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5 Nov 2009 : Column 1002

Ms Harman: There are business questions next week, so perhaps the hon. Gentleman would like to raise the matter with Ministers then.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): May I simply endorse the request from a number of Members for a debate on Afghanistan? When we went into that country, one of our objectives was to support the establishment of democracy, but the farce of the recent election has led many Members and members of the public to question our strategy, so that debate should be held as soon as possible.

Ms Harman: Although there have been recent statements, I think that, because of situation after the election and because of the continued tragic loss of life, it is right to have a debate on Afghanistan as soon as possible.

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): My constituents, Mr. and Mrs. Kemp and their eight-year-old daughter went to Egypt. As they went through the airport, they passed through an automatic temperature control. The little girl had a slight temperature: they had their passports confiscated, they were removed to a filthy isolation hospital and they were detained there against their will. May we have an urgent statement from the Foreign Secretary next week on the Egyptian policy of kidnapping British tourists?

Ms Harman: I will ask my ministerial colleague to write to the hon. Gentleman about that particular case.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): On the eve of Remembrance Sunday and in a week that has seen a high-profile court case involving a young man who urinated on a war memorial, may we have a statement from the Ministry of Defence about the special and sacred way in which war memorials should be considered by the public and the sanctions available to the police and the law authorities to use against those who seek to ruin the memorials to people who have given their lives in the service of our country.

Ms Harman: I will ask the relevant Minister to write to the hon. Gentleman about that issue.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): May we have a debate about how to measure accurately the difference in pay between men and women? In one of her other guises, the Leader of the House is always very fond of quoting just one figure, but the Office for National Statistics made it clear yesterday that pay rates are an important but complex matter, and that a range of measurements should be used. According to one of those measures, men who work part time are shown to be paid less than women.

Ms Harman: I have had discussions with ONS about this and it has decided on three measurements. The top-line measurement is the average hourly pay difference between all employed men and all employed women. That is the top-line measurement. Below that, another measurement is the average hourly pay difference between men and women working full time, while the third measurement is the average hourly pay difference between men and women working part time. I would not want the hon. Gentleman to be under the misapprehension
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that somehow men are paid less well than women. That is not the case. If one looks at men and women going out to work, we find that women are paid a fifth less than men across the average. I do not believe that per hour of their work, women are 22 per cent. less intelligent than men, 22 per cent. less hard working than men or 22 per cent. less valuable to their employers than men. That is gender discrimination in pay, but, given the hon. Gentleman's question, it very much sounds to me as though he is a gender pay discrimination denier. It is certainly not the case that men as a whole are paid less than women, even though the hon. Gentleman might dredge up a few examples.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Does the Leader of the House believe that it may be necessary to amend our sitting hours in view of the impact on this House of some of the proposals in the Kelly report?

Ms Harman: We certainly want to make absolutely sure in future that, whatever changes are made by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority following on from the Kelly report, neither men nor women MPs will find it difficult to get home very late at night, so arrangements will have to be made one way or another to ensure that men and women can get on with their work in the House.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine) (LD): May I welcome the fact that the Leader of the House has said that she will find time for a debate on Afghanistan, and reinforce its importance? She should ensure that it is a full day's debate in the middle of the week so that we secure maximum participation by Members who want to raise constituents' questions. In that debate, will she ensure that Ministers understand and are reminded of why we ended up in Afghanistan in the first place? They should not forget the history of what happened in that country and should perhaps apologise to the people of Afghanistan for when we took our eye off the ball, which damaged the achievement of our goals and the aims that took us there in the first place.

Ms Harman: It will be important to have a debate about the objectives of our mission in Afghanistan and how we achieve them, but I think that the central point-it is made by the Prime Minister when he answers questions about this at Prime Minister's questions-is that the mission is not only important for the people in Afghanistan, but for the security of people in this country. Two thirds of all the terror plots in this country have links with the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. It is a question of this country's security.

Mr. Bone: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to hon. Members for their enthusiasm to raise points of order, which, as they will know, come after statements. I myself have a short statement to make before we proceed to the main business.

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Speaker's Statement

12.6 pm

Mr. Speaker: The House will recall the exchange during questions to the Prime Minister yesterday about serving members of the armed forces and their opportunities to see our proceedings.

