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House of Commons Hansard
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Commons Chamber
14 March 2016
Volume 607

House of Commons

Monday 14 March 2016

The House met at half-past Two o’clock

Prayers

[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Business before questions

Transport for London Bill [Lords]

Consideration of Bill, as amended, opposed and deferred until Monday 21 March (Standing Order No. 20.)

Oral Answers to Questions

Work and Pensions

The Secretary of State was asked—

Welfare Reform

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1. What assessment he has made of the effect of his Department’s welfare reforms on low and middle-income households since 2010. [904050]

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As a result of our reforms, the number of people in work is at a record high; income inequality is lower than it was in 2009-10; the number of workless households in the social rented sector is also at a record low; the number of children living in workless households is at a record low; youth unemployment is at the lowest level in a decade; and the employment rate for women is also at a record high.

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I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his answer, but the question was not about work—it was about low income. It is one thing being in work, but it is quite a different matter if people are in work that does not pay them enough to earn a living. Is he concerned about reports at the weekend that the latest changes to the personal independence payment system will adversely affect 640,000 people by 2020, making it difficult or impossible for them to live independent lives? Does he not accept that welfare changes that start with a target saving before any consideration is given to the impact on vulnerable people are always going to go wrong?

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The hon. Gentleman talks about my answers to him about low and middle-income people and work, but the point to make is that work is the best route out of poverty, and it is by getting people back to work that we are getting people out of poverty. It is worth reminding him that the poverty figures show that poverty has fallen, both for adults and for children, and that is the critical bit. The reforms we are making are helping people to help themselves to get beyond dependency and back into full-time work.

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Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the latest low-income statistics show that the percentage of individuals and children in relatively low-income circumstances is at its lowest level since the 1980s?

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Yes, and it is also worth noting that income inequality is now lower than it was in 2009-10. It is worth reminding ourselves that, for all the complaining from the Opposition, income inequality rose under Labour to the highest levels it had ever been.

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But the Secretary of State will know that research analysis from the House of Commons Library shows that three in four people who are currently receiving tax credits will see that in-work support reduced when they are naturally migrated over to universal credit. What does he have to say to those millions of workers whose in-work support will be revised downwards?

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As we have made clear on a number of occasions, anybody migrating across from tax credits will see no change to their income—the Institute for Fiscal Studies has made that clear publicly and we also make it clear. It is also worth reminding the hon. Gentleman, because his party seems to have opposed the advent of universal credit, that in the latest IFS-supported research universal credit claimants are seen to be much more likely to go into work than they would be under jobseeker’s allowance, they move into work faster, they stay in work longer and they earn more money. Those are major positives for people who are trying hard and working, whereas the last Labour Government penalised anybody who wanted to go to work.

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A report published yesterday by the Women’s Budget Group highlighted that this Tory Government’s policies are predicted to be more regressive even than those of their coalition predecessor. The report highlighted that single parent women and single female pensioners will see their standard of living reduced by an average of 23% by 2020. The Secretary of State’s Department’s policies are having a negative impact on gender equality. Will he go back to the drawing board to create a social security and pensions system that is fair and equitable?

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There have been many forecasts and most of them have been absolutely wrong—even the IFS forecast about child poverty has been wrong. It is worth reminding the hon. Gentleman of our reforms: the national living wage will give a boost of £900 to full-time workers who are currently on the national minimum wage; the personal tax allowance rising to £12,500 helps those on low income; and general childcare provision is available. That brings me to his point about lone parents, because universal credit, coupled with the incredibly generous childcare provision, now makes lone parents better off in work than they ever would have been before. That is why more people are going to work.

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That answer will not provide a crumb of comfort to those being hammered by social security cuts up and down this country. Today I have written to the Chancellor, highlighting the devastating impact that the cuts to employment and support allowance and to universal credit will have on disabled and sick recipients. These cuts are predicted to save £1.4 billion, yet just £100 million appears to be set aside for the long-awaited, much vaunted White Paper on health and work. Does the Secretary of State agree that the White Paper must be properly resourced in order to provide direct financial support to the sick and disabled people who are seeing their support cut? Will he today finally confirm when that White Paper will be published?

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The White Paper will be published well before the summer break. It is worth reminding the hon. Gentleman of two things. First, and really importantly, half the spending on welfare and public services still goes to the poorest 40%, as it did in 2009-10. Secondly, it is also important to note that we expect no change in the proportion of spending projected to be received by the lowest and middle quintiles between 2010-11 and 2020. I also say to him that it is a bit rich that the Scottish Nationalists, who are in Government in Scotland and who now face a £15 billion deficit, which would have racked them had they gone for independence, have not once referred to the tough choices that they might have to make to reduce that deficit.

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Politics is always about choices, about priorities and about values. This past weekend, we saw the values and priorities of the current Government laid bare in their decision to implement a so-called welfare reform that will see £1.2 billion cut from the incomes of disabled people to pay for—we are told—a tax cut for top-rate taxpayers. Will the Secretary of State come back to the Dispatch Box and honestly describe that as a welfare reform, and then justify those choices?

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The changes that have been announced on personal independence payment are about changing, reforming and improving what goes to those who most need it in this disability allowance. The key point about this, which has been made by the Under-Secretary of State for Disabled People, my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), is that we put out a consultation long before the Christmas period. The Opposition had an opportunity to make their submissions, which they did, and we listened to all the submissions that came back. As a result, we are not implementing any of the first four options. It is right to continue to recognise aids and appliances and all the activities, as we previously did, but with a change to activities 5 and 6, changing the points numbers from two to one. That brings them into line with activity 3, in which one point has always been awarded for aids and appliances. Finally, activities 5 and 6 are less reliable indicators of additional cost. This all came on the back of an independent review published just after the last election, asking us to look again at the way those indicators are used. We have done that and, in fairness, this is the right way to go and will improve the lot of the worst off.

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For the benefit of the House, may I translate what the Secretary of State has just said? What he means is that he will take away £1.2 billion, completely eroding access to personal independence payment for 200,000 people, and cutting it by a third, from £70 to £50, for a further 450,000 people—people who are quite often unable to use the toilet or get dressed unaided. That comes on top of the cuts to ESA that went through the House last week. Before I came to the Chamber this afternoon, I asked disabled people what question they would like to put to the Secretary of State. One answer stood out. It was quite simply, “How does he sleep at night?”

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I remind the hon. Gentleman that, under this Government, spending on sickness and disability benefits has risen every year. We spend more than £50 billion, which is more than any other OECD country of equivalent size, such as Germany. I am proud of that, and, even with these changes, we will continue to see spending on PIP rise every year all the way to the end of this Parliament. As I have said, I am proud of that, because our reforms ensure that those most in need get full support and that the way that we do it is fair to everybody. I am also proud of the fact that this represents 6% of all Government spending, because, by reforming the economy and reforming welfare, we can get the money to those who most need it. By contrast, when Labour was in Government, we had a lot of promises, a broken economy and cuts all round.

Disability and Employment

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2. What steps he is taking to support people with disabilities into employment. [904051]

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12. What steps he is taking to support people with disabilities into employment. [904061]

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16. What steps he is taking to support people with disabilities into employment. [904066]

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This Government are committed to halving the disability employment gap. In the spending review, we announced a real-terms spending increase on supporting disabled people into work. In the last year, 152,000 more disabled people entered employment. Our forthcoming White Paper will set out our plans to support more disabled people into work.

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I recently met the Kent Learning Disability Partnership, and the people there with disabilities told me that they are keen to work and welcome the Government’s support for that, but they asked me whether the Government would consider following the example of the NHS and introducing an accessible information standard, because they said they often found the communications from my hon. Friend’s Department too confusing and would like them to be easier to understand.

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That is a powerful point. On 14 January I launched a taskforce that included the Royal National Institute of Blind People, the British Deaf Association, Action on Hearing Loss, the National Federation for the Blind, People First, the British Institute of Learning Disabilities, Sense and Mencap to look at that issue and at how, as a Department, we can lead across Government. I would be delighted if my hon. Friend would join that taskforce.

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May I urge the Minister to publish the White Paper on employment support for those with disabilities as soon as practically possible? I take note of the Secretary of State’s earlier response that it would be before the summer break, but there has been some slippage on that. Will my hon. Friend outline what provisions the White Paper will contain on integrating employment and health support?

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We will shortly be publishing the White Paper, which will set out the reforms for improved support for people with disabilities and long-term health conditions. We will be looking at a number of issues, including ways to engage with employers as part of our commitment to halve the disability employment gap, integration across health and employment, and further localised tailored support. This is an exciting opportunity.

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My hon. Friend the Minister will be aware of the superb work that the Salvation Army does in my constituency in helping disabled people get back into employment, and of the fact that I and the jobcentre are about to hold a Disability Confident event. Can my hon. Friend expand on what more his Department can do in Castle Point, not least by engaging with employers to get more of them to take on disabled employees?

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I thank my hon. Friend for agreeing to host her own Disability Confident event. More than 50 MPs from all parties are doing that, supporting our work to halve the disability employment gap, and promoting services such as access to work, where we now have funding for an additional 25,000 places on top of the near-record 38,000 that we are currently helping.

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I call Naz Shah.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker. Question 21.

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No, on this question. Do you wish to come in on this question?

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We may or may not get to question 21. Patience may be rewarded. We shall see.

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Last Friday we heard that an additional £1.2 billion is to be cut from the PIP budget. That translates into £2,000 a year less for more than 60,000 claimants. What method or madness led the Minister to think that cutting support could help PIP claimants into work or to achieve independent living?

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We are continuing to make improvements for claimants across the assessment process for PIP. At the end of this Parliament, we will continue to see increased numbers going through the system and benefiting from PIP.

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The establishment of a taskforce is occasionally a mechanism for kicking the can down the road, but in this case I give the Minister credit for his good intentions. Will he consider adding the Royal British Legion to the list of consultees, because there is a real issue of disabled ex-servicemen and women having a great deal of difficulty getting into work?

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That is an important point, and something we are already doing work on. I would be happy to discuss that further.

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The Government have sunk to a new low with this cut to the personal independence payment. As my hon. Friends have said, by 2020 some 640,000 disabled people will have their personal independence payment cut, a third by £2,865 a year and two thirds by £1,400 a year, stripping disabled people of their independence and their dignity. That is on top of the £24 billion cut to 4 million people since 2012. What are the Government’s estimates of how many of those disabled people will be in work, and how many will be unable to work as a consequence of those cuts?

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PIP is about the extra costs that those with a disability would face. We made these changes on the back of the independent review published by Paul Gray, in which he highlighted concerns about the use of aids and appliance, the three recent legal judgments, and the fact that in the past 18 months we saw a trebling of the number of claimants who were able to access the benefit purely for aids and appliances. We listened carefully to the extensive consultation, including feedback from the hon. Lady, and for that reason aids and appliances will continue to be taken into account across all eight of the daily living components. We have ruled out the other four measures, and by the end of this Parliament there will be even greater numbers benefiting from the PIP system. [Interruption.]

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Well, a Government Member is saying, “Listen to the answer.” Again, I am afraid, it is a non-answer—a hallmark of this dodgy, inept and unjust Government. Let us see whether they can do a bit better with this question.

Social security spending on disabled people as a percentage of GDP is lower now than it was in 1960. The Conservative manifesto for the last general election pledged not to cut social security support for disabled people. How and why have the Government gone back on that commitment, and how much more do they think disabled people will be able to take?

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We spend almost double what the Germans spend—about 6% of our Government spending, which is more than we spend on our police and defence budgets combined.

Family Stability

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3. What assessment he has made of the effect of family stability on levels of poverty and on life chances. [904052]

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15. What assessment he has made of the effect of family stability on levels of poverty and on life chances. [904065]

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Our family stability review found that family instability is one of the main drivers of poverty, with unstable families more likely to have low incomes. That is why support for families is firmly at the heart of what we are doing in Government, such as doubling the funding for relationship support and doubling the amount of free childcare.

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I welcome the Government’s determination to tackle the root causes of poverty. With respect to the doubling of funding for the relationship support scheme, what steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that the scheme can be accessed across the country by those who find it hardest to reach Government support and those who most need it?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I pay tribute to the huge amount of work he has done in backing this up and supporting it, and to the work he is doing at present to make sure it gets across to everybody. We are clear that any new or extended support that we provide—and we do—will need to be accessible and effective for all families, no matter where they are, with additional, complex needs, and more will be said on that when we bring forward the life chances strategy, to be published this summer. However, I can guarantee to him that it is the No. 1 priority to make sure everybody who needs support gets it.

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Domestic violence is a stain on our society and often a cause of family instability. The Southern Domestic Abuse Service supports victims of domestic violence in Fareham, providing help in the community as an alternative to fleeing for refuge, which is often more costly and disruptive for the family. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Southern Domestic Abuse Service on the vital work it does?

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I certainly will. I myself have been in the House on a ten-minute rule Bill to try to improve access to legal means to prosecute those who drive people to suicide, and I still believe this is something that could be done. I congratulate my hon. Friend and her remarkable charity. The Government have backed that work up, because we have now trebled the amount of money going to these organisations. I would be very happy, at some point, to meet them to congratulate them myself.

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Would the Secretary of State like to confirm that if we look at the current poverty data, we see that there are almost no poor children in households where there is a parent in work and one parent is available for part-time work? What lesson does he draw from that?

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I simply draw the lesson that we want more people to get back into work, because a household with work is a household that is more likely to be out of poverty. As usual, I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman, because he has done a huge amount of work on this issue. That lesson has been the drive behind everything that we have done—universal credit, our attempt to make sure that people get into work, and increased childcare to improve the possibility for more women to be in work to boost household income. However, universal credit also ensures that the first person into work is better off, and that therefore improves the likelihood of a household having more income and less chance of being in poverty.

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If we are talking about cause and effect, I fear the question is the wrong way around. What I would like the Secretary of State to explain is how increasing levels of poverty under his Government are affecting family stability. Perhaps he might answer that question.

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I just wish the hon. Gentleman would check the figures. There are 800,000 fewer people in relative poverty, including 300,000 fewer children. [Interruption.] I know it is always awkward for the Opposition when the facts do not bear out the rhetoric, but the reality is that the proportion on a relative low income is the lowest since the 1980s, income inequality is lower than it was when his Government left office, and household disposable income is £1,500 higher than two years ago. It is improving, but it is not good enough—we want to go further and further. All I can say is that we are working to get people into work and make sure that work always pays, as it is the route out of poverty. I just wish that instead of carping, Labour Members would one day support that.

Disability: Welfare Support

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4. What steps he has taken to review the system of assessments for disabled people seeking welfare support. [904053]

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Independent reviews have been carried out of the assessments for personal independence payment and work capability assessment. The first review of the assessment for personal independence payment was undertaken and published in December 2014. There have also been five independent reviews of the work capability assessment.

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Disabled people, particularly those with mental challenges, report that the work capability assessment is exacerbating their ill health, even to the point that they want to take their own life. Those constituents are vulnerable and fragile. The situation is made worse by changes in benefits, financial hardship, and threats of future cuts. Rather than deny the problem, will the Secretary of State order an independent review of those with mental health challenges to assess the impact of the system from a service user’s perspective?

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Following the Dr Litchfield recommendations, we accept that more needs to be done. We are improving training for staff, and now, across the jobcentre networks, we have mental function champions who can spread best practice in mental health.

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In view of Friday’s statement, why do the Government have such a compulsive need to hit out at disabled people at every opportunity? Does the Minister not realise how difficult it is for those people to lead their lives while their income is being undermined by the Government? This can only be described as an ongoing Tory war against the disabled.

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I simply do not accept that. We are increasing the numbers of people who will benefit from the PIP system, we continue to improve the claimant’s journey, and we work extensively with our stakeholders to make sure that improvements are ongoing. By the end of this Parliament, we will be spending more money in this area than we are today.

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One of my constituents, a Mr McLoughlin, is registered as blind, but he has been denied, through the access to work scheme, essential equipment to help him work. The reason given was that able-bodied people would also be able to use the equipment. I am interested to know what equipment the Minister believes an able-bodied person could not use that a registered blind person could. Will he personally look into Mr McLoughlin’s case and that of others who face the same difficulty?

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I will happily look into it, because without having all the details I cannot comment. On the broader issue, we are now helping more than 38,000 people a year—close to record numbers—with the access to work funding, which is in the fourth year of growth, and we have just secured funding for a further 25,000.

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My constituent, who is also registered blind, has told me how valuable the access to work scheme has been in getting him into work. His disability employment adviser contacted a new employer about his needs and they made workplace adjustments without which it would be very difficult for him to hold down his job. Is it not the case that this scheme is extremely valuable in supporting people such as my constituent?

