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Ian Swales: I thank the Minister for that response. I recognise his special expertise in this area.

I want to talk about the sustainability of the bioethanol made in my constituency. It is made from animal-feed wheat, not human-grade wheat, and at the other end we get three products: bioethanol; carbon dioxide, which is captured for use in the food and drink industry in a separate plant; and crucially, high-grade animal feed. All the protein in the wheat ends up in high-grade animal feed, which is highly prized in the agricultural industry, to the point that there are times when those at the plant tell me that it is an animal feed plant with a bioethanol by-product, rather than a bioethanol plant with an animal feed by-product.

The high-protein animal feed replaces imports mostly from South America, mostly based on soya and mostly grown on former rainforest land. Far from being unsustainable, that high-grade animal feed, a by-product of the bioethanol business, is in effect replacing the use of rainforests in South America. A cradle-to-grave view of the sustainability of all greener fuels needs to be taken, because there are an awful lot of misconceptions about how some of the businesses work.

Mr Goodwill: My hon. Friend will be aware that the by-product from those plants is suitable only as ruminant feed. Much of the grain in South America is produced to fuel the chicken and pork industries, which seems to be the big demand in the developing world.

Ian Swales: I recognise that the Minister has a special expertise, but I know that there is demand in the marketplace for the feeds, which form only part of the overall mix. Having enjoyed the product of a ruminant in my cup of tea earlier this afternoon, I know that they have a place in the final food chain.

David Mowat: I am not totally certain that I understood the thrust of what was said about rainforests. Was the point being made that it is good to convert rainforest into soya for use in transport?

Ian Swales: No, absolutely not. My point was that the high-grade, high-protein animal feed, which the by-product feed replaces, is typically grown in South America, so the by-product feed reduces the demand for soya-based proteins, mostly from South America. There is a green chain. The situation is not as simple as people say.

The Government have had a policy for putting biofuels into both diesel and petrol for years. Starting with diesel, they set the targets and people invested large amounts in chemical plant, but all the early investors went bust because the Government kept moving the goal posts—surprise, surprise, the same has happened with bioethanol. The £300 million that people invested in the plant in my constituency has largely gone and the plant recently changed hands for a lower price. Why? Because the Government have not delivered on the renewable transport fuel obligations they said they would when the investment case was originally made.

The hon. Member for Southport mentioned an important point: we need certainty for green technologies. If we are asking people to invest large amounts of capital, we cannot keep changing our minds. Changing one’s mind leads to an industry heavily dependent on imports of green products. Unless we give investors certainty about the goal posts and the environment into which they

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invest, they will not invest anymore. Most of the early investors in such technologies have done badly and that is mostly due to Government policy.

For the same reasons, we need to ensure at EU level that targets for the proportions of biofuel in diesel and petrol are separate. If we allow an overall target and let oil companies play games over how much biofuel they put into each one on any given day, the people who have invested heavily in capital plant will have years of feast and years of famine, as the oil companies play their games, and will eventually exit the market. Again, traders will be left to pick up the pieces.

Graham Stringer: The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting speech and I have learnt a lot from it. Is not the fundamental point of what he is saying that in asking the Government to pick one technology over another, we are asking them to pick winners? History shows us that the Government are much better at picking losers than winners.

Rather than the Government’s picking winners and choosing where to put subsidies, would it not be better for them to switch some of the subsidies currently going into the energy industry—there is a huge debate about that at the moment—into research, so that we can move on to the next generation of renewable technologies, which the market will support?

Ian Swales: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I have told many potential investors in the industry that we cannot expect the Government to make winners. As at a roulette table, they will put their chips on lots of different numbers, but having made policy on, for example, the proportion of petrol that should come from bio-sources, they cannot change it when people are putting in hundreds of millions of pounds. By the way, those biofuels do not get a subsidy; all they need is a market that is understood and left to prosper. I agree with his point, but at some stage we must not so much pick winners, as set the environment for particular sectors of the market to thrive.

John Pugh: One place the Government cannot avoid interacting with the market in one way or another is the taxation regime, and they do so to an enormous extent. A lot of the price of petrol is tax. They cannot opt out.

Ian Swales: That is a good point. The Government have a key role, because they are never out of the market, due to the environment they set and the rules they put in place. They are players, whether they like it or not.

We need to look constantly at the science behind the issues and not simply listen to the last non-governmental organisation we spoke to. Sustainability needs to be looked at from cradle to grave, and there is a lot of devil in that detail, such as the materials used to make a car battery for an electric car. We need to police systems, because once we put rules in place, there are usually lots of people working on the best way to get round them and maximise their take. We need to ensure that we are not naive about the systems we put in place. We need big thinking.

One of my concerns is that we need five Ministers to respond to the debate: one from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills; one from the Department

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of Energy and Climate Change; one from the Treasury; one from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; and one from the Department for Transport, who I am sure—no pressure—will speak for all the others. The issues typically cross those five Departments, a fact that I know the Government recognise. They have put a high-level team in place, but we need not just high-level thinking, but high-level action to ensure we get a consistent view, over, for example, the value of waste and where it is best used.

Finally, I congratulate the Minister on his new role. I am sure that, having listened to the debate, he is wondering whether he did the right thing in accepting the job. I hope he will give us the clarity we all seek.

3.39 pm

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. When do you want to call the Minister?

Mr Mike Weir (in the Chair): We finish at 4.22, so you can split the time among yourselves.

Richard Burden: I will not go on for the sake of it. This is the second debate of the day for the new Minister and me in Westminster Hall, so we are starting as we mean to go on. I congratulate the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh) on securing the debate. We have heard important contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Fiona O’Donnell) and the hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales) and we have had important interventions from the hon. Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) and my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton (Graham Stringer).

When he introduced the debate, the hon. Member for Southport quoted from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” on getting from A to B. Given the importance of what we are talking about and the seriousness of the consequences if we do not effectively tackle climate change, I was put in mind of a different quote from that book:

“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.”

On the challenge of climate change, that makes a very good point.

Cutting emissions and tackling greenhouse gases is not simply a question of tackling the transport end of the equation, but transport is obviously central to the issue. We are talking about transport still accounting for more than a fifth of the UK’s CO2 emissions, with 97% of that coming from cars alone. That is why the European Council of Ministers debate on achieving the EU target of 40% was important. I understand that the time scale has now slipped. Originally, the proposal was for 2020, and, as a result of the latest decision, it is now 2024. I understand the UK voted for that longer time scale. Can the Minister confirm whether that is the case when he sums up the debate?

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In the UK, we have ambitious targets to reach 1.7 million electric vehicles by 2020 and to ensure that all vehicles are ultra-low emission by 2050. Today we are not debating whether the transport sector needs to change, but what reforms are needed. I have had the privilege of chairing the all-party motor group for several years. It is a position I will have to give up now that I am in my current role. However, I know that great work has been pioneered in this country by the Automotive Council, in conjunction with organisations such as the Office for Low Emission Vehicles.

The hon. Member for Redcar might be right that we need five Ministers in a debate such as this, although the thought scares me a little, but one of the great things about OLEV is that it has started to bring together cross-departmental working. We could learn from that in other sectors. The Automotive Council and OLEV have both been important in ensuring that the UK is doing all that it can to promote innovation, development and the take-up of low-carbon transport. I am particularly proud of the Automotive Council, which was an initiative of the Labour Government. I am pleased that the success achieved by the council has meant that it has been continued by the current Government.

David Mowat: On the point about electric cars, does the hon. Gentleman accept the point that was made earlier? Given that 70% of our electricity is produced from fossil fuels—most of that from coal—electric cars are actually less carbon-friendly than petroleum cars at the moment, and will be for some considerable time.

Richard Burden: The point that we cannot simply measure emissions and the impact on the environment by looking at what comes out of the tailpipe is absolutely right. We do need to look at the whole-life question, and that includes questions of energy generation and where it comes from and so on. I would not go as far as the hon. Gentleman and conclude that electric cars are less environmentally friendly than petrol cars. It depends what we are talking about and what the circumstances are.

