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24 Nov 2009 : Column 400

T9. [300172] Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Who takes responsibility in government for the fact that figures released today show that there were nearly 40,000 extra deaths last winter in this country because of cold? That is the highest figure for nearly 10 years. What will the Department of Health and other Departments do to have a proper insulation strategy for homes in Britain, rather than a piecemeal system that leaves many people dying when they would survive in other countries?

Gillian Merron: Obviously, the causes of winter deaths in excess are complex. The fact that last year's winter was colder than average will explain some of the extra deaths, but I assure the House that the Government are working hard, and will continue to do so, to improve the uptake of grants, benefits and sources of advice, so that homes are more energy efficient and people have the help they need with heating and bills.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): A few days ago, work began on Bolton One, which is a £30 million project delivering a new swimming pool, a walk-in health centre and teaching facilities for the university of Bolton. Will the Minister congratulate that university, Bolton council and Bolton primary care trust on this innovate new partnership?

Mr. Mike O'Brien: Yes, and I also congratulate my hon. Friend on fighting for it.

T10. [300173] Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): There are concerns about the future of the Feilding Palmer cottage hospital in Lutterworth, in my constituency. It is much valued by local people and there has been talk of it closing. People like to be treated close to their home, and I believe that such an approach is public policy for all parties. Therefore, will the Minister inform PCTs that they should make every effort to allow local people to decide where they are treated and that where people have a facility such as the Feilding Palmer cottage hospital they may be treated close to home, rather than 20 miles away in the city of Leicester?

Mr. O'Brien: What is also shared by the Front-Bench team of the hon. Gentleman's party and our Front-Bench team is the view that reconfigurations-changes that are being made-should be clinically led and locally decided.

Julia Goldsworthy (Falmouth and Camborne) (LD): Today's Western Morning News reported that Cornwall council is holding an urgent meeting to discuss the relocation of upper gastro-intestinal cancer services to Derriford. Devon county council has also requested that the Secretary of State re-examine the issue. Will he agree to a meeting to discuss the impact of this central policy on local access to services?

Mr. O'Brien: I am happy to agree to meet the hon. Lady and some of her parliamentary colleagues, but may I just say that we also need to accept that decisions have to be made in the health service about where facilities are placed? Such decisions are difficult and they are best arrived at locally.

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Ann Winterton (Congleton) (Con): What advice can the Minister give to a constituent whose eight-year-old son is suspected of having Asperger's syndrome and who is having to wait three years before a test might confirm that? He could pay £1,000 for a test to be carried out privately, but that would not necessarily be accepted by the local education authority. Is this not a disgrace?

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Phil Hope: Decisions on the care of children with autism will come under the remit of the children and young people's plan, the legislation for which was recently passed. It will make sure that disabled children and children with autism in an area are covered by a plan that will determine the level of need locally and the services to meet that need.

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Points of Order

3.34 pm

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This morning, the Select Committee on Reform of the House of Commons produced an extremely important report. Unfortunately, at last Thursday's business questions the Leader of the House declined to say when the report might be debated and declined to come to give a statement to the House today on how the Government might respond to it. Could you use your good offices to advance the case made by this excellent report and, indeed, to give the House an opportunity to debate it, so that we may add to or subtract from it as we see fit?

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is anticipating business questions and asking a business question on Tuesday that would be suitable subject matter for a question on Thursday. I am, very properly, conscious of and focused on this subject. I am watching events with close interest, as he would expect. He might want to raise the matter on Thursday. There will be opportunities-and soon, I am sure-for these matters further to be considered and it is right that they should be, with a clear indication of how events should proceed.

Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you use your good offices to see whether we can have a feed of the Chilcot inquiry into Iraq on our parliamentary channels? There is considerable interest in the inquiry. I am aware that if one has a BBC red button, one can push that, but we have no such buttons on our sets.

Mr. Speaker: I understand that in technical terms the matter is relatively straightforward. I have noted what the right hon. Lady says, although I am not quite sure that it constitutes a point of order. As always, I want to be helpful and I know that she has the interests of the
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House at heart. I will ask officials to be in contact with her with a view to seeing whether her request, which I suspect will be reflected elsewhere in the House, can be accommodated.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): In business questions last week, I raised with the Leader of the House the question of the House's ability to scrutinise Government Bills, particularly on Report and particularly in relation to the Equality Bill, which is her Bill. She accepted that she had given undertakings to consult Opposition parties about how that would be dealt with, given that it is a huge Bill with many amendments and that there will be multiple groups of amendments. However, without any consultation, only one day has been allocated and that will not be sufficient to even touch proper scrutiny. Have you heard from the Leader of the House whether there will be reconsideration of that provisional business? An announcement on Thursday might be very late for business scheduled for next Wednesday and it is very difficult for the House to provide scrutiny if we do not get good notice as well as sufficient time.

Mr. Speaker: I think that the hon. Gentleman has a lot in common today with the hon. Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), at least in the sense that he is asking a business question on Tuesday that could reasonably be asked on Thursday. I also remember very distinctly the list of dates recited by the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) in the House last week on which he had previously made the request for due consideration on Report over two days of the matters in question. I feel sure that the concerns that he has again articulated will have been heard by those on the Front Bench and by the Leader of the House. I have no power to influence the matter further, but he has raised an extremely important concern. He might be tempted to raise it again, and I feel sure that if it is raised again it will be heard.

