House of Commons
Thursday 7 January 2016
The House met at half-past Nine o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Energy and Climate Change
The Secretary of State was asked—
A reformed domestic supplier obligation—ECO, or energy company obligation—from April 2017, which will run for five years, will upgrade the energy efficiency of more than 200,000 homes per year, tackling the root cause of fuel poverty. Our extension of the warm home discount to 2020-21 at current levels of £320 million per annum will also help vulnerable households with their energy bills. We intend to focus our efforts through ECO and the warm home discount more effectively on the fuel poor, and will be consulting on our future approach this spring.
I thank the Minister for her answer. Fuel poverty is a sign of inequality. New research by the national charity Turn2us has found that one in two low-income households are struggling to afford their energy costs, despite being in work. Many of these households rely on in-work social assistance. Has she or her Cabinet colleagues made an assessment of the effect of welfare reform on low-income households judged to be in fuel poverty?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. My Department works closely with the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure that the support we give goes to the most vulnerable. Energy costs are always at the centre of our minds in this Government, in order to make sure we put as little pressure as possible on hard-pushed households, and that will remain so.
When Hastings, Motherwell and the rest of the United Kingdom vote to leave the European Union in the referendum, we will be able to abolish the 5% VAT on domestic fuel bills, which will really help those suffering from fuel poverty. Would my right hon. Friend welcome that?
My hon. Friend will be aware that this Government are always focused on ensuring that bills are kept down for householders in all constituencies. I would tactfully suggest that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor might have something to say about reducing VAT income on such a service.
Evidence has suggested that rural communities are disproportionately adversely affected by fuel poverty. One way of combating that is through the development of domestic energy syndicates and the collective purchasing of oil. What proactively could and should the Department be doing to support such initiatives?
The hon. Gentleman is right in what he says, and we do ensure that there is a focus, through ECO, on rural areas, which often face the largest problem with fuel poverty. My Department works closely with various community energy schemes to ensure that we assist them, be that in group buying or in setting up their own renewable energy schemes, and we will continue to do so.
I do not share my hon. Friend’s view. I think it is essential that energy supplies are a mix, and that means a combination of fossil fuels, for now, and renewable energy. Investing in renewable energy is an essential part of energy security, as well as of decarbonising and meeting those targets.
Paris Climate Conference
3. What assessment she has made of the implications for her policies of the outcomes of the COP 21 climate conference in Paris. (902820)
We are currently considering the implications of the Paris outcome domestically and with our EU partners. Our 2050 target of at least an 80% reduction in emissions from a 1990 baseline is already set in statute. We are committed to meeting it, and I look forward to setting out this Government’s proposals and policies for meeting our carbon targets later this year.
The floods over the past few weeks are a reminder of the effects of climate change and, as we have known for a while, these extreme weather events are here to stay. Given the Government’s proclaimed UK ambition at the Paris climate change talks, why at the same time were they undermining policies on, for example, subsidies for renewables and low-carbon technologies?
I do not accept that we are undermining those policies. What we are trying to do is get the right balance to support policies—to support renewable energy—while also looking after bill payers and ensuring that not too much is added to their bills. I also remind the hon. Lady that the UK is responsible for 1% of the world’s emissions, and the success at Paris was that we were dealing with nearly 100% of the world’s emissions. That is where we will get the real difference and change on carbon emissions.
I hope the Secretary of State will agree that delivering the Paris climate agreement requires a cross-departmental and economy-wide approach. If that is the case, will she explain why there appears to be absolutely no mention of climate change in the remit of the National Infrastructure Commission? Will she urge her colleagues to remedy that, and confirm that the urgent need for rapid decarbonisation will be a non-negotiable criterion for every single one of its projects?
I thank the hon. Lady for bringing up the National Infrastructure Commission. I have had a preliminary meeting with the head of it, and know that it will shortly be consulting on which projects to prioritise. The project that it has already said it will be looking at in our sector—interconnectors and systems operations—will be important for delivering on our decarbonising future, and will play an important role in achieving cross-party consensus on making the much-needed investment in infrastructure.
The Secretary of State will be aware that the legally binding UK commitment is about 30% to 40% faster than that signed up to by the rest of the EU in Paris. Indeed, some countries in the EU, such as Austria, have increased their emissions by something like 20% since 1990. What discussions does she plan to have with her colleagues in Europe on getting their processes up to the same level as those of the UK?
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. The fact is that the UK is leading in this area in terms of not only our ambition through the Climate Change Act 2008, but the structure of the delivery of our decarbonising—the five-year review and the transparency of the regime. I will be having conversations with my colleagues in Europe to ensure that they too step up and participate in the important effort-sharing decision that will take place this year.
17. The Secretary of State’s words are one thing, but credibility with the public is another. Wirral constituents are worried about both jobs in renewables and our real commitment as a country to the agreement we made in Paris. Will she be absolutely clear on whether she will do any more to protect work in the renewables sector that affects my constituents? (902834)
I know that the hon. Lady will be concerned about offshore wind, as it is so close to her constituency. I hope that she will welcome the fact that DONG Energy has publicly stated that it intends to invest a further £6 billion in the UK by 2020, which is encouraging news for her constituents who are so close to its important offshore wind development. What she can take from this is the fact that, having signed up to the Paris agreement and with the UK’s commitments on this basis, we are seeing more investment, from which her constituents will benefit as well.
If Paris had happened a year ago, would the Secretary of State still have made the same announcements that she has made in the past six months, adversely affecting onshore wind and solar energy, which has impacted badly on jobs and investor confidence?
I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s interpretation of the announcements that I have made. We have set out a clear path to getting a balance between ensuring that we continue to support renewable energy and ensuring that we get the investment we need, and also that we look after people’s bills. Paris has been a great triumph; let us not knock it. Let us recognise the fact that it starts to bring other countries up to the high standards that the UK has placed on it, and that it will encourage further investment.
On the decision to pull £1 billion from carbon capture and storage, the Prime Minister said to me at Prime Minister’s questions:
“You have to make decisions about technology that works and technology that is not working.”—[Official Report, 16 December 2015; Vol. 603, c. 1548.]
How was that assessment made, given that the competition had not yet been completed?
We do not rule out carbon capture and storage in the future. This Government have made substantial investments through our entrepreneur fund in early-start carbon capture and storage. We have industrialised carbon capture and storage projects operating and testing in Teesside. The fact is that the decision was made not to have a £1 billion investment. It was a difficult decision made in a difficult spending round. None the less, we recognise that carbon capture and storage will still have an important future in a low carbon economy.
The Prime Minister said that CCS was not working, but the Secretary of State says that it will work, so one of them is clearly wrong. In his list of technology that was working, the Prime Minister included small-scale nuclear reactors. Where is that technology working, and if it is working as the Prime Minister has claimed, why does it require £250 million of taxpayers’ money?
I think I can bring together some of the hon. Gentleman’s questions by highlighting the investment that we are making in innovation, which is an area in which we think there can be great steps forward in renewable energy. We can help to develop important new renewable energy technologies. For instance, in Paris, under “mission innovation”, various countries came together and agreed to double their investment in innovation, and I believe that carbon capture and storage and small modular reactors will benefit from that investment.
Now that DECC has accepted that the energy reset has pulled us further away from achieving the fourth carbon budget by some 54 million tonnes of CO2, meaning that we are on track to fall short of it by some 10%, or 187 million tonnes, and now that it is predicted that we will also miss our 2020 EU renewables target, will the Secretary of State explain precisely what steps she will take in the remainder of this Parliament to make good the Prime Minister’s boast that the UK is “leading the way” in work to cut emissions?
I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s depressing interpretation of our progress towards our important targets. Our EU renewables targets are difficult to meet, but we have exceeded the interim target. We know that we need to make more progress, which is why I am working with other Departments across Government to ensure that action is taken on heat and transport.
It was recognised in 2011 that there was a problem with the fourth carbon budget, and we now need to ensure that we put in place the policies necessary to meet it. Be in no doubt that we remain committed to achieving that.
Paris Agreement on Climate Change
The hon. Lady will be aware that the cost of UK action to reduce emissions is already committed to through the setting of our carbon budgets. The Paris agreement will help to ensure that all other countries are also acting. That will help to ensure that climate change is effectively addressed, help level the playing field, reduce the costs of climate action such as on technologies, and provide much greater opportunities for UK business in low carbon transformation.
I thank the Secretary of State for her answer, but does she accept that the estimates suggesting that the UK is on track predate the cuts to DECC’s budget and are out of date, meaning that meeting the 2°C target will require further Government support, particularly for low carbon generation and carbon capture and storage?
I do accept that the Government need to put in place more policies to ensure that we meet our carbon budget, which we have just referred to. I point out to the hon. Lady that the Paris climate change agreement is not as ambitious as what we already have in place through the Climate Change Act, which is legally binding and is delivered in our carbon budgets.
The Secretary of State rightly says that the Paris climate change agreement is not as ambitious as the Climate Change Act. The national action plans agreed to in Paris commit the world to no more than 2.7° C of warming. Will she outline what steps she has taken and what conversations she has had with her EU ministerial counterparts to increase the EU’s ambition for those nationally determined plans before the next stock-take in 2018?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. The current proposals from Paris would actually only achieve an increase of no more than 2.7 °C. Not only are we ambitious to ensure that we reach a maximum of 2 °C, but we would like to see the rise restricted further. There will be conversations in the EU this year to ensure that we meet the EU renewables targets, and we have the “effort share” discussions ahead of us. The real triumph of the Paris agreement is that it involves not just the UK and the EU but the whole world. The largest emitters, such as China and India, are also participating.
