House of Commons
Thursday 19 November 2015
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Department of Energy and Climate Change
The Secretary of State was asked—
EU Renewable Energy Target
We are making good progress towards our 15% renewable energy target for 2020, and I am confident that we will meet the next interim target of 5.4%, with provisional figures showing that 6.3% of final energy consumption for 2013 and 2014 came from renewable sources.
With the UN climate change conference just days away, on top of renewables subsidies being removed we have learned that the UK will fall significantly short of its renewable energy target. While Labour led global talks, is the Secretary of State going to Paris to learn about the consequences of her cuts or to apologise to future generations?
I am delighted to say that there will be plenty of opportunities during this Session to talk about Paris, and I look forward to doing so. On the specific question of the renewables target, I repeat to the hon. Lady that we are making good progress at the moment. [Interruption.] There are issues, but we are expecting to exceed our interim target. There is more to do, and I am delighted to say that I am working across Government with the Department for Transport and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to ensure that we do it.
Does the Secretary of State agree that meeting our renewables target should not just prevent catastrophic climate change but benefit UK workers through the creation of green jobs? Will she commit to ensuring that projects such as the Beatrice offshore wind project, which benefit from public funding, create the sorts of skilled supply chain jobs we need rather than subsidising private companies abroad?
I certainly agree that the direction in which this Government are going in supporting renewables and meeting our low-carbon targets will continue to lead to the growth of the green economy, which is a really important addition to the growth in the economy nationally.
The announcement yesterday to phase out coal with gas is equivalent, in one announcement, to doubling the amount of renewables we have in our system, and it is possibly the biggest reduction in carbon ever announced by a Secretary of State. Does she believe, though, that any of our EU partners will follow us in taking this route?
I thank my hon. Friend for pointing out the announcement that I made yesterday which shows such strong leadership in reducing carbon emissions in Europe and in the world. It is interesting that he asks me whether other European countries will do this. I am not sure they will. We are not ones to lecture our European friends, but I can tell him that I have had a lot of congratulations and comments of a positive nature about it internationally.
Given that the increase in global temperatures over the past two centuries has been minute, that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change itself has said that most of it is perfectly natural, and that there has been no increase in global temperatures for 16 years, is it not time to simply reject these renewables targets and concentrate on our manufacturing industries and bringing down prices?
I always enjoy hearing from my hon. Friend, but I must say that I do not share his views. I believe that there is a settled view that is supported by science, and it is right that we take action, but I hope that this Government can demonstrate that we can do so while growing the economy. That is the evidence that we are showing people internationally, and that is why we are providing such strong leadership.
Given the leaked letter that indicated the purchase of renewables from abroad, will the right hon. Lady make sure that the Scottish islands are in the mix and that we go there for renewable energy? The wind resource is so great that I did not get off Barra on Monday.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that yesterday I made an announcement continuing our support for offshore wind, which includes a potential application from the highlands and islands project. I hope that that was welcomed by him and by other promoters of offshore wind. I look forward to having further conversations with them, because offshore wind has a strong future in this country, but one that will also drive down prices.
The borough of Kettering is doing more than most in contributing to the national renewables target, with a major wind farm at Burton Wold, another one at Rushton, and lots of applications being received for solar farms. However, one of the big issues is the delay in connecting these new farms with the national grid because of the lack of suitably qualified engineers across the country. What can the Department do, with industry, to solve this problem?
There seems to be a difference of opinion between my hon. Friend the Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell) and the Secretary of State on progress towards our targets, but let us assume that the Secretary of State is right. If we are making such good progress, and bearing in mind that this is likely to be the warmest year on record, is now not the time to stretch ourselves by going to Paris with even tougher targets, to incentivise more renewables in the system?
“Make them tougher”, he says from a sedentary position. We are well admired internationally, not only for our tough targets, but for our announcement on coal yesterday and for our structure of carbon budgets and constant monitoring. I am proud of that and I wish the hon. Gentleman would be, too.
Progress has been much slower in meeting heat targets. The renewable heat incentive is due to close and as yet we have had no assurances of what will come next. Can the Secretary of State assure us that there will be continued support for decarbonising the heat sector?
The hon. Gentleman is entirely right. The two areas of renewable energy where we need to make progress are transport and heat. The renewable heat incentive has been a success, helping 50,000 homes. My proposal for continuing it is currently with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, so we will have to wait until after the spending review.
Does the Secretary of State agree that subsidising progressively unaffordable fossil fuels, many of which are produced abroad, while cutting off support for renewable energy at home when schemes are on the verge of being self-supporting, mitigates our chances of reaching our targets?
Thousands of jobs have already gone and thousands more are at risk since this Government slashed support for renewables. Ministers have blocked onshore wind developments, slashed support for solar and are chopping and changing energy policy so often that the CBI says they are deterring potential investors. How many more renewable energy companies must go under—how many more jobs must be lost—before this Government will live up to our international commitments and end this assault on Britain’s clean energy industries?
It is disappointing that, when talking about clean energy and low carbon, the hon. Lady failed to mention yesterday’s announcement. We are the first large developed country to announce a date for taking off coal. That is a great achievement and it is important as part of our future low carbon emissions. Our plan is for a green economy. We are continuing to develop jobs as well as support manufacturing and industry. I am proud of the direction we are taking.
Wholesale Energy Prices
Lower wholesale gas and electricity costs have contributed to the price of fixed-rate dual fuel tariffs falling by £100 compared with last year. Average domestic gas prices have reduced by 6.5% since the start of this year. All the major energy suppliers have reduced their standard gas tariffs at least once this year. The Government expect suppliers to make sure any reductions in the costs of supplying energy are passed on to consumers.
In order to keep household bills down, it is vital that we invest in energy infrastructure. Does the Secretary of State agree that the proposed IFA2 interconnector station at the Daedalus airfield in Gosport, which will connect to Chilling in Fareham and provide a second electricity link between Britain and France, is a welcome development that will make a positive contribution to affordability and sustainability?
My hon. Friend is right to say that interconnection can bring important, significant benefits to consumers by enabling access to cheaper electricity overseas, lowering household bills and supporting security of supply. The IFA2 project, along with others involving France, Norway, Belgium, Denmark and Ireland, is progressing through Ofgem’s regulatory regime, which is designed to bring forward interconnector investment in the consumer interest.
Rising wholesale energy prices have a particular impact on the elderly, with an estimated 540,000 older households in fuel poverty in recent years. Evidence shows that a large number of elderly people are prevented from switching to cheaper tariffs, which can be found only through online comparison sites, because they simply do not have access to the internet. What is the Department doing to ensure that the major energy suppliers are making their cheaper tariffs accessible to the most vulnerable in society?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Switching is an important way to save money and reduce costs, and there is a huge choice available online. However, there is a problem for people who are not online, which is why my Department has funded, for the third year, the big energy saving network. The network provides funding for direct face-to-face advice, targeting the most vulnerable in society to help them through the switching process and ensure that they access the cheapest tariffs.
Household bills in this country will never be manageable until the Government understand that it is not just the wholesale unit price of energy that matters, but the number of units each household needs to buy. We can make massive bill reductions with energy efficiency, and we can also end the scandal of so many British children going to bed tonight in cold homes. We have to do this. Ministers have promised me action for many years at the Dispatch Box. This Government’s record is abysmal. Come on, Secretary of State, let us do this for Britain.
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman’s conclusion, but I share his view that energy efficiency is an incredibly important way of saving money and helping householders. One of the most important ways of doing that will be through smart meters. Once people can access and see how much energy they are using, they will be able to use less of it. We are proud of the smart meter roll-out. We expect every household and business to have one by 2020.
I spoke to the Secretary of State about this beforehand. Yesterday, I met Age UK, which informed me of its concerns about the lack of energy efficiency schemes for those living in park homes. Ever mindful of the fact that the age of those living in park homes is from 55 upwards to perhaps 80, if she wants to make efficiency savings for them, she could reduce prices. What has been done for park homes?
We addressed some of the issues that are particularly challenging to park homes in the fuel poverty targets under the previous coalition Government. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that more needs to be done. It is particularly difficult for park homes without electricity meters. Those with electricity meters can access support, but the ones without them find it more difficult. I will certainly take that matter away and review it.
Renewable Energy: Subsidies
Even with the actions we are taking to control levy control framework costs and to protect consumer bills, we remain on track to deliver at least 30% of our electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Detailed assessments of the impact of cost control actions were published by my Department alongside each of the measures as they were announced.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There was a focus on the levy control framework, which was particularly my approach, as soon as we came into government. I was shocked to find the scale of the overspend and have therefore responded to keep consumer bills under control.
In Eastleigh, solar generation has leapt ahead due to the feed-in tariff, and many of my constituents want that to continue. Will the Secretary of State ensure that clean energy is supported and that both large and small solar energy generators in my constituency are not harmed by future changes?
I reassure my hon. Friend that we remain committed to clean energy, but in a way that minimises costs to consumers and maximises the benefits of the renewable industry to the UK. Our support has significantly driven down the cost of renewable energy and led to greater than anticipated levels of deployment.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her speech yesterday and warmly welcome her determination to reach zero subsidy? Does she agree with me that if we eliminated all subsidy for large-scale solar PV—photovoltaics—and concentrated it on domestic and small-scale solar PV, we could actually achieve our renewables target, protect jobs and reach zero subsidy and grid parity within the LCF earlier than 2020?
