House of Commons
Thursday 7 July 2011
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—
Renewable Energy Infrastructure
The current financial mechanisms to incentivise renewable electricity are the renewables obligation and the feed-in tariff scheme. We are currently undertaking reviews of the RO banding and the FIT scheme, and the renewable heat incentive is due to go ahead this year. The Government have also set aside up to £60 million of direct support for the development of offshore wind manufacturing at port sites in English assisted areas.
There are some fantastic community-led renewable projects in my constituency, including Oncore—Oxford North Community Renewables—which is a project to build solar panels on Cherwell school in north Oxford. However, despite the fact that we all recognise that such projects are vital to our efforts to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, they often struggle to raise sustainable funds. Will the Secretary of State tell me how he expects projects such as the green investment bank to help support community renewables projects such as these?
Access to finance is clearly a major issue for projects such as those in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and the green investment bank will certainly play a role eventually. Our FIT scheme reforms have focused on ensuring that money goes to community schemes rather than City speculators. The banks are increasingly taking a favourable attitude to this matter and finance is increasingly available from the high street banks. I am pleased therefore to confirm that yesterday the Treasury opened a consultation on the provision of other finance and on ensuring that enterprise investment schemes and venture capital trusts investing in FIT schemes through community-interest companies, co-operative societies and community benefit societies continue to qualify for improved support, as will those generating electricity from micro-hydro schemes. I hope that this change will focus investment on schemes that benefit local communities.
I have written previously to the Secretary of State on behalf of Evance, a manufacturer of small wind turbines in my constituency. One of the main issues it has raised has been the need for clear guidance for planners on how to deal with small wind systems. Will he tell me what discussions he and his ministerial colleagues have had with the Department for Communities and Local Government on this issue? In particular, would any guidance include specification of acceptable noise levels for these small—less than 50 kW—wind systems?
Will the Secretary of State tell us precisely what percentage of the respondents to the recent FIT consultation supported the Government’s view? What assessment has he made of the impact of the review on manufacturers such as Kingspan in Hollywell in my constituency and Sharp in Wrexham, which he visited and lauded but has now pulled the rug from under?
I respect the right hon. Gentleman for standing up for his constituency—I would expect nothing less—but the responses to the FIT consultation were not as binary as he suggests. People did not give yes or no answers. We had to take a decision on the FIT programme for a simple reason, which was that, unfortunately, the planning that went into the announcement assumed that there would be no large-scale solar projects for three years. If the right hon. Gentleman, who was a Minister in the previous Government—as I well remember—is prepared to take responsibility for those assumptions, I would be very pleased, but sadly I am not. We have had to amend those assumptions and ensure that we have an affordable scheme that can provide steady growth—
Underground heat pumps and solar panels will become a fact of life for us all in the not-so-distant future. What are the Government doing to help areas such as mine—former coalfield areas—to play a part in manufacturing these things so that once again we can power Britain and the world?
We have seen enormous growth in low-carbon goods and services. In fact, the sector now employs 910,000 people across the UK economy so it is no longer a cottage industry—it is serious stuff. In relation to the green deal, particularly some of the kit being manufactured for it, we are in discussions with manufacturers to try to ensure that they are thinking about the scale on which the green deal will operate, because obviously if the market is relatively small, there will not be the economies of scale that can get prices down and the opportunities up. I am determined—
My right hon. Friend mentioned the review of the renewables obligation certificates. He will be aware of the great opportunity presented by the wave hub project located off the north coast of my constituency. In respect of the review, however, what reassurances can he give me and the House that there will be an even playing field north and south of the Scottish border?
The devolved Administration—the Scottish Government—have the ability to vary ROC support somewhat, which they do in the case of advanced marine renewables. We are determined on both sides of the border to see progress on those technologies, because they have enormous potential in the years to come, and I am sure that there is enough to satisfy those both south and north of the border.
Government Carbon Emissions
The Prime Minister announced on 14 May 2010 that this would be the greenest Government ever and that central Government would lead by example, by reducing their emissions by 10% within 12 months. I am pleased to announce that the Government have achieved that target, reducing emissions by 13.8%— I think I am entitled to round that up to 14%—using weather-corrected data. Never before have central Government achieved such a reduction in such a short space of time.
As the Government have done so well and surpassed their 10% target, may I encourage the Secretary of State to be ambitious when setting central Government’s next carbon reduction goals? Will he work with business and the rest of the public sector to ensure that they achieve the same scale of reductions?
I am very pleased to confirm that the Prime Minister has announced a new five-year carbon reduction target of 25%, to ensure that we continue to drive down carbon and energy use in the Government. By focusing attention on the issue among decision makers, we can help to move the whole country along. We need to practise what we preach, and we will.
Can the Secretary of State please tell the House what the exact level of carbon emissions from the parliamentary estate was previously, so that we can be absolutely clear what it is now, after the 13.8% reduction, or have the figures been estimated and banded?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would be shocked if I attempted to take responsibility for the parliamentary estate, which is clearly up to the House of Commons. This issue is strictly about central Government, not the parliamentary estate, but I would urge Mr Speaker, using all his great influence, to ensure that the parliamentary estate is performing just as well as central Government.
I warmly congratulate the Government on more than achieving their target, which stands in stark contrast with previous Governments. None the less, at a glance around the governmental estate—and the parliamentary estate, too—we see lights burning all night long, with no use of energy-efficient lighting. We also see the ambient temperature of Ministry of Defence buildings, such as the one in my constituency near Corsham, at 25°, which means that civil servants have to sit with their jackets off, because otherwise it would be too warm. Surely we should get our lights off at night and get the temperature down, so that people feel cold in the office and put sweaters on.
I hesitate to say this, but I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We have set an ambitious target and there is more work to do. Whether that means getting people to put on woolly jumpers or getting them to turn the lights off, we will do it, and we shall continue our efforts.
Employment and Skills (Energy Sector)
13. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills on developing skills in the low-carbon sector. (64277)
My Department works closely with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to promote skills and employment in the energy sector. The Budget announced £180 million of funding for 50,000 additional adult apprenticeships, and we announced in March that at least 100,000 green deal apprentices could receive Government funding towards their training. There are many opportunities, with the new build nuclear programme alone expected to create 30,000 high-skilled new jobs nationally.
I was very pleased indeed to have the chance to meet the hon. Gentleman, his local authorities and other Members of Parliament from Humberside to talk about the immense potential in those areas for developing the supply chain for the offshore wind sector. That is why we have put in place a £60 million programme to attract manufacturing investment to those sites, and it is encouraging to see the number of manufacturers looking to the United Kingdom.
The Minister may be aware of my interest in apprenticeships. I welcome the increased number of apprenticeships, although I am concerned that it does not go far enough. What reassurances can he provide that there is a joined-up approach across Departments to ensure that apprenticeship places are created in low-carbon areas of our economy and regions such as the north-east which have real growth potential?
I hope the hon. Lady will be aware of the document “Skills for Sustainable Growth”, which was produced last year. It addresses these matters so as to ensure that we can address apprenticeships issues in a more flexible and responsive way, enabling us to react to demand as it evolves in the system. We very much want this to happen in areas such as the north-east, and the local enterprise partnerships and local authorities will have an important role to play in ensuring that we take a joined-up approach to this.
Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating a company in my constituency, Trade Skills 4U, which has taken on hundreds of apprentices? In particular, it has retrained former members of the armed forces to give them skills relating to solar energy and heating. Does he also share my perplexity at Labour voting in Committee against the fourth carbon budget?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. I absolutely welcome the work that is going on to retrain people who have one skill set that might be relevant to the low-carbon economy. We see the potential in the green deal for 100,000 jobs in that area by 2015, and perhaps 250,000 jobs in the longer term. The situation on the fourth carbon budget was even more extraordinary than my hon. Friend suggests, in that Labour Members voted three ways: some voted yes, some voted no, and others abstained.