David Mowat: That is true, but in terms of carbon production, it is arithmetically inevitable that if we produce electricity from coal and then use that electricity to make a car go, with the losses that take place in each of those stages, we will use more carbon. I am not saying there are not other benefits, but the carbon is worse.

Richard Burden: There are all sorts of issues. The hon. Gentleman makes an assumption that the electricity is generated from coal. It is clearly the case that coal is an important part of the energy mix, but it is not the only one. The debate is about how we achieve the right kind of balance to ensure that, as far as our road transport is concerned, it contributes as best it can to combating carbon emissions; and not only carbon emissions, but some of the other emissions that the hon. Member for Southport talked about.

David Mowat: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Richard Burden: I will let the hon. Gentleman intervene one more time. I do not want this to become a dialogue.

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David Mowat: I will make one final point. Of course it depends on where the electricity comes from, and sometime soon we might have more carbon-free nuclear at a scale that will enable electric cars to be carbon-friendly. However, at the moment, 75% of our electricity—this is broadly true of the rest of Europe as well—comes from fossil fuels. Until that changes, electric cars are a net worsener of the use of carbon. I will leave it at that.

Richard Burden: This is perhaps to be continued another time. I will simply repeat that, in fairness, the equation is not as simple as that. However, it is the case that we need to green our road transport in this country. As we do that and talk about the options, it is important that we all live in the real world, ensuring that the policies we adopt, whatever they might be, do not worsen the cost of living crisis that is hitting so many people at the moment. My constituents know that the Government might be patting themselves on the back in relation to fuel duty. The fact that VAT went up to 20% in 2011 has also been part of the mix as far as their cost of living is concerned, because that created a long-lasting impact on them as well. However, I do not want to dwell on that.

I want to ask the Minister to cover a few points in relation to alternative fuels and the action that is needed to promote lower emissions in different parts; issues to do with the recharging network; and other ways that the Government could promote behaviour change to cut transport emissions and protect the planet.

First, I want to address biofuels. The hon. Member for Southport raised important concerns. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian talked about the important work of the International Development Committee on this subject. I know it is important work. Not only was I chairing the all-party motor group until recently, but I was also a member of the International Development Committee as well. Important evidence was given to the Committee on the impact of agriculturally produced biofuels and the impact that they have on food prices and food security. That is why I am pleased that, as far as the European Union is concerned, there has been a recent vote to cut the number of food crops used to produce biofuels. However—perhaps the Minister can confirm whether I am right—we are now not talking about a 5% limit, but a 6% limit. The target was watered down. Sadly, the Conservative members of the European Parliament contributed to that watering down.

Will the Minister confirm whether I am right about the 5% or 6% target and the change there? What is the Government’s view? Would they have preferred a 5% target? Without wanting him to jump across too many departmental areas, what does the Minister think of the recommendation mentioned by my hon. Friend who sits on the International Development Committee, that the UK revise its domestic renewable transport fuel obligation to exclude agriculturally produced biofuels completely?

If the Government still want to be the greenest one ever, as I understand they are still saying, it is important that they set out their position on biofuels as regards not only how they affect food crops, which we have already discussed, but how in practice we can distinguish between different kinds of biofuels in relation to both their sourcing and how they are produced. I would not go as far as the hon. Member for Redcar on some of the

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points he made, but different biofuels have different impacts, and it is important for Government policy that such distinctions are made.

The hon. Member for Southport rightly stated that we need to look at the issues of liquefied petroleum gas and compressed natural gas. I will not repeat what he said, other than to make two points. First, I recognise that LPG and CNG still need to be part of the mix, and will stay part of the mix for some considerable time, so the questions he asked deserve answers from the Minister. Secondly, to repeat what my hon. Friend the Member for Blackley and Broughton said, although decisions have to be made on fiscal incentives or disincentives for particular fuels, we must be careful to respond to the important point made by the Automotive Council and everybody else, which is not to try to pick winners, but to try to be technology-neutral in principle and to see what works. I hope that the Minister will answer the important questions asked by the hon. Member for Southport.

The promotion of low-carbon transport goes much further than such questions; it is also about the development of low-carbon technologies to provide a context for the use of different fuels, and how the progress already being made on petrol and diesel engines—they will remain part of our car and commercial vehicle fleet for a long time yet—can be sustained. That is why I welcome the work of the Office for Low Emission Vehicles, and its document, “Driving the Future Today: A strategy for ultra low emission vehicles in the UK”. I want the Minister to set out the Government’s thinking on some of the issues raised by that report.

On the demand side—assuming that electric vehicles will be an important part of the mix for the future—a recent Institute for Public Policy Research report showed that demand for those vehicles in the UK has recently fallen behind most other European countries and the United States, despite the innovation and leadership shown by the UK automotive industry. When Labour was in power, we took the important step of providing grant incentives for purchasers of low-emission vehicles, and I am pleased that this Government remain committed to that. However, the first bullet point in OLEV’s vision in its document is the need to develop a

“buoyant domestic fleet and private markets for ULEVs”—

ultra-low emission vehicles—which means demonstrating their economic benefits by tackling high up-front costs and dispelling misconceptions about their performance.

Are the Government committed to the continuation of plug-in car grants, and does the Minister accept that the Government could do more by leading by example? They could use their procurement processes more imaginatively to ensure that the switch to ULEVs spreads across the public sector, and they could consider how to maintain and provide aftercare for those vehicles to help promote local jobs and local industries, as well as the development of local skills. In a way, the Government car fleet could both buy British and support the ULEV agenda.

On infrastructure, the Government have now departed from what they originally said about having a national recharging network for electric vehicles, and instead favour what they describe as home and workplace recharging. However, OLEV has stated that that means supporting a network of charge points in homes, residential

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streets, railway stations and public sector car parks, which sounds a bit like a recharging network to me. OLEV has said that £37 million is available to help to roll out the infrastructure until 2015, which I welcome, but what does the Minister expect the £37 million to achieve, and how far short will it fall of what OLEV thinks is needed?

OLEV has emphasised the importance of the energy companies in delivering a step change towards having ULEVs, from providing a smarter electricity grid supported by new tariff structures through to using plug-in vehicles themselves as distributed energy stores that might even feed electricity back to the grid at peak times. Do the Government have any plans to achieve such innovative ideas in practice? Does not such a point suggest the need for a much more proactive regulatory framework for the energy companies?

I certainly welcome the UK H2 Mobility project to stimulate the take-up of hydrogen-powered vehicles, which are a bit closer to reality than the hon. Member for Southport said. We still need to know the level of infrastructure that the Government think will be required for the scale shift of cars to hydrogen fuel cells, the time scales that are envisaged and the mechanism that will be put in place to achieve what the Government want.

In relation to automotive capability, the OLEV strategy rightly underlines the importance of the Automotive Council’s work, which I have already mentioned. Such developments as the recent announcement of an advanced propulsion centre are certainly welcome, as is the competition launched with a £10 million prize for the development of long-life battery production.

There are still questions, however, about whether UK companies, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, will benefit from the shift to ULEVs through the promotion of jobs and employment in the UK. Research for the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders by KPMG recently underlined the barriers faced by companies that have the flair, but too seldom the opportunity, to development their ideas and bring them to market. All too often, there are still difficulties in accessing affordable finance. The report estimated that UK companies are not securing about £3 billion-worth of opportunities for the automotive supply chain in the UK.

The Minister knows that the industry, in the form of the Automotive Council, is demanding more assertive Government action, so what will he do to press his Treasury colleagues to respond more effectively? As the skills agenda is also important to achieving our objectives, what discussions does he intend to have with the Secretary of State for Education to bring an end to the rather toffee-nosed valuing of traditional academic achievement over vocational achievement in this country?

The shift towards ULEVs is not only an environmental necessity for the future of our planet. In “Driving the Future Today”, OLEV has stated that the transition to such vehicles

“represents a once in a lifetime industrial opportunity for the UK automotive sector if it successfully positions itself in the vanguard of this new technology—delivering jobs and growth for decades to come.”

