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House of Commons

Thursday 31 January 2013

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Energy and Climate Change

The Secretary of State was asked—

Electricity and Gas Markets (Europe)

1. Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on European electricity and gas markets. [140451]

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr Edward Davey): The UK strongly supports the single energy market, which will bring benefits to the EU economy by increasing competitiveness and energy security. Last week, I met my Irish counterpart to sign a memorandum of understanding on exploring the scope for trading renewable energy. In November, I attended the first meeting of the North European energy dialogue to discuss the growth potential of energy infrastructure investment with ministerial colleagues from across northern Europe. I hope to host a follow-up meeting in London this year.

Mr Bain: I am grateful to the Secretary of State. I would be even more grateful if he reminded his Conservative colleagues that we can shape the single market only by remaining a member state of the European Union. Does he agree with the Commission that getting member states back on track to complete the single energy market is critical as it will reduce bills for consumers across Europe by €100 a year, increase Europe’s growth rate by 0.8% of GDP and create 5 million jobs across the energy industries?

Mr Davey: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The single energy market is an important development for Europe and the UK. The coalition Government have been united in support of developments in the single energy market in Europe. It is in Britain’s interests and we will pursue it.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Although the UK has substantial reserves of gas in the North sea, we import a lot of gas. That has an effect on our energy security. What are the latest figures for the proportion of gas that we import from Russia and by sea from the middle east?

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Mr Davey: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question. We do not use directly much gas from Russia, but we are happy to explore that potential. It is in the interests of this country’s energy security that we have a diverse supply of gas. I do not have the exact figures for the middle east, but of the gas that is imported in this country, about 40% comes from there. I am not sure what proportion of the total gas that is consumed comes from the middle east.

Green Deal

2. Graeme Morrice (Livingston) (Lab): What steps he is taking to encourage energy companies to deliver green deal finance through small and medium-sized enterprises. [140452]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Gregory Barker): There will be huge opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises in delivering the green deal and they are vital to its success. Our SME forum for the green deal, which has been ably chaired by the right hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr Raynsford), has delivered an excellent set of recommendations on which we are acting.

Graeme Morrice: What advice would the Minister give my constituent, Mr Ged Smith, who runs a local energy efficiency company? Like many people in a similar position, he is on the brink of going out of business, at the cost of hundreds of jobs, because there is no sign of any funding from the utility companies through the energy company obligation, as they say that they are too busy tying up the loose ends of the carbon emissions reduction target to engage in discussions about the ECO?

Gregory Barker: I am afraid that that is not absolutely correct. I am pleased to report to the House that more than 1,000 measures have been delivered under the ECO in the past few days, even though Warm Front came to an end on 19 January. It is early days and there is a transition, but we are working with SMEs to make that transition work and the long-term prospects are bright.

Stephen Mosley (City of Chester) (Con): I welcome the launch of the green deal this week. Consumers now need to know that it is available and must start signing up. What is the Minister doing to let people know that the scheme is available and to encourage them to join it?

Gregory Barker: Clearly the Government have a role. My hon. Friend may have seen the green deal adverts that have run in the press. They will continue to run this weekend and the weekend after. We will also be launching a digital campaign. This is a tightly focused, value-for-money campaign, not a huge advertising splurge. The real drive will come from the individual offers. What marks the green deal out as different from previous Government energy efficiency programmes is that there will be huge choice, huge competition and lots of market participants.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does the Minister share my disappointment about the fact that many of us thought that the green deal would be an opportunity for small and medium-sized businesses up

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and down the country not only to fit smoke alarms and CO monitors at the same time, but to prepare for smart metering? I now understand that CO alarms will not be fitted under the green deal, unlike I was led to believe, and that smart metering has been put on hold.

Gregory Barker: First, smart metering has not been put on hold; we have a very ambitious roll-out. The green deal has got off to a good start and had 42,000 visitors to its website on Monday alone. I understand that CO alarms are part of the green deal assessment, but I will willingly discuss that with the hon. Gentleman, who I know has a long history on the issue.

Simon Hughes (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (LD): I welcome greatly the launch of the green deal and hope it will be successful. Will the Minister ensure that, among others, the chambers of commerce and all trade federations are informed about the green deal directly, and that all local authority libraries also contain the information?

Gregory Barker: We are making the information available widely online and we have a range of outreach activities, including round tables. Local authorities are a particularly important partner in the green deal, and I am delighted that a number of the largest metropolitan areas have been core partners in the “go early” project. I will ensure that the organisations mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman get the information.

Green Energy Technologies

3. Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): What recent assessment he has made of investment opportunities in green energy technologies. [140454]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Mr John Hayes): It is estimated that replacing and upgrading our electricity infrastructure over the next decade will require approximately £110 billion of capital investment. That will provide investment opportunities for a mix of low-carbon technologies, with all the exciting prospects that brings.

Neil Carmichael: I thank the Minister of State for that answer, not least because so many firms in my constituency are clearly interested in green technologies. Does he agree that the Government have taken measures to demonstrate clarity and consistency of policy, and that that should give comfort to investors, particularly bankers, in supporting small and medium-sized enterprises?

Mr Hayes: I think it was John Ruskin who said that when we build we must think that we build for ever, and the Government are determined to build a framework of certainty that will allow investment in a range of generating technologies to guarantee our energy security. Our ambitions are no less than that.

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): If things are going so well, will the Minister tell the House why 17 companies are taking his Department to court for billions of pounds of compensation because of cuts to feed-in tariffs, why 80% of the solar industry has collapsed over the past year in respect of installations, and why companies in my constituency are screaming at me about the Government’s failure to develop solar industries?

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Mr Hayes: The right hon. Gentleman was a distinguished Home Office Minister under the previous Government, so he will know that when the Government take on major challenges, such as the one I have described, it is not, of course, an easy road to tread. The Government’s determination to reform our electricity market and introduce the changes necessary to guarantee our energy security is, by any comparison—certainly in comparison with the Government of whom he was a part—profound, valued and welcomed by the vast majority in the industry.

Mike Crockart (Edinburgh West) (LD): One technology that could make a huge difference in this area is anaerobic digestion. I have had discussions with companies in the field, and despite interest from the green investment bank they report that they are still having difficulty in accessing finance. What more can the Minister do to help with that problem?

Mr Hayes: It is critical that both the cost and availability of capital underpin the investment I have described, and that is particularly true, as the hon. Gentleman says, for small and medium-sized enterprises. We are working on that with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills—my former Department—but given that he has raised the matter in this way, I will look at it again and report back directly to him.

Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): We heard the Minister talk about the certainty and clarity of the new arrangements and contracts for difference, but those of us serving on the Energy Bill Committee have in recent weeks heard evidence from ScottishPower, the Royal Bank of Scotland, RenewableUK and others, about the importance of the three-year transitional period. This morning we have the opportunity to vote for a Labour amendment to the Energy Bill that would ensure that if there is any delay, that three-year period of transition will remain. Will the Minister confirm whether he will be voting for that amendment, and if not, why not?

Mr Hayes: I never confirm what I am going to do about amendments until I have heard the arguments, and as I am sure the hon. Gentleman knows, it would be premature for me to consider his amendment in the House at this time and not in Committee. On the specifics of the issue, we have allowed an overlap between the renewables obligation and the new arrangements, specifically and particularly because we want businesses to be able to adapt to the new system.

Fuel Poverty

4. Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con): What steps his Department is taking to tackle fuel poverty. [140455]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Gregory Barker): The green deal and energy company obligation will provide considerable support to make homes more energy efficient, reaching some 230,000 low-income and vulnerable households each year. Our warm home discount scheme supports 2 million households in total—this winter it has already helped more than 1 million of the poorest pensioners. We also make cold weather payments and winter fuel payments.

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Caroline Dinenage: The Government have recently consulted on a new definition of fuel poverty to ensure that help is targeted at those who need it most. Will the Minister confirm what progress has been made?

Gregory Barker: I am happy to do so, as I know my hon. Friend takes an interest in fuel poverty. Professor John Hills published his final report in 2012. It highlighted serious flaws with the current methodology. We have therefore committed to moving away from that definition and consulted on a new approach that will more accurately measure the problem. We will publish our response to the consultation early in 2013. In addition to changes to the definition, we have announced that we will publish, for the first time since 2001, a refreshed strategy for tackling fuel poverty this year, and ensure that our resources are being used as effectively as possible.

Mr Speaker: Order. We are obliged.

Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): One group that suffers most from fuel poverty is those on prepayment meters. Hon. Members have heard evidence from witnesses in the Energy Bill Committee that the Government’s proposals will make reductions to the lowest tariff only within the type of tariff people are already on. How will that help those on prepayment meters?

Gregory Barker: Those people should also see reductions; they certainly will not be stranded on previous deadweight tariffs.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley) (Lab): The Government have claimed that the new energy company obligation will be bigger and better than the fuel poverty and energy efficiency schemes that came before it. Why, therefore, could up to 60% of ECO funding end up going to people who can already afford to improve their homes, and not to those in fuel poverty?

Gregory Barker: The fact is that a minimum of £540 million a year under ECO will be directed towards the fuel poor. That is a minimum; we expect far more to end up in low-income areas as ECO rolls out, and as we upgrade our housing and finally come up with the solution in respect of retrofitting that Labour, in 13 years, failed to offer.

Caroline Flint: The Minister can dodge the question as much as he likes, but the facts speak for themselves. Out of this year’s ECO budget of £1.3 billion, just £540 million will go to people in fuel poverty. That is less than the budget for people who can afford to insulate their own homes, and less than half the support available last year. Is that not why, according to the Government’s impact assessment, ECO is forecast over the next 10 years to lift just 250,000 households out of fuel poverty—50,000 fewer than fell into fuel poverty this winter alone?

Gregory Barker: I remind the right hon. Lady that, while she was in government as a Minister, fuel poverty rose from 2 million to 5.5 million. This Government are committed to doing something about it. Rather than crying crocodile tears, perhaps she should recognise that that £500 million-plus is the absolute minimum we are spending on the fuel poor. We expect to spend a lot more.

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Energy Bills

5. Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op): What steps he is taking to help households with their energy bills. [140456]

7. Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): What steps he is taking to reduce consumers’ energy bills. [140458]

10. Mr Dominic Raab (Esher and Walton) (Con): What steps he is taking to reduce consumers’ energy bills. [140461]

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr Edward Davey): We have a range of initiatives to help people with their energy bills, including tariff reforms, energy saving programmes and additional help for those on the lowest incomes. From our proposals to help get consumers on to the cheapest tariffs to the green deal, and from the warm home discount to our promotion of collective switching, this Government are working hard to help people to keep their energy bills down.