We are working closely with other Government Departments, specifically the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and the National Skills Academy for Nuclear has offered 1,200 apprenticeships in the nuclear sector in the past year, along with 22 foundation degrees and 2,500 short-term courses in the nuclear sector. This is an area in which industry is rising up to the challenge, and our universities and further education colleges are all working together very constructively.
Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), we were absolutely delighted, during the Energy Bill’s Committee stage, when the Government did not reject Labour’s amendment to establish a green deal apprenticeship scheme as part of the green deal. That kind of scheme will aid employers in the energy and low-carbon sectors who have a shortage of skills in their work force, but most importantly, green deal apprenticeships will give young people a route into a long-term career. However, the Minister has since indicated that the Government might seek to change these proposals on Report. Will he now guarantee that he will keep Labour’s green deal apprenticeship scheme and not water it down or remove it from the Bill?
We always seek to bring absolute delight to the hon. Lady. We were delighted to find among the batch of amendments that she tabled one that we could endorse and support, although we are looking at the nature of that proposal to see whether it delivers exactly what we want and whether we could improve it still further.
Carbon Emissions (2020)
The Government have committed to reduce UK emissions by 34% by 2020. The Committee on Climate Change confirmed on 30 June that we are on track to meeting this target. Internationally, the Government remain committed to moving to a 30% EU target. I have had numerous discussions with my EU colleagues and a wide variety of stakeholders in recent months on the importance of the EU low-carbon transition, including a move to 30%.
Given the agreement, and the ambition of the targets, what reassurance can the Secretary of State give the House today that businesses will be able to meet those targets without incurring ever higher energy bills or having to pass on the costs to their consumers, who might not be able to afford them?
We are working hard with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on a package to help energy-intensive industries to ensure that, for example, when we build much of the important energy infrastructure that we are going to be building over the next 10 years, the demand for steel and aluminium stays in the United Kingdom. That is a crucial part of what we are doing. My hon. Friend should not forget that we are also seeking an enormous increase in demand for British manufacturing as a result of the need to replace our energy infrastructure, and that investment levels will be running at double the normal level. That will give an enormous shot in the arm to manufacturing.
The Government are facing both ways on this issue. Can the Secretary of State tell me whether the Tory MEPs who last week voted against an increase to 30% in the EU commitment to reducing emissions by 2020 are part of the “greenest Government ever”?
I got in here separately on the basis of an election. Let me point out to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) that when I left the European Parliament to come here, I remember keeping a league table on the three main parties in this Chamber whose MEPs agreed with the policy at Westminster, and I am not at all sure that my Conservative colleagues would be the most embarrassed by it. On a number of occasions, then and now, Labour MEPs do not necessarily take the same line as Labour Members in Westminster.
Energy Supply (Decarbonisation)
The Government have not estimated the impact of the decarbonisation of energy on employment levels, but we have substantial opportunities—for example, offshore wind has the potential to employ a further 70,000 workers by 2020, bringing benefits to the UK of £6 billion to £8 billion a year. About 16 GW of new build nuclear could create up to 30,000 new jobs and equates to investment of around £50 billion, with the construction of each reactor delivering investment equivalent to that for the 2012 Olympics. We should not forget either the impact of the green deal in the current Energy Bill, which is forecast to increase the number of jobs in the insulation sector from 27,000 to 100,000 by 2015. This is a jobs-rich, green-growth programme.
While I welcome the potential for new jobs in the green economy, does the Secretary of State agree that we need to strike a balance between generating new jobs and protecting jobs in the existing manufacturing sector, especially in the black country, part of which I represent, which has manufacturing businesses with high-energy intensiveness—Somers Forge being one particular example? Does he agree that we need to strike a balance so that we do not undermine the competitiveness of our manufacturing industry?
I absolutely assure my hon. Friend on that. As I mentioned previously, we have a working group with BIS looking exactly at what help is necessary for the energy-intensive industries. It is also worth pointing out that, particularly when we are emerging from such a deep recession, it is jobs in new industries, rather than merely the recovery of the old industries, that tend to drive the overall recovery. That was the story of the 1930s: we did not regain our prosperity by reversing the declines that had happened in the old industries that had caused the recession; we built entirely new industries. The low-carbon goods and services industry offers us enormous potential in that respect.
To consolidate and maximise the benefits of the low-carbon economy, does the Secretary of State agree that rather than having a broad concept of enterprise zones, we actually need to create energy zones so that we can maximise the skills base in those areas and transfer the skills from existing downgraded industries into the energy sector?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that industries that share a skills base and a knowledge base often tend to cluster. As I understand it, however, that is not the enterprise zone concept. It is certainly the case that, through the ports infrastructure improvement programme, for example, we are encouraging the clustering of some of the new technologies in offshore wind and elsewhere.
Community Energy Projects
The coalition agreement includes a strong commitment to encourage community ownership of renewable energy projects. We have taken a range of steps to deliver on this commitment. These include removing barriers to the development of community energy projects, setting up a website to provide practical support to communities and working directly with local government to promote best practice.
In my constituency, Warwick hospital and Community Energy Warwickshire, a local social enterprise, have teamed up to put solar panels on the hospital’s buildings. Given the amount of property owned by the public sector, does my hon. Friend not agree that we should do everything we can to encourage this kind of partnership? Will he meet members of Community Energy Warwickshire and Warwick hospital to see how we can replicate this kind of project across the country?
I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and his constituents. This is exactly the kind of project delivered through exactly the kind of partnership that we need to see more of. The coalition is working on a programme including a range of measures to ensure that we drive this forward. I look forward to explaining those in detail to my hon. Friend when I meet him and his constituents.
How can community energy projects be advanced if the Minister’s Department is collaborating with the nuclear industry to lie about the true effects of Fukushima, as described in leaked e-mails published by The Guardian? Is it true that an official in his Department wrote to EDF and the other companies saying, “We must get in, and we must make sure that the anti-nuclear chaps and chapesses do not fill the space with the truth”?
Far from being a champion of community energy projects, the Government seem to be intent on punishing them. In June the Minister cut feed-in tariff funding for schemes generating more than 50 kW. The Secretary of State said a moment ago that he wanted to make feed-in tariffs affordable, but cutting them for medium-scale school, hospital and community projects makes them unviable.
The Minister is aware that we disagree fundamentally with his decision, and our view is shared by the solar industry. Howard Johns, chairman of the Solar Trade Association, has said that the move would cripple the UK’s fledgling solar panel industry, adding:
“Crushing solar makes zero economic sense for UK plc because it will lose us major manufacturing opportunities, jobs and global competitiveness.”
This is yet another example of Government policy damaging our economy and cutting support for industry, rather than generating jobs and growth. Will the Minister admit that he got it wrong, and that he should think again?
The people who got it wrong were the people in the Labour party who were in government and created this programme. They know full well that the model was fundamentally not fit for purpose. The hon. Lady and her Front-Bench colleague, the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), decline to name a figure, but how much more money would they pump into a scheme that would be paid for from people’s bills?
If we had left the scheme unreformed, more than £3 billion would have been added to the cost in the form of high subsidies. We are committed to rolling out solar energy, which is a dynamic technology of the future, but we must do it responsibly. We cannot do it by providing the open-cheque subsidies that would be encouraged by the irresponsible attitude of Opposition Front-Benchers.
Electricity Market Reform
Demand-side measures have huge potential to help us to reduce emissions and cut costs. The coalition’s green deal will be the most ambitious demand-side programme since the second world war, but we must go even further. Our proposals for energy market reform will drive radical new ways of reducing demand on an industrial scale, and will allow demand reduction measures to compete on an equal footing with new generation for the first time.
I am hugely encouraged by the Minister’s answer. Will he bring forward detailed proposals on how energy efficiency will be supported by the EMR? Knowing, as he does, the importance of EMR and of public finance, emissions reductions and energy security, will he commit himself to pressing for the maximum possible ambition?
I can assure my hon. Friend, who is an expert on these matters, that there will be the maximum possible ambition in the EMR documents that we will publish next week, but there is much more work to be done. We will need to consult the industry. Demand reduction is not like alternative forms of energy generation. We are creating a new model, and different types of indices and accounting will be necessary. We will need a robust system of measurement as well as the market mechanism. I have absolutely no doubt that we can crack it, and I can assure my hon. Friend of our ambition and determination to do so.
