House of Commons
Thursday 17 September 2015
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
On the front of today’s Order Paper, it is noted that on 23 September 1915, Captain Harold Cawley, 6th Battalion The Manchester Regiment, Member for the Heywood Division of Lancashire, was killed in action at Gallipoli, Turkey; on 30 September 1915, Captain The Hon. Thomas Agar-Robartes, 1st Battalion The Coldstream Guards, Member for St. Austell, died of wounds received in action near Loos, France; on 2 October 1915 Lieutenant-Colonel Lord Ninian Edward Crichton-Stuart, 6th Battalion The Welch Regiment, Member for the United Boroughs of Cardiff, Cowbridge and Llantrisant, was killed in action at Loos, France; and on 6 October 1915, Lieutenant The Hon. Charles Thomas Mills, 2nd Battalion The Scots Guards, Member for the Uxbridge Division of Middlesex, was killed in action at Hulluch, France. We remember them today.
Business before Questions
Transport for London Bill [Lords]
That the promoters of the Transport for London Bill [Lords], which was originally introduced in the House of Lords in Session 2010–12 on 24 January 2011, may have leave to proceed with the Bill in the current Session according to the provisions of Standing Order 188B (Revival of Bills).—(The Chairman of Ways and Means.)
To be considered on Thursday 15 October.
Oral Answers to Questions
Energy and Climate Change
The Secretary of State was asked—
1. What assessment she has made of the relative net financial benefit to the public purse of early closure of the renewables obligation using different cost methodologies. 
May I start by welcoming the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) to her Front-Bench role?
We estimate that closing the renewables obligation early to large and small-scale solar PV projects will reduce costs to the levy control framework by between £180 million and £280 million per year. The estimated saving of closing the RO early to new onshore wind is up to £270 million per year. The details of those cost estimates are published in impact assessments that are available on DECC’s webpage.
Does the Secretary of State agree that publishing impact assessments two months after decisions have been taken is unacceptable practice? Does she acknowledge that, using the alternative methodology in the impact assessment, the net present value of deciding to close the RO early turned out to be minus £100 million? That means that we are £100 million worse off as a result of her taking that decision, instead of allowing the RO to continue. If she had had the impact assessment to hand when she took the decision, might she have made a different decision after all?
What the hon. Gentleman fails to address in his question and does not seem to absorb from the steps that we have taken to address the costs is that at the centre of everything this Government do is the impact on consumer bills. We had a commitment to limit the levy control framework to £7.6 billion by 2020. When it became apparent that we were way in excess of that, but were still meeting our renewables targets, it was right to limit the amount of money we were spending. That is why we took action quickly to do so.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the action she has taken, particularly in relation to the wasteful onshore wind turbines that are blighting many areas of the countryside. In June, when she made her original announcement, she suggested that some of the RO money might be diverted to other forms of alternative power generation. Is she in a position to say what those alternatives may be?
The key reason for reining back on onshore wind was its very success. The Government are absolutely committed to supporting renewable sources of energy, and onshore wind has been very successful. On the use of funds that may have been saved, I come back to the point that the Government are committed to staying within the levy control framework budget as far as is possible. That is the key reason we are taking steps to limit spending. Any further spending commitments, as my hon. Friend will be aware, are up to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
I thank the Secretary of State for her kind words. It is a pleasure to speak from the Dispatch Box today and a privilege to follow in the footsteps of my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), who has been a fearless advocate for consumers and the environment in recent years.
My right hon. Friend will be as dismayed as I am that this week it was announced that, for the first time, the UK is no longer one of the top 10 countries in the world for investing in clean energy technologies. The Government have ruled out new onshore wind farms, slashed solar support and left onshore wind farm companies with an uncertain future. The only new nuclear plant that seemed to be proceeding is delayed and in doubt, gas investors do not have the assurances that they need to invest, carbon capture and storage has stalled, and other clean generators have been hit with new taxes. What exactly is the Government’s plan to cut carbon pollution and keep our lights on?
I, too, am sorry that the right hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) is no longer on the Front Bench. She and I used to have regular, robust exchanges, and she had a realistic approach to energy security, describing nationalisation proposals as “turning the clock back”. How much I agree with her.
The hon. Member for Wigan mentioned investor confidence, but perhaps I may ask her to look within her own team as there are real concerns about the Opposition’s approach to nuclear power—who knows their position ahead? The Government are committed to a mix of energy supply and to ensuring that nuclear power, which she mentioned, is part of that mix. It is so disappointing that under the previous Labour Government there was no planning or looking ahead—
Order. The Secretary of State can leave me to adjudicate on these matters. Her answers must be about the policy of the Government. That is the premise from which we start and with which we proceed.
I was going to thank the right hon. Lady for that answer, but I do not think I will.
Investors looking at the UK are scratching their heads. On the one hand the Government say that they are trying to reduce the cost of energy for working families, but on the other hand they say that they want to go for shale gas and CCS, which are unproven markets. We have
“new nuclear build and offshore wind which are substantially more expensive than renewables such as onshore wind and solar PV. Investors don’t know what the government is trying to achieve.”
Those are not my words; those are the words of Ernst and Young’s energy analyst in a report that was published this week. When will the Government return with a plan to keep our lights on, cut pollution, and get energy bills under control?
The hon. Lady is entirely wrong. This Government have a clear plan, and in a way she summed it up in her conclusion. We are committed to ensuring that energy security is at the forefront, to carbon reductions, and above all—a feature that never appears except on the Conservative Benches—to keeping consumer bills down.
Low-carbon Energy Generation
2. What steps her Department is taking to promote investor confidence in low-carbon energy generation. 
18. What steps her Department is taking to promote investor confidence in low-carbon energy generation. 
I welcome the shadow Secretary of State to her position, and in particular I welcome Otis, who I gather was born only a few months ago. That is fantastic, and I congratulate the hon. Lady on being here so soon afterwards. I wish her every success in her new role.
The Government remain totally committed to our green energy future and to tackling climate change. The success of our renewables programme has exceeded expectations, which means that we are on track to meet our targets comfortably. A key priority for the Government is to keep consumer bills down and limit the cost to hard-working families, while ensuring that the UK remains an attractive location for all forms of low-carbon energy.
The Government are axing support for onshore wind earlier than expected, cutting feed-in tariffs for solar, and ending the exemption for renewables from the climate change levy. If renewables really are the future for our energy supply, what action will the Government take to repair investor confidence?
That is an incredibly important question. More than £42 billion has been invested in renewables, nuclear and CCS since 2010, and 2014 was a record year with more than £8 billion being invested. The Government remain committed to our long-term, low-carbon future in all areas of low-carbon generation. As the hon. Lady will appreciate, we must also consider our other priorities, such as keeping bills down for consumers. The policy reset that we are undertaking is about ensuring that through our success in generating renewables, we do not impact in a devastating way on the bills of hard-working families in this country.
Will the Minister outline when the contract for difference negotiations on the Swansea bay tidal lagoon project are likely to be concluded? My constituents in Neath are eagerly awaiting the job opportunities and apprenticeships that will follow.
The hon. Lady will be aware that the Government are incredibly keen on those new technologies, and we are looking closely at that tidal lagoon and doing our due diligence. The Government would like to support that project, but it must of course offer value for money. It has gone through the first stage of the process and it will take some time, but I assure the hon. Lady that that project, and other firsts for the UK, are on this Government’s agenda.
East Anglia Offshore Wind, which will be developing the UK’s largest offshore wind farm, has the objective of being subsidy-free by 2023. Can the Minister confirm that the Government will set out a clear vision that will enable the industry to plan properly for the future, both to achieve this goal and to maximise the creation of British jobs?
As I am sure my hon. Friend will be aware, the UK is the world’s No. 1 in offshore wind. We are fully committed to the continued growth and development of that sector. As part of the spending review, we need to look at the impact on consumer bills and make sure that we can manage the ongoing development to reach that subsidy-free point while not impacting too much on the bills for hard-working consumers. We will set out our plans later this year.
Does the Minister agree that the progress so far on new renewables sets the scene for even more investment in research and development, and that we need to have a clear pathway for that to happen so that we can encourage more investment, the strengthening of supply chains and the export of these technologies?
Yes, my hon. Friend is right. That is exactly what we want to do. We want to continue to support the growth of the renewables sector. I have already explained that there has been £45 billion of investment since 2010 in this sector and we want to encourage it further. We have to do that in the light of what is affordable for bill payers. At the same time we want to encourage new forms of renewables and keep Britain at the forefront of renewables technologies.
Will the Minister explain how she can possibly think that investor confidence will be enhanced by taking yet another wrecking ball to the British solar industry with the enormous subsidy cuts, alongside ending pre-accreditation? On the latter issue, the Government’s own consultation concedes that her Department has not even bothered to estimate the likely impact on deployment. With tens of thousands of jobs at risk, will she withdraw this now and stop all the waffle about consumer bills? If she were serious about consumer bills, her Government would not be subsidising fossil fuels and nuclear to the extent that they are.
I am afraid the hon. Lady has not done her homework. She should be aware that it is a requirement of EU state aid that we regularly review the subsidies to ensure that we are not overcompensating the sector. That is exactly what we are doing. We are now in a consultation which closes on 23 October. I am sure she will give her response to that. As I keep repeating, we want to ensure that we are not impacting negatively on consumer bills, but at the same time we are supporting this very valuable and growing sector to become subsidy-free within the next few years.
I welcome the Minister’s earlier replies, but she will know that there is a lack of confidence and certainty in the offshore industry, which is vital to the future economy of my constituency. Can she assure me that when she visits north-east Lincolnshire later this month, she will have a positive message for the industry representatives?
I can assure my hon. Friend that I will always have a positive message. I am very much looking forward to my trip to Humber and Lincolnshire. While I am there I will seek to reassure investors and project managers that it is our intention to continue to support and promote the very important renewables technologies in which, particularly in offshore, Britain is world No. 1.
May I add the welcome of the SNP to the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy)? We look forward to working together where there are shared interests.
On the renewables obligation for onshore wind, it will come as no surprise to the Minister that the SNP is opposed to that closure. The implementation of the Government’s policy is causing additional and unnecessary difficulties through lack of finance owing to the lack of clarity about grace periods. Will she clarify when her Department will produce the grace period provision clauses to the Energy Bill, and will she consider a flexible approach where there is an element of community ownership involved in a project?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, we are looking very carefully at the consultation responses on the grace periods, and we intend to publish our response as soon as we can. That will be within the next few weeks, as part of the process of the Bill’s passage through the Lords. As he will realise, around 30% of the total support under the RO goes to Scottish projects, and we are delighted that Scotland still forms part of a GB-wide energy sector. That is very important for Scotland and for the whole UK.
It is estimated that 22,000 jobs could be lost as a result of swingeing cuts of up to 87% in the solar industry. Will the Minister confirm that the potential loss of jobs was not taken into account in her decision to cut support for solar power? Can it be right or proper for a formal consultation to ignore such harmful effects on the industry and on the thousands of families whose lives will be affected by these changes, including, as both Ministers have mentioned, their ability to pay their energy bills?
The hon. Lady is completely wrong to say that we have not considered all aspects of the consultation on reducing subsidies. She will appreciate that, because it is a consultation, it is only as a result of that consultation—which, as I say, closes on 23 October—that we will be able to assess the impact properly and then to make a decision. As I have said a number of times, we are fully committed to the ongoing development and progress of this very important sector. All jobs in the sector are of course extremely important and we will be doing everything we can to ensure that it continues to grow.
Carbon Dioxide Emissions
3. What assessment she has made of the potential effect of Government policy measures announced since May 2015 on carbon dioxide emissions. 
As our manifesto made clear, we are determined to meet our climate change commitments. We will do this as cheaply as possible and in the interests of bill payers, hard-working families and businesses. The policy announcements that this Government have made to date are consistent with those commitments. We are making good progress towards meeting our 2050 carbon target, with emissions already down 30% since 1990. We will bring forward further proposals on how to meet carbon budgets over the course of next year.
In its June report to Parliament, the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change said that stronger action was needed to meet the carbon budgets for 2025 and 2050. Since then, as we have heard, the Government have cut support for solar and onshore wind, extended the climate change levy to renewables, and weakened housing standards. Will the Secretary of State go back to the Committee and ask it to make a new analysis, taking account of those policy changes?
I repeat to the hon. Lady that we are committed to meeting our climate change commitments. She will be aware that there are some areas of this that are more challenging than others. For instance, we still need to work up and make more progress on heat. As far as the relationship with the Energy and Climate Change Committee is concerned, she is right that we are in regular contact. I believe it will shortly be publishing a response to some of the changes we have made and we will have more comment to make on that in October.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the main factors accounting for the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions since 1990 have been the recession, the dash for gas and the outsourcing of the manufacture of carbon-intensive products to China and other third-world countries? The huge expenditure on trying to reduce CO2 emissions by renewables has had far less impact. Is she therefore not right to try to pare down the cost of this rather ineffectual policy?
I have to confess that I do not agree with everything my right hon. Friend has said, but I agree that our energy needs a mix of policies. The bringing on of more gas has certainly been a successful way of reducing carbon emissions. With the development of shale, we believe that that will continue to happen.
Surely the Minister realises that if we are to have a cleaner and better environment, we also need to balance that with consumer interest in energy security. We need high-quality innovative technology—in which I have a long-term and registered interest. Many big environmental companies with leading technology have been absolutely alienated by the Government’s policy and are ceasing to invest.
I do not share the hon. Gentleman’s interpretation of what has happened. The Government are completely committed to innovation and are absolutely admiring of the areas in the industry where innovation is changing things. For instance, I named storage, where we think there will be great opportunity for more solar deployment.
Despite the Government’s policy announcements, investor confidence in green energy in the borough of Kettering appears still to be high, because, much to residents’ alarm, fresh applications for solar farms are being submitted to the local council. What can the Government do to get solar energy out of our agricultural fields and on to the big roofs of warehouses?
My hon. Friend raises a key point. It is the Government’s aim to ensure that subsidy support is only temporary, and we are hearing that solar could soon be without subsidy, which is something we want to encourage. Finally, just to agree with him, we much prefer, and will try to encourage, roof-top solar, rather than solar in fields.
Climate Change Conference
4. What preparations her Department is making for the forthcoming Paris climate change conference. 
Securing an ambitious global climate change agreement is crucial, and I am taking every opportunity to press for an agreement that is ambitious, legally binding, has mitigation commitments from all parties and includes a set of robust rules that allows the world to track progress. Over the coming weeks, at meetings in China, India and the US, I will be making the case for an ambitious climate change deal to my international counterparts that helps deliver on these key objectives.
No other country has yet passed climate change commitments to match those in the Climate Change Act 2008, which we passed nearly 10 years ago now. Indeed, globally we are seeing a resurgence in coal, led by countries such as Germany, which is replacing low-carbon nuclear with coal. Does the Secretary of State believe that the Paris process will result in a more level playing field? Without that, the prognosis for energy-intensive industries in this country, which employ 900,000 people, is bleak.
I do not accept that we are acting unilaterally. The fact is that the UK is a leader, which is a good thing when we are trying to be ambitious in this area, and we are finding that other countries are increasingly working with us. I believe that Paris will be critical to getting an international level playing field and, to return to earlier questions, supporting investor confidence.
Given that so many of the intended nationally determined contributions submitted so far, particularly from developing countries, are conditional on international finance, what efforts has the Secretary of State been making with her counterparts in Europe to ensure that Europe’s contribution to a financial pot to meet those contributions is fulfilled?
I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about climate finance, which is key to getting a successful deal, and I am happy to say that I have been playing a leading role in that, chairing climate finance committee meetings with our international counterparts to ensure the transparency and confidence necessary to bring developing countries into the final deal.
Does the Secretary of State accept that global warming can, by definition, only be tackled globally, and will she confirm that the UK is responsible for about 1.5% of global carbon emissions? Will she therefore agree that although unilateral action might make a few people feel good about themselves, in terms of changing the world’s climate, it is completely and utterly futile?
The green economy is a fantastically growing opportunity for employment and businesses, and I hope my hon. Friend would agree that it will become even more important if and when we get a deal in Paris, because countries internationally will want to invest in the green economy. They are all making it a priority, as the UK has done.
The Secretary of State is meeting her EU counterparts in two days, and she has the Opposition’s full support in negotiating a tough deal ahead of the historic Paris conference later this year. It is clear from recent analysis that the national climate plans do not currently offer sufficient ambition to reach climate safety. She talked about the UK’s being a leader, which was extremely welcome, but what concrete action is she taking to ensure that the UK pushes us further on an international stage and plays a leadership role in the talks in Europe?
The hon. Lady raises one of the most important questions and challenges facing us this year, and I am encouraged to have her support. We are playing a leading role in Europe—I referred earlier to the role I have been playing not just in Europe but internationally to help broker support from the developing and developed countries. It is important to play that role to make sure we get the right outcome, and we continue to be ambitious in the EU, but in truth the EU is committed to this; it is bringing in the other countries that is so challenging.
I am grateful for that answer, but the Secretary of State will be aware that, outside this place and in the wider world, there is real fear that we will not reach climate safety through these negotiations. Will she commit to push the EU to go beyond the existing target of a 40% reduction in emissions by 2030, to secure a provision in the agreement that international goals will be increased every five years and to ensure that the UK acts as a force for higher ambition both in Europe and on the international stage?
May I gently point out to the hon. Lady that it is not the EU that is the issue; it is making sure that the other international large emitters participate in the process? China, for instance, produces 26% of the world’s emissions, which is more than the US and EU combined, so the real challenge is to ensure that we get other countries on board. She is right that we are also pushing for, and hope to get an outcome on, regular reviews. If the final outcome will not put 2° immediately within reach, we need to ensure that the ongoing process—the reviews—does.
5. What recent discussions she has had with representatives of National Grid on ensuring that the UK’s energy supply is sustainable. 
Ensuring that hard-working families and businesses across the country have secure affordable energy supplies that they can rely on is our top priority. The Government have worked closely with National Grid to put in place an effective plan, which worked well last winter. Last week, I met Steve Holliday, the chief executive officer of National Grid, to discuss its readiness, and he confirmed that it has everything it needs to manage the system this winter.
