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The right hon. Gentleman's achievements are many. From the passing of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 to the creation of the South Downs as our ninth national park and Lundy Island as our first marine conservation zone, his drive and tenacity have
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left a lasting legacy for the future. I am sure he will be pleased to hear that there will be continuity on important matters such as illegal logging, fishing and whaling. We should not be surprised at that, for I share with him the view that the issues this Department faces are the great challenges of our age.

I wonder in passing, however, whether we should read anything into his warm praise for the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband), and in particular his specific mention of leadership skills. We will watch that space.

I also join the right hon. Gentleman in welcoming the many new Members to the House and congratulating them on their excellent maiden speeches. I had to make my own maiden speech entirely alone on my side of the House as it happened to coincide with the moment when my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary was proclaimed leader of my party after a ballot in Committee Room 14. I can tell those who have made their maiden speeches today that there is something to be said for safety in numbers.

I also extend my thanks to the established Members who have contributed to the lively debate today and congratulate them on their return to the House. I did intervene on several occasions to provide clarification as I thought that I might not have much time to do so now, especially as I wish to pick up some of the points made in the excellent maiden speeches.

I wish to reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) that coastal erosion is an issue that I will certainly treat as a priority in my Department, and I hope that that will also reassure some of her constituents. The hon. Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans)-I hope that I have pronounced that correctly-commended the work of credit unions and I concur entirely that they provide a safe way to access credit, especially for people in straitened circumstances who find credit hard to secure.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith) was a distinguished leader of his county council and I am sure that he will take an active interest in my Department and the Department for Communities and Local Government. It was a great pleasure to hear from the hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley), who described his father as a history maker. Well, the hon. Gentleman is making the history now and I wish him success.

My hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) evoked childhood memories for me, as I spent many a summer holiday in Folkestone on the beaches of Dungeness bay. I am sure that his quest to regenerate those areas of Kent will be much appreciated. The hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex) spoke warmly of his predecessor, Tommy McAvoy, whom all returning Members will remember as an effective Whip.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Angie Bray) sought some reassurance on the question of dangerous dogs, and I give the commitment to her that we will tackle the conduct of their owners and require greater responsibility from them. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) also made her maiden speech, and I pay tribute to her for her work, which has meant that the environment and green issues have become mainstream in British politics. No one can take that achievement away from her.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) is another new Member who comes here from the European Parliament, where he was chairman of the agriculture committee, so he brings a particular expertise to the House and we welcome that. My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) mentioned the ports of Lowestoft and Yarmouth, and their potential as a centre for the development of new offshore renewable energy capacity. I have seen that with my own eyes, and his zeal on environmental issues will be very welcome to my team.

My hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) spoke about the importance of the new politics and the need for people to re-engage with politics. His passion for the environment will certainly make a difference to that. My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (John Glen) paid warm tribute to his predecessor, sought from me an undertaking to reduce red tape, and also engendered great hunger in me as he spoke about Wiltshire ham and bacon. He has certainly done his bit for the vernacular foodstuffs from his constituency.

My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris), yet another former Member of the European Parliament, also brings expertise to the House and stressed the importance of planning guidance becoming more local. I am sure that his constituents will benefit as the new Government deliver a more local planning system. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) said that he wanted to be the No. 1 salesman for a group of people whom I now know should correctly be called Enfieldians-I have been enlightened by him. I concur with the view of my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Stephen Mosley) about his constituency. I have walked its ramparts, and he is fortunate indeed to represent such a beautiful place.

We heard speeches from Members whom I dare to call the old guard, and I hope they will forgive me for dealing with them briefly. I would like to reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon) that localism will help to relieve the pressure on education in west Kent, but I fully understand his point. The hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) sought reassurance about the new Government's approach to biodiversity targets. We are absolutely committed to reversing the trend in the reduction in biodiversity. I give him that undertaking. My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) sought reassurance that the new Government will take seriously the pressures on his constituency, particularly from Travellers on authorised sites. I repeat to all hon. Members that the new Government are committed to increasing the number of authorised sites and to providing incentives to councils to do that, so that the burden can be shared across local authorities.

Perhaps I should have welcomed the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) among my responses to the other maiden speeches, but he has been in the House before-he is in a special category. I would like to reassure him that we will take very seriously the latest report from TEEB, and I hope that my commitment to sustainability will become clear as I fulfil my role in the House.

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I hope that hon. Members who have been in the House before will forgive me if I move on to make just a few remarks. When I slipped out briefly, I had the opportunity to clarify points with some Members outwith the Chamber, and I am always available to any Member who wants clarification on any of the subject areas we discuss. It is clear that Members on both sides of the House feel strongly-and rightly so-about protecting our environment, growing our food and fisheries industries, ensuring our energy security and mitigating and adapting to climate change. The coalition agreement is clear on the issue of fox hunting and tuberculosis. The former will be subject to a motion on a free vote, but it is not an immediate priority for the Government. Our immediate priority is to tackle the deficit-that is the No. 1 priority set out in the coalition agreement.

