Tom Blenkinsop: I cannot agree with that at all. The structural imbalance—I assume that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the staple industries in the north-east—has had a long-term effect primarily because of his party’s record in the north-east of decimating heavy industry back in the ’80s and ’90s. The increase in female unemployment is unprecedented. I have never before seen these levels of female unemployment. Previously, we had long-term male unemployment in my region. That was difficult, but families still had a working mother.

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Now, these families have unemployed mothers and fathers, meaning far more significant long-term consequences for my area. That is what I am frightened about.

There is a big gender split in apprenticeships, because young women take a much narrower range of apprenticeships than young men, yet there remains a skill shortage in these new industries. It seems only logical, then, that all the stops should be pulled out to encourage young women seriously to consider these industries as a career. Increasing the number of women working—or at least taking up apprenticeships—in these male-dominated industries would go a long way to stem the flow from short-term to long-term unemployment. We must challenge the stereotypes in careers advice for young women and encourage more girls to take up higher skilled apprenticeships, but that has been made increasingly difficult by a Government who have undermined careers services. One of the Government’s first decisions was to get rid of Connexions, which was a careers advice service in schools giving children guidance on career paths.

On equal pay, the gender pay gap stands at 15%, unchanged on the year before. We know that the reasons for the persistent gap are varied and complex, ranging from occupational segregation to a lack of well-paid part-time work and, even in this day and age, discrimination in the workplace.

In August, the Chartered Management Institute found that women who have reached management positions can expect to earn only three quarters of the pay of their male colleagues. Even more staggering was the finding that the more highly skilled and highly paid the profession, the greater the gap between men and women’s pay. In modern Britain, undervaluing the talents and skills of women is a loss to the whole economy, so the issue of equal pay is a tough nut that needs to be cracked.

Several actions could be taken to help that situation. For example, the introduction of mandatory pay reporting, including the Equality Act 2010, would highlight the differences between what businesses pay their male and females colleagues. We should improve the law on flexible working and do more to encourage businesses to utilise flexible working practices. However, the revelation that up to 50,000 women a year could be losing their jobs while on maternity leave is a shocking one, yet far from doing anything about it, Ministers are making it worse by charging women £1,200 for challenging discrimination at an employment tribunal.

To address the specific barriers that single mothers face, we Labour Members will support women who have to juggle work and child care by restoring breakfast and after-school clubs in primary schools from 6 am to 8 pm for every child, and provide 25 hours of free child care for three and four-year-olds of working parents. Those are simple actions that the Government should seriously consider.

My final point is on the broader issue of the cost of living crisis that women currently face. As we all know, women are struggling as prices continue to rise faster than wages, and the latest figures show that working people are on average £1,600 a year worse off since May 2010.

The Government’s change to the tax credits rules means thousands of families will have lost out on their working tax credits unless they have been able to increase

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their working hours significantly. Any woman or any couple earning less than about £17,700 will need to increase the number of hours they work from a minimum of 16 to 24 a week—otherwise, they will lose working tax credits of about £3,500 a year. According to the House of Commons Library, this has hit 212,000 low-income families.

Of course, the situation was supposed to have been compensated for by the March 2012 Budget’s introduction of universal credit that was to come into force last month. To a certain extent, it would have restored families to a parity with what was seen with working tax credits under Labour. Due to the ongoing chaos in the Department for Work and Pensions, that has not happened. Some of my hon. Friends have mentioned the Tory Free Enterprise Group and its proposals to increase the price of food and children’s clothes by 15%.

Harriett Baldwin: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Tom Blenkinsop: No.

This group of 42 Tory MPs sees it as necessary to raise VAT on gas and electricity to 15%, which would add £120 to the average energy bill. Let me remind the House that when the Prime Minister was an adviser to the Chancellor of the Exchequer under the previous Conservative Government, he advised that Chancellor to bring in VAT on fuel. He also advised that Chancellor to bring in air passenger duty and the fuel duty escalator. VAT has risen under every Conservative Government since it was introduced—another fact for Government Members to ponder. That is an illustration of the Tory addiction to indirect taxation.

For women, there is an even harsher reality. There is an increasing financial burden on women with many, particularly over 40-year-olds, prioritising supporting their children over building up a pension pot. Many have to find the money for family caring responsibilities or to pay off debts. Disproportionately stuck on pay below the living wage rate, 27% of women are not paid the living wage, compared with 16% of men. This gap is especially distressing now that mothers are either the breadwinners or co-breadwinners for their families in many households.

The future is not too bright either. Research by insurance firm, Scottish Widows found that only 40% of women put enough money aside for an “adequate” retirement—down from 50% two years ago, and the lowest amount since the number started to be tracked under Labour in 2006. On average, women who are saving are putting aside £182 each month, compared with £260 for men—a pensions “gender gap” of £1,000 in contributions each year. The continued squeeze on the cost of living has made it much harder for many women not only to live an adequate and healthy lifestyle now, but to consider saving for their future and retirement. The gender pay gap, the opportunity gap and the oncoming pensions gap have played a significant part in explaining why it is imperative to bridge those gaps sooner rather than later.

6.29 pm

Stephen McPartland (Stevenage) (Con): It is a pleasure to contribute to the debate, and a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop). He and I will have been the only two

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males who have made formal speeches in a debate on women and the cost of living, and I think Parliament should celebrate that.

Following every election there is an increase in the number of female Members of Parliament, and I think we should be positive about that as well. I am a natural optimist, and I always look for the positive aspects of events. Today I was rather saddened by Opposition Members’ attempts to create a Dickensian view of our present society, because that is not a view that I recognise. I understand that there are challenges to be faced, and I understand that some families are struggling, but I think that we take a step backwards when we try to create an issue between men and women, and between women and men. In my opinion, we should look after every member of society irrespective of gender, and extend the range of the equality laws that have been passed over the past few years.