That is why the industry and consumers look to the Government to match their words with actions on such issues.

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Finally, in considering greener fuels, it is important to remember that while H2 powers hydrogen vehicles, O2 powers human vehicles. I therefore hope that the Minister will set out some of the practical actions that he and the Government intend to achieve to ensure that another part of the ultra-low carbon mix of transport in this country involves measures to encourage cycling and walking as part of that agenda.

3.59 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Mr Robert Goodwill): I am pleased, Mr Weir, to be here today. I congratulate the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh) on securing this debate. He touches on a key issue for my new Department, which is how we can build a low-carbon transport system for the 21st century. Let me briefly mention my own interest in this, which was alluded to by the hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales). As a farmer, I produce wheat. Indeed two loads of it went to the Hull plant last year to produce bioethanol. I must admit to feeling guilty when I saw perfectly good wheat, which could be used for animal feed or biscuits, going to produce ethanol, so I was reassured to hear from the hon. Gentleman that the residue is not wasted but used as a ruminant feed.

Although I am new to this role, I am not new to the issue or the subjects raised in today’s debate. Way back in 2008, I was fortunate to be called by Mr Speaker to ask a question of the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), who I understand is still a Member of this House, about the impact of biofuels on food production. My interest in the issue remains to this day. The question I asked went something like this: is it better to put ethanol in a Range Rover’s tank or food in an African child’s stomach? I must say I did get quite a good answer from the then Prime Minister. Before that, I was a Member of the European Parliament and served on the environment committee as a deputy co-ordinator for the European People’s Party group and was involved in much of the European legislation that we are using now to clean up our vehicle fleet and the atmosphere.

Many hon. Members will have seen the recent UN report on the latest science of climate change, which clearly reveals the costs of failing to address the dangers of climate change. The Government are committed to building a low-carbon energy system that avoids such risks, and transport must play its part in the challenge.

Transport accounts for around a quarter of UK carbon emissions, and the share is rising. It is essential that we act now to reduce the impact of transport on our environment. Last month, the Government published their strategy for electric vehicles, which is a key element of our plan for a low-carbon transport system. The Government’s vision is that by 2050 almost every car in the UK will be an ultra-low emission vehicle. As well as cutting carbon, electric cars have the potential to reduce our reliance on foreign energy imports and to clean up the air in our towns and cities.

The Government are determined to seize this opportunity, and to place the UK at the forefront of the design, development and manufacture of ultra-low emission vehicles, and I am sure that we will work with the Automotive Council to do just that.

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Ian Swales: Does the Minister feel that his colleagues in the Department of Energy and Climate Change, who are worried about the lights going out this winter, are factoring into their work on future power generation the electrical demand that he is talking about?

Mr Goodwill: Yes, I am sure they are. I am concerned that one means of addressing the range anxiety problem is to have fast-charge cars. Electric cars work well when they are charged overnight with renewable energy or nuclear energy, but once we start fast-charging cars at filling stations, we will have a major problem not only with generation capacity but with the grid’s ability to carry that amount of electricity.

However, not all modes of transport can be easily electrified. Aviation and heavy goods vehicles are likely to continue to require liquid fuels for decades to come. It is therefore essential that we develop the technologies to produce low-carbon liquid fuels.

Biofuels are renewable transport fuels created from organic matter and offer one way of creating low-carbon fuels. However, biofuels—and bioenergy more generally— also present complex challenges. Last year, the Government published a strategy for bioenergy, which recognised its important role in allowing the UK to meet its climate change objectives. It concluded that by using bioenergy, we could cut the costs of decarbonising the UK by £44 billion.

Fiona O’Donnell: I thank the Minister for giving way and take the opportunity to welcome him to his new role. Does he agree with his predecessor, the Minister of State, Home Department, the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), who has perhaps gone to a better place now, that some forms of biofuels are worse for the environment than fossil fuels?

Mr Goodwill: I have seen analysis of some of the bioethanol produced in the United States which indicates that that is the case. I will comment on the particular impact of fuels as I make progress in my speech.

The Government published a strategy on bioenergy, which concluded that by using bioenergy we could cut the cost of decarbonising the UK by £44 billion. Other reports have estimated that the biomass industry could provide 50,000 jobs. There are clear opportunities for the UK in the global race for growth driven by science and innovation, and it is an industry that we need to develop. However, the strategy also made it clear that bioenergy had its risks. If it is not managed properly, bioenergy can actually increase greenhouse gas emissions and put at risk key objectives such as food security. It is therefore essential that we proceed with care and develop systems that use bioenergy only where it is genuinely sustainable.

We have already taken important steps on the path to genuinely sustainable biofuels. In 2008, the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation was established. For the first time, biofuel was required to be blended into road transport fuel. In 2011, the UK introduced mandatory sustainability criteria to the RTFO. Those changes meant that biofuels could no longer be sourced from areas of high biodiversity, such as rainforests or wetlands. In 2011, we also saw the introduction of double rewards for advanced biofuels, also referred to in this debate as second generation biofuels, and biofuels made from

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waste. Such changes have led to encouraging trends in the fuels supplied under the RTFO. The average carbon savings of biofuel supplied under the RTFO when compared with fossil fuel have increased from 46% in 2008 to around 68% in the latest statistics.

One example of the feedstocks behind this trend is used cooking oil. The hon. Member for Southport may be aware of the Olleco biodiesel plant in Bootle, which is the country’s largest purpose-built plant dedicated to producing biodiesel from used cooking oil, and is not too far from his Merseyside constituency.

David Mowat: The Minister makes the point about how these things are alternatives to fossil fuels, but does he accept that not all fossil fuels have the same amount of carbon? If we were to replace petrol with gas or liquefied natural gas cars, as opposed to liquefied petroleum gas cars—there are 15 million LNG cars in the world and 3 million in Pakistan—we would halve the amount of carbon being produced from the transport sector. That technology exists already. I repeat the point that I made to the shadow Minister that electric cars are not a panacea for as long as we continue to produce the electricity from fossil fuels, particularly coal.

Mr Goodwill: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Methane, or biogas, is CH4, so for every molecule of carbon dioxide produced there are four molecules of water, so it is a big improvement over fossil fuels such as LPG.

John Pugh: I was not aware of the cooking oil development plant in Bootle, but I was once the leader of Sefton council, which covered Bootle. The major environmental issue that we had was the strange smell that used to permeate households in the area, and that was regarded in those days as an environmental hazard. This environment is a complicated thing to deal with.

Mr Goodwill: Indeed. We have a big chip factory in my constituency, which occasionally has the same effect. Used cooking oil offers carbon savings of around 80% compared with those produced by fossil fuel, and the latest data suggest that last year around a third of biofuels supplied in the UK came from used cooking oil. We are very much on the case of ensuring that used cooking oil is indeed used cooking oil, and the Department is currently monitoring the situation closely because of the allegations that have been flying around. Certainly, the UK should not be criticised in that regard.

There is still more to do to ensure the sustainability of biofuels. In particular, we are concerned about the impact of indirect land use change. Studies have demonstrated that, due to ILUC, some otherwise sustainably produced biofuels can end up causing greater carbon emissions than fossil fuels.

Fiona O’Donnell: The Minister is being very generous in giving way again. Does he not agree that that perhaps is what the hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales) missed in his contribution—while the products that may be used in his constituency are not fit for human consumption, they still use up valuable resources of land and water?

Mr Goodwill: The issue of displacement—the ILUC situation—is one that we are well aware of. It tends to be more of a problem with biodiesel than with

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bioethanol, but it is an issue that we need to address through negotiations and agreements at the European level.

The European targets that the UK has agreed to are legally binding. Therefore, the UK needs to work within the European framework to produce a biofuel policy that reduces the environmental and social impacts of biofuels. As part of this process, it is imperative that ILUC is properly addressed at European level. Negotiations are ongoing in Europe, and we are pressing for an ambitious outcome to the ILUC situation. The 5% figure is certainly the figure that we are negotiating towards.