The coalition agreed a package of measures for science-led badger control, but the right hon. Member for Leeds Central will know that an incoming Secretary of State must examine the science carefully, otherwise there is the risk of being subject to judicial review.

Mr Betts rose-

Mrs Spelman: If the hon. Gentleman does not mind-I have spent quite some time on the maiden speeches and talked with him outwith the Chamber-I would like to make some progress.

My Department deals with many national and global issues on which our future depends, and it is only by putting them at the heart of the Government's strategy for economic growth that we can deliver the green jobs, green technologies and greener economy that we must have to achieve and ensure a secure and sustainable future. The Queen's Speech provides us with an unprecedented opportunity to work across Government to make that future happen, and there are a number of pieces of legislation into which DEFRA will have an important input.

Mr Betts: Quite rightly, the right hon. Lady is saying that the Government's priority is not to deal with the repeal of the Hunting Act 2004, but will she indicate to the House that even if a motion comes forward and is passed, it will have no effect on the legislation?

Mrs Spelman: The hon. Gentleman was in the House when we spent 700 hours of legislative time dealing with the Fox Hunting Act, and I am sure that he will appreciate that those of us who bear the scars of that have no desire to devote huge amounts of parliamentary time to that when we have inherited a legacy containing a huge hole in the nation's finances.

I want to talk about practical measures that the Department will proceed with in legislation contained in the Queen's Speech. They include measures to roll out fast broadband, which will create the opportunity for us at DEFRA to ensure that it is provided in rural areas, enabling better communication with the rest of the country and the world, and breaking the isolation that many individuals and businesses in rural areas often feel. The measure will also provide an opportunity for many to reduce their need to travel, reducing carbon footprints and helping to create jobs in rural areas. We are particularly keen to support community-led broadband in rural areas, as another real example of the big society in action.

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At the Department for Communities and Local Government, too, the communities Bill will create a platform for DEFRA to demonstrate the priority that we attach to both market rate and social rural housing. With planning being returned to the local level, we hope that many rural communities, through their parish councils and other forums, will seize the chance to shape local plans for the homes that they need. All Departments are going to have to think about how they can drive down their carbon footprints and contribute to the new green economy. We will be challenging them from DEFRA, as well as challenging all the arm's length bodies under our umbrella.

At DEFRA, for example, we know that the food and farming sectors account for 14% of the UK manufacturing sector and provide the same percentage of jobs. Our urban and rural communities depend on the services and opportunities that those sectors provide, so my Department will be seeking to build on the strong foundations that we have already laid in our early meetings with EU member states for genuine reform of the common agricultural policy, to ensure that it reflects this Government's fourfold approach to good value for farmers, taxpayers, consumers and the environment alike. We will also await the outcome of Rosemary Radcliffe's report, which my predecessor commissioned, before proceeding to recommendations.

We know, too, that climate change and the global race to industrialise are reducing the biodiversity and ecosystems of our planet at an unsustainable pace. We must act now to reverse that trend, so the Government will be offering and seeking firm commitments to address the global loss of biodiversity at the UN General Assembly meeting on biodiversity in New York in September, at the Nagoya biodiversity summit the following month in Japan, and at the meeting of Environment Ministers in Cancun at the end of the year. There is no "either/or" when it comes to climate change and biodiversity; they are interdependent and interlinked. We must act together at those conferences, because to do otherwise would be to rob future generations not only of the infinite variety of landscapes and species that we have been lucky enough to enjoy, but of the natural resources on which we depend for the quality of our lives and, indeed, our very livelihoods. We will act as a Government, with the publication of a White Paper on the natural environment to promote just that.

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This debate was elegantly opened by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. His Department proposes an energy Bill explicitly linking the threat of climate change to both the need to ensure that our energy supplies are secure and the opportunities that a green economy can provide. I believe that the Bill will be welcomed by all, particularly after a winter that brought home the realities of the current cost of energy to the economically vulnerable. All too real, too, has become the threat of floods, which destroy homes, businesses and tragically, as we saw last November, even lives. We will therefore maintain an increase in the money that taxpayers spend on flood defences this year, with no impact on the number of households that we protect.

For too long, families have been exhorted to do their bit to drive down greenhouse gas emissions without being offered any support to do so. "Pay as you save", a central part of this Government's green deal, will directly help householders to benefit from greater energy efficiency, saving money and cutting emissions. In its current form, the Bill is unprecedented in its domestic impact, and we are also exploring how businesses can benefit from it. The Bill proposes the most significant energy framework yet, to bring about our green recovery and build our low-carbon future. That is something to which we surely all aspire.

