House of Commons
Thursday 4 September 2014
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Energy and Climate Change
The Secretary of State was asked—
We have taken a number of measures to ensure the security of the UK’s energy supply, including introducing new electricity system balancing measures. Our recent national gas risk assessment demonstrated that our gas infrastructure is resilient. In the autumn, I will publish the statutory security of supply report for 2014, which will provide a further assessment of our energy security, and set out my response to the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets’ recent electricity capacity report. We have also engaged closely with EU and G7 partners on measures to increase the EU’s energy security.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the most cost-effective as well as greenest ways to address concerns about security is through greater use of demand-side response, which has been successfully deployed at scale in the United States? Will he undertake to ensure that the treatment of demand-side response providers in the forthcoming capacity market and the transitional arrangements is no less favourable than those available to electricity generators?
I am pleased at the way in which our demand-side measures have been advancing. They are something on which I have placed a lot of stress. I know that my Minister of State appeared before my hon. Friend’s Committee when it was investigating this matter. We certainly want to ensure that we move forward on this and that there is nothing in the way of taking up more demand-side measures.
Last month, EDF announced that it was temporarily closing four of its nuclear reactors, reducing the UK’s nuclear capacity by a quarter. With most of the nuclear fleet being decommissioned by 2023, what steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure maximum use of those assets before that date?
With regard to the two nuclear plants involved, Heysham and Hartlepool, we are taking only precautionary measures to ensure that proper safety and security measures are examined, and I am sure that the whole House will agree that that is the right step. The impact that that will have on our margins over the winter has already been taken account of in National Grid’s analysis and procurement plans. On the hon. Gentleman’s longer point, the whole energy strategy is designed to ensure that we have the capacity that we need not just for the short and medium term but for the long term. I refer him to the investment report that we published in July, which shows a fantastic record of investment in energy across the piece. Indeed, there have been record levels of investment in energy, especially in low-carbon energy.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. The UK imports very little gas from Russia. We have the most liquid and resilient gas markets in the whole of the European Union, but of course we are not complacent. We have been working at the EU to ensure not only that we check resilience of our gas supplies but that our EU colleagues are able to ensure their energy security. This is an EU measure which is very important for the whole of the European Union.
One of the best things that the Secretary of State can do for continued investment is to bring forward the 2030 decarbonisation target to give long-term certainty to investors.
There is a particular issue with regard to gas and gas storage, which is impacting on ceramic manufacturers. Now that we have a new Minister, who is at the Department of Energy and Climate Change and at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and National Grid has announced that it has brought forward the supplemental balancing reserve tender, which will put even greater pressure on energy suppliers and security this winter, it is absolutely essential that the Secretary of State reconsiders his Department’s stance on gas storage. We urgently need a change of policy on extra gas storage.
The hon. Lady knows that we legislated to introduce a decarbonisation target for 2030 in the Energy Act 2013. She also knows that my party strongly supported that.
We looked at gas storage in huge detail to see whether there was a case for Government intervention, but we found that an awful lot of gas storage was being built with more modern technology, which means that the gas can be produced and brought into the pipeline network much more quickly. We have looked at that matter in detail and we do not intend to review it.
17. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the problems we are facing illustrate that, despite huge investment, wind and other renewables cannot replace conventional fuels and require additional capacity megawatt for megawatt to meet need when the wind does not blow or the sun does not shine? Will he confirm that the Government’s costings for renewables do not take into account the cost of supplying an additional amount of conventional capacity? (905195)
We need a mixed approach to energy supply and generation. The Government have always argued that we need renewables, gas and new nuclear and that diversity gives a country extra strength in its security of supply. When we do our analysis we consider all the system costs, not just of renewables but of nuclear and other systems, and no type of electricity generation is without its challenges. For example, in the short term, we have seen fires at two coal plants, Ironbridge and Ferrybridge, that we are having to take into account in our analysis to ensure that our capacity margins are okay over the winter. The mixed approach that we propose is the most secure.
The future of Thoresby and Kellingley coal mines has now been in limbo for more than five months, which raises concerns about energy security. Both the Business Secretary and the previous Energy Minister, the right hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon), said that they were not open to supporting or providing state aid, but the new Minister of State has indicated in meetings that he may be open to state aid, so will the Secretary of State clear up once and for all whether the Government will consider providing it?
Important though the issue is, it is not an issue of energy security. Even if those collieries were in any way to be suspended, the energy security of the country would be okay. The Government have worked tirelessly with the different companies involved to do what we can to help them reach a deal that will ensure the future of those pits, and we will continue to do just that.
It really is important that we have clarity about the future of these mines. It helps no one—not UK Coal, not other potential investors and not the work force and their representatives—for this uncertainty to continue. The Business Secretary and the previous Energy Minister indicated that they were not open to providing state aid, whereas the new Minister has indicated that he may be open to state aid, so will the Secretary of State clarify? Will the Government not support state aid or have they changed their mind?
We consider all options, but the right hon. Lady presents state aid as a “get out of jail free” option when it is not. If the European Commission were presented with the state aid case, it is extremely likely that by the end of the support it would require the collieries to close. We think that there is an advantage in a commercial approach and that is what our attention is focused on.
Renewable Energy Investment
Since 2010, an average of £7 billion has been invested each year in renewable electricity, compared with £3 billion a year in the previous Parliament.
May I take this opportunity to welcome my right hon. Friend to his new role? There has been a recent proposal for a tidal gateway across the Ribble estuary that could provide enough electricity for 18,000 homes. Will the Minister update the House on the progress of the project and ensure that environmental considerations will be at the forefront of the proposal?
The project is proceeding and I would be very happy to hear more detail about my hon. Friend’s position and support for it. Ensuring that we get renewable investment of all kinds is an important part of our plan to deal with climate change and increase energy security, and that is something on which we are working hard.
The Minister has just heard an exchange about the question of state aid that specifically referred to him. We met the miners from the three deep-mine pits that are left, Kellingley, Thoresby and Hatfield, which are in peril. I am talking about energy supply, something for which the Minister is responsible. This Government took £700 million out of the miners’ pension fund last February and all we want is £70 million of state aid for those three coal pits to exhaust their reserves. Treat us like you do the oil companies when you give them tax breaks in the North sea and let us exploit the reserves in the three remaining pits.
I have much to learn from the hon. Gentleman, but that question was not really about renewable energy. Since taking up this post, I have been working hard for a solution to the issues around UK Coal. The Secretary of State set out some of the downsides to a state aid solution. I am prepared to look at all options, but we should be clear that the EU Commission is absolute that it would require a closure of those mines were we to put in place a state aid solution. I come from Nottinghamshire mining stock and I will not take any nonsense from the hon. Gentleman.
Later this month, I shall be attending a meeting in north Wales to discuss the construction of a tidal lagoon at Colwyn bay—one of several that are planned for the coast of Wales and the north of England. Does my right hon. Friend agree that tidal lagoons have the potential to make an enormous contribution to the energy security of this country, and what is he doing to encourage their development?
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his post. I hope he is as energetic in it as he was as Minister for Skills and Enterprise. May I press him on the sustainability issue? Is he aware that the Trillion Fund is a new way of raising money for sustainable energy projects, both in this country and worldwide? It is a very exciting new venture. Vivienne Westwood has just invested £1 million in it. Will the Minister get behind that crowdfunding initiative and give it some support?
The hon. Gentleman is very kind; I am grateful for his compliments. I look forward to the opportunity of working positively with Vivienne Westwood on improving our energy supplies and security. We need improvement across the board, and that includes ensuring that we make the most of our indigenous gas supplies. Improving renewables in our country is, of course, about finance as well as technology on the ground. There is a big opportunity, especially as the cost of renewables falls—the cost of solar is pre-eminent in that fall—and we must seize it with both hands.
Skills, as well as nuclear, are important to pushing forward the renewable energy cause, so does the Minister agree that, as part of the long-term economic plan, the investment by the growth fund in Berkeley for a skills and training centre in green and other energy sources is an excellent way forward?
Yes; I know something about that proposal from my previous job. I am of course a great fan of the skills agenda and I am convinced of the need to drive up the quality and quantity of skills in this area. I am also a big fan of the long-term economic plan, so my hon. Friend’s question just about hit the nail on the head.
Onshore wind developments are being held up by huge delays in the planning system. Since 2009, onshore wind projects have taken, on average, an additional four months to receive planning approval. In total, developments are taking more than four years from the point of application to generating electricity—an increase of over a year since 2009. Can the Minister explain why?
The easiest way is to say that local people’s views are now being taken into account, and I am very glad that they are. It is funny to get such a question from the Labour Front Bench, given that the amount of investment in renewables has doubled in this Parliament—compared with the previous Parliament. At the same time, though, we have strengthened planning rules to allow more control by local people, because the worst way to try to improve the roll-out of renewables, which is important for energy security as well as for climate change, is to ignore the position and the views of local people. That was what happened under the previous Administration and we have changed that.
That was not an answer to my question, and I have to say that most of the developments started under a Labour Government. The figures reveal shocking delays to vital new energy infrastructure. Delays to onshore wind and the use of recoveries and call-ins, not local people, mean that projects are left languishing for years before they receive an answer. Those delays cost jobs and threaten our energy security. What urgent steps is the Minister taking, and what discussions has he had with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, to sort out this mess?