COP 21 Climate Conference
My hon. Friends will be aware that the agreement reached in Paris in December was an historic step forward. Almost 200 countries committed to climate action, which, for the first time ever, they all agreed to review every five years and to be held accountable for. There will now be follow-up work in the UN to agree the detailed rules and prepare for the five-year reviews.
My hon. Friend is right. The UK can take pride in the structure that was put together in Paris because it mimics in some ways the Climate Change Act that we put in place so many years ago. The five-year review, the transparency and the need to come back all the time with an improved offer are the right way to go, and I am confident that we will be able to deliver on that. I am excited about the prospect of talking further to my international partners to make sure that we have in place the right system for delivering that over the next few years.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. Transparency in these reviews is essential and it is something that the UK fought hard for during the Paris negotiations to ensure that when other countries come back with their five-year reviews, they have made them clear in a way that we can examine so that we can be certain that the carbon emissions are being reduced.
New figures from the Department have shown that renewables were the biggest source of electricity in Scotland last year. The industry is a real Scottish success story and will play a significant part in helping to meet the targets set in Paris. Will the Secretary of State show her Department’s own commitment to this vital sector by accepting the case for the inclusion in the grace period for the renewables obligation of projects which have attracted significant investment and achieved all the technical requirements to meet the Government’s cut-off date of 18 June 2015, including the Binn eco farm in my constituency?
The renewables industry, the solar industry and onshore and offshore wind are indeed a great British success story, and other countries wanted to talk to us about them. There is a great opportunity for exports for business. I am happy to say that a number of Ministers spoke to me about this in Paris and I think there will be great opportunities. As regards individual wind farms or proposals, I must ask the hon. Lady to write to me separately so that I can look at those, but I gently remind her that the Government are committed to making sure that we deliver on our renewables target while ensuring that we keep bills down. That will always drive us to make sure that we get that balance.
Anaerobic Digestion and Biogas Sector
First, may I say how delighted I am to see my hon. Friend fully recovered and back in his place?
We support AD and biogas through the feed-in tariff scheme, the renewables obligation and the renewable heat incentive. The Government have provided £124 million of support under the renewables obligation, £53 million under the renewable heat incentive, and enough support under the feed-in tariff scheme to deploy 161 MW since 2010. These technologies can make a valuable contribution to our decarbonisation targets and we will continue to support them.
I thank my hon. Friend for her kind remarks. I recently met Salterforth resident Peter King, along with representatives of Kirk Environmental, at my Earby advice surgery to discuss anaerobic digestion and biogas. Does my hon. Friend agree that, compared with wind or solar, biogas has significant benefits in delivering predictable and consistent amounts of renewable energy into the network?
Indeed. There are real benefits for the UK in having a wide range of renewable energy sources, but my hon. Friend is right to point out that as the sector develops in the UK, biogas technologies could bring additional benefits, including providing baseload energy, injection into the gas grid and potential use as transport biofuels.
In her letter to other Departments on 29 October the Secretary of State—whom I congratulate on stressing in her letter the importance of reaching EU renewables targets in perhaps more recalcitrant Departments—she indicated that the highest potential for additional renewable heat is from biomethane injection into the grid, but she also said that we will face a shortfall against the part of that target that is related to the heat sector, even if support for her proposed measures was agreed by the Chancellor in the comprehensive spending review. Now that she has a reduced amount of money for the renewable heat incentive up to 2020, does she consider that that amount will enable us to reach our heat targets by 2020 and, if not, what new proposals will she bring forward to make sure that there is investment in this sector that can enable us to reach that target?
The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that we had a good settlement in the comprehensive spending review. We were very pleased with the commitment to enhancing—increasing—the renewable heat incentive each year between now and 2021, and we are making good progress towards that. He will realise that the fourth carbon budget is for 2023 to 2027. He would not expect us to be meeting it today, but we are putting plans in place and working towards that progress as we speak, and we will continue to set out plans during this year.
Despite more effective use of packaging, better date labelling and programmes by the supermarkets to distribute and sell food, we still generate substantial quantities of food waste. Does the Minister agree that using this resource to generate electricity is better than sending it to landfill?
I completely agree. In fact, just recently I went to see a proposed new project in my own county of Northamptonshire that is looking to use landfill to create a renewable heat scheme. Some fantastic new ideas are coming forward, and my officials and I are always very keen to hear about them and support them where we can.
Shale Gas Drilling
First, I commend my hon. Friend for the personal commitment he has shown to researching best practice in this area. I can assure him that the Government are committed to protecting our most valuable spaces from surface drilling of wells for fracking. On 4 November, we set out how we plan to do this via petroleum exploration and development licences. We will issue a response to our industry consultation as soon as possible.
I very much welcome the Minister’s comments. The Task Force on Shale Gas has called for a single regulator and increased levels of independent monitoring. Does the Minister agree that this would improve public confidence and provide further protection, particularly for our most sensitive areas?
The task force’s 2015 report says that the regulatory regime is currently fit for purpose, but my hon. Friend rightly points to its proposal that if the shale gas industry does develop the Government should consider creating a bespoke regulator. I can absolutely assure him that we will keep the regulatory regime under review to make sure that it remains fit for purpose. On his second point about independent monitoring, I entirely agree, and that is why we are already grant-funding baseline monitoring in North Yorkshire and Lancashire.
Does the Minister accept that there is widespread opposition to fracking in all parts of Britain? Will she congratulate, as I have, the residents of Calow in Bolsover for refusing to allow a drilling operation and getting it stopped not only by the local authority but by her own inspectorate?
It is quite extraordinary that Opposition Members continually talk about the potential for shale gas as if it is some kind of disaster. The hon. Gentleman comes from a very honourable and long-standing mining area. Mining has a legacy that we will be dealing with for many years to come. The shale industry, on the other hand, offers the opportunity to create a new home-grown energy source that is vital for our energy security into the next decades.
I hope that the hon. Lady heard my initial comment, which was that we have been able to put forward our proposal to restrict surface drilling in any of our most protected areas, not limited to national parks but including many other valuable spaces, through licensing. As things stand, we are waiting for our report in response to the industry consultation that closed on 16 December, and we will make our announcements very soon.
As more domestic, community and business generators come on stream, the demand for grid connection is increasing, as the hon. Lady rightly points out. Accommodating this is the responsibility of the network companies, overseen by Ofgem. Network companies publish long-term plans setting out how new generation and demand will be managed. She might like to take a look at National Grid’s annual electricity 10-year statement as a good example of this.
Let us face it: National Grid is notorious for stifling new energy projects at birth in rural Wales. Given that the draft Wales Bill proposes devolving generating stations up to 350 MW but not transmission, how will the Minister work with the Welsh Government to ensure that that is not an empty promise?
I can absolutely assure the hon. Lady that the Government are committed to the Welsh devolution Bill, as set out in the Silk commission, and that is going through. Specifically, Ofgem, through the electricity distribution network price control, has approved about £24 billion of investment in the distribution network for between 2015 and 2023, and about £1.7 billion of that is for the distribution company responsible for north Wales, including the hon. Lady’s constituency.
Does the Minister share my concerns that, in the short to medium term, our energy security may be put at risk if the capacity market that is being put in place to bring forward new gas capacity not only fails to do that, but makes current gas capacity, such as that provided by the Glanford Brigg power station in my constituency, no longer worthwhile and results in it coming off-stream?
We have just completed the second capacity market auction and achieved a very competitive price for consumers; as the hon. Gentleman will know, it is a top priority for this Government to keep the bills down. At the same time, we have ensured that National Grid has the tools at its disposal to be able to ensure energy security, which is our overriding concern. I do not share his concerns. We are reviewing the capacity market to make sure we bring on new gas, but there are no concerns about energy security.
Small-scale Solar Sector
Solar is an enormous UK success story that this Government continue to support. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday, 98% of all solar deployment has taken place since 2010. In December, we announced that the feed-in tariff scheme would remain open and continue to support small-scale solar up to a value of £35 million of subsidy, potentially delivering an additional 1.2 GW across 220,000 installations by 2019.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I had the opportunity recently to meet a company in the solar sector industry in my constituency, ESP Energy in Dorrington, and I was very impressed with its technology, innovation and job creation. Will my hon. Friend assure me that the Government will do everything possible to continue supporting this very important energy source?
As my hon. Friend will know, it is a key priority to keep consumer bills down, so there must always be a balance between supporting a superb UK industry and making sure that consumer bills remain affordable. We will continue to support the further growth of the sector, but not at any price. The changes we have made to the feed-in tariffs seek to maintain the solar industry, which in the medium term can continue to reduce its costs and therefore move towards a subsidy free deployment.
The right hon. Gentleman is exactly right to raise that very important point. He will know that it is the result of proceedings by the European Commission, which believes that our VAT rates on solar installation should be higher. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is looking closely into the issue and consulting on it. Once we have taken into account the outcome of that consultation, we will have to look further at the regime.