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I thank my hon. Friend. That is why we were so delighted to secure the extra funding for a further 25,000 places. We will be doing a lot more to promote this scheme, and I encourage employers to take advantage of it.

Steel Workers

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5. What support the Government are providing to redundant steel workers to help them get back into skilled work. [904054]

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The rapid response service delivers tailored support for individuals and communities affected by large-scale redundancies. This service was used to help steel workers affected by recent job losses at SSI in Redcar, and of course at Tata in Scunthorpe and Port Talbot.

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I thank the Minister for that answer. A few weeks ago we heard the very troubling news that 30 jobs were to be lost at Corby’s Tata site. What support has the Department provided, alongside others, to those 30 individuals and their families?

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My hon. Friend is right to mention the Corby site. Again, support from the rapid response service and the Department’s team was offered to Tata workers following the announcement of the job losses. On top of that, at this very difficult time, we are giving those individuals support through our DWP network—for example, guidance on job applications, training and support—to enable them to get into work all over again.

Universal Credit

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6. How many people his Department expects to be naturally migrated on to universal credit during this Parliament. [904055]

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Universal credit is rolling out, with the live service available in over 90% of jobcentres, and full roll-out will continue according to the published plan. It is worth reminding everybody that it is complete in London, and very shortly—probably by the end of this month or the beginning of next—universal credit will be in pretty much every single jobcentre in the country.

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The Secretary of State made reference earlier to unreliable predictions. He predicted that by today’s date 8 million people would be on universal credit, but the DWP confirmed last week that fewer than 365,000 people are on universal credit—a staggeringly pathetic success rate of 4.4%. The only reason why the Government are pushing out universal credit now is to deliver the tax credit cut that will hit thousands of working families in my constituency, so is it not time the quiet man went silent on pretending that universal credit is a success?

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I bet that looked good when the hon. Gentleman wrote it down. It is utter rubbish.

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I hope that the Secretary of State does not think that this is a load of rubbish. I visited this morning, with Dame Steve Shirley, a wonderful place where young people with autism are prepared for work. They are very concerned about how universal credit is going to affect them, because they have already seen education not being allowed in their personal plans. Remember that autism costs this country £34 billion a year. If we do not get those young people into employment, the sum will increase and the misery of the families will also increase.

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The hon. Gentleman is right. Autism is a real problem, and we want to help the young people and adults who have that problem as much as we can. Universal credit lends itself hugely to that. Unlike in the past, when those people would have gone from jobseeker’s allowance to working tax credits by themselves and had no advice, help or support once in work, under universal credit the adviser will stay with them all the way.

Importantly, we have now committed £100 million to train advisers to be specialists in helping people who have medical conditions such as autism, and that should help enormously. I would be very happy for the hon. Gentleman to come and discuss with me and the Minister for Disabled People what more we can do, because we are determined to make sure that universal credit helps those in the deepest need as much as it possibly can.

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The Secretary of State told “The Andrew Marr Show” show on 6 December:

“Nobody will lose any money on arrival on universal credit from tax credits because they’re cash protected, which means there’s transitional protection. They won’t be losing any money.”

If there were any doubt about that reassurance, the Secretary of State repeated it earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne). But according to the Library, only 27% of the final case load for universal credit will have got there through managed migration, so 73% of them will not have received transitional protection. Apply that to the current tax credit claimants in work, and 2.3 million families will be worse off as a result of moving from tax credits to universal credit. [Interruption.] Oh, I will give you the question. Will the Secretary of State apologise to those families for giving such nonsensical reassurances?

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I say to the hon. Gentleman that he is completely wrong on all that. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has made it absolutely clear that

“no family will take an immediate…hit”

when transferred to universal credit. That is a reality. They are cash protected. Therefore, as they move across, their income levels at the time will remain exactly the same. As we said earlier, we are transitionally protecting them. I just wish that the Opposition, unless they want to stay forever in opposition, would get with it and support universal credit instead of attacking it all the time.

Universal Credit

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7. What estimate his Department has made of the likely average change in income for a disabled worker as a result of changes to the universal credit work allowance. [904056]

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The effect of changes to universal credit work allowances cannot be considered in isolation. They form part of a broader package of measures, including the new national living wage and the increase in the personal tax allowance.

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I thank the Minister for that response, but the Library disagrees and suggests that next year, disabled people will lose £1,700 on average. May I suggest respectfully to the Minister that nobody chooses to be disabled, that they are that way through illness, accident or simply bad luck? Now is the time not to pile more misery on those unfortunate people, but to give them a bit of dignity by not making this dreadful cut.

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The only point I would make is that this Government are supporting more disabled people to get them back into work. I of course agree with the hon. Gentleman’s point about dignity. We absolutely are providing dignity to individuals, by supporting them into work and also in giving them the financial support that will secure their employment in the long run.

Women and the State Pension

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8. What the average notice period was for women whose pension age was brought forward by the Pension Act 2011. [904057]

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Women whose pension age was increased had a notice period, between Royal Assent and their new state pension age, of between four years and eight months and 14 years and five months. The average notice period was 10 years and 11 months.

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One of the 1,400 women in my constituency affected by these changes recently told me that she is still waiting for official notification from the Department. Does the Minister accept the abject failure on the part of the DWP to communicate these changes to the women affected by them? Does he think it is acceptable that some women have found out only through the brilliant work of the Women Against State Pension Inequality campaigners?

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Between 2009 and 2010, over 5 million notices were sent to people, according to the records held by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. I would point out to the hon. Lady that, in 2012, only 6% of women within 10 years of state pension age thought that their state pension age would be at age 60.

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Given the rhetoric in the recent Opposition day debate about the state pension age changes, does the Minister share my surprise that the six options put forward by the shadow Secretary of State would not make much difference at all to many women born in the 1950s? Does he agree that it is time for the Opposition to be clear about the choices they would make and how they would pay for them, and also to be clear about the changes they would not make?

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Order. I know that the Minister will want to focus exclusively, and doubtless with loving care, on his own policy, and will not dilate on that of the Opposition, which would be disorderly. Knowing the hon. Gentleman, I do not think he does disorderly.

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You put that so eloquently, Mr Speaker, but I hope you will allow me to make the odd comment. It would be impractical to follow the Opposition’s policies because they have no sense of arithmetic.

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We are not just dealing with the issue of the notice period: there is a fundamental unfairness. Let us take an example: a constituent of mine born in 1953 would have retired at age 63, but a woman born on 10 February 1954 will not retire until July 2019, two and a half years later. That is patently unjust. What the Government can do is to mitigate the timetable so that people have time to react. That is the right thing to do, and the Government should act.

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The hon. Gentleman talks about mitigating things. May I just say to him that transitional arrangements were made at the time? Those transitional arrangements cost £1.1 billion. The period that women would have to work before they retired was reduced from two years to 18 months, and 81% of the women affected by that period of 18 months will not have an extension of beyond 12 months.

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I am really disappointed that the Minister still does not recognise that those women were given a totally inadequate notice period. Given that unfairness and the Secretary of State’s earlier comments—this Government are pretending they want to take people out of poverty—will the Minister look at the six options we have presented to the Government to deal with this injustice? Will he, as many Members of his party would support doing, allow those affected—[Interruption.] I am coming to that, if the hon. Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman) would listen. Will the Minister allow those affected to take a reduced state pension at an earlier age and be paid a lower state pension for a longer period?

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As far as the six options are concerned, all of them have a cost. It is time that the Opposition started to think about where the money would come from. The hon. Lady lays the blame at the feet of this Government, but she might reflect on the 13 years during which her party was in power, when it did absolutely nothing. [Interruption.] She is chuntering from a sedentary position about £20-something billion. May I just say to her that the cost of undoing the Pensions Act 2011 would be £30 billion?

Unemployment

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9. What progress his Department has made on reducing the rate of unemployment. [904058]

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13. What progress his Department has made on reducing the rate of unemployment. [904063]

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In 2010, we inherited from Labour an unemployment rate of 8%. Since then, we have made excellent progress and the unemployment rate has continued to fall. It is now 5.1 %, which is the lowest rate in a decade.

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I thank the Minister for that answer. As I am sure all hon. Members are aware, this week is apprenticeship week. May I therefore ask her what steps are being taken to help to convert apprenticeship places into full-time positions, particularly in my constituency of Derby North?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right—this week is national apprenticeship week. In her area, there have been in excess of 5,000 apprenticeship starts. We are working with employers and have an employer engagement strategy across the Government, to ensure not only that we leverage our work in terms of encouraging more employers to take apprentices, but that apprenticeships are converted into careers—not just full-time jobs, but lifelong careers—for those young people who have the privilege of participating in those schemes.

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Many of my constituents work hard in the tourism industry but unfortunately become unemployed at the end of the season. Forward-thinking employers are annualising those seasonal contracts so that people are better able to plan their money and fewer people become unemployed. Will my right hon. Friend tell me what the Government are doing to encourage that good annualising of contracts?

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My hon. Friend is right, particularly about seasonal work and seasonal trends in local labour markets. Working with employers is crucial in ensuring that the Department for Work and Pensions and our jobcentres understand the flows and patterns in the local labour market. It is also crucial for us in the Department for Work and Pensions—we are doing this—to work with those individuals who find that seasonal work or changes in hours suit their individual needs and flexibility. Obviously, we work with Jobcentre Plus to ensure that we support people to fill those roles.

Women Against State Pension Inequality

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11. Whether he has had discussions with the Women Against State Pension Inequality campaign; and if he will make a statement. [904060]

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It is fair to say that many in the House have had discussions or correspondence with members of the WASPI campaign. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that, in recent weeks, we have had a number of debates in which Members of Parliament on both sides of the House have expressed the views of their constituents.

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I am grateful to the Minister for that answer and encourage him to continue the engagement with the WASPI campaign. One of its achievements has been to bring forward an army of women who say that they were not given proper and effective notice of what was coming towards them in terms of their retirement age. Whether that was the right thing or the wrong thing to do is no longer the issue. The fact is that it was done badly, and that now needs proper attention.

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I have a huge amount of respect for the right hon. Gentleman—I had the privilege of serving in the coalition Government Whips Office when he was one of the deputy Whips. At the time, he supported the Pensions Act 2011 and was responsible for persuading his Lib Dem colleagues to do likewise. One thing that was always the case with the Lib Dems before the coalition Government was that they blew with the wind. There was a temporary pause during the coalition Government. He is now proving that blowing with the wind is part of the Lib Dems’ DNA, and that they are back to normal.

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The Opposition suggestion that the Government could allow that group of women to take their pensions early from the age of 63 has not been fully costed by anyone. Will my hon. Friend share with the House what the implications might be in terms of cost, whether it needs primary legislation and whether men over the age of 65 will be affected?

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We have today published information regarding that. It would cost additional funds, and the Opposition and others who support that position might wish to take that into account.

Youth Employment

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17. What steps his Department is taking to help young people into employment. [904067]

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We are determined that young people should not slip into a life on benefits, but that they are either earning or learning. That is why we have launched Jobcentre Plus support in schools and will introduce the youth obligation in 2017, to ensure that young people get the best possible start in life.

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In my constituency of South Leicestershire, we have seen a welcome fall of 81% in the youth claimant count, from 505 in 2010 to 95 now. That has been achieved through the strong joint working between my right hon. Friend’s Department, local authorities such as Blaby and Harborough District Councils, local enterprise partnerships, and not least businesses. Does she agree that it is through empowering and devolving responsibilities to those closest to the communities that we are most able to provide the support needed to help young people to get back to work?

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I pay tribute to all the local stakeholders in my hon. Friend’s constituency who have been providing vital employment support to people to get the claimant count down so low. He is right to say that local decisions help to get people into work. That is why we are always mindful of local labour market trends.

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Next month, Bexhill will be holding its first jobs and apprenticeships fair. This event, which I have put on in partnership with Jobcentre Plus and other local organisations, will allow constituents to meet 50 participating organisations. Does my right hon. Friend agree that local organisations working together can help us towards the goal of full employment?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I speak with experience of not just my own constituency but the many other constituencies I have visited where jobs and apprenticeships fairs have taken place. The crucial point is that they can only happen with the support of local employers. The Department will continue to work at national and constituency level with local employers to support jobs and apprenticeships fairs like the one to which he refers.

Private Sector Jobs

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18. What recent assessment he has made of trends in the number of private sector jobs; and if he will make a statement. [904069]

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Supported by welfare reform and the Government’s long-term economic plan, we have seen worklessness fall. This has helped to boost private sector employment. There are now a record 26 million people working in the private sector, up by 2.7 million since 2010.

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Is the Minister aware that since 2010 unemployment in my constituency has fallen by 67% from 1,900 to 624? Does she agree that one should look behind those statistics to all those lives that have been transformed: families with hope for the future and pride in themselves?

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My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Work and employment turn around the lives of families and communities. In his constituency and region, we have seen record levels of employment. That is down to the Government’s policies and, as I said earlier, to the support we have had from employers, who are, ultimately, the job creators in our economy.

Workless Households

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19. What progress his Department has made on reducing the number of workless households. [904070]

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When we took office almost one in five households had no one in work and about 1.4 million people had been on benefits for most of the previous decade. Since 2010, the number of workless households has fallen by more than 680,000 to its lowest level since records began. The number of children in workless households is at a record low, down nearly 480,000 since 2010.

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Does my right hon. Friend agree that making progress in reducing the number of people in workless households is key to improving the life chances of millions of children?

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I do agree with my hon. Friend. From all the evidence, we know that children in workless households grow up without the aspiration to achieve, something they might have if they grow up in driven families who are in work. They are almost certain to repeat the difficult lives of their parents and we want to turn those lives around. Since 2010, the number of workless households in the social rented sector has fallen by more than 280,000 to a record low. It is worth remembering that when we took office in 2010 the number of households where no one had ever worked had nearly doubled under the previous Labour Government.

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I call Angus Brendan MacNeil. He is not here. Where is the fellow? I call Naz Shah.

Child Poverty

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21. What assessment his Department has made of the effect of recent changes to benefits on levels of child poverty. [904072]

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I congratulate the hon. Lady on getting her question in.

We have seen relative child poverty fall by 300,000 since we came to office. The number of children living in workless households is also down 480,000 to a record low. Living standards are up 3.3% and income inequality, which rose under the previous Labour Government, is down since 2010.

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In the light of research published by the Children’s Society, which shows that 104,000 children in Bradford are adversely affected by the benefit freeze and that in my constituency alone 29,500 children are living in poverty, does the Minister not think he would be better off arguing with his Chancellor about his Budget rather than needlessly pushing more families and children into poverty?

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I simply do not agree with the hon. Lady, because the figures do not bear it out. It is worth remembering that in-work and out-of-work poverty rose under the last Labour Government. Under this Government, out-of-work poverty, which affected 71% of households with children in 2009-10, has fallen to 61% and is still falling. As we know, three quarters of poor children living in families that move into employment leave poverty altogether. A child poverty transitions report made that very clear. I think we should all celebrate getting people and families back to work, as we have been doing, and giving them a real chance to earn and have aspiration.

Topical Questions

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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [904040]

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As agreed with the Work and Pensions Select Committee when I was last in front of it, I can now inform the House that today we are launching the sanctions early warning trial for claimants. From April, early warning letters will begin to be issued to claimants within the trial site. The trial is being run in Scotland and gives jobseekers an extra 14 days to provide further evidence of their reasons for not complying before a sanction is applied.

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My constituent Nick Dale is 36 years old and has a complex range of disabilities. His care package has just been reduced by Cambridgeshire County Council from 17 hours a week to 6.5 hours. The council told him he should see this not negatively but as a way

“of utilizing the strengths and resources that he may not realise he has within himself.”

His mother is appalled by his loss and the patronising tone—borrowed from the Government. If I lift the Secretary of State’s wallet in the Lobby tonight, would it help him utilise hidden strengths he did not realise he had, or is he as furious as I am about the way Nick Dale has been treated?

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I am happy to look at that case. The Health and Social Care (Safety and Quality) Act 2015 should have put stronger protections in place, but I am happy to look at this matter further.

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T2. JPMorgan Chase, Sunseeker, Lush, Cobham and many other local businesses are supporting the inaugural Mid Dorset and North Poole apprenticeships and jobs fair. Does the Minister agree that supporting young people into apprenticeships is vital, and will she agree to open my jobs fair in Wimborne? [904041]

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I thank my hon. Friend for his kind invitation. I would be happy to look into it and try to come to his constituency. It is National Apprenticeship Week as well. He is right of course that employers, such as the outstanding ones he referred to, continue to do their utmost to support young people. I myself will be visiting many employers in Essex this week just to make that point to them.