I have discussions with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to ensure that local people’s views are taken into account. The hon. Lady says that the extra investments are due to decisions taken under the previous Government, but that is not true. There is an increase in renewables roll-out, but we have to do it taking local people’s views into account, because to save the global environment and tackle climate change, we cannot sacrifice our local environment, particularly in beautiful places. Getting that balance right is very important. It was not right before and we have put it right.
We have a range of measures in place to promote sustainable energy sources, including reforms to the electricity market to support nuclear, renewables and carbon capture and storage. The percentage of electricity generated from renewable sources has doubled from 7% in 2010 to 14% at the end of last year.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his answer, but it demonstrates that renewables are not the only way and something we can depend on for electricity supply. I note that generation from nuclear power went down slightly in the first quarter of this year, from 18% to 17.7%. What action is he taking to ensure that nuclear energy expands in the years to come?
The whole Department is supporting and driving the first new generation nuclear power stations, which are extremely important for our energy security and the energy mix. Of course a mix is the best way to deliver energy. Renewables are important and are now a material part of our energy supply, but nuclear is zero-carbon energy, too, so we are working hard to land the new generation of nuclear power stations.
Is it still Government policy to support energy from waste incineration? There are problems in my constituency, where the biggest incinerator, run by Viridor, is causing problems of emissions, odours and noise. Will he ask his officials to have a look at the situation in Runcorn to see what is going wrong there?
The record growth, the record deployment, the record investment in renewables under this coalition Government are hugely to their credit, but there is more that we can do. Solar is a particularly exciting opportunity, as my right hon. Friend says, and we are about to smash through 4 GW of solar deployed under this Government, but we need to do more to unlock the potential of roofs, particularly commercial and industrial roof space. Will he pledge to work with my hon. Friends to continue to tear down the barriers to deployment?
Here I am trumpeting this Government’s successes in deployment of renewable investment, and there is the man who led the charge. I pay huge tribute to the work my right hon. Friend did—he did an absolutely terrific job. Thanks to his work, 1 million people now live with solar panels on their roof. I think solar is one of the big opportunities. As the price falls and it becomes competitive—potentially grid competitive—in the short to medium term, solar is a big opportunity, even in cloudy old England.
Following on from the exchange with my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott), what assessment has the Minister made of the impact of a brake on wind farm development on land on our burgeoning wind farm manufacturing industry and on companies such as West Coast Energy in my constituency, which create hundreds of jobs specialising in that growth area of the economy?
The doubling of investment in renewables under this Government has undoubtedly helped those people, as it has helped many other people to get jobs, which is one of the reasons we are seeing record jobs in this country as part of our long-term economic plan.
The people of north and west Wiltshire strongly support renewable energy, but we are besieged by hundreds of planning applications from London-based commercial operations for solar farms, not on roofs of factories or brownfield sites, but on greenfield sites across the county. Will my right hon. Friend reiterate the strong message that our right hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) previously sent out, which is a strong presumption against the use of agricultural land and a strong presumption in favour of industrial roofs and other places?
There are opportunities for solar, where appropriately sited, in many different places on roofs and on land. In fact, land can be combined with agricultural use and solar. One other advantage of solar is that it can effectively be masked from being seen from elsewhere because it is low-rise rather than high-rise. This has to be done sensitively. There is no point in destroying our green and pleasant land in order to save the global environment. We have to tackle security of supply and climate change in a way that also protects the local environment.
Onshore Wind Farms
In future, instead of a fixed level of subsidy, onshore wind will have to bid for support through our new contracts for difference, which will be allocated competitively so that only the best-value projects are supported. The first allocation rounds open in October.
Is the Minister aware that Norfolk hosts a large number of offshore wind arrays that command widespread public support, in stark contrast to most—not all—onshore wind farms, which can be very unpopular when they destroy beautiful landscapes? Further to his earlier reply, can he confirm that Norfolk will not have any more onshore wind farms imposed on it in the face of local opposition?
As I said, we have given more local control in the planning system, as well as changing the subsidy regime so that onshore wind would have to be competitive, for instance, against solar. As the costs of solar fall, it is increasingly able to compete for that subsidy. This is about getting the best possible value for money out of the subsidy but also ensuring that local people have a say in the planning system. I know some of the sites that my hon. Friend is talking about—indeed, I visited, or rather went past, one of the developments last month—so I know of the local concern in his constituency. We have to make sure that in future local people have more of a say, and we are doing that.
We should be very proud of the investment in renewable energy and the progress that has been made over the past four years, making this the greenest Government ever, to coin a phrase. The current policy of reducing the subsidies is absolutely sensible. However, may I gently say that sometimes those who make the most noise are a very vocal minority? My experience in my constituency is that a very few vocal people oppose wind farms whereas most people say, “Actually, not only do we not mind them, we quite like them.”
Where local people not only do not mind local wind farms but quite like them, and the local council decides that that is their democratic decision, giving them more power over the placement of local turbines is the right approach. This is about making sure that we have support locally.
Under the planning system there are separate land use categories for houses, industry and retail but there is no separate land use category entitled “energy generation”. This is an accident of history, because when electricity was first generated it was done only by the Crown using Crown prerogative. The reason local authorities are struggling with all the planning applications for wind farms and solar farms is that they do not have this separate land use category. Will the Minister be kind enough to agree to meet me and the Minister responsible for local government to see how that category could be introduced, because it would better facilitate and regulate the flow of planning applications through all the district councils up and down the land?
I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend and the relevant Minister from the Department for Communities and Local Government, because of course planning issues are directly for that Department. While there may not be a separate category within the planning rules at one level, there is guidance explaining how the rules should be applied in terms of energy generation and transmission, so we just have to make sure that the details are right.
Energy bills are a real concern for many households, so we are helping people with them by providing direct financial help, encouraging competition, and supporting energy efficiency measures. Last December, we reviewed Government policy costs and made changes to take an average of £50 a year off a household’s bill, and we are making it easier to shop around, switch, and get the best deal. We are also providing direct financial help to the most vulnerable through the warm home discount, which will take £140 directly off the energy bills of more than 2 million of the poorest households this year.
Gas and electricity prices are falling, but bills are not, and profits for domestic suppliers doubled in the past year. In Bolton West, more than 40,000 households would save £120 from Labour’s energy price freeze, so why will the Government not freeze their bills?
We all know that Labour’s energy price freeze is a con. We know that the energy companies will put their prices up directly after the freeze, that it will hurt competition and push out the smaller suppliers that are giving people real choice and helping them cut their bills now, and that it will cut investment. Everyone knows that Labour’s energy bill freeze is a con and would not work.
Last year Hyndburn council launched a scheme to deal with hard-to-treat homes, based on the energy companies obligation. In the autumn statement, that funding was withdrawn and all the leaflets had to go in the skip. This summer it launched a scheme with the green deal home improvement fund. All the leaflets were printed, but the goalposts were moved and on the last day before the recess the fund was scrapped, and all the leaflets have gone in the bin. My constituency has tremendous problems with homes that need insulating and renewable energy. What will the Secretary of State do to ensure that that funding reaches my constituents in a constituency that needs it?
This Government have a very good record on energy efficiency and we want to help the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and others to cut their bills through energy efficiency. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we made some changes to ECO, and that was in order to take £50 on average off people’s bills. I hope he supports that and that he will tell his constituents about that cut in their bills which this Government have delivered.
The innovation of UK business, underpinned by a range of policy measures, has seen the UK become a world leader on energy efficiency. Since 2006 we have had the least energy-intensive economy in the G7. According to the 2013 energy projections the UK is on track to overachieve against its 2020 European Union energy efficiency targets, while collectively the EU has more work to do.
Energy-intensive industries, including ceramics, brick and tile-making and steel, have done a huge amount over the past two decades to improve their energy efficiency, yet they face competition from companies both within the EU and elsewhere whose energy costs are subsidised, whether overtly or covertly. Will my hon. Friend set out what the Government are doing to ensure that UK energy-intensive industries are not put at a competitive disadvantage?
The Government recognise both the challenges that high energy costs represent for industry, particularly energy-intensive industries, and the progress made to improve efficiency across many sectors. That is why in Budget 2014 the Government announced a £500 million-a-year package for support for energy-intensive industries, including compensation for the cost of renewable support schemes and providing relief from the climate change levy, including full exemptions for the metallurgical and mineralogical sectors. Together with the amendments to the carbon price floor, those changes will be worth about £7 billion to businesses in the UK.
Thanks to the work of Nottingham Energy Partnership and Nottingham city council, many of my constituents want solid wall insulation to improve the energy efficiency of their homes, but the sudden closure of the green deal home improvement fund just a month after it opened means that they cannot afford it and local firms offering to insulate cannot plan future work. The Secretary of State dodged the question, but what is the answer: what went wrong and when will there be some certainty about the future of this scheme?
I simply do not recognise the hon. Lady’s characterisation of the scheme. It has been a great success, and it is because of its success that we had to close it early. More than 20,000 new homes are going to receive energy-efficiency measures and I would hope that the hon. Lady welcomed that.
When it comes to efficiency, would it not be more effective to allow this country’s three remaining deep-pit coal mines to exhaust their reserves, rather than bringing in Russian coal, which Putin could stop tomorrow, and also American coal?
Wind Farms (Payments)
In 2012 the Government introduced new licence conditions to prevent generators profiting unfairly from transmission constraint. That has enabled National Grid to halve the average amount paid per unit of electricity to wind farms to reduce output. In the medium term, planned network upgrades will reduce further the overall level of constraint costs.
