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House of Commons

Thursday 2 May 2002

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


London Development Agency Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 9 May.

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Aerospace Industry

1. Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): What discussions she has had with representatives of the aerospace industry in respect of retraining of employees facing redundancy. [51995]

The Minister for Employment Relations, Industry and the Regions (Alan Johnson): There are meetings from time to time with representatives of the aerospace industry to discuss the state of the industry and the role of Government. These discussions have, on occasion, touched on the retraining of employees facing redundancy, although this has not been the main subject of any of the meetings.

Mr. Chaytor: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. May I draw his attention to the problems faced by the employees of British Aerospace in Manchester and elsewhere, and by those of the smaller companies based at Manchester airport, many of whom are my constituents? Will he pay particular attention to the need for liaison between the three Departments with an interest in this matter—his own, the Department for Education and Skills and the Department for Work and Pensions—to ensure that the skills of aerospace workers are not lost to the economy of the north-west during this period of downturn?

Alan Johnson: My hon. Friend raises an important point. There have been severe job losses, particularly in the north-west. We work very closely with the DWP and the DFES, and we have provided funds through the new Jobcentre Plus rapid response fund to assist in those areas, as has the North West Development Agency. Our objective in such circumstances is always to assist those who have been made redundant to remain in high-skilled,

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highly paid employment and to keep their skills in the region so that when the upturn comes—as we are sure it will—they will be available to a very important sector of our manufacturing industry.

Beer (Full Pints)

2. Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): What steps she is taking to ensure that consumers receive a full pint in public houses. [51997]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Nigel Griffiths): One in five pints currently contain less than 95 per cent. of capacity. That is clearly unacceptable. On 18 March, we issued a consultation document to tackle this. We are committed to giving short shrift to short measures, and our proposals should guarantee beer and cider drinkers 60 million extra pints a year.

Mr. Winterton: I am most grateful to the Minister for that positive, if not frothy, response. I would like to declare an interest from the past. I was, for 10 years, non-executive chairman of CAMRA Real Ale Investments, which then became Midsummer Inns before it was bought out and we were all made redundant by the new company. Is the Minister sure that what the Government are doing will ensure that beer drinkers receive a full liquid pint without having to ask for a top-up? The Campaign for Real Ale feels very strongly about this, as do those who support traditional pubs and brewers. I make no criticism of the smaller brewer, but it is, unfortunately, not untypical that too many people have to ask for a top-up in the beer outlets run by the bigger companies. Will the Government look at this again, perhaps a little more seriously?

Nigel Griffiths: CAMRA's loss is Parliament's gain. We have listened to representations from all the interested parties in this matter, including the hon. Gentleman's constituents. I spoke this morning to Hugh Thompson of Storm Brewing in Macclesfield, who welcomed the proposals in the consultation document. He is also full of praise for the 14p a pint reduction announced in the Budget, which will help nine out of 10 brewers—350 in total. Let me add to the hon. Gentleman's comments by saying that anyone who seeks to short-change Britain's drinkers will be left with a bitter taste in their mouth, because, with fines under our proposals of up to £1,000 per short measure and, in the case of repeat offenders, the loss of their licence and their livelihood, I think that we shall see effective action taken for the first time to tackle the short-measure culture.

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Ochil): Does my hon. Friend agree that there are dangers in half-baked consumerism? If the glasses are to be bigger, we shall have to pay for those bigger glasses, and if the amount of liquid in them is to be greater, the brewers and the publicans will find ways of charging us for it. It will be of little consolation to beer drinkers if we end up drinking slightly more beer out of bigger glasses at far greater expense. Those are the dangers of half-baked consumerism, and many of us who

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like a pint of beer are very wary of them because we know that consumerism has rarely been recognised by brewers and publicans in the past.

Nigel Griffiths: My hon. Friend is perfectly correct. That is why there is nothing half-baked about these proposals. They are for consumers and drinkers in Britain, and they will ensure that there are stiffer penalties than ever and that the equivalent of about 60 million extra pints a year will go to the drinkers and not back to the breweries.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge): I hope that that promise will be delivered. Will the Minister enlighten us about when he will deliver the promised licensing law reform rather than just the half-baked attempt on licensing for new year's day?

Nigel Griffiths: That is out for consultation and clearly there are diverse interests in the House and in the country on licensing laws. I hope that it is possible to reach a compromise that is agreeable to local communities up and down the country, which differ as to how much those laws should be expanded to allow round-the-clock drinking. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that, in cities such as Edinburgh, it is acceptable but in other parts of the country it is not. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Energy Review Report

3. Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): What the Government's response is to the performance and innovation unit energy review report; and if she will make a statement. [51998]

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt): The Government will consult shortly on the issues raised in the report and will set out their detailed response in an energy White Paper around the end of the year.