I share my hon. Friend’s enthusiasm for reaching grid parity and his support for solar in general. Solar has been a great British success story: costs have come down and delivery has far exceeded expectations. He will be aware that we are considering the consultation at the moment. The consultation closed after we received the responses, and I will report back on it. I will take his suggestions under advisement.
Will the Secretary of State now have a go at answering the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) about how many more thousands of jobs will be lost in the renewable energy sector as a result of her Government’s decision to pull the plug on solar and onshore wind? How does she respond to the comments of the United Nations chief environment scientist Jacquie McGlade, who recently said that Britain now, under the Tory Government, is sending a “worrying signal” by
“shifting away from clean energy as the rest of the world rushes towards it”?
Once more, with the right hon. Gentleman’s comment, we hear an Opposition Member fail to mention the fact, as announced yesterday, that we have put a date on the end of coal. I have received huge congratulations from international commentators. The situation is completely different from the one he tries to paint. The Government are committed to growing the renewable industry, are proud of the amount by which it has grown and will continue to support it, including through job creation.
Progress in renewable electricity generation has been put in jeopardy, particularly in rural communities, with the ending of renewables obligation certificates for wind turbines for farm generation of electricity. Will the Secretary of State provide a response that brings hope to those in rural communities?
Onshore wind is demonstrably the cheapest form of renewable energy, yet its route to market has been constrained. The Government’s no new subsidy commitment in their manifesto is clearly being implemented. Would the Secretary of State support the concept of subsidy-free onshore wind? If so, does she agree with the assessment of the Committee on Climate Change of what would constitute subsidy-free onshore wind?
That is a very interesting question. I said last time I was in the Chamber that we would look at that idea and we will continue to do so. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we have said that there will be no new subsidy and that such schemes must be supported by the local community. We are happy to engage with developers and have that discussion if they have a proposal.
Renewable energy is vital to the local economy in my constituency. It is encouraging that one of the big investors, DONG Energy, welcomed the announcement by my right hon. Friend yesterday. It is important that we develop an energy cluster on the Humber to reduce costs and maximise benefits. Will she assure me that she will do all she can to achieve that?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I received a message of support from DONG Energy, which is a big investor in offshore wind. The UK is rightly proud of its offshore wind sector. We have more offshore wind than the rest of the world put together. There is a lot of interest in that internationally and it has great export potential. We will continue to support it.
I applaud the Secretary of State’s announcement yesterday in her reset speech that coal will be phased out by 2025 on the grounds of its unacceptably high carbon emissions. In the same speech, she indicated that temporary subsidies to assist the deployment of renewables, which are the lowest-carbon alternative energy source, would come to an end, while permanent subsidies for the deployment of gas, which is a far higher carbon alternative, would be maintained. On reflection, does she find those positions at all contradictory?
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his new role. Our position is that subsidies are supposed to be temporary. That is why I set out a plan yesterday to reduce the subsidy for offshore wind. The industry is happy to engage with us on that basis. We will set caps with it and, I hope, deliver offshore wind with it at a lower price than has been achieved before. On the other subsidies that he mentioned, we are making sure that we deliver a balance. There has been woeful underinvestment in infrastructure over recent decades. Under Labour, no nuclear power station was commissioned, which was a disgrace. We will move forward with a secure supply of electricity.
Fuel Poverty: Energy Efficiency Schemes
From 2013 to the end of August this year, the energy company obligation had installed about 887,000 energy efficiency measures in more than 700,000 households on low incomes or in deprived areas. We are clear that the support should go to those in the greatest need.
I thank the Minister for her answer, but the huge drop in the installation of energy efficiency measures over recent years gives me no confidence that the Government are taking the scandal of fuel poverty seriously. Research by the Association for the Conservation of Energy has shown that the installation of energy efficiency measures dropped by a staggering 65% between 2012-13 and 2014-15. What steps is the Minister taking to reverse that shocking trend?
We are proud to have achieved more than 887,000 measures on energy efficiency. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said yesterday, we will redirect our ECO budget in the coming years towards those in greatest need and those who are suffering from the worst impacts of living in cold, damp or drafty homes.
With the withdrawal of Government funding for the green deal finance company, it is now even harder for overstretched families to afford energy efficiency schemes in their homes. Too often, poor quality housing stock leaves families in fuel poverty. What funding will the Minister introduce to help families to save money on their increasingly unaffordable energy bills?
The green deal plan was a small percentage of our measures, and it was closed to new entrants precisely because it did not have the take-up that we had hoped for. Some 96% of installed measures are delivered through ECO, and, as I have explained, we have put in a bid to focus our ECO even more on the fuel poor, which is our top priority.
Let us get to the crux of this issue. The Department’s stated goal is for as many fuel-poor homes as is reasonably practicable to be rated at least at band C for energy efficiency by 2030. However, between 2010 and 2013 that was achieved for only 70,000 fuel-poor households, leaving 95% still to be improved. Does the Minister accept that at that rate of progress, her Department will miss its 2030 target by 100 years?
I do not agree with that. The key point is that an enormous number of homes do not currently reach the band C efficiency level, and we are determined to improve that as far as possible. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced yesterday that we will focus all our energy efficiency and fuel poverty budgets on the most needy. That is vital.
Paris Climate Change Conference
The Government support the view that the Paris agreement should set out a long-term direction on adaptation for all countries. In 2014, only 16% of climate finance mobilised to developing countries supported adaptation, and it is clear that globally we must do more. That is why the Prime Minister has reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to aim to spend 50% of our climate finance on adaptation.
Many constituents have contacted me following a campaign by ActionAid about the effects of climate change in developing countries such as Bangladesh, where flooding particularly affects women and children. In Paris, will the Secretary of State support a specific, binding goal that ensures that the wealthiest countries in the world support developing countries in adapting to climate change?
I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are committed to getting a deal in Paris. We are aware that that deal will require considerable financing, which is why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced that we will increase our commitment to climate finance up to $9 billion over this five-year spending period—a significant increase. We remain committed to making adaptation an important part of that, but we are not yet in a position to commit the rest of the world in terms of the final deal that will be reached.
The Paris conference of the parties aims to replicate the successful method of the UK Climate Change Act 2008—a long-term goal that is specified under a legally binding agreement that achieves stability through a series of five-year reviews. The Secretary of State has abandoned long-term targets and destroyed the stability of the investment framework, and last night her Department’s emissions calculator showed that after her reset speech the shortfall against the fourth carbon budget has increased by 54 million tonnes of CO2, which is 10% away from the legally binding fourth carbon budget. Does she now feel more shame showing her face in the city of Paris, or in the city of London?
I find the hon. Gentleman’s question disappointing. The UK is rightly proud of our Climate Change Act, and of the targets and aims that we are setting for ourselves. We will provide leadership in Paris. The number of texts and notes that I received yesterday after creating that strong sign on coal was remarkable. I urge the hon. Gentleman to stop knocking the United Kingdom’s negotiating position, and to start supporting us in leading and getting a global deal.
Government's Environmental Agenda
Ministerial colleagues in DEFRA lead the Government’s environmental agenda overall. My Department leads work to cut carbon emissions, which is essential for protecting our environment for future generations. Working across Departments is essential to deliver our carbon commitments. Let me give two examples: we are cutting emissions, driving innovation and creating jobs through our joint work with the Department for Communities and Local Government on energy efficiency and with the Department for Transport on low emissions vehicles.
To take my right hon. Friend away from the UK, Ascension Island is one of the last refuges for the global stock of large fish, including tuna, marlin and sailfish. With that in mind, will she update me on progress in creating a marine conservation zone around Ascension Island and other British overseas territories?
I thank my hon. Friend for his important question. We are working with overseas territories on their current marine management arrangements to audit them and provide support in addressing gaps. In particular, we are working with the Ascension Island Government to balance their ambition for a sustainable fishery with the development of a marine protected area.
The Secretary of State may know that Cambridge City Council had to cancel plans to put solar panels on 1,000 homes after her changes in policy. What discussions has she had with colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government ahead of her abrupt policy changes?
The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government agreed a city region deal this week for Merseyside without including the tidal and barrage schemes that were part of the bid. It was said that the Department of Energy and Climate Change was pushing back against them. Is that true?
10. What steps she is taking to encourage the building of further new nuclear reactors. (902228)
My hon. Friend will be aware that the Government are committed to an expansion of new nuclear power, which is a vital part of our work to build a clean, affordable, safe and reliable energy system for the future. The industry is taking forward proposals to build six new nuclear power plants, providing 18 GW of low carbon power in the UK. We are in regular contact with it.
Following the recent welcome announcement that China will be involved in the provision of new nuclear, will my right hon. Friend reassure the House and my constituents that all proper safety and security measures will be taken, and that a robust mechanism for monitoring such will be in place?