As we have heard in the debate, there are also concerns about the impact of biofuels on food prices. Food versus fuel is an issue that I take very seriously. The primary goal of agriculture should remain food production, and the production of biomass must not undermine food security or increase food prices. It is accepted that increased demand for biofuel has played a role, but Government analysis has shown that although increased global crop prices have resulted from biofuel production there has only been a modest rise in food prices.

I must point out at this stage that there is only 10p worth of wheat in a loaf of bread anyway, so there are many other factors that come—oh dear, I have mentioned that I am a farmer again. However, I recognise the seriousness of even a small impact on food prices, as well as the potential for biofuel support policies to increase crop price volatility. Nevertheless, I am confident that our position on the ILUC negotiations, if it is successful in limiting crop-based biofuels and incentivising those produced from wastes and residues, should reduce the direct competition for food feedstocks.

I will turn now to advanced fuels. Resolving the issue of ILUC remains the main barrier to setting out the clear pathway to achieving our 2020 targets, which I know industry and investors need. However, in the meantime we can set out some markers for the longer-term path to more sustainable biofuels. That is likely to be achieved through the use of non-land-using feedstocks, such as agricultural residues and municipal waste. However, use of these feedstocks requires advanced conversion processes that have not yet been commercialised. These processes are an exciting technology, which can turn unwanted waste products into valuable transport fuel. A number of countries have already established production facilities for these advanced biofuels, although there are none as yet in the UK. However, with the UK’s world-class research capabilities we have the potential to become a global player in this sector.

That is why earlier this year the Government announced a £25 million competition for an advanced biofuel demonstration contest, which aims to deliver up to three demonstration-scale advanced biofuel plants in the UK. Later this year, we will also be announcing a call for evidence on advanced fuels. We will invite industry’s views on what more the Government should be doing to develop these essential technologies, which will be needed long into the future to allow us to reduce the carbon footprint of road travel and, increasingly, other transport sectors.

However, not all non-land-using biofuels rely on advanced technologies. For example, biomethane made from waste demonstrates some of the highest carbon savings of any biofuel, and the technology for its production

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is well understood. Indeed, I visited a BMW car plant in the United States, which was powered by biofuel from a nearby waste dump.

Ian Swales: May I ask the Minister a question about a detail in his speech? He mentioned “other transport sectors”. It is already technically possible for biokerosene to fuel aircraft. Some aircraft have flown—including, I believe, a Virgin aircraft—powered purely by biokerosene. Will the Government do anything about aircraft fuels?

Mr Goodwill: I will not digress too far into the area of aircraft but we certainly need to ensure that the quality of aircraft fuels is consistent, and currently we do not put biofuel into aviation kerosene for safety reasons. However, more research could lead to some progress in that area.

Biomethane represents a particularly compelling opportunity for heavy goods vehicles, which have few other options for decarbonisation. Biomethane currently represents less than 1% of renewable transport fuel, so there is clear potential to expand its contribution to reducing emissions in the UK. However, biomethane cannot be used in transport without the vehicles that are able to use it, and there are currently fewer than 1,000 natural gas vehicles in the UK. The Government are supporting the early uptake of gas-fuelled vehicles through the low-carbon truck demonstration trial. This £11 million project to trial low-carbon trucks and supporting infrastructure will support almost 350 natural gas trucks.

I am aware of industry concerns about the adequacy of incentives for the use of biomethane in transport, particularly when compared with other Government support schemes for the use of biomethane in electricity and heat. These issues will be considered as part of our forthcoming call for evidence, and we will then be in a position to propose the changes that we think will be needed to the RTFO in order to strike the best balance of incentives. With luck, we will then be able to introduce those incentives alongside agreed European proposals to address ILUC.

I turn now to some of the points made in the debate. I again welcome the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), to his role. In many ways, we are on the same page. The renewable energy directive targets are still in place for 2020; under those targets, 10% of transport energy will be renewable. I am sure that he will be pleased to know that those targets have not changed as a result of our recent negotiations.

The hon. Member for Southport raised the issue of liquefied natural gas, which is the same as methane or biogas. As a transport fuel, natural gas has lower carbon emissions than diesel; it produces about 15% lower emissions. Natural gas also diversifies our fuel supply, increasing energy security, and it can improve local air quality. In addition, natural gas benefits from a lower duty rate than diesel. I should point out that matters regarding duty rates should be addressed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Liquefied petroleum gas vehicles have some environmental benefits. On a lifecycle basis, LPG vehicles produce about 14% less carbon dioxide than petrol vehicles do. However, LPG is not as good as diesel. LPG cars deliver similar air quality emissions to petrol cars, and better air quality emissions than diesel, although the gap has narrowed with the introduction of Euro 5 and Euro 6 cars.

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The hon. Member for East Lothian (Fiona O’Donnell) asked about the 5% food crop cap. I hope that I have reassured her that we are sticking with that, and we have certainly made it clear to the European Commission, the European Parliament and all other member states in the Council of the European Union that the UK supports the 5% cap.

Fiona O’Donnell: Can I press the Minister further and ask what discussions he has had with the German Government, who would be key to gaining support for the 5% cap?

Mr Goodwill: I met my German opposite number in Luxembourg last Thursday. Although the discussion did not veer into that area, I am sure that we will have a good working relationship with the Germans. Of course, the Germans are currently in the process of forming a new Government, so I look forward to hopefully meeting my new colleague, or perhaps his replacement if there are changes to the Government. The hon. Lady is absolutely right—Germany is key to almost everything in Europe, and we certainly have a very good working relationship with our colleagues from the German Federal Republic.

Regarding electric vehicles, the point was made that the market for them is very much a niche one. We are happy with the take-up of ultra-low emission vehicles. We are working across Government with the industry and we have introduced a range of ambitious measures to make the UK a premier global market for these vehicles.

My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) made a point about the energy mix in terms of electricity generation. It is the case that electric cars—ultra-low emission vehicles—already produce lower emissions than conventional vehicles, and as the grid decarbonises their environmental performance will improve further. I am keen to see more renewable energy being produced, not least off the coast of my constituency. Also, as a keen fan of nuclear power, I know that we can use the electricity that nuclear power produces at night-time to trickle charge electric vehicles.

I was asked whether the Government are committed to plug-in car grants. We have announced £500 million of support for the period from 2015 to 2021, and shortly we will launch a call for evidence to inform how we will achieve the best value for that investment.

The issue of hydrogen was raised. The Government launched the UK H2 Mobility project in 2012, which was a joint undertaking with industry. The project will evaluate the potential for hydrogen as a fuel, developing an action plan for a roll-out to consumers from next year if the evaluation is successful.

I think that I have responded to most of the points that were made in the debate. If I have missed some points, I apologise and I will certainly write to respond to them, as time is pressing now.

To conclude, I thank everyone who has contributed to this debate for taking the time to consider this important issue. The use of biofuels and non-conventional fuels is, and will remain, complex and controversial. However, that must not stop us from finding the right balance between producing the fuels we need for a low-carbon future and protecting the livelihoods of the most vulnerable, both here and in the developing world.

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Sentencing Tariffs (Offences Against Animals)

4.19 pm

Mr Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD): It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Weir. I am delighted to see the new Minister here. It is wonderful that a fellow west country Member of Parliament —the real west country: Devon and Cornwall—is in a ministerial position.

Animal baiting and fighting legislation was first introduced in the United Kingdom in 1835. Yet more than 175 years later, these most barbaric and cruel activities remain alarmingly prevalent. Despite dozens of individuals being prosecuted every year, acts of animal cruelty continue to a horrific extent. Additionally, the practice is associated with other criminality, such as drug dealing and firearms sales.

We in England and the United Kingdom cherish our pets. The fact that dogfighting still occurs today would astonish most people. A lot of people describe dog and cockfighting as sports, but there is nothing sporting in watching two dogs being made to tear each other apart. Sadly, examples of such barbaric animal cruelty are still too numerous in our society. It is astonishing that people still cause untold suffering to animals in this way. There have been all too many examples of the practice over the past few years.

