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House of Commons

Thursday 16 January 2014

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


The Chairman of Ways and Means took the Chair as Deputy Speaker (Order, 13 January, and Standing Order No.3).

Oral Answers to Questions

Energy and Climate Change

The Secretary of State was asked—

Energy Efficiency

1. Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): What steps he is taking to help households improve their energy efficiency. [901993]

4. Chris Williamson (Derby North) (Lab): What steps he is taking to help households improve their energy efficiency. [901998]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Gregory Barker): The thoughts of the House will obviously be elsewhere today, in remembering our late colleague Paul Goggins, on the day of his funeral, and I associate myself and my colleagues with the many tributes that have already been paid across the House.

The coalition is committed to transforming the energy efficiency of Britain’s homes and helping consumers control their energy bills. The green deal and energy company obligation have together improved over a third of a million homes in their first 10 months of operation, but even more importantly we have established the conditions to grow a genuinely economically sustainable energy efficiency market as part of our long-term plan to transform British homes.

Tom Blenkinsop: I, like everyone in the House, would like to associate myself with the Minister’s comments about Paul Goggins.

The Minister said last March that he would be having sleepless nights if fewer than 10,000 people signed up for a green deal by the end of 2013: just 1,030 households have signed up. Will he confirm that at this current rate of progress it will take until 2023 for his target to be met?

Gregory Barker: The hon. Gentleman is right. We anticipated that more green deal finance plans would have been taken out by this stage, but we have seen, and been taken aback by, how popular green deal measures have been. There have now been more than 117,000 green deal assessments, and new research published this morning shows that only 5% of people are not installing green deal measures as a result. If people choose to pay for

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these measures themselves, that is a good thing. The main thing is that people are installing green deal measures using green deal installers and that the green deal market is off to a good start.

Chris Williamson: It would be helpful if the Minister supported Labour’s energy price freeze, but clearly the long-term solution required to end the scandal of people dying because they live in cold homes is a massive energy efficiency programme. As we know, the green deal has been an abject failure, with 1,030 households signing up so far and a 93% fall in the number of loft installations last year. Will he explain why his Department’s policies are failing so badly?

Gregory Barker: Labour’s price freeze is a con, and everybody now realises that it would harm investment and damage the interests of consumers and hard-working families. Fuel poverty is a long-term challenge, but when the Leader of the Opposition was Secretary of State fuel poverty rose to record highs, just as it did in every year of the last Parliament under Labour. The coalition still has a lot more to do, but the fuel poverty figures have been falling, so perhaps the hon. Gentleman should read less rhetoric and more facts.

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): May I press my right hon. Friend to put extra effort into those rural areas where poorer people predominantly live in solid-wall, stone-built properties and where, because they are off the gas grid, they are dependent on expensive fuels, such as oil and liquefied petroleum gas?

Gregory Barker: My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. The coalition has put new emphasis on tackling the deep problem of fuel poverty in rural areas. We are looking at this with renewed vigour and will come forward with further improvements to our fuel poverty schemes to ensure they reach those who need help in rural areas.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): Precisely how many measures have been installed under the energy company obligation or the green deal among those special rural sub-populations and off-grid users?

Gregory Barker: I am afraid I cannot off the top of my head give the specific figure, but I will happily write to the hon. Gentleman with it and make it available to the rest of the House. I can tell hon. Members, however, that we are doing, and are determined to do, much better than the previous Labour Government.

Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): One way to increase energy efficiency is to have modern boilers. The current affordable warrant schemes under the ECO, however, do not include home fuel oil or LPG boilers, discriminating against those in rural areas who are off the gas grid. The Minister has said that the coalition wants to do something for rural areas, so will he look again and ensure that, as he has promised before, all such schemes will be technologically neutral?

Gregory Barker: We take this issue very seriously. We are meeting suppliers again next month, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there will be progress. That has eluded Governments in the past, but we are determined to make progress.

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Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): The over-75s are most likely to live in homes with poor energy efficiency, most vulnerable to the cold weather and least likely to switch energy supplier, so they often pay more than they need to. Given the Prime Minister’s promise to put everyone on the cheapest tariffs, this does nothing to help 90% of the people, so will the Minister back Labour’s plan to put all over-75s on the cheapest tariff?

Gregory Barker: The Labour Government had 13 years in which to legislate and sort out the problem but did nothing. We have legislated to put everybody on to the cheapest tariff for their needs. This winter, more than 2 million households, including over a million of the poorest pensioners, will automatically receive the warm home discount of up to £135.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The boiler replacement scheme for Northern Ireland cost £12 million over the three years; it has been an outstanding success and achieved the high energy efficiency targets that were set. Will the Minister have discussions with the responsible Minister in Northern Ireland with a view to reintroducing a similar boiler scheme here on the mainland UK?

Gregory Barker: We already have live and up and running a cashback scheme to help people with boiler replacements. We think this is an important market and we are looking at it as part of our stamp duty rebate bonus to help drive the green deal and see what more can be done in the boiler market. I am going to Northern Ireland next month; if there is an opportunity to discuss this issue, I will certainly take it.

Fuel Poverty

2. Mr Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) (Lab): What steps his Department is taking to tackle fuel poverty. [901995]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Gregory Barker): The coalition is committed to tackling fuel poverty. In 10 months, the green deal and energy company obligation have transformed more than 336,000 homes, of which about 250,000 are low income and vulnerable households, helping to cut people’s bills and keep them warm. In addition, this winter more than 2 million households, including more than 1 million of the poorest pensioners, will receive the warm home discount, worth up to £135.

Mr Hepburn: Since this Government came to power, the big six energy companies have made an unprecedented profit of up to £3.5 billion, while household gas and electricity bills have almost doubled. When are the Government going to catch up with the Labour party and the general public, take these greedy vultures into hand and freeze bills, rather than give what is effectively a taxpayer’s subsidy to the energy companies to give us a miserly £1 a week off our bills?

Gregory Barker: It is a great shame that the hon. Gentleman did not have that view when Labour was in government. Let us not forget that Labour created the big six. There were 14 major energy companies when Labour took office and those were driven into the big six. The big six are Labour’s creation. We are on the side

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of competition, technological change and the consumer; under this Government, we are putting the consumer first.

Charles Hendry (Wealden) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend look at taking some specific measures to tackle fuel poverty for those who are off the gas grid? Will he encourage the use of syndicates, which can buy oil and LPG more cheaply? Will he look again at whether this vital sector should be regulated by Ofgem, and will he explore whether some of the revenues from future shale gas development could be used directly to extend the gas grid?

Gregory Barker: I take my hon. Friend’s points extremely seriously, not least because he did a great deal for this group of people when he was an energy Minister. Speaking as someone who is off the gas grid, I am delighted to say that I recently joined my local community’s syndicate for buying heating oil, and it has delivered a very good price. I encourage others to do the same. The good point that my hon. Friend raises is under review. We are looking at more effective data matching to identify those in fuel poverty in rural areas who are often much harder to find than those in similar circumstances in urban areas. We are absolutely on it; I can assure my hon. Friend of that.

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): There was anger and deep disappointment in my constituency this week when British Gas announced that, as a direct result of the Minister’s changes to the ECO, it is pulling out of the scheme that was due to deliver external wall insulation to up to 4,700 concrete houses in Clifton by March 2015. Will the right hon. Gentleman agree to meet me and local partners urgently to discuss whether there is a possible future for this scheme?

Gregory Barker: I will certainly meet the hon. Lady, and I shall be happy to look at the matter in more detail. It is primarily a matter for British Gas, which has an obligation to deliver, at scale, measures to help the fuel poor, but we are determined to ensure that those measures are enforced.

The ECO is now in good health, and we have extended it to 2017. Unlike the programmes introduced by the last Government, which were very stop-go and hand-to-mouth—for instance, the carbon emissions reduction target was initially scheduled to apply to one year but was then extended for another year and then another—the ECO will provide investor certainty until 2017, which is good news for the fuel poor.

Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): Identifying those who live in fuel-poor households is of paramount importance, and Members of Parliament, the Church and credit unions have a role to play in that. We in Northumberland invented oil-buying clubs in this country, and we now have 13 of them, covering almost all the off-grid provision. We have produced a leaflet of which we are particularly proud, which explains how people can reduce energy bills, and we are sending it to individual households.

Gregory Barker: I commend my hon. Friend for his excellent work on an issue that is so important to his constituents. I should love to see a copy of that leaflet.

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We are keen to find out more about the ideas that my hon. Friend is pioneering with his community, and to learn from good practice and spread it throughout the country. Perhaps we shall have an opportunity to do that when we launch our community energy strategy.

Power Companies (Bad Weather Preparedness)

3. Mr Iain McKenzie (Inverclyde) (Lab): What recent discussions he has had with power companies on their preparedness to deal with bad weather events. [901997]

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr Edward Davey): Let me begin by saying that our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Paul Goggins as we all celebrate his life and superb contribution on his funeral day.

I met the distribution network operators and key industry players on 8 January to discuss the power cuts over the Christmas period. I have organised a review of what worked and what did not, and I am due to receive a report before the end of March.