Last month, Scottish Power announced the closure of the Longannet power station, citing a disproportionate transmission charging system in which Scottish electricity generators pay substantially more than their counterparts south of the border. The charges were forecast to increase from £40 million this year to £51 million next. With up to a fifth of UK generating capacity expected to close over the next few years, does the Secretary of State agree that an unfair disproportionate regime is punishing operators in Scotland and undermining UK energy security?
I do not agree with that assertion. The fact is that Scottish taxpayers and bill payers have exactly the same needs as the rest of us in the UK—and that is to have secure and affordable energy. We spoke to National Grid about Longannet and we were reassured that it has the resources in place to ensure that we continue to have a secure supply of energy.
We understand that due to the failure of the policy of previous Governments, it is necessary for National Grid to buy in from mainland Europe electricity supplies to keep the lights on in Britain. What is not acceptable is for the Grid to run massive pylons from Richborough in Kent across to Canterbury, which is totally unnecessary. If the Grid can bury cables in the New Forest, it can bury them in the garden of England. Will the Secretary of State please make sure that that happens?
I have looked into this matter, about which my hon. Friend has written to me. I know how beautiful that part of England is, so I will certainly look carefully and work with National Grid to arrive at an outcome.
6. What assessment her Department has made of the effect of the proposed changes to the feed-in tariff on the numbers of jobs in the solar power industry. 
The report “The Size and Performance of the UK Low Carbon Economy” from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills estimated that there were over 34,000 jobs in the UK solar sector in 2013. Our consultation on the feed-in tariff review reflects the need to balance sector support, while keeping bills down for consumers. We strongly welcome evidence from the sector during this review consultation, which ends on 23 October, and only then can we begin to analyse the impact on jobs.
Estimates suggest, as we heard earlier, that over 20,000 jobs are at risk. Some companies are already giving notices to workers, and projects such as the Greater Manchester community renewals project, which is planning to install solar roof panels in schools in my constituency, will become unviable. How can the Secretary of State fulfil her promise to “unleash a solar revolution” when she undermines jobs and investment in this way?
Jobs are always an important priority for this Government. Under the last Government, of course, we created 2 million jobs and we are expecting, hoping and planning to create another 2 million under this one. Solar is a great opportunity for consumers and for businesses, and I believe it will continue to flourish. As the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) said earlier, we had to do this as part of the European Commission’s requirement for a proper review to make sure that we get the right balance between bill payers and producing more solar. I hope it will reach subsidy-free status soon.
I very much welcome the review of feed-in tariffs. We should be working towards a zero-subsidised solar industry, but does the Secretary of State not agree that the way to deliver zero subsidy is to have a slightly more tapered reduction so that we continue to have a vibrant solar industry and also make sure that we do not deliver a huge rash of applications over the coming months?
I know that my hon. Friend takes a particular interest in solar power. It is too early to say what the outcome will be—we are the middle of our consultation—but we are receiving some very helpful replies from businesses and other participants, which will help us to work out the correct level of support. We want to be careful with bill payers’ money, while also ensuring that we support the solar industry.
While the world embraces solar power, here the Government change feed-in tariffs, thus costing jobs—20,000 in the United Kingdom, as we heard earlier, and 25 from BayWa r.e. in Machynlleth. That may not sound much, but the vast majority of those who are employed in Machynlleth earn less than the official living wage. Will the Secretary of State agree to table, on behalf of the Government, a prayer in the names of the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) and me to annul the Feed-in Tariffs (Amendment) Order 2015, which amends the preliminary accreditation arrangements, so that Members can debate the issue rather than rushing into economically damaging implementation?
I am always interested in listening to other people’s views on this matter. If the hon. Lady would like to write to me, or to engage with her constituents in order to participate in the consultation, I will consider what is said very carefully.
Oil and Gas Authority
8. What assessment she has made of the implications for her policy of (a) the findings of the Oil and Gas Authority's “Call to Action” report, published on 25 February 2015, on employment in the oil and gas industry and (b) that report's other findings; and what steps she plans to take to support employment in that industry. 
The Government are fully committed to the oil and gas industry. In fact, the first visit that I made as the Minister was to Aberdeen. The industry is vital to our energy security, and it supports about 375,000 jobs across the United Kingdom. We fully recognise the huge challenge presented by lower oil prices, and accept the Oil and Gas Authority’s Call to Action report. The OGA is working with groups such as the Scottish Energy Jobs Taskforce to encourage companies to consider all possible alternatives to redundancy, as well as ensuring that we keep the vital skills that we will need in the future.
I welcome the OGA’s early identification of the need to support a technology and innovation strategy. What measures will the Minister introduce to encourage technology and innovation, and to boost efficiencies in the oil and gas sector?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the legislation to establish the OGA formally is currently being dealt with in the House of Lords. The authority’s key responsibility will be to maximise the economic recovery from the North sea basin, and it is already fully employed in that respect. The Government have made some fiscal changes to promote investment, and, importantly, we have also invested £20 million in seismic surveying of under-explored areas in the North sea basin to try to identify new opportunities for businesses that are based there, in order to encourage the investment that we so badly want.
On oil and gas—Kirsty Blackman, perhaps? It is not compulsory.
I tabled question 17.
Indeed, but this is a similar question. The hon. Lady can come in now if she wishes.
17. Thank you, Mr Speaker. I am sorry; I was slightly thrown.I would appreciate it very much if the Minister would tell us what action the Government are taking to ensure that decommissioning is delayed for as long as possible. A total of 375,000 people are employed in the industry, directly and indirectly, and many of them are based in my city of Aberdeen. 
You threw me as well, Mr Speaker, but I get the point.
I am entirely sympathetic to what the hon. Lady has said. We all agree on the need to avoid decommissioning for as long as possible. The OGA is working with operators throughout the supply chain to try to increase co-operation in relation to, for instance, supply ships, and to ensure that they share resources rather than saying, “That is mine, so you cannot have it.” A great deal of work is being done, but key to this will be looking at the long-term possibilities for new exploration. I hope the hon. Lady welcomes the new Culzean project near the Shetlands, which has just been given the go-ahead. That is a good example of what we can do if we all work together.
May I commend you, Mr Speaker, for the element of surprise that you are introducing to our proceedings?
According to the OGA’s report, more than 5,000 jobs were lost in the sector last year, but analysis carried out by Oil & Gas UK suggests that the wider impact on the industry could involve the loss of some 60,000 jobs. The industry’s calls for support must be listened to. A survey of 450 industry leaders, conducted by the Press and Journal’s Energy Voice, found that there was an overwhelming demand for tax breaks to boost exploration in the North sea, and those calls were echoed yesterday by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport workers. Does the Minister agree with me, and with industry leaders and trade unions, that the Government must provide incentives to encourage exploration and protect jobs?
As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Chancellor introduced some strong fiscal measures in the March Budget to maintain and build investment, including a reduction in the supplementary charge, introducing a new investment allowance and a reduction in the petroleum revenue tax from January 2016, and we will continue to look closely at what else we can do to provide that fiscal support for further exploration and to keep the oil and gas sector thriving in the North sea basin.
Green Growth: China
9. What areas of co-operation on green growth the UK is exploring with China. 
The UK and China enjoy strong and growing co-operation on low-carbon policies and green technologies. This includes working together on the means of financing renewables and low-carbon infra- structure and a cost-effective response to the challenge of climate change.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that minimum import price fixing is having an adverse effect on the solar industry because of the trade dispute between the European Union and China? Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the matter is raised with the Chinese President when he visits this country next month?
We are indeed aware of that, and we are trying to address it. The cost of solar panels has fallen dramatically, but we would like it to continue to fall. I am working with my colleague the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills on this issue, and I can confirm that we will continue to press the EU on this matter.
10. What assessment her Department has made of the potential effects in different regions of the feed-in tariff review. 
The FITs review covers a wide range of technologies for which deployment across the UK varies depending on the specific benefits of that region. For example, there is more solar deployment in the south-west and more wind in Scotland and the north. The effects of the review will therefore affect all in different ways, and the impact assessment acknowledges this.
Just this week the National Farmers Union Scotland expressed deep concern that the FITs proposals will have a damaging impact on those looking to diversify. Why did the Government not consider a steady and more gradual reduction of FITs for small-scale solar and wind as recommended by the industry itself in a strategy published last year?
As I think my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have made clear, this review is required under EU state aid rules and it is now out for consultation. We hope the NFU and other organisations will feed in their response to the consultation, which closes on 23 October, and only at that point will we look at the right balance between keeping bills down and continuing to support the industry.
Many people in Cornwall feel we have been overrun by wind turbines and solar farms, and may I assure the Minister that the recent changes announced have been warmly welcomed by many people in Cornwall? Does she agree with a constituent of mine who recently wrote to me asking me to thank the Government for their recent decisions because they have saved Cornwall?
Cornwall is a beautiful place and all of us will probably have had fantastic holidays there and would not like to see it overrun by something unsightly, so I can sympathise with my hon. Friend. I am always grateful for thanks; we do not get much of it in government, so I ask him to thank his constituent for thanking us. We are still in a consultation period, however, but this is an important sector and we want it to continue to be successful.
Let me tell the Minister, in case she is not aware, that the north-west of England is a beautiful region as well.
Green energy is vital to our economic future and I am afraid that companies such as Natural Energy Sources based in Bromborough in my constituency simply would not recognise the Government’s account of what they have done, given the risks they have created for the solar industry. I ask the Minister to think again, do as so many Members have suggested, and restructure this change to feed-in tariffs.
I understand what the hon. Lady says, but there has been a lack of understanding about what we are trying to do. We have been enormously successful in supporting renewables. The generation, particularly of solar energy, has far exceeded expectations, and we are on course to meet our legally binding targets, so in a sense we are victims of our own success. As the hon. Lady will appreciate, in this country we have the trilemma of energy security, decarbonisation and keeping the bills down. The problem is the more we subsidise and the longer we subsidise excessive deployment, the more it costs the bill payer.
Energy Supply Market
11. What steps she is taking to increase competition in the energy supply market. 
15. What steps she is taking to increase competition in the energy supply market. 
19. What steps she is taking to increase competition in the energy supply market. 
21. What steps she is taking to increase competition in the energy supply market. 
There are 31 companies supplying households in Great Britain, providing greater competition —that is an increase from the 13 in 2010.
Labour’s price freeze plan discouraged the cost of capital and investor decisions in the competition marketplace. What steps will my right hon. Friend take to encourage smaller entrants into the marketplace, in order to make up the £30 billion or so shortfall between what we need to spend and what is planned to be spent on our pipes and our pylons in the next 10 years?
My hon. Friend raises the important issue of electricity transmission, and I intend to publish proposals later this year to enable the competitive tendering of certain onshore electricity transmission assets. Initial estimates show that these competitions could bring savings of at least £380 million in the first 10 years.
What assurances can my right hon. Friend give community trusts such as that spun off from Transition Belper, in my constituency, that they can continue being supported in their pre-accreditation bid towards the use of hydro power, which has been four years in production?
I know that my hon. Friend has taken a particular interest in community energy. I acknowledge that this change could make it more difficult for community energy projects to deploy, but we had to remove pre-accreditation as a matter of urgency, in order to safeguard spends under the scheme while we carry out the feed-in tariff review. But as part of the review, we are seeking views on whether the scheme should be focused towards specific groups or sectors, which might, for example, include households or communities.
My constituency is one of the coldest in England—it might not be as cold as parts of Scotland—so energy prices make up a significant part of the household budget there. I hope that my right hon. Friend shares my belief that increased competition will help to keep prices down and make energy much more affordable for constituents in High Peak and those across the country.
I share my hon. Friend’s views; keeping bills down is a key priority for this Government, and competition is absolutely one of the ways to achieve that. An unprecedented number of companies have entered the supply market since 2010, challenging the big six and providing customers with more choice. We expect that trend to continue, enhancing competition and keeping bills down.
I welcome the Minister’s replies, but solar energy companies are having to reconsider their business plans in the light of Government decisions to eliminate subsidies to the sector. That is creating difficulties for solar companies in my Lewes constituency. What steps is she taking to ensure that all energy companies compete on a level playing field?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question, and I know she has a particular interest in solar companies in her constituency, having brought them to my attention before. The sector has, of course, been a great success and has deployed at significantly higher volumes than we anticipated when the subsidy schemes were set up. That is why we are looking again at the right level of subsidy, to ensure that we continue to have a thriving solar industry while ensuring that the bill payer is not disadvantaged.
I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) to the Front Bench and wish her all the best. I thank her for her kind words, as I thank other colleagues across the House for theirs.
Of course competition should put downward pressure on prices. I have discovered, through a freedom of information request, that despite a tough letter from the Secretary of State demanding price cuts for energy companies in May because of low wholesale costs, responses have not been received from Centrica, RWE npower, E.ON and EDF. The Competition and Markets Authority interim report made it clear that the 70% of customers on their suppliers’ standard variable tariff are being overcharged and it recommended a better deal. Will the Secretary of State therefore join me in calling for the introduction of a protected tariff—a default tariff, as it is known—to make the energy market more competitive and give a fair deal to the consumers who are being ripped off?
I thank the right hon. Lady for joining me in making sure that consumers and bills are a priority. The CMA has recently reported—sadly, the Opposition opposed that reference at the time—and we are very interested in what it has proposed. It is just a report at the moment, but the principle of a safety tariff is a very interesting way of approaching the matter. I do feel that we need to take more action to support the vulnerable customers who are not making the switch and are missing out on those opportunities.
Scottish Islands Renewables Delivery Forum
12. What recent discussions she has had with the Scottish Government on the work of the Scottish Islands Renewables Delivery Forum and enabling the generation of renewable energy in the Scottish islands. 
This is a very important issue for those living on the Scottish islands, and I want to assure the hon. Lady of the Government’s support. The work of the Scottish Islands Renewables Delivery Forum was discussed by the Secretary of State and Fergus Ewing on 8 June and 24 June. I am looking forward to co-chairing the next meeting of the forum in Glasgow with Mr Ewing next Monday. My office has invited the hon. Lady to meet me there, and I look forward to seeing her if her diary allows.
In January, the Prime Minister committed to the deployment of renewable energy on Scottish islands, and the previous coalition Government pledged to publish information about the remote island wind contract for difference by July 2015. It is now the autumn and we have had no further detail on the CfD for remote island wind, which is critical to release the potential of remote island renewables generation. When does the Minister plan to publish those important details on the CfD scheme?
The Government are actively seeking EU state aid approval to ensure that we can treat remote island wind as a separate technology to onshore and offshore wind, as they operate in high wind areas with very challenging conditions. We are awaiting that approval, and, as the hon. Lady knows, we will be making announcements about CfD rounds later this year.
T1. If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities. 
Since we last met, the Competition and Markets Authority has reported. We have concentrated, as always, on keeping our focus on consumer bills. We have engaged with it, and we will continue to ensure that we give it all the support we can to ensure that the focus stays on consumer bills.
This Government have form in chaotic solar consultations. They lost litigation in 2011-12. Will the Government please tell us how much they are paying in damages to solar companies as a result of their incompetence, and will they learn their lesson?
The Government have form in excelling at supporting solar and ensuring that the costs to the bill payer are kept down. I do recall that, in 2011, the reduction in the tariff was opposed by the Opposition, which is extraordinary and could have cost an additional £2.5 billion a year.
T2. I am particularly proud that Oxford is a hub of low-carbon research, but the recent Dowling review found that access to innovation support across Government is too complex. Does the Minister agree that, if we want to accelerate renewable research and achieve our climate change targets, we need to follow Dowling’s key recommendation to simplify access to research and development support for innovators? Will she investigate how she can work with the Business Secretary to achieve that? It will be essential in accelerating growth in our low-carbon economy. 
I welcome the Dowling review report and agree that innovation is key to delivering future growth and productivity. I support the recommendation to make access to R and D support simpler, and my Department is working, as my hon. Friend suggests, with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Innovate UK and the research councils to make improvements to simplify access to innovation support.
Over the past 18 months, the Secretary of State and I have clashed many times, and I have genuinely enjoyed all of our exchanges. The issue that we have discussed perhaps more than any other is the desperate need for the UK to have a stable energy efficiency policy and for there to be some serious political will to tackle fuel poverty. This Government have already scrapped the green deal and zero-carbon homes. There is no taxpayer-funded fuel poverty programme and the Government’s manifesto commitment proposes a huge drop in the already inadequate levels of insulation measures delivered in the last Parliament. That lack of ambition is disastrous for the environment and for consumer bills. What do this Government intend to do to end fuel poverty?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. I, too, have enjoyed our exchanges. He spoke as if it were our last one; I certainly hope that that is not the case. Fuel poverty is an essential part of what this Government are trying to address. As he knows, we set out new regulations under the previous Government for the private-rented sector to ensure that we reach new standards in houses by 2030, 2025 and 2020. We have more ambitious targets. We have committed to making a minimum of 1 million houses more secure against fuel poverty, and I will bring forward more proposals in the autumn.
T3. Like many colleagues, I have had correspondence from residents in my constituency about the consultation on the feed-in tariff system. So that I can inform them correctly, will the Secretary of State please tell me how much energy prices have fallen in the past three or four years and whether she expects the outcome of this consultation to see prices continuing to fall for consumers? 
Gas prices paid by households have fallen by 4.5%. The best deals are available for customers who switch to low-cost fixed term deals on the market, which are up to £100 cheaper than they were this time last year. I certainly hope that that trend continues, but we cannot guarantee it. However, I can say that the Government will take all the action we can to keep bills low.
T5. Stability and simplicity are key for oil and gas operators to make investment decisions, but there have been more than 18 changes to the oil and gas fiscal regime in the past 15 years. Will the Secretary of State reassure me and the industry that there will be no tax rises for the industry for the remainder of this Parliament? 
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that that is really a question for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, but I think he will accept that the Chancellor has taken great steps to try to improve the fiscal regime to encourage more oil exploration. By creating the Oil and Gas Authority, we have shown our commitment to trying to ensure that we maximise the economic recovery from the North sea basin.
T4. What assessment has been made in light of potential reductions to the feed-in tariff of the UK’s ability to meet its targets of cutting carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 and generating 15% of our energy from renewables? 
