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That certainly should not worry people. We undertake to keep the House informed.

Mr. Michael Moore (Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk) (LD): Next week, communities across the south of Scotland will learn the fate of their local post offices. Frankly, few people are holding their breath. Confidence in the network as a whole is at rock bottom because nobody knows the fate of the Post Office card account. There are rumours swirling around that it might be given to PayPoint or awarded jointly, each of which would undermine the network. Given the seriousness of the situation, will the Leader of the House urge her colleagues to make an announcement as early as possible, and allow a debate in the House on the matter?

Ms Harman: As I have told the House on previous occasions, the contract for the Post Office card account is subject to the procurement processes, and when a decision is reached, I am sure that the House will be informed.

Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): For many years now, my constituents have been sending treats to our troops who are serving around the world on our behalf. Last week, they were dismayed to see press reports telling them not to send parcels to our troops, who are so bravely looking after us, and saying that only family members can send treats to the troops. May we have a statement from the relevant Minister to tell us why, in the 21st century, we cannot send parcels to our troops?

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Ms Harman: I am sure that the question of public and family support for our troops will be at the heart of the defence debate that I announced in my statement under forthcoming business.

Richard Younger-Ross (Teignbridge) (LD): Can we have a statement on the impact of inflation on pensioners? In particular, can the Leader of the House confirm that the state pension rise next April will be at least as high as the 5 per cent. retail prices index rise announced on Monday?

Ms Harman: There will be an uprating statement from the Department for Work and Pensions shortly. Pensions and benefits will be uprated in the normal way. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will welcome the increase in winter fuel payments and the efforts to ensure that the decrease in wholesale energy costs are passed through to domestic consumers and households.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Can we have a debate next week on access to mortgages? I have been approached by mortgage brokers in Banbury who told me:

If the mortgage market does not get going again, there is no hope for the housing market doing the same. May we have a debate some time soon—hopefully next week—on access to mortgages?

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. If the Government are in a position next week to make further information available about access to mortgages, a statement will be made.

Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): I declare an interest as a member of the national council of the Royal National Lifeboats Institution.

May we have a statement or a short debate on Ofcom’s proposals for changes to the charging regime for maritime radio users? Those proposed changes will see many voluntary organisations such as the RNLI paying massively increased fees. The Leader of the House must be aware that the RNLI is funded entirely by voluntary contributions and that it provides a crucial service. Frankly, the Government and Government bodies such as Ofcom should be grateful for the provision of those services rather than see them as a cash cow for more income.

Ms Harman: I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the RNLI and I will raise his point with the relevant Ministers and ask them to write to him.

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): One of the very few things that I have in common politically with the Leader of the House is that we both represent inner London seats. She will be aware that, notionally, our local police force, the Metropolitan police, is run by the Home Secretary. In view of the tumultuous and turbulent events within that organisation during
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recent weeks, does the right hon. and learned Lady feel that it is time either for the Home Secretary to make a statement to the House or for us to have a debate in Government time on the future strategy for the Metropolitan police?

Ms Harman: As the hon. Gentleman will know, the process is under way for the recruitment of a new Metropolitan Police Commissioner. Speaking for my own constituency, I pay tribute to the work that continues to be done—day in, day out; week in, week out—by the Metropolitan police in all the boroughs of London.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): All through the recess, I wrote to many of my constituents who contacted me saying that I was absolutely sure that Ministers would want to make two statements within the first week or so of our return—one on the Government scheme for insulating homes, which will be of very little benefit to many of my constituents who have stone houses and no cavity walls, and a second one on the ombudsman’s report on Equitable Life. We have not seen either of those statements yet. Earlier, the Leader of the House rather airily said something about autumn, but will she further define what part of autumn she has in mind and when she believes autumn finishes?

Ms Harman: As far as Equitable Life is concerned, I have nothing to add to what the Chancellor told the House on 8 October. As far as insulation and energy conservation are concerned, the hon. Gentleman will see that the Ministers from the Department of Energy and Climate Change are in their places to make a statement and take part in a debate.

Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): Can we have a debate on the Government’s pharmacy White Paper, and particularly the proposals to restrict some GP practices on dispensing prescription drugs—changes that, if implemented, would result in my constituents in Hanslope having to travel some 10 miles just to collect their prescriptions? Is that really a sensible move for some of the most vulnerable people in our society?

