The previous Labour Government committed the UK to establishing an ecologically coherent network of marine conservation zones by 2012. The Government’s decision to delay their implementation is a bitter blow

28 Feb 2012 : Column 255

for the 1 million stakeholders who took part in the consultation process. How can the Government provide leadership on the global stage on marine conservation when they have failed to meet their own deadline for designating marine conservation zones? The EU is in the process of radically reforming the common fisheries policy to provide a sustainable and profitable future for UK fishermen. That reform might pose serious challenges for the UK fleet on issues such as maximum sustainable yields, discards and capacity.

I was hugely impressed by the contribution from the hon. Member for Richmond Park, although his reputation preceded him, when he spoke about the need to protect developing countries. What proposals will the Minister bring to the table to ensure that the EU fleet will not resort to unsustainable fishing off the coast of developing countries to offset the conservation of stocks closer to home? What about marine protection in overseas territories, which the hon. Gentleman also spoke about? Some 90% of our marine biodiversity is in overseas territories. Labour designated the Chagos islands as a marine reserve. What plans does the Minister have to protect biodiversity in these areas?

The hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) spoke about the record of some companies in reducing their carbon footprint, but again I want to turn to the Government’s record at home. Earlier this month, the Secretary of State said that she would join the call for Rio to drive uptake of sustainable businesses practices

“in particular transparent and coherent sustainability reporting”.—[Official Report, 9 February 2012; Vol. 540, c. 44WS.]

Carbon reporting is a vital connection in driving up standards in green jobs and growth, yet when it comes to carbon reporting at home, the Government are dragging their feet. Will the Minister guarantee that his Government keep their promise and make it mandatory for UK companies to report their carbon emissions before Rio? The deadline in the Climate Change Act 2008 is April 2012. Will the Department meet that deadline—yes or no?

One of the Government’s first acts was to abolish the Sustainable Development Commission, their own green watchdog. This Government have invented their very own approach to sustainable development at home, and that is before we even mention the influence of the Chancellor on this debate. He sees the environment as a barrier to growth and thinks that the green agenda is bad for business and jobs. In his autumn statement, he said that burdening British business with environmental goals would mean that

“businesses will fail, jobs will be lost, and our country will be poorer.”—[Official Report, 29 November 2011; Vol. 536, c. 807.]

Yet the reality is that this could not be further from the truth. The UK is falling behind because of this Government’s policies and their lack of environmental ambition. The hon. Member for Waveney (Peter Aldous) spoke about the growth in green jobs, but since this Government came to power, the UK has slipped from third in the world for investment in green growth to 13th, behind such countries as Brazil and India. In 2009, investment in alternative energy and clean technology reached £7 billion. That fell by more than 70% the year this Government were elected. The latest figures for last year seem to suggest that if there was any pick-up, it was very modest. Investment levels are still considerably below what they were in 2009.

28 Feb 2012 : Column 256

It is quite an achievement that in less than two years the Government have alienated businesses over green investment, along with the National Trust, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and The Daily Telegraph, because of their plans to rip up the planning rules that have protected our environment for 60 years. The Minister of State, Cabinet Office wants to do to the planning system what the Chancellor has done to environmental regulations, tearing up best practice and replacing it with a 50-page document. When asked by the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about the Cabinet Office’s intentions, the Secretary of State replied:

“I am not in a position to confirm or deny”

the story, adding:

“I was not at such a meeting.”

That is exactly the problem with this Secretary of State: she is always outside the room when the big boys are making the decisions.

I want to try to strike a positive note, so let me move on to what Labour sees as the key priorities and opportunities at Rio. Our leadership at home is key to our credibility on the global stage, and if Government Members do not get that, we have a problem. When it comes to food poverty at home, we see rising food prices and families forced to rely on charities and food banks. Last year the Trussell Trust, one of the largest food charities, opened a food bank every week. The amazing charity FareShare, which I visited yesterday, works with other charities to feed 35,000 people a day in the UK. Rio rightly places food security and ensuring a sustainable, healthy and safe food supply for the world’s population at the top of its agenda. The hon. Members for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) and for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) both have a history with Oxfam. As Oxfam has highlighted in its Grow campaign, we need to tackle the structural causes of food crises, addressing the effects of speculation on food prices, the impact of biofuels and land grabs. The answer is not producing more food alone, but producing more food with less impact. We need to mitigate the impact of climate change and invest in agricultural practices and sustainable livelihoods in developing countries.

As the hon. Members for Cheltenham and for Richmond Park both said, resource scarcity is the biggest challenge facing the planet. With the population expected to reach 9 billion by 2050, Rio is an opportunity to reach a global agreement on how we can ensure access to water, food and energy for all, alongside the long-term challenges of climate change and eco-system management. The interconnected nature of resource scarcity means that political leadership is vital. On this side of the House, we are taking a joined-up approach, working across shadow Departments to reflect the broad range of issues that will be discussed in June. Will the Minister tell us when he last met with his colleagues in the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department for International Development, and what discussions they had about their priorities for Rio?

