House of Commons
Thursday 5 February 2015
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—
Household Energy Bills
Energy bills remain a worry for many, so we have three main ways of helping households: giving direct financial help, promoting competition and enabling energy efficiency. Our financial help includes the £2.15 billion winter fuel allowance for pensioners, and more than £31 million will be spent this winter on providing assistance to more than 2 million low-income and vulnerable households. Although there remains room for improvement, energy markets are more competitive than they were in 2010, enabling many people to save around £300 a year by switching supplier. Our energy efficiency policies, which provide permanent cuts to bills, have improved the energy efficiency of more than 1 million homes, enabling us to meet our target earlier than expected.
There is indeed room for improvement. The Children’s Society tells me that there are 2,200 children in families that are trapped in energy debt in my constituency of Wythenshawe and Sale East, yet Which? says that given the global changes in commodity prices, energy companies could be driving down household bills by £164; does the Minister agree with it?
I certainly agree with Which?, which has welcomed the referral of the energy market to the Competition and Markets Authority—something that we have backed. The Leader of the Opposition, when he was doing my job, failed to back such a referral on three occasions. It is vital that the cuts in wholesale costs are passed to consumers, and we are on it.
The Children’s Society tells me that there are 3,300 children in families that are in energy debt in my constituency, yet only last week, Ofgem estimated that household bills could be cut by £114 because of the cost of energy. Why will the Secretary of State not give Ofgem the power to cut bills when they are that high?
The problem with the Opposition’s policy is that if we had listened to them and frozen bills, people would now have even higher bills and would be in even more debt. We are not going to listen to the Opposition’s failed energy policy. Our policy has seen bills come down, not just frozen. People can get some of the best deals by switching to the independents that we have encouraged into the market.
With the news this week that price comparison sites do not always show customers the cheapest offers because they would not get their share, and given that switching is so crucial to the Government, is it not time that we had a non-commercial Government comparison site?
The hon. Lady raises an important question, because it is vital that consumers can switch with confidence. That is why I am pleased that Ofgem has decided to toughen up the confidence code for the accreditation of switching sites. That will be a big step forward.
The report to which my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) referred shows that 2,300 children in my constituency live in families that have energy debt. Equally, at the other end of the spectrum, many of the high-energy businesses that sustain some of the most valuable jobs in my constituency are struggling because of this policy. What sort of policy is it that creates failure at both ends of the market?
I disagree that the policy is creating failure, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman and other Opposition Members that high energy bills need to be dealt with. The question is what is the best way of dealing with them. We have been dealing with them every single day since I took office by using competition, energy efficiency and direct financial support, and by helping energy-intensive industries. Our policies are working. Frankly, if we had listened to the Opposition, people would be paying higher energy bills.
Does the Secretary of State agree that transmission and distribution charges account for more than a fifth of many household bills? Will he press Ofgem to bear down more toughly on the charges made by the monopoly transmission company, National Grid, and by near-monopoly distribution companies all over the country?
My hon. Friend is right that network costs account for about a fifth of the average household bill. Of course, the Energy and Climate Change Committee, which he chairs, is looking into this issue and has taken evidence on it. We look forward to receiving his report. If one looks at an historical analysis of network costs as a proportion of energy bills, they have been coming down steeply since privatisation. We obviously want Ofgem to continue to bear down on them, and our regulatory regime is one of the strongest in the world.
My hon. Friend is right: a liberal approach is definitely the best. In the spirit of the coalition, we have together managed to bring down energy bills by reducing policy costs by £50, something opposed by Labour. It is often forgotten that because we have liberal markets in Britain, the UK enjoys the lowest domestic gas prices in the EU15.
New research shows an 80% fall in insulation measures for fuel-poor homes under the coalition. While the Secretary of State desperately spins about having helped 1 million households, the facts show that had the Government not weakened their policies, nearly 3 million homes would have been helped by now. When will he make energy efficiency a top infrastructure priority with the funds to match?
I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s question, although I do not recognise her figures. Energy efficiency is a top priority for the Government, and I hope that she will welcome the fact that yesterday I laid before Parliament new regulations to require landlords in the private sector to meet minimum energy efficiency standards by 1 April 2018. That will help 1 million tenants in the most energy-inefficient houses in the country.
Is not the last thing that will help household energy bills a policy that freezes prices at a level above the market, the mere announcement of which—even while the proposers are in opposition—has had a detrimental effect, distorting the markets before the policy is even implemented?
This week, the consumer body Which? added to the growing body of evidence that energy companies do not pass on reductions in wholesale costs to their consumers. Which? confirmed that cuts to consumer bills should have been larger and made far sooner. Does the Secretary of State regret that he voted as recently as last month not to back Labour’s plan to give the energy regulator the power to cut energy prices when wholesale costs fall?
This is a very important issue, and when I considered it last year, I looked at the record of a predecessor of mine as Secretary of State—now the Leader of the Opposition—when wholesale prices fell far faster and further. He did nothing. We have acted all the way. I agree with much of the analysis by Which?, especially on the need to work even harder to make our markets more competitive. The markets we inherited in 2010, with Labour’s big six, needed reform. We have undertaken that reform, and that is why the big six’s market share has fallen so significantly, and why we have backed, unlike Labour, a reference to the independent competition authority, so it can look at the energy market.
As usual, the Secretary of State did not answer the question. Will he explain why Ofgem estimated only last week that profit margins for the big energy companies are set to soar to £114 per household, citing expected future falls in wholesale costs as the reason for the increase? Is that what a functioning, competitive market looks like?
Of course we all want to see falling prices, not increased profits, and that is one of the reasons why we are increasing competition. It is ironic that Labour is now quoting Ofgem—the regulator it introduced, tried to improve and now wants to abolish. The hon. Lady and her party must come behind our policy of increased competition, must start backing the Competition and Markets Authority reference, and should change their policy in the face of the evidence. They should say that they will abide by the recommendations of the CMA and will stop playing party politics with a very serious issue.
I am grateful to you for that guidance, Mr Speaker. I received a letter from the Department yesterday saying that my question, which was then question 22, was linked with question 5, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson). The Department has created great confusion which you, Mr Speaker, with your usual efficiency and consideration, are clearing up.
We have doubled the amount of renewable energy from 6.8% of electricity in 2010 to more than 14% of electricity generation.
So it is true: this is the greenest Government ever. Will my right hon. Friend tell us what proportion of that electricity is generated by onshore wind? Can he confirm that onshore wind is the most mature, least expensive, and most efficient form of renewable energy, and is actually pretty popular?
A high proportion of electricity is from onshore wind, but there is also solar—one million people now live in households with solar panels on their roofs—and offshore wind, which plays an important role. We will continue to have a strong energy mix, with a strong performance from renewables, to ensure that we deliver on our pledge, which we are committed to and are fulfilling, to be the greenest Government ever.
The Minister knows that some Liberal Democrat voices in the Government are keen on this being a green Government, but the fact is that there are climate change deniers in his own party in other Departments. Every time wind power is brought in, it is knocked down by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. The Minister knows there is a subversive element in the Government who hate anything to do with renewable energy.
The hon. Gentleman is normally quite sensible, and I normally agree with him, but subversive elements are certainly not part of the current Government, as we can tell from our record. The proportion of electricity generated from renewables has doubled under this Government. We are committed to ensuring that renewables play a big part of the mix in the most cost-effective way that they can.
Will the Minister join me in congratulating Wiltshire council, which has already achieved its 2020 renewables target through a whole variety of means? Does he agree that that achievement ought to be a substantive consideration when the Planning Inspectorate decides on further applications for solar on greenfield sites?
I know my hon. Friend has a concern about solar panels being put in inappropriate places. There are appropriate places for solar to go, especially on roofs and in brownfield sites. That is, of course, a matter for a strong planning system, in which those local decisions are rightly made, but that does not take away from the fact that we have so much more renewable energy than we did just five short years ago.
On the subject of the energy mix, which the Minister referred to, is he aware that we would not be discussing this question of wind power had not the Tories shut more than 100 pits after 1984? There are three of them left. We had a big march in Kellingley on Saturday, and more than 500 people from Thoresby and Hatfield turned up demanding the state aid that he has promised for several weeks at that Dispatch Box. Will he now state emphatically that he will apply for state aid to keep those three pits open, so that they can exhaust their reserves and enable those 3,000 miners to keep their jobs? That’s energy mix—get on with it.
I admire the hon. Gentleman’s ability to get a question on coal into one on the Order Paper about renewables. I come from coal mining stock, and I have delivered support to the three remaining deep pits so far to make sure they stay open on a commercial basis, and to ensure, as far as possible within the constraints of affordability and value for money, the continuation of this mining. There is nobody who has done more than me in the past six months to make this happen. I will continue to work with all parties, including the National Union of Mineworkers, to get there.
To change the question slightly, one area in which there could be improvement is in encouraging industry to move from electricity to more renewable sources for heat and energy. Is the target of 20% being met, and what discussions has the Minister had with his equivalent in the Northern Ireland Assembly, Arlene Foster, to ensure that these targets are met across the whole United Kingdom?
If I may say so, that was a rather better question than the previous one. This is an important issue. We are working with our colleagues in Northern Ireland at an official level and throughout the Government to deliver on the commitments made, and it is important that we continue to do so.
