Previous Section Index Home Page

4.9 pm

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), who, like me, represents a "periphery" constituency-he on the most easterly point of England, and me on the most north-westerly point of Wales. With your indulgence, Mr Deputy Speaker, I shall pay tribute to a number of maiden speech makers today. Their speeches bode well, and we can look forward to some excellent contributions. I pay tribute, in particular, to the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), who is not now in her place. She said that she was the first Green Member of Parliament, but I remind her that in 1992 the Plaid Cymru Member for Ceredigion, Cynog Dafis, was elected on a Plaid Cymru/Green agenda. I refer to that because I think it is important. The Ecology party and the Green party have been very influential in shaping the green agendas of the main political parties over many decades, and I pay tribute to those in the Green party who have pursued such policies.

The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) rightly said that legislation for a grocery market ombudsman was not included in the Queen's Speech. I took a private Member's Bill on that issue through the previous Parliament. The Bill received its Second Reading, went through Committee and obtained its money resolution, but ran out of time. That was disappointing, and I hope that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who is seated on the Government Front Bench, will take note, because the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs lobbied hard for the measure. My Bill united the Front Benchers of all political parties, the grocery market ombudsman proposal was in each and every manifesto, and it could have been introduced very quickly. The code of practice has now come into being; the legislation would have taken up a minimal amount of time in this House and in the other place because the foundations have already been laid, and it would not have cost any money because it was self-financing. So, I am very disappointed, and I urge the Secretary of State to urge forward her colleague the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills on that issue.

Mrs Spelman: For clarification, the coalition programme makes the situation perfectly clear, stating:

that currently exist. There was no need to introduce legislation on that point, and just because it was not in the Gracious Speech does not mean that it will not be dealt with.

27 May 2010 : Column 380

Albert Owen: I am grateful for that, but it is not what the right hon. Lady's party said in opposition. It pushed to ensure that we put that legislation on to the statute book, and that is important. Indeed, when I took my private Member's Bill into Committee, the Opposition spokesperson at the time said just that-that we needed to make the proposal statutory. We still need to do so, because there will still be abuses and we need that referee in law. The position would be self-financing. Indeed, I think that the Conservative manifesto stated that the ombudsman would be housed in the Office of Fair Trading, so I still think that we need to do that. I shall not give up fighting for it, because the farming community needs it, producers need it and, I believe, consumers need it.

I want to concentrate on energy during my remarks on the Gracious Speech, because energy and food security are the two most important issues for the next few decades-and, indeed, generations. I, like the hon. Member for Waveney, am proud to be pro-nuclear, pro-renewables and pro-energy efficiency, and I see absolutely no contradiction in holding those views. It is important that we move forward, and I had hoped that in response to interventions on the new Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change we would have had some clarity about the Conservative-led Government's stance on the issue. However, we got quite the opposite.

I am passionate about this issue, because in my constituency, with the Wylfa nuclear power station, nuclear power is the biggest employer. We have moved on, however, because we have embraced the low-carbon economy and the jobs that it will bring; and I want to continue working with others to create there an energy island concept, where we develop the low-carbon technologies of the future, with wind power, tidal power, energy efficiency, and research and development. The former Secretary of State was good enough to help me with that and to establish the fact that Wylfa nuclear power station would be one of the first of the new generation of new build in this country. Horizon, which is a joint venture between E.ON and RWE, would have applied for planning permission next year so that we could build and have continuity of skills at Wylfa. However, the new Government's doing away with the Infrastructure Planning Commission and not putting anything in its place has caused great uncertainty.

Two companies have come together and want to invest billions of pounds, which would create 5,000 construction jobs, sustain 800 jobs in energy generation at Wylfa and help form the foundations of the energy island concept. Like Waveney, Anglesey has natural deep water. Centrica has permission from the Crown Estate to develop wind energy offshore, and the port of Holyhead is perfectly placed to accommodate that. I want to build that skills base on Anglesey, but the Government's current position jeopardises that. I urge Government Front Benchers to clarify the matter. The companies are French in origin and international by nature, and if they sense uncertainty in this country they will take their business and the potential jobs not only to other parts of Europe, but to other parts of the world. That shows the seriousness of the situation. We have the capability in this country, and for some years we have had the political will. Let us not jeopardise that through the uncertainty caused by scrapping the IPC and not replacing it immediately.

