I thank my right hon. Friend for his words about the vulture funds Bill, which has considerable support across the country. We expect and hope it to make good progress in the House of Lords. As I have said at successive business questions on Thursdays in
the House, it was disappointing that Opposition Members blocked it. They needed only to drop their objections for it to go through, and now they have seen the light and dropped them, so we hope it will go through and become law.
Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): The wash-up following the decision to dissolve Parliament is, by tradition and convention, always uncontentious and by agreement. Significant parts of the Digital Economy Bill are highly contentious and it is the view of many that it should not be debated at all following the announcement of Dissolution and that it could and should properly be left to a future Government, which could be done very swiftly indeed. Unless the right hon. and learned Lady is prepared to give a clear undertaking that the contentious parts of the Bill will be dropped, it will not go through. It is not good enough to say that it will be left to a statutory instrument in a future Parliament.
Ms Harman: But I was trying to explain to hon. Members that there will not be just the normal affirmative procedure, which does not allow for a Committee and for amendments to come from a Committee. If one thinks about what a Committee stage does, one sees that it allows Members of the House to consider the Bill in detail and to make amendments to it. The super-affirmative process that I have announced to the House, which will apply in the case of these contentious measures, will provide scrutiny by Members of this House in a Committee stage that can then lead to amendments. Therefore, whatever the House does by agreement in the wash-up will not come into force until there has been a Committee stage, in effect, under the super-affirmative procedure. I think the hon. Gentleman had worked out his concerns and objections before hearing my explanation that we would deal with the matter in this different way. This is something that can be discussed further when the Secretary of State moves the Bill's Second Reading later today.
Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): The York-based company Jarvis made more than 1,000 track-renewal workers redundant last week. The skills of a work force are essential to the future of the railway. Network Rail is retendering the Jarvis work, and whoever wins it must re-employ the Jarvis workers. If my right hon. and learned Friend cannot find time for a debate on this important matter before Parliament is dissolved, will she at least ask the Secretary of State for Transport and the Minister for Yorkshire and the Humber-who I know has had many discussions about the matter-to meet me urgently to discuss these workers' jobs?
Ms Harman: I entirely take the point that my hon. Friend has made. He is absolutely a champion for people employed in his constituency, and he is understandably very concerned about the Jarvis employees who have been made redundant. I will ask the Secretary of State for Transport and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills to meet him so that he can discuss how to reassure his constituents and lay their concerns to rest.
Alistair Burt (North-East Bedfordshire) (Con):
The right hon. and learned Lady may recall that, at the last business questions, I made an intervention about the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (Amendment) Bill,
which I was promoting. In response, she said-accurately perhaps, but slightly sharply for her-that I was "earnest" but "not relevant". She has included the Bill in the wash-up, so may I thank her most warmly on behalf of all those, both in the House and outside, who have promoted it? I ask her to do her very best to ensure that the Bill goes through, given that the official Opposition have always supported it.
Ms Harman: I was going to apologise for making perhaps waspish comments to the hon. Gentleman, but unfortunately I cannot remember at all the exchange that we had. However, he is right to say that the Bill is important, and he has played an important role in it. With the support of all sides of the House, it will become an Act of Parliament.
Mr. Tom Watson (West Bromwich, East) (Lab): I would have found the delegation to a Committee of controversial elements of the Digital Economy Bill more reassuring had I not seen item 12 on today's Order Paper. The Draft Conditional Fee Agreements (Amendment) Order 2010 was rejected by a Committee last Thursday but, less than a week later, it is being reintroduced by the Secretary of State for Justice. Even at this late stage, will my right hon. and learned Friend consider making representations to remove those controversial measures from the draft Bill?
"it is gratifying that there were very big majorities in the House last week to resolve this matter and move forward. We have the resolutions of the House. My task now is to make sure that the House is given an opportunity to endorse the Standing Orders that will give effect to them. My mandate is the will of the House as expressed in the resolutions. We need Standing Orders to give effect to them-nothing less."-[ Official Report, 11 March 2010; Vol. 507, c. 433.]