While there are clearly lessons to be learned, especially in regard to communications with customers, I want to record again my thanks to the thousands of people who worked so hard over their Christmases, mostly in difficult circumstances, to look after and reconnect those who were affected by severe storms and flooding.

Mr McKenzie: Who is responsible for ensuring that power companies are sufficiently prepared for bad weather, and have enough staff to be able to deal with both the weather and any power cuts that may result from it? Is that his Department‘s job, or is it Ofgem’s?

Mr Davey: As the hon. Gentleman will know, Ofgem regulates the distribution network operators to ensure that they perform adequately, but the whole industry does a huge amount of work—along with Ofgem and my Department—to ensure that proper preparations are made. Between 24 and 28 December, unprecedented severe weather affected all parts of the country, and it was not possible to make preparations that rely on mutual aid because all the distribution network operators needed their staff. We certainly have lessons to learn from that unprecedented set of events.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): Our thoughts and prayers are with Paul Goggins and his family today.

In 2007, when we experienced severe surface water flooding, there was an audit of all the critical infrastructure, and a decision was made to move those who were most vulnerable to flooding to higher ground. Would another such audit be timely following the unprecedented flooding that occurred over the Christmas period?

Mr Davey: If an audit is recommended in the review that I have instigated, we will of course proceed with it. I must stress, however, that more than 750,000 homes lost power between 24 and 28 December, and 93% of them were reconnected within 24 hours. I do not, of course, underestimate the difficulties experienced by people whose Christmases were ruined and who lost power for more than 48 hours—15,000 houses were affected in that way—but I think that we should see

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them in proportion. The industry did a very good job, and its preparedness has greatly improved in recent years.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Paul Goggins used to sit next to me in the Chamber, and the difference between us when we used to make trouble on a Thursday was that he was nicer than me. He was a true Christian, whereas I am more the curmudgeonly type, but I am thinking of him today.

I worry about this question. I think that it should be seen in context. Is the new Minister for Portsmouth on side? Is he aware that flooding and the change in our weather patterns have something to do with climate change? Has he looked at the BP long-term survey of energy use, which was published this morning and which points to a very changed world market? That will also have an impact on our weather.

Mr Davey: I do not think the hon. Gentleman is curmudgeonly at all, and I welcome his question. I think it is important to think about whether events are connected to climate change. As he will know, climate change scientists are reluctant on this because the evidence does not suggest that particular weather events are connected with climate change, but the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change fifth annual report last year showed that there is increasing concern because both the theory and practice of climate change analysis suggests there are likely to be more severe weather events if we do not tackle it.

Shale Gas

5. Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): What steps he is taking to promote the exploration of UK shale gas resources. [901999]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Michael Fallon): The Government have taken a number of recent steps to promote shale gas exploration. We confirmed fiscal measures in the autumn statement to incentivise exploration activity, we published a regulatory road map in December setting out clearly for operators the regulatory requirements for shale gas projects, and the Prime Minister announced 100% business rate retention for local authorities for shale projects on Monday. We are also consulting on the strategic environment assessment for a potential 14th onshore licensing round, which would enable further areas of the country to be explored.

Andrew Jones: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that, far from being a bribe, the decision to allow councils to keep 100% of business rates is about ensuring that local communities and local people can benefit and get a fair share of the development in their area?

Michael Fallon: Yes, it is important that the benefits of shale gas exploration should not just go to the economy more widely, or to the companies doing the exploration or, indeed, wholly to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is important that local people and local communities share in those benefits as well.

Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab): The Prime Minister has said the Government are going all out for shale, but the Treasury is taking a whopping 62% while offering a minuscule offer with business rates. The Minister’s

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Department will have received a letter last week from Lancashire MPs—united, cross-party—and Labour-controlled Lancashire county council opposing the business rates offer. I think he received comments from Members on his own side, too—from the hon. Member for Wyre and Preston North (Mr Wallace) saying it is “pathetic and insulting” and from the hon. Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Eric Ollerenshaw), who said it is simply not enough. When is the Minister going to address this issue of fairness?

Michael Fallon: We will, of course, reply to the letter from the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues from Lancashire. However, the decision to give local authorities 100% business rate retention could mean up to £1.75 million a year per well site, and the decision to allocate 1% of the revenues to local communities could mean up to £10 million for a well site. These are formidable sums, and I think it is right that local communities share in any of the benefits that arise from shale.

Mr Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): Can my right hon. Friend confirm that nearly 200 wells in this country and over 2 million wells worldwide have used hydraulic fracturing technology and not a single person has been poisoned by contaminated sub-surface water supplies and not a single building has been damaged by the resultant minuscule earth tremors?

Michael Fallon: I can certainly confirm that hydraulic fracturing is a well-established technique. It has been used the world over. We also have experience of onshore drilling in this country for nearly 100 years now, since the end of the first world war, and hydraulic fracturing will be permitted only if it is safe not only for those involved but for the environment and the local community.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): On Tuesday the Prime Minister said people objecting to shale gas on climate grounds are irrational, yet climate scientist experts and investors all warn that the vast majority of existing fossil fuel reserves must remain underground—they are unburnable if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change—and just today we hear of the BP report that shale gas will not help cut emissions and that essentially fuel switching does not make a difference as coal just gets exported and is emitted elsewhere. In the light of that, will the Minister tell us whether he agrees with the Prime Minister: does he think climate scientists are irrational as well?

Michael Fallon: I think it is wise for all members of the Government to agree with the Prime Minister. Shale gas is one of the greener fossil fuels, and the hon. Lady certainly ought to support its extraction rather than that of coal. We need to reduce our dependence on volatile wholesale international prices for gas and oil, and we need more home-grown energy here under our own control.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): A recent American report has suggested that, apart from the absolute volumes of water used in fracking, 90% of the water used remains beneath the surface and is removed from the local water cycle. Has that environmental impact been assessed by the Department, and if not, can it be?

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Michael Fallon: We will certainly look at all reports and international expertise in this area, but Water UK—the industry body for water—has looked at the management and treatment of water. Let me reassure the House that hydraulic fracturing will be allowed in this country only if it is absolutely safe for the environment, and that of course includes the protection of ground water supply.

Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): First, may I thank the Secretary of State and the Minister for their kind words about our friend and colleague, Paul Goggins, whose funeral takes place today? He was a regular contributor to these questions, and he was as assiduous in standing up for his constituents in fuel poverty as he was on so many other issues during his time in the House. As you will be aware, Mr Deputy Speaker, my right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) are absent this morning, along with many other Members, in order to attend the funeral mass. I know that the whole House will join them in remembering Paul’s tremendous record of public service, and in sending our deepest condolences to his family and loved ones at this very sad time.

May I ask the Minister to tell the House how many jobs he expects to arise from shale gas extraction in the UK?

Michael Fallon: The survey conducted by the Institute of Directors estimated that more than 70,000 jobs could be created by the shale gas industry. We are in the initial stages of the industry, and we expect to have two to three years of exploration, so it is not possible at this stage to make a firm forecast of the number of jobs, but that is the Institute of Directors’ best estimate. In other countries where shale gas has been successfully extracted, however, there have been huge benefits to the economy and reductions in household and business bills.

Tom Greatrex: I thank the Minister for that reply, repeating the figure that was used by the Prime Minister, by Tory central office and by others earlier this week. Does the Minister understand that addressing the legitimate environmental concerns about shale gas will require the Government to be careful, proportionate and responsible regarding what they say about a yet unrecovered energy source? In that context, will he explain why neither he nor—as far as I am aware—his Secretary of State has referred this morning to the findings of the detailed strategic environmental assessment undertaken by AMEC on behalf of his Department? Those findings put the likely figure for full-time equivalent jobs at between 16,000 and 32,000 during peak construction in the next licensing round.

Michael Fallon: There have been a number of estimates, but, as I have said, it is far too early to be sure about the pace of shale gas extraction when we are still at the exploration stage. We have seen estimates from AMEC, and I have quoted the estimate from the Institute of Directors.

Energy Bills

6. Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab): What steps he is taking to help households with their energy bills. [902001]

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7. Mrs Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab): What steps he is taking to help households with their energy bills. [902005]

8. Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab): What steps he is taking to help households with their energy bills. [902006]

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr Edward Davey): We are very concerned about rising energy bills, so we are helping consumers in three ways: with direct help with money off their bills; with stronger competition; and through energy efficiency programmes. Last month, we secured an agreement with the energy companies for an average £50 cut off this year’s bill, and I am pleased to tell the House that my Department’s own work for greater competition for consumers will be enhanced following the appointment of Clive Maxwell, the current chief executive of the Office of Fair Trading.

Paul Farrelly: Frankly, the autumn statement was a great disappointment. Will the Government accept that they could do far more to help businesses and consumers who are facing crippling energy bills? The limited changes to green taxes are far too little, too late. Bills will still rise, and simply telling people to shop around is not a proper answer.

Mr Davey: I have to disagree with the hon. Gentleman. People are switching providers very effectively. In November last year, the month after the price rises were announced, 614,000 people used the benefits of the competition that we have enhanced to get better deals and save hundreds of pounds. When it comes to records on bills, the provisional 2013 gas and electricity figures have now been published and we can make a comparison between this Government’s record and that of the last Labour Government. Between 2000 and 2010—the last Parliament—gas bills rose by an average of 12% a year; in this Parliament, they have risen by an average of 6%.