Solar Power Panels (Installation)
Solar PV has been a major success story, with the most recent deployment figures showing a total of 5 GW of capacity across the UK, 99% of which has been put in place under this Government. The solar strategy, published last spring, set out a range of actions that will allow more businesses to enjoy reduced energy bills through installing solar PV. The changes we have made, financial and non-financial, for solar PV will make it an affordable part of our low-carbon energy mix, and we anticipate that splitting the feed-in tariff will promote rooftop solar, particularly at industrial premises.
Unfortunately, I do not have many small businesses in my constituency, so it is a tragedy when I lose one; losing MG Renewables, which had invested in a fleet of vehicles, was a matter of great regret. Will the Minister reassure the House that we will have a steady and clear set of incentives, rather than this constant changing, which makes it particularly difficult for small businesses to plan and maintain their viability? Will she talk to the Treasury and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to ensure that?
Small businesses are essential to economic growth, and we are determined to support them. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, which is about the support for solar through our feed-in tariffs. Owing to the reducing capital costs of solar, we have reduced the support. It is essential that we strike the right balance between using taxpayers’ money and supporting businesses, but I appreciate his point and will bear it in mind.
Given that we are constantly told that the reducing costs of solar panels will soon render them competitive with conventional electricity, why do we not abolish subsidies completely? Or do Ministers not believe their own projections?
My right hon. Friend is entirely right. The reduction in cost and the success of solar PV mean that, according to the industry itself, it will become subsidy free, we hope, by the end of the decade. That is because of investment under this Government. It will be something to celebrate, and something that the taxpayer, as well as everyone in the Government, will appreciate.
There are some excellent energy companies springing up in my constituency, such as Saving Energy Renewables, a PV solar panel firm, but projects are stalling because of the low-grade capacity for exporting energy from the systems. What can the Government do to ensure that companies can connect these systems and make serious contributions to both rooftop solar and deployment as part of the solar road map laid out by this Government?
Electricity consumed in the UK comes from a range of sources. In 2013, 35% came from coal, 27% from gas, 18% from nuclear and 15% from renewables, including wind generation. The “Electricity Market Reform Delivery Plan”, published in December 2013, stated our aim of achieving total UK renewable deployment of around 43 GW by 2020, which would generate about 109 TWh.
Given that the Minister cannot possibly know how windy it will be in 2017—there are huge variations in these things—or the relative price of different methods of energy generation this year, let alone in 2017, why not scrap the wind subsidies to the big corporations and allow energy producers to compete freely and produce energy at a price householders are willing to pay? Surely that would give people a much better deal.
Wind is an essential part of the renewables mix. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s point that it is not 100% reliable—the wind does not always blow—but that is why it is part of the energy mix and is supported by other energy sources. We are continuing as a Department to invest in the battery industry and we hope that when that industry develops we will be able to find wind more reliable, with the subsidies coming down accordingly.
Transmission lines from large wind farms such as Clocaenog in my constituency can have a severely detrimental effect on the lives of residents in the locality. What consideration has my hon. Friend given to requiring the heavily subsidised developers of those wind farms to pay for installing those lines underground?
It is an interesting question. The National Grid is responsible for surveying and implementing these matters, in conjunction with the Planning Inspectorate, and it will be for them to take that into consideration, if appropriate, for the different wind farms.
The UK has the most fully installed, operational offshore wind capacity in the world and is consistently rated the No. 1 market for investment attractiveness. The Government are supporting significant levels of offshore wind deployment which will deliver the volume necessary to help achieve cost reduction and give the supply chain the confidence to invest. The competitive contracts for difference process will also reduce cost to ensure greater scale of delivery.
Last year, despite assurances from the then First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, that there would be an offshore wind development in Dundee that would have brought 700 jobs to the city, SSE withdrew the plans. Does the Minister agree that Scotland cannot rely entirely on gas and oil for its economy and cannot rely on the separatists to bring renewables to Scotland?
I agree that renewables are part of the energy mix and must be stimulated and grown in conjunction with existing energy supplies. The Scottish Government already have the responsibility for consenting to and licensing offshore wind. When the Smith commission proposals are implemented, the Scottish Government will also assume the Crown Estate’s existing role as landlord. That will give them the ability to offer more areas in Scottish waters for offshore renewable development should they wish to do so. I suggest he continues to take the issue up with the Scottish Government.
In a recent written answer the Minister told me that
“it is a priority for Government to support the development of a UK-based supply chain for offshore wind and to increase the UK content of wind farms ”,
but that she does not require developers to report on UK content. Companies in the north-east, such as Deep Ocean in Darlington, that have already invested over £400 million in production and installation facilities want to know why her Department is not being more proactive in ensuring UK companies benefit fully from this taxpayer-subsidised activity.
Notwithstanding what the Minister says about the licensing of offshore, the fact is that the financing of it is through the contracts for difference. Given that there is a four to five-year horizon between being granted a CfD and the commissioning of the first turbines, offshore developers have expressed concern over the levy control framework and, in particular, what they perceive as a budgetary cliff in 2020, with no indication of what comes thereafter. Is the Minister intending to meet developers to give them any confidence that there will be continued CfDs available after 2020?
There is more visibility about funding offshore wind in this country than anywhere in the world. We are keen to continue that, so that we are No. 1 for offshore wind. I will continue to make everyone aware of our plans. For 2020, we certainly hope that we will be in a position to do that. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, the current CfD winners will be informed on 26 February. We will all be interested in the outcome.
We have extended our successful energy companies obligation to 2017 and reformed the green deal with changes such as the green deal home improvement fund. Together, ECO and the green deal have helped more than 1 million homes become more energy efficient. As I have said, I laid regulations before Parliament yesterday to require landlords to bring their properties up to a minimum level of energy efficiency by 1 April 2018. If the House agrees these new, tough rules for the private rented sector, we estimate that around 1 million tenants will benefit from warmer and cheaper-to-heat homes.
It was almost two years ago that the then Energy Minister, the right hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) said that he would be having sleepless nights if fewer than 10,000 people signed up for the green deal. Since then, 5,000 people have benefited from the measures—that is all. For how long is the Secretary of State seriously going to insult the intelligence of Members by saying that the green deal has been a success?
Not for the first time, the hon. Gentleman is wrong with his statistics. More than 445,000 green deal assessments have taken place, and our evidence shows that over 70%—[Interruption]—over 70% of those people having assessments go on to install measures or intend to install measures. That is far more than the hon. Gentleman talks about. For the benefit of the House, let me clarify that the figures he used relate to people who have gone through the system and used green deal finance—only one part of the green deal. Green deal assessment is a key part: it has been working and it has played forward to enable us to meet our target for insulating 1 million homes four months ahead of schedule.
I ask the Secretary of State to revisit the figures. He is making great play of them, but 80% fewer people had energy efficiency schemes last year in comparison with 2011-12. Rather than just trade figures, is it not time that the Secretary of State really looked at putting energy efficiency at the heart of his energy investment infrastructure policy?
Let me reassure the hon. Lady that energy efficiency is at the heart of our policies. That is why we have managed to achieve our 1 million target early, and why I have put forward legislation for the private rented sector, which I hoped the hon. Lady would welcome. She might be interested to know that today John Alker, acting chief executive officer of the UK Green Building Council said:
“This could be the single most significant piece of legislation to affect our existing building stock in a generation”.
I am proud that this Government have introduced that.
What specific energy efficiency measures has the UK proposed should be included in the European INDC—intended nationally determined contributions—and how will the Secretary of State ensure that, unlike the domestic green deal, a rate of success is not promised in one year when less than half of it has been achieved in two?
I think the hon. Gentleman is muddling a few things. I talked to Commissioner Miguel Cañete, who showed me the draft of the EU’s INDC—and I am afraid that it is rather more high level than the hon. Gentleman suggests. The EU’s INDC will, I think, be published and go to the Energy Council or perhaps the Environment Council at the end of this month, and it will not go into that level of detail. The hon. Gentleman might want to take up his point with the commissioner.
Government data show that more than 16,000 households in the north-east of England have spent in total £1.6 million on green deal assessments, but that only 140 have benefited from energy efficiency measures costing £500,000—a net loss of £1.1 million for householders. Will the Minister just face the facts and admit that the green deal is simply not working?
I do not recognise the hon. Gentleman’s figures. Let me gently tell him that the figures he mentions relate to people who invested in the green deal following the original assessment, and people might not have used green deal finance as a way of financing their investment. All the evidence shows that many people are using their own finances and savings; for some, it is a remortgage, and others are borrowing in other ways. I would have thought that what the hon. Gentleman, I and the whole House would be interested in is improving the nation’s building stock—not whether people use a particular form of consumer credit.
Given that energy efficiency is an important weapon for combating climate change, and given that it also lowers the energy bills of householders —particularly those on low incomes—has not the Government’s institutional meddling with energy efficiency structures not only wasted a huge amount of taxpayers’ money but actually made people on lower incomes pay more? Is not the Secretary of State’s green deal nothing but a pack of cards that contains only jokers?
