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Chester is also a garrison town. We are the spiritual home to the 1st Battalion the Mercian Regiment-the Cheshires-and I am proud to have a former commanding officer sitting before me. We are also the current home to the 1st Battalion the Royal Welsh Regiment, and all of us in Chester are proud to welcome the battalion back from its recent tour in Afghanistan and looking
forward to its homecoming parade in front of Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in a fortnight's time.
Chester has thrived as a tourist destination and as a shopping centre. Anyone can stand at the cross in the centre of the city and see visitors from almost every corner of the earth, and I urge all Members to come to Chester and to see for themselves why they, and I, love the city so much.
Chester is an ancient city, but it is also a modern city. Financial giants, such as Bank of America, Lloyds Banking Group and M&S Money, have major bases and employ thousands of people in the City of Chester. It is, quite rightly, a priority of the coalition Government to curb the excesses of the past few years and to re-regulate the banks, but I would implore the Government to remember that financial services create huge wealth for our country and for many places like Chester and that not all people who work in financial services are the greedy bankers of lore. We need to make sure that good financial institutions are able to expand and prosper and that new companies and products are able to enter the marketplace and by doing so improve the service and reduce the cost of the financial services offered to their consumers. We need stronger and better regulation, but we also need to make sure that it is simpler.
Within the City of Chester constituency, we are also proud to host Urenco's uranium-enrichment plant at Capenhurst. We are all aware of the problems to our energy supply that we face over the next few years. Many of our older coal-fired power stations and nuclear power stations are due for closure. Since 2004, Britain has gone from being a net exporter to a net importer of natural gas, making us dependent on foreign sources and raising concerns over the security of our energy supply. We also, of course, have a duty to ensure that we reduce our nation's carbon footprint. We want to ensure that all members of our society have access to affordable energy and to see a reduction in fuel poverty.
The 2006 energy review estimated that up to 25 GW of new generating capacity would be needed over the next two decades to fill the gap. That is 25 GW out of a current 76 GW generating capacity-a huge gap by any estimate. The UK is, quite rightly, committed to a renewable energy target of 15% by 2020, and renewables have an important role to play in the sustainability and security of Britain's future energy supply. But, as the Secretary of State told us earlier, Britain currently generates only 6.6% of its energy requirements from renewable resources. The 15% target by 2020 is extremely challenging and will require a massive step change in the development of renewable supplies if it is to be achieved. Even if we do achieve that target, we will still have a gap of more than 10 GW of generating capacity to fill. As a Member of Parliament with a key part of the UK's nuclear infrastructure in his constituency, I ask the Secretary of State and the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), to look favourably on the use of new nuclear power generation to help fill the gap.
Nuclear power is clean. It is a low-carbon source of electricity generation. We have secure long-term supplies of fuel. Modern reactors are incredibly safe, and it is a future technology in which Britain can still lead the world. Operators and owners of nuclear power stations
have been jumping at the opportunities offered by the previous Government's draft nuclear policy statement, and there are now 10 sites judged as potentially suitable on, or near to, existing stations. Those sites obviously have to be subject to the normal planning process for major projects, but the Government need to bring forward a national planning statement for ratification by Parliament as soon as possible.
Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab): I begin by congratulating the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and by warmly welcoming her to her position. She brings a great deal of expertise to a Department that is at the heart of the great challenge of our age, which is taking from the earth only that which it can give. I also congratulate the hon. Members for Newbury (Richard Benyon), and for South East Cambridgeshire (Mr Paice); the latter, of course, is returning to the Ministry where he once served as a Parliamentary Private Secretary.
We wish the Secretary of State and her team well in their new responsibilities. I know that they will be ably supported by the dedicated civil servants alongside whom I had the privilege of working for nearly three years. I want to thank them and my colleagues, my hon. Friends the Members for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), and for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), and Dan Norris, for everything that they did. It is a pleasure still to share a Front Bench with two of them.
The House will have noted that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is one of the few Departments without-in the new language that we are having to use-a Lib Dem ministerial ally, so I just want to say that I am sorry that I will not also face the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron) across the Dispatch Box, but, I suspect, not half as sorry as he is. I want to pay tribute to him and to the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) for their courtesy and their eloquent contributions during their time in the DEFRA shadows, so to speak.
We have had a good debate, opened on our side with a spirited contribution from my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband). We saw today the outstanding leadership that he has shown in creating the Department of Energy and Climate Change and in fashioning it into a formidable and practical advocate in the fight against dangerous climate change, and it is the kind of politics that has a great deal to offer us in future.