27 May 2010 : Column 381

Mrs Spelman: I have already intervened on this subject, but let me repeat what I said to the hon. Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts). The position is clear: IPC staff sit in the existing planning inspectorate and their expertise will not be lost. However, we have said that the decisions on the recommendations of those staff for infrastructure projects must be taken by the Secretary of State so that there is democratic accountability. To avoid long delays, decisions on inquiries and decisions by Secretaries of State will be time-limited.

Albert Owen: That reply is helpful, especially the first part, which explained that the IPC will still do its work and, I presume, make recommendations. However, it worries me greatly that the new Secretary of State will make the decisions, because we all know his views. The Conservatives have got form, because in the 1980s and 1990s Conservative Secretaries of State took 50 to 100 weeks to make decisions. The companies that I mentioned have chosen to invest in this country now, in the knowledge that planning permission would be streamlined. They now face a difficulty, and it is worrying. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has partly dealt with that, but I worry about the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change making a decision on political grounds rather than on the merits of the case.

Yes, I want democratic accountability-I have worked for a decade to get my local community on side, and it is 100% on side, but it could be overridden by an anti-nuclear Secretary of State. That is what we face on Ynys Môn because of the decision in the so-called coalition agreement. Worse, the coalition agreement provides for the Secretary of State to abstain on the issue in the House. I offered him an opportunity to respond to that and he refused, and I offer the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs that chance. If we have a Liberal Democrat Secretary of State, will he vote for the plan or abstain? He must show leadership, and one cannot do that by abstention.

Mrs Spelman: The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change is not here, but he answered that question. There is a clear majority in the House in favour of the new nuclear plants, and Labour Members should be careful about creating a myth of uncertainty. There is no need for a new nuclear power Bill in the Queen's Speech because the legislation already exists. We are considering implementation, and the Secretary of State made it perfectly clear that he is actively engaged with the industry to ensure that the plan goes ahead.

Albert Owen: I am grateful to the right hon. Lady, but with the greatest respect, we have carefully worked on this matter for a long time to build confidence within the nuclear industry, and that confidence has been shattered by the coalition agreement. I know that that is an absolute fact, because I speak to people not only in the nuclear industry but in the supply chain. Hon. Members-including, for instance, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts)-have spoken in the debate about reviewing contracts. What kind of message does the coalition agreement send to multinational companies that want to invest in this country? That is a serious issue, and I hope it will be dealt with and clarified further. I offered the Energy and Climate Change Secretary the opportunity to intervene
27 May 2010 : Column 382
to do that, and he refused. He would not give the leadership that is absolutely necessary from a Secretary of State on that.

Renewables are very important, and I welcome some of the energy measures in the Queen's Speech. How could we be against energy efficiency measures? I pay tribute to the Welsh Assembly Government, who have taken the lead on many of those things and are moving forward. I will work with the Government on those matters, to ensure that housing stock is brought up to the best standard, and that we build new houses with the best possible standards of energy efficiency. We are in agreement on that, and I also agree with the green investment bank proposal, which will be important in setting standards. I am still very worried about the nuclear problem. Nothing that the right hon. Lady told me today will allay those fears, and Opposition Members will continue to scrutinise the Government on it.

The energy island concept for Anglesey is under way. A few months ago, I had the pleasure of cutting the turf for an energy and technology centre with the First Minister of the Welsh Assembly Government. The centre will develop skills for the future, so we can see that a lot of work and investment has taken place already. That would link with a nuclear industry academy for higher skills. Because of that, young people within my area will know that they have a career path-we are talking about thousands of quality jobs for the future. Those people will have transferable skills, so they can work in other parts of the United Kingdom, which is why I am passionate about obtaining the clarity that we do not yet have.

The hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) was honest in giving his party's appraisal of the matter and his difference of opinion with the Energy and Climate Change Secretary. There are big differences of opinion. In my election-I was one of the few Labour Members to increase my majority-all the candidates except the Liberal Democrat were in favour of nuclear power. The political parties in the area built a consensus with the colleges and universities to make it happen. This is how important it is: I not only want Anglesey to be the energy island for the United Kingdom, but I want the United Kingdom to be the energy island for the whole of Europe. The UK has the potential for, and needs, high-skill, high-value green jobs for the future.

That is why I am pleased to be a member of a party of government that introduced the Climate Change Act 2008, which was hugely significant. I am sure that Opposition Members will work with the Government to help them in the next phase of seeking international agreement on climate change. To use the old green cliché, we should be thinking locally, nationally and internationally on the environment. I make no apology for being pro-nuclear, pro-renewable and pro-energy efficiency. We need to grow up and introduce proper regulations so that we have a low-carbon economy, providing local and new jobs in future.

Several hon. Members rose -

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. On a procedural note, I should perhaps explain to all Members of the House that it is helpful if they rise when seeking to catch the Chair's eye, which will give an indication of the number of people who are still trying to get into the debate.

27 May 2010 : Column 383
4.24 pm

Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park) (Con): I am grateful for this opportunity to speak. I must admit that I am surprised to be here, not just today but generally. I cannot pretend that my campaign team and I were brimming with confidence in the run-up to the campaign. In fact the bookmakers shared that view, as I was still 2:1 with Ladbrokes until the last moment. I therefore thank the residents of Richmond Park and north Kingston for giving me the very real honour of representing them in Parliament. After three years of campaigning, I hope that they know that I will do my utmost.

I wish to pay tribute to my predecessor, Susan Kramer. Our campaigns clashed, sometimes very noisily, but on a personal level we developed a good relationship and I have great respect for her record as a constituency MP. She was diligent, hard-working, well liked and respected. I wish her well wherever she goes from here.

It is customary for MPs to praise their constituency in their maiden speech. While that is a duty, in my case it is also a pleasure; I am sure that everyone will say the same. I had an interesting conversation yesterday with a former Labour Minister, just outside the Chamber, and he told me that had he been given an opportunity to stand in Richmond Park he would have crossed the Floor to do so. That was a hell of a compliment to the constituency, and I absolutely go along with that. It is where I grew up, I live there now, and it is the only constituency that I would ever seek to represent.

Richmond park is the heart of the constituency, and gives it its name. It is one of London's greatest jewels, being raw, beautiful and not overly managed. I am told that it has more ancient trees than all of Germany and France combined. That may be an exaggeration-I am often told that it is-but I am happy to indulge in it. It is not the only jewel, as we also have Kew gardens. If they are not the world's greatest botanical gardens they are certainly among them, and are rightly a world heritage site.

Like all constituencies, Richmond Park has its threats and pressures, to which-as its MP-I will have to stand up. We have now dealt with the third runway, thanks to the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. That was one of the major threats overhanging the entire community, but we need to maintain the pressure and ensure that we protect runway alternation, which offers residents a much needed respite from the relentless noise of aircraft flying overhead.

Other threats include those from developers, which affect many of the constituencies in the area. In the last few years, huge pressure from developers has led to the rapid erosion of our green spaces. Residents will look to this Government to introduce measures to protect what remains of our playing fields and gardens. Those measures are on the cards: they were in the Conservative manifesto and also, I believe, in the Liberal Democrat manifesto. I look forward to seeing those proposals become reality in the coming years, and that will certainly be appreciated in my constituency.

We have a shortage of school places at every level, and I believe that the plans of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education will resolve that problem rapidly.

27 May 2010 : Column 384

Richmond also has pockets of real deprivation, and that is something that most people do not associate with the constituency, because it is generally an affluent area. But for that very reason, those pockets of deprivation tend to be overlooked. As an MP, my job is to address the threats to the community and ensure that they do not materialise, as well as to stand up for the entire community-something that I am absolutely committed to doing.