As many Members have said, GDP alone is a limited measure of growth and does not take into account the other pillars of sustainable development—the social and environmental costs. Labour agrees that one of the key priorities for Rio should be to develop sustainable development goals and set down serious policy milestones

28 Feb 2012 : Column 257

for 2015 and beyond. The Committee recommends that the Government should engage with European countries to ensure that the EU pushes strongly for sustainable development goals ahead of Rio+20. Indeed, the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) spoke of the need for countries to work together. With just over four months until the conference, will the Minister tell us what discussions he has had with other EU member states, and what progress has been made?

The Secretary of State claims that she is ambitious. However, on forests, marine conservation zones, carbon reporting, sustainable development and food poverty, the ambition of this Government has not been matched at home. We need an ambitious Government who will lead the world on sustainable development. The Secretary of State said that Rio+20 had to be

“a workshop, not a talking shop”.

If the Government are to have any credibility, it will not be enough for them to talk the talk; they will have to walk the walk, too.

9.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Richard Benyon): I should like to start by thanking the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Joan Walley) for securing this timely debate, and by welcoming the contributions from both sides of the House. These discussions, and the strong parliamentary interest in them, are an important part of informing our approach to the negotiations. The hon. Lady led the debate with real knowledge and power. With the exception of the final speech, there has been fantastic cross-party support today. The hon. Member for East Lothian (Fiona O'Donnell) really read the mood of the House wrongly tonight, and she should reflect on that.

The Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North, articulated a concept that is considered irrelevant and old fashioned in some quarters, but it is one that I believe to be totally relevant to the debate on Rio and on sustainability. It is the concept of stewardship. When we talk about the stewardship of our planet, we are talking about the future for our children and grandchildren—a point that my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer) made particularly well. The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) also made that point. This is the time to get this right. The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead) raised the prospect of Rio+40, and said that it would be a tragedy if we did not put in place the measures that we hope will come from this conference, and did not hold politicians of this generation to their commitments.

Our understanding of the need to green our economy and promote sustainable development has improved dramatically over the past 20 years. It is no longer something that we should do, but something that we need to do for future prosperity. It has been pointed out tonight that more than 1 billion people are living in poverty, that two thirds of the world’s ecosystems are in decline and that climate change will cost up to a quarter of global gross domestic product.

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We are well aware of what is at stake here. This has been well articulated by the hon. Members for Gower (Martin Caton) and for Brighton, Pavilion and by my hon. Friends the Members for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes), for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood), for Sherwood and for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), among many others. The key point is that the UK must and will take a leading role to secure a successful outcome in Rio.

Since our response to the Committee’s report, we have—as the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North said—received the zero draft that will act as the basis of negotiations until June. We also have recommendations from the Secretary-General’s high-level panel on global sustainability, which was launched in London this week. With just four months to go, momentum is building and we are getting a clearer idea of what countries, NGOs and businesses are calling for. I should therefore like to make clear the UK priorities for Rio, which will go some way to addressing concerns raised here today, although I will of course pick up any further points.

I want to see Governments stand up at Rio and make a clear statement—a political declaration—that sustainable development is the only way forward. We need to make it absolutely clear that long-term, sustainable, climate-resilient growth is possible only if we use natural resources sustainably and tackle poverty. In the UK, we have shown our commitment to green growth through a raft of policies and initiatives, including our publication “Enabling the Transition to a Green Economy”, which provides businesses with the certainty and clarity to innovate, invest and grow in a green way.

Fiona O'Donnell rose—

Richard Benyon: I want to make a bit of progress, if the hon. Lady will allow me.

We have established the green investment bank with £3 billion-worth of funding. Together with the green deal, it will accelerate green investment by businesses and households. We have introduced a carbon floor price that will come into force from April next year. We have published the natural environment White Paper—the Government’s vision of how to protect and improve the natural environment over the next 50 years—with 92 recommendations for action.

Yesterday morning I stood at the top of the Wiltshire downs with a really enthusiastic group of farmers and people from the local community as we launched one of the nature improvement areas—a really exciting prospect. At Rio, we must ensure that the commitment to green growth is secured at the international level—it needs tangible outcomes—which will help all countries move to a sustainable growth path.

Fiona O'Donnell: The Minister cannot have it both ways. He cannot come to this House singing the praises of his Department and then not expect us to hold it accountable for its record at home. Will he give a commitment now to mandatory reporting of carbon emissions?

