House of Commons
Thursday 6 November 2014
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
On the front page of today’s Order Paper, it is noted that:
“On 6 November 1914 Captain the Hon. Arthur O’Neill, 2nd Life Guards, Member for Mid-Antrim, was killed in action at Zillebeke Ridge, Flanders.”
Captain O’Neill was the first Member of this House to die in action in the first world war. Today we remember him.
Oral Answers to Questions
Energy and Climate Change
The Secretary of State was asked—
Framework for Energy and Climate Policies
With permission, Mr Speaker, I will answer question 1 and questions 13, 19 and 21 together.
I am delighted to tell the House that European leaders recently signed an historic deal agreeing to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2030, and that the UK played a crucial leadership role over two years to deliver that deal. It establishes EU leadership and influence ahead of negotiations for a global climate deal next year, and it provides business with additional certainty to help unlock billions for low-carbon investment. It reforms EU energy policy to give member states more flexibility so that they can go green at the lowest cost, and it helps to improve Europe’s energy security, sending a strong signal to Russia at a moment of heightened tension. I commend the EU deal on energy and climate change to the House.
In the light of that deal, I am sure that the Secretary of State will now be anxious to make the UK’s contribution by laying down the order for the decarbonisation of the UK’s energy supply to 2030. Will he tell me when he intends to lay down that order and, when he has done so, what he has in mind for the decarbonisation range that will be in it?
I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman asks that question because, having been an assiduous member of the Committee that considered the Energy Bill, which became the Energy Act 2013, he will know that we cannot lay down that order until the fifth carbon budget, which is due in 2015-16. He will also know that this Government have met the first carbon budget and are on track to meet the second and third carbon budgets, and that in the summer I confirmed the fourth carbon budget at the ambitious levels we have set. We are meeting our Climate Change Act 2008 obligations.
The Labour party has already set out its position on carbon capture and storage as a vital part of our future energy mix. Is the Secretary of State concerned that Europe appears to be falling behind on CCS, and does he agree that his Government need to do more to stop that happening?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for asking me about CCS. This Government are actually leading Europe on CCS; we have the only two commercial-scale CCS projects, one of which was the only such project to get funding from Europe. It was because of the UK Government’s actions that the conclusions of the recent energy and climate change deal included CCS. Like the hon. Lady, we are a strong supporter of CCS.
Given the non-binding EU targets on renewables and energy efficiency, does the Secretary of State agree that the Government now need to demonstrate how we can use that flexibility to increase the UK’s low-carbon programme, especially as it is being undermined by other Departments—for example, by stripping farmers of their common agricultural policy subsidies for solar farms and by rejecting applications for onshore wind farms? What will he do to encourage the Government to support renewables?
No Government in history have done more for renewables than this one. We have seen renewable electricity generation more than double; we have a much better record on this than the last Government. We have also seen renewable electricity investment more than double, with a huge pipeline of investment in renewables, including onshore, offshore, solar and tidal power.
More than 50 companies have called on the Secretary of State to implement a 2030 decarbonisation target, including Asda, Sky and PepsiCo. They have warned that the absence of a specific carbon intensity target is undermining investment. Does he regret the fact that he did not join the other 16 hon. Members of his own party who rebelled against the Government to vote for the target?
It is interesting that not a single Labour Member has got up to congratulate the Government on leading in Europe and securing an historic deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the EU, which is Europeanising Britain’s Climate Change Act 2008. It is absolutely pathetic that they are not prepared to show that they support the Government on this historic deal. As Secretary of State, I introduced into the Energy Bill—now the Energy Act 2013—the power to bring in power sector decarbonisation, and we will do it. The Liberal Democrats will support that policy at the election, and I hope that Labour will too.
The Secretary of State will know that there are times when many European countries have a surplus of electricity from renewable energy but cannot do anything with it because of failures in the energy market and a lack of interconnectors. Is that not the kind of issue the entire Government—not just him, but the Prime Minister as well—should be trying to sort out in Europe, rather than banging on about referendums and European exits?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that question, because it dealt with one of the big issues we were working on in the negotiations for the 2030 deal. I worked well with my Spanish and Portuguese colleagues, because one of the biggest blocks on renewable electricity flowing through the single energy market in Europe is on the Iberian peninsula because of France’s unwillingness to have investment in interconnections. The European Council’s conclusions were very positive on this, and we will continue to support the case for greater interconnections, both in the Iberian peninsula and, particularly, in central and eastern Europe and the Baltics.
On reflection, will the Energy Secretary now condemn the Thatcher decision to shut not only the pits, but the clean coal technology plant in south Yorkshire? She was so determined to smash the National Union of Mineworkers that she closed that plant as well. When he thinks about it—the late ’80s—does he condemn it? Come on, stand up!
Today we published our annual energy statement, which shows the action we have taken to deliver a secure supply of energy while reducing bills and carbon emissions, meeting the needs of households and businesses.
Of course, secure energy supplies are the most critical part of our responsibilities in the Department of Energy and Climate Change. We have taken steps to ensure that the market operates better, through the electricity market reform programme. We have also taken steps to ensure that there has been £45 billion of investment in energy infrastructure since 2010. This winter, we have worked with the National Grid Company to make sure there is additional capacity so that energy needs are covered no matter what the winter throws at us.
There has been much scaremongering in the newspapers and other media recently about lights being turned off and energy being switched off. The relevance of today’s annual statement to my constituents and those of Members across the House lies in the Minister’s assurance that the lights will be kept on and heating will continue to be supplied to constituents.
Indeed, and over the summer we also had some impact on our energy generation, both in nuclear and hydrocarbon generation. The fact that we got 15% renewable generation last year—double what we had in 2010—of course adds to energy security, but, crucially, we have to make sure that this and every winter we take the action necessary to have the energy supply that is demanded by consumers, be they households or businesses.
I would love to be able to praise the Secretary of State today, but I cannot because I have to ask him whether he can confirm that, under this Government, construction has begun on just one new gas-fired power station, and even that will not come online until after the next election. That compares with the 10 GW of new gas capacity built under the last Labour Government. I am very sorry that I cannot heap praise on him. I had to give him some bad news.
Well, the good news is that the rate of investment in energy infrastructure has doubled under this Government; there has been £45 billion of investment so far, but we have a £100 billion programme because of the massive underinvestment that occurred in the previous decade. It is regrettable that the previous Government did not take the action that was needed, but we have done so.
The Minister will be aware of the many developments on the Humber estuary, onshore and offshore, that will boost energy security. In particular, the Joint Committee recently approved the Able UK development of the south Humber energy park. I urge the Minister to visit the area and meet Able and other developers to see what a boost it is to the local economy.
I would be absolutely delighted to visit Cleethorpes and the Humber estuary, which is increasingly a crucial cluster for our energy supplies and energy security. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all his activity, and for his promotion of Cleethorpes and the whole of Humberside, specifically with regard to the role that they play in our energy generation.
I have been working hard with UK Coal to ensure that we can refinance it. The Government have put in a £4 million loan on a commercial basis, so we are working incredibly hard in that regard. The hon. Gentleman should also take up this matter with his own Front-Bench team who voted to accelerate the closure of coal-fired power stations, which would of course to help to undermine the coal mining industry.
Further to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), last week the Minister stated in this House with his characteristic humility and good grace that he had
“secured the future of the existing pits.”—[Official Report, 28 October 2014; Vol. 587, c. 247.]
He knows of course that, welcome as it may be, the commercial loan from the Government is in reality a short-term measure. Hundreds of jobs have been lost at both Thoresby and Kellingley. UK Coal told me this week that, with the help of the Minister’s officials, it will submit an application for state aid clearance to his office by the end of next month. Given how pressing this situation is, will the Minister now give the House an absolute and clear commitment that he will ensure that his Department will reflect and decide on the merits of that application, and on whether to submit it to the European Commission for approval before the dissolution of Parliament?