Yes, I can absolutely reassure my hon. Friend. Safety in our nuclear plants is of paramount importance. Any operator of a UK nuclear plant must meet the UK’s stringent safety and security regulations, which are enforced by an independent regulator. They provide a whole range of controls, including safe and secure operation, consumer protection, security of UK supply and enforcement of contractual obligations.
I wish the Government would apply their horror of subsidies to the nuclear sector. The Secretary of State’s response to the cross-party objection to the departmental minute on Hinkley fails to address concerns that rather than a £19 billion liability on the public purse, Hinkley may in reality mean an eye-watering £45 billion bill for householders and taxpayers. That is just for one new power station that will not boil a kettle for another decade. At the very least, does she agree there must be a full Commons debate on the issue and an independent examination of the costs before proceeding?
The hon. Lady can, of course, use the normal methods for encouraging a debate. There have been many already. Hinkley Point offers low carbon affordable energy that is highly cost-competitive with clean energy sources. The point is that it is base-load. The UK bill payer will not have to pay a penny until it is actually generating. That is very good value for the UK bill payer.
First, I would like to congratulate the Secretary of State on her masterly speech yesterday.
Does the Minister agree that we need a mix of energy, including nuclear, which I am pleased to say we have in my area of Somerset, as well as solar and wind? It has to be a balance, it has to be at the best cost and it has to be about innovation, which will, in itself, create the sorts of jobs in the energy sector that Opposition Members are worried we are losing.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. We need an energy mix, which is exactly what we are achieving and what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State set out in her speech yesterday. I was delighted to visit Hinkley Point last week and see the enormous pride and excitement in the area about the prospective jobs and work in the supply chain and the huge investment in the area. It is really good news for the UK and our energy security.
The hon. Lady will know that the UK has an enormous nuclear legacy dating back to the 1940s and ’50s. A huge amount of work is being done at Sellafield and other sites to dispose safely of that nuclear waste. As she will know, the budget is extremely large—in the region of £3 billion—but that money is being spent to deal safely with this very long legacy. I can assure her, however, that new nuclear creates far less waste. We are planning a geological disposal facility to make sure that future taxpayers have nothing like that legacy to deal with.
Paris Climate Change Conference
I have been working closely with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Development to secure an ambitious global deal in Paris. Tackling climate change and promoting sustainable development are two sides of the same coin. We cannot achieve one without the other. We cannot end extreme poverty any other way. The global goals established earlier this year provide a clear framework for sustainable development, with full integration of climate and environment goals.
It is vital that we reach a binding agreement on tackling climate change in December, and I, too, welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement about closing coal-fired power stations by 2025, as it sets a strong example to other countries. Will she go further, though, and state what percentage cut in emissions by 2030 she is pushing for?
We are focused on Paris at the moment. We are working with our EU colleagues, other countries and like-minded allies to bring along other countries that might be more reluctant or more difficult to get across the line. With our EU colleagues, we have set targets, such as that for a 40% reduction by 2030, but at the moment our focus is on Paris.
Solar Energy: Schools
12. What steps her Department has taken to encourage schools to invest in solar energy; what discussions she has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Education on the effect of borrowing restrictions on investment by schools in solar energy; and if she will make a statement. (902231)
In April 2014, my Department published a leaflet encouraging schools to invest in solar PV, which was followed up with a letter to local authorities in November 2014. We encourage deployment through the financial incentive of the feed-in tariff, but discussions are always ongoing with other Departments on what more can be done to help schools invest in solar.
Thousands of schools cannot make their contribution on renewables and save thousands of pounds each year because of the Chancellor’s rules on borrowing to install solar. One school, Wilmslow High, wants to do this, and its local MP, a Mr George Osborne, has said:
“I am happy to support you wherever I can”,
but he is awaiting a reply from the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Will the Department reply to the local MP so that he can make representations to himself as Chancellor and end these ridiculous rules?
I would like to apologise publicly to the local MP. I shall look into the matter today. Restrictions on school borrowing are necessary, however, to protect public sector accounts. School borrowing contributes to public sector net debt and borrowing—two important fiscal measurements that we must control in order to bring down the national deficit and retain economic confidence—which is why we have no plans to lift restrictions on borrowing.
District Heating Sector
We do not believe that further statutory regulation is appropriate for the sector at this stage, but are keeping this under review. We welcome the voluntary consumer protection scheme, Heat Trust, which is launching next week. The scheme aims to provide customers with comparable protections to those available in statute to gas and electricity customers. We believe that, when combined with metering and billing regulations, this represents a proportionate approach to the consumer challenges in the sector.
The vast majority of customers served by district heating networks, including thousands in my constituency, believe strongly that they do not offer a fair deal, and the industry-led solution, Heat Trust, will I think do little to allay fears in that regard or build consumer confidence. May I urge the Secretary of State to revisit the question of whether effective statutory regulation would give customers locked into these monopoly schemes a better deal?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. I am aware that heating networks do not have the same regulatory framework. Heat Trust is launching on 25 November, following development and consultation with consumer groups and Government. I see that he has a certain doubt about the success of Heat Trust, but we will work closely to monitor its impact and will assess, based on its record, whether further action is needed.
Solar Power: Feed-in Tariffs
During consultation on the proposed changes to the feed-in tariffs, we strongly encouraged all parts of the small-scale renewables sector to provide evidence on the likely impact. The actual impact on solar companies will, of course, depend on the options taken forward when the responses to the consultation have been considered.
The Minister will be aware of the thousands of job losses on Teesside, with steel, construction and mining all shedding people. Even the Government are contributing to the misery, sacking hundreds of employees at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Does she really want to add thousands more from the solar, energy conservation and energy-intensive industries as a direct result of her policies?
We are huge supporters of the solar sector. The point is that there is a balance to be struck between the enormous success in deployment, which is exceeding our expectations, and the impact on the bill payer. We have to keep that balance. We have consulted on it and will issue our response in due course, but it is absolutely our intention to see the solar sector continue to thrive.
A number of leading solar community projects and green energy companies are based in my constituency, including Good Energy, which supplies more than 50,000 UK consumers. People who work in the industry fully understand the need for it to be sustainable, but they feel that a drop of up to 87% overnight is more than the industry can cope with, in terms of local jobs and growth. Will the Minister look at what more can be done to support existing projects and for mechanisms to keep the solar industry alive until grid parity is reached?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this very important matter for her constituency. I can absolutely assure her that we are looking at it carefully. I had a round table meeting with a number of solar firms and heard their views at first hand before the consultation closed. We are looking carefully at the more than 55,000 responses and will come forward with our policy response as soon as we can.
Virginia Fassnidge is one of my constituents who installed solar panels to cut her family’s household bills and save carbon. Will the Minister explain to those who want to follow her example why they should, when the 98% cut to the feed-in tariff subsidy scheme no longer makes it attractive to consumers, risks the very viability of the domestic solar industry when it is about to become viable without subsidy and completely undermines the Secretary of State’s solar revolution?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her question. Obviously her constituent will be pleased to know that the subsidy from the bill payer that she has received will continue to be available to her—I think there has been some confusion about that point. For those who come later, the proposal in our consultation is for the return to investors to be in the region of about 4%, as opposed to the current level, which is significantly higher. We were required by the EU to look at the tariffs on a three-year basis and that is what we have done. We have put forward a proposal and we are looking carefully at the responses.
The Government’s decisions have had a devastating impact on our manufacturing industry in the UK. That flies in the face of exactly what the Government say they want to achieve in creating an industrial balance within our economy. Just like the steel industry, the Government have been found wanting.
We have a big and growing energy sector. We are bringing forward policy proposals to develop new sources of energy, which will mean a whole raft of new jobs and new opportunities for people, but there is always a balance to be struck. What we cannot do is permanently subsidise at the expense of the bill payer; many issues have already been raised about fuel poverty. In the end, industries need to stand on their own two feet.
Paris is a city that is currently in mourning, but in less than two weeks’ time we will see the world gather there in solidarity to seek to achieve the first truly global deal on climate change. Yesterday I announced plans to close all unabated coal-fired power stations by 2025 and to restrict their use by 2023. This is a world-leading commitment to the environment and underlines our crystal-clear determination to cut carbon emissions as cost-effectively as possible. I stress that the UK’s energy security comes first. As we tackle a legacy of under-investment and build a new system of energy infrastructure fit for the 21st century, we need to replace ageing polluting power stations with reliable, good value-for-money alternatives that help to reduce our emissions.
Ofgem estimates that the average household could save about £200 a year by shopping around for their energy needs, but 62% of households have never switched, while 45% mistakenly believe that there is no benefit from doing so. My hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Nusrat Ghani) raised the issue of online information access, but what else are the Government doing to encourage households to switch and save money?
I thank my hon. Friend for his important question. The more opportunities that we have to raise and draw attention to the opportunities for switching, the better. Switching can indeed save £200 and sometimes more per bill. My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and, as I said, we have plans to reach out to people who are not online and to help the most vulnerable. We also had the recent Power to Switch campaign, which led to a significantly increased number of people switching.
I share the right hon. Lady’s sadness at the recent events in Paris, which shocked the world. As world leaders gather in that same city in a few days’ time to address the threat posed to us all by climate change, will she ensure that we use the opportunity to show real leadership and offer hope to people around the world that we, the international community, can come together to address the common threats to our shared security through shared international goals and by increasing our ambition every five years until the job is done?