Through you, Mr. Speaker, may I urge the Leader of the House to explain why she is reneging on a commitment that she gave for two weeks running-that if there were objections to the Standing Orders, they could not go through on the nod and that she would make time for the will of the House to be made clear? In her own words, it is her duty and responsibility to ensure that that happens.
Ms Harman: First, we should remind ourselves that the overwhelming majority of the Wright Committee's important proposals have gone through. Secondly, we have drafted the Standing Orders that give effect to the will of the House, and it is disappointing that they are being blocked. However, the Standing Orders have been drafted and are available for the House, and there will be an opportunity when the House returns for them to be put into effect. The objections are there. If they are taken off the Order Paper, they can be dealt with and go through as remaining Orders of the Day. If they do not, the hon. Gentleman should not be alarmed. All is not lost. They will remain there; they represent the will of the House, as expressed by a large majority, and it can happen as soon as the new Parliament arrives.
Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, South-West) (Lab/Co-op): Will there be an opportunity to discuss the business of Government during the election period? In particular, will subcontracts continue to be let for the aircraft carrier order in my constituency? Given that the Royal Navy and the aircraft carrier are under threat from the official Opposition, it is obviously something of great interest to many of my constituents.
Ms Harman: My hon. Friend will be reassured, as all Members should be, that although this country, as we know, remains in a fragile economic situation, we are on the right path. Businesses are beginning to grow and unemployment is beginning to fall, but we will continue to make sure that we take the right decisions for the future of the economy. Businesses will be able to look to the Government to be sure that we stand beside them-we do not let the recession take its course, as the Opposition would.
Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con):
In the very short time available before Parliament is dissolved, could the Leader of the House find time for a short debate on the decision by NHS West Sussex to close two very popular dental surgeries? One is at Maywood health centre in Bognor Regis and one is at Flansham Park. The decision has baffled the 4,000 patients who are registered with those dental surgeries. I have written to the Secretary of State for Health to enlist his support, but a debate would be helpful in
trying to persuade NHS West Sussex to reverse that wrong and unpopular decision.
Ms Harman: Obviously, as the hon. Gentleman will know, that is a matter for local decision making. He has written to my right hon. Friend and will await a reply. He will know that his constituents, like all our constituents, have benefited from the massive increase for NHS funding, including in primary care and dental services.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): The Leader of the House has listed approximately a dozen measures to be discussed in the next two days. She did not tell my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House how much time she expected each measure to take. Will she now do so? Will she also allow the House to sit on Friday so that the Standing Orders can then be approved properly on that day?
Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): A few minutes ago, the Leader of the House told us that the controversial elements of the Digital Economy Bill, in relation to the application of technical measures, would be covered by the super-affirmative procedure. Can she confirm that it will apply to clause 11 as well as clause 18? She told the House that the Bill would go through only as a result of consensus. Can she define what she meant by "consensus"?
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require planning authorities to conduct a local referendum before considering planning permission for new large-scale waste recovery or disposal facilities which involve the recovery or disposal of waste from more than one county area; to provide that planning authorities and the Secretary of State must not grant planning permission if the result of such a referendum indicates that local people do not wish a facility to be developed; and for connected purposes.
In the last 10 years society has dramatically altered. Twenty-four hour access to rolling news and media and widespread and easily available access to the internet mean that today's individual is far more enlightened in terms of information than ever before. People are more aware of what is happening within their own communities and where their money is being spent. If a community requires more homes, a school or a hospital, traditionally developers have worked with local councils and provided a solution.
One could argue that, via the process of democracy, local people have their views and concerns more or less met within the provision of the planning decision-making process, but that is not always the case. Often, despite extensive consultation, the wider community view may not necessarily reflect the opinions of those citizens whose lives and environment will be deeply affected and impacted upon by a decision that has been taken elsewhere and, ultimately, local people feel powerless to control their quality of life.
When we live with what is recognised as a broken society, it is important that the process is reversed and that local people are once again empowered. Local empowerment is vital when the objective of a Government is to roll back the boundaries of the state to reverse what we have today, which is a big state centralising power and local people who feel helpless. We need citizens to become more involved in how their communities function and are shaped, to become community shareholders by taking ownership for the residents of today and future families of tomorrow.