Ms Harman: In respect of pharmacy issues in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, I suggest that he should either write to the relevant Secretary of State or seek a meeting.

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Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Can we have a debate in Government time on parental neglect and binge drinking among schoolchildren? Last year, 250 people were so incapacitated from being drunk that they were admitted to Kettering general hospital, and one fifth of them were children under the age of 16.

Ms Harman: We have had a topical debate on excessive drinking, particularly by under-aged children. The hon. Gentleman will know that work is going on across Departments on this issue, which is of concern throughout the country. I will consider how best to find an opportunity for the House to debate it further.

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Can we have a debate on issues arising from the extradition of my constituent Gary McKinnon, confirmed this week by the Home Secretary? The Leader of the House will recall the debate regarding the NatWest three, when the Government gave assurances that they would take steps to seek bail. Can at least similar efforts be made on behalf of my constituent, who is a vulnerable young man of little means who was, significantly, recently diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome?

Ms Harman: The best thing would probably be for me to discuss the issue with the hon. Gentleman after business questions, so that he can tell me the details of the case. I can then work out how to assist him further and raise the matter with the relevant Department. I always call the NatWest three the Enron three.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): Can I reiterate the call of many hon. Members for an early statement on Equitable Life? If the Leader of the House continues her unacceptable stonewalling on the subject, can I ask her for a debate on the role of the parliamentary ombudsman? It is unacceptable to many people that the Government can ride roughshod over the ombudsman’s rulings.

Ms Harman: The Government are not riding roughshod over the ombudsman’s ruling. The ombudsman produced a substantial report, which required considerable reflection from the Government. We have kept the House updated on how we intend to deal with the matter. The Chancellor said last week that he intends to make a statement on our response to the ombudsman’s Equitable Life report this autumn.

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Department of Energy and Climate Change

12.27 pm

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Edward Miliband): With permission, I would like to make a statement on the new Department of Energy and Climate Change. The new Department brings together the Government’s work on three long-term challenges that face our country: ensuring that we have energy that is affordable, secure, and sustainable; bringing about the transition to a low-carbon Britain; and achieving an international agreement on climate change at Copenhagen in December 2009. Those are our goals, and the new Department recognises that when two thirds of our emissions come from the use of energy, energy and climate change should not be considered separately, but together.

Some people will ask whether we should retreat from our climate change objectives in tough economic times. In our view, it would be quite wrong to row back, and those who say that we should misunderstand the relationship between the economic and environmental tasks that we face. Of course, there are choices to be made, but there are also common solutions to both—for example, energy-saving measures for households, such as those announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in September, which cut bills and emissions; or investment in new environmental industries, which both improves our energy security and reduces our dependence on polluting fuels. What we know from the Stern report of 2006 is that the costs of not acting on climate change are greater than the costs of acting on it. Only if Britain plays its part will a global deal in Copenhagen to cut carbon emissions be possible, so, far from retreating from our objectives, we should reaffirm our resolve.

Over the summer, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to whom I pay tribute for his work and leadership on climate change, asked the independent Committee on Climate Change to review the long-term target for Britain’s emissions. Based on a Royal Commission report in 2000, the target had been set at a 60 per cent. reduction in CO2 emissions. Since then, independent reports have added further to our knowledge. Arctic sea ice has melted faster than expected, global emissions have grown faster than expected and the impact of each degree of climate change is known to be worse than expected.

Last week, Lord Turner wrote to me with the committee’s conclusions, which have been placed in the Library of the House. His report found that to hold global warming to 2° above pre-industrial levels—commonly accepted as the threshold for the most dangerous changes in the climate—global emissions must fall by between 50 and 60 per cent. by 2050. Lord Turner concluded that to play its proper part, the United Kingdom should cut its emissions not by 60 per cent. but by 80 per cent. He concluded that the target should apply not just to carbon dioxide but to all six Kyoto greenhouse gases. He also concluded that while there were uncertainties about how to allocate emissions from international flights and shipping, they too should play their part in reducing emissions.