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T4. Last month, the Minister said that the idea that there was a 20-metre rule for assessing eligibility for enhanced mobility allowance was an “urban myth”, but in the case of my constituent Cathy Walsh—I must acknowledge that the Minister listened to my case—it was only when her consultant provided evidence that she could walk no more than 20 metres that her eligibility was reviewed and her benefit reinstated. What steps will the Government take to clarify this issue with assessors and to ensure that other disabled people do not have to suffer as my constituent has? [904043]

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To be absolutely clear, the assessment is whether an individual can safely, repeatedly, to an acceptable standard and in a reasonable time period walk a certain distance. It is not a case of saying that if someone gets to 19.9 metres, they qualify for the money, but if they get to 20.1 metres, they do not. It is assessed according to the criteria I have set out, and we will continue to make sure that assessors are aware of that.

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T3. Un- employment in Cheltenham has fallen by 66% since 2010. Will the Minister join me in thanking staff at Cheltenham’s Jobcentre Plus office, who hosted a very successful jobs fair recently and who are working hard to bring opportunity to those seeking to get on in life and provide for their families? [904042]

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I am delighted to hear of the outstanding work undertaken by our local Jobcentre Plus staff. In fact, all our JCP staff across the country do great work supporting people, getting them off benefits and into work and helping to transform their lives. I am delighted to see that the employment rates in my hon. Friend’s constituency are going from strength to strength.

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T5. The House will be aware that hundreds of thousands of pensioners live in countries where there is no uprating. Now that we are facing the EU referendum, and given that 400,000 British pensioners live elsewhere in the EU, will the Minister tell us what will happen to either the partial or the full uprating for British pensioners if we leave the EU? [904044]

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I remind the hon. Gentleman that the position of the Government is that we are better off in the EU: the people of Britain will be safer and more secure.

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T8. The Octagon theatre in Bolton is undergoing an upgrade to improve accessibility to disabled people. Will my right hon. Friend update us on the work being done to ensure that more public venues have better accessibility to disabled people? [904049]

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I thank my hon. Friend for raising this issue. We are doing extensive work in this area, recognising the combined spending power of £212 billion for those with disabilities. We are doing particular work with my colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to make cultural and music venues accessible. Attitude is Everything is a fantastic charity. A task group is looking with leading operators at restaurants, and good progress has been made with sports facilities, particularly with the premier league.

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T6. The Minister dismisses the six suggestions of my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for transitional arrangements as somehow mathematically challenged—or perhaps it was challenging. This issue is about fairness, however, and about establishing a fair transitional arrangement for the WASPI women. Has the Minister actually costed any of the six suggestions, or has he just dismissed them all out of hand? [904046]

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Yes, we have costed them, and a response to a freedom of information request is coming out today. When the hon. Lady talks about fairness and says that there should be transitional arrangements, I simply ask her to look back at Hansard for the year 2011, where she will find that on Second Reading, the then Secretary of State who is the current Secretary of State said that he would go away and consider—and he did. Four months later, transitional arrangements were implemented. They cost £1.1 billion and a reduction was made to the period from two years to 18 months, so transitional arrangements have been put in place.

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Last year, the Under-Secretary of State for Disabled People, my hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson), met Newlife, a Cannock-based charity that provides specialist disability equipment to children across the country. Will my hon. Friend join me in commending Newlife’s work, and does he agree that the provision of this equipment at this early stage means that these children can have a better quality of life?

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It is a fantastic organisation; I enjoyed meeting Newlife. I have already taken the opportunity to highlight its good work and how we can promote it further in tandem with my colleagues in the Department of Health.

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T7. In December, the Secretary of State said:“For those already on universal credit, advisers will…ensure that their status remains the same”.—[Official Report, 7 December 2015; Vol. 603, c. 703.]However, the Government’s decision appears to have changed; they are now saying that it is at the discretion of work coaches to use the flexible support fund. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the 60,000 workers currently on universal credit will, in his own words, have their status remain “the same”? [904048]

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Universal credit is now pretty much rolled out all over the country. The Institute for Fiscal Studies made it clear in respect of anybody transitioning from tax credits that

“no family will take an immediate…hit”

because they are “transitionally protected”. I said at the time that we would do our level best, working with the advisers and through the flexible support fund, to make sure that people’s situations continued and actually improved. That is exactly what universal credit will do. That is why I wonder why the Opposition do not support it. More people go into work quicker; they get into work faster; they actually earn more money; and they stay and work longer.

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The Minister will be aware that almost 15% of the working population are self-employed, and that in five years’ time, about 40,000 of them will be living in Wiltshire. Does he agree that something needs to be done and that a self-employed auto-enrolment scheme could be looked at? Would he welcome the inclusion of such a thing in this week’s Budget?

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Auto-enrolment is a very important issue that this Government are undertaking. I am happy to report that some 6 million people have already taken part in the initiative. This is something that will be of particular benefit to women, who will have the opportunity to enrol as part of a pension, which will certainly help their chances in the future.

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When the Minister for Disabled People recently met Ravi Metha, Sulaiman Khan and Tanvi Vyas-Brady, campaigners from Muscular Dystrophy UK’s Trailblazers group, he heard at first hand the challenges that young disabled people face looking for work. Will he confirm that he can and will arrange for these young people to meet his access to work team so that their experiences can directly influence future DWP policies?

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I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for taking the time to introduce those truly inspirational young ambassadors. They were brilliant in the meeting, and I look forward to them actively engaging with our access to work team to help to improve that service. It was a real pleasure.

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One of the welcome provisions of the Pensions Act 2014 was the lifting of the Pension Protection Fund cap; yet, nearly two years on, this clause is still to be implemented. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet me and a cross-party delegation to discuss how we might move the issue forward and bring security in retirement to those who have found their pensions seriously curtailed through no fault of their own?

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I am very happy to meet my hon. Friend and any others he wants to bring with him. This Government have a proud record on reforming pensions. The single tier will mean that pension incomes improve dramatically, particularly for those who have broken care. We also have auto-enrolment, which is massively increasing savings among those who have never saved before. Finally, the freedom to take an annuity or not, as and when a pension comes due, is enormous. I am very happy to make sure that reform programme continues, and I will happily meet my hon. Friend.

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Can the Secretary of State tell me how many jobseeker’s allowance claimants have been sanctioned in the period between being offered work and taking up work?

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I do not have the figures to hand, but I am very happy to write to the hon. Lady about that. I have to say, the number of people who have been sanctioned has fallen dramatically in the last 12 months, and I am sure she will be very happy to see the figures.

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I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for Disabled People for attending a highly successful Disability Confident event in my constituency on Friday 10 days ago. Does he agree that such events are vital to ensuring that employers get the help they need and, crucially, that people with disabilities are moved closer to the world of employment?

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I thank my hon. Friend for his hard work in championing disability employment opportunities. The good businesses of Ilfracombe seized that opportunity, which will make a real difference in the local community.

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Have any DWP Ministers had conversations with Department of Health Ministers about the consultation on financial support for those who received contaminated blood in the ’70s and ’80s and whether they should have their benefits passported through to the new personal independence payment scheme?

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I am very happy to meet the hon. Lady to discuss that further.

EU Referendum (Privy Council)

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Before I call the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson) to ask the urgent question, which I am allowing him to ask, I remind all Members of the House that, and I quote from “Erskine May”:

“Her Majesty cannot be supposed to have a private opinion, apart from that of her responsible advisers; and any attempt to use her name in debate to influence the judgment of Parliament is immediately checked and censured…A Minister is, however, permitted to make a statement of facts in which the Sovereign’s name may be concerned.”

I earnestly hope that hon. Members will spare me the embarrassment of having to stop them in their tracks if they seek to draw to the House’s attention any alleged views of the monarch on the EU or, indeed, anything else. The urgent question has been carefully drafted by the hon. Member for West Bromwich East to cover process and not substance. I hope that colleagues will frame their questions accordingly.

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(Urgent Question): I seek not to embarrass you in any way, Mr Speaker, but to ask the Lord President of the Council if he will make a statement on the adherence to the rules and conventions of the Privy Council in the light of the suspension of collective responsibility in connection with the European Union referendum.

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The Privy Council provides support to Her Majesty in the implementation of the functions of the Crown. The members of the Council also have access to confidential national information and documentation related to national security, and receive briefings about secrets related to these matters. They swear an oath to maintain the confidentiality of these briefings. None of that has changed because of the current circumstances.

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Last Wednesday, The Sun published a front-page story relating to the EU referendum, which it said was based on two “impeccably placed” sources. The right hon. Gentleman will know that every member of the Privy Council swears a solemn and binding oath to the Queen that they will, in the words of the oath,

“keep secret all Matters committed and revealed unto you”.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) has written to the right hon. Gentleman asking for an investigation. Will he please confirm that that will take place? Will he also confirm that the Privy Council rules have not been suspended as a result of the referendum? Three members have categorically denied that they are the source, yet the Justice Secretary has only said:

“I don’t know how The Sun got all its information”.

That is hardly categorical.

The sovereign’s constitutional impartiality is an established principle of our democracy, and it is incumbent on those in political office to ensure that that remains the case. Such a breach would be particularly serious and significant. Had the Justice Secretary disclosed this information, he would have breached the principle of confidentiality and prayed in aid the monarch in a politically controversial manner, but he would also have undermined his role as the Minister responsible for upholding the rule of law. Does the Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House therefore agree that the public have a right to know whether the Justice Secretary was a source of this story, and will he now urge his colleague to confirm or deny such allegations?

There has been a referral to the Independent Press Standards Organisation to investigate a complaint about the story, but IPSO cannot investigate whether a Privy Counsellor has broken his oath. Only the Minister or the Prime Minister can order that investigation. A cover-up will not do. Surely any member of the Privy Council who was a source of this story, or whose special adviser or ally was, stands in contempt of his Privy Council oath, and should be removed from office if he will not honourably resign himself.

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As the hon. Gentleman said, last week a national newspaper published a story that was allegedly based on a conversation that had taken place at a lunch following a Privy Council meeting. However, my predecessor as Lord President, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg), has said very clearly that the story is categorically untrue. As the House is aware, Buckingham Palace has referred the matter to IPSO, the new press complaints body, which is now investigating. Given all those facts, I do not believe that there is any need for further action here.

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I agree with my right hon. Friend that the proper way to conduct this matter is the way in which Her Majesty’s office has conducted it, and I do not see how the House can spend all its time investigating every story in the newspapers that upsets some people, to try to find out who the sources were if neither the sources nor the newspapers wish to reveal it.

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My right hon. Friend makes an important point. As I have said, the last Lord President said very clearly that the story was categorically untrue, and therefore, by definition, it must be a matter for the body that investigates complaints about the media.

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I am surprised that the Leader of the House does not want to carry out an inquiry. Let me call on him again to do so. After all, the Government were able to carry out a successful leak inquiry into the Scotland Office’s dealings before the independence referendum. Will the Leader of the House reflect on that experience?

There also seems to be a disagreement on a question of fact between the Prime Minister and the Justice Secretary. Does the Leader of the House think that the Prime Minister is handling the situation well?

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I can only refer to what I said a moment ago, which is that the former Lord President, who attended the said event, has said that the story is categorically untrue. It is therefore a matter for the press complaints body, and not a matter for anyone in the House or in the Government.

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Does my right hon. Friend agree that what we are witnessing is a poorly disguised example of the tendency of the Labour party to play the man and not the ball in any given circumstances? Does he also agree that the workings of the Privy Council are a matter for the Privy Council, and its rules are not the same rules that apply to Ministers who are answerable to the House of Commons?

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My right hon. Friend is absolutely right—and it is worth pointing out that the conversation that is alleged to have taken place, and which the former Lord President said did not take place, did not take place at a Privy Council meeting.

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Does the Leader of the House agree that when it comes to serial offenders, one of the most effective forms of reparation for the victim is restorative justice, whereby the offender apologises directly to the victim? Does he support the principles of restorative justice?

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I support the principles of justice, and I also support the principle that people are innocent unless proven guilty.

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As the Lord High Chancellor is the keeper of the Queen’s conscience, is it not inconceivable that he could misapply his conscience to Her Majesty? In the Privy Council oath, Privy Counsellors are asked to swear:

“You will to your uttermost bear Faith and Allegiance to the Queen’s Majesty; and will assist and defend all civil and temporal Jurisdictions, Pre-eminences, and Authorities, granted to Her Majesty and annexed to the Crown by Acts of Parliament, or otherwise, against all Foreign Princes, Persons, Prelates, States, or Potentates.”

How, therefore, can members of the Privy Council go off and be European Commissioners swearing allegiance to the European Union?

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That is an interesting point—some would say a fascinating point—but it is perhaps mildly tangential to the urgent question that I have selected. But we all savour the observations of the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg), so let us savour the reply.

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Mr Speaker, I think you would agree that my hon. Friend makes his remarks in his customary way and that what he has said perhaps says it all.

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The Leader of the House prayed in aid the former Deputy Prime Minister’s categorical denial that that conversation ever took place. Could not this matter be put to bed very simply and straightforwardly by the Justice Secretary, who is an honourable man, coming to the House himself and categorically denying that the conversation ever took place?

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All I can repeat is what I said earlier, which is that my predecessor said that the story was categorically untrue. I therefore do not think that there is anything to answer for.

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The Cabinet Office has established a referendum unit. Can my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House explain what it does, when it was established, to whom it reports and how many civil servants work in it?

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The short answer is no, not now. The right hon. Gentleman might be able to do that in the course of a private chat over a cup of tea with the hon. Lady, or by answering a written question if she were to table such, but today we must focus on the narrow terms of the urgent question that has been granted.

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I have always considered it an honour and privilege to be a member of the Privy Council, and I take very seriously the trust that is placed in those of us who are part of it. I believe that the allegations carry a great deal of currency, and that if they are not properly investigated, they could undermine the whole of the Privy Council and everybody in it. The Prime Minister was right to say that it would be very serious if a member of the Privy Council was the source of the newspaper story in The Sun. I therefore think that it behoves the Government to ask the Member involved to come to this House and to make a statement himself, in order to lay this matter to rest.

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All of us who are members of the Privy Council take that responsibility enormously seriously. It is a great honour for us to serve the Crown in that way. However, I simply repeat that my predecessor as Lord President, who is a Privy Counsellor and who also takes that responsibility very seriously, has said that the story is categorically untrue, and that there is therefore nothing to answer for.

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It is quite right that Her Majesty, our sovereign, should have no views on important issues such as the EU referendum. How can it be in any way acceptable for members of Her Majesty’s Government from the Prime Minister downwards to encourage foreign Heads of State to comment on the EU referendum? Does this not demonstrate the fact that the international Bilderberg group is ganging up against the British people?

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I would discourage any foreign leader from entering the debate at the moment. This is a matter for the British people and it should remain so.

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What discussions, if any, has the Leader of the House had with the Prime Minister and the Justice Secretary about allegations that the Justice Secretary might have been the source of the leaked information, since such allegations were made in the media?

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Since my predecessor has said that the story is categorically untrue, there is no need for me to have such conversations.

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I suppose the one thing that we have learned today is that we should not believe everything we read in the newspapers. However, I am learning more about the Privy Council and things like that, because I am obviously not a member of the Privy Council and not likely to be.

Sticking narrowly to the point, do Privy Council rules extend to former colonies that might now have a President who might want to come over here and tell us how to vote in the EU referendum?

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Order. I think we know the President of whom the hon. Gentleman speaks. The President is a most illustrious individual, but the last time I looked he was not a member of the Privy Council. We will leave it there as I think it was a rhetorical question.

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The Leader of the House is clinging to the defence that he is using today, but it is clear that the Secretary of State for Justice wants people to believe that he was the source and that the story is true. Given that the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames), whom we all respect tremendously on such matters, considers this to be treason, the Leader of the House’s rather flippant approach massively undermines the importance of this important role.

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I am not quite sure where the hon. Gentleman is coming from. Someone cannot be found guilty of an offence when none has taken place. My predecessor has said that the story is categorically untrue, so that really should be the end of the matter.

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Does the Leader of the House agree that if the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg) or someone else at the Privy Council meeting made a note of their recollection of a conversation with Her Majesty, perhaps for a book or diaries, which, amazingly, politicians tend to want to write at the end of their careers, perhaps the number of people who may have been privy to the information may include not only Privy Counsellors? That may be where the leak came from.

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Lots of people talk to lots of others about lots of things, but the former Lord President has said that the story is categorically untrue and that the conversation did not take place.

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I have never been to this palace, so I do not know what takes place there, but the most bizarre thing for me is what on earth the Queen was doing confiding in Clegg. [Laughter.]

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The response to the hon. Gentleman’s comment from across the House suggests that not everyone disagrees with the view he puts forward. I hope that he gets the chance to go to the palace before he ends his illustrious career.

