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I welcome the proposals for a draft Bill to give powers back to local transport authorities to ensure that bus services meet the needs of our constituents. I understand that I am not supposed to use the word reregulation, but giving powers back to transport authorities will do for me. It is nonsense that South Yorkshire now has only a third of the number of passengers riding buses as it had in 1986, and that fares have gone up by more than 100 per cent. in real terms. The year before last, we saw four fare increases in one year. Routes have been cut. The excellent concessionary
fares scheme running in South Yorkshire could have a perverse impact because of challenges mounted by bus companies to the way in which they are compensated for the introduction of that scheme. If those challenges are successful, the money will have to be found by the passenger transport authority and executive, which will mean more cuts to bus and other transport services next year. We need to monitor that.
It is welcome that consideration will be given in the draft Bill to a menu of solutions from which passenger transport authorities can select, so that we have the right solutions for the right areas. It is also welcome that passenger transport executives will be able to give their expert advice to us publicly about how to design a scheme that will work on the ground. Clearly, all the major bus companies have a vested interest in making sure that the legislation does not work. It is therefore important to listen to those who will have to implement it. I also welcome the proposals because of their impact on the environment. For the same reasons, I welcome the consideration to be given to the introduction of congestion charging in our cities and eventually on our motorways.
As for the proposed planning legislation, I presume that that refers to the Governments planning gain supplement proposals. We are not sure, however, what the eventual Bill will contain. The Select Committee has considered planning gain supplement. Our initial response, which was right, was to ask whether it needed to be introduced, and whether we should not first examine in detail the possibility of reforming or enhancing section 106 arrangements. That seems to me to be the starting point, and such analysis has never been done. I am not in principle opposed to planning gain supplement, but it is worth while considering whether the existing system can be improved first.
When a public policy decision means that a private individual or organisation makes considerable gains, it is absolutely right that a percentage of those gains should go back to benefit the public purse. We are going in the right direction on that, but we should analyse whether there is an easier and simpler way of doing it. As part of that approach, whether we move to planning gain supplement or enhanced section 106 powers, we should give local authorities clear advice that, although we instinctively believe, as I hope we all do, in devolution to local authorities in relation to section 106 decisions for certain schemes, there are some good examples of local authorities being proactive in that field, and some bad examples of local authorities doing nothing at all. If local authorities want those enhanced powers, the best thing that they can do is to start learning from each other about how best to use them.
Generally, I welcome the Queens Speech, and especially those measures that I have identified. I welcome in principle the climate change Bill, the local government Bill and the proposed transport legislation. I look forward to seeing the details of those proposals in due course.
Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (LD):
I greatly enjoyed the contribution of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts), as he
quoted several aspects of Liberal Democrat policy. I welcome his conversion with regard to some of the debates that I have had with him over the years, especially when he was leader of Sheffield city council.
Most of my contribution will not be on the main element of tonights debate, as it is customary that Back Benchers may speak on other aspects of the Queens Speech. I shall confine most of my comments to the human tissue and embryo proposals in the Queens Speech, which did not get much attention on Thursday. I compliment the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) on his contribution, because, without such debate, and without such an element of scepticism, we simply walk straight forward.
What I liked most about the Stern report was the way in which it tried to analyse the economic situation and how it would develop. If the hon. Gentleman reads nothing else, I suggest that he read chapter 1, in which Stern assesses the available scientific evidence about climate change. Stern does not say I am a scientist: I know the answers. He says, I have looked at all the evidence that is available, and have reached the following conclusion. Whether the earth heats up by 2°, 3° or 5°Sterns worst-case scenariowe must have a starting point.
We have had a superb debate today. The right hon. Members for Fylde (Mr. Jack) and for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith), and, in particular, the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), demonstrated what the debate should be about. At the end of the day it is not about targets, no matter how wedded each of our parties may be to them; it is about the larger objective of doing something about what many of us regard as the greatest threat to our planet.
We have heard some interesting speeches about the local government Bill, but it was disappointing to note the consuming interest of the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) in organisation. Although it criticises various elements of reorganisation, the Tory party itself seems to have a consuming interest in yet another reorganisation. I smiled at the new title The Permissive State, which struck me as an interesting conceptas did structural fetishism, which I also quite liked.
As I have lived through four attempted reorganisations in North Yorkshire over the past years, the thought of yet more reorganisation of local government fills me with dread. I hope that the Bill will allow local authorities to make those decisions, and I hope that at the end of the debate the Minister will reassure us that unitary authorities will not be forced on communities that do not want them.
My main purpose is to discuss the human tissue and embryos Bill, to which the Queen's Speech refers. I understand that there is to be a draft Bill, but that it will not be tabled until March. I can say on behalf of the Select Committee on Science and Technology that we would like very much to play a part in the process. Although on Thursday the draft Bill received little more than a cursory mention from the Secretary of State for Health, and indeed all Front Benchers, it is enormously significant to the House and our communitiesnot simply childless couples but the thousands of would-be parents who are carriers of
defective genesand to the hugely promising research programmes that are linked to therapeutic and cloning and embryonic stem cell lines.