I am glad to say now that we will ensure that up to six visiting serving members of the armed forces will always be found places in the Galleries, whatever the other pressures may be-for example, when we have Prime Minister's questions and other high-profile proceedings. Should there be more than six who cannot immediately be accommodated, we shall arrange a brief tour or seats in the Lords Gallery until space is available here.

We owe a huge debt to those who serve in our armed forces. They will always be welcome in this place, and I am sure that the House will welcome this reflection of the respect that we have for them.

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Points of Order

12.7 pm

Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: Ah, the points of order are still here.

Mr. Bone: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

During business questions, there appeared to be a planted question to which the Leader of the House made a mini-statement about the communications allowance. Many Back Benchers would have liked to question the Leader of the House about that. Have you, Mr. Speaker, been given any indication that a proper oral statement will be made?

Mr. Speaker: May I say to the hon. Gentleman that I have had no such indication, and it is, of course, a matter for the Chair to determine the orderly conduct of business. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will rest content with that situation.

Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The House will know of the importance you attach to answering written questions. The Government have issued new guidance to Ministers that the reply saying that it has not been possible to answer a written question ahead of Prorogation should be used only for those questions tabled in the two weeks before Prorogation. As of last Thursday, more than 1,500 written questions still awaited an answer. What advice can you give the House to ensure that those questions are indeed answered before Prorogation and that the form of words I mentioned is not used as a means of avoiding ministerial accountability?

Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. The short answer to his question is twofold. First, guidance is a matter for Ministers and it is not for me to interfere with that. Secondly, it is of the essence that there are timely and substantive answers to right hon. and hon. Members' written parliamentary questions. In that context, the House will be aware-I have previously announced it-that a procedure is to be established for tracking the answering of written questions, and the transparency that that will bring should act as an incentive for Ministers speedily and comprehensively to answer questions. I am confident that that incentive will be effective, but if it is not, I expect the hon. Member and others will soon raise further points of order, when I shall have to reiterate the importance I attach to making progress on this matter.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We very much appreciate the way in which you have sought to ensure that questions are answered promptly. We, as Members of Parliament, are increasingly under pressure in regard to individual cases dealt with by the Home Office involving people who urgently need an answer, often when items have been very severely delayed, lost in either the post or the Home Office. As we are approaching some gaps during
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which Parliament will not be sitting, would it be possible for the House to invent a better system for enabling people to receive immediate responses? These are individuals who may be in serious individual difficulties, and we as Members of Parliament ought to represent them more effectively.

Mr. Speaker: What I would say to the right hon. Gentleman, whose thoughtful point of order I appreciate, is that it would be very difficult and, arguably, constitutionally hazardous to seek to specify a procedure for one Department that differs from the procedure that would be expected to apply to others.

The key point here is that answers are needed, they are needed in a timely fashion, and they are needed in a comprehensive form. It is, frankly, for Ministers to recognise both the salience and the urgency of the questions, not least when individual cases are being put to them, and they must then respond in an effective fashion. If that requires the devotion of additional human or other resources to achieve the objective, those resources must be provided, because the House must come first.

Mr. Nigel Dodds (Belfast, North) (DUP): Further to the point of order from the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Bone), Mr. Speaker. May I prevail on your good offices to ensure that all right hon. and hon. Members receive, as a matter of urgency, clarification of where matters stand post-Kelly in relation to all the allowances and so on? It appears to many Members that they must trawl through myriad different pieces of information-statements and so forth-to establish the current position, and it is vital that it be clarified for all Members.

Mr. Speaker: I think that the Leader of the House has herself been clear about the need for maximum clarity. I can only say to the hon. Gentleman, and to the House, that there are also responsibilities for Departments in the House to communicate to Members what the current and the expected future position shall be. It is difficult for me to give the hon. Gentleman a more comprehensive explanation than the one that I have just offered, but he has put on the record a serious point and a legitimate concern, and the Leader of the House is in her place and has heard it.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, in regard to your very welcome statement about tickets for service men to attend Prime Minister's Question Time. Has consideration been given to allowing servicemen to sit in the largely unused upper viewing Galleries for Members?

Mr. Speaker: The short answer is that consideration has not been given, but the hon. Gentleman prompts such consideration, and I am grateful to him for putting his views on the record.

If there are no further points of order, we shall proceed to the main business.

