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Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): Can we have an early debate on further education? I appreciate that the Government are injecting £310 million over the next three years into further education, but the reality is that a huge pay gap is opening between lecturers in FE and teachers in secondary schools. People are simply migrating from
Mr. Cook: My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, which underlines the extent to which we have made very good progress in schools. Indeed, we are investing further in further education. I and my constituents have seen a remarkable improvement in the quality of the buildings and in the number of students attending further education. I will certainly draw his comments to the attention of the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, and I am sure that she will wish to write to him to reflect on the point that he makes.
Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge): The Leader of the House is renowned as a champion of modernisation, so can we debate the use of the royal prerogative? I ask that in the context of his answers to the hon. Members for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) and for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and of the Prime Minister's answer to questions that I asked four weeks ago and before that on whether there should be a debate in the House before British troops are committed abroad, particularly in relation to Iraq. Can we have a debate on the use of the royal prerogative in that regard?
Mr. Cook: First, I tell the hon. Gentleman and the House, yet again, that no decision has been taken. Indeed, no decision is immediately in prospect of being taken about Iraq and no such decision may ever be taken. [Interruption.] I shall come to the hon. Gentleman's question, but I do not want us to proceed on the presumption that such a decision is imminent or will be made.
Secondly, on committing British troops abroad, whatever the legal niceties of the matter, the reality is that this Governmentindeed, I suspect no Governmentcould commit British troops if that were opposed by a majority of the House of Commons. In fairness to those on the Government Front Bench, we were punctilious in consulting the House before, while and after committing British troops to Afghanistan, and we have had six full days of debate, if I remember rightly, and many more statements. ShouldI make this very conditionalany action be taken in Iraq, I am confident that it would be accompanied by a similar commitment to ensuring that we carry the House with us.
Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North): First, may I reassure my right hon. Friend that Labour support in Luton is going well? Last week, a by-election in my constituency was won by Labour with a strong majority and for the first time ever the Conservatives were pushed into third place behind the Liberal Democrats.
My question concerns the housing market and housing finance. The Government have been successful in creating a stable economy and we all applaud that. However, the housing market continues to be an unstable component of the economyindeed, it is starting to look uncomfortable again and one might argue the case for separate interest rates for the housing market and for the rest of the
Mr. Cook: I am suddenly conscious of the eyes of about 15 million householders observing me as I respond to my hon. Friend's most original proposal for a separate interest rate for mortgage payers from that for the rest of the economy. I would not want to encourage him to think that the Government are likely to contemplate that as a solution.
On the housing market, I understand that the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors issued a report this morning suggesting that the market may be cooling down, so that may provide my hon. Friend with some reassurance. One of the main factors has been the remarkable success of the Government in delivering interest rates that are at a 40-year all-time low. That is a reflection of the sound economy that the Government have created and which we shall not allow anything else to ruin.
Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): With his mega-memory, the Leader of the House will no doubt recollect that on two occasions at business questionslast January and AprilI raised the issue of the Government's consultation papers on proposals to change our town and country planning system, especially changes in our handling of major planning inquiries, such as Heathrow terminal 5. As the issue is of fundamental importance to an increasing number of people, will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider holding a debate on the Floor of the House? I understand that the demand for parliamentary time exceeds supply, but as the issue is of such vital importance, it would be helpful to the Government to hold a debate to find out the views of Members before they make hard decisions after the consultation period.
Mr. Cook: I cannot offer a debate between now and the summer recesstime is finite and reducingbut, as I said to the hon. Gentleman on previous occasions, there is no way that we can make progress on the matter without primary legislation and thus no way to make progress without the House having a full opportunity to be involved and to consider it.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker, of which I gave Mr. Speaker notice this morning. Whatever the rights and wrongs of a prime ministerial statement to the press, it is a new departure and a serious matter for the House, as Mr. Speaker repeatedly says that statements should first of all be made to the House of Commons. This is a complex subject. I am not saying that the Prime Minister is wrong; I am saying that what has been done is a significant departure. Will Mr. Speaker consider making a statement on Monday on the whole issue of whether announcements should first be made to the House? It is not a matter of the House's amour propre; if statements are not made to the House, there are many constitutional implications. If there is a misunderstanding, it should be
Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I think that I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. No doubt the Prime Minister will have had in mind the importance of first of all informing the House of major policy developments.
The Minister for Energy and Construction (Mr. Brian Wilson): This is a timely debate on energy policy and a good opportunity for me to hear hon. Members' views on its future direction. We are now involved in our consultation on the energy review, which will in turn lead to a White Paper and to actions by the Government that will have repercussions for energy policy for decades to comehence the title of the debate. It is important that we get it right. Energy is at the centre of all our livesit lights and heats our homes, powers our industry and fuels our vehiclesso securing affordable, reliable and sustainable energy is of crucial concern to us all. Those objectives should never be taken for granted. It is worth remembering that 2 billion people do not have the benefit of energy at the press of a switch.
Last June, the Prime Minister asked the performance and innovation unit to carry out a major review of strategic issues surrounding energy policy for Great Britain up to 2050. That was in large part a response to the report by the royal commission on environmental pollution, which recommended that the United Kingdom should aim for a 60 per cent. reduction in carbon emissions by 2050. Crucially, that placed the review of energy policy in an environmental context, making it far more pressing than would have been a similar review of 10, or even five, years ago. In future, alongside security of supply, the driving force behind energy policy must be the imperative of countering the immense 21st century challenge of climate change and global warming. We are likely to respond to the royal commission at the same time that we publish the energy White Paper.
The energy review was published on 14 February. Having chaired the advisory group that oversaw that process, I should like to record my appreciation to the members of the team led by Nick Hartley, which produced an excellent report to time. The PIU report was always going to be a report to the Government, rather than of the Government. When the Prime Minister welcomed the review on behalf of the Government, he said that he hoped that it would start a thorough debate. The consultation that we launched on 14 May in the run-up to the White Paper initiated the next stage of that debate.
We are also carefully considering two relevant parliamentary reportsthe report by the Select Committee on Trade and Industry on security of energy supply, published on 7 February, and the House of Lords Select Committee report "Energy Supply: How Secure are We?", published on 12 February, which examines the European Green Paper on security of energy supply. Those reports, too, are timely and valuable in signalling Parliament's views about energy issues and indicating where the White Paper should focus.
Just as with the energy review, I am determined to make the consultation process in which we are engaged as open and inclusive as possible. It will run until mid-September and it will help to shape energy policy for decades to come. Of course, as well as looking to the long term, we also face more immediate challenges and decisions. There must be a keen awareness that every
Let me turn now to some of the policy areas and key issues that the review will address. I shall deal first with security of supply. Energy security is often characterised as keeping the lights on, but of course it is more than that. It is about having efficient, competitive energy markets with the correct incentives to invest. It is about maximising the economic potential of our own fuel sources and building close relationships with fuel exporting and transporting countries. To that end, we shall, as the PIU recommended, continue to press for liberalisation of energy markets across the European Union, and I shall continue to work with my ministerial colleagues in the Foreign Office to build on the UK's good relations with fuel exporters.