20. My constituency has a number of thriving solar businesses, some of which I have worked with during the recent changes to feed-in tariffs. As the Government look to the industry to expand, and in response to a query from Solar UK in Battle, will the Minister explain how she will support the development of energy storage solutions for existing and future solar systems? (902838)
My hon. Friend is exactly right to point out the huge potential for energy storage to enhance the value of solar PV installations. My Department has provided more than £18 million of innovation support since 2012, to develop and demonstrate a range of energy storage technologies. We are also investigating the potential barriers to the deployment of energy storage, focusing in the first instance on removing regulatory barriers, and we plan to hold a call for evidence on that specific area this spring.
The Minister is in danger of sounding complacent on this subject. Many small and medium-sized enterprises in my constituency fear the end of solar. Has she had a chance to consider the Solar Trade Association’s £1 rescue scheme, and what is her response to it?
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have made clear on so many occasions, there is a fine balance. As the costs of a new technology come down, as they very much have in the excellent UK solar industry, so we must focus on the need for people in this country to be able to afford their energy bills. Fuel poverty is an enormous problem, but we do not want to over-subsidise, so it is a fine balance. We think that our response to the consultation in December provides that fine balance: giving a 5% investment return to solar installations is fair to consumers and fair to the industry.
24. EU minimum import prices on Chinese, Taiwanese and Malaysian photovoltaic cells inflate the cost of an average solar installation by £385. The Minister is working to extract the UK from that, but will she update the House on her progress and set a date by which she hopes to end these price controls? (902842)
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that the MIP is an unwelcome drain on the UK solar industry. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made that point in her letter to the Trade Commissioner in November. I also agree that it would be fairer and simpler to remove the MIP while the current expiry review is under way. Unfortunately, however, the decision to launch an expiry review is one for the Commission, not for member states. Anti-dumping and anti-subsidy regulations require the Commission to maintain existing trade defence measures while the expiry review takes place, so it could be some months yet.
Last year, the Solar Trade Association estimated that 27,000 workers would lose their jobs as a result of the Government’s proposed 87% cut to the feed-in tariff. Following a public outcry, including from Members on both sides of this House, the Department reduced the cut to 64%, saving about 8,000 jobs. I am sure the Minister would like to take the credit for that, but what is her message to the remaining 19,000 solar workers who face redundancy this coming year as a result of the tariff cut?
UK solar is a huge success story. It has grown rapidly since 2010, with enormous support from energy consumers in the UK. As we have said time and again, there is a balance. We absolutely welcome the jobs and growth that have been provided in the sector, but we cannot continue to support jobs just through bill payer subsidies. That would not be fair. Our measures will ensure that there is good potential for the industry to continue to grow and for jobs to continue to be supported, while at the same time making sure bills remain affordable.
The Government are making it quicker and easier for energy consumers to switch supplier and move to the best-value tariffs. We have delivered a national switching campaign and worked with industry to cut the time it takes to switch to 17 days, and we are now working with Ofgem to move to reliable next day switching. We are also working with industry to develop an energy-switching guarantee, which will be launched later this year.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is particularly important for vulnerable customers to be able to find the best-value tariffs? Will she say a little more about what the Government are doing to spread that message and to ensure that such consumers get the best deals available? Does she agree that carers’ organisations and children’s centres, which support vulnerable younger families, may have a role to play?
Yes, I do agree with my hon. and learned Friend. It is absolutely essential that we improve access for vulnerable people to the switching that can provide such great benefits. It is no good people being able to benefit from a saving of about £200 on their energy bills unless they can actually access it. We launched the big energy saving network and put in £2 million to make sure that vulnerable people, who particularly need the improvement that this can deliver to their energy bills, can access it. One of the ways in which that can be done is through citizens advice bureaux, but in addition we will look at his other suggestions.
But the Competition and Markets Authority has identified something I have been speaking about for quite a long time: that that sticky customer base is not being served well by energy suppliers. The CMA has said that about 70% of customers on the standard variable tariff are paying over the odds, so has the Secretary of State looked into the suggestion I have made in the past year and previously that we need to protect those customers as well, and that a default or protection tariff could ensure that suppliers provide tariffs that are fair to their customers, and particularly those ones?
The right hon. Lady makes an important point and the suggestion about the CMA is helpful—it has just begun to include in its consideration vulnerable customers on pre-payment meters. We are interested in the recommendations it will make—we hope—in the next few months, to ensure that we look after those vulnerable customers who are unable to switch. We have said previously that we will take seriously and act on the CMA recommendations to ensure that we look after those customers who have not engaged in switching but should do so. We look forward to seeing the CMA suggestions for remedies.
I welcome the concern expressed by Members on both sides of the House for consumers and best value. Last month, the Secretary of State agreed to hand out hundreds of millions of pounds in new public subsidies to diesel and coal power generators through her capacity market scheme. Will she tell the House by how much family energy bills will rise as a consequence?
The capacity market is specifically designed to ensure that energy security is not negotiable. The Government take energy security very seriously. Because of the lack of investment in energy infrastructure over the past decades, we needed to ensure that the capacity market is in place to ensure that we do not have any problem at all with energy security. Diesel will form a part of the future, but only in very small amounts. Let us remember that it is there as back-up and will be switched on occasionally when it is needed. The addition of the capacity market to people’s bills will be a matter of a few pounds.
It is astonishing that the Secretary of State comes to the House and repeatedly says that the Government want to put as little pressure as possible on hard-pressed households, and yet is spectacularly unable to answer a very simple question about how much that will put on family energy bills. In just one day in December, she agreed to subsidise high-polluting diesel generators to the tune of £175 million, paid for by increasing family energy bills. Will she answer this question: are those companies expected to make returns of more than 20% at the expense of bill payers?
What is astonishing is the hon. Lady’s lack of understanding of the fact that the capacity market is needed because of the Labour Government’s woeful under-investment in infrastructure. We are left with the consequences and need to ensure that energy security is completely reliable. The capacity market is essential to ensuring that that hole is filled. We are proud of the way in which it has delivered—the second auction has just completed. As I have said, it will cost a few pounds—under £10—and we will ensure that energy security will never be in question under this Government.
14. What progress is being made on the roll- out of smart meters. (902831)
I can assure the hon. Lady that good progress is being made. Energy suppliers have now installed over 2 million meters in homes and small businesses across Britain, ahead of the main installation stage starting later this year.
In September 2014, the Public Accounts Committee raised concerns about the roll-out of smart meters, but very recently, Alex Henney, a former Conservative energy adviser, warned the Secretary of State that the roll-out would at best be regarded as a waste of money and that it is “a ghastly mess”. Does she agree with Mr Henney, and what is she doing to resolve those problems?
I can say very clearly to the hon. Lady that I do not agree with that position. Smart meters will have a great future in this country. We discussed in earlier questions energy security and fuel poverty. Smart meters will be a very good way for people to reduce their bills and use less energy, therefore creating fewer carbon emissions. Smart meters are an important part of that.
I have no doubt that the introduction of smart meters will help customers to control their energy bills, but, just so that they are aware of the background, will the Secretary of State confirm that the UK is rolling out smart meters because of European Union directive 2009/72/EC?
My hon. Friend is right that the European Union has directives that give us guidance on this matter, but there is no question but that the initiative of smart meters is of huge advantage to UK customers. UK customers and consumers will always be put first.
Neart Na Gaoithe Offshore Wind Farm
As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced in her November speech, we are committed to the continued growth of UK offshore wind. Britain is already the world leader. This industry is a huge potential source of jobs and growth, and we will always focus on maximising UK content in the supply chain. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the decision on where one company’s operations will be based is a commercial decision for that company. However, my officials are working closely with the developer and the Scottish Government to maximise the use of UK content in this wind farm.
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I am extremely keen on that. Recently, I visited one port in Scotland, Aberdeen port, to hear how it is trying to expand to accommodate not just the growth of offshore wind, but potential decommissioning in the future. It is vital that whatever our energy policy is, we focus as far as possible on maximising the UK content in the supply chain.
Oil and Gas Industry
The oil and gas industry is vital to our economy and provides more than 350,000 jobs. The Government are committed to supporting it. Our latest projections show that in 2030, oil and gas will still be a core part of our energy mix, providing nearly 70% of the UK’s primary energy requirements. Our commitment to the industry is the precise reason why we have established the Oil and Gas Authority, which is charged with working with the industry to maximise the economic recovery of the UK’s oil and gas resources.
The oil and gas industry has asked the Government for further tax reliefs to incentivise exploration activity. Professor Alex Kemp of the University of Aberdeen has described them as
“clearly necessary to exploit the remaining physical potential”
of the North sea. What consideration has the Minister given to a refundable tax credit for exploration?
The hon. Lady will be aware that the Chancellor has already improved the fiscal regime significantly to encourage further exploration in the North sea basin. Just before Christmas, we had a series of meetings with North sea basin participants, the Oil and Gas Authority and others to discuss what other measures could be taken. Further fiscal measures are certainly on the table, but so too are vital measures such as getting production costs down, making more efficiencies and sharing infrastructure. The OGA is absolutely focused on doing those things.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Livingston (Hannah Bardell) for raising this question and to the Minister for her reply. I acknowledge the work that the Government have done in the sector, but will the Minister give me her assurance that in the lead-up to the Budget in March, she will leave no stone unturned in ensuring that this vital industry secures the support that it needs at this difficult time?