On one day in August, the Government spent £2.8 million on wind farms that were not producing electricity. “Money for Nothing” might be a good pop lyric, but it is not a good policy for a Government who are short of money. The Minister of State, when he was a Back Bencher, said that payments to wind farms should be drastically cut. Would not reducing these absurd payments to zero be a good start?
Constraint payments have been in place for many years, and those for renewable energy are no different from those for other types of energy. They are part of making sure that we have the right amount of power in the grid. The Government have halved the amount paid per unit of electricity, so the hon. Gentleman, rather than harping, should stand up and say, “Congratulations. Can we do some more?”
Over 750,000 homes were improved under the green deal and ECO between January 2013 and June 2014, and we are on track to meet our target of improving the energy efficiency of 1 million homes by March 2015. A further 20,000 homes could be improved under the green deal home improvement fund, which has a pipeline of work over the coming months. In the longer term, we are providing certainty for the market through the extension of ECO until 2017 and up to £120 million of funding in each of the next two years for future schemes.
Ministers must be the only people who believe that the green deal has been a great success for either householders or small businesses—small businesses that are suffering cash-flow problems because of the Department’s delays in paying for vouchers; small businesses that lost out because they sold customers green deal assessments that could not be completed before the scheme was cancelled; small businesses being offered vouchers on the black market for up to £1,000 for solid wall insulation. When will the Government sort out the problems that they have created for small businesses?
The Government are very aware of the efforts that small businesses make and want to support them, as we continue to do in every Department. The answer to the question is that, because of the outstanding success of the green deal home improvement fund, we are making every effort to ensure that every voucher is correct. The hon. Gentleman has described a situation that would not be in accordance with the rules of the green deal home improvement fund, and it is for that reason that we must be absolutely certain that every application is correct, because we are looking after taxpayers’ money.
Last year the former Minister, the right hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), said that he would have sleepless nights if fewer than 10,000 people had signed up to the green deal by the end of the year. The latest figures I have seen show that just over 1,800 people have signed up. I welcome the new Minister to her post, but may I inquire how well she is sleeping?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. I am sleeping perfectly well, but I am also enjoying standing up here today. I think that he is referring to the green deal finance plan, rather than the green deal itself. Green deal measures continue to be a great success and people can fund them however they want; some do so through the green deal finance plan, and some do so through other sources.
As we have heard, it is now six weeks since the green deal home improvement fund closed overnight without notice, yet we still have not heard an account of what happened from the Government. The Minister might believe that it has been a great success, but the hundreds of people who stand to lose their jobs as a result of this incompetence would probably disagree. When will she be able to tell us just how many of the vouchers that are issued will be redeemed? What is she doing to help consumers get the measures they need? Crucially, if the Government have nothing to hide, does she agree that the Public Accounts Committee should conduct an investigation into this shocking example of Government incompetence?
The hon. Gentleman is a little ahead of himself. We are still looking at the applications. Because of the success of the scheme, we are having to do a detailed review of all the vouchers. It is a little early to talk about the Public Accounts Committee. I remain confident that the scheme is a great success, that we will look after small businesses and that it will deliver what we intended: the energy efficiencies in consumers’ houses that are so important to us all.
Carbon and Renewables Targets
I have engaged extensively with my EU counterparts on the European Commission’s proposals for a 2030 climate and energy framework. That has included discussions at the Energy and Environment Councils in March, May, June and July, and several meetings of the green growth group of like-minded EU Ministers, which I established. Throughout the discussions, I have stressed the need for early political agreement on an ambitious, cost-effective and flexible 2030 framework. That is important to unlock investment and to put the EU in a stronger position for the global climate negotiations in 2015.
To date, EU targets have focused principally on renewables, not on carbon reduction. The result is that countries such as Holland, Germany and Denmark, which produce more carbon per capita than us, have exceeded their renewables targets. Will the Secretary of State ensure that any future targets that we sign up to are focused on carbon reduction, which is the primary aim, and not on the secondary aim of renewables? That would allow nuclear, carbon capture and storage and gas to play a part in other states.
As my hon. Friend is a huge expert in this area, he will know that the electricity market reforms in this country have been deliberately technology neutral. That will be the case as the market evolves over the next decade and more. This country has therefore not had targets for particular technologies. We want the market to decide on the mix. That is the approach that we have taken in the European negotiations. We have argued for the most ambitious greenhouse gas emissions target of any member state and for it to be technology neutral. I am delighted to report to the House that we are winning that argument.
14. What steps he is taking to improve interconnections with energy markets in other European countries. (905191)
Increasing electricity interconnection is an important part of our policy because it supports our energy objectives. The gas market is already well connected. Last December, I published “More interconnection: improving energy security and lowering bills”, which sets out our plans. A new regulatory regime for investment has since been announced. The Government have made a commitment to open our capacity market to interconnected capacity from 2015 and have supported about 6 GW of projects to benefit from European projects of common interest status.
Following the visit to Plymouth of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), who was enthusiastic about the marine energy park, what discussions has the Secretary of State had with Plymouth city council to ensure that the marine energy park is delivered as part of the Plymouth and south-west peninsula city deal?
I have had no personal discussions with Plymouth city council on that matter. I will ensure that those discussions are taken forward either by the Minister of State or myself. That idea is part of our long-term plan. My hon. Friend is right that my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle did a fantastic job on marine parks, not just in the south-west, but elsewhere. That is part of the way in which we want to take forward marine and tidal energy.
What progress has the Secretary of State made on the Iceland and Norway interconnectors? Will he produce a report for the House on the potential for securing the supply of substantial amounts of very low-carbon energy into the country through those interconnectors?
The Norway project—the NSN project—is particularly exciting because there is a massive surplus of hydroelectric power that could come through a cable from Norway. Those talks have been really effective. The announcements that Ofgem and the Department have made—particularly that we will allow interconnector capacity to bid into the capacity market from 2015—have been well received in Oslo by the Norwegian authorities. I am confident about that interconnector project. The idea behind IceLink is that we could get a cable from Iceland to Scotland and supply geothermal energy through it. We are waiting to hear from the Icelandic authorities on how they want to take that project forward.
Shale gas, carefully extracted, offers the potential to improve the security of Britain’s energy supplies and create jobs. All onshore projects are subject to scrutiny through the planning system, the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive.
Many of my constituents are expressing concerns about fracking. If the Minister wants to take the public with him when he is dealing with energy applications, will he agree to Labour’s amendments to the Infrastructure Bill to allow baseline assessments so that people’s concerns can be assessed?
We are looking carefully at all the amendments that have been tabled to the Infrastructure Bill. In several cases, the amendments reiterate what already happens. We want to ensure that we make the most of Britain’s indigenous energy supplies in a way that is safe and secure, creates jobs and will give us better security of supply. We will consider all measures to try to do that.
Given that the UK has been producing nuclear energy safely for nearly 60 years without any major problems, does the Minister agree that, given all the safety regulation we have, there is no reason to believe that this country is not capable of extracting shale gas safely?
I have not made my mind up on fracking yet, but the information that we get is a bit like the Scottish Government’s White Paper—full of words but with no answers. Will the Minister ensure that the people of this country are fully informed about fracking and what is happening with it?
Yes. We have an intensive communication plan, and I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman is included in any future communications. I can particularly recommend to him one of the Department for Energy and Climate Change publications, which explains in clear detail exactly what fracking is, how it is safe and the regulatory structure for it. It is important to ensure that we take advantage of this indigenous and secure domestic energy supply, but in a way that is safe and secure.
Global Climate Agreement
If we are to meet the objective of the convention and avoid dangerous climate change, it is imperative that we secure an international, legally binding agreement, with mitigation commitments for all, in Paris in 2015. To facilitate that, I have pressed our case at a number of international ministerial climate change meetings this year, as well as bilaterally with my counterparts in Governments and with other key actors across the globe, including in China, the US and India. I will, as usual, attend the United Nations framework convention on climate change ministerial conference of parties in December this year, and I will also attend the UN Secretary-General’s climate summit in September, which will be the first meeting of leaders focused solely on climate change since 2009. Closer to home, I am continuing to push for EU agreement to an ambitious 2030 emissions reduction target of at least 40%, including by convening the green growth group of Ministers.
Climate change will affect the poorest people in the poorest parts of the world. Can the Secretary of State confirm that he is working with officials and Ministers at the Department for International Development, and that the Government are looking to make an announcement about initial capitalisation of the international green climate fund before the Ban Ki-moon summit?
I can certainly confirm that we work across Government—not just my Department and DFID but other Departments as well—to ensure that the international climate finance fund that we announced at the beginning of our time in office is wisely spent, particularly to help the poorest, most vulnerable and most exposed.
On the hon. Gentleman’s other question, we will make a capital bid to the green climate fund, but I do not think we will necessarily announce it before the UN Secretary-General’s New York summit.
The Chinese President has just said that he will not attend Ban Ki-moon’s summit, which follows Prime Minister Modi of India saying the same. Given the statement that the Environment Ministers of the BASIC countries—Brazil, South Africa, India and China—issued in New Delhi recently, does the Secretary of State share my concern that it looks like countries such as India and China are rowing back from their enthusiasm for pushing for an international climate agreement?
No, I do not. In my visits to Beijing and Delhi I see the reverse. I see the Chinese taking climate change more seriously than they have ever done, not just in what they say at the international table but in the actions they take—massive investment in renewable energy and low-carbon energy such as nuclear—not least because of the impact of air pollution in some of their cities on the eastern border. Equally for India, I think that Prime Minister Modi will be a global leader on this issue.