Last week I received my gas bill, which showed that my consumption had been 25% lower than it had been during the same period last year. At the same time, however, the direct debit payments requested by the company were rising substantially. How confident is the Minister that demand-led measures will help hard-pressed consumers?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his heroic efforts to reduce consumption. He is right: the best way of ensuring less exposure to rising gas prices, oil prices and fossil fuel prices generally is to reduce consumption. The green deal—the most ambitious roll-out of home energy efficiency since the second world war—will be a massive bonus for all our homes, and we hope to have applied it to 26 million homes by 2030.
Energy Saving Trust
The Energy Saving Trust has helped to deliver substantial carbon savings and has assisted in Government energy efficiency objectives. However, the step change in ambition that will come with the roll-out of the green deal will include the Government ending dependence on just one monopoly provider and opening up the market for advice and best practice to dynamic competition.
I agree that the Energy Saving Trust has done great work. It has been publicly funded and it has provided a lot of advice and resources for people, so why will the Minister not ensure that all that publicly funded advice and resource information published to date continues to be available to the public through an organisation that will become a social enterprise?
There will continue to be publicly funded information, particularly on the green deal. We believe that the public should get the very best information and that the way to achieve that is by opening up the provision of advice to competition, rather than by just continuing with one monopoly provider. The Energy Saving Trust has done good work in the past, and we certainly anticipate that it will be part of the tender for the new provision of advice under the green deal.
Domestic Energy Bills
10. What recent discussions he has had on domestic energy bills with representatives of the six largest energy companies. (64274)
Department of Energy and Climate Change Ministers and officials regularly meet energy suppliers to discuss market issues, and this afternoon I will be hosting an energy summit for small, non-big six suppliers, to discuss the barriers they face to competing in the market, with a view to making sure it is as easy as possible for them to enter it.
Bringing the Secretary of State back to the issue of the big six energy companies, do they do enough to make vulnerable customers aware of their potential eligibility for a social tariff, and if they do not do enough, what will the Government do to make sure vulnerable customers are made aware of their potential eligibility?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important question, especially as we approach the winter months. As he may know, we have put the warm homes discount scheme on a legislative basis and it is absolutely crucial that our targeting efforts continue. We are doing a lot of work, not least with the Department for Work and Pensions, to try to ensure that we can identify the people who will be most in need, and of course the green deal, which will start next year, will prioritise those in fuel poverty so that we tackle the root causes of the problem and do not merely seek to apply a sticking plaster—
The Secretary of State did not answer the point about the big six, so I will give him another chance. We have some of the highest energy prices in Europe. What action is he taking with the big six to ensure that electricity and gas prices in this country are fair for those whose living standards are being squeezed by his Government?
The hon. Gentleman is incorrect about the comparison with other European countries’ electricity and gas prices. In fact, in both cases our prices are among the lowest. They could certainly be lower, and I am determined to try to make sure that we have the maximum competition in the market, because in my experience that is always the best guarantee that the consumer will get the best deal. That is why we want more companies to enter the market, and the electricity market reform will encourage more market entrants on the generator side. That is also why in the long term—
The charity Age UK predicts that rising energy bills will take 250,000 more pensioners into fuel poverty, and those pensioners are under-heating their homes by rationing their consumption of fuel and thereby increasing their exposure to potential ill health, misery and depression. What action will the Secretary of State take to ensure that gas and electricity prices are fairer, something that the Prime Minister promised those pensioners?
As I said in a previous answer, we are doing two very practical things. One is providing the warm homes discount and ensuring that it is made available to those most in need; the other is ensuring that we tackle the root causes of these problems. Another key issue for anyone facing high energy bills is the need to switch, as I have been trying to encourage them to do. As the hon. Lady may have noticed, customers of the big six who are already on dual fuel direct debit accounts could have saved between £160 and £200 in 2010 merely by getting on to the cheapest tariff available at the beginning of the year.
But for people to make the savings they need to understand what they are being charged. Does the Secretary of State think that there could be improvements to and reductions in bills and that the market could be opened up if there was more clarity on the tariffs available and less confusion about what things were going to cost?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, and what he describes is one of Ofgem’s objectives in tackling this issue. It is also one of the objectives we are introducing in legislation: we want to ensure that people can see on their bill that there will be a clear alternative with the same supplier at the cheapest tariff.
The big six seem very quick to put prices up, but they act much more slowly to reduce their prices when wholesale prices fall. There are alternatives out there, such as the social enterprise Ebico, which supplies energy on a not-for-profit basis. What more can the Secretary of State do to make customers aware that they do not need to stick with the big six if they are being ripped off?
The key is to encourage people to act. At the moment 99% of people are with the big six, and they are very unlikely to look at alternatives and to switch. If we can get people to look more comprehensively on a regular basis at alternatives, substantial savings can be made, and we can drive greater competition, we can simplify bills, we can bring more new entrants into the market, we can make sure that Ofgem is keeping that market under review and we can give the best possible deal to British consumers.
We have heard a lot of warm words from the Secretary of State today, and before the election the Prime Minister made promises about what he would do to tackle energy price increases if he got into power. We have seen these huge price increases, and customers are rightly confused and angry, so what is the Secretary of State going to do right now to tackle this problem? The electricity market reform is all very well, but we could deal with issues relating to doorstep selling and smart meters. There is action that he could take now, so I would like to hear what he is planning to do to help consumers today.
As the hon. Lady knows, much of what we can do takes time, but we have already, in just over a year in government, moved to legislate on the warm homes discount. That means that we will be providing a legal underpinning for the scheme which will help our poorest consumers and those most at risk in fuel poverty. We are also moving on energy saving and moving to increase competition in the market. We are trying to provide assurance and an increased ability to switch, and to simplify tariffs. That is quite an agenda, and none of it was being undertaken by the previous Government.
Energy Efficiency (Housing)
The green deal is our ambitious new programme to transform energy efficiency in housing and in small and medium-sized enterprises. From late 2012, home owners, landlords and tenants will be able to install energy efficiency at no up-front cost, with repayments coming from their energy bill savings. Alongside the green deal, the energy company obligation will offer targeted support to the fuel poor and hard-to-treat homes.
On 30 June, the Committee on Climate Change published its third report to Parliament, saying the following about emissions from residential buildings:
“Implementation of measures slipped in 2010. There will be a need for a significant acceleration in the pace of emissions reduction if indicators and carbon budgets are to be achieved”.
Will the Secretary of State therefore table an amendment to the Energy Bill before the summer recess to produce a statutory strategy to ensure that these targets are met?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: not only did we slip slightly last year in the final throes of the regime that we inherited from the previous Government, but if we had carried on at the rate of progress of the previous Labour Government it would have taken 80 years to retrofit homes to the standard that we hope to achieve in two decades. We will certainly be linking the green deal to our commitments in the climate change legislation, and that is an amendment that we introduced and is included in the Energy Bill.
Despite my best endeavours when I was in the Minister’s job, Londoners received only 5% of the insulation jobs and of the carbon emissions reduction target, even though they make up 15% of the population of England. Will the Minister now introduce a regional obligation on energy companies so that Londoners get a green deal and not a raw deal?
The right hon. Lady is right. Unfortunately, the programmes we had under the previous Government were ineffective, particularly in London. We are transforming that with the green deal and the energy company obligation and we shall certainly ensure that the roll-out of energy efficiency measures under the coalition is much fairer and much more ambitious than we saw under the previous Government.
Yesterday, a report by uSwitch showed that fuel poverty levels in the UK are spiralling, with 6.3 million households—almost a quarter of all UK homes—now classed as being fuel poor. That highlights the urgent need for energy-efficiency improvements coupled with support from Government. However, in the past year the Government have systematically scrapped support for fuel poor households. We have seen Labour’s Warm Front scheme cut, winter fuel payments reduced by up to £100 and the rejection of many Energy Bill amendments that would have provided extra support to—
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. She will know that under the final five years of the Labour Government, the number of those in fuel poverty rose from 1.5 million to more than 4 million—an absolutely catastrophic record bequeathed to the coalition. We will turn that around with the most ambitious energy-efficiency programme since the second world war and a far more effective way of delivering help to the fuel poor.