My thoughts are with all those who have been affected by the recent flooding. Energy security is our No. 1 priority. We are working closely with the energy industry to assess the range of potentially disruptive risks, including severe weather, put protections in place and improve the response to electricity disruptions. The industry worked to ensure that power was restored to customers who were disrupted by the recent storms as quickly as possible, in very challenging circumstances.
Everyone in the Chamber will benefit this year from electricity generated by coal burnt in the Bassetlaw, West Burton and Cottam power stations. What contingency agreement has been reached with EDF to ensure that in 2026 and beyond, when we do not have enough power available, the decision to close coal-based power stations can be reversed?
Can I reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are moving to a consultation on ending coal-fired power stations by 2025? I am sure that he will want to participate in it. This Government are taking the long-term view on getting the right mix of decarbonising and having energy security. That is why we are making this plan well ahead of time—it is 10 years ahead.
T2. Given the revisions to the feed-in tariffs that will shortly come into force, has the Minister made any assessment of the likely effects on the solar industry, particularly in the south-west, where the sun nearly always shines? (902894)
Of course, my hon. Friend is absolutely right—the sun nearly always shines there. It is a great place for solar, which has been a spectacular success there. The tariffs aim to give generators with well-sited projects appropriate rates of return, so around 5% for solar. We believe that that will save bill payers between £380 million and £430 million a year by 2021, while at the same time enabling up to 220,000 new installations to be subsidised under the new feed-in tariff.
I welcome the Secretary of State’s update to the House on the actions taken in response to the floods. I particularly welcome the Prime Minister’s decision to set up a cross-Whitehall review of the Government’s approach to flood defences, which will consider the rising flood risk that climate change poses. We know now that the last review in 2014, which was also led by the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr Letwin), met just three times and did not publish a single finding. Will the Secretary of State confirm that she personally attends this committee? Will she tell us whether it has met yet, how often it plans to meet, which independent experts are on it, and what, this time, she expects it to achieve?
As the hon. Lady will know, the Government take very seriously climate change and its devastating impact in terms of the recent flooding. I can reassure her that the Department participated in regular meetings of Cobra on almost a daily basis to ensure that electricity sources were restored as quickly as possible. The review will take place, and we will keep a careful, watchful eye on ensuring that it does meet and that it looks carefully at what impact it has had.
We have already taken a lot of action to tackle the skills problem at all levels, from programmes to attract more schoolchildren to science, technology, engineering and maths careers to apprenticeships and training at all levels, as well as setting in train work to determine the scope for transfers of skills from wider sectors. My hon. Friend is right to highlight the need for more nuclear skills. Hinkley C alone will provide up to 25,000 jobs and 1,000 apprenticeships.
T4. The Department’s impact assessment suggests that 18,700 jobs could be lost as a result of the 65% reduction to the solar feed-in tariff. That affects jobs in my constituency. What loss in national insurance contributions and income tax will that mean for the Government, particularly in light of the £16 billion shortfall in tax receipts last year? What assessment has been made of the combined effect if Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs presses ahead with the increase in VAT to 20% on domestic solar installations? (902896)
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government remain committed to the ongoing success of the solar industry. As I explained in an earlier reply, we cannot simply keep jobs going as a result of subsidy, but our best guess is that our new feed-in tariff will support up to around 23,000 jobs in the solar sector. Of course, it is for the sector to bring down the costs as far as possible to reach a subsidy-free stage by 2020. We will do everything that we can and, as I have also said, if the VAT rate has to go up, we will look at what more we can do within the tariff to ensure that we do not penalise the sector.
I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I am chairman of GLOBE International, which recently held a successful summit in Paris as part of the COP process. Does the Secretary of State agree that the world’s leading network of parliamentarians devoted to legislative leadership on climate change has a key role to play in ensuring that the intended nationally determined contributions—INDCs—turn from aspiration to reality? Will she meet me to discuss work between the Department and GLOBE, internationally and nationally, to ensure that that is achieved?
I am aware that GLOBE International is one of the largest forums for parliamentary engagement devoted to legislative leadership on sustainable development and climate change, and I recognise my hon. Friend’s important role in chairing it. I would, of course, be delighted to meet him to discuss how we can further promote parliamentarian international engagement on this important subject.
T5. I was absolutely delighted when the Minister said in June, at a renewable energy summit, that we were going to remove subsidies. When does she expect onshore and offshore wind subsidies to have disappeared completely? (902897)
Projects such as Gunfleet Sands, just off the coast of the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, provide enough clean electricity for over 100,000 homes following hundreds of millions of pounds invested by the developer, much of which was spent locally. I am sure he will have welcomed that. As we have made clear, however, we have to get the right balance between supporting newer technologies such as offshore wind and being tough on subsidies to keep bills as low as possible. We will always be working towards making technologies subsidy-free.
By far and away the dominant source globally of low-carbon electricity is nuclear power. In the EU, a third of electricity comes from that source and China has approximately 50 stations under construction. We also need small modular reactors. Will the Minister set out what her plans are in that regard and how the UK can provide leadership?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Nuclear is an incredibly important part of our energy future and I am very proud that we have signed the first new nuclear deal in over 20 years. We believe small modular reactors will have an important part to play. I am delighted to say we are using part of our substantial innovation funding to make sure we bring them on as early as possible, but that will not be at the expense of existing plans for nuclear reactors. We will be aiming for a mix of larger nuclear and smaller nuclear.
T6. Earlier this week, the SNP Scottish Government agreed a support package to retain staff at Dalzell and Clydebridge steel plants. The package will include measures to address energy use and costs. Energy costs are a substantial expense facing business. What consideration has been given by the Secretary of State or her Cabinet colleagues to bringing forward a coherent strategy to address the high energy costs facing business across the UK? (902899)
We are well aware of the importance of keeping energy costs down to support businesses and households. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced recently that energy-intensives would be given a specific support package. That has recently got state aid clearance and will be put in place as soon as possible.
T7. The Minister will be aware that just before Christmas the European Commission announced new import tariffs, backdated to May last year, on Taiwanese and Malaysian solar panels. That could result in many solar companies having an unwanted and potentially devastating tax bill. Will she take action to assure that that will not happen? (902900)
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this matter. It is a real concern that, in spite of the fact that the cost of solar panels has dropped so dramatically, the cost in Europe remains higher than elsewhere in the world as a result of the import tariffs. As I mentioned earlier, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wrote to the Trade Commissioner explaining how very bad this is for the ongoing success of the UK industry. We will do everything we can to try to ensure the tariffs are removed as soon as possible.
T8. We were disappointed in the Humber last year not to be granted the national college for wind energy, especially in light of the fact that renewables are so important to the future of the area. Will Ministers agree to meet me and representatives of the local enterprise partnership to discuss what more can be done to promote a national wind college that might attract local funding? (902902)
Yes, I would certainly be delighted to meet the hon. Lady and colleagues. I can tell her that I recently had the huge pleasure of seeing the new Siemens turbine blade site in Hull, which is fantastic and so impressive. It is a real injection of enthusiasm, new jobs and apprenticeships in her area. We should do everything we can to promote the northern energy powerhouse that is taking off and doing so well.
Order. There is a veritable army of Opposition Members seeking to catch my eye, but as a practitioner of diversity and inclusion I say to the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) that I do not want him to feel excluded. He wished to contribute earlier. If he wishes to contribute now, we will happily hear him.
The rate of fuel poverty across the UK is very high, which is why I welcome the Scottish Government’s £200 million warm homes scheme to help reduce bills for low-income households. Such households are more likely to pay their bills using prepayment meters, but these are more than £200 per year more expensive than the cheapest direct debit bill. What measures will the Secretary of State introduce to ensure that customers using meters have access to the lower energy prices available to those using other payment methods?
I am well aware of the issue of fuel poverty. In Paisley and Renfrewshire North, there are energy company obligation measures in place that I believe will help the hon. Gentleman’s constituents. By September 2015, some 119 measures per 1,000 households had been installed compared with the average of 77 per 1,000 in the rest of the UK. He can rest assured, however, that we are focused on making sure that bills stay low and fuel poverty is addressed, and the ECO system is one of the best ways for us to do that.
In Northern Ireland, one in five pensioners are defined as living in income poverty, and 62% of them are in fuel poverty. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with her counterpart in Northern Ireland to help address these issues?
Outside Hinkley Point C, for each of the five proposed new nuclear power stations the Government are considering, they are discussing having a single supplier for each one. This means that yet again they will be held hostage, with no guaranteed programme, high profits for suppliers and extortionate strike rates agreed, which will be picked up by electricity users. Should the Government not do the decent thing and rethink this “nuclear at all costs” policy?
The Government think that nuclear reactors are an important part of delivering a low-carbon future, but we also have a great opportunity to ensure we develop skills, as my hon. Friend the Minister mentioned. I will ensure that my Department considers the hon. Gentleman’s point carefully and gets back to him with some answers.
In her attempt to explain the hugely unpopular cuts to solar, the Secretary of State constantly pretends this is about reducing costs to householders, yet industry analysis shows that solar will cost half as much as Hinkley over 35 years and save consumers about £15 billion. How can she keep justifying such blatant double standards when it comes to nuclear power?