As our manifesto made clear, we are committed to our climate change targets. The policy announcements the Government have made to date are consistent with those commitments. We are making good progress towards meeting our 2050 carbon target, with emissions already down 30% since 1990.
T6. In recent years, a Scottish Government Minister has joined the UK delegation to the United Nations framework convention on climate change climate negotiations. Will the Secretary of State assure us that an invitation to join this year’s conference of parties in Paris will be extended to the Scottish Government? 
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. I will have to look into the precedent, but if that has been the precedent I am sure that we will continue to do it.
I was grateful for the Secretary of State’s earlier reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone). My constituents share the concerns about large-scale solar parks on agricultural land. How is the Secretary of State co-ordinating with the Department for Communities and Local Government to see how the planning process can assist with rooftop deployment?
My hon. Friend is entirely right that the control of where such deployment takes place is not entirely under this Department’s authority. We engage with the DCLG, which has strengthened planning guidance so that projects must go through a stringent planning process. Decisions should be made locally with community engagement.
T7. The clean energy switch, being run by The Big Deal and 38 Degrees, is Britain’s first ever mass switch to clean energy. Will the Secretary of State place on record the cross-party support for the initiative and urge people to visit thebigdeal.com to sign up? 
I believe that thebigdeal.com is one of many switching opportunities, so it would not be for me to prefer one over the other. We thoroughly encourage and support switching, which is a great way to reduce energy bills and I would encourage everybody to do so, including hon. Members.
Although I appreciate fully the need to cut subsidies, the decision made on 9 September on pre-accreditation for the feed-in tariff will negatively affect my constituents, as well, as we have heard, as those of other Members. It sends a negative message to investors in the green economy, puts dozens of anaerobic digestion projects at risk and jeopardises the conversion of food waste to energy in Suffolk. Will the Secretary of State assure me that investments in green technology will continue to be incentivised?
I call Clive Lewis.
I am sorry, we do not wish to deprive the Minister of her answer. I apologise that I was ahead of myself, but we will digest her answer, which I am sure will be brief.
I am grateful, Mr Speaker. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) will be aware, the feed-in tariff has been hugely successful in encouraging the generation of low-carbon energy for homes and businesses. We appreciate that pre-accreditation was widely supported as it enabled people to book their tariff, but the problem is that there is a tension between the cost to consumers and the value of the subsidies. We need to get that balance right.
Is the Minister aware of the concern among staff at the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority about changes to their pensions and will she agree to meet the relevant trade unions to discuss that?
The hon. Gentleman’s right hon. Friend Lord Hutton’s report on public service pensions was adopted by the Government in 2013 and set out the direction of travel for all public sector pensions. We are in close discussion with the NDA on how we can implement that, bearing in mind the particular sensitivities of Sellafield and other nuclear sites. I am very happy to meet the unions to talk about it, as I have previously.
Chinese steel dumped on the European market is bad not only for British business but for the environment, so does the Minister agree that the best thing to do for the environment and for securing greener growth is to buy British?
My hon. Friend makes a very good recommendation. Buying British is always a positive thing to do.
How can the Government justify slashing support for renewables while at the same time imposing a 16-week limit on councils, such as Leeds City Council, for considering applications for fracking?
Our energy security relies upon an energy mix. We therefore support shale and feel that the right way to approach it is to have a planning process that councils adhere to. We stand ready to help councils when they need it, and I hope that we will have the opportunity to do so.
At periods of peak demand this winter, how much spare capacity will the UK have from its own supplies?
After National Grid takes account of the various resources it has to add to capacity, that will be over 5%.
Given the concerns expressed today about the sustainability of the UK’s future energy markets, and also the investment required in renewables, what meetings has the Secretary of State had with smaller marine and tidal developers, particularly in the north of England, such as Solway Energy Gateway?
I have not met the company to which the hon. Lady refers, but I have met many other industry participants. If she wants to bring a particular group to see someone in my Department, or to write to me about them, I will of course pay attention.
I wonder whether the Secretary of State has heard the rumour from No. 10 that, in its desire to cut the cost of politics, especially when we are reducing the number of MPs, her Department will be merged with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. As a champion of cost saving, would she recommend that move?
My hon. Friend often teases me on that point. This is an incredibly important Department that is delivering secure, affordable energy. I would also like to scotch the rumour that the constituency of Wellingborough is in any danger.
David Attenborough, a former Cabinet Secretary and the Secretary of State’s predecessor have proposed a 10-year investment plan to make renewable energy cheaper than coal. The plan would see big increases in research and development, with the same spirit and ambition as the Apollo space missions of the 1960s. Will the Secretary of State do all she can to get this proposal on the agenda for this December’s climate change talks in Paris, or is she brave enough to disagree with Sir David Attenborough?
I cannot claim to be that brave, but I can say that I share the ambition to have more renewable energy and lower carbon and, above all, to reduce the reliance on coal for this country’s energy needs.
Notwithstanding the fact that the oil and gas industry is currently facing serious challenges, the southern North sea has the twin advantages of significant untapped gas reserves and a low cost base. Can the Secretary of State confirm that she will be bringing forward policies as quickly as possible that will meet the nation’s requirement for more gas and protect and create jobs?
I can assure my hon. Friend that we are doing everything we can to improve exploration of the further potential in the North sea, and he is right to point to the gas reserves in the southern North sea. Of course, the beauty of this is that gas is the cleanest fossil fuel, so it can also help to meet our decarbonisation objectives.
This week I had a meeting with Sustainable Energy 24, a community benefit society established to deliver solar panels on public and community buildings in my constituency. It told me, in relation to the cut in the feed-in tariff and the ending of pre-accreditation:
“It is hard to see how any community energy group can continue on this basis.”
Can the Secretary of State tell me why the impact on community energy companies was not considered ahead of the consultation and provide reassurances that the consultation response will address that very important issue?
I can assure the hon. Lady that community energy is a very important part of our energy sources. We have already contributed £25 million to supporting community energy projects. We will look carefully at the impact on community energy while working out what is the right price to support solar while looking after bill-payers at the same time.
By far and away the most dominant low-carbon technology is nuclear, yet these programmes require cross-party consensus. Is my right hon. Friend as concerned as I am that the leader of the Labour party has come out against nuclear power, because if that becomes policy it will make it impossible for us to meet our climate change commitments?
My hon. Friend is exactly right to point out that nuclear needs to be part of the energy mix. In fact, 20% of our electricity comes from nuclear, even today. We have ambitious plans for further nuclear and we sincerely hope that we will be able to rely on the Opposition to support us in that.
Business of the House
Will the Leader of the House give us the business for next week?
The business after the recess will be as follows:
Monday 12 October—Debate on a motion relating to superfast broadband roll-out, followed by general debate on the political situation in Stormont. The subjects for these debates were recommended by the Backbench Business Committee.
Tuesday 13 October—Second Reading of the Immigration Bill.
Wednesday 14 October—Second Reading of the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill [Lords], followed by debate on a motion relating to the Charter for Budget Responsibility.
Thursday 15 October—Second Reading of the Armed Forces Bill.
Friday 16 October—Private Members’ Bills.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 15 October will be:
Thursday 15 October—Debate on the ninth report from the Justice Committee on Prisons: planning and policies, followed by debate on the eighth report from the Justice Committee on the impact of changes to civil legal aid under part 1 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.
As you mentioned earlier, Mr Speaker, our Order Paper today pays tribute to four Members of the House who lost their lives in the service of their country a century ago. It is a sad fact that the first of them, Captain Harold Cawley, was not the only Cawley son to be killed—all three brothers died, two of them as Members of this House. Their shields stand here as a permanent reminder of the personal tragedy of war. I often think that we are not really worthy.
I thank the Leader of the House for his response. I pay enormously warm tribute to my irrepressible predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle). I think she will be a very difficult act to follow.
I gather it has been rumoured that I turned down the job of shadow Defence Secretary because I wanted this country to invade Russia. I can assure the House that I have absolutely no intention, either in that job or this job, of invading Russia. In fact, the way things are going I do not suppose we would be able to invade Alderney.
Besides, I could not honestly think of a better job than this one, up against the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling). I confess that I have been wondering how exactly I should deal with him. Some have suggested that I should be quite aggressive and angry—and that is just his Back Benchers. I have decided instead to smother him with my love. I might even take him on a bonding session in a B and B, though obviously it would have to be one that accepts same-sex couples, and I am not sure he would like that very much. Let us see if all of us, together, can warm the cockles of his heart and even raise a little smile—it is just peeking out there now, I see.
Last Friday we had a very moving debate on the Assisted Dying (No. 2) Bill. Eighty-seven Members put in to speak—the highest number ever. On Monday we had the Trade Union Bill, on which 67 Members wanted to speak, and on Tuesday we had the statutory instrument implementing the single largest cash change announced in the Budget. In each of these debates, dozens of Members were unable to speak because of the lack of time. In the case of the statutory instrument, the measure will lead to millions of families losing over £1,000 a year as a result of cuts to tax credits and gaining £200 a year, at most, from the so-called national living wage. Yet the Leader of the House allowed a mere 90 minutes for that measure when he could have provided for a full day’s debate before we took the statutory instrument itself.
I think the right hon. Gentleman is a decent man—[Interruption.] Yes, I do, honestly. I know he was a member of the SDP, but then I was very briefly a Tory in my exceedingly misspent youth, so I believe there is much rejoicing in heaven when a single sinner repenteth.
In all seriousness, I ask the Leader of the House, given the circumstances, to make provision for fuller debates so that Back Benchers can have a real crack of the whip. He has announced today a single day for the Second Reading debate on the Immigration Bill, but we have no idea what is in it and I am not sure whether it has even been published yet. Maybe it was published an hour ago, but it has certainly not been possible for anybody to scrutinise it yet. We know one thing for certain: this is the most contested subject in British politics today. Our constituents would expect many Members to take part in that debate, not just a smattering. Would it not be far better to have a two-day Second Reading debate on that Bill? If the right hon. Gentleman were to provide that, he would be the darling of the House.
As the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland made clear on Tuesday, matters in Northern Ireland are at an extremely critical stage. Let me make one thing absolutely clear, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), the shadow Secretary of State, made clear earlier this week: we stand four-square behind the principle of consent and a bipartisan approach to the peace process in Northern Ireland. We will do everything we can to help the Government ensure that the peace process remains on track. We are about to enter a three-week recess, though, so how will the Government ensure that all parties are kept abreast of developments? If necessary, will the Leader of the House, with your consent, Mr Speaker, recall the House?
The Leader of the House has said that he will bring his new proposals on English-only votes to the House before the end of October, but the House of Lords has now called for a Joint Committee to consider the implications of what we consider, and it clearly considers, to be half-baked plans to add four more stages to every Bill as it goes through this House. Can the Leader of the House recall any occasion when such a request from their lordships has ever been refused? Will he set up the Joint Committee as a matter of urgency and before we debate the matter in this House?
As you know, Mr Speaker, we have PQs, PMQs and WMSs, but I wonder whether the Leader of the House will allow us to set up MPAs—ministerial parliamentary apologies. Obviously, we would have to start with the Prime Minister, who could apologise to all the people of Yorkshire. The Leader of the House would obviously have to apologise to the people of Moss Side, about whom he was very rude a few years ago, and the Minister without Portfolio, the Mayor of London, would have to put in a daily—possibly an hourly—appearance.
The Prime Minister could also apologise for breaking his promise to the British people. In April he said he would not cut child tax credits. He said it on television programmes time and again, but this week he forced his Members to go through the Division Lobby to do precisely that. That is the kind of chicanery that undermines trust in politics. Surely the least the Prime Minister can do is to come to this House to apologise.
I hope that, between us, the Leader of the House and I, and all of us together, can help restore the Commons as a place of serious intellectual inquiry, with tough but fair scrutiny, proper respect for political difference and genuine open-minded debate. And maybe the Leader of the House will smile.
May I start by welcoming the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) to his new position and echo his words of tribute to his predecessor, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle)? I said in the House last week that she brought a certain style to business questions. We will miss her. She has gone on to an interesting portfolio. I wished her all the very best last week and echo the hon. Gentleman’s words this week. I very much enjoyed debating with her.
The hon. Gentleman and I were born in the same year, share the same name and were elected to this House on the same day. Notwithstanding his comments, we both agree that his party’s defence policy would be a danger to the security of our nation.
I also echo the hon. Gentleman’s comments about Members’ shields in this place. Their names are rightly commemorated on these walls as having done great service for this country. They played a vital role in protecting its security. We should always remember and honour them. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to refer to them.
Equally, it is also right to pay tribute to the victims of terrorism whose names are commemorated on the walls of this House, and to state that we as politicians—every single person in this House should state this, although that is not always the case—stand united against terrorism. It diminishes this House when that is not the case.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the debate on the statutory instrument two days ago. I actually agree with him. I think we should have had five days of debate on the changes that we discussed this week, and we did—as changes announced in the summer Budget, they were debated over five days, which is the right and proper way to deal with such issues. We take such issues seriously, and we provided the time to discuss them in the House.
The hon. Gentleman commented on the Immigration Bill, which has been published today. There will be extensive debate in this House, including in Committee and on Report, so I am absolutely satisfied that we will have adequate time for debate.
I remind the hon. Gentleman that one of the things we have done as a party in government is to provide much more time for the Members of the House to secure debates of their choice in their own time. I have just announced two sessions organised by the Backbench Business Committee on subjects of concern to Members. It is right and proper that we, as responsible stewards of the House, make time available for individual Members to secure the debates that they want.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments about the situation in Northern Ireland, which is a matter of great concern to all of us. I send very best wishes, as I am sure do Members from both sides of the House, to the Northern Ireland Secretary in her efforts to make sure that the situation is resolved as quickly as possible. I pay tribute to all those involved in stabilising Northern Ireland. The progress we have made must not be lost, and I sincerely hope that we can reach a resolution. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his support.
I simply say to the hon. Gentleman that we will update the House on Northern Ireland as and when necessary. This Government will always take the view that if there are matters of sufficient seriousness, we will seek a recall of the House. Clearly, however, those matters have to be of sufficient importance for a recall to be considered essential.
The hon. Gentleman asked me about the Joint Committee. I simply say that I have noted the House of Lords motion, which we have considered and are considering carefully. I would also say, however, that the Standing Orders of this House really are a matter for this House.
The hon. Gentleman made comments about broken promises. I simply remind him that the biggest broken promise of the past 10 years was the previous Government’s promise that we would have a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. They tore up and ignored that promise, so I will take no lessons on broken promises from the Labour party.
I am slightly disappointed about today. Yesterday, we saw a new approach from the Labour party, with a public consultation about what questions should be asked in the House of Commons. The hon. Gentleman sent an email yesterday, or a message via Twitter—
It was on Twitter.
I do not know whether he sent an email as well, but he sent a tweet to all his supporters asking for suggestions about the questions that should be asked today. I have to say that we have heard none of those questions, so there must be a large number of disappointed people. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says that they were censored. I must say that one or two tweets about him were very unparliamentary. He referred to past events. One or two of them he may not wish to remember, but they were certainly highlighted on that Twitter feed. Let me do the right thing, however, and give a response now to Graham from Glasgow, who asked, “Do I like salt and vinegar on my chips?” I am afraid I prefer mushy peas and gravy.
May we have a debate on the co-ordination and efficiency of roadworks undertaken by the utilities? At the moment, Stafford is often brought almost to a standstill by necessary work that is not being done in the most efficient and effective manner.
I have every sympathy with my hon. Friend. I know that the Secretary of State for Transport has taken a lot of interest in that subject. The issue involves not just that point, but the quality of repairs. We as a House should always say to utility companies that when they dig up a road, we expect them to do a decent job of repairing it. Nine times out of 10 when our roads develop potholes and problems with the surface, it is where a utility company has passed by and not done a decent enough job of repairing it. They have a duty to help to keep this country moving, but they do not always fulfil it.
I thank the Leader of the House for outlining the business for when we return from the recess. I offer my congratulations to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who is one of the few constants in the great Labour revolution of 2015. My colleagues and I on the Scottish National party Benches look forward to working with him in getting rid of Trident as early as possible and in our resolute opposition to Tory austerity.
We are going on recess again today, and we are only just back! This recess is called the conference recess. Apparently, it is designed to accommodate the conferences of the three main UK parties, but we actually return in the week when the third party has its conference. We are disrupting the work of this House to accommodate eight Liberal Democrats. I get the sense that we could just about muddle through without the contributions of those hon. Members, if they felt that they had to be at their conference. May we look at the ridiculous conference recess and decide that we should instead be in this House, addressing our many key responsibilities? Let us get rid of this silly conference recess.
Tomorrow it will be one year since the independence referendum. I am surprised that there is to be nothing in this House to mark that defining moment in UK politics. That experience certainly changed Scotland, if not the UK, for ever. Perhaps when we come back, we could have a State of the Union debate. I and my hon. Friends are in the Union-ending business, but we seem to have been joined in that mission by the Conservative Government. They seem to be doing absolutely everything they can to throw us out the door—making us second-class Members in this House and rejecting any amendment to the Scotland Bill. Perhaps we could have such a debate, so that the Scottish public can observe the Conservatives in action. Just about 50% of them are for independence. If they could listen to what the Conservatives are suggesting, perhaps we could get it up to 60%.
You will have noted, Mr Speaker, that we objected to the setting up of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. That is not because we have any issue with having a Committee on human rights, but we do have every issue with the membership of the Committee. Four Conservative and two Labour Members from this House will be joined by six Members from the House of cronors down at the bottom of the corridor. I do not know why, on such an important issue, there should be parity between that unelected House and this House. Within that Joint Committee we will find a Liberal, who comes from a party that has been overwhelmingly rejected, and an unelected Cross Bencher. Will the Leader of the House go away, have a think about the motion and ensure that the third party of the United Kingdom is included in what is such an important Joint Committee?
Lastly, as we go on the conference recess, the Leader of the House needs to promise that if there are any developments in the great international issues, such as the refugee crisis and the Conservatives’ desire to push us further towards conflict in Syria, he will recall this House, even if it might disrupt the eight Liberal Democrats.
I say to the hon. Gentleman that each of the party conferences could perfectly well take place over a weekend—something that some of us have long argued should happen. However, there will be a change of the kind that he wants only if there is consensus across the House.