The issue of women and work has been raised in the debate. This morning I had the pleasure of opening the Hertfordshire Business Expo at Knebworth house in Stevenage. A large number of local businesses were represented, and many of the stands were staffed by females. Moreover, many of the business owners were female. In my constituency, nearly 30% of new businesses are started up by females. That too is a positive development that should be celebrated, and we should see more of it.

I am interested in issues such as the employment of women in engineering, My constituency contains the headquarters of the Institution of Engineering Technology. Thousands of people are employed at Astrium, which builds 25% of the world’s telecommunications satellites, and at MBDA Systems, which builds complex weapons systems. Just under 4,000 are employed at GlaxoSmithKline, which develops pharmaceutical drugs, and whose research and development facility is the largest in Europe. We also have Fujitsu, and a range of other companies. However, 93% of the companies in my constituency have a turnover of less than £1 million, and many of them are led by females.

I am proud of the contribution that women make to my constituency and to society as a whole. I think that a suggestion that women are victims has been allowed to creep into today’s debate, but I agree with the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) that they are not victims—although of course domestic violence is an issue: I deplore it, would support 100% anything that could be done in my constituency and throughout the country to reduce it, and believe that it must be stamped out.

It is clear that young women often achieve more than boys at school, and that needs to be encouraged, but why is there a gap later on? Why do those young women not also achieve more in the workplace? Some Members on both sides of the House have tried to suggest that there is a structural issue, and that may well be the case, but I am never very interested in playing politics. What interests me is trying to resolve the issue that is in front of me, and trying to create an holistic society in which people can succeed. What interests me is aspiration. I want every young woman in my constituency who is at school or a college of further education, who is going off to university or who wants to set up a new business, to go out there and think “Yes, I can succeed.”

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I accept that I am an optimist. When I was growing up I saw a poster in the 1992 election which read “What does the Conservative Party offer a working class kid from Brixton? They made him Prime Minister.” So I will maintain my approach. [Laughter.] I am not setting my stall out; I am merely saying that we need to aspire, and to encourage aspiration. We need to say “Whether you are male or female, if you think you are good enough and want to give it a go, then give it a go, and let’s see how far you get. If you fall down along the way, so what? We will try to help you get up again so that you can have another go.”

That, I think, is what the Government are doing. They are trying to help by increasing the personal tax allowance, cutting tax for 25 million people and taking 2.7 million out of tax altogether. I do not care which party does this, but I should like income tax thresholds to rise by as much as possible, because I believe that the best way of making it easier for people to deal with challenges involving their personal finances is to put money in their pockets and allow them to choose how to spend it, because they know what is important to them personally. I should like the threshold to rise to such an extent that no single person on the minimum wage need pay income tax. That would be a positive step for British society, and something I would wholeheartedly endorse.

There has been a lot of talk about what we are doing in terms of child care. Some 800,000 three and four-year-olds are benefiting from the 15 hours a week of child care we give them at present. That is fantastic, and from next September we will be expanding that to disadvantaged two-year-olds, which is wonderful. I sound a note of caution, however. I worry about primary schools having extended hours where a five or six-year-old is dropped off at school at 6 am, perhaps, and then collected at 8 pm. That is a very long day, especially for someone aged five, six or seven, and we need to think about the impact of that on the child and their family as they are growing up.

I celebrate the women in my constituency, just as I celebrate the men in my constituency. We need to do everything we can to ensure that everybody does their best. I stand here incredibly proud that when the unemployment figures came out last week they showed that unemployment in Stevenage is now down to 3.7%. I have more women who are employed than men who are employed in my constituency. Anybody who is unemployed is one person too many, and we need to do all we can to support everyone.

I want to celebrate the contribution that women, whether working or stay-at-home mothers, make to society, to my constituency and to the families up and down this country as they go out every single day. The reality is that they are all contributing in their own way and we should be proud of them and do everything we can to support them.

6.35 pm

Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab): In Rotherham, unemployment among women is far too high. According to figures from the Office for National Statistics, 13.4% of economically active women in Rotherham are unemployed. That is significantly higher than the regional figure of 8.1% and the national figure of 7.3%. While

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there has been some fluctuation in this figure, it has averaged almost 15% across the lifespan of the current Government.

Unfortunately, these figures are symptomatic of a national trend. Female unemployment is at its highest for a generation. Over 1 million women in the UK are out of work, an increase of 82,000 under this Government. When we look at long-term female unemployment, the situation is much worse as it is rising eight times faster than for men. The number of women out of work for more than 12 months increased by 79,000 between May 2010 and August 2013, while the number of men out of work for more than 12 months increased by 10,000. The number of older women—those aged 50-plus—who are unemployed has increased by 42,000, which is up by more than a third, over the same period, while male unemployment in this age group has fallen by 15,000. Black minority ethnic women also have a disproportionately high level of unemployment than men.

Where women are finding employment, their pay continues to lag behind that for male colleagues. Changes to in-work benefit left many women in Rotherham struggling to earn a living, in sharp contrast to the Government’s oft-repeated aim of making work pay. Furthermore, the increase in the cost of living has left many women facing an extremely insecure existence, and an even bleaker future.

A constituent I met recently shared her experiences, which are no doubt repeated across the country. A single parent, she desperately wants to return to work, but the huge costs of child care and cuts to in-work benefits mean that it is simply untenable.

Stephen Metcalfe: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Sarah Champion: I am sorry, but I do not have the time.

My constituent is thus forced to choose between short-term, part-time and low-paid work or to stay at home. To make her situation worse, local amenities on which she relies are facing closure as a result of Government cuts to local authority budgets and to national programmes such as Sure Start.

I want to mention two other issues related to the increasing unemployment of women. The first is the lack of role models for young women. It is very noticeable that this Government have only four women in a Cabinet of 22. Only 23% of this Parliament’s Members are women, the vast majority of them being Labour MPs. When we look at chief executives and board membership, we see that this situation is, unfortunately, common. That is compounded by a lack of consistent careers advice in schools, and in some schools no careers advice at all, so how are young women meant to make informed career choices?