Mrs Glindon: A new report by the Children’s Society says that about 5 million families are likely to turn down their heating because they cannot afford it, and children will suffer because their homes are simply too cold. Given that 3.6 million children last year thought that their homes were too cold in winter, does the Minister agree that it is now time for a price freeze to ensure that parents can keep their children warm during the cold winter months?

Mr Davey: No, I do not think it is time for a price freeze, because I do not think that will help the children the hon. Lady is talking about. We all know that Labour’s price freeze is a con and the energy companies will shove up the bills after the price freeze has ended. We want to give people permanent help, which is why the £50 average cut to people’s energy bills is welcome. In addition, we are ensuring that the warm home discount delivers £135 off bills for the most vulnerable people. That is a good record. We will be coming to the House later this year with our draft fuel poverty strategy, because we want to do more for the most vulnerable households in our society.

Mrs Lewell-Buck: A man in my constituency was recently arrested for stealing food. Upon escorting him home, the police found that not only did he have nothing to eat, but he had no heating or electricity at all in his

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home. He had turned to theft out of desperation. Why does the Minister not recognise that energy prices are a huge contributor to the cost-of-living crisis which is leading to such poverty and that this situation will only get worse until the Government adopt Labour’s energy price freeze?

Mr Davey: I do not know the case that the hon. Lady talks about, but the Government are as concerned as anybody about energy prices, energy bills and the impact on people around our country. That is why we have been hyperactive in this area; we have done far more than the previous Government. I mentioned the comparisons we can now make between energy bill rises under the previous Government and under this one. As I said, gas bills went up twice as much under the previous Government, but electricity bills increased by an average of 9% in the previous Parliament whereas in this one they have increased by 4%. We know that that still means bills are going up and we need to help people, but Labour’s record in this area was shocking.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): If people are to be encouraged to switch supplier to cut their energy bills, we must make it as easy as possible for them to find an alternative supplier. One big barrier to that is utilities charging steep termination charges. Can the Department do anything to get rid of or reduce those charges?

Mr Davey: We certainly are looking at all aspects of switching to ensure that it is easier and quicker. Ofgem’s retail market review will make a big difference here and it is being implemented now, with simpler and clearer bills, and fewer tariffs. We are also working with the industry to reduce the time involved; I believe that before this Parliament finishes we will have halved the switching times, which will really help people such as my hon. Friend’s constituents.

Mr David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): The Secretary of State has been reminded by colleagues from all parts of the House this morning that this is not just about electricity and gas bills, low tariffs and dual fuel discounts; it is also about people in rural areas who cannot have any of those things because they rely on liquefied petroleum gas or fuel oil. I have long argued that the worst examples of fuel poverty are faced by people who are isolated in rural areas. Does he agree? Will he make them a priority in his new fuel poverty strategy?

Mr Davey: My hon. Friend has campaigned long and hard on this issue. It is clear that the House wants to bring it to our attention, and we are already working on it. As my colleagues have said, we need to address an issue of identification: getting good statistics and data, matching and so on. I can give an assurance that we will focus on this issue, and I invite right hon. and hon. Members to raise the matter with me and my Ministers, and bring forward ideas.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): Our constituents are rightly concerned about energy prices. So does my right hon. Friend agree that it is irresponsible for any political party to attempt carbon tax changes to the

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Energy Act 2013 in the other place, which, had they been successful, would have added £125 to our consumers’ bills?

Mr Davey: I think my hon. Friend is referring to the one issue over which the Prime Minister said to the Liaison Committee there is a difference between the two coalition parties. The £125 figure that he quotes is from the Conservative party’s website. The figure from the Committee on Climate Change on the cost of the decarbonisation target is six times less. What that shows is that we need a debate on the decarbonisation target and what the actual costs will be.

Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab): The Secretary of State said last December that his Government would reduce the average household bill next year by £50, but three of the big six energy companies are not passing on the reduction to fixed-price tariff customers. Will he confirm that for some of those customers the measures he announced will not take a single penny off their energy bills?

Mr Davey: We negotiated a deal with the big six in which they agreed to deliver a £50 average bill reduction, and that is what we expect. We were clear at the time that it was an average bill reduction, because it is impossible to ensure that it goes to every single customer. Our analysis shows that they have largely complied already, and the House can be assured that we will not let up the pressure.

Julie Elliott: So that means there are customers who will not receive a single penny off their bills. Is it not a fact that average energy bills are still at least £60 more this winter than last winter? Why will the Secretary of State not admit that he and his Government are doing nothing to stop the big six energy companies raising prices?

Mr Davey: First, every customer will get something off their bills because of the rebate that we are putting through related to renewable and social costs, so it is not true that some people will not see any reduction. Furthermore, when the hon. Lady and her colleagues talk about the big six, they forget to mention that Labour created the big six. It was when Labour messed up the reforms of the energy markets in 2001 and abolished the pool in a bad way that we saw consolidation and the big six. We are now fixing that problem.

Renewables Industry

9. Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): What estimate he has made of the number of jobs that will be created in the renewables industry as a result of the provisions of the Energy Act 2013. [902007]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Michael Fallon): Directly, and indirectly through supply chains, the Government’s electricity market reforms could support up to 250,000 jobs by 2020, the large majority of which will be in renewable electricity.

Tim Farron: In Westmorland, we are extremely proud of having one of the largest and most important hydro manufacturing firms in the world in Gilkes of Kendal, which is a reminder that, unlike other energy sources

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such as nuclear and shale gas, 95% of the supply chain of the hydro and tidal energy industry is British. Given that and the almost infinite potential of the industry around this island, will the Minister commit to creating tens of thousands of British jobs by making hydro and tidal energy the centrepiece of Britain’s energy policy?

Michael Fallon: I will certainly commit to supporting renewable technologies and a mix of renewable technologies. My hon. Friend will have seen that we have confirmed the strike price for tidal and wave power in the final electricity market reform delivery plan that we published in December.

Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab): Investment in low-carbon energy has halved under this Government, costing jobs and threatening our energy security. Does the Minister agree that the two best things that the Government could do to improve their woeful investment record is to set a 2030 power sector decarbonisation target and stop the internal Government rows that are creating uncertainty and killing confidence?

Michael Fallon: I must tell the hon. Lady that this country has more offshore wind than any other country in the world. We have seen half a dozen large offshore wind farms commissioned and operating, and another four are under construction this year. We are leading the way in the deployment of renewable technologies, and those renewables contributed around 15% of our electricity in the third quarter of last year.

Energy Infrastructure

10. Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con): What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of recent investment in the UK’s energy infrastructure. [902009]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Michael Fallon): Since 2011, 8% of our generating capacity has closed under European legislation, and a further 10% to 12% of current generating capacity is due to close over the decade to 2023. We must continue to invest across the energy landscape to ensure that we maintain robust infrastructure. We have agreed terms for a new nuclear power station, the first in a generation, at Hinkley Point C, and we are also ensuring that new and existing gas generation stays on the system by establishing the capacity market under the Energy Act. We will run the first auction for that later this year.

Stephen Metcalfe: Intergen is keen and ready to build a new super-efficient gas-fired power station in my constituency with Siemens as the contractor. The pension fund and Chinese owners, however, will not commit to the £500 million investment required until Intergen has won a contract to supply at the capacity auction in December. Does the Minister agree that that is causing an unnecessary delay and will he agree to meet me and Intergen to see what we can do to bring forward this important investment?

Michael Fallon: I am certainly happy to meet my hon. Friend and any potential investors and to reassure them that we are now seeing a wave of potential investment

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under the Energy Act. As I said, we plan to run the first capacity auction later this year, in which we expect considerable interest in gas-fired stations.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): Many people who are off grid are in fuel poverty—the figure in rural areas is almost double that in urban areas. DECC’s own figures show that there is potential for 800,000 households to be connected to the gas infrastructure. Would the Minister and his Department consider putting aside some money from shale gas exploration in a levy so that we can extend the gas grid, giving people choice and cheaper fuel?

Michael Fallon: As I explained earlier, money will be made available from shale gas exploration for local communities and it will be up to local communities to decide in which projects to invest it. We are already taking action to improve the position of those who happen to be off grid, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has explained, through better identification and data sharing through the agencies and by encouraging earlier and collective purchasing schemes.

Fuel Poverty

11. Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): What steps he is taking to protect the fuel poor whilst seeking to reduce energy bills. [902010]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Gregory Barker): In December the coalition announced a package of policy changes to save hard-working families an average of £50 off their energy bills. The package also included proposals to extend the energy company obligation, which provides direct support to the fuel poor through to 2017. That gives crucial investment certainty to those rolling out our long-term plan to cut fuel poverty.

Andrew Stephenson: I thank the Minister for his answer. My constituent, Peter Chester, who runs Green World Energy Solutions, a company whose work focuses on households that qualify for ECO funding, is very concerned that the changes to ECO funding might prevent vulnerable households from being able to improve the energy efficiency of their homes. Can the Minister provide any assurances that that will not be the case?

