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The Prime Minister: l We have been making proposals to cut red tape in Europe during our presidency and in recent presidencies. The hon. Gentleman misunderstands the success of the Lisbon process: 10 million new jobs have been created in the EU as a result of it. He should tell us the true nature of his inquiry about Europe. He wants a referendum to oppose the amending treaty. He wants that even if it is ratified. He would force renegotiation of our membership of the EU. No country in Europe supports that, and he would be totally isolated.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): The promise of a discussion of the millennium development goals at the June Council sounds somewhat weak. Will the Prime Minister undertake that between now and June, UKREP—the United Kingdom Representative Office—and No. 10 will work with colleagues elsewhere in the EU to try to ensure that at the June Council meeting a process is put in place to implement the MDGs by 2015 and that there is not just further discussion, but that some decisions are made about a process to implement them by then?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful for that question from the hon. Gentleman, who used to be the Chairman of the International Development Committee. We have called a conference with business leaders and others in May to look at how we can make progress on the MDGs and get a wider coalition of business, voluntary groups, foundations, charities and faith groups, as well as Governments, to pursue them. In June, this matter will be discussed in detail at the European Council as a report is being prepared already by Mr. Barroso, President of the Commission, about the progress that has been made and the progress that has still to be made. That will lead through to September, when there will be a special session of the UN—called by the Secretary-General—to look at what we must do next to achieve the MDGs. All Members should recognise that Europe leads the world: it is the biggest contributor to aid. It has done more than any other continent, but we want to do still more in the future. It is only possible for us to work successfully if we continue to work together. That demands a high level of co-operation in Europe, which I hope all Members will support.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): The Prime Minister spoke about Russia’s important role in energy security and made particular reference to Ukraine. Russia also has a very important role to play with its allies in Serbia in connection with the future security and stability of Kosovo. Has the Prime Minister yet managed to speak to President-elect Medvedev, and when does he expect to meet him face to face to discuss the important role that Russia has to play in the future of Europe?

The Prime Minister: As far as Kosovo is concerned, the violence that is happening now is most regrettable. I hope that the withdrawal of some of the UN forces can be avoided. It is very important to recognise that the
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policy of supervised independence in Kosovo means that there is a role for all minorities in that country. I am pleased that a large number of countries have now recognised the new Kosovo. Serbia is guaranteed a European future if, of course, it continues to observe democratic rights, which it is doing. I understand its frustrations about what has happened in Kosovo, but it is important that it recognises its responsibilities to the rest of Europe.

The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well the difficulties in our relationship with Russia that have arisen from what happened in London, where we had an assassination, and, at the same time, as a result of the treatment of the British Council, but we want good relations with Russia. We support a partnership agreement between the European Union and Russia, and we will continue to pursue these objectives.

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): Following the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone), does the Prime Minister have any plans, separate from those of the EU, to meet the Dalai Lama?

The Prime Minister: I have made it clear that we are concerned about recent events in Tibet; we have made our view known. We have called for restraint. We believe that there should be a dialogue between the parties. That is the most important thing at the moment, and any further announcements or any further decisions can come later.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Given that the Prime Minister seems reluctant to meet the Dalai Lama, will he confirm that he will at least have the courtesy to have a conversation on the telephone with him?

The Prime Minister: I have made my views known. I repeat: this was not discussed at the European Council. A statement is being made by European Union Foreign Ministers this afternoon, and I believe that that will show the unity of Europe in expressing concern about the situation.

Mr. Robert Goodwill (Scarborough and Whitby) (Con): Following the Prime Minister’s reference to Czechoslovakia—that far-away place of which he obviously knows little—do we now have evidence that he has been receiving foreign affairs briefing from the President of the United States?

The Prime Minister: I talk regularly to all my colleagues in Europe, and I made it absolutely clear when I was talking about the Czech Forum that I was talking about the Czech Republic.

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Nail Bars and Special Treatment Premises (Regulation)

4.18 pm

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): I beg to move,

A constituent of mine first drew my attention to nail bars and the potential problems posed by what one might describe as the bargain-basement end of the market. My constituent, who runs a reputable nail bar in central Milton Keynes, became very concerned by the damage that had been done to the nails of some of her customers by other, less reputable establishments. Since I first raised this issue in the House on 15 November 2007, I have received feedback from across the UK showing that this is a widespread problem—a point reflected in the wide geographical spread of the sponsors of this Bill.

