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"Many of the precautionary actions that we need to take would be sensible in any event. It is sensible to improve energy efficiency and use energy prudently; it's sensible to develop alternative and sustainable energy sources; it's sensible to replant the forests which we consume; it's sensible to re-examine industrial processes; it's sensible to tackle the problem of waste. I understand that the latest vogue is to call them 'no regrets' policies. Certainly we should have none in putting them into effect."
Margaret Thatcher was way ahead of her time, but she was also following a long but occasionally forgotten tradition in the Conservative party of paying tribute to and understanding the importance of the environment. It is a tradition that goes all the way back-as far back as anyone wants to go-to Edmund Burke, who said:
"Never...did Nature say one thing and Wisdom say another."
Stewardship; looking out for future generations and recognising limits, particularly nature's limits; providing security-these are core Conservative values. For as long as I am able to stay in this House, they are values that I will stand up for.
I would like to look at the reality and the practicality of putting things into practice, as opposed to the fine words. Saying that we want stricter targets must be followed up with the right finance and help to make that happen. I am worried that the coalition agreement and the Queen's Speech focus on wanting to do certain things, but do not put in the wherewithal to do so. One thing that manufacturers always bring up with me is certainty. They want to know whether they can have certainty that there will be a market for their goods or that the right forms of incentive will be in place for people to buy their goods, particularly in the case of microgeneration. If people are going to buy solar panels or wind turbines, there needs to be an incentive for them to do so. The manufacturers need to know in advance if we are going to promote electric cars. They do a lot of work to develop prototypes and they need to know that there will be an incentive for people to buy those products.
I am concerned that the cuts announced in the business budget this week could stifle the very types of manufacturing that we wish to encourage. We need to encourage that manufacturing now, otherwise we will miss the boat and other countries will take the opportunity to develop the new techniques that we need to make more sustainable cars and more useful devices that will produce renewable energy or be more energy efficient. There is a real danger. For example, one company in my constituency, Filsol, which makes solar panels, relies heavily on knowing not only what the situation will be for the individual private consumer, but what will be done through the public purse.
Filsol was a supplier in the huge renewable programmes in the heads of the valleys, making buildings in the housing stock more sustainable. However, those programmes were obviously directed and funded largely through the Welsh Assembly Government, who now face enormous cuts. Whether we are talking about public procurement or motivating the private sector to purchase, we have a responsibility to our manufacturing industry to ensure that we get ahead, do not miss the boat and do not lose the manufacturing base for a whole new generation of products to other countries. Indeed, what I have said of the Welsh Assembly could be said of the regional development agencies in England.
One thing that my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband)-he is now the shadow Secretary of State-did when he was in office was get through the feed-in tariff legislation, so that from April, people have been able to apply for feed-in tariffs for their microgeneration. However, I would like a reassurance from the new Secretary of State not only that the scheme will continue, but that it will be extended to cover the pioneers who installed their microgeneration equipment some time ago, so that the energy that they now produce can be eligible for feed-in tariffs. It is unfair that the people who made the effort when things were difficult and people were perhaps sceptical should now miss out on the opportunity to benefit from feed-in tariffs.
We talk a lot about localism, and, although I would be the first to champion local people's rights to have their say and influence planning decisions, I am also concerned that there needs to be an overview. The example that I want to use is that of biomass. In many areas, local planners will decide whether a particular site is suitable for a biomass power station and whether to go ahead with it, but no one seems to be looking into the cumulative effect of all the applications. The Department does not hold statistics on the number of applications that have been submitted, which now number a couple of dozen; nor does it look at where the material to fuel the power stations is going to come from. It is no longer a matter of scraping up the material from beneath our forests; we are now talking about enormous volumes of forestry that are going to be destroyed in order to feed our power stations. We do not have that amount of forestry, and the vast majority of the material will have to be imported. Much of it will come from areas with forestry and biodiversity that we want to preserve.
Before the Copenhagen summit, we were excited by the thought that forestry was going to be included in the talks. We were discussing how to incentivise the preservation of the wonderful forests of the world. The situation that we now face, however, is similar to the realisation that we had about biofuels. Land has been taken over for the production of biofuels by ripping up forests or by taking over areas originally designed for food production, and the same could happen for the production of biomass. We have not reached that situation yet, because we have not calculated the volume that we would need to fuel the two dozen or so power stations that are currently going through the planning process. This worries me, and I think that the Department needs to have a strategic overview of where we are going with biomass.
I should also like the incoming Government to consider carefully the need to ensure fair competition, and to review the role of Ofgem. I note that that has been mentioned in the coalition document. I want to highlight the use of liquefied petroleum gas by householders in rural areas. There is an estate in a village called Llannon in my constituency, in which 20 houses are all linked in to one supplier, Flogas. By some extraordinary mechanism, no one is able to get out of their contract with Flogas, because as long as one household is tied in, they are all bound to be supplied by the company. They would like to look elsewhere-like everyone, they want to be able to look around and get the best price-but they are completely subject to the whim of Flogas. Ofgem does not seem to have the power to intervene in such situations. I would like to have a meeting with the Secretary of State, if he would allow that, to look into this issue and to see what can be done to free up the market for householders in rural areas who are dependent on LPG, so that they no longer need to be tied to one supplier.