Stella Creasy: As payday loan adverts appear all over the receipts for prepayment meters and their rates remain artificially high, what advice do the Government and the Secretary of State have for those who have to take out payday loans to pay their energy bills? Does he think it is a good or a bad thing?

Mr Davey: The hon. Lady is a real campaigner on payday loans and I congratulate her on her work. She knows an awful lot about interest rates on unsecured credit, including payday loans, and how high they can be. I therefore hope she tells Labour Front Benchers about them. They have criticised the interest rate on the green deal, but that is one of the most competitive interest rates around for unsecured credit. The green deal is a good job, and will help everyone who is suffering from fuel poverty.

Pauline Latham: The big six manipulated the previous schemes that Labour put in place to help people with energy efficiency measures to get their bills down by sending out light bulbs. This Government have started a new scheme that will not be open to fraud, and that will include measures that will actually bring people’s bills down. Can the Secretary of State update the House on the progress of the new energy company obligation?

Mr Davey: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. While the carbon emissions reduction target had its successes, more than 300 million light bulbs were provided in the early years of the scheme and we estimate that approximately a third of them are still lying unused in cupboards. There was no doubt that we needed to reform the CERT. She is absolutely right to say that the ECO is a much better scheme. As the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) said, it is already under way and having a real effect in bringing help to people.

Mr Raab: uSwitch proposed an industry-designed web service to facilitate groups switching between energy suppliers, helping consumers get a better deal on their

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bills. Will the Secretary of State consider supporting incentivising companies to sign up and provide portable billing data by offering a temporary tax break to help cover the costs?

Mr Davey: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question and I will certainly look into that idea, but can I just tell him how many things the Government are doing to support switching, not least our support for collective switching? One of the advantages of collective switching is that it can get even better deals for people than the normal switching we have seen in the past. It can also reach out to the most vulnerable and to the people on the lowest incomes. That is why the only criterion for our competition, Cheaper Energy Together, which this year will see 94 councils involved in collective switching schemes, was that the fuel poor should be involved.

Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): I do not recognise where the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the right hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), got his figures from when he answered the previous question, because under the previous Labour Government 1.75 million people were lifted out of fuel poverty. When next year’s figures come out, which will show what has happened since the general election, does the Secretary of State think that the number of people in fuel poverty will have increased or decreased?

Mr Davey: I am grateful for the chance to answer a question on this issue, because the report that my predecessor commissioned from Professor John Hills is a serious report, and I urge all right hon. and hon. Members to read it. It talks about how we measure fuel poverty and shows that some of the statistics we have used in the past have been deeply unhelpful in tackling fuel poverty, not least because they failed to identify the people who were in grinding fuel poverty year in, year out. The proposals put forward by Professor John Hills will ensure that the really poor, who never escape fuel poverty, are identified and that we can give them much greater help. That is the real debate we should be having, not this exchange of statistics that gets us nowhere.

Fuel Poverty

6. Mrs Linda Riordan (Halifax) (Lab/Co-op): What assessment he has made of changes in the level of fuel poverty since 2010. [140457]

16. Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): What assessment he has made of changes in the level of fuel poverty since 2010. [140469]

17. Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): What assessment he has made of changes in the level of fuel poverty since 2010. [140470]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Gregory Barker): The latest annual fuel poverty publication estimates that during the first year of the coalition Government, fuel poverty fell by 500,000 to 3.5 million households in England. It is projected that the number of households in fuel poverty remained the same in 2011, but may rise again in 2012.

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Mr Speaker: I call Mrs Linda Riordan. [Interruption.] I do apologise. I thought the Minister of State had completed his answer, but there were further joys to behold and I did not realise that.

Mrs Riordan: Since the Government came to power, the average energy bill has risen by more than £300 a year—a big issue for my constituents, with all the other cuts going on. Is it not a fact that the Government have halved their support for people in fuel poverty?

Gregory Barker: No, that is not the case. The hon. Lady knows that during the previous Parliament fuel poverty rose from 2 million to 5.5 million, and it continues to be a huge issue. The only way we will tackle it is not by chasing gas prices, but tackling the underlying cause—the fabric of our homes—and creating better, warmer and cheaper homes for people to live in.

Debbie Abrahams: In Oldham, more than 17,600 households —one in five—were in fuel poverty in 2010, but with energy bills up by as much as 20% that figure is likely to be much higher today. Oldham council is not content, however, to let the most vulnerable people in society suffer, and through a fair energy campaign, it is ensuring that people in my constituency can keep their homes warm without worrying about hefty energy bills. Will the Government take a lesson from Oldham council?

Gregory Barker: We are working collaboratively with local authorities up and down the country, which have a key role to play in delivering the green deal and ECO. It is by an area-based, street-by-street roll-out, rather than by chasing gas prices, that in the long term we will deal with fuel poverty once and for all.

Alex Cunningham My local borough, Stockton-on-Tees, is a national leader in tackling fuel poverty—we have had a warm zone initiative, a go warm campaign and now a hard-to-heat homes campaign—but it takes real investment to make these things happen. Energy companies are using consumers’ money to promote and install energy efficiency measures, but why will the Government not do the right thing and restore Government investment in energy efficiency measures, instead of leaving it to expensive loans that will cost consumers more than they might save?

Gregory Barker: By and large, consumers and taxpayers tend to be the same people. We are determined to get far better value out of our energy poverty eradication programmes than the previous Government did, and we will demonstrate that by getting more measures taken for less and bringing in competition. The green deal will, for the first time, let the fuel poor make real choices, as opposed to the monopoly one-size-fits-all solution of the previous Government.

Green Deal

8. Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): How many households he expects to take up loans offered under the green deal. [140459]

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The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Gregory Barker): The green deal is a completely new market-led initiative for installing energy efficiency measures. We expect demand to build over time, so forecasts are difficult, but the green deal impact assessment estimated that about 223,000 households would take advantage of the scheme in year one. On day one, 42,000 people visited the website for information.

Mr Cunningham: Will the Minister estimate what proportion of households taking up the green deal are likely to lose more than they save owing to high interest rates, hidden charges and penalty payments?

Gregory Barker: The golden rule in the green deal should mean that the vast majority of people, on a like-for-like basis, will be better off, even after financing is taken into account. It is about time that Labour stopped running down the green deal; stopped running down all the small and medium-sized enterprises and small businesses investing in this new opportunity; stopped running down all the people training up and getting skills for this new opportunity; and started talking up the British economy, rather than scoring cheap political points.

Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): It is because my Labour colleagues want the green deal to work that we are trying to hold the Government to account over the practicalities of a scheme that we have been talking about for the past two years.

The Government predicted that the green deal would create 100,000 jobs by 2016, but the Insulation Industry Forum estimates that since its soft launch in October more than 83,000 insulation projects have been cancelled or put on hold and that 4,200 people have lost their jobs in the sector. What has gone wrong?

Gregory Barker: We are at the dawn of a far more exciting and expansive long-term project. We are talking not only about lagging lofts, but about the whole-house retrofit of millions of homes, and our impact assessment shows that we will create tens of thousands of jobs by 2015. Perhaps the hon. Lady would stop scaremongering about interest rates and start getting behind all the consumers and small businesses that will benefit from the green deal.

Onshore Wind Farms

9. Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): What steps he is taking to enable local communities to express opposition to onshore wind farms in their area. [140460]

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr Edward Davey): It is important that communities have a real opportunity to have a say over development in their area, which is why this Government’s planning reforms put local communities in the driving seat. Our recent call for evidence looked at how communities can be better engaged with, and receive greater benefit from, hosting onshore wind in their area, and there will be a report in the summer.

Glyn Davies: Powys council is a small, rural, hard-pressed local planning authority that is currently having to divert £2.8 million from public services to defend refusals

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of wind farms at public inquiry, and the local community is also raising £150,000 for the same purpose, while developers have access to unlimited funds demanded from consumers. Will my right hon. Friend tell us how this can possibly be fair?

Mr Davey: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question. He will understand that planning issues and support for local communities and local authorities are matters for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and in my hon. Friend’s constituency for people in the Welsh Assembly Government, no doubt, but he makes a fair point. One reason why we have made the call for evidence on how local communities can benefit is to ensure that developers come forward and engage with local communities far better and in a less adversarial way than we have seen in some cases.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): Community groups in my part of Edinburgh, with which I am working, have been trying to set up an onshore wind turbine in the area. They have raised funds for a serious proposal, but have been bogged down by all sorts of bureaucratic nightmares, which in this case relate to Scottish Water and the Scottish Government. There are issues across the UK with communities that want to set up wind farms and renewable energy schemes but are not being allowed to do so. When the Minister looks at how to deal with those who oppose wind farms, will he also look at how we can support those who want community-owned wind farms to be set up in parts of the UK where they are popular?

Mr Davey: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: there are a number of communities that want to host wind farms, in places where it is appropriate to site wind farms. The Government’s whole approach is to try to work with local communities, to empower them and, with our latest call for evidence, to reach out to communities that do not want wind farms and ensure that they have more of a voice, and to enable those that do want them to proceed. That seems the right and fair way forward.

Mr Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): I do not know whether the Secretary of State has had the opportunity to read The Sun newspaper this morning, but he may have missed the article about a 115-foot wind turbine in Bradworthy in Devon that was blown over by the wind. I wonder whether he can reassure my constituents in Sherwood, where one of these turbines will be built near a footpath or bridleway, that they will be safe. Can he look into this?

Mr Davey: I am afraid to tell my hon. Friend that I have not read The Sun today, although I have heard reports of the incident that he talks about. Clearly people who develop, run and maintain wind farms, as with any sort of industrial installation, have to ensure that they are fit for purpose and are not a danger to the public, otherwise the various authorities will come down hard on them and they will find themselves liable.

15. [140468] Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab): Can the Minister reassure companies such as Siemens that under the contract for difference programme they will receive an appropriate strike price for the electricity they produce?

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Mr Davey: I am interested in the hon. Gentleman’s question. As I understand it, Siemens tends to be a manufacturer of turbines as opposed to a developer or a generator. It is the generators that will receive contracts for difference. If Siemens is involved in a consortium and is generating, it will receive the CFDs that will have their prices set administratively following the current consultation by National Grid—a point that will also be relevant if it is involved in and wins an auction post 2017.