I enjoyed the first half of that question, but it deteriorated into inaccuracy rather rapidly. I am afraid that the facts are against the right hon. Gentleman. Green deal assessments have been carried out for more than 445,000 people, and figures show that more than 70% of those people have subsequently installed energy efficiency measures. Furthermore, as a result of the combination of the green deal and the energy companies obligation, more than 1 million homes had benefited from such measures by the end of November. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman would welcome the huge success of a scheme that is permanently reducing the energy bills of so many people, and I might have hoped that he would welcome the fact that the private rented sector regulations that we are introducing today will help many tenants in his constituency.
Energy efficiency has done absolutely nothing for people who are in fuel poverty. Estonia is the only country in Europe with a higher proportion of its population in fuel poverty than Britain. I invite the Secretary of State—and I mean this helpfully—to come to my constituency, so that I can show him exactly what I am talking about. He obviously does not believe anything that he hears from Opposition Members, but if he comes to Glasgow, we can meet and I can show him.
I am always keen to listen to the hon. Gentleman. As he knows, I have read the report that he wrote on prepayment meters and their users, and am responding to it. However, his analysis of fuel poverty was wrong on at least two counts. First—as he will see when we publish our poverty strategy shortly—the energy companies obligation, along with other measures that we have taken, has already helped many fuel-poor households during the current Parliament, Those measures are a significant step forward. Secondly, the way in which we are reforming those measures is helping even more people.
The hon. Gentleman suggested that Estonia was the only EU country with a higher proportion of people in fuel poverty than Britain. I do not know whether he has looked at the way in which the EU and individual EU member states compile fuel poverty statistics, but I do not think that it enables him to reach that conclusion.
I, for one, congratulate the Secretary of State and welcome the new regulations, which will bring relief to many people living in poorly insulated rented accommodation in my area. However, may I press him to define the minimum level of energy efficiency more clearly?
I am delighted that the hon. Lady welcomes the new regulations, which will make a significant difference by requiring landlords to raise the energy performance certificate rating of their properties to a minimum of band E by 1 April 2018. We believe that that will help about 1 million tenants over the next three years.
Given that this is a particularly cold week, may I remind the Secretary of State of the people who live in park homes? Will he support the call by the park home owners justice campaign for a dedicated, fully funded insulation programme? Is it not time for action, rather than mere consultation?
My hon. Friend has been a doughty champion of park home owners. As she knows, we have been the first Government to engage with some of the challenging issues that they face. She will know, for example, that our reform of the warm home discount will make many park home owners eligible for it for the first time. That is action. As for the insulation programme that she mentioned, if she can wait until we publish our fuel poverty strategy, she will see that we are continuing to think about what can be done for park home owners.
The homes of millions of low-income households desperately need to be made highly energy efficient, so I welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement today about the private rented sector, but will he ensure that the scale and value of grants available are up to that challenge in the next Parliament?
My hon. Friend is right to say that, in moving forward to take out the least energy efficient homes in the private rented sector and in other sectors, we need to ensure that there is a financial framework to support them. Landlords will be able to use either ECO, grants such as the green deal home improvement fund or green deal finance to assist them to meet the regulations.
May I pay tribute to the former Member of Parliament for Sheffield, Heeley, Frank Hooley, who has died at the age of 91 and who campaigned for what was then described as alternative energy?
In that vein, may I ask the Secretary of State what discussions he has had with Ministers in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills about the Government’s providing greater investment to support companies that are developing mechanisms to improve energy efficiency such as micro and combined heat and power?
I am sure all hon. Members will join the hon. Lady in paying tribute to the former Member who has died. I did not know him but I am sure he was a doughty campaigner for alternative energy.
The hon. Lady asks what my Department can do with BIS to assist in the deployment of technologies such as CHP. I assure her that I work closely with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills on those issues, particularly to ensure that energy-intensive industries have support with the high costs that they face.
Earlier this week, the National Federation of Occupational Pensioners predicted that the death toll from this year’s winter cold weather could be 40,000 people, the highest for 15 years. With figures such as those, how can the Government defend not spending the majority of the funds that they raise for energy efficiency on tackling fuel poverty?
Fuel poverty increased significantly under the previous Government and it has fallen, albeit not as much as I would like, under this Government. When we publish the fuel poverty strategy shortly, the hon. Gentleman will see not only that we have managed in this Parliament to focus scarce resources on the problem, with significant success, but that we plan, through the private rented sector regulations and other measures, to bear down on fuel poverty even further and faster.
The Secretary of State is too complacent and I do not agree with his assessment at all. The fact is we have the means to tackle fuel poverty. What is lacking is the political will. His Government know that. Is it not a fact that the technical annexe to the Government’s own fuel poverty strategy admits not only that the Government will not eradicate fuel poverty by 2030 but that it will rise?
He is probably talking about the draft strategy. He needs to see the final one before he makes such points. The fuel poverty regulations that we have introduced are radical and have not received the attention they deserve. Under the regulations, by 2030 any person who is in fuel poverty must be in a house of at least EPC rating C. That is a major step forward and we have the policies, set out in the fuel poverty strategy, to deliver that.
Oil Prices (North Sea)
9. What assessment he has made of the effect of lower oil prices on oil and gas extraction from the North Sea. (907452)
Oil companies around the world are reacting to the rapid fall in oil prices and prioritising activity. We are working to ensure that we deliver maximum economic extraction from the North sea. I will be travelling to Aberdeen later today to discuss that with the industry.
It does seem that others are doing things around the world, but this Government are doing very little. The Energy Minister did not reply to this; he is posted missing on it. He was also posted missing at the summit in Aberdeen. At that summit, the point was made that the two things that are required are investment tax write-offs, so that people continue to invest in future fields, which will stop if they do not continue to invest; and a reduction in the taxation on the fields, which the Government increased massively to 30%. If we bring the tax back down to 20% and put in tax investment, we might sustain this field—this week, Shell announced that it is closing the Brent field, the first field to bring oil into this country from the North sea.
Work of a collaborative tone to support maximum extraction from the North sea might be more appropriate considering some of the inaccuracies in the question. Not only did we take measures in last year’s autumn statement to support oil companies to ensure the maximum extraction, but we are looking at what further we can do in the Budget. The Secretary of State was in Aberdeen last month, and I will be in Aberdeen later today. We are taking this action to support the maximum possible extraction in terms of economic ability from the North sea.
I am glad the Minister will finally make his way to Aberdeen, and while he is there I hope he will have discussions with all aspects of the industry and the trade unions. I have two asks of him when he is in Aberdeen. One is to talk about what will happen to replace the jobs that have been lost—in one week, 600 jobs, and over the piece it is now into the thousands in one geographic area, if we can imagine that. I wonder what the reaction would be elsewhere. The second ask is to make sure that investment continues, even though we know the industry has to squeeze costs out of the supply chain, so that when the price of oil does pick up the industry has not been decimated.
These are good questions and they were being discussed even before the oil price fell. It is very important that we come to the best possible answer, but I think the hon. Lady and I would agree that it is far better that we sustain a strong industry through these challenges in Aberdeen—which we can do because we have a whole-of-the-UK balance sheet off which we can take decisions to support Aberdeen.
Community Energy Generation
This Government are proud of launching the UK’s first community energy strategy, which is increasing the proportion of home-grown, low-carbon generation across the country. We have committed £25 million to rural and urban community energy funds to help kick-start generation projects, and communities can access the feed-in tariff scheme, which provides a long-term guaranteed income stream for communities.
Bristol, as European green capital this year, is certainly very keen to push forward on community energy, but I am told that progress has stalled as a result of Treasury changes to tax incentives and Financial Conduct Authority changes to the rules for establishing energy co-ops. Community Energy England and Co-operatives UK say these changes threaten the very viability of the community co-operative model. What is the Minister doing to respond to these concerns?
I congratulate the hon. Lady on Bristol’s nomination for European green capital, and it was a pleasure to visit the city with her and see some evidence of the green initiatives. I am aware of the problem she raises and I will follow that carefully and try to ensure it does not create any further blockage, because community energy is essential to our development of a proper renewables strategy in the UK.
Will the Minister look carefully at the application of community feed-in tariffs to small-scale hydro? I recently wrote to the Secretary of State on behalf of villagers in West Lydford, who have made a heroic effort to repair a weir in Lydford. They formed a company to do so, and now find themselves in difficulties because of the rules.
My hon. Friend raises a vital issue and we have indeed been pressing the larger energy firms on this for some time. The good news is that energy prices have not only been frozen over the last year, but they are now being cut. Moreover, there is now a plethora of lower priced deals out there, especially from the independents, thanks to our policy of promoting competition, encouraging switching, and piling the pressure on the big six with an in-depth investigation of the energy market by the Competition and Markets Authority. I assure my hon. Friend we will continue to fight for the consumer every day.
Recent Which? research shows that energy bills are the main financial worry of two thirds of households, and that while there has been a welcome reduction of about 5% in domestic tariffs this could have been as much as 10% had they mirrored the fall in wholesale costs. What more can the Government do to make sure the big energy companies are more responsive to falls in wholesale prices?
Some energy suppliers have reduced their prices by 10%, and OVO Energy recently cut its prices by more than 10%. It is a complicated analysis and, working with the Treasury, we have looked at it in some detail. Wholesale gas costs represent about a quarter of the average bill; other costs are also changing and not all of them are going down. This is complicated, but it is right that the independent competition authorities look at this—they are specifically addressing this issue—because if there is any malpractice in the energy markets they will be able to expose it and have the teeth to tackle it.