Richard Benyon: I will come on to that. I said a little earlier that the hon. Lady had misread the mood of the House—and she still seems to be doing so. I will answer her points later.

28 Feb 2012 : Column 259

A key part of Rio will be an agreement on the sustainable development goals—a priority for the UK, on which we are working closely with our EU and international partners. There is a lot to do on fleshing out SDGs, but we want to lead the way in helping to develop this thinking. The Secretary of State met a group of Ministers in Nairobi last week and the Colombian Environment Minister here today. We need a renewed focus on tackling the major sustainability issues of access to food, sustainable energy and water.

We need to focus on global challenges. Agriculture, water and energy are fundamental to our economy, and provide livelihoods for the world’s poorest people. By 2030, the world will need at least 50% more food, 45% more energy and 30% more water. These are massive issues. We have tried to do our bit in government by reflecting the concerns that we know future generations will face—for example in our water White Paper published just before Christmas, which set out how we will approach the resilience of our economy and natural environment to provide the water we need in the future.

We need a clear course of action on food security and sustainable agriculture, which is climate smart, reduces waste and takes into account water resources. We need to be clear that access to clean and safe water is a prerequisite for green growth. Just last week, we were discussing drought here in the UK—a country famous for its rainfall. In China, which has 20% of the world’s population but only 6% of its water resources, half of which are undrinkable, access to water resources will only become more important. The UN Secretary-General's “Sustainable Energy for All” initiative is an important step towards increasing sustainable energy, energy efficiency and the use of renewables.

We want to see outcomes that will put sustainability at the heart of decision making. This includes a commitment to go beyond gross domestic product so as to account for natural and social values, too. Many hon. Members touched on this issue. It is vital that we articulate it not just in the high-level conversations—or high-falutin’ ones, as one hon. Member put it—but at the local level. Several hon. Members stressed that we have to carry people with us in these arguments. I was particularly impressed with how my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood brought the argument down to the household level, as it is crucial to impact on households now and in the future.

The UK has a lot to share at Rio: through our national ecosystems assessment, through the Prime Minister’s work on well-being and through work stemming from our natural environment White Paper, we can begin to put natural value at the heart of decision making. A number of Members referred to the Government’s agenda in that regard. I was particularly taken by what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) and by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion. We are trying to value natural capital in the context of our economic well-being, of which it is a vital element, and we will shortly announce the membership of the natural capital committee. However, it is impossible to value a view: there must still be an element of the spiritual and uplifting benefits of nature that we all experience, and it is important that we articulate that.

28 Feb 2012 : Column 260

The natural capital committee will advise the Government on our natural capital, and our work with the Office for National Statistics will embed it in our environmental accounts by 2020. Our guidance entitled “Accounting for Environmental Impacts” will help Departments to reflect the value of nature in decision making. Our ecosystems market taskforce—led by Ian Cheshire, chief executive of the Kingfisher group—will look at opportunities for businesses in new green goods and services, which form a vital part of our work in the future. Our work with the World Bank on its “Wealth Accounting and Valuation of Ecosystem Services” will pilot new approaches to wealth accounting in developing countries.

As has been said we also need greater resource efficiency and a commitment to reducing inefficient and environmentally harmful subsidies, including fossil fuel subsidies. In the UK alone, resource efficiency could provide £23 billion-worth of savings, or £2.9 trillion globally per annum, and the EU is well placed to lead on that through its “Roadmap to a Resource Efficient Europe”.

As the Government have noted, action by Governments alone will not be enough. Rio needs to engage the private sector actively so that it plays its part in delivering a greener economy through trade, innovation and investment. However, a Government can facilitate the transition by, for instance, reducing environmentally harmful subsidies. A number of Members mentioned fishing. Let me assure my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park that the Government’s agenda on fisheries partnership agreements is right up there in terms of reform of the common fisheries policy. It is entirely wrong that, having failed to put our own house in order, we are now inflicting bad management on some of the people in this world who can least afford it, and I assure my hon. Friend that dealing with that is an absolute priority for me.

We will be able to assist by incentivising research and development and innovation, by increasing resource efficiency, to which we have referred in the context of the water White Paper, by getting price signals right—I have mentioned the carbon floor in that connection—by valuing and accounting for natural resources, by making the best use of standards and voluntary approaches such as labelling and procurement, and by developing indicators of green growth. We have been engaging businesses in relation to possible outcomes from Rio, for example through the Green Economy Council.

Caroline Lucas rose—

Richard Benyon: I am sorry; I cannot give way.

We know that UK businesses are world leaders in green growth. Marks and Spencer saved more than £70 million last year through a combination of efficiency savings and new business. That compares with £50 million the year before.

Joan Walley rose—

Richard Benyon: I have only a minute left, but I must give way to the hon. Lady.