Of course I will consider that submission, not least because we and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills put in a huge amount of effort to bring that about. We worked hard to secure a commercial loan to get us over the short-term cash-flow issues and to look at longer-term options. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for welcoming this work and for his support. It is good to know that there is support on both sides of the House.
Solar Energy (Public Sector)
The solar PV strategy set out how we will maximise the potential for deployment on mid-sized commercial and industrial buildings and on the public sector estate. We are taking actions to deliver on that ambition, including: making changes to the feed-in tariffs to protect the incentive for building mounted solar; consulting on allowing solar PV to transfer from one build to another without losing FIT accreditation; and working with the Cabinet Office on our ambition to see 1 GW of mid-scale solar deployed across the Government estate.
I thank the Minister for her encouraging response. The public sector, and the Government in particular, need to lead by example. Will she comment on the best practice by Colchester borough council, which already has rooftop solar energy installations on more than 1,000 houses and five public buildings, and more are planned, producing significant financial savings for tenants and the council tax payer?
I welcome the efforts made by Colchester borough council to promote the deployment of rooftop solar; it is to be congratulated on that. In our solar strategy, which was published earlier this year, the Government set out their own ambition to see 1 GW of mid-scale solar deployed across the Government estate. So far, a planning application has been made for an RAF location, and a pipeline of other potential sites is being developed.
Last week, work started to build the largest roof-mounted solar panel array in the UK—I am talking about the Marks & Spencer distribution centre at Castle Donington in my constituency. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a far better use of solar technology than seeing thousands of acres of productive arable land covered in solar panels?
I congratulate Marks & Spencer on its solar rooftop project at Castle Donington. That is exactly the kind of project that we would like to see. The solar strategy set out a number of positive initiatives to encourage rooftop solar including the recent Department for Communities and Local Government consultation on increasing permitted development for solar PV. I recently led round-table discussions to identify some of the issues for rooftop deployment from the perspective of the landlord-tenant relationship. I look forward to seeing more of the actions that we discussed going forward.
There are enormous technological breakthroughs in solar energy, which is really worthy of further investment, but they will not get us through this winter. In view of the Minister’s complacent answers to the last set of questions, if we have blackouts this winter, will Ministers on the Treasury Bench resign?
Rooftop solar is silent and invisible energy production, making it very attractive where we have unused roofs in urban and commercial centres where it is most needed. Will the Minister meet me and one of my constituents to discuss some sort of incentives to encourage landlords and landowners to use their roofs?
It is incumbent on us to explore the potential of domestic supplies of shale gas safely and carefully. The UK has a strong regulatory system and we will be working closely with the public, regulators and industry to ensure that regulation remains robust.
I agree that it is important to ensure that as we explore for this domestic energy resource, we do so cautiously and carefully. Environmental impact assessments are an important part of the planning process. The House is considering the Infrastructure Bill and we will listen to the debates on that.
Local engagement is incredibly important, as, likewise, is ensuring that local communities benefit from the successful extraction of shale gas. After all, being able to get shale gas successfully out of the ground will bring a benefit for the nation in terms of energy security, but also a financial benefit. The Treasury, inevitably, is keen to make sure that it has a part of that, but local communities also should.
Notwithstanding the changes that have been made in clauses 32 and 33 of the Infrastructure Bill, which is in the other place, will the Minister confirm that anyone wishing to explore or take part in fracking will still have to obtain planning permission from the relevant local authority and that the Government have no plans to change that?
The fracking regulations relate mostly to exploration offshore. How can the Minister assure those living in Ryedale and Hambleton, who have seen seismic surveys being conducted this summer, that the regulations are fit for purpose and that there will be no pollution or contamination of water supplies?
Not only does the regulatory structure surrounding the exploration for shale gas apply offshore, there is also a distinct regulatory structure onshore, precisely to take into consideration the sorts of concerns that my hon. Friend understandably raises. One of my first acts in this job was to increase the protections for national parks, in order precisely to deal with the concerns of those who are worried about the impact of shale gas.
The historical birthplace of fracking onshore is Denton in northern Texas, where the people are familiar with its economic and job impacts. What does the Minister make of the decision this weekend by the people of Denton and the town council to ban fracking based on a public referendum? What discussions has he had with his officials on that?
The lesson to be drawn is that it is very important to have a strong and robust regulatory regime in place from the start. We have one of the strongest regulatory regimes in the world for onshore shale gas exploration, but nevertheless it is in our national interest to support the extraction of this gas in a careful and cautious way, and that is why there is cross-party support for it.
It is good to hear the Minister talk about a safe regulatory regime, so let me help him with that. In order for the public to have confidence that fracking is safe and environmentally sustainable, it is vital that we have baseline assessments before drilling begins. Otherwise, no one can know for sure what the effects of fracking actually are. The Royal Society is unequivocal about that: baseline assessments of the level of methane in the groundwater should take place at every fracking site for a full 12 months in advance. Will he therefore urge his colleagues in the other place to support Labour’s amendment on baseline assessments when the Infrastructure Bill is on Report next week?
Despite the energy price freezes this year, which were delivered by competition, not regulation, energy bills remain a huge concern for many people this winter. That is why the Government have delivered a £50 cut in the average energy bill by reducing our own policy costs, why we have introduced the warm home discount, to take £140 directly off energy bills this winter for 2 million households on low incomes, and why we have permanently trebled cold weather payments, to provide £25 for every week of a cold spell.
As the promoter of the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act 2000, I am very keen on any efforts to reduce fuel poverty. Given that switching energy suppliers could make a useful contribution to that end, will the Minister please update the House on how we are progressing with the policy of 24-hour switching, and might it exclude political parties?
First, may I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he has done on fuel poverty? It is something that is very close to my heart. We have done a huge amount in this Government. We will shortly be publishing the first fuel poverty strategy in over a decade. With regard to switching, we are seeing huge progress. I challenged the large energy companies to halve switching times by the end of this year, and that is on track. Indeed, some of the smaller companies will achieve that by the end of the year. Ofgem is currently consulting on an idea I have pushed for 24-hour switching, linked to smart meters, and we expect a decision next year.
19. Consumer electricity prices went up by 4.4% and gas prices went up by 3.5% between April and June this year, but the price paid by major energy firms for coal fell by 12% and for gas it fell by a massive 21% over the same period. Why does the Secretary of State not act to ensure that cuts in wholesale prices are passed on to consumers? (905937)
I share some of the hon. Lady’s concern about that. Sustained falls in wholesale energy costs should be passed on to consumers. While we have seen some fixed-price tariffs come down, standard tariffs in the main have not, which is why I supported the regulator’s warning to suppliers this summer. When the Leader of the Opposition was doing my job, wholesale electricity prices fell by 62.5%, and what did he do? He called a summit.
One of the best ways to help struggling households with bills is to improve energy efficiency, so will my right hon. Friend update the House on what progress is being made in implementing the minimum energy efficiency standard in the private rented sector?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question, because that is something I have been pushing for strongly. We have had a consultation, which has now concluded, and we are analysing the responses, which have been very positive about our proposals for minimum energy standards in the private rented sector. We will update the House in due course.
The Minister knows that many of us think that smart metering can deliver real energy efficiency to the consumer, but are the Government not getting themselves into a bit of a mess? First, it will no longer be compulsory, so it will be more expensive. Secondly, will he be very careful, because the technology is changing very fast? Much of the early smart metering is already out of date because of the innovation of companies such as Nest and Hive. Will he look at that carefully in case we end up spending £20 billion on the wrong technology?
We have looked at this very carefully, taking on the programme started by the previous Government. The hon. Gentleman will understand that the smart metering equipment technical specifications—SMETS 1 for the first generation of smart meters and now SMETS 2—set a minimum floor for standards, but of course we are seeing energy companies, through the competition we put into the implementation, actually compete on improving the technology, so there is room for innovation over and above the standards that have been set.
What progress is my right hon. Friend making in addressing the particular disadvantages faced by park home owners, who are unable to access a social tariff or the green deal and yet are people on very low incomes, for the most part?
