Previous Section Index Home Page

2.52 pm

Lorraine Fullbrook (South Ribble) (Con): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech today. I congratulate you on your new role. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Dorset (Richard Drax) and the hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon) on their fascinating and excellent maiden speeches.

It is a great honour to be in this Chamber representing the people of the South Ribble constituency, and I wish to pay tribute to my predecessor, David Borrow. For 13 years, he worked hard for his constituents and he was renowned for his support of many local charities and organisations, particularly those involved in the developing world helping those suffering from HIV and AIDS.

I feel very proud in being the first woman Member of Parliament for South Ribble, but I follow in the illustrious footsteps of Edith Rigby from Penwortham in my constituency, who was a founding member of the Hutton and Howick women's institute. In 1904, she joined the Women's Social and Political Union, popularly known as the suffragettes. She was arrested and sentenced to a
30 Jun 2010 : Column 903
month in prison for taking part in a march to the Houses of Parliament. She went on to serve a total of seven prison sentences, and her activities culminated in her planting a bomb in the Liverpool cotton exchange.

South Ribble can be divided into four distinctive areas and locations, each with its own beauty and rich history and, under this new Government, a better future ahead. Leyland, of Leyland Motors fame, is the main town of South Ribble and has its past in both the cotton and engineering industries. The Cromwell tank was built in Leyland in 1943 by Leyland Motors, which was a world-beating engineering firm of its time, exporting lorries and buses around the world, including to Cuba. The Leyland cotton mills wove fine cambrics and fancies for many fashion houses of the day, in addition to cotton bandages, woven and bleached in Leyland to supply the military front lines of British campaigns around the globe.

Although the heavy engineering and cotton mills of the past have long ceased, these industries have been replaced by highly skilled, technical engineering companies such as Clean Air Power and Torotrak, providing hi-tech solutions for the reduction of CO2 emissions from large haulage vehicles and articulated lorries. In the case of Clean Air Power, CO2 reductions of 50% to 60% are the norm. Leyland is also the home to Schwans, which makes the famous Chicago town pizza.

The people of Leyland and I strongly agree that regeneration is the key to the future success of local business, along with improved infrastructure and leisure facilities. I am delighted that, under the leadership of Councillor Margaret Smith, the leader of the Conservative South Ribble borough council, the Leyland regeneration board has been formed. The board is made up of prominent local businessmen and women with a wealth of local expertise, but more importantly, this is being carried out through the private sector and is not hamstrung by the red tape and bureaucracy of the public sector. All in all, the future for Leyland is a million miles from humdrum.

The villages of Tarleton-where I live-Hesketh Bank and Banks were where the Normans "harried" the north in 1069 and they were allowed, under law, to continue their recreational violence of slaughtering any Saxons whom they came across in the "freelands". The fenlands, or marshes, surrounding the villages are now home to a 2,000 acre bird sanctuary and conservation area in the Ribble marsh estuary.

Fortunately, the "freelands" are now some of the richest agricultural land in the country, which supports the horticulture, or growing, industry, producing crops that are an important source of the nation's food. That is one of our largest industries, with the growers supplying the major multiple retailers in both the UK and other parts of Europe. However, these companies, both large and small and employing large numbers of local people, feel weighed down and burdened by the rules, regulations and taxes imposed on them by the previous Administration. They, like many other businesses, feel pummelled by ever increasing business taxes, vehicle excise duties and fuel duties, and I welcome this Government's measures to help private business and enterprise flourish. The growers are desperate for new infrastructure to enable them to get their food crops from the growing fields to the main road network. In the bonfire of the quangos, the horticultural industry is looking to this Government
30 Jun 2010 : Column 904
to set fire to one of the last remaining dinosaurs of its type-the Agricultural Wages Board.