I doubt very much that the attention of the nation will be on the Liberal Democrat conference next week. Indeed, I doubt very much that the attention of most Members of the House will be on the Liberal Democrat conference next week. I say to the hon. Gentleman that the job of Members also involves working in their constituencies. I suspect that next week, most Members of the House will be found not glued to the speech of the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron), but doing valuable work in their constituencies. I assume that the same will be true of Scottish National party Members, although they do have MSPs who do most of the work in their constituencies, so I can understand if they feel a bit under-occupied. Perhaps they will think of tuning in to the speech of the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the anniversary tomorrow of the Scottish referendum. The Scottish National party still has not quite come to terms with the fact that the Unionists won the referendum and the people of Scotland chose to remain within the United Kingdom. Every week is a bit like groundhog day with the hon. Gentleman as he talks about the tension between England and Scotland and—rather nonsensically, because it is not true—about our apparent attempt to turn the SNP into second-class Members. Of course, if he read the detail, he would know that that is all total nonsense. They simply have not come to terms with the fact that the people of Scotland—very wisely, in my view—voted for the United Kingdom and not against it.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the composition of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the fact that it is balanced equally between the Commons and the Lords. I simply say to him that that is because it is a Joint Committee. It would hardly be a Joint Committee if all its members were Members of the House of Commons. I appreciate that he would like to change many parts of this place, but the workings of a Joint Committee have been in place for a long time, and they represent a balance between both Houses of Parliament. That is not something that we intend to change.
Finally, it has always been the policy of this Government, the coalition Government, and the Labour party in government, that if a sufficiently serious matter occurs, this House—subject to your consent, Mr Speaker—will be recalled. That has happened many times over the years since the hon. Gentleman and I were elected to this House, and it will not, and should not, change. The three weeks that lie ahead are an important part of our political calendar and give people time to do valuable work on behalf of their constituents. I know that is what most Members of the House will be doing.
There is a clear need for new investment in low-carbon technology, and the new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point is an essential element of that. Associated skills programmes are already running, and 25,000 jobs have been promised locally. Will the Leader of the House come to the House to update it about progress on this crucial power station?
It is essential that that project goes ahead, as its success will be an integral part of this country’s future energy strategy. We must ensure that we keep people’s houses lit and businesses running, and this morning we heard questions to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. I assure my hon. Friend that the Secretary of State will keep the House regularly updated about progress on that important project.
Following the innovation of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, I have a question from Jane from Liverpool on the election of police and crime commissioners. As the Leader of the House will know, those elections are due to be held in May 2016, but signals coming from the Cabinet Office suggest that they are likely to be delayed until June 2016. Will the Leader of the House explain why that might be the case?
I suspect that Jane from Liverpool has a vested interest in the answer to that question. I encourage George from Knowsley to tell Jane from Liverpool that she should not believe everything that she reads in the paper until the Government make an announcement. If any decisions are taken that would change the timetable of those elections, I am sure that Ministers will first inform the House.
May I declare a potential financial interest? Is the Leader of the House able to persuade the Health Secretary to make a statement—even a written statement—on future research and the potential use of the precautionary principle, following recent research that was initially aimed at variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease prions? Sadly, that research indicated the potential for proteins related to Alzheimer’s to be transferred on surgical instruments.
That is obviously a matter of great concern. I saw those reports, and I know that the Health Secretary will have taken a close interest in the issue. We have Health questions two days after we return from the conference recess, and I encourage my hon. Friend to raise that matter. Alzheimer’s is a dreadful disease. I suspect that most of us in the House know family members or constituents who have suffered from it, and anything we can do to reduce its impact in the years ahead must be desirable.
Why did the Government abruptly cut the ESOL plus—English for speakers of other languages—mandation fund? That has put in jeopardy those who want to get jobs and learn English, as well as providers such as Walsall adult community college. May we have an urgent statement on restoring that fund, or at least a reply to my letter from the Minister?
I understand the concern and we seek to do everything we can to further education in this country. Our colleges do a great job for many of those who sought refuge in this country, and they help them to develop English language skills. I will ensure that the Minister of State for Skills is aware of the hon. Lady’s concern, and that he replies to her letter as soon as possible.
May we have a debate on coastal erosion? Although this is not a new phenomenon, it is occurring in East Yorkshire at an alarming rate. I accept that defending the coastline is not always economically viable, but the local authority needs to have sufficient resources to take whatever other action is appropriate, so it is an issue that needs to be addressed.
My right hon. Friend makes an important point, as ever, in defence of his constituency. Coastal erosion has a real impact on many constituencies. The last thing we would want is to see his constituency disappear into the sea. I commend him, because I know that he has secured a visit from the Minister with responsibility for this matter. I hope that that leads to a dialogue that will improve the situation in his constituency.
I thank the Leader of the House for giving us advance notice of the business for 12 October, which is Backbench Business Committee-nominated business—debates on superfast broadband rollout and on the political situation in Northern Ireland. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will welcome the fact that following the misunderstanding last week, the Backbench Business Committee is reverting to meeting on Tuesday afternoons. That will help in the communication of information to us. During the recess the Committee will still be open for business and will welcome bids from right hon. and hon. Members.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his work and I am glad we have a good process going forward. I pay tribute to him for the work that he is already doing. I was very pleased by the selection of the situation in Northern Ireland for debate immediately after the recess. As the Government have given control of such a large block of time to both the Backbench Business Committee and the Opposition parties, there are times when, on a subject on which we would like to have a debate, the Backbench Business Committee does the job and picks that subject, which makes the Government’s job easier. Also, it makes sure that issues of vital importance to the House are brought before it at an early opportunity.
This year we celebrate 100 years since the Women’s Institute was formed. Yesterday was 100 years to the day that the first branch began. May we have a debate to celebrate the work of the WI and to recognise its valuable contribution to this country?
I echo my hon. Friend’s appropriate words of tribute to the WI. It not only plays an important role in voluntary work in my constituency, in her constituency and in the constituencies of Members across this House, but it played a vital role in wartime in this country—we talked about wartime earlier. The WI’s work is immensely impressive. On one or two occasions it even played a role in the political process. Those of us on the Conservative Benches remember warmly the meeting between a recent Labour Prime Minister and a group of WI delegates, which will remain etched on our memories. I say to every single member of the WI, “Thank you for what you do.” We have just had a conversation about the Backbench Business Committee. The work of the WI could be a topic that the House chooses to debate in recognition of that 100 years.
On Monday we had an important debate about the future of trade unions. In that debate it came to light that the vast majority of recent disputes occurred in the public sector because mayors and Ministers refused to negotiate. As a matter of urgency, may we have a further debate about the responsibilities of Ministers in disputes, and make sure that this happens before the Trade Union Bill progresses into Committee?
The hon. Lady and I might have different views about responsibility for recent disputes. Ministers become involved in discussions with unions when it is necessary to do so, but it is often better for those discussions to take place between the public officials responsible for those areas and the workforces who work for them, without politicians getting in the way of that discussion. It is always a matter of judgment as to what happens. However, I have little sympathy with those who argue in favour of a minority of trade union officials, who are often dominated by people with extreme views, of which we have seen quite a lot in recent months, causing massive disruption and chaos in the lives of the working people of this country in a way that is wholly inappropriate.
May we have a debate on the forthcoming plastic bag charge, which is not only yet another triumph for the nanny state, but absolutely ridiculous in the sense that it refers to single-use plastic bags and fails to take into account the fact that many people already re-use their plastic bags? According to the TaxPayers Alliance, it will cost residents £1.5 billion over the next 10 years. Tesco has already announced that it is going to charge 40p for every home delivery, even if people use only one or two bags. This Government should be on the side of hard-working people trying to bring down the cost of living, not unnecessarily increasing it.
I know my hon. Friend feels very strongly about this issue. Normally, he and I find ourselves with common views, but I am not sure I am entirely of the same view as him in that I recognise the very real impact on our environment of the number of disposable plastic bags that get into our ecosystem. My hon. Friends in the Department handling the charge will have heard his comments. It is absolutely important that we get this right, and I will make sure his concerns are passed to them. He will, of course, be able to use the usual methods to bring forward a debate, if he chooses to do so.
I am delighted that repetition is welcomed in this House. On 2 July, the Leader of the House told us that independent assessments have shown that the Scotland Bill is meeting the Smith commission recommendations. I have asked written questions, I have asked oral questions and, finally, I have resorted to writing a letter, but so far I have received only fluffy responses. Will the Leader of the House make a statement on whether Ministers of this Government should be able to back assertions made in the Chamber with fact?
I quote from a press release issued by the Law Society of Scotland:
“Following publication of the Scotland Bill today at Westminster, Alistair Morris, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said: ‘We welcome the introduction of the Scotland Bill into the House of Commons. It reflects the Smith Commission agreement and provides for further powers across a range of areas for the Scottish Parliament.’”
Last week, as my right hon. Friend may know, I launched a campaign to save the hedgehog. May we please have a debate on how we can save the hedgehog population and the role that badgers play in their decline?
This is one of the issues that tends to be avoided by those who oppose badger culls. There is a clear causal link in parts of the country between the growing number of badgers and the diminution in the number of hedgehogs. I am with my hon. Friend on this. I used to have hedgehogs in my garden when I was a child. The disappearance of hedgehogs in many parts of this country is a crying shame. We should do everything we can to help restore their population. Controlling the number of badgers seems to me to be a very good way of doing so.
May we debate Ministers meddling with the BBC? The Culture Secretary has just announced that the BBC’s “10 o’clock News” should not be at 10 o’clock. Would a debate about ministerial meddling not allow us to explore why a party that once was a supporter of public broadcasting and an independent BBC has been reduced to its Ministers just mouthing the mantras of Murdoch?
We strongly support the existence of public service broadcasting in this country, but it is also important that the BBC plays the right role in our society, leaves space for local media and competes fairly with commercial broadcasters. We want a fair environment for broadcasting, as well as an accurate and authoritative environment for broadcasting.
Many of my constituents are affected by poor mobile phone signals, on top of often very slow broadband. Since the summer, there has been a particular issue for the residents of Yateley who use O2. May we have a statement on what the Government are doing to hold mobile phone operators and broadband providers to account where customers are paying for a service but not receiving it?
I am sure my hon. Friend’s comments will be greeted with a degree of concern and interest by those involved. We have, of course, secured a very large investment programme in the spread of superfast broadband. That is absolutely right and proper, and work is taking place in many parts of the country. There is an opportunity to discuss this matter immediately after the recess in a Backbench Business debate on precisely the subject of superfast broadband. I encourage my hon. Friend to bring up this point at that debate. Ministers will, I am sure, listen very carefully.
May I again urge the Leader of the House to ask the Attorney General to come to the House to explain the legal advice that led to a fundamental departure in UK policy, when two British nationals were targeted and killed by an RAF drone attack in Raqqa? This is particularly important now, given that in the past few days the explanation of the legal grounds for that move have become ever more murky.
The Prime Minister has explained in detail to the House the reasons for his decisions, and he will provide more information in confidence, as is normal, to the new Chairman and members of the Intelligence and Security Committee. It has always been customary practice when either party has been in power, and in the legal world, that legal advice is not published but a matter of privilege between a lawyer and a client. That is how Governments have always operated and how they will continue to operate. The difference in this place is that both the Prime Minister and the Attorney General are regularly before the House for scrutiny, and the hon. Lady will have opportunities to put questions to them.
My right hon. Friend will remember that I have asked for statements about the EU renegotiation. I am keen that the House should have the opportunity to understand that the Government are working energetically and wholeheartedly towards a fundamentally different relationship with the EU. We need to guard against any scurrilous suggestion that the Government might be heading towards some sort of essay crisis, so may I ask him again for a series of statements to help the House understand the EU renegotiation, which we all hope will lead to a fundamentally different relationship?
My hon. Friend and I agree that the status quo in our relationship with the EU is not in our national interest. It is essential that we pursue this renegotiation, put the new deal to the country and give it a choice between staying in and leaving the EU, and of course the Government are bringing forward that choice in a way that never happened under the previous Government. I absolutely understand his concerns, and he knows I believe radical change is necessary. The Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister will be in the House regularly over the autumn to take questions from colleagues about what is happening, and I know my hon. Friend will be here to ask such questions. I know that many in the House are determined to see change. The interesting question is where the Leader of the Opposition stands. I have heard mixed messages this week
Do catch up.
The hon. Gentleman might not be terribly sympathetic if his new leader decides to campaign to leave the EU. The Opposition are already in chaos over this policy area, as in many others.
If 52,500 people were dying each year in road traffic accidents, the Government would have to respond to the public outcry and act. Last week, the Government revealed that 52,500 people were dying from air pollution every year in this country. The Supreme Court has found that the Government’s failure to prepare a plan to deal with that is illegal, and the UK now faces infraction fines. Will the Leader of the House make time for an urgent debate, in Government time, to set out the Government’s proposals to deal with this damage to the health of the British population?
There will be plenty of opportunities to question Ministers about this issue. It is a matter that the Government take seriously, but of course it is a challenge for any Government to deliver dramatic change to our society overnight. Ministers are working carefully on ways to improve the situation, and the hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to call a Back-Bench debate, either here or in Westminster Hall, bring a Minister to the House, and ask questions at one of the monthly Question Times.
On 15 July, the Foreign Secretary told the House that as part of the nuclear deal with Iran the International Atomic Energy Agency would agree a road map and a set of activities that need to be completed before sanctions can be lifted. He said that it would take about six months. Will the Leader of the House ask him to come to the House before Christmas to update us on progress?
I will certainly pass that request to the Foreign Secretary. We all take the situation in Iran very seriously, and we hope that the agreement reached will improve it. It was probably better than the alternative, even though many colleagues have expressed concerns about our ability to see it through. In the Government’s view, it is the best available option. We must be careful to ensure that the agreement is adhered to, while recognising that if the Iranians step back from where they have been, we should seek to improve our relations with them.
Developing the skills of local people in the renewables industry is vital to the economic future of the Humber area, so may we have an update statement from the Government about their proposals, announced a year ago, to establish a national wind college there and a timetable for its being established?
I will happily ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to respond to the hon. Lady’s point. We regard skill development in key industries as of immense importance, so I will make sure that she gets a response.
Network Rail is considering enhancements to the line between Yeovil and Exeter. If the improvements could be extended to Salisbury, it would enhance the service for commuters and local businesses. Will the Leader of the House make time for a statement from the rail Minister on these improvements so that we can consider their scope?
I will certainly make sure that my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary is made aware of my hon. Friend’s point. My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the potential for improvements if the route is extended to Salisbury. I will make sure that the Department for Transport gives the proposal due consideration. He is also right that the route has always been much slicker up to Salisbury and that improvements beyond Salisbury will be very welcome. I quite understand why my hon. Friend wants to see the whole route rather than part of it improved.
During a Westminster Hall debate on Tuesday this week, the Minister for Civil Society, the hon. Member for Reading East (Mr Wilson), appeared to confirm that after Scottish Government Ministers have had private meetings with overseas Governments it is common practice for Scotland Office civil servants to ask the embassies of those Governments for an account of their private conversations—without telling the Scottish Government. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Secretary of State for Scotland to be brought here in person—not by proxy—to explain why his civil servants are routinely spying on our Government?
I do not think anyone is routinely spying on the Scottish Government. The Scottish First Minister denied emphatically that she had indicated that she wanted to see the current Prime Minister back in No. 10 Downing Street, and we absolutely take her word on that, although I would pay tribute to her if that was her view because it is quite clearly in the interests of the country. The Scottish Secretary will be here after the recess to take questions, and the hon. Lady will have the opportunity to put her point to him.
I have a question from Terry who lives in Whalley, but there could be a number of questions on the abuses of private car park operators. They include inflexibility when somebody wrongly enters just one character of their car registration, eye-watering fines that bear no relationship to the fees paid and threatening letters from enforcement agents who act like a paramilitary wing of the parking industry. They are not going to regulate themselves, so may we have a statement from a Minister with a view to reining in these abuses?
We see some extraordinary examples of abuse by some operators, although not all—there are good firms out there but there are, equally, bad firms. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I think all Members will have received legitimate complaints from our constituents. I will make sure that the Transport Secretary is made aware of my hon. Friend’s concerns, and I would also encourage him—I know he always would anyway—to raise the issue again when we have Transport questions in October.
When can we debate whether the practice of commanding one person to kneel before another is demeaning to both, inconsistent with the concept of a modern monarchy and a medieval relic that should have been abandoned centuries ago?
In many respects, I am delighted that the new Labour leader and those who supported him are so dismissive of the traditions of this country. The reason I am delighted is that it means the people of this country who value those traditions, value our monarch and value our history will vote comprehensively to reject their offering in 2020.
Will the Leader of the House call on the Education Secretary to come to this House as soon as possible to make an important statement on the improvement of educational standards, so that all young people in our schools and indeed any adult learners who need help can learn the words of our national anthem?
It is now a matter of national priority. A few people might well be tested about knowing the words of the second and third verse of the national anthem, but I think most people would regard not knowing the first verse as a little disappointing, not least if that person happens to be the Leader of Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition—perhaps not that loyal.
Last week the Treasury decided that unrestored Scottish mines were purely a devolved matter. That seems to be further proof that we are neither “better together” nor seeing any sign of the “broad shoulders” of the United Kingdom that we were promised a year ago. Will the Leader of the House provide for a debate that would allow restoration options to be discussed and explored more fully, as promised in the Budget last March?
We are delivering substantial changes for Scotland. A devolution package is in train that will transform the powers of the Scottish Government. Discussions are taking place constantly between Ministers and officials here and Ministers and officials in Edinburgh, and the discussions will continue.
For several years I have been raising the issue of discrimination against the lettori, foreign lecturers in Italian universities. Despite the best efforts of consecutive United Kingdom Governments and our ambassadors in Rome, the issue remains unresolved. Next month, the Pontignano conference will bring UK and Italian officials together. May we have a statement from the Government on what we can do to ensure that this 35-year injustice is brought to an end immediately?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his assiduousness in pursuing the issue. I sometimes wish that those in Brussels would pay attention to and sort out problems that are extant, rather than simply continuing to seek more powers for themselves.