T2. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. (905164)
I start by paying tribute to my two ministerial colleagues who have moved on. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon) will serve in the Cabinet after his excellent work at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and I particularly thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) for his astonishing contribution, especially in arguing the case for action on climate change. He will be missed in the House, given that he is not seeking re-election.
I welcome my new colleagues, the Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd), and the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), who have already made an impressive start.
I also bring to the House’s attention the investment report I mentioned earlier, which we published in July. It shows the record amounts of energy investment that the coalition Government have achieved, especially in low carbon, and I inform the House that after a review of the fourth carbon budget I have decided to leave it unchanged.
As my hon. Friend will know, we have published a draft fuel poverty strategy. It sets out a range of measures that we would like to take, not least some ambitious new targets for tackling fuel poverty, and the issue raised by my hon. Friend is part of that. Ofgem’s retail market review looked at standing charges and their operation, and that analysis will feed into the consultation on the strategy.
In the early exchanges, a difference of approach seemed to arise out of the support or non-support for Thoresby and Kellingley coal mines. Will the Minister of State clarify whether he is open to a state-aid application, and say what form of assistance he would make available to UK Coal? If a formal application is made, how quickly will the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills decide whether to present the case to the Commission? If that is not the case, will he explain why the £4 million loan has been delayed, and say when he expects that money to reach the mines?
As the Secretary of State and I have described, the commercial option has the benefit of being under the control of UK Coal, and we are working towards that. It has not been delayed; it is a matter of ensuring that it can be done on a commercial basis. On whether we should go further and look at state aid, as I have said, I have been open to all options but there are some serious downsides, not least that the Commission would require the coal mines to close.
Does my right hon. Friend recognise that consumers in rural areas with no mains gas and predominantly solid wall properties still find it difficult to access help to cut their fuel bills? He has visited such properties in my constituency. Is he still working to help them?
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s question and he has been a real champion of that issue. When I visited his constituency I saw how some rural properties off gas grid have high energy bills because they cannot use gas. This is very much at the heart of the new thinking in our draft fuel poverty strategy, which is now out to consultation. The Department has stepped up its work on that, and we hope to bring proposals to the House by the end of the year.
T3. Has the Minister seen the report from scientists in Aberdeen working with Cambridge university about the predicted 80% increase in global greenhouse emissions from the production of food, and particularly our increasing reliance—worldwide, but in this country too—on red meat? Will he talk to his colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about that and say what he will do about it? (905165)
It certainly is an interesting report and, along with many other issues, we need to consider it very seriously, although that sector does not constitute a big part of the UK’s projected emissions growth. The issue has formed part of the European negotiations. Other European countries are looking to expand their agriculture sectors and this is a big issue for them—a genuine issue. It is part of the wider negotiations, and we have to take it seriously.
When my right hon. Friend travels to New York later this month for the climate summit, will he tell the strong story that in the UK, thanks to the Climate Change Act 2008, passed under the last Labour Government, and this coalition’s hitting of our carbon budgets, coupled with our economy having the strongest growth in the G8, it has been possible to have strong growth and to reduce emissions, and that Britain is continuing to show genuine international green leadership?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. Green growth is a reality in the UK. Expanding low carbon is part of the Government’s long-term economic plan, and we want to ensure that others focus on that as well. That is why we established the green growth group at the EU and have sponsored the new climate economy study due to be launched later this month, ahead of the UN Secretary-General’s summit. That will send a message to Heads of State around the world that it is possible to go green and continue to prosper and develop.
T4. Maersk Oil will shortly begin the process of awarding major construction contracts for the exploitation of the Culzean field in the UK sector of the central North sea. Maersk will receive significant tax incentives from the UK Treasury, but what help and support is being given to UK fabricators to ensure that they can reasonably benefit from the development? (905166)
Having a joined-up strategy so that when there is further development in the UK continental shelf we ensure that the whole supply chain is in a position to benefit is an important part of our long-term economic plan—it was great to hear the Secretary of State talk about our long-term economic plan. It is undoubtedly important that, as has happened over many decades, the whole supply chain in the UK benefits from development and exploitation of our indigenous reserves.
T5. I would like to press the Secretary of State on answers he gave earlier about support for the remnants of the coal industry. Thousands of coal miners’ jobs are hanging by a thread, yet his response was that there were issues about committing to closure, but that is not necessarily a problem as long as those pits are allowed to exhaust their known reserves. (905167)
What I have said—and what other Ministers have said—is that the Government have worked incredibly closely not just with the commercial companies involved but with unions and others to help everybody come to a result. I have to tell the House, however, that the coal industry is not nationalised; it is in private hands, and we need to work with the commercial operators.
We are actively involved in discussions with the European Commission on this vital state aid notification and have been meeting it over the summer. Most recently, officials met Vice-President Almunia’s team in Brussels yesterday, and I had a report yesterday evening. Those discussions are intense and, I think, very constructive.
Action is under way to ensure we get the best possible energy efficiency from both smart meters and private developments, such as smart thermostats—this summer, I installed a smart thermostat, so I can turn the electricity and heating in my home on and off from my iPhone. Getting the best cost savings for consumers as well as reducing energy demand by enhancing and embracing technology is a vital part of what we are doing.
T8. With Hull city council yesterday granting final planning permission to Siemens, will the Secretary of State join me in encouraging everyone to take advantage of the new green jobs that will be coming to the city, while deploring the statement that UKIP put out saying it would rather the wind turbine jobs went abroad and the statement of the Hull Green party, which last week told BBC Radio Humberside that it did not rule out boycotting Siemens? (905171)
The whole House can unite behind what the hon. Lady has said. First, it is very good news that Hull city council has gone for planning permission. This Government have worked with the council, with Siemens and with others to bring forward this exciting and vital investment, which is a real shot in the arm for the offshore wind supply chain that we are determined to see as a healthy sector in this country. The statements from UKIP that the hon. Lady mentioned are deplorable and, as with almost everything UKIP says, are against this country’s economic interests. I am particularly surprised to hear that the Green party would want to boycott a company of the standing of Siemens, which has done so much in this country.
In this Energy Question Time, we have heard from the Government Front Bench that the Government are giving assistance, money and help to almost every energy industry in the country—nuclear, commercial operators in the North sea, companies assisting in solar panel investment and all the rest. The only energy industry that is getting no help—it is getting a lot of talk and waffle from Ministers—is the coal industry, and 3,000 jobs are on the line. Do this Government want to allow them to be sacked—a question that has been asked several times by my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint)? We have had enough talk; we want some action. The Government should give some state aid to keep those pits in operation so that the reserves can be exhausted. Get to it!
I am delighted to say that I have spent the last two months working hard with UK Coal, meeting the head of the National Union of Mineworkers and the Union of Democratic Mineworkers to ensure that we can come to an arrangement that will help and support coal mining in this country. [Interruption.] From that heritage, which I have, we are looking for practical support for coal mining in the UK—instead of the shouting and the waffle from the man opposite.
Will the Secretary of State reconsider his decision to exclude households that are renting less than a complete building from his proposals to require landlords to improve the energy efficiency of their properties to at least band E by 2018?
First, let me say how delighted I am that we are consulting on new regulations to require private landlords to improve the energy efficiency of the homes they rent to tenants, which is an important move. I hope that Members of all parties will participate in that consultation. The hon. Gentleman raises an important and serious issue. I hope he will participate in the conversation, which is intended to give people the chance to consider the very issue he raises.
I do not know about the proposal relating to the River Dee in north Wales. Coal gasification is one of the many technologies that we look at in the Department. It is not one at the forefront of our thinking at the moment, but if the right hon. Gentleman would care to write about the specific scheme he mentions, I should be pleased to receive a letter from him.
Business of the House
The business for next week will be:
Monday 8 September—Second Reading of the National Insurance Contributions Bill, followed by a general debate on food fraud. The subject for this debate was recommended by the Backbench Business Committee.
Tuesday 9 September—Motions relating to the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill, followed by a motion to approve the draft Legislative Reform (Clinical Commissioning Groups) Order. To follow that the Chairman Of Ways And Means has named opposed private business for consideration.
Wednesday 10 September—General debate on Ukraine, the middle east, north Africa and security, followed by a debate on a motion relating to a Select Committee on governance of the House. The subject for this debate was recommended by the Backbench Business Committee.
Thursday 11 September—Debate on a motion relating to carbon taxes and energy-intensive industries, followed by a general debate on Gurkha pensions and terms of employment. The subjects for both debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 12 September—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 13 October will include:
Monday 13 October—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 11 September will be:
Thursday 11 September—General debate on the political and humanitarian situation in Kashmir.
May I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business?
The barbaric and disgusting murder of a second US hostage in Syria this week has appalled the world, and reinforced the fact that the threat of ISIL must be dealt with. The Prime Minister is right to say that we should work internationally to build alliances, and also that we need to take strong action against terrorism at home. We will support him in that aim. I welcome the foreign affairs debate announced by the Leader of the House for next Wednesday. Given this fast-moving and dangerous situation, will he assure the House that he will make provision for future foreign policy debates in Government time over the coming period? Does he agree with me that although statements are very welcome, they are no substitute for a debate where all Members can get to the heart of the complexities of these issues?