Gregory Barker: Let me reassure my hon. Friend, who is a very effective local champion for entrepreneurs such as Mr Chester and for those struggling with high energy bills in Pendle. I assure him that the coalition has a long-term plan to slash fuel poverty. As we have extended the ECO out to 2017 and increased the number of people it will help, Green World Energy Solutions and other firms like it can now plan with real certainty to continue to improve the homes of thousands of families and help them to cut their bills.

Renewables Obligation Grace Periods

12. Dr Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): What progress he has made in developing renewables obligation grace periods for renewable energy developers

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able to demonstrate financial closure of projects prior to March 2017 but commencing operations after that date. [902011]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Michael Fallon): The Government have consulted on grace periods for developers able to demonstrate substantial financial decisions and investments by the end of July 2014, in relation to renewable electricity projects that are expected to commission before the end of March 2017. We are analysing responses to the consultation and will issue a formal response setting out the policy on renewables obligation grace periods in due course.

Dr Whitehead: Does the Minister accept that there is considerable demand for such grace periods? Will he say now that he will agree that all qualifying projects will be given the relevant RO during the grace period? Does he accept that a far simpler way of ensuring that the substantial demand is met would be to extend the transition period between the RO and contracts for difference?

Michael Fallon: The consultation only closed a few weeks ago and we must consider all the responses carefully and ensure that the final policy has considered all views. We want to do that as quickly as possible, but it would be a little premature if I announced any conclusion today.

14. [902014] David T. C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): Given that the ice caps have not yet melted, tropical islands have not been submerged and there has been no rise in temperatures for 16 years, is it not about time we questioned the entire concept of renewables obligations and started worrying a little more about people going into the red than about all of us going green?

Michael Fallon: We certainly worry about those who are struggling with bills, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said. We have announced a number of measures to encourage competition and easier switching between suppliers.

Mr Angus Brendan MacNeil (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP): Renewable energy developers in my island constituency would be helped if, instead of generators being charged to export electricity and consumers being charged to import it, the reality of a domestic island market for production for local consumption was recognised. Will the Minister and his Department look at that possibility to help ease energy bills on the islands?

Michael Fallon: I am happy to look at that specific proposal. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Department has already been looking hard at the Western Isles project in general.

Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): Constituents of mine involved in marine renewable energy are finding that the contracts for difference are attracting developers and jobs into Cornwall. Will my right hon. Friend add his support to the launch of the Plymouth city deal tomorrow, which will see Cornwall working with Plymouth to grow new renewable energy businesses, jobs and prosperity for people across the south-west?

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Michael Fallon: I am very happy to welcome the Plymouth city deal, particularly the importance of energy in it. As I have said, we have confirmed the strike prices for all types of renewable energy, including wave and tidal. I think that there are some exciting prospects for the industry in Cornwall.

Wholesale Energy Market

13. John Robertson (Glasgow North West) (Lab): What steps he is taking to increase levels of competition in the wholesale energy market. [902012]

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr Edward Davey): There are two main initiatives to increase competition in the wholesale energy market led by Ofgem, which we have underpinned with new powers in the Energy Act 2013. First, Ofgem has worked with the industry to increase the amount of electricity traded in the “day ahead” market, with very encouraging progress. Over the past 12 months, over 50% of electricity has been sold on the day exchanges, compared with just 6% in 2010. Secondly, Ofgem’s new reforms—most notably, the market maker obligation—should be rolled out from 1 April 2014, which will force the big six to publish prices and require them to buy and sell electricity at those prices in the forward markets. That will increase liquidity, transparency and competition.

John Robertson: I thank the Secretary of State for that answer, but even he will agree that the biggest problem, particularly for the poorest in society, is cost. The energy companies that generate the power are getting 20% profit on generation, selling the electricity to themselves and then selling it on to customers in retail and getting anything between 4% and 6% profit. Surely that cannot be right. Is it not time we broke up the generation and retail sides of the business and stopped those companies dealing with themselves and undercutting the poorest members of society?

Mr Davey: I can agree with the hon. Gentleman on the cost issue and that we need reform in the wholesale market because of the vertically integrated model, but I have to remind him and Opposition Members that that model for the big six was created under the previous Government, and we are tackling the issue—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I think that we have got the point.

Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): I remind the Secretary of State that it was the Conservative Government who privatised the electricity industry and, crucially, John Major who lifted the restriction and allowed that vertical integration. In an article in The Guardian on Monday, the Secretary of State wrote that the big six

“either supplied themselves or opted for over-the-counter deals, with no transparency”

and that vertical integration

“raised concerns about the wholesale market.”

Will he therefore answer the question that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North West (John Robertson) asked: does he agree with the policy of separating the generation and supply arms of those big businesses?

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Mr Davey: I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman was not listening. Ofgem’s proposals for the market maker obligation will have a big impact on the wholesale market. It will force the vertically integrated big six to tell competitors what they are prepared to charge and what they are prepared to pay for electricity in the forward markets. That will improve entrance, competition and transparency. The proposal of splitting the vertically integrated companies has real problems. It might work, but it could end up pushing up prices, which we do not want.

Topical Questions

T1. [901983] Mr Steve Reed (Croydon North) (Lab): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr Edward Davey): The Energy Bill received Royal Assent on 18 December and is now the Energy Act 2013. I have published the electricity market reform delivery plan, which sets out updated contract terms and strike prices alongside wider reforms to the electricity market that could unlock additional investments of about £40 billion in renewable electricity generation projects up to 2010. Renewables investment is increasing fast, with renewable electricity generation more than doubling since the coalition came to power. This is a clean, green record that we are proud of.

Mr Reed: Nearly 6,000 households are living in fuel poverty in Croydon North and, according to the Government’s own figures, the gap between their bills and what they can afford has grown to almost £500. Given that their energy bills will go up by another £60 this winter, does not this show why nothing less than a price freeze and action to stop these companies overcharging again afterwards will do?

Mr Davey: First, fuel poverty got worse under the previous Government and has been coming down under this Government; secondly, we are changing the way in which we measure fuel poverty so that we can better target the people in deepest fuel poverty; thirdly, the energy price freeze would be worse for consumers because prices would end up going up; and fourthly, later this year we will publish the first fuel poverty strategy for over a decade, and it will really address the problems that the hon. Gentleman has raised.

T2. [901985] Mel Stride (Central Devon) (Con): The potential value of shale gas to our economy and to communities up and down our country is immense. Will my right hon. Friend therefore join me in congratulating the Government on having headed off the attempts by the European Union to regulate this sector? Does he agree that our success in heading off that attempt is very much due to the fact that we have among the safest regulation in this sector of any country in the world?

Mr Davey: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question, because I was very much involved in those discussions with the European Commission and European colleagues. The House needs to be clear that the European Commission

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is talking about something that we proposed—namely, publishing guidance about how existing European directives on things such as emissions, water and mining should apply to the new shale oil and gas industry. It is also worth noting that our regulations, which we have updated and ensured are fit for purpose, are the strongest in the world.

T3. [901986] Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): When I met three businesses in Wrexham last Friday, they told me that the green deal was not working for them or for consumers. Will the Minister confirm that 99% of applications for the green deal do not proceed to completion?

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Gregory Barker): Certainly not; I do not recognise that figure at all. In fact, new research published today says that over 80% of people who have a green deal assessment are extremely satisfied with it, and only 5% of those who have an assessment—over 117,000 have been undertaken so far—do not go on to install some of the measures that it recommends. We are not only assessing but implementing, and Labour Members need to get over it.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): We need a little brevity to get through topical questions.

T6. [901989] Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): I was interested to see that the Prime Minister confirmed this week that people living near shale gas sites would enjoy an additional financial benefit. Ministers have confirmed the principle that that should be available to those who live near large-scale onshore wind and large-scale onshore solar array projects. Can the Minister confirm that people who live near such projects will definitely, and on every occasion, enjoy that benefit?

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Michael Fallon): Yes. What has been proposed for shale gas is exactly the same as what will apply for large-scale wind farms and large-scale solar farms. Local authorities will be able to enjoy the benefits of 100% business rate retention, and it is only right that local people should therefore get some of the benefit.

T4. [901987] Mrs Emma Lewell-Buck (South Shields) (Lab): Last year, the number of additional winter deaths in the north-east hit a 10-year high. Many vulnerable people living in my constituency would have benefited from having better insulated homes, but since the introduction of the Government’s energy company obligation the number of households having insulation installed has fallen by 90%. How does the Minister explain this shocking step backwards?

Mr Davey: We take the issue of winter deaths very seriously. If the hon. Lady looks at the numbers, she will see that, over a decade and a half or more, they have fluctuated. In fact, the largest amount of winter deaths we have known in the past decade and a half was under the previous Government. We need to have a sober, mature debate on how we tackle winter death, which is a very serious problem that needs to be dealt

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with through the health service, housing, and so on. The changes we made to ECO before Christmas are very good news for people in fuel poverty, because we have not only kept the amount of ECO that goes towards dealing with fuel poverty but extended it for two more years.