I am sorry, but the hon. Lady is not dealing with the facts. The solar changes will still deliver a 5% yield to those who put them up, but nuclear provides an important base-load, even when the sun does not shine or the wind does not blow. She can have her own views, but she cannot have her own facts.
With the Chinese economy hitting the buffers week after week, does it make sense to continue with this Chinese connection and nuclear power in Britain? Is it not time it was abandoned? The shine is being knocked off it every single day. Will the Secretary of State change her mind?
I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are ambitious for this country, we are confident in our regulation and we are open for business, and if the Chinese want to make a substantial investment in delivering new nuclear, we will take it and make a great success of it.
Business of the House
Surely not all the rest, but the business is as follows:
Monday 11 January—Remaining stages of the Armed Forces Bill, followed by general debate on local government funding for rural areas. The subject for this debate was nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Tuesday 12 January—Conclusion of remaining stages of the Housing and Planning Bill.
Wednesday 13 January—Opposition day (15th allotted day). There will be a debate on trade, exports, innovation and productivity. The debate will arise on a motion in the name of the Scottish National party.
Thursday 14 January—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 15 January—The House will not be sitting.
The provisional business for the week commencing 18 January will include:
Monday 18 January—Second Reading of the Energy Bill [Lords].
Tuesday 19 January—Opposition day (16th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.
Wednesday 20 January—Remaining stages of the Psychoactive Substances Bill [Lords], followed by, if necessary, consideration of Lords amendments.
Thursday 21 January—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.
Friday 22 January—Private Members’ Bills.
I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 18 January, decided by the Petitions Committee, will be:
Monday 18 January—Debate on e-petitions relating to the exclusion of Donald Trump from the United Kingdom.
I am certainly up for that one!
Happy new year, Mr Speaker, and if you are a Russian, happy Christmas. Also, many congratulations to the hon. Member for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham) and to our wonderful Chief Whip who proves, of course, there’s nothing quite like a dame! Warm congratulations, too, go to our new Serjeant at Arms elect, Kamal El-Hajji—we look forward to working with him. In the words of Stephen Sondheim, “I’m still here!” [Interruption.] Division? No.
I am delighted that the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi)yesterday joined my call for a proper parliamentary commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, although I thought he rather marred the effect by referring to Shakespeare as “our greatest living bard”, which I notice Hansard has corrected for him. May I suggest that we have a St George’s day Shakespeare debate, which would give us a chance to consider the Government’s own rather special use of the English language? After all, yesterday the Leader of the Opposition asked about the £190 million flood defence project on the River Aire in Leeds that was cancelled in 2011. The Prime Minister stated quite categorically:
“No flood defence schemes have been cancelled since 2010”.—[Official Report, 6 January 2016; Vol. 604, c. 277.]
But that is not quite the case, is it, Mr Speaker? In fact, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman had to dig him out of that hole by resorting to the most extraordinary bout of circumlocution yesterday afternoon, claiming that
“Jeremy Corbyn’s suggestion was that the scheme had been cancelled”,
whereas in fact:
“There was a proposal made, it wasn’t adopted.”
In Shakespeare’s English, that does mean it was cancelled, does it not? The truth is that families do not want spin; they want proper protection from flooding.
That was not all. When my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff West (Kevin Brennan)asked the Prime Minister about the number of special advisers, the Prime Minister said:
“There are fewer special advisers under this Government than there were under the last Government.”—[Official Report, 6 January 2016; Vol. 604, c. 283.]
He obviously meant us all to believe that he had cut the number of special advisers since he came to power. Oh no, he can’t have meant that, can he, Mr Speaker, because under the last Prime Minister there were 71 special advisers, and now there are 97. I know the Secretary of State for Education cannot do her times tables, but even she must be able to work out that that is a net increase of 26. The Prime Minister’s words yesterday can be true only if when he said “the last Government”, he did not mean the Labour Government but the Government he led last year. It is as if he has not existed for five years. I have heard of people being airbrushed out of history by their opponents, but this is the first time I have ever heard of a Prime Minister airbrushing himself out of his own history books.
I note that yet again the Leader of the House has given us only the dates for the Easter recess and not for the prorogation for the state opening of Parliament or, for that matter, for the Whitsun recess. Is that because he does not yet know when he will table the motion for the date of the EU referendum? Will he now come clean and tell us how he is going to vote? It is not a matter of conscience for him any more; he will even be able to keep his two special advisers, his ministerial car and his salary. He can tell us—in or out? It’s an out, isn’t it? He is an outer. Come on, come out!
May I suggest that after every recess, the first day back should be devoted to no business other than statements from Ministers and urgent questions? That might stop the Government piling up bad news announcements for the very last day before the recess. This December was the worst ever, with 36 all in one day. In one day, we learned that immigration officers had given up hunting for 10,000 missing asylum seekers, that HMRC had lost out on £16 billion of tax, and that there would be a massive expansion of fracking for shale gas. During the recess, we learned that the Government had abandoned the Financial Conduct Authority review of the culture of banking, and that half the Cabinet had gone to pay tribute to Rupert Murdoch, bearing gifts of a licence fee cut, an end to Leveson, and an inheritance tax cut for millionaires. Is it not time that they learned that Rupert isn’t the Messiah but a very naughty boy?
On Tuesday, we shall debate the remaining stages of the Housing and Planning Bill, and for the first time in our history, some Members will be barred from voting in a Division in the Chamber. Was it not preposterous that we started to debate the Bill at 8.50 pm last Tuesday, and that over the recess the Government tabled 65 pages of amendments to a Bill that is only 145 pages long? Moreover, there was not a single amendment on resilience and sustainable drainage.
Will the Leader of the House clarify a few aspects of the operation of English votes for English laws next Tuesday? Because of the programme motion that the Government have tabled, we shall have to proceed on the basis of manuscript motions from the Government and manuscript amendments, if there are any. That is right, is it not? Surely it is wrong for us to proceed on the basis of manuscript business when we are dealing with such important measures and when EVEL is operating for the first time. Would it not be far better to devote the whole of Tuesday to the Report stage, and to keep the remaining stages for another day?
Could there be a clearer symbol of how incompetent Conservative Ministers are than the events of Monday afternoon, when two of them visited flood victims in Pooley? Not only did they arrive late, but they turned up at the wrong end of a bridge that had been washed away a whole month ago. A farmer had to be dispatched on a quad bike to fetch the two MPs—it involved a 30-minute ride—while their bewildered entourage of civil servants, bag carriers and party hacks had to trundle along in a minibus. I suppose one could have just about understood the confusion had it not been for the fact that the two Ministers concerned were the Secretary of State for Transport, who really should know when a bridge has disappeared, and the local MP, who had visited the bridge once before when it had already disappeared! I gather that there was some signalling from the villagers on the other side of the river, although it is not entirely clear what they were trying to suggest. As Mr Leeroy Fowler put it,
“You couldn’t make it up.”
Four new elements in the periodic table were discovered this week, and scientists are looking for names for them. Apparently, these elements are dangerous and short-lived, rather like the policies of the Leader of the House when he was at the Ministry of Justice—so may I suggest that one of them should be named “Graylingium”?
A happy new year to you, Mr Speaker, and to everyone in the House. Welcome to day four of the Labour reshuffle. I imagine that this has been a rather frustrating week for the shadow Leader of the House. As Oscar Wilde so famously said, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. But never mind: I believe that the hon. Gentleman will be making a return to the newspapers on Monday. It is his birthday, and I expect that he will appear in the Court Circular. I wish him a very happy birthday for next week.
Mr Speaker, may I echo your comments yesterday about the new Serjeant at Arms? I worked with him—he was my head of security when I was Secretary of State for Justice—and he is a fine man and a consummate professional. When I discovered that he was in the frame for this job, I was delighted. It is an excellent appointment, and he will serve the House admirably. I am very grateful to all who were involved in the recruitment process for the work that they did and the choice that they made, and I commend this new appointment to the House.
May I also ask colleagues from Northern Ireland to convey my congratulations to the new Northern Irish First Minister, who took up her position during the Christmas period? She takes up a difficult and challenging role, and I think it is in the interests of everyone in the House to wish her well for it. We all want stability to continue in Northern Ireland, and to continue to succeed in future.
The shadow Leader of the House referred to the European Union. The Labour party has a leader who has changed his mind twice in the last few months. Labour Members claim to support a reformed European Union, but will not say what they want to reform. They did not even want a referendum. The Prime Minister has done the right thing this week, and I will take no lessons from Labour Members. When will they ever do the right thing for their people? I would just remind him of what it means in the Labour party when people say something. In the Conservative party a free vote means we can vote according to our own conscience; in the Labour party a free vote means they can vote according to the Leader’s conscience.
On the flooding issue, I am proud of the response this country has made to a devastating situation in so many parts of the country. Our emergency services, voluntary services, local communities and our armed forces have come together to deal with a dreadful situation effectively and well. The Government have committed to provide financial support to all the communities affected in a way that goes far beyond what has taken place in the past. I am distressed about what has happened in this country but proud of the way the country has responded, and I am happy to say to the Opposition party that I think we have done a better job than has been done in the past. We will learn the lessons for the future, but it is imperative that we do the right thing when troubles like this strike.
