Previous Section Index Home Page

10 Jan 2008 : Column 532

Mr. Hutton: I am happy to consider what the hon. Gentleman has said, although such matters are primarily for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab): I welcome the Secretary of State’s comments about renewables, but as he is well aware, the fishermen of Fleetwood—and the ferry operators that transport their goods from Fleetwood to Northern Ireland—are concerned about the large number, and size, of offshore wind farms proposed for the Irish sea. Will the Secretary of State ensure that there are meaningful discussions between those whose livelihoods are affected by those developments and the energy operators so that there can be a solution that satisfies both sides?

Mr. Hutton: I certainly recognise the issue that my hon. Friend has raised; she and I have already discussed it a number of times, as fishermen in my constituency have raised similar concerns with me. As we set about the process of siting further offshore wind turbines, of course a full and proper consultation will be necessary. Furthermore, an effective strategic environmental assessment of the proposals will have to be made. I am sure that that will give my hon. Friend’s constituents the opportunity to get involved in the decision making.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton) (Con): I congratulate the Secretary of State on standing up to the muddle-headed thinking of the environmental organisations that claim to be green but are against nuclear power. His statement has provided a clear framework for going forward. Will he confirm that he will consider some of the research and development implications of the White Paper? For example, it is still not possible safely to channel the variable supply from renewables through the grid. More research is needed on that issue.

We still need to consider pre-emission and not just post-combustion carbon capture and we genuinely need more science and engineers for the development of power stations. I hope that the Secretary of State will work with his colleagues to ensure that specific skills targets and encouragement for research grants are given to the relevant people.

Mr. Hutton: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his words. I agree that we are at the beginning of the process, not the end. A lot of work will need to be done on a number of different issues—he referred to science, engineering and skills and I accept what he said. The Government have a role to play and they need to play it.

Obviously, we considered carefully whether we could support a variety of different technologies through the competition process for CCS. We had clear legal and other advice that the right thing was to be clear about which technology we were inviting interest in and bids for. The competition would have been much more complicated if those basic ground rules had not been properly established. There are opportunities across the European Union for other types of project to be supported. The European Commission is seeking to develop 12
10 Jan 2008 : Column 533
demonstration projects in the EU, and I hope that there will be other opportunities for other technologies to be explored fully.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): The Secretary of State has confidence in nuclear power, but does he not have concerns when he considers Finland? The latest plant there is already two years behind schedule and running over budget only three years after construction started. Has the Secretary of State taken that into account in his long-term planning?

The competition for carbon capture and storage may be difficult, but the Government’s job is to do difficult things, not make things easy by making exclusions. If the competition were genuine, it would have embraced the full variety of technologies.

Mr. Hutton: I tried to say that there would be opportunities for other forms of CCS technologies to be properly developed. We are not against that. However, in this country we have to be clear about the ground rules for the competition, and we have done that. We have acted properly and prudently, taking into account the advice that we have received.

The hon. Gentleman made a wider point about nuclear power. The project that he mentioned has run into difficulties; that is a matter of fact. However, it is quite wrong to conclude from that any general or wider lessons for the UK.

Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): We have to be honest and recognise that the statement is as full
10 Jan 2008 : Column 534
of holes as the Sellafield reprocessing plant. Margaret Thatcher promised 10 new nuclear power plants and delivered one. We have heard about the Finnish experience and know that Germany, which is tackling climate change with a thorough energy policy, is eradicating the possibility of new nuclear plants there. When does my right hon. Friend anticipate that the first new nuclear plants will be commissioned and how many will we get?

Mr. Hutton: As I tried to say in my statement, I am not going to set a limit or attempt to calculate the number; that is not for Ministers to do in an energy market that operates on liberal parameters. Industry estimates suggest that the first such nuclear power station could be operational in the UK by 2017. I think that an optimistic assessment, but it is what the industry is saying.

To those who sneer about the contribution of nuclear power, and many in the House have done so, I simply repeat what I said in my statement: we should keep an open mind and not rule out the potential benefits of nuclear power. That, for example, was the view of the Sustainable Development Commission and I think that it is right. Nuclear power could make a significant contribution to carbon mitigation in the UK. Furthermore, the view of Patrick Moore, one of the co-founders of Greenpeace, is interesting; in April 2006, he wrote in The Washington Post that nuclear power could make a decisive and important contribution to saving the world from the serious threat of climate change.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker: Order.