It might help Members who are not familiar with the nail bar business if I briefly describe what nail bars are and the procedures they use. Nail bars are a relatively recent import from the US. They are a part of the beauty industry, and offer artificial nail extensions that can then be painted or decorated. In reputable nail bars with properly qualified nail technicians, nail extensions are created from mixing a polymer powder with a polymerising agent called ethyl methacrylate, or EMA. The resulting nail extension is flexible and easily attached to the natural nail. Unfortunately, the expansion of nail bars has led to a rise in the number using unqualified technicians and using an alternative polymerising agent called methyl methacrylate, or MMA. The agent is banned in nail bars in the United States, Australia and New Zealand, but there is no such ban in this country. The attractions of MMA to the operative is that it is much cheaper than EMA, at between a third and a sixth of the price, and that it forms the extensions more quickly, enabling non-standard nail bars to undercut the prices of the more reputable businesses.

The customer might not be aware until it is too late that MMA has serious disadvantages, however. The nail extension is much more rigid and does not adhere well to the natural nail, so the natural nail has to be drilled or etched with an electric file to help adhesion. Unlike EMA, MMA polymers continue to polymerise once attached, and the MMA penetrates and damages the nail bed. Long-term use of MMA is associated with respiratory problems and serious allergic skin reactions, and the staff using it usually protect themselves, including from the dust generated by the electric filing, by wearing gloves and masks. That ought to suggest to the customer that the use of MMA is not risk free.

The other consequence for the customer of using MMA is that the extensions are so rigid and so tightly stuck to the nail that if they get caught or jammed the natural nail can be ripped off. Pain is caused by the drilling, and the permanent ridging and damage to the natural nail and nail bed can take a long time to grow out. To compound matters, MMA extensions are much
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more difficult to remove than those formed with EMA. [Interruption.] I can see that I am catching the attention of the hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening). Several of the nail bar technicians who have contacted me have shown me graphic pictures of the damage that MMA has caused to the nails of patrons of sub-standard nail bars.

One way to deal with the problem is to improve awareness among the public, particularly young girls and women, of the damage caused by MMA and the importance of ensuring that, before anyone tampers with their nails, they check that the person is properly qualified. I know of one scheme that is to be launched shortly, which will allow potential customers to check a website for reputable nail bars in their area. I very much welcome that, but simply improving public awareness will not stop the continued spread of non-standard nail bars. Such bars not only risk affecting their customers but undercut the credibility of the whole sector and those who try to provide a high-quality service.

London councils within the M25 already have the power under part II of the London Local Authorities Act 1991—“Special treatment premises”—to license nail bars, and thus in principle to impose standards, including the appropriate level of qualification for staff and restrictions on the chemicals that can be used. However, the contacts that I have had suggest that even in London, where licensing powers exist, council licensing officers may be focusing on hygiene—that is important, because hepatitis C can be spread through the use of electric drills on nails—and may not be aware of the specific risks of MMA or of the need to check the qualifications of staff.

Outside London, the situation is even more confused. Nail bars do not come within the scope of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982, and therefore cannot be subject to licensing. Environmental health staff can give advice on the use of chemicals, but their only enforcement powers come through the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, which is relevant to employees, not to customers. Trading standards can respond to customer complaints, but most customers do not realise that the pain and damage that they experience because of MMA are not just a normal part of the process.

Although the problem of MMA seems well known in the industry, it seems to be below the radar of public authorities. In response to earlier comments that I have made in the House, the Department of Health has told me that it has made no assessment of the public health
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risk of MMA in nail bars, and the Health Protection Agency has no record of ill effects to customers or employees in the last three years. The HSE’s health and safety laboratory is apparently reviewing health issues for technicians in nail bars, but it seems that, once again, the effect on the customer is being ignored—perhaps because damaged nail beds are not regarded as a terribly serious public health issue.

That is not satisfactory. Most of the customers of non-standard nail bars are likely to be young women and girls on low incomes, for whom the low prices that those businesses can charge make nail extensions seem much more accessible. Customers need to be protected from unscrupulous operators, which is why I propose that the powers already enjoyed by London councils to license nail bars and a number of other similar businesses should be extended to all local authorities across England.

The chief environmental health officer at my local council in Milton Keynes tells me that following an inspection, tattooists, for example, like to have a document from the local authority as it drives the cowboy operators out of business. It helps to bring in customers if businesses can advertise that they are registered with the local authority. Among qualified nail technicians, there is also strong support for regulation. At present, an astonishing 85 per cent. of nail technicians do not have NVQ level 3 qualifications, and have no incentive to invest in the training as it gives them no competitive advantage.