My right hon. Friend has been a huge champion of park home owners over a number of years, and I pay tribute to her for the work she has done. Partly due to the contribution she has made, we are looking at this issue in some huge depth. I hope to be able to report to the House before Christmas or early in the new year on the ideas that we have to tackle those issues.
One of the largest components of an energy bill is distribution costs, which are rising while other wholesale costs are coming down. The nations and regions across the United Kingdom have varying prices. Does the Secretary of State agree that there should be a smoothing of this so that we can have fair pricing across the United Kingdom, because many periphery areas, including mine, that produce the electricity are paying more for it due to these distribution costs?
As the Minister of State said to the departmental Select Committee, of which the hon. Gentleman is a member, the Government believe that we should look at this issue. However, let us be clear: if we were to socialise the costs across the UK, other people would be paying more, so it is not quite as simple as he suggests.
Off-grid Gas Consumers
8. What steps he is taking to help off-gas grid consumers manage energy bills in winter 2014-15. (905924)
In addition to the measures that I described in response to the hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess), we have already taken action, but intend to take yet more action, to help off-gas grid customers. We support the Buy Oil Early campaign to encourage people to stock up at good times for price and quick delivery. As my hon. Friend knows, because he attended it, this week we held the fourth ministerial round table on heating oil and liquified petroleum gas to bring together the industry, consumer groups and MPs to discuss these issues. Our amendments to the ECO—energy companies obligation—affordable warmth scheme provide stronger incentives for energy suppliers to install energy efficiency measures in off-gas grid homes.
One of the benefits of being on the gas grid is that people get use of the suppliers’ vulnerable customer register. What more can be done to ensure that those using other fuels can also see the benefits of being registered as vulnerable customers with their suppliers?
That is a very important point that the ministerial round table discussed in some detail. The issue is not just price but resilience of supply of heating oil over the winter months, particularly when there is bad weather. That is one of the reasons why we have the Buy Oil Early campaign. My hon. Friend is right: we need to work with the industry to make sure that customers who are off the gas grid and could be vulnerable are registered.
Nearly 1 million measures have been installed under ECO to date, but fewer than 1,500 of those were installed under the rural sub-obligation—just 0.1%. That means that off-grid customers who have contributed £153 million towards ECO from their energy bills have received measures worth just £600,000. Do the Government agree that they have failed those people and that ECO is not fit for purpose?
No. In fact, the Government have reformed ECO to address that issue. As I would have thought the hon. Gentleman would know, analysis of our ECO reforms, particularly in relation to the affordable warmth scheme to tackle the issue of the fuel poor in off-gas grid areas, shows that we expect to see a 30% delivery of affordable warmth measures in off-gas grid areas compared with just 2% previously.
We strongly support new nuclear as part of a balanced mix of energy supply. Hinkley Point C is paving the way, with three consortia now moving forward with plans to develop new reactors on a further four sites.
I thank the Minister for his answer. Clearly, after years of prevarication from Labour, at last the coalition Government are taking decisions on replacing our nuclear power stations which are going out of action. As part of the balanced programme that we desperately need, what further measures does he propose to ensure that we get more new nuclear power stations to replace those that are coming off-stream?
This is unusual for me, but I think my hon. Friend is being slightly unreasonable to Labour Members, because, under the former Prime Minister Tony Blair, they did take the decision to restart a nuclear programme. Of course, it was slow going at first, and we have accelerated it considerably. This summer’s decision, announced on 8 October, was a big step forward that has demonstrated to other potential investors that this market in the UK is now open. We have eight approved sites in total, four of which have projects that are at various stages of development. New nuclear will play an important part in our future energy mix, and I am glad that it has cross-party support.
Carbon and Renewables Targets
As my hon. Friend knows, I have been engaging with a large number of my EU counterparts over the past two years on these issues. By engaging in Europe—by building relationships and trust over a period—I believe that a UK Minister is better placed to win arguments in the EU that are in British interests.
That is what we have done over carbon and renewable targets, so now we have more ambitious carbon targets than many thought possible. We have an EU-wide renewables target, not a rigid member-state-based target, so European countries can cut carbon emissions using the lowest-cost technologies for them while still providing a strong signal to Europe’s renewables industry.
I agree that decarbonisation targets, not purely renewables targets, are a good way forward. However, the Secretary of State may be aware that the Government of Austria—a country that since 1990 has increased its carbon emissions, which are more than 25% higher than ours—have reportedly said that they are going to sue us over Hinkley Point C. Could the Secretary of State give us his perspective on their comments? Is there anything we can do to counter-sue carbon junky countries such as Austria that repeatedly fail to meet their emission targets?
I probably will not answer the last part of that question, because the Foreign and Commonwealth Office might want to have a word with me. On the first part of my hon. Friend’s question, Austria has reportedly been considering taking the European Commission to court, to judicially review its state aid decision. We are confident that that decision was taken in a robust way and we were very supportive of it.
Given that Germany obtains a higher proportion of its energy from renewables than we do, why is it that it has higher emissions per head and that those emissions are rising as it replaces nuclear with lignite-burning coal-fired power stations?
A number of final investment decisions were taken around 2007, before the 2020 agreement, and they are now resulting in some coal power stations coming online. Since then, however, almost all of the proposals for new coal power stations in Germany have been turned down. My right hon. Friend is right to say that there is an effect, but in the long term I am clear, from talking to German Ministers, that they will get their carbon emissions on a downward trajectory.
We are working through our long-term energy plan for a further £100 billion investment in energy infrastructure up to 2020. Since 2010, we have delivered £45 billion of that, with much more to come.
With that £45 billion, the investment per year is at least twice its previous rate, as is our investment in renewables. Renewables investment has been a large part of that overall investment, not least as a result of electricity market reform and the support for renewables under this Government. That means that 15% of electricity last year was generated from renewables, demonstrating that we are meeting our goal of being the greenest Government ever.
My constituents would be keen to see more electricity generated via solar panels, but they would prefer to see those solar panels on the acres of warehouse and factory roofing in and around Kettering, rather than on the acres of green agricultural fields. There are currently three major planning applications in the pipeline for solar farms on agricultural land, but very few applications, if any, for solar panels on warehouse roofing. What can the Department do to encourage solar panels on industrial roofing?
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. We have changed the way in which feed-in tariffs work precisely to incentivise and support solar on roofs. Having said that, 1 million people now live under roofs that have solar panels on them. That is up from a very small number in 2010, which is a big step forward, and the Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Amber Rudd) is putting enormous personal effort into driving it even further.
13. What progress he has made in negotiations with the European Commission on a derogation from the ban on the import or manufacture of incandescent bulbs for those with photo-sensitive health conditions; and if he will make a statement. (905929)
The European Commission has proposed changes to lighting regulation, including amendments to the definition of special purpose lights, but those have yet to be agreed. The Commission will be further reviewing lighting legislation, and we will continue to press for that review to take full account of any potential health implications of artificial lighting. That review is due to start in early 2015.
The Minister may—or may not—be aware that I have been pursuing this matter for some time, previously with a different Department, and it is important for that relatively small group of people to know that the Government will be pressing the matter. Can she give a more definite time scale for when she thinks there will be success?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising this issue. I am aware of how serious it is for her and her constituents, and of her history in this matter, and that is why my Department met the Spectrum Alliance in her constituency in September. We will do our best to press the European Commission for an early answer, and we will remain committed to the issue on behalf of her constituents.
In addition to the average £50 off bills, the £140 warm home discount, and the trebling of cold weather payments that I set out in answer to the hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess), I point the hon. Gentleman to the big energy saving network we have established with the voluntary sector to help the most vulnerable get better energy deals. I also recommend to him the collective switching movement that I boosted when becoming Secretary of State, with the £5 million cheaper energy together fund. The Sun newspaper is now partnering with the Big Deal to help its readers come together to save money, and MoneySavingExpert.com launched its collective energy switching scheme this week.
