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Ian Pearson: Nobody should accept poor standards, and this Government do not. However, let me set that in the context of the Warm Front programme. From 2000 to 2008, the Government will have spent some £1.6 billion on the Warm Front programme. Some 230,000 jobs a year are undertaken through the Warm Front programme, so it is not surprising that performance is not satisfactory in some cases. However, less than
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1 per cent. of jobs result in a complaint to the Warm Front programme, and 96 per cent. of those complaints are resolved satisfactorily. As I have said, the installers are rated by a vendor-rating system, and poor performance leads to reduced work or no work in the future. I am happy to examine specific cases, and if my hon. Friend wants to contact me, I will be happy to talk to him.

Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle) (Con): Despite the excellent work of warm home zones and the Warm Front scheme, why after 10 long years is energy efficiency per se still not being deployed with sufficient ambition and scale to drive down carbon emissions? One third of new homes fail to meet the Government’s unambitious existing targets, yet no one is ever prosecuted. A new British home uses 65 per cent. more energy than a Swedish one, and the Environmental Audit Committee reckons that housing emissions are set to double by 2050. What hope is there of a real step change in energy efficiency, when the great clunking fist, which has been such a brake on progress for a decade, is now a shoo-in for Prime Minister?

Ian Pearson: It is simply not true to say that we have not made progress in making our homes more energy efficient. We have consistently ratcheted up building standards, so that the new homes that are being built nowadays are far more energy efficient than those that were built just a few years ago. As for our existing housing stock, the Warm Front programme and the energy efficiency commitment—EEC—are making significant progress in terms of helping to improve the thermal efficiency of our existing houses. The EEC has been increased from EEC1 to EEC2. We are currently discussing how we move further with the EEC3 programme for 2008 to 2011, and I expect it to be double that of EEC2. That shows the great strides that we have made, and our ambition as a Government to make our homes far more energy efficient for the future.

Drought Orders

8. Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the effect of recent rainfall on the need for new drought orders in summer 2007. [125913]

The Minister for Climate Change and the Environment (Ian Pearson): The UK has had six months of above average rainfall. The outlook for water supply is much improved and the likelihood of drought orders this summer is therefore low. However, we will continue to monitor the situation closely.

Andrew Gwynne: Coming from the infamously rainy Greater Manchester, we often wonder about the need for drought orders at all.

One of the main factors in these problems is that of water leaks. What pressure is my hon. Friend’s Department putting on the water companies to ensure that they tackle that issue by reaching their water leakage targets and improving the infrastructure so that in future years we do not have the same problems?

Ian Pearson: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point to the issue of leakage, which is the system’s Achilles heel. Most water companies are meeting the
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leakage targets that have been set by Ofwat; some, however, are not, and that is simply unacceptable. We expect Ofwat, as the regulator, to take a robust approach with companies that successively fail to meet their leakage targets. I have also asked it to undertake a review of the system of setting leakage targets, which does not command the confidence or understanding of the general public. In future, issues of sustainable water use must be clearly built into that system. I expect Ofwat to report later this year about sustainable leakage levels.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): I am even further north than the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), and we are more interested in building arks than in introducing drought orders.

The Minister will know that there has been a significant increase in population in the United Kingdom over the past 10 years. Has he made any assessment of the extra pressure that that has put on demand for water?

Ian Pearson: I am also the Minister for floods, so I take the hon. Gentleman’s point.

On new housing, I assure the hon. Gentleman that new housing development is taken into account by water companies as part of their planning process. Water companies produce 25-year water resource management plans. That process is being put on a statutory basis from the beginning of next month. The public will have an opportunity to comment on those plans, which will be available and transparent, as well as on new housing development. We must ensure not only that we move to zero-carbon homes within 10 years but that we have homes that are far more water efficient. That is one of the key Government objectives for the future.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): Yet again, we have had a series of questions and answers on climate change dealing with only half the equation. We have talked about the causes of climate change but said almost nothing, until this question, about addressing its effects, such as wetter winters and drier summers. I salute my hon. Friend’s comments about water leakage and sustainable water supplies. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that more reservoirs are built in southern England to deal with the droughts that have already started and will get considerably worse as the effects of climate change, inevitable as they are, bite upon us?

Ian Pearson: My hon. Friend is right to point to the importance of adaptation to climate change. Even if we succeed in our objective of avoiding dangerous climate change through gaining international agreement, a certain amount of it is already built into the system and needs to be taken into account for planning purposes. The 25-year water resources plans are designed to encourage water companies to take a long-term view and examine the balance of water supply and demand. We expect them to introduce proposals for new reservoirs when that is appropriate, but we also expect them to take action on leakage and consider other demand reduction options as well as to increase supply. Water companies’ current plans include constructing several reservoirs in the future. Those plans will be subject to consultation, and the Government will take a view on them.