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Debate on the Address

[4th Day]

Debate resumed (Order, 18 November).

Question again proposed,

Energy and Climate Change and Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

3.38 pm

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Edward Miliband): It is a great privilege to open this debate on the Gracious Speech and its plans on energy and the environment.

The debate comes as people in Cumbria are battling the worst flooding in memory and I want to start by paying tribute to PC Bill Barker, who tragically lost his life, and to others who have lost their lives around the country. I am sure the thoughts of the whole House are with their families.

We thank the emergency services for the work that they are doing and hope that the people who have been forced out of their homes can return to them as soon as possible. Such flooding will become more frequent because of climate change, which makes the Flood and Water Management Bill, overseen by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, so important. The Bill is a crucial part of implementing Sir Michael Pitt's recommendations.

We must act not just to adapt to climate change but to prevent it. That is the focus of my Department's work and the Energy Bill, announced in the Queen's Speech. The context of that Bill is the crucial starting point for this debate on the Gracious Speech, because I believe that we need candour above all on the reasons why we must act on climate change, the scale of the challenge that we face and what we need to do about that challenge.

There is a real danger to this argument, which is that somehow it is suggested that the science of climate change is in doubt. It is very important that we show that it is not. Today, the Met Office, the National Environment Research Council and the Royal Society issued a joint statement, and it is worth mentioning some of the key points. They say that global carbon dioxide concentrations continue to rise and that the decade 2000-09 has been warmer on average than any other decade in the previous 150 years. They add that Arctic summer sea ice cover declined suddenly in 2007 and 2008, and that there is

Those organisations also say that the science has become clearer and that, if anything, the dangers are becoming more pronounced.

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Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): Does the Secretary of State get very frustrated, as I do, by the small number of deniers who still think that climate change is not happening? Anyone who comes to Montgomeryshire today will see a large swathe of my constituency under water, something that is happening more and more frequently. The reality is that climate change is happening, we have caused it and, as he rightly points out, we have to fix it.

Edward Miliband: I agree. In the year or so that I have been doing this job, I have learned that we have to remake the case for the science each time we talk about these issues. There are too many noises off from people who say that the science is somehow not proven, or that experts differ. Let us be clear: the overwhelming consensus of scientific evidence says that climate change is happening and that it is man-made.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab) Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) (Lab) rose-

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con) rose-

Edward Miliband: My goodness, what a range of choices. I give way first to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Joan Walley).

Joan Walley: I am so grateful to my right hon. Friend. On that point, does he agree that the 10:10 campaign is doing a great deal to promote awareness of the seriousness of the situation that we face, which is backed up by the scientific evidence? Do we not need more local initiatives so that everyone can understand the big picture and take action locally as well?

Edward Miliband: I agree absolutely with my hon. Friend.

Mr. Hoyle: My right hon. Friend has touched on part of the problem, which is that some people are in denial. However, the majority of the world recognises that the problem has an impact on everybody. What can he do to ensure that there is international collaboration on good, positive schemes, such as carbon capture and the other initiatives that are emerging? Does he agree that we must ensure that developing countries such as China, Brazil and India also get that technology?

Edward Miliband: My hon. Friend makes an extremely eloquent point, and one of the most important purposes of the upcoming Copenhagen summit is precisely to encourage the sort of co-operation that he mentions. We must also ensure that all countries take action, and that is a central part of tackling the problem.

Daniel Kawczynski: The right hon. Gentleman started by talking about flooding, and many of us who represent constituencies that flood have been raising these issues for many years. The river in Shrewsbury has been rising again, threatening the town. When he makes announcements about future plans for flood defences, will the Government ensure that there is considerable debate about wet washland schemes and about managing rivers across large areas, rather than piecemeal defences?

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Edward Miliband: My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs assures me that that is an important part of the debate. It is worth saying that we have increased flood defence spending, but the point that the hon. Gentleman makes is absolutely correct.

I believe that the science is clear. I also believe that the case for action does not rest simply on the environmental catastrophe that awaits if we do not act: there is also a positive argument, to which the Energy Bill in the Queen's Speech speaks.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): I could not agree more with the Secretary of State when he says that we need to have confidence in the science. Does he therefore agree with the remarks of George Monbiot in The Guardian today? He says:

He concludes:

Will the right hon. Gentleman comment on that?

Edward Miliband: That is certainly an unusual alliance-George Monbiot and the right hon. Gentleman. In all seriousness, my view is that there should be maximum transparency about the data that exist. I know that in debate on related questions, one of my ministerial colleagues talked to the right hon. Gentleman about the way in which the Met Office was seeking permission for the release of the raw data; the right hon. Gentleman has been campaigning for that. Maximum transparency can only help the case of those who believe that climate change is real and man-made; that is important. I will not comment on the e-mails, because I have not seen the detail, but I clearly say to him that transparency is important.

The only other point that I would make to the right hon. Gentleman is that we should be cautious about using leaked partial e-mails to cast doubt on the scientific consensus, because that is dangerous and irresponsible. The scientific consensus is clear. Although there must be transparency of data, we should be responsible in how we talk about the issues. Let us be clear: the more we cast doubt on such questions, the more we question the case for action. The case for action involves making difficult decisions-a point that I shall come on to.

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