12. What steps he plans to take in response to the recommendation to his Department from Hayes McKenzie on the adequacy of guidance to developers and local authorities on best practice in the assessment and rating of noise from wind turbines. (64276)
The Hayes McKenzie report was published in June and included a range of recommendations. The Institute of Acoustics has agreed to a request from me to set up a working group to take forward these recommendations and develop advice for communities, developers and planners on how best to assess the noise impacts of proposed wind farms in a consistent manner.
I thank the Minister for his reply. Footnote 34 of that report stated that the noise regulations were “inconsistently applied” and recommended better guidance on best practice for developers and planning authorities. Supposedly, the Government are working with the industry to draft that. Until the Government issue that guidance, developers across the UK are taking advantage of the confusion. When will we finally get these recommendations?
We have asked the Institute of Acoustics, because of its professionalism in this area, to consider things on a case-by-case basis rather than waiting until the entire report is complete so that we can have as much clarity and consistency as possible at the earliest possible stage.
Carbon Capture and Storage
We expect to launch an accelerated process for the selection of further CCS demonstration projects by the end of the year, when we will set out a detailed timetable. I cannot wait to hear the hon. Gentleman’s supplementary question.
I thank the Minister for his response and, indeed, for his reduced emissions.
The Government’s claim to be the greenest ever is quickly unravelling. Carbon capture and storage is vital in tackling climate change and to the security of future energy supply, so why are the Government dragging their feet on these vital developments?
I simply do not recognise that description. We have given more money than any Government anywhere in the world to a single carbon capture project—£1 billion—and we have the most ambitious programme: when countries such as Norway and Holland are letting theirs slip backwards, Britain’s is still on track. We aim to deliver four projects by 2020, and the hon. Gentleman should celebrate that success because of the jobs it will bring to his constituents, among others.
Carbon Floor Price Mechanism
An assessment of the impacts of the carbon price floor on energy intensive industries is given in HMRC’s tax information and impact note, published alongside the Budget. Electricity bills for an average energy-intensive business are estimated to increase by 2% and 6% in 2013 and 2016 respectively as a result of the carbon price floor. However, in the late 2020s electricity bills will be between 2% and 5% lower than would otherwise have been the case.
Will the Minister outline what specific issues the Government are considering to prevent energy-intensive industries, such as the steel industry in my constituency, from being disadvantaged in comparison with their global competitors by policies such as the carbon price floor?
As the hon. Lady knows, we are meeting not just the steel manufacturers, such as those in her constituency, but a range of energy-intensive industries. I will be meeting the chief executives of several before the House rises for the recess. We are considering a range of measures in conjunction with the Treasury and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and in the autumn we will announce the result of that collaboration.
Ofgem has just consulted on initial proposals to simplify tariffs and reduce consumer confusion. We welcome Ofgem’s proposals but we think consumers need better information to help them to take control of their consumption and costs, so we are taking forward proposals to require information on bills about a supplier’s cheapest tariff and how the consumer’s consumption compares with that of similar households.
19. What assessment he has made of the potential long-term benefits to the economy of expenditure on biogas technology. (64283)
The coalition Government are committed to increasing substantially the generation of renewable electricity and heat from waste through anaerobic digestion as well as through advanced conversion technologies such as gasification. Energy from a range of waste products contributes to reducing emissions, enhancing energy security and creating green jobs.
Anaerobic digestion has a number of advantages over other renewable energy technologies. It is generated constantly and can be stored in the grid in the form of gas, but people are having specific problems getting through the planning process to support the development of anaerobic digestion plants. What can the Minister do to help with this?
Obviously, planning per se is a matter for the Department for Communities and Local Government, but we are keen that where any renewable energy installation occurs in a local community, the local community should share in the wider benefits and the financial benefits, helping them to retain some of the business rates in their community and potentially to take ownership of those assets through community share ownership. There is a whole range of community benefits, but we need to do a better job of explaining them to local residents.
Underground Coal Gasification
The Government recognise the potential of underground coal gasification, but the technology is still in its early stages. Our view is that as a carbon capture option it is not a priority to pursue at present. The Coal Authority has lead responsibility, as the freehold owner of our national coal resource, and we continue to monitor developments in the sector.
Newcastle university in my constituency has spun out a start-up, Five-Quarter, to pioneer coal gasification. As the Minister will know, 75% of Britain’s coal reserves are still deep underground, much under the North sea. There is potentially more energy there than in all the natural gas so far extracted from the North sea, so should not the Minister be doing more to help to support this pioneering work?
I would be very grateful if the hon. Lady would bring those people from the university to meet me to talk about the work they are doing and how that resource can be developed more effectively. In the past couple of years, 14 licences have been granted for areas close to the shoreline. This is a technology we are keen to watch, but I would be very grateful to learn from the university’s expertise.
Since the last departmental Question Time, the Energy Bill has completed its Committee stage. Yesterday, we announced that Whitehall carbon emissions have been cut by nearly 14% in one year: the Department of Energy and Climate Change achieved an impressive reduction of 21.3% and was only just pipped at the post by the Department for Education. We have also revealed the simplification proposals for the carbon reduction commitment and climate change agreements. We have responded to the Committee on Climate Change’s third annual progress report to Parliament, as required under the Climate Change Act 2008, and the fourth carbon budget, covering the period from 2023 to 2027, is now law.
There are many energy-intensive companies across the black country producing high-value items for export all over the world. Those companies, which I would not call old industry, are concerned about the carbon price floor and rising energy costs. Can my right hon. Friend advise whether the joint working group between the Treasury, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and his Department will meet representatives of the chemicals and aluminium industries to hear their concerns?
I can assure my hon. Friend that I met representatives of the aluminium industry very recently and that we have a regular programme of meeting companies from energy-intensive industries. Indeed, I have also had contact with trade union representatives from energy-intensive industries. We want to see a solution that will ensure those industries are able to thrive within the United Kingdom—she can have my absolute assurance on that. As my colleagues have pointed out, there are discussions under way between BIS, the Treasury and us on this.
The green economy road map was promised in April. Where is it?
The green economy road map is under way in the Green Economy Council. It is very important that we get that process of work right, and the hon. Lady will know that getting a cross-governmental road map right is not always the easiest process, but I can assure her that it is under way and that she will be put out of her misery shortly.
Whenever the right hon. Gentleman’s Department has to work with other Departments, progress on green issues stalls. We have now learned that the flagship Energy Bill, which the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), has spoken about a great deal today, has been shelved. When will we see the Bill back in the House, and will it delay the start of the green deal?
Obviously the timing of the final stages of the Energy Bill is a matter for the business managers, but we are determined to hold to the October 2012 deadline for the launch of the green deal and are working to ensure that we meet it, despite the congestion we have faced in the House of Commons. I am grateful to the hon. Lady for encouraging us to come forward with further details of our policy and note that she is about to offer what has been billed as the first detailed insight into the Opposition’s thinking on low-carbon policy at a green business event, which I am sure we all look forward to.
T2. As Ministers will know, Cornwall has ambitions to become the green peninsula in the UK through renewable energy and therefore warmly welcomes the Government’s proposed marine energy park. What progress has been made on that, what timetable has been set and will Ministers ensure that the park provides the vital stimulus so that the wave hub can get going off the north coast of my constituency? (64290)
My ministerial colleagues have had regular meetings on this with the green energy programme board and are making good progress. We will continue the workstream to try to accelerate our commitment to low-carbon goods and services in the UK economy. It is a high-growth opportunity, and obviously Cornwall will play an important future role in that.
