T6.  Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con):
May I ask the Secretary of State the question that the Under-Secretary failed to answer? Given the Government's dithering about nuclear energy and other matters, are we going back to my youth, when I sat working by candlelight under both Labour and Conservative Governments? Will he categorically
disagree with Ofgem and others who say that there will be power cuts in the next 10 years because of the Government's dithering?
Edward Miliband: I disagree with the hon. Gentleman; we are not going back to the 1970s, although the Conservative party may be going back to the 1980s. I am confident about security of supply in this country.
Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be aware that, on 1 October 2008, we introduced a modified pneumoconiosis scheme. That allows a miner who was employed by British Coal to claim a compensation payment, either under the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers' Compensation) Act 1979 or the 1974 scheme. However, is he aware that a man who has been employed in the private sector since 1994 can claim only under the 1974 scheme? Those payments tend to be lower than those made under the 1979 Act. Will the Secretary of State look at that anomaly and set in place a remedy when he comes back after the election?
Edward Miliband: That is a very fitting question from my hon. Friend at the end of this Parliament. Hundreds of thousands of families up and down the country have reason to thank him for his extraordinary campaigning on compensation for miners and their families. As with so many other issues that he has raised, I am sure that an important point is involved. We will take up the issue.
T7.  Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): Germany has gas storage capacity equivalent to a quarter of its annual average consumption. By comparison, ours is tiny. Why does the Treasury Bench think that we have enough?
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Has the former Conservative Government's privatisation of many energy production facilities in this country made it easier for the Secretary of State to construct a sustainable energy policy?
Edward Miliband: The competitive market has brought benefits to Britain, but it needs to be properly managed and regulated. The document that we published at the time of the Budget sets out how the energy market needs to be reformed.
T8.  Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): When I walk home late at night following late sittings in the House, I often notice birds singing because of the light pollution. Does the Minister think that that is a potential issue, and could any action be taken to deal with that significant distortion to our climate and environment?
The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Joan Ruddock):
The hon. Gentleman has obviously not had the pleasure that I have had from a nightingale that I find singing in my garden. There
can be joys in hearing birdsong in the early hours of the morning. Unfortunately, he is still awake at that time, like me and many other hon. Members. The demands of energy efficiency mean that the Government look increasingly at whether light levels could be reduced while being consistent with the safety of people, such as the hon. Gentleman and me, who are on their way home.
Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): Can I say to the skilled work force at Urenco that, whatever happens to the future of Urenco, Britain will maintain its pre-eminent position in nuclear fuel enrichment?
Christopher Fraser (South-West Norfolk) (Con): Will the Secretary of State finally accept that the Government have failed people in rural areas in terms of fuel poverty? In such areas, there is not a choice of suppliers and the use of a car is a necessity, not a luxury.
Joan Ruddock: I think that in my earlier replies on rural homes, I suggested that there was a need to give more attention to rural areas and to make sure that people living there are able to make real savings and reduce their bills. That is clearly going to happen as a result of the types of measures that we are introducing, from extended carbon emissions reduction targets to the increase in CERT and adjustments in the warm homes programme, as part of which air source heat pumps are being trialled.
Tom Levitt (High Peak) (Lab): My final contribution to this House is quite fundamental. The northern half of this planet grew rich from 200 years of exploitation of carbon. Can the Minister assure us that everything is being done to ensure that the southern half of the planet can develop riches of its own without that dependence on carbon?
Edward Miliband: We will miss my hon. Friend, who raises an important issue. Last week, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister held the first meeting of the high-level panel set up under the Copenhagen accord and set out how we can find $100 billion a year by 2020 to help people in the developing world not just with adaptation to climate change but with mitigation. That speaks to the issues of justice that my hon. Friend asked about and has fought for in the House.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): As one who remembers questions by candlelight in this House in the year that the Secretary of State was born, may I ask him whether he believes that we are truly honouring our historic debt to our mining communities and giving sufficient emphasis to coal technology?
Edward Miliband: Let me pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who is also standing down from the House. He will be much missed, and is a respected figure on both sides of the House. He used to try to persuade me when I was Third Sector Minister not to call it the third sector, and he never quite succeeded, but we will miss him.
We should always think about the debts we owe to our mining communities. I represent a mining area. Work has been done on regeneration of our coal field areas and on reopening some pits, including in my constituency, but there is always more to be done on this issue.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con):
I am most grateful to you, Mr. Speaker and I support the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack). As a Conservative who in this House has consistently supported the mining industry, may I ask the Secretary of State how much he believes that clean coal technology can contribute to the
security of energy supplies in this country? We have so much coal here that I believe that coal can continue to play a major role in energy generation.
Edward Miliband: The hon. Gentleman will be much missed from this House. He has been a fighter not just for coal but for manufacturing industry in general and he has distinguished himself and is known throughout the country for the work that he has done. He is right to say that clean coal technology is an important part of our future. We are shortly to pass the Energy Bill, which introduces a clean coal levy to fund carbon capture and storage demonstration. That could be a massive industry for the future for Britain and could benefit all our regions. I hope that the House will pass the Bill and that we can get on with the business of making that happen.
Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I fully understand that when the Lords messages come back the competence of this House is to deal exclusively with those messages, but will you and your deputies allow one bit of licence and give Ministers the opportunity to explain why things have been omitted from legislation when they gave undertakings to the House that they would table amendments in the House of Lords?
If I may illustrate the point, the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), seconded by the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson), tabled amendments in this House to extend the credit unions in Northern Ireland to come under the auspices of the Financial Services Authority. That would have allowed them to have a greater product range, guarantees and so on. We should bear it in mind that credit unions are very important in Northern Ireland; 26 per cent. of people in Northern Ireland use them as opposed to 1 per cent. in England.