The Prime Minister confirmed yesterday that he wanted to go ahead with reintroducing relocation powers, despite the Deputy Prime Minister suggesting differently. Will the Leader of the House take this opportunity to clear up the confusion about Government policy by outlining when we can expect strengthened TPIMs—terrorism prevention and investigation measures—to be in place and what legislation he expects will be needed?
NATO meets today in Wales at a time of increasing turmoil in many parts of the world. In these volatile times, the summit must address the urgent security concerns that have emerged in eastern Ukraine and agree an appropriate response in the face of the increasingly belligerent Russian leadership. Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Prime Minister will provide a statement to the House on Monday? Given the rapidly changing context in which NATO is now operating, will the Leader of the House assure us that the Government will make time available for the House to discuss these important matters?
Today, the Government have finally decided to publish the Elliott report following the horsemeat scandal last year. The report was due in spring, and we are now in September. The food industry is the single largest manufacturing sector in the UK, so it is crucial that the Government show urgent leadership and get the response to this right. Does the Leader of the House agree with the report that the Government’s misguided decision to carve up the Food Standards Agency, splitting the responsibility for food safety and authenticity, created confusion, which was clearly highlighted in the horsemeat scandal? Will he also arrange for a statement from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs so that she can set out the Government’s response to this report?
I see that the Chief Whip is not in his place—yet again. Before the summer recess he lost his first vote, only three days into his new job. Yesterday, only three days into the new Session, he has already had to retreat before he lost another one. He was stuck in the toilet last time—I am not sure that I really want to know what his excuse is this time! Yesterday’s European Committee objected to the Government’s inadequate plans for protecting British ports, despite three panic-stricken last-minute Government amendments. The sector, which employs more than 100,000 people across the country, including many in my constituency, is under real pressure, but the Transport Secretary’s response has been muddled and weak. I understand that a European Commission document relating to the ports strategy has to be considered in this House by early October. Given that that means next week or not at all, will the Leader of the House explain why this has not been tabled for consideration in next week’s business—or will he just admit that the Government are all at sea?
May I take this opportunity to welcome hon. Members back to the House after the summer recess? The Prime Minister seems to have enjoyed his holidays—we have all seen a few too many photos of him in Cornwall pretending to be in “Baywatch”. The problem with him is that he is less the Hoff and more the Toff.
I have been researching British seaside destinations and I have a suggestion for the Prime Minister’s next break: the blue flag, popular, family resort of Clacton-on-Sea. The writ will soon be moved and the by-election will reportedly take place in Essex on 9 October, the Prime Minister’s birthday. We can just imagine the birthday party at Conservative central office: half the invite list will be at Nigel’s party down the road.
Is it not the case that the Conservative party is becoming ungovernable? It has no strategy on Europe. The Prime Minister has lost an MP to UKIP. A Minister has resigned and nine of the MPs from the 2010 intake are just giving up. The MPs he has left are dialling B for Boris. What the Conservative party does not understand is that its chances of winning the next election are sinking faster than Boris island.
The hon. Lady was right to start her questions by referring to some of the horrific events of recent days and the crimes against humanity that are being committed in Iraq and in Syria. The House’s united voice on the matter is very important, as was discussed at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday. She has welcomed the holding of a broad foreign policy debate next week. That is an important response to the demand for such a debate. It is important, too, that regular statements are made. There is a need for both those things when there are so many crises in the world. I made perhaps more statements than any Foreign Secretary in history when I was Foreign Secretary. I know that my successor will also want to make regular statements on these huge issues. Whenever it is possible to have a debate as well, so that Members can discuss them in more detail, we will have one, including next week.
On tackling extremism and bringing forward legislation, again the Prime Minister made the position clear at Prime Minister’s questions. We will introduce specific and targeted legislation to provide the police with a temporary power to seize a passport at the border. We are clear in principle that we need a targeted and discretionary power to allow us to exclude British nationals from the UK. We will work up proposals on that and discuss them on a cross-party basis. It is important to have as much cross-party unity on this as we possibly can.
It is important to get that legislation right. Over centuries there has been a legitimate debate in this country on where the balance is to be struck between liberty and security. That arises every time there is a threat to our national security. The House of Commons has always had a variety of views on these matters, so we must make every effort to proceed on a cross-party basis. Consistent with acting with sufficient speed, we will try to get the legislation right. That means that it will not be introduced next week; we will be ready to do that at some stage after the conference recess.
The hon. Lady asked whether there would be a statement by the Prime Minister on Monday following the NATO summit. There will be. The Prime Minister is very keen to do that and to inform the House after that summit. There will be time in Wednesday’s debate to discuss the situation in Ukraine.
On the Elliott review, a written ministerial statement has been published today by the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. There will be a debate on food fraud on Monday on the Floor of the House. The Secretary of State has accepted all the recommendations giving top priority to the needs of consumers, improving laboratory testing capacity and capability, introducing new unannounced audit checks by the food industry and many other measures. They are set out in the written ministerial statement.
The hon. Lady took the Chief Whip to task again, although I was a bit disappointed that it was the same joke about his being in the toilet as seven weeks ago. Recycling has its limits and we would like slightly more up-to-date—[Interruption.] I am all in favour of recycling jokes, but I expect more from the hon. Lady. I am sure that she will be able to deliver that next week.
I cannot go into the Prime Minister’s plans for his birthday, but certainly I and many of my hon. Friends will be visiting Clacton in the coming weeks. Our former hon. Friend Douglas Carswell explained in May that the Conservative party’s policy on Europe was 100% right. He may be the only person in British history to leave a political party because he was 100% in agreement with it. That is particularly striking as there are many people who sit in this House in their political parties perfectly happily who certainly do not agree 100% with their party’s policies; that is true in every party. This is no doubt something he will want to explain to the voters of Clacton, and it will be very interesting to see how he tries to do so.
The shadow Leader of the House accused the Government, or the Conservative party, of having no strategy on Europe. That is a bit rich from a member of a party that was against a referendum before the European constitution came up, then in favour of one and announced one, then against one when it came to actually holding the referendum, then against one on the Lisbon treaty, then against our referendum Act of 2011, but now has accepted it into law, then toyed with the idea of being in favour of a referendum, and has now come out against it. There is absolutely no way we will take any lectures from the Opposition on strategy on Europe.
I conclude by saying that after a summer recess in which we have seen strong figures on GDP growth in this country, our world economic ranking for competitiveness now go up four places from where it was left by the last Government on grounds of controlling the fiscal deficit, an excellent reduction in unemployment and a growth in employment figures, a major increase in car registration, and consumer confidence at its highest for a long time, it is rather revealing that there are no requests from those on the Opposition Benches to discuss the economy and the long-term economic plan of the Government.
The House will welcome what my right hon. Friend has just said: that there will be a statement from the Prime Minister on Monday on the NATO summit. Will he confirm that on Wednesday the general debate will run until 7 o’clock? After 7 o’clock, when we move on to the Backbench Business Committee debate, will there be a time limit or it will be open-ended?
Yes, certainly the debate on foreign affairs and security will be able to run until 7 o’clock. That is a full day’s debate, and there are many, many issues that hon. and right hon. Members will wish to address, so it will last until 7 pm, provided that that time is taken up. I therefore envisage that the debate requested by the Backbench Business Committee on the governance of the House will take place after that, and between now and then we will bring forward a business of the House motion to facilitate that, and to establish an appropriate time limit on that debate.
The Leader of the House is right in saying we have lots of statements in the House, and they are very useful. I am very pleased we are going to have a debate on international affairs this coming week, but there is one thing missing. There was a harrowing report to the House on child abuse in one town. We all know that that abuse covered the country, and that there is a much deeper and more worrying problem than any of us thought existed. May we have an early debate so we can look at this in its entirety and reach out to those children who have been abused, raped and put into prostitution and have had no recourse to justice?
The hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue, and hon. Members across the House are extremely conscious of the importance of this. He will recall that the Home Secretary made a statement this week, and, of course, Ministers envisage that there will be a great deal of further discussion in this House about these matters. The Home Secretary has explained that she intends shortly to be able to appoint the chair of the overarching inquiry and then set out the terms of reference. I know she will want to keep the House updated on that. While it is clear that, given the range of matters the House needs to debate next week, I cannot offer a further debate next week on these matters, I have no doubt that over the coming months there will need to be many opportunities to discuss what has happened in Rotherham and may well be happening elsewhere. The Government, like all political parties and Members, are determined that all possible lessons will be learned.
I was concerned that my right hon. Friend did not reply to the shadow Leader of the House on the question of the ports services regulation. The reason I raise this is that there is a grave issue of European scrutiny at stake here. The position is that the ports services regulation is opposed by the trade unions as well as by all 47 port authorities. The matter was referred to the Floor of the House by my European Scrutiny Committee, but the Government declined that request and referred it to a European Standing Committee, which imploded yesterday because documents were not made available to the Committee, and the Chairman rightly adjourned the Committee as a result. That was extremely unusual—indeed, it was almost unprecedented. There are grave scrutiny concerns involved in all this. The real question, when it comes down to it, is this: we have called again today for a debate on the Floor of the House, but the Leader of the House’s statement has made it clear that the Government have not made such a debate available. Furthermore, because of the timetabling, the real question is going to be about 8 October. Finally, I would simply say: may we have a debate on the Floor of the House on this matter? How can this regulation be stopped? That is the crucial question.