I genuinely welcome the hon. Lady’s question, and I am proud of the fact that we in the United Kingdom are united across the political divide in wanting to get an ambitious deal in Paris. I also share the hon. Lady’s view that what we need is not just a deal, but a deal that has five-year reviews as part of it, so that whatever the final deal—I really hope we will get a deal in Paris—we have some way of coming back regularly in order to reflect on the actual emissions, their consequences and perhaps on new technology that might be available to help us all to reduce them.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer and particularly for the push she will give to five-year reviews. I also very much welcome the agreement that the G7 leaders reached earlier this year to phase out pollution from fossil fuels by the end of this century and to cut greenhouse gases by between 40% and 70% by 2050 from 2010 levels. Can the Secretary of State confirm that the British Government will continue their support for the Climate Change Act 2008 and will accept the advice due to be given shortly by the independent Committee on Climate Change on what the next round of UK carbon targets—the so-called fifth carbon budget—should be?
T8. Given the ongoing complex challenges in the world, particularly Russia’s recent action in the Ukraine, can my right hon. Friend tell us what steps she is taking further to strengthen this country’s national energy security? (902215)
There is a big, liquid global gas market and we are, of course, trying to bring on our own national gas through shale. I note my hon. Friend’s concerns, and I am happy to say that we get most of our imported gas from Norway. He raises a good point, and we will keep the matter constantly under review.
T2. According to conversations that I have had with a number of energy suppliers, they have evidence suggesting that in-home displays are not used by most of the customers who are provided with them. Can the Minister explain why the Government remain wedded effectively to mandating the provision of IHDs for their smart meter roll-out, rather than allowing consumers to choose the engagement tool for managing their energy use that suits them best? (902208)
Far and away the dominant zero-carbon technology, in the United Kingdom and globally, is nuclear power. I welcomed the earlier announcement that we were working on six new stations in the UK, but an emerging technology involving small modular reactors is causing a great deal of excitement, and could make a big difference. Does the Minister expect the UK to play a part in that?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this issue. The UK gave up its ability to design and export nuclear reactors some years ago, and we are currently at the forefront of looking at new nuclear technology, including small modular reactors. I recently met representatives of the Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board to discuss some of their exciting ideas, and, subject to the spending review, I think we shall be hearing more about them.
T3. Community-led renewable energy schemes empower communities, tackle fuel poverty and provide jobs, so why is the Secretary of State sitting back and letting the Treasury do a U-turn on social investment tax relief, given that that will undermine new schemes? Does she support community energy schemes, and, if so, will she update the House on her plans to support this important part of the co-operative sector? (902209)
I can reassure the hon. Lady. I do support community energy schemes, because I think that they can add tremendous value in demonstrating the advantages of renewable energy to local communities. We shall thinking carefully about how we can support them in future, and I hope to report to the House in due course.
I commend the Secretary of State for her Power to Switch campaign, but will she commit herself to working with her colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions, so that next time the winter fuel cheques are sent out, there will be more information about Power to Switch, together with clear details of how to switch on the telephone and on paper?
My hon. Friend has raised an important point. It would indeed be a good idea for us to work more closely with the DWP to ensure that more vulnerable people are told about the opportunities that they might be missing, and I shall take the matter up with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.
T5. As the Government move the UK Green Investment Bank into private ownership, will the Secretary of State give us a clear assurance that the Government will deliver the full £3.8 billion of capitalisation that was initially pledged to the bank, so that it can continue to invest meaningfully in our green economy? (902211)
We are rightly proud of the Green Investment Bank. It is the first bank to be set up by a Government in this way, and it has played a leading role in supporting renewable energy development. I am excited about the prospect of its moving out of public ownership, raising money, and going into, as it were, the public arena. I hope that it will then provide an opportunity for more investment. As for the hon. Gentleman’s specific question, I shall have to come back to him with a detailed answer.
Earlier this month, the Government said that they would negotiate with the European Union about the 5% value-added tax on female sanitary products. Would my right hon. Friend be prepared to extend that discussion to the issue of the 5% VAT on fuel, which is an essential for most households?
T6. Following the Secretary of State’s notable speech yesterday, in which she stressed the importance of new gas-fired power stations, will she tell us what steps she is taking to assist the progress of the construction of the world’s first full-scale gas carbon capture and storage project at Peterhead power station? (902212)
The hon. Gentleman will be aware of the CCS competition that is going ahead. I have had meetings with the association which promotes that area. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the spending review is coming up and decisions will be made then, but the United Kingdom has been a keen supporter of CCS here and in other countries, and we have spent a great deal of money on trying to explore the opportunities for the UK to extend the life of our fossil fuels.
There is an application to explore for shale gas in the beautiful area of Ryedale in my constituency. Assuming the application and the exploration are successful, what assurances can the Minister offer that an expansion of the industry will not lead to an industrialisation of that beautiful area?
I can absolutely assure my hon. Friend that all onshore oil and gas projects, including shale gas projects, are subject to scrutiny through the planning system, which addresses impacts on residents such as traffic movements, noise and working hours, and that national planning guidance says that, in respect of minerals such as shale oil and gas, new developments should not just be appropriate for their location but take into account the effects of pollution, including the cumulative effects, on health, the natural environment or general amenity, and the potential sensitivity of the area. I am well aware of what a beautiful area he lives in and I assure him we are absolutely focused on that.
T7. May I urge the Minister to look carefully at the impact that any spending reductions in the nuclear sector would have on our supply chain in West Cumbria? Ahead of the spending review, will she press the Chancellor on the need to support our local supply chain through the ongoing decommissioning at Sellafield, alongside the nuclear new build at Moorside? (902213)
I am delighted to tell the hon. Lady that there are huge opportunities for West Cumbria from new nuclear. I have visited Sellafield and the new plant at Moorside. There are enormous opportunities. People are already being recruited. It is believed that, across the UK, we will need to recruit about 8,000 people a year. There are lots of new apprenticeship opportunities. Having met local councillors in the area, I know that they are very excited and positive about the opportunity.
At present, the National Grid pays out £1 billion a year in balancing charges, which is passed on to electricity users. Transmission charges are not fit for purpose. The Government have removed onshore renewable subsidies, and community energy schemes are under attack too. We have a regulation system that was designed 30 years ago. So instead of the rush for new nuclear and ad hoc ministerial announcements, is it not time the Government took a step back and had a proper strategy on energy policy?
That is exactly what I set out yesterday: a proper forward look at our energy policy. The Government are committed to delivering secure, clean and affordable energy not just in the next five years but over the next 10, 15 and 20 years. That is what a Government should do to get the best for businesses and consumers.
Gas has always been acknowledged as a bridge to a decarbonised future but the announcements made by the Secretary of State yesterday will have a cumulative effect. Can she assure us that that bridge has not lengthened and raised the risk of a stranded fleet of new gas generators in 25 years, particularly given that some analysis suggests that the emissions shortfall against the fourth carbon budget has increased from 7% to 10%?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He is right that there is a widening gap against the fourth carbon budget. I want to be clear that that is not to do with policy. The reason for that is to do with land use—something delightfully called LULUCF, or land use, land use change and forestry sector. I am aware of his views on gas and they are really the same as mine: it is indeed a low-carbon bridge but in future we hope that other sources will come forward.
The port of Immingham in my constituency depends heavily on the import of coal. Many jobs rely on that both in the port and on the rail network. What assessment has my right hon. Friend’s Department made of the loss of jobs in those associated industries, with less coal coming in as a result of coal-fired power stations closing?
I reassure my hon. Friend that that is something we intend to do, but it will be subject to a consultation. We will have the opportunity to look at that issue, but we are talking about 10 years hence, so I hope that there will be plenty of opportunities to ensure that areas can adapt and benefit from other areas of industry that will emerge.
If the Government are serious about meeting the targets on emission levels, instead of yesterday announcing the closure of the coal-fired power stations, would it not have been eminently sensible to come forward with a serious attempt at carbon capture and storage, which would enable us to burn the fossil fuels, coal and shale gas with near-zero emissions, providing secure, affordable energy for generations to come?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman in part, in that there is the opportunity for CCS to enable us to use fossil fuels for longer, but the reality is that the UK coal fleet is extremely old. All of those coal plants are due to come off in the next few years and we would not want to be building new coal-fired power stations now when there is the lower-carbon alternative of gas and the whole prospect of a clean low-carbon future.
Recent analysis shows that UK power could be almost 90% renewable by 2030, while electrifying 25% of all heating demand and putting around 12.7 million electric cars on the road, but that would require cutting demand for space heating by over 50%. That means much smaller bills, too. The Secretary of State has clearly been spending a lot of time with the Chancellor recently; can she tell us whether energy efficiency will be a Treasury infrastructure priority in the future?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I am aware of the absolute importance of getting heat right and of the fact that we need new policies in order to meet our targets and that heat is an important part of trying to reduce fuel poverty. I have proposals, and she is absolutely right that some of them are with the Chancellor. I hope to come back and make announcements in due course.