Other villages of South Ribble are famous for many past and varied pursuits by the locals. Albert Pierrepoint, Britain's last official executioner, after his retirement owned the Rose and Crown public house in Much Hoole, the pub being affectionately known by its patrons as "the drop in". Jeremiah Horrocks, the curate of St Michael's church in Little Hoole, accurately predicted and witnessed the transit of Venus, last seen-after 121 years-in 2004. Mawdesley was the centre of basket-making in Lancashire, thanks to the fine willow grown on the banks of the River Yarrow. The village of Eccleston was once famous for growing more than 200 varieties of apples, and I am delighted that the community has recently come together to replant apple trees in gardens, on the green and in other public spaces.

Small and medium-sized businesses are the mainstay of employment in South Ribble and the risk takers and innovators of our economy. These business people will certainly benefit from the measures outlined last week by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and fellow north-west MP, through his freedom, growth and enterprise agenda, and thanks to the new Government's regional growth fund, I am delighted that businesses in South Ribble will benefit to the tune of up to £5,000 per employee in national insurance contributions for the first 10 new employees.

My constituency is home to many highly skilled and specialist employees in the defence industry in the north-west-one of the UK's pre-eminent defence industrial areas. BAE Systems, Europe's largest defence contractor, has a strong presence in my constituency, with many constituents having a deep-rooted and strong interest in the future of the Typhoon fighter aircraft and tranche 3B of the programme; in the Mantis, one of the world's leading unmanned air vehicles; and, of course, in the F-35 joint strike fighter aircraft, which is a Lockheed Martin programme with BAE Systems as its main partner. No one can pre-judge the outcome of the strategic defence and security review, but it will come as no surprise to the Front-Bench Defence team that I will be campaigning hard and fighting for my constituents for the Typhoon tranche 3B project to go ahead.

I am very pleased to be making my maiden speech in this important debate on the progress and prospects in energy efficiency. It is with great regret, however, that the previous Government's Warm Front initiative has not been the success that was envisaged. Indeed, a number of my constituents, including a wheelchair-bound, 81-year-old gentleman, have come to me for help, following both initial consultations and installations by Warm Front agents in the north-west. They all have a sorry tale to tell-from being without hot water and heating for months on end after Warm Front carried out work on their properties, to vastly excessive charges over and above the £3,500 grant, appalling and shoddy workmanship and faulty equipment installed with no further responsibility from the companies involved.

After a particular constituent was advised that he would be required to stump up an additional £8,000 to replace a boiler and central heating system in a two-bedroom bungalow, I contacted a local and well respected Corgi-approved heating engineer to give me a quote. That came in at a total cost of £2,800-£700 less than the grant of £3,500-for the same specification as Warm
30 Jun 2010 : Column 905
Front's agents. I implore the Minister to review the Warm Front scheme urgently, as I believe there to be unscrupulous companies exploiting both the taxpayer, who is certainly not getting value for money, and my constituents, who in many cases are families with young children and elderly and vulnerable individuals. I respectfully request that the Minister ensure that the Government's excellent green deal programme does not go the same way.

Above all, the people of South Ribble wanted the Government off their backs and on their side. They believe that they know how to spend their hard-earned money better than any Government, and they voted for power to be handed back to the people. It is with great pride that I am in the House representing the people of South Ribble. I have vowed to put it on the map and to be South Ribble's voice in Westminster, and not the Westminster voice in South Ribble.

3.4 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your elevation. I also congratulate the three maiden speakers on their fascinating accounts of their constituencies, in particular the hon. Member for South Ribble (Lorraine Fullbrook), who was just ahead of the hon. Member for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon). I am now wondering where to spend my holidays-I was going to go to Florida, but I might go to all the different places mentioned as well. Dorset is on the map, too; it is not out of the question.

As a Unionist, I would normally back off from green politics or policies, but this is one occasion when I am fully in support of the green agenda. I never thought I would come to the House of Commons and say that, but today I can, with all honesty. I congratulate the Minister on bringing his thoughts and ideas to the Floor of the House; he said lots of things from which I can take comfort. However, there are many other things I would like to comment on. First, I want to outline some areas where I believe advances can be made.

