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Sheffield Forgemasters is not the only company that would be affected, given its links with other industry in the city. Davy Markham, which machines the parts that Sheffield Forgemasters make, would also lose out in that process, and Siemens, another firm based in my constituency, would lose out on design work. A whole supply chain will be crippled if this investment does not go ahead. I can understand any new Government wanting
to review the previous Government's decisions, but this is a commercial operation and is supporting a commercial loan. The company is already using that loan and working on, and putting money into, this project, and it will be a tragedy if it is now stopped. We need not only a decision that it can go ahead, but a quick decision, so that this company and the future of British manufacturing in this area does not lose out.
The second issue, linked to the first, is the previous Government's decision to invest in a new nuclear research centre in the advanced manufacturing park. That is actually in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr Barron), but it is right next door to my constituency. That park is a wonderful development: it has the university of Sheffield, Yorkshire Forward-the regional development agency-Rolls-Royce, British Aerospace and Boeing, and all are contributing to turning research into practical measures that could improve the technological efficiency of British manufacturing. They are wonderful examples. We need to take that forward into nuclear research, and consider how British manufacturing can learn from the great research and inventions in this country and turn them into innovations and practical projects that can deliver jobs. That was a challenge in which the previous Government were willing to invest. Is that decision now to be reviewed as well? Will this new research centre go ahead? That is a fundamental question.
That is linked, of course, to the decision to cut back on funding for organisations such as Yorkshire Forward, which has an excellent track record of working with industry in Yorkshire and the Humber to deliver what industry wants. In a recent regional Select Committee report, the Engineering Employers Federation, the CBI, the Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses all said that they welcomed what Yorkshire Forward had done. The problem is that, when the Government say at short notice to organisations such as RDAs, "Make cuts, but protect your investment in manufacturing, industry and schemes with an economic benefit", RDAs are left in an impossible position.
The only cuts the RDA can make are on schemes that are not committed, and the problem is that, even if the schemes that are not committed are the ones that would have the greatest economic impact and benefit, they will still be cut. It is the fact that those cuts have been rushed through that will cause the damage. They have not been considered and do not leave time for organisations such as Yorkshire Forward to consider them properly. I am concerned about the future of our RDAs and the help they provide in difficult times to industries, in particular our manufacturing industry. The question again is: are the Government committed to the new nuclear research centre, which will give great opportunities for British workers and firms to share in the development of our nuclear industry?
I now turn to the Infrastructure Planning Commission. I had reservations about Secretaries of State giving up their ultimate right to sign off decisions, although I had no reservations at all about getting away from the enormously long and complicated inquiries that we have on virtually every major scheme that we try to bring about in this country, whether on transport, energy or whatever. The process was impossible to deal with. The problem now is not merely that the Government seem determined to turn the clock back and recreate a
situation in which inquiries are simply benefit days for lawyers and decisions on schemes are not made quickly or in due time with due process. However, the very fact that they are now proposing a change to the IPC and to replace it with something else, or the old system, leads to uncertainty, which will itself lead to delays.
Mrs Spelman: On the Department for Communities and Local Government brief, I think that I can give the hon. Gentleman some reassurance. All the expertise within the IPC is within the planning inspectorate and will be retained for big projects that need to be dealt with in a timely fashion. There is no question of losing that expertise; it remains within the planning inspectorate. The difference is that the decisions will have to be taken by an elected politician-the Secretary of State.
Mr Betts: That seems slightly different from the information that we were given before. I am not necessarily opposed to the Secretary of State having to sign off those decisions; what I am opposed to is returning to the old method of inquiries and to the length of time that they took. If the right hon. Lady is saying that all that we are having is effectively a name change, so that the IPC will now be a branch of the Planning Inspectorate but the process and procedures in the Planning Act 2008, which introduced the IPC, are to be retained, that is different. It would therefore be helpful for a clear statement to be made at some point about precisely what will happen.
Let me turn to high-speed rail, which I also raised earlier today. Again, we have a clear difference in policy between the two parties in government. The issue is important to transport generally and to making our transport greener and more environmentally friendly. The Conservatives in opposition proposed a ridiculous scheme that was going to take a rail line out of Heathrow up to Birmingham, then up to Manchester and then somehow across the Pennines to Leeds. The reality is that the people in Leeds did not want the scheme, because that convoluted route to Leeds would not have saved time; that was one of the few times when Sheffield and Leeds were at one on the issue. We both wanted the high-speed line to branch off from Birmingham and go up through the east midlands to Sheffield and Leeds.
Unfortunately, the Secretary of State gave an incorrect statement to the House earlier-I am sure that he did not do it intentionally-when he said that the previous Government did not have a clear policy on the issue. The previous Government's policy was absolutely clear: it was that a branch of the line would go through the east midlands to Sheffield and Leeds. The Lib Dems supported us on that, and the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) and I campaigned on the issue. Indeed, we had a cross-party campaign, involving the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) as well. However, the Conservatives in opposition had a different policy-a policy of going up to Manchester and then across to Leeds.
