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Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): Drax power station takes an enormous amount of natural material from constituencies such as Thirsk and Malton. It is also a renewable power supply and reduces CO2 emissions. How do the Government think we can increase and encourage expenditure in this exciting form of renewable energy?
Charles Hendry: I am seeing the chief executive of Drax almost immediately after Question Time today, so I will have the opportunity to explore that further with her. The co-firing of biomass can make an important contribution, but we have to be certain that it is done sustainably. There are questions about the great deal of shipping involved in the transportation of biomass, but it can certainly make a contribution to reducing our carbon emissions.
T8.  Tony Lloyd (Manchester Central) (Lab): I am sure the Secretary of State would agree that not only is he responsible for energy but that, as far as climate change goes, he has a duty to drive this policy through every aspect of Government. In that light, can he tell the House how many times this has been an agenda item before the Cabinet?
Chris Huhne: The hon. Gentleman is right that this is on the agenda across the Government. As I said earlier, we discussed this at, for example, the regional Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. We discussed the importance of green jobs and the impact that the growth of the green economy is likely to have, including outside the golden area of London and the south-east. That will remain a key focus in the Government's work.
Charlotte Leslie (Bristol North West) (Con): In my constituency there is a reapplication for a biofuel plant burning palm oil and jatropha. There is great fear that although they are renewable sources of energy, they are not sustainable. Can my hon. Friend please tell me what assessment he will be making of the eligibility of such fuels for renewables obligation certificates, which make such applications possible?
Charles Hendry: We are looking at the structure of ROCs at the moment. We are absolutely clear that biofuels have a role to play, but it must be sustainable. That point will be at the heart of the way in which we look forward on such issues.
Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): The Minister said earlier that he objected to the idea of 150-foot turbines near villages, so is there a planning rule of thumb emerging, of, say, 1, 2 or 5 km away?
Charles Hendry: I did not say that I objected to them; I said that local communities had the right to object to them. That goes to the heart of local democracy. What we are saying is that local voices have to be heard in the process, and we are absolutely committed to making that happen. We have not set a rule for how far wind turbines should be from habitation-we share that position with the previous Government-because the one house that they are near could be the house of the person who wants to put them up. Therefore, having a rule would be to take a completely self-defeating approach.
Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): The timber industry is a significant employer in Hexham. All of us support wood biomass, but there is currently a cross-party team, with Members from both the Labour Benches and our own, seeking to change the distorted energy subsidy for wood biomass. Would the ministerial team meet the cross-party team?
The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Gregory Barker): We are very clear that wood biomass has a key role to play, particularly in local energy economies, which we want to see developed to encourage a greater link between local communities and the energy that they consume-coppicing, for example, has great biodiversity as well as low-carbon advantages-so I would happily meet my hon. Friend and his team.
Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Will the Secretary of State confirm that no decision has yet been taken on the location of the headquarters of the proposed green investment bank? That being so, does he agree that Edinburgh would be an ideal location, particularly given what he just said about ensuring that green investment is not focused just in the south-east of England?
Chris Huhne: The hon. Gentleman knows that Edinburgh is an ideal location for many things, including a number of my hon. Friends. Decisions on the siting of the headquarters are perhaps a little way off, as we are still consulting on the exact shape of the investment bank, but I am sure that we will bear in mind the considerable advantages of his constituency when we come to make that judgment.
Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye) (Con): Is the Secretary of State aware that some extraordinary technological advances are being made by British private companies? One in particular-Marshall-Tufflex in my constituency-would like to come and see Ministers to show them the advances that it has made that could help with general carbon reduction.
Gregory Barker: As my hon. Friend knows, I have visited Marshall-Tufflex, which has some interesting and exciting products that could be a great help across the Government estate; indeed, I would be delighted to see the company while in office and in government.
Chris Huhne: The answer to that is that we have had discussions in Cabinet about the situation in the Falklands and the possibilities, in the longer run, of there being oil and gas, but they are not at the stage where decisions need to be taken. However, no doubt when the time comes an announcement will be made.
David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con):
Following on from the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Elmet and Rothwell (Alec Shelbrooke), may I ask the Minister whether any steps are being taken to look into evening out the tariffs for electricity usage by card meter payments and by billing? I believe that there is a differential, so are there any plans to sort
that out and make it easier for everyone to pay the same tariff, purely and simply because that would lead to energy conservation?
Charles Hendry: We have been very concerned indeed about the relatively higher tariffs that people on prepayment meters pay for the electricity and gas that they use. Addressing that will be one of the most significant gains of smart metering. If we look at the experience of Northern Ireland, where smart meters have already been largely rolled out, we see that people on prepayment meters pay less than people on standard tariffs. That is the sort of gain that we want to achieve for people right across the United Kingdom.
Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Can the ministerial team tell me what their assessment is of the effect of the 25% cut facing universities on research into energy efficiency and environmental research generally?
Chris Huhne: The hon. Gentleman asks an important question about the likely impact on research and development. We will obviously assess that when we know more fully the shape of what will be happening in the wake of the comprehensive spending review, but tough decisions will have to be taken. As I have said already, the former Chief Secretary to the Treasury told us clearly: there is no money left.