Hopefully, the policies and targets we are trying to achieve are attainable. These days, efficiency is a word I dread. When someone mentions it, I think, "Oh my goodness, not more cutbacks. We're in trouble again." If we mention efficiency savings in schools, we are talking about school clubs being cut back, and if we mention them in hospitals, we are talking about night-time X-ray centres and accident and emergency departments being cut back. Those words send dread into the soul. However, there is one kind of efficiency that we are all happy to hear about-energy efficiency, and how it can be achieved and ultimately how it can bring about savings and a better way of life. We need to meet all our targets, including on carbon emissions. That is because the general public will be the winners from any efficiency that comes into play and which can be put to our advantage.

I am further encouraged by the number of Members who have within their constituencies companies that are go-ahead and inventive and have genuine ideas for providing energy savings. It is good to have that vast knowledge and expertise to hit upon. As someone who represents a mixed urban and rural community, I am
30 Jun 2010 : Column 906
faced with the needs of each and the difficulties that the different sectors have faced. I am also faced with the opportunities that come from that, because each has to make a lasting difference to the future of Northern Ireland and the UK as a whole. I mention Northern Ireland because I represent a constituency there, so it is important for me to make that point.

Wearing my other hat, as a Northern Ireland Assembly Member, I was part of a committee that highlighted energy efficiency. The rural community has a large input into energy production and development and the consideration of other uses of land. Will the Minister consider the issue of diversification for landowners into wind farms, sea turbines and opportunities for growing biomass, where energy savings and efficiencies can be made, and through which, ultimately, we can achieve the savings and efficiencies that we need? Strangford and Portaferry are leaps and bounds ahead of other places in many ways. I am saying that not just because I represent those areas, but because we have the first use of a tide turbine in the loch-the SeaGen project-which has begun to generate electricity for the area. It is a very successful and innovative idea. There are many other places in the United Kingdom where such an opportunity can be taken, and I hope that it will be encouraged.

Wind turbines can go a long way towards creating the energy levels and efficiencies needed. I would also make the point-I have made it in the past-that many birds and wildlife migrate to Strangford, in particular Strangford loch, in the winter. Brent geese are one of the important birds that go there. However, wind turbines and migrating fowl together will create problems, so I have suggested to those involved that perhaps we need a balance and some protection. We are all playing the renewable energy game, but the provision of wind turbines must strike a balance and integrate well with nature. It is wonderful that the SeaGen turbine has become the source of electricity for thousands of homes in my constituency. I believe that we can do this even better; we should replicate the SeaGen turbine in Portaferry right across the United Kingdom. One size does not fit all-I accept that-but we have to look at the ways we can achieve those things.

I put down this marker when it comes to offshore renewable energy: one thing must be protected, and that is the position and interests of the fisherman. Any future plans must ensure that they do not detract further from or decrease fishing locations, which would put the fishing industry under even more pressure. Given the potential for perhaps 300 sea and wind turbines on the coast, I believe that there will be an impact on a great many areas around the Irish sea coast, the Scottish coast and the rest of the UK.

The fishing industry is very important in my constituency. As such, although we all want to see the benefits and opportunities of energy efficiencies and renewables, we also want the fishing industry to be protected. By its very nature, and because the European Union is mostly responsible for the restrictions, the news for the fishing industry is not always good news. We want to make sure that we strike a balance. We need to make sure that the targets for renewable energy are met; that fishing can continue and co-exist; that the threat of habitat extinction is recognised; that fishing boats are not allowed near the sea turbines due to collision risks. Noise is generated by wind turbines; those who have one not too far away
30 Jun 2010 : Column 907
know that. If that is multiplied by 10, 20 or in some cases 100, we can see the problems. We need to be sure that people's quality of life is not affected.

Targets have been set for 40% of all electricity generated in Northern Ireland and the area I represent to be provided through renewable energy by 2020. Location is important, and co-existence and co-operation are vital if we are all to be supportive of goals that must be achieved. We cannot allow fishing fleets to be displaced; they can co-exist. The mussel and shellfish beds off the Copeland islands off Donaghadee are an important habitat and they must be protected.