T5. Will the Minister confirm his support for the pioneering plans for underground coal gasification off the Northumberland coast, as described earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah), and agree to meet representatives from the Opposition, from Newcastle university and from Five-Quarter to seek support on the issue? (64293)
That is exactly the offer I made to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne Central (Chi Onwurah). I am keen for that meeting to be as wide as possible, and indeed happy for it to include the entire parliamentary Labour party. This is an important technology and we are keen to understand the expertise that the university has.
T3. The Minister will be aware that farmers and parish councils across Suffolk are keen to contribute to reducing local carbon emissions and supporting renewable energy, but there is great concern about the divisiveness of onshore wind turbines in local communities. What other renewable energy measures is his Department keen to promote on a local level? (64291)
There is a whole range of technologies for renewable energy that are appropriate at local level, such as anaerobic digestion, which has already been discussed today. Furthermore, we have introduced £860 million to support a range of renewable heat technologies that will be significant for our future, including air source heat pumps and ground source heat pumps. However, I urge my hon. Friend not to take too jaundiced a view of onshore wind turbines. So far I am the only Member of the House who has been booed on “Any Questions” for pointing out that onshore wind turbines are beautiful, a view I hold to firmly and with which I hope other Members will agree.
T7. Many people in Wales are excited about the possibility of shale gas transforming the welsh economy, but equally many of my constituents are worried that the chemicals that are pushed down into the ground will end up in the watercourse and that the fracking process, which has possibly already led to problems in Blackpool, might lead to real problems across the whole of the south Wales coalfield. What will the Minister do to reassure my constituents? (64296)
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue. There is potential for shale gas in the United Kingdom, but only one application is going forward, in the north-west, and that is on hold to see whether there is any link between the recent minor earth tremors there and the drilling process. We need to understand fully any issues with that. It is a legitimate technology, but the fluid is 99% water and the majority of the remainder is an inert soapy-type compound—
T4. Leeds has a strong case to be considered for the green investment bank, and I look forward to discussing it next week with the Minister, but may I ask for some cross-departmental working? The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills announcement, which appeared to suggest that Leeds was no longer in the running, was not helpful, so can the Minister assure me that it is not a foregone conclusion that the bank will be in London ? (64292)
I can assure my hon. Friend that no decisions on the matter have been taken. He is absolutely right that BIS is the lead Department on it, but decisions are some way off and we have some work to do on scoping and on getting right the detail of the proposals before siting becomes salient.
In relation to the Humber ports, the Minister talked earlier about the £60 million that is available for the development of green energy on the portside, but that was an announcement by the previous Labour Government of course. In terms of the job opportunities for my constituents, can he explain the targeted assistance that will be available to Hull?
The difference we have made is that that funding is linked specifically to manufacturing projects, rather than to speculative improvements in ports. In addition, £70 million has been brought forward in Scotland, and there will be perhaps more in Wales, so we are very keen to see specific projects. Siemens is looking at the opportunities on the north side of the Humber in Hull, where very good progress is being made, and there will be a fixed formula for establishing exactly how much Government support is going to be available for private sector investment.
T6. What is my right hon. Friend doing to encourage the Danish company Vestas to build a wind turbine factory in my constituency? (64294)
I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I am very keen to see Vestas come back to the UK market as a manufacturer. I remember visiting its plant on the Isle of Wight some years ago, and it had a manufacturing facility in Woolston close to my constituency. The fact that it is looking at re-establishing itself in the UK is enormously encouraging, and we are in conversations with the company. Clearly, Sheerness as a site is not an assisted area and therefore would not benefit from the subsidies that have been found for assisted areas, but it has other advantages, of which I am sure Vestas is well aware from its discussions with my hon. Friend, and I very much hope that it takes that decision to go forward.
The Secretary of State, in one of his lengthy answers to his interviewer on the “Today” programme, waxed lyrical about the potential of wave and tidal energy. Will he therefore explain why the earmarked amount from the development fund has been reduced from £50 million to £20 million, which green energy specialists have described as a drop in the ocean and completely inadequate?
The hon. Gentleman should be aware that that is new money, which will be spent—unlike some allocations that were made under the previous Government. We are very committed to bringing forward such early-stage technologies, which are going to be part of our future, and I have been very keen to see for myself the progress that has been made, particularly on wave projects.
T8. By 2012, Bentley Motors in Crewe in my constituency will have made 100% of its range compatible with renewable fuels, reducing its CO2 emissions by at least 15%. Will my hon. Friend visit the Bentley site to see how that and other investment is helping to reduce the impact on the environment, and to discuss what further support his Department may be able to offer? (64297)
I was very pleased to have the chance earlier this week to talk about those issues with Bentley, which is of course a world-class engineering company based in my hon. Friend’s constituency. I shall be in touch with his office later today to fix a visit in the coming weeks.
Will the Secretary of State reflect further on the anaerobic digester plants that are close to and in built-up areas? Is he aware that the stuff being carried by lorries trundling through the village of Whitwell in my constituency is not the green deal but brown and stinks to high heaven? What does he have to say to the people there?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. The more I do this job, the more I realise that there is not a single energy source, whether it is anaerobic digesters, wind turbines or nuclear power, or indeed fracking with shale gas, that does not involve concerns and worries. It is our job to make sure that those are minimised, and we want to ensure that his constituents suffer the minimum disruption to their lives in built-up areas.
T9. I thank the Minister for giving his time earlier this week to meet the GreenWin organisation from my constituency. He will have noticed that it stands well prepared for green deal roll-out in my part of the world. Will he keep at the forefront of his mind at all times the fact that it is not only these big society organisations that will make the green deal a success, but the small value-added services that can be offered to make energy efficiency possible for many of our constituents—services such as basic loft clearance, which he knows could be a deal breaker? (64298)
I was delighted to meet my hon. Friend and GreenWin, which is an excellent organisation whose expertise is now radiating beyond his constituency. He is absolutely right. Many of the barriers to the green deal and take-up of energy efficiency are not just financial but involve practical measures such as clearing the loft. A community response to overcoming those barriers is often the very best way. My officials will be working to see how we can spread the expertise of GreenWin right across the country.
An observant constituent of mine noticed on a very sunny day that he was getting nothing back for the electricity he was generating from his solar panels. Luckily the problem—it was a grid problem—has now been resolved by Western Power. What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that the infrastructure across the country is adequate to take on all the electricity, especially in areas where solar panels have become very popular, and to make absolutely sure that those people are able to get the feed-in tariff that they are generating?
Part of the solution to this is the rolling out of smart grids, which will measure two-way flows of electricity and therefore give an absolutely precise reading of what is being put into the grid. We are taking forward that programme, and we have already shaved a year off the time scale that we inherited from the previous Administration because of the many benefits that it will bring.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise that at this time of the year, because this is when we need to be planning for the winter. The Office of Fair Trading is investigating the matter. I have asked for its report to be completed by the early autumn so that we can decide exactly what measures need to be introduced to make sure that the problems of last winter are not repeated.
I am sure that a Minister as progressive and forward thinking as the Secretary of State is convinced by the arguments put forward by those who advocate double summer time. What efforts is he making to reduce carbon emissions by following this approach and speaking to his Cabinet colleagues about the issue?
I was quite intrigued by the whole issue of double summer time because I, perhaps like the hon. Gentleman, thought that it was a bit of a silver bullet and an easy solution. Unfortunately, it turns out that there are more complications, not only north of the border but certainly there, and that the extent of the carbon reductions is not as clear cut as it may appear. However, it is a matter not for my Department but for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
Sir Michael Pitt from the Infrastructure Planning Commission, supported by the Department, requested a fair, independent and transparent report on the cost of undergrounding and any alternative to cables and pylons. Now that KEMA has been sacked, the Institution of Engineering and Technology cannot endorse a report because there is not one. National Grid is implicated for not providing the figures that are necessary for whole-life costs. The public are left with buried figures rather than buried cables. What can the Minister do to get information on costs available to people before the development consent applications have been received by the IPC?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. She is a particularly doughty campaigner on this issue, and I am aware of how significant it is in Somerset. All I can say is that we will try to be as open as possible about all the information. If we have in any way failed to be open, I ask her to get in touch and we will make sure that we are being so. My understanding is that the costs of undergrounding are roughly 10 times as high as the costs of pylons, and that pylons are going to be quite important.