The other key consideration in respect of why more women are unemployed has to do with their caring responsibilities and lack of Government support for them. For younger women that is likely to be child care, while for older women it is more likely to be care of their parents or their partners. The support for both those groups of women to enable them both to care and to work is being systematically chipped away. Not only is this bad for the women; it is also bad for the country

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economically. The ultimate irony is that of the £14.4 billion raised in 2014-15 through the additional net direct tax and benefit, pay and pension changes announced since the general election, £11.4 billion—or around 79%—is coming from women and £2.9 billion is coming from men.

House of Commons Library analysis shows that women will be hit four times harder by the new direct tax credit and benefit changes announced in December’s autumn statement, with women shouldering £867 million of the £1.1 billion raised. This situation is immoral and unfair, and it needs to change.

6.40 pm

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): We have had a high-quality debate today, and it has been superbly led by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero). I also congratulate the Economic Secretary to the Treasury on winning the opportunity to open for the Government. I say that because it must have been a fiercely fought competition if it has resulted in the Minister for Women and Equalities—the one voice for women at the Cabinet table—and her Tory junior Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, the hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), both being sidelined in favour of the Economic Secretary. It is just a shame that, having won that battle, she gave such a complacent speech. Anyone listening to her would think that everything in the garden was rosy for women. However, as we have heard in many excellent speeches, especially from Labour Members, that is far from the case.

I want to pick the Economic Secretary up on one point. She accused my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham South (Lilian Greenwood) of scaremongering when she pointed out that the £1,200 fees were putting women off taking their employers to a tribunal when they had been wrongfully sacked because they were pregnant. I fear that the Minister might have been trying to play down the problem. Maternity Action, whose representative I met just a few hours before the debate began, submitted evidence to the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee that showed that only 3% of victims of pregnancy discrimination took their claim to an employment tribunal, and that the fees involved were cited as one of the significant barriers that women faced. I recommend that the Minister meet Maternity Action to learn some facts about the impact of this Government’s policies on women’s lives. I am sure that its representatives would be happy to meet her.

It is clear that the Prime Minister’s cost of living crisis is hurting everyone except the millionaires who are enjoying their huge tax cuts. It is women who are bearing the brunt of the pain and who are seeing their financial support slashed the most. New mums have lost thousands, £7 billion has been taken away from families with children, and nearly 500,000 mums have lost up to £1,500 a year in support for child care. It is women who are seeing the services that they value being hollowed out. Sure Start funding has been slashed by more than half in real terms over this Parliament, and there are now 578 fewer Sure Start centres as a result. Many of those that remain are cutting back their services and opening hours, or charging for sessions that used to be free. It is women who are facing the greatest pressures in trying to make ends meet.

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Harriett Baldwin: Does the hon. Lady therefore disagree with the Office for National Statistics when it says that the equivalised, after-tax income for the poorest fifth of households has risen under this Government, and that that income has fallen the most for the richest fifth?

Mrs Hodgson: I just do not recognise those figures. Our figures from the Library—and any other figures that we have seen on this matter—show that women are £1,600 a year worse off under this Government. [Interruption.] It is true, and I will write to the hon. Lady and give her the figures.

Child care bills are rising five times as fast as incomes under this Government. Energy bills are shooting up at similar speeds. The weekly shop is getting even more expensive, and real incomes are down by between £1,500 and £1,600 as prices have outstripped wages in 40 of the 41 months of this Government. Women’s long-term unemployment is up 80,000 since the election, compared with a figure of 10,000 for men. Older women’s unemployment is up by a third, while the figure for men has marginally fallen. More than 1 million women are unemployed, and countless others are stuck in low-paid, insecure jobs.

It is women who are struggling to get by over the long school summer holidays, with extra child care to pay for, school uniforms to buy and extra food to put on the table, yet we hear from the Government that they want to slap 15% VAT on the school uniforms on our children’s backs, on the cereal in their bowls and even on the electricity that lights their homes. How out of touch can the Government get? Despite all that, women hold the key to building a sustainable economic recovery that works for everyone. Millions of women want to get back into work or to increase their hours.

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): My hon. Friend is giving a great speech. Are women who work in social care not one of the most tragic cases of women struggling with the hours? Often they are not even paid the minimum wage any more, because they get an hour here and an hour there and do not get paid for travel. These women may want to work 45 or 50 hours a week but end up working only 20 hours. Is that not something we should be ashamed of: the most important job we have, yet that is how they are paid?

Mrs Hodgson: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend, and I commend her on the excellent work she does and has done in this area for more than eight years.

If we could support carers and the other women we have been talking about in finding extra hours and finding a job we could add more than £1 billion to our tax receipts, yet still it is women who face the biggest barriers to progressing in their careers. The reason for all that is that women are sidelined and ignored by this Government—and why should we be surprised? This Government have more millionaires in the Cabinet than women—in fact, women outnumber Davids at the Cabinet table by only one, and let us not forget the Lib Dems, the party with as many knights as women MPs.

We have another autumn statement coming up soon. The Chancellor could use that opportunity to make amends for the disproportionate impact of his decisions so far, but if it is anything like last year’s we will just see that unfairness entrenched. I am aware that the Economic

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Secretary was not in the Treasury at that time—in fact, no hon. Ladies were in the Treasury at that time. Perhaps that accounts for the gross imbalance in where the Chancellor’s axe fell. If it does, I hope she will be able to tilt the balance back in women’s favour this year.

The hon. Lady quoted the late Baroness Thatcher, so let me reciprocate. This may be the first time, and will probably be the last, that I quote the former Prime Minister, but this one line sums up perfectly everything that is wrong with this Government. In 1979, she said:

“Any woman who understands the problems of running a home will be nearer to understanding the problems of running a country.”

I may have spent my early life suffering because of the policies she implemented, but I have to say that she had a point. Does it not explain why this Government have such a poor record? They are a Government led by a rich boys club completely out of touch with the problems that so many ordinary women face just to keep the money coming in, a roof over their child’s head, clothes on their child’s back, food on the table and their energy bills paid. They are a Government who cannot tackle the cost of living crisis women face because they have no idea what that crisis means to the people they are supposed to serve.