5 Nov 2009 : Column 1007

Climate Change

[ Relevant documents: Sixth Report from the Environmental Audit Committee, Session 2007-08, Reaching an international agreement on climate change, HC 355, and the Government response, HC 1055; Fourth Report from the Committee, Session 2008-09, Reducing CO2 and other emissions from shipping, HC 528, and the Government response, HC 1015; and Fifth Report from the Committee, Session 2008-09, Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation, HC 30, and the Government response, HC 1063. The Road to Copenhagen: The UK Government's case for an ambitious i nternational agreement on climate change, Cm 7659. The UK Low Carbon Transition Plan: National Strategy for Climate Change, laid on 15 July 2009. Adapting to climate change: UK climate projections June 2009. Letter from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs dated 16 October 2009 to the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee enclosing a map showing the implications for the world of four degrees of warming. ]

12.13 pm

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Edward Miliband): I beg to move,

As Members will know, the United Nations Copenhagen climate change conference will open in a month's time. At this critical time, the Government believe that it is important for the House to have a chance to discuss our preparations for the conference. In the time available to me, I want to explain why we believe that we need an agreement at Copenhagen, the sort of agreement that we wish to try to secure there, and the steps that we are taking in that respect.

Let me start by addressing the question of why we need an agreement. In the last year, I have had the privilege of meeting people in places from the northern desert of China to the Amazon rain forest in Brazil. I think that in such places we see the reality of climate change, in the sense that we are utterly interdependent. Actions in one country will affect those in another, and it is often the poorest and most vulnerable in our world, who have done the least to cause the problem of climate change, who face the greatest additional vulnerability. None of us, however, can insulate ourselves from the effects of climate change.

The urgency of climate change and, indeed, Copenhagen lies in the science. Atmospheric concentrations are at their highest level for at least 650,000 years. In the United Kingdom, nine of the 10 warmest years on record occurred during the last 15. In 2007, for the first time in recorded history, the north-west passage of the Arctic was ice-free and open to shipping in the summer. All those facts are important, and remaking the case for the science seems to me to be important as well.

We hear siren voices saying that the science is not real and that it is utterly contested and divided, and coming up with a whole range of explanations. I think that all of us in the House have a responsibility in that regard. I am not a scientist, but I am advised by a range of scientists-many of whom do not work for me, but work for organisations from the Royal Society to the Hadley Centre and a range of other institutions-and I think that remaking that case is very important.

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Several hon. Members rose -

Edward Miliband: What a range of choices! I give way first to my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen).

Colin Challen (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab): I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, not least for making that last point. Just lately, a number of those siren voices have been saying that there has been a little bit of cooling in recent years. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is entirely explicable within the models and the overall trend of global warming?

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend is right. This may be the point at which the fact that I am not a scientist will come out, but I believe I am right in saying that 1998 was a particularly warm year. That was because of the El NiƱo effect, and that is why I have made the point that if we look at a longer period, we are struck by the fact that nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred during the last 15.

Mr. John Gummer (Suffolk, Coastal) (Con): Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that even if we were wrong about human intervention in climate change, the measures that we need to take would have to be taken if we are to live in this world in a sustainable way, given the increase in population and the increase in the expectations and choices that that population has?

Edward Miliband: I do agree with the right hon. Gentleman. He has made an important point. Let me make another, related point. On the basis of my conversations with scientists, I believe that they are as certain about this as scientists are certain about anything. Even if they were not utterly certain about it, however, would we really want to bet our future on the very slim possibility that they might be wrong?

This is the best analogy that I can think of. If I were told that my children could go on an aeroplane flight in 20 years' time and there was a 90 per cent. chance that the aeroplane would crash, I would never send them on the aeroplane flight. In this instance, when it is being said that the probability is 95 per cent. or more, I ask: do we really want to bet our future on the very slim possibility that the scientists might be wrong, which I do not believe they are?

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): I congratulate the Secretary of State on his argument. I remember that, when his brother was responsible for these matters, I felt that the introduction to the Bill that became the Climate Change Act 2008 rather overstated the case. We would do better to talk about risk if we are to carry people with us, given that many of them are rightly sceptical. We should not create artificial divides between deniers and alarmists. There is a risk, and only people with peculiar and unfounded levels of certainty can be sure one way or another. That is why we must think in terms of responsible actions in the future.

Edward Miliband: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I will, of course, brook no criticism of my brother. He does own up to getting a D in A-level physics, but I do not think that that explains the particular point that the hon. Gentleman has made. However, I know that he agrees with me on the question of risk.

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