Mr Douglas Carswell (Clacton) (Con): A number of homes in Clacton and Jaywick have been insulated under the “Insulating Jaywick” scheme using ECO funding, but I am told that the funding is no longer available, work has stopped and many local people who thought they had signed up to the scheme have been left rather disappointed. Will the Minister please meet me to discuss whether any funding may be available and from what source?

Gregory Barker: I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend. The message we have tried to give this morning is that the ECO scheme has actually been extended, rather than shortened, and the number of people who will be helped by ECO has grown as a result of the package that has been announced. I would be very happy to discuss specifics with my hon. Friend.

T5. [901988] Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): May I say, as a humanist and on behalf of the humanist society in this place, that we respect the work that Paul Goggins did and the way in which he was inspired by his faith? His passing is greatly mourned by all his humanist colleagues. Has the Minister visited Sellafield recently to see the wonderful work going on to get rid of the legacy waste from the Windscale nuclear weapons programme? Is he aware that the 10,000 highly skilled workers there are going to lose their jobs as a result of the plan to shut down the reprocessing plant? Will he meet the workers when they come to this place to address the all-party group on nuclear energy?

Michael Fallon: I would be very happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and, indeed, a delegation from that group when they come down to this place. He will know about the significant investment that has gone into Sellafield through the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. Obviously, we want to see what prospects there are for continuing that work.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): In order to reassure constituents of mine who are concerned about fracking for shale gas, will my right hon. Friend please set out the range of licences and regulatory approvals any company will have to have in place before it can extract shale gas?

Michael Fallon: The regulatory road map we published in December makes it clear that any developer must have a licence from the Department; planning permission from the local minerals authority; the necessary permits from the Environment Agency; authorisation from the Health and Safety Executive that its method of fracturing is safe and poses no threat to the environment; and, finally, consent from my Department to proceed.

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T7. [901991] Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab): In the light of the Government’s announcements this week on shale gas, will the Minister give an update on his Department’s current plans for harnessing energy from the Severn estuary?

Michael Fallon: As I said earlier in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), we published the final strike prices for both tidal and wave in December. We continue to take an interest in that particular project, which, of course, has to be commercially sustainable. I am sure that those behind the project are aware of what they have to do to bring it to the market.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): Last week a constituent came to my surgery complaining of being bombarded with Government literature urging him to apply for the warm home discount and quoting the Secretary of State assuring the Select Committee that it was available to all pensioners, but, because my constituent is in sheltered accommodation and pays his energy bills via his housing association, he has been told that he does not qualify. Is the Secretary of State aware of this anomaly and is anything being done about it?

Mr Davey: I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question. There are one or two anomalies with the way in which the warm home discount works. We are looking at how we can tackle that, not least in our approach to the fuel poverty strategy, which will be published later this spring.

T8. [901992] Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): As Électricité de France has just agreed a strike price for nuclear-generated electricity in France of £38 per MWh, why have the Government agreed to pay nearly three times that price—£92 per MWh—to Électricité de France and guaranteed to index link that price for the next 35 years?

Mr Davey: I think the hon. Gentleman is referring to the statement by the chairman of INEOS, who claims he has made this particular arrangement. Clearly, we do not know the details of the contract, but I would be very interested to know them. I challenge INEOS: if it wants to sell cheap electricity to the UK, we would be very happy for it to come on to our markets. However, I do not think that this is a case of comparing apples with apples, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman is well aware.

Sir Nick Harvey (North Devon) (LD): The offshore wind industry has seen some significant setbacks of late. What is the Government’s strategy now—are they effectively writing it off and looking to other renewable technologies to meet targets, or do they still want to exploit it, and if so, will they conduct a lessons-learned exercise?

Mr Davey: I can tell my hon. Friend that there is no need for a lessons-learned exercise, because the offshore wind industry is in very healthy form. Of course, one or two projects will not go ahead—that may be for geological reasons, such as the one off the north Devon coast—but that is nothing to do with our regime. Some offshore wind projects will not get contracts for difference, but that is because we are going for the best value-for-money projects.

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The good news is that we have more installed offshore wind capacity in this country than in any other country. According to independent analysis, we are the best place to come and invest in offshore wind. When we announce those who have won the go-early CfDs in March, I am very confident that more offshore wind will come forward.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): The emission level of coal is roughly 820g of CO2 per kWh, and the emission level of natural gas is roughly 430g of CO2 per kWh. Will the Minister say what he expects the emission level of shale gas to be?

Michael Fallon: We have published a study by the chief scientist at the Department on the likely emission level of shale gas. Let me take this opportunity to tell the House that we have of course now signed on the first carbon capture and storage project at Drax, which I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome. We hope to follow that with the second CCS project in Scotland very shortly.

Charles Hendry (Wealden) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend welcome the decision of Chevron this week to allocate at least 75% of the work for the Alder field development in the North sea to companies in the UK supply chain? Will he congratulate his officials in DECC’s office in Aberdeen on how they have worked tirelessly to achieve that outcome, which is a huge boost of confidence in the UK supply chain and will be worth many tens of millions of pounds?

Mr Davey: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. I will certainly congratulate my officials in the Aberdeen office, who do tremendous work both for the oil and gas industry directly and in helping the supply chain. The industrial strategy that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and I published last year has made a big difference in saying to those in the oil and gas supply chain that we want them to contract with British fabricators and other British companies.

Finally, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for leading the all-party group set up under the industrial strategy to create better communications with the supply chain and to make it clear to international companies that they should consider using British companies as part of their projects.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): As a Bristol MP, I have had many e-mails over the past few weeks about the use of Government subsidies to support building power stations to burn trees, such as the Helius Energy power station in Avonmouth. Will the Minister give me his assessment of the environmental impact of burning trees for power?

Mr Davey: The hon. Lady raises the issue of biomass. We are, indeed, trying to promote biomass in this country, but we have made sure that there is a cap on new dedicated biomass. We want to focus on coal stations that are converting to biomass, because that will mean a much better carbon gain. We have also published the strictest sustainability criteria for biomass in the world. We believe that biomass has a role to play

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in the transition to a green economy, but we realise that we need to take account of sustainability concerns as well.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): This morning, a report was launched by the foundation industries, which are the core of our economy. Some of them, such as the steel, cement and glass industries, use enormous amounts of energy. They have made it clear

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that if they are to remain competitive, energy prices should not be out of kilter with those of their competitors. Will the Secretary of State work with his colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to ensure that these industries are attended to?

Mr Davey: I assure my hon. Friend that I am working with my colleagues in BIS. After this Question Time, I am meeting our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to discuss this very matter.

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Business of the House

10.34 am

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

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

Monday 20 January—Second Reading of the Intellectual Property Bill [Lords], followed by motion to approve a carry-over extension to the Children and Families Bill, followed by general debate on payday loan companies. The subject for this debate was determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Tuesday 21 January—Opposition Day [18th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, including on the subject of pub companies.

Wednesday 22 January—Consideration of Lords Amendments to the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, followed by motion to approve a European document relating to the Commission work programme 2014.

Thursday 23 January—Debate on a motion relating to the Shrewsbury 24 and release of papers, followed by a general debate on Holocaust memorial day. The subjects for both debates were determined by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 24 January—Private Members’ Bills.

The provisional business for the week commencing 27 January will include:

Monday 27 January—Consideration in Committee and remaining stages of the European Union (Approvals) Bill [Lords].

Tuesday 28 January—Second Reading of a Bill.

Wednesday 29 January—Opposition Day [19th Allotted Day]. There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Thursday 30 January—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 31 January—The House will not be sitting.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 13 February will be:

Thursday 13 February—A debate on the third report of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee report on supporting the creative economy.

Ms Eagle: I am sure that I am not alone in being disappointed not to be able to be at the funeral of our friend and colleague Paul Goggins today at Salford cathedral. We are all thinking of him and his family.

I had wanted to thank the Leader of the House for announcing next week’s jam-packed and exciting programme of Government business, but it is becoming increasingly hard to find any. Last week, he refused to reveal what has happened to the elusive centrepiece of the Queen’s Speech, the Immigration Bill, so I will ask him again. When will that Bill return to the House and what on earth is the hold-up? It certainly is not a lack of Government time, as he tried to claim last week.

Last Thursday, the Leader of the House also refused to tell us whether the Government are considering scheduling the Queen’s Speech during the pre-election

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purdah. I see that we still have no date. Will he now give us the date of the Queen’s Speech, or at least rule out staging the state opening during the election period, which would be a clear breach of the rules?

The lobbying Bill—one piece of legislation that we will debate next week—is in a complete mess. We have had a panicked pause and a flurry of amendments designed to silence the huge chorus of critical voices, but the Government still managed to lose two crucial votes in the Lords. Even in its current form, the Bill is an unworkable disgrace that threatens legitimate democratic debate, while letting commercial lobbyists off the hook. Last night, the other place defeated the Government by more than 40 votes to exclude some staff costs from the slashed spending limits. Will the Leader of the House accept that amendment when the Bill returns to this House next week?

The publication of papers from the National Archives under the 30-year rule has suggested that Mrs Thatcher’s Government may have played a role in the devastating attack on the Golden Temple in Amritsar. I welcome the Cabinet Secretary’s investigation, but I would like the Leader of the House to give an assurance to the House that no documents will be withheld from the inquiry and that the Foreign Secretary will give a prompt and full statement to the House and make the conclusions of the report public.