Since our last Department of Energy and Climate Change orals, we have seen significant progress for consumers on switching, energy prices and energy efficiency. Energy firms have responded to my challenge and halved the time it takes to switch, from five weeks last year to 17 days now. That is helping people to switch to get big savings on their energy bills, as the extra competition we have backed is now seeing bills being not just frozen, but cut. Figures to the end of November show that the energy companies obligation and the green deal have delivered new boilers, windows and insulation to more than 1 million homes, four months ahead of our March 2015 target. In introducing to the House today tough new regulations to require landlords to ensure that their properties meet minimum energy-efficiency standards, we aim over the next three years to help about 1 million private sector tenants enjoy lower energy bills and warmer homes.
The global calculator published by the Department last week found that reducing our meat consumption is essential if we are to reduce our contribution towards greenhouse gases. Everyone from the United Nations downwards has for many years been talking about the contribution of the livestock sector to global emissions. His Department has always ignored this issue, so I urge him now to take action and to tell us what he is doing to encourage people to reduce their consumption.
I think that is a little harsh. My Department published the calculator, so far from ignoring this, we are putting into the public domain not just a UK 2050 calculator but, having helped 20 other countries with their calculators, now a global calculator. It shows that people’s lifestyles—not just their meat-eating habits, but their transport and so on—all have an impact on climate change. The calculator enables people to look at the types of choices we may need to make in the future.
In 2010, the big six, created under the previous Government, had a share of the retail market of more than 99%. As a result of the competition we have encouraged, there has been a big increase in the number of independent competitors, whose market share has increased from less than 1% to more than 10.5%, and is rising fast.
On 13 January, when answering an urgent question in this House on decommissioning at Sellafield, the Secretary of State said on three occasions that he would engage with the 10,000 people working at that complex site. What discussions have he and his officials had with those workers?
We are engaging with those workers through the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and through Sellafield Ltd, and we stand ready to assist in the discussions to make sure they understand the implications of the changes to their livelihoods. As I said in response to the hon. Gentleman’s urgent question, we are talking about good news for workers at Sellafield, and indeed it was welcomed by the MP representing that constituency.
If it is such good news for the workers at Sellafield, I would expect the Secretary of State to be engaging with those 10,000 highly skilled workers, who are very concerned about what the impact will be on their jobs and their livelihoods. I can tell him that there has been just one local meeting with those workers in the past few weeks, and very many of their questions were not answered. He has had communication from their representatives. Will he now undertake to fulfil the promise he gave this House just three weeks ago to engage properly with those people, at a time of severe anxiety for them?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that maintaining high levels of generating capacity to meet peak demand, which may be for very short periods, imposes a cost on all consumers? Will he therefore undertake to look carefully at the capacity market mechanism next year to see whether a greater contribution can be made by demand-side response—the system under which consumers are incentivised to reduce their consumption at short notice during periods of peak demand?
Demand-side response currently accounts for around 1.8 GW of balancing services, and we expect it to rise to around 2.5 GW. I have met the demand-side response industry a couple of times, and we will ensure that we take into account its concerns as we review the operation of the capacity market, which was incredibly successful this December.
T3. The Children’s Society estimates that in Coventry South 3,200 children are living in families trapped in energy debt. It has been calling on the Government to increase support for those families by changing the Department of Energy and Climate Change strategy and policy statement to include families with children as a vulnerable group. That will ensure that Ofgem and energy companies do their part to give families the support they need when they fall behind with their energy bills. Will the Minister give that some consideration? (907470)
That is a very significant issue. When we were working on the fuel poverty strategy, using the analysis of Professor John Hills—the new method of looking at fuel poverty—we found that it uncovered a number of things that were not so obvious in the old method, such as people in off-gas grid homes being among the most fuel poor, and far more families being in fuel poverty as a proportion of the overall total. That is why the warm home discount is so important; it targets money on not just pensioners but low-income families. The fuel poverty strategy will now address that matter, too.
Earlier, the Under-Secretary of State said that, by 2020, we will see the availability of more advanced lower-cost solar panel technology, which will not require subsidy. Why not wait until 2020, rather than encouraging people to install high-cost, immature versions of that technology that will require us to commit to paying out subsidies right through to 2030?
We have been cutting solar subsidies throughout this Parliament—indeed we have come under great attack for so doing, including from the Opposition. We are consulting on closing the renewables obligation system to the solar industry, and again that has led to a lot of criticism. However, I do not apologise for taking those measures, because it is important that we get best value for money for the taxpayer while encouraging the very important solar industry.
T5. Siemens is to start the production of offshore wind turbines in Hull, potentially bringing in thousands of news jobs to the city. Is the Secretary of State aware that the UK Independence party opposes that investment and those jobs coming to Hull, and that the Greens are calling for a boycott of Siemens locally as well? (907472)
I am glad that this is one issue on which the hon. Lady and I can agree. I recently went to Hull to see the latest development in the Siemens plan. The plan is very exciting and is crucial for Hull. It has been welcomed by business, education and the council in Hull. I agree it is astonishing that, locally, UKIP and the Green party are opposing the development. It is quite bizarre.
I very much welcome the Under-Secretary of State’s very positive response to my campaign with the Children’s Society to extend the warm home discount. Will she go a step further and seriously consider the auto payment of the warm home discount to these vulnerable families, in addition to the auto payment to pensioners?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. We are all aware of the hard work she has done to support vulnerable people and to make such an extension happen. We are pleased that the warm home discount now extends to a broader group, which includes families with children, particularly those with children under five or disabled children. Data sharing is an important part of being able to find out how to deliver to the right people. We will of course keep those opportunities under review.
T6. Does the Secretary of State share the widespread disgust at Ofgem’s recent advice on paying energy bills, which included suggesting that families in fuel poverty should make packed lunches for their kids and cancel gym memberships? Instead of that insulting response, does he agree that the Government should consider changing the rules, so that Ofgem advises on energy efficiency and not on packed lunches? (907473)
I have not seen that advice. It is important that Ofgem focuses on trying to give the best possible advice that will help people who are struggling with energy bills. Government advice certainly includes practical suggestions on how to get the financial help that is available and to cut bills.
I am delighted that this question has come up although I am a bit surprised that it took until 10.29 to do so. It is also a bit of a surprise that the shadow Secretary of State is not attending DECC questions; I understand that she is campaigning in a Labour marginal seat. It is absolutely imperative and a duty on the Government to allow exploration for shale gas, which has the potential to be a significant resource, but to do so carefully and cautiously, and that is exactly what we are doing.
T7. What is the Government’s current position on constructing a Severn barrage lagoon to generate a substantial proportion of the nation’s electricity? If the Government are serious about their green ambitions, should they not be forging ahead with this project now? (907474)
The hon. Gentleman may be muddling up the barrage and the lagoon. We have said that we will look at any environmentally sensitive and affordable proposal for the Severn barrage, if the private sector wants to propose one. To date, that has not happened, although he may well have missed the fact that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made it clear in the autumn statement that we are looking seriously at tidal lagoons. I recently published a consultation on how we would go about agreeing a contract for difference for a tidal lagoon.
T8. Like every other Member here, I am deeply disappointed to hear about further job losses in the North sea oil and gas industry. The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers has said that, for every offshore job lost, three jobs onshore are lost. Does the Secretary of State agree that the best way to address this is to work together as a United Kingdom? (907475)
I entirely concur with the hon. Gentleman’s words, and I look forward to working with the Opposition Front Benchers and Labour Back Benchers and, indeed, with the Labour leadership in Scotland, to try to do everything we can to ensure that we have a strong and healthy offshore industry, because the jobs are not only offshore but throughout the whole United Kingdom.
T9. It is becoming increasingly clear that the UK Government have failed to agree the European structural and investment fund’s operational programme with the European Commission. What is happening? What is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that the skills funding needed to achieve energy efficiency objectives is guaranteed until an agreement is reached? (907476)
It is important that we get the details right and the programme will be forthcoming, but it is vital that we have the skills that come alongside energy development. We put a huge effort into getting that right, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the details when they are published.
Business of the House
The business for next week will be:
Monday 9 February—Motions relating to the draft Social Security Benefits Up-Rating Order 2015 and the draft Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2015, followed by motions relating to the draft Mesothelioma Lump Sum Payment Conditions and Amounts) (Amendment) Regulations 2015 and the draft Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers’ Compensation) (Payment Of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 2015.
Tuesday 10 February—Motions relating to the police grant and local government finance reports, followed by motion to approve a money resolution relating to the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, followed by consideration of Lords Amendments to the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill.
Wednesday 11 February—Opposition day (17th allotted day). There will be a debate entitled “Labour’s job guarantee”, followed by a debate on tax avoidance. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion, followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.
Thursday 12 February—Debate on a motion relating to pubs and planning legislation, followed by general debate on the destruction and looting of historic sites in Syria and Iraq, followed by general debate on the mental health and well-being of Londoners. The subjects for these debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 13 February—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 23 February will include:
Monday 23 February—Remaining stages of the Serious Crime Bill [Lords].
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 12 February will be:
Thursday 12 February—General debate on effect of national infrastructure projects on local redevelopment.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s business. I welcome the publication today of the House of Commons Commission Bill, which will implement the recommendations of the Governance Committee’s report. Will he confirm that it is his intention to ensure that this legislation is on the statute book prior to Dissolution on 30 March? If that is his intention, may I assure him of our co-operation and support?