In a forensic speech, my right hon. Friend laid bare the inconsistency that is the Government's policy on nuclear power. If I may say so to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, his replies on the subject were anything but convincing; one could indeed say that no greater love hath a man for his new friends than to lay down his lifelong views on nuclear power.
In contrast, our debate has been illuminated by many notable maiden speeches. The hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) clearly benefited from your training, Mr Speaker, and will be a fine advocate for her constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans)
spoke movingly of the strong sense of community in an area that has suffered greatly in the past, and from which clearly springs his passion for fairness. The hon. Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) was generous in his praise for his predecessor, and showed great confidence, which I am sure will stand him in good stead in the House. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), who spoke with understandable filial pride and warmth about the "giant", his predecessor, has clearly learned much that is good from him.
The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) certainly has something of the fight about him, and great eloquence to boot, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex), who will be a fine voice for his constituency. As for the hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray)-who, to use her phrase, is the new leaseholder of that constituency-I must say that her descriptions brought back memories of my time spent serving as a councillor representing a ward in her constituency that included the famous Ealing Studios.
The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) made a fine maiden speech, in which she reminded us of the history of the pioneers in this place-fittingly, as one herself. She may be a lone voice for her party, but it is one that we look forward to hearing again. The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) will clearly stand up for his constituents, including the many farmers whom he is fortunate enough to represent. From the hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous), whose constituency has so much to offer in generating offshore electricity, we heard that such projects will have his very strong support.
The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) made a powerful plea for accountability and for the protection of the environment, and we will all join the hon. Member for Salisbury (John Glen) in opposing the idea of Wiltshire cured ham that does not actually come from Wiltshire. The hon. Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) has a ready wit and a constituency with a great deal of history and character, as we learned. The hon. Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) spoke with insight about the character of his constituency and, movingly, about its potential. I can confirm from personal experience what the hon. Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) had to say about the enjoyment of those who visit his constituency, involving in my case a trip along the canal to Llangollen many years ago. All of them showed the promise of new Members from all parts of the House, and we look forward to hearing further from those who have taken the plunge today.
We also heard important contributions from other right hon. and hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) spoke about smart grids and meters, and the right hon. Member for Gordon (Malcolm Bruce) gave us a history lesson on energy policy and the link with development. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East (Mr Betts) spoke with passion about Sheffield Forgemasters and the need for a high-speed rail link both to Sheffield and to Leeds-to which I say, "Hear, hear"-and my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Mr Reed) asked for the momentum in energy policy for which my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster North was responsible to be maintained.
The hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) has made a great contribution to these matters over the years, my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) spoke movingly about mine safety, and the hon. Members for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) and for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon) made wide-ranging speeches. My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) reminded us why ecosystems matter, my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) spoke about the ombudsman and the need for a speedy planning system, and my hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) asked, "Where is further legislation on water?"
As the Leader of the Opposition said on Tuesday, where we agree with the measures outlined in the Government's programme and in the Gracious Speech we will support them, and where we do not we will be an effective Opposition. It says much about the achievements of the previous Labour Government that the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs wisely intends to continue with many of them, and I welcome that.
For example, on tackling illegal logging, I hope that the right hon. Lady will be as vigorous as we sought to be in seeking as part of the new EU timber regulation the prohibition that will stop illegal timber being placed on the European market. If Europe can ban, as it has, illegally caught fish from outside Europe being placed on the market, it can certainly do the same with timber.
On reducing waste, I am glad to see that the Secretary of State, having spent far too long trying to blame Whitehall for every decision on waste collection, has finally acknowledged what I have gently tried to tell her for some time: it is, and it should be, for local authorities to decide how to collect waste and organise recycling. In other words, they should decide on the means. However, it is the Government's responsibility to set the vision, and we should stop putting into landfill a range of materials for which there is demand and other uses. I hope that she will do that, and we should turn food waste into clean energy, rather than leaving it to rot and create greenhouse gas emissions.
On the natural environment, we were very proud to put the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 on the statute book, and to have established two new national parks in the past five years, in the New Forest and on the South Downs-the latter during the year in which we marked the 60th anniversary of Attlee's National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. I look forward to the creation of new places for wildlife-green corridors, bringing together the work of wildlife trusts, areas of outstanding natural beauty, the national parks, sites of special scientific interest and the marine conservation zones that the Marine and Coastal Access Act will create. The Lawton commission, which I established last year, will make its recommendations this summer, and we all look forward to them.
Farming, which, as we have heard, shapes our landscape, has so much to contribute to the future, as long as it develops the new skills that it needs-for example, in low-carbon farming-and has the support of the supermarket ombudsman that is to be created.