On Tuesday, during Health questions, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter), appeared to rule out any statutory regulation to prevent psychotherapists from providing gay-to-straight conversion therapy, arguing that a ban could have “unintended consequences”. Being gay is not an illness and should never be treated as something that can be cured. Aversion therapy is an abhorrent practice and the Government should be taking action to stop it. May we have a statement from the Secretary of State for Health to clarify the Government’s position on those issues? Will the Leader of the House tell us whether the Government will support the private Member’s Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), which would ban such so-called therapies?

It is now nearly a year since the Prime Minister gave the speech that was supposed to end all Tory divisions on Europe, and it is fair to say that it has not been a roaring success. Within weeks, Tory Back Benchers had amended his own Queen’s Speech motion, and they have not stopped banging on about Europe ever since. This week, there has been a letter from 95 Tory MPs demanding a veto on all EU legislation. Does the Leader of the House agree with his Cabinet colleague, the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who has described that latest Tory Eurosceptic initiative as “right-wing national escapism”? Or does he agree with me that we should build bridges with Europe to deliver real reform, in Britain’s national interest, rather than petulantly threaten to leave?

The Government are so out of ideas that they have run out of legislation 16 months early; so determined to stand up for the wrong people that they defend massive bankers’ bonuses; and so out of touch that they would rather squabble about Europe than govern in the national interest. I understand from press reports this week that Ministers have spent thousands of pounds on acting

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lessons from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. I think the whole country will agree that whatever their method, it is time the Government exited stage right.

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for her response to the statement of business. In particular, I join her and our colleagues, including Mr Speaker, who will be representing the House in Salford cathedral today, in expressing our continuing condolence to Paul Goggins’s family and friends.

The hon. Lady asked about the timing of the Immigration Bill. The remaining stages will be announced in due course. I love to leave the House wanting more, and I think I have done that today, not least for the week after next.

The hon. Lady asked about the timing of the Queen’s Speech. I am sorry, but I think she is trying to engender a certain indignation about that. I have made no announcement, and she will recall that last year, I announced the date of the Queen’s Speech on 7 March, so it would be premature to make an announcement at this point.

The hon. Lady is still living in a fantasy world on the impact of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill. It will not stop charities and other campaigning organisations campaigning on policies or issues. It will do what it says on the tin—introduce additional transparency and a requirement that those who wish directly to influence the outcome of elections must register to do so. In response to extensive consultation with many dozens of stakeholders, we have brought forward a number of amendments in the other place. If she had cared to read the debates from Monday and Wednesday in the House of Lords, she would have discerned that there is now a lot of compromise and reconciliation on the Bill. Yes, there was a defeat on Monday and a defeat on Wednesday, but we explained carefully why we did not agree with the amendments in question that were tabled in the Lords. The Lords have still to consider the issues further on Third Reading, but I look forward to the debate next Wednesday when I hope we will see a useful Bill passed through both Houses.

The hon. Lady asked about the inquiries into matters back in 1984 relating to the Golden Temple at Amritsar. I do not think I can add anything to what the Prime Minister said yesterday. He has asked the Cabinet Secretary to undertake an immediate review, which will look at all the documents. The Prime Minister was clear yesterday that he would consider whether it was appropriate to make a statement, or for somebody to make a statement, but one cannot really determine what one should say to the House until one has understood the review’s findings.

The hon. Lady asked about what is referred to as conversion therapy. We do not believe that being lesbian, gay or bisexual is an illness to be treated or cured, so as my colleagues have made clear, we are concerned about so-called gay-to-straight conversion therapy. To be clear, the Department of Health does not recommend the use of such therapy, and it is not a National Institute for Health and Care Excellence-recommended treatment. Indeed, clinical commissioning groups must, in the exercise of their functions, have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation and other conduct prohibited under the Equality Act 2010.

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The hon. Lady is right that the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) has a private Member’s Bill on the list for Second Reading on 24 January, but I cannot say whether we will have the opportunity to debate it on that day.

The hon. Lady asks about Europe. I listened to my noble Friend Lord Dobbs in the House of Lords when he promoted the European Union (Referendum) Bill. The unity in the House of Commons was reflected in a substantial and impressive degree of unity among colleagues in the House of Lords. Lord Dobbs said that anybody under the age of 60 did not get to vote in the 1975 referendum, but I am under 60 and I voted. I voted then for a Common Market and I still want to be in one. Many Conservative Members, and hon. Members on both sides of the House, want a European Union that delivers an effective single market that boosts the competitiveness and wealth of the people of Europe. That is what we are looking for.

I should mention one other thing that we are keen to do in the House—I hope those on both Front Benches share this view. We want the role of national Parliaments to be strengthened in relation to decision making in the EU. We want the yellow card procedure to be used. It has been used once and it should be used whenever subsidiarity or proportionality do not justify measures brought forward by the European Commission. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is absolutely right to promote—he is finding friends and allies across Europe in this—a red card procedure for national Parliaments in relation to European decision making.

The House may not have heard, but it was announced this morning that Andrew McDonald, the chief executive of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, will retire at the end of March because of ill health. There will be future opportunities for hon. Members to give our thanks to Andrew before he retires, but in establishing IPSA in 2009, he delivered what at the time seemed to be nigh impossible. Despite his ill health from time to time, he has shown great leadership and professionalism in his role at IPSA. I have found him a great pleasure to work with since I became Leader of the House. His skill will be much missed at IPSA and by the House.

Mr Ian Liddell-Grainger (Bridgwater and West Somerset) (Con): I am sure it has come to the notice of the Leader of the House that, in the past few weeks, we have had disastrous flooding in Somerset—my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath) is in his place. We are desperately in need of a formal debate on flooding. I have a Backbench Business Committee debate on flooding next week, but it is not good enough. We must have time for a debate. Year after year, flooding is a problem in the UK. We must discuss what we are going to do about the Environment Agency, funding and capital to ensure that we stop having to come to the House every year to beg for money from the Government of the day.

Mr Lansley: The Government and hon. Members on both sides of the House have the greatest possible sympathy for those affected by the dramatic flooding events, and particularly for the constituents of hon. Members in Somerset. We offer our support and sympathy.

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I understand my hon. Friend’s point on debates. I hope that, in addition to the support he has already received from the Backbench Business Committee, there is time available from the Committee in the weeks ahead. I hope that he and other colleagues whose constituencies are affected look to the Committee for such debates. They would be much supported on both sides of the House.

From the Government’s point of view, my hon. Friend will recall not least the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and the recent debates on the flood insurance measures in the Water Bill, which reflected how flood management is a priority for the Government. We are investing a record amount and reducing the risk of flooding to 165,000 households during the current spending round. Investment will reduce the risk of flooding for a further 300,000 households in the spending round beyond.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): Yesterday, tucked away in the routine publication of statistics from the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency, we learned that statistics for bovine TB have been suspended because of what the Government agency reported could be a significant over-reporting of the incidence of bovine TB since September 2011. This means that the House has been inadvertently misled on a prime justification for badger culls. Will the Leader of the House demand that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs make an oral statement to the House early next week?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman correctly notes that a system error in the GB bovine TB statistics has been discovered by the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency, which affected some of the monthly statistics published. That has affected the reporting of TB statistics; TB surveillance and disease control regimes have continued to operate normally. No livestock businesses should have been directly impacted. The scheduled publication happened, but some of the figures that would normally have been included have been excluded for now. Urgent work to put right the error is ongoing, and a full set of statistics will be published as soon as possible.

Mr David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): May we have a debate on transparency and the use of public funds in local government? In Somerset, a previous leader of the county council fell out with the chief executive and summarily sacked him in 2009. That cost Somerset council taxpayers more than a third of a million pounds. It now appears that exactly the same thing is happening again. The present chief executive is “out of the office” and has been for seven weeks. No statement has been made by the council, and members of the council have been gagged by a confidentiality clause. Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government—who I gather is in my constituency this week, although he has not had the courtesy to tell me—to investigate?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend will understand it if I do not comment on the specific case in Somerset to which he refers, but I hope he knows that we are taking steps

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to simplify the process used for resolving disputes with senior council staff. Indeed, the Secretary of State announced that the designated independent person process is to be abolished and steps will be taken to enhance the transparency of local decisions taken by the full council to provide the necessary protection for senior officers. Soundings were taken on the current proposals. That process closed on 14 January and the Department is currently considering the responses it has received. That is the general context. I will ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will not only inform the House in due course on how he is proceeding on those matters, but respond specifically to my hon. Friend.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Between June 2011 and September 2013, only 5.4% of the 3,670 disabled people put on the coalition’s Work programme have found jobs. May we please have a debate on the lamentable failure of the Government’s flagship policy for getting disabled people into work?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Lady will be aware of the welfare reforms and poverty debate that took place earlier this week. I hope there will be continuing opportunities to consider the Work programme, because overall one can see how it is making an enormous difference to those who have previously been out of work. On disabled people specifically, I draw the hon. Lady’s attention to the written ministerial statement today from my hon. Friends at the Department for Work and Pensions on the publication of “Better Working with Disabled People”. I hope that that shows how the partnership with disabled people and their representatives is improving under this Government.

Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): I have been approached by a constituent who has seen her arrears increase since Law of Property Act 1925 receivers were appointed to manage her property. May we have an urgent debate on the role and regulation of LPA receivers?

Mr Lansley: I will not dilate on the issue of LPA receivers at present, but I will ask my hon. Friends to reply directly to my hon. Friend. I cannot promise a debate at the moment, but by raising the issue he has enabled us to focus additional attention on it.

Gavin Shuker (Luton South) (Lab/Co-op): A series of UN Security Council resolutions dating back to 1948 have sought to bring resolution in the disputed area of Kashmir. Will time be made available by the Government for a debate to allow the voices of the people of Kashmir to be heard?

Mr Lansley: Like many hon. Members, the hon. Gentleman will be aware of the continuing concern among many of our constituents about Kashmir. I cannot promise a debate at the moment, but I have heard the Foreign Secretary respond sympathetically on these issues, so the hon. Gentleman might consider raising them at Foreign Office questions next Tuesday.

Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): I was going to ask for a debate on the mice infestation in my office, but I suspect there would be so many Members scampering into the Chamber to take part that there would not be time, so I shall not do so.

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I am pleased that the Government will be spending £18 billion during this Parliament on new school buildings and developments to existing ones, but may we have a debate on the time scales for these improvements to ensure that there are shorter periods between the agreement of funding, an agreement on the design of the schools and the start of the building projects?

Hon. Members: Answer the one about the mice.

Mr Lansley: I am scurrying to answer. I was just wondering whether there were any traps in my hon. Friend’s question.

My hon. Friend will recall that when we came into office, under the previous Government’s Building Schools for the Future programme no school construction had started. It is the experience of many Members that considerable reductions in costs and an acceleration in process have been achieved under this Government through the new Priority School Building programme. The Secretary of State recently announced that 260,000 schools places had already been created under this Government, and additional substantial funding has been announced that I think takes the funding over this four-year period to about two and a half to three times what it was under the previous Government. All that is positive news. We want to ensure that plans put in place are cost-effective and achieved in as timely a fashion as possible, and I know that that is the intention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Pat Glass (North West Durham) (Lab): Members on both sides of the House have long had concerns about the badger cull, the Government’s case for its efficiency and effectiveness, and its very morality. We now find out that their case is based on largely dodgy statistics. May we have a debate in Government time on this issue, which is so important to our constituents?

Mr Lansley: I do not think that the hon. Lady should get too carried away until the statisticians have quantified the error. One should not characterise the situation as she did and certainly should not exaggerate. The Government have been assiduous in bringing this issue back for the House to consider, and I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will continue to do so.

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): One of the potential benefits of devolution is that different Administrations can follow different policies, giving us the opportunity to learn from each other. There is particular concern about the performance of education in Wales. May we have a debate about how devolution operates, and about possible mechanisms for making direct comparisons so that we can learn from each other about how different Administrations work?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend rightly points to concerns, not least those captured in the OECD’s statistics on educational attainment. Those statistics, which make comparisons between countries, including England and Wales, show a worrying lack of attainment in reading and mathematics in Wales, and it is important to deal with that. In my view, this is not an intrinsic criticism of devolution, but much more a criticism of the policies pursued by the devolved Administration in Wales. We

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do not need a change in the devolution settlement to tackle these issues; we need a change of Government in Wales—away from a Labour Government.

Jonathan Ashworth (Leicester South) (Lab): I listened to the Leader of the House’s answer on the revelations about the Golden Temple in Amritsar. This issue has caused much shock and upset for many of my constituents of all faiths. The Prime Minister indicated yesterday that he thought that a statement might be in order. I hope that we get that statement; many of my constituents will be disappointed if we do not. I also impress on the Leader of the House the need for the inquiry to report quickly, rather than being kicked into the long grass, as some of my constituents fear.

Mr Lansley: Let me say to the hon. Gentleman what I said to the shadow Leader of the House. As soon as the Prime Minister was aware of the issue, he took action and asked for a review, which is fair enough, but it is not our practice to say that we are going to make a statement until we are in possession of all the facts. It is reasonable for us to operate on that basis. Rather than the hon. Gentleman and others trying to decide what happened, it would be better to wait and find out what happened.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): May we have an early debate on the procedures to be followed for fracking? A number of fracking licences are being applied for in my area, and I honestly do not know what procedure applies. We heard in Energy and Climate Change questions that there will be a strategic environmental assessment through which we might be able to find out what the licences cover. There is an important difference between the shallow fracking that currently takes place and deep fracking, which will send shock waves through the countryside and is a matter of much greater concern.

Mr Lansley: I know that my hon. Friend was in the Chamber for Energy and Climate Change questions, so she will have heard about some of the essentials of what a regulatory road map for fracking licences would look like. I know that Members are seeking opportunities for debates through the Backbench Business Committee, and I am sure that the House will continue to consider this issue.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I was a bit surprised by the Leader of the House’s answer to the question about the Queen’s Speech. There is a major innovation here because, for the first time ever, the Government have delayed the local elections until 22 May—the date to which the European elections have been brought forward—and the right hon. Gentleman has already announced the date on which we go into recess as 22 May, meaning that the only way of having the Queen’s Speech in May would be to hold it during purdah. Surely he can just rule out bringing Her Majesty here and tying her into party politics by having the Queen’s Speech during an election period.

Mr Lansley: Given that I have not made any announcement about the date of the Queen’s Speech, everything that the hon. Gentleman has said is pure speculation.

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Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con): In what can be described only as a slam-dunk start to 2014, Rossendale and Darwen has heard the announcement that it is the biggest climber in the UK competitiveness index, we have been awarded £2 million to restore our town centre in Bacup and two new major employers are opening up in Darwen. May we have a debate in Government time about how the Government’s long-term economic plan is working and on how Rossendale and Darwen, east Lancashire and your constituency of Chorley, Mr Deputy Speaker, are the best places in Britain in which to start and grow a business?

Mr Lansley: I wish I had time available for such a debate, which would provide an excellent opportunity for my hon. Friend to showcase and pay tribute to what Rossendale and Darwen is doing. It would provide a fantastic opportunity for us to debate the clear success of the Government’s long-term economic plan. We are reducing the deficit, cutting income tax and fuel duty, creating more jobs, capping welfare, reducing immigration and, of course, delivering on better schools and skills, all of which is exemplified in Rossendale.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): May I say, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you would never need acting lessons from RADA?

The Leader of the House knows of my continuing obsession with the accountancy profession and particular auditing processes—or a lack of them—regarding the banking scandal. May I point him to a particular worry about a company called Grant Thornton, which is involved in a relationship with Kaupthing bank in the context of the Icelandic banking collapse? The relationship between that bank and the Serious Fraud Office is a matter of much speculation, and it is believed that £400 million of taxpayers’ money is being held back by Grant Thornton, meaning that the public cannot get it. May we have a debate on the accountancy profession and Grant Thornton’s practices?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman will understand that I am not in a position to comment on any of the specifics in that question. He will have noted that there was an Opposition debate on banking yesterday. In our previous exchanges at business questions, the passage of the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Act 2013 afforded him the opportunity to raise such issues.

Mr Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): May I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend and hon. Members to the House of Commons Members’ Fund Bill, which I introduced and which is scheduled for Second Reading tomorrow? The Bill will reform the archaic and costly legislation that governs the benevolent fund that exists to help former Members of Parliament and their dependants who fall on hard times. It will reduce costs and reflect changing circumstances, thereby enabling us to forgo a Treasury grant, to suspend the £2 monthly payment that each Member makes to the fund and to return £1 million to the Treasury, while also ensuring that the fund remains capable of meeting ongoing needs given that, sadly, hardship continues to occur among former Members. If the Bill receives its Second Reading, will my right hon. Friend expedite—

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Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. I think that the Leader of the House has got the gist of the right hon. Gentleman’s question.

Mr Lilley rose—

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sorry, but I am sure that the Leader of the House will manage to construct an answer from what the right hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who chairs the Members’ fund and whose stewardship of it, along with that of his colleagues, has been very effective. I think that anyone who cares to read the explanatory notes accompanying his Bill will appreciate what a sensible and welcome reform he proposes. He might have been wondering whether, if the Bill receives its Second Reading tomorrow, the Government will table a money motion in support of it, and I can tell him that that would be our intention.

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): The Business Sprinkle Alliance organises fire sprinkler week, which this year will begin on 3 February. The Building Research Establishment and the Centre for Economics and Business Research have published data showing that fire causes £1 billion of losses to the United Kingdom economy every five years. Can we expect a statement from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in support of fire sprinkler week?