Yesterday we had two vital statements on the inquiry into child sexual abuse and Rotherham, and as a result our Opposition day debates were severely curtailed. Given that the Leader of the House has to make such a superhuman effort to fill the Government’s paltry programme of business every week, will he grant Her Majesty’s Opposition a further half day to make up for it?
I am sure we all enjoyed the first episode of Michael Cockerell’s documentary “Inside the Commons” on Tuesday. I think all right hon. and hon. Members will agree that it was a beautifully shot, illuminating depiction of life in this place, and I look forward to the remaining episodes with only a little trepidation. I must say that after a mere 23 years in this place, I had not realised until I watched the documentary that until very recently Members were entitled to free snuff. I feel that I have missed out. I was especially struck by the Prime Minister’s description of this place as half church, half museum and half school. All I can say is that this place certainly does not look like any school I ever went to, and Eton should clearly get a better maths teacher.
This week marks the start of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history month when we celebrate progress on LGBT rights while recognising that we must do more to banish bigotry and discrimination. This week my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Tristram Hunt), the shadow Education Secretary, launched Labour’s comprehensive plan to tackle the baleful legacy of section 28 and end the scourge of homophobic bullying in our schools. Will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on how we can make LGBT rights a reality in this country and around the world?
On Tuesday we will debate motions relating to the police grant and local government finance reports, and nothing could better illustrate the huge gap between this Prime Minister’s rhetoric and his record. Before the election he said that a Conservative Government would not cut any front-line services. Five years later we have almost 17,000 fewer front-line police officers, 9,000 fewer front-line NHS staff, and the 10 most deprived areas in the UK have suffered cuts 16 times greater than the leafy Tory shires. Before he was elected, the Prime Minister promised that education would be a big priority, but his previous Education Secretary managed to alienate everyone he came across. Even the Conservative-led Education Committee has concluded that there is no evidence that the Government’s ideological dash to create academies has made any difference to standards whatsoever. In my own constituency on the Wirral, 19 of the 21 secondary schools are facing serious financial strain, and this week we learned that the Tories’ solution is to slash the schools budget by 10% if they win the election, disguised by the Prime Minister in a speech last week as “flat cash”.
The Prime Minister has broken so many promises that he has created a whole new medical condition—Camnesia. Cutting the deficit, not the NHS? Camnesia. The greenest Government ever? Camnesia. Balancing the books by the end of this Parliament? Camnesia. His condition is now so bad that he is officially even worse than the Liberal Democrats at keeping his promises.
The Prime Minister laughably asserted yesterday that this election is a choice between competence and chaos, but he failed to notice the chaos around him. We have a Tory Chief Whip who still pines after his old job and a Lib Dem Chief Whip so exercised by this Government’s legislative agenda that he is reportedly falling asleep in Cabinet. We have a Work and Pensions Secretary whose flagship benefit reform is so behind schedule that, at the current rate, it will take 1,571 years to complete. We have a universities Minister who is so out of touch that he is telling students not to worry about debt because three years of tuition will cost them only 13,846 cups of posh coffee. Using that coffee currency, I have estimated that the Government have missed their borrowing target by 64 billion salted-caramel lattes.
As ever, we have enjoyed the hon. Lady’s questions. In fact, I was having a look, as so many people are, at the betting odds for who will be the next leader of the Labour party. I must congratulate her, because it turns out that she has now entered the list at Ladbrokes at 100:1. Admittedly, that is only a start—the same level as Ken Livingstone and Lord Mandelson—but I might fancy a flutter on the prospect, because we know that we can laugh with her, whereas there are one or two of her colleagues whom we can only laugh at. I wish her well in moving up the odds.
The hon. Lady asked about the House of Commons Commission Bill, which has indeed been published today. It is certainly my intention to have it on the statute book by Dissolution. It has a great deal of cross-party support, so I hope that we can arrange Second Reading and other stages soon after the February recess.
There are several more Opposition days to come in this Parliament. We make a genuine effort to avoid having many statements on Opposition days. I think the House understands that yesterday’s statements from the Home Secretary and the Communities and Local Government Secretary were highly important, and indeed that it was urgent that they came to the House as soon as the report on Rotherham was available. Occasionally that happens on Opposition days, and it is unavoidable, but that does not mean we can create additional Opposition days; it means we try to avoid it on other occasions.
Like the hon. Lady, I enjoyed the BBC’s documentary “Inside the Commons”. My comprehensive school did not look anything like this place either, and I would have known that three halves add up to more than one. On the other hand, forgetting that three halves add up to more than one is a bit better than forgetting the entire Budget deficit, which was the performance of the Leader of the Opposition.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady about the importance of LGBT rights. Indeed, the Education Secretary has just announced a £2 million fund to help tackle homophobic bullying in schools. There is a good case for a debate on these issues, although it is most likely to be successful as a Back-Bench business debate. I would certainly support such a debate taking place.
The hon. Lady asked about public services. It is a common mistake for the Opposition to think of public services in terms of inputs, rather than outputs and what is actually achieved. For instance, over nearly five years we have seen crime fall by a fifth, we have seen a huge increase in the number of children in schools rated good or outstanding, and we have seen satisfaction with the health service increase—except in Wales, where it has gone down. That is what matters to people: the actual performance and achievements of public services.
I hope that in the debates that the Opposition have called for next week we will be able to look at the recent economic good news, because just in the past week we have seen construction output growth rebound, manufacturing growth accelerate, and consumer confidence make a large jump, and the car sales figures announced this morning are up 7% on the year. The real jobs guarantee—they have a debate next week on a jobs guarantee—is that sort of success, as is the growth of 1.75 million jobs in this country over the past four and a half years. At least in that debate the Opposition will be able to tell us what advice they have received on jobs from Bill Somebody and their business supporters, or Fred Somebody, or Joe Somebody—or just somebody. It is not an age thing on the part of the shadow Chancellor that he could not remember the names of any business supporters; it is a being totally out of touch with job and business creation thing.
Even by Labour Members’ own chaotic standards, they have had a special week, with university vice-chancellors attacking their fees policy, saying that it would
“damage the economy…and set back work on widening access”;
with business people who were Ministers in the previous Government attacking their attitude to business and wealth creation; and with their own peer, Lord Glasman, saying they need bold leadership but have got the Leader of the Opposition. Nothing could better demonstrate the real choice between competence on this side of the House and chaos on the other.
I apologise for boring the Leader of the House on this subject, but I must bring him back to the debate requested by the European Scrutiny Committee one year and two weeks ago on the free movement of EU citizens. In answering my previous questions, my right hon. Friend has been immeasurably emollient and tactful, but nothing happens. It is a grave discourtesy to this House that the Government do not follow the proper scrutiny procedures. It is about time we had this debate, and it is a considerable disappointment that it was not in his announcement.
My hon. Friend is never boring. [Hon. Members: “Oh yes he is!”] Well, only occasionally then, in the view of the House. In my view, he is never boring. I always try to be emollient and tactful. Indeed, I am going to the European Scrutiny Committee to discuss some of these things next week. I certainly intend that some of the debates that the European Scrutiny Committee is waiting for will take place on the Floor of the House or in Committee in the coming weeks.
May I first express my very great appreciation to the right hon. Gentleman and, indeed, to his private office for being so speedy and co-operative in ensuring that the House of Commons Commission Bill gets on to the statute book? I know that he is also committed to ensuring that changes in Standing Orders are brought forward.
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman about something slightly different, however, which is plans for handling England or England and Wales-only legislation in this place? I personally accept that that is a tricky and difficult issue, and one on which I hope, please God, we get a consensus. He may recall that in the House on 16 December I asked him to publish
“a list of legislation that…would not have gone through this House if it had been endorsed only by English or by English and Welsh MPs”,
and he said:
“I will certainly have such an analysis published.”—[Official Report, 16 December 2014; Vol. 589, c. 1271.]
Can he say when this is going to happen?
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks about the House of Commons Commission Bill. We have certainly done everything we can speedily to implement his Committee’s excellent report, and we will continue to do so.
I will be publishing that analysis. The right hon. Gentleman wrote to me about this yesterday. The analysis is almost complete. There are several different ways of cutting the numbers in making such an analysis, so it has been a bit of a task for the officials doing it, but I will ensure that it is placed in the Library of the House pretty soon.
Further to that question, on Tuesday my right hon. Friend announced that he and the Prime Minister had selected option 3 as the best one on English devolution—a decision with which I wholly agree. He went on to say that this option would be
“put forward to Parliament and the country”.
Can he confirm that it will take place in that order?
I can confirm, as ever, my earnest hope that it takes place in that order. There is a very good case for this to be debated in Parliament before the general election. As I have indicated before to my right hon. Friend, we are having discussions within the Government about how to structure such a debate. Those discussions have not yet been concluded, but they are going on vigorously.
May I ask the Leader of the House for an early debate on election spending by political parties? Many people in this country do not know that, against the Electoral Commission’s advice, the limits on spending have gone very high indeed. We have had news this morning that the Conservative party is spending £10,000 a month on Facebook alone. This used to be a country, unlike the United States, where money did not count that much, although even at the last election, under the old rules, the Conservatives spent twice as much as the Labour party. Now we know that about £40,000 can be spent in every constituency, and massive sums are being put into social media and elsewhere. This is not the sort of democracy that most people in this country want. May we have a debate on that?