The Government accept all the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change. We will amend the Climate Change Bill to cut greenhouse gas emissions by
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80 per cent by 2050, a target that will be binding in law. I hope that Members on both sides of the House will support that move. Indeed, let me say that I want to create as much of a consensus as possible on climate change. However, as we all know, signing up to an 80 per cent. cut in 2050, when most of us will not be around, is the easy part; the hard part is meeting it, and meeting the milestones that will show we are on track. For us in Britain, the milestones will be shaped by the recommendations of the Committee on Climate Change, which will advise us in December on the first 15 years of carbon budgets. That means national limits to our total emissions, within which we shall have to live as a country. We will report next year on how we will meet them.

We are also determined to ensure that the signal and the commitment come not just from Britain but, as the Prime Minister has been making clear in recent days, from Europe. That means an agreement by the end of this year on strengthening the European Union emissions trading scheme, and on the targets for 2020: that Europe should reduce greenhouse gases by 20 per cent. unilaterally and by 30 per cent. as part of a global deal—targets that I reaffirm today—and that the EU should confirm its renewable energy target.

Earlier this year, we published our draft renewable energy strategy. Having examined the issue, I can say that what is clear to me is not only the scale of the challenge, but the urgency of getting on with the delivery. The renewables obligation has tripled supply in the past five years, and we are making further changes in its structure, in planning policy and in access to the grid. However, having heard the debate on the issue, including what has been said by many colleagues on both sides of the House, I also believe that complementing the renewables obligation for large-scale projects, guaranteed prices for small-scale electricity generation—feed-in tariffs—have the potential to play an important role, as they do in other countries. Having listened to the views that have been expressed, including those expressed in the other place, we plan to table an amendment to the Energy Bill to make that happen.

I believe that renewable power can play a bigger role not just in electricity but in heating. Heating produces almost half Britain’s carbon emissions, and cleaner sources of heat can help us to meet our target in 2050 and the milestones on the way. I recognise that we need to make rapid progress on that issue as well, and I will make further announcements soon.

Our objective is a climate change policy that is fair and an energy policy that is sustainable. The present structure of the energy market was designed in a world of abundant supply, British energy self-sufficiency, low commodity prices and an emerging debate—but not a settled consensus—on the issue of climate change. Today, all those assumptions have changed. There is international competition for resources and a need for new investment in supply; there are structurally higher energy prices; and there is urgency about carbon emissions. To respond to this new world we need a market that secures future supply, which must include investment in nuclear power and carbon capture and storage. We need a market that provides incentives for cuts in emissions and does more to help homes and businesses.

Those are the big issues that we need to address for the future, but today I want to signal a direction of travel on affordability. Last week the energy regulator,
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Ofgem, highlighted what it believed to be unjustified higher charges for 4 million electricity customers in areas not connected to the gas main. It also believes that, even when account is taken of higher costs facing companies from customers with pre-payment meters, many homes that use them are being overcharged.

Unfair pricing that hits the most vulnerable hardest is completely unacceptable. I made that clear to the representatives of the big six energy companies when I met them yesterday. I also told them that the Government expect rapid action or explanation to remedy any abuses, and I will meet them again in a month to hear what they have done. We, and Ofgem, are determined to see those issues addressed. Ofgem is consulting on its findings until 1 December as part of a due process, but let me say this: if the companies do not act satisfactorily and speedily, we will consult on legislation to prevent unfair pricing differentials.

For us, markets can provide enormous benefits in dynamism and efficiency, but they will only work properly if they are regulated effectively in the public interest, including with a strong independent regulator. There is more to be done to help consumers, and we will not hesitate to act. We need an end to unfair pricing, feed-in tariffs for electricity generation, and an 80 per cent. cut in emissions.

Our aim is a climate change and energy policy which is fair and sustainable, and which meets our obligation to today’s and future generations. That is the work that we are beginning in my new Department, and I commend my statement to the House.

Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con): I warmly welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s statement, and welcome him personally—along with his ministerial colleagues—to the Front Bench. I also welcome him to the Dispatch Box, where he appears for the first time in his new post.

The Secretary of State is widely regarded as one of the most personable, thoughtful and respected members of the Government. Our debates have always been civilised and productive, and it is certainly my intention that our exchanges on this most important issue for our country’s future should remain so. I thank him for allowing early sight of his statement—although not quite as early as that secured by The Guardian and the Politics Home website, which published most of the statement this morning. I remind him that the true home of politics in this country is Parliament, and that it should have been through Parliament that the statement was first released. But, for all that, we welcome it.

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