Joan Walley: I hoped that, before our time ran out, the Minister would tell us whether the Prime Minister would be going to the summit, and when we could expect an announcement about that.

28 Feb 2012 : Column 261

Richard Benyon: A very strong message has been conveyed by this debate. The hon. Lady knows that I cannot give an absolute commitment one way or the other. As was made clear to her Committee, the Prime Minister thinks that this is an absolute priority. The Secretary of State will be going, and whether or not the Prime Minister can go will be announced in the near future.

As I was saying and as was said earlier, businesses are leading the way, and to an extent Government must follow. We know that the Brazilians are planning to bring non-governmental organisations and the private sector together before the ministerial segment, and I hope that a range of UK businesses and NGOs will help to shape the negotiations that follow. We have also encouraged the Brazilians to hold a trade fair to showcase the opportunities that the transition to a green economy can offer. It is important to note that politicians will not just be talking to each other: there will be engagement with business, the voluntary sector, NGOs and, of course, Governments.

These are our high-level priorities for Rio. The areas where we think we can make a real difference include the sustainable development goals, agriculture and energy, valuing natural capital and corporate sustainability. Rio is above all a negotiation, and we will be working hard with the EU Commissioner and member states to ensure that Europe has a strong voice. We will also need to work with our international—

10 pm

Debate interrupted, and Question deferred (Standing Order No. 54).

The Speaker put the deferred Questions (Standing Order No. 54).

Estimates, Vote on Account, 2012-13

Department for Culture, Media and Sport


That, for the year ending with 31 March 2013, for expenditure by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport—

(1) resources, not exceeding £2,705,167,000, be authorised, on account, for use for current purposes as set out in HC 1756,

(2) resources, not exceeding £390,871,000, be authorised, on account, for use for capital purposes as so set out, and

(3) a sum, not exceeding £2,660,065,000, be granted to Her Majesty to be issued by the Treasury out of the Consolidated Fund, on account, and applied for expenditure on the use of resources authorised by Parliament.

Supplementary Estimates, 2011-12

Home Office


That, for the year ending with 31 March 2012, for expenditure by the Home Office—

(1) further resources, not exceeding £66,029,000, be authorised for use for current purposes as set out in HC 1755,

(2) further resources, not exceeding £4,421,000, be authorised for use for capital purposes as so set out, and

(3) a further sum, not exceeding £173,266,000, be granted to Her Majesty to be issued by the Treasury out of the Consolidated Fund and applied for expenditure on the use of resources authorised by Parliament.

28 Feb 2012 : Column 262

Vote on Account, 2012-13

Department for Transport


That, for the year ending with 31 March 2013, for expenditure by the Department for Transport—

(1) resources, not exceeding £3,413,771,000, be authorised, on account, for use for current purposes as set out in HC 1756,

(2) resources, not exceeding £3,478,411,000, be authorised, on account, for use for capital purposes as so set out, and

(3) a sum, not exceeding £5,850,719,000, be granted to Her Majesty to be issued by the Treasury out of the Consolidated Fund, on account, and applied for expenditure on the use of resources authorised by Parliament.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs


That, for the year ending with 31 March 2013, for expenditure by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—

(1) resources, not exceeding £1,079,958,000, be authorised, on account, for use for current purposes as set out in HC 1756,

(2) resources, not exceeding £172,643,000, be authorised, on account, for use for capital purposes as so set out, and

(3) a sum, not exceeding £1,106,539,000, be granted to Her Majesty to be issued by the Treasury out of the Consolidated Fund, on account, and applied for expenditure on the use of resources authorised by Parliament.

The Speaker then put the Questions on the outstanding Estimates (Standing Order No. 55).

Estimates, 2011-12 (Navy) Vote A


That, during the year ending with 31 March 2012, modifications in the maximum numbers in the Reserve Naval and Marines Forces set out in Supplementary Votes A 2011-12, HC 1745, be authorised for the purposes of Part 1 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996.—(Mr Dunne.)

Estimates, 2011-12 (Army) Vote A


That, during the year ending with 31 March 2012, modifications in the maximum numbers in the Reserve Land Forces set out in Supplementary Votes A 2011-12, HC 1745, be authorised for the purposes of Part 1 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996. —(Mr Dunne .)