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Will those members of the Privy Council who are also members of Her Majesty’s Government ensure that all the statistics that are usually published are published between now and 23 June?

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I am sure that we will want to ensure that everyone on both sides of the debate has all the facts that they need to reach a conclusion when the vote comes in June.

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The Prime Minister has described the EU referendum as a once-in-a-generation decision and

“more important than a general election”.

Does the Leader of the House agree that public confidence in the outcome of this significant vote rests largely on members of the Government on both sides of the argument behaving fairly and abiding by agreed rules and conventions?

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Ministers on both sides of the argument are making their case clearly and will remain friends afterwards. I am pleased to have my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, whose view is different from mine, sitting alongside me, demonstrating that we are a united team that is doing the right thing for this country.

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Without invoking the body of the sovereign, may I ask the Government when they plan to introduce a British sovereignty Bill?

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We will soon be having a visitation from the Queen to this Palace for the Queen’s Speech, on 18 May, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will see on that occasion what our plans are for the legislative programme in the years ahead.

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My natural generosity got the better of me; the hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) is unfailingly courteous, but his question was a bit wide of the mark. Half a dozen or so people, perhaps slightly more, are still seeking to catch my eye and it would be good if everybody remained in order—led by Mr Stephen Pound.

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Thank you, Mr Speaker. This whole business leaves a pretty nasty stench in the nostrils. Does the Leader of the House agree that there is an unpleasant characteristic emerging, whereby people are picking up little scraps, trifles, tittle-tattle, gossip and rumour and then parlaying that into a book later on in their careers? My Sunday morning fry-up was ruined when I turned to my copy of The Mail on Sunday only to read the memoirs of Mr Laws, so does the Leader of the House agree that we should impose a self-denying ordinance and stop writing these dreadful scandalous books, seeking to expose what should be confidential? May I say that I have no intention of doing this?

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I am not sure that a self-denying ordinance can be imposed. Those who have consulted their scholarly craniums advise me that that might not be possible—indeed, it might be either a contradiction in terms or a tautology. I will leave the hon. Gentleman to reflect on the matter.

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We will see how robust the hon. Gentleman’s determination to stay outside the world of diary and book writing is when he concludes his illustrious career and receives a lavish offer from a publisher.

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Early-day motion 1182 and interrogation at a recent Select Committee hearing raised two other possible breaches of this kind involving Her Majesty and Prince William. It was noted that the carefully crafted answer from the Justice Secretary said that he did not know where the Queen gets all her information. As we have now been told that the Justice Secretary is a “Maoist”, may we take it that this is an attempt to do what Maoists do and achieve revolution by destruction—in this case, the destruction of the monarchy?

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If we are talking about revolution by destruction, I have to say that the current Leader of the Opposition and shadow Chancellor take the biscuit.

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I hope you will not deem my question to be tangential, Mr Speaker. Clearly, the Government have strong views on this matter and we are witnessing varied opinions from those on their Benches, but for future reference might the Leader of the House consider drawing up a list of approved contributors to the EU debate, saying whose view is acceptable and whose is not? Such a list would be very handy for future reference for the Scottish National party.

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As far as I am aware, Mr Speaker, we are having a debate where everybody’s views are being put forward, on both sides of the argument, and that is going to carry on for another three months.

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I am racking my brain trying to think of a previous occasion when the Leader of the House has agreed so readily with the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg). Surely the Leader of the House must accept that the Justice Secretary’s failure unequivocally to state that he had nothing to do with this is the reason he is answering this urgent question now. Should the Justice Secretary not either make such a statement or resign?

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So the hon. Gentleman is asking the Justice Secretary to say that something that did not happen did not happen—that just does not make any sense.

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Millions of working people throughout this country know that when an allegation of gross misconduct comes to an employer’s attention, it is usually expected that an investigation will follow and that if the allegation is proven, dismissal is a potential outcome. Doing nothing creates a precedent that others may rely on in future if other allegations are made, so does the Leader of the House agree that the failure even to investigate this shows a lack of courage and creates an unwelcome precedent?

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Normally, investigations are not launched into unsubstantiated stories. I simply say again that my predecessor, the former Lord President of the Council, said that the story is categorically untrue.

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I am disappointed to hear the response of the Leader of the House, because Buckingham Palace is sufficiently concerned by this story to have made a formal complaint to the press watchdog. There are two impeccable sources involved, so why are the Government not taking the matter seriously by holding an investigation?

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If I understand it correctly, Buckingham Palace is complaining about the story in the newspaper, and the proper body to investigate a complaint of that kind is the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

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The Prime Minister has described the situation as “very serious”. Does the Leader of the House agree with him that it is very serious if a member of the Privy Council has breached confidential codes and been the source for The Sun story? If he does, why is he not launching his own investigation?

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If I understand it correctly, the serious issue is about the story in the newspaper, which is being investigated, but my predecessor, the former Lord President of the Council, has said that the story is categorically untrue.

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Yesterday, the Sunday Telegraph reported that Government sources had described the alleged leak by the Justice Secretary as a “sackable offence”. Will the Leader of the House confirm that the Justice Secretary had the support of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues to remain in post?

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Point of Order

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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On 7 March, I tabled a question which asked the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills whether he would publish any contingency plans that his Department has made on trade agreements in the event of the UK’s exit from the EU. I received this answer today:

“At the February European Council, the Government negotiated a new settlement, giving the United Kingdom a special status in a reformed European Union. The Government’s position, as set out by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to the House on 22 February, is that the UK will be stronger, safer and better off remaining in a reformed EU.”

That is not an answer to my question. I believe that, at the time of the Iraq inquiry, Lord Justice Scott agreed that it was parliamentary protocol that questions must be given a substantive answer. Is it possible that, through your good offices, Mr Speaker, I can get an answer to that particular question?

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As the hon. Lady knows, the Chair is not responsible for the content of answers. There is a general presumption in favour of answers to questions that are both timely and substantive. If, however, the hon. Lady is dissatisfied with the substance of the reply, which she believes fails adequately to respond—or to respond at all—to her inquiry, she has two recourses open to her, neither of which involves the Chair. One is to table further questions with that dogged persistence for which she has become renowned over the past nearly 11 years in the House, and the other is to complain to the Chair of the Procedure Committee, the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), with a view to securing an inquiry into the approach by Ministers to providing answers to parliamentary questions. I hope that that constitutes an adequate answer to the hon. Lady, who has aired her concern today.

Energy Bill [Lords] (Programme) (No. 2)

Ordered,

That the Order of 18 January 2016 (Energy Bill [Lords] (Programme)) be varied as follows:

1. Paragraphs 4 and 5 of the Order shall be omitted.

2. Proceedings on Consideration shall be taken in the order shown in the first column of the following Table.

3. The proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the time specified in the second column of the Table.

Table

Proceedings

Time for conclusion of proceedings

New Clauses relating to wind power; amendments to Part 5

Two hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion for this order

New Clauses relating to carbon capture; emissions and decarbonisation; remaining new Clauses; remaining proceedings on Consideration

One hour before the moment of interruption

4. Proceedings in Legislative Grand Committee and proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption.—(Andrea Leadsom.)

Question agreed to.

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As I informed the House on Monday 26 October, before a Report stage begins on a Bill, I will seek to identify in advance those changes made in Committee which I would expect to certify together with any Government amendments tabled for Report stage, which, if passed, would be likely to lead me to issue a certificate. My provisional certificate based on those changes and expected amendments is available in the Vote Office and on the Bills before Parliament website. At the end of the Report stage on a Bill, I am required to consider the Bill as amended on Report for certification. At that point, later today, I will issue my final certificate.

Energy Bill [Lords]

Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee

New Clause 2

Onshore wind power: renewables obligation

“The power to make a renewables obligation closure order in respect of electricity generated by an onshore wind generating station in Scotland may only be exercised by Scottish Ministers.”

This new clause would return to the Scottish Ministers the power to close the renewables obligation in relation to electricity generated by onshore wind generating stations in Scotland.(Callum McCaig.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

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I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 24, in clause 79, page 46, line 20, leave out “31 March 2016” and insert “1 March 2017”.

This amendment and amendments 25, 26, 40, 41, 42, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38 and 39 have the effect of closing the Renewables Obligation for onshore wind a month earlier than the original date set out in the Statutory Instrument: Renewables Obligation Closure Order 2014: 2388, rather than a year earlier, as the Bill does in its present form.

Amendment 25, page 46, line 25, leave out “31 March 2016” and insert “1 March 2017”.

Amendment 22, page 47, line 22, leave out clause 80.

Amendment 26, in clause 80, page 47, line 27, leave out “31 March 2016” and insert “1 March 2017”.

Amendment 27, page 47, line 30, leave out “31 March 2016” and insert “1 March 2017”.

Amendment 28, page 47, line 36, leave out “31 March 2017” and insert “1 March 2017”.

Amendment 29, page 47, line 42, leave out “31 March 2017” and insert “1 March 2017”.

Amendment 30, page 48, line 3, leave out “31 March 2016” and insert “1 March 2017”.

Amendment 31, page 48, line 6, leave out “31 March 2017” and insert “1 March 2017”.

Amendment 32, page 48, line 20, leave out “31 March 2016” and insert “1 March 2017”.

Amendment 33, page 48, line 33, leave out “1 April 2017” and insert “2 March 2017”.

Amendment 34, page 48, line 43, leave out “1 April 2017” and insert “2 March 2017”.

Amendment 35, page 49, line 8, leave out “1 April 2017” and insert “2 March 2017”.

Amendment 36, page 49, line 17, leave out “1 April 2017” and insert “2 March 2017”.

Amendment 37, page 50, line 13, leave out “18 June 2015” and insert “18 May 2016”.

Amendment 1, page 50, line 18, leave out “planning permission” and insert

“an application for 1990 Act permission or 1997 Act permission”.

Amendment 38, page 50, line 19, leave out “18 June 2015” and insert “18 May 2016”.

Amendment 2, page 50, line 20, leave out “or judicial review”.

Amendment 3, page 50, line 30, after “Act” insert

“(excluding an extension agreed for the purposes of section 78(2) of the 1990 Act or section 47(2) of the 1997 Act)”.

Amendment 52, page 50, line 34, after “application”, insert

“(provided that this period does not include any extension agreed for the purposes of section 78(2) of the 1990 Act or section 47(2) of the 1997 Act”.

Amendment 4, page 50, line 35, leave out paragraph (iii).

Amendment 39, page 50, line 40, leave out “18 June 2015” and insert “18 May 2016”.

Amendment 53, page 50, line 40, after “18th June 2015”, insert “whether”.

Amendment 6, page 50, line 40, leave out “following an appeal”.

Amendment 5, page 50, line 40, after “following an appeal” insert—

“or a decision made by the Secretary of State, Welsh Ministers or Scottish Ministers following directions given under section 77 of the 1990 Act or section 46 of the 1997 Act, and”.

Amendment 54, page 50, line 40, after “appeal”, insert “or otherwise”.

Amendment 23, page 50, line 46, at end insert

“, or

(e) evidence that—

(i) an application for 1990 Act permission or 1997 Act permission was made on or before 18th June 2015 for the station or for additional capacity,

(ii) a grant of planning permission was resolved by the relevant planning authority on or before 18th June 2015,

(iii) planning permission was granted after 18th June 2015, and

(iv) any conditions as to the time period within which the development to which the permission relates must be begun have not been breached.”.

Amendment 7, page 50, line 46, at end insert—

“( ) evidence that—

(i) an application for 1990 Act permission or 1997 Act permission was made on or before 18 June 2015 for the station or additional capacity,

(ii) the period allowed under section 78(2) of the 1990 Act or (as the case may be) section 47(2) of the 1997 Act (excluding an extension agreed for the purposes of section 78(2) of the 1990 Act or section 47(2) of the 1997 Act) ended on or before 18 June 2015 without the things mentioned in section 78(2)(a) or (aa) of the 1990 Act or section 47(2)(a) or (b) of the 1997 Act being done in respect of the application,

(iii) the application was referred to the Secretary of State, Welsh Ministers or Scottish Ministers in accordance with directions given under section 77 of the 1990 Act or section 46 of the 1997 Act,

(iv) 1990 Act permission or 1997 Act permission was granted after 18 June 2015, and

(v) any conditions as to the time period within which the development to which the permission relates must be begun have not been breached.”.

Amendment 8, page 50, line 46, at end insert—

“( ) evidence that—

(i) an application for 1990 Act permission or 1997 Act permission was made on or before 18 June 2015 for the station or for additional capacity,

(ii) the relevant planning authority resolved to grant 1990 Act permission or 1997 Act permission on or before 18 June 2015,

(iii) 1990 Act permission or 1997 Act permission was granted after 18 June 2015, and

(iv) any conditions as to the time period within which the development to which the permission relates must be begun have not been breached.”.

Amendment 9, page 50, line 46, at end insert—

“( ) evidence that—

(i) an application for consent for the station or for additional capacity was made under section 36 of this Act,

(ii) the consultation period prescribed by Regulations made under paragraphs 2(3) or 3(1)(c) of Schedule 8 to this Act had expired on or before 18 June 2015,

(iii) the Secretary of State caused a public inquiry to be held under paragraph 2(2) or 3(3) of Schedule 8 to this Act or decided that a public inquiry need not be held,

(iv) consent was granted by the Secretary of State after 18 June 2015, and

(v) any conditions as to the time period within which the development to which the permission relates must be begun have not been breached.”.

Amendment 10, page 50, line 46, at end insert—

“( ) evidence that—

(i) an application for development consent for the station or for additional capacity was made under section 37 of the Planning Act 2008,

(ii) the deadline for receipt of representations under section 56(4) of the Planning Act 2008 had expired on or before 18 June 2015,

(iii) consent was granted by the Secretary of State after 18 June 2015, and

(iv) any conditions as to the time period within which the development to which the permission relates must be begun have not been breached.”.

Amendment 11, page 50, line 46, at end insert—

“( ) evidence that—

(i) planning permission for the station or additional capacity was granted on or before 18 June 2015,

(ii) planning permission under sections 73, 90(2), 90(2ZA) or 96A of the 1990 Act or sections 42, 57(2), 57(2ZA) or 64 of the 1997 Act, a consent under section 36C of this Act, or an order under section 153 of, and paragraph 2 or 3 of Schedule 6 to, the Planning Act 2008 varying the planning permission under clause 32LJ(4)(i)(i) was granted after 18 June 2015, and

(iii) any conditions as to the time period within which the development to which the permission relates must be begun have not been breached.”.

Amendment 12, page 50, line 46, at end insert—

“( ) evidence that—

(i) 1990 Act permission or 1997 Act permission for the station or additional capacity was granted on or before 18 June 2015,

(ii) consent under section 36 of this Act that permits a greater capacity for the station than that permitted by the planning permission under clause 32LJ(4)(j)(i) was granted after 18 June 2015, and

(iii) any conditions as to the time period within which the development to which the permission relates must be begun have not been breached.”.

Amendment 13, page 50, line 46, at end insert—

“( ) evidence that—

(i) planning permission for the station or additional capacity was granted on or before 18 June 2015,

(ii) planning permission under clause 32LJ(4)(k)(i) was superseded by a subsequent planning permission granted after 18 June 2015 permitting a station with the same or a lower capacity than that granted under the planning permission referred to in clause 32LJ(4)(k)(i), and

(iii) any conditions as to the time period within which the development to which the permission relates must be begun have not been breached.”.

Amendment 14, page 50, line 46, at end insert—

“( ) evidence that—

(i) planning permission for the station or additional capacity was granted or refused on or before 18 June 2015, and was subsequently confirmed or granted after that date following a statutory challenge under section 288 of the 1990 Act, section 237 of the 1997 Act or section 118 of the Planning Act 2008, or following a judicial review, and

(ii) any conditions as to the time period within which the development to which the permission relates must be begun have not been breached.”

Amendment 15, page 50, line 48, leave out sub-paragraph 5(a) and insert—

“(a) evidence of an agreement with a network operator to carry out grid works in relation to the station or additional capacity and was originally made on or before 18th June 2015 notwithstanding the fact that may have subsequently been amended or modified, and

(ab) a copy of a document written by, or on behalf of, the network operator which estimated or set a date for completion of the grid works which was no later than 31 March 2017; or”.

Amendment 40, page 50, line 49, leave out “18 June 2015” and insert “18 May 2016”.

Amendment 41, page 51, line 10, leave out “18 June 2015” and insert “18 May 2016”.

Amendment 16, page 51, line 26, at end insert

“and includes planning permission deemed to be granted in accordance with section 90 of that Act”.

Amendment 17, page 51, line 31, at end insert

“and includes planning permission deemed to be granted in accordance with section 57 of that Act”.

Amendment 18, page 52, line 6, leave out “from a recognised lender”.