But the Government must go further to support ordinary families who are struggling to pay their rising energy bills, because households in my constituency and across the United Kingdom continue to suffer from fuel poverty. According to the Scottish House Condition survey, 26% of households in my constituency are in fuel poverty, and an energy price freeze will save money for 27 million households. Will the Secretary of State finally recognise that we need a proper energy bill price freeze to help those struggling with the cost of living crisis?
The hon. Gentleman has not noticed that in the competitive energy market that we have helped deliver, the large energy companies are announcing price freezes that have been delivered by competition, not regulation. Moreover, a lot of smaller independent suppliers that have come into the market are offering good deals that people can switch to and save literally hundreds of pounds. I hope he will recommend those to his constituents.
According to Government figures nearly 2.5 million households are in fuel poverty in England alone, with 1 million more in Scotland and Wales. A written parliamentary question to me on 4 September revealed that the Government’s flagship policy—the energy companies obligation—will lift just 10,000 households out of fuel poverty between 2015 and 2017. Will the Secretary of State explain why out of a budget of nearly £2 billion, and with hundreds of thousands of measures due to be installed, so few people living in fuel poverty will be helped?
Fuel poverty increased massively under the previous Government and it is falling under this Government because of a range of measures that we are taking. We are about to publish—either this year or early next year—the first fuel poverty strategy in a decade. I think we have been very active, and I am totally committed to helping people in fuel poverty.
Under Labour fuel poverty fell by 1.7 million, but this Government have changed the definition of fuel poverty—that may be the reason for the answer given by the Secretary of State. Let me tell him why the ECO has done so little for the fuel poor. It is because nearly half the funding goes to people who are not in fuel poverty, and households in fuel poverty get only one measure, which is not enough to make a difference. Despite that, the Government have announced a further £100 million for the green deal home improvement fund—another scheme that goes to people with no assessment of their ability to pay or need for energy efficiency improvements. Is that just throwing good money after bad, and will the Secretary of State make a decision today to ensure that all that funding goes to the people who need it most?
Fuel poverty increased under the previous Government under both their measures. We changed the measure of fuel poverty after an independent review because the previous Government measured fuel poverty so inaccurately that the Queen was deemed to be in fuel poverty. We thought that needed to change. Under the right hon. Lady’s approach, a lot of the money she would have spent would have been wasted—it would not have gone to people in need. Under our more accurate approach, we are ensuring that the money goes to the right people. She should know not only that more than 50% of the ECO goes to those in fuel poverty, but that because we have protected the affordable warmth part of the ECO for fuel poverty until 2017, even more people will be taken out of fuel poverty.
Since the previous Energy and Climate Change oral questions, we have made significant progress for consumers, with all the large energy firms confirming they will have met my target to cut switching times in half at the end of the year, and with the good news this week that some independent energy retailers such as First Utility have committed to halving switching times this year.
I can confirm to the House that the EU has agreed ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets following two years of negotiations in which the UK played a leading role. Thanks to the Government’s long-term, medium-term and short-term plans, our energy security remains rated the best in the European Union and among the best in the world.
My constituent Sara Martin has been ripped off by Network Green Deal Ltd of Oakham, Rutland, a green deal assessment firm. She complained but her complaint has fallen because she did not take out the green deal itself. Her complaints to the regulator and the Department of Energy and Climate Change were brushed off, as were mine. Will the Secretary of State meet me to find an urgent remedy for my constituent and others like her who are victims of assessment firms that recklessly, or perhaps fraudulently, take money from them?
Last month, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announced that solar farms would no longer be eligible for common agricultural policy payments, under the guise of ensuring that more agricultural land is dedicated to growing crops and food. The Government have since admitted that they have made no estimate of the potential annual reduction in energy capacity; that they have no idea how many solar farms include livestock grazing; and that they do not even know how much arable land has been taken out of production as a result of solar farms. They do not like onshore wind and they do not like solar, so will the Secretary of State tell us whether they support any clean energy?
This Government are proud of our record on clean energy and renewables. Solar farms are not particularly welcome because we believe that solar should be on the roofs of buildings and homes, not in the beautiful green countryside. We are proud to stand on that record. I should take this opportunity to point out that this Saturday is the 25th anniversary of Margaret Thatcher becoming the first leader to speak at the UN on climate change. That was a very Conservative approach to ensuring that we preserve this planet, and we shall continue it.
T3. With several major oil and gas projects coming to fruition and a downturn in confidence in the industry, what will the Government do to encourage greater investment in exploration and production so that we can ensure the protection of the vital jobs that are supported by that industry? (905907)
As I am sure my hon. Friend is aware, Her Majesty’s Treasury is looking at the tax issues for the North sea and the UK continental shelf. It will report in due course, but he will know that the Wood review, which I commissioned last year, is pressing ahead with legislation. I can today announce the appointment of the future chief executive of the Oil and Gas Authority: a Mr Andy Samuel.
T2. As part of the discussions on further devolution, it has been suggested that the powers of the Department to grant licences for fracking in Scotland should be devolved to the Scottish Government. That seems an eminently sensible suggestion and I support it. Will the Government support it? (905906)
Of course we are looking at all issues around future devolution of energy policy following the referendum and the commitments made by the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. On fracking, it is often not understood that the Scottish Government, the equivalent of the Environment Agency in Scotland and local planning authorities in Scotland already have a huge role to play in the development of fracking in Scotland.
May I commend the Secretary of State for the role he played, along with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in securing a tremendous outcome on the 2030 package? Given that the agreement will mean we can drive an ambitious target through the most cost-effective pathway, will he look again at the Solar Trade Association path to zero subsidy? One of the most exciting things about solar is not only the opportunity for deploying on roofs, but the fact that it offers a near-term opportunity to get to a zero-subsidy world where we can really contemplate renewables at scale.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend, who has been a champion for both the climate cause internationally and solar. He is aware that solar offers the prospect, as indeed do other renewables, of a subsidy-free energy future. The cost of solar has plummeted in recent years and experts suggest that it will continue to fall. That is very exciting and he has been right to champion it. The Government also champion it.
T5. Consumers in both south and north Wales face higher electricity costs than most of the rest of the country. In his response to my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), was the Minister really suggesting that this is just too difficult to tackle, or will he now tell us more about what talks he is having with regulatory bodies on this problem and what his commitment is to trying to get a fairer system right across the UK? (905909)
It has long been the position that the higher costs of distribution in some areas of the country are in part paid by those who live in those areas. Actually, we have reduced the gap in costs between the most rural areas and the areas where it is cheapest to distribute electricity—that gap has shrunk. Whether we go to a single position across the whole country is worth considering. There may be benefits to remote areas that have the highest cost now, but there would be a cost to others because it has to be paid for.
In the very welcome mission for more renewable sustainable energy, what is the Minister doing to ensure that, in the rush, we do not commit to biofuel technologies that are not sustainable? What is he doing to ensure that residents, such as those in Avonmouth in my constituency, do not have to fear dangerous pollution from biomass energy production? Will he visit my constituency to hear their concerns?
I would be delighted to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency and other constituencies in Bristol over the next six months. I pay tribute to her work on this front. Of course, making sure that energy supplies defined as renewable are indeed renewable and sustainable and have low overall carbon emissions is very important. We are working to ensure that that distinction is reflected in the Department’s policy.
T6. What is the origin of the £128 million funding that the Secretary of State has committed, over 40 years, to communities affected by the Hinkley C development? Will it come from the developer, as is the case with other technologies, or will it come from his Department’s funds or another Department’s funds? (905912)
There are two main sources of funds and I am happy to write to the hon. Gentleman with the full detailed analysis. Yes, money is coming from the developer, but moneys are also coming from business rates relief too. Business rates are being kept in the local area.
The Minister will have seen the Solar Trade Association’s standards for proposals for field-based solar projects. Does she agree that they should incorporate proper respect for listed buildings in our countryside? Will she encourage local councils to give short shrift to any developments that do not attempt to live up to the industry’s own standards?