Last year, in Derbyshire, a mutilated puppy was found by rescuers from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The dog, a west highland terrier cross, was found in a filthy, mangled state, abandoned in a box dumped in a country lane. Half of both his ears had been cut off and he was riddled with fleas. Cutting ears off is apparently a standard procedure for dogfighting, as they can be bitten by other dogs during a fight. To make dogs last longer in the pit, the ears are cut off by the gangs beforehand. It can also be done to make the dog look more aggressive. It would have been excruciating for this terrier, done by an unprofessional person with no anaesthetic. The dog was still terrified when found by its rescuers; he flinched whenever vets went near his ears, so he obviously associates them with pain.

The RSPCA said that the terrier was probably an abandoned or unwanted pet and added that many such pets end up in dogfighting pits. Often, families struggling to make ends meet can no longer cope with paying for pets, which oftentimes are left on the streets. There has been an increase in strays. The RSPCA warned that these pets can be picked up by dogfighting gangs.

One such gang was broken up in Oxfordshire in 2011, when a father and son admitted to training dogs for organised fights. They were jailed and banned from keeping dogs, following a major RSPCA investigation. The father admitted using equipment such as treadmills, weighted collars and rudimentary veterinary equipment to train the dogs. RSPCA inspectors discovered an emaciated bull terrier, as well as shocking footage of dogfighting, when they searched his home.

In March last year, another gang was broken up, following another covert operation by the RSPCA. It was found goading animals into fighting, as well as training dogs. Those convicted received 20-week custodial sentences.

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It is welcome that these people are being brought to justice. The sentences they receive send a clear message to others involved in dogfighting or thinking of taking part. Sadly, these individuals are not the first people to be sent away for the brutal practice and they will not be the last. Furthermore, dogfighting is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ongoing animal cruelty.

In a cockfight, two roosters fight each other to the death, watched by people placing bets on the victor. If the birds survive, the organisers let them suffer untreated injuries or throw them away. They lie dead or dying in heaps. Left to themselves, roosters almost never hurt each other badly. However, in cockfights the birds often wear razor-sharp blades on their legs and get injuries such as punctured lungs, broken bones and pierced eyes, even when they survive.

Last October, a father and son were convicted of taking part in such a sick competition. RSPCA inspectors raided their homes and found evidence that they were at the heart of a global network of cockfighting. Together, they owned 484 birds bred for fighting, including 97 mature fighting cocks, and a cock-fighting pit. There were magazines and photographs, too, as well as evidence that the pair had travelled as far as South America to watch cockfights.

The RSPCA called the scene a “cockfighting factory”. It found more than 60 pairs of spurs, which are attached to birds’ feet to increase the damage inflicted, together with leg muffs, leg bands, beak muzzles and other blood-splattered veterinary items. Indeed, the pair were internationally renowned for their brutal practice. The father had featured on the front cover of an Asian cockfighting magazine. They exported the birds for fighting to Brazil, the Philippines and France, among other countries. Their birds had been fed with steroids to increase strength and stamina. Both men were given suspended sentences, large fines and community service, thanks to the RSPCA’s efforts. The question is, is that enough?

I highlight those cases to bring home the fact that animal cruelty in its most brutal form continues to plague our society and occurs even in this country. The most recent legislation on animal welfare is the Animal Welfare Act 2006. It was a welcome updating of the law on animals’ well-being, much of which was almost 100 years old. It simplified the legislation for enforcers and animal keepers by consolidating more than 20 pieces of legislation into one and eliminated many loopholes in the system.

The 2006 Act also ensured that people who organise animal fights, train animals for fights or publicise or record a fight, face the full force of the law. It sought to strengthen deterrence for persistent offenders by increasing penalties. For example, those causing unnecessary suffering to an animal could face up to 51 weeks in prison, a fine of up to £20,000, or both.

Despite that welcome legislation, the reports I mentioned show that more must be done to deter gangs who are organising these brutal blood sports. An already stretched RSPCA can only do so much to find the gangs carrying out these acts. It only has so many resources to pursue them through the courts. This is why we need to send a strong signal to individuals who may be, in any way, involved in the organisation of any sort of animal fighting, wrestling or baiting.

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I suggest that penalties be doubled, allowing for custodial sentences of up to two years for particularly egregious cases of animal cruelty. That would send out a powerful signal to those engaged, or considering becoming engaged, in this brutal competition. It would give judges the necessary leeway to impose sentences they felt were appropriate to the crimes involved and ensure that people such as those I have mentioned faced the full force of the law and paid for their criminal brutality.

We are at something of a disadvantage in that the provisions for tougher sentences in the 2006 Act were never enacted. Will the Minister explain why? The most someone is likely to get, even for serious cases of animal cruelty, is a six-month sentence; in reality, they will probably only serve eight weeks.

Finally, I pay tribute to the tireless efforts of the RSPCA. Every year, it rescues and collects almost 120,000 animals. It finds new homes for about 60,000 of them. Another 60,000 animals are microchipped, helping them to stay safe. Ever since it was founded in 1824, the RSPCA has been a voice for animals throughout Britain. Despite facing countless difficulties in this time, it has always stayed true to its central charitable mission—namely,

“by all lawful means, prevent cruelty, promote kindness to and alleviate suffering of all animals”.

It is a charity that cares for all our animals, whether pets or companions, on farms or in laboratories.

Last year, the RSPCA secured more than 3,000 convictions by private prosecution. Its internal investigations unit looked into more than 160,000 complaints of alleged cruelty. It is especially worthwhile to highlight the work of the RSPCA at a time when donations are falling. The proportion of people giving to charity fell from 58% to 55% in 2011, according to the Charities Aid Foundation, and it is expected to have fallen again in 2012. As we all struggle with austerity, so do charities.

It is vital that we continue to support the work of charities such as the RSPCA, and any other animal welfare organisation, at this time. All the while, their workers and volunteers continue their efforts to ensure that vulnerable pets and animals receive the care they deserve. The examples of dog and cockfighting that I have raised today are proof that their work is much needed.

Animal cruelty in its worst form continues to take place in Britain. If we really cherish our pets in Britain, we should have an appropriate legislative framework to protect their well-being. We must give judges the power to punish the most egregious acts of animal brutality, and the measures I propose would do just that. The Government need to conduct a thorough review of sentences for issues beyond—

4.30 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

4.39 pm

On resuming—

Mr Sanders: As I was saying before the rug was pulled out from under my peroration, we must give judges the power to punish the most egregious acts of animal brutality. The measures that I have mentioned will, I hope, do just that. The Government need to conduct a thorough review of sentences for issues beyond

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just dog control. We should have the data, so that we can see how effective the 2006 Act is and whether more needs to be done.

I would be interested to know what objection the Government might have for not undertaking such a review. The Minister’s time to respond is limited, but I hope he can meet me and the RSPCA to discuss the issues in more detail. An increase in the maximum penalties, fines and jail sentences faced by those who are caught will signal that this country is no place for such barbarity. We might finally banish their cruelty from our society, once and for all. I think that we can all look forward to that.

4.41 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (George Eustice): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr Sanders)—he is a fellow west country MP—on securing the debate and raising an issue that attracts a great deal of interest. He has always championed it, and I join him in praising the RSPCA for how it pursues some of the horrific cases that he outlined in his introduction.

I was personally interested in this area before I joined the Government. I served on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, and earlier this summer, as part of my research, I read an interesting report called “Unleashed”, which was written by an academic called Simon Harding. It looked at the phenomena of status and weapon dogs and tried to understand why we are seeing an increase in some types of dog fights.

There are three key types of dog fight. First, there are those awful dog fights where bets are placed. They often take place in private venues, and that is the type of thing that my hon. Friend mentioned. Secondly, there is what they call “back of van” fights or trunking, which are awful. The idea came from the US, where they lock dogs in the boot of a car to fight it out. The third type, which some of the evidence suggests has had the greatest increase, is chain rolling, where dogs are used as an alternative to a knife and there are impromptu fights in parks. There has been a significant increase in reports to the RSPCA of illegal fights of that sort.