Nigel Adams (Selby and Ainsty) (Con): Earlier this month Selby district council’s planning committee voted unanimously to reject a seven-turbine wind farm at Bishopwood near Selby. In his response to the Department’s call for evidence on wind energy, will the Secretary of State be backing localism or will he impose these unwanted schemes on local communities even when they have rejected them?

Mr Davey: The hon. Gentleman should realise that the call for evidence is focused on how local communities benefit. It is not about reforming the planning system, which is obviously the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, although the overall thrust of our policies in this coalition Government is to empower local communities, because we have a strong localist agenda.

Energy Efficiency

11. Nick Smith (Blaenau Gwent) (Lab): What steps he is taking to help households improve their energy efficiency. [140462]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Gregory Barker): The green deal, which went live on Monday 28 January, will help to transform the homes of British consumers over the coming decade and beyond. This transformational policy, alongside the ECO and smart meter roll-out, will drive the development of a new energy efficiency market, providing unprecedented choice, benefits and access to low-cost finance for British consumers.

Nick Smith: Cold weather payments were triggered recently, as deep snow covered Blaenau Gwent, yet in recent months 181 insulation workers have been made redundant in Wales. Instead of the hyperbole, has not the Government’s introduction of the green deal and ECO sadly been woeful?

Gregory Barker: Once again, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will see that the insulation industry has a huge opportunity to move beyond just installing measures such as loft insulation to whole-house retrofits. Of course the industry is in a period of transition, but unless we take this bold step and create a much larger market, we will never tackle fuel poverty and turn around the juggernaut of increasing fuel poverty figures that we inherited from the last Government.

Mr Speaker: I call Alec Shelbrooke. Not here.

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Onshore Wind Farms

13. Natascha Engel (North East Derbyshire) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the financial return of the subsidy for onshore wind farm providers. [140464]

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr Edward Davey): Following a comprehensive review of renewable obligation subsidies, the Government announced on 25 July last year that the level of support for onshore wind developments would be reduced by 10% to 0.9 renewable obligation certificates per megawatt hour with effect from 1 April 2013. This represents a 9.6% rate of return on investment.

Natascha Engel: My constituents in Uppertown feel that, without their taxpayer subsidy to the onshore wind farms that they do not want, these wind farms would not be blighting their landscape. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to review the taxpayer subsidy and the value for money that the taxpayer is getting for onshore wind farms?

Mr Davey: First, let us be clear. Although, as the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) said earlier, taxpayers are often consumers, the subsidies are paid for by consumers when and only when a wind farm produces electricity. There is good value for money for consumers, so I think onshore wind and offshore wind play a really important part in our energy mix. As the hon. Lady knows and as I said in my initial answer, we have reviewed the subsidies going to onshore wind and to all other renewables. In addition, because concerns were expressed around the House, we issued a call for evidence to check that the figures we used in our most recent analysis are up to date, particularly with respect to onshore wind. We will report back to the House on that call for evidence to see whether there have been changes to the cost structure that we did not find in our previous analysis.

Nuclear Power Stations

14. Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the potential construction of new nuclear power stations. [140465]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Mr John Hayes): The Government are firmly committed to ensure the conditions are right for investment in new nuclear power, and welcome plans for around 16 GW of new nuclear power in the UK. It is up to energy companies to construct, operate and decommission nuclear power stations. It will be for Government and the independent regulators to ensure safety and security and to maximise the benefit. The future is bright and safe: the future is nuclear.

Paul Flynn: Professor Tom Burke, a former Government adviser, said on Tuesday that the Government are planning in secret to spend up to £30 billion in subsidy to new nuclear. New nuclear is in trouble in Finland and in France—years late and billions over budget. Are the Government going to break their promise to have no nuclear subsidies, and if they are going to break that

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promise, can the Minister guarantee that there will be full transparency and opportunities for Parliament to discuss, debate and vote against it?

Mr Hayes: I have no secrets from this House. Of course the Government are going to be transparent about the process. Of course the Government are going to ensure taxpayer value for money. The hon. Gentleman has a history of being against Trident, which is about our future. He has a history of being against the monarchy, which is also about our future. We knew that he wanted to ban the bomb and ban the monarchy; we now know that he wants to ban the future.

Charles Hendry (Wealden) (Con): Yesterday’s decision of Cumbria county council not to take forward work to explore the suitability of the local area for a deep geological facility for nuclear waste seems to me to be a pretty serious blow, especially to Sellafield’s own aspirations to be a global centre of nuclear expertise. What steps does the Minister plan to take to take forward that critical work, which has to be an integral part of a nuclear renaissance? Will he look at alternative technologies such as GE Hitachi’s PRISM—power reactor innovative small module—technology?

Mr Speaker: A full day’s debate by the sound of it.

Mr Hayes: Of course disposal matters, but let me be clear: our plans for nuclear to be part of an energy mix are firm, resolute and will not be spoiled by anything that has been described. These are important matters, but the certainty and clarity that I described earlier are uninterrupted by these events.

Mr Jamie Reed (Copeland) (Lab): Cumbria county council’s decision would have been described by John Ruskin as a “pathetic fallacy”. Will the Minister undertake to recognise the democratic mandate given by the people to the councils in west Cumbria to embark on a process of managing the country’s radioactive waste as a matter of urgency? Will he agree to meet me, and representatives of the trade unions, in order to establish a new process so that we can take action in the national interest?

Mr Hayes: I was looking at that Ruskin quotation last night, as it happens, and wondering whether I could weave it in.

The hon. Gentleman has been notable for his support for nuclear power, because he understands its significance to the energy mix. He is right: there are very different views in Cumbria, and we should not characterise them in a casual fashion. Of course we will continue to work with local communities who understand the importance of long-term disposal in the same way as the hon. Gentleman and many of his friends in Cumbria.

Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): If the Minister were concerned about transparency, he would have voted for our amendments to the Energy Bill earlier this week, which would have increased transparency and given comfort to my hon. Friend the Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) and many others.

As for yesterday’s decision in Cumbria, the Minister has rightly noted that west Cumbrian authorities voted to support the study, although the county council did not. The Secretary of State said that he would embark

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on a new drive to make the case for waste disposal to other communities. This morning the president of his party, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Tim Farron)—who is not in the Chamber—was quoted in the

Financial Times

as saying that Oxfordshire was more suitable. Is that the policy of the party that is the Minister’s coalition partner, and, if so, has it been discussed with the Prime Minister?

Mr Hayes: We will have discussions with the communities who understand the significance of this and its potential value to them, and of course those discussions will be ongoing.

Let me be clear about transparency. In the Bill Committee to which he referred, the hon. Gentleman has repeatedly made the case for a more transparent approach, and I am sympathetic to that argument. This Government must be characterised by openness in the way in which they conduct their affairs, in this matter and in all matters.

EDF (Strike Price Negotiations)

18. Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): What recent progress has been made on strike price negotiations with EDF. [140471]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Mr John Hayes): Shale gas has exciting potential, but we need to—

Mr Speaker: Order. I am grateful to the Minister, but we are actually discussing strike price negotiations with EDF, which is a somewhat different matter.

Mr Hayes: I was racing ahead of myself for a moment, Mr. Speaker.

Discussions are ongoing, with the aim of finding a fair, affordable, value-for-money deal. No commitment has been made on commercial terms or the strike price.

Martin Horwood: Another interpretation of those ongoing discussions is that they are offering a consumer subsidy to the French state nationalised energy company Électricité de France in a mature market, without much competition, and in advance of the relevant legislation. Should that not be subject to proper parliamentary scrutiny?

Mr Hayes: As I have already said, the strike price that we agree and the process that leads up to that agreement will indeed be subject to such scrutiny, because we will be transparent about the arrangements that we make. Let me be perfectly candid. If this deal does not stack up, we will not proceed with it. It must be in the interests of taxpayers and it must be fair, although of course it must be commercially attractive as well. The negotiations are going ahead, and it would be inappropriate for me to say more about them, but I will say that this can be a win-win for our future.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): The Minister is right to say that the deal must be in our interests, but that cannot be known until after the fact of the agreement on the strike price. The key problem with the strike price is a perverse incentive to overestimate the construction costs on which it will be based. If it is subsequently

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found that those costs are lower than the estimate, the consumer will be paying more for the strike price that the Department has agreed. Why did the Minister and his colleagues on the Government Benches vote against our amendments to the Energy Bill, which would have made transparency essential to the entire process?

Mr Hayes: Because we have said that we will publish an investment contract concerning details of the strike price. The hon. Gentleman, who is an experienced Member of Parliament, knows that the process of negotiation itself is bound to deal with commercial matters that are sensitive, and is bound to deal with trade secrets which, as he acknowledged in the Bill Committee, cannot be published. He also knows that it might be subject to all kinds of other matters that it would be inappropriate to debate now. However, we are clear about this: we will be transparent, and we will be straightforward.

Mr Speaker: Order. These are very important matters, but there are other important matters that we need to reach.


19. Mr Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): Whether his assessment of fracking in the US included any information on (a) people poisoned by water contamination and (b) buildings damaged by earth tremors as a result of fracking. [140472]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Mr John Hayes): Now for shale gas, Mr Speaker. Shale gas has exciting potential, but we need to move forward with the right measures to ensure safe and secure operations, and reassure local communities. As for the US experience, so far as we know there has been no confirmed instance of any person being poisoned by water contamination or of buildings being damaged by earth tremors as a result of fracking.

Mr Lilley: I am grateful to the Minister for that clear answer. I know that he will not want to be critical of his predecessors in the Department, but why has it taken 18 months to discover such a simple fact, which, if promulgated earlier, would have set at rest the minds of people in the areas where frack drilling is likely to take place?

Mr Hayes: As my right hon. Friend knows, the Secretary of State has made it clear that he has put in place conditions, regulations, and secure and safe circumstances that will allow the continued exploration for shale gas. Shale gas is a potential virtue, but it has to be pursued in a way that is safe and secure, and guarantees public support.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): Will the Minister take heed of the words of his predecessor, the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry), who warned against “betting the farm” on shale gas? Will the Minister assure me that the Government’s perspective on this issue is not influenced by the over-inflated claims made by firms that are major donors to, and have close links with, the Tory party? Such firms include the one that put in the recent planning application for exploratory drilling in Somerset and has given £500,000 to the Tories.

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Mr Hayes: There will be a proper planning process subject to all the normal scrutiny and discipline. Of course we must move ahead with caution, but to ignore this opportunity and cast aside this potential would be folly.