The Prime Minister knows that he has a problem with women. He even had to hire an extra adviser to tell him why women do not like him—as a women, I call tell him that for free. The Prime Minister has a problem with women because we know when we are being let down and we know when promises have been broken. Even if his party chairman tries to wipe any evidence of their ever making any promises off the internet, women have been let down and seen promises broken time and again by this Prime Minister, as we have heard today. These are promises on affordable child care, decent jobs, energy bills, tax credits, financial support, Sure Start and public services. Time and again women say they need help, and time and again they are ignored.

Government Members should be under no illusion: those same women will be looking at what they do tonight. These women will see the proposals Labour has put forward to help: real help now with finding and affording early years and school-age child care; capital projects that create good quality jobs for women, not just men; and businesses supported to boost the incomes of women on the lowest wages. Those are the kind of policies that will help to tackle the cost of living crisis that women are facing now, today. They are the kind of policies women want and women need. They are the kind of policies that women deserve to expect from any Government. But at the same time they are the kind of policies they know they can get only from Labour. Every vote against this motion from those in the Government parties—every Tory and Lib Dem who would rather please their Whip than stand up for women in their constituency—will be yet another reason for those women to give this out-of-touch Government the boot in 2015.

6.49 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Jo Swinson): I welcome the opportunity to respond to this debate. How we manage to assist people—particularly women as that is our focus today—with the cost of living is undoubtedly an

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important issue, and it is a positive thing to have debated it. It is always a great pleasure to be in one of the debates in which so many women want to contribute and speak. It reminds us of how it would be a much better Chamber if we had a better balance of men and women on both sides of the House.

We have had some interesting analogies. My hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) conjured up an image of the Chancellor as Goldilocks. I must say that I found it slightly distressing to imagine the blond pigtails. The analogy was continued by the hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop). Perhaps the fairy tale theme is relevant to the debate. Unfortunately, many of the contributions from the Opposition Benches had something of the fairy tale about them and a bit of a reality bypass. Underlying the speeches was the suggestion that we can somehow wish away the deficit and avoid the difficult decisions that are necessary to get our economy back on track. I want to take a minute to remember the scale of the situation that we have been facing and trying to deal with for the past three years.

Our economy is recovering from the most damaging financial crisis in generations after a decade of growth built on debt. Of all the major economies, only Japan had a deeper recession. When we came into power, the Government inherited the largest deficit since the second world war. Our largest trading partner, the eurozone, has been in recession. We have had to deal with a significant set of challenges, and we need to look at this matter within that wider overall context. Of course it is important that the Government take action to help with the cost of living, and I will go into more detail on exactly what we are doing about that. The broader context is vital, and my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire made a powerful contribution in which she demolished some of the myths and set that context out. The best way to help people with the cost of living is to build a stronger economy to create the stability that we need for employers to prosper and to create new jobs. That will help more people into work. Those are exactly the things that the Government’s policies are delivering.

Debbie Abrahams: What does the Minister think about the performance of the UK? Until recently, we were 18th out of the 20 countries in the G20. Is that the sort of economic performance that she wants the Government to take credit for?

Jo Swinson: The hon. Lady will be aware that we have the fastest growing economy in the developed world. I hope that she will not be as churlish as some of those on the Opposition Front Bench—although not those on the Front Bench today—and welcome that news rather than feel glum at the idea that the Government’s economic policies might actually be working.

Employment and work are the best way to drive up living standards. We have 446,000 more women in employment since the general election. We had some interesting exchanges about the numbers of women in employment and employment rates. Different individuals bring forward different figures to support their arguments. I argue that both the numbers and the rate are important.

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We have more women in work than ever before—fewer women are economically inactive—but the employment rate is also increasing. It has gone up 1.2% for women to 66.8% since May 2010, which is very close to its highest rate ever.

Sheila Gilmore: The Minister stated that work is the best way for people to progress and improve their position, but, as she will see if she reads the work of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, the problem is that the rate of poverty among children in working households is going up and three quarters of people in such households are in full-time work.

Jo Swinson: We absolutely need to help more people into work. When people want to work extra hours, we need to make that easier and we have a raft of measures aimed at assisting people into work. Yes, we also want to ensure that when people are in work their jobs are of a higher quality and that they can have higher pay, but we need to do that in a way that does not threaten to increase unemployment figures.

The pay gap has been mentioned, and rightly so. The Government have given employment tribunals the powers to force equal pay audits on rogue employers who have been breaking the law on equal pay. Our Think, Act, Report initiative now covers nearly 2 million employees across 130 major companies to drive forward standards in gender equality in the workplace. The recommendations of and the Government’s actions in response to the Women’s Business Council report, the extension of the right to request flexible working and the introduction of shared parental leave are all important factors that will also support women in work.

Various Members raised the issue of pregnancy discrimination. I do not know whether I need to declare an interest in order to say that I think that is an appalling and horrendous practice. I have met Maternity Action on these issues and we have commissioned research through the Equality and Human Rights Commission to ensure that we have up-to-date figures on which to take the issue forward.

I want to reply to the point made by some hon. Members about the £1,200 fee for employment tribunals. It is simply misleading to suggest that that is what any woman will have to pay in order to take up a claim. That is not what they have to pay to lodge a claim—that figure is £200. There is a remissions regime for people who cannot afford to pay that amount and only in cases that go to a full hearing—a tiny percentage of the number of cases overall, and only about 300 each year—will the full amount be paid. Even in those cases, if people win it is likely that costs will be awarded and they will not have to pay. Although I accept that the Opposition should make legitimate points, it is important to be clear about the facts.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) talked about women in sectors in which they are not usually well represented, such as engineering. We recently had Tomorrow’s Engineers week where that was a major theme. The Government also launched the Perkins review, which outlined how important it is to get more women and girls interested in engineering.

The hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) mentioned role models and they are important throughout the STEM industries. Of course, there is the Inspiring

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the Future initiative, which I encourage hon. Members and those watching the debate to sign up to so that they can go into schools and act as a role model by talking about their careers and what they do. That will inspire the next generation so that they know that there is no glass ceiling and that they can do whatever they want.

We are providing significant support for child care, increasing early education for free for three and four-year-olds to 15 hours a week and extending it to four in 10 two-year-olds from the most hard-pressed households, as well as providing the £1,200 per child per year tax rebate on child care costs. The rising cost of child care is an issue and it was not addressed under the previous Government. We are addressing it by extending the support for new child care businesses and increasing the number of childminders by making childminder agencies possible.

I want to mention Labour’s plans a little. Some sound very good, but one wonders where the costing comes from. Things will be paid for by the bank levy, but Labour’s bank levy has now been spent more than 10 times over. Here are the things that will be paid for by Labour’s bank levy: the youth jobs guarantee, reversing the VAT increase, more capital spending, reversing the child benefit savings, reversing tax credit savings, more regional growth funding, cutting the deficit, turning empty shops into community centres, spending on public services, more housing and child care. The same money cannot be spent twice, let along 10 times. The numbers do not add up.

We have improved the situation for older women, particularly pensioners, who suffered previously. Those who have taken time out of work to look after children faced significant injustice under the previous system. Our triple lock, which is raising the state pension—

Ms Rosie Winterton (Doncaster Central) (Lab) claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 36).

Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.

Question agreed to.

Main Question accordingly put.

The House divided:

Ayes 229, Noes 284.

Division No. 129]


6.59 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Balls, rh Ed

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blears, rh Hazel

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Jenny

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

Darling, rh Mr Alistair

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Dobbin, Jim

Dobson, rh Frank

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Dowd, Jim

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fovargue, Yvonne

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Hermon, Lady

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hood, Mr Jim

Hopkins, Kelvin

Howarth, rh Mr George

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Susan Elan

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Long, Naomi

Lucas, Caroline

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Malhotra, Seema

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McCrea, Dr William

McDonagh, Siobhain

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Mudie, Mr George

Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Paisley, Ian

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Pound, Stephen

Powell, Lucy

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reed, Mr Steve

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey

Rotheram, Steve

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Sawford, Andy

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Simpson, David

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Watson, Mr Tom

Watts, Mr Dave

Williams, Hywel

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Wilson, Sammy

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Woodcock, John

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Bridget Phillipson


Stephen Doughty


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Baron, Mr John

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burt, rh Alistair

Burt, Lorely

Cable, rh Vince

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cash, Mr William

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

Davis, rh Mr David

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Dorries, Nadine

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evans, Mr Nigel

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Farron, Tim

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Garnier, Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Gove, rh Michael

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Green, rh Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, rh Mr Philip

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Mr Mike

Hands, Greg

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Sir Nick

Heald, Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Howarth, Sir Gerald

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hunter, Mark

Huppert, Dr Julian

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

James, Margot

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Sir Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Laws, rh Mr David

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Sir Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Luff, Peter

Main, Mrs Anne

Maude, rh Mr Francis

May, rh Mrs Theresa

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

Menzies, Mark

Metcalfe, Stephen

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Moore, rh Michael

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, rh Mr Stephen

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, rh Richard

Paice, rh Sir James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, Mike

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Sir John

Redwood, rh Mr John

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reid, Mr Alan

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sandys, Laura

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Shepherd, Sir Richard

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Julian

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stunell, rh Sir Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Thornton, Mike

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vara, Mr Shailesh

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Charles

Walker, Mr Robin

Walter, Mr Robert

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Dame Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Jenny Willott


Gavin Barwell

Question accordingly negatived.

19 Nov 2013 : Column 1198

19 Nov 2013 : Column 1199

19 Nov 2013 : Column 1200

19 Nov 2013 : Column 1201

David Morris (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Con): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. As you might be aware, for the second time in recent weeks there has been an incursion into Gibraltar’s waters. I think that it is time that stopped. Has the Foreign Secretary indicated that he wishes to make a statement on the matter tomorrow?

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I have certainly received no indication that the Foreign Secretary is planning to come to the House to make a statement on the matter, but the hon. Gentleman’s timing is either well designed or fortuitous, because he is in the presence, as he raises his concern, of both the Government Chief Whip and the Leader of the House, so his words are on the record and will have been heard by those on the Treasury Bench. He will have patiently to await events.

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): Does that do any good?

Mr Speaker: Order. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is asking whether the point of order did any good or whether patiently awaiting the development of events does any good. He should not be too cynical; he has a service uninterrupted in this House of 30 years, and therefore I know that he believes passionately in Parliament.

19 Nov 2013 : Column 1202

Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

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


That the draft Defamation (Operators of Websites) Regulations 2013, which were laid before this House on 14 October, be approved. —(Anne Milton.)

Question agreed to.

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


That the Tobacco Products (Descriptions of Products) (Amendment) Order 2013 (S.I., 2013, No. 2721), dated 23 October 2013, a copy of which was laid before this House on 23 October, be approved.—(Anne Milton.)

Question agreed to.

Business of the House


That at the sitting on Tuesday 26 November, notwithstanding Standing Order No. 20 (Time for taking private business), the Private Business set down by the Chairman of Ways and Means may be entered upon at any hour, and may then be proceeded with, though opposed, for three hours, after which the Speaker shall interrupt the business.—(Anne Milton.)


Animal Protection Laws in Thailand, Vietnam and China

7.15 pm

Mr Tom Clarke (Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill) (Lab): A number of my constituents have presented to me, for presentation in turn to the House, a petition dealing with international animal welfare. It refers to the somewhat repugnant and wholly unacceptable practice involving extreme torture and the eating of cats and dogs in Thailand, Vietnam and China, sometimes after it is observed that they have been cooked alive.