10 Jan 2008 : Column 535

Business of the House

12.28 pm

The Leader of the House of Commons (Ms Harriet Harman): With permission, I should like to make a statement about the business for next week.

Monday 14 January—Second Reading of the Education and Skills Bill.

Tuesday 15 January—Motion to approve a Ways and Means resolution on the Health and Social Care Bill, followed by motion to approve the payments into the Olympic Lottery Distribution Fund etc. Order 2007, followed by consideration in Committee of the European Communities (Finance) Bill, followed by remaining stages of the European Communities (Finance) Bill.

Wednesday 16 January—Opposition Day [6th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate entitled “Pensioner Poverty”, followed by a debate entitled “Human Trafficking”. Both debates will arise on an Opposition motion.

Thursday 17 January—Topical debate. Subject to be announced, followed by remaining stages of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (Supplementary Provisions) Bill.

Friday 18 January—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 21 January will include:

Monday 21 January—Second Reading of the European Union (Amendment) Bill.

Tuesday 22 January—Second Reading of the Energy Bill.

Wednesday 23 January—Opposition Day [7th Allotted Day] (First Part). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject to be announced, followed by remaining stages of the Student Loans Bill.

Thursday 24 January—Topical debate, subject to be announced, followed by motions relating to Senior Salaries Review Body report on parliamentary pay, pensions and allowances.

Friday 25 January—Private Members’ Bills.

Next Wednesday, 16 January, the Government will publish the report of the Senior Salaries Review Body on parliamentary pay, pensions and allowances. At the same time, we will issue a written ministerial statement setting out the Government’s response and table the relevant motions that will be debated by the House on the following Thursday, 24 January. Because of the difficult decisions that we have taken over the past year to stage the public sector pay awards, inflation has fallen, and that has allowed the Bank of England to keep interest rates down. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear, as Members of this House, we too—[Hon. Members: “This is a business statement.”] As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear— [ Interruption. ]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order.

Ms Harman: As Members of this House, we too are paid from the public purse, and it is right that we should be subject to the same disciplines on public sector pay as the rest of the public sector.

10 Jan 2008 : Column 536

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I respect the fact that the Leader of the House is trying to be helpful, but this is not business—it is something else—and I ask you to guide her to make this statement at an appropriate time— [ Interruption. ]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sorry, but I did not hear the conclusion of the hon. Gentleman’s remarks because of the noise in the Chamber.

Simon Hughes: I invite you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to advise the Leader of the House on how she might help us by giving a statement in the right way and at the right time.

Ms Harman: Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Perhaps I can assist the House by explaining that I was saying that because I am about to make an announcement that is important to the House about how, in future, the pay and pensions of Members of this House will be set.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Madam Deputy Speaker: I am dealing with a point of order at the moment. In responding to that, I suggest to the Leader of the House that however helpful she is attempting to be in this matter, we are really dealing with the business of the House for next week rather than the detail that she was trying to be helpful in giving to the House at this stage.

Ms Harman: I apologise if I have strayed out of order, but I was hoping to explain to the House that we will publish the SSRB report in advance of debating it so that Members will know that they will have adequate time to debate it, and so that they will know that this will possibly be the last time that they will have to go through that exercise because of the review that we intend to set up.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead) (Con): I thank the Leader of the House for giving us the forthcoming business. I also thank her for giving us an insight into the speech that she will give on 24 January in the debate on the SSRB report. I note that she was attempting to make a statement to the House on the Government’s position before the Government have published that position and before Members have seen the SSRB report.

On an entirely different subject, can the right hon. and learned Lady ensure that at around the time of St. David’s day we have a debate on Welsh affairs?

Yesterday, the Prime Minister was less than convincing when he tried to explain his ever-shifting policy on ID cards. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has written to him and has not received a reply. When will the Prime Minister make a clear statement to the House on his position on ID cards?

Last year, the Government graciously accepted the Modernisation Committee’s recommendation to have topical debates, yet only the first debate was genuinely topical. Since then, the right hon. and learned Lady has selected subjects to match the Government’s news
10 Jan 2008 : Column 537
agenda. Will she now listen to the House and agree to a topical debate on Sir John Tooke’s report on the shambolic handling of the recruitment system for junior doctors?