When he spoke to the all-party group on steel and metal related industry, Karl-Ulrich Köhler, the chief executive of Tata in Europe, cited the higher manufacturing energy costs in Europe compared with the rest of the world as one of the key contexts for putting the long products division up for sale. What will the Government do about the competitiveness of our manufacturing in relation to energy costs?
Europe has higher energy costs owing to European legislation. We have taken action— £7 billion of action—to reduce costs for energy-intensive industries, but of course, if there is more we can do, within the European rules, including through negotiating more competitive European rules, we will do it. There is no point simply moving carbon emissions out of Europe if that means that the same amount, or more, will be emitted in some other jurisdiction.
Just a few years ago, the country came close to a major national power outage because of a three-week blocking, high-pressure weather system that sat over the UK, resulting in lots of cold nights and very little wind. Has the Department modelled for such an eventuality again, given that the capacity gap is even smaller now?
Yes, we have. The capacity gap was actually smaller at the start of the last decade, but of course we have modelled for these things, and crucially, with National Grid, we have ensured that power stations are on standby to secure energy supplies this winter.
Does the Secretary of State get the message that most people in this country, including my constituents, are quite fair-minded about new ways of producing energy and know of its urgency, but that, be it energy from waste, solar or wind power, they want to know why the incentives and benefits for local communities cannot be more generous and are not more widely known?
This Government have done more than any other to enable that to happen: we have worked with industry to increase the community benefits on offer through the community energy strategy—Britain’s first ever—that I published in January; and we have set up several taskforces, one of which, the shared ownership taskforce, is reporting today and will enable the co-ownership of new energy by local communities. I therefore refer the hon. Gentleman to all the work we have been doing.
The world price of oil has fallen to $84 a barrel—almost a 25% reduction—yet it does not appear that the benefit is being passed on to consumers through domestic oil or other energy supply. What representations is my right hon. Friend making to ensure that consumers get the benefit of this welcome fall?
Oil and gas companies get tax breaks to exploit narrow seams of oil; renewables get subsidies; nuclear power gets subsidies; the only industry that does not get any help is the coal industry. [Interruption.] I put it to the Minister, who is anxious to get to his feet, that we need £70 million to save three deep mine pits. If they got that kind of money, they could exhaust all their reserves. The Government stole £700 million from the mine workers pension scheme last February. We only want £70 million. Come on, let’s have a bit of balance. When will he tell us he is going to hand over the money?
Last month, we put £4 million into keeping UK coal running, thank you very much, so of course we are acting on this, and we are working towards further support if we can make it state aid-compliant and if it provides value for money. As somebody who comes from Nottinghamshire coal mining stock, I am working to support UK Coal.
On the recent bans on fracking in towns in Texas, Ohio and California, the residents voted overwhelmingly to stop what they describe as noise, disruption and the constant traffic and fumes from wells and trucks in residential areas. Fifty million Americans live within a mile of an oil and gas well, so they know what it is like, but they were dismissed by regulators and energy companies as misinformed. How will the voices of local people who do not want fracking—they do not want to be paid off—be heard in their communities?
Had the Secretary of State accepted my invitation to Anglesey day last week, he would have seen a microcosm of the United Kingdom’s energy future. Will he genuinely thank the officials who helped with giving consent to the biomass plant, which will have an eco plant alongside it, creating real green jobs? Is not that the way forward for Anglesey and the United Kingdom?
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman, both in thanking my officials, who are extremely hard working and talented people, and on the future of low-carbon energy on Anglesey. He has been a real champion of those sorts of projects and the Horizon project for the new nuclear power plant there.
Earlier in Question Time the Secretary of State made the point that the 2030 agreement was the export of our Climate Change Act across the EU. I very much welcome the 2030 agreement, but does he agree that the rate of decrease implied by that agreement is quite a lot slower than our Climate Change Act? Does he intend to harmonise the targets in the two agreements?
It is a little more complicated than sometimes the headlines show, because there is an effort-sharing decision that is being worked on. Some countries will take more of an effort share in reducing their carbon emissions than the 40% average and others that will take less, but I am happy to talk to my hon. Friend about that.
Last night, as we have heard, the planning committee in Bristol rejected an application for a controversial biomass plant. Is the Minister confident that Ofgem has sufficient powers to enforce planning conditions against wood-burning biomass plants that claim to use only waste wood but actually use virgin wood, for example by revoking their renewables obligation certificates?
Business of the House
The business for next week will be:
Monday 10 November—Consideration of a Business of the House motion, followed by motion to approve the draft Criminal Justice and Data Protection (Protocol No. 36) Regulations.
Tuesday 11 November—Remaining stages of the National Insurance Contributions Bill, followed by debate on a motion relating to the medium-term financial plan for the House of Commons and draft estimates for 2015-16. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Colleagues will also wish to be reminded that the House will meet at 12 o’clock on this day.
The business for the week commencing 17 November will include:
Monday 17 November—Remaining stages of the Childcare Payments Bill.
Tuesday 18 November—Remaining stages of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill (Day 1)
Wednesday 19 November—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill, followed by Opposition half day (10th allotted day, 1st part). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 20 November—Debate on a motion relating to devolution and the Union, followed by general debate on money creation and society. The subject for both debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 21 November—Private Members’ Bills.
The provisional business for the week commencing 24 November will include:
Monday 24 November—Remaining stages of the Recall of MPs Bill.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 20 November will be:
Thursday 20 November—Debate on the first report from the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, followed by debate on the ninth report from the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee on carbon capture and storage.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. May I take this opportunity to congratulate the Deputy Leader of the House on his promotion in the fallout from the spectacular exit from the Home Office of the right hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker)?
On Sunday, I will attend a remembrance service by the war memorial on Egremont prom in New Brighton, overlooking the River Mersey. On that day, we will remember all the men and women who have given their lives to protect our country. Does the Leader of House agree that such events will be especially poignant this year, the centenary of the start of the great war? I note that we are commemorating on the Order Paper the Members who gave their lives in the great war. Does the Leader of the House agree that we should also find an appropriate way to commemorate all House staff who lost their lives in that war?
A week on Monday, we will debate the remaining stages of the Childcare Payments Bill. The Bill is too little, too late for parents for whom child care costs have risen five times faster than pay since 2010. They do not want to wait until after the next election for the Government to do something about it. Surely the answer is to nearly double the hours of free child care for three and four-year-olds.
Every week in Wallasey, I meet people struggling to feed their families at the end of the month, despite the fact that they are in work. Thanks to this Government, more than 12,000 people were forced to rely on food banks in the Wirral last year alone. This is living wage week, which Opposition Members are proud to support. Twenty-eight Labour councils are now accredited living wage employers, and Labour-run Brent council is putting our policy into practice early by incentivising local employers to pay the living wage. Does the Leader of the House remember his fight to prevent the introduction of the lower but statutory minimum wage, and does he remember declaring that it would price people out of work? Will he now apologise for getting it so wrong, and will he tell us why he is proud of an economic recovery that is leaving so many hard-working people behind?
As Tory Back Benchers continue with their never-ending plots to drive Britain out of the European Union, it is clear that the German Chancellor is losing patience with the Prime Minister’s desperate attempts keep his party together. She let it be known this week that tinkering with free movement was a point of no return for Britain’s membership. Yesterday, all the Prime Minister could do was to attempt an in/out hokey cokey that fooled no one. Before the Leader of the House is tempted to follow in the Prime Minister’s footsteps and quote extensively my deputy, my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Thomas Docherty), will he tell us if he agrees with his Parliamentary Private Secretary, the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Margot James), who this week wrote that
“the anti-immigration and EU minority tail, is wagging the majority British dog”?