The petition states:

The Petition of residents of Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill,

Declares that any torture and eating of cats and dogs in Thailand, Vietnam and China is unacceptable; further that the practices in place in Thailand, Vietnam and China cause unnecessary stress and harm to the cats and dogs involved; and further that these practices are a cause of concern for the British and Scottish athletes who will be attending the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea.

The Petitioners therefore request that the UK Government urges the governments of Thailand, Vietnam and China to strengthen and enforce their animal protection laws and further requests that the House urges the Government to consider incoming visits from the governments of these countries.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.


19 Nov 2013 : Column 1203

Energy Transmission Infrastructure (Carmarthenshire)

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

7.17 pm

Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (PC): It is a pleasure to open this Adjournment debate on energy transmission infrastructure in my county of Carmarthenshire. In doing so, I am fulfilling two promises, one of which I made to the then Minister on 6 March this year when we debated in Westminster Hall the proposed Brechfa west wind farm application, which he later approved. During the debate, I kindly informed him that I would seek a further debate if he approved the Brechfa west generation development without considering the infrastructure required to connect it to the national grid.

My reading of English planning law is that these matters—generation and transmission developments—should be determined together to help inform a comprehensive picture of the impact of individual energy projects. I said in the aforementioned debate that local people were being hoodwinked by the developers and the UK Government in not processing both together. I regret to inform the House that I share their opinions.

I regret that I have to make a political point so early in my speech, but the Tories in my constituency have only one campaign, and that is to oppose wind turbines. I look forward to reminding the electorate of Carmarthen East and Dinefwr in the months ahead that it was a Tory Minister who approved the largest wind farm ever built in Carmarthenshire and who will now be responsible for the 20 metre-high poles that will service the development.

Secondly, I am fulfilling a promise I made to my constituents that I would seek this debate following two public meetings that my constituency colleague, Rhodri Glyn Thomas AM, and I held on this issue over the summer in the villages of Pontargothi and Pencader. In those meetings, there was not enough room in the various halls to accommodate those who wished to have their say. This transmission development has generated huge public interest in the north and west of my constituency. I will endeavour this evening to portray the arguments made to us as elected members so that they are now a matter of record.

It will be of little surprise to you, Mr Speaker, to learn that if I had my way these matters would be devolved. Wales is a net exporter of electricity, yet we pay the highest electricity prices of any constituent part of the United Kingdom and, regrettably, we have among the highest levels of fuel poverty. A key element of my party’s social justice programme for reducing energy poverty, therefore, is to obtain control over our energy resources. That is also a key part of our economic vision of moving our country from the bottom of the wealth table. I am glad to report that my colleagues in the Assembly will hold a debate on a votable motion tomorrow in the Senedd.

The electricity grid in Wales resembles our transport system: it moves east to west, moving resources out of Wales. The need for a Welsh grid is of paramount importance.

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There is also the issue of democracy. These matters should be decided not by the Whitehall machine, but rather by the democratic institutions closer to the communities of west Wales. The regulatory framework put in place by Ofgem specifies that the only material planning consideration is cost—in other words, the cheapest option. That completely disregards the impact of the development on other key components of the Carmarthenshire economy, primarily agriculture and tourism.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): The hon. Gentleman clearly shares my love of rural Wales and appreciates those things that make our constituencies special. Does he agree that if we really must have these appalling wind farms and transmission lines desecrating rural Wales and our communities, at the very least every single part of those lines should go underground?

Jonathan Edwards: I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman. I was staggered to read in the submission on behalf of the company responsible for the Brechfa west wind farm, RWE npower renewables, that tourism and agriculture were of low economic value to the Carmarthenshire economy. My constituency has more than 1,000 farms, yet multinational companies describe them as of little economic value.

Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC): Any assessment of cost should surely be an honest assessment, but as far as I can see, the difficulties caused to the tourism industry in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and certainly to the open air industry, including the mountains and the sea, in my constituency, are entirely disregarded when the cost is assessed.

Jonathan Edwards: My hon. Friend, like the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies), makes a valid point. We need an holistic assessment of the impact of transmission infrastructure projects on other sectors of the economy that should not be ridden over roughshod by multinational companies.

Mr Mark Williams (Ceredigion) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this very important debate. We share a constituency border on the River Teifi and he will be aware of the significant growth and potential for growth of the tourism industry in particular. We have experience of some of these schemes in the north of Ceredigion, as opposed to the south, as in the case under discussion. Does he agree that they cause damage to, and are to the detriment of, the tourism industry?

Jonathan Edwards: The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. Indeed, many tourism operators in my constituency believe that developments on this scale are a disincentive for them to invest further in the sector, which has been seen by all levels of government as a key part of our local economy.

Such is the scale of the proposed transmission project that there will be three different consultation processes before a final route is determined. We are currently in the middle of the first two consultation periods. One of the key elements of my submission to the first process was that local people feel that they are being excluded

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and that the process has not been open and transparent, with only selected organisations and community councils asked to contribute and no full public engagement.

The first consultation period is extremely significant, because following this initial stage the development company, Western Power Distribution, will have chosen a preferred route from four options. All four routes begin in the north of Carmarthenshire near technical advice note area G—which is the Labour Welsh Government’s jargon for the concentrated wind-generating development zone in the Brechfa forest—and terminate at the National Grid substation in Llandyfaelog in the south of the county. That is a connection distance of more than 30 km.

Villages such as Cwmffrwd, Idole and Llandyfaelog more than 20 miles away from Brechfa forest will now find themselves affected by a project many miles away. As I have said, they have been hoodwinked by the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the multinational companies building wind farms in the north of the county, because the subsequent transmission project is a fait accompli.

To balance matters out, perhaps I should aim my guns at the Labour Welsh Government as well. They determined the strategic development zones for energy generation. In the case of the Brechfa forest, they did so in the full knowledge that the local electricity grid had insufficient capacity to service the power generated by the new wind farms.

It is no good Labour Welsh Ministers saying, “Nothing to do with us, guvnor”, and pointing the finger at the Department of Energy and Climate Change. It is a dereliction of duty on their behalf to have selected strategic zones, in the case of Brechfa, so far away from the national grid that this large transmission infrastructure project is now required.