Like other Members, I have constituents who are affected by birth defects resulting from the use of hormone pregnancy tests in the 1960s and 1970s. Following a Backbench Business debate some 10 months ago, the Under-Secretary of State for Life Sciences agreed to set up an expert panel of inquiry, which will sit for the first time on 14 October. It now appears that the panel’s terms of reference are at variance with what was promised in the Chamber. Will the Minister come to the House as soon as possible after the recess to make a statement explaining why?
I am certain that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Life Sciences takes that issue seriously, but a number of very difficult inherited historical problems have arisen from treatments that have gone wrong and treatments that have not been proved to be right for the future, and the treatment that the hon. Gentleman has raised is clearly one of those. I will ensure that his concern is drawn to my hon. Friend’s attention, and I will ask my hon. Friend to respond to him directly and to the House.
One in four people experiences a mental health problem during his or her lifetime. I have introduced a Bill to require health commissioners to ensure that they take full account of mental health needs when commissioning health services, and I have a forthcoming ten-minute rule Bill on perinatal mental illness. Both Bills are supported by the Royal College of Psychiatrists. May we have an urgent debate on the support that has been given, and the support that is needed, for people suffering from mental health conditions?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend. I hope that his ten-minute Bill will be passed, and will create an opportunity for debate about the issue of mental health. Many Members in all parts of the House take the issue enormously seriously, but it has for too long been the Cinderella of the health service. I am delighted that the new NHS constitution places it on an equal footing with other healthcare challenges, and that this year’s Budget increased the funds to be channelled through local organisations for the treatment of mental health problems. There is a great deal of work still to be done, but it seems to me that we are starting to move in the right direction.
Will the Leader of the House revisit the question of whether we can have, in Government time, a full day’s debate on the recent changes in tax credits, following Tuesday’s wholly inadequate 90-minute debate? According to a detailed briefing issued by the House of Commons Library in the last few days, people earning just over £13,000 will lose £1,500 from their net incomes next year. We must debate these measures, and, in particular, debate the social consequences for families up and down the country who will be pushed into making difficult decisions on the basis of the cuts that will be made in their budgets.
As I said earlier, we have had five and a half days of debate on this matter. It was included in the summer Budget, and it was voted on as part of the Budget resolutions. The opportunity to vote was there at that point, and the opportunity to vote was there this week. Indeed, there was a further debate this week.
I appreciate that Scottish National party Members do not agree with this measure, but they need to understand that we in the Government have had to make some immensely difficult decisions, many of which we would rather not have had to make but were forced to make because of the appalling public finance position that we inherited in 2010, and they need to understand the task that still lies ahead of us. We have to complete the job of eliminating the deficit and give this country security for the future, because that is the only way in which we can create prosperity, security and good employment for people throughout the United Kingdom, including Scotland.
May we please have a statement on what preparations the Government are making in the event that the people of the United Kingdom should vote to leave the European Union? Answers to my recent questions suggest that little, if anything, is being done across Government to prepare for that eventuality, and a statement would give the House the opportunity to probe whether that amounted to dangerous complacency or simply a lack of prudent planning.
I understand my hon. Friend’s concerns, but I remind him that at the moment we have not even got Royal Assent for the European Union Referendum Bill, although I am confident that we will secure it. If the country does vote to leave the European Union, a process will take place beyond that. I understand his concerns; they are shared by many Members of the House. He knows my view, which is that we need a massive change in our relationship with the EU and that maintaining the status quo is simply not an option. However, the renegotiation process is of paramount importance and the Prime Minister has been absolutely right to embark on it. He was also absolutely right to promise a referendum offering a choice between a new kind of relationship with the EU and leaving it, rather than maintaining the status quo, which I firmly believe is not in the national interest.
May we have a debate on the management of trunk roads in England? Earlier this week, there was a serious accident on the busy A628 in Hollingworth in my constituency. Pedestrian crossings are a lifeline for people in that area to get to schools and local shops. It is always difficult when national trunk roads have to pass through residential areas, but there is a strong feeling in my area that traffic calming and pedestrian visibility are not being given sufficient attention at the moment.
This is an important issue. We are lucky to have some of the safest roads in Europe, but as we have seen from recent research, single carriageway trunk roads remain the most dangerous in our society and the ones on which motorists are most likely to have a serious accident. Most of those trunk roads are now the responsibility of local authorities, and the power of central Government to dictate what happens to them is limited. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will take advantage of the opportunities available to him after the recess to make the Department for Transport aware of his concerns so that it can make them known when it deals with his local authority. I would also encourage him to talk to his local authority about that particular area, because he as a constituency MP can make a difference in securing improvements.
With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, I should like to begin by placing on record my personal tribute to the former Member for St Austell, Mr Agar-Robartes, whose plaque is on the wall and who, as you said earlier, was killed in action 100 years ago this month.
Moving on to slightly more mundane matters, I should like to raise the question of public conveniences. There is no statutory requirement on local authorities to provide them, but they are considered an essential service by many residents. The Liberal Democrat-led council in Cornwall is closing many of our public toilets. Indeed, it has withdrawn funding for all of them. Many residents are very concerned about this, particularly as Cornwall is such an important area for tourists as well as having a substantial elderly population. May we have a debate on the importance of public conveniences to our local communities?
I suppose the only explanation for this is that, having been flushed down the pan politically, the Liberal Democrats have decided to do the same to the public conveniences of Cornwall. I am sure they will continue to pay the political price for doing so.
On 16 July, the Leader of the House gave me some helpful advice on how I might track down the elusive Secretary of State for Scotland so as to get a direct answer to the question of whether he was on the circulation list for the infamous “Frenchgate” memo. Since then, like a good obedient Back Bencher, I have followed the Leader of the House’s advice and pursued the matter. I asked an oral question in the Chamber, but it was not answered. I put a written question to the Prime Minister but that was not answered either. In a Westminster Hall debate on a Scotland Office answering day, not only did the Secretary of State not answer my question; he did not turn up. A Cabinet Office Minister turned up instead, but he did not answer it, either. Will the Leader of the House now find 30 seconds of parliamentary time in which to get the Secretary of State for Scotland in here to give a simply yes/no answer to the question of whether he was on the circulation list for that memo?
I think the hon. Gentleman might not be distinguishing between getting an answer he does not like and not getting an answer at all. I am sure he is going to continue to ask the question.
The Leader of the House will be aware that many cheap home energy deals will shortly come to an end and that customers potentially face significant increases in their domestic bills. May we have a debate on what additional protections can be put in place to protect customers from such increases?
This is going to be a very real issue in the weeks and months ahead. I am sure I am not alone in thinking that prices go up very quickly and come down very slowly. Given the big falls in the oil price, it is surprising that falls have not occurred more rapidly. It does not seem to me that there is an obvious case now for pushing prices up heavily again. This profoundly affects consumers, especially the elderly, and I am not convinced that the energy companies respond to the very real needs of the elderly in their pricing, and that should change.
On measures that affect only specific jurisdictions, will the Leader of the House give to MPs from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland the same rights he plans to give to MPs from England?
The hon. Gentleman is very assiduous in making this point. I remind him that he can vote on education in my constituency but not his own. That is an imbalance in the devolution settlement. We are not planning to take away from him the right to vote in any Division he currently takes part in. We are simply saying that if a Government covering the United Kingdom seek to impose on England—and indeed on England and Wales, because this is not simply about England—something that MPs in that part of the country oppose, they should have a comparable say in whether it happens. That is all we are suggesting.
I refer hon. Members to my entry in the register of interests. The Leader of the House will be aware of the considerable impact of low milk prices on dairy farmers in Eddisbury. I am aware that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has made a written statement on EU talks, but given the importance of the talks to dairy farmers throughout the UK will the Leader of the House schedule a debate?
There is clearly a very real issue for our dairy industry, and our farming industry is strategically important not simply for feeding the nation but for the protection of our countryside and environment. I do understand the very real issues in constituencies such as Eddisbury, which I know well, and I say to my hon. Friend that I know her concerns are in the in-tray of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I will make sure her comments today are passed on to it.
Will the Leader of the House make a statement on when he is willing to visit my constituency, which he so kindly offered to do in the Procedure Committee? My constituents are extremely excited at the prospect and I ask the right hon. Gentleman to say today when he might be available to visit and discuss EVEL—English votes for English laws.
We have a big event next May, and it is very much my hope that a Conservative MSP will represent the hon. Lady’s constituency after the elections. It is therefore indeed my intention between now and next May to spend some time visiting Scotland, but not necessarily with a purpose she will find terribly congenial. I am very happy to talk to her constituents, but mostly to get them to vote Conservative.
I welcome the new shadow Leader to his post. He made a good point about lack of time for debate. It is very frustrating for Back Benchers when we are waiting to speak and the time limit has to be reduced. That point has also been made by SNP Members. Surely, in this new Parliament, we should look again at having a business of the House committee. It would not be the Government deciding timing; it would be an independent committee, and Members would at least be satisfied that their concerns were being looked at. May we have a motion on the Order Paper creating a business of the House committee and allowing a free vote by MPs to see whether the will of Parliament is for such a committee?
I know how strongly my hon. Friend feels about this issue. There will shortly be a debate on it, but I simply say to him that more than half the allocated time in this House is already beyond the control of Government—the Opposition days, the private Members’ Bill days, and Backbench Business Committee days. We already allocate more time than most other Parliaments to the will of Parliament, but the Government also have to timetable and get through their own business.
Five years ago today, Pope Benedict XVI made an historic address to both Houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall. It was the first state visit by a Pope to the United Kingdom, and of course it began with a joyful reception in Edinburgh and a mass in Glasgow. Many great occasions of state are commemorated with plaques on the floor of Westminster Hall. Can the Leader of the House advise on the process for deciding on the installation of such plaques and the appropriate route for making representations to those responsible?
That is an interesting idea and the hon. Gentleman makes a valuable point. May I suggest he writes formally to the Commission and then it would be considered?
Last week, the Grimsby institute of further and higher education did an excellent job in hosting the World Seafood Congress, a very prestigious event that was attracted to our area. Many jobs in the Grimsby-Cleethorpes area are dependent on the seafood industry. Can the Leader of the House find time for a debate to consider the challenges and opportunities the industry faces?
It all sounds a bit fishy to me! I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for being a first-rate representative of his area, and I know how important that industry is to him. It is good to see the local authorities and the local Members of Parliament working to support that industry. I know that my ministerial colleagues would also share the view that this is something we would want to champion and support.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing that the Second Reading debate on the Immigration Bill will be held on the Tuesday after the conference recess. Given that the Bill is going to be published only in the next hour, does he really think he has given Members of this House enough time to analyse and consider the consequences of such important legislation?
The Scottish National party was complaining earlier that the recess was lying ahead and there was not enough focus on important work during that time. SNP Members have three weeks to read the Bill, give it due consideration and bring forward the amendments that they want to table after the recess. I would therefore hope that they could use that time wisely and fruitfully.
The Government’s road investment strategy was firmly welcomed by residents in east Northamptonshire. It committed not only to improve the Chowns Mill roundabout, but to dual the A45 between Stanwick and Thrapston. May we have a statement from a Transport Minister setting out the progress against that strategy at this point in time?
I know how important these investments are to the area my hon. Friend represents, and I will certainly ask the Transport Secretary to give him an update. I congratulate my hon. Friend on being so effective in representing Corby, but of course these improvements could have happened only as a result of this Government’s policy of getting our economy back on to the straight and narrow. Corby is seeing the benefits of that.
May I draw the Leader of the House’s attention to early-day motion 455?
[That this House notes that 26 September 2015 marks the centenary of the death of Keir Hardie, the first independent representative of working people to be elected to this Parliament, a consistent champion of Scottish Home Rule and votes for women, and an unswerving opponent of British involvement in the First World War; further notes Hardie’s seminal contribution to democratic politics, as founder of the Scottish Labour Party (1888), the Independent Labour Party (1893) and the Labour Representation Committee (1900); notes his commitment to women’s suffrage, trades union rights, free schooling, state pensions, Indian self-rule and the end to racial segregation in South Africa, long before these social reforms were attained; notes Hardie’s principled opposition to British participation in the First World War and regrets that his rejection of jingoism and mass slaughter led to Parliament paying no public tributes to this great democrat, on his untimely death at the age of 59; and expresses the hope that Hardie's lifelong support for Scottish Home Rule, universal social justice and equal rights for women will yet bear fruit.]
May I remind the Leader of the House of Keir Hardie’s commitments, detailed above, which of course included a commitment to Scottish home rule?
Indeed. The Parliament at the time did not pay a public tribute to Keir Hardie, so will this Government right that wrong and pay a generous tribute to a great democrat?
One thing that makes this House strong is that over the decades and the centuries people have come here who have been passionate democrats with profound and determined ideas, to whom, although individually we may disagree with them, we would pay tribute for the contribution they have made to this country. I echo the hon. Gentleman’s view: Keir Hardie was one of the great figures of our political history. He was the pathfinder of the Labour movement, and even though I disagree with many of the policies that his successors have sought to bring before this House, I would say, none the less, that he made an important contribution, as did many others in our past. We should always champion them.
Many of my constituents will welcome the recent changes to the definition of “a Traveller” within the planning system, which will remove the requirements on local authorities to provide caravan pitches for those already settled in bricks and mortar housing. As such, may we have a debate on this new guidance, to reinforce the need for greater fairness in our planning system for both the settled and the Traveller communities?
That is a really important point. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Mole Valley (Sir Paul Beresford) made that same point a little while back, which led to me receiving a number of messages and letters from people in Traveller communities saying that this was not right. I take a simple view on this. If a Traveller hopes to have beneficial arrangements in the planning laws but does not intend to travel, most people in this country would say that that is simply not right. We cannot have people who intend to live in a fixed abode having their own particular arrangements within our planning laws. Our laws should apply equally to every single person in this country regardless of how they live their lives. My view is straightforward. If a person is not travelling, they cannot claim to be a Traveller within our planning system and have special arrangements. I hope that this new Government policy will deal with this issue, which I know frustrates many constituents.
I have been contacted by my constituent Maureen from Fallin who has asked me why this Government have so manifestly failed to live up to the vow that they and other parties made one year ago this week. Can we have a debate to discuss the failure of the Government to deliver on the vow?
If I was a Scottish National MP and I had come to Westminster with a determination to achieve independence for Scotland, I would seek to foment division between England and Scotland. I absolutely understand where that party is coming from, but it does not mean that this Government have gone back on their promises in the vow. We are delivering the Smith commission findings in the Scotland Bill as we promised.
The number of refused applications made by employers for a sponsor licence to employ non-EU workers has more than doubled since 2010. One of my constituents has had their licence removed for fatuous reasons. Can we have a statement from the Home Secretary as to whether hidden targets regimes are in operation, which is damaging businesses across the country?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. It is right and proper that we should seek to tackle abuses in the immigration system. Such abuses clearly exist and the Home Office is right to take action. At the same time, he is also right that it has to do so with great caution to ensure that it gets it right. There will be an opportunity at Home Office questions, straight after the recess, for him to raise such issues directly with the Home Secretary. I am absolutely behind her in what she is seeking to do, which is to manage our immigration system properly, but of course we must get the detail of it right.
Points of Order
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wish to raise the breach of the consultation process by the Home Office, which means that Members, the public and the police are denied vital information on the future funding of the police service. The existing formula is widely recognised to be unfair and out of date. The Government have opened a process of consultation on a new formula to inform the comprehensive spending review. They did so on the last day before Parliament rose for the summer recess. This week, just before Parliament rises for the autumn recess, they have made it clear beyond any doubt that they will refuse to publish vital information, including studies that have been carried out in the Home Office on the likely impact of such a policy and the equality impact study that is required by law, despite the fact that the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice conceded before the Home Affairs Committee earlier this week that such studies had been carried out.
I have written to the Home Office, as have the police service and the police and crime commissioners. Freedom of information requests have been lodged, but there remains a stony silence from the Home Office. It has been left therefore to the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners and the police to model the likely impact, pointing to catastrophic consequences in excess of 50%, which will make it very difficult for the great metropolitan forces to function.
I ask for your guidance, Mr Speaker. The first duty of any Government is the safety and security of their citizens. If there is information within the Home Office that the public might be put at risk, the full facts should be disclosed to this House, the public and the police. I seek your guidance on how the Home Office can be made to discharge its duties in disclosing that vital information, enabling meaningful consultation and extending the period of consultation, otherwise it will mean that this House is being treated with contempt.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and his courtesy in giving me advance notice of his intention to raise it. That said, I fear that my reply will be disappointing, although it has the advantage of being accurate. The timing of a consultation and the information that the Government provide to inform that consultation or in response to freedom of information requests are ultimately a matter for Ministers and not a matter on which the Chair can rule. That said, the hon. Gentleman has made his concern forcefully known and it is on the record. I feel sure that Ministers and the Patronage Secretary will have heard what he has to say. In answer to his inquiry on what more can be done, he is dexterous in the use of parliamentary devices and he knows that there are means by which matters can be brought to the attention of the House, particularly if he thinks that they are urgent or topical, if his continued pursuit of information is unavailing. I hope that that is helpful, and we will leave it there for now.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday, we had the refreshing change of a Prime Minister’s Question Time that involved an exchange of opinions carried out in a respectful and quiet manner between two politicians. It was a wonderful antidote to the infantile bedlam we suffered for many years, which has done so much damage to the reputation of Members and this House. You have a responsibility in your role for the conduct of Prime Minister’s questions, so may we have an assurance that you will, as you did yesterday, allow generous time to that part of Prime Minister’s Question Time so that we do not go back to the chaos and damaging exchanges of the past?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has said and happen rather strongly to agree with him. For what it is worth, if colleagues are interested, I know from my pretty extensive visits around the country that it is clear that there is a divide at the Beltway, particularly between those who observe our proceedings and would be more than happy for there to be a fistfight as it would lead to a headline but are not remotely interested in the detail of scrutiny, and those who make up the mass of the public, who are interested in robust but respectful exchange of opinion between elected public servants. I am with the hon. Gentleman and I think the bulk of the public are, too, and those who took part in Prime Minister’s questions in that way yesterday. It is important that Back-Bench participation should be maximised, so we have to try to ensure that there is plenty of time for Back Benchers to put their questions and get their answers. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is encouraged by what he witnessed yesterday and by what he has heard from me today.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. Without in any way disagreeing with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) or yourself, in view of some of the controversy over PMQs, and making no comment whatsoever about what happened yesterday, may I say—perhaps you will fully agree—that PMQs is a unique feature of our parliamentary democracy? Many countries would for the Leader of the Opposition and Back Benchers to be able to question the Government at least once a week. I, like my hon. Friend, am certainly not happy with the Prime Minister’s response over the years, but we should be very careful not to denigrate this feature of parliamentary life. We should be pleased that it exists, and that should be put on the record.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order and I personally see no contradiction between what he has said and some of the criticisms of the way in which PMQs have been conducted in recent years. He knows that we live in a world in which it is often expected, particularly by our friends in the media, that there is a simple yes/no, like/dislike, agree/disagree, black/white attitude to life. In fact, it is perfectly possible enthusiastically to support the idea of a Prime Minister’s question session for precisely the reason that the hon. Gentleman gives, namely that there are many countries around the world in which the Prime Minister is not required to come to the House each week to respond to questions—I have met people in those countries, politicians and members of civil society, who say that they wish it had to happen as it does here—while believing that the debate should be conducted robustly but in a courteous fashion. I do not think that there is a contradiction between those two things. When I am asked whether I am in favour of PMQs, I say that I am in favour of it but that I would like it to be better. I cannot see that there is anything wrong with that.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. What we do not want is PMQs becoming Front-Bench PMQs. Given that only a number of questions are drawn for the Order Paper each week, and given that not all of them are asked, would not a simple solution be to make sure that they are all asked before PMQs can finish? Hopefully that would deter Front Benchers, including the Prime Minister, from going on for too long.