Another issue that worries me considerably is the lack of any further legislation in the Queen's Speech on water. We brought in the Flood and Water Management Act 2010, in which we were determined to bring together the issues raised in the Walker report, the Cave report and the Pitt report. The legislation was taken through the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) just before the end of the last Parliament. There remain, however, some outstanding issues relating to water poverty and to how we should deal with the disparity in water costs between the different
regions. For example, Wales and parts of the south-west have huge costs compared with some of the more industrialised and urban areas of the United Kingdom. Coastal erosion was mentioned by the hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) in her maiden speech today, and that issue also needs to be tackled. It would have been nice to see those issues included in the coalition agreement.
I also want to find out what support the Government will give to anaerobic digestion. A lot of work has been done on this matter to date. I note the use of the words "to promote" in the Government's proposals, and I hope that that will translate into some proper help to get this excellent technology going. That will not be easy, as it can sometimes provoke local opposition. Community groups are trying to get it off the ground, but they need clear guidelines and help, as well as a guarantee of the prices that they can expect to get for the fuels that they produce. That will help them to raise the investment that they need to set up these technologies.
I very much welcome many of the fine words in the coalition agreement and in the Queen's Speech, but we need an absolute guarantee that the money will be put in, as well as the words, so that we can make the necessary progress and not fall behind. We are determined to be the world leader, and we must not leave it to all the other countries to get on the new technology bandwagon and leave us behind. That would leave our manufacturing greatly depleted, rather than in the leading position that it ought to be in.
John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me to speak for the first time in the House. It is a great privilege to follow three excellent speeches by the hon. Members for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) and for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), who I am sure will contribute much to Conservative Members' understanding of issues around the environment and climate change.
I have the considerable honour and privilege to represent the people of Salisbury and south Wiltshire. It is with great pleasure that I also offer heartfelt praise and positive words about my predecessor, Robert Key. Robert was an outstanding Member of Parliament for 27 years. Elected in 1983, he had the great privilege, as have I, of being brought up in Wiltshire and of representing Salisbury.
Robert's Westminster career developed somewhat auspiciously in 1984-the heyday of the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher-when the Chief Whip called him in and sat him down to offer him the position of Parliamentary Private Secretary to Edward Heath, the former Prime Minister. Robert, a dutiful public servant, was delighted with his new role, but his local association members did not immediately grasp the significance of his privileged position. None the less, as with everything Robert has done for Salisbury over the years, he tackled his task with good humour and enthusiasm. Robert went on to find a home in Salisbury for his boss-Arundells in the Close-where Edward Heath lived for 20 years until he passed away in 2005.
It was six years later when Robert's next big opportunity arose. On one autumnal evening, Robert took a call from the Prime Minister's office and was summoned to
the great lady's suite at the party conference. He arrived and it is said that he was led through to her bedroom and she asked him whether he would like to join Her Majesty's Government to be a Minister in the Department of the Environment. As Robert excitedly accepted and bounded out of the room, he realised-this was October 1990-that he would be responsible for taking the poll tax through Parliament. A month later, the Prime Minister resigned and the poll tax was axed, but Robert went on to serve in two further ministerial roles. He was a Front Bencher in opposition and latterly a highly regarded member of the Select Committee on Defence and a member of the Chairmen's Panel.
Having examined a number of maiden speeches, I have noted how the previous MP is often referred to as having passed on or moved on to another planet, but I am happy to report that Robert Key is alive and well and continues to live in Salisbury with his wife, Sue. I am sure that they will continue to be regarded with great warmth and affection for the many years of dedicated service they have given to Salisbury and south Wiltshire.
Robert's presence in Salisbury marketplace on Saturday mornings is a tradition that I intend to follow; the people of south Wiltshire expect it of me. I also intend to stand up for the stallholders of the marketplace, many of whom-or, rather, their predecessors-have been there since 1227, and are anxious to know that the mooted changes to the marketplace are going to be modest and not waste public money.
My constituency stretches from Tilshead on the Salisbury plain to Hamptworth on the edge of the New Forest, and from Cholderton in the north-east to Ebbesbourne Wake in the south-west-the finest pocket of English countryside anyone could wish to find. With the constituency reduced in size since the last boundary changes, I hope that the Government's intention, as set out in the Queen's Speech, to reduce the number MPs and equalise constituency sizes will allow Salisbury to reclaim the Nadder valley-a beautiful seam of England which, sadly, got cut out of the Salisbury constituency at the last boundary change. I look forward to lively conversations with my neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for South West Wiltshire (Dr Murrison) and with the boundary commission in the months ahead.
One cannot mention Salisbury without mentioning the cathedral-an iconic building for Christendom, an institution in itself, certainly making a big impact on the culture, heritage and landscape of the medieval city. As my grandmother used to tell me when I was a child, its spire, 404 feet tall, was the highest in Europe when it was built, and it remains the highest in Britain today. We also have a vibrant Christian community in the city and the surrounding area. As a committed believer myself, I hope to be a parliamentarian who will stand up for Christian values and the importance of marriage and the family in our society.