More than 200 people attended the public meetings that I have mentioned. It is fair to say that feelings ran extremely high. The major concern raised with us during those meetings was the visual impact of the poles that will support the overhead cables envisaged by Western Power Distribution. I am saying this not just because I am a native, but because Carmarthenshire is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful parts of the entire British Isles.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): The hon. Gentleman and I share the privilege of representing part of the Brecon Beacons national park. Does he agree that many other parts of his lovely constituency have a landscape equivalent to that of a national park, and that the project will be a huge problem for the quality of such landscapes?

Jonathan Edwards: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. In areas of outstanding natural beauty, cables will have to go underground, but the Tywi valley, although extremely beautiful, is not designated as such and is therefore exempt, so that point is vital.

Carmarthenshire is known as the garden of Wales for good reason, with the Tywi valley hosting the National Botanic Garden of Wales and Aberglasney gardens, both of which are Welsh national treasures. During the public meetings I held on the issue, it was clear that only undergrounding the cables would be acceptable to those who attended.

19 Nov 2013 : Column 1206

That is the position of Carmarthenshire county council, which unanimously supported a Plaid Cymru motion:

“That Carmarthenshire County Council finds it totally unacceptable that the proposed Brechfa Forest wind farm(s) National Grid connection should be made via an overhead line supported by wooden pylons. As the Council itself has no statutory power in this matter, we ask the UK Energy Secretary to ensure that the connection cable is laid underground for its entire length”.

There is a clear precedent for undergrounding in Carmarthenshire. The Llyn Brianne hydroelectricity scheme in the north-east of my constituency was connected to the national grid via 20 miles of undergrounding in 1996.

In a one-sentence reply, the developers have stated that the cost of undergrounding is prohibitive. In this case, however, that is simply not good enough. In an answer to a parliamentary question, the Minister told me:

“In 2011, National Grid commissioned an independent study to give more clarity on the practicality, whole life costs and impacts of undergrounding and subsea cabling as alternatives to overhead lines. The Electricity Transmission Costing Study, prepared by technical experts and overseen and endorsed by the Institution of Engineering and Technology was published in January 2012… It contains estimated cost ranges for overhead lines and underground technologies.”—[Official Report, 8 July 2013; Vol. 566, c. 66W.]

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if undergrounding can be done in Powys, it can surely be done in Carmarthenshire? It could be done.

Jonathan Edwards: The hon. Lady makes a valid point. In Powys, the energy or transmission companies involved have decided to underground parts of the route. As the project is undertaken, I will certainly be making the case that the Tywi valley is protected in a similar manner to those areas of Powys.

That report tells us that cost ratios are volatile and that no single cost ratio comparing overhead line costs with those of another technology, such as undergrounding, adequately conveys the costs of the different technologies on a given project. The use of financial cost comparisons, rather than cost ratios, is thus recommended when making investment decisions.

However, Western Power Distribution, which has been tasked with connecting the wind farms with the national grid, has published only a simple financial cost comparison for the proposed project. It has not published any information on the lifetime costs of the project taking into consideration the installation, repairs and maintenance of the electricity cables and pylons. In its one-page underground survey summary—the only piece of information on undergrounding that has been published—Western Power Distribution states that the costs of underground cables would be £986,000 per kilometre, compared with £100,000 per kilometre for overground cables. I am sure that the Minister will share my constituents’ disappointment at not being provided with a full report that outlines a full consideration of the lifetime costs of the project for both overhead cables on pylons and undergrounding.

The National Grid, to which the electricity will be fed, launched a report in 2012 on its approach to the design and routeing of new electricity transmission lines, which outlines some of the principles that it will apply to its plans. I will quote from it because it applies directly to the communities that the proposed wooden pylons will affect:

“We also have a duty to ‘consider the desirability of preserving amenity’ when undertaking projects which includes impacts on

19 Nov 2013 : Column 1207

communities, landscape and visual amenity, cultural heritage and ecological resources. To satisfy this duty, we seek to avoid areas which are nationally or internationally designated for their landscape, wildlife or cultural significance, such as National Parks.

We recognise, however, that not all sites that are valued by, and important for, the wellbeing of local communities are included in designated areas. Our approach therefore ensures that we consider all of the potential economic, environmental and social impacts of proposed projects, not just those relating to designated sites.”

National Grid is seemingly taking an holistic approach, but the regulator, Ofgem, and the regional distribution companies appear to be operating on the basis of the cheapest up-front cost.

I will briefly mention other concerns that have been raised with me. Some have raised concerns over the health of the people who live near the overground poles. Others have expressed concern about the impact on wildlife and protected species. Many have expressed the concern that as the generating capacity is developed within the Brechfa forest, the wooden poles will have to be upgraded to metal pylons like those that service the Mynydd y Betws strategic wind farm in the south of my constituency. Some of my constituents are concerned about what will happen to the poles after the 25-year life expectancy of the generating development in the Brechfa forest. Many landowners were extremely angry that the developers had accessed their land without permission. That has caused grave concern to many elderly constituents of mine. There should be strict access protocols and I hope that the Minister will impress that on Western Power Distribution.

I will conclude by quoting the greatest of Welshmen, D. J. Williams, whose love for his milltir sgwâr, the square mile of north Carmarthenshire, was unrivalled and was the basis of his patriotism:

“Os gellir dweud fod hawl ddwyfol i unrhyw beth ar y ddaear, yna gyda’r Cymry y mae’r hawl i dir Cymru, nid gydag unrhyw berson estron, pwy bynnag ydyw ef.”

That was translated by the great Welsh poet, Waldo Williams, as:

“It may be said that there is a divine right to anything on earth, the right over the land of Wales belongs to the Welsh nation, and not to any alien, whoever he be.”