Estimates, 2012-13 (Navy) Vote A


That, during the year ending with 31 March 2013, a number not exceeding 39,350 all ranks be maintained for Naval Service and that numbers in the Reserve Naval and Marines Forces be authorised for the purposes of Parts 1, 3, 4 and 5 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 up to the maximum numbers set out in Votes A 2012-13, HC 1735. —(Mr Dunne. )

Estimates, 2012-13 (army) vote a


That, during the year ending with 31 March 2013, a number not exceeding 121,540 all ranks be maintained for Army Service and that numbers in the Reserve Land Forces be authorised for the purposes of Parts 1, 3, 4 and 5 of the Reserve Forces Act 1996 up to the maximum numbers set out in Votes A 2012-13, HC 1735.—(Mr Dunne. )

28 Feb 2012 : Column 263

estimates, 2012-13 (air) vote a


That, during the year ending with 31 March 2013, a number not exceeding 42,210 all ranks be maintained for Air Force Service and that numbers in the Reserve Air Forces be authorised for the purposes of Parts 1, 3, 4 and 5 of the Reserve Air Forces Act 1996 up to the maximum numbers set out in Votes A 2012-13, HC 1735.—(Mr Dunne. )

estimates, excesses, 2010-11


That, for the year ending with 31 March 2011—

(1) a sum, not exceeding £347,072,000 be granted to Her Majesty out of the Consolidated Fund to make good excesses of certain grants for defence and civil services as set out in Statement of Excesses 2010-11, HC 1757. —(Mr Dunne. )

supplementary estimates, 2011-12


That, for the year ending with 31 March 2012—

(1) further resources, not exceeding £16,430,760,000, be authorised for use for current purposes as set out in HC 1748, HC 1755, HC 1772 and HC 1783.

(2) resources authorised for capital purposes be reduced by £4,397,816,000, as so set out, and

(3) a further sum, not exceeding £7,170,139,000 be granted to Her Majesty to be issued by the Treasury out of the Consolidated Fund and applied for expenditure on the use of resources authorised by Parliament. —(Mr Dunne. )

estimates, vote on account, 2012-13


That, for the year ending with 31 March 2013—

(1) resources, not exceeding £205,575,869,000 be authorised, on account, for use for current purposes as set out in HC 1756, HC 1784, HC 1785, HC 1804, HC 1840 and HC 1848.

(2) resources, not exceeding £16,331,213,000 be authorised, on account, for use for capital purposes as so set out, and

(3) a sum, not exceeding £195,629,897,000, be granted to Her Majesty to be issued by the Treasury out of the Consolidated Fund, on account, and applied for expenditure on the use of resources authorised by Parliament. —(Mr Dunne. )

Ordered, That a Bill be brought in upon the foregoing Resolutions relating to Estimates, Excesses, 2010-11, Supplementary Estimates, 2011-12, and Estimates, 2012-13 (Vote on Account).

28 Feb 2012 : Column 264

That the Chairman of Ways and Means, Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer, Danny Alexander, Miss Chloe Smith, Mr David Gauke, and Mr Mark Hoban bring in the Bill.

Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill

Presentation and First Reading

Mr Mark Hoban accordingly presented a Bill to authorise the use of resources for the years ending with 31 March 2012 and 31 March 2013; to authorise the issue of sums out of the Consolidated Fund for those years and for the year ending with 31 March 2011; and to appropriate the supply authorised by this Act for the years ending with 31 March 2011 and 31 March 2012.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed (Bill 310).

Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)) ,

Constitutional Law

That the draft Housing (Scotland) Act 2010 (Consequential Provisions and Modifications) Order 2012, which was laid before this House on 10 January, be approved.—(M ichael Fabricant .)

Question agreed to.

European Union Documents

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(11)),

EU Financial Instruments for the Period 2014-20

That this House takes note of European Union Document No. 16301/11, relating to a Commission Communication: A framework for the next generation of innovative financial instruments-the EU equity and debt platforms; notes that the Commission’s proposals increase resources available to the EU; agrees that the maximum acceptable expenditure increase through the next Financial Perspective is a real-terms freeze in payments; and supports the view that Innovative Financial Instruments in the next Financial Perspective, 2014–2020, should only be used to deliver a smaller EU Budget and not to supplement existing funding.—(Mr. Hoban.)

Question agreed to.

28 Feb 2012 : Column 265

Supermarkets And Public Land (Scotland)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr Dunne.)

Mr Speaker: Before I call the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr McCann) to speak, I should note that he has written to me to ask that I waive the sub judice rule in respect of a statutory appeal to the Court of Session against the decision of a planning reporter, to which a number of companies, Scottish Ministers and South Lanarkshire council are parties. This is to enable him to raise the matter of a particular planning issue in his constituency in this Adjournment debate. Given the technical nature of the proceedings, which are before judges only, and the fact that no date for a hearing has yet been set, I have agreed to waive the rule so far as is necessary for this debate to take place. However, I ask the hon. Gentleman to exercise this freedom with discretion.