There have been many debates in the House on such matters over the years. Ministerial responsibility for them rests in the Cabinet Office and there will be Cabinet Office questions on Wednesday, so the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to pursue the matter on the Floor of the House. The increase in spending limits that has been introduced for the coming election is the first increase in a long time. It is necessary in a thriving, robust democracy for the voters to be informed. There should be no criticism of the discussion of elections on social media, because that is how much of the world now conducts its discussions. Other parties will have to catch up.
The whole country has been shocked by the animal cruelty at the Bowood Yorkshire Lamb abattoir at Busby Stoop, which was the site of hangings at the time of Dick Turpin and so is known for historic reasons. An investigation is rightly ongoing, but will my right hon. Friend permit the earliest possible debate on animal welfare provisions, particularly in slaughterhouses, and on the European provisions for the labelling of meat produced for halal purposes? It is essential that farmers are assured that the high levels of animal welfare that they respect are not let down at the last moment at the point of slaughter.
The whole country takes this matter very seriously. This country rightly has a high reputation for animal welfare, and that must be preserved. Investigations into the matter are taking place, as my hon. Friend says, and those are important. The Crown Prosecution Service is considering the evidence for a possible prosecution. On labelling, we support the EU study that is looking at consumer opinions on methods of slaughter labelling. That study has been delayed, apparently, but it is now expected in the next couple of months. We will be able to review the options at that point and I am sure that the House will want to debate them.
I am delighted to see that action 20 of the Government’s anti-corruption plan states:
“House of Commons to approve the proposed amendments to the Guide to the Rules relating to the conduct of Members”,
with a deadline of March 2015. The Committee on Standards is very happy to support the Leader of the House in implementing that Government policy. When will the debate take place?
I am very grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s support. I absolutely hope that the debate will take place. He and I have discussed it a number of times. There are a number of outstanding Committee reports to address in the remaining weeks of this Parliament. My hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) talked about a European Scrutiny Committee report, there are important reports from the Procedure Committee and there is this important report from the Standards Committee. I will do my best to accommodate these things in the coming weeks, with the right hon. Gentleman’s support.
That is a party matter, rather than a Government matter, since there are different policies among the coalition parties. However, it is important to show the detail, so I intend later this month to set out how the proposal that I made earlier this week can be implemented in Standing Orders.
City college Brighton and Hove is struggling in the face of cuts to funding and rising costs. The staff, students and unions are all rightly concerned. May we have an urgent debate on funding solutions for the further education sector that are progressive and fair, and can that include looking again at a remedy for the historical unfairness in funding for 16 to 19-year-olds, in that they have to pay VAT in a way that their colleagues do not?
There is always a good case for debating further education and other educational issues in this country, but I do not know that there will be time to do so in the remaining six weeks before the Dissolution of Parliament. That will be a common answer for me to give to Members who raise many important issues. After today, there are only 26 sitting days left for the House of Commons before the general election, so we have to bear that in mind. However, I think that the hon. Lady could make a good case to the Backbench Business Committee for a debate on that subject.
The Leader of the House represents a north Yorkshire constituency, so he will be familiar with the F40 campaign for fair funding for those chronically underfunded education authorities, in which I was first involved when I was chair of education in Somerset back in 1996. To their credit, the Government have recognised the injustice and have done something to mitigate the effects next year, but what we need is a basic change of formula. Will the Secretary of State for Education make a statement to the House on that issue, or if not, may we have a debate?
My hon. Friend is right: as a north Yorkshire Member of Parliament who represents a very rural constituency, I am conscious of that campaign. He is also right to give credit to the Government for what we have done. In the coming financial year, we will distribute an additional £390 million to 69 of the least fairly funded education authorities. That is the biggest step towards fairer funding for at least a decade and, as he will know, we have committed to moving to a fully fair and transparent funding system by introducing a national funding formula in the next Parliament. For the reasons I gave earlier, I cannot offer additional debates, but this is a very important commitment for the future.
Four days before Christmas, my 12-year-old constituent, Phebe Hilliage, was knocked down on a pedestrian crossing by a hit-and-run driver. Her foot was shattered and she may never walk properly again. The driver has not been caught. May we have a debate on what more can be done to tackle such offences? There are thousands of these incidents every year and I would like to know what more can be done, and which police forces have the best records, and why. Do not victims such as Phebe deserve justice and should it not be a much higher policing priority to apprehend these callous offenders and bring them to book?
The hon. Gentleman raises an issue about which Members on both sides of the House will have strong feelings. Victims of such crimes, like Phebe, deserve justice. I know that much ministerial attention has been given to the issue in earlier years, but I do not deny that there is a good case for Parliament to examine the matter. We do not have much time for additional debates, but the hon. Gentleman will be able to raise it with Ministers at questions and with the police and crime commissioner in his area. I will also convey his remarks to Ministers in the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office.
Many people on the Isle of Wight are dismayed that sailing has been axed from the 2020 Paralympic games in Tokyo. My young constituent, Natasha Lambert, who suffers from cerebral palsy, proves that disabled people can now compete on more than equal terms—she is inspirational. Will the Leader of the House join me in praising Natasha’s considerable achievements and find time for a debate on how that decision can be challenged?
One of the greatest things about our hosting of the Olympic games was the immense success of the Paralympic games. We should be grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing the inspirational achievements of Natasha Lambert to the attention of the House this morning. The decision on what sports are in the programme for each Paralympic games is a matter for the International Paralympic Committee. National governing bodies can make representations, but it is not something for us in Parliament or Government to decide. I will certainly share Natasha’s achievements and her concerns with my colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
The Leader of the House will be aware that the five declared nuclear weapon states are meeting in London to discuss the preparations for the non-proliferation treaty review conference in New York in April and May. Will there be a statement from the Government on the outcome of those meetings and on their position ahead of the conference? Specifically, will the Government give us some good news or otherwise on the preparations for a middle east weapons of mass destruction-free zone conference, which—as he will appreciate from his time as Foreign Secretary—is crucial to try to bring about a long-term peace and prevent a nuclear arms race in the area?
I very much appreciate that, and how assiduously and regularly the hon. Gentleman pursues these issues. Preparations for the non-proliferation treaty review conference are extremely important. The United Kingdom has always made a major contribution, including at the last conference in 2010. I know my colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office will want to inform the House about how they are approaching that. I will pass on the hon. Gentleman’s request to them.
May I say what a pleasure it was hearing you open the Magna Carta exhibition in the other place this morning, Mr Speaker?
The Leader of the House will know that Magna Carta enshrines the principle that no man is above the law. How is it then that the chairman of Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Sir Ian Kennedy, who has lied about Members to the media and still refuses to apologise, was appointed with no debate in this House for a further two years using the deferred Division device? Does my right hon. Friend not think it time that we should have a debate on the failings and rising costs of IPSA and the back channels to the current and former Chief Whips?
It is up to the House whether it wishes to debate those matters. My hon. Friend is well familiar with the means of doing so; he has succeeded in raising his concerns about IPSA on the Floor of the House today. That can, of course, also be done through Backbench Business Committee or Adjournment debates. Having seen a lot of IPSA’s work since I became Leader of the House, I think Sir Ian Kennedy will be able to make a good defence of its work, but hon. Members have concerns and they can be raised in the way I have described.
In responding to my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle), the Leader of the House referred to inputs as well as outputs in the public sector. With that in mind, may I bring to his attention a recent contract relating to sexual health in Cheshire, where the winning bid appears to have been allocated not on the basis of value for money or the right skill set, but a political fix? This is a very serious issue about public integrity. May we have a debate about such contracts? Will the Leader of the House ask both the Secretary of State for Health and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to investigate this very serious matter?
The hon. Gentleman would not expect me to be familiar with the particular matter he raises, but before any consideration of a debate it would be best for him to write with the details to the Secretaries of State for Health and for Communities and Local Government. I will certainly alert them to what he has said today, but he will need to give them the details of what he is alleging for them to be able to look into it.
On Tuesday 27 January, Ian Thomson, a committee specialist on the House of Commons Defence Committee, was severely hurt while accompanying my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Sir Bob Russell) and me on a visit to the Falkland Islands. He broke his elbow very badly—it was incredibly painful—when he fell out of a Land Rover in the rain on the airstrip. He immediately went through the casualty evacuation procedure. A Sea King flew him to Stanley hospital, which said the injury was too bad for them to deal with—there are only 3,000 people on the island—and that he required an orthopaedic surgeon. The RAF flew him back to Mount Pleasant airfield from where he was immediately flown—first in a 1564 flight Sea King helicopter and then in the back of a 1312 flight C-130 Hercules aircraft—across the south Atlantic to a hospital in Montevideo in Uruguay. Throughout, he was accompanied by squadron leader Jen Russell, the unit medical officer. May I ask my right hon. Friend to join me in thanking our service personnel in the south Atlantic for the way they have dealt with one of our own? They would have used exactly the same procedure for one of their own.
