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Renewable Energy

9. Mr. John Grogan (Selby): If she will make a statement on the prospects for renewable energy plants fuelled by willow coppice. [116512]

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The Minister for Energy and Construction (Mr. Brian Wilson): The Government are committed to the development of all forms of bioenergy, including renewable energy plants fuelled by wood coppice. We provide support, ranging from research and development to the creation of a market for energy generation from energy crops, including wood coppice, through the renewables obligation and the bioenergy capital grants scheme.

Mr. Grogan : Does my hon. Friend agree that the future of the Arbre plant near Selby, which is fuelled by willow coppice, has implications not only for the 50 growers who supply willow coppice to the plant, but for confidence in the entire energy crops sector? Will he ensure that a meeting takes place urgently between his officials, the new American owners of the plant, representatives of the European Commission, which has invested £10 million in the plant, and the Non-Fossil Fuels Purchasing Agency, which has a contract with the plant, to see if there is a viable way forward?

Mr. Wilson: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, and contact has been made with the company already. The decision to sell to that company was made by the liquidator. It is very much in everyone's interests that there should be the sort of contact that my hon. Friend seeks, and that we do everything possible to encourage the new owners to take Arbre forward as an ongoing and, I hope, viable proposition. I should make it absolutely clear that we have never turned down any request for support for Arbre. It is, of course, open to the new owners to talk to us about that as well.

Mr. Richard Page (South-West Hertfordshire): What percentage of our energy will be provided by willow coppicing, and how does that compare with the possible percentage that could be produced through encouraging the burning of waste paper and packaging?

Mr. Wilson: I cannot give the hon. Gentleman those figures, for the very good reason that we do not have prescriptive targets for each particular technology. There is a great deal of potential in the biomass sector, and willow coppice is only one of the sources. So far, however, very little of that potential has been fulfilled. I agree with the implication of the question, which is that waste technologies contribute more in the short term when they are counted as renewables, and they have the potential to contribute much more. I have visited a number of such plants, and I have been impressed with some of the technologies involved. We should not rule out any of the technologies, but it is extremely important that we test, sooner rather than later, some of the assumptions about whether the technologies will contribute anything of significance to the targets. We are putting a lot of money into biomass, and we want to see some return on it soon.

Mr. Tony Clarke (Northampton, South): My hon. Friend will be aware that most of the product burned in the renewable energy plants is not willow coppice but waste wood products. What is the economic or environmental sense of a subsidy that allows wood products to be purchased at £40 a tonne, when the wood panel industry can buy it at £20 a tonne? That industry

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keeps 15,000 people in jobs. Instead of burning wood products and producing carbon, it recycles the material and ensures that the carbon is locked in. Surely there is a need for an urgent review, as was suggested earlier? We need to protect those 15,000 jobs and end carbon emissions to the atmosphere by recycling and locking that carbon in.

Mr. Wilson: As I said in response to the earlier question, this is an important matter. A review of the renewables obligation and of any anomalies that it might throw up is under way. I should be very pleased to meet industry representatives and any hon. Members who might have a proper interest in this matter.

Community Pharmacies

10. Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): What representations she has received on the future of community pharmacies. [116513]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Miss Melanie Johnson): A very substantial number and range of stakeholders have been feeding in their views on the Office of Fair Trading's report, both through the appropriate Health Departments and directly to the Department of Trade and Industry.

Mr. Viggers : Does the Minister agree that the present structure of community pharmacies provides a high level of access to patients, including vulnerable patients such as those who are elderly, in rural areas and on lower incomes? Does she agree that when the Government consider the OFT report it is very important that health policy should not lose out to competition policy?

Miss Johnson: I agree that we need to achieve a balanced package in this area, and proposals for such a package will be offered for consultation before the summer recess. We have made it clear that we favour change to open up the market and to improve quality and access. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that access is very important, but we do not want to diminish pharmacies' crucial role in local and rural communities, and in respect of people who do not have easy access to transport.

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West): I am concerned that my hon. Friend's comments make this issue sound predominantly a rural matter. However, inner-city areas such as my constituency have a disproportionately high number of elderly people who use community pharmacy facilities. Given the low level of car ownership among those people, is not it essential that the existing community pharmacy network is maintained?

