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Carbon Fuels

5. Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): What action she is taking to lessen use of carbon fuels. [103884]

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt): On 24 February, we published a White Paper that puts climate change at the heart of our energy policy. We have accepted the recommendation of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 60 per cent. by 2050 and to be on a path to that by 2020. The White Paper sets out the measures needed to achieve that target.

Dr. Iddon : Tragic events in the middle east have, once again, highlighted the fact that we need to reduce our

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reliance on fossil fuels, such as oil, and even gas, as our major energy sources. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we need to invest significantly more in renewable energy sources, such as wind and tidal power, in order to secure energy resources for future generations, in addition to meeting our Kyoto commitments?

Ms Hewitt: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that we need to do far more, not only on renewables but also on energy efficiency. We have set out in the White Paper exactly how we shall do that. In particular, we are investing a third of a billion pounds over four years in capital grants for new renewable projects, including wave and tidal power. I am pleased that the United Kingdom has the first—indeed, the only—commercial wave power station in the world. With that, and with the expertise that we have in wind power and offshore technologies, we will be able not only to achieve our CO2 targets, but to create a new renewables manufacturing industry that will deliver new jobs and new exports for Britain.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Given the fall in farm incomes by more than two thirds over the past six years, what discussions has the Secretary of State had with her counterpart in DEFRA about the possibility of producing fuel through alcohol? Is she aware that in Brazil more than two thirds of the fuel that is used is alcohol fuel, which is generated from crops? Why cannot we do that here in the United Kingdom?

Ms Hewitt: There is no reason at all why we should not do that. Indeed, the White Paper to which I referred was a joint production by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, me, and the Secretary of State for Transport. As I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, we are investing substantially in helping farmers and other members of the rural community to diversify. There are clearly huge potential benefits to the farming community, as well as to the whole country, in helping to increase the production of fuel from biomass and bioethanol. Of course, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is assisting in that through differential fuel duties.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North): Does my right hon. Friend accept that although the ambitious measures in the White Paper in respect of renewables and energy efficiency are extremely welcome, they are not matched by the ambitious scale of investment that is needed? Does not energy efficiency provide the quickest and easiest way to cut carbon emissions, and will she assure the House that there will be increasing support for energy efficiency measures in the next few years?

Ms Hewitt: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We say in the White Paper that energy efficiency is by far the cheapest and simplest way of meeting all our policy goals in this area. If I may say so, however, he somewhat underestimates the scale of the investment that is being made. I have already referred to the third of a billion pounds over four years, and we shall have to see what we achieve in future spending reviews. By 2010, the renewables obligation, which is central to the policy, will deliver support to the renewables industry that is worth some £1 billion a year. On top of that, by 2005–06 we

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will have put in place a new carbon emissions trading scheme, which will create further strong incentives for much greater energy efficiency and more investment in renewables.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): The Secretary of State will know David Green, who is a member of the Government's energy advisory panel, and who said:


How on earth has he come to that conclusion?

Ms Hewitt: The energy White Paper not only confirms the Government's commitment to the target of installing 10,000 MW of good quality combined heat and power by 2010, but sets out several new measures to support CHP. State aid approval for the exemption of CHP electricity from the climate change levy—a policy for which David Green strongly pressed—has now been given. It is frustrating that it took some time to get that state aid exemption, but it will undoubtedly help. Although I well understand the frustration of CHP producers—although not necessarily consumers—about falling electricity prices, we are on target to meet the 2010 target for good-quality CHP.

Pharmacies

6. Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): If she will make a statement on the Office of Fair Trading report on pharmacy services. [103885]

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt): We received the OFT report on 17 January and we are considering our response across Government, in consultation, of course, with the devolved Administrations and relevant stakeholders. As part of that process, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy), wrote to all hon. Members seeking their views.

Mr. Dismore : May I tell my right hon. Friend that I have received objections from hundreds of constituents who are outraged by the OFT's proposals? They vigorously protest that their local pharmacies are convenient, that they know and trust the pharmacist, that they often have no transport to go elsewhere, and that they are not pushed into buying unnecessary products. Does my right hon. Friend agree that good health is supported by a trusting relationship between pharmacist and public, and can she assure me that the vital network of local pharmacies—which commands a high level of confidence and satisfaction from our communities, as is recognised in the OFT's report—will be protected and that nothing will be done that will prejudice the local pharmacy services that so many of our constituents value highly?