My hon. Friend well demonstrates the professionalism and dedication of all our armed forces, consulate and embassy staff. We should express our thanks to the British embassy in Montevideo for visiting Ian Thomson daily and looking after him so well. We are very grateful for such professionalism so far away. I understand that he is on the mend after three operations, but is likely to have to remain in the Montevideo hospital for the next seven to 10 days. It is a reminder of the hard work of our Clerks and the professionalism of our armed forces.
I fear that the Leader of the House was a little unfair to the Prime Minister earlier, in that the many leaking roofs in corridors and rooms in Parliament are reminiscent of my comprehensive school in the 1980s.
Is it time for a debate on modernising the procedures of this place, particularly in relation to Committees? Yesterday, I was in the Committee of the National Health Service (Amended Duties and Powers) Bill, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford). The full two and a half hours were filled with bogus points of order and a spurious debate about whether we should meet on Tuesdays or Wednesdays at 9.25 am or 10 am, right up to the point of interruption. Is it not time we got rid of these archaic procedures so that people out there can start to see MPs debating the issues that matter? As the Leader of the House knows, the NHS is people’s No. 1 concern.
I remember, in my A-level politics class at Wath comprehensive, studying next to a bucket catching drips from the ceiling. I did not think that 40 years later I would be standing in the House of Commons with buckets in the Central Lobby. It has seemed very familiar recently.
I do not know the details of what happened in the Committee, but I am sure that the Chair acted perfectly correctly in taking whatever points of order were raised and ensuring that procedure was followed. On the modernisation of procedures, I referred earlier to outstanding reports from the Procedure Committee—[Interruption.] Its members are nodding vigorously at the idea of debating them, and I hope that many of them will be so debated in the coming weeks, so that those changes for which there is considerable demand in the House can be taken forward.
Today, all four copies of the Magna Carta, including the best one, which is usually at Salisbury cathedral, are on display in the House of Lords. On this historic occasion, will my right hon. Friend reassure my constituents that the Government intend to honour the commitment in the Magna Carta to delaying justice to no one by overcoming the difficulties across Government and both parties of the coalition, and ensure that the House has a vote on English votes for English laws at the earliest opportunity?
The best copy, as he has explained, although I had better remain neutral on that point. As I said to my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Sir George Young), I very much believe that there should be a debate on English votes for English laws and that the changes we have set out should be implemented, come what may. I will do everything I can to bring about both those things.
Last autumn, NHS England halted the testing and licensing of the drug Translarna—a drug that could transform the lives of young boys with Duchenne muscular disease—to embark on a bureaucratic internal discussion on how it does business. Despite genuinely warm words from the Prime Minister and his attempts to move things on, we have been advised this week that the process will not change and that NHS England will continue with its public consultation and further discussions. While it is talking, young boys will stop walking. Can we have a statement from the Health Secretary about what exactly is happening, so that the House can express it views? Clearly, he does not seem able to intervene with NHS England, and as long as that does not happen, these young boys will see their lives destroyed.
The Prime Minister has spoken about this before, in response, I think, to the hon. Gentleman, who regularly pursues this matter in the House. I think the best thing I can do to help is to inform the Health Secretary of his concerns about the time scale and ask him to respond directly. It is also possible for the hon. Gentleman to pursue debates through all the normal methods, in addition to his having raised it in the House today.
The shadow Leader of the House should not get her hopes up too high because I am also 100:1 to be the next leader of the Conservative party. As the Deputy Prime Minister is also 100:1 to be the next leader of the Conservative party, I think 100:1 means we have absolutely no chance whatever.
There is no greater admirer in this House of the Leader of the House than me, but his proposals for English votes for English laws are completely unacceptable and inadequate, largely due to the fact that they do not deliver English votes for English laws and still deliver Scottish votes for English laws. English MPs have no impact at all on legislation to do with Scotland and most people think that Scottish MPs should have no impact on legislation that applies only to England. Can we make sure that we have the debate on English votes for English laws and can he make sure that all the options are put for a vote in this House? He would then probably find out that most of the parliamentary party on the Conservative Benches actually believe in true English votes for English laws.
I am impressed to discover that my hon. Friend is 100:1 to be next leader of the Conservative party, and I would not rule out voting for him myself, provided quite a lot of the other alternatives had been exhausted by that point. [Laughter.] I will not go into quite how many would have to be exhausted. On the question of a debate on English votes for English laws, I hope that I have already answered that question. On the question of what is the right policy, I think I might have a better idea than anyone of the views of Members of the Conservative party, having consulted them extensively. I am confident that the proposal I put forward enjoys their support. But of course in any debate my hon. Friend will, as always, be free to give his own views. Who could ever prevent him from doing so?
I understand that the Government have decided to extend Flood Re to cover the most expensive houses in the country but not to cover the new properties that are being bought under the Help to Buy scheme, many of which are on Kingswood estate in my constituency, one of the most successful parts of that scheme in the country. Could we have a debate on flood insurance, which is such an important issue to householders, and on whether there is now an extension of the Flood Re scheme to help the rich to buy, by allowing them to get flood insurance, whereas a poorer person will not be eligible?
Flood insurance is a very important issue, as I know from when flooding has taken place in my constituency. It is of huge importance to people. I do not think there can be any serious suggestion that the policy on this is being decided on the basis of rich or poor. Nevertheless the hon. Lady is making a case for a debate on an important subject. I will reflect that to the Ministers responsible and I encourage her to pursue it through all the normal methods of achieving a debate on a general issue in this House, with which she is very familiar.
If my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) says that, at 100:1, he has no chance of being the party leader, I, at 200:1, cannot even expect the support of the Leader of the House. Interestingly he is only 7:2 to be the next leader of the party.
This may help my cause, Mr Speaker: I and my hon. Friends the Members for Shipley, for Christchurch (Mr Chope), for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) and for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) have been conducting a pilot scheme on behalf of the Prime Minister for the whole of this Parliament which, only this week, the Prime Minister announced he was in favour of. On Sky News he said that he wants more people to vote according to their conscience and not the party line. He wants more free votes. Could we have a statement from the Leader of the House next week on whether he has been able to transmit that information to those people who represent the forces of darkness?
I did not know that they were taking bets at 200:1 but I wish my hon. Friend well on shortening those odds. As someone who has served for most of his parliamentary career on one Front Bench or another, I have always been in favour of MPs voting according to their conscience, provided there is some co-ordination of how they feel about their consciences before they come to do so. I have not noticed any great inability of my hon. Friend to vote with his own conscience at any point in this Parliament and I am sure that he will feel free to continue that record in the future.
May we have a debate on trade with Bangladesh? I was fortunate enough last week to visit Bangladesh with the Wales Bangladesh chamber of commerce, led by my constituent Dilabor Hussain and accompanied by Trefor Jones and Llinos Lanini representing a local company in my constituency called Iviti, which develops and manufactures in Wales an innovative LED light bulb that stays on when the power is cut. Would not having such a debate give us an opportunity to emphasise the strong ties between the UK and Bangladesh, as well as opportunities to trade with this important growing economy?
Yes, it would. I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on that little advertisement for something made in Wales. Our ties with Bangladesh are important. While the hon. Gentleman was over there in Bangladesh, I was speaking last week at the British Bangladeshi power and inspiration awards, saluting the many people of Bangladeshi origin who make an immense contribution to this country and our business success. This is something to celebrate. I hope the hon. Gentleman will push the case for a debate, but given all the constraints on our remaining time, he will have to do so through all the other normal channels.
The United Kingdom is being forced by the EU’s Brussels bureaucrats to replace on our railways distance signs showing miles with ones showing kilometres. May we have a statement on what this will cost and on the potential risks to staff and passengers?
I understand from the Department for Transport that this European traffic management system is meant to be a major improvement in safety on the railways. We already have one of the safest railways in Europe, and this is expected to make the network even safer. Where it is installed, it will apparently use the metric system, but when drivers operate in areas of the conventional system, their speedometers will automatically switch to imperial measurement. My hon. Friend will be relieved to hear that. In the UK, the drivers of trains and the signallers will not be required to convert units between imperial and metric. They will be able to concentrate on driving the train.
Next month, the European Commission will publish its INDC for the contributions on emissions reductions towards the Paris conference of the parties in December. Unfortunately, INDC stands for intended nationally determined contributions. What progress has the Leader of the House made in ensuring that there will be parliamentary scrutiny and accountability of the European INDC? Given that it is supposed to be nationally determined, what element of the European INDC will be allocated to the UK, and how? How is Parliament going to address these issues at a national level as it should do in contributing towards the COP?
We have just had Energy and Climate Change questions. I was not here for all the questions, so I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman or others raised this issue. In any case, as he says, there are further announcements to be made. I am sure my colleagues at the Department of Energy and Climate Change will want to keep the House informed one way or another. For all the reasons I have given about the constraints on our time in the remainder of the Parliament, I cannot make any commitment to the hon. Gentleman on how the House will consider this. He makes a good case, however, and I will make sure that those Ministers are conscious of what he says; I am sure they will want to keep us informed of this country’s commitments.
I bring good news from Kettering. Since 2010, not only are there 43 more hospital doctors and 55 more nurses at Kettering general hospital, but the number of operations performed each year has increased by a massive 15% to 48,000. With a 24% increase in diagnostic tests, a one third increase in the number of people treated for cancer and a 71% increase in the number of MRI scans performed, may we have a debate on the Floor of the House about how increasingly world-class standards of health care are delivered to ever-larger numbers of people by hospitals such as Kettering general hospital?
