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Mr. Garnier rose—

Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con) rose—

Margaret Beckett: I shall give way first to the hon. and learned Member for Harborough.

Mr. Garnier: I do not want to repeat the arguments of a few moments ago, but has the Secretary of State had an opportunity to assist me by providing more information about the Nottingham East Midlands airport?

Margaret Beckett: I was just coming to that, but I had better give way again first.

Mr. Paice: The Secretary of State has rightly said that the Bill will be technical and we will want to engage with it. Will she ensure that the Bill is published a long time before the House debates it, as it is the sort of legislation that will require considerable examination before we can debate it effectively?

Margaret Beckett: I shall certainly do my utmost to achieve that. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was in his place when I had a little dust-up with the hon. and learned Member for Harborough, but it very much part of the Government's approach to legislation that
 
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Bills should be ready before they are introduced into the House. It is my hope that the Bill will be able to be scrutinised in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests—[Interruption.] The Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Jim Knight), has just volunteered to provide a briefing on the subject. I hope that that will be helpful.

The hon. and learned Member for Harborough specifically asked me about night flights, the East Midlands airport and whether the civil aviation Bill would help. I am not aware that we are having a debate on transport issues in the Queen's Speech, but I shall certainly draw his and his constituents' concerns to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, who will be sorry to hear about them.

As to the speech of the hon. Member for North Norfolk, I rather share the view of the right hon. Member for West Dorset in that I thought that I was listening to a speech delivered from the Conservative Benches. The hon. Member for North Norfolk may take that as compliment, especially in his seat, but I certainly did not agree with some of his observations—the abolition of the Department for Trade and Industry, for example. I doubt whether the business community would welcome that. Only a few days ago, the deputy director of the CBI said that a Department for wealth creation was the best place to deal with regulation, trade and business issues. Only by handling such issues are we able to deal with problems relating to the growth of red tape that are often raised in the House. I do not believe that the clientele to which the hon. Member for North Norfolk referred would welcome abolition.

Mr. Letwin: I am immensely grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way and for listening rather more carefully than I was to the speech of the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb). If he did advocate the abolition of the Department for Trade and Industry, it is important to note that that is not quite the view of Conservative Members. We believe that it should be thinned down rather than abolished.

Margaret Beckett: A policy commitment there, perhaps, and so early in our Parliament. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will be delighted to hear that.

The right hon. Member for West Dorset made many points and I hope that he will forgive me for not dealing with all of them in detail now. As he says, we will have many opportunities for further exchanges. He asked about energy policy, agriculture and rural areas. I have already said most of what I would like to say about rural areas in response to the hon. and learned Member for Harborough.

The right hon. Gentleman reiterated the importance of affordable rural housing and I would make two points in response. First, he spoke about prices and low wages, and it is the present Government who introduced the national minimum wage, which has put a floor on wages in rural communities as elsewhere, and we believe that it has been of assistance. Secondly, I accept that the right hon. Gentleman may not have ploughed through every word of either our general manifesto or the smaller rural manifesto that we produced during the election campaign, but I can tell him that we propose to set up a
 
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small and, I hope, speedy advisory commission on rural housing. It should specifically deal with the issues that the right hon. Gentleman and others have raised. We are very conscious of the degree to which that is an issue, not least in rural areas.

The right hon. Gentleman touched also on energy policy, but I take strictures from the Opposition with a pinch of salt, given that they did not even have a target for reduction in CO 2 emissions other than the Kyoto target. However, the right hon. Gentleman is right to say that we have not made as much progress in tackling CO 2 as we had hoped, although in the early years of this Government we did do so. He made a common error—I hope that he does not mind me saying so—in referring to the contribution made by the switch in power sourcing from coal to gas. That makes a diminishing contribution to the reduction in emissions. It is often claimed that most of the changes are accounted for by the switch from coal to gas, but that is no longer the case. Only about 25 per cent. of the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions can now be attributed to that switch.

The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned the energy efficiency commitment and I remind him that that is a legal requirement. I take his point that companies may not be enthusiastic about volunteering for such work, but it is a legal obligation on them—for that very reason. He also mentioned vehicle excise duty and fuel incentives, and he knows that the Government have taken action on those and keep continually under review where and how we should do more, not least on aviation. That issue will be a key feature of our EU presidency. It is such a relief to be able to refer straightforwardly to our EU presidency, instead of adding the caveats, "If we win our seats", or "If we are the Government". It will be a key goal in the Environment Council to seek agreement with our colleagues to introduce aviation into the emissions trading scheme by 2008. That would be an important first step, because although the international community as a whole has long said that we have to tackle the issue, nothing has been done. If we can show that such steps work in Europe, it might provide the entrée for a much wider approach.

The right hon. Gentleman made several points about performance in agriculture. We have been engaged in the pursuit of a sustainable approach to agriculture for some time, and we will continue that. I take his point, to a degree, about the issue of cross-compliance. We would have liked it to be less onerous and less detailed, but—as he will know—such matters are decided on a cross-governmental basis. In his remarks, the right hon. Gentleman rose above the substantial change in the CAP that I negotiated two or three years ago and which will mean, over time, a real revolution and simplification for British farming. I accept, with great regret, that considerable teething problems have occurred in the transition, perhaps inevitably, but I assure him that we are doing everything that we can to overcome those problems.

On the specific issue of interim payments, we are keeping them under review and we have talked to the banks. However, we would not be prepared to make arrangements for interim payments that might
 
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jeopardise the delivery of the full payment in the final system. We are not prepared to risk that and we have discussed it with the National Farmers Union, which is mindful of the issues. Those are not easy issues, but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we keep them under review and will do our best to keep him and his team informed.

Mr. James Arbuthnot (North-East Hampshire) (Con): I am grateful to the Secretary of State, not only for what she has just said but because she has been in correspondence with me about a constituency company called World Flowers. It has faced a hugely intrusive and expensive inspection regime that is partly the fault of the European Union. However, the implementation of the regime by her Department has made it much more intrusive and expensive than it need be. Will she agree to have a meeting with me and, possibly, my constituents to talk through whether something can be done to alleviate the regime? It is part of the over-regulation that impinges on the company in this country and on the farmers in Kenya who produce the flowers that World Flowers import, and it is doing serious damage to them as well.

Margaret Beckett: I will do what I can. If I can meet the hon. Gentleman and his constituents I shall certainly do so, but if not I will ask one of my ministerial team to do so. I take his point, which is a serious one and is among a number on which we are conscious that there are legitimate concerns about whether we are handling things in too detailed a way that can become oppressive. The balance is always difficult to strike and I am the last person to assert that we always get it right, which is why we are grateful to Members on both sides of the House for bringing such issues to our attention, and why we will always undertake to consider them as carefully as we can.


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