May I thank the Leader of the House for heeding my call last week and for announcing that we will vote on opting back in to the European arrest warrant on Monday, just 10 days before the Prime Minister’s self-imposed deadline? Will he confirm troubling reports that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has in fact refused to approve the draft regulations because they are riddled with errors? Lords rules dictate that a statutory instrument will not be taken unless it has been approved by the Joint Committee, but the Government are now so desperate to get this vote out of the way that they appear to have scheduled the vote in the Commons before they are sure that they can get the Joint Committee’s consent. Will the Leader of the House explain what he will do if the Joint Committee rejects the proposals after the House has voted on them on Monday? Will he admit that Ministers should have been spending less time worrying about the revolt on their Back Benches, and more time ensuring that the Home Office got its drafting right?
I understand that after business questions last week the Leader of the House and his fellow Tories travelled to the Prime Minister’s constituency to shed the accusation that they are out of touch and privileged by recreating the Bullingdon club at a £200-a- night hotel. Apparently, it was billed as a “How to beat UKIP summit”, but the campaign effort appeared to consist of knocking back free champagne and cognac until 3 am. The Chief Whip played a special game of “I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue”, but we know that already. The right hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan) unveiled an excruciating painting of the Chancellor naked and brandishing a carrot, and some after-dinner jokes were in such dubious taste that Bernard Manning would have been embarrassed to use them. I know the Leader of the House is a man of the people, so will he confirm that he had his usual 14 pints?
On that point, I had one pint actually, which another hon. Member paid for—it is a fine Yorkshire tradition that somebody else buys the round—so I do not know where that comes from. I have had to cut back quite considerably since the days of having 14 pints.
The hon. Lady is quite right, of course, to refer to the centenary of the outbreak of the first world war, which makes this year’s remembrance services especially poignant, exactly as she said. We will all have that in our minds as we attend local or national remembrance services this weekend. There was a service in the Undercroft yesterday, which you attended, Mr Speaker. It is important for us to commemorate on the Order Paper the sacrifices of House staff as well as former Members, and I am sure we can all join together in giving further thought to how to do that.
On Commons business, the hon. Lady asked about next Monday’s debate. The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has not completed its consideration of this statutory instrument, which is a substantial one, because it brings together all the measures necessary for opting in to those of the 35 measures that require regulation to be passed. It is substantial, and I understand that the Committee will return to this on Tuesday. It is not unprecedented for the House to consider a statutory instrument—[Interruption.] It is unusual. It has not happened in this Parliament, but it has happened in previous Parliaments. [Interruption.] I am assured that it has happened in previous Parliaments, and I think the assurances I have received should be good enough for the rest of the House. There is no barrier and no ruling to prevent this from happening. We will do so on Monday—subject, of course, to the Joint Committee completing its consideration on Tuesday. Our rules are different from those of the House of Lords in that respect. By having the debate on Monday, provided that the business of the House motion is carried at the beginning of the day, we will be able to have a full day’s debate—a much longer one than would be usual on statutory instruments. We are also able to ensure that the issue can return to the European Council agenda, for which we need to give 16 days’ notice before 1 December—and there are very good operational reasons for us to have completed our consideration before that date. [Interruption.] I am explaining to hon. Members on both sides why this is being timed when it is, and why it is important to do this on Monday. We shall do so, subject to the clearance of the JCSI the following day.
The hon. Lady asked about a number of other subjects, including the cost of living, food banks and the living wage. I remind her that this Government have cut tax for more than 26 million people and frozen fuel duty for the rest of this Parliament. We have helped to freeze council tax for the fourth year running, when council tax doubled under the last Labour Government and energy bills increased hugely. Town hall charges doubled and fuel duty was increased 12 times, so when it comes to the cost of living, the Opposition have nothing to teach us.
The hon. Lady asked about the minimum wage. Government Members have long supported it, and if everybody is to apologise for past errors, we are waiting for some very big apologies from the Opposition. Perhaps the hon. Lady will supply them on one or two of these occasions.
She asked about the article by my Parliamentary Private Secretary, which strongly supported the immigration policy of Her Majesty’s Government—she can be assured of that. I commend the shadow Leader of the House—I try to find some way to do so every week—for being so cheerful about the situation of her party. An examination of this morning’s media shows that their election guru is losing patience with Labour. The Opposition have had a reshuffle in order to forestall a coup—and things are getting pretty bad when that happens. The editor of the New Statesman, the only publication to support the Leader of the Opposition when he was elected, has now disowned him. One shadow Cabinet Minister said to the newspapers:
“Morale has never been lower”.
Another said that they were all “very concerned”. On the subject of real congratulations this week, however, we have a special guest appearance by the shadow Deputy Leader of the House for sheer honesty. Because he is not really allowed to speak at business questions, I will helpfully read out his words for him:
“The state that the Labour party is in right now is we are in a dreadful position. And we’ve got to be honest about ourselves…The electorate looks at us and has no idea what our polices are. We have a moribund party in Scotland…And we have a membership that is ageing and inactive.”
That is the hon. Gentleman’s own description of his own party—to which he assents, for he is nodding. It will take a lot more than a reshuffle to forestall the judgment of the voters on that party next May.
May we have an early debate on the costs of paying in-work benefits to foreigners? The Migration Advisory Committee said this week that the cost just of paying tax credits to foreigners is £5 billion a year. I tabled a question to the Department for Work and Pensions asking for more information, but so far I have received only a holding reply. I think this is an issue of increasing urgency, and I hope my right hon. Friend agrees with me.
As my hon. Friend will know, we have cracked down on the number of benefits to which European Union jobseekers can gain access. There is now a three-month delay before they can receive jobseeker’s allowance, child benefit or child tax credit, entitlement to housing benefit has been removed from them, and we have taken a number of other measures. The benefits bill is being reduced in that respect. However, I am sure that my hon. Friend will receive a detailed reply to the question he tabled.
More and more Members are becoming frustrated at the length of time Departments take to reply to our constituents’ inquiries. Will the Leader of the House present a report to the House, naming and shaming the worst-offending Departments?
It is very important for Departments to answer letters promptly. When I was Foreign Secretary, I took a good deal of action to ensure that the Foreign Office improved its performance in that regard. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Procedure Committee reviews the issue each year and, I believe, publishes data, but if he has a problem with a particular Department, I should be happy to help him pursue it.
In his written ministerial statement on the northern powerhouse, which was published on Monday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said:
“The Government will now prepare legislation to enable these changes”.—[Official Report, 3 November 2014; Vol. 587, c. 37WS.]
Now that the House’s appetite has been whetted by the prospect of more local government legislation, will my right hon. Friend tell us when we will see the Bill? Will it appear before the curtain falls on this Parliament?
My right hon. Friend knows very well that current Session is now pretty full of legislation, and there is, of course, further legislation to come, on counter-terrorism powers, which I hope will receive wide support from Members on both sides of the House. My colleagues in the Treasury are considering the legislation that will be necessary to make the changes outlined in the written statement, and will introduce it when parliamentary time allows.
Did the Leader of the House see a television programme entitled “Baby P: The Untold Story” last week? If he did, is he as concerned as I am about the role of those who save and protect children in our country, and does he agree that there are great lessons to be learnt? Lessons about the behaviour of Ofsted might actually lead to an inquiry, but, in the short term, may we have a full debate on the real story behind Baby P? Many people wrongfully lost their livelihoods and their reputations.
I did not see the programme, but Members in all parts of the House will of course be very concerned about that and related issues. The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to take the issue further on the Floor of the House during questions to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government on Monday—I know that he is always assiduous in asking questions to a wide range of Departments—and he could also promote it by means of Adjournment debates and Backbench Business motions. I have no Government time to give away in the next couple of weeks.
Yesterday I visited Chatsworth primary school with the aviation Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), to hear about the impact of Heathrow airport on the learning and development of the young pupils, who spoke of suffering sleep deprivation because of the aircraft that arrive throughout the night. The Airports Commission is due to report next year, but it has said that the options are Heathrow and Gatwick. Will my right hon. Friend arrange a full and frank debate, in which we can discuss what is best for the United Kingdom and take account of the views of residents?