21.[140475] Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): The British Geological Survey suggests that there could be 10 trillion cubic feet of gas under the Bowland field, whereas Cuadrilla suggests that there may be as much as 200 trillion. Would not the best way to determine who is right, so that we find out just what impact this vital resource could have and to ensure that we can get players into the marketplace, be for the Department to release the information it has and forge ahead on the next licensing round? That would allow us to get players into the marketplace and just do it.

Mr Hayes: Consistency is the watchword that characterises all the work that my hon. Friend does in this place, for in the Select Committee he made just that point and urged the Government to move ahead with another licensing round as soon as possible. We need to test and we need to establish the scale of this potential. Without exploration we cannot do that—he is absolutely right.

Energy Bills

20. Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): What steps he is taking to help households with their energy bills. [140474]

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr Edward Davey): As I said to hon. Members who asked a similar question, we have a range of measures to help people with their energy bills, be they the warm home discount or collective switching, and we think they are having a big impact.

Chi Onwurah: My constituents are facing cuts to jobs, cuts to tax credits and cuts to wages at the same time as food bills, VAT and energy bills are soaring. Will the Secretary of State explain why the Chancellor says that the Government will do everything they can to keep down energy bills but research by the Association for the Conservation of Energy shows that help for the people most in need has actually fallen?

Mr Davey: The hon. Lady missed out of her list the fact that we have taken 2 million of the lowest paid out of income tax altogether, delivering a tax cut to more than 25 million people; the fact that we have helped pensioners by a record amount; and the fact that last year people on benefits had a 5.2% increase. She ought to add those to her list.

On help with energy bills, I have always said to the House that there is no way that I, or any Minister or any Government, can have an impact on the effect of world energy prices. People around the world are suffering from the high and increasing world gas and oil prices, and we have to do everything we can, in the short, medium and long terms, to help consumers, to help our people and to help our economies. We are doing that.

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Topical Questions

T1. [140476] Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): If he will make a statement on his Departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr Edward Davey): The core purpose of the Department of Energy and Climate Change is to power the country and protect the planet, avoiding catastrophic climate change while providing secure and affordable energy supplies to the UK. Since the last DECC questions, the Energy Bill received its Second Reading, and it is now in Committee. We have launched the green deal to help all households save energy and to lower bills and we continue to work towards a legally binding global international treaty, engaging with our partners to formulate a road map through to 2015.

Fiona Bruce: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Congleton sustainability group, part of Congleton partnership, has developed plans for a local micro-hydro scheme to generate electricity from the old mill weir. It has received an offer of £250,000 from the rural carbon challenge fund, which is a substantial proportion of the funding needed, but further help is needed to translate this innovative scheme into a reality. Will the Minister meet me and a delegation from my constituency to discuss it?

Mr Davey: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question; that sounds a very interesting scheme. We are supporting micro-hydro schemes through feed-in tariffs but if she has particular issues that she wants to discuss with me or my colleagues in DECC, I am sure we will find time to meet her and her delegation.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley) (Lab): Every day it is becoming more evident where the Liberal Democrats do not agree with their Conservative colleagues. However, in response to Labour’s proposal to extend community energy schemes by increasing the feed-in tariff threshold to 10 MW, the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the right hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), told the Energy Bill Committee that

“it is a matter of public record that I myself supported the expansion of the FITs scheme at the Conservative party conference last year…However, this is a coalition Government”.––[Official Report, Energy Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2013; c. 248-49.]

Will the Secretary of State confirm today that it is the Liberal Democrats who are responsible for the Government’s failure to support extending the feed-in tariff threshold to 10 MW in the Energy Bill and therefore to support and encourage community energy schemes?

Mr Davey: I congratulate the right hon. Lady on a good try, but I am afraid it is going to fail. I work closely with both my Ministers of State and we are a united team on that and many other measures. I am sure the right hon. Lady will be terribly disappointed, but that is why we will introduce later this year the most ambitious community energy strategy this country has ever seen, and we will consult on it before we finalise it. She wants to point out one measure, but that will

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be considered along with many others. We have a rather more ambitious approach to community energy than the previous Government ever had.

T4. [140479] Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye) (Con): The Energy Minister has appeared before the Energy Bill Committee, waxing lyrical about the important reforms the Government are introducing to ensure that we get the energy investment we need in the future. What steps is he taking to ensure that those measures will see appropriate diversity of generating technologies?

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Mr John Hayes): Diversity matters because it provides resilience and sustainability. It is absolutely right that, through the mechanisms we put in place and the framework of certainty I described earlier, we guarantee an energy mix that is fit for purpose and fit for the future.

T5. [140481] Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): In 1976, the Flowers commission said that it would be irresponsible to proceed with generating electricity from nuclear power without a policy on the disposal of waste. The policy then was to dig a hole and bury the waste in it. The policy now is to do the same thing, but we no longer have a hole since Cumbria county council turned down the planning permission yesterday. Will this preposterous buffoon of a Minister of State try to answer one question and say whether it is still irresponsible to proceed without a solution to deal with the waste?

Mr Speaker: Order. I think the hon. Gentleman should withdraw the expression “preposterous buffoon”—[Interruption.] Order. The hon. Gentleman has a very wide vocabulary and should use an alternative expression.

Paul Flynn: I will pull those words and refer instead to this Minister who has failed to answer any question today and has demonstrated his incompetence.

Mr Davey: I am extremely disappointed in the approach that the hon. Gentleman has taken. My hon. Friend the Minister of State and I work very closely on this issue and many other matters and he has made an important contribution to the debate. The hon. Gentleman clearly has not read the written ministerial statement issued before oral questions, which makes it very clear that our policy continues and has not changed. As his hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Mr Reed) said earlier, it is worth noting that Copeland borough council and Allerdale borough council voted with substantial majorities to say yes to a nuclear waste facility in their area.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. We have a lot to get through and we need short sharp questions and answers. I look to Roger Williams for a rapier thrust.

T6. [140482] Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Anaerobic digestion is sometimes seen as a Cinderella technology in our fight against climate change, although I am sure that that is not the case in the Department. A report by the Royal Agricultural

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Society of England sets out some of the benefits of on-farm AD, such as a reduction in greenhouse gases and pollution, but also a number of barriers to it. Will a Minister meet interested parties to discuss how those barriers can be overcome?

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Gregory Barker): I am certainly happy to meet interested parties because AD is a priority for the Government. Since we published our AD strategy in 2011, I am glad to say that the deployment of AD plants has increased by a third. We remain ambitious, and I will happily meet my hon. Friend.

Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab): In Stoke-on-Trent, we have a disproportionate number of people in fuel poverty and a high reliance on intensive energy use, on which a great number of jobs depend. Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that the city deal bid that is being made by Stoke-on-Trent and the local enterprise partnership for investment based on energy will be the subject of an urgent ministerial meeting to ensure that the proposals are not stalled?

Mr Davey: I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s question. Officials are working closely on the bid, although obviously I cannot prejudge the decision.

T7. [140483] Karl McCartney (Lincoln) (Con): As a fellow Member representing an area in the green and pleasant county that is Lincolnshire, the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), will be aware that Lincolnshire county council is deeply troubled by the local impact of onshore wind deployment. Does my hon. Friend share that concern?

Mr Hayes: I have with me Lincolnshire county council’s statement on exactly that matter. My councillors in Lincolnshire, as wise as they are worthy, and as diligent as they are dedicated, are determined to defend the landscape, and so am I.

Derek Twigg (Halton) (Lab): You might recall, Mr Speaker, that in July last year, I raised on the Floor of the House my concern about the Department’s delay in deciding whether to retain the electric lines at the Heath business and technical park in Runcorn. This is important because the delay in the decision is holding up the creation of many hundreds of new jobs and of new housing. We are now told the decision might not be taken until March, because the inspector is busy. Does the Minister think that that is acceptable?

Mr Speaker: We have got it; we are obliged.

Mr Hayes: It seems to me that the hon. Gentleman’s very specific point is well made. I shall be delighted to meet him to discuss those details and see what we can do to help.

T8. [140484] Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): With the development of new sources of many types of generation in many locations on and offshore, what

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measures is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State taking to speed up the strengthening of the grid, which is essential for the efficient transmission of electricity?

Mr Davey: My hon. Friend will know that Ofgem recently announced the settlement for national grid investment going forward, and the offshore transmission network regime has been strengthened. All these things are very important for the reasons that he outlined.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): Further to the earlier exchange about nuclear waste, the Secretary of State will be aware that the Ministry of Defence was talking to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority about taking the MOD’s waste, especially that from the submarines stored in my constituency. Will he confirm what fresh discussions he will ask the NDA to hold with the MOD to resolve the situation?

Mr Davey: Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman and all hon. Members that yesterday’s vote by Cumbria county council in no way changes the extremely safe and secure way in which nuclear waste is stored, whether it comes from the Ministry of Defence through nuclear submarines, through power generation, or from our very large nuclear legacy. We are determined to ensure that that nuclear waste is stored safely for decades to come, if necessary in interim storage facilities, but we will be pressing on with our policies for a long-term geological storage facility.

Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock) (Con): Tilbury power station in my constituency has been generating power for more than 60 years. It successfully transferred from coal-fired generation to biomass to the extent that it generates more than half the UK’s supply of renewable energy. However, owing to the large combustion plant directive, it will still have to close. Is not that stark raving bonkers?

Mr Hayes: I am aware of that situation, and I know how well my hon. Friend has articulated and represented the interests of her constituents in this regard. This is, in the end, a commercial decision. RWE took the decision to use Tilbury as a test bed in October 2011 and converted the station to run on 100% biomass. Particular circumstances have affected that decision, but I will be more than happy, as I already have begun to, to discuss the matter further with my hon. Friend.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): In his response to my question earlier, the Minister of State was gracious enough to say that he wanted complete openness about the strike price. Will he therefore tell the House whether there will be a provision in the strike price negotiations for a claw-back, should the estimated construction costs exceed the real ones?

Mr Hayes: The hon. Gentleman is being mischievous. I have been very clear that those matters will be published for the scrutiny of the House, but he would hardly expect me to go into the detail of the negotiation while the negotiation was ongoing.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): The prospect of managing a contract for difference is no trivial matter for the small organisations often involved in community

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energy initiatives. Will my right hon. Friend consider pleas from those on the Liberal Benches to continue the now familiar feed-in tariff for small-scale prospective community energy generators?