My party has already articulated the desire to establish local housing trusts, which will enable local people to get together, form a trust and dictate how local housing needs will be met. Local people will drive the local housing growth agenda. They will be empowered and in control. We have exciting new policies in education that will enable local parents to establish and run local schools. However, my Bill proposes a further approach when the need for larger infrastructural facilities is required in a local community.
An area of Mid-Bedfordshire, which incorporates the communities of Stewartby, Marston Moretaine, Brogbrough and Lidlington, has been targeted for some time by the Government for development and growth. Not surprisingly, people who live in that targeted area would like some say in how it grows. A proposed inappropriate eco-town has already been successfully fought off by engaged and active local residents. As a
result of European legislation and the need to cease using landfill and to create energy-from-waste facilities, Rookery Pit, within that growth area, has been designated as the preferred site for an energy-from-waste plant. That has raised a number of issues.
A large American company-Covanta-has maximised the opportunity to enter a sham process of local consultation and public relations, to try to convince local people that it has in some way advanced as a preferred developer and operator. The company has even indicated to me and other people that it is talking to local planners, which is not the case. The fact is that many organisations may tender, and probably will do so, to build the energy-from-waste plant at that location.
Bedfordshire has an excellent recycling record and already recycles 44 per cent. of its waste. I am sure that the majority of people in Bedfordshire understand the need to cease landfill and to burn what rubbish is not recycled, thereby creating clean energy in the process, but they do not understand why Bedfordshire should process the waste for Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Milton Keynes, Hertfordshire or anywhere else-counties that are quite capable of providing facilities to cater for their own waste.
It is time for the people who will be affected by such a proposal to be not only consulted but given a vote and the power to decide how and in what way their community and environment will alter. There is strong local opposition to the Covanta proposal, which in no real way benefits the local economy but aesthetically damages the local environment. From many of the beauty spots in Mid-Bedfordshire, the Millennium park, Ampthill park and Houghton house and, indeed, the home of my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), the Covanta proposal would blight the landscape, and all will be able to see the proposed development.
The hope of Mid-Bedfordshire's economic growth targets being attained via tourism would be dashed in one planning approval. The already congested M1 and A421 would become blocked with the congestion and fumes from lorries carrying waste from other counties. They would use the same motorway junction as the traffic for the proposed Center Parcs site, which has yet to be built, and the assessment of the traffic on that junction has yet to be carried out. The size and scale of the proposed Covanta site make landscaping and disguise almost an impossibility even after five years of established growth and screening. The building would be half the height of Big Ben, which stands at around 80 metres high, and the chimneys of the proposed plant would stand at 145 metres. Mid-Bedfordshire cannot boast many hills, so I hope that the comparison with Big Ben and our flattish landscape provides some perspective on the visual impact that such a facility will have.
Therefore, given the enormous negative impact that a waste facility catering for more than the requirements of Bedfordshire would have on people living in and around the designated area, those people should be given a greater say in what happens. The Bill proposes holding a local referendum-the results of which the Secretary of State would honour-that would genuinely harness local opinion and allow a yes-or-no decision to be taken on the size and capacity of such a facility.
Facilities of Covanta proportions can be disguised in the wonderful, large-scale USA, but England is a fairly small island that is already becoming over-populated.
We have no capacity for a facility of the size of the Covanta proposal. We have no spare air in Bedfordshire for errors of toxic fumes, we have no vista or horizon large enough to accommodate a facility the size of the Covanta proposal, and local people are running out of patience. Residents not only will have to deal with fumes and pollution from backed-up lorries on the A421, but will experience light pollution as the area will be plunged into almost perpetual daylight.
Very few jobs will be created by the facility and there will be very little benefit to the economy. Overall, one can only envisage a damaging and negative effect on the daily life of local residents. Residents do not say that there should be no such facility; they believe that a facility is required to deal with Bedfordshire's waste, but not one of the size proposed, so they would like more say about what happens in their local area.
[Relevant Documents: Third Report from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, on Channel Four Annual Report, HC 415, and Fourth Report from the Committee, on Future for Local and Regional Media, HC 43; and Fourth Report from the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, on Broadband, HC 72.]