Yesterday, despite the importance of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, we had only one day to debate its remaining stages. Many amendments were not debated. Can the right hon. and learned Lady make a statement on why the consideration of this important Bill was cut short?

In November, in response to a question from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister promised to make available in the Library details of the “preventing violent extremism” programme. Despite repeated promises from Ministers, the information is still not there. When will it be placed in the Library?

When the Prime Minister still claimed to be a change, he promised to

Since then, the Government have made no fewer than 28 policy announcements to the media before Parliament. Just this week, we have had press briefings on the NHS, nuclear power stations and deactivated firearms. When will the Leader of the House ensure that her ministerial colleagues, including the Prime Minister, do what he promised and put Parliament first? Every week, she tells us that she puts Parliament first, yet every week her colleagues treat Parliament with disdain.

Another of the Prime Minister’s changed policies was that there should be a deep clean of hospitals to fight superbugs. Yet now we know that only 50 out of 1,500 NHS hospitals have had a deep clean. The cost of the treatment is coming out of existing budgets, and the Health Secretary thinks that it is all a waste of time. When will the Health Secretary come to the House to make a statement on the Prime Minister’s deep clean programme?

Yet another of the Prime Minister’s new policies was, notoriously, to promise British jobs for British workers. However, as we now know, 80 per cent. of new jobs go to migrant workers, the Government have lost a court ruling on foreign junior doctors, and the Government are weakening the resident labour market test. Will the beleaguered Work and Pensions Secretary take a break from the mess that he has created and make a statement to the House on the mess created by the Prime Minister?

Do not those examples tell the sad truth about this Prime Minister? In the words of his own right hand man, he simply cannot claim to be the change, and is not that why his latest relaunch is doomed to fail?

Ms Harman: The right hon. Lady raised the question of ID cards. The Prime Minister made the Government’s position clear to the House yesterday, particularly in relation to the importance of biometric information on passports and on visas for foreign nationals, and to the fact that if there were any progress towards making that compulsory for British nationals, it would be in the light of experience that we would be bringing it back for a vote of this House. That is, and remains, the position on ID cards.

10 Jan 2008 : Column 538

We have had a number of topical debates—in Government time, as the House will remember—on matters that are important regionally, nationally or internationally, topical and of public interest. We have so far debated immigration, climate change, apprenticeships and financial problems for low-income families, and I invite all hon. Members to continue to propose subjects that they think are topical. One of the problems is that in order to give Members enough time to plan to be part of a topical debate, we give out information and make the decision earlier in the week. Because that process happens earlier in the week, the subject is inevitably less topical by the time we debate it later in the week. [ Laughter. ] The reality is that there is a trade-off between giving people notice and topicality, but we have committed to review the situation, as we undertook to the House and the Modernisation Committee, and we will do so.

The right hon. Lady mentioned the recruitment of junior doctors. She will know that we have recently had the publication of important work undertaken as part of the Tooke report.

Mrs. May: I asked about that.

Ms Harman: Indeed. I am dealing with it because the right hon. Lady asked about it. On that basis, we will go forward in consultation with the British Medical Association to improve the situation.

The right hon. Lady mentioned the amount of time the House had to debate the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill on Report. We sought to make extra time available yesterday, but we acknowledge that it did not turn out to be enough. If we have the opportunity, consistent with ensuring the implementation of the Bill—particularly with regard to the time-critical issue of prison officers’ right to strike—we shall see whether we can find some extra time when the Bill returns to this House on consideration of Lords amendments. We all agree that the amount of time spent last night was unsatisfactory.

The situation has raised a point that we will face again, and which business managers need to talk about: the amount of time available for this House to debate major Bills on Report. A number of major Bills have received a Second Reading or will receive it soon, and the question is whether enough time for Report is structured in, or whether we should seek to find more. If we do the latter, it will put pressure on the amount of time that the House has to debate non-legislative issues, or we will end up doing so at the expense of the amount of time hon. Members are able to spend in their constituencies. We all want enough time for scrutiny on Report, and we need to address this matter, especially in the light of the House’s experience last night.

The right hon. Lady talked about the Government’s approach to tackling extremism and our action on that, and I shall look into the points that she made.

Next Section Index Home Page