Once again, my hon. Friend brings the House good news from Kettering—and, as I said last week, I suspect that it may continue for some time, because he never fails to do so.
During our next debate on the national health service, it will be important for Members to analyse the figures from Kettering and from other constituencies. In Kettering, there has indeed been an increase in the number of hospital doctors and nurses, and a large increase in the number of operations. Moreover, I note from the figures that I have here—because I was prepared for the good news from Kettering—that there has also been a huge increase in the number of diagnostic tests, and, at the same time, a tremendous decrease in the incidence of hospital infections. Indeed, the incidence of hospital infections throughout the country has virtually halved in the last four and a half years. That is exactly the sort of good news about the health service that people do not hear enough about.
I recently met representatives of a Scunthorpe firm, Clugston Logistics, who briefed me about the increasing difficulty of recruiting drivers of heavy goods vehicles. The Road Haulage Association estimates that there could be a shortfall of as many as 40,000 if action is not taken. May we have a statement about how the Government are trying to address that very real need by ensuring that we have more UK-resident trained HGV drivers in the future?
That is a legitimate question. Those who travel around the country nowadays will see a great many advertisements for HGV drivers, which reflects the demand. Questions to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills will take place next week, and will provide an ideal opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to raise the matter directly with the Minister who is responsible for that area of policy.
I was pleased that my right hon. Friend mentioned the NHS in Wales in his response to the business question. Wrexham Maelor hospital, which is just across the border from us in Shropshire, is meeting only 64% of its A and E targets. As a result, more people are coming across the border, and from north Shropshire, to use my local hospital, the Royal Shrewsbury, thus putting pressure on it. The Health Secretary, to whom I spoke earlier in the week, is being given anecdotal evidence by other English Members of Parliament on our side of the border who are also feeling the strain. May we have a debate on the Floor of the House about the impact that Labour’s mismanagement of the NHS in Wales is having on hospitals on our side of the border?
As I said earlier, it will be important for details of that kind to be discussed when we next debate the national health service. As we learnt last week, satisfaction with the NHS in England has risen from 60% to 65%, whereas—I speak from memory—satisfaction with the NHS in Wales has fallen from 53% to 51%. The performance of the health service, in the view of the people who use it, is clearly diverging. A and E targets were last met in Wales in March 2008, and that is a record that must be borne in mind when we hear complaints from Opposition Members.
Point of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wish to make a request of you, in the context of your responsibility for protecting the privileges of Members.
Yesterday, the Interception of Communications Commissioner, Sir Anthony May, criticised the British police for intercepting journalistic communications in order to determine journalistic sources. As a direct result of that, No. 10 Downing street instructed the Home Office to change the arrangements so that in future the police would have to secure judicial approval before intercepting or collecting data on journalistic communications.
A year ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) asked the Cabinet Office whether the Wilson doctrine applied to information collection of that kind in respect of Members of Parliament. The same issue applies: just as journalists want to protect their sources, we need to protect our constituents—who may be complaining about the state—and whistleblowers. Given your responsibility for protecting our privileges, Mr Speaker, will you make inquiries of the Government to establish whether our communications are protected in this way, and whether, if they are not, they should be subject to judicial oversight?
The short answer—I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for that highly pertinent point of order—is that I shall make inquiries. Having made such inquiries, I will revert to the right hon. Gentleman, but I think, in all propriety, and suitably notified in advance, I will report to the House.
I beg to move,
That this House notes the vital role played by local GP services in communities throughout the UK, with an estimated one million patients receiving care from a family doctor or nurse every day; believes that the UK’s tradition of excellent general practice provision is a central factor in the NHS being consistently ranked as one of the world’s best health services by the independent Commonwealth Fund; expresses concern, therefore, that the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), through its Put patients first: Back general practice campaign, is warning that these services are under severe strain, with increasing concerns raised by constituents about access to their GP and 91 per cent of GPs saying general practice does not have sufficient resources to deliver high quality patient care; further notes that the share of NHS funding spent on general practice has fallen to an all-time low of 8.3 per cent, and that over 300,000 people across the UK have signed the campaign petition calling for this trend to be reversed; welcomes the emphasis placed in NHS England’s Five Year Forward View on strengthening general practice and giving GPs a central role in developing new models of care integrated around patients; and calls on the Secretary of State for Health to work with NHS England and the RCGP to secure the financial future of local GP services as a matter of urgency.
I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for providing the House with the opportunity to debate the important subject of sustainable GP services. I am also grateful for colleagues’ support for the debate application. Some of those Members are here, including the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), who spoke in the Committee in support of the application as a co-sponsor.
The debate is timely, given the increasing pressures on the NHS and its hard-working staff. I put on record my appreciation for the hard work and dedication of doctors, nurses and all the staff who work in our health service. Their dedication is keeping the health service going at a particularly difficult time. I also want to put on the record my thanks to the Royal College of General Practitioners for its support, the information it has provided and its campaign.
One of the key reasons for seeking the debate is that, increasingly, constituents have been contacting me to tell me that it is becoming more difficult to get an appointment with a GP of their choice without having to wait many days or even weeks. Sometimes they are not able to see the GP of their choice at all. That, of course, varies between practices. There is no doubt that the overwhelming majority of GPs do an excellent job. That has been demonstrated by patient surveys, but there is always room for improvement.
There is little doubt about the growing demands on general practice caused by demographic changes and more complex health needs, exacerbated by an ageing population. Increasingly, a large part of GPs’ daily work load is on mental health, which would probably merit a debate in itself. That matter needs to be addressed continuously.
I am enjoying the start of the hon. Gentleman’s speech immensely. He has raised an important issue for my constituents. Does he agree that there are also demographic pressures within the GP service in that many of them are in their 50s and about to reach retirement? All of a sudden, we will have a dearth of experienced GPs, which will be a difficult gap to fill.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point and he is absolutely correct. I will refer to that later in my speech.
There can be no doubt that GP recruitment has not kept up with the demands of our population. That is the key problem today. In addition, the pressure on hospitals has increased massively because if people cannot see their GP they often go to A and E. That has been a problem in areas such as mine. There is also the inability of hospitals to discharge frail, elderly people from wards into the community because of the shortage of care in the community. Councils face massive budget cuts, so there are pressures all round. There are pressures on GPs in relation to access and there are pressures on hospitals and elsewhere.
I want to raise a particularly important point with the Minister that I have raised before. The Government are proposing to demand a 3.8% efficiency saving in the national tariff for 2015-16. That will push many hospitals to breaking point and possibly endanger patient safety. I hope that the Minister will look at that again. Members should read the briefing on that from NHS Providers.
There is clearly a view among many that general practice is heading for some sort of crisis. One GP in Halton told me recently:
“The overwhelming problem is the manpower crisis and the rock bottom morale of the Profession, which are interlinked. We are unable to recruit new GPs into practice or medical students into our specialty, training places are left unfilled and there are vacancies all over the country with very few applicants.”
It is hardly surprising we have that problem when we consider what the RCGP has said:
“Funding for general practice has fallen to an all-time low of only 8.3% of the overall NHS budget…GP surgeries are now seeing 372 million patients a day, compared to 300 million a day in 2008.”
Some family doctors are seeing 40 to 60 patients a day. That is unsustainable in the long term. Some 49% of GPs say that they can no longer guarantee safe care to their patients.
The RCGP tells me that the average coverage is 6.9 GPs per 10,000 of population. That is the lowest level of coverage since 2011. The RCGP estimates that up to 543 practices in England could face closure due to the fact that 90% of GPs working in those practices are 60 or over or are likely to retire soon. The hon. Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) made that point.
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend’s point, but does he also agree that the constant stop-go policies and the changes in contracts and the confusion over NHS England and clinical commissioning groups is adding to that problem? In my constituency we have the Bournbrook Varsity practice. It expanded and did everything that was asked of it by the primary care trust to create a broader health service. It now finds itself about to be penalised, have its funding cut and have to reduce staff in an area where there is a huge student population. Those students will inevitably gravitate to A and E if this service goes.
My hon. Friend raises an important point, and I know how committed he is to having a well-run health service. That is an important issue for his constituency. The structural changes that take place on a regular basis have been one of the complaints made by people who work in the health service.
In the most stressful bits of the GP world, GPs are retiring very early, which is a great loss and is very worrying. I met two GPs recently who are retiring very early with so much still left to give. We are also finding that among A and E specialists. What a strange world it is when we cannot recruit doctors into general practice or A and E at a time when we need them so much.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point and he is absolutely spot-on. That links with the comments made by other Members about GPs deciding to retire early because of the pressures and because they feel their profession is being let down and is not what it was when they began their career. Getting younger people into the profession is becoming more difficult. I will come to that.
The British Medical Association is concerned that there are inadequate numbers of GPs to meet the demand of a rising population, and in recent years annual increases in the number of GPs have been lower than the rate of population growth. That is a key part of this argument. The number of GPs we need is just not keeping up with the demands of the population.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. My own GPs, who do a fantastic job in Hertford, Ware and Bishops Stortford, say to me that while the pressures of the job are a critical reason why some are retiring early, one of the other problems is the change in the way people are trained, which is driving people away from general practice into other specialties. Does the hon. Gentleman agree with that analysis, and what do we need to do to change it?