Business of the House
The business for the week commencing 11 July will include:
Monday 11 July—Consideration of Lords amendments to the European Union Bill, followed by motion to approve European documents relating to rights and protection of victims.
Tuesday 12 July—Motion relating to the retirement of the Clerk of the House, followed by Second Reading of the Public Bodies Bill [Lords], followed by if necessary consideration of Lords amendments.
Wednesday 13 July—Consideration of Lords amendments to the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill, followed by Opposition day [20th allotted day] [Half day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 14 July—Consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by all stages of the Sovereign Grant Bill.
The provisional business for the week commencing 18 July will include:
Monday 18 July—Motions relating to national policy statements. Motion to approve the appointment of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration and Health Service Commissioner for England.
Tuesday 19 July—General debate on matters to be raised before the forthcoming Adjournment, as nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
I applaud the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee for her award last night as The House magazine’s Back-Bencher of the year.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for that reply. May I join him in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) on her award?
Today, we remember the 52 victims of the 7 July bombings and their bereaved families. The terrible pain that they must still feel will be shared across the House. That anyone could have tried to exploit their raw grief to sell newspapers shows exactly why yesterday’s debate was so important. The best way to uphold the kind of journalism that we respect is to root out the kind of journalism that none of us can stomach. I have, therefore, three questions to ask the Leader of the House.
The first is on the public inquiry, which must be judge-led. I welcome the Government’s swift change of mind since the Deputy Prime Minister rejected an inquiry on Tuesday. When will we have a statement setting out how the inquiry will be established, who will chair it and what its powers will be? Can we be assured that it will cover the culture and practices that led to what happened, the nature of regulation, and the relationship between the police and the media?
Can we have an urgent statement from the Home Secretary? The Prevention of Corruption Act 1906 makes it an offence for anyone to pay money to a police officer or for any officer to receive it. The House wants to be assured now that whatever the current investigation reveals, including on the allegation that the Prime Minister’s former director of communications sanctioned payments to police officers while he was at the News of the World, this practice is no longer happening anywhere. The Home Secretary has so far been conspicuous by her absence. It is time she came to the House to answer questions.
Can we have an urgent statement from the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport on the BSkyB bid? It was clear yesterday that the House will no longer accept the course of action that he has been intent upon. In the light of what has been revealed about the activities at News International, this matter must now be referred to the Competition Commission.
Last week, I asked for a statement by the Secretary of State for Transport on the award of the contract to build 1,200 Thameslink train carriages to Siemens. It turns out that at the same time as the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions was in Madrid telling British employers to give British jobs to British workers, his Cabinet colleagues were having to explain why they had given a contract for British trains to German workers. Instead of blaming the procurement process, the Ministers who took this decision need to explain what they propose to do, given that this week Bombardier announced that 1,429 skilled workers in Derby, long the proud home of train manufacturing in Britain, will lose their jobs. So much for all the Government’s empty words about British manufacturing.
In welcoming the £38 million in British aid announced this week to help the millions facing starvation in the horn of Africa, may I ask for a debate on the food crisis affecting our fellow human beings there? The world cannot make it rain, but we can and must lend a hand.
May we have a statement on housing benefit from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government so that he can explain the letter that he authorised his private secretary to send to the Prime Minister’s office in January? It revealed that the Government’s housing benefit plans could make 40,000 people homeless, cut house building and end up not saving money but costing it. Yet while raising those “very serious practical issues” in private, the Communities Secretary was saying in public that he backed what the Government were doing.
The House also wants to know which Minister knew what and when about that information, which was clearly available back in January but was not revealed during the passage of the Welfare Reform Bill. Here is another policy that just has not been thought through. Only Conservative Ministers could come up with a housing policy that makes people homeless and costs taxpayers more.
Finally, may we have a debate on prime ministerial authority? Asked two weeks ago about the threat by his Tory MEPs to oppose tougher carbon emission targets, the Prime Minister promised the House that he would “work on” them. What happened? Such is his diminished influence that a majority of them simply ignored his pleas and voted against a binding 30% reduction this week.
I have a suggestion that might help. The next time Tory MEPs are rebelling on climate change, perhaps the Communities Secretary could offer to assist. Famous for his lecturing of local government about belt-tightening, it seems that he has recently replaced his £20,000 fuel-efficient ministerial Prius with a £70,000 Jaguar. Perhaps he could offer to drive over to Strasbourg and remind his Tory colleagues just how important it is to cut carbon emissions.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. The Deputy Leader of the House and myself travel almost everywhere by bicycle, so we are making our contribution to energy saving, and we have a very small carbon footprint between us.
May I begin with the serious issue that the right hon. Gentleman raised? Yesterday’s debate marked a sea change in the House’s perception of certain sections of the press, which I think reflects a much broader change in how the public now view the allegations. They have been made even worse by the allegations in the press today that the families of soldiers who have fallen had their phones tapped. It was a good debate, because the mover of the motion and many others who spoke from throughout the House understood and recognised that it was not a party political issue.
The Government are now looking at two inquiries. The first is on the specifics of the original police investigation and why it did not uncover some of the allegations that are now emerging, and the second is on the wider issue of media ethics, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. There is a relationship between those two inquiries, which means that we will have to give careful thought to their terms of reference and their relationship with the ongoing police investigation. We will consult widely on the terms of reference, including with the Joint Committee on privacy, party leaders and the Cabinet Secretary. We want to get this right, and we plan to make an announcement to the House before Parliament rises for the summer recess. I will pass the right hon. Gentleman’s questions on to the Home Secretary, who will be in the House today for Second Reading of the Police (Detention and Bail) Bill.
On BSkyB, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport is acting in a quasi-judicial way, and it is quite right that he carries out his role in that manner without any interference from anyone else in the Government. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, my right hon. Friend was on the Treasury Bench for the debate yesterday and will have heard what the House said. Yesterday’s debate was about newspapers not being above the law, and it is quite right that Ministers are not above the law either.
On Bombardier, the right hon. Gentleman sought to dismiss the way in which the procurement process was designed and initiated by the previous Government. As I have just said, newspapers are not above the law, but Ministers are not above the law either. We are bound by the criteria that the previous Government set out, and we must continue with the decision that has been made according to those criteria. Of course, any job losses are regrettable, but Bombardier had previously advised the Government that it expected to make 1,000 redundancies at this time, regardless of the outcome of the Thameslink procurement, as several of its existing orders had reached completion. Derby is a priority area for the European regional development fund under the east midlands programme. I understand that a large amount of the £6.6 million ERDF funding available for Derby to use for suitable projects is still available, and there are six bids from Derby for the regional growth fund.
Turning to the Department for International Development, the shadow Leader of the House will have seen the written ministerial statement by the Secretary of State for International Development on 6 July. He is holding a briefing on the horn of Africa at 5 pm this evening in room 15 and will update colleagues if they go along. The shadow Leader of the House will have seen in the ministerial statement that the Government have contributed help with food for 1.3 million Ethiopians for three months as well as helping to tackle the problem of hundreds of thousands of starving children.
The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has replied to the shadow Secretary of State and placed the letter in the Library. The letter deals with all the questions raised by the shadow Leader of the House. I note in particular that Secretary of State says that
“since it was written, the Government has said it will be looking at transitional arrangements for particularly hard cases. We are putting in a series of policy measures to assist local authorities with that transition, and to provide considerable financial support to tackle homelessness.”
He goes on to say:
“I…hope Her Majesty’s Opposition can support”
the benefit cap,
“not least since it was in the Labour Party’s general election manifesto.”
The matter of Conservative MEPs and climate change was covered in the exchange that just took place in Department of Energy and Climate Change questions. Of course, we are disappointed about the European Parliament vote, but I am sorry that when it came to voting on the amended report as a whole, Conservative MEPs mostly voted in favour, and Labour MEPs largely voted against.