The House will know that the Select Committee, led by the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) and me, has been involved in the Bills progress from the beginning. It has been a long time coming. Indeed, it was the Governments failure to review the legislation on human reproductive technologies that led to the last Committees announcement in 2003 of an inquiry into the subject, and subsequently to the Governments review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. Our Committees report appeared in March 2005, just before the general election, and the Department of Health then issued its own consultation paper in August. The current Committee has continued to keep a watching brief, and we have had a debate on the subject in the Chamber. The Committee took further evidence from the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint)the Minister responsible for public healthin July this year. We urged the Government to produce firm proposals, and we are pleased that at last we have been listened to.
Given the current controversy and wildly inaccurate reporting of proposals by researchers from Kings College London and the North-East England Stem Cell Institute in Newcastle to create hybrid embryos using human cells and animal eggs to develop new treatments for diseases such as Parkinsons, stroke and Alzheimers, I hope that the draft Bill will help to bolster confidence in that ground-breaking field of research.
The Bill is necessary to facilitate the replacement of the two existing regulators, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the Human Tissue Authority, with one new authority, the regulatory authority for tissue and embryos. However, I hope that the Government will reconsider their decision not to include the work of the Human Genetics Commission in that of the new organisation. If public confidence in our scientists is to be maintained, there must be a transparent mechanism to provide advice on issues with ethical or societal implications, and that should not be the role of the regulator. Equally, Parliament should have a greater role in outlining the ethical parameters for the regulator. The public health Minister has indicated that she is exploring new ways in which Parliament can have a greater say when science changes. I hope that she will examine seriously our proposals for a Standing Committee on bio-ethics. It will be interesting to see how we can draw the line between parliamentary oversight and parliamentary interference.
ensure that the law that regulates human reproductive technologies is updated to reflect new technologies,
promote public confidence in human reproductive technologies through effective regulatory controls,
to ensure that the law takes account of changes in public attitude since the current legislation was formulated in the 1980s.
One essential area in which the parameters need to be established more clearly in the legislation involves the use of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, the technique that allows parents to reduce the risk of passing on serious hereditary conditions and diseases by screening embryos. Abnormal embryos are then not implanted. Developed in the 1980s, computer techniques allow screening for virtually all known genetic disorders, including cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anaemia. Yet there is significant controversy over the technique, and some, such as the pressure group Comment On Ethics, fear that it will lead to designer babies.
The question for Parliament is: how do we allow researchers to respond quickly to new developments while retaining public confidence? There are also issues surrounding sex selection of embryos, which is not subject to an explicit statutory ban. The HFEA permits it only for serious gender-related genetic conditions when the selection is carried out by means of PGD; but sex selection can be achieved by other means, such as sperm sorting, which fall outside the remit of the HFEA. Strong views have been expressed on that practice as well.
minded to pursue a clear and explicit ban in the law which covers all assisted reproductive treatments in relation to sex selection, where it is not for serious medical conditions.
The most recent issue to hit the press has been the creation of human-cow hybrids for research purposes, or indeed the creation of embryos from stem cells for research purposes. I believe that there is clear evidence that the legislative framework needs to catch up both with the developments in technology and with public opinion. There are manyincluding Lord Winston and, indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris)who say that further clarification is not necessary when the resulting hybrid is 99.9 per cent. human. I beg to differ. Medical research in the United Kingdom in this field is ahead of that in the rest of the world, because we have always taken public opinion with us. We do not wish to hold back scientific advances, but the public must retain confidence in the system.
There are one or two other issues that appear not to be in the draft Bill, but could justifiably be included. The first is the question of donor anonymity, a hugely important issue referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Northavon (Steve Webb) in a speech on 16 November. The fact that the number of sperm donors has dropped alarmingly following the abolition of anonymity in April 2005 must be revisited.
Secondly, there is the matter of abortion time limits, which the Government understandably seem less than keen to reopen. I wholeheartedly support the view of the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) that it should not be dealt with in the
draft Bill. Indeed, it was a mistake to include amendments to the Abortion Act 1967 in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. Nor should we attempt to change the law via the somewhat naive ten-minute rule, under the Termination of Pregnancy Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Mid-Bedfordshire (Mrs. Dorries). What is required is a review of the scientific, medical and social changes in the evidence on abortion since the last legislation 16 years ago. While a private Members Bill would need to be introduced to change the law, without a detailed examination of the evidence, the debate will generate more heat than light.
I am sorry for interrupting the proceedings to introduce another issue, but I think that the human tissue and embryos Bill is incredibly important and I hope that, when it comes before the House, it will receive the consideration that it deserves.
Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), who made a thought-provoking speech on an issue that we should all be interested in and that will be before Parliament soon.
Creating economic security should always be at the centre of the social democratic agenda because it is essential to its success and long-term political health. The people who Labour was created to represent often rely on the security and opportunity engendered by empowering Government action to enhance their prospects in life. After all, it is those at the bottom end of the income distribution who are usually the first to suffer from the cold winds of political philosophies that seek to shrink the role of the state and advocate tax cuts and lower public expenditure.
This legislative programme contains some welcome further additions to Labours economic opportunity agenda, which will spread the advances that we have already made as a Government even further. Ten years ago, we inherited a laissez-faire mantra of despair from the previous Thatcherite Tory Government. According to their philosophy, poverty did not exist in the UK and the state was part of the problem, not ever any part of the solution. If someone was struggling, tough luck. If they had to use public transport, they were a failure. If they needed to claim benefits, they were a scrounger, the subject of sneering ministerial verse at Tory party conference. Worse still, if they were a single mother, they were to blame for virtually all societys ills. Contemptuous, mocking, uncaring: it was the nasty party in the prime of its political dominance.
Times have changed and the public have realised that there is another way. The state can be enabling and the Government can become a force for good. We have seen in the past 10 years that reducing child and pensioner poverty is not only compatible with a stronger economy, but enhances our ability as a society to harness all our talents. The minimum wage does not destroy jobs. In fact, it protects the weakest from exploitation at work. The political choice is not between social justice and economic success. The fact is that achieving a fairer, more equal society in which security and opportunity are available to all, enhances our economic success.
Those positive advances in social justice did not happen by accident. They came about because a Labour Government initiated them after the electorate supported them. Those advances were not inevitable, and they should not be taken for granted. They are unlikely to endure if the political weather changes and the Conservative party returns to power.
Here are just a few highlights of a substantial and serious legislative programme that I am particularly pleased to see included in Labours plans for this parliamentary Session. The pensions Bill will enable women to have easier access to the state pension for the first time since it was created. That will assist in closing the gender pension gap, which stands at an unacceptable 43 per cent. The Bill will set out a framework that will enable all our citizens to have access to simplified provision and a low-cost national system of personal saving accounts.
At the other end of the age range, the further education and training Bill will restructure the further education sector to make it more effective in its delivery of opportunities for many who do not wish to go to university. The Leitch review highlighted the real challenges that persist in the UK to deliver higher levels of skills in our work force. If we are to continue competing successfully in a globalising economy, we must get this right and quickly. Allowing further education institutions to acquire powers to award foundation degrees should create ladders of opportunity in the vocational sector that have been absent for far too long.
I particularly welcome the two transport Bills in the Governments legislative programme. They have the potential to transform the lives of many of my constituents in Wallasey for the better. The concessionary bus travel Bill will enable everyone over 60 and all people with disabilities to take advantage of free travel on all local buses anywhere in England by April 2008. That £600 million package will improve the lives of 11 million people, many of whom have been denied the chance to travel, often on the ground of the prohibitive cost.
The draft road transport Bill offers an even more important and long overdue re-regulation of local bus services. That will enable locally accountable bodies to get proper value for money for the huge public subsidies that are paid to private bus companies. In Merseyside alone, that amounts to £1 million a week, with no control over routes or timetables and no stability in local bus services. The result has been a halving of passenger use and a 30 per cent. increase in fares. It is high time that the disastrous Tory deregulation of our bus services outside London was reversed and I look forward to seeing the Bill in draft when it is published.
Like many other hon. Members, I wish to make some observations on the major challenges we face in tacking climate change in the aftermath of the Stern review. I also wish to comment on the discrimination law review that is being undertaken by the Government and which I believe should lead to a radical single equality Bill, ideally in this legislative Session rather than the next.
The Stern review will be seen in retrospect as a ground-breaking report of global importance. I agree with its conclusion that the effect of human activity on
emissions of greenhouse gases presents us with a very serious global risk that will require an urgent global response. I agree also with Sterns observation that only international collective action can drive an effective and equitable response on the scale required to affect the currently disastrous likely outcome and to give us a chance of staving off the serious risks of calamity that we are now running.
The report makes sobering reading for those sceptics who advocate a business-as-usual approach. It plausibly demonstrates that, with no action to tackle the danger of greenhouse gas emissions, one in six of the worlds population would be threatened by water shortages in this century, while 200 million people would be displaced by rising sea levels. Declining crop yields would increase death by malnutrition and we would face the extinction of up to 40 per cent. of our worlds biodiversity. Unlike the disruption of the two world wars, with which the economic costs of this are comparable, climate change would be irreversible and could become uncontrollable.
The Treasury Committee has been taking evidence on globalisation and, like the Stern report, I have been struck by an emerging consensus among non-governmental organisations and normally right-wing economists alike that Governments have to do something. As an eminent economist, Stern is correct to identify climate change as
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