Mr Davey: My hon. Friend knows that we have been looking at the issue and we will continue to keep it under consideration, but it has to be seen in the wider context of the community energy strategy that we are developing.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): I have seen many Ministers in the House and I think the Minister of State, the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), is one of the better ones I have heard.

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May I push the ministerial team on the question of smart metering? As I understand it from the reply to an earlier question, smart metering is now going to be optional. It will not be installed in every house in the country, which would have been transformational. It has been downgraded to optional and will not be applicable across the board.

Mr Davey: Our proposal for the smart meter roll-out is very similar to that of the previous Government. We have a very ambitious roll-out. There is no desire for people not to take smart meters, but we have said, as the previous Government said, that if someone really does not want a smart meter, we will not force them to have one.

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Business of the House

10.31 am

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House give us the business for next week?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr Andrew Lansley): The business for next week will be as follows:

Monday 4 February—Second Reading of the European Union (Approvals) Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 5 February—Second Reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.

Wednesday 6 February—Opposition day [16th allotted day] (first part). There will be a debate on a motion in the name of the Democratic Unionist party on suicide prevention in the UK, followed by consideration of opposed private business nominated by the Chairman of Ways and Means.

Thursday 7 February—Debate on a motion relating to subsidies for new nuclear power, followed by general debate on the closure of A and E departments. The subjects for these debates have been nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

The provisional business for the following week will include:

Monday 11 February—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the European Union (Approvals) Bill [Lords], followed by general debate on the local government finance settlement for rural local authorities. The subject for this debate was nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Tuesday 12 February—Opposition day [17th allotted day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Wednesday 13 February—Motions relating to the police grant and local government finance reports, followed by motions relating to the draft Social Security Benefits Up-Rating Order 2013 and the draft Guaranteed Minimum Pensions Increase Order 2013.

Thursday 14 February—Debate on a motion on protecting future generations from violence against women and girls, followed by general debate on preventing sexual violence in conflict. The subjects for these debates were nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 7 February will be:

Thursday 7 February—Debate on the Environmental Audit Committee report on Protecting the Arctic, followed by debate on the Defence Committee report on Future of Maritime Surveillance.

Ms Eagle: I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting an urgent question on Tuesday to the Defence Secretary. As my right hon. Friend the Member for East Renfrewshire (Mr Murphy) said, we support the decision to send troops to Mali and neighbouring countries to help to train the Malian army, but the deployment of troops to conflict areas raises important issues on which Members wanted to question the Defence Secretary. It should not have taken an urgent question to force the Defence Secretary to the House. It is not the first time that an urgent question has been necessary to get the Defence Secretary to the Dispatch Box to answer questions on

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important matters concerning our armed services. Will the Leader of the House therefore undertake that in future, while our armed forces are deployed, the Defence Secretary will keep the House regularly updated without being forced to do so? Will the Leader of the House now agree to a general debate on the developing situation in north Africa?

Last Friday’s GDP figures were terrible. After two and a half years in government, the Chancellor has presided over a double-dip recession and a flatlining economy. Once again on the part-time Chancellor’s watch, the economy is contracting. We warned that the Government’s economic strategy—if one can call it that—was damaging the economy: they cut too far and too fast. The Deputy Prime Minister has popped up to attack his own Government’s record of cutting infrastructure expenditure. It is a bit late to be saying so, since his party voted for each and every cut. While the economy has nose-dived, the part-time Chancellor has been filling up his time with pizzas in Davos, and not one but two dinners with Rupert Murdoch. With all these dinners, I fear that the only thing now growing is the Chancellor’s waistline.

With bankers lining up to pay themselves massive bonuses over the forthcoming weeks, may we have an urgent statement from the Business Secretary on what the Government are going to do to stop this abuse?

We welcome the cross-party decision on Tuesday on the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill. The Conservative party’s attempt to gerrymander parliamentary boundaries was rejected by Members across the House from all political parties—an alternative coalition, one might call it. I welcome the fact that the Leader of the House has returned to his rightful role after subbing for the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Norwich North (Miss Smith) in that debate, for reasons that were somewhat opaque. None the less, we enjoyed his performance on a sticky wicket.

The Leader of the House will have heard in Tuesday’s debate the clamour among those on the Conservative Back Benches to hear from the Deputy Prime Minister, who was strangely absent from the proceedings. It is not very often that the Leader of the House’s Back Benchers want to hear from the Liberal Democrat leader. Given the demand, will he arrange for the Deputy Prime Minister to make a statement? I think we would all enjoy that.

Relate tells us that January is the month in which couples are most likely to break up, so may I congratulate the coalition on managing to get through it? [Interruption.] Just—there is one day left.

Last weekend I was troubled to read not about coalition tensions but about tensions within the Conservative party. There was even the suggestion of a plot to depose the Prime Minister. I do not know where the hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) is today; perhaps the Chief Whip could tell us. The way things are going, we do not want to lose the Prime Minister and his chums, so may we have a debate on Government leadership to give the hon. Member for Windsor the opportunity to share with the House the qualities he thinks he has to lead the country?

I have been looking at the voting records in Hansard. What we have learned this week is that the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Maidstone

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and The Weald (Mrs Grant), managed to vote both for and against the Succession to the Crown Bill. She then failed to participate in the boundaries vote on any side, so engrossed was she in meeting Shami Chakrabarti from Liberty. She was not the only Conservative Minister to miss Tuesday’s crucial vote. In a brilliant whipping operation, the Foreign Secretary decided that he would rather have dinner in Washington than vote in the House. You would have thought, Mr Speaker, that the Cabinet was a dining society given the number of dinners that Ministers are having. Can’t vote, forgets to vote, can’t be bothered to turn up—what a shambles!

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House. I think she asked one question relating specifically to future business.

Of course, it is absolutely our intention and that of my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary that the House should be regularly and appropriately informed about our engagement in Mali and in north-west Africa. On the issue of a statement or an urgent question, the circumstances were that EU agreement had not yet been reached on the EU training mission, and in my colleague’s mind was the intention to update the House in the light of the EU training mission as well as the bilateral agreements that were entered into. I make no bones about that—it was absolutely fine for the urgent question to be responded to and we will keep the House informed. I cannot promise an oral statement in every case, for reasons of the progress of business, but I am sure we will keep the House fully informed through a combination of written ministerial statements, oral statements and answers to questions.

The hon. Lady asked a number of questions. It is interesting—the Leader of the Opposition made almost exactly the same point yesterday—that the Opposition try to argue that the economy requires the Government to spend more money, but complain, at one and the same time, that the Government are borrowing too much. They cannot have it both ways. They have to decide. Not only does their position represent utter confusion on the part of the Labour party, but, to be frank, it carries no credibility outside Parliament—that is the essential point. As the Prime Minister rightly said, the public will not trust the people who crashed the car last and put them back in the driving seat. It is not going to happen.

I listened to yesterday’s debate on Europe, but did not hear the confusion regarding the Labour party’s position remotely clarified. As far as I can see, the Opposition’s position now is that they are not in favour of an in/out referendum today, but they might be at some point in the future; yet, at the same time, they manage to be opposed to the idea of making a future commitment to the public that a new settlement with Europe should be the subject of a referendum. If they, like us, do not want a referendum now, why can they not just agree with us that there should be a referendum in the future on the basis that the public have the right to decide on the character of the settlement that we seek to negotiate with Europe?

On the question of powers in Europe, the Foreign Secretary has made it clear that, through the review of competences, we are looking at that negotiation with specific objectives for the return of powers. The hon. Lady and the Leader of the Opposition talk about

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returning powers, but the shadow Foreign Secretary has said that the Opposition are talking not about repatriation but about reform and a flow of powers to and back from Europe. I thought that the Opposition had just agreed to the referendum lock on powers to Europe, yet they seem to be reopening that question. There is utter confusion on their part.

Finally, the hon. Lady referred to collective ministerial responsibility. It was my happy duty to lead from the Dispatch Box on the debate on the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill. She was very kind about that. In fact, she was so kind that she did not observe that, although I was defending a sticky wicket—though I did make the odd stroke here and there—the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), who is not in his place, took the bails off my stumps later on. He was rather good—I give him credit for that.

The point is—the hon. Lady has to give the Government credit for this—that the mid-term review shows that we are very clear about where we are going and we are doing it together as a coalition. We have entered into not only a coalition but a mid-term review. We understand that we have a collective responsibility. I wish that the shadow Leader of the House and her colleagues would stand at the Dispatch Box and take either collective or individual responsibility for the mess they left this country in—for the debt and the six-and-a-half per cent. collapse in the economy. The reduction in GDP was not 0.1% but 6.3%. It was a bust like we had never seen before, after her then leader had promised that there would be no more boom and bust.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): On collective responsibility, paragraph 2.1 of the ministerial code says that the way the Liberal Democrats behaved on the boundary review would have required them to cross the Floor and leave Government unless the Prime Minister had signed an explicit waiver from collective responsibility. How was the House informed of the waiver? Was it by a press release to the BBC or an e-mail to Lobby correspondents, or has a yellow flag been run up over Downing street?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend will recall, because he was in his place, that the House was informed that one of the reasons why I addressed the House from the Dispatch Box on Tuesday was that the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Miss Smith) spoke on behalf of the Government on the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill. I spoke as Leader of the House in order to facilitate debate and to speak on behalf of my party in circumstances in which the Prime Minister had explicitly set aside collective ministerial responsibility. The House was informed by me then.