I hope that during my time in this House, however long that may be, I will be able to contribute to some of the wider concerns that have an impact on my constituency and every other constituency. One of the great challenges for this Parliament is rebuilding trust in the institution. Ronald Reagan used to tell the old joke, frequently repeated, that politics is the second oldest profession, but it can often look like the first. I do not believe that I am the only person who encountered people on the campaign trail who would buy into that line. People can regard politicians with something close to contempt, we have to address that. It is tempting to blame it all on the expenses scandal, but the reality is that people were disengaging from politics long before that, and the data on voter turnout and allegiance to political parties back that up. I do not think it has anything to do with the expenses scandal; it has something to do with how we deal with politics in this country.

Politics at every level has become far too remote. On the European Union level, how many people in this country genuinely believe that when they cast their vote in a European election it will have any impact on how Europe is structured, on what decisions will be made within the EU, or even on the quality of those decisions? I do not think that many people believe in voting in those elections, and one of the reasons is that increasingly decisions are being taken by people who are not elected, and are therefore insulated from any kind of democratic pressure.

Nationally, we have a choice-a limited choice-every 1,500 days or so, and in between there are very few authentic mechanisms for ordinary people to influence how decisions are taken. At the local level, I would say things are even worse. Local authorities have been stripped of powers over such a long time and to such an extent that even on genuinely local issues-local planning matters, local supermarkets, incinerators, for example-more often than not local authorities find themselves overruled by national quangos that are also unelected.

This Parliament needs to act decisively to shorten the distance between people and power. That should be one of our priorities. One of the best, cleanest and most effective ways to do that is to introduce much more direct democracy. It should be possible for people to earn the right to trigger a referendum on important local and national issues. It should be possible for people to recall and eventually possibly boot out councillors and MPs, not just for committing crimes but simply because they have lost the trust and respect of their constituents. If we introduce those mechanisms and turn increasingly to direct democracy, the quality of the national and local debates will improve, we will see much more engagement and we will have a much more politically literate country.

There is another challenge-there are endless challenges, but I thought I would focus on two-that has been the subject of the discussions today. The environment is the defining challenge of our era. It goes without saying-I
27 May 2010 : Column 385
hope-that without a healthy environment, we have no economy or future. It is the defining, underlying issue, and the basic maths tell us that we are heading in a dangerous direction: a growing population combined with an increasing hunger for resources means that the cost of living will at some point go up. If we take that to its logical conclusion, we will reach a point when conflict is almost inevitable.

We need only look at the facts. We can argue about climate change and our exact contribution to it, although I will not do that now, because other people have already done so today. The world's bread baskets are being eroded. That is not a matter of opinion; it is a matter of fact. There is the destruction of the world's forests, the loss of species and habitats and the collapse of the world's great fisheries. These are real issues, and they are not subject to debate; they are matters of fact. They are not niche problems, but fundamental problems. I hope it also goes without saying that as we undermine the natural world and natural systems, we eventually undermine the basis of our own existence.

The cause of many of those problems is also, fortunately, the solution: the market. But if the market is blind to the value of valuable of things, if it is blind to the value of natural systems, and if it fails to put a cost on those things that should have a cost, economic growth can only be an engine of environmental destruction and a process that effectively means cashing in on the natural world until there is nothing left. Nevertheless, the market is the most powerful force for change that we know, other than nature itself. It is a tool, and if we allow the natural world to be plundered, it is simply because we have failed to understand how to use that tool. We need to put a price on pollution, waste and the use of scarce resources, and we need to invest the proceeds in alternatives. I do not think that green taxes should ever be retrospective-we have seen too much of that-and I do not think that the green agenda should ever become an excuse for raising stealth taxes. We have seen too much of that as well. However, whatever we introduce must be real, not synthetic. We need rapid change.

I want to read out something that Margaret Thatcher said 20 years ago-she was well ahead of her time on this issue-so I hope that hon. Members will indulge me:

Next Section Index Home Page