10.4 pm

Mr Michael McCann (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Competition among supermarkets in our country is at times a cut-throat business. A desire for dominance and market share has meant that in different parts of the UK competing supermarket chains are knocking seven bells out of each other to secure new stores. That is all perfectly legitimate if no laws are being broken. However, if we add to the mix the ingredient of public land, we change the dynamic completely. Tactics felt to be legitimate in private sector supermarket wars cannot necessarily be used when the deal, or part of the deal, involves our public assets. My Adjournment debate is about a veritable supermarket car crash in my constituency involving public land, where it would appear that perspective and common sense were replaced by avarice and intransigence. The net result is a situation where an agency of Government charged with creating economic wealth became so detached and consumed by a flawed land sale that it prevented jobs from being created in my constituency.

In this debate I seek to draw attention to the unacceptable behaviour of Dawn Developments and Scottish Enterprise in a land deal in the heart of my constituency, the unacceptable behaviour of a senior Scottish Enterprise executive and the failures of the civil service to investigate my evidenced complaints. I have advised the Minister of the contents of my speech, and, as you mentioned, Mr Speaker, I have sought and taken advice from the Table Office and your office on what I intend to say to ensure that I remain inside the rules of parliamentary privilege.

Let me deal first with the nature of the deal constructed between Dawn Developments and Scottish Enterprise. The story begins in 2004. Scottish Enterprise—or, more precisely, the public—owns land in an industrial estate in East Kilbride in my constituency. The site was marketed and five bids were received, ranging in value from £2.5 million to £15 million. A bid from Dawn Developments was accepted which, to reach the agreed price, would have required the local authority to re-zone the land from industrial to retail use and grant permission for a supermarket development. The Dawn Developments bid was £15 million and it, in turn, expected to sell the land to Asda for a minimum of £22 million, with a cool £7 million profit.

28 Feb 2012 : Column 266

Scottish Enterprise and Dawn Developments had no discussions with South Lanarkshire council on the viability of that proposal, nor did they submit a request for the site to be re-zoned for retail use through the established local plan process. Missives were concluded on 25 October 2007. Around that same time Alan MacDonald, the chairman of the Dawn Group, met South Lanarkshire council officials and was told that the site was not suitable for a supermarket development. Undeterred, Dawn Developments submitted a planning application in October 2008 for the creation of a class 1 retail food superstore. The application was processed and South Lanarkshire council’s planning department produced a recommendation that the application be refused, and those documents are a matter of public record.

 With the prospect of a refusal in the offing, Dawn Developments decided to withdraw its application before the planning meeting took place. That presented Scottish Enterprise with an opportunity to withdraw from the deal, as the conditions stipulated that parties were released from their obligations once the planning process concluded. Despite this natural break, Scottish Enterprise inexplicably entered into a new deal with Dawn Developments on precisely the same terms.

In mid-2009, South Lanarkshire council received a planning application for a supermarket on a different site from a different consortium. A short time later, Dawn Developments resubmitted a planning application for the Scottish Enterprise site. The new application was identical to the application that had been processed and recommended for refusal. That marked the start of the supermarket war. The council approved the new, rival application and Dawn Developments withdrew its planning application from the local authority on the grounds of non-determination and then sent it to the Scottish Government.

The application was independently assessed by a Scottish Government reporter and again rejected. Simultaneously, Dawn Developments also legally challenged the rival supermarket proposals that had been cleared, accusing the local authority of behaving improperly. Scottish Enterprise, by dint of its relationship with Dawn Developments, was party to that legal move. The case was taken to the Court of Session in Scotland and lost.

These tactics would be immaterial to the public interest if they involved two private companies slugging it out for the right to build a supermarket in my constituency, but that is not the case when one side is partnered with Scotland’s economic development agency. Myriad questions arise. If this was such a good deal, why was the application not promoted by Scottish Enterprise to maximise the return for the taxpayer? Why did Scottish Enterprise not carry out an independent assessment of whether the site was suitable for a supermarket? Did Dawn Developments inform Scottish Enterprise that in private discussions with South Lanarkshire council it was told that the site was not suitable for a supermarket development? Why did Scottish Enterprise re-sign a deal that had already been through the planning process and recommended for rejection? Did Scottish Enterprise agree to a strategy which saw its partner, Dawn Developments, challenge the integrity of the well-respected local council and take the Scottish Government to court? All those questions remain unanswered.

28 Feb 2012 : Column 267

The chief executive of Scottish Enterprise, Lena Wilson, appears to be oblivious to the fact that the organisation she commands is a partner in a deal that has cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of pounds, has prevented a legitimate application that could create hundreds of jobs in my constituency from proceeding and, going back to the original deal, has secured no capital receipt for the taxpayer.

Let me now move to the actions of Scottish Enterprise executive Mr Stephen Gallagher. On 31 March 2010 Stephen Gallagher, the managing director of Scottish Enterprise Commercial, wrote to the chief executive of South Lanarkshire council, Archie Strang, offering a share of the capital receipt for the West Mains road site if planning permission for the supermarket was granted. In plain language, Stephen Gallagher offered South Lanarkshire council money to pass a planning application.