A further problem has been the growth of the internet, which has made some of these crimes easier to commit. That point has been highlighted by a great many of the animal welfare charities. We have the awful problem of the different terms and code words used in internet advertising for dogs designed to be sold for fighting, such as red-nosed, game-proven, game-bred and blocky. I welcome what the Pet Advertising Advisory Group has done to try to tighten that up by creating a new code of conduct for those companies that advertise pets.

The Government deplore acts of animal cruelty and believe that offenders deserve the full force of the courts. Our responsibility is to ensure that the legislation is fit for purpose. My hon. Friend asked whether we would review the legislation. We reviewed the main legislation that protects the welfare of kept animals—the Animal Welfare Act 2006—in 2010.

The report prepared by my Department and sent to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee for its consideration concluded that there was broad agreement that the 2006 Act has genuinely had a positive impact on animal welfare. It successfully brought together

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a number of different pieces of legislation into a comprehensive whole and placed a duty of care on those who are responsible for animals. The 2006 Act also introduced a preventive measure that has allowed action to be taken without animals suffering unnecessarily. Although the consultation highlighted some concerns that more could be done to speed up court cases involving seized animals, it did not cast doubt on the adequacy of maximum sentences.

Of course, legislation must set maximum penalties. It is then for the courts—usually the magistrates court for animal welfare cases—to take a view on what sentence should be given. Judges and magistrates have a great deal of discretion in sentencing. In coming to a view, they are helped by specific sentencing guidelines produced by the Sentencing Council, which has been responsible since 2010 for providing detailed guidance to courts on the appropriate sentence for individual cases.

Sentencing guidelines help to achieve consistency in deciding the type and length of sentence and set out the factors that should be considered in those decisions. The guidelines set out how a judge or magistrate can decide on the seriousness of a particular offence, and then determine the appropriate sentence. Of course, the circumstances of different cases can vary quite widely and that can explain the different sentences handed out. The guidance to magistrates covers cases of animal cruelty for offences committed under the 2006 Act and helps magistrates to impose an appropriate penalty. Those guidelines were last updated in 2008 and reflect the current penalties available.

The Government’s responsibility is to ensure that the courts have the flexibility to impose the appropriate sentence within acceptable ranges. To that end, the 2006 Act makes it an offence to cause any unnecessary suffering to an animal. That offence carries a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment or a fine of £20,000 or, crucially, both. Someone found guilty of organising or participating in a dog fight, along the lines that my hon. Friend described, could receive both a fine of £20,000 and a prison sentence of six months. Six months is the highest sentence available to a magistrates court and the fine is much greater than the usual £5,000 limit.

In addition, the 2006 Act makes it an offence to fail to provide an animal with its welfare needs. That offence can attract a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment or a fine of £5,000, or both. The offender can also be disqualified from owning an animal in future.

Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): As I was coming to work yesterday morning, there was a Staffordshire bull terrier-type dog dead in the Thames. I hear what the Minister says, and I commend the Government’s action on increasing fines and sentences, but what action has specifically been taken to stop the people involved from owning those dogs again, legally or illegally, and what action has been taken to stop these dog fights taking place?

George Eustice: There are a number of measures under which we can do that. Under the 2006 Act, which was introduced by the previous Government, people can be disqualified from owning dogs. Through that Act, Parliament tightened up the earlier legislation. The courts now have to state why they would not impose such a disqualification, rather than it being left entirely up to them.

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Chris Evans: My concern is on the safeguards to ensure that someone who is banned cannot own a dog again by legal means. What evidence do we have that someone owns a dog, even if they are banned? How do we impose that ban? That is the issue that I was raising.

George Eustice: Clearly, it is for the courts and the police to enforce the bans. Other bits of legislation related to dog welfare and, in particular, breeding, contain anti-avoidance clauses, so that if someone has five litters of dogs being bred on a premises—regardless of who owns or claims to own those dogs—they are caught by the law and require a licence. There are elements of legislation that do that, and I am here to set out what the law states. I commend what the previous Government did in introducing the 2006 Act. As I said, it requires the courts to state why they would not impose such a disqualification.

I realise that some people would like to see the maximum limits raised, but we need to be clear why such a move is deemed desirable by those calling for such an increase. Is it because the maximum limits are considered to be low compared with other similar offences? If we make that point, however, we should compare them with the maximum penalties for other crimes, such as assaulting a police officer, which can attract six months of imprisonment, a fine of £5,000 or both. The maximum penalty available for acts of antisocial behaviour, under the new Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, will be three months, a fine or both.

My hon. Friend mentioned the Animal Welfare Act provision to increase sentences to 51 weeks. I think that he was referring to a scheme called “custody plus”, but it is not quite true that that would relate to a custodial sentence of 51 weeks; in fact, the sentence was always intended to be a combination of community service and imprisonment. It was not simply an increase—a mixture was always intended.

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Alternatively, is an increase intended to act as a deterrent? The Government, however, have received no indication from magistrates that the penalties for animal cruelty cases should be increased because they are having to impose more and more penalties towards the upper end of the range. Crucially, for no convictions has a judge handed out the maximum sentence of six months. We therefore have to ask, why increase the maximum, if the existing one is not being used by the courts?

To give an example of the penalties handed down by magistrates over the past three years, convictions under the Animal Welfare Act have been roughly 1,000 a year; typically, about 10% of those have been sentenced to imprisonment, with the remainder getting a fine. That does not indicate to me that magistrates consider that the maximum penalties for animal cruelty should be increased. I understand the points made by hon. Members about increasing maximum sentences, but there does not seem to be evidence to suggest that a review is necessary, especially given that the issue was reviewed most recently in 2008.

My hon. Friend has, however, brought up an important subject for debate, which we all recognise as a growing problem, and the Government have introduced additional bits of legislation to deal with dangerous dogs, such as community protection notices or criminal behaviour orders, which allow the courts to ban people from owning or breeding dogs, or to require dogs to be neutered—a whole suite of other policies applies there.

My hon. Friend asks whether I am willing to meet him and the RSPCA, and of course I am, although the area is the responsibility of my noble friend Lord de Mauley, so he might well take that meeting on my behalf or with me. Nevertheless, I thank my hon. Friend for an important debate.

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Protecting Older People from Fraud (Wales)

4.52 pm

Paul Murphy (Torfaen) (Lab): I am glad to be serving under your Celtic chairmanship, Mr Weir. I am sure that you understand that some of the issues in today’s debate are very much relevant to the whole of the United Kingdom. I am also grateful to the Minister, whom we look forward to hearing from later.

A few statistics will show the extent of scams just in Wales, and how they affect all of us who represent Welsh constituencies. Between February 2012 and February 2013, 2,500 scams were reported, but it is reckoned that only 5% of scams that occur are reported to the authorities, so the total number could be as high as 50,000. There were 958 doorstep complaints, with 19 prosecutions, and 1,658 post, e-mail and telephone scams, with only two prosecutions. Those figures are revealing, not least because the majority of the victims of those scams were probably people, such as myself, over the age of 60. Those who are affected by such crooks and gangsters, who prey on our old people, are, I fear, vulnerable, physically and mentally. On average, older people lose £1,200 per person when swindled, although they can lose an awful lot more—their dignity, their self-esteem and, tragically and occasionally, their very will to live.

Recent examples of scams in Wales include one that involved the distinguished correspondent for BBC Wales, David Cornock. His elderly mother was swindled out of £270,000 by fraudsters, eventually leading to her premature death. In addition, a man in my constituency sent money to a non-existent lottery, the so-called European Lottery Guild, while a woman in Wales sent nearly all her money to a clairvoyant in Switzerland. Those examples are only the tip of the iceberg, which is why Age Cymru—a fine organisation—is now campaigning on the issue, led by Gerry Keighley, who used to be the editor of my local evening paper, the South Wales Argus. They are all doing a great job.

Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): The Bryn estate in Pontllanfraith in my constituency has been plagued by doorstep scammers, rogue traders and their ilk for a number of years. Thanks to the Bryn residents’ association, a “no cold calling” zone has been introduced, which has had a huge and beneficial effect. Does my right hon. Friend agree that such schemes require further sight by the Government and endorsement throughout the country?

Paul Murphy: Indeed I do, and I shall come on to that matter in one of my recommendations to the Minister. My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, however, about the role of neighbours. When someone is aware that an older person or couple, vulnerable as they are, lives nearby, neighbours, as well as friends and family, have a huge role to play in deterring such terrible things, as do citizens advice bureaux and our local authorities’ trading standards departments, all of which are aware of the issues.

I want to bring to the attention of Members a new sharp practice—that is what I shall call it at this stage—resulting from the so-called green companies exploiting the Government’s affordable warmth scheme and the green deal. Those schemes are, in themselves, good; they seek to give vulnerable people, such as those on

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benefits or who are older, help towards reducing their energy bills, whether through insulation or whatever. I am in no way criticising such excellent schemes, which are funded by the United Kingdom Government, not the Welsh Government, although of course they operate in Wales as well as throughout the rest of the United Kingdom.

Such phone-in companies call older people and try to persuade them to register for advice and assistance, for which they are charged. In reality, those who wish to take advantage of the Government schemes can simply go to the authorities, official help lines, citizens advice bureaux or trading standards departments and ask for advice on what they should do. As everyone in the Chamber knows, however, people are often caught by a person calling on the telephone, and they are susceptible and more vulnerable to such activity.

Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on securing the debate and on his work with Age Cymru, which I hope will help people in future. I, too, have seen a huge increase in my constituency of companies using the green deal to scam older people—cowboy practices. Recent cases have now been referred to trading standards, but they are clearly the tip of the iceberg. Does he agree that this seems to be a particular problem in south Wales, as reported by Which? recently? We should investigate that issue more fully.

Paul Murphy: Indeed. I did not come across that until constituents came to me with their problems. I shall give three examples—there are many—of this sort of practice. Eco Green Deal Solutions has now shut down, I am delighted to say, after the consumer watchdog programme, “X-Ray” on BBC Wales found that several customers who were not eligible were charged up to £249 for arrangement and assessment fees. Another is Cornerstone Green Solutions, which took £99 from an elderly and vulnerable lady in my constituency. I understand that another company, Diversity Network Ltd, which is totally independent of the other two, has tried to arrange a refund.

The company that has caused most concern throughout south Wales, including in my hon. Friend’s constituency, is Becoming Green. It has caused great distress to some constituents who came to see me, and among other things, it caused me to raise the matter in Parliament. It is charging older people £299 for what it calls its advice service, and when it is challenged, my constituents are unable to get their money back. One of its customers—interestingly, bearing in mind the earlier debate, he lives in Torquay—recently wrote to a national newspaper, whose reporter contacted the company 17 times before getting beyond an electronic switchboard, which cut him off. I also had great trouble getting through to the company, as did my constituents.

The problem is that admirable schemes have been undermined by the activities of companies that are jumping on the bandwagon simply to make a big profit. I have contacted trading standards offices. Torfaen has an excellent trading standards office, which in recent weeks has received 62 complaints about such companies, 44 of which trade in becoming green, almost wholly from people over 60. The companies that I mentioned operated in Cardiff, where trading standards have received many complaints. Both authorities, and probably Newport and Caerphilly, are looking closely into the activities of those companies and others, and investigating them.

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Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): Does my right hon. Friend agree that in many instances such companies come up with ideas that are totally inappropriate for the householders they meet. I know of people living in terraced houses who use coal to heat their homes but are being told all sorts of nonsense about new gas boilers when they are not on mains gas? Much of the scammers’ advice is hot air, and we must ensure that we get rid of them.

Paul Murphy: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The companies often confuse older people by offering opportunities that may never occur. They may refer to loans as grants, and confuse the people they are talking to.

This is not the Minister’s direct responsibility, but will he liaise on this matter particularly—I will come to other recommendations—with his counterpart in the Welsh Assembly Government and Welsh local authorities to publicise as much as possible the activities that we have all condemned today, so that our constituents are aware of them and can report them to the proper authorities? The Torfaen newspaper, which goes through every letter box in the valley, has highlighted the issue, so that people are made aware of it. That is the sort of thing that we must do.

I turn to more general points, which are important and on which the Government could help. First, will the Minister liaise with Royal Mail so that protocols are changed to allow staff to offer advice and to report suspicious mail? Postal companies should be empowered to refuse to deliver misleading, dishonest or scam mail in which promises and guarantees of large sums of money to the recipients are visible on the envelope. That might require the law to be amended, but it is worth considering. Age Cymru has heard of older people receiving up to 70 letters a day from companies encouraging them to take part in various scams. Secondly, will he work with the telephone companies to offer more protection against phone calls, especially from abroad, and to close down offenders’ lines? Thirdly, will he work with internet providers to increase protection by blocking access to known offenders?

My hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Chris Evans) referred to increasing the number of “no cold calling” zones throughout Wales. There are 14 in my constituency, and they are located specifically in areas where people are more elderly and vulnerable. They have been particularly successful in Torfaen, but they exist in other constituencies, and they should be encouraged. I hope that the Minister will liaise with Welsh local government to ensure that the matter is taken up.

It is the collective job of the United Kingdom Government, the Welsh Assembly Government and councils in Wales to protect the most vulnerable people in society from the activities of the unscrupulous rogues who plague us and prey on older people.

5.6 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Stephen Crabb): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. I pay tribute to and congratulate the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Paul Murphy), a distinguished former Secretary of State for Wales, on securing this debate on the importance of protecting older people in Wales from fraud and scams. I am aware

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of the specific companies and cases he raised, and I hope to provide some reassurance on how they are being investigated and what the UK Government are doing, working with the Welsh Assembly Government and Welsh local authorities, to make progress.

I confirm that officials in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are in contact with trading standards colleagues in Cardiff and at the National Trading Standards Board about the three companies he mentioned. They are under active investigation. I understand that the Cardiff trading standards team and the Welsh scambusters team are investigating the issues raised by the right hon. Gentleman and they have been outlined in the BBC television programme he mentioned.

More broadly, I pay tribute to Age Cymru and its research on the matter. I met its representatives back in April to talk about the issue, and I know that many other Welsh Members of Parliament from all parties have also met people from the organisation. I pay tribute to it for its excellent work to help to protect and support vulnerable elderly people, to enable them to live their lives in comfort.

I hope that hon. Members will be interested to know that my noble friend Baroness Randerson, the other Under-Secretary at the Wales Office, will be holding a round table meeting at the Wales Office next month to support Age Cymru’s work. As part of that, we are bringing together organisations from across Wales, including enforcement and consumer protection agencies, Royal Mail, BT and Ofcom, to discuss how we can work together to reduce older people’s exposure to such scams.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman is aware that the cross-party group on older people and ageing at the National Assembly for Wales met only last week to discuss the issue and took evidence from a variety of stakeholders. We have invited the chair of the group to participate in our round table next month, which I hope will join up the discussions that are happening in Cardiff with the issues that we are focusing on at UK level.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): The right hon. Gentleman has raised a particular type of scam affecting Wales. A constituent, Mr Davies—I call him that because it is his name—responded to persistent attempts to get money out of him for carbon credit and eventually sent £3,000, which he has not seen again. Local police say that they cannot investigate because it is too complicated, and the Serious Fraud Office says it is below its threshold. Will the Minister take that on board, and perhaps talk to me afterwards to look for a way forward to ensure that people receive justice?

Stephen Crabb: I thank my hon. Friend for raising that case. Without more detail, I cannot comment further, but I would be very disappointed if Dyfed-Powys police or the Serious Fraud Office were not able to investigate. Let us see the detail, and hopefully we can raise that issue and get some progress on it.