Amendment 42, page 52, line 16, leave out “31 March 2017” and insert “1 March 2017”.

Amendment 19, page 52, leave out lines 27 to 29, and insert—

“In this section “recognised lender” means a bank or financial institution or trust or fund or other financial entity which is regulated by the relevant jurisdiction and which is engaged in making, purchasing or investing in loans, securities or other financial instruments.”.

Amendment 20, page 52, line 32, leave out subsection (6).

Amendment 43, page 54, line 19, leave out “31 March 2016” and insert “1 March 2017”.

Amendment 44, page 54, line 21, leave out “31 March 2017” and insert “1 March 2017”.

Government amendment 50.

Amendment 45, in clause 81, page 56, line 3, leave out “31 March 2016” and insert “1 March 2017”.

Amendment 21, page 56, line 3, leave out subsection (a) and insert—

“(aa) by a 33kV connected onshore wind generating station consented after 30 September 2015, or

(ab) by a cluster connected onshore wind generating station consented after 31 October 2015, and”.

Amendment 46, page 56, line 6, leave out “31 March 2016” and insert “1 March 2017”.

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New clause 2 is straightforward. It would re-devolve the power to issue a closure order in respect of the renewables obligation for onshore wind back to the Scottish Government, where it used to belong. That power was re-reserved, so to speak, on the explicit understanding that there would be no changes—no closure and no material impact on Scotland from agreeing to that proposal. The proposal would have allowed for closure of the renewables obligation later next year, as had previously been agreed.

We have been through this. There has been extensive debate on the renewables obligation. It is worth reiterating briefly some of the concerns. As I said, power over the renewables obligation was removed from Scotland against the explicit undertaking that the Government had given to Scottish Ministers. An element of betrayal of trust has come about. That has woven its way through the entirety of the Government’s handling of onshore wind and the closure of the renewables obligation. For a long time the industry had trust in the Government. That trust has vanished.

Today’s debate and a number of the amendments offer the opportunity to improve the measure that introduces the closure of the renewables obligation, notably the numerous amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Philip Boswell), who has meticulously detailed how the closure of the RO and the accompanying grace periods could be carried out in a way that is fairest to developers.

Last week the Energy and Climate Change Committee produced a report on investor confidence which suggested:

“Sudden and numerous policy announcements have marred the UK’s reputation for stable and predictable policy development.”

That is fairly damning. I am not steeped in the ways of Select Committee reports and how Committees finesse their arguments, but that is a clear criticism of the Government’s policy and how it has been implemented. It did not need to be done that way.

Through the various stages of the Bill we have accepted that the Government have a commitment to pursue that policy. We disagree with it. Their policy is short-sighted and is not the correct way of going about things. Onshore wind, in the view of the Scottish National party, has a significant role to play in the energy mix in the United Kingdom and should not have been taken out of the mix in a rather crude and cack-handed manner, but the Government have chosen to act in that way. [Interruption.] If the Government are to do that, they should do so in the best way possible. [Interruption.] I feel there is something else happening that I am not aware of.

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Very disorderly conduct. The hon. Gentleman is pressing a serious case. If I may, at the risk of making an in-joke, be permitted to say this, that whatever is the subject of this debate, fortunately, not least for him, Otis is not.

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I do not think I quite caught that, Mr Speaker.

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Fortunately for the hon. Gentleman, he does not need to do so. He is innocent. He has been transgressed against; he has not transgressed. He can now speed ahead with his oration, to which we look forward.

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Speed is the operative word, I think. We have called for the re-devolution of the power and for the grace periods to be dealt with in the most appropriate manner. In its manifesto and in debates the Conservative party has professed a desire to see local control of this matter, and nobody would argue with that. However, that requires that we respect local decisions, but the grace periods as they stand do not do that. That is why the new clause and the amendments are necessary, particularly amendment 8, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, which relates to planning decisions at committee that were dealt with before the closure date, but where the approval certificate was not granted, in Scotland, owing to section 75 of the Town and Country Planning (Scotland) Act 1997, on planning gain—in England, I think it is section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. This issue is clearly about local decision making, and the Government should give their consent so that it can be included in the Bill.

We accept that the change is going to happen. Having been explicitly opposed to it, the industry now sees that it is better to have some certainty, rather than continued uncertainty. However, that certainty needs to be correct certainty—it needs to be fair certainty and it needs to be certainty that does what it is intended to do.

We should respect local decision making. Where locally elected bodies—councils in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, although there are different stipulations there—have agreed to projects but have not been able to get their certificate to allow them access to the renewables obligation because of the technical nature of decision making around planning gain and other such issues, that is simply wrong.

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Will the hon. Gentleman remind the House why he wishes to burden his constituents and others with much dearer electricity from an interruptible source we cannot rely on?

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Onshore wind has clearly been demonstrated to be one of the cheapest forms of renewable energy. If we were having a tête-à-tête, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman why he supports the obscene waste of money that will be spent on the Hinkley power plant, which will cost considerably in excess of what would be spent on onshore wind. However, as we are not having a back-and-forth, I will resist that temptation.

The issue is straightforward: we need to press ahead. The industry needs to be given certainty. The issue has been handled incredibly badly, but there is time, particularly taking cognisance of last week’s Energy and Climate Change Committee report, for the Government to make amends, to change some of the stipulations on the grace periods and to allow things to happen in the best way possible. Repenting, however late, is better than carrying on regardless.

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Order. The hon. Gentleman is not giving way—he has concluded his remarks.

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rose—

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rose—

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Does Mr Redwood wish to speak?

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indicated dissent.

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No. We will take Mr Chris Heaton-Harris and then come to the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead).

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Thank you for calling me early in the debate, Mr Speaker.

I sat on the Energy Bill Committee, along with many right hon. and hon. Members present today, and I want to add a bit of balance to the Scottish National party’s contribution. We had this debate in Committee. The SNP would very much like the responsibility for the renewables obligation sent back to Scotland, and many people on the Government Benches would probably like the SNP to commit to paying for that, if it were to happen. However, only half of that is covered in the SNP proposal.

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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman wants me to give way.

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The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we had that debate, but does he accept that we will be paying an extortionate price for the Conservative party’s nuclear power plans if he gets his way?

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If we are talking about paying for things, I wonder how the SNP would have paid for its proposals had Scotland gone independent, given that the oil price is residing around $30 or $40 a barrel. Let us make sure that we talk about energy in a sensible way. We did have a constructive and sensible debate in Committee, even though it was good fun to fall out occasionally on different points.

Unfortunately, Mr Speaker, you did not select any of the amendments to which I put my name. I was not being cheeky in tabling them; I just wanted to make a point. The Conservative party had a manifesto commitment on removing the renewables obligations a year earlier than expected, with no new subsidies for onshore wind, and on some planning changes. Those provisions were in the Bill, but Members of the House of Lords did not like them. In Committee, we debated what would happen if we reinserted that clear manifesto commitment, and how that would be quite a foolish thing to do because there are other methods within the planning rules that we could use.

It would be fair to talk about amplitude modulation in relation to planning requirements. There is a huge amount of concern about noise from wind turbines. I thought that I would identify a couple of the concerns in a tiny bit more detail so that Members could understand my approach.

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My hon. Friend has a great deal of knowledge of and expertise in these issues. The other place set a very unfortunate precedent in disregarding the post-war Salisbury convention and considering it appropriate to decide that the British public were wrong to re-elect the Government on a manifesto commitment to undertake the proposals that he has elucidated.

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I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I actually think there has been some sensible debate about this at the other end of the building. A number of sensible Labour peers, and a handful of Lib Dems, understand this point. It would be foolish for a once-coalition partner that has very few MPs in this place, but way too many peers in another place, to use that bulk of unelected opinion to force down a Government manifesto commitment. However, there are many ways to get around this problem. We can solve one planning problem in a way that would be good for communities affected by onshore wind, but it might not be the route that the peers at the other end of this building would like to go down. Perhaps they should think very sensibly about how they view this Bill in future, just in case.

A couple of years ago, I put in a freedom of information request to every planning authority across England because I wanted to see whether any of them had experienced, or had knowledge of, an element within wind noise called amplitude modulation, which is a kind of low whooshing sound that causes people great concern. I asked every environmental health officer across the country whether they had any experience of this. A large number, especially from rural areas where there are lots of onshore wind turbines, said yes, they did have had some experience of amplitude modulation, but as the current Government guidelines did not cover it, there was nothing they could do, and they wanted more information on it and better guidance from the Government. In fact, neither the wind industry nor the Department recognised that amplitude modulation existed until only a couple of years ago. That is quite bizarre considering that it was well recognised across the world at that time.

Fortunately, after I presented my findings to the Department, it came up with this statement:

“DECC has recognised that amplitude modulation (AM) noise produced by wind turbines can be a cause of concern for some residents. DECC has appointed an external consultant to review the available evidence on AM, with a view to recommending how excessive AM might be controlled through a planning condition. The INWG’s study”—

the independent noise working group study that I helped to commission, which studied what causes amplitude modulation and how it can be tempered—

“will be considered alongside other evidence that is being gathered as part of this review.”

The evidence that I presented showed that lots of communities and individuals up and down the country are living in houses close to wind turbines that are directly affected by excessive amplitude modulation.

In fact, it is a significant factor in people’s lives. Noise complaints from wind farms are primarily related to the phenomenon of the whooshing noise. In many cases, it means that people cannot get to sleep in their own houses, which puts them under a great deal of stress. The “whoomph”, swish or beating noise is known about by engineers, and we experience it when we stand next to helicopters or other turbine-like blades when they are turning. It is the most intrusive element of noise from wind turbines.

The Scots are at the forefront of everything to do with—I was going to say noise, but I will say onshore wind turbine knowledge, and leave it at that. A Scottish study found that at a distance of 1 to 2 km from a wind farm, 72% of people who suffered audible noise strongly disliked it, and that a vast number of those were suffering from the effects of excessive amplitude modulation. That noise is not covered by the current Energy Technology Support Unit noise guidelines.

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Does my hon. Friend agree that the issue that he rightly raises is compounded by the complementary problem of shadow flickering, which has caused distress to many people in the environs of onshore wind infrastructure? The movement of very large plant and machinery on suboptimal rural roads can also have an impact on the quality of life of people adjacent to those facilities.

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Those are two very valid points. I have seen flicker for myself. Although I stood in the flicker of a wind turbine for only 10 minutes on one occasion, I understand how intrusive it could be if it affected someone’s house or their place of work. I know from my constituency—I am sure that other hon. and right hon. Members will have had similar experiences—that when those turbines are moved through small villages, sometimes they cannot get through without some sort of remedy having to be made to the road. A number of people visited me this morning from the lovely village of Guilsborough, where, if a turbine shaft were to be driven through the village to a nearby wind farm, there would be a gap of inches between the turbine shaft and the houses on each side of the road. Those things do cause concern. I would say that flicker causes more concern than traffic movement, and amplitude modulation probably more than flicker.

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Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern about the fact that in Wales, policy is concentrated in strategic zones, and all developments are put into five or six big development zones? The fact that there is a series of different projects makes enforcement difficult when noise levels go above what they should be. Although technically we are talking about one giant development, as far as the planning regime is concerned it is a series of smaller developments within the strategic zone, so the issue about noise enforcement becomes acute.

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That is a very wise point, and one that I will come to later, if I may. I will just tease the hon. Gentleman briefly. It is possible to monitor such noise and predict where it might occur. Therefore, when amplitude modulation is causing distress to nearby residents and that is being monitored, it is possible with the agreement of the wind farm developer to stop the turbines turning during that period of time—this has happened in a couple of places in England—so the noise stops and everybody goes about their business happily.

I know that some of the proposals in Wales have been massive, and I have been working hard with my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) on some amazingly large proposals for his constituency. I know that the matter is of real concern to many people across Wales.

As I have said, the current guidelines do not require amplitude modulation to be monitored at all. In fact, the noise falls outside ETSU monitoring. I know of only one wind farm planning decision in the United Kingdom in which a planning condition for amplitude modulation noise was imposed, which was the Den Brook development in Devon.

My concern is that everybody has known about this issue for a very long time—for decades—but no one has spoken up about it. We gave the green light to this industry, and I have previously spoken in this place about how some of the developers have not been particularly kind to villages and constituents of mine when proposing developments, because they knew everything was stacked on their side. I have previously made the argument to the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) that developers could have done a lot better in the past, and we might not have the current problem if it had been recognised that local people’s views should carry a great deal of weight.

For decades, there was no such recognition. The wind industry has consistently denied the existence of excessive amplitude modulation, even though I can point hon. Members to experts who have demonstrated that amplitude modulation is a frequent occurrence that potentially affects all large industrial wind turbines. It often does so for long periods, and more frequently than not during the night. I point to my survey of environmental health officers and planning authorities, many of whom said that they knew amplitude modulation or something of that ilk was happening, but had no powers to deal with it and did not have the correct guidance from Government to point them in the right direction.

People complain about amplitude modulation to Members of Parliament and local planning authorities, but I think there is a hidden silent majority. People are willing to suffer such noise in silence and do not want to complain because they fear the adverse implications of getting involved, such as having to disclose any complaint they have made to a planning authority or a council when they come to sell their house.

The existing legal remedies have been found wanting. Remedies are available for neighbours of wind farms who are affected by turbine noise under ETSU, but they are simply not fit for purpose, and they are certainly not fit for measuring amplitude modulation. Taking action for statutory nuisance has been actively advocated by the wind industry and supported by planning inspectors, but the evidence suggests that an abatement notice is not an effective control to protect nearby residents from excessive amplitude modulation. Other remedies, such as taking action for private nuisance and similar legal actions, have been considered, but they place too much risk and burden on residents for a problem that is not of their making, with the likelihood of adverse long-term financial implications.

In addition, the recent trend is for secondary operators to form individual shell companies for each wind farm. The impact of that was highlighted in July 2015 when my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) introduced a Bill to require wind farm developers to obtain public liability insurance for any nuisance they caused to nearby residents. That was particularly aimed at noise nuisance. One of his constituents had had a problem with noise from a local wind farm, but had found it impossible to sue because the operator was purely a shell company and had very limited assets.

Of more concern is the effect of amplitude modulation on health. I have read studies demonstrating adequately that wind turbine noise adversely affects sleep and health. It is abundantly clear from evidence examined by a world-renowned expert, Chris Hanning—I asked him to help me, and he worked with the group that I got together—that wind turbine noise adversely affects sleep and health at set-back distances and noise levels that are permitted by the current ETSU noise regulation. There is no reliable evidence—not one single study—that wind turbines are safe at those distances and noise levels. By contrast, an increasing volume of studies and evidence have outlined the contrary. There is a particular concern about the health of children exposed to excessive wind turbine noise. The inadequate consideration of amplitude modulation is a major factor in why I believe that ETSU fails to protect the majority of people who live near wind turbines and why I believe that it needs to be reformed. The wind industry’s denial is reminiscent of other denials of health issues in the past. It could be a very big public health issue.

I contend that the current noise standard, ETSU-97, is not fit for purpose and I have plenty of evidence to suggest that its methodology is completely incorrect. I do not have to go into that evidence because I am fortunately supported by the findings of a recent Northern Ireland Assembly report in January 2015 on wind energy. The report recommends a review of the use

“of the ETSU-97 guidelines on an urgent basis, with a view to adopting more modern and robust guidance for measurement of wind turbine noise, with particular reference to current guidelines from the World Health Organisation.”

I therefore contend that we need an effective planning condition for amplitude modulation. The wind industry’s claims that an amplitude modulation planning condition is not necessary, and that the legal remedy of statutory nuisance provides adequate protection, are thoroughly discredited by the evidence I have seen and that I have published on my website. Without a planning condition, there is no effective remedy for wind farm neighbours who suffer from excessive noise. The relevance of amplitude modulation in causing noise complaints has driven the wind industry to ensure that a planning condition of that type is not applied as standard planning practice. That is why I raise it today when we are having a conversation about renewables obligation certificates and the planning guidance that goes alongside them as part of our manifesto commitment.

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Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the decision on whether projects go ahead should sit with the local people via the planning process, so that when local people have agreed to and are in favour of the project, it should be allowed to go ahead?

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I have long contended—I have said it in pretty much every speech I have given on wind in the House—that, if local people want a wind farm, who is the local MP or any politician to get in their way? I want it to be subsidy-free and I want people to benefit from it, but if the majority of local people believe that it is a benefit to their local community, I have no issue with it whatever.

People should be aware of the potential health concerns from the noise from amplitude modulation. We have the opportunity to ensure that those concerns can be mitigated. When a local community steps forward and says, “Yes, we’d desperately love to have 100 wind turbines surround our village, devalue our houses and hide us from our rural hinterland,” they can do so knowing that they could get the turbines that produce amplitude modulation turned off, so that they could at least sleep comfortably in bed at night.