Natascha Engel (North East Derbyshire) (Lab): As the Leader of the House knows, more and more Members are coming to the Backbench Business Committee with ideas for debates that have a wider public interest. They are asking us to schedule debates quite far in advance so that they can then engage better with people outside in order to give them a better idea of what we are doing in Parliament. As he knows, we are given a maximum of two weeks’ notice of any days that are to be allocated to the Backbench Business Committee. Given that almost

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every Thursday is a Back-Bench day, will he consider the possibility of our working on the assumption that Thursdays will be Back-Bench days to allow Members more time to organise greater interest in the debates that are happening in Parliament?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Lady knows that I am happy to work with her and her colleagues to provide as much advance notice of the allocation of days as possible and, where possible, to enable her and her Committee to announce days in advance. We have been able to do that to some extent in the past. The issue was covered to some degree in the report from the Procedure Committee on the work of the Backbench Business Committee, to which I responded. We have a good record of providing Back-Bench time in the Chamber every week, with the exception of one week so far in this Session. She is, however, asking for a level of certainty in relation to future business that is not even available to me and my ministerial colleagues. She is aware of the issues that we face when timetabling business, but we do our absolute best to provide a degree of certainty to her and her colleagues, and we will continue to talk about how we can do that.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): Although I accept that our armed forces should be more flexible and mobile, the Government would be suffering from institutional amnesia if they thought that conflicts and wars could be fought and won by equipment alone. May we have an urgent debate on the future of the defence budget beyond 2015, so that we can hear that the Government are going to protect not only equipment but personnel?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend and I share a common understanding that the decisions that we have had to make on the defence budget were not ones that we sought but ones that were effectively forced upon us by the financial circumstances that we were left in. None the less, they have been responsible decisions. For example, we have looked at the simple fact of dealing with the £38 billion black hole in the defence budget. Today, in a written ministerial statement, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has set out a future equipment plan for the Ministry of Defence, including a degree of contingency, that is extremely encouraging, compared with the past. He and the rest of the Government are committed to delivering the Future Force 2020 plan that we set out, notwithstanding the fact that it has involved some difficult decisions. I know that there will be opportunities for the House to debate that matter, but we in the coalition Government have committed ourselves to achieving those aims.

Mr Dave Watts (St Helens North) (Lab): I recently took a delegation to the previous Housing Minister to discuss the bedroom tax. At that meeting, it was clear that the Minister did not understand his own policy. Yesterday, the Prime Minister again showed that no one understands the implications of the tax that the Government are introducing. May we have an urgent debate on the issue, so that Ministers can turn up and listen to the implications of the tax for ordinary people in our constituencies?

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Mr Lansley: I do not recall whether the hon. Gentleman was able to be at the recent oral questions on these matters, but, having listened to those oral questions, my recollection was that Ministers completely understood the issue. It is very simple: the rate of increase of housing benefit had become unsustainable and, at the same time, there has been a dramatic increase in the demand for social housing, as all Members of Parliament know. There is a real need to ensure that social housing is used as effectively as possible to meet housing need, and the combination of those circumstances means that there is every reason to have an incentive and, if necessary, a requirement for people not to under-occupy the housing that they live in.

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): As part of the Procedure Committee’s inquiry into the failure of the Department for Education to answer written questions, I have been hacking into the computer database that holds the records for the House as a whole. I have discovered that some Departments are very good at answering questions and that some are not. Looking at questions that were tabled in 2011 and had not been answered by yesterday, I find that the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department of Health had just one each, but the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Justice had 21 and 42 respectively. May we have a debate on why certain Departments are good at answering questions and others are not?

Mr Lansley: I am interested in what my hon. Friend says. We have discussed this matter across the Dispatch Box before. Modesty forbids me to reiterate the record of the Department of Health in answering questions. [Hon. Members: “Go on!”] Suffice it to say that it can be done. We did it in the Department that had the largest number of questions, so it is not simply a matter of high volume leading to difficulty in performance.

I welcome what the Procedure Committee is doing. The answer to my hon. Friend’s question is that when the Procedure Committee reports, there will be the usual opportunities for the Government to respond and, if it is sought, for the matter to be debated in the House.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Has the Leader of the House seen the article on the front page of The Times today about a major scandal involving a charity and many millions of pounds? Does that not signify that the third sector—the charitable sector—is in deep trouble in our country? Forget the big society—the third sector and the charitable world are struggling to survive and to help people. Will we have a debate soon on the future of the third sector and charities?

Mr Lansley: Yes, I have read that article. On the hon. Gentleman’s request for a debate, I am aware from listening to questions and debates that Members across the House are supportive of charities and the voluntary sector, and want them to succeed. There are many ways in which the Government are trying to help them to succeed. However, having read the article in The Times this morning, I would urge him not to try to excuse those kinds of allegations by raising the financial problems. Those are separate issues. We should not try to draw together the situation in the voluntary sector and the issue of tax avoidance.

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John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): My constituent Colin Froude wrote to me this week about the £107,000 bill that his elderly parents are having to pay for their care home this year. Many constituents have come to me on this issue. There is great frustration across the House at the Government’s failure to bring forward proposals to deal with the escalating costs of social care. Will the Leader of the House bring the relevant Minister to the House to make a statement on this critical issue, which affects many people up and down the country?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend raises a matter that is recognised in constituencies across the country as a compelling one that we must do something about. The Government have also been clear about that. He might reasonably have said that the previous Government failed to deal with the issue in 13 years. We have reached the point at which 45,000 older people a year are having to sell their homes to pay for care. The former Prime Minister Tony Blair said that that was a disgrace and that it would stop, but his Government did not act. They had a royal commission, but they did not act on it.

After the election, the coalition Government appointed Andrew Dilnot and his colleagues to undertake a commission. They reported in the summer of last year. We have reiterated that we are determined to implement their principles. As the mid-term review made clear, the House can look forward to further announcements in the coming weeks about how we will do exactly that.

Mr Speaker: Today is a first for me. It is the first time in my 16 years in the House that I have observed the hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) occupying the middle ground of the Chamber. I call Mr Jeremy Corbyn.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): I am obliged to you, Mr Speaker. I have always felt that travel broadens the mind.

The Leader of the House will have heard the request from the shadow Leader of the House for a debate on the situation in north Africa. May I ask the Government, once again, to table a votable motion on the increasing deployment and involvement of British armed forces in what could become an unpleasant, long, drawn-out, guerrilla-like conflict into which this country, inevitably, will be sucked deeper and deeper? The precedent for holding a vote was set before the Iraq invasion in 2003 and it is now the norm that the significant deployment of British troops in a war requires the consent of Parliament. I hope that the Leader of the House will recognise that and that the Government will table an appropriate motion for debate, so that many of us can express our concerns about the depth of our involvement.

Mr Lansley: In the first instance, I simply reiterate to the hon. Gentleman and the House that I believe Ministers have had several substantive opportunities to explain the nature and circumstances of our engagement, and to be questioned on that. I am not sure that I take the analogy with Iraq, or indeed Afghanistan; as my hon. Friends and Ministers have said at the Dispatch Box, an analogy with the situation in Somalia is probably closer.

As the Government have made clear, we will observe the existing convention that before UK troops are committed to conflict, the House of Commons should

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have an opportunity to debate and vote on the matter, except when there is an emergency and such action would not be appropriate. One should also recognise, as my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary said in the House this week, that the role of British troops is clearly not a combat role and it is not our intention to deploy combat troops. We are clear about the risks of mission creep—that was the nature of the question being asked—and have defined carefully the support that we are willing and able to provide to the French and Malian authorities. I would not carry the analogy to the point where the convention is engaged in the sense of a requirement for a debate and vote in this House.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): When anyone moves to Britain with their car they are required to register the vehicle with the Driver and Vehicle and Licensing Agency, and to have UK plates on that vehicle within six months. That is to ensure that the vehicle is taxed, insured and roadworthy, and so that the driver can be prosecuted for any speeding or parking offences. By its own admission, the Department for Transport has said that those rules are not working, and with 2 million EU residents permanently residing in this country, there are potentially tens of thousands of vehicles on our roads illegally. Will the Leader of the House use his charm, influence and position to pioneer a joint statement by the Department for Transport, the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, and say what Her Majesty’s Government will do to solve the problem?

Mr Speaker: Order. So far, the erudition of questions has been equalled only by their length. I am sure we will have a characteristically snappy answer from the Leader of the House.

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend made an important point very well. I will indeed get in touch with my colleagues and use what influence I have to encourage them, if not to make a collective statement, certainly to respond to him on behalf of the Government and to inform the House.

Mr Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford South) (Lab): I know the Leader of the House is a keen sportsperson and takes a keen interest in sport. Is he as concerned as I am about reports this week of a reduction in participation in school sports? That is worrying given the Olympic legacy. May we have a debate, discussion or ministerial statement about the decline in school sport?

Mr Lansley: As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am always hopeful that we might have more opportunities to discuss sport in the House, and in part that is a matter for Members and the Backbench Business Committee. In that context, however, from my point of view I think we are doing a great deal. For example, I and my colleagues were responsible for promoting school sports clubs though the Change4Life campaign, and extending those clubs in primary schools and connecting them with financial support for school partnership organisers in order to connect with secondary schools. That was not only about support for elite sport, but about ensuring the participation of all young people in sports of one kind or another, particularly at primary school age.

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Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): May we have a debate on the programme motion on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, given that there will not be a debate on that subject on Tuesday? That would allow the Government, and indeed the Opposition, to explain why they appear to be running scared of the Committee of the whole House deliberating on the issue, and why they are breaking with established convention from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Acts of 1990 and 2008 in not enabling Members of Parliament fully to express their consciences at Committee stage.

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to explain. We have thought very carefully about the issues raised by him and colleagues on both sides of the House. I will not go into the 1990 analogy at length, but at that time there was no precedent or practice for taking evidence in a Public Bill Committee.

Mr Burrowes: What about hybrid Bills?

Mr Lansley: The Bill is not a hybrid Bill.

We propose that the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill be debated in Committee, which affords the opportunity for the taking of oral evidence. From my point of view, that was a compelling reason for considering the Bill in Committee. Because of its technical character, the unitary nature of the argument and the need for oral evidence, particularly on the permissive religious marriage provisions, that is absolutely the right thing. It is also right to make it clear that we are prepared for two days of debate on the Floor of the House for consideration on Report.

Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): Since 1999, the cost of football tickets has increased by 716%. Liverpool fans might have been more entertained had they gone to see Fulham beat West Ham last night, but those who went to the Emirates to see their team will have paid £62. Fulham fans like me paid £53 to see a game at Stamford Bridge just before Christmas. May we have a debate on the impact of price increases for football supporters, and particularly on the impact on away fans, who bring so much spirit and atmosphere to many football games, and who are in danger of priced out of attending football?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point well. I will not comment on it, because wider issues have been raised, not least in the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport report on football governance, of which ticket prices form an important part.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): This Sunday in St Editha’s church, the Peel Society commemorates the 225th anniversary of the birth of Sir Robert Peel, the former Member for Tamworth. As a keen student of parliamentary history, Mr Speaker, you will know that Peel was a great reformer. He emancipated the Catholics, fathered the modern police force and repealed the corn laws. At the time, those measures were unpopular, but he believed them to be right, and was proved to be right. Therefore, in the spirit of Peel, may we have a statement from the Government on their key reforms to remind us that those things that may not find favour with all now will eventually be proved to be right?