On the question of the announcements made before Christmas, I just remind the hon. Gentleman that I have stood at this Dispatch Box week after week listening to the Opposition asking, “When can we have an update? Can we have an announcement before Christmas? Can we have the publication of a report before Christmas?” However, when before Christmas we actually produced a whole range of announcements, publications and reports and confirmations of Government policy, they complain about it; it is an absolute nonsense. We will do the right thing by this country; they will no doubt carry on complaining about it. That is their prerogative in opposition, but frankly I am taking no lessons from them.
As for the Housing and Planning Bill, let me first remind the hon. Gentleman that we are having a two-day debate on it, something that is often called for in this House. The Chief Whip and I believed it was necessary to make sure that the House had two days to debate a substantial Bill with changes being made to it. I just remind the hon. Gentleman that at 1 o’clock on Wednesday morning while we on this side of the House were debating those measures, most of the Opposition Members had gone home to bed, so I will take no lessons from him when they say we should be offering more time for debate, given that we were debating and they were asleep.
The hon. Gentleman brought up the question of Shakespeare. Listening to the hon. Gentleman on Thursdays, I am reminded of the great quote from “King Lear”:
“Have more than you show, speak less than you know.”
Mr Speaker, this week of all weeks we should express our thanks to the Labour party. Having come back to work after the Christmas period, you and I perhaps think, in the words of the song, “I wish it could be Christmas every day.” On the Conservative Benches, looking at the Labour reshuffle, frankly it is.
Successful local businesses in Eagle Tower, a prominent office building in my constituency, have recently been informed that they will have to vacate so that floors can be converted under so-called permitted development rights. May we have a debate to consider whether the planning system affords adequate protection to high-quality occupied business space, which is vital for generating jobs in places like Cheltenham?
I understand the concerns my hon. Friend raises. The change we have brought forward has been to ensure that redundant office buildings, which exist in many parts of the country, can be quickly used for residential purposes given the nature of the housing challenge we face in this country. We all agree that we need to step up house building and make more housing available. However, I take note of what my hon. Friend says. He will shortly have an opportunity to question the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. My hon. Friend makes a valid point, but I do think this is a policy we need in order to make sure that there are no empty commercial buildings while people are struggling to get on the housing ladder.
I thank the Leader of the House for announcing the business for next week. May I too take this opportunity to properly wish you a happy new year, Mr Speaker, and extend that to all the staff who work so diligently on our behalf throughout the course of the year? On behalf of the Scottish National party, may I congratulate Kamal El-Hajji, who has the notoriety of being the first BME Serjeant at Arms this House has ever had? We wish all the best to Kamal in his duties and responsibilities in the future.
I think this is going to be a fantastic year. It is going to be a particularly good year for the SNP anyway. We start the new year pretty much as we ended the old year, with divisions in both the Conservative and Labour parties. For the Conservatives, of course, it is over Europe, as usual. I know that the Leader of the House is looking forward to campaigning for his cherished Brexit. At least he will have that option, whereas Scotland as a nation might be taken out of the European Union against our will. That is going to be a massive issue for us. And the Labour party is divided on just about everything else. As it descends into a civil war of the total, intractable, take-no-prisoners variety, I think it is about time to send in some sort of international peace envoy, because somebody needs to rescue them from themselves.
This week’s business has been dominated by the flooding, which has impacted on virtually every constituency in this nation. Much of my constituency, which has the biggest river system in the United Kingdom, remains under water. There has been massive disappointment throughout the country at the tone of the debate on this, however; I think the nation expected better. Given the tragedy that we have observed over the course of the past few weeks, the House has not risen to the occasion. All the debates have been of a partisan, point-scoring variety, but there will be many more debates on the subject and I appeal to Members to debate it properly, consensually and constructively—in the way that we have heard from the Scottish National party when we have addressed the issue in this House. I really hope that we can achieve that.
I was listening to the Chancellor this morning. What has happened to him? Has he had a miserable Christmas and new year? After all the cheeriness of the autumn statement, there is nothing but doom and gloom today. Perhaps it is just a bit of uncharacteristic honesty as he makes a proper assessment of the fortunes of the United Kingdom as we face international pressures. It is just as well, then, that the SNP is offering an economic debate next week. I do not know whether it will be a happy Chancellor or a gloomy Chancellor who turns up to it, but we should find out what is ailing him and offer him some proper economic medicine.
Immediately after business questions, we will be debating the appalling and unfair changes to the state pension age imposed on women born after April 1951, and the Women Against State Pension Inequality—WASPI—campaign. I am delighted that the youngest Member, the baby of the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South (Mhairi Black), will be leading that debate. Many of our constituents have been caught up in this pernicious trap, and they are hoping to hear something positive when the Minister responds today. Let us hope that the Government will do the right thing for all those women caught in that appalling pensions trap.
This is going to be a massive year, and if the Government think they can just put their feet up and observe the chaos in the Labour party, they will have to think again. They will have a united Opposition, here on the Scottish National party Benches. We will ensure that the Government are properly held to account. If Labour is not up to the job, we most definitely will be.
First, let me wish the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues a happy new year. I hope they all had an enjoyable Hogmanay—I am sure they did—and it is good to see the hon. Gentleman back in the House. I have to tell him that we are going to disagree on many things this year, as we always do, but I agree with him on his final point. There has been an utter shambles in the Labour party. In fact, there is one thing that has not been a shambles, and I should have congratulated the Government Chief Whip—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”]—I mean the Opposition Chief Whip on her well-deserved honour. The right hon. Member for Doncaster Central (Dame Rosie Winterton) has been an excellent servant of this House, in opposition and in government, and this honour has been welcomed on both sides of the House. I offer her my sincere congratulations.
The shadow Leader of the House can never resist talking in this place. More than anyone else, he likes the sound of his own voice. He cannot stop talking. If he will just be patient, I was about to say that I am also delighted by the honour that has been awarded to my hon. Friend the Member for North West Norfolk (Sir Henry Bellingham). That, too, is well deserved. He is a long-standing and distinguished Member of the House. Both he and the right hon. Member for Doncaster Central very much deserve their recognition in the new year’s honours list, and I apologise for not saying so earlier.
The spokesman for the Scottish nationalists and I clearly agree that there has been an utter shambles in the Labour party. We are now on day four, and it still has not finished making appointments. I notice that the shadow Leader of the House’s Parliamentary Private Secretary seems to have disappeared, so perhaps he is in the process of being moved around—
Ah, I beg his pardon. He is not sitting in his usual place. But you couldn’t make up the idea of a reshuffle that lasts for four days. It is a sign of how utterly incompetent the Opposition are. That said, the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) is back on some of his usual themes this week. I just remind him that the United Kingdom will vote on our future in the European Union, and Scotland voted to be a part of the United Kingdom. I know he has never quite adjusted to or accepted that reality, but none the less the reality is that Scotland chose to be part of the United Kingdom and we will vote as one United Kingdom.
On the economy, the Chancellor is prudently talking about some of the challenges we face internationally. I remind the hon. Gentleman that unemployment—the number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance in this country—has almost halved since 2010; the number of children growing up in workless households has fallen by more than half a million; and the level of employment in this country has mushroomed under this Government. He should look across the House and at what the Government have done over the past five years and say, “These are people who have delivered for this country and will carry on delivering for this country.”
The hon. Gentleman also talked about the floods, and I pay tribute to everyone in Scotland, too. I know that south-west Scotland, in particular, was badly affected. The emergency services, the local authorities and all those involved in south-west Scotland did an excellent job. I commend the Members of Parliament in the areas affected for the work they have done. It was a distressing period for this country and I hope that those communities can get themselves back together shortly. I shall look forward across the course of this year, as ever, to our usual amicable debate. We will not agree on most things, but I always enjoy seeing him in this place and I look forward to a year of repartee.
You will recall, Mr Speaker, that in October the Administration Committee, on which I serve, nodded through an altogether unwelcome recommendation from the House of Lords that we should abandon the centuries-old tradition in this place of recording Acts of Parliament on vellum. By abolishing that tradition we are also putting out of work a number of workers in Milton Keynes, who are the last remaining experts in this matter. You will recall that in answering a point of order, you made it clear that
“for the recommendation…to be implemented, the matter would have to be brought to the Floor of the House, as it was in 1999.”—[Official Report, 26 October 2015; Vol. 601, c. 39.]
You made it plain that this could not proceed unless the matter were debated here in the House of Commons on a substantive motion. Will the Leader of the House therefore tell me whether the Government have any plans to make time available for such a debate? Will he confirm that if they do not and there is no such debate on the matter on the Floor of the House of Commons, the recommendation cannot go ahead?
That is a matter for discussion by the relevant Committees, and it is on their agenda. As of today, I have had no request to make time available for a debate about it. This is of course a difficult decision; there is a balance to be found between maintaining traditions of this House and this country, and making sure that what we do is cost-effective. It is a matter for lively debate and I am not aware that any final decision has been reached.
May we have a debate, perhaps in Government time or as Back-Bench business, on flooding—[Hon. Members: “There was one yesterday!”]—with a particular focus on the resilience of major critical infrastructure assets? A quarter of all bridges, 10% of all emergency stations and 6% of hospitals are in areas susceptible to flooding. The last flood resilience review did not report to Parliament, because of national security issues. Can the Leader of the House ensure that the next flood resilience review, which is about to be carried out, does report to this place and is dealt with by the Intelligence and Security Committee, and that we treat the issue as the national security threat that it actually is?