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Common Agricultural Policy Schemes

9. Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): What discussions he has had with the European Commission on the disallowance of funds from common agricultural policy schemes. [125914]

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (David Miliband): During my regular meetings with the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, I have discussed the administration of the single payment scheme in England on several occasions. Should the Commission auditors make any proposals for financial corrections, the Government will continue to defend the UK’s interests vigorously.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: The Secretary of State knows that we pay nearly £2 into the EU budget for every £1 we get back. Why should the general taxpayer face an estimated fine of more than £300 million—the figure comes from the Government—to pay for the Department’s inefficiencies in administering the single farm payments? Would not it be much better for the taxpayer, farmers and rural areas if incompetence on such a scale were met with ministerial resignations rather than foreign fines?

David Miliband: First, the Government and the preceding Government believed that it was important to ensure that proper accounting was put in place to administer the common agricultural policy. That has benefited this country enormously.

Secondly, we have rightly made provision in the figures that were published in the spring estimates, but that should not be taken as a sign that we are ready for that level of fine. As I said at the National Farmers Union conference last week, we shall vigorously fight proposals to fine the UK and we will try to minimise any fines. That should command consensus in the House.

Paddy Tipping (Sherwood) (Lab): In any discussions with the Commission, will the Secretary of State talk about not only penalties but the continued need to transfer payments to provide environmental benefits and create new jobs, new opportunities and new futures for rural communities?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point. The direction of change in the common agricultural policy is patent, moving away from direct payments so that they are no longer coupled with production. That British agenda is increasingly becoming a European agenda.

It is right that some of the money is transferred into the second element of the common agricultural policy to support rural development. To make that work, it is vital to remove the blockages that the European Parliament has created and which are absurdly supported by the Opposition. Farmers throughout the country are waiting for their rural payments. It is about time they got them. The Government are doing everything possible to remove the blockage, but Conservative Front Benchers are failing to support us.

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Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): That was an incredible statement. I have two constituents who are still waiting for payment on 2005. When will the Secretary of State get a grip on that monstrous incompetence, set an absolute deadline by which 2005 payments will be settled and tell us when 2006 payments will be settled?

David Miliband: I totally understand and share the hon. Gentleman’s frustration but I wish that he had followed the changes that have been made and the progress that the Rural Payments Agency has achieved in the past nine to 10 months under the new leadership of Mr. Tony Cooper.

The hon. Gentleman will know from my written statement on 22 February that 200 to 300 cases remain from 2005. Some of them—I do not say that it applies to those that he mentioned—remain because of probate issues. Those cases from 2005 are, of course, a priority.

On the 2006 payments, anyone who has not received a full payment for a claim of more than €1,000 is receiving a partial payment, as promised, of more or less 50 per cent. That has gone smoothly. The hon. Gentleman will also know from my statement on 22 February that we are trying to improve on that performance significantly. We are not in the least complacent.

Mr. Paterson: When is the deadline for 2005?

David Miliband: I have referred twice to my statement on 22 February. For the most difficult cases, there has always been a system to give them priority in subsequent years, but to work through the details. If the hon. Gentleman has two specific cases that he says are not being tackled properly, I will look into them. I do not know whether he has contacted my office yet but he is more than capable of doing that. I shall ensure that the cases are examined. However, he knows from my statements that any outstanding claim is tackled on a one-to-one basis by a representative of the Rural Payments Agency.

Bill Wiggin (Leominster) (Con): Although we have confidence in the Secretary of State’s good intentions, the problem is that while he talks about progress achieved and things having gone smoothly for 2006, even my humble cheque for £73.10 is wrong—it has been made out to my address. The Rural Payments Agency must have known that I would raise that issue. If it cannot get my cheque right, what hope is there for the rest of England’s farmers? Will the Secretary of State put the matter right?

David Miliband: There we have the face of the modern Tory party: seeking favours for the Tory Front Bench. That is something that we will never do.

Environmental Taxation

10. Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the level of environmental taxation. [125916]

The Minister for Climate Change and the Environment (Ian Pearson): My ministerial colleagues and I have discussed environmental taxation, and a
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range of other subjects, in various meetings with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other Treasury colleagues.

Mr. Ruffley: The Treasury’s statement of intent on environmental taxation of 2 July said that it would

According to the Office for National Statistics, however, environmental tax as a share of GDP has fallen under the Chancellor’s stewardship from 3.4 per cent. to 2.9 per cent. Does the Minister agree that Brown is not green?