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Is my hon. Friend aware of the work of Professor Peter Styles of Keele University, who published a study on vibrations from 60 metre-high wind turbines at Dun Law in Scotland? He states that

“when the windfarm starts to generate, even at low wind speeds, considerable infrasound signals can be detected at all stations out to”

about 10 km. He adds that some developers propose to install bigger turbines, so the older studies that showed that turbines are safe for the purposes of noise are out of date. He says that modern wind turbines in excess of 100 metres high cause more problems.

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I am very much aware of that study and obviously agree with what Professor Styles found. The interesting thing is that, as turbines get larger, amplitude modulation is generated over a slightly larger area. We have gone past the 80-metre stage. My constituency has dozens of wind turbines of 126.5 metres and upwards. That is about the size of the London Eye. When the blades move around and chop the wind, they create amplitude modulation. There is an understanding now that this is happening, so we need a suitable and sensible planning condition to ensure that local communities affected by this problem have a way of stopping it happening to them.

This is why I wanted to talk about the application of an amplitude modulation planning condition, such as the one that came forward in 2009 for Den Brook in Devon. That represented a serious risk to the wind industry, which fought it tooth and nail. A planning condition of this type can add cost and make it more difficult to get turbines through the planning process. People might well decide to campaign even more against a big industrial turbine being placed near them if it has potential health risks.

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Can my hon. Friend tell us what the fix is for this? Is there a realistic way of suppressing the noise?

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The best way to suppress the noise is to turn the turbine off for the period of time when the noise is likely to occur. As acousticians have demonstrated to me, the noise is more likely to occur at night when other background noises have dropped down. We can predict it, because we know which way the wind is blowing and at what speed. It drops down to ground level in a certain way, so we can know exactly which houses and which zone it will affect. Therefore, with sensible meteorological readings using the correct monitoring equipment, which is now remarkably cheap to purchase—it used to cost an awful lot—we can do a lot better.

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Will my hon. Friend give way?

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I will give way to my hon. Friend, who has a vast amount of experience in this area.

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Not me personally, but certainly the residents in my constituency have. Everything my hon. Friend has said is right. I find it staggering, given that the world of physics and wave technology is well understood, that amplitude modulation should suddenly be a surprise to us in relation to wind farms. It is a natural occurrence of wave technology. We have a wide knowledge and evidence base in my constituency, mostly because of Cotton Farm wind farm, which is just outside my constituency in Huntingdon. The residents have been blighted for years by the wind farm. They cannot sell their houses and they cannot open their windows. The data are available and the Government would be wise to make use of them and incorporate them in their review.

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I thank my hon. Friend for her contribution and I agree with her. I have been to Cotton Farm to see the wind farm for myself and to meet some of the residents. I met the illustrious Bev Gray—I do not know if he is a constituent of my hon. Friend—who has provided me with more information than any man could ever possibly want about amplitude modulation readings and the noise his community suffers on a regular basis. As my hon. Friend suggests, this is not rocket science. Where there is amplitude modulation, people suffer and genuine health concerns have for too long been swept under the carpet.

The Den Brook planning condition, as it has become known, was a chance to introduce a sensible planning condition that evoked amplitude modulation and tried to deal with it. The wind industry could have welcomed it as a method to defeat wind farm opponents across the country who say “You don’t deal with the problem of wind” by saying, “We understand there is a problem with wind noise, and we will deal with it and mitigate it when it happens.” Instead, the industry went into complete denial and actual upfront aggressiveness. It fought the planning condition through the courts over an eight-year period to ensure that it was not applied, and to get it removed and then sufficiently weakened so as to make it pretty pointless if it were ever to return. In fulfilling our manifesto commitment and making this change to the renewables obligation as of the end of the month, I suggest that we also bring forward the appropriate planning conditions to address the problem of amplitude modulation and make wind developers and farms a bit more acceptable in the parts of the country where they already exist.

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My hon. Friend is making an interesting speech about amplitude modulation. Is it predictable—is it possible to say, given a certain design, “There will be this much modulation”—or is it something that just happens, depending on other factors, and therefore quite hard to plan for?

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It is as predictable as the wind. We know which direction the wind will come from and how fast it will be, which means we can predict a zone that will be affected by amplitude modulation on any given day. So yes, we can predict it.

I ask the Minister not to give up on the changes to the renewables obligation, which were part of a manifesto commitment, and to hear our plea about amplitude modulation. I have some concerns about the report she has commissioned from her Department and would like it judged against the evidence I have given her. Had the wind industry behaved more pragmatically and sensibly a few years ago, we probably would not be in this position. I am known for my views on this subject, but I know that there are sensible developers of wind technology who try to do their best for the local communities in the areas in which they install turbines. Unfortunately, I do not have an example of that in my constituency. It might be that the wind industry has woken up to this issue after the horse has bolted.

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I rise to speak to our amendments 24 to 33 and 40 to 46, which, although standing individually, form a collective whole and refer to successive amendments the Government made to the Bill in another place in Committee to bring forward the closure date of the renewables obligation from 31 March 2017 to 31 March 2016. Our amendments would move that date and those of the various grace periods to 1 March 2017. They would therefore bring forward the closure date by one month, rather than one year, as is the present proposal.

I have some fears about the robustness of the present closure date in the face of the Bill’s passage. We are discussing a closure date that is very close to the day on which we are actually discussing it. The passage of the Bill, given that it came from the other place in the first instance, will have to finish in the other place shortly. The fact that the closure date before us is just a fortnight or so away from today creates considerable difficulties for the closure of the RO itself. It is not the case that we are discussing something that does not exist that can be brought into existence under legislation. We are discussing something that not only exists but, if we do nothing by way of legislation, will continue to carry on until 31 March 2017. We are discussing something that is in the legislation already, in that there is a specific mention in the Bill that the RO comes to an end on 31 March 2017, so if nothing happens to stop the RO carrying on, it will carry on until that date. In a sense, then, we have just one go in this place at changing the date in the legislation. If the Bill continues its passage through Parliament after the closure date has come into being, we will be dealing with retrospective legislation.

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Is it not the case that from the moment people knew who had won the general election, they knew what would be Government policy in this area and they knew that it would be done as expeditiously as possible? Surely everyone could plan perfectly well around that obvious point.

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The right hon. Gentleman might have jumped the gun in respect of the point he wanted to make about the effect of the proposed closure, but it is a different point from the one I am making about the closure. My point is that we stand in danger not only with respect to investor confidence, investor certainty or other considerations about what investors should do, which I shall come on to in a minute, but in respect of what we do, potentially exposing this House to legal action. Although the Government will have closed the renewables obligation administratively, they will not have closed it legislatively. There could be difficulties if discussions here and in the other place mean that the Bill receives Royal Assent after 31 March 2016.

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I hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but is there not an issue of fairness and social equity here? He is making a special plea on behalf of the renewables companies for what is effectively a de facto fiscal payment from some of the poorest consumers who are in fuel poverty to those individuals and those companies. Is that not the bigger issue, not least when we also have an electoral mandate to carry through this policy, as the hon. Gentleman is well aware?

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I shall come on in a few moments to the question of whether the Conservative party has an electoral mandate to carry through this particular policy. This is not the point I am making right now. My point is that we stand in some danger of making legal action available to those who do not want this RO to be closed. The hon. Gentleman might like to reflect on the fact that if there is a mandate, it is to get on and do it, but to do it properly, not incompetently, so that exposure to legal action can be avoided. The point about the fact that the RO is here, has been here for quite a long time and, as the legislation states, will continue until 31 March 2017—unless someone does something to stop that—is that, in principle, if no one does anything to stop it by 31 March 2016, then claims can still be put forward for receipt of an RO after that date, because that is what the legislation says. Although I do not think that in practice very many people would venture to seek certification of an RO after 31 March 2016 if we are still discussing this in the House, that possibility is nevertheless open.

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Is the hon. Gentleman inventing a new doctrine: that Governments should never try and change the law because the Opposition might delay it?

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Again, the right hon. Gentleman misses the point I am making. This is not about the Opposition attempting to delay the imposition of the law. It is about the rush to close the renewables obligation on the part of the Government, not the Opposition, and the subsequent, rather dilatory way in which the Energy Bill was placed before this House—and, indeed, the way in which it has been scheduled in this House and the distinct possibility that further stages of the Bill may be scheduled. The net result of that dilatoriness in the legislative process is that the Government, not the Opposition, may put us in a position where retrospective legislation is apparently the case and the possibility of legal action is also apparently the case. It is important that we remember that today. One reason I am suggesting that the closure of the RO ought to be much later, albeit still early, is that it would avoid that potential legal action.

In reality, we know that the proposed closure of the renewables obligation a year early is not about implementing a manifesto pledge. The RO is not a new subsidy—that is what was in the Conservative manifesto. Indeed, we had discussions about that in Committee. The proposals before us are not only about putting an end to something that has been in place for a considerable period, that has worked well and that was about to change, in good time, to a new system that allows for degression in underwriting and a path towards effectively dissolving subsidies for a technology that has achieved close to market parity; they are about putting an end to something that industry investors were clear and confident about. Investors were confident not just because the renewables obligation had worked for a while; there was also a clear process whereby it would come to an end and a clear line of progression to contracts for difference—the new system, which we discussed at some length during the passage of the Energy Act 2013—and an orderly roll-out of renewable energy as something progressively more effective and cheaper.

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In formulating his amendments, has the hon. Gentleman had time to consider the recent excellent report by the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change, which said that the Government’s current policy would lead to bills increasing due to uncertainty?

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The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to draw attention to that report and, indeed, to the issue that has arisen not just from these changes, but from a series of other abrupt lurches in policy from the Government in the field of renewable energy. The net result has been a dramatic drop in investor confidence and a dramatic fall from our advanced position as a country that was regarded as a safe, good place to invest in renewable energy. This policy lurch has led to a feeling among many investors that they are now living in a world of confusion, in which it may be recommended in the boardroom that—perhaps in light of the competitiveness of many other countries—they should invest elsewhere when it comes to renewables. It has thrown a great many programmes into confusion and affected a great deal of potential investment in this country, not just in onshore wind but in many other renewables. Policy lurches of this sort tend to creep and spread across confidence in other areas of investment. If things had been left well alone, it would have been possible to envisage the continued progression of a secure investment circumstance, along with a clear understanding of what investors were doing and of how investments would change over a period.

This is not about putting an end to new subsidies; it is about the removal of a well-understood, long-lived subsidy before the point at which investors, the market and everyone else had expected it to be replaced by another system. As late as the spring of last year—after, I imagine, the Conservative manifesto had been written—the Secretary of State announced that the renewables obligation would close in March 2017, and the changeover would then be undertaken. I think that that came as a particular surprise to investors and the market because the Government had previously seemed to be so confident that the procedure would be as it had been originally set out.

It has been claimed that the removal of the renewables obligation at an early date is okay because we are reaching one of our European targets relating to the proportion of renewable energy that should make up our overall energy mix by 2020. The claim is that because the component that is represented by wind, and particularly by onshore wind, is reaching its target, it is okay to throw the market into its current confusion. We must, however, bear it in mind that we are failing substantially on the two other components of our European 15% target, heat and transport. Incidentally, the United Kingdom can be fined for missing that target.

The target can be achieved through overachievement in some areas, even if there is underachievement in others. The 12% renewable heat target, on which we are failing fairly miserably at the moment, and the 10% renewable fuel target, on which we are also failing, could be supported by our continuing to deploy onshore wind in particular. It might be suggested that to cut onshore wind at this time, given the extent of the failure to keep up with the overall energy target, is irresponsible to say the least.

A further claim that we have heard during the Bill’s passage is that all this is being done to help the customers who will have to pay for the underwriting of onshore wind. Of course it is important for us to consider the bills that customers are paying when deciding how best to establish our energy mix for the future.

We will have to establish an energy mix that is the most affordable, the most secure and the least carbonising over the next period, but the claim that this change is being introduced to help customers is in reality paper thin.

If the Government were serious about renewables in general, as they claim, the hole left by onshore wind over the next period as a result of the early closure of the RO—estimates suggest that a loss of investment of £1 billion is on the cards, as the Select Committee has noted—would have to be filled by other renewable sources that are currently more expensive to underwrite than the onshore wind they would replace. The net outcome of this measure could well be that the cost to customers is considerably more than it would have been if the present arrangements had been allowed to continue to their conclusion.

Onshore wind is at the leading edge of market parity. As the Government will be aware, it was on a sustained glide path down to parity, with investor confidence high and costs coming down. I emphasise that the damage to investor confidence as a result of this essentially retroactive Bill will be enormous. If it goes through, it will effectively replace a steady path down to market parity in which competitive deployment could progress—a cliff over which investment will fall.

A further claim that the proposed change is necessary is connected to the levy control framework, the éminence grise in many of our discussions on energy, particularly renewable energy. It is a control framework formed in obscurity by the Government and continuing in background gloom as people attempt fruitlessly to find out about its calculations, its variations and its consequent prescriptions. The levy control framework was devised in 2011 by the Government to get us into a position where about £7.6 billion at 2012 prices of levy payers’ money—money derived not from Government sources but from levies on energy companies, which would pass those costs on to their customers—would provide a framework within which renewables could develop.

However, the levy control framework is based on a static endpoint—2020 in this instance—even though prices will be variable over the period. It is based on the idea of a strike price that renewable energy will receive and that has been agreed, certainly for onshore wind, at an auction process, set against a reference price, which is the median price for energy at a particular time. The strike price is considered in relation to what rewards will be undertaken for that renewable energy. When and if energy prices go down, the difference between the strike price and the reference price widens. Although a renewable energy developer will receive the same amount of money for their energy, the make-up of the amount paid to the developer will be different. The more prices go down, the less the developer will get in relation to the reference price and the more they will get in relation to the difference between the reference price and the strike price, which will come from the levy control framework. Therefore, over a period of time the levy control framework, as designed, increases the reward to those inside the system, even though they do not get a total additional reward. New entrants are squeezed out, because the money goes to rewarding those who are already in the system and less money is provided to new entrants outside the system. Indeed, many commentators consider the present form of the levy control framework to be, in essence, bust as far as new entrants are concerned. The relatively small amount of change that the levy control framework will undergo through the ending of the renewables obligation period a year early is all about how the framework balances itself, which is a pretty thin claim bearing in mind the range of theoretical headroom in the framework and the difficulties it has experienced.

I was recently struck by the Government announcing they were closing the RO early for an equally cheap and verging on competitive renewable technology—small commercial solar—to save customers an estimated £1on their bills by 2020. Almost in the same breath, they announced a hugely expensive and dubiously effective programme for capacity market auctions, which have precisely the same funding origin in that levies will eventually be paid for by customers and which will, in this instance, put at least £20 on bills by 2020. It is estimated that early closure of the RO will save bill payers some 30p while potentially increasing our carbon emissions by 63 million tonnes. It is far more about appeasing the obsessions of several Conservative Back Benchers—[Interruption.] the hon. Member for Daventry and his hon. Friends—about wind than a surgical strike on an area of difficulty for the levy control framework.

As shown by the inadequacies of the grace periods provided for in the Bill, it is not even as if the Government are changing the rules to benefit only those schemes that those Back Benchers have been praying in aid for some time. The Opposition support the need to ensure that local decision making favours onshore wind, provided that it really is the case that if a wind farm gets local support through the planning process and has community backing, as many schemes currently outstanding do, it will get the go ahead from Government. If the Government really support that as a principle behind the future deployment of onshore wind, they should immediately include rather than exclude, which is the case currently, those schemes that always have gone down the path of seeking local support and local planning agreement in their programmes. Instead, the Government have put in place an arbitrary cut-off date for such schemes, even if the schemes were in an advanced position, such as having plans agreed and being supported locally, and were just awaiting the final certificate following agreement on administrative matters.

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A few moments ago, the shadow Secretary of State appeared unhappy that the capacity auction announced by the Government two weeks ago had been brought forward. Is the Labour Front-Bench position that the auction should not be brought forward?

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The question of whether the capacity auction should have been brought forward is secondary to the extent to which the Government believe that the auction will actually produce new capacity, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman is fully aware. Like the levy control framework, capacity auctions warrant a much deeper reorganisation than the rather tepid arrangement undertaken by the Government. Simply bringing an auction forward by a year, using roughly the same parameters about the likely clearance price and the distance between the clearance price and the likely price necessary to secure any new investment over a 15-year period for new gas-fired power stations, does not strike me as the smartest way to procure longer-term capacity in the capacity market. A deeper reorganisation of capacity auctions is required to secure that aim over the next period.