Ms Hewitt: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Of course, I have had similar representations and discussions in my constituency. I welcome the OFT's report, which is a useful analysis of the competition aspects of the control of entry regulations, and of the

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benefits that greater competition can bring. I am also clear, however, that there are limits to markets, particularly in the delivery of health services. It is essential that pharmacists should be able to fulfil not only their present valued and trusted role but the wider role envisaged for them in the NHS plan: simply deregulating the market will not do that. We therefore need a balanced package of measures, and that is precisely what we will draw up, in consultation, as I have already indicated.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham): I welcome the Secretary of State's response to that question. I suggest that the OFT was simply wrong in believing that pharmacists are merely shops; in fact, they are a network of primary health care professionals who play a key role in preventive health and in distributing drugs to the elderly and the sick. The Government will not be forgiven lightly if she allows the pharmacists to go the same way as the post office network.

Ms Hewitt: The OFT's remit is to look at the effect on competition, among other things, of Government regulation. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman—who, at least some of the time, is a supporter of competition policies—would welcome that role for the OFT. It is not part of the OFT's remit, however, to look at the much wider health service objectives or the role that community pharmacists can play—an even greater role, as I have indicated—in supporting modernisation and improvements in the national health service. That is our job in government, and, as I have indicated, we will come forward with a balanced package that will achieve those health and community aims.

Mr. Michael Weir (Angus): The Secretary of State will know that in Scotland the situation is slightly different, because health is dissolved—[Interruption.] Health is devolved, but competition policy is not. She will also be aware that the Scottish Parliament is due to be dissolved at the end of next week for the forthcoming election. Will she give an assurance that no decision will be made on the OFT policy until there has been consultation with the new Scottish Parliament and new Scottish Executive following elections on 1 May?

Ms Hewitt: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was suggesting that the NHS might be dissolved if the nationalists won the elections. Let me make it clear: of course we are already discussing this issue with our colleagues, not only in Scotland but in Wales and Northern Ireland. We will arrive at the decision in full consultation with the devolved Administration, who, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, are responsible for the health service in Scotland.

Ms Candy Atherton (Falmouth and Camborne): There are strong concerns about this issue in Cornwall, where many of our supermarkets are out of town, and I receive petitions almost daily opposing the proposals. I am glad to hear the Secretary of State say that nothing

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will be done that would hurt local pharmacies. May I reiterate, however, that real concerns exist, and we urgently need reassurance?

Ms Hewitt: I entirely understand not only my hon. Friend's concerns but those of her constituents. Every Member has had similar representations. Let me stress that although competition can clearly bring benefits to consumers, the crucial issue is that pharmacists should be able to enhance their role within the NHS plan and meet the health care needs of all our constituents, particularly those living in poorer areas and rural areas.

Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk): Since the OFT's report confirms that community pharmacies do an excellent job, are trusted by their customers and are accessible to the vast majority of people, is it not clear that were the recommendations accepted it would show once more that this Labour Government care nothing either for those small and often family-run businesses that are the backbone of many communities, or for their customers, who rely on them as a valuable source of health advice?

Ms Hewitt: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman did not hear my earlier answers on precisely that point. I am glad that the Conservative party now recognises that there are limits to markets, especially in health care. I hope that Conservative Members will support the other policies that our Government have introduced to promote social inclusion and to ensure that markets work for everyone's benefit. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will soon tell us that he supports policies on the minimum wage, rights at work and improved health and safety in the workplace, which are other policies that set limits on uncontrolled markets.

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Ochil): Will my right hon. Friend take account of the phrase, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"? In Scotland, there is no question that Labour will not lead the Administration after May, as it does at present, and the Scottish Pharmaceutical General Council, the professional body for pharmacists, is working with the Scottish Executive on an extremely ambitious programme for the expansion of community pharmacies, which goes far beyond anything envisaged in England at present. It would be highly dangerous for those ambitious plans to be frustrated by a cack-handed approach by the OFT to what is currently an excellent service for communities.

Ms Hewitt: The service is indeed excellent in Scotland and throughout the United Kingdom. It can be improved further, as my hon. Friend said, by the plans that are being developed in Scotland. As far as England is concerned, the NHS plan sets out a full vision of the greater role that pharmacists can play not only in helping to ensure that patients get the full benefit of medicines, but by undertaking some of the initial diagnosis and advice work. We value pharmacists' work and think that it can be improved and strengthened further in the NHS plan. However, let me stress that decisions will not be made by the OFT because its role in these matters is advisory. The Government will make

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the decisions in the full context of the NHS plan and equivalent developments in the devolved Administrations.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Will the Secretary of State be a little more open about when she expects the announcements to be made? Whether she likes it or not, the OFT's proposals have caused great unease among our constituents and communities. She said that the report was published on 17 January and that she is in discussions with the devolved Parliaments, but they are about to dissolve before elections. When will we get an answer to this particular problem?

Ms Hewitt: As soon as possible.


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