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Mr. John Grogan (Selby) (Lab): My right hon. Friend mentions sustainable businesses. Given the importance attached by the Prime Minister to implementing our manifesto, which refers to developing a publicly owned Royal Mail, will he rule out the proposals made by Royal Mail boss Allan Leighton to privatise it? Those proposals would mean that, initially, 51 per cent. of shares would be sold off to staff.
I trudged the streets as a postman for 13 years, and I found out yesterday that I now own 59,999 shares in Royal Mail. The other one is owned by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. We would both be very reluctant to give them up.
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We need to secure international agreement on the science involved in, and urgency of, climate change, and on a new package of measures to tackle it. Climate change threatens our world and endangers the future of our planet. Tackling that awesome threat to our children's future requires sustainable development and the pursuit of environmental goals in a long-term global context. We also need affordable and sustainable energy supplies.
Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): I hope that the Secretary of State will not conclude his remarks without speaking about Rover, where 20,000 jobs were lost just before the general election. What are his views on the Rover directors, who were not rich men when they took over the company yet who were able to put up £49 million of their own assets in an attempt to help the business? Is he proud of the Government's role in forcing BMW to sell to the Rover directors, who then asset-stripped the company, leaving it in an unviable position, with a pension fund unable to pay its debts?
Alan Johnson: I am visiting the west midlands next Tuesday to meet all the people involved in this matter. The hon. Lady will know that we have asked Sir Brian Nicholson to look into the very points that she has raised, and it would not be helpful for me to comment on the directors before his report is published. However, I was involved in this matter in 2000, when I was a junior Trade and Industry Minister. At that time, the situation was extremely dire. As I recall, hon. Members of all parties wanted the Longbridge plant to remain a going concern. Those who try to rewrite history with the benefit of hindsight should think back to the circumstances of that period. I know that the hon. Lady is very concerned for her constituents, but neither she nor any other hon. Member argued at the time that the Government should reject what seemed a very feasible way to keep 6,000 jobs at Longbridge.
Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): My constituency and that of the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) cover different parts of the Longbridge plant. She will correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that she welcomed the Phoenix takeover of 2000.
Richard Burden: Well, we shall sort out the relevant quote a little later, or next week. I pay tribute to the Government's speed of reaction to the MG Rover failure. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we must do all that we can to ensure that sustainable businesses grow on the Longbridge site, that a technology park is built and everything possible is done to ensure that manufacturing is retained there? Does he agree that clear messages must be sent to the administrators, the local regional development agency and the company that at present owns most of the Longbridge site that we expect them to take account of the needs of the regional economy in the decisions that they are going to make?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's involvement in this issue over many years, and I can confirm that so far as I can see, that is the goal of
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everyone involved in Longbridge, including Advantage West Midlands, local businesses and the task force dealing with supply chain issues. We need to maintain whatever we can of manufacturing, given the strong skills base and the enormous dedication and skills of people in that field. These issues are now with the administrator, who has made it clear that he has not brought down any curtains, as it were. I very much hope that the desires that my hon. Friend has understandably expressed will be implemented in due course.
I turn to the importance of secure and sustainable energy to the future prosperity of the UK, the need for which has never been clearer. Our energy policy will continue to focus on the four goals set out in our energy White Paper of 2003: reducing emissions, maintaining reliable and secure energy supplies, promoting competitive markets, and ensuring that every home is adequately and affordably heated. As I have said, we are on course to meet out Kyoto target, but the climate change programme review already shows that we will need to do even more to meet the stretching goals that we have set out. We will do this while ensuring that we remain focused on our aspiration to ensure that Britain meets the challenges of a transformed industrial world.
Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset) (Con): Before the Secretary of State moves on, will he now admit to the House that carbon dioxide emissions have actually gone up since 1997, and that the only reason why we are anywhere near meeting our Kyoto target is the reduction in the production of adipic acid using a technology that created nitrous oxide? That is hardly a tribute to his energy policy.
Alan Johnson: I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new position. I can confirm the first part of his question; I shall leave it to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to deal with the second part in her reply.
Britain is well placed to meet the challenges that I have set out. We have many strengths on which to build: world-class universities, a strong tradition of science and research, a dynamic and flexible labour market, and world-class companies steeped in new technologies and high-value added services. But we need to do more. We need to give British business a clear and predictable regulatory framework at domestic level. We will continue to deliver our ambitious approach set out in the DTI five-year programme, in line with the Hampton and Better Regulation Task Force reports, applying risk-based regulation, with a million fewer inspections every year. We will look to apply not only a light touch but a limited touch, regulating only where there is a clear rationale.
We will use our presidency of the EU to press for regulatory reform and liberalisation of the single market, and we will also push towards a stronger transatlantic trade and investment partnership to remove regulatory barriers between the European Union and the USA. At international level, we will continue to work to break down barriers to trade, and to make globalisation work for the many, not the few.
We are investing record amounts in science, skills and innovation and in the technologies of the future. We are putting nearly £400 million into nanotechnology,
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composite materials and bioscience, and £320 million into research and development in other technology areas critical to the future growth of the UK economy. We need to secure a better quality of life through sustainable development, in which technology again has an important role to play. Clean and more resource-efficient technologies can contribute both to a rich and healthy environment and to the goal of decoupling economic growth from environmental degradation.
The Gracious Speech listed some of the measures that we need to implement to meet these challenges. We are determined to simplify our company law framework, and to bring it up to date in line with today's business needs. The company law reform Bill will provide more flexibility for companies and more effective shareholder engagement. It will bring deregulatory benefits of some £250 million a year, including £100 million for small companies. We are determined to make our markets fair, transparent, competitive and fit for the 21st century. The Consumer Credit Bill represents the most important reform of this crucial market for 30 years, enhancing consumer rights and redress.
We are determined to ensure that everyone in our country can reach their full potential and to tackle the root causes of discrimination and promote human rights and social progress. The Equality Bill will establish a single commission for equality and human rights to deal with all aspects of discrimination. It will also create a duty on public authorities to promote equality of opportunity between men and women.
We are determined to give more choice to families to manage their work and caring responsibilities. The work and families Bill will extend paid maternity leave to 39 weeks, and it may be used to extend the successful right to request flexible working to other people with caring responsibilities and enable mothers to transfer some of their leave and pay to fathers.
We are also determined to support rural services. The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill will create a single organisation, natural England, as a powerful champion for landscape and conservation, giving those who manage the land easier access to funding, support and advice. It will formally establish the commission for rural communities to act as an advocate and watchdog for rural communities and to ensure that Government policy delivers real improvements for them.
We are determined to protect common land, an important part of our natural heritage valued for agriculture, recreation, landscape and nature conservation. The common land Bill will modernise and simplify outdated legislation so that commons can be managed sustainably. It will help protect valuable wildlife habitats, improve public access and correct wrongly registered land. It will streamline the consent system for works and fencing, so that we remove barriers to good land management.
Changes across the world are throwing up new challenges for both the environment and industry. We have delivered rising prosperity and will continue to do so, but we know that if we are to secure that without damaging the environment beyond repair, we must get more for lessmore consumer needs fulfilled with less energy output and more value added to a product with less
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pollution and waste. The Gracious Speech shows our determination to ensure prosperity for generations to come. The measures that the Government are introducing will build on the foundation that we have laid over the past eight years and ensure that we live in a fairer society, and one that is more cohesive and less fractured than it was in 1997.
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