course, the bizarre thing is that no water is abstracted by hydro-turbines, as it is returned to the watercourse. I hope that he secures either a Westminster Hall or an Adjournment debate on this issue, because it would be well worth explaining the difficulties that many people who want to be engaged in micro-hydropower experience on the ground.
The Deputy Leader of the House will be aware that we are in the middle of Co-operatives fortnight, celebrating the value of community ownership across society. The Baywind project in my constituency has blazed a trail for green energy, being locally owned and providing electricity to local homes. Will the hon. Gentleman agree to a debate on the barriers that such schemes still face when trying to get off the ground, even though communities want them?
It would be very useful to have a debate on that subject. There is a huge amount to be said for co-operative and mutual organisations. That sort of corporate structure has been in abeyance in recent years, and it is time that it made a reappearance. If the hon. Gentleman applies for a debate, I hope that he is successful in securing one at some stage. I have to point out that the case of Royal Mail offers the prospect of an enormous mutualisation and expansion in the co-operative sector, and I hope that Opposition Members will support that.
During the last Parliament, I was regularly concerned about the blood pressure of the previous Speaker, as he had to tick Ministers off regularly for leaking information to the press before they were brought to the House to make a statement. I am very concerned that your blood pressure is not affected, Mr Speaker, so will the Deputy Leader of the House ask for a statement from the Leader of the House next week setting out the punishment that can be meted out to Ministers who leak to the press before addressing this House?
First, may I also congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his election to the Backbench Business Committee? I am not sure that the Leader of the House has any sanctions that he can apply, other than exhortation, but the Prime Minister does. Perhaps this is something that we need to draw to his attention.
May we have an urgent debate about the timing of reports from the Office for Budget Responsibility? If the OBR is to be regarded as genuinely independent of the coalition collaborators, then not only the content but the timing of reports must be absolutely free from interference.
Concerns about the integrity of the postal vote process have been expressed for a long time. Postal votes form a useful part of our electoral arrangements, but nevertheless we must make sure that our electoral system has the highest possible integrity. The Government are committed to introducing the individual registration of voters, and that will go a long way towards dealing with some of the potential abuses of the current system. I hope that legislation will be introduced in due course that will enable the hon. Gentleman to make his points very forcefully.
The deadline for the payment to pleural plaques victims of compensation worth £5,000 has come and gone. On at least two occasions in this House, Ministers have said that the payment would be made by the end of June. Will the Deputy Leader of the House please ensure that the appropriate Minister makes a statement to the House to explain to victims of this dreadful disease in my constituency exactly why they are still having to wait for the much promised and expected £5,000 payment?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady, and also congratulate her on her election to the Backbench Business Committee. She raises an issue that I know is very important to a large number of Members and constituents. I will pass her comments on to the relevant Ministers. Hopefully, there will be statement in the near future, but I cannot promise it.
May I urge the Deputy Leader of the House to award the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle) the debate that she sought? We would be able to examine in detail how the cost of the most recent Cabinet meeting in Bradford was one tenth of what was spent by the previous Labour Government on their away days.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer came here last week and declared that he would be the model of transparency. He said:
“I am not going to hide hard choices from the British people or bury them in the small print of the Budget documents.”—[Official Report, 22 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 167.]
He added that the British public would hear those hard choices straight from him, in that speech.
The Deputy Leader of the House has already brushed aside concerns raised by the shadow Leader of the House about the memo that discloses Treasury predictions of 1.3 million unemployed. The Leader of the Opposition has already raised the matter with the Prime Minister, only to be ignored. Why can we not have full disclosure of this document, and a proper debate in this House? The Deputy Leader of the House is supposed to be a champion of Parliament, and there are clearly differences of view as to the content of the document. Why can we not have a debate on it?
I thought that I had made it plain that we are having four debates in the next two weeks on that subject. I would have thought that that would be sufficient to satisfy the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps we ought to debate the pre-Budget forecast based on the policies of the March Budget—a Labour Budget—which showed a reduction of around 500,000 public sector jobs by 2014-15. I think that that would be a very worthwhile debate.
The Deputy Leader of the House may have heard or read reports of an incident on Tuesday at the Lindsey oil refinery in my constituency. Sadly, there was a fatality and a number of injuries, and I am sure that the whole House would want to send our condolences in respect of the 24-year-old contractor who lost his life. In the immediate aftermath of the incident there are heightened concerns among the local community. Will the Deputy Leader of the House ensure that a statement can be made to the House in the next week or two? The police and the Health and Safety Executive are conducting an inquiry. If it makes recommendations that relate to the Lindsey oil refinery and other refineries, will he arrange for a debate to be held?
I very much appreciate the hon. Gentleman raising this point on behalf of his constituents, and I am sure that the whole House would want to express our condolences to the family and friends of Robert Greenacre, who sadly lost his life in the incident.
As the hon. Gentleman said, the HSE and the Environment Agency have launched an investigation, in conjunction with the police. I think that it would probably be unwise for us to debate the issue in the House until it has been properly investigated but, if there are then lessons that need to be learned that have a more general applicability, I hope that we will either have a statement or that the hon. Gentleman will secure a debate on the Adjournment or in Westminster Hall. That will enable Ministers to consider the questions more widely.