That is undoubtedly true, and my hon. Friend always closes with a conclusion that is forceful and that we can always see coming. He raises an important issue, and I know that the debate in Committee was adjourned because a point of order was raised over whether the appropriate documents had been provided to its members. The report of the European Scrutiny Committee will be taken seriously by Ministers. My hon. Friend has pointed out that an important policy issue is involved, and I will ensure that my ministerial colleagues have their attention fully drawn to the point that he has raised.
Will the Leader of the House find time to debate the support that central Government provide to local government? This would enable us to discuss the problem that some of the areas of greatest need, such as Knowsley, are having the most money cut while some of the areas that have the least need, such as West Oxfordshire, are having lesser amounts cut or even, in some cases, having their grants increased. That simply is not fair. We have just been hearing about Rotherham, and it is about time the Government recognised that adult and children’s services will be cut as a result of the reductions in expenditure that local government is having to find.
Local government across the country has had to become considerably more efficient in recent years, and local authorities have varied in their effectiveness and ability to bring that about. The right hon. Gentleman will know that there will be questions to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government on Monday, which will provide an opportunity to raise these matters on the Floor of the House next week.
The Leader of the House might be aware of a point of order that I raised yesterday. Will he make a statement to update the House on whether anything has happened regarding the letter sent to No. 10—or is it, like a cantankerous maiden aunt, floating around No. 10 with no one actually wanting to go anywhere near it?
Things do not float around in No. 10; I am pleased to say that that is not the way No. 10 operates. The Prime Minister has received a letter this week from you, Mr Speaker—I am sure you will not mind my saying this—in which you asked for the appointment of Carol Mills to be delayed further until a clear way forward on the issue has been agreed. That is the current status of the letter, rather than any floating.
In exactly two weeks’ time, we will be voting in the Scottish independence referendum. Next week is the last opportunity that the House has to meet before this momentous and historic occasion, yet there is not one iota of referendum-related business in the agenda for next week. Does this House no longer care about the referendum, or has it looked at the opinion polls and the momentum that is gathering and decided that it just wants to give up?
The hon. Gentleman must know that Members across the House care passionately about this matter, but this is a decision being made by the people of Scotland. The debate is taking place in Scotland, among the people of Scotland and in the Scottish media. The Prime Minister pointed out yesterday how much the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland want Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom. That is something about which nearly all of us in this House, with the exception of the nationalist parties, are clear. But if we were to debate these matters next week in the House of Commons, the hon. Gentleman would no doubt ask why we are debating them when the referendum campaign is taking place in Scotland. I appreciate that he needs to ask a question, but it was not a very logical one.
I welcome the arrangements that the Leader of the House has announced to ensure that we have a foreign affairs debate, and that we also have a necessary debate after 7pm on what has been described as the way forward in the governance of the House. Can he say at this stage that the Government are not opposed to what the Backbench motion seeks to do?
I will seek to speak in the debate and make my position clear, but let me stress that this is a matter for the House. Indeed, you, Mr Speaker, have emphasised the importance of consent and general agreement in the House, so this is very much a matter for the House of Commons. It is important to facilitate such a debate. The Backbench Business Committee particularly asked for additional time, so that this matter could be debated without reducing the time available to discuss all the other matters that hon. Members are seeking to raise. We have gone to some lengths to provide that additional time, and that is the right role for me to play at the moment.
In the light of the well-informed debate on Monday on mitochondrial DNA, and the agreement between Front Benchers and a number of leading speakers on both sides of the House, when will the Government bring forward the necessary regulatory changes to enable the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to supervise work in this field?
That was an important and well-attended debate. I know that many people across the country paid great attention to it and that there was much anticipation of it around the country. The Department of Health will have listened carefully to what was said. I cannot make any announcement at the moment about any proposals, but I will ensure that when they are ready, the hon. Gentleman will be well informed.
May we have a debate on university technical colleges so that we can see how Government policy is transforming skills and vocations right across the country? Will my right hon. Friend congratulate Sir Charles Kao UTC in Harlow, which the Prime Minister visited when it was being built? It has just opened this month and will transform opportunities for young people in my constituency.
I am pleased to offer my congratulations to everyone involved in the establishment of the Sir Charles Kao UTC in Harlow. We have now established 17 university technical colleges. I am sure that Harlow will enjoy the same benefits that are already being seen in other towns and cities. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for backing the UTC, and we look forward to the future successes of the students in Harlow, which will be partly due to his efforts.
This morning, the Community Security Trust has published its report showing record levels of anti-Semitic hate incidents. The British Jewish community feels under threat as anti-Zionism merges into anti-Semitism following disproportionate criticism of Israel’s defensive actions in Gaza. May we have a debate in Government time to discuss this very distressing and disturbing growing phenomenon?
This is also a very important issue and the hon. Lady is quite right to draw attention to it. I cannot offer an additional debate in Government time at the moment, but of course these issues are related to some of the matters that we will discuss in Wednesday’s foreign policy debate. We should all be clear that whatever our views about the rights and wrongs of conflicts in the middle east, Israeli action in Gaza, attacks on Israel by Hamas from Gaza or the two-state solution that is necessary in the middle east conflict, it is utterly unacceptable to try to translate that into anti-Semitism in any form. In the United Kingdom, we should stand strongly against that and that is why, whatever our disagreements from time to time with the Government of Israel, we stand by the legitimacy of Israel and stand strongly against anti-Semitism in any form.
I welcome my right hon. Friend and constituency neighbour to his new position. The publication of the Elliott review today is very welcome, and it makes some specific proposals. The general debate on Monday will discuss food fraud in broad terms, and we obviously want to congratulate the Government on accepting all the Elliott proposals, but we need to know the time scale and the specific proposals for when the food crime unit and national lab service will come into effect.
I welcome my hon. Friend’s welcome for what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has set out in accepting the recommendations of the Elliott report. As I said, that has been set out in a written ministerial statement but I have no doubt that the Secretary of State will wish to expand on the detail of the implementation in due course. This is the Government’s initial and very clear reaction, but of course the Ministers concerned will have to return to the issue and keep the House up to date on that.
May we have an urgent debate on the universal Jobmatch website? My constituent, Wendy Perrins, was made redundant in June. She has applied for 29 jobs, some of which are duplicates and some of which have been posted before. Why should our constituents be sanctioned when the website is not fit for purpose and when people are desperately seeking jobs?
I will draw that point to the attention of my colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions. We had questions to that Department on Monday, of course, so there were opportunities to ask about these things then. However, there will be further opportunities and I will draw the hon. Lady’s point to the attention of my colleagues.
At the last business questions, the Leader of the House said that a business of the House committee could not be introduced because there was not consensus. I went back and checked on that. All three main political parties committed to it in their manifestos and it is in that hallowed document, the coalition agreement. The Prime Minister made a speech saying that he wanted to have a business of the House committee. On Tuesday, this House gave leave for a Bill to be brought in to establish a business of the House committee, supported by senior parliamentarians on both sides of the House. Will the Leader of the House introduce such a Bill and, if not, will he explain where the consensus is not?
It is wonderful to hear my hon. Friend cite the coalition agreement as a key document and I look forward to his doing so on many other occasions. He is a strong and consistent advocate in this regard, which I respect very much, including in the ten-minute rule Bill motion to which he spoke. He won leave to introduce his Bill earlier this week, but this is a matter on which a great deal of detail would need to be sorted out and that is where there is a lack of consensus. There would have to be wide agreement across the House including with the Government on the detail of how that would operate and I do not think that consensus exists at the moment.
Sadly, this week ESCO in my constituency announced the closure of its foundry in Guisborough, with the loss of 65 employees. It is due to close in November and ESCO cited the current economic climate as the primary reason, and it has been operating at less than half capacity for a number of years. One statistic that is quite worrying is the fact that imported non-EU reinforced steel has risen from 4% in 2010 to 44% this year. That is a profound problem for the UK steel industry. Will the Leader of the House use his good offices to help me assist those 65 employees in finding new jobs in the future?
The hon. Gentleman draws attention to an important issue in his constituency. He will have a further opportunity to put his questions to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills next Thursday in the House, so there are opportunities to raise these matters then. I am sure Ministers will be happy to discuss the issue with him. In general, we are witnessing a strong rise in employment across the economy as a whole; that is not to say that there is growth in every business and every sector at the same time. If the Opposition would only stir themselves to call for a wide debate on the economy in one of their Opposition day debates—if they would summon up the courage to do so—it would be possible for Members like him to raise these points in the course of that debate.
Will the Leader of the House make time for an urgent debate and review of illegal tree-felling? A forest of some 500 trees was destroyed over the summer in Basingstoke, leaving my constituents shocked and fearful of illegal residential development on that site. Fines and criminal sanctions must be sufficient to deter such acts of pure environmental vandalism.
I can very much understand my right hon. Friend raising that issue; it must be of enormous concern to people living in that area. She will gather from the business that I have announced that I cannot offer her a debate on that in the immediate future. However, the Backbench Business Committee has been allocated quite a lot of time, not only next week but in the weeks after the conference recess, and she may like to pursue the matter that way. It is certainly an important issue, which the Government will take a close interest in.
Further to my point of order on Monday, when will the Government be making a statement about the Oakley report into jobseeker’s allowance sanctions? Following the death of David Clapson, a diabetic ex-soldier who died after he was sanctioned and his JSA was stopped, will the Government finally commit to holding a comprehensive independent inquiry into all social security sanctions, as requested by his sister, Gill Thompson, and nearly 200,000 people?