One thing we are going to have to do is learn lessons from the flooding, and issues have arisen. For example, mobile phone networks have come down in areas of the country because key parts have been affected by the floods. These things are already being looked at carefully in the Cabinet Office and in government. We had the debate yesterday and there will be further opportunities to discuss this issue in future, but I assure the hon. Lady that work is taking place to make sure that lessons arising from the most recent floods are learned and that we do everything we can to protect our critical national infrastructure—she is right.
May we have a debate on the effect of air pollution on health and the action needed to deal with it? About 7 million people world wide are dying each year because of the effects of air pollution, and locally we face terrible consequences arising from standing traffic, including in my constituency.
I know that my hon. Friend has been a tireless campaigner since her election on trying to secure local improvements, and that she has campaigned on the issue of the Chickenhall Lane link road in her constituency and will carry on doing so. Many of these decisions are now taken locally, in discussions with county councils about what projects should be prioritised for the future, but we will continue to look for ways of investing nationally and providing financial support for local and regional authorities to ensure that we provide the improvements to infrastructure that we need to keep the traffic flowing and to ease the kind of air pollution pressures that come from long traffic jams.
I thank the Leader of the House for the business statement and for notice of the two days of Backbench Business Committee debates to be held on 14 and 21 January. I am glad to say that, before the Christmas recess, we were pretty much up to date with our waiting list of debates to be tabled, and we now have almost a clear deck. I am therefore putting out an appeal to hon. Members across the House for applications for business on those two days.
I commend the hon. Gentleman and his Committee for the work that they do. I also echo what he says. For the Backbench Business Committee system to work well, we do need colleagues from all parts of the House to come forward with topics for debate. In recent weeks, we have seen requests for the traditional annual debates on veterans, policing and so on. It is very much my hope that those traditions will continue, so I encourage Members to go through the appropriate channel of the Backbench Business Committee, where I suspect there will be a receptive ear.
Is the Leader of the House aware that the European Commission is attempting for the third time to impose damaging and wasteful regulations on the UK’s ports? Employers and workers’ representatives agree that those measures will damage investment and jobs. The European Scrutiny Committee, of which I am a member, has called for the measures to be debated on the Floor of the House, not in Committee. Will he look urgently at that matter and ensure that it is properly scrutinised by the whole House?
I am aware of the issue. In the past couple of days I have had a number of discussions with colleagues who represent ports and who have particular concerns about the matter. The Chief Whip and I are considering those representations. I can assure my hon. Friend that that matter is on our agenda. We must ensure that we get it right. The Prime Minister is absolutely right when he talks about the need for deregulation and subsidiarity in Europe. It is not entirely clear to me why we should have European regulation of our ports anyway, and it certainly has to be the right regulation if it has to happen at all.
The Leader of the House will be delighted to know that the “Rough Guide” has put Hull in the top 10 cities of the world to visit, alongside Vancouver and Amsterdam. [Interruption.] I can see that he is delighted by that, given the comments that he is making to the Government Chief Whip. On that basis, can we please have a statement from the Minister responsible for local growth and the northern powerhouse, the hon. Member for Stockton South (James Wharton), in order to discuss how to improve transport links to a global city and the UK city of culture 2017, including electrifying the railway lines and scrapping the tolls on the Humber bridge?
First, let me congratulate the hon. Lady and all the people of Hull on a remarkable achievement. It is always a matter of pride to this country when one of our great cities receives worldwide acclamation. We can all be proud of Hull’s achievement. We should also be proud of Hull’s preparations for the city of culture year. It promises to be a great year for the city. I know that my colleagues in different parts of the Government will do what they can to help ensure that, for the people and the authorities in Hull, it is a moment of great historic importance and great enjoyment.
The Prime Minister has quite rightly made the decision that all Members on the Government Benches can speak with their conscience over the European debate. Given that, can we have a series of debates on the European Union and what it will mean for this country come the referendum, so that people will be aware of what they can and cannot vote for and why they should vote with their conscience, as we will?
I suspect that we will have extensive debates on the matter in this House and around the country over the next few months, and rightly so. It is perhaps the key issue for our generation. The disappointing thing is that, while there appears to be debate in much of the country, there seems to be very little debate coming from the Opposition Benches. Labour Members do not know what they stand for and they are not interested in engaging in debate. They call for a reformed European Union, but they will not say what they are prepared to reform.
First, may I thank the Leader of the House for his kind comments about Arlene Foster’s election as the leader of the Democratic Unionist party and her shortly becoming the First Minister? We look forward to a confident, brighter future in Northern Ireland, taking everybody forward together.
The Leader of the House will be aware, because I know he is interested in the matter, of the High Court decision to grant a buzzard control licence, which took five years to happen. In light of that decision, will he agree to a statement being made in the House to ensure that all future applications for buzzard control licences will be looked upon sympathetically under the criteria that exist?
As somebody who is interested in international development, Mr Speaker, you will be interested to know that I have just returned from Uganda, where I looked at the terrible situation of the malaria epidemic in the north of the country. May we have a debate on the health systems in Uganda, which are failing people? Mothers and children are dying from malaria, which should not be happening in this day and age. May we have an urgent debate in the House to discuss the situation?
First, I commend my hon. Friend for her work. Malaria is a scourge in many parts of the world and is particularly bad in Uganda at the moment. It is a terrible disease that can cost the lives of young people and blight communities. She makes an important point, and I know that she is looking for a debate on Uganda in the House. Of course, a broader debate on the global impact of malaria will take place in the House in the near future, but she makes a good point that the situation in Uganda merits attention in the House. I hope that the fact that we are as prominent a donor of international aid as any country in the world will enable us to do something to help Uganda, a country with which we have historic ties.
When can we debate whether Parliament is slipping back into its bad old ways that led to the expenses scandal? In recent cases involving Malcolm Rifkind, Jack Straw, Tim Yeo and Lord Blencathra, bodies in this House took lenient decisions but independent voices outside, including a court and Ofcom, took harsh decisions. The Committee that adjudicated on Lord Blencathra was chaired by Lord Sewel, who now has his own difficulties. If we do not look at the fact that the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, which is meant to be a watchdog, is in fact a toothless pussycat, and at the uselessness of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which is an expensive ornament, is there not a grave danger that we will slip back and have new scandals in the future?
I think we probably now have the most regulated system of operation of any Parliament in the whole of Europe. Cases can always be made for improving the situation—I am not going to discuss individual Members of this House or the House of Lords—but there are proper processes in the House for making representations on change and improvements, particularly through the Committee on Standards, which has responsibility for deciding not only on individual cases but on the overall approach. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will make representations to that Committee.
This Christmas, news headlines were dominated by the floods. Obviously I am concerned about the amount of wildlife that has been lost, including hedgehogs.
Although Plymouth has not faced the type of problems that saw the railway line at Dawlish washed away, over the past two years the walls have been falling into the sea at both Devil’s Point and Devonport in my constituency. May we have a statement from the Government about how local authorities can apply for money to look after their heritage?
I saw over Christmas that my hon. Friend has continued his valuable campaign on protecting the hedgehog, and I have no doubt that we will hear a lot more about that work in the coming months.
I know that last year the impact of the floods was very much about the south-west, and this year it is about challenges further north. It is important that we learn lessons, and we have ensured that we have made compensation available to communities affected by flooding. Of course, there are various mechanisms and funds available to local communities for the protection of historic buildings and sites. I know that there are many of those in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and I will be happy to ensure that the relevant Minister talks to him about the options that are available.
The Leader of the House will be aware of significant concerns that the UK might be in breach of international law for supplying the Saudis with weapons that are being used in Yemen. Has he any intelligence about when the Arms Export Controls Committee will be re-established? We need that Select Committee to look at these issues and to ensure that the UK is not in breach of international law.
That Committee is effectively a conglomeration of four different Select Committees, which is free to meet whenever it wishes. Its decision to meet or not to meet is not a matter for the Government. It is a matter for the Chairs of those four Committees to come together, to constitute the Committee and to hold meetings. There is no reason why that cannot happen now.
I was disturbed last night when I visited a winter night shelter hosted by churches across Enfield. I spoke to Artur, who told me that if it was not for that night shelter, he would be travelling round on the night buses tonight and on future nights because he is not young or vulnerable enough to get housing. May we have a debate to consider developing a cross-departmental strategy on homelessness which will prevent people such as Artur becoming homeless in the first place, which should not be tolerated in 2016 Britain?
I commend my hon. Friend, who is typical of many people in the House who do unsung and unseen work in the community, visiting shelters, spending nights out with the homeless on the streets, and so on, in other situations. I commend my hon. Friend on what he is doing and on bringing the issue to the House. The best solution to homelessness is more homes and that is the incentive for what this Government are doing, but I will ensure that the relevant Ministers engage with my hon. Friend to discuss what he has learned and to try to ensure that we do what we can to end the blight of homelessness.