On 14 April 2010, Archie Strang wrote to Lena Wilson, Scottish Enterprise’s chief executive, making it clear that Stephen Gallagher’s actions could be perceived as an attempt to influence the outcome of a planning application. On 16 April 2010, Archie Strang received a response to his letter from Jim McFarlane, Scottish Enterprise managing director of operations, which stated:

“Can I first of all apologise unreservedly that this letter has been received by your Council at this present time? This simply should not have happened.” 

It further transpired that Stephen Gallagher had also written to the council’s planning department on two separate occasions, objecting to the rival supermarket application and asking the council to favour the Dawn Developments-Scottish Enterprise deal. That led to Archie Strang writing again on 19 April 2010 to Lena Wilson, chief executive, about the letters the council had received from Stephen Gallagher dated 6 and 8 April, both of which objected to the rival supermarket bid.

Archie Strang said in his letter: 

 “My main purpose in writing to to express concern at the apparent attempts by Scottish Enterprise to influence the Council to resist this application, and to support SE’s own proposal, with Dawn Developments, at West Mains Road.  This concern arises from the comments made in the letter, dated 6 April, where the Council is effectively threatened with a legal challenge if it is not seen to have ‘properly addressed’ all issues associated with the Redwood Drive submission. This is wholly inappropriate as it appears to cast doubt on the Council’s ability to deal with planning applications in an impartial manner and questions the professionalism and integrity of planning officers.” 

In a response dated 23 April 2010, Jim McFarlane stated:

“Until your letter of 19 April was received, I was not aware that further letters of 6 April and 8 April had been submitted to your Council. In my view these letters were ill advised and should not have been sent.”

I take the view that at best Stephen Gallagher’s behaviour should have been viewed as gross misconduct. I further take the view that the thread running through Mr Gallagher’s behaviour was consistent with a reckless attempt to allow the Dawn application to proceed, whatever the cost, but what beggars belief is that Mr Gallagher was not subjected to any disciplinary procedure by Scottish Enterprise and was allowed to leave the organisation with a taxpayer-funded severance package.

Once again Scottish Enterprise chief executive, Lena Wilson, has refused to answer any questions on the matter. For example, was Stephen Gallagher acting

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independently when he issued the official Scottish Enterprise letters dated 31 March, 6 April and 8 April? Did Scottish Enterprise’s management believe that Stephen Gallagher behaved in an acceptable fashion by offering cash to a local authority in return for a planning consent? If not, why was he not disciplined? What discussions took place between Stephen Gallagher and Dawn Developments on these matters? What internal investigations took place in Scottish Enterprise to determine Stephen Gallagher’s motivation for writing these letters? Why was Stephen Gallagher allowed to leave Scottish Enterprise with a substantial package funded by taxpayers?

That brings me to the final issue I want to address—the abject failure of the civil service to investigate my evidenced complaints. Having hit a communications brick wall at Scottish Enterprise I sought answers from what I concluded was the United Kingdom civil service chain of command. I first wrote to Sir Peter Housden, the permanent secretary to the Scottish Government, who, sadly, is fast building a reputation as the Scottish National party’s cheerleader in Scotland. I asked him to investigate these matters, but he refused to do so. He accepted Scottish Enterprise’s position without, it appears, carrying out even a perfunctory examination of the facts. Undeterred, I then wrote to his boss, Sir Gus O’Donnell. I assumed that the head of the civil service would not resile from his obligations to ensure that the service’s staff behave according to its code, which states that it must be accountable to the public and should meet the highest possible standards in all it does. Sadly, he did not. Instead, he merely wrote to the Scottish Government and replied to me reaffirming their original assessment of the matter. So, we have a procedure in which each complaint I have made has been rejected not on the basis of an investigation but because each part of the civil service hierarchy involved has reaffirmed their subordinate’s position. That simply is not good enough.

What does all this mean for my constituents? We know that the development opportunities that were available in 2004 when the land was first marketed no longer exist. The world has moved on. We also know that the decision of Scottish Enterprise to enter a joint venture in pursuit of a larger capital receipt was a blunder, and the resulting loss of perspective has dragged it into a totally inappropriate legal battle that has challenged the integrity of one of Scotland’s leading local authorities.