The hon. Gentleman encourages me, and I am grateful to him for his encouragement, but he knows that, in so far as there is any latitude, I tend to use it to try to ensure that we get further down the Order Paper. Therefore, as he will have noticed—he is a very observant fellow—we do not always finish at 12.30 precisely; sometimes we stray a bit beyond that. I think we once went as late as 12.38. The hon. Gentleman is exhorting me to go even longer. He might be exhorting me to get into trouble. I am sure that he would not do that deliberately. I agree with the thrust of what he says. We ought to be trying to get down the Order Paper. The exchanges between the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are very important, but they are by no means the only part of Prime Minister’s questions. The opportunity for Back-Bench Members to put their questions to the Prime Minister is precious, so I will do everything I can, increasing my efforts if necessary, to ensure that that happens.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is on a completely different matter, and although I gently suggest that your middle name is Latitude, there is one area on which you might allow less latitude. Last Friday the House debated the Assisted Dying (No. 2) Bill, but the debate did not start until 9.48 am because we had a Division that, to my mind, was completely unnecessary. About 10 Members shouted “Aye” when the Question was put on whether the House should sit in private. In practice, only one Member, the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), voted Aye and two Members acted as Tellers. However, several of the Members who shouted “Aye” then voted no. As you know, because the acclamation is part of the voting process and how we proceed, it is a requirement in this House that one’s vote must follow one’s voice, if one chooses then to vote. I am not making bones about the practice of Members shouting and then not voting, but I am making bones about the fact that some Members shouted “Aye” when they had every intention of voting no. Will you make it clear to hon. Members that there is no need to waste time in that way?
Yes, I will. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to make bones about the matter, on the assumption, of course, that what he is conveying to the House is truthful, which I am sure he absolutely intends it to be—he always does his research, so I am sure that he has a reason for making a bone about this point. We should not waste time. The public expect us to get on with the substance of debate. If the hon. Gentleman remains dissatisfied over a period, he could consider having a word with the Chair of the Procedure Committee, the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker).
I have done that.
Well, he might need to do so again. I think that it would be useful to have a view from the Committee on the use of the device that causes a delay in the start of debates on a Friday.
I think that I am right in saying that the appetite for points of order has now been exhausted.
Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)
Mrs Secretary May, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Sajid Javid, Mr Secretary Duncan Smith, Mr Secretary Clark, Secretary Nicky Morgan, Mr Secretary McLoughlin, Matthew Hancock and James Brokenshire, presented a Bill to make provision about the law on immigration and asylum; to make provision about access to services, facilities, licences and work by reference to immigration status; to make provision about the Director of Labour Market Enforcement; to make provision about language requirements for public sector workers; to make provision about fees for passports and civil registration; and for connected purposes.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Monday 12 October, and to be printed (Bill 74) with explanatory notes (Bill 74-EN).
Serjeant at Arms
I beg to move,
That this House expresses its appreciation to Lawrence Ward for his distinguished service to this House, including three years as Serjeant at Arms, and extends to him its best wishes for the future.
I would like to place on the record my sincerest thanks to Lawrence on behalf of myself, the Liberal Democrats, and the House as a whole. He has served this place with great distinction for the past three years as Serjeant at Arms, and the Commons is a great deal better for it. Lawrence began working in the House in 1997 and has served this place in a number of different roles. His skill, dedication and professionalism have always marked him out, and provide a model for all those who are to succeed him.
The year 2015 marks the 600th anniversary of the role of Serjeant at Arms. At this time when parliamentary politics is being vigorously challenged and is under ever greater scrutiny, it is essential that the House remains open and more relevant to the people we serve. The modern-day role of the Serjeant at Arms and his duty to balance the safety of Members and staff with public access is vital in achieving this. In the summer, the parliamentary educational centre, a project that the Serjeant at Arms presided over, opened. It is a fine legacy and one that will serve this place and the public well. It will provide a valuable tool in connecting our democratic work with the public at large.
I wish Lawrence all the very best in his new role outside Parliament.
This is a happy exchange. It is a great pleasure to speak to this motion expressing the House’s gratitude to Lawrence Ward for his service to the House of Commons, particularly as Serjeant at Arms since 2012. As the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) said, it is an ancient position, 600 years old. Lawrence is thought to be the 40th Serjeant at Arms. He has had a long and distinguished service in this place. He spent a brief spell as Deputy Serjeant at Arms in 2011 before being appointed Serjeant at Arms in 2012.
It is worth remembering that besides the many hours that Lawrence has spent in the Serjeant’s chair in this Chamber, he has also been very prominent in the role of overseeing the arrangements for the reception of many distinguished visitors to this place, often greeting them personally on arrival. In this context he has met presidents, princes and prelates—even, as the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) said earlier, the Pope—as well as the Dalai Llama and numerous foreign statesmen and women. On one momentous occasion, he personally oversaw the arrangements in the Terrace pavilion for a performance by Fat Boy Slim. I am sure that many hon. Members are grateful to Lawrence and his team for facilitating access to meetings and events.
Lawrence is leaving the service of this House tomorrow to pursue a career in the private sector. I am sure that everyone would wish to express their very great thanks to him for the work he has done and all the contributions he has made here, and to wish him all the best for his future career.
As you know, Mr Speaker, a recruitment exercise to appoint a new Serjeant at Arms will commence shortly. In the meantime, Robert Twigger, until recently secretary to the House of Commons Commission, will be the acting Serjeant at Arms.
Lawrence has my thanks and my good wishes.
It is a delight to be thirding, if there is such a thing—I know there is not—this motion.
The Serjeant at Arms role is rather a curiosity in the way we do our business. It is something that we have exported around the world to many other parliamentary democracies based on the British system. One of the previous Serjeants at Arms was a regicide, and one of the jobs of his successor was to gather up all the bodies from the previous regicide, chop them up into pieces, and display them in Westminster Hall. Lawrence never had to gather up bodies, though perhaps he knows where the bodies are.
I was once at a dinner party in Islington—this is obviously now mandatory for all Labour MPs—where somebody asked Malcolm Jack, the former Clerk of the House, exactly what the Serjeant at Arms’ job was. I remember very clearly that he said, “Well, he is the chap who dresses up in black silk stockings and patent leather pumps to chase MPs out of the toilets in the Division Lobby with his silver sword.” There are elements of our parliamentary system that do perhaps need a little reform, I gently suggest. Perhaps we should not limit our search to people who like wearing black silk stockings and patent leather pumps.
I am not sure what training is required for the job, but it is interesting that the last two Serjeants at Arms have come not from the traditional cadre, which has always been military or naval, but from very different forms of service and not necessarily through the almost hereditary process of the past.
There are several jobs in politics that have to be done with good grace, such as Leader of the House and a Conservative Secretary of State for Wales. Another is Serjeant at Arms, and Lawrence has done it abundantly well.
I want to make one apology to him, though. I cannot tell all of this story, I am afraid, because you would rule me out of order, Mr Speaker. On 27 March 2010, thanks to your good offices, it was possible for me and Jared Cranney to get married in the Members’ Dining Room. We are not allowed in the Chapel yet, but who knows? Maybe one day. Lawrence was then the Deputy Serjeant at Arms and he made himself and his team fully available to all of my guests. It was the first time it had ever happened in the building and he was absolutely charming. Unfortunately our guests were not allowed to pass through Westminster Hall itself, and I cannot tell you why, but I shouted, ranted and raved at him at the time, for which I apologise. With that, I wish him all the best in his new job.
As a co-signatory of the motion, I want to be succinct in adding to the points that have already been made. I am afraid—or perhaps fortunately—I do not have a colourful story such as the last one.
As a member of the House of Commons Commission, I certainly respect—as I think you do, too, Mr Speaker—the advice Lawrence has given us. It is unseen and not reported, but it has been extensive and extremely useful. Most of us see him only in his role of sitting in the chair with the sword and stockings. I am a bit disturbed at the preoccupation of some speakers—one in particular—with stockings. What we do not recognise is how much Lawrence has been involved in the protection of the House while at the same time enabling the public to come in and see us in action. That has been successful. It is also interesting that, having had some interesting and unusual requests from me for slight changes and a bending of the rules, he was extremely polite to me, even if at the end of the day he gave an emphatic and definite no.
It is a pleasure to follow the other tributes to Lawrence. SNP Members thank him for the services he has fulfilled as Serjeant at Arms. He has discharged his responsibilities in a courteous, good natured and thoroughly professional way, to the extent that he has become good friends with many Members across the House. My colleagues in particular want to express their gratitude for the way in which he has accommodated them as new Members.
Others have referred to the 600-year tradition of the role of Serjeant at Arms. Lawrence was there when Fatboy Slim famously appeared on the Terrace. He was also there for a performance by MP4 when we played to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the role of Serjeant at Arms. Serjeants at Arms from all over the Commonwealth were present that evening to celebrate, and who was at the front? I would not say he was rocking his funky stuff, but it was Lawrence and he certainly appreciated that lovely evening.
We wish Lawrence all the best for the future. I know he will be a regular visitor to the House of Commons as the years go by. I never learned whether he could actually use the sword he wielded by his side, but perhaps he could take up sword lessons and come back to show us how it should be wielded and how the stockings should be put on. We wish him all the best.
We miss Lawrence and he has not even gone yet, which just shows how popular he has been in the role of Serjeant at Arms. He had a number of duties and I worked closely with him when I was a Deputy Speaker. Like you, Mr Speaker, I got to see him on a daily basis. As has been said, his role is much more than just sitting in that chair with a sword. From time to time, I had to call on him to go into one of the Lobbies and find out why a vote was delayed. He is much more than the armed wing of your office, Mr Speaker: he is a human being who has been seen widely around all parts of the House and who always has time to chat with people to see how they are doing.
I had a close relationship with Lawrence in ensuring the speedy entrance into our building of ambassadors and high commissioners whenever they came to Parliament. During my personal trauma, he was somebody whom I looked to, and he gave me some wonderful advice. He told me that his door was always open, and he extended the hand of friendship. I will miss him dearly. I hope that he will not be a stranger—his retirement gives us all hope that there is life after this place—and that he will come back to visit us often.
In 2012, the director general of resources, Andrew Walker, chaired a selection panel to find a successor to the retiring Serjeant at Arms, Jill Pay, and the panel produced a shortlist of two candidates. I was proud to choose Lawrence Ward from that shortlist of two as the Serjeant at Arms. I have to tell the House I had absolute confidence that Lawrence would prove an exceptional holder of the office, and I feel entirely vindicated in that view. I have never had reason to regret the choice.
Colleagues have spoken warmly and with a quite fitting generosity of spirit about the contribution that Lawrence has made. For my part, having worked with him very closely, especially during the past three and a half years, two things strike me more than anything else: Lawrence Ward has quite outstanding organisational skills and, as I think colleagues can testify, he has wonderful interpersonal skills. He is totally unstuffy, and he can get on with everybody. Whenever there was a challenge, a problem or an issue, his mindset was “How are we going to sort this?” His mindset was not on all the negatives and what could not be done, but on what could be done to ensure that the wishes of Members in particular were fulfilled.
I am hugely grateful to Lawrence. If I may, I want to mention two other things. First, in the management of the Doorkeepers team—this is not always acknowledged, and I am not sure that it has been stated in the House—Lawrence has brought about much greater diversity, in terms both of gender and of ethnicity, than has previously been achieved. What he has accomplished, without making a huge song and dance about it, but just delivering it, is perhaps a great example or model that could usefully be followed elsewhere in the House.
Secondly, I have an example of his “can do” attitude. Colleagues will know that I am a fanatical enthusiast for tennis. I wanted, in concert with the Lawn Tennis Association, to find an opportunity to showcase tennis within the Palace of Westminster and, in particular, to bring in children from state schools to have the chance to learn about the game with a bit of tuition. If memory serves, on the first occasion the tuition was given by Greg Rusedski, and subsequently—this year—by Judy Murray, among others. I asked Lawrence, “Where in the Palace of Westminster could I pick a venue that would not require me to have to go through a long process of securing agreement from all sorts of other people?” Lawrence said, “The answer is New Palace Yard, Mr Speaker. There is nothing to stop you having a tennis event there. It is within your bailiwick.” I decided to go ahead, and we have had that event every year. Lawrence has always overseen its organisation, which has been done outstandingly. He has also overseen, for the benefit of all of us, the clockwork organisation of the new year’s eve party on the terrace, which many colleagues find it pleasurable to attend.
In short, you ask Lawrence to deliver—and he delivers. As the right hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) rightly observed, he took a key role, along with a good many other people, in translating the House of Commons Commission’s ambition to establish a parliamentary education centre into reality. He has done a wonderful job and provided great service to this House. I really do thank colleagues for what they have said and the way in which they have said it by way of tribute to him, which I know Lawrence and his family will hold dear. We wish him well in the important and challenging new role in the private sector to which he now moves.
Question put and agreed to.
UK Steel Industry
I beg to move,
That this House recognises the unprecedented gravity of the challenges currently facing the UK steel industry; and calls on the Government to hold a top-level summit with the key players from the steel industry to seek meaningful and urgent solutions to the crisis.
Forgive me, Mr Speaker, but I am new to this place. Should I continue?
The House is expectant. If the hon. Lady, beyond the formal moving, wishes to make a speech, I know that the House will be agog with attention. The Minister is there to hear her, and others. Please, proceed with your speech.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for allowing Back Benchers time for this crucial debate. I also thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting me the opportunity to raise this issue on the Floor of the House. This is an issue of huge significance not only to my constituents, but to the economic security of the United Kingdom and its global position in manufacturing. I thank the Minister for attending the debate. I look forward to building on the constructive conversations that we have had recently on this issue.
I am grateful to the many hon. Members who supported me in securing this debate, including the hon. Members for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) and for Corby (Tom Pursglove), my hon. Friends the Members for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop) and for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty), and many others who I look forward to hearing from today. We are bringing the voice of our constituents around the country into this Chamber and I hope that the Government will hear their pleas.
I am grateful to my union, Community, which represents its members and the industry as a whole with great dedication and commitment, as do our colleagues from the GMB and Unite. I pay particular tribute to the Community union’s general secretary, Roy Rickhuss, and the senior trade union representative at the Redcar steelworks, Paul Warren, who are here with us today.
Most of all, I am grateful to the generations of workers who have kept steelmaking alive on Teesside for over a century—those who dug the iron ore and forged the steel that built Canary Wharf, the Sydney harbour bridge, Wembley stadium and the Freedom Tower at the World Trade Centre—and to those proud men and women of Teesside who stand ready to fight again for its future.
UK steel is at breaking point. This is a crisis for one of the most important foundation industries in the British economy. It employs 30,000 people across the country in highly skilled jobs, often in industrial heartlands with high unemployment. The UK steel industry supports the automotive, construction and aerospace sectors, as well as a raft of supply chains, and it is vital that there is a future for steelmaking at the heart of industry in this country.
The industry is in crisis because the price of steel has collapsed from £318 per tonne to £191 per tonne. Chinese imports are flooding the market. Between 2011 and 2015, the proportion of Chinese steel entering the market has quadrupled. The strength of the pound is increasing prices by 10% and crippling exports. I accept that there is little the Government can do about those global drivers, but that should never diminish their responsibility to do what they can.
My hon. Friend is right about the crisis facing the industry. Does she agree that energy prices are part of the problem and have been for a long time? They are certainly affecting plants such as Shotton in my seat.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there has been an ongoing discussion about that issue for a long time. The Government have taken some steps, which I will mention in a moment, but there is much more that they can do and they have promised things that we are still waiting to see delivered.
I am glad to hear that the Minister is going to China next week to discuss the dumping of steel, which is affecting producers around the world. There are, however, several UK-specific issues that are having a detrimental effect on steel production in the UK and that it is within the Government’s power to resolve. Action by the Government today could give the British steel sector the chance to stay alive in this fiercely competitive global market.
Research that I have undertaken in partnership with UK Steel has shown that the steel industry in the UK is disadvantaged to the tune of £431 million a year compared with our global competitors as a result of the exchange rate, energy policy costs, air pollution targets and business rates. I am sure that the Minister would agree that we want the UK to be the place to do business and that we do not want to penalise our own manufacturers.
What my hon. Friend says about the exchange rate is right. Of course, the exchange rate has appreciated by about 20% in recent months. Will she say whether that has made the situation worse?
It certainly has made the situation worse. I believe it has added approximately 10% to the prices of the UK steel sector.