Before that intervention, I was briefly thinking about the subject of my amendments 23 and 52, to which I wish to draw the House’s attention. If the Government were serious about the proposals in their manifesto—that schemes that have local support should proceed—they should immediately adopt these amendments. They are about schemes where all the right moves in getting local agreement to the plans have been undertaken, all inquiries, concerns and planning arrangements have been dealt with, the schemes are on the cusp of getting agreement at planning and local authority level, and they have the support of local communities, but the Government have just pulled the plug on them and they now cannot proceed. The Government ought to adopt these amendments if they were, in principle, serious about their own principle that local areas should decide on local schemes and that those local schemes could be supported where local communities support them. Conversely, I fear that if clause 80 remains in the Bill, as amended, we will have in store a programme of onshore wind execution and not the execution of an onshore wind programme.

Labour’s vision is for a locally supported, appropriate programme of onshore wind deployment, complementing other renewables such as solar, biomass, offshore wind and tidal in reaching renewable targets, not because we have to, but because it is the right thing to do in ensuring that we have a balanced, low-carbon energy mix for the future. This clause points us squarely in the opposite direction and I urge hon. Members to support amendments that put us back on track again.

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I rise to support the Government and to urge the rejection of amendments that would delay getting rid of the subsidies for wind power. Our country desperately needs more electrical power to be available, and I am pleased that the Government are now taking action, with capacity auctions, to try to get some more power available. We need more affordable power. We need to tackle fuel poverty and have power at prices that households can afford. We also need to have affordable power for extra industry, which is one of the Chancellor’s aims. We need reliable power; we want to know that the power is there whether the wind is blowing or not, and whether the sun is shining or not. People expect continuous power, in order to light and power their homes, and industry needs continuous power for its processes. On all those grounds, wind does not cut the mustard, and I am glad that we now have a Government who recognise that.

When the history of the past 15 or 20 years comes to be written, what the European Union is doing and what the previous Labour Government did on energy policy will go down as one of the catastrophic failures. It will be at least as big as the exchange rate mechanism, which destroyed so much activity, jobs and prosperity in our country. It may not be as big as the disaster of the euro, but it will be one of the big, classic disasters of the European Union that Europe as a whole is becoming an area of too little energy and very high-cost energy, driving industry out of the European Union area and into Asia and America, where more plentiful and affordable energy is available. Far from sparing the planet extra carbon dioxide, all this mad policy is doing is making sure that the carbon dioxide is produced somewhere else, rather than within the European Union itself.

Germany has much more wind power than we do and many Opposition Members admire it in this respect, but what happens when the wind does not blow? I will tell them what happens: Germany relies on a large number of extremely dirty coal power stations to churn out the electricity, producing more carbon dioxide than it would if it had opted for a fleet of modern gas stations in the first place. On average, that would have been better than this strange mixture of intermittent wind, which is very good on carbon dioxide when the wind blows, and back-up power, which in Germany and elsewhere in Europe is often generated from coal, and is extremely bad on carbon dioxide when the wind does not blow.

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Germany uses coal all the time and the wind power is the intermittent stuff. Germany’s carbon emissions are 30% higher than the UK’s per unit of GDP and per capita just because it uses so much coal and fossil fuels, even though its renewables level is quite high as well.

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Yes, but, as my hon. Friend will agree, when the wind does not blow, Germany has to use more coal. When there is no wind energy, the replacement must come from fossil fuel. A wind system with fossil fuel back-up does not even work on its own terms, and he is right that the German merit order is somewhat different.

I was going on to point out that from an economic point of view, we in this country have managed to damage every kind of power generation. If we insist on giving priority to dear, interruptible, intermittent sources such as wind, the more reliable, cheaper sources such as gas become intermittent, as they are switched off every time the wind blows and switched back on every time the wind is not blowing, which in itself is difficult and expensive. That undermines the economics of what would otherwise be good-value power. It means that we cannot run the plants flat out. We have higher operating costs because of the complications of switching on and off and managing the furnaces accordingly, with much less revenue coming in because less power is generated and power cannot continuously be sold to the market.

The ham-fisted interventions—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) does not seem to understand the policy that his party put in place and that the European Union supports. The ham-fisted interventions in our energy market mean that we have less reliable energy, because we deliberately subsidise a lot of intermittent and unreliable energy; that we have dearer energy, because, as is commonly accounted, renewables are considerably dearer; and that we have much dearer energy overall, because of the extra cost, which is not included in the way that the cost of renewables is accounted for, which means that non-renewable power becomes a lot dearer per unit as well.

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Has the right hon. Gentleman had an opportunity to reflect on the complete U-turn by Energy UK, which now says that the Government need to promote renewables instead of fossil fuels? Indeed, it says that an energy policy based on fossil fuels is a smartphone equivalent of placing all our bets on Nokia as opposed to Apple and Samsung.

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No, I have not had the chance to reflect on that, but it does not seem to be a very interesting observation given the fundamental truth that I have just given him, on which the hon. Gentleman has not reflected at all. The truth of our current energy policy—

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rose

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Let me just deal with the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefor (Jonathan Edwards), and then I will happily deal with the shadow Minister. The truth about our energy policy is that the various interventions have conspired to make less power available at a much higher price and that, unless we start to reverse some of those interventions, we will get those pernicious effects. If he is saying that, yes, the price of energy from fossil fuels is variable, depending on the world market price, that is self-evidently true, but it does not mean that it is a good idea to put in something that is very unreliable and intermittent and is dearer than fossil fuel at more or less any realistic market price that might be commanded in the market by fossil fuel.

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Has the right hon. Gentleman had the opportunity to go to the national balancing services centre, which is in his constituency, as it undertakes a great deal of work balancing the system? There are substantial constraints on non-fossil fuel as well as fossil fuel inputs to the system, which cause shortages in power delivery at various stages, whether non-fossil fuel or fossil fuel delivery. Perhaps he could reflect on that in his comments.

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Of course, as Member of Parliament for Wokingham, I have visited the centre on several occasions, and met the dedicated group of people there. The last time I visited was quite recently, and they were saying to me how much more difficult it is to manage a system that relies on wind, which is becoming more and more intermittent. That is self-evidently true. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reinforcing my point, although I am not sure whether that was what he was trying to do. It used to be much easier when we had baseload power that could be relied upon and that was not interrupted by changes in the weather or the wind, and where the swing factor could be accounted for primarily by the pumped storage systems at Dinorwig. A command could be sent from Wokingham to Dinorwig. The water would come down the hill very quickly, and the kettles could boil in the interval of the big movie or whatever it was that was causing the surge in power demand. It is much more difficult now to call up power if, at the same time, the wind suddenly drops.

That is leading to our having to put in more and more interconnectors with other countries, so we become a net importer of power on a more regular basis, which is not something I value. I want us to have security of energy supply in our own country. We are, after all, an island of coal in a sea of oil and gas, and one would think we could find environmentally acceptable ways of exploiting that and burning it to produce the power we need. As I want an industrial revival in this country, that could well start with us importing less electricity.

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The right hon. Gentleman talks about security. Does he share the concerns that I have and that have been expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) about the operation of the capacity market? That is costing us a great deal of money and it is manifestly failing to bring on new gas, which is its central aim.

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As I have been trying to explain, the reason we end up with dear gas is all the other subsidised interventions we have been making. We cannot run gas flat out and get the benefits of running it in the most economical way possible. Yes, I would rather have a much simpler market. The market worked a lot better in the 1980s and 1990s when we first set up a pretty open competitive market and power prices came down a lot. We had roughly a 25% margin of extra supply so that we were secure and we never had to worry that, if there was a cold day with the wind not blowing when industry was doing quite well, we would have to tell industry to switch its machines off. We did not get to such a position under that regime.

Now that we have a grossly intervened regime with all sorts of subsidies and priorities that do not reflect the economics of power production, we get to exactly the point that the hon. Gentleman rightly identifies, when we have to bid quite high to get people to provide gas-based power because we cannot guarantee full access to the market on a continuous basis. Of course, the more interventions there have been over the years of Labour and coalition and now the Conservatives, the more changes are needed in that intervention regime as the Government tinker or try to change it to make it work better, and the higher the prices tend to have to be because people become more suspicious if Government have so much power and if Government keep changing their mind.

So it is quite easy to get from a relatively free, successful market to a badly damaged, rigged, subsidised market. It is quite difficult getting from a badly damaged, subsidised market where the interventions are not very helpful to one that works better, because there is suspicion in the minds of investors, and they need longer contracts, bigger guarantees and higher prices to give them some kind of offset as they fear the Government may tinker unnecessarily.

This debate is about the amendment. I support the Government in their view. I want the Government to get on with removing the subsidies to onshore wind, as we said we would do. I hope the Opposition and the other place will not delay that further. We gave plenty of notice of this, and the sooner we do it the sooner we will get a bit closer to having a less damaged energy market.

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Onshore wind is one of the most inexpensive forms of renewable energy, and it is therefore critical to maximise its input into a renewable energy solution across the UK to enable Scotland and the rest of the UK to meet our climate change targets.

Closing the RO early puts in jeopardy £3 billion-worth of onshore wind investment in Scotland alone for a forecast 30p saving in energy bills. This is a false economy because £3 billion of onshore wind investment equates to 63 million tonnes of CO2. That is from DECC’s own analysis and represents a missed opportunity both economically and in terms of hitting climate change targets.

I spoke at length in Committee on the grace periods and the importance of getting them right, so I will not labour the point here. However, it is important that they are fair and do not disadvantage projects which, through no fault of their own, fall through the crack owing to early closure of the RO.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen South (Callum McCaig) and the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), who is no longer in his place, spoke eloquently about the real and very difficult deterioration in investor confidence caused by the early closure of the RO. Now that that is proceeding, it must be done fairly and with a view to the critical part that onshore wind plays in the overall energy solution for the UK. We must keep the lights on, which is why we intend to press amendment 8 to a Division.

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Before dealing with other proposals, I would like to speak to Government amendment 50. As I made clear during our last debate on this issue, I would like to see an equivalent approach taken right across the UK to the early closure of the renewables obligation to onshore wind, to provide consistency to industry and to protect consumer bills. Amendment 50 relates to clause 81—the backstop power regarding Northern Ireland.

In Committee, I introduced a clause with a view to protecting consumers in Great Britain from the costs of any additional support that Northern Ireland may decide to provide to onshore wind. I remind hon. Members that the clause received considerable support at that stage and that it is a backstop power—this is to say, it is intended to be exercised only if Northern Ireland decides not to close the Northern Ireland renewables obligation scheme to new onshore wind on equivalent terms to those in Great Britain.

The new amendment simply clarifies the drafting of the clause to ensure consistency with the provisions relating to the early closure of the renewables obligation in Great Britain by making it clear that the power in clause 81 extends to capacity added to existing onshore wind stations, as well as to new stations. I should highlight that the intent behind the clause has not changed at all.

I thank all hon. Members for their comments on the non-Government provisions. A number of them—specifically amendments 1 to 21, tabled by the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Philip Boswell)—were discussed in some detail and at length in Committee. As far as I can see, the amendments have not changed at all since we last discussed them. Following our agreement not to include them then, the hon. Gentleman has tabled them here once again.

To ensure clarity for hon. Members who did not attend the Committee debates and to move forward with this debate, and indeed the Bill, I am happy to set out the Government’s position again. I will first remind hon. Members of the intended effect of clauses 79 and 80. Clause 79 implements the early closure of the renewables obligation to new onshore wind in Great Britain. Clause 80 sets out the grace period conditions under which certain projects may continue to accredit beyond the early closure date.

Let me be clear: the Government remain committed to delivering our manifesto pledge to end new subsidies for onshore wind, and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) and my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) for the clear support they expressed. The Government are, however, also conscious of the need for industry certainty. Therefore, in response to the question from the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead), I would like to make it clear that, if Royal Assent for the Bill goes beyond 31 March, the Government intend the provisions to come into force from the date of Royal Assent and do not intend to backdate them. I reiterate that there is absolutely no change to our commitment to end new subsidies for onshore wind, and our actions have shown that we will be tough on subsidies to keep bills down for families and businesses.

Onshore wind has deployed successfully to date. Based on our analysis, and taking early closure of the renewables obligation into account, we still expect the deployment of onshore wind to fall within our electricity market reform delivery plan projections of 11 to 13 GW by 2020. That is our best estimate of what is needed to meet our 2020 targets and of what is affordable under our low-carbon spending cap.

When we announced early closure on 18 June, we made it clear that it was appropriate to curtail further deployment of onshore wind, balancing the interests of onshore wind developers with those of the wider public. As I explained in our earlier debates, the grace period conditions in clause 80 were developed following extensive stakeholder engagement and have been designed specifically to provide certainty and clarity for industry. In particular, we engaged in detail on the core grace period conditions, referred to as the “approved development condition” in the Bill. This requires projects wishing to accredit under the RO beyond 31 March 2016 to provide evidence that, as of 18 June 2015, they had, first, relevant planning consents; secondly, a grid connection offer and acceptance of that offer, or confirmation that no grid connection is required; and thirdly, access to land rights.

Following further industry engagement and analysis by my Department, the Bill’s provisions have been improved in a number of ways: first, to capture those projects that had a planning application refused on or before 18 June 2015, or where the relevant planning authority failed to determine a planning application where a decision was due by 18 June 2015, and which are then subsequently granted consent on appeal; secondly, to introduce an “investment freezing condition” allowing certain projects that qualify for the grace period an additional nine months in which to accredit where they have been unable to secure debt funding due to legislative uncertainty; and thirdly, to provide that the existing grid and radar grace period will continue to be available so that projects that have suffered delays outside their control in this area will have a further 12 months in which to accredit.

Let me take a moment to reflect on the important point about investor confidence. The Government believe that the early closure and grace period provisions that we have presented within the Bill strike the right balance between protecting investor confidence and ensuring our ability to control costs under the levy control framework.

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The Minister has outlined the criteria for closing the scheme. Does she share my concern that in Wales this has created some difficulty in understanding which schemes will now fall outside the RO and which will fall within it, because in Wales the generation applications and infrastructure applications come separately, whereas in England they come together in the same application?

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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point, but I think that our grace periods are absolutely clear, and that developers who have sought clarity have been able to get it from the words in our debates and in the Bill.

Investor confidence seems to be the main reason used to support further changes to the grace periods, as proposed in the amendments from the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill and in many of the other amendments that have been tabled. The Energy and Climate Change Committee’s inquiry into investor confidence concluded earlier this year. I want to reflect on one point in particular that was raised during the Committee’s very thorough evidence sessions. The evidence given by Peter Dickson from Glenmont Partners suggested that

“investments continue to attract capital in the UK—for example in offshore wind”.

Far from Government policies putting investors off investing in renewables in the UK, in fact it seems that significant investment is still coming forward.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry, my hon. Friends the Members for Peterborough (Mr Jackson) and for South Cambridgeshire (Heidi Allen), and my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) for raising with me the important issues around visual, amenity and noise impacts from onshore wind farms and the impact that they can have at local level. I can confirm that our manifesto commitment specifically called for a halt to the spread of onshore wind farms and a change in the law so that local people have the final say on wind farm applications. We are making sure that people’s concerns are addressed. Specifically, the Government are considering measures related to noise and amplitude modulation. We touched on this matter in Committee. As I said then, we are determined to address this and find a solution to the problem. This is possibly taking longer than my hon. Friends would like, but we are taking independent advice and will consider how best to act in the light of that advice, which I expect to receive shortly. At this stage, I cannot comment further, but I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry will continue to be patient with me in the knowledge that we are looking at this very closely.

On new clause 2, tabled by the hon. Member for Aberdeen South (Callum McCaig), it is imperative that the early closure applies consistently across Great Britain in order to protect consumers from the risk of over-deployment beyond what has been agreed is affordable under the levy control framework. The new clause would allow Scottish Ministers to provide for further deployment of onshore wind in Scotland under the renewables obligation at a cost to consumers right across Great Britain. In fact, our estimates show that in 2015-16, £520 million, or approximately 60%, of RO support will already go towards funding Scottish onshore wind farms, even though only about 10% of UK bill payers are in Scotland.

The hon. Gentleman tabled the new clause in Committee at the beginning of February, and at that time we discussed the question of Scotland being willing to take responsibility for funding its own renewables obligation. During the debate, the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill expressly responded to that suggestion:

“The short answer to that is no.”––[Official Report, Energy Public Bill Committee, 2 February 2016; c. 133.]

I cannot imagine that his position has changed in the brief period since that debate.

Amendments 8 and 23 relate to projects for which a local planning committee may have indicated that it was minded to grant planning consent, but which did not have formal planning permission as of 18 June last year. That would include projects that just had an indication that they would receive planning consent subject to a section 106 or section 75 agreement being entered into, or projects for which the local planning committee was minded to approve a planning application before 18 June, but for which planning permission was not formally issued until after that date.