Is the Energy Secretary proud of the fact that at the beginning of December the last deep mine pit in Britain will close, under this Tory Government? Does she really believe that it makes a lot of sense to import 40 million tonnes of coal a year from countries we do not even trust, while at the same time getting rid of thousands of miners’ jobs and those of other people in the area? It is a scandal.
I agree in part with the hon. Gentleman, in that I do not think it is right for us to be importing coal from abroad. I do not think it is right for coal to have a long-term future in this country, which is why I was pleased to announce yesterday that we have put a final date on coal sourced for electricity of 2025.
I am intrigued by the answer the Minister has just given on heat policy, because it is very hard to see how we could meet our heat renewables target without substantial increases in Government spending, yet surely we expect there to be reductions in the comprehensive spending review next week. Will the Minister promise that that target will be sacrosanct, and that any reduction in funding will perhaps be met with a commensurate increase in regulation in order to make sure that we meet our 2020 targets?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. He is right that regulation is another way to approach the issue; basically, we can do so through either some form of subsidy or some form of regulation. I apologise to him, because I am going to wait and see how the cards fall before fully answering that question.
I am grateful, Mr Speaker.
The Minister said in earlier answers that she wants the renewable energy industry to be sustainable financially and commercially successful, but at the same time the Government have taken the subsidies away at a rate that has damaged the industry, and they have not applied that policy to nuclear. Surely she can see the damage being done and the inconsistency in the Government’s approach.
The hon. Gentleman will realise that there is a balance to be struck. We have seen enormous bill payer-led subsidies for onshore wind, solar and other clean carbon technologies, and there is a balance to be struck: the bill payer cannot be expected to foot the bill for an unlimited period. On nuclear, private investment is going into Hinkley C. The taxpayer will not be paying anything until that produces, and the cost per megawatt hour generated of electricity will be very competitive with present clean carbon costs.
Business of the House
The business for next week is as follows:
Monday 23 November—Consideration of an allocation of time motion, followed by all stages of the Northern Ireland (Welfare Reform) Bill.
I also expect there to be a statement on the national security strategy and the strategic defence and security review.
Tuesday 24 November—Opposition day (11th allotted day). There will be a debate on Trident, followed by a debate on HMRC office closures. Both debates will arise on a motion in the name of the Scottish National party, followed by a motion to approve a European document relating to restrictive measures against Iran.
Wednesday 25 November—Second Reading of the Childcare Bill [Lords], and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will deliver his joint autumn statement and spending review.
Thursday 26 November—General debate on the final report of the Airports Commission. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 27 November—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 30 November will include:
Monday 30 November—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Tuesday 1 December—Remaining stages of the Immigration Bill, followed by a debate on a motion relating to the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill.
Wednesday 2 December—Opposition day (12th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Thursday 3 December—Second Reading of the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill [Lords].
Friday 4 December—Private Members’ Bills.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 26 November and 30 November will be:
Thursday 26 November—General debate on the north-east devolution deal.
Monday 30 November—Debate on an e-petition relating to a tax on sugary drinks.
Last night I was in Colchester, where Nick Alexander, the 36-year-old man who was killed while he was at work selling rock merchandise in the Bataclan concert hall, went to school and where he ran a popular club night. I know that all our hearts go out to his family and friends, as they do to so many in Paris, in Baghdad and in Beirut. Of course we remember the valour of the emergency services and of the members of the public who have become unintended heroes at these moments, but should we not also pay tribute to the journalists, who have often had to stare the brutal truth of murderous radicalism in the eye and bring it to our attention? As Emile Zola said:
“It is not I who am strong; it is reason, it is truth.”
I am sure that the whole House will also want to send its heartfelt sympathy to the families of the two people killed in the explosion at the Celsa Steel factory in Cardiff yesterday.
May I ask the Leader of the House why he has still not given us any dates for next year’s recesses? It would be particularly useful for all hon. Members to be able to start making plans for next year, and I can see no reason why we should be halfway through November before the Leader of the House provides us with that information.
The Leader of the House has provided us with a single day for all the remaining stages of the Immigration Bill, on 1 December, but the Government promised that they would publish the review by Stephen Shaw of the welfare of detainees in immigration removal centres before the Bill completed its passage. It must surely be right that we in this House consider Mr Shaw’s findings before signing the Bill off. Will the Leader of the House guarantee that the report will be published in plenty of time before 1 December?
Will the Leader of the House also allow time for a three-day debate on the autumn statement? I have asked this question before, and he will probably say no, but I am going to try again. Parliamentary scrutiny of Government spending is particularly shoddy. It is extremely cursory at the best of times. Billions of pounds are pushed through on the nod and amendments are allowed only if they are tabled by a Minister. The Government are now preparing the most aggressive assault on public services in this country since the second world war, yet the Leader of the House seems to think that a mere two-hour question-and-answer session will provide plenty of scrutiny for some of the most far-reaching measures our constituents will face during this Parliament.
The Government have already tried to be too clever by half, by pushing the tax credits cuts through in secondary legislation, so we will be going over the Chancellor’s plans with a fine-toothed comb, not least because we have listened to the Prime Minister very closely this week and he keeps saying that the counter-terrorism budget will be protected. We are delighted by that, but even the Prime Minister has been lobbying the Thames Valley police force against local cuts to front-line services, and Robert Quick, the former head of counter-terrorism at the Metropolitan police, has said that planned cuts to the wider police budget
“will make Britain more vulnerable to terrorism.”
It is the first duty of Government to protect the people, so surely that single sentence should make the Government think twice.
In South Wales alone, we have lost 284 full-time police officers, and further cuts will lead to another 300 being lost. I am sure that every Member in the House could produce similar figures for their own local police force. At a time when the Secretary of State for Wales has pointed to the dangers of radicalisation there, and when Cardiff and Swansea regularly host major sporting events, would it not be a real dereliction of duty yet again to cut police budgets by more than the 5% that police forces have already agreed?
We also want to look at the Government’s travel costs when we are looking at expenditure, in the light of the news today that they are planning to go ahead with “call me Dave airways”. I mention that because when the Leader of the House was shadow Transport Secretary, he told the BBC, responding to the idea that a special jet should be set aside for the Prime Minister, then Mr Blair, that this was
“the wrong moment to be splashing out taxpayers’ money on funding the government to travel in style”.
What on earth has changed? Is it just that the Leader of the House has changed his job, and now that he has a ministerial car he has got used to it and wants everybody else to travel in style? Is it that, suddenly, there is lots more cash to be splashed around in government? Or is it that he has become something of a Liberal Democrat? We all know what the Lib Dems did in the last Government: they voted things through in Parliament and then went back to their constituencies and campaigned against them. That is exactly what he seems to do now. We never thought that he was a Liberal Democrat, but perhaps there always was one inside him.
May we also have a debate on Foreign Office funding for bilateral groups? The Franco-British Council was formed 43 years ago, but this August the Minister for Europe wrote to its secretary-general, Ann Kenrick, telling her that its grant will be cut from £100,000 a year by more than 80%. The council’s most recent seminar was organised by a Muslim school teacher, Samia Essabaa, who was in the Stade de France with pupils last Friday. It hopes that its next seminar will be on “Tackling Islamic radicalisation”. Surely this kind of work is worth the £100,000 a year that the council has been receiving and is not due for a cut—it is certainly worth more than a special jet for the Prime Minister.
On Syria, we in the Labour party stand ready to listen, because everyone wants an end to the civil war, the defeat of ISIL, the end of the Assad regime and the safe return of the refugees. The Prime Minister said that he will respond to the Foreign Affairs Committee in the next few days. When does the Leader of the House expect this to be? Will he ensure that the House has time to digest that reply before any motion is put to it? May I also urge him to make provision for a two-day debate when it comes to any formal Government proposal? When the House was summoned back on the 28 August 2013, we had a seven-and-a-half-hour debate. That was exceptional because the day did not start with questions, yet even so there was a five-minute limit on speeches, which was reduced to three minutes after 8 pm. Surely, when we are debating such matters it is vital that hon. Members can make proper contributions, and we should have a two-day debate.
On Friday, Mr Speaker, as you know, the UK national Youth Parliament sat in this Chamber under your chairmanship. Last year’s Youth Parliament chose mental health as its campaign for the year, on the back of which the Youth Select Committee, helped by the House of Commons staff, published its report this week entitled “Young People’s Mental Health”. It is an excellent report, which argues that mental health is as important as physical health and says that more than half of all mental ill health starts before the age of 14. It also refers to the stigma of mental ill health as the greatest battle of all. Today is international men’s day, and it is a sad fact that suicide is still the biggest killer of men between the ages of 20 and 49 in England and Wales. Young gay men are six times more likely than their straight counterparts to take their own lives. Is it not incumbent on all of us to tackle the root causes of mental ill health, to protect the vulnerable and to end the stigma which is all too often attached to it?
I start by echoing the shadow Leader of the House’s words about the events in Paris and the tragic death of Nick Alexander. We should also extend our good wishes to those who have been wounded and traumatised, both British nationals and French. We wish a speedy recovery to all those who are still in hospital in Paris.