I come before the House to call on the Government to act on the factors that I have outlined. I will set out five key actions that the Government could agree to today to demonstrate their commitment to the British steel industry. First, they must fully implement the energy-intensive industries compensation package well ahead of the committed date of April 2016. Energy-intensive industries in the UK are exposed to far higher costs than those elsewhere and face a total cost of £430 million this year.
The package of compensation and exemption measures that were promised over the course of the last Parliament would place the UK industry on a level playing field with its EU counterparts. If the package were in place today, it would have reduced costs from £30 per megawatt-hour to £7 per megawatt-hour. Instead, with compensation available for only a small proportion of the policy costs, energy-intensive companies continue to be exposed to upwards of 70% of them. It is imperative that the spending review announcement allays those worries and confirms the budget for the package. Energy prices for UK steel producers can be more than 50% higher than for our main European competitors.
I speak as an old lag of the steel industry, having worked in it for 30 years before they pensioned me off into a light job on these green Benches. I applaud the plea that my hon. Friend is making. The steel industry has a wonderful record of serving the country efficiently over many years. Let us all join in the plea, which I am sure all Members will do today, for the Government to take an exceptional measure to deal with what is a temporary problem in the industry, but one that could lead, if neglected, to permanent damage.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is a difficult time and there are actions that the Government could take to build resilience. There is a future for the UK steel industry. I am sure that everybody—this is certainly true of those on the Opposition Benches—agrees with that. We hope to hear from the Government that their commitment is the same.
Will my hon. Friend note that the failure to implement immediately, with real urgency, the whole package that will provide a level playing field could mean not only that we offshore more jobs, but that we offshore an industry that has been highly successful in the decarbonisation agenda in this country to places that emit more carbon? Let us keep them here; let us do it now.
I commend my hon. Friend for his passion and commitment. He is absolutely right. There are things coming on stream on Teesside, such as the carbon capture and storage facility, that will struggle if we do not have the steelworks in Redcar. We stand by our climate change commitments, and the steel sector is doing its best to make a difference.
Secondly, the Government must bring business rates for capital-intensive firms in line with those for their competitors in France and Germany. UK companies currently pay between five and 10 times more than their EU competitors. UK manufacturers collectively account for 17% of UK business rates payments. That is estimated to be £4.7 billion in 2015, which would be an increase of £0.3 billion on 2014.
UK Steel wants plant and machinery to be removed from the valuation process. Plant and machinery can make up a significant proportion of a steel site’s rateable value. Under the current system, manufacturers that invest in new plant and machinery to make innovative products, improve efficiencies or meet regulatory standards are punished by the business rates regime. UK business rates therefore act as a disincentive to upgrading facilities, increasing productivity or improving environmental performance.
Thirdly, I ask the Government to consider the derogation requests from the sector on a realistic timetable to meet its increased commitments under the industrial emissions directive. Under current proposals, it is estimated that the cost of meeting the revised permits for the sector will be up to £500 million by 2019. I am sure Members will agree that that is a heavy burden.
Fourthly, the dumping of steel by China is leading to the suppression of global prices. The proportion of Chinese steel entering the UK market has quadrupled since 2011. The Minister showed her support for the steel sector by voting in favour of extending anti-dumping measures for a further five years on imports of wire rod from China into the EU. That is welcomed enormously by UK producers of wire rod.
The UK steel sector is keen for that approach to be extended to other anti-dumping proposals that come out of the European Commission, when it is shown that they can support the UK steel sector against the rapid rise in global imports. That includes the forthcoming decision by the European Commission on rebar—reinforcing bar for the construction sector—which is expected towards the end of the year. In that instance, Chinese imports into the UK market have gone from 0% of the UK market only three or four years ago to 40% of it today.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the attitudes of countries such as Spain, which take a much more rigorous and robust attitude to the import of Chinese rebar, make it more likely that if the Chinese cannot access those markets, the UK will be the next port of call? That exacerbates the problem in the UK steel industry.
My hon. Friend is right, and we are always diligent in undertaking our European obligations. All we ask for today is a level playing field with our European competitors.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate. She makes the point that we are fulfilling our EU obligations but that other countries are not. Rather than trying to make those countries comply, would it be easier for us not to comply, and to protect our own national interest until the whole EU puts its house in order?
I am afraid I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. Teesside and the north-east is wholly dependent on a huge range of support from UK business, and that is a huge part of our exports. It would be wholly detrimental for us not to be part of the European Union.
There would be a significant opportunity for the UK steel sector if the Government were to support and insist on local steel being used in major public projects and strategic operations. Locally sourced steel can have major benefits not only for the local and the wider UK economy, but as a more sustainable material than imports. Those are the national challenges for the UK steel industry and the steps that we would like the Government to take. The steel summit sought in the motion would help to set out a strategic approach for the UK industry.
Let me say something about the situation in my constituency, which brings me here today with such urgency and determination. Steelmaking in Redcar makes up 7% of the north-east’s exports, and it employs 2,000 people directly on Teesside, with another 1,000 contractors and 50 apprentices currently on site. Approximately 6,000 people are employed in the supply chains, working in the ports, carrying the coal, providing the gas, producing the parts, driving the trucks, washing the overalls, and feeding the workforce. We have already experienced the devastation of losing our plant and we cannot go through that again.
In desperation, I ask the Minister to consider the request for financial assistance from SSI UK, so that wages can continue to be paid and we can get to the 50,000 tonnes of cargo that, as we speak, is sitting on the dock a mile down the road from the blast furnace. We need such assistance so that the gas can keep pumping, the coal can load the furnace, workers can pay their mortgages and feed their families, and the proud tradition of steelmaking in Redcar can remain the beating heart of my constituency.
As I said in my maiden speech, there already is a northern powerhouse, and I am disappointed that the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, (James Wharton), who is Minister for the northern powerhouse and a Teesside MP, is not here today. There is already a northern powerhouse—it is called Teesside. If the Government do not act today we will know that their words are hollow. In 2011 the Chancellor of the Exchequer promised
“a Britain carried aloft by the march of the makers”—[Official Report, 22 March 2011; Vol. 525, c. 966.]
Does the Minister believe in a future for UK steel? Will she act now to enable the sector to weather this storm? Can she tell the House whether the Chancellor’s “march of the makers” includes the proud makers of steel on Teesside?
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Redcar (Anna Turley) who made a passionate speech. She will clearly be a doughty champion for her constituents, and I agree with a lot of what she had to say, although not with her comments about our membership of the European Union. In defence of the Minister for the northern powerhouse, we know how busy Ministers are, and I thought it was an unnecessary shot—[Interruption.] If Labour Members are going to make a cheap shot, they should at least be prepared for somebody to counter it in a quiet—[Interruption.] I thought we were meant to be being more respectful. Labour Members should take lessons from their leader about not shouting back and forth. Conservative Members are all very delighted about the Labour leader.
Apart from the things we disagree on, the hon. Lady made an excellent speech. I agreed with a lot of what she said—indeed, I will repeat some of it. That is no bad thing, because if something is worth saying once, it is worth saying many times, especially since the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise is present. I welcome her to the role. In previous discussions she has already given us confidence through her interest in this issue, and I know that she feels strongly about this sector of our economy and is keen to assist. I hope that that will follow through with actions, as it already has done in some respects.
This is an important issue for me and for my neighbour and friend, the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), with whom I share the Scunthorpe steelworks. The constituency boundary goes through the middle of those steelworks, although he has all the exciting, sexy plant stuff and I have a lot of the land—[Interruption.] I am not saying that he is exciting and sexy. It is a massive issue for our area, and a big employer across my constituency and Scunthorpe, and the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers).
Scunthorpe is a steel town, which we are proud of, and North Lincolnshire is a steel county. It is a massive part of the local economy, and 4,000 people are employed directly at the steelworks in Scunny, and another 4,000 to 8,000 in the supply chain across the area. This is a really big deal for us. It is the centre of our local economy and we must do everything to support it.
I apologise for speaking ahead of the hon. Member for Scunthorpe, because he will probably repeat some of the same facts, but it is important to put it on record that Scunthorpe produces 3.2 million tonnes of steel per year as semi-finished slabs, blooms and billets, as well as finished products such as plate, sections, rail and wire rod. We are grateful that the important Network Rail contract was confirmed a year or two ago. It has a fantastic workforce who are proud to work in the steel industry, particularly on the Scunthorpe site.
A lot of my constituents who work in the steel industry have contacted me in recent weeks and months because they are concerned and worried about what the future holds. As the hon. Member for Redcar said in her fine speech, the crisis in the United Kingdom steel industry is causing a lot of concern. In our area that was added to by some of the comments made by the Klesch group, which was considering purchasing part of the business. Unfortunately, when they pulled out they said a few choice words about industrial policy and the Government. I do not think that was helpful or necessarily all that informed, but it has helped to spread more concern in our area.
It is great to hear a Conservative Member speak so passionately about the steel industry, and it was a large part of my life when I was a newspaper reporter. Does the hon. Gentleman support bringing forward the compensation scheme now rather than waiting until April next year?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. My hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes and I were two Conservative Members who voted against the imposition of the carbon floor price because of the impact that it would have not just on steel but on petrochemicals, which are massively important to North Lincolnshire and east Yorkshire. We would like the compensation scheme to be brought forward, as I planned to say later in my speech.
As the hon. Member for Redcar said, the nature of the steel industry is changing, and she gave a figure for how much steel we now import, compared with in the past. The figures that I was provided with state that 90% of steel consumed in the UK in the ’70s was from domestic production, but that share is now 20%. That unfortunate decline has taken place under successive Governments over the past few decades. The UK steel industry has had to become more export focused, which is part of the problem and a challenge for Scunthorpe. The hon. Member for Scunthorpe, my hon. Friend the Member for Cleethorpes and I, together with our council leader who will shortly enter the other place, met a couple of weeks ago. We were told once again that although UK demand appeared to be picking up and doing well, the concern for Scunthorpe is the weakness in the European market, as well as other issues that I shall mention. That focus on export is a major weakness at present.
As the hon. Member for Redcar said, the sector continues to suffer from an economic crisis. The service sector-led economic recovery has left steel-consuming sectors such as construction as much as 10% below their 2007 levels. The recovery so far has been less steel-intensive than we might have hoped. In the UK, demand is 75% of pre-recession levels. Further challenges, which the hon. Lady outlined, come from Chinese dumping and currency issues. Those factors, as she accepted, are outside the control of this or any Government in Europe. The current strength of the pound is another issue to which the hon. Lady referred.
Tata has made three asks of the Government, which the hon. Lady mentioned. It is almost as if we co-ordinated our contributions. One of Tata’s requests, as the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) said in an intervention, relates to the energy-intensive industries compensation scheme. I do not need to go into detail, having said what I have said already, but if that compensation mechanism were brought forward, that would be most welcome. Energy prices, as we know, are 50% higher in the UK than for the UK steel industry’s main competitor in Germany. Companies in continental Europe are not facing the same cost pressures, nor are they awaiting a decision on state aid rules. So there are steps that can be taken by the Government to improve the situation, and I know that the Minister has heard these.
I agree entirely with all the points my hon. Friend is making. Does he recall that when we met Tata Steel, along with the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), one of its other requests was for modest support for some work that needs to be done to determine the firm’s future? Does my hon. Friend join me in hoping that the Minister will view that request sympathetically when she replies?
Indeed. We have communicated that request directly to the Minister. I welcome my hon. Friend’s intervention.
Business rates were mentioned by the hon. Member for Redcar. Removing plant and machinery from business rates valuation would have a massive impact, because business rates are five to 10 times higher in the United Kingdom than in Europe. That has a significant impact on Scunthorpe especially, making up 49% of the annual rates at that site or £12 million per annum. North Lincolnshire council has looked at what it can do on business rates, particularly in respect of cash flow. Expecting a small local authority such as that to take a hit on business rates, and putting it in a position where, if it provides relief, it may not be able to provide services, is not fair to North Lincolnshire council. This is an issue on which the Government need to respond.
We had a positive meeting with Tata recently, at which the council said it would see whether payments could be made every two or three months instead of monthly, which would help with cash flow at the site. I know North Lincolnshire council is looking closely at that. When lawyers get involved, these things always become more complicated and there are state aid issues, but the council has assured me that it will do everything it can to help on the cash-flow issue. However, that does not deal with the issues arising from the business rates regime in the UK, compared with elsewhere in Europe.
I apologise to the hon. Member for Redcar (Anna Turley). I think she slightly misheard what I said. On my hon. Friend’s point about state aid for the steel industry, should we not do what we think is right and worry about the EU consequences afterwards? We seem to put the priorities the other way around.
I would rather not worry about the EU at all, which is something on which my hon. Friend and I agree, although I am not sure the Minister or other Members agree. My hon. Friend is right. I was going to say something about that later. We tend to interpret rules and EU legislation very precisely; the insinuation is that other countries in Europe may be more flexible about that, so we should adopt the European approach—I do not say that very often—instead of our officialdom. I think that is the point that he was making to the hon. Lady—let us do what other countries do and worry about the consequences later.
Scunthorpe has enacted a number of waste reduction strategies in recent years, resulting in well over 90% of all residue material produced across the site being subject to internal recirculation or external recovery or recycling. That is in line with the requirements for green energy and sustainability, but the incentive is still not there for companies. Last year Tata stated that it was paying around £30 million more in green taxes than its competitors in France and Germany—a point which other Members have made and will continue to make.
Capturing more value in supply chains is something that Tata is asking of the Government. Promoting local content appears to be happening in other European countries. We have talked about this a great deal in relation to other sectors of the economy and I know that Ministers in the previous Parliament were sympathetic. We all seem to be in agreement that we need to promote more local content, but getting that local content seems to be complicated. We must do more in that respect, as other EU countries do.
I shall not say much more as I will just be repeating the comments of the hon. Lady. Many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate and I have probably spoken longer than I should have done—[Interruption.] I think the Minister is encouraging me to carry on, which has not always been the case in other discussions that I have had with her.
Many Members are present today for this important debate. A country that loses its steel industry is greatly disadvantaged. The steel industry is a fantastic part of our economy, providing high-skilled jobs. Any loss of that to our local economy would be devastating. These are relatively well-paid jobs in a region that has not done as well in the past couple of decades, sadly, and has become worse off compared to the rest of the United Kingdom under Governments of both colours. Many people are inspired to work in the industry, particularly by the apprenticeship programme, and we must do everything we can to protect it, not just for North Lincolnshire or Scunthorpe, but for the for UK. It is of strategic as well as economic importance. I concur with the hon. Lady and will no doubt concur with much of what is asked by other right hon. and hon. Members this afternoon. I urge the Minister, who is engaging positively with us on the matter, to make sure that the Government get behind not only Scunthorpe, but the steel industry across the United Kingdom.
The debate opened with strong, passionate and eloquent speeches from my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Anna Turley) and the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), characterising what is good about the UK steel industry. Their speeches were measured and consistent, showing the overall picture of the future British economy.
We have been here before. We had an Opposition day debate in January on the future of the UK steel industry, in which I stated that we need to focus on the long-term competitiveness of the UK economy and that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar said, manufacturing should be central to our vision for a modern, dynamic and innovative economy. I also said that steel matters as literally the foundation of a 21st century innovative economy, providing high skills and well paid jobs to parts of the country that often suffer in the larger economic picture, and offering a vital role in the supply chain of key sectors such as automotives, aerospace, construction and transport. It is such a significant foundation industry that other parts of our valued economy will build on. The Government need to recognise its importance and work in partnership with it to secure its long-term prosperity.
I am worried, however, that since the debate in January the scale of the crisis facing the industry has become ever more grave and urgent. My hon. Friend the Member for Redcar and the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole outlined the urgent national issues facing the industry, but I want to reiterate some of them. My hon. Friend mentioned the urgent situation facing the SSI plant in Redcar. In the months since we debated the issue in January, we have faced the prospect of the first national steel strike in 30 years. Last month, Tata announced the mothballing of a steel plant in south Wales, risking 250 jobs. The fall in the oil price has put on hold projects in the oil and gas extraction industry, meaning that Tata plants making world-class pipes—such as the pipe mill in my own constituency—and other steel plants face diminishing order books.
The hon. Member for Brigg and Goole mentioned Gary Klesch, who has abandoned his plans to buy Tata’s Long Products Division, including the great plant in Scunthorpe. He said to the Financial Times last month that workers in the UK steel industry were
“being led to the slaughterhouse”
by the Government’s failure to tackle high energy costs and Chinese imports. He asked:
“What is the industrial policy when it comes to the massive dumping of Chinese steel?”
As the hon. Gentleman says, we should doubt some of Mr Klesch’s motives in pursuing industrial assets, and those comments are emotive and provocative, but his comments on industrial policy do smack of some truth and we need to investigate that still further.
The real problem with Mr Klesch’s comments, when he withdrew his interest in Tata Long Products, is the impact they have had on confidence in steel. Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a big job for the Government to do to act to restore that confidence?
Absolutely. I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. He is a passionate defender of the steel industry, not just in his constituency but across the country. He is absolutely right. Industry has a part to play in that, we in Parliament have a part to play in that and the Government also have a role. Government policy is ostensibly about priorities: where to divert attention and resources relative to other things that need to be done.
Other countries recognise the role that steel plays in a modern economy. At one extreme, this can mean renationalising the steel industry, as Italy has done, to safeguard capability for the future. Other Governments try to level the playing field for their domestic industries by addressing costs, taxes, procurement policies and imports to give their domestic steel firms at least a fighting chance. I am concerned that the British Government seem to do the opposite. This is not a personal criticism of the Minister on the Front Bench, who has taken more genuine interest in the steel industry in four months than her predecessor did in four years. She is a strong champion and we welcome her to her post. However, she recognises that the steel industry is facing a perfect storm. UK-based steel firms find it increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to export their products because of overcapacity in the global market, the high valuation of sterling, and uncompetitive costs based on unilateral energy bills and disproportionate business rates. As my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar said, energy prices for UK-based steel producers are 50% higher than for our European neighbours. How can we compete on that basis?
The Government advocate a wholly open domestic market, which leaves the industry vulnerable to dumping and fails to recognise smart local procurement, undermining UK-produced steel. The steel industry has one arm tied behind its back on exports, which, because of overcapacity in the global market, is increasingly difficult, and the other arm tied behind its back on imports. It is little wonder that the industry is punch-drunk and on the verge of a knockout.