Mr. Speaker: Order. Well, I want to be helpful to the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay). First, as a general principle and a matter of practice, debate is restricted in these circumstances to the Lords amendments themselves. It is not an occasion for wider ruminations. Secondly, the hon. Gentleman's attempted point of order-I am not sure that it was a point of order-raised a hypothetical question, and I think that my best answer is that we will deal with these matters as they develop.
I conclude by saying to the hon. Gentleman that I think he was being argumentative, and he would not be the hon. Member for Thurrock if he was not being argumentative. I will miss him, and I am sure that the House will miss him.
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. A parliamentary written answer has revealed that Charlie Whelan has been given a House of Commons pass by the Labour party, yet you will recall that the Prime Minister asserted in previous Prime Minister's questions that Mr. Whelan is in no way connected with the Labour party. Has any indication been given to you that the Prime Minister now wishes to correct his original assertion, which was untrue?
Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is a very experienced Member. He has served in the House without interruption since 1992. He knows that I have absolutely no responsibility for the content of ministerial answers, including Prime Ministerial answers. The issue of passes is a matter that is handled in the normal way. The hon. Gentleman is a perspicacious fellow, and he knows perfectly well that what he has raised with me is an intriguing point of debate, but not a point of order.
Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): Further to the points of order, Mr. Speaker. The issue that I think was raised was one about lobbying. A political director of an outside organisation with a parliamentary pass is a lobbyist. That is the issue that needs to be considered by the House authorities.
Further to the point raised by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), is it not clear that Ministers need to be reminded that they may rise on a point of order to say something that they cannot say as part of the debate? I hope that Ministers will have heard that.
Mr. Speaker: Again, that is a hypothetical point, and perhaps the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Peter Bottomley) excels at those. He has made his point. It is on the record, and Ministers who might not have been aware of the opportunities available to them have helpfully been made aware of them by the hon. Member.
Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have two points of order on the same subject. First, you will be aware that on 4 March the House voted to reform its procedures by an overwhelming majority, and essentially instructed the Government to bring forward the Standing Orders for that purpose in this Parliament. Those were the terms of the motion. The Government have not done that. Have you heard of a precedent for the Government defying the will of the House in that way? If they can do that, what is the point of our being here if we can pass a motion instructing the Government to do something and the Government just ignore it?
My second point of order is that it emerged yesterday that one of the excuses that the Government gave for not introducing the Standing Orders was that they had tabled them for approval without objection. They said that because objections had been made against their will, they could not bring forward those Standing Orders by that method. I am glad that the Deputy Chief Whip is in his place. It turned out yesterday that when one of the people-the right hon. Member for North-West Durham (Hilary Armstrong)-who had put down objections responded to an e-mail from the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) asking her to remove her amendments, which counted as objections, her office referred the matter to the Government Whip's Office. That means that the Government were objecting to their own motion, by proxy. Is it acceptable for the Government, first, to do that and, secondly, to attempt to mislead the House-apparently inadvertently-by saying that these were individuals acting freely?
The hon. Gentleman is indefatigable in his efforts. He said that he wanted to raise with me two points of order. In respect of the first, I think that he is seeking to inveigle me into debate. I think that I should resist any such temptation. The wider point that I would make in relation both to his first and second points of order is that all of these matters have been very thoroughly ventilated. The last observation that it is sensible for me to make to the hon. Gentleman is that a Committee was established under the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright). It produced its recommendations, which were, as the hon. Gentleman said, debated and voted upon on 4 March. I have absolutely no doubt whatever that the
House will return to these matters. If I were in any doubt, the hon. Gentleman could assure me that they will arise again. I cannot go further than that. These matters will not go away, but I cannot be drawn into debate upon them today.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I would be grateful for your assistance. I understand that the House will dissolve by royal proclamation on Monday and that our last sitting will be Prorogation later today. For the sake of those of us who will be leaving and who will wish to attend that ceremony, could you ensure that adequate notice be given on the monitors of its timing?
Mr. Speaker: Certainly notice will be given on the screen and the hon. Gentleman is right to draw our attention to that. I am very glad that he and others will wish to attend the ceremony. Knowing that the hon. Gentleman has served in the House without interruption, I think, since 18 June 1970, I would like to echo the tributes that have been paid to him. I wish him a long, happy and healthy retirement. I say exactly the same to his hon. Friend sitting to his right, the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton), who entered the House in 1971 and has served without interruption since. I am sure that both of them will be at the ceremony and I look forward to seeing them there. Of that ceremony they will get decent notice.
Mr. Speaker: I have already ruled on that matter-[ Interruption.] Order. The hon. Gentleman must calm himself. He has raised a point of order and I am answering it. I simply said that I have ruled on that matter. What I have said is all that I have to say at this stage and we should not pursue it. There is important business that the House has to consider. I am always very open to points of order and I try to deal with them in a way that is helpful and comprehensive, but I do not think that the patience of the Chair should be unduly stretched.
Mr. Chope: I much regret that I never got a response from the Leader of the House to my offer yesterday to forgo this one-hour debate so that we could deal with the business committee. The Government said that the shortage of time meant that they were not prepared to bring the matter forward. It is incredibly impolite of the Government not even to respond to my offer to allow this debate to go short to allow time to discuss that all-important business issue.
In facing the reality that the Government do not listen and are not interested in Back-Bench opportunities, I suppose it is something to be given an hour to discuss this important Bill. It is a pity that it has to be discussed on the day we are expecting Prorogation because there were many earlier opportunities to discuss it had the Government been willing to put the matter on the Order Paper for those several days before Easter when the House rose far earlier than it needed to under the normal arrangements.