Miss McIntosh: The Secretary of State will recall that her Department has authorised the building of a long string of power lines, which has led to little Eiffel towers appearing across the Vale of York recently. Is she aware that the existing electricity-carrying pylons are operating at only 20 per cent. capacity, which means that the existing line is 80 per cent. surplus to requirements? Following the PIU energy review report, will she introduce legislation to ensure that the electricity generated is as close as possible to demand so that we no longer need those hideous power lines?

Ms Hewitt: I am aware of the concern in the hon. Lady's constituency and elsewhere in Yorkshire about the north Yorkshire power line. Indeed, the energy Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), recently met her and some of her constituents to discuss the matter. We shall consider the broader point that she raises as part of the wider review, but the issues relating to the new north Yorkshire power line, including the possibility of running the cable

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underground, were examined enormously carefully during six and a half years of consideration and two public inquiries. Unfortunately, the costs proved insuperable.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South): I welcome the fact that the Government are to publish an energy policy White Paper, which I hope will make it clear that the future of the North sea oil and gas industry remains very important to the supply of the UK's energy needs. Has the Department made an assessment of the fiscal changes proposed in the Budget and their impact on the North sea oil and gas industry?

Ms Hewitt: I agree with my hon. Friend about the oil and gas industry's importance to the future of our energy supplies, and of course that will be reflected in the White Paper, as it was in the PIU report. She will be aware that the changes to the taxation of North sea oil have been under Treasury consideration for some years. Although the increase in the special rate of taxation is unwelcome to the industry, I hope that it welcomes the inclusion of 100 per cent. capital allowances for investment, which is hugely important, particularly for the fallow fields, and the ending of the extremely unpopular royalty payments regime.

Mr. Boris Johnson (Henley): It is good news that the Government have decided that fusion should be part of this country's long-term energy programme. As the Secretary of State is aware, much fusion research takes place at the Culham Laboratories in my constituency. Given the importance of the fusion programme and the potential that it offers for long-term, limitless greenhouse gas-free energy, will she take steps to protect the Culham programme from the cuts that I understand are envisaged by the European Commission? Is it guaranteed that the fusion programme will continue?

Ms Hewitt: The hon. Gentleman is obviously used to writing articles rather longer than speeches to the House of Commons, but he raises the hugely important possibility of generating power from fusion. The Minister for Science and Innovation has been pursuing it, and I remind the hon. Gentleman that we have increased funding for basic scientific research in our country by upwards of £1 billion to start to make up for the cuts made under the Conservative Government. Of course, we shall consider sustaining fusion power research as part of the future of our science research programmes.

Paddy Tipping (Sherwood): In any response to the PIU report, will the Secretary of State ensure that the country does not depend on a single source of energy, such as imported gas? Will she consider the need for an EU replacement state subsidy scheme for coal, and consider in particular the important issue of burning coal in an environmentally friendly way?

Ms Hewitt: Diversity and security of supply is one of the central objectives in the report, and we shall of course pay close attention to it when preparing our White Paper. Diversity and security involves not simply different energy sources—different fuels—but different parts of the world, including of course the United Kingdom.

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We are working with our European partners to establish a new framework for state aid to the coal industry. We have already committed about £120 million by way of operating aid. We are also considering what more we can do to support the development and use of clean coal technologies, which are a hugely important part of environmentally sustainable energy production.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): I was concerned to hear from the Secretary of State that the publication of the promised White Paper had already slipped from October to the end of the year. When the energy Minister, the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), returns, will she draw his attention to the fact that Greenpeace, Shell, the British Wind Energy Association, British Nuclear Fuels plc, the Coal Authority, the Carbon Trust, Friends of the Earth, the Energy Saving Trust, the Association of European Transmission System Operators, the European fusion development agreement, Slough Heat and Power, TXU—and myself, sir—are all waiting for a full debate in the Chamber on the PIU energy review?

We know that the White Paper is being drafted, and we know which officials are leading the drafting. If the Government are serious, they must consult the House now rather than waiting until all the decisions have been made.

Ms Hewitt: I am glad to be able to reassure the hon. Gentleman, and all the organisations that he listed at such length, that before the end of the month we will publish a consultation document specifying the issues on which we invite views following the PIU report, so that full consultation and debate take place before we draft the White Paper.

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