On 12 May, the House tasked the Members’ Allowances Committee to review the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009. I welcome the Leader of the House’s support in doing so, but there is a motion on today’s Order Paper that suggests, on the face of it, that the remit of the Committee should be restricted to looking at expenses. It looks that way, but I feel sure that that is not what the Leader of the House is seeking to do, and that he wants to ensure that a full review takes place. I just invite him, to save time this afternoon, to make it absolutely clear that the motion will not restrict the Committee from conducting a full review into all aspects of the 2009 Act.
Following the debate that my hon. Friend initiated, we had informal discussions with him, and I tabled a motion earlier this week that, as I understood it, met all his concerns and provided the right remit. I was very sorry that the motion was blocked on two occasions, and of course, amendments to it have been tabled, which automatically blocks it. I cannot undertake to find time between now and the end of the Session to debate this particularly important issue. I very much hope that those who blocked the motion or tabled amendments to it will think again, and enable us to make progress and set up the Committee as it was originally envisaged.
When can we have a debate, and indeed some action, on the shocking situation whereby Sinn Fein MPs, who refuse to recognise this Parliament or Her Majesty the Queen, still get their huge allowances and travel expenses? When will we accept that if they will not accept this Parliament’s rule, they cannot accept British money?
The Government’s view is that all hon. Members who have been elected to the House should take their place in it. We see no reason why that should not happen. As I said in business questions last week, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is having discussions with the parties in Northern Ireland with a view to bringing that unsatisfactory situation to a satisfactory conclusion.
The major development in my constituency—the South Humber gateway project—is delayed yet again by Government agencies, particularly Natural England, carrying out their duties within the planning process. Will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the role of those agencies in planning, because it is causing severe problems, and we need the jobs?
I announced a debate on Monday week on national planning statements, and it may be that the hon. Gentleman can intervene in that. Failing that, the Adjournment debate on the last day may be an appropriate opportunity for him to raise the matter at greater length.
The Leader of the House has been extremely supportive in my many and varied disputes with the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and I am genuinely grateful to him for that. I copied him into my recent letter complaining that my constituency office rent for the last quarter of 2010, which was submitted in December, has still not been paid. Since then I have been asked by IPSA, on two occasions, to resubmit the same claim each with a different and fictional date attached so that the computer can cope with it. The situation is descending into a cross between a “Carry On” movie and a Kafka novel. If the Government are so keen to clean up the so-called mess left behind by the last Government, he could do an awful lot worse than clean up the mess that is the failed and failing organisation that is IPSA.
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has been diverted from his serious duties of representing his constituents in this House by the issues that he has just described. I will raise it with IPSA later today and see whether we can resolve it. I draw to his attention, and to the attention of the House, the National Audit Office report on IPSA, which was published today and, I hope, will provide the basis for a more satisfactory relationship between the House and IPSA. The report refers to the “adversarial relationship” that has developed between IPSA and many MPs, and I hope that some of the recommendations in the report will enable us to move on to a more harmonious basis.
My right hon. Friend will have noticed the rising tide of rivalry between the west and China. Does he agree that this presents a unique opportunity for the United Kingdom and her extraordinary, exceptional and unique network based in the Commonwealth to move into that space with the countries of the Arab spring and the African countries seeking prosperity and stability? Will he arrange time for a debate on this subject which touches on the future prosperity and success of this country?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I will of course draw his remarks to the attention of the Foreign Secretary. Later this month, there is a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference, which may be an opportunity to raise the profile of the subject on a much broader plane. He is right that there is an opportunity to fill the vacuum, and I will draw his remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) said, today is the sixth anniversary of the bombings on the London underground, and the victims and their families are in our thoughts. Can the Leader of the House tell us when the Government will bring forward their legislation to water down control orders and why his Government are so determined to introduce legislation that would give those who would aid and abet terrorism increased access to mobile phones and computers; put increased pressure on the security services by requiring them to increase surveillance; and place the public at greater risk?
The right hon. Gentleman is right to remind the House of the bombings six years ago today, and our thoughts are with the families and friends of those who lost their lives. The issue that he raised is subject to legislation before the House in the form of the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Bill and I hope that he, or his colleagues in the other place, will have an opportunity to raise their concerns.
Has my hon. Friend seen early-day motion 2037 about the disgraceful decision by Diva magazine to rescind a work placement that they had originally offered to Harlow college student Simone Webb on the grounds that she was not rich enough to afford her bus fare and did not have independent means?
[That this House notes that Simone Webb is a 17 year old Harlow College student hoping to study at Oxford University; further notes that she was offered a one month unpaid internship at DIVA magazine, but was later refused on the grounds that she hoped to be reimbursed just £5 transport expenses a day, and was told that DIVA was ‘uncomfortable’ offering her an internship as she was ‘so young and without an independent budget of [her] own’; believes that barriers of this kind are a major threat to social mobility and that this is an outrageous example of internships being abused; and calls for DIVA magazine to pay reasonable transport expenses where it can, and to drop its discriminatory policy of refusing to employ people who lack ‘an independent budget’.]
May we have an urgent debate on social mobility to ensure that work experience and internships are available to the many, not the few?
My hon. Friend is right: internships should be available according to not who you know, but what you know. The House has set an example with the internships that have recently been announced. We are committed to social mobility and we encourage businesses to offer internships openly and transparently and to provide financial support to ensure fair access.
There are always questions about recalling the House during the summer recess, but they are normally slighter closer to the recess. The hon. Lady raises an important issue. The issue of recall is a matter for the Government, after contacting Mr Speaker. If the situation arises, the Government will take the necessary steps to recall the House.
I do not know if you tweet, Mr Speaker, but may I direct you to a person called “Mrs Jennie Bone” on Twitter, who is being followed by more than 100 people, including journalists and Members of Parliament? It is very interesting and amusing, but with one slight problem—it is completely bogus. This is a really important issue if people are taking other people’s names and purporting to be them. While that person is saying funny things at the moment, they could put up something racist or pornographic at any time. So may we have a statement about people taking over other people’s identity on the internet?
You may not tweet, Mr Speaker, but I believe that you know somebody who does. My hon. Friend raises a serious issue about impersonation, and I wonder whether I might encourage him to take part in the debate that he has helped to organise on the last day before the recess, when there may be an opportunity to debate this at greater length and give advice to those who find themselves facing the same difficulty.
I wonder whether the Leader of the House would agree to a debate in Government time on sector-specific support for the UK film and media sector. I raise that issue because I have a particular interest in promoting a scheme in my locality—the Centre of Creative Excellence in Seaham. The difficulty that we have is that the three pillars of support that were there previously—the regional development agency, Northern Film and Media and the UK Film Council—and grant aid through Durham county council have been withdrawn. We need to know how we can make progress on this and create 1,200 jobs and apprenticeships.
I agree that we should do all we can to support the UK film and media industry, which is one of our success stories. There will be an opportunity a week today to raise this issue with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, in either an oral question or a topical question, but in the meantime, I will draw the hon. Gentleman’s concern to the attention of my right hon. Friends so that they know where he is coming from.
May we have an urgent debate on media regulation, given that Ofcom declines to exercise the fit and proper person test in relation to News International despite certain News of the World reporters having been jailed for their actions in the course of their work and the testimony of its executives before Parliament having been seriously undermined by the revelations that we have witnessed this week?
I understand what my hon. Friend says, and he may have seen the exchange that took place on 30 June, when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport answered an urgent question. He said:
“Before coming to such a view”—
on the application before him—
“I will of course seek once again the advice of the independent external regulators.”—[Official Report, 30 June 2011; Vol. 530, c. 1107.]
That includes Ofcom and, of course, the Office of Fair Trading.
We need that urgent debate on the BSkyB/News Corp takeover because yesterday we had the ludicrous spectacle of the Culture Secretary communicating with the House of Commons by whispering in the ear of the Government’s lawyer, as if he were on trial at the Old Bailey. Should not the Culture Secretary man up and take the stand himself by making an urgent statement today at the Dispatch Box?