I am sure the hon. Lady knows that the Government did make a written statement on the Oakley review. That was made on the day that both the review and the Government response were published—22 July. I know that was the last day before the House rose, but if it had been published during the summer recess or delayed until September, I think hon. Members would have been unhappy about that. As I pointed out, on Monday Members were able to ask questions of the Department for Work and Pensions. I do not think any Member raised that issue with the Secretary of State then, but clearly there will be further parliamentary opportunities to do so.
May we have a debate on process? As the United Kingdom rightly edges towards targeted air strikes in Iraq, and possibly Syria, would it not make sense to have a debate and a vote before the House rises, rather than possibly having to recall Parliament or keep the long-suffering people of Iraq and Syria suffering until 13 October?
Next week there will be many opportunities for the House to discuss those matters. As I said, the Prime Minister will make a statement on Monday, following the NATO summit in Wales. In addition, there will be the wide-ranging debate on foreign affairs and security on Wednesday—a full day’s debate—so it will be possible to air those issues then.
I think our conventions on the process of these matters are pretty well established and understood in the House. Indeed, where there is time to do so we have come to the House for permission—for support—for any plan to take military action, and my hon. Friend knows that no decision has been made about that, so the Government are not proposing to do that at the moment. But it is also clear that in an emergency, or to meet a treaty obligation, or to save life in a dramatic situation such as arose in Libya in 2011, it is possible for the Government to take action and then come to Parliament as soon as possible after that.
The debate next Wednesday on international security should indeed be wide ranging, covering the middle east, Ukraine and north Africa, because of the NATO summit this weekend, but will the Leader of the House give an assurance that, as time goes on, each one of those troubled regions will get dedicated time for debate, whenever events dictate that that should be the case?
There are only so many parliamentary days between now and Dissolution next year, as the hon. Lady very well understands, but the Government will make every effort to ensure that foreign affairs, at a time of such turbulence and crisis, can be fully debated and that the Government make regular statements. It is also open to the Backbench Business Committee to bring forward, as it sometimes does, foreign policy issues for debate. It is important to use that channel as well, because there will not be enough Government days on the Floor of the House to debate every foreign policy issue on a very regular basis—but we will do our best.
Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement to be made on the role of the head-hunters in the appointment of Carol Mills? There is great concern across the House that either the head-hunters failed to carry out due diligence and report to the panel, or the information reported was ignored by the panel. I think the House is owed a full explanation of what went on and what went wrong.
As I have announced, there will be a debate, requested by the Backbench Business Committee, on governance of the House next Wednesday. In addition, questions can be put to my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), who answers for the House of Commons Commission. The Commission will meet next Monday; I will attend that meeting—the first such meeting that I will have attended as Leader of the House—and of course I will draw the Commission’s attention to points raised on the Floor of the House.
May we debate the Welsh language? The Leader of the House will have seen the American ambassador’s effort to speak Welsh on YouTube ahead of the NATO summit in Wales, and President Obama spoke Welsh this morning when he spoke to schoolchildren in Wales—I may say his effort was better than that of the right hon. Gentleman’s predecessor as Secretary of State for Wales. Given the right hon. Gentleman’s close connections to Wales, would he care to welcome the summit to Wales in the language of heaven?
I strongly welcome the summit to Wales. Before I stepped down as Foreign Secretary, I regularly explained to NATO Foreign Ministers the wonders and attractions of Wales, including a fair bit about the language. I shall be going there myself in a couple of hours, to host the meeting on preventing sexual violence in conflict—a side meeting during the NATO summit—so I will add to that warm welcome. I do not think we need to debate the Welsh language next week. Indeed, in my household, debating the Welsh language is not a very good idea; adopting the Welsh language is a good idea, and I strongly welcome the efforts of President Obama and many others to do so.
May we have a statement on progress made on the introduction of the new eligibility rules for community amateur sports clubs? The Government’s intention to simplify the procedure is welcome; the problem is that the process has taken so long that clubs such as Lowes Park golf club in my constituency are suffering, because new applications are being held up, pending the finalisation of the new rules.
It may help my hon. Friend if I explain that if a club whose application is currently on hold because it does not meet the current eligibility conditions to be a community amateur sports club is found to meet the new requirements for registration, or has to make only minor changes, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs will be able to backdate registration from the beginning of the accounting period in which the club made its application. I hope that is clear. For registration to be backdated, the club will need to meet all the other conditions of the scheme from the date of its application.
Yesterday I asked the Prime Minister about the worrying rise in child malnutrition and the links to food poverty, which have been identified by a number of reports. He avoided answering the question, as I think he has whenever I have asked him about food poverty and food banks. May we have an urgent debate on the public health consequences of people not being able to afford to feed their family and what the public health response should be?
Again, I cannot offer an additional debate next week. The Opposition regularly have time available to them to bring forward these issues. The hon. Lady says that the Prime Minister did not answer the question, but he did point out that far fewer people are in relative poverty now than there were at the time of the last general election, including 300,000 fewer children in relative poverty than in 2010. Also, very importantly, there are now 50,000 fewer households stuck in the trap of never having worked. This is how we are addressing poverty, and we are doing so a lot more successfully than the previous Labour Government.
Snibston discovery park and museum in my constituency is currently under threat of closure by Leicestershire county council, despite being a popular local attraction that receives five-star reviews from people who have recently visited it. A number of the friends and supporters of Snibston wish to take over the running of this attraction as an independent trust. May we have a debate on what help and support the Government can give to community, voluntary and independent groups seeking to take over the running of council-held assets?
Although I cannot offer an additional debate at the moment, the Government strongly support this. As my hon. Friend knows, we have introduced a community right to bid to give communities a better chance to buy local assets that they cherish. He will like to know that so far 1,500 assets around the country have been listed as assets of community value. We are providing £19 million-worth of support for communities to help them to utilise this right to bid. While not knowing the local issues regarding this very important facility, I strongly encourage all those involved to look at how the Government’s approach can benefit it.
As the Leader of the House is patron of the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign’s Yorkshire and Humber Muscle Group and has met members of that group, I am sure he will take an interest in the gaps in neuro-muscular services across the whole of England and the urgent need to improve them. Will he therefore set aside time for a debate on the important issue of delivering the necessary standard of neuro-muscular services across the whole country?
I am a strong supporter of the muscular dystrophy group in Yorkshire, and I am grateful to the hon. Lady for mentioning it. Clearly, she is a very strong campaigner on these important issues as well. I cannot announce any debate additional to those I have already announced for next week, but I will draw the attention of my colleagues in the Department of Health to what she has said and ensure that they write to her about it.
We are now nearing the end of the tourism season. As the Leader of the House is aware, Devon, Cornwall and Somerset had a very difficult start to the tourism year. One of the things that went badly wrong was that we were not able to get the message out that very little of Devon, Cornwall and Somerset was underwater and the majority was fine, so the tourists did not come because they felt under threat. We must have a better mechanism, and may we have time to discuss it?
Tourism is a very important part of the economy in Devon and Cornwall. In recent weeks there have been some very good advertisements for it, including the Prime Minister himself being in Cornwall—as well as many other Members of the House, I am sure. My hon. Friend makes this important point very clearly and eloquently. I think it has been a good year for tourism in general so far across the UK, and it is important that all parts of the UK are able to share in that. Again, while I cannot offer a debate in Government time at the moment, there will be other ways, including Adjournment debates and questions, in which he can continue to pursue this, and our colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will listen carefully to what he says.
The Leader of the House is aware of the close links that exist between Wales and the Kingdom of Lesotho. Last week, there was an attempted military coup in Lesotho leading to its Prime Minister fleeing the country. Will the Leader of the House have a word with the Foreign Office, because there is a lot of concern in Wales about what is happening in Lesotho, where information is very difficult to secure? May we have a written ministerial statement from the Foreign Office about the latest position?
The hon. Gentleman is right to say that there are important and long-standing links between Wales and Lesotho. I was very concerned, as other members of the Government and Members of the House will have been, about last week’s events. We are strong supporters of constitutional democracy and good governance around Africa, and for a long time Lesotho has been able to claim to be part of that. It is very important that that is upheld and all of us who are friends of that country will want to see that happen. I will certainly pass on to my colleagues at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office the hon. Gentleman’s request for a written statement on these matters.
I congratulate the Leader of the House on his work on preventing sexual violence in conflict. NATO leaders are meeting this week, so will my right hon. Friend, as the Prime Minister’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict, assure me that the terrible crime of rape being committed by ISIL will be raised at the NATO conference and that this House can have a debate on the issue?
My hon. Friend raises an immensely important issue, which is a part of the conflict in Iraq and Syria that has not received enough attention so far. Among the crimes against humanity being committed by terrorists associated with ISIL is the enslavement and abuse of women and girls, including murder. I will certainly discuss the issue. I mentioned earlier that this afternoon I will host a side meeting at the NATO summit with the Foreign Ministers of Australia, Jordan and Croatia and the new European Union High Representative on the specific issue of preventing sexual violence in conflict. I know that my colleagues will also want to address it in future debates and statements.
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow a debate in Government time on policing during election and referendum campaigning and voting? The intimidation by the yes campaign north of the border is unlike anything I have ever seen in my time in politics. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy) was attacked not only when he was speaking, but when he was protecting an elderly lady. Freedom of speech is being attacked. Given next year’s general election and a possible referendum, when the stakes will be high, we need to look at the issue again and make sure that intimidation—[Interruption.] I can hear some coming from beside me now. It happens all the time where I come from and we need to make sure that it does not happen.