A proper licensing regime across England would protect customers, drive up standards and reward those businesses investing in training. It would mean that girls and young women could use nail bars and be confident that they would suffer no ill-effects.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Dr. Phyllis Starkey, Ms Celia Barlow, Mr. Clive Betts, Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods, Richard Burden, Ms Sally Keeble, Fiona Mactaggart, Chris McCafferty, Kerry McCarthy, Martin Salter, Anne Snelgrove and Margaret Moran.

Nail Bars and Special Treatment Premises (regulation)

Dr. Phyllis Starkey accordingly presented a Bill to make provision for the licensing of nail bars and premises where tattooing, cosmetic piercing and other prescribed treatments are carried out; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 25 April, and to be printed [Bill 87].

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Orders of the Day

Ways and Means

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [12 March.]

amendment of the law

Motion made and Questions proposed,

Question again proposed.

Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation

4.28 pm

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): I welcome the opportunity afforded by the Budget debate to discuss the challenge that we face as a country and as a world to move from our historical reliance on a carbon-intensive way of living towards a sustainable, low-carbon economy. Wherever we look, whatever goods and services we buy, whatever things we do, all of them have a carbon footprint. Carbon is currently central to our way of life, but we need that to change if emissions are to decline in the way that is necessary.

The UK has made progress. We have broken the link between economic growth and growth in carbon emissions. The economy has grown by about a quarter in real terms in the last 10 years, whereas greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by 7.6 per cent. But for the action that has been taken, greenhouse gas emissions would now be about 15 per cent. higher than they were in 1990; instead, we will more than meet our Kyoto target. However, as the facts of climate change become more stark, we will need to be even more radical, and the Climate Change Bill will enable us to do just that. For the first time anywhere in the world, a legal requirement will be placed on the Government of the day to ensure that the country’s carbon account does not exceed its carbon budgets. Budgets will be set in legislation.

Mr. Peter Ainsworth (East Surrey) (Con): I am extremely grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way so early in his speech. He has just mentioned the carbon budgets, but what about the Budget? Can he give us some idea of the total amount of carbon reduction that he expects as a result of the measures announced in the Chancellor’s recent Budget?

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Hilary Benn: If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I shall give some of those figures in the course of my speech. The facts, however, are that the independent climate change committee, the shadow version of which met for the first time last week, will of course propose the first of the three carbon budgets at the end of this year. At the same time, it will advise the Government, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor outlined last week, on whether we should go further than the 60 per cent. reduction by 2050 and strengthen it to an 80 per cent. reduction.

Our task now is to ensure that the UK meets those budgets. That will require a contribution from every business and every household in the land as well as co-ordinated efforts across government. That is why the Chancellor announced last week that the first three carbon budgets will be set alongside the Budget next year. That is a sign of the Government’s determination to put reducing carbon dioxide emissions at the centre of policy making and of the economy.

Steve Webb (Northavon) (LD): The Secretary of State will be well aware that measuring the right thing is critical. He will know that the narrow measure used for Kyoto tells one story while the broader measure in the nation’s environment accounts, produced by the Office for National Statistics, tells a different story. Does he accept that on that basis, according to a comprehensive measure, CO2 emissions have not fallen at all since 1990 and have increased since 1997? Is that not a cause for grave concern?

Hilary Benn: According to the measure that we use to report to the United Nations, because that is the way it asks for the figures to be submitted, it is clear that UK emissions of greenhouse gases have fallen by 15.4 per cent. and emissions of CO2 by 6.4 per cent. We also report to the UN figures on emissions from aviation and shipping, which are included in a footnote when they are published. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the ONS does its own estimate in the environmental accounts. That calculates emissions from flights in a different way and also includes estimates resulting from UK citizens who live and work in other countries. It clearly would not make sense for those figures to be included in the UK totals that are reported to the UN framework convention on climate change. The way in which we report fulfils the requirement that the UN places on us, and we are making the progress that has been set out. Aviation and shipping are issues that we need to deal with internationally.

The changes that we are putting in place mean that 12 months from now—only a short time—meeting our carbon budgets will be on an equal footing with meeting our financial budgets. The House will, I am sure, appreciate that that is a profound change in the way in which we do things. As the first of its kind in the world, the Climate Change Bill is also a sign of the UK’s international commitment. As the House will be aware, the world agreed in Bali just before Christmas to start negotiations on a new global climate deal to take us beyond 2012.

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