Ian Pearson: I disagree with the hon. Gentleman on that. I accept that there is a case for doing more on fiscal measures, but one should remember what the Government have done already, such as the climate change levy, the reform of vehicle excise duty to encourage the take-up of low-polluting cars, the introduction of air passenger duty, differentials in fuel duties and the landfill tax. We are a green Government, but one cannot measure environmental performance solely by the amount of money raised in green taxes. We are trying to change behaviour. We would therefore like to see less money coming from green taxes because we have changed behaviour.

Mr. Jim Devine (Livingston) (Lab): In recognising that climate change is probably the major challenge faced by this generation, may I ask my hon. Friend whether there is consensus about environmental taxation on both sides of the House?

Ian Pearson: The difference between the Government and the Opposition on environmental taxation is that we have a clear and coherent policy framework. In relation to taxation, regulation, carbon trading and other policy instruments, we have a programme designed to ensure that we avoid dangerous climate change and that we show international leadership. As my hon. Friend knows, the climate change Bill will be an important part of that framework. I am delighted that we will get—I hope—cross-party support for the climate change Bill, which will be published, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, on Tuesday.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): The Minister will be aware that Nordic countries raise a greater proportion of their taxation from green taxes than we do. From his answer, however, he is obviously not aware that those countries have managed to change behaviour through fiscal measures and increase revenue from green taxation at the same time. Will he try to persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer that if more revenue were to be raised in that way in this country, it would be not a tax grab but offset by reductions in other taxes? That will help to ensure public support for green taxation and defend us against the opponents of green taxation on the Conservative Benches.

Ian Pearson: The hon. Gentleman is right to say that environmental taxation can help to change behaviour, and it is doing exactly that in the United Kingdom. He is also right to identify the need to offset environmental taxation and to spend the revenue raised from it on environmental goods, and we are doing just that.

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The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the climate change levy directly offsets taxation of goods with taxation of bads, recycling it through reduced national insurance contributions and enhanced capital allowances. That is a clear example of our use of environmental taxation in a neutral way to encourage and improve business performance.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab): Environmental taxation is obviously an important instrument, but, faced with these taxes, how can we ensure that it is not just poor people and ordinary working people who modify their behaviour while very rich people carry on polluting the planet regardless?

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Ian Pearson: My hon. Friend is right to observe that there is a social justice argument when it comes to tackling climate change. It is important for us all to do our bit. Businesses must take action to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions—and a great deal of work is being done in that regard—while individuals at all income levels must take action to reduce their carbon footprints.

As my hon. Friend knows, there is a relationship between carbon dioxide emissions and household income, and it is true that some of the wealthiest households are responsible for the highest emissions. They too must take action, as must we all if we are to have energy-efficient homes that reduce carbon dioxide emissions and help the climate.

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Business of the House

11.31 am

Mr. Shailesh Vara (North-West Cambridgeshire) (Con): Would the Deputy Leader of the House kindly inform the House of the forthcoming business?

The Deputy Leader of the House of Commons (Nigel Griffiths): The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 12 March—Estimates [2nd Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on National Health Service deficits, followed by a debate on local transport planning and funding. Details will be given in the Official Report.

Tuesday 13 March—Proceedings on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill, followed by remaining stages of the Statistics and Registration Service Bill.

Wednesday 14 March—A debate on Trident on a Government motion.

Thursday 15 March—A debate on widening participation in higher education on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Friday 16 March—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 19 March will be as follows:

Monday 19 March—Second Reading of the Consumer, Estate Agents and Redress Bill [ Lords].

Tuesday 20 March—A debate on the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade on a motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Wednesday 21 March—My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will open his Budget statement.

Thursday 22 March—Continuation of the Budget debate.

Friday 23 March—Private Members’ Bills.

I should also inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 15 and 22 March will be:

Thursday 15 March—A debate on the report from the Treasury Committee on the administration of tax credits.

Thursday 22 March—A debate on the report from the International Development Committee on conflict and development: peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction.

The information is as follows:

Health: in so far as they relate to national health service deficits (First Report from the Health Committee, Session 2006-07, HC 73-I, on National Health Service Deficits, and the Government response thereto, Cm 7028; and the Department of Health Departmental Report 2006, Cm 6814).

Transport: in so far as they relate to local transport planning and funding (Twelfth Report from the Transport Committee, Session 2005-06, on Local Transport Planning and Funding, HC 1120, and the Government’s response thereto, Fourth Special Report, Session 2006-07, HC 334).

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