The hon. Gentleman raises a disturbing and important point. He is right to point out the importance of free speech, something that all of us in all parties have always been very proud of in the United Kingdom: in an election or referendum campaign, whatever our disagreements, we listen to each other. That is one of the great qualities of the UK compared with many other countries in the world. It is something we should always be proud to uphold. It is disgraceful to see Members of this House—and, indeed, anyone else— heckled and attempts made to drive them out of giving their views on the referendum, so the hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the need to uphold free speech.
May we have a debate on the scourge of unsolicited automated nuisance phone calls, which have been plaguing my constituents throughout the summer? At best, they are an annoyance; at worst, they are extremely distressing for the elderly, the vulnerable and the isolated. I know that the Government have been taking action on this, but does my right hon. Friend agree that it is now time for an outright ban on these automated nuisance phone calls?
My hon. Friend speaks for many people, including hon. Members, on this issue. The Government are taking measures to address the problem. The “Nuisance Calls Action Plan” was published on 30 March. Over the past two years, regulators have issued penalties totalling nearly £2 million to companies for breaching their rules, and further work is under way to see what more can be done to tackle the issue, as set out in the action plan, so I encourage my hon. Friend to make further representations to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
Over the summer, council officers in my constituency have routinely been touting libraries and other public buildings for sale to private organisations, even before the local authority has made decisions over their future. Our libraries in Harrow are certainly community hubs and essential for students to do research, for children to do their homework and for the elderly to use as a normal resource. May we have a debate in Government time on the future of Britain’s libraries as community hubs for the benefit of the whole community rather than the favoured few?
Libraries are indeed very important community hubs. There is no time for a debate next week, but my hon. Friend will have a further opportunity to raise the matter on the Floor of the House during Department for Communities and Local Government questions on Monday.
Following the horrors contained in the Jay report, many people across Yorkshire just cannot believe that Rotherham council has today retained control of children’s services. May we have an urgent debate on how quickly the Government can move in and have the Department for Education install an independent trust to look after children in Rotherham?
My hon. Friend is right that there is huge concern across the whole of Yorkshire; I can confirm that as a Yorkshire Member of Parliament and, indeed, as someone who was born in Rotherham. As I indicated earlier, the House will need to return to the matter on many occasions. It is because of such cases that the Home Secretary is establishing an independent panel inquiry. There is the work of the Home Office-led national group to tackle sexual violence against children and vulnerable people. There have also been other announcements concerning Rotherham, for example on urgent Ofsted inspections, so all the Ministers concerned will give urgent and continuing attention to the issue and the House will be able to return to it in due course.
Last week I had the honour of visiting the home of my constituents Mr and Mrs Thomas to hear from them about their daughter Laura, a wonderful girl who was tragically killed by a truck whose driver was using a mobile phone at the time. May we have a debate not only on the sentences available for such crimes, which seem far too short, but on how we can join Mrs Thomas, her husband and others who want to talk in schools and elsewhere about the dangers of using mobile devices while driving?
That is a heartbreaking case, and of course it happens all too often in other parts of the country as well. It is important that people understand the great dangers of using mobile phones while driving, and the kind of publicity that my hon. Friend is creating helps raise awareness. On the question of penalties, I will draw what he has said to the attention of hon. Friends in the Ministry of Justice.
Earlier this year, as my right hon. Friend knows, the railway line at Dawlish was swept away, completely cutting off Plymouth, west Devon and Cornwall from the rest of the country’s rail network. Earlier this summer, Network Rail published a report suggesting five alternative routes. Will my right hon. Friend find time either for the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement, or for us to have a proper debate on the matter, because it is incredibly important to the south-west and to my constituents?
That issue is of massive importance to my hon. Friend’s constituents. As he has said, Network Rail’s study considers alternative options for providing a long-term, resilient route west of Exeter, including re-opening alignments, making the existing route more resilient and maintaining rail connectivity to coastal communities. The Secretary of State will announce his findings on the study shortly, so I ask my hon. Friend to await that announcement.
As a proud Yorkshireman, my right hon. Friend will no doubt have used Leeds Bradford airport on many occasions and noticed how poorly served it is with surface access, compared with other UK international airports. Given that a connectivity study is currently under way, may we have a debate so that we can argue that a new rail link would offer the best solution not only for my constituents, but for passengers using the airport?
As a proud Yorkshireman, I do indeed use Leeds Bradford airport. However, it has not taken me to identify the problem. As my hon. Friend well knows, the area was identified last year as one of the six long-standing road congestion hot spots. The Department for Transport was asked to take forward a study into connectivity to Leeds Bradford international airport. It awarded a contract to a consortium to examine the issue in March this year. The consortium will consider connectivity for public and private transport to see what issues need to be addressed now and in the future. The Government will have to look at the conclusions of that report and announce a way forward. This is an issue that cannot be ignored in the Leeds-Bradford area.
Residents in the Kettering constituency have been horrified to see the latest scenes of serious disorder in Calais, during which 250 migrants tried to storm a number of ferries to make their way illegally to this country. That comes in the same week in which the Home Office has admitted that it has lost the contact details of 175,000 illegal immigrants who are already here. Under the Dublin convention, we have the ability to send asylum seekers back to the first country through which they entered the European Union. That was confirmed to me by the Home Secretary on the Floor of the House on 28 April. I then tabled a parliamentary question, which showed that last year we sent back only 757 such migrants. May we have an urgent statement from the Home Office and a debate on the Floor of the House about how we can get back control of our borders?
My hon. Friend knows the importance that the Home Secretary attaches to the thorough policing of our borders and the additional efforts that the Government have made. He can be absolutely sure that we will continue to take every possible action. Increasing action has been taken over the past few years to tighten up on these matters. We are concerned about the issues that have been raised in Calais. The Government are in close touch with the French Government about those matters. We will continue to protect our borders, reduce immigration and, in particular, tackle illegal immigration. I will certainly draw the attention of my Home Office colleagues to what he has said today.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Following our exchange of pleasantries in points of order yesterday, a number of members of the panel have said to me that Saxton Bampfylde was prevented from coming and speaking to the panel and giving information about Carol Mills. I wonder whether, under those circumstances, you might wish to put the record straight so that the House is not misled. May I ask a further question? Would you be prepared to lift any threat of litigation on Saxton Bampfylde with regard to its confidentiality agreement to enable it to speak freely about this subject publicly?
In respect of the second point, that is not something to which I have given any thought, and it is a point upon which it would be prudent and sensible to take advice. In respect of the first point that the hon. Gentleman raised, let me reiterate to him that I believe him to be incorrect. The panel, of which I was chair, was briefed about all the applicants for the post of Clerk and chief executive. He is quite wrong to say that there was prevention of Saxton Bampfylde giving information to the panel. The panel made a judgment on the material with which it was provided, including a piece of information that was provided to it on the occasion of the second set of interviews. The panel made its own judgment on the basis of that information and saw no need for a meeting, as, I think, the hon. Gentleman has in mind. There is no question of prevention. The panel made its own judgment and that was perfectly proper.
I reiterate to the hon. Gentleman, who was courteous enough to raise another point with me yesterday, what I said in response to him then: namely, that the individual whose name he bandies around in the House—Carol Mills—was indeed on the original list of proposed interviewees. He put it to me that she had not been. I told him that she had been. I have one slight advantage of him in this matter, which is that I was there and I do know, whereas he was not there and he does not. We will leave it there.
No, no. There is nothing further to that point of order. [Interruption.] Order. I simply say, with all due courtesy to the hon. Gentleman, who I am sure is sensitive to the interests and wishes of the House as a whole and to its desire to get on with Back-Bench business, that he has raised his point of order, that I have answered it and that there is nothing further to it. Whatever he thinks, I hope that he will be prepared to observe the normal courtesies that obtain in the House of Commons. That is the end of the matter for today.
Mr Speaker, given your knowledge, which you have just explained to my hon. Friend, would you be kind enough to tell the House why you and/or the Commission felt that, unlike for the previous two panels that considered a Clerk of the House, the Deputy Speaker—the Chairman of Ways and Means—should not be on the panel but should be replaced by another right hon. Member who, in their role as the Chair of a Select Committee that governs the scrutiny of finance, had a potential conflict of interest?
I am very happy to answer the right hon. Gentleman, and I am extremely grateful to him for raising this point. There are two responses to him. The first is that in the selection of panels that make judgments of this kind, it is perfectly normal practice to vary the membership from one instance to another. There is nothing disorderly, irregular or particularly surprising about that, and I am sorry if he thinks that there is.
Secondly, I say to the right hon. Gentleman, whom I recall raising the point before about an alleged or perceived conflict of interest in respect of the right hon. Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge) on account of her chairmanship of the Public Accounts Committee, that I thought when he raised the point before it was a poor point, and it has not improved with time. There is no conflict of interest at all. I also say to the right hon. Gentleman, who I am sure would wish to be consistent in what I will describe as his thesis, that if he wishes to pursue that line of argument, which I believe to be erroneous, he would presumably apply it also to the Chair of the Finance and Services Committee, the right hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), in front of whose Committee the Clerk can periodically appear. He did not make that point about the right hon. Gentleman—rightly, because he would have been wrong to do so, and he is similarly wrong to keep making that point in respect of the right hon. Member for Barking.
I think the House will agree that I have set out the matters with crystal clarity, and I have done so a number of times. I would hope that, having had the point made to them a number of times, people would see it and acknowledge its veracity.