What is the position now? Will someone please tell us? The Government's announcement the other day said that they supported a high-speed line. However, they mentioned Birmingham and Manchester, but they did not mention Sheffield, Leeds or Scotland. We have all been forgotten about. As I said to the Leader of the House in business questions earlier, the councils on the
route of the line to Sheffield and Leeds, which were due to have a meeting in the next few days to discuss the exact route that the line was to take, have had that meeting cancelled, as though the decision has been taken at least to put a high-speed line to Sheffield and Leeds on the back burner. However, no one is telling hon. Members about that in the House. That is another example of the Government seeming to make decisions, but not informing Members about them in the House. Can we have a bit of clarity on that subject, too?
There are two other aspects of trying to get a greener transport system that I would like to be made clear. The tram-train project is due to pilot in Sheffield. The scheme chosen is a Sheffield to Rotherham connection, with the tram-train coming into Sheffield city centre. The scheme offers a great opportunity, in that although the costs of building new tramlines are particularly high in urban areas, linking underused railway lines into a tram system that already runs into the heart of a city offers real potential. Is the tram-train project one of the schemes to be cut, because it is not up and running, or are the Government committed to it?
Another issue that I would like to explore is the complete absence, as far as I can see, of any comment in the coalition agreement on another area where the two parties have distinctly opposite views-quality contracts for buses, which are important for getting people out of their cars and on to public transport, provided that that public transport has a degree of certainty and integration, and is reasonably priced. As we have seen in London, quality contracts work; as we have seen in places such as Sheffield, deregulation does not. The previous Government introduced the Local Transport Act 2008, which gave local transport authorities the right, after consultation, to go for quality contracts, if they considered them the best way of running transport in their areas.
We were castigated by the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker)-now a member of the transport ministerial team-for not going far enough in Committee on that Bill. My right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) changed the Bill substantially on Report to give greater powers and opportunities to local transport authorities to introduce quality contracts. However, in Committee as well as on Report and subsequently, the Conservative transport spokesperson said that the Conservatives were committed, if they got into government, to repealing the part of the Local Transport Act 2008 that gave transport authorities the ability to introduce quality contracts. What is the coalition's position on quality contracts? Is it now intent on repealing the legislation, or will transport authorities that are about to consult on moving to quality contracts-such as South Yorkshire integrated transport authority and the transport executive-be allowed to go ahead with their plans? Again, could we have an answer on that issue, which appears to be missing?
I have two final issues to raise. Recycling was not much mentioned. I accept that recycling and how it is done is a matter best left to local authorities, but when the Secretary of State reads Hansard, perhaps he could have a word with the Lib Dem-controlled council in Sheffield. The council is seeking to remove from many of my constituents the green and blue bins for garden and paper waste, which are extremely popular, and
replace them with green sacks, which rose thorns poke through and which people complain about, and, for paper waste, with blue boxes about the size of the Dispatch Box, if hon. Members can imagine that-boxes which, first, in many cases people cannot get two weeks of paper waste into, and which, secondly, people who are elderly or have a back problem cannot lift. That is a major disincentive to recycling. We are talking only about a local issue, and in the end it is a matter for the local council. However, now that the Lib Dems have so much power in the coalition, perhaps they could at least encourage some of their local councils to behave a bit more responsibly.
There is a lot more that I would like to say, particularly about the future plans for local government. I would support any moves to decentralise and devolve powers, but I just suspect that part of the agenda is about giving local authorities more power and less money, and then blaming them for the decisions that they have to make. However, we will no doubt have discussions about those issues in future. If the Government are really serious about reforming local government finance and giving more powers to local government to raise money, they will have my support and I will want to engage with them on the issue.
The Government could do an awful lot to reassure me. Let us deal properly with the decision on Sheffield Forgemasters, ensure that the nuclear research centre goes ahead, have a proper agreement on bus deregulation and get the high-speed rail link to Sheffield, and I will be happy.
Dr Thérèse Coffey (Suffolk Coastal) (Con): Thank you for allowing me to make my maiden speech in this debate on the Gracious Speech, Mr Speaker. It is a particular pleasure to see you in your place, as I recall receiving public speaking training from you 20 years ago, so I hope that this speech shows that I have absorbed some of the wisdom that you imparted.
I wish to start by congratulating my predecessor on his achievements in the House on behalf of the people of Suffolk Coastal. John Gummer was, and is, one of the nicest, and most charming and immaculately turned-out former Members of this place. He had real intellect, capability, foresight and integrity, and he was an excellent debater in this House who commanded great respect. He will be remembered for his distinguished record in government-there are too many posts to list. However, not quite so often recalled is that he was chairman of the Conservative party at the time of the Brighton bombing, when he showed his cool under pressure, a quality that shone through in all his service as a Member.
John was ahead of others in recognising the challenge of the environment, although my noble Friend Baroness Thatcher, in her 1989 speech at the UN, also warned of the issues that we face today and will face in future. However, the environment was the main reason for John's departure from the House, so that he could make progress on global environmental initiatives. I believe that it was his wife Penny who commented that he is the only MP to give up being a Member in order to spend less time with his family, rather than more.
