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18 Jun 2009 : Column 441

Ms Harman: I shall bring the hon. Gentleman’s points to the attention of my colleagues at the Ministry of Justice.

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): Some corporate groups force solvent companies into liquidation because of their pension liabilities, and then repurchase the assets for pennies in the pound. Business men enriched by such shameful behaviour then use their wealth to cosy up to those in power. May we please have a debate on the implementation of the Pensions Act 2004, so that we can ensure that pensioners are not ruined by the behaviour of companies such as the Caparo group, which is owned by the Prime Minister’s close confidant Lord Paul of Marylebone?

Ms Harman: It is for the Chair rather than me as Leader of the House to say so, but I really think that it is too easy to use business questions to take a pot shot at, and make allegations about, people who are unable to respond. If the hon. Gentleman had given me notice I might have been able to give a substantive response. He has not, so I cannot challenge what he has said. Will he please, however, regard it as challenged, even though I do not know what he is talking about? I shall raise with the Treasury the point about solvent companies being pushed into liquidation.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. It so happens that I did know what the hon. Gentleman was talking about. There was a debate, and during it I made a ruling about the use of the name of a Member of the other place; I hoped that the matter might have rested at that.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Following the brilliant speech in the other place by Lord Campbell-Savours last night, the measures taken by this House to protect the security of MPs’ and election candidates’ home addresses were finally endorsed and passed the last hurdle. There will be no more questions on that subject from me. May I instead ask for a debate in Government time on the unpredictability of future conflicts? That would enable the Government and the Opposition to say why it is important to keep a strategic nuclear deterrent between 2025 and 2055—unlike the Liberal Democrats, who seem to think that because we are fighting counter-insurgencies now, there could be no nuclear threat to this country half a century into the future.

Ms Harman: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will find an opportunity to make those points to Defence Ministers at the next Defence questions.

Mr. Paul Burstow (Sutton and Cheam) (LD): I draw the right hon. and learned Lady’s attention to early-day motion 640.

[ That this House notes with concern the findings of a University College London study into the prevalence of abuse by family carers of people with dementia that as many as half of carers reporting some abusive behaviour; further notes the finding of the UK Study of Abuse and Neglect of Older People 2007 that as many as 342,000 people aged over 66 years are victims of abuse in the community, often committed by family members; welcomes the Government's review of its current safeguarding vulnerable people guidance, No Secrets; is concerned that the review
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concentrates on abuse by paid carers; believes that guidance issued under section 7 of the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970 does not carry the same status as legislation; calls on the Government to introduce legislation that provides a statutory basis for the construction and work of adult protection committees (APCs); and imposes a duty on agencies to collaborate, share information, actively participate at a senior level in APCs and work together to establish a right to access the adult at risk without hindrance or coercion and provide powers to protect the welfare of a person found to be the victim of abuse.

It states the case for placing on a statutory basis issues of elder abuse and the protection of vulnerable adults.

Furthermore, I should like to mention early-day motion 1296, which deals with the case of Margaret Haywood, who—scandalously—was struck off by the Nursing and Midwifery Council for blowing the whistle on the poor treatment and neglect of older people in another institution. May we have a debate on those two issues? The House has legislated to protect children and punish those who commit domestic violence. Is it not time to make sure that these other vulnerable people in our society get the same sort of protection?

Ms Harman: Obviously, we need tough, enforceable measures in criminal law and a proper regulatory framework to protect those in residential care. The number of people over 85 is set to double in the next two decades, so the issue is of growing importance. Last week we had a debate on carers, and Health questions will be taken next week. A number of hon. Members have raised the point; it was raised at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday. We will look further for an opportunity to take the issue forward.

Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): May we have a debate on the procedure used for early-day motions? There are now 1,700 of them on the Order Paper, and there is no evidence that they are ever read by Ministers or officials. Unlike what happens with petitions, there is never a ministerial response to them unless they are specifically raised in business questions. Outside groups, however, set great store by them.

Could we not have a system whereby an early-day motion that attracted sufficient signatures got at least a ministerial response? If an early-day motion attracted a large number of signatures, there could be the possibility of a debate on it. I do not think that there is a recorded instance of any of those 1,700 early-day motions ever getting debated, unless one happens to be adopted by the Opposition as a basis for a debate in Opposition time.

Ms Harman: The setting up of a business committee is to be considered by the Committee that we hope to establish, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright). If the House is minded to move control of non-Government business from the Leader of the House to such a Committee, the question of enabling early-day motions with a certain number of signatures to be debated on the Floor of the House on a substantive motion will be very much a possibility. The Committee to be chaired by my hon. Friend could look into the idea and come up with proposals promptly.

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Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): I hope that the Leader of the House accepts that scrutiny of legislation on Report is House business, not Government business. Obviously, I welcome the establishment of the Committee to be chaired by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright). Within its remit should be the issue of how we as a House handle the scrutiny of legislation on Report. It would be ridiculous to set up that Committee and have an election for the speakership that involved consideration of reforms to scrutiny on Report, while Bills such as the Health Bill—and the right hon. and learned Lady’s own Equality Bill—come back during that time and yet again receive what is felt, regardless of what the Government think, to be inadequate scrutiny by the House. Will she clearly specify how she proposes to do things differently in respect of the Equality Bill this time, as an example of how we want the scrutiny of all legislation on Report to be?

