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Norman Baker: There is a draft Bill. We have had proposals for many years on the marine environment, and Ministers will know that there is strong support on both sides of the House for marine legislation. We are sorry that the Bill that the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Randall) introduced on the issue was stymied by Conservative peers in the House of Lords, but there is overwhelming support in this House across all three parties for a marine Bill. I hope that the Government will bring that forward sooner rather than later.
I sincerely hope that climate change will feature in mainstream debates initiated by the Government in this Parliament. We are happy to use our limited Opposition time to have those debates but, given the seriousness of the challenge we face, it is not acceptable for the issue to be relegated to discussion in our time. We want major debates in Government time on climate change. A commitment to that from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs would be welcome.
Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab):
I can say unequivocally that I agree with the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) on one point: his observation about the first-rate maiden speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Kitty Ussher).
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Having worked with her before, I know that she will be an asset not just to the House but to the people of Burnley. She has a hard act to follow: Peter Pike was a great Member of Parliament and a great advocate for his community. As she rightly said, he did a first-rate job as Labour shadow spokesman on rural affairs.
I will let one secret out of the bag. Peter visited my constituency in that capacity when I was a candidate in 1992. We visited my veterinary school, Leahurstone of the great veterinary schools and part of Liverpool university. We found ourselves being photographed with a sheep. There was a great argument with the photographer about where Peter and I should stand and about the caption that might end up on the photograph. What made it particularly difficult was that it was a French sheep that came from Yorkshire for infertility treatment at the hospital, but the photographer was sensible about the way it was reported. Peter is a great man. He was a great contributor to the House and I know that my hon. Friend will work hard to follow in his footsteps.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who has had a remarkable career. I do not suppose that he imagined in 1968, when he first became a postman in London, that some years later he would be here as the principal shareholder in the Post Office. He pointed out that the Chancellor has one share, but he has about 50,000. That is a remarkable transformation.
When the Secretary of State convenes his shareholders' meeting and summons the chief officers of the Post Office to meet him, I suggest that he looks carefully at the file that I left with the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), who previously had responsibility for the Post Office, about the way in which two sub-post offices were closed in my constituency. I thought that management's handling of the social implications of that were very poor. Given the Secretary of State's real commitment to working to meet the needs of people in disadvantaged communities, I hope that he will review the way in which some of those actions were taken. I hope that we will find a better way forward.
I know that the Secretary of State will take seriously the important contribution that the DTI has made in promoting world-beating science. Effective innovation is central to the continued competitiveness of the United Kingdom. A perfectly fair question was raised by the Opposition in business questions about the need to have better science debates in this House, given that the Minister for Science and Innovation, Lord Sainsbury, is in the other place. He has made a remarkable contribution to Britain's science policy. We need to find ways to promote debates in this House about the way in which the Government intend to continue to champion science and innovation through innovative technologies, not going down the path of proposed cuts that we have heard from the Conservative party, or indeed the somewhat luddite anti-science policy that we have just heard from the Liberal Democrat spokesman.
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Andrew Miller: The idea that cutting back fusion research is not an attack on the foundation of Britain's scientific base is absurd. The Liberal Democrats are promoting an anti-science policy. Britain's scientific base is the key to our future and the House should do more to promote the work of our scientists and engineers. I hope that the Secretary of State will pay close attention to the work of the parliamentary and scientific committee and the parliamentary information technology committee over the next few months. Those are unique vehicles, bringing together representatives of academia, industry and Parliament in an unusual way. Many countries envy the bodies that we have created in the House. I hope that the DTI will use those bodies to greater effect because they enable rational debates to take place about some of the difficult long-term problems that we all face.
We must concentrate on some of the issues around energy and climate change as well as productivity and the future of manufacturing. Those are complex and inter-dependent subjects that we cannot ignore. We cannot and should not try to compete with low-wage economieswe must not follow the path of some in this House who want to see the scrapping of minimum wage and health and safety legislation. We should use our influence as a nation to raise the standards of production throughout the world. I hope that my right hon. Friend, in his discussions with the TUC and employers' organisations, will encourage them to participate more actively in world forums to ensure that standards of employment and, particularly, of safety are raised throughout the world. We have high standards and we should be proud of them. We should not dilute them, but rather encourage others to meet them.
Productivity is not simply about making workers work faster and harder; it is about organisation and good management. Good terms and conditions go hand in glove with high productivitythey are not opposites. It is ludicrous for the Conservatives to describe themselves as the party of the family when they oppose giving parents the right to request flexible working, the extension of parental leave, the right to four weeks paid holiday, tax credits and Labour's record investment in child care. We are not entirely clear whether the Conservatives are committed to supporting the minimum wage.
Energy and climate change are areas that need real vision. My right hon. Friend referred to the need for greener and cleaner policies, but those policies must incorporate real vision. I want to see the DTI acting as a driver to bring together all the players necessary to help us move towards a hydrogen economy. It can and must be done, otherwise our Kyoto targets will slip and manufacturing opportunities will go abroad. Fuel companies and vehicle manufacturers need confidence in each other's commitment. That will be achieved only if the Government help to bring together the key players and to build the necessary teamwork. I remind anyone who thinks that that is pie in the sky that we have had a hydrogen-powered vehicle here in the precincts of the Palace of Westminster. It happened to be a Vauxhall Zafira. I am proud of that. The issues are how we drive down manufacturing costs and manage fuel distribution
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economically. It can and will be done, but how quickly and how big our stake is in the technology will involve the Governmentthe leadership of Government is needed.
Early decisions are needed on how we generate power for electricity and create the fuels of tomorrow. My right hon. Friend should never allow the country to become dependent on a single source. That is the risk that we run with today's policies. Security of both supply and price are at risk if we become over-reliant on imported gas. We should start with the premise that there needs to be several sourceswe need a genuine mixed and balanced policy. The pricing mechanism needs to be much more sophisticated to avoid moves such as are occurring today, for example buying in the cheapest fuel, which happens to be gas at the moment. If we carry on in that way it will mortgage our future and leave us with too little room for manoeuvre. I have come to the conclusion that because we need to protect a genuinely balanced policy and because of the loss of capacity from the closure of the early phase of nuclear power stations, part of the solution lies in new nuclear build. At the same time, much more needs to be done with wind and solar technologies. They are not mutually exclusivewe need to promote all those technologies.
I realise that this is not a five-minute solution. It is by no means easy to take that proposition through this House and all its processes, and to engage in rational debates about it with the public. However, the technology has improved massively and waste issues are hugely lower than in earlier generations of nuclear build. Moreover, it is now possible, with the right leadership from GovernmentI am not talking about the Chancellor with his cheque bookto put together a financial consortium that would back new nuclear build. That needs to be explored as part of a move towards a balanced policy.
In conclusion, the DTI has done remarkably well on a whole host of matters. In our manifesto we have committed ourselves to continuing to work towards the improvement of working conditions while keeping an eye on the need to increase productivity and be more competitive. Those are key roles. The leadership role that the Department provides in that respect is mission critical to the success of our country. It needs to be supported by a long-term vision about the way in which science and technology will help to address some of the problems facing us. That science and technology will also provide the basis for successful business and industry here in the future.
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