As a former journalist and somebody who has worked alongside some of the most heroic journalists of the past generation, I echo the shadow Leader of the House’s words about journalists, too. They go into some of the most dangerous situations in the world, and some pay with their lives. We always owe them a debt of gratitude for the information they provide and the light they shine on some of the most barbaric practices in the world.
Although we do not, and indeed should not, talk about the security of this House, I would like to say to Members that, in the wake of the Paris attacks, our security officials, the House of Commons Commission and all those involved in running this place are well aware of the challenges that we face, and always seek to take appropriate measures. I hope that hon. Members, and the staff who work here, are always reassured that those officials are doing everything they can on their behalf. We also owe a debt of gratitude to the armed police and to all the security staff who provide protection for this heart of our democracy.
I echo the words and condolences of the shadow Leader of the House following the tragic explosion in Cardiff. Our good wishes and sincere sympathies go out to the families of those involved.
The shadow Leader of the House has always been keen to focus on anniversaries. Will he, and the Scottish National party, join me in celebrating the 21st anniversary of another great Conservative social reform? He has talked about it recently, as has the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). It is the 21st birthday of the national lottery, which has provided important support in the constituencies of the shadow Leader of the House, SNP Members and others. It makes a real difference to local communities, and I praise all of those who, over those 21 years, have been involved in developing the national lottery and supporting local projects, and securing lottery funding for important local causes.
On the recess dates, all I can say to the shadow Leader of the House is that, of course, we will provide those dates as soon as possible, but he will understand that it is incumbent on any Government—indeed on all Members of this House—to put securing the important business of this nation ahead of time off in our constituencies and on holidays. We will ensure that we can deliver the changes that this country needs, and then we will seek to deliver the dates of the recesses as soon as we practically can.
On the report on immigration removal centres, I will ensure that the hon. Gentleman’s concerns are drawn to the attention of the Home Secretary ahead of the Immigration Bill.
The hon. Gentleman asked for a three-day debate on the autumn statement. Let me remind him that he has an Opposition day coming up, and I have just announced further time for the Backbench Business Committee. There is no shortage of time available for Opposition parties and for Members of this House to secure debates on topics of concern. We have given more time control to Members of this House outside the Government than any previous Government. It is of course open to the hon. Gentleman to debate any subject that he wishes.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the challenges of the spending review. He really should remember why we have to take those decisions. We are still sorting out the problems that we inherited from the years of Labour Government under Gordon Brown. The Opposition always conveniently forget that. We on the Government Benches might treat them more seriously if they had a sign at all of having an economic policy of their own. Frankly, I am completely confused about where they stand now. Is it the party leadership that controls economic policy, or is it the shadow Chancellor or those on the Back Benches? The messages that we get are so mixed that none of us has any idea at all.
The shadow Leader of the House talked about extra money for security, and I am grateful to members of the Labour party for giving their support to the additional funding that we have said we will provide for our security services. That is enormously important. He will have to wait for the details of the spending review. As regards policing, I simply remind him that we have had to make some difficult decisions about police funding over the past few years. Police forces up and down the country have responded admirably to that, and have delivered quality policing at a lower price. Crime has fallen, and is continuing to fall.
The shadow Leader of the House talked about today’s announcement on Government transport. If we look at what was proposed back in the years of a Labour Government, we will find that they were going to spend £100 million on two brand-new aircraft. Even then, that would have been a travesty and a complete waste of public money. We are spending a small fraction of that, upgrading an existing aircraft to save money for the taxpayer. That is the difference between our two parties. They spend, spend, spend and we deliver value for the taxpayer.
The Prime Minister said yesterday that he will look at Foreign Office funding for bilateral groups, and I am sure that he will respond on that in due course. On Syria, he has promised to respond fully to the Foreign Affairs Committee, and he will do so in the next few days. It is a sign of how seriously he takes this matter that he is making a personal response to the Syrian situation. Of course, once that response is there and it has been considered by the House, we can decide how to take matters forward, but the hon. Gentleman will have to wait for that response.
As my right hon. Friend knows, Plymouth will be the centre of attention for the Mayflower celebrations in 2020. I remind him that this was when the British went to found the American colonies. I recently met my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. May we have a debate on those important celebrations and how they can boost tourism to the UK, and in particular to Plymouth and the south-west?
My hon. Friend continues to be an admirable champion not only for the city of Plymouth, but for its heritage. He has done more than any representative of that city in recent years to promote it as an historic centre and I commend him for that. We have Culture, Media and Sport questions next week and I am sure he will use the opportunity to raise this again. I send all my good wishes to those in Plymouth who are preparing for this important anniversary, and I wish my hon. Friend well for his continued support for the heritage of the constituency and the city he represents.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. I associate myself with the remarks made and the condolences offered following the events in Paris last week and the events in Cardiff. I associate the Scottish National party with the comments about the staff of the House who work so hard to ensure that we continue to be safe and who do so in such a friendly, pleasant and accommodating way. Everyone in the House should recognise those attributes of the people who keep us safe every day.
I noticed a few ripples of excitement and anticipation ahead of the Scottish National party’s debates next week. The Trident debate offers an opportunity for all parties in the House to clarify their position in advance of the critical decision that is going to be taken about Trident main gate. We know the Conservative position. The Conservatives love their nukes and they are quite happy to spend £167 billion on obscene weapons of mass destruction—a cold war weapon that cannot even start to defend us from the range of threats that we face. We know the Scottish National party position and our historic opposition to that, and we will suggest a number of ways in which £167 billion might be more usefully spent on social projects. Who knows, we might even find out what the Labour party thinks about Trident, although I am not holding out any great expectation of that. If I am right, I think Labour is both for and against, uncertain and unsure about Trident. When it comes to the vote next week, I think Labour Members might be for, against, maybe for and maybe for abstention. That roughly categorises the Labour position on Trident and we look forward to hearing from Labour Members next week.
When are we going to have the debate on Syria that is due? Yesterday, when I closed my eyes, I could swear that I heard the voice and the words of Tony Blair coming from the Prime Minister, without a care about UN resolutions—the position that the former Prime Minister took—and not caring less about public opinion. We saw how that worked out for the former Prime Minister. If we are going down the Blairite route towards further military action without UN authorisation, may we have some sort of statement and clarity from the Government?
I am pleased that we have a debate on Thursday next week on the Airports Commission. It might be an opportune time to bring up the little issue of the Prime Minister’s plans for his own personal air travel—Air Force One, brought to you in association with Bullingdon airways and etonJet. It is an incredible vanity project when, the day before, the Chancellor will be standing at the Dispatch Box with his latest round of misery for those who are the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in our communities.
I know that the Leader of the House likes his anniversaries, as does the shadow Leader of the House. Yes, we welcome the 21 years of the national lottery. It is just a pity that the Government are cutting the Big Lottery Fund by some 40%, as was announced this week. Here is another anniversary for them: it is one year since Nicola Sturgeon took over the helm of the Scottish National party, and what a year it has been. We have 56 out of the 59 MPs from Scotland. We are still north of 50% in opinion polls on the Holyrood elections next year, and we have personal satisfaction ratings in Scotland way beyond anything that has been seen by either of the main parties down here. So I am pretty certain the Leader of the House would like to pay tribute to the success of the First Minister and all that she has achieved in the past year.
The hon. Gentleman had more acclaim from his Back Benchers than the Leader of the Opposition had yesterday from his Back Benchers. On Trident, I do not understand either where Labour stands. It is utterly confusing. Indeed, we had the extraordinary position on yesterday’s “Daily Politics” show where the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), when asked if he had confidence in his party leader, said, “I have confidence in Hilary Benn.” That speaks volumes. I am not surprised: I am completely confused about what Labour stands for. The shadow Defence Secretary, the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), is saying that she supports Trident, but Labour appointed somebody who opposes Trident to co-chair its defence review with her. I therefore understand the hon. Gentleman’s confusion. Perhaps next week we will discover a little more about what Labour’s policy is.
I gently chide the hon. Gentleman about the contradictions in the debate subjects he has chosen for next week. For half the day, he will argue that we should pull a really vital national resource out of Scotland, costing thousands of jobs and leaving an important part of Scotland a wasteland, yet for the other half he will complain about our making necessary reductions in HMRC and worrying about that costing jobs in Scotland. I do not quite understand how he squares those two things. I think that our defence industry plays a really important part not only in the Scottish economy but in defending our nation. The SNP’s position is utterly contradictory.
The hon. Gentleman asked about Syria. I simply say that he is going to have to wait for the Prime Minister’s response. The Prime Minister has said that he will respond personally to the Foreign Affairs Committee. This is the first time he has made a personal response of this kind, and the House needs to wait to see that. We will address the issues once the House has had a chance to digest the report.
The hon. Gentleman made mention of the plane. The difference between us—not just between us and Labour but between us and the SNP—is that when we make a change of this kind it is designed to save money. This will reduce Government travel costs, and that is surely the right thing to do. The Scotsman reported last year that when Nicola Sturgeon was in charge of transport she never travelled by rail but always by chauffeur-driven car. I travelled to work this morning by train, and it was late, which was frustrating. I get the train each day, and perhaps the First Minister should have done the same.