Miss Johnson: I can only agree strongly with my hon. Friend that community pharmacies are as important to inner-city areas as they are to rural and poorer areas. We have been well aware of that in our work to produce a balanced package. The Department of Health, which

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leads on the health policy aspects of the package, has had considerable input, and it is very conscious of these matters.

Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): While I fully endorse the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) on health access, does the Minister understand that in rural areas, where there may be only one independent pharmacy in a small rural town, it will be difficult for that pharmacy to compete with large out-of-town supermarkets? Does she understand that such a pharmacy provides not only health advice but a range of social services advice, and that, when combined with the loss of many other rural facilities—for example, post offices, magistrates courts and police stations—it will be a heavy blow if the only independent pharmacy is forced to close because of full competition?

Miss Johnson: It is for just that reason that we are balancing health and competition and that we have put the emphasis on continuing, and indeed broadening access. That issue obviously needs special consideration in respect of rural and more isolated pharmacies. Indeed, the Department of Health already has support systems for essential small pharmacies in any event. The hon. Gentleman may like to know that in March 1992 there were 9,765 pharmacies, as against 9,756 in 2002, so pharmacy distribution and the number of pharmacies has been maintained at much the same level over the past decade or so.


The Minister was asked—


20. Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South): What action she is taking to ensure that women play a full part in a new Iraqi Government. [116564]

The Minister for Women (Ms Patricia Hewitt): As well as meeting a representative group of Iraqi women exiles, we arranged last week for a meeting of about 40 Iraqi women in Baghdad with Ambassador Bremer and John Sawers, the UK special representative in Iraq. That meeting was also attended by my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd), who is now the Prime Minister's special representative on human rights in Iraq. In due course, I, too, shall be going to Baghdad to help to support Iraqi women's participation in the political and reconstruction process.

Miss Begg : I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. It is heartening that there are moves to get women involved, as I am sure that, like me and many of my constituents, my right hon. Friend will be aware of the many images from Iraq showing that all the people

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involved in shaping the new Government are male. I fear that that does not augur well for the involvement of women in Iraq's Government. Is she as concerned as me that, if the Baghdad conference does not take place, women will be further excluded from any interim authority that is set up?

Ms Hewitt: My hon. Friend raises an extremely important point. She and I were both concerned that so few women attended the last conference held in Baghdad, and indeed in Nasiriyah. After the women's meeting last week, a steering group of seven women was set up. They are focusing on ensuring that women come forward and become part of the Iraqi interim administration. I agree that that is especially important if, as now seems likely, security considerations and the state of political debate make it impossible for the Baghdad conference to go ahead as initially planned.

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden): Certainly, we believe that women should play a full and active role in governing Iraq, but the priority right now is that they are not safe and that they cannot live normal lives. There are daily abductions of women and girls throughout the country. For example, on 13 May, 13 girls were abducted at gunpoint from a school in central Baghdad, perhaps to be sold into prostitution or for human trafficking—who knows? Given that the coalition forces are legally obliged to maintain the rule of law, can the Minister tell us what is being done to prevent such crimes and to bring those responsible for them to justice?

Ms Hewitt: The hon. Lady is right. The women at last week's meeting made it clear that of course security is a top priority for them, just as it is for the coalition administration. We are working closely with the American Administration and the coalition provisional authority in Baghdad, as well as in Basra—where the security situation, although not perfect, is considerably better—to put in place much more effective policing-type security to protect the citizens of Iraq and, of course, to continue protecting coalition troops.

However, let me stress that my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley, who is still in Baghdad and with whom I was in touch only yesterday, was heartened by the signs of normal life returning to Baghdad, including large numbers of women collecting their children from school on the school run. It is not all bad news from Baghdad, and several of the Iraqi women with whom I am in touch in Britain are already planning their return to Iraq. Indeed, they are being encouraged by their families to do so.

Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the superb job that she is doing in promoting the interests of Iraqi women. Will she particularly look at the fact that the US-led administration have appointed only male lawyers and male judges to the group that is working up a new legal code for Iraq? She will appreciate, as I do, the critical nature of the legal code when it comes to ensuring women's rights in Iraq in the future.

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Ms Hewitt: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, not only for her comments but for the very active role that she has been playing in this whole process. She makes an important point, and I will bring it urgently to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and of John Sawers. In my discussions with Iraqi women and with a broader group of women from Muslim communities in Britain, it has become clear that we need to ensure that women Muslim scholars are fully engaged in the development of the new legal code in Iraq.

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