The housing, shops and businesses in my constituency were laid out in a chequer system of streets in the 13th century, and that system remains today. Although I could focus on the considerable challenge that my constituency faces to deal with the need for more housing- I am pleased to note that the new Government will allow more local discretion in the number of houses that need to be built and where they should be built-I
wish today to make the case for greater care for the rural communities that make up such a large portion of my constituency.
As one who grew up in a small horticultural business in Wiltshire, I am keen to see the new Government reduce unnecessary red tape and regulation in the farming and horticultural sector, a move that I am sure will be welcomed throughout south Wiltshire. I also hope that the new Government will be able to trust farmers more. Too often, Governments of all persuasions have considered it necessary to regulate a little more here and a little more there, but to little lasting effect. I hope that in the near future the Secretary of State will provide more detail about proposals in the coalition programme to reduce the regulatory burden on farmers.
I am delighted by some of the moves that have already been announced, including the commitment to investing in broadband, which is desperately needed in parts of my constituency. I am delighted by the new Government's commitment to providing accurate information on food labelling, so that when something is labelled "Produced in Britain", that is actually true. It should not mean that the product was cut up, washed, prepared and repackaged in Britain. I also welcome the Government's promise that food procured by Government Departments, and eventually the whole public sector, will meet British standards of production wherever that can be achieved.
I hope that Whitehall will be able to source more of its food from British suppliers, as that would be a key way in which to help farmers in Britain and, hopefully, those in my constituency. At a time when less than 1% of bacon served to United Kingdom armed forces is British, I thoroughly recommend a good helping of locally produced Wiltshire ham as a reliable alternative. I also hope that the Government will get rid of the Agricultural Wages Board, which has become an unnecessary bureaucracy that achieves little for farmers or their workers. I hope that they will be able to act in the best interests of our farmers, who need less intervention, more trust and greater freedom at every point.
I believe that what is required more than anything else at this challenging economic time for rural Britain is a recognition that rural poverty needs to be addressed directly and urgently. We often forget that many of the lowest-paid members of our society are part of the rural economy and rely on a vibrant food-producing sector to survive.
Whatever else I am asked to tackle or may achieve in the House, I hope that, like Robert Key, I will serve my constituents faithfully, determinedly and selflessly, and fight for the interests of the vulnerable, the suffering and the insecure. I am utterly thrilled to be standing in the House today, and I give my support to a Queen's Speech which I believe offers many good things to my constituents in Salisbury and south Wiltshire.
Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con):
I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye in this important debate and enabling me to make my maiden speech. Let me begin by commending the maiden speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray)-a wonderful lady who will grace this side of the House very well-and my
hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins), who is a friend of mine. I am so pleased to see him elected and sitting on these green Benches.
Alas, I must also thank someone who, annoyingly, raised the bar in maiden speech terms just before I spoke: my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen). He talked a great deal about tradition and horticulture in his speech. I knew he was going to do that because I know that, on accepting the honour of being elected for Salisbury, he then sang the "Ode to the Turnip".
As you will know, Mr Speaker, I was a member of the European Parliament between 1999 and 2009, representing the east midlands region of the UK in Brussels and the very expensive and completely superfluous Strasbourg. Many hon. Members here have asked me what the notable differences are between being a Member of the European Parliament and being an MP. There are very many indeed. For example, there is no obvious need for simultaneous interpretation here and it does not take me the best part of a day to commute to my place of work. However, the biggest difference I have seen so far is the amount of constituency work that hon. Members do.
When I was elected to the European Parliament I was, like all new members of any Parliament, as keen as mustard to prove my worth to my constituents. However, I had to wait a very long time for my first constituent to actually contact me--over two months. When it came, it was quite unexpected, as the constituent in question had somehow got hold of my home telephone number and called me quite late on a Friday night. Never mind; this was my first real punter and I was going to help him no matter what. I asked him what his problem was and he said, "It's about my drains." This was not necessarily a European matter but I was keen to help. We spent ages going over what he perceived his problem to be and, at the end of our conversation, I told him that I had a plan. My plan was that, on Monday morning, I was going to phone his environmental health officer and get things moving. He said to me, "Oh no, I don't want to take it that high." It was then that I realised that perhaps the public do not hold politicians in very great esteem. I very much hope that this new Parliament can rectify that, given time. That story keeps coming back to me each morning when I receive the dozens of phone messages, the bags of mail and the hundred-odd e-mails from my constituents in Daventry.
The seat of Daventry itself has only been around in parliamentary terms for the last 92 years. I am only the sixth MP returned for it. Indeed, when the seat was created in 1918, it returned a man who occupied your chair for a very long time, Mr Speaker. Edward Fitzroy had quite a reputation as Speaker of the House. According to Harold Macmillan, his speakership was "severe but fair" and he had a particular method of dealing with bad, tedious and too-lengthy speeches. Mr Speaker Fitzroy would remark to himself in a voice audible to at least the two Front Benches, "Oh, what a speech!" or "When is this boring fellow going to sit down?" Whatever you might be thinking now, Mr Speaker, I am obliged to you for not saying it.
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