Ms Harman: Timetabling on Report is an attempt to make sure that all aspects of the Bill receive scrutiny, and that the House does not spend so much time on a couple of clauses that some are not scrutinised. However, I readily acknowledge that that has not always been the result. We want to be flexible so that if issues arise in Committee and Government amendments can be brought forward, that should be done. However, we should not find ourselves in a situation where those amendments are not properly scrutinised. There is a lot of justification for the points raised by the hon. Gentleman, and they can be within the remit of the Committee that I hope will be established, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase. However, I would say that the Report stage of a Government Bill is Government business, however we look at it.

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Tomorrow the House will further consider the commendable provisions in the Autism Bill, which deserve full support. However, may we have a debate about autism in the context of the criminal justice system? My constituent Gary McKinnon, the computer hacker, has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, yet the Home Secretary—or at least the previous Home Secretary—chose to disregard the impact of his condition and approved his extradition to the United States.

Ms Harman: I am sure that all aspects in relation to that individual would have been taken into account when considering an extradition process. As for the work on autism, the Government believe that the strategy across the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department of Health goes even further than the points raised in the Autism Bill, although that Bill offers a welcome opportunity for further discussion.

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Mr. Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): The “Digital Britain” report caused great concern in the highlands in relation to radio, because it proposes that all national broadcast radio stations should move from analogue to DAB by 2015 and that all car radios are to be converted. However, the presence of DAB in the highlands and islands is almost non-existent. I hope that if the Government are switching from analogue to DAB they will ensure that everywhere in the country that can currently get the analogue radio signal will get DAB. May we have an urgent debate so that those issues can be raised?

Ms Harman: Earlier this week we had a statement in the House, and precisely those issues were raised. The whole approach of the Government is that just as it is expected that everywhere in the UK where people live there should be a supply of water and electricity, there should also be broadband working to a high degree, and digital inclusion. I am therefore sure that the hon. Gentleman’s points have already been taken on board.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Given that topical debates are meant to be topical, and given the strategic importance of the tumultuous and dramatic events in Iran, could we have a topical debate on that country next Thursday?

Ms Harman: While the Foreign Secretary is, as he has made clear, working very closely with other countries to ensure that the will of the Iranian people is recognised, it is important to say that this is a matter for the Iranian people and the Iranian electoral authorities. Obviously, however, we want to be absolutely sure that everyone has the right to demonstrate and no one suffers as a result of the demonstrations.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): Following the revelation in today’s Guardian that Tony Blair approved policy guidance to British intelligence officers on interviewing detainees overseas that probably led to Britain being in breach of our international obligations under the UN convention against torture, may we have a debate on how this House scrutinises such policy guidance? Could the Leader of the House ensure that such a debate is led by the Secretary of State for Justice—not least because he was Foreign Secretary at the time when that guidance was approved and, along with the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), must surely also have been responsible for approving such policy guidance for our intelligence services?

Ms Harman: I am confident that we would not have broken any international obligations prohibiting torture, not just because we have entered into international obligations but because we abhor torture and would never have anything to do with it.

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UK Climate Projections

12.24 pm

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn): With permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the publication of new projections for the UK’s future climate. A summary will be placed in the Vote Office and full details can be found on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs website.

The House knows that climate change is one of the greatest challenges we face. The world’s climate is already changing: the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 1990, including every year between 2001 and 2006. In the UK the 2003 heat wave led to over 2,000 excess deaths, and yet average temperatures that year were just 2° higher than normal. In 2006 the south-east experienced a severe drought. Eight million people in the region are dependent on rivers for their water supply. In 2007 we saw widespread flooding across the country, and a storm surge came within 10 cm of overtopping the defences at Great Yarmouth.

The projections we are publishing today—more than 4,000 maps on the website—give us a clear sense of what we might be able to expect over the next 100 years. They represent the best science we have on how our climate is likely to change; and they are a call to action. I want to thank the scientists at the Met Office Hadley Centre and many others for bringing home to us how these changes in our climate—with a greater likelihood of heat waves, flooding, drought, and coastal erosion—will affect our society, and how important it is that we reach a deal at the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen this December. We are, of course, already taking significant steps to cut our emissions. With the Climate Change Act 2008, we became the first country in the world to set legally binding carbon budgets.

Across the UK, the projections show a range of climate changes up until the end of the century based on three possible greenhouse gas emissions pathways: high, medium and low. Broadly speaking, the world’s emissions are currently closest to the medium pathway, although there is still a risk that we could be heading for the high one. While we cannot be absolutely sure what will happen in future, and there are uncertainties—these projections are not a long-range weather forecast—they do show the probabilities of potential changes for the UK, and that is a future that we must avoid.