We know that more than 3.2 million people—nearly 7% of the entire UK population—fall victim to scams each year, and that fraud and scams generate more than £9 billion of individual losses each year. That figure is truly staggering. We can all say that we are in complete agreement in this room this afternoon about the need to protect all sections of society, and especially the elderly, against the harm caused by scams.

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I take on board the point made by the right hon. Gentleman about the level of prosecutions concerning reported scams. It is important to recognise and put on record that it is notoriously difficult to investigate phone and e-mail scams and to pursue the culprits behind them, because so often the scams originate overseas. The solution, therefore, cannot just be one of enforcement, and that is where prevention comes in, as the right hon. Gentleman mentioned.

In Cardiff, for example, the trading standards team recognise that prevention is key to reducing such crimes. Last year, they set up monthly victim support meetings with South Wales police and other partners, such as Age UK, Age Cymru, Victim Support, and Care & Repair. They work to identify victims of scams and doorstep crime and provide further support, advice and education. As a result, they report that they are seeing the number of cases raised at meetings decline. Through making people aware of how to spot and avoid scams and by utilising telephone and mailing preference services, we can reduce exposure to scams and the likelihood that someone will be taken in.

The Government provide for advice on scams through various agencies—particularly through the citizens advice service, which provides clear and practical guidance to consumers over the phone and on websites. As a Government, we are also taking steps to ensure that people are aware of scams and know what to do if they suspect a scam.

Nia Griffith: The Minister will be aware that the hon. Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) proposed a ten-minute rule Bill. Will he comment on whether the Government have any plans to implement the meat of that Bill, which was to allow, with safeguards, postal workers to intervene when they saw a huge number of envelopes with those fancy prizes on the front going to one address?

Stephen Crabb: I thank the hon. Lady for raising that point. I shall come to Royal Mail a bit later and hopefully the information that I shall provide will suffice. If not, I can follow that up in writing.

The “Think Jessica” campaign and representative bodies such as Age UK and citizens advice bureaux work to raise awareness of the devastating impact that scams and fraud can have on those who fall victim—especially the elderly—and on victims’ families. The National Trading Standards Board has also provided funding to trading standards in Wales for a national doorstep crime project. That project has a number of actions to undertake and that includes working alongside the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, the Welsh Assembly and other Government Departments.

The Consumer Protection Partnership, which is made up of partners from the enforcement community, as well as Citizens Advice and other Government bodies, has teamed up with fraud and scam experts, such as the Serious Organised Crime Agency and Action Fraud, to implement a more holistic and joined-up approach to tackling scammers. As part of that, the citizens advice service and the Trading Standards Institute launched a scam awareness campaign in May this year, which was endorsed by the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson)—the consumer Minister—to raise awareness and to help empower

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consumers to take firm action against scams. Through a renewed focus on prevention, there is an opportunity to try to protect some of the most vulnerable members of society from falling victim to unscrupulous people.

I will now mention some ways in which consumers can report scams and fraud. The Government have established Action Fraud to allow for the reporting of scams. Scams can be reported to Action Fraud by phone or by completing an online fraud report. It is a simple and quick process, and most importantly, it alerts the most appropriate authority to a potential scam. If someone believes that they have been the victim of a scam, or if they need help about how to advise someone whom they believe is the victim, they can also contact the Citizens Advice consumer helpline, which provides clear, practical help for consumers on what they should do.

Where Citizens Advice identifies a breach of consumer protection law, it can alert local authority trading standards enforcement. I encourage anyone who wishes to do so to make use of schemes such as the telephone preference service and the mailing preference service, which will stop addressed mail, and the “Your Choice” preference service, which will stop unaddressed mailings.

Over the past two years, the Government have better equipped trading standards to hit scammers hard by transferring responsibility for cross-cutting leadership and co-ordination of enforcement activity from the Office of Fair Trading to the National Trading Standards Board. The NTSB funds and directs specialist scambuster teams in England and Wales to enable trading standards to take a cross-regional approach to tackling scams and rogue-trading practices. Scambusters currently have five ongoing serious investigations into scams targeting older people in Wales, and I will highlight a couple of their successes shortly.

On the green deal, I strongly share the concerns of the right hon. Gentleman about rogue traders claiming to be associated with the green deal. We have seen that previously with double-glazing salesmen, with households being targeted for inappropriate investments in conservatories, and a few years ago, with the boom in solar panels.

As constituency MPs, we have all had experience of people coming to our surgeries reporting bad practice. The green deal is just another opportunity for some of these hardcore scammers and fraudsters to target vulnerable households. In April this year, I visited the British Gas training academy in Tredegar, where proper qualified green deal assessors received their training and qualifications. Those are the people whom households should trust for green deal assessments, and not the rogue companies that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned.

The Consumer Protection Partnership is collating emerging consumer issues around the green deal and has held discussions with the Department of Energy and Climate Change. The CPP aims to ensure that initiatives from all Government Departments—but especially on the green deal—take account of potential real harm to consumers through fraud and misrepresentation.

Both trading standards and the Green Deal Oversight and Registration Body naturally take a very serious view of rogue traders and will pursue them with the full force of the law. While instances of abuse under the green deal are only just starting to emerge, it is worth

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putting on record that scambusters have notched up a couple of impressive wins against other vultures who prey on the vulnerable in Wales. That serves as an example of what fraudsters operating under the green deal banner can expect to receive.

For example, one criminal was a cold-calling rogue trader builder, operating in the local authorities of south-west and mid-Wales. A scambuster investigation identified 21 victims of the man; they had paid more than £150,000 to him. The scambusters team was able to contact and offer support to a number of victims through dedicated specialists. The investigation resulted in the man being sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years, for using aggressive commercial practices against vulnerable people. I could point to other examples as well, but time is against us. In order to build further on successes such as that, and to continue to limit the real damage caused by rogue traders in Wales, the NTSB has allocated a budget of £325,000 for its Welsh scambuster team this year.

In summary, the fraudsters’ goal is a simple one: to cheat as many people as possible out of their money by making false promises. Fraud and scams hit the elderly particularly hard; on becoming victims of a scam, they often lose a disproportionate amount of money in relation to other victims. I hope that I have been able to demonstrate this afternoon how, as a UK Government, we are taking action to combat the issues—particularly in Wales, where we are working alongside local authorities and the Welsh Government. We will keep that in sight, and if the right hon. Gentleman wants to follow up in the weeks and months ahead, I will be very happy to continue the discussion.

I come back to a couple of specific questions that have been raised by hon. Members. We were asked about cold doorstep-calling and whether we would welcome a ban, or an increased number of cold-calling “notspots”, where people are prevented from doing so. As a Government, we are certainly not against such initiatives

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when they are genuinely community-led. When specific communities are being targeted by fraudsters and there is a demand in the community for such an arrangement, we certainly do not wish to do anything against that. However, it is worth putting on the record that neither do we want to harm genuine entrepreneurs, who make a living legitimately, providing a legitimate service and business to households on their doorsteps. There is a balance to be struck, but where there are vulnerable communities who have suffered repeated targeting, perhaps that is one of the solutions that can be community led.

The hon. Member for Llanelli asked about Royal Mail, which currently takes steps to raise awareness of the problem of scam mail among its staff. It has put in place an internal reporting facility that allows customers, including relatives or friends of suspected victims, to report concerns to postal workers or directly to a Royal Mail helpline, which allows advice to be issued and information to be passed on to an appropriate body—the police, trading standards or a support body—for action. The company has been working with the police on identifying possible victims and postage accounts suspected of being used to send scam mail. Again, I am happy to follow up with the hon. Lady if she wants further information about what Royal Mail is doing to prevent scam mail.

The right hon. Gentleman described the people who perpetrate such crimes as crooks and gangsters. That is probably some of the more polite language that we could use to describe such people. We absolutely want to prevent them from operating. They are at times notoriously difficult to investigate and track down, but we as a Government take the issue extremely seriously. We want to provide resources to local trading standards departments and to the cross-cutting partnerships to ensure that there is enforcement and action at the local and Welsh national levels, right across the UK and internationally where possible.

Question put and agreed to.

5.21 pm

Sitting adjourned.