My hon. Friend always speaks up strongly for her constituents on this matter. The impact on residents is of course one of the issues that the airports commission is considering in its review. It is crucial that we take long-term decisions on our aviation capacity that will keep Britain competitive for years to come. As she knows, the commission will make its final recommendations in the summer of next year, and I am sure that hon. Members will have many opportunities to make their views on this issue known and to represent the views of their constituents in the coming months.
A constituent of mine found that his payslip showed a deduction of £50. When he asked why, he was told that it was for making toilet visits. It appears that call centre staff, who are provided with copious amounts of water to keep their voices lubricated, are also being fined for going to the toilet. May we have a debate on the toilet tax?
May we please have a debate on green belt policy and on the threats posed by greedy developers and the local councils that wish to profit from their actions? Residents in my constituency have been appalled to discover plans by the neighbouring Cheshire East council to allow 2,500 houses to be built on green fields opposite the Marks & Spencer store in Handforth Dean. If that were allowed to happen, it would have a massive impact on local traffic volumes across my constituency and on the A34 in particular. Will the Leader of the House join me in condemning those who seek to exploit valuable resources to the detriment of local communities?
I will make it crystal clear, as the Government always do, that the green belt must be protected from development so that it can continue to offer a strong defence against urban sprawl. Recently issued rules have strengthened those protections further to ensure that, whether a project involves new homes, business premises or anything else, the developers first look for suitable brownfield sites. Those rules exist in addition to the range of other measures that the Government have taken to protect the green belt, and I hope that they will be of help to my hon. Friend’s constituents.
My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) recently raised the question with the Prime Minister of the firefighters pension dispute. May we have a statement from the Department for Communities and Local Government on why the dispute has been settled in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales but continues in England, given the optimism that met the arrival of the new fire Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt)? Her appointment heralded the possibility of the dispute being looked at with a fresh new pair of eyes, and a real hope that the matter could be dealt with.
Of course we all want to see that matter resolved, and the Prime Minister commented on it yesterday. There will be questions to the Department for Communities and Local Government on Monday, which will provide a further opportunity to question the responsible Ministers about the issue.
One of the untried technologies that we are not getting right in this country is wave power. There are two opportunities to use it in Sedgemoor in my constituency, but the money we need for the studies to find out whether it would work is not available. Will the Leader of the House find time in the next couple of weeks for us to discuss this matter? We have the opportunity to produce energy through wave power around the country, but we are unable to get the technology right.
May we have a debate on the impact of the Tory obsession with leaving Europe on the family of nations throughout the United Kingdom? If big brother England votes to leave the EU but the smaller members of the family vote to stay, we will be treated like upstart children, told what is good for us and dragged out of Europe against our will.
The Conservative party is advocating that the people should make the decision in a referendum. I thought that the hon. Gentleman and his party were in favour of people being able to make decisions in referendums, but, evidently, he does not like the answer that the people give. When we come to have that referendum it will be one of and for the whole of the United Kingdom, of which the people of Scotland have voted to remain a part.
Following on from that, the European Union (Referendum) Bill passed this House by 283 votes to nil—the biggest majority for any private Member’s Bill—yet the Leader of the House has still not tabled the money resolution. We are led to believe that the Liberal Democrats are blocking it, though they did not have the courage to vote against the Bill. May I suggest to the Leader of the House that he brings in an emergency statement tomorrow and introduces that money resolution, so that it can be debated and the Bill makes progress? If the person sitting to the right of him, the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) wants to leave the Government at that stage, so be it.
My hon. Friend rightly says that that Bill was carried by a very large majority, and he and I both voted for it. He asked about the money resolution, but, as I explained last week, there has not been agreement in the Government on money resolutions for two private Members’ Bills: the Affordable Homes Bill and the European Union (Referendum) Bill. Such a resolution can be moved only if there is agreement in the Government on it. But what he says is further evidence that only the Conservative party will and can deliver in the future an EU referendum.
This week is national youth work week. May we have a debate about the utter destruction of youth services across the country because of Government cuts, so that the Minister can explain how, despite the cuts, he is making sure that local authorities can and do fulfil their statutory duties to provide a sufficient youth service?
There is a lot of demand evident today for DCLG questions next Monday. The hon. Lady is asking about local authorities’ obligations, which are a matter for the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and so she will be able to ask him and Ministers about that on Monday. During the short recess next week, we will also welcome here the Youth Parliament, where young people will be able to discuss in here these and related issues, and I will join in welcoming them. I encourage the hon. Lady to raise these concerns with the relevant Ministers.
May we please have a debate on the effectiveness of our international aid budget? Recent research by the TaxPayers Alliance has shown that of 20 countries in receipt of UK aid 10 had shown little or no improvement in the amount of political, economic and press freedom they enjoyed and five actually enjoyed less freedom.
I am sure that my colleagues in the Department for International Development would welcome a debate. We have, of course, had a good deal of discussion about this issue in the debates on another private Member’s Bill and on its money resolution, carried just a few days ago, and in DFID questions just yesterday. Investing in overseas development is creating a world that is healthier, more stable and more prosperous, but that does not mean that the issues about freedom and human rights to which my hon. Friend refers do not remain. Development does not always deal with those.
Following on from the question from the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mary Macleod), may we have a debate or a statement on accountability within British airports, as London City airport is planning to spread misery among my constituents by changing the flight paths and the concentration of flight paths over my constituency?
Those are legitimate things to debate and to raise with Transport Ministers. Of course, changes in flight paths have a major effect on constituents, particularly those in London. The hon. Gentleman can pursue that issue through Adjournment debates or through the Backbench Business Committee, and he is entirely entitled to do so.
My constituent, Christine Solley, has raised concerns about the sale of offensive and illegal weapons such as knuckledusters over the internet and through popular online auction sites. May we have an urgent debate on tackling the sale of illegal weapons online?
My hon. Friend raises an important matter, but the position on that is already clear. The legislation says that the sale, importation or possession of such weapons is an offence for which there is a maximum sentence of six months imprisonment. All concerns about the sale of knuckledusters or any offensive weapons should be reported to the police or local trading standards department. If the seller of those things is based abroad, then concerns should be reported to the helpline run by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. So we already have a clear position on those things.
Post-polio syndrome is a neurological condition suffered by 80% of all polio victims nationwide—100,000 people—yet awareness in the primary care system, especially among GPs, is very low, and there is no national strategy in the NHS to recognise the condition. May we have an urgent statement to the House on what the Secretary of State will do to remedy that?
May I bring to the attention of the House early-day motion 455, which stands in my name?
That this House believes that the UK’s air passenger duty is acting as a barrier to allowing hardworking families to take holidays abroad, when the majority already have to pay a premium due to school term-time restrictions; and calls on the Government to reduce the financial impact on hardworking families by scrapping the air passenger duty applicable to children.
Currently, all children aged two and over flying from a UK airport pay the same amount of air passenger duty as an adult. That puts a significant amount on the cost of flying for families and the policy is out of line with most taxes, including on clothes and books, where children are exempt. British families face the full whammy of paying full APD on all flights plus a premium for taking their children on holiday out of school time. May we please have a debate on the amount of tax levied on children’s flights in the UK?
The right time to debate air passenger duty is after the Chancellor presents his autumn statement or his Budget each year. My hon. Friend will recall that the time when the House decides whether to pass what the Chancellor proposes is after the Budget each year. Of course we will take what he has said as a Budget representation. He will remember that the Chancellor recently simplified air passenger duty. I think that that will have been of assistance to a lot of people, but it did not deal with the point that he has raised.
May we have a debate in Government time on the state of local government? Coventry, Birmingham and the rest of the west midlands are facing horrendous cuts and redundancies. Why do we not have a proper debate on local government and treat it with the respect that it deserves?
We do debate in different ways the condition of local government. Sadly, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government had to make a statement about Tower Hamlets earlier this week. Again, there are further opportunities to raise such issues in questions to him next Monday. It is also open to the hon. Gentleman to apply to the Backbench Business Committee for a debate.