May we have a debate on how we improve support for and the dignity of people who suffer incontinence? Sadly, there is a postcode lottery across the UK as to how long they wait to access support and advice. There is also a problem with how often they can access the products they need to deal with their incontinence. In England alone just short of 200,000 people have been admitted to hospital with urinary tract infections. If we tackled this problem, we could give people dignity and respect and save considerable sums of money. May we look at the problem across Government and see how we can begin to tackle it?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. Suffering from the conditions that she describes is enormously disruptive to life and enormously distressing. These matters are devolved not only to the different parts of the United Kingdom, but to local clinical commissioning groups, which take the decisions about how to operate policies in their local communities. Where Members have situations in their constituencies which they think are not right, they need to take those up with local clinical commissioning groups and try to get a change of practice in those communities.
My constituents in Kettering are outraged that an illegal immigrant from Sudan who broke into this country by walking through the channel tunnel has this week been awarded asylum and allowed to stay here. This sends an appalling signal to the staff at Eurotunnel and our hard-working border staff both in this country and in France. What is the point of intercepting these people if they are going to be given permission to stay? Also, it sends a green light to illegal immigrants from across the world that they might as well give it a go because if they make it here, they will get asylum. May we have an urgent statement from the Home Office on this matter?
I understand the concerns that my hon. Friend expresses. We have Home Office questions on Monday. Of course, we are subject to international rules on asylum claims and the best way of addressing the pressures is to continue the work we are doing to make sure that the border controls in Calais are secure. We are grateful to the French Government for the way they work collaboratively with us on this. The protective measures at Calais are much stronger than they were a few months ago, but it is a constant battle for our border forces.
I wish a good new year to the Leader of the House. I congratulate him on his bold leadership of the anti-European faction in the Government, but has he considered what all this means for the geography of the House? As I understand it, if the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) loyally supports his leader by disagreeing with him again, he is going to move from the Front Bench to the Back Bench. In European debates, if the Leader of the House is summing up in future, will he move from the Dispatch Box to the Back Benches? Will he be joined by the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary if they join his rebellion? Call me old-fashioned, but instead of playing musical chairs, could we not go back to the previous practice? When Government Ministers did not agree with the policies of their own Government, they just tendered their resignation.
Perhaps it is north London. Anyway, I look forward to hearing the programme. We are all going to have a lively debate over the next few months, and it is right and proper that we have a debate as a nation, but on the Government Benches we are a united party in government, while on the other side of the House we have an Opposition who are not fit to be an Opposition.
Three quarters of all pension tax relief goes to those who least need it—those paying 40% tax and above. May we have a debate on addressing this unequal situation and proper reform of pension tax relief so that we move to a single-tier relief to benefit millions of ordinary British workers?
The Chancellor of the Exchequer is currently undertaking a review of pension tax relief and the way our pensions system works. My hon. Friend has great expertise in this area, and I urge him to discuss his views with the Chancellor to make sure they are included in the review. When it comes to discussing proposals brought forward by the Treasury, there will be extensive debates in this House.
I am sure, Mr Speaker, that you and the rest of the House were as delighted as me to hear the news that my hon. Friend the Member for Blyth Valley (Mr Campbell) has won the Plain English award for speaking in this House. In line with that, may we have a debate in Government time on the use of language in this House so that we can find out what the Prime Minister means when he says he is going to look into something and what Ministers mean when they constantly say they are reviewing something? We could also discuss what is meant when someone asks a question to which they want an answer but gets something completely unrelated to it?
May we have a debate on the health benefits of eating black pudding? My right hon. Friend will no doubt have seen reports this week that this tasty delicacy is full of protein, potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc so it is not only good for you but is a superfood. A debate will enable us to ensure that its benefits are more widely known. [Interruption.]
I think that my hon. Friend has created a split among those on the shadow Front Bench. There were distinct nods of approval to black pudding from the deputy shadow of the Leader of the House, the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Melanie Onn), and a shout of “Fat!” from the shadow Leader of the House, so I am not sure they share the same view on this. I remember very fondly walking round Bury market with my hon. Friend looking at the fine black puddings on sale there. Some great products are made in Lancashire and they are tasty to eat, perhaps in moderation.
Given that 21 Members stuck it out until half-past 2 yesterday morning to take part in an Adjournment debate on the world’s only Welsh language television channel, S4C, only to receive the blandest of brush-offs, surely there should be an opportunity to discuss and vote on the Government’s policy of whittling the channel to death.
I heard, and the hon. Lady will have heard, the Prime Minister’s comments about S4C yesterday. Welsh language broadcasting is of course important, and any changes that are brought forward would clearly be a matter for discussion and debate in this House.
Last month I chaired a meeting of the all-party parliamentary group on fair fuel for motorists and hauliers in an inquiry into pump prices, where we heard that the number of independent petrol retailers has fallen from 14,000 to 8,600 in the past decade. We were told that automated car washes have been a much-needed source of income for independent petrol retailers, but the Valuation Office Agency calculates that 30,000 people are now employed in the hand car washing industry, and the Petrol Retailers Association calculates that the Treasury could be missing out on £200 million of tax. May we therefore have a debate on the hand car washing industry?
Of course, there will be an opportunity to raise that issue at Treasury questions shortly. The important thing is not to say that we should not have hand car washing in this country, but to make sure that the people and businesses doing the hand car washing are operating properly and appropriately within the tax system and have a legitimate right to do that work, in order to ensure that they perform like any other business.
This week the Department of Justice in the United States filed a civil law suit on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency against Volkswagen, because 600,000 of its car engines were illegal as a result of defeat devices. In the light of the fact that 30,000 people a year die in Britain as a result of diesel particulate emissions—much of the contribution towards which is extra emissions from the illegal defeat devices—what legal action are the Government going to take, in line with the Americans, against VW; and may we have an urgent debate on the matter?
Let us be clear: what VW did was unacceptable and shocking and it has done immense damage to that company. It is utterly inappropriate for any major corporation to act in that way. Prosecution decisions in this country are a matter not for Government, but for the relevant authorities. I am sure they will have noted what the hon. Gentleman has said, but it would be wrong of politicians to get directly involved in whether prosecution decisions should be taken.
Over the Christmas period, I was contacted by two constituents—one was Muslim and the other Jewish—about problems they had with the out-of-hours coroners service. People of those religions need a death certificate within 24 hours in order to comply with their religious beliefs and to dispose of the body. Could a Minister come to the Dispatch Box and explain how the Government are ensuring that a 24-hour coroners service is available to everyone across the whole of the United Kingdom?
May we have a debate in Government time on the plight of the 3,000 refugees living in soaking tents and knee-deep in mud in the Grand-Synthe camp near Dunkirk? There are restrictions on the aid allowed in, 90% of people there are suffering from scabies and 80% this week tested as hypothermic. Does the Leader of the House think that is how people should live? Does he not accept that the UK Government must do more?
I have a simple view on this. We are providing more support to refugees in and around Syria than any other country except the United States, and we are taking thousands of refugees into this country to provide a route for the most vulnerable to escape that environment, but I do not believe that people should simply be able to come through France and into the United Kingdom. If someone is a genuine refugee, they are seeking safe haven. France is a safe haven. It is not clear to me why we should throw open the borders and simply allow people to travel through France and arrive in the United Kingdom.
Honeypot Lane forms part of the border between my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner). It is also part of the borough boundary between the London borough of Brent and Harrow. Brent Council has proposed a parking exclusion zone on Honeypot Lane. All of the residents on the Brent side have been fully consulted and have, unsurprisingly, objected to it, because they have no off-street parking at all, but there has been no consultation whatsoever on the Harrow side, other than a tatty notice applied to a lamppost. Could we have a debate in Government time on the implementation of controlled parking zones and the need for public authorities to properly consult people before anything is done?
Clearly, that is a matter of local controversy and perhaps one on which the two Members can work together. On the overall rules, the practicality will have to be dealt with at local level, but my hon. Friend will have the opportunity at the next Communities and Local Government questions to raise the duties on local authorities to make people aware of changes.
On Tuesday the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), told the House that
“there is no agreement on judicial co-operation”—[Official Report, 5 January 2016; Vol. 604, c. 97.]
in the memorandum of understanding between the UK and Saudi Governments, but the Ministry of Justice report to Parliament states:
“The Secretary of State visited Riyadh in September 2014 to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on Judicial Cooperation”.
The Government have refused to publish the memorandum, so may we have a statement to explain that stark contradiction, unless the Leader of the House wishes to do so now, given that it was he, as the then Lord Chancellor, who signed it for the UK?
Following the recent local government finance settlement, Lancashire County Council will have £730 million available to spend in 2019-20, compared with £704 million this year. Yet the Labour-run council continues to slash services and waste money. The latest example of that is spending £6.6 million on consultants to help it to identify cuts to make. May we have a debate on local government finance so that we can discuss the appalling way in which some of our local councils are run?
We have a debate coming up on funding for rural areas. It is quite noticeable that Conservative councils, with the financial challenges we all face across the country, have risen to those challenges and still deliver high-quality services at a lower price, but Labour councils are struggling even to operate with the money they have.
Driven grouse shoots damage wildlife sites, increase water pollution, increase greenhouse gas emissions, increase water bills, result in the illegal killing of hen harriers and shed water off hillsides, which causes millions of pounds of damage in floods—we have seen such floods in recent weeks—so may we have a debate and a vote on whether to abolish driven grouse shoots?
Conservative Members believe that we should support our countryside and our country traditions. Labour Members have absolutely no interest in rural communities or the people who live in them, and every time they are in power they damage those communities.