For all the fine words, there is nothing in the Gracious Speech about environment, food and rural affairs-apart from broadband, which we all support because it is the
21st-century artery of economic development, including in our countryside, just as the roads were in the previous century, the railways in the 19th( )century and the canals in the 18th century.
Of the omissions from the speech I warmly welcome one: the deathly silence about the Conservatives' wish to overturn the hunting ban. Long may that remain absent. Given that so many Conservatives seemed so committed to the policy, it is strange that nobody wanted to talk about it during the election campaign and nobody has been keen to discuss it today. Perhaps it is because the Conservatives know that the public do not support them on that matter, or because among those who said that they backed the ban during the election campaign were those who are now the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Deputy Prime Minister. Labour Members will oppose a return to animal cruelty in our countryside, and we look forward to the support of Conservative and Liberal Democrat Members if the Government are foolish enough to introduce such a proposal. To those who might argue, "Let the House decide," I say that the House has decided. It did that when it passed the Hunting Act 2004. Reversing the ban is not about some notion of libertarian freedom, but about whether we think that setting one creature on another to kill it in the name of so-called sport is animal cruelty. I believe that it is.
Let me now turn to the way in which we deal with animal diseases. The Government say that they want to share responsibility for that with farmers, but they have not yet been clear about sharing the cost. Perhaps the Secretary of State could explain the exact position. Apart from being right in principle that farmers should contribute to the cost because they share in the benefit, judging by the cuts that the Department has already had to make, she will need to find ways of offsetting costs. When will we see further details of the 5.5% cut -the £162 million that DEFRA must bear? Yesterday, I looked at the DEFRA website and found a total of 80 words about those cuts-that is approximately £2 million a word. May we have some information about the jobs that will not be filled? What about scientific research and investment in flood defence?
I hope that the cuts will not affect the fight against bovine TB, which was mentioned in the debate. It is a truly terrible disease, but the new ministerial team has hardly made an auspicious start on the matter. Last week the Secretary of State gave an interview to Farmers Weekly, in which she sensibly said that she favours
"a science-based approach...there isn't an easy answer."
"I am not going to rule options in and out. What we need to do is look at the science...Over and above that, I have really nothing more to add."
"we will carry out a scientifically-led targeted cull of badgers in hot spot areas."
As the House knows, there is a debate on what is effective in controlling the terrible disease of bovine TB, and I am clear that vaccination rather than culling is the way forward, but utter confusion helps nobody. It seems
that the Minister of State is running a policy that contradicts the view of the Secretary of State. I have a very simple question: have the Government already decided that there will definitely be a cull? If so-and the right hon. Lady is supposed to be in charge-what happened to looking at the science?
Listening to what science has to tell us is extremely important in everything we do, and never more so than in fighting climate change and ensuring that we live within our environmental means. Anybody who read the recent Joint Nature Conservation Committee report on biodiversity, or who has seen the work of the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity project, which is so ably led by Pavan Sukhdev-I have long believed that that has the potential to do for our understanding of the economic benefits of biodiversity what Sir Nick Stern's groundbreaking report did for our understanding of the economics of climate change-will know that what humankind has taken for granted for so long with barely a thought of the consequences can no longer be taken for granted. Why? Because the natural environment, as we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), gives the soil, clean air, food, fuel and medicines from plants on which we human beings rely for our very existence.
At times of economic difficulty, we cannot and must not forget that the environmental crisis presses upon us too. Whether on the emissions of CO2 that we must reduce, the way in which we use the natural resources and the natural gifts of the earth, or on the task of growing enough food for a growing population in a world where tonight, 1 billion human beings will go to bed hungry for want of enough to eat, choosing sustainability has to be our future. It has to be the future for farming as it seeks to grow more while impacting less, and for the common agricultural policy and the much-needed reform of the common fisheries policy. It must be the future for water supply, which we must learn to use much more wisely, for adapting to climate change and improving our flood defences, and for changing the way in which we use and dispose of resources. Every one of those things is essential to our future well-being.
When the Government do those things, we will support the action they take; when they do not, we will hold them to account. No one knows, least of all the partners in this alliance, how long it will last-it could be a few months or a few years-but the test against which all of us will be judged is the one I have set out this afternoon. We owe it to the planet to ensure that we succeed.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mrs Caroline Spelman): First, I thank the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) for his kind congratulations, and I also thank him on behalf of other members of my team. Everyone in the House knows of his commitment to DEFRA, and I extend my appreciation of the dedication that he has clearly inspired in all those in the Department whom we have been fortunate enough to meet so far.
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