As the UK Government-sponsored Silk commission considers the second part of its work into further powers for Wales, opinion polling clearly shows that the people of Wales want full control over their natural resources and the exploitation of those resources. I hope that the Minister is mindful of the sentiments that I have expressed this evening when he considers the application in due course. I am more than happy again to extend my invitation to him to visit my constituency. I am sure that he would be awestruck by the beauty of the Tywi valley and I hope that he would gain an appreciation of why preserving that purity is so important to the people of my county.

Diolch yn fawr iawn.

7.32 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Michael Fallon): I congratulate the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) on securing this debate and on raising this important issue before the House.

19 Nov 2013 : Column 1208

The need for and impact of energy network infrastructure is a complex and sensitive matter. I welcome the opportunity to explain why there is a need to upgrade the electricity network, to clarify the approach that is taken in deciding where and how new infrastructure is delivered and to explain how that relates to Carmarthenshire.

The existing electricity network infrastructure is ageing. Much of it dates from the 1950s and 1960s, so considerable investment is needed to replace those assets as well as to expand our networks to accommodate the new generation that we require and to keep the lights on for our constituents and businesses. That is particularly the case where new generation is located far from demand or where the existing infrastructure is insufficient.

Developers of new generation need the reassurance that the network will be delivered in line with their project time scales so that they will be able to generate electricity once their projects are completed. We should recognise that those projects are substantial, long-term investments and that timely network delivery is crucial to their viability.

Before turning to the subject of electricity networks in Carmarthenshire, it might be helpful if I explain the wider approach to deciding on new network infrastructure. Under the current regulatory framework, it is for the network companies to submit proposals for new network infrastructure to the regulator, Ofgem, and relevant planning authorities. The proposals must be based on a well-justified need case such as new generation connections or the maintenance of a safe and secure network.

The network companies also propose routes and types of infrastructure. In doing so they are required to undertake extensive consultation with stakeholders, and make a balanced assessment of the benefits of reducing any adverse environmental and other impacts of new infrastructure against the costs and technical challenges of doing so. Those requirements are set out in their licence obligations under the Electricity Act 1989 to develop economic and efficient networks, and to have regard to the preservation of amenity and the mitigation of effects that their activities could have on the natural beauty of the countryside.

Hywel Williams: Will the Minister assure the House that all alternative means of transmission will invariably be considered—for example, when grounding or “under-seaing” cables, or is it, as I heard candidly from an energy sector specialist that, “They won’t offer undergrounding or under-seaing as a choice because they are just too expensive”?

Michael Fallon: As the hon. Gentleman knows, I must be careful not to comment on the specific application that lies at the heart of that, but I repeat that in fulfilling their licence obligations companies must not only develop efficient and cost-effective networks but have regard to the preservation of amenity and the mitigation of effects that their activities have on the natural beauty of the countryside. That is the balance they have to strike in their applications.

In addition to legal requirements to consider the wider impacts of new network infrastructure, Ofgem published in July this year information for stakeholders on how that should be taken into account. It clarifies that network companies are required to consider wider impacts and alternative solutions to overhead lines.

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That regulatory approach is reinforced by the Government’s energy national policy statements, which set out the framework for factors to be considered when consenting to an infrastructure project of national significance. It makes clear—this may help Opposition Members—that cost should not be the only factor in determining the type of network technology used, and that proper consideration should be given to other feasible means of connection, including underground and sub-sea cables. I hope that balanced approach provides some reassurance to those areas potentially affected by cables and pylons that the need for infrastructure is carefully assessed, and that alternatives to new overhead lines are considered seriously.

Since costs and technical difficulties vary so much from project to project, it is important that each is assessed case by case to ensure that the right planning decision is taken each time. The Government consider the costs and benefits of undergrounding electricity lines important issues that need to be considered carefully. That is why my Department arranged for an independent study to provide clarity on the practicality, whole life costs, and impacts of undergrounding and sub-sea cabling, as alternatives to overhead lines. That report was published in January 2012, and its findings are generally consistent with the comparative costs that National Grid quoted when evaluating options on current projects. The report should provide a useful point of reference to inform the planning process.

Let me turn now to the need for, and the development of, network infrastructure in Carmarthenshire. Consent for the Brechfa Forest West wind farm in Carmarthenshire was granted by the Secretary of State in March this year. The application for the electricity network infrastructure in Carmarthenshire to connect the wind farm will be decided by the appropriate planning authorities and Ministers. It would not be appropriate for me to give my views on the particulars of this project. However, I can say that I do recognise that many people feel very strongly about pylons and the impact they can have on the landscape.

Effective consultation with local communities and other interested parties is a vital part of the planning and regulatory approval process. When making proposals

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for new infrastructure, network companies have to demonstrate that alternatives were considered and why the preferred option is justified. That in turn must show that stakeholders have been engaged effectively. Western Power Distribution, the distribution network operator in Carmarthenshire, has started a consultation process that will continue throughout 2014 to seek views on route options for the wind farm connections. It expects to submit an application for consent to the Planning Inspectorate and it will ultimately be determined by the Secretary of State.

I am encouraged by the greater levels of stakeholder engagement and consideration being given by network companies to alternatives to overhead lines since the new planning framework was introduced. That is exactly the behaviour that the new planning and regulatory frameworks require.

I thank the hon. Members who have participated in what is an important debate. Our challenge is to build a low-carbon economy based on a mix of energy sources that meet our environmental targets and our security of supply needs, and do so in a way that delivers value for money for our consumers.

Meeting our future energy needs will require the expansion of our electricity network. Deciding where and how this infrastructure is delivered requires informed and balanced consideration of a number of factors, including costs, environmental impact, and the needs of local communities and the country as a whole. The planning and regulatory approval processes for new electricity network infrastructure require that stakeholders are consulted properly on these important decisions and that their views are demonstrably taken into account. This is now due to happen in Carmarthenshire where Western Power Distribution is consulting stakeholders in developing its proposals, and I strongly encourage all those with an interest now to engage with Western Power Distribution in this process.

Question put and agreed to.

7.42 pm

House adjourned.