Mr Speaker, I sought your advice on the next matter that I wanted to raise and you agreed that the sub judice rule could be waived. I will heed your advice to be careful. I am grateful for your decision because it allows me to advise the House that Dawn Developments continues to take legal action against the Scottish Government’s decision to refuse planning permission at the publicly owned site. The madness continues but there is a train of thought that, given the collapse of every legal action thus far, the action is merely a device to put off the fateful day when Scottish Enterprise will be fully exposed on all these matters and held to account. The reputation of Scottish Enterprise has been tarnished by the actions of its partner Dawn Developments and it should apologise unreservedly for its lack of judgment on this matter and the damage it has done in my constituency, where the employment opportunities that would have been created for the many people who find themselves unemployed have not been created. I have not worked out whether

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what has happened is a result of conspiracy, incompetence or a combination of both, because the questions I have asked have not been answered. However, I do know that Stephen Gallagher’s behaviour was, without doubt, wholly unacceptable, and that Scottish Enterprise did nothing about it. The question I ask is, why?

In conclusion, I put the following points to the Minister. We all have a mutual interest in ensuring that each component part of the UK is economically successful, and I ask the Minister to enter into a dialogue with Scottish Ministers to ensure that steps are taken to allow a proper investigation to take place, to ensure that those responsible are held to account and to ensure that lessons are learned. Most importantly, an exit strategy should be devised for this whole sorry mess. Will the Minister also agree to engage with his ministerial colleagues in the Cabinet Office to examine new methods of working to ensure that an elected Member’s legitimate complaints are properly investigated and not simply paper-shuffled from one part of the civil service to another?

10.19 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (David Mundell): I congratulate the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr McCann), my neighbouring MP in south Lanarkshire, on securing debating time tonight. Adjournment debates are an important opportunity for Members to put matters of concern on the record, and the hon. Gentleman has been able to do that.

The issues that have been set out have already been the subject of a great deal of investigation by the relevant authorities. I am conscious that a number of the issues raised are still under consideration by both the procurator fiscal and the civil courts, and therefore it would not be appropriate for me to comment on those. The issues raised also relate closely to the decision-making process for planning applications in Scotland and to economic development policy in Scotland. It is important to recognise that these matters in Scotland are devolved and are properly for the relevant local authorities, the Scottish Government and their agencies. I can therefore offer no comment on the merits or otherwise of the applications in question.

With regard to the responsibilities and accountability of civil servants, I understand the hon. Gentleman’s frustration. However, there are proper processes in place. The civil service code, first published in 1996, sets out the core civil service values and the standards of behaviour expected of civil servants in upholding these values. A Scottish Executive version of the civil service code was first published in 2006.

On 11 November 2010, the civil service provisions of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 came into force, placing the civil service values on a statutory footing. Under the terms of the 2010 Act, a revised civil service code was laid before the UK Parliament on 11 November 2010 and is available on the Cabinet Office website, and a revised separate code of conduct governing civil servants who serve the Scottish Executive was laid before the UK Parliament and Scottish Parliament on 11 November 2010.

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As the hon. Gentleman said, he pursued the matter also with the then head of the civil service, who fully investigated the matter.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate. Having worked in the property industry, I know that Mr Gallagher has something of a reputation for being what in Moffat would be called a wide boy. Is the Minister satisfied that the code covers the culture of behaviour, as well as the actions?

David Mundell: I am satisfied that the terms of the code are appropriate and are appropriately administered. As the hon. Gentleman knows, complaints regarding the Scottish Government and their agencies which have gone through those organisations’ own formal complaints procedure can also be raised with the Scottish public services ombudsman. It is for the public services ombudsman to deal with these matters, and it is right that the appropriate avenues are used. The Scotland Office does not have any locus in such matters and it would not be appropriate for us to take on any investigatory role in relation to these matters.

Mr McCann: Having served for a considerable time in my career as a full-time trade union official in the civil service, and having represented people who work in Scottish Enterprise, I know how the procedures operate. In the situation that I described, I made a formal complaint to the head of the civil service that someone, as I set out in my opening address, committed a serious disciplinary offence. No action was taken whatsoever, and he was allowed to leave the service with a handsome package paid for by the taxpayer. Those questions have never been answered. Therefore the question that I must put to the Minister is how am I to pursue such questions to a logical conclusion when all I got from the civil service was a brick wall constructed in front of me and my questions not being answered?

David Mundell: As I set out in my opening remarks, the hon. Gentleman has had the opportunity this evening to place all his concerns on the record. I undertake to ensure that a transcript of tonight’s proceedings is conveyed to all the relevant parties that have been discussed, including Scottish Enterprise, the Scottish Government, Sir Peter Housden, the Information Commissioner, and the current head of the civil service, Sir Bob Kerslake, so that everyone who has an interest in the matter can read the points that the hon. Gentleman has raised. However, the Scotland Office is unable to take forward further investigations. Indeed, it would be inappropriate to do so while a criminal investigation and civil court proceedings are taking place. As I have said, he has used the important opportunity of an Adjournment debate to place his concerns on the record.

Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?

Mr Speaker: Order. I think that the Minister has concluded his speech.

Question put and agreed to.

10.25 pm

House adjourned.