The hon. Gentleman talks about Nicola Sturgeon’s first anniversary and the achievements of the SNP over the past 12 months. We all recognise the successes it has had, but I think he slightly underplays his own contribution. It is a team effort, so he should give himself a bit of a pat on the back and not just Nicola Sturgeon.
St Francis special school in Fareham was broken into three times over the half term and vandalised again last weekend, causing over £15,000 of damage and forcing it to close. Will my right hon. Friend join me in appealing to people with more information to come forward to Fareham police—they will be treated anonymously—and in applauding the resilience of the headmaster, Steve Hollinghurst, and the many local residents who raised over £9,000 to help the school open this week?
This was a shocking incident. It is always absolutely dreadful when a community facility or a school is a target of crime, and it is inexcusable. Yet it is also a sign of the strength not only of the community that my hon. Friend represents but, when these things happen around the country, of other communities elsewhere, that people rally round and help fix the problem. We condemn unreservedly those who carry out such callous acts, but at the same time it is a tribute to the strength of community in this country that people respond in the way they do. I pay tribute to her also for her part in that.
Tomorrow is the second anniversary of Hull being granted UK city of culture status for 2017. The science museum receives £20 million-worth of taxpayers’ money, but it has told Hull that it is not possible to move the Gypsy Moth airplane that Hull’s Amy Johnson flew to Australia in 1930—the first woman to do so—to Hull for the Amy Johnson festival in 2016, leading into the 2017 celebrations. May we have a debate on the obligations on national arts organisations and museums to work with Hull leading up to city of culture 2017, and to ensure that Hull’s history is actually displayed in Hull?
First, let me congratulate the city of Hull on its achievements. I had some sight of the city of culture year in Liverpool a few years ago, and thought that city did a fantastic job. I also saw the impetus that it can create within a city. I am sure that if Hull goes through the same process of preparation—and excitement, frankly—about the city of culture year, it will be a great boost to the city.
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will be here next week. The hon. Lady will want to raise the issue again, so I will make sure that he is made aware of her comments today. She is absolutely right to say that I would hope and expect our great national museums and other institutions to play their part in supporting our regions as well as being centres of national excellence.
Tomorrow, the Lancet commission on liver disease will produce a report highlighting the enormous impact and financial cost of that disease in this country. May we have a debate or a statement from a Minister from the Department of Health on what the Government propose to do to deal with this critical problem?
I pay tribute to all those involved in producing the report, which the Department of Health intends to take seriously and to study carefully. Given that there is widespread concern across the House about the issue, perhaps my hon. Friend could secure a debate either through the Backbench Business Committee or in Westminster Hall, in order to get a Health Minister to debate the issues closely.
I am grateful to the Leader of the House for the business statement. There will be a Backbench Business Committee debate on the Airports Commission next Thursday. I also thank him for giving notice of the business on 30 November, which has been allocated to the Backbench Business Committee. He can be assured that the Committee has an ample supply of applications and business to fill the time.
I thank the Leader of the House for reminding us of the 21st anniversary of the national lottery. My constituency of Gateshead has benefited greatly from the national lottery, through funding for the arts and other areas. It has given £100 million to projects such as the Sage Gateshead, the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art and the Gateshead millennium bridge, which have transformed the riverscape on the Gateshead side of the Tyne river.
I disagree with the Leader of the House about one thing, though. With or without Trident, I do not think that the area around Faslane could ever be described as being a wasteland. It is beautiful countryside.
There was never any doubt about the beauty of the countryside in western Scotland or, indeed, in Scotland as a whole. It is a fantastic part of this country where we would all wish to spend time. However, if such an important facility were lost to western Scotland, the impact on the local economy of emptying the site, which is an important part of that local economy, and letting it go to waste would be a tragedy. That is why I disagree with the Scottish nationalists about the economic impact on Scotland, quite apart from the defence impact on the nation as a whole. I am afraid that is one area where we will not be with the SNP.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments on the national lottery. We should also pay tribute to Sir John Major, whose idea it was and who made it a reality. Twenty-one years later, I think that is an achievement to be celebrated.
May we please have a debate about the northern powerhouse? A ComRes survey reported this week that 44% of people in the north of England had never heard of it and that a further 20% had heard of it but knew nothing about it, so a debate would provide an opportunity at least to increase awareness.
That is a very good idea. Perhaps we could suggest it to the Backbench Business Committee. The national lottery is a great Conservative achievement from 21 years ago, and perhaps we could use a debate to celebrate a great Conservative achievement today. Finally we have a Government who are really determined to drive up economic activity in the north, compared with the last Labour Government, under whom the proportion of manufacturing industry in our economy fell by half and the north bore a disproportionate brunt of it.
In this age of austerity, I am sure the Leader of the House is as astonished as I am that my local authority, Stoke-on-Trent City Council, which is run by a City Independents and Conservative coalition, has reportedly just spent £500,000 on getting rid of its chief executive. May we have, as a matter of urgency, a debate in Government time on golden parachutes in the public sector?
Every local council is accountable to its local electors for the decisions it takes. None of us would ever wish to see local authorities spending money unnecessarily, but, of course, I have no idea about the nature of the contract and the circumstances behind that pay-off, so it would be wrong of me to comment on it.
On Monday, my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) said that he would like the Procedure Committee to make recommendations to enable this House to choose its own representatives to international organisations. Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the Government will not stand in the way of such a process? My hon. Friend asked that question on Monday, but did not receive a reply.
I have great respect for the Chair of the Procedure Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), and I would not dare to try to tell him what or what not to study. I have no doubt at all that if he chooses to look at this issue, he will do so. It is certainly not for me to intervene to tell him what he should or should not do.
May I, too, put on the record my condolences to the victims of the explosion at the Celsa steelworks yesterday, in the neighbouring constituency to mine in Cardiff?
On China, may we have a debate about continuing Chinese abuses of human rights, particularly the case of Gui Haiming, who has disappeared along with three other employees of publishers Sage Communications in Hong Kong, which publishes books critical of the Chinese communist elite? Should not we in this country be doing more to raise such issues of human rights abuses by the Chinese regime, particularly when we are looking to develop our relationship with that country?
One of the things we were able to do during the recent visit was to raise concerns about human rights with the Chinese leadership. It remains the Government’s view that we are more likely to be able to influence change by engagement than by disengagement with China. The Foreign Secretary will be in the Chamber for Foreign Office questions on Tuesday, and the hon. Gentleman will no doubt use that opportunity to raise the issue again. The Government will always raise concerns about human rights with other nations where it is necessary and appropriate to do so.
Some time ago, Harrow council decided to outsource the designation of disabled parking badges. The result has been that an increasing number of aged, infirm and extremely vulnerable individuals have had their applications for renewing their blue badges rejected with no recourse to an appeal. May we have a debate in Government time on the implementation of disabled parking so that we can explore its operation right across this country? There is nothing more infuriating than to see someone who is clearly not disabled park in a disabled bay, while at the same time disabled people cannot park and access shops or other facilities.
Another aspect of what my hon. Friend is talking about is that when we go into car parks, we very often see vast numbers of empty disabled spaces, while, as we all know, constituents who need blue badges are struggling to get them. This is really an area in which local authorities should apply common sense. There is no point in having large numbers of empty disabled spaces without people who could use them being able to access them. He is absolutely right, and he may wish to bring this issue before the House in the form of an Adjournment debate. I hope that simply raising it today will send a message to local authorities that we want them to be smart about this issue.
Earlier this week, the Prime Minister announced an extra £2 billion of funding for special forces. We only have 450 in our special forces. Apparently, the money is to be used to buy equipment—protection equipment, vehicles, including helicopters, and night fighting equipment. May we have a debate on whether this is new money or money diverted from the wider defence budget, and on whether or not it is time—given that the Prime Minister now has his own private army, by the sound of it—to widen and make more open parliamentary oversight of special forces?
I must say that I think the Prime Minister’s “private army” is a pretty disparaging way to describe some of the most heroic people in our armed forces. We are providing the money necessary to enable an elite and brave group of people to defend this country against the appalling activities we have seen in France in recent days. I am proud that this is a Government who do the right thing in such areas. The hon. Lady will have plenty of time to question the Chancellor about his spending plans next week, but we will always do the right thing to try to protect our citizens.
Employees at Fairline in my constituency are understandably very worried by last week’s announcement of job losses. Unfortunately, Fairline will not engage with me, the employees or the unions. May we have a debate on the responsibilities and obligations on companies such as Fairline to engage with employees and the communities affected, and to do what they can to ensure we can get the right support to the right people at the right time?
I always think that employers make a big mistake when they act as my hon. Friend suggests they have in his constituency. The fact that he has raised this issue today will be noticed outside. It does reputational damage to the companies concerned. I would encourage any employer to do the right thing by their employees and the communities in which they operate, even when they have to take difficult decisions. If they do not, they will pay the price in the end.
Age Sector Platform and the pensioners’ parliament in Northern Ireland have passed various resolutions over the past few years, asking for the warm home discount scheme to be extended to Northern Ireland. So far, that has not happened. It would be an important measure in mitigating fuel poverty. Is it possible to have a debate on that proposal, which would impact on a large number of older people throughout Northern Ireland?