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Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the achievements of Sir Robert Peel, who was one of the founders of this Conservative party. In addition to the great reforms my hon. Friend mentions, Peel also oversaw legislation such as the Mines and Collieries Act 1842, which forbade the employment of women and children underground, and the Factories Act 1844, which limited working hours for children and women in factories. Although Benjamin Disraeli fashioned the phrase “two nations” and the principle of a one nation party, in a sense Sir Robert Peel implemented those things in policy terms well before that—recognising the responsibility we each have to one another. One of the great traditions of conservatism was born with him.

I entirely share my hon. Friend’s desire for such a debate. Those who have a reforming instinct and introduce reforms they believe to be right are often the subject of considerable criticism. They look and hope to be justified in the long term.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I do not know how many teaspoons of sugar the Leader of the House had in his cup of coffee this morning, but he will know of the dangers of sugar and the fight against diabetes. As the architect of the responsibility deal, is he concerned that a third of school leavers of primary school age are either obese or overweight. Is it not time we had a statement or debate on the success of the responsibility deal?

Mr Lansley: I introduced the responsibility deal with my colleagues at the Department of Health precisely because I am concerned about the number of people in this country who are overweight and obese—[Interruption.] Contrary to the sedentary remark from the Opposition Front Bench, the deal is working. I will not go into this at great length now, although perhaps we will find an opportunity to do so. The deal includes the calorie reduction challenge, which is one of the world-leading opportunities for us—not just the food industry, but all working together across the board—to consider the extent to which the virtual abolition of artificial trans fats, the reduction of saturated fats, the reduction of sugars in foods, and a reduction of calorie intake can get us to sustainable, healthy weight.

Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): Ceredigion county council is one of the latest local authorities to sign the community covenant and appoint an armed forces champion. May we have a debate on the housing, health care and benefit entitlements of veterans and, critically, on how we communicate those entitlements to the veterans to whom we owe so much?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and he is absolutely right. I value the way my own local authority and his have taken up the commitment to the armed forces covenant. He is right that we should make sure that it is understood, not least by veterans and their families. The first annual report on the military covenant showed good progress, but I know my colleagues, not least at the Ministry of Defence, will be very keen to take up his suggestion to consider how we can do more to publicise it.

Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP): In the past 10 years, £1 billion has been stolen from the UK Exchequer through the illicit trade in and smuggling of fuels, yet in the past 10 years no one has been jailed in Northern

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Ireland for these crimes—an atrocious record. Given that today another oil-laundering plant has been smashed by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, is it not time for a statement from the Treasury on the sentencing and arrest policy of HMRC officers, so that we can get these criminals behind bars where they belong?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point. He will forgive me if I do not know HMRC’s immediate response, but I will of course talk to my colleagues at the Treasury and encourage them not only to respond to him but to update the House at an early point.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): May we have a debate in the House so that we can issue a clarion call to parish and town councillors to make use of neighbourhood planning to empower their local communities, shape their environment, promote local economic growth and defend green fields?

Mr Lansley: Yes, I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. I have seen in the past how parish plans have successfully informed local development frameworks, but we have gone further and entrenched in statute the ability of those neighbourhood areas to shape their own area. That is very encouraging, and already more than 150 neighbourhood areas have been designated. He, like others, will be pleased that the Department is running a support programme from April to help local authorities with neighbourhood planning.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): As the only parliamentary vote we have had this week was one where seven parties came together in the national interest to defeat the Conservative party, is it not an appropriate time to extend the cricketing metaphor employed by the Leader of the House, for the Government to draw stumps, to return to the pavilion—where most of the Conservative Back Benchers appear to have gone today—and to allow Members to have a say on the non-existence of a forward programme for this Government?

Mr Lansley: The premises of that question are almost entirely wrong. I will not re-run the vote on Tuesday, but I am absolutely clear that what we set out to do was in the national interest—more particularly, it is in the democratic interest for votes to be of equal value. Those on the Opposition Benches have to explain why they have continuously, over many years, sought to frustrate people in having their vote count equally in more equal-sized constituencies. On the idea that there is no forward programme, what did the hon. Gentleman think we were doing when we published the mid-term review? That is a comprehensive statement not only about the delivery of the coalition agreement but about additional clear, strong priorities. This week, he saw the reform of child care and support for child care provision come through. Those and other priorities are coming through, as the mid-term review set out.

Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con): This time last week, I asked for a departmental statement on departmental responses to letters, or the lack of them. The Leader of the Houser replied:

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“I will certainly be in touch with the Treasury and will perhaps encourage my colleagues there to respond to my hon. Friend before they answer questions here next Tuesday.”—[Official Report, 24 January 2013; Vol. 557, c. 467.]

That was last Tuesday. Nothing has happened. Will my right hon. Friend please come to my rescue once more?

Mr Lansley: I am somewhat confused, Mr Speaker, because I have a letter to my hon. Friend from the Economic Secretary dated 28 January. I will ensure that a copy is placed in my hon. Friend’s hand.

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): May we have a debate on the scrapping of council tax benefit? Currently, 5.9 million families receive this benefit, which is to be abolished on 1 April, and the Resolution Foundation says that a single parent using child care and working full time on the minimum wage could see their council tax jump from £220 to £797. This is happening at a time when the bedroom tax is coming in, when tax credits are being cut and when the minimum wage is being frozen for under-21s. May we have a debate, therefore, about why council tax benefit is being cut, while millionaires are getting a tax break?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman knows that council tax benefit is not being scrapped, but being localised, with local authorities taking responsibility. He also knows perfectly well that there are clear administrative benefits associated with local authorities taking responsibility for council tax benefit alongside their housing benefit responsibilities. Like any Opposition Member who asks about this, however, he must start by recognising that we are doing this because we are in the most appalling financial mess inherited from the last Labour Government, under whom spending on council tax benefit doubled. Welfare reform is necessary. They cannot create the problem and then resist every solution.

Chris White (Warwick and Leamington) (Con): Today, the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012, which I introduced as a private Member’s Bill, will officially be implemented across the public sector. It marks the end of a two-year campaign to change how we design public service contracts and the beginning of a new campaign to ensure that the principles of the Act are properly implemented by public bodies. May we have a debate on public service commissioning, specifically on how we can ensure that the principles of social value are instilled across all public bodies?

Mr Lansley: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend. This important reform, for which he has been responsible, is about how we design public services and contracts. We are working across Government to build in social value. It needs to come not just from central Government, however, but with the support of local authorities and our partners, including in the health service. Social Enterprise UK has published a guidance document that will help commissioners and procurers of services to do it, but I undertake that I and my colleagues will try to ensure that we take every opportunity to see how we can take forward the principles of social value across public services.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): There are 3,200 Motability scheme customers in Hull, many of whom are concerned about the changes to the

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personal independence payment being introduced in April. May we have a debate on the Floor of the House about how many of those people are likely to lose their vehicles in this new review that they will have to take part in?

Mr Lansley: I am sure that the hon. Lady will have noticed—because she follows these matters closely—the exchanges in the other place, not least the response from my noble Friend Lord Freud. As the Prime Minister made clear at the Dispatch Box in Prime Minister’s questions, we continue to take very seriously our responsibility to ensure that those with disabilities see resources focused on those in greatest need.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): May we please have a statement on what progress has been made on the provision of improved broadband speeds in Greater Manchester? Many of my constituents, particularly those living in rural areas, are still forced to put up with very slow connection speeds, which, among other things, holds back rural businesses, and still have no idea when or whether they will benefit from the £1 million allocated by the Government to Greater Manchester to improve broadband access there.

Mr Lansley: I understand my hon. Friend’s point. It is important that urban areas, which often find it easier to deliver superfast broadband on a commercial or near-commercial basis, recognise that in putting together their schemes they have a responsibility not to marginalise rural areas, where the commercial case for delivering superfast broadband is obviously much harder to make. That is why we are setting such ambitious targets for 2015. Broadband Delivery UK is supporting that, but, as I know from my authority, this requires not only resources from BDUK, but substantial additional funding. My local authority and others are getting together to make that happen.

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): I am sure that the Leader of the House will recall my asking for a general debate recently on the proliferation of betting shops. May I reiterate that call and request that the debate be framed in the context of the implementation of the Portas review and the Government’s localism agenda?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Lady will be aware that, following the Portas pilots funding, we are taking these forward along with additional packages, such as the high street innovation fund and the national markets fortnight campaign. Many of the 300 towns that did not get direct access to the Portas pilots are taking forward elements of their original plans across their high streets. I do not know whether the hon. Lady has taken the opportunity to encourage her colleagues across the House to make a submission to the Backbench Business Committee—as I think we discussed previously—but this seems to be exactly the sort of opportunity it might look for.

Karl McCartney (Lincoln) (Con): Worryingly, after two and a half years it seems that IPSA is still a four-letter swear-word to many of my colleagues in all parts of the House. Is my right hon. Friend the Leader

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of the House aware that every year the taxpayer is charged £11,500 to do our expenses individually? That is £7.5 million per annum charged by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. Does he think that is value for money in this time of austerity and does he think there is anything he can do about it?

Mr Lansley: The answer to my hon. Friend is yes, I am aware of that. I am a member of the Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and one of our responsibilities is to scrutinise the estimates for IPSA. We have established in statute an independent organisation. It needs to be funded to do its job properly and although it is independent, just as this House is responsible for voting resources right across Government and the public sector, one of our jobs is to ensure that it delivers the kind of value for money that we would expect in any part of the public services.

Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): May we have a debate about the support offered to people, particularly those in skilled and technical jobs, when they face the prospect of unemployment? This week Total Petrochemicals in Stalybridge announced that it had entered into consultation with its work force on the future of the factory, due to tough trading conditions in the polystyrene market. Does the Leader of the House agree that at times like this it is incredibly important to ensure that we offer employees as much targeted support as possible to safeguard as many jobs as possible or help with the transition to new employment opportunities?

Mr Lansley: I completely understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. Announcements of possible job losses in any constituency are a matter of considerable concern to that constituency’s Member of Parliament. The most important things are, that support is available through Jobcentre Plus and, if appropriate, the Work programme. Sometimes support can be readily available from employers, as part of a package. At the same time, it is not just about offering support through retraining and job placement; it is about making sure that the jobs are there. The most encouraging thing is that since the last election we have 1.1 million more private sector jobs in this country. That is what should give people the greatest hope for the future.

Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): As the Leader of the House will be aware, Canada and Australia—members of the Commonwealth—along with other countries, such as the USA, Poland and Hungary, recognise the genocide called the Ukrainian holodomor, in which 7 million Ukrainians were systematically starved to death in 1932-33 by Stalin. Britain does not recognise that it was genocide. Is it not time for this to be rectified and may we have a debate?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend raises an issue of great historical and, for many, personal significance that has limited international recognition. She of course understands fully that it was an appalling tragedy. The UK fully recognises its significance. I have to tell her that the United Kingdom does not judge that the evidence is sufficiently unequivocal to categorise the holodomor as genocide as defined by the 1948 UN convention on

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genocide. However, we recognise that there is a division of opinion among academics on this matter. We will continue to follow the debate closely, particularly in the light of any further and emerging evidence.

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): Fire safety in places of public assembly and in historic buildings is very important. Has the fire Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis)—indicated whether he might issue a supportive statement encouraging parliamentary colleagues to undertake the fire safety awareness training available on the parliamentary intranet as that would be in the interests of our own safety, that of our staff and visitors to this place? Will the Leader of the House encourage the fire Minister to attend the fire evacuation drill planned for the Chamber at 12.30 pm on 11 February?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, whose record on supporting fire safety measures is recognised across the House. I will be here myself on 11 February. I am not sure of the position of my colleagues, but I encourage them to recognise that such attendance and fire awareness training are important things to do. I am aware from discussions in the House of Commons Commission of the precise extent of the take-up of that training among Members and staff. It is not as complete as it should be, so I encourage people to take that opportunity.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Has my right hon. Friend seen my early-day motion 1000?

[That this House is disappointed that despite a unanimous vote in Parliament calling for an investigation, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has refused to hold a full inquiry into allegations of anti-competitive behaviour in the petrol and diesel market; notes that their decision is despite evidence of market abuse handed to them by hundreds of independent petrol stations, transport firms, small businesses and members of the public through RMI Petrol, the AA, petrolpromise.com and FairFuelUK; further notes that even the OFT report admits that over the last 10 years the combined gross margin for refining, wholesaling and retailing has increased by 3.4 pence per litre for petrol and 7.2 pence per litre for diesel and that taking account of inflation, this represents an increase in real terms of 14 per cent for petrol and 41 per cent for diesel; and therefore calls on the OFT to reconsider its decision not to hold a full inquiry and to step up the pressure on the oil companies and financial speculators who are pushing up prices at the pump.]

May we have an urgent statement about yesterday’s shocking decision by the Office of Fair Trading not to hold a full inquiry into the rip-off oil companies that are ripping off motorists at the petrol pumps—especially given that the House unanimously supported, without a Division, the idea of having a full inquiry? The OFT decision flies in the face of thousands of pieces of evidence from FairFuelUK, petrolpromise.com, the AA and many other organisations. It is undermined even by its own report, which admits that over the last decade fuel margins have grown in real terms by 14% for petrol and an astonishing 41% for diesel.

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who continues to argue forcefully for the fairest fuel prices possible for consumers. I completely understand that.

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As a Government, we have continually listened to my hon. Friend’s and other arguments, which is why the price of fuel at the pumps is 10p a litre lower than it would have been if we had allowed the last Government’s escalator to proceed. My hon. Friend understands, as do I, that the Office of Fair Trading is independent in its investigations and in the judgments it makes. There will be opportunities for colleagues to question Treasury Ministers, for example, about their approach to fuel pricing at the next Treasury questions.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): Like Mr Speaker’s lectures, the Christmas lectures at the Royal Institution are part of our cultural life. They were started by Michael Faraday in 1825 at 21 Albemarle street, which is now under threat. I ask the Leader of the House for an urgent debate and will he facilitate a meeting between leading scientists and the Minister for Universities and Science to save 21 Albemarle street for the nation?

Mr Lansley: I cannot promise a debate, but I will of course talk to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Universities and Science. The hon. Lady knows of his remarkable interest in, and his devotion to, supporting science, which is reflected across the Government. If I may presume for him, I think he might well be willing to take an opportunity to talk to scientists, without promising that it is the Government’s responsibility in any way.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): At last week’s business questions my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) raised the important issue of interest rate swap mis-selling. Today, the Financial Services Authority issued a report, and I believe that it would be good to have some parliamentary scrutiny of it. That might provide more publicity for the issue so that other businesses that have been involved but do not realise that they might be eligible for compensation start to take action.

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend makes an important point, and it is absolutely right to follow up the matter from last week. Upstairs this morning, the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards is taking further evidence on the mis-selling of interest rate swaps, forming part of its further inquiries into banking standards. In addition, I will talk to my colleagues about updating the House on what can be done to ensure that small businesses do not continue to be borne down by the cost of mis-sold policies of that kind.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): On that very point, I urge the Leader of the House to ensure that we do indeed get this type of report before the House. Many of the businesses concerned are in dire straits and need action and compensation now. They do not really want to wait for the outcome of reports and investigations by other Committees. Given that there are six weeks before the next Treasury questions, may we have a statement from a Treasury Minister about what can be done?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman has made an important point, which I completely understand. The length of time that it took for the FSA to undertake its investigation, and its explanation of the difficulties of investigating individual cases, demonstrate the scale of the problem

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in relation to any individual policy, but today’s report indicates the need for the sector across the board to try not to deepen the harm done to companies, in terms of the policies that they have taken up and also in terms of where they stand at present. I will consult my colleagues on possible opportunities for a debate, but it might also be possible to arrange one by means of an application to the Backbench Business Committee.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): My local planning authority, Powys county council, is a small, hard-pressed rural authority which is currently having to divert £2.8 million of its funds to defend its rejection of wind farm applications in a public inquiry, while developers have access to unlimited moneys which are demanded from consumers. This is a David versus Goliath position. May we have an urgent debate on the way in which appeals are funded? That would give us an opportunity to demonstrate that the Government are not entirely on the side of Goliath.

Mr Lansley: I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me when I say that I did not listen to all the questions to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and his fellow Ministers, which I think may have touched on the issues that he has raised. I will of course discuss those issues with them, but it must be said that there often seems to be a disparity between the resources available to those making planning applications and those available to the—sometimes small—local authorities that respond to them.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): On 10 January, the Foreign Secretary gave me what he described as a “broad assurance” that there would be a vote in the House on the deployment of soldiers abroad, following the precedent of 2003. The Leader of the House rested his refusal to allow that on the narrow point that we are not in conflict in Mali. We have up to 400 troops there; many of them are armed, and if they are attacked, they will use those arms. That sounds very much like conflict to me.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Ms Eagle). Given that the country is now weary and wary of avoidable wars, is it not important for us to debate the issue, so that the House can establish what precisely is the terrorist threat to Britain from Tuareg nationalists?

Mr Lansley: I am sure that the House would not wish me to repeat what I said earlier—which I think was perfectly understandable in the circumstances—but I might add that our actions have been in response to what were, in effect, urgent and emergency requests from, in the first instance, the French authorities, with the support of the Malian authorities. That engages, to an extent, the question of this being an emergency. However, we will constantly keep in mind the question of whether it is appropriate, under the convention, which we respect and to which we will adhere, to present the issue to the House for debate.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): Why has there been no statement, either oral or written, about the decision—announced in the media this morning—to

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scrap the competition for the First Great Western rail franchise? If no Minister will come and explain that decision to the House, will the Leader of the House contact the Department for Transport after business questions and ensure that every Member who is affected by it—including my hon. Friends the Members for Caerphilly (Wayne David) and for Newport West (Paul Flynn), who are in the Chamber now—receives a letter today containing details of the reasons for a decision that affects our constituents very deeply?

Mr Lansley: As the hon. Gentleman knows, because the matter is market-sensitive, it was the subject of an announcement to the markets and a written ministerial statement this morning, so the House was informed.

Kevin Brennan: It was not advertised.

Mr Lansley: No, it was not, because it is market-sensitive, but a written ministerial statement was laid before the House this morning. However, I will check with my colleagues at the Department for Transport to establish whether they have notified Members across the House about the three franchises on which announcements were made in that statement.

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): When will the Leader of the House schedule a debate on the massive rise in unemployment among the disabled that there has been under this Government? It has increased by 42,000 since mid-2010, to a record 434,000. Is he aware that it will be added to by a further 44 sacked workers from the Remploy factory in Springburn in my constituency, which this Government are disgracefully allowing to close today?

Mr Lansley: Of course, I am aware of the situation in relation to Remploy because I was sitting on the Front Bench when the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral West (Esther McVey), responded sympathetically and well to questions from Members. If we had sufficient Government time to be able to debate employment, I would love to do so because we would be able to say many very positive things. Unfortunately, the nature of time and the allocation of time in the House is such that most Government time is committed to the progress of legislation and addressing a number of specific requirements. Of course, Opposition time and Back-Bench business time is available, and I know that employment issues of all kinds are right at the forefront of the interests of Members.

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): May we have an urgent debate on pathology services in north-west London? Since The Doctors Laboratory—TDL—took over those services last month, doctors have complained that bloods are not stored or transported safely. One general practitioner has reported that 300 results have gone missing, that an excessive number of potassium results are high and that INR results are unexpectedly low. As the Leader of the House well knows, that could lead to a misdiagnosis and, consequently, an increase in warfarin, which could be fatal. Those matters have now been reported to the Care Quality Commission, as have concerns of all the

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GPs in the area and the North West London Hospitals NHS Trust. The matter is urgent and I hope he will create time to debate it.

Mr Lansley: As my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary is on the Bench and will have heard what the hon. Gentleman had to say, he might have noted it. If my recollection is right, the hon. Gentleman has described a process that was a consequence of the Carter review undertaken under the previous Administration. The then Health Secretary, the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), is in his place on the Opposition Front Bench, so he might like to have a word with the hon. Gentleman to explain why the Carter review set out specifically to rationalise and, in some cases, to secure the outsourced management of pathology services.

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): Last but not least, Mr Speaker. The past week has not been good for animals: we have heard numerous references to stalking horses; we have heard a Minister using American slang in referring to “discombobulated monkeys”; we have had a Westminster Hall debate on hunting of foxes; and one Conservative Member is reported to have referred to the Liberal Democrats as rodents leaving a sinking ship. May we have a debate on how animals can be kept out of politics?

Mr Lansley: In my experience, when we are discussing wild animals in circuses, and when we are discussing horsemeat up in Westminster Hall and elsewhere, animals seem to be in politics all the time.