The energy Bill will be presented by my right hon. Friend, clearly demonstrating this coalition's commitment to be the greenest Government in the country's history. For the first time, we are developing an integrated strategy across Government, and across the public, private and third sectors, to tackle the loss of biodiversity, address the way that we use resources, adapt to climate change and grow a greener economy that provides the clean, green jobs and industries of the future. The Gracious Speech looks to that dynamic future, and I commend it to the House.

6 pm

The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 9(3)) .

Ordered, That the debate be resumed on Wednesday 2 June.

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Southend Borough Council

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. -(James Duddridge.)

6 pm

Mr David Amess (Southend West) (Con): Mr Speaker, I am grateful to you for giving me this opportunity to raise certain matters of great concern to my constituents in Southend West. I am also grateful to have the opportunity to congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill) on his appointment to the Government. I must deny completely that I said to his private office that, if he were kept well watered, he would continue to grow. As far as I am concerned, he does not need to grow in stature. Given his wide experience on the Greater London authority, I can think of no one more able than he to deal with matters of local government. I am also delighted that he has been given this particular Government job, because he is married to a former councillor and mayor of Southend, and he therefore has a particular insight into matters affecting my constituency.

I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (James Duddridge) on his appointment to the Government. It is not widely understood that, when someone is appointed as a Whip, they have to sign up to the life of a Trappist monk, but the job is an extremely important one. On 5 January this year, my hon. Friend and I took part in an Adjournment debate in which we raised a number of issues. I am delighted to be able to quote some of the things that he said. They include:

He also said that he and I were united in our desire to get fair funding for the town we represent, saying that

He is looking forward to working with my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst, as he did in opposition, and together we hope to ensure that Southend gets an accurate census in 2001, as well as the central Government funding that it deserves and needs.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East was not a Member of this place when we had the previous census. It was an unsatisfactory enterprise in every sense, and I raised many questions about the way in which it was conducted. About 20,000 people were left off, and that has had a devastating effect on our constituents. The next national census will take place on Sunday 27 March 2011. The error that happened in the previous one had a devastating effect on Southend Together, the local strategic partnership which includes the council, NHS South East Essex, Essex police and the Southend Association of Voluntary Services. As my hon. Friend the Minister knows, Government funding is calculated by using the population figures from an area's census, so those mistakes have led to a serious lack of funding. We believe that £8.5 million was lost to local residents.

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I have had an awful lot of Adjournment debates since I was first elected to this House. In them, I have exchanged words with whomever the Minister was, and they have tried to help with whatever concerns I have raised on behalf of my constituency. This evening, I am asking my hon. Friend the Minister to listen very carefully to the points that I want to raise, because I genuinely believe that this new coalition Government could make things far better for my constituents, and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East, at no extra cost.

As we heard in the discussion of the Gracious Speech on Tuesday, there is a genuine and robust debate to be had about unitary status. Part of the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East comes under Essex county council, but mine does not. We have an entirely unitary authority, and I have to tell the Minister that I feel that, as a unitary authority, we face some disadvantages. It is a very small authority, and I hope that in the fullness of time over this Parliament, we will be able to join forces with surrounding local authorities so that we can pool expertise and, frankly, carry more clout than seems possible as a unitary authority at the moment.

I deal next with the whole issue of quangos, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East is on the record as having strong views. I share them and I am delighted that this Government are committed not only to looking at the budgets of quangos, but to abolishing them. It is absolute madness that, according to a recent Local Government Association report, while the state spends an average of £7,000 a person on health, education and care for the elderly, just £350 is controlled by locally elected politicians. I believe that my hon. Friend referred to this in the debate of 5 January.

I would have thought that we wanted to make it worthwhile for people to vote for local councillors by giving them real power, which I certainly had in the late '70s and early '80s when I was involved with Redbridge borough council. Many of those powers have been taken away, as has much of the funding. Much of the money going to these quangos, however worthy, should now be given directly to local authorities. I put it to the Minister that that could surely be done at no extra cost to the public purse; indeed, there would surely be some savings from adopting that approach.

Let me touch on a few transport issues. There is no question but that Southend's transport infrastructure needs to be improved. Early works have been completed, marking the start of the enhancements to the junction at Progress road in my constituency. A key section of the main arterial route into Southend will complete this suite of improvements, securing a major element of the comprehensive travel and regeneration solution. Such works are a vital investment for Southend and are already having a substantial regeneration impact on the town, as well as achieving significant reductions in congestion and much improved travel and journey times. This is vital for visitor destinations such as Southend, where tourism still accounts for a major part of the town's economy. Southend is, of course, delighted with the help it has been given thus far, but I hope that the Minister will look carefully at the arrangements already being undertaken.

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