May we have a debate on the national health service? I am proud to support a Government that are investing an additional £10 billion in the service in this Parliament, that are giving mental health parity with physical health and that introduced the cancer drugs fund. A debate would help us to expose the reality of Labour’s rhetoric. Of course, in Wales, where it is in control, it is cutting the NHS.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. The health service faces enormous challenges, such as the ageing population and keeping up with new solutions to health problems. That is why it is right and proper that we have committed to provide the £8 billion that Simon Stevens asked for over the course of this Parliament to help him deliver his plans for change in the health service and why it is right that we have committed to deliver more mental health funding. My hon. Friend is right that the contrast between health services in England and in Wales—one run by the Conservatives and one by Labour—is there for all to see. I hope that everyone in this country learns that lesson.
The Leader of the House may be aware that the Trussell Trust, which runs 425 food banks in this country, put out its mid-year statistics yesterday for April to September 2015. North Enfield food bank gave 2,465 three-day emergency food supplies to people in crisis in Enfield, 990 of which were given to children. May we have an early debate in this House on the Government policies that are widening the gap significantly between rich and poor, and driving so many children into abject poverty?
First, let me pay tribute to all the volunteers who work in food banks around the country. Food banks are not unique to the United Kingdom and are used more extensively in countries such as Germany. They do good work in helping people to overcome crises in their lives. However, I say to the right hon. Lady that it is simply not the case that the gap between rich and poor is widening. Inequality is falling, unemployment is falling sharply and the number of children growing up in workless households has fallen sharply. This country is moving in the right direction, not the wrong one.
We do not need a debate on what is the ugliest building in Britain because it is the bus station in the centre of Preston. It would therefore be helpful to have a debate on why Labour-controlled Lancashire County Council has spent £23 million restoring that concrete monstrosity, while proposing to shut libraries and museums in my Rossendale constituency.
I have visited the bus station in Preston and I know exactly what my hon. Friend means, although I suspect that such a competition would attract entries from around the House. When a local authority gets it wrong, as he suggests the Labour council in Lancashire has done, it will pay a price electorally. Our colleagues in Lancashire will highlight the failings of that authority and explain why it needs to change.
May I associate myself with the comments of right hon. and hon. Members about the tragic accident at Celsa in Cardiff yesterday? Last week, two teenagers received custodial sentences from a Cardiff youth court following an incident with a BB gun, despite the sale of such imitation weapons to under-18s being illegal. May we have a debate on the current law governing the possession and sale of imitation weapons, because it is clearly not working?
This is a serious issue because, as the hon. Lady knows, weapons that have been deactivated can be reactivated, and a weapon that has been sold as unusable can become usable. I am sure that the Home Secretary is taking that broader issue seriously, and I will ensure that the specific point raised is drawn to her attention. In the meantime, I hope that the police will seek to take action against the person who sold that weapon.
Next week’s business includes the Northern Ireland (Welfare Reform) Bill—I see that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is in the Chamber. Is the Leader of the House concerned that such legislation is coming through this House rather than the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly?
Let me take advantage of that question to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Northern Ireland Secretary who has worked tirelessly in recent weeks to try to find a solution to a complex and difficult problem. The Bill before the House on Monday is an outcome of those talks, and it has the support of all parties in Northern Ireland. I understand that a legislative consent motion for it passed through the Assembly yesterday, and I hope that Members across the House, and in the other place, will come together next week to enact the Bill speedily. When politics in Northern Ireland reaches a resolution and agreement, it is beholden on us all to ensure that we put that agreement in place as quickly as we can.
Last Thursday, Boulby Potash announced that it would make 700 of its 1,000 miners redundant by 2018, including 350 redundancies with immediate effect. That comes off the back of announcements by Caparo, SSI, Johnson Matthey, and other redundancies that amass to about 5,000 private and public sector jobs that, in the past two months, have either gone or will soon go. To deal properly with that situation, may we have a debate or statement on the Government’s review of carbon capture and storage programmes? Teesside is an excellent candidate for CCS, and we could create a new renaissance in industrial activity in the area and attract private investment directly to the Tees valley.
Any large-scale job loss in this country—indeed, any job loss—is unwelcome, and the Government will work with all those in Teesside and other areas who have been affected by recent developments. We will do everything possible to ease the immediate impact of those job losses, and to secure appropriate investment to replace jobs that are lost. That will always be our priority. The Prime Minister said yesterday that CCS is being considered by the Department of Energy and Climate Change. We have just had questions to DECC, and if the hon. Gentleman did not have the opportunity to raise that issue with the Secretary of State, I will ensure that she is made aware of his concerns. She will no doubt bring forward further information about her plans in due course.
May we have an urgent debate or statement on the junior doctors dispute, given that 98% of junior doctors who voted have voted overwhelmingly for a full strike? The turnout was 76%, which is satisfactory by anyone’s standards. Is the Health Secretary’s position tenable, given that he has clearly lost the confidence of our junior doctors?
Will consideration be given to a debate on abated military pensions for those who left the armed forces before 1975? Many constituents have contacted me about that issue, and it affects more than 40,000 veterans across the UK.
By happy coincidence, questions to the Ministry of Defence take place next Monday. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman raises that issue directly with the Secretary of State, and I will ensure that he is made aware that the matter is likely to be raised.
May I associate myself with the remarks made by my hon. Friends about the industrial accident in Cardiff? On the Friday before last, my private Member’s Bill—the Off-patent Drugs Bill—was talked out by a Minister at the Dispatch Box, despite having support from expert opinion, public opinion, and across the House. Early this week a Minister from the Department of Health said that the Government share the ambitions of my Bill, so will the Leader of the House find Government time to debate the important issue of off-patent drugs, and also to consider the way in which private Member’s Bills are handled?
This issue has been debated and the Government’s position was that legislation was not necessary. We share some of the hon. Gentleman’s aspirations. Health Ministers will continue to look at the issues he raised in that debate. He will no doubt find other opportunities to pursue them, if he feels they are not being addressed.
Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ Welsh language customer service unit is currently located in Porthmadog, a town in Gwynedd where the majority of the population is Welsh speaking. It is therefore a very convenient place for the Welsh-speaking staff and the majority of people who are likely to use HMRC services through the medium of Welsh. The service is to be moved from Porthmadog to Cardiff, which is four hours away on a good day in a car. May we have a debate on the impact of the proposed HMRC changes on Welsh-speaking jobs and services, and jobs as a whole, throughout Wales?
By happy coincidence, there is such a debate next Tuesday, as part of the Scottish National party Opposition day. The Government are well aware of the sensitivities in ensuring that we provide services for Welsh speakers. There is a need to ensure that HMRC operates in as an efficient way as possible. The hon. Lady would want us to deliver value for money for the taxpayers she represents but, as the restructuring takes place, HMRC will ensure it can continue to provide an appropriate Welsh language service for those in Wales who need it.
This House was united in reaction to the dreadful events in Paris last week and in making clear that they had nothing to do with Muslim communities, such as the one that I represent. Does the Leader of the House therefore share my disgust at the appalling cartoon published in a national newspaper this week, which portrayed Muslim refugees as rats and featured crude racist stereotypes reminiscent of anti-Semitic bigotry that once faced Jewish refugees? Will he provide an opportunity for the House to make it clear that this kind of hatred should have no place in our national conversation?
I did not see the cartoon the hon. Lady mentions, but let me be absolutely clear that the events that took place in Paris were not representative of the Muslim community, either in France or anywhere else in the world. The vast, vast, vast majority of Muslim people are decent, God-fearing, law-abiding people who work hard for their families and do the right thing in their communities. None of us should ever have anything to do with a narrative that suggests otherwise. There is a tiny minority of people who come from Muslim countries who, in my view, besmirch the Muslim faith through an ideology that is among the most unpleasant we have ever experienced in the history of mankind. It should be resisted at all costs.
For nearly two years, my constituent William Irving has been detained in Chennai, where he is undergoing a second trial for piracy despite the charge having previously been dropped. I wrote to the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the right hon. Member for East Devon (Mr Swire), on 22 October to request a meeting, and to the Foreign Secretary on 2 November, in relation to this case. Neither has yet responded, so may we have a statement in the House on whether the Government will commit to providing every assistance to Billy and his shipmates, and to ensuring a speedy turnaround of their passport applications to allow them to return home to their families as quickly as possible at the conclusion of their trial?
I know the hon. Lady is particularly concerned about this case. She has raised it with me before. The Foreign Secretary and the Minister are both here early next week for questions. I will make sure they are aware of her concern that she has not received a response. If they have not been able to respond by then, I hope she will be able to get a response from them then.
There is an epidemic of addiction to prescription drugs in my constituency and it has been brought to my attention that there is a black market in GP prescriptions. If that is happening in Wansbeck, it will be happening across the country in different constituencies. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate to discuss this deeply disturbing development?
I was not aware of that problem, but I absolutely take on board the hon. Gentleman’s point. It would be an extremely serious matter, not only for the people addicted in his community, but for the financing of the local health service, and we should not tolerate it for one moment. I will make the Health Secretary aware of his concerns, and if he was to write to him with more detail, I would ask the Health Secretary to look out for the letter and give it proper and immediate attention.