The projections based on the medium emissions scenario show that by the 2080s—within the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren—we could face an increase in average summer temperatures of between 2° and 6° C in the south-east, with a central estimate of 4°. They show a decrease in average summer rainfall of 22 per cent. in Yorkshire and Humber and in the south-east, which is already short of water, and an increase of 16 per cent. in average winter rainfall in the north-west, with increases in the amount of rain on the wettest days leading to a higher risk of flooding. They also show a rise in the sea level for London of 36 cm. Temperatures would rise even more under the high emissions pathway, which could mean peak summer temperatures in London regularly reaching over 40°.

Those results are sobering, and we know that those changes will affect every aspect of our daily lives. The first clear message is that only by cutting emissions
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through a global deal in Copenhagen can we avoid some of the extreme changes that the projections describe. Moreover, even if we achieve our international target to limit global temperature rise to 2°, we will still have to live with some level of change. That is because it will take 30 years for past emissions to work through the system, so the next three decades of climate change are already set. By 2040, what was exceptional in the summer of 2003 will have become normal.

The second message of these projections is therefore that we must plan to adapt to changes that are now unavoidable—and this is a job for all of us. That is why we have more than doubled spending on flood and coastal protection since 1997, and we are on course to provide better protection for about 160,000 more homes across England. We are taking action to tackle water scarcity and improve water efficiency. For the first time, all Government Departments are producing their own adaptation plans, which they will publish by next spring.

The NHS now has a heat wave plan to protect vulnerable people from hot weather. The Department for Transport has reviewed its design guidance for roads, looking at drainage capacity and new road surfaces. With the Department for Communities and Local Government, we are already working with more than 50 local authorities that have made adapting to climate change a priority in their local area agreements.

All local authorities will in future have to consider adaptation when taking planning decisions, and from today all major Government investment will have to take into account risks from climate change.

In the Climate Change Act 2008, we took the power to require public bodies to adapt and to report on the steps they are taking. Today I am launching a consultation paper proposing the first 100 organisations, including Network Rail, the National Grid, Ofwat and the Environment Agency, that will be required to tell us what they are doing. I am placing copies of that consultation paper in the Library of the House.

The economic case for acting now is very strong, as the Stern review made clear. By investing in flood defence, for example, we estimate that we can reduce the annual cost of flooding by 80 to 90 per cent. in the years to come. There may also be some economic opportunities, for tourism and agriculture, for businesses developing adaptation technologies and for jobs in new infrastructure projects.

Climate change is going to transform the way we live. These projections show us both the future we need to avoid and the future we need to plan for. As well as cutting emissions, we have to start making changes today. I commend this statement to the House.

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for early sight of his statement and for his courtesy in briefing me this morning.

This week, a report on global climate change impacts in the United States showed that climate change is already affecting water, energy, transport, agriculture, ecosystems and health. Those impacts are occurring now and are expected to increase. These new Met Office projections reinforce the US report and make the scale of the challenges facing our own country startlingly clear.

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Does the Environment Secretary agree that these data again tell us that it would be a serious mistake to suggest that climate change will have only benign impacts in the UK, or that we will somehow be insulated from the worst effects? Some people claim that even if global temperatures are rising, it is a cyclical event. Is that not a dangerously flawed and even complacent view? Will he confirm that the temperature of the planet is already at its highest, and that the rate of change is accelerating?

Given the gravity of these assessments, we agree with the Environment Secretary about the importance of the forthcoming Copenhagen summit. There clearly needs to be co-operation on climate change mitigation and adaptation measures at international level, but is it not essential that for Britain to be seen as a world leader, we cannot just go to Copenhagen and ask other countries to sign up to an agreement without being seen to be delivering at home? Over the past decade, the UK’s carbon emissions have flatlined, and he himself has admitted that the Government will not meet their 2010 reductions target.

The Secretary of State says that the Government are taking significant steps to cut emissions, but effective measures require more than setting targets. Practical steps to decarbonise the UK’s economy are now essential. Will the Government adopt the Conservative party’s low-carbon economy proposals, including an immediate upgrade in the energy efficiency of homes and a smart electricity grid so that we can consume energy more intelligently?

We need to adapt in this country for temperature changes that we will not be able to avoid. Is it not the case that that aspect of the climate change agenda has been too much overlooked, despite the significant known risks of increased flooding and coastal erosion, the implications for our road and rail network and critical infrastructure, the loss of wildlife habitat and the impact on health? Can the Environment Secretary confirm that the cross-Government programme to assess the costs and savings involved in adaptation will not even begin to be developed until 2011? When will the climate change adaptation sub-committee meet?

The greatest climate change risk facing the UK is flooding. The floods of two years ago were a reminder that what we are talking about today can have a devastating impact on people’s lives. Can the Government explain why one in four major flood defence projects have been delayed since then, and why the majority of the recommendations of the Pitt report on the 2007 floods have not yet been implemented?

The impact of rising temperatures on our natural environment, agriculture and water resources will be significant, and it could be severe. We are already facing biodiversity loss and water shortages in many areas. Is it not time to consider a radical new approach to ensure the sustainable management of natural resources? Do we not need a regulatory framework that incentivises the conservation of water? To help wildlife adapt and find new habitats, do we not need to think beyond traditional protected areas and start to create new green spaces?

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