There are benefits to the economy, too. This has not been touched on so far, but as I understand it, wherever we have a sea or a wind turbine, we create jobs. Perhaps that jobs factor has not come into the equation so far, and the Minister will comment on it in summing up. In other parts of the UK, renewable energy generation has been approved and there are abundant examples of how it co-exists with other industries. That is just one of the many challenges for 2020 that I believe we should look at.

In his introduction, the Minister mentioned that there would be no targets-I may have heard him incorrectly; I would like some clarification. Targets are not set just for the sake of it, but it is important to have them, so that we know when we are achieving some of our goals. It is not a matter of setting targets and then failing to achieve them; it is important to have something to aim for. We all set targets in our life-I know I do, and I presume other Members do, too. We need to have something to aim for in relation to what can be achieved.

I referred earlier to the willow biomass project-another example of renewable energy of which Northern Ireland has taken advantage. I believe that it will reap benefits. There has to be a fairly vast acreage in order to get the advantage from it. Again, I would like to hear what incentives are available. It is not always about what grants are available; if there is an incentive for someone to plant willow biomass, why not do that? Perhaps the Minister will give us some indication of the incentives to encourage landowners, farmers or others who have the opportunity to develop it.

I am also very aware of the CRC-carbon reduction commitment-energy efficiency scheme, which is being brought into operation throughout the UK. It applies to any public body which in 2008 had at least one half-hourly electricity meter. The half-hourly market is required to register for the scheme. The Environment Agency estimates that some 1,100 public bodies will be participants in the scheme. Other registered public sector bodies must make a simple information disclosure at registration at the start of each phase of the scheme. It is hoped that the scheme will raise awareness in business, which I think is important, and there must also be the promotion of consumer efficiency. Those are the joint goals to try to aim for. I have been a part of a group aimed at encouraging the promotion of the Energy Saving Trust in the Province. Again, the scheme could be pushed elsewhere in the UK.

In these times of economic constraint, every pound saved will make a difference. It is not an exaggeration to say that pounds saved today will help balance the books at the end of the week. People need to understand that they can save around £37 a year by turning applications off standby, while reducing room
30 Jun 2010 : Column 908
temperature by 1° C can cut heating bills by up to 10%. Being a modern man-I am sure there are plenty of modern men in this Chamber-I know that washing clothes at 30° C instead of at higher temperatures uses around 40% less electricity. That may sound a trifle boring, but it is something that the modern man has to address. If people are committed to energy saving and to renewable policies, they should consider all these things.

It is my hope that this Government will consider an initiative by which the regular working family can get help with grants to enable the installation of solar panels to generate hot water among other things. In the Minister's opening speech I think that there was mention of the legislation being put forward, and I would like to know more. Perhaps when I get a chance to read Hansard, I will have a better idea of exactly how any system might work. We are keen to see how it might happen. The cost of solar panels, for example, is sometimes prohibitive to those who cannot access grants. Yet long-term benefit to the environment, which is what we are aiming for, will far will far outweigh any cost factor. I have been contacted by a great number of young couples who would like to be green in their lifestyles, but who are working to pay off their mortgage and simply cannot afford the upgrades. Again, how will that work? The idea of the system that I got was that there would not be grants as such, but I would like to know more about how it would work.

Before I left to come here this morning, I saw a TV programme showing how energy-efficiency savings could be made in households-somewhere in London, I believe-whether it be through solar panels in the roof, the insulation of the walls or the collection of rain water in a downpipe, which is then put to household use. It provided a few examples of how that could happen. The person concerned spent a fairly large sum to make that happen, so the question I ask is how we can help those people to do more. How can we help families who cannot afford to do any of those things? That is something that we should look at, whether it be through a direct subsidy or through another method. If there is one, I would like to know what it is.

The future of energy efficiency lies in renewable energy that co-exists with business; it lies with encouraging people to do the small things that make a big difference in their homes; and it lies with this House making the prospects attractive and in every way encouraging businesses and homes to go the extra mile and see what the benefits will be.

3.18 pm

Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD): It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and to address the House for the first time on behalf of the people of Wells, the most beautiful constituency in the country. [Interruption.] Yes it is.

Next Section Index Home Page