I welcome this debate and I agree with the motion’s call for a key summit, but frankly we need more urgent decisive outputs. As Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of the Community union, has said:
“The UK steel industry is at a crossroads. Either it gets the support it needs from government to give it the chance of a competitive future or it continues to be subjected to warm words from ministers in the face of increasing decline.”
I could not agree with him more. On the subject of trade unions, this House debated the Trade Union Bill on Monday. In the Second Reading debate, I said that the Bill’s provisions run the risk of a more adversarial relationship between management and unions. The UK steel industry is characterised by fantastic, positive and productive industrial relations, which we lose at our peril. The UK steel industry will decline if the Bill is passed.
I would like to draw attention to the role played by the Community union and the workforce, when the Redcar steelworks was mothballed in 2010, in securing the plant, finding a buyer in SSI and ensuring its future. That was absolutely fantastic and is a perfect example of a great union working with all parties to secure the future of the industry.
What my hon. Friend says is really important. Steel plays a central role in a modern economy and it is really important that we put the empirical case. In places such as Teesside and south Wales we have seen that steel is in the blood of the workers who produce the steel. There is a pride that is difficult to match elsewhere. We need to make sure it continues.
On that basis, we have a simple but fundamental question to ask. We need to decide whether, as a country, we need a steel industry. We need to evaluate whether it is vital to our future prosperity, or whether, frankly, we can let it wither on the vine and just import what we need. I hope we decide that a competitive steel industry is essential to a modern British industrial base. If we do decide that, we need decisive action from the Government now—I stress now—to help to defend its long-term future.
I have a series of asks for the Minister. I know she is keen to help the steel industry as much as she can. Will she accelerate bringing forward the energy intensive industries package to ensure energy costs are made more competitive? Will she work across Government to remove plant and machinery from the business rates valuation for manufacturers, which acts as a massive deterrent against investment in manufacturing improvements, as well as being a big fixed cost disadvantage relative to European steel plants? Will she do more to support the industry in anti-dumping cases? She has already, in her short time in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, done an enormous amount. I think we are, as an industry, very grateful, but will she do more and outline to the House what she intends to do? Could she capture more value in the UK supply chain by promoting local content procurement targets, which lends capacity and capability to UK-based steel firms?
My hon. Friend the Member for Redcar knows my frustration. Overlooking our constituencies is the Teesside offshore wind farm, which presents a fantastic opportunity for steel to be part of a supply chain for an exciting offshore renewable industry that can literally power our future. The wind turbines and columns need an awful lot of steel. About 10% of the steel used in that significant local project was procured abroad—not from Hartlepool or Redcar steel mills. That is a disgrace. As a country, we need to be doing more about that; not protectionism, but making sure we safeguard the efficiencies of the local supply chain so we can have a viable future.
Just yesterday I met Forewind, the company building the Dogger Bank wind farm a bit further out from our constituencies. That will come on stream in the next couple of years. It said to me that there will be a lot of steel involved. We have everything here on Teesside: we have the infrastructure, the skills and the steel. I hope to God that in the coming years we will have a blast furnace making the steel to build those wind turbines.
I could not agree more. These are strong 21st century jobs in our supply chain that need to be nurtured by the Government, working in partnership with the industry. We need to safeguard that long-term prosperity.
Going back to my ministerial asks, will the Minister ensure that in sectoral strategies such as aerospace, automotive and construction—areas in which British industry is strong—she emphasises the importance of integrating material supply, which offers better synergy between the prime manufacturers and their suppliers in steel, which in turn can promote process and product innovation and efficiency, which in turn makes UK steel more competitive?
When we talk about the steel industry, there is a tendency to talk about the past. We should not shy away from our strong and proud history of, frankly, inventing the global steel industry—it is something to be proud of—but this debate should not be a history lesson. This is about looking to the future. A 21st-century, modern British economy has to have manufacturing and steel at its heart. That is what we are shouting for and demanding. I hope the whole House can unite in asking how we in Britain are going to stand up for steel.
It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate, which I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for securing. It is also a great pleasure to follow the various remarks made this afternoon, first from the hon. Member for Redcar (Anna Turley), who made a strong case for her constituency and gave us a positive, constructive and helpful overview of the problems facing the industry. As I often do, I ended up agreeing with my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) about the EU dimension. The hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) made some interesting comments, and I hope that the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, which he chairs, will play a leading role in bringing forward these arguments, informing the debate and playing a constructive part in it. He redeemed himself later in his remarks, having earlier left me slightly disappointed by the tone of his remarks about the work of Ministers. I pay tribute to the Minister—
I am glad that that is on the record, because the Minister has done an awful lot, particularly on anti-dumping. As Members know, Ministers take these concerns seriously and have been providing what support they can.
Corby has a proud history of steel production that began in Roman times, when the area was worked for iron ore. During the industrial revolution, the ironstone industry thrived in the area, with the discovery of extensive ironstone beds, and by 1934, the steel firm Stewart & Lloyds had moved into Corby to build a large ironstone and steel works, which took the population of Corby from just 1,500 in 1931 to 12,000 in 1939, well and truly putting the town on the map. Many people moved into the area to work in the steel industry, most notably from Scotland, and Corby is regularly known locally as “Little Scotland” owing to the large number of skilled Scottish workers who moved there for the steelworks. This has had a direct impact on the make-up of the area, and today we still have a proud Scottish community in the town and its surroundings. As Corby’s voice in Westminster, I am here to speak in favour of this motion and to urge Ministers to hold a summit on this key industry, which is a large employer not only in Corby but across the country. I know that all Members advocate on behalf of their local workforce, but the Corby workforce are incredibly hard-working, dedicated and committed. I hear such comments week in, week out in my constituency, and I am incredibly proud of that.
Today’s motion has unified Members from both sides of the House who are working constructively together, through the all-party group on steel and metal related industries, to get a better deal for the UK steel industry. I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills for agreeing to meet the APPG in the coming weeks and the Minister for standing up against Chinese dumping. She has taken action in the European sphere, and I trust that she will continue to fight for steel in upcoming anti-dumping cases at EU level. I appreciate their willingness to listen, and I hope that by working together we can find solutions to the problems facing the industry. I also welcome the answer given by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to my question this morning. She advocated on behalf of buying British products, which is something I am sure we all agree with strongly. I hope that that will come across in future discussions with Ministers and that they will continue to advocate that position publicly.
Mr Speaker, did you know that the steel tubing used in sprinkler systems and managed motorway gantries is made in Corby? Furthermore, as I alluded to in my maiden speech, one can also see Corby steel products at the London Eye, the Wembley arch and the Olympic stadium. These are just some of the products manufactured in Corby, and we should all feel proud that it is British products we can see at these iconic locations in our country. I strongly believe we should shout from the rooftops for British business and support UK supply chains.
I know the industry faces challenges in that regard. Foreign competitors are winning UK contracts over British businesses because of the combination of the current exchange rates and cheap imports, which can provide a more competitive end price. However, the value of steel to the UK is not just in the end product but in the value throughout production. By buying British, we can support our own industries and those working in these sectors, boost our own economy and in turn benefit from this growth. If foreign companies win contracts, this does nothing to further those aims. Furthermore, all the evidence suggests that the quality and standard of British steel is far superior to that imported from elsewhere. That is why I am such a strong supporter of the charter for sustainable British steel, an initiative I would like to see adopted across Government, local authorities and broader public sector procurement.
On the wider context, the benefits of buying British massively outweigh the benefits of importing from foreign countries. First, the transportation costs are lower, and, as we heard in Question Time earlier, it is also better for the environment. Secondly, it creates skilled jobs and the ability to offer young people apprenticeships and graduate jobs. Tata Steel, in my constituency, has led on this, nationally employing 500 apprentices and graduates this year alone, and in Corby it has taken on six new apprentices, investing an estimated £10,000 per year in each. As the local MP, I appreciate Tata’s commitment to local young people. From speaking to local apprentices, I know how important these opportunities are in terms of learning a trade, having a job and, perhaps most importantly, getting the opportunity to forge a career.
Fundamentally, the procurement process must be looked at, and I believe that the Government, local authorities and the wider public sector can do more to promote procurement strategies to support domestic manufacturers. This would obviously require a shift in culture in some areas, but a steel summit would begin that dialogue. Speaking of sustainability, it is vital that the steel industry and the Government identify a constructive way forward on energy costs and green taxation—an onerous burden that Members on both sides of the House have alluded to in departmental questions this very week. The huge costs associated with energy supply for energy-intensive manufacturing immediately puts British business in a difficult position and at a competitive disadvantage over foreign rivals. Indeed, data on EU industrial electricity prices for extra large users between July 2008 and December 2013 show that Britain was the most expensive even before tax. I am aware from my conversations in Corby and east Northamptonshire and from visits to local firms that this does not just affect the steel industry but plagues other sectors, such as the plastics industry.
The current system, whereby energy-intensive industries pay huge energy bills up front and then receive compensation afterwards, is unhelpful. I would be intrigued to know how much the bureaucracy is costing both individual businesses and the Government to administer. By opening a dialogue, as the motion states, we can seek meaningful and urgent solutions to this problem. I am increasingly coming round to the point of view that it would be better to exempt energy-intensive industry from these burdensome levies and charges, but in the shorter term I agree with implementing the compensation package in full and in a very timely manner.
The UK prides itself on innovation in business, as MPs see week in, week out in their constituencies. British businesses are at the cutting edge of international innovation. I struggle to understand, therefore, why industries such as steel are penalised through the business rates system, which disincentivises investment and pushes up costs. How can it be right that these businesses pay rates not only on the size of the site but whenever they invest in new machinery and equipment? An example of this was the Tata Steel site in the constituency of the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock). Tata Steel invested £185 million for a new blast furnace for its Port Talbot site, which then led to an increase in business rates of £400,000 a year, despite the fact the site did not change in size or scope. Penalising investment like this is detrimental to British industry, and I believe that the Government, who have made clear their commitment to business-led growth, should be working with industries to stop this tax on innovation.
During my remarks, I have outlined just a few of the complex and wide-ranging issues affecting the steel industry. I very much look forward to visiting the Tata site in Corby in the coming weeks, but it is apparent in the short term that we need high-level discussion between all those involved in this important strategic industry. That is why I wholeheartedly support today’s motion.
Going forward, I hope that the cross-party spirit that has characterised the debate—today, but also in the months since I became a Member—endures. I hope that Ministers will continue to engage, listen and work with colleagues of all parties who are concerned about the future of this vital British industry. While I appreciate that at this point some issues are out of the hands of the UK Government, as they have shown, they can do things to hold back the tide and give steel companies an opportunity to adapt and move forward. It is vital for the survival of the industry that we come together to make progress before it is simply too late.
Speaking as chairman of the all-party steel group, I would like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Anna Turley) on securing this vital and timely debate.
I would like to say thank you for calling me, Mr Deputy Speaker, but frankly, in view of the impending problems that are putting the steel industry on a cliff edge, I am sick of having to be called to participate in questions or debate about the industry. I am also angry about today’s comments from the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton), who is responsible for the northern powerhouse. He referred to Labour Members as “showboating” on this issue.
I did not want to start in that way, because I have a lot of respect for the Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise. While she has been a Minister, she has accelerated the process and the changes that are vital for the steel industry. However, I find the comments from that Under-Secretary to be truly reprehensible, and I am having to control my anger towards an MP who is supposed to represent my community and the people from my area. I will say this, however. The Minister opposite—I have just commended her—represents a great step in the right direction. Members across the Chamber can rally around her; she can be our champion against other Ministers in the chambers of power to fight for, rally and stand up for the case for steel.
People from different communities, trade unions such as Unite and GMB are present in the Galleries, including Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of Community, and Paul Warren, the multi-union chair at SSI Redcar. Those people are looking to us for solutions. They need us to help deliver those solutions for them.
As I said, I am sick of having to talk about this issue. I have gone through—not just today, but earlier—the detailed arguments over and over again. I have raised them at Prime Minister’s questions over and over again. Only last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) raised the issue of the necessity for a steel summit. My colleague in the all-party group and its vice-chair, the hon. Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove), has raised it again today and in questions to the Department of Energy and Climate Change and fastidiously in all questions. What we want to see now is action.
We can base our argument today on an example from our local community in Teesside. The site at Redcar—the very site mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar earlier—has been an industrial miracle on Teesside, with the resurrection of the largest blast furnace in Britain, the second largest in Europe. In my opinion, that should have been a rallying-call for any Government—the fact that something of such great significance could be brought back again through the co-operative work of the men and women on site, the management and the then current owners and then the wanted owners. There was a plan; there was a desire; there was a will to fight and save the heart of a community.
I know that the workforce and the trade union movement want that now. We MPs want that now. But do the Government want it? That is the question. Do they really want it? It is now about political will—the next stage. We have talked about Europe and about ignoring or interpreting the European convention. Fine, but if there is political will, it will be possible to get there. That is the stage we are at now. We cannot afford to keep going over the arguments, which we all know are the right ones. What we need now is action.
On 15 April 2012, what I would describe as a small miracle took place. An 11-year-old boy fired up Britain’s largest blast furnace, after it had been mothballed for two years. Within a matter of days, steel slabs began rolling off the production line. Steelmaking had, against all the odds, returned to Teesside. People’s livelihoods had been restored and an opportunity to carry on the tradition of steelmaking had been created for future generations. That boy was Wills Waterfield, son of Geoff Waterfield, a member of the Community trade union and chair of the multi-union committee, who had been instrumental in the Save our Steel campaign, following the announcement by Tata Steel to mothball the site in 2009 after the loss of a large contract. He, alongside Stevie Redmond, Paul Warren, Roy Rickhuss, Michael Leigh and many others, made that happen.
Since SSI bought the site and relit the furnace in 2012, I think it is fair to say that the journey to where we are now has been a bumpy one. Indeed, we find ourselves almost on a cliff edge. That is why today’s debate is so crucial. However, I praise SSI for the initial commitment and determination it showed to bring steelmaking back to Teesside. That grit must endure over what will be an extremely difficult few weeks for the company. During that time, SSI must realise that the workers at the site are not so naive that they do not understand the difficulty in which the company finds itself. It is essential for SSI to respect that and to maintain a clear and honest dialogue with the workers and trade unions on the site. I believe there is a role for the Government to play in ensuring that talks take place and that they continue. It is a profound role.
The Minister is meeting me, my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar and the unions representing the workforce later today. I think we need to explore not just what we have already talked about, but anything that is potentially helpful to the situation. I know the Minister will take that back to her superiors in the Government. We all continue and I continue to champion our vital industry, which I have done for my home area since first elected in 2010—I was re-elected a few months ago.
We are highlighting the issues facing the steelworks in Redcar and Skinningrove in my constituency, which is part of the long products division at Tata, and in the UK as a whole. The issues range from high energy prices to the impact of dumping in the EU by China and many others—and we know all these arguments very well. With each debate, each parliamentary question, each question at Prime Minister’s questions, I am greeted with warm words from whoever is at the Dispatch Box, but it is now clear that words are not enough. They need to be turned into action. That was needed then, and is even more needed now.
I would like the Minister to remind her Prime Minister of the necessity for the meeting that he promised me yesterday in Prime Minister’s questions. I think the matter demands his attention. When we raised these issues with him before—at Prime Minister’s questions and in other debates—he was quite keen for his Government to take the praise for SSI’s purchasing and resurrection of the Teesside Cast Products works in Redcar. Now, however, I do not know. I have to be honest: I do not see the same level of commitment or will as there was before. The Prime Minister was all too keen to take the praise for work that—I am being honest here—other people did, but is not keen to do the work now when he can do something.
I see the prospect of 2,000 hard-working people losing their livelihoods at Redcar. If that does not spur the Government into action immediately, I can only despair. I say 2,000 people, but we are really talking about 6,000 to 10,000 jobs in the downstream supply chain in companies around the area and the port. This is the heart of our local economy; it is a huge chunk of Teesside gross domestic product. More than that, it is our culture and tradition. It is the very identity of who we are, where we come from and the pride we take in ourselves and in our parents and grandparents before us. If we cannot now see the necessity of defending that industry, and that heritage and that history, I do not know why, but I do know this Minister. I have faith in her, and I want her to prove that my faith is justified.
My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop) is an incredibly hard act to follow. The messages that he sent were spot on, he spoke from the heart, and he was right to say that this issue demands the Prime Minister’s attention.
All credit is due to my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Anna Turley) for securing the debate, for her excellent, impassioned speech, and for the clear messages that she sent to the Government. Credit is also due to the Backbench Business Committee for appreciating the huge urgency of the situation in steel manufacturing and giving us time for today’s debate. I echo the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) about the central role that steel plays in our modern economy, and I wholeheartedly support the motion’s call for an urgent steel summit, because this is a critical year for the steel industry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland rightly spoke about the situation in Redcar. I obviously want to focus on the impact on Tata’s Llanwern steelworks, which is in my constituency—as is Orb steelworks, which has also been hit by some of these challenges. The current press coverage has focused on the huge challenges that the changes in the steel market are posing for SSI, but Llanwern is already having to react to the same massive headwinds. On 26 August, Tata announced its intention to lose about 250 jobs there, and to mothball the hot strip mill. By the end of October, we shall see that happen. It is the third time the mill has been mothballed since 2009, but this mothballing includes, for instance, the cold mill and one of the pickle lines, and the tonnage of the remaining pickle line is being reduced.
As the Minister will appreciate, the news of the latest mothballing is devastating for workers and their families, and for the confidence of the city, which, like other Members’ constituencies, has a proud tradition of steelmaking. Tata has confirmed its intention to redeploy permanent employees, but 176 contractors and agency staff may lose their jobs, and 81 Tata employees may have to move to another area for work. Anyone who talks to steelworkers cannot fail to sense their uncertainty about the future. Moreover, as others have pointed out, for every steel job, a further two to three jobs in the wider community rely on the metals sector.
Following the announcement, I met representatives of the unions and Tata’s management, and was given an in-depth presentation by Tata’s UK director of strip products. I agree with other Members that no one who sees the figures and observes the situation can fail to be convinced of the need for Government action now, and of just how hard times are. The industry i