The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr David Heath): My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has given notice to the shadow Leader of the House and to you, Mr Speaker, that he is attending a memorial service this morning. I will therefore be announcing the business and answering questions on his behalf. The business for the week commencing 5 July will include:
Wednesday 14 July-Motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to counter-terrorism, followed by motion relating to police grant report, followed by motion to approve a European document relating to the European External Action Service.
Ms Winterton: I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for the business statement. I think it is in order to welcome him to his first business questions. I know that he has a long record of campaigning for respect for Parliament. Indeed, I was looking through his contributions to the last Parliament and noticed that he said Ministers should remember that
"their first responsibility in terms of information is to the House and nowhere else".-[ Official Report, 3 July 1998; Vol. 315, c. 657.]
Now at least the Home Secretary realised that this had been a step too far, but will the Deputy Leader of the House undertake to tick off the following offenders
in respect of whom we would like to set up an early release of information scheme? First, there is the Defence Secretary for briefing on the departure of Sir Jock Stirrup. Secondly, there is the Secretary of State for Education for briefing on plans for schools. Thirdly, there is the Secretary of State for Health for briefing on the NHS operating framework. Then there is the entire Downing street staff for briefing on the whole Queen's Speech. Then there is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has achieved a hat-trick here for briefing on spending cuts, financial reform and the Budget. Then there is the Secretary of State for Justice for briefing on prison reforms. I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House can assure us that he has checked with the Foreign Secretary to ensure that nothing has been said to the media this morning that should have been said to the House first. I am sure that the Deputy Leader of the House will seize this opportunity to take up the cause for Parliament, as I know he would hate to be accused of saying one thing in opposition and another thing in government.
Speaking of that, I was leafing through the Conservative-Liberal Democrat programme for government only this morning and came across the section on Government transparency. It is well worth a read, especially the bit that says:
"We will create a new 'right to data' so that government-held datasets can be requested and used by the public".
Can the Deputy Leader of the House tell us whether that right extends to Members of Parliament, particularly when they are asking for figures such as those produced by the Treasury which showed that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been warned that measures in the Budget would lead to 1.3 million people losing their jobs?
Given the Prime Minister's extraordinary performance yesterday, when he refused even to acknowledge that those figures existed, will the Deputy Leader of the House place the Treasury documents in the Library? Will he also ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to make a statement to the House telling us when he first saw those documents, and why he did not include them in his Budget statement? In that statement, will the Chancellor of the Exchequer be able to confirm whether there was any contact between Ministers and their Office for Budget Responsibility before the publication of their job forecasts yesterday?
Will the Deputy Leader of the House tell us whether there will be any report to the House on the Cabinet's visit to Yorkshire? I noted that during that visit the Prime Minister was quizzed on how the Government's protestations of support for manufacturing tallied with the withdrawal of the loan to Sheffield Forgemasters. Perhaps the Deputy Leader of the House will also explain why the Leader of the House of the House said last week that
"the Deputy Prime Minister is meeting Sheffield Forgemasters tomorrow in his constituency." -[ Official Report, 24 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 433.]
I understand that no such meeting was planned, or took place. I can only imagine that the Leader of the House was misled by the Deputy Prime Minister. I am sure that the Deputy Leader of the House will want to clarify exactly what happened, so that Members can be clear about what support is actually being given to important manufacturing companies such as Sheffield Forgemasters.
Can the Deputy Leader of the House also help us out by telling us whether there will be a statement on the future of the Tenant Services Authority? Apparently the Housing Minister has called it "toast", but the Chief Secretary has said that abolishing it would put the finances of housing associations at risk. It would greatly assist the House, and Opposition Members in particular, to know that there is absolutely no sense of disagreement between Conservative and Liberal Democrat Ministers. We certainly wish to be assured that the Liberal Democrats are 100% behind all Conservative policy, including putting up VAT, putting people out of work, and the huge cuts that are to be made in public services.
Mr Heath: The shadow Leader of the House has asked me to restate a position that I stated many times in opposition, and I have no hesitation in doing so. It is entirely clear, not only to me but in the ministerial code of conduct, that announcements of substantive changes in policy should be made to the House in the first instance, and I know perfectly well that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House brought that to the attention of the Cabinet yet again only this week. You, Mr Speaker, made it very clear in your statement yesterday, and it is our clear intention that it should be the case. I have to tell the shadow Leader of the House that occasionally there will be mistakes- [Interruption.] Even Government Departments sometimes make mistakes, and that is obviously what happened in the case of the Home Office announcement last week. What happened was that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary came to the House to apologise for that mistake, and that is the right way of dealing with it.
It is important that we make sure that changes of policy are properly represented to the House, but I say gently to Labour Members that there is very little point in raising as points of order or at business questions issues raised by Ministers that are clearly set out in existing policy in the coalition document. I am so pleased that the shadow Leader of the House bothers to read that document. If it is policy set out in the coalition document, it should be no great surprise that Ministers adopt the policy and are prepared to speak about it. Therefore, it is not the case that that is an inappropriate way of addressing political issues.
I shall now deal with the other issues that the right hon. Lady raised. She mentioned an issue relating to housing associations. That is important and I shall take the matter back to the Departments and ask whether it is possible for a clear statement of the position to be given-we will ensure that that is the case.
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