The European Commission unveiled its latest forecast on Tuesday, predicting that the UK economy would grow 10 times faster than that of France. May we have a debate on why the British economy is winning the European growth race, on what lessons we can learn, and on what lessons the Leader of the Opposition might choose to learn?
Again, we might well want to debate such matters at the time of the autumn statement, which is only a few weeks away. As my hon. Friend says, the British economy—according to the European Commission —is growing 10 times faster than that of France. It is only two years since the Leader of the Opposition said:
“What President Hollande is seeking to do in France…is to find that different way forward. We are in agreement in seeking that way.”
That is the policy of Her Majesty’s Opposition.
There is a crisis on our high streets throughout the country, as anyone who attends the all-party group on town centres will testify. May we have a debate on the impact of VAT rises on small businesses in our constituencies, so that the Prime Minister can make clear the Government’s position, which, again, he did not do yesterday?
The Government’s commitment to small business is clear and strong. We removed £2,000 from employers’ national insurance contributions, which means that many small businesses, including some high street businesses, do not have to pay any such contributions at all. There is a good case for debates not just about VAT, but about a changing economy and the impact of social and economic trends on the retail world. The appropriate time to debate VAT and other taxation matters is around the autumn statement and the Budget.
May we have a debate on the Youth Select Committee’s recommendations in its report launched yesterday “Lowering the voting age to 16”? The inquiry was carried out by many young people. Some 478,000 young people voted to select the topics debated by members of the Youth Parliament last October in this Chamber, and votes at 16 won the day. Does the Leader of the House agree that we should debate the committee’s well considered findings?
I am sure that this will be debated in many different ways. It is one of the issues that the UK Youth Parliament itself will debate in this very Chamber. Members of the House have strongly held and opposing views on the issue. They were aired here in the debate brought forward by the Backbench Business Committee in January this year. Our noble Friend Lord Tyler has introduced a private Member’s Bill in the other House on this issue and tabled amendments to the Wales Bill. I am sure that there will be opportunities for further debate in this House.
Further to what was said earlier about the so-called northern powerhouses, I urge the Leader of the House not to forget that cities elsewhere in the country, such as Bristol, would very much benefit from devolution of powers, particularly on issues such as transport and housing. May we have a debate on that, and perhaps discuss the issue of elected mayors at the same time, as we might have some salutary lessons for our friends in Manchester?
The Government are conscious of this issue, and since 2010 have set out on more decentralisation than has happened for decades to many cities and towns in the UK. I think, from memory, that Bristol has entered into a city deal. There are further opportunities to push that forward. When we have the debate that the Backbench Business Committee has nominated for two weeks today on devolution and the Union, it will be entirely right to raise those issues.
Many residents in the village of Bishopstone, just 5 miles from Salisbury, have been cut off without a landline for most of the last three months. That is a massive challenge when so many of them are elderly and there is no mobile signal. Unfortunately, BT has given conflicting advice about when the problem can be resolved. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on how we can avoid such a thing happening in future, and how better connectivity can be achieved in rural areas?
I can understand my hon. Friend raising this in the House when people have been cut off from their telephone service for so long, which is obviously not good enough. This year, Ofcom introduced a series of performance targets for providers—in particular for Openreach—which they are required to meet or they will face penalties, including fines. This year, Openreach announced the creation of 2,400 new engineering roles. I hope that providers will listen carefully to what my hon. Friend has said, so that the problem will be rectified and we will not need to have a debate on it in the House.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of sub-postmasters in this country with an air of criminality hanging over them based on the outcomes of the Second Sight report into the Horizon computer programme. On behalf of cross-party MPs, may I urge the Leader of the House to seek agreement from his Cabinet colleagues to publish in full Second Sight’s final report into the Horizon computer scandal so that these people can move on and clear their names?
I will certainly inform colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills that the hon. Gentleman has raised this matter. They will be answering questions in the House on 20 November, so he will have a further opportunity then to raise it with them directly. I will tell them of his concern in advance.
As my right hon. Friend well knows, the Pitcairn Islands are one of the most remote British overseas territories, and their environment is pristine. Will he consider making time available for a statement from our right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on establishing a marine environment protected zone around the territory’s thousands of square miles, as supported by the people of the Pitcairn Islands?
We have a strong record of not only giving stronger and more coherent support to the overseas territories over the past four and a half years than ever happened in the previous decade, including taking a great deal of care over the Pitcairn Islands, but of advancing marine protected areas around some of them. What my hon. Friend asks for is absolutely in line with that, so I will encourage colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to provide more details.
Given the current uncertainty about the future of Long Products UK, may we have a statement from the appropriate Secretary of State outlining what the Government are doing to ensure that foundation industries such as steel are there as a bedrock for future manufacturing success?
The steel industry is very important for this country. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that steel production here has risen in recent years. The Prime Minister commented on the matter recently at Prime Minister’s questions and there was an urgent question within the past two weeks on the future of the industry. It will remain an important topic of discussion in the House. As I said, BIS questions will be on 20 November, which might be the next opportunity to pursue the matter.
A continuing concern in our country is the disparity in infrastructure spend between London and the English regions—roughly speaking, it is a ratio of 10:1 in terms of spend per capita. Much of that has been driven by Crossrail 1. Will the Leader of the House give an assurance that Crossrail 2 will not have significant sums spent on it without a proper series of debates in this House?
Debating infrastructure investment in many different places and in many different ways is very important for the House, so I can assure my hon. Friend that there will always be plenty of discussions on these matters. He will also be aware that part of what we are trying to do with our regional growth fund and city deals is ensure that there is investment in infrastructure, transport and science across the regions of the United Kingdom. We now have the largest rail modernisation programme taking place since Victorian times. We are investing nearly £800 million in superfast broadband. There are many infrastructure developments benefiting the whole of the country, and we must ensure that they continue to do so.
May I tell my right hon. Friend that I am a member of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and that I was present at its meeting yesterday? I can confirm that there was only a slight administrative delay, as he has told the House, due to the length and complexity of the measure, not because there were any specific problems. Also, my understanding is that on at least one occasion in this Parliament the House has debated a statutory instrument before the Joint Committee did, and I seem to recall that it had Labour support.
Indeed, my hon. Friend is right that there have been previous cases, including in this Parliament—for example, the debate on prevention and suppression of terrorism on 10 July last year. I am grateful for what he says about yesterday’s deliberations by the Committee, and we all hope that it will complete those deliberations next Tuesday.
As my right hon. Friend knows, I am the Government’s pharmacy champion. Plymouth’s Peninsula medical school is very keen to have a pharmacy school attached to it. May we have a debate on pharmacy schools and on the much wider issue of pharmacies as a whole and their contribution to the national health service?
My hon. Friend does a very good job of representing these issues. Pharmacists do indeed make a crucial contribution to the health service, and it is very important that we have well-trained pharmacists for the future. I cannot promise him a debate, although of course he can pursue one in all the normal ways, but by raising the issue today he has already drawn attention to it very successfully.
In Harrogate district there are nearly 800 charities and voluntary sector organisations making a difference in their communities every day. Last week, the work of the volunteers was recognised at our volunteer Oscars organised by local councillor John Fox. May we have a debate on what more can be done to better recognise and celebrate the work of the voluntary sector bodies and charities that are so active in all our communities right across the country?
We cannot do much better than my hon. Friend, who is a great champion of volunteering and the voluntary sector and does a great deal of it himself. He draws attention to the sheer scale of such activity. The figures show that last year 74% of people volunteered in some way—an increase from 66% just four years ago. We recognise the tremendous contributions that people make through the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, the Big Society awards, and the Points of Light awards. I hope that all hon. Members will join in that effort, with or without a debate.
The Leader of the House will recall a memorable visit to Cleethorpes around the end of 2009, when he launched a policy document called “No Longer The End Of The Line” outlining policies that would re-invigorate seaside towns. May we have a debate to review those policies and to outline what future Government initiatives await us?