The amendments would lead to additional deployment and increased spend under the levy control framework, further blurring the clear, bright line that the Government have set out for projects wishing to accredit under the RO after 31 March this year. To be clear, those projects did not have formal planning permission as at 18 June last year, and therefore they would not meet the grace period criteria.

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Further to my previous intervention, is the Minister in a position to inform the House and my constituents whether the Brechfa West project in my constituency will be eligible for the RO? It had generating planning permission but not infrastructure planning permission. Despite my requests to the Department and to Ofgem, nobody can tell me or my constituents whether the Brechfa West project will be able to claim the RO.

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As I have said to the hon. Gentleman, I think our intentions are clear from words spoken in this Chamber and in the Bill Committee. I will certainly look into the case he mentions, but I do not have the information that he is looking for right now.

Amendments 24 to 46 are all intended to delay the early closure of the RO until 1 March 2017, closing it only one month earlier than the original closure date of 31 March 2017. It is therefore my understanding that the hon. Members who have tabled the amendments want the RO to close to onshore wind only a month earlier than planned, while maintaining the grace period provisions set out by the Government. Clearly, such a change would not meet the objectives of the early closure policy, which I have consistently set out in debates on the Bill and have explained again today. To change the early closure date to 1 March 2017 would go against the intentions of our manifesto commitment, and would be likely to make no reduction to overall deployment or costs under the levy control framework.

I remind hon. Members that those limits have been set for a crucial reason. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State set out in a speech in November last year:

“We can only expect bill payers to support low carbon power, as long as costs are controlled. I inherited a department where policy costs on bills had spiralled. Subsidy should be temporary, not part of a permanent business model.”

I remind hon. Members again that the Government have an electoral mandate to deliver on our manifesto commitment to halt the spread of onshore wind, and that is exactly what the clause is intended to do. However, the Government are mindful of the need to protect investor confidence and to take into account the interests of the onshore wind industry. That is why we have set out grace period provisions, which appear in clause 80.

I believe that I have consistently explained that the Government have an obligation to protect consumers from the risk of over-deployment of new onshore wind and rising energy bills. The date changes proposed in the amendments would simply put us back to where we started, providing no protection for consumers and putting us at risk of deploying up to 7.1 GW of additional onshore wind, which is well beyond what the Government have decided is affordable under the levy control framework.

To conclude, I stress the importance of swiftly moving forward with the proposals. I again quote the hon. Member for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, who said in Committee on this very issue:

“We agree that swift passage of the Bill with clear and consistent RO grace period provisions is needed in order to provide certainty to investors in the onshore wind sector as quickly as possible.”––[Official Report, Energy Public Bill Committee, 2 February 2016; c. 127.]

Clear and consistent provisions are exactly what the Government are attempting to provide, and we need to be able to move forward with the debate to do so.

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I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 79

Onshore wind power: closure of renewables obligation on 31 March 2016

Amendment proposed: 24, page 46, line 20, leave out “31 March 2016” and insert “1 March 2017”.— (Dr Whitehead.)

This amendment and amendments 25, 26, 40, 41, 42, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38 and 39 have the effect of closing the Renewables Obligation for onshore wind a month earlier than the original date set out in the Statutory Instrument: Renewables Obligation Closure Order 2014: 2388, rather than a year earlier, as the Bill does in its present form.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division 214

14 March 2016

The House divided:

Ayes: 183
Noes: 270

Question accordingly negatived.

View Details

Clause 80

Onshore wind power: circumstances in which certificates may be issued after 31 March 2016

Amendment proposed: 8, page 50, line 46, at end insert—

‘( ) evidence that—

(i) an application for 1990 Act permission or 1997 Act permission was made on or before 18 June 2015 for the station or for additional capacity,

(ii) the relevant planning authority resolved to grant 1990 Act permission or 1997 Act permission on or before 18 June 2015,

(iii) 1990 Act permission or 1997 Act permission was granted after 18 June 2015, and

(iv) any conditions as to the time period within which the development to which the permission relates must be begun have not been breached.”—(Philip Boswell.)

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division 215

14 March 2016

The House divided:

Ayes: 229
Noes: 271

Question accordingly negatived.

View Details

More than two hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order, this day).

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question necessary for the disposal of the business at that time (Standing Order No. 83E).

Clause 81

Onshore wind power: use of Northern Ireland certificates

Amendment made: 50, page 56, line 2, leave out from “generated” to end of line 7 and insert

“after 31 March 2016 (or any later date specified in the regulations)—

(a) using the original capacity of a Northern Ireland onshore wind generating station accredited after 31 March 2016 (or any later date so specified), or

(b) using additional capacity of a Northern Ireland onshore wind generating station, where in the Authority’s view the additional capacity first formed part of the station after 31 March 2016 (or any later date so specified).”—(Andrea Leadsom.)

This amendment expands the definition of a relevant Northern Ireland certificate to include a certificate issued in respect of energy generated using additional capacity which first formed part of the generating station after the closure date.

New Clause 3

Carbon capture and storage strategy for the energy industry

‘(1) By June 2017, the Secretary of State must develop, promote and implement a comprehensive national strategy for carbon capture and storage (CCS) for the energy industry to deliver the emissions reductions required to meet the fifth and subsequent, carbon budgets at the scale and pace required.

(2) In developing the strategy, the Secretary of State must consult—

(a) HM Treasury;

(b) the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills;

(c) the Oil and Gas Authority;

(d) the National Infrastructure Commission;

(e) Scottish Ministers;

(f) Welsh Ministers, and

(g) other relevant stakeholders including the CCS industry.

(3) The strategy must include though shall not be restricted to—

(a) the development of infrastructure for carbon dioxide transport and storage;

(b) a funding strategy for implementation including provision of market signals sufficient to build confidence for private investment in the CCS industry;

(c) priorities for such action in the immediate future as may be necessary to allow the orderly and timely development and deployment of CCS after 2020;

(d) promotion of cost-effective innovation in CCS; and

(e) clarification of the responsibilities of government departments with respect to the implementation of the strategy.”

(4) The Secretary of State must report to Parliament on the progress of its implementation of the strategy every three years starting in 2020.” .(Callum McCaig.)

This new clause would compel the Secretary of State to bring forward a strategy for carbon capture and storage for the energy industry

Brought up, and read the First time.

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I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 6—Emissions trading: United Kingdom carbon account

In section 27 (net UK carbon account) of the Climate Change Act 2008, after subsection (2) insert—

“(2A) No carbon units deriving from the operation of the EU Emissions Trading System may be credited to or debited from the net United Kingdom carbon account for any period commencing after 31 December 2027.””

New clause 7—Carbon capture and storage strategy for the energy industry

‘(1) The Secretary of State must—

(a) develop, promote and implement a comprehensive national strategy for carbon capture and storage (CCS) for the energy industry to deliver the emissions reductions required to meet the fifth and subsequent carbon budget, as advised by the committee on climate change;

(b) develop that strategy in consultation with HM Treasury, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Oil and Gas Authority, the National Infrastructure Commission, energy intensive industries and other relevant stakeholders including the CCS industry; and

(c) have that strategy in place by June 2017 and report to Parliament on the progress of its implementation every three years thereafter.

(2) The strategy provided for by subsection (1) shall, amongst other things, include—

(a) the development of infrastructure for carbon dioxide transport and storage;

(b) a funding strategy for implementation including provision of market signals sufficient to build confidence for private investment in the CCS industry;

(c) a strategy for international co-operation on the development and implementation of relevant technologies;

(d) priorities for such action in the immediate future as may be necessary to allow the orderly and timely development and deployment of CCS after 2020.

(e) a strategy for co-operation through the European Union.”

New clause 8—Decarbonisation target range

‘(1) Section 1 of the Energy Act 2013 is amended as follows.

(2) Leave out subsection (2) and insert—

“(2) The Secretary of State must by order (“a decarbonisation order”) set a decarbonisation target range, which shall be reviewed annually thereafter.”

(3) Leave out subsection (5) and insert—

“(5) The decarbonisation order shall be made within six months of the adoption of the fifth carbon budget set by virtue of the duty of the Secretary of State under section 4 (2) (b) of the climate Change Act 2008.””

New clause 9—Amendment to Energy Act 2013: Capacity agreements

After Section 28(4) of the Energy Act 2013, insert—

‘(4A) Electricity capacity regulations introduced by subsection (1) for any fossil fuel generating plant granted 15 year capacity contracts under the capacity agreements established by this section shall be subject to the Emissions Performance Standard as established by Section 57 (2) of this Act.””

New clause 10—Emissions trading: United Kingdom carbon account

In section 27 (net UK carbon account) of the Climate Change Act 2008, after subsection (3) insert—

‘(3A) In respect of any period commencing after 31 December 2027, the regulations must not make provision for carbon units to be credited to or debited from the net United Kingdom carbon account on the basis of the number of carbon units surrendered by operators of installations in the United Kingdom pursuant to the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme.””

New clause 11—Zero net UK [carbon] emissions

‘(1) The Climate Change Act 2008 is amended as follows.

(2) After section (3) of the 2008 Act, insert the following—

3A Net UK carbon emissions target: zero emissions year

‘(1) The Secretary of State shall set a date by which net UK emissions must be zero or lower (“the zero emissions year”) by order no later than 12 months from the date on which the Energy Act 2016 comes into force.

(2) It is the duty of the Secretary of State to ensure that the net UK emissions for the zero emissions year and each year thereafter is zero or less.

(3) If an annual statement of UK emissions under Section 16 for a year after the zero emissions year shows that net UK carbon emissions are more than zero, the Secretary of State must, as soon as reasonably practicable lay before Parliament a statement which—

(a) explains why the zero net emissions target has not been met, and

(b) sets out proposals and policies to ensure that the target will be met in subsequent years.

(4) The Secretary of State may by order amend the zero emissions year.

(5) The power in subsection (4) may only be exercised if it appears to the Secretary of State that it is appropriate to do so due to significant developments in—

(a) scientific knowledge about climate change, or

(b) European or international law or policy.

(6) An order under subsections (1) or (4) may only be made by statutory instrument that has been laid in draft before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.

(7) Before laying a draft of a statutory instrument under subsection (6) the Secretary of State must obtain, and take into account, the advice of the Committee on Climate Change.

(8) As soon as is reasonably practicable after giving its advice to the Secretary of State, the Committee shall publish its advice in such manner as it considers appropriate.

(9) If an order under subsections (1) or (4) sets or amends the zero emissions year in a way that is different from the recommendation of the Committee under subsection (7), the Secretary of State must lay a statement before Parliament explaining his reasons for that decision.

(10) When the Secretary of State comes to any decision under this section, or the Committee on Climate Change considers its advice in relation to any such decision—

(a) the matters listed in Section 10(2) must, and

(b) other matters may,

be taken into account.”

New clause 12—Strategy for a Just Transition away from fossil fuels

‘(1) The Secretary of State must develop a comprehensive national strategy for the UK energy sector to move away from fossil fuels and towards 100% renewable energy by 2050, under the framework of a Just Transition outlined in subsection (5)(a).

(2) The strategy must be developed by June 2017 and the Secretary of State must report to Parliament on the progress of its implementation every year thereafter.

(3) The transition must ensure that UK carbon emission reductions make a fair contribution to the goals set out in the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement.

(4) The strategy must be developed in consultation with—

(a) energy sector workers,

(b) trade unions,

(c) the Committee on Climate Change,

(d) HM Treasury,

(e) the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills,

(f) the Oil and Gas Authority,

(g) the renewable energy industry,

(h) the National Infrastructure Commission,

(i) Scottish and Welsh Ministers,

(j) civil society organisations, and

(k) other relevant stakeholders.

(5) The strategy must, amongst other things, include—

(a) the adoption of the principles of Just Transition set out by national and international trade unions, including—

(i) full participation and engagement of workers, trades unions and communities most directly affected, and

(ii) training, education and skills policies to enable workers to make the transition to employment in sustainable, low carbon industries,

(b) an assessment of the proportion of existing UK oil and gas reserves that should remain unexploited,

(c) a strategy for redirecting all direct and indirect fossil fuel exploration and production subsidies into low carbon industry; and

(d) cooperation with EU institutions and EU member states to embed the principles of Just Transition at EU level.”

This new clause would require the Secretary of State to develop a strategy for a Just Transition away from fossil fuels and towards a renewable energy future.

New clause 1—Strategy for incentivising competitiveness of UK-registered companies in decommissioning contracts

‘(1) By June 2017, the Secretary of State must develop a comprehensive strategy for the Department of Energy and Climate Change to incentivise the competitiveness of UK-registered companies in bidding for supply chain contracts associated with the decommissioning of oil and gas infrastructure (the strategy), which shall be reviewed annually thereafter.

(2) In developing the strategy, the Secretary of State must consult—

(a) HM Treasury;

(b) the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills;

(c) the Oil and Gas Authority;

(d) Scottish Ministers, and

(e) any other relevant stakeholders that the Secretary of State thinks appropriate.

(3) The strategy must include, though shall not be restricted to—

(a) an appraisal of tax incentives that can be extended to oil and gas operators to incentivise their use of UK-registered supply chain companies; and

(b) an outline of other appropriate support that can be provided by the Government, or its agencies, to UK-registered companies which express interest in bidding for decommissioning contracts.”

This new clause would compel the Secretary of State to bring forward a strategy for ensuring that UK-registered supply chain companies benefit from decommissioning contracts.

New clause 4—Contract for Difference—

After section 13(3) of the Energy Act 2013 insert—

‘(3A) An allocation round must be held at least once in each year which the carbon intensity of electricity generation in the United Kingdom exceeds 100 grams per kilowatt hour.”

This new clause would compel the Secretary of State to hold a Contract for Difference allocation round at least once in each year that the carbon intensity of electricity generation in the UK exceeds 100g per kilowatt hour.

New clause 5—Amendment to the Petroleum Act 1998: definition of “the principal objective”

In subsection 9A of the Petroleum Act 1998, leave out subsection (1) and insert—

“(1) The “principal objective” is the objective of maximising the economic return of UK petroleum, while retaining oversight of the decommissioning of oil and gas infrastructure, and securing its reuse for transportation and storage of greenhouse gases, in particular through—

(a) development, construction, deployment and use of equipment used in the petroleum industry (including upstream petroleum infrastructure), and

(b) collaboration among the following persons—

(i) holders of petroleum licences;

(ii) operators under petroleum licences;

(iii) owners of upstream petroleum infrastructure;

(iv) persons planning and carrying out the commissioning of upstream petroleum infrastructure;

(v) owners of offshore installations.””

Government amendments 48 and 49.

Amendment 47, in clause 8, page 6, line 10, at end insert—

“Hierarchy of matters relating to decommissioning

The need to consider the most advantageous use of North Sea infrastructure for the overall benefit of oil and gas extraction prior to the decommissioning of such sites”

To require the OGA to have regard to the need to ensure most advantageous use of North Sea infrastructure for the overall benefit of oil and gas extraction prior to the decommissioning of such sites when exercising its functions.

Government amendment 51.

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Having moved new clause 3, I shall speak to new clauses 1 and 4—I am rather confused by the ordering—and I shall support the cross-party new clause 10 on behalf of the SNP.

I was struck when, in the earlier debate on the previous group, the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), who is no longer in his place, talked about how to find an environmentally sustainable way of getting power from the island of coal in a sea of oil and gas. I take it that he was referring to Great Britain in that regard. There might well be a way of achieving that in an environmentally sustainable way—through carbon capture and storage. My new clause 3 calls on the Government to bring forward a proper, well thought out and extensively consulted on plan and strategy for carbon capture and storage for utilisation in both the energy industry in particular and industry more widely, including energy-intensive industries, which might move offshore if they are not able to consume power in an affordable way that meets our higher environmental standards.

We have talked about the discussion and report from the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, which referred to the innumerable sudden changes to policy as having an impact on the reputation of the United Kingdom for investor confidence. The decision to withdraw the £1 billion funding available for the CCS competition at the same time as the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change was in Paris leading the “high-ambition coalition” on behalf of the country at the Paris talks is perhaps the most grave of the changes.

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I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Does he agree with me that the fact that this information was extolled to the City of London and the stock exchange rather than this place on the very same day demonstrates this Government’s real attitude to this place?

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I very much agree. I remember sitting on this very Bench, looking through the Budget statement and being somewhat relieved that the rumours I had heard about this competition being scrapped did not appear to be in that statement. Lo and behold, however, an announcement was made to the stock market a few moments after the Chancellor had left the Chamber, removing that funding. I understand that no greater certainty was provided to the companies involved in both White Rose and Peterhead.

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F