John was a man of principle in the House who will be remembered fondly by his constituents for his many years of diligent service. I was often told on the doorstep
that I had big shoes to fill-luckily I take a size 8. John championed many local issues that I will continue to fight on. For example, he fought for better cardiac services at Ipswich hospital, and he was a strong voice on estuary and coastal erosion, as well as on farming and so many more issues that affected his constituents. I will keep fighting on those same issues, although I will not be John Gummer mark 2, and nor will my hon. Friend the new Member for Ipswich (Ben Gummer).
I am very different from John, in that I am the first woman to represent a Suffolk seat. I am proud of that fact, which conveniently allows me to say a little more about my wonderful constituency of Suffolk Coastal. It is a truly pioneering place. Not only did we have the first woman mayor in the country, back in 1908 in Aldeburgh, in the shape of Dame Elizabeth Garrett Anderson-one of her pioneering achievements, in addition to those in the field of medicine-but radar was developed at Bawdsey. Indeed, the first text message was sent from Martlesham, where also fibre optics were developed by BT.
I hope that hon. Members will indulge me if I take them on a quick tour of my constituency. There are more than 100 parishes-hon. Members will be pleased to know that I am not going to name them all. They are special places, starting at the very top with Henver with Hulstead and continuing right down the A12 to the edge of Ipswich and on to the tip at Felixstowe, the premier container port of the UK, with a variety of market towns such as Halesworth, Saxmundham, Leiston and Woodbridge in between. There are also many special villages, including Westleton, where I live.
There are so many wonderful places in my constituency that I have to boast about them. Indeed, I have been approached by green-eyed Members who have visited my constituency. I welcome you all, especially if you are going to spend money there. Indeed, there are current and former Opposition Members who have second homes there, and many bird-twitchers come to visit the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds' world-renowned Minsmere reserve.
The defining feature of my constituency is its 74-mile coastline, with its delightful tourist hot spots of Aldeburgh and Southwold. However, the coastline-along with the estuaries-is really suffering from erosion, and I warn my hon. Friends on the Front Bench that I shall be fighting hard to change the policies at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which seems happy to allow parts of my constituency simply to wash away into the sea, and to allow its devolved agencies to spend tens of millions of pounds on consulting on how we can allow that to happen, rather than using the cash to shore up the defences. I am not trying to be Canute-I am not telling the waves to go back-but nor do I want to be the person who is happy just to throw up their hands in the air and surrender.
I shall be pursuing many other rural issues, including farming. Suffolk Coastal is well known for its pigs, poultry and potatoes-and many other vegetables. I shall also be pressing on key rural issues such as access to health services, fuel poverty-especially among those who depend on oil and liquefied petroleum gas-our post office network and, of course, broadband access.
My diverse constituency also contains our beloved nuclear power station at Sizewell. I hope that we shall have many more reactors there-certainly at least two-
before the end of the decade. Several offshore wind farms are also being constructed, with more planned. Suffolk Coastal is ready to take the lead in the low-carbon economy, and I hope that our coast will be able to take on the new alias of the "Green Coast". So I welcome measures in the Gracious Speech on the low-carbon economy and the green investment bank.
I am really pleased by the calibre and pedigree of our new Ministers. If I may be so bold, I should like to extend an especially warm welcome to the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. and real Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon) and the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. and real Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Mr Paice). They are people who really understand and value the countryside, and my constituents have been crying out for that for the past 13 years. Indeed, I hope that my hon. Friends will visit my constituency soon, not only to see how wonderful it is but to see the challenges that we face. Sadly, houses in Thorpeness are losing their gardens as we speak.
The Gracious Speech offers an ambitious programme for our country. I, too, am ambitious for my constituents of Suffolk Coastal, and I hope to play my part as the Member for that constituency in delivering success for Suffolk Coastal and for Britain.
As I rise to make my own maiden speech, I am conscious of, and deeply humbled by, the great privilege that the people of Islwyn have given me by electing me as their Member of Parliament. It is also a great honour to follow in the footsteps of two great champions of the Labour cause. The first MP for Islwyn was Neil Kinnock, and I do not think that I am exaggerating when I say that his vision and foresight as the leader of my party contributed greatly to our victory in 1997.
I am also extremely honoured that my immediate predecessor was Don Touhig. I was fortunate to work for Don during the last four years of his 15 years as a Member of Parliament, and I witnessed at first hand the determination and commitment with which he fought for his constituents. The lives of countless constituents have been improved through his efforts, and, as a result, he is held in the highest regard by the people of Islwyn.
Don Touhig was also a great servant of this House, serving as a Minister at both the Wales Office and the Ministry of Defence. He was held in high esteem by all who worked with him. On a personal note, I am proud to call him my friend, and his words of advice and guidance in my first days in the House have been invaluable. I, too, have some very big shoes to fill, and I can promise the people of Islwyn that I will do all that I can to live up to the high standards set by my predecessors.
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