I think the hon. Gentleman is somewhat unfair. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General was intervening in a debate and speaking about his own responsibilities. He generously took questions that related to another Minister’s responsibilities and, in answering them, he sensibly took advice. As the Prime Minister has said, Ministers in this Government talk to each other.
One of the most difficult educational problems we face in Tamworth is that not enough young people aspire to go to university. May we have a debate on the pupil premium and how over time it can drive up aspiration among our most disadvantaged young people and encourage more of them to go to university?
There will be Education questions on Monday, but my hon. Friend is right, and I hope that the pupil premium will enable more pupils from low-income families to aspire to university. The figures at the moment are deeply depressing, and I hope that as the pupil premium feeds through the education system, more children who would not otherwise have considered a university education will find it accessible to them.
This week I saw figures from my constituency showing that demand for debt advice over the past year has risen dramatically, yet opening hours of citizen advice bureaux are falling dramatically. May we have a debate on how we might support people who need help during this crisis in CABs?
I applaud the work of the CABs, which are indeed under greater pressure. I attended a reception that other colleagues might have attended earlier this week on the Terrace at which my right hon. and learned Friend the Justice Secretary outlined the support that the Government were giving to CABs to help them cope. Hon. Members will have an opportunity next Thursday to ask Ministers in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills about CABs.
Amid the chaos of north Africa, last week the Kingdom of Morocco quietly, efficiently and peacefully conducted a referendum that will usher in far-reaching constitutional changes that I am sure we will all welcome. In the context of the Arab spring, may we have a debate on how this commendable model can be exported in a region which is too often reliant on violent disorder and bloody civil war to usher in change?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising the profile of a good example of how orderly reform can take place. There will be an opportunity at Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions on 19 July to ask my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary about that matter and about how the example of Morocco might be spread more widely.
The Leader of the House will realise that this is the 10th anniversary of the dreadful Bradford riots. May we have an early opportunity to debate the progress made since then? In that debate, may we discuss how the cutting of youth services and of courses for English as a second language and the inability to integrate so many schools in our major cities will come back to haunt us?
May we have a debate on the crisis in the horn of Africa, looking particularly at the work done by the Department for International Development? The UN estimates that about 10 million people face food shortages or starvation. The assistance being provided by DFID is precisely the sort of practical, targeted aid that makes a difference and which we should encourage.
I repeat what I said a few moments ago and draw the House’s attention to the written ministerial statement from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development outlining the extensive support that the Government are giving to the horn of Africa and urging other countries to match our contribution. As I said, later today my right hon. Friend is giving a briefing to colleagues to which my hon. Friend is welcome to come.
May we have a statement before the recess on two important human rights issues? The first is the continuing detention of hundreds of children at Heathrow despite a coalition promise last year that the practice would end. Secondly, it appears that the Government’s plans for an inquiry into the UK’s role in torture and rendition are in complete disarray after human rights groups labelled the inquiry a sham and lawyers and witnesses said that they were going to boycott it.
On the first point, it is indeed our intention to phase out the detention of children, and I will draw the Home Secretary’s attention to the matter. I will also raise the second issue with the appropriate Minister—either the Home Secretary or the Foreign Secretary.
I do not know whether the Leader of the House reads The Times over breakfast, but if he does, this morning he will have noticed that the share price of News Corp has fallen by 3.6% and that companies as diverse as Ford, the Co-op, Butlins and, I am pleased to say, the state-controlled Lloyds Banking Group have withdrawn their advertising from the News of the World. Will he ask a Cabinet Office colleague to make a statement to the House on the level of Government expenditure on advertising with News International titles? Where private business and investors have given a lead, could not the Government now follow?
I read a digital version of The Times at 5.30 this morning, but I am not sure that all the advertisements appear in the digital version. However, my hon. Friend raises an important issue about whether the Government should continue to sponsor advertisements when the private sector has acted as he mentioned. I will raise the matter urgently with the Minister for the Cabinet Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr Maude), and see whether the House can be kept in the picture.
There are increasing numbers of complaints from colleagues about being refused meetings with Ministers on constituency matters. I do not include the Leader of the House in this complaint—I never heard such a complaint made about him while he was a departmental Minister—but as he knows, the fundamental route for Members in pursuing constituency cases is through such meetings. May we therefore have a debate to air this issue, and will he lay down proper guidelines for his fellow Ministers?
The right hon. Gentleman raises a serious issue. I would welcome more information, if he is prepared to let me have it, on the exact instances in which my right hon. and hon. Friends have refused to meet hon. Members. I think that there is a convention that, unless there are strong legal reasons not to do so, Ministers should meet MPs. If he could give me an appropriate list, I would be more than happy to take it up with my colleagues and facilitate every appropriate meeting.
In November, the United Kingdom will take over the chairmanship of the Council of Europe. In view of the persistent attacks that this body, including the European Court of Human Rights, has inflicted on this country, will the Leader of the House give an assurance that we will have a debate in Government time before November so that Members can debate and influence how we can reform that out-of-touch institution?
I know that this is a matter of concern to my hon. Friend and other of my hon. Friends. Work is under way to agree UK objectives and priorities for our chairmanship of the Council of Europe. That includes consultation, as appropriate, with interested parties, and I will certainly feed into that consultation the issue that my hon. Friend has just raised.
I am sure that the Leader of the House is aware that The Daily Telegraph has said that we need a checklist of the Prime Minister’s social meetings with Rebekah Brooks. May we have a statement about those meetings and what was discussed?
My right hon. Friend and all Ministers are obliged to publish regularly details of meetings that they have had with commercial organisations. I am sure that this Government, like the previous one, will continue to observe the relevant parts of the ministerial code.
In March a constituent of mine, Rebecca Coriam, disappeared while working for a British employment agency on a Bahamian-registered, American-based Disney cruise ship in international waters off the coast of Mexico. Despite an investigation by the Bahamas Maritime Authority, her family are still awaiting news of their daughter. May we have a debate on the safety and regulation of cruise ships that would enable me to highlight the difficulties faced by those trying to identify the facts and the responsibility behind events at sea?
I understand my hon. Friend’s concern. I believe that the Minister with responsibility for shipping is aware of that case and understands my hon. Friend’s concerns, and is happy to meet him and the family to discuss how we might take the matter forward.
There has been cross-party and international support for Sakineh Ashtiani, who remains alive but still under threat of execution while her male co-accused is free. May we have an urgent debate on cases such as hers and that of Aung San Suu Kyi—women who are victims of repressive regimes—so that their cases are not forgotten?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. It is monstrous that Ms Ashtiani remains in prison having not had fair representation at her trial and having gone through a terrible year, not knowing whether on any given day she would be executed. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary continues to make representations about her case to the Iranian authorities. It was highlighted in the press today how important it is that continuing pressure be kept on Iran to release this lady as soon as possible.
The Leader of the House might be aware that there is a plan in Parliament for a stained glass window to mark Her Majesty the Queen’s diamond jubilee. It is attracting support from both sides of the House and in both Houses of Parliament. Will my right hon. Friend elucidate on any plans for a Loyal or Humble Address from Parliament for Her Majesty’s visit next year during her diamond jubilee?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the initiative he has taken in raising funds for the stained glass window—I have sent an envelope with something in it to the appropriate authorities. You will have heard what my hon. Friend has said, Mr Speaker, and I am sure that when we come to celebrate the event, there will be an appropriate opportunity for an Address to Her Majesty.
In the past 24 hours, Portuguese Government debt has been downgraded to junk status. At a time when the Government are increasing their contribution to the IMF from £10 billion to £20 billion this year, may we have an urgent debate to ensure that taxpayers in this country are protected from the contamination in the eurozone?
It is worth remembering that it was exactly to avoid the problems that confront Portugal that this coalition Government had to take some difficult decisions last year to clear up the mess that the hon. Gentleman left behind. There will be an opportunity to ask questions to my hon. Friends at the Treasury, but what Moody’s has done to Portugal is a reminder that we need responsible housekeeping here in the UK.