Mr Lansley: I will of course draw what the hon. Gentleman rightly says to the attention of my colleagues in BIS. They may well be aware of the facts that he has given, and supportive of what he has said. I think he will agree that, overall, this country’s fire prevention measures have been remarkably successful, but it is nevertheless important for us to maintain them, because there are still occasional tragic instances in which fires result in injuries or fatalities that could have been avoided if the right sprinklers and other preventive measures had been in place.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Business questions probably constitutes one of the most important sessions in the week. We have two star performers who do not need any acting lessons, but the real advantage of being here for business questions is that we learn the truth, as well as new things. Today we have learned from the shadow Leader of the House that the Labour party is in favour of continuing our present relationship with the European Union and is opposed to an EU referendum, and we have learned from the Leader of the House—I do not think that even the Prime Minister has said this—that the Conservative party now wants to return to a common market and nothing else. That is really good news, so will the Leader of the House arrange a debate on whether the EU should become just a common market, and give our Liberal Democrat colleagues the right to vote against that proposal along with Labour Members?

Mr Lansley: As I said when I announced the future business, we expect the remaining stages of the European Union (Approvals) Bill to be debated on Monday week. I think that that will give Members an opportunity to

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continue to debate specific issues relating to the Europe for Citizens programme which, in my view, illustrates the capacity for positive co-operation across Europe that extends beyond the achievement of a common market.

I fear that I must inform my hon. Friend that while I said that I had voted for a common market and that I wanted one, I did not say that I had voted for a common market and nothing else. However, I think that there is as yet unfinished work to be done in the establishment of a single market, and that one of the best things that we can achieve in Europe is to become the strongest and most influential advocates of a competitive single market. I thought that the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor earlier this week amply illustrated the benefits of that competitiveness to Europe, the necessity of achieving it, and the dangers of not doing so.

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of the closure of North Skelton ironstone mine, which was the last ironstone mine in East Cleveland to close. East Cleveland ironstone fed Teesside’s iron and steel industry from the days of Bolckow and Pease, with great structures such as the Sydney harbour bridge being smelted from East Cleveland iron on the banks of the Tees. More than 30 men and boys were recorded as dying in North Skelton pits, so may we have a debate on making Skinningrove’s East Cleveland ironstone mining museum the nation’s ironstone mining museum?

Mr Lansley: I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman says and think that he makes an important point about the history and circumstances of his constituency. I cannot promise a debate, but he has put his important points on record and there may be further opportunities for him to raise them.

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): May I associate myself with the words of the Front Benchers about Paul Goggins? Paul was a lovely man, and we worked together over the past three or so years as members of the Intelligence and Security Committee. The Leader of the House will be aware that that Committee has got some new and inflated powers, following the passage of the Justice and Security Act 2013. Will he therefore reinstitute the annual debate in Government time on matters of security and intelligence?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend is right that that Committee has important new responsibilities and powers under that Act. It was not an invariable practice that the Government would hold an annual debate, but it is also the case that, when the Backbench Business Committee was established, it was clear that a number of general debates that had taken place in Government time previously should properly be considered by the Backbench Business Committee as debates in its time. I have had a continuing conversation about that with the Chairs of the ISC and the BBC.

Valerie Vaz (Walsall South) (Lab): Any attack on a place of worship must be condemned so, on behalf of my constituents and those of other Members, may I ask that all the documents in respect of what happened at

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Amritsar in 1984 that are in the custody and control of the Government are released so that we have full transparency?

Mr Lansley: Without wishing to repeat myself, let me say that I completely understand and share the concern the hon. Lady raises, but I urge Members not to prejudge the circumstances then until we know more.

Mr Lee Scott (Ilford North) (Con): With the rise and re-emergence of anti-Semitism across mainland Europe and its links to organisations in the United Kingdom, may we have a debate about how we can stamp out that vile practice?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question and I think that the whole House will be grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for allocating time for a debate to commemorate Holocaust memorial day next Thursday. Recently, of course, we received the findings of a survey by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights showing that, regrettably, two thirds of respondents considered anti-Semitism to be a problem, while three quarters said that the situation had got worse over the past five years. While that survey found that the UK Jewish community had more confidence in the authorities here and were less nervous about anti-Semitism than communities elsewhere in Europe, there are too many anti-Semitic incidents, so we need to work actively with civil society to challenge anti-Semitism through education and better reporting, and by tackling hate crime.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): As we have heard about Ministers’ acting lessons, may we have a written statement from the Prime Minister about the cast of characters—the 96—who wrote to him about the European Union, because do not the public and this House have a right to know who are the principal players in the Euro soap opera that is the current Conservative party?

Mr Lansley: As I understand it, the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s question is flawed in that the reference to money being paid for drama lessons was in relation to civil servants, not Ministers.

Paul Uppal (Wolverhampton South West) (Con): As the only Sikh Member of the House of Commons, and as a Sikh who was 16 when the attack on the Golden Temple happened, I would like to advise hon. Members that, 30 years after that event, what Sikhs actually want is an end to rumour, suspicion and speculation. What they all want is the truth, and I ask all Members of this House to avoid politicising this because it is much more important than that.

Turning to my substantive question to the Leader of the House, Wolverhampton council is seeking to close Wolverhampton central baths. A petition has been signed by 6,000 people including myself. May we have a debate on safeguarding valuable facilities such as Wolverhampton baths?

Mr Lansley: I completely agree with my hon. Friend, and I hope that Members throughout the House will take on board and follow his prescription in relation to the events in Amritsar. He is quite right to say that the truth needs to be established.

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I also completely agree with my hon. Friend’s point about swimming pools. Local authorities have the ability to use their public health resources to look at a wide range of issues, not least because of the reforms brought in by this Government, and I hope that they will consider access to swimming pools as a significant source of support for public health. For example, I recall a scheme—in Birmingham, I think—that provided free swimming opportunities for older people as part of the local authority’s public health measures.

Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab): Shares in Royal Mail closed at 616p yesterday, which was their highest ever price and 90% more than the issue price of 330p. May we have a statement from the Business Secretary on why he sold Royal Mail at 330p, and why he finds it acceptable that the taxpayers of this country lost £750 million?

Mr Lansley: The Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon) gave evidence to the BIS Committee that amply illustrated how, after many years of failure to secure the necessary private sector investment in Royal Mail, this was a very positive step forward. Securing a successful sale was an achievement. The Secretary of State and the Minister responded to the points put to them, and the Select Committee will report in due course.

Eric Ollerenshaw (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Con): Does not Monday’s welcome news that the Government are going to offer more to communities that might be affected by fracking add to the need for a full debate on the Floor of the House about the community compensation scheme for fracking so that we can determine whether enough is being offered, whether the scheme needs statutory underpinning and how we can protect future funds as an addition to other local government funding?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend will recall what the Prime Minister said yesterday in response to a question from the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) about this subject—he was very supportive of continuing to discuss it with the Local Government Association. My ministerial colleagues and I will ensure that the House is updated in response to the points that my hon. Friend has rightly raised.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Headlines in the past few days’ papers have stated that sugar is the tobacco of today’s age and warned of the dangerous levels of obesity and diabetes resulting from the addition of sugar, salt and carbohydrates to the foods that we eat. This is not just a health issue. Will the Leader of the House arrange that we have a statement—or, better still, a debate—on this important subject?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman will recall the responses from the Prime Minister yesterday and from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health last week on this issue. I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman; one of the objectives that we are achieving through the responsibility deal is the reduction of sugar in foods in a

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manner that reflects the successful approach that we have taken to the reduction of salt. This is not something we can unilaterally impose, not least because of the structure of the single market. Making misleading comparisons with tobacco is unhelpful in this context; any consumption of tobacco is harmful, whereas it is the excessive consumption of sugar that is harmful. We want to tackle the inclusion of excessive amounts of sugar in food, and we can do so.

Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): May we have a statement following the visit of the President of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, which resulted in a significant joint communiqué yesterday that reaffirmed the active commitment of the Prime Minister and the President to a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem? Significantly, it included an agreement to allow property development within the sovereign base areas. Does not that demonstrate that the British Government are a true friend of Cyprus?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. Yesterday’s meeting between the Prime Minister and the President of Cyprus was very welcome, and the statement was an important one. I hope that, as a result, there will be opportunities for my ministerial colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to set out further details relating to this matter.

Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab/Co-op): On Monday, the House passed a motion, with massive all-party support, calling for a commission of inquiry into the effects on poverty of the Government’s welfare reforms. I know that the Leader of the House is a great defender of Back-Bench debates and motions. Will he tell us when the Government intend to establish such a commission of inquiry?

Mr Lansley: I cannot give the hon. Gentleman any positive response in that regard. Backbench Business Committee debates are important, and we continually look at the conclusions that are reached and the contributions to those debates. However, I cannot give him any specifics about the date of any commission.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): For many years, schools in my county of Leicestershire have bumped along at the very bottom of the education funding league tables, in stark contrast to schools in Leicester city. Each pupil there has £700 more funding than those in the county, while areas in my constituency have severe deprivation. Please may we have a debate on a fairer funding model for schools?

Mr Lansley: I hope that my hon. Friend will know that the Government agree that the current funding system—the one we inherited—is unfair and irrational. We have already introduced important reforms to ensure more transparency and consistency in the way in which school budgets are set locally, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education will announce shortly how we plan to continue the reforms by taking steps to address the current unfair distribution of funding between local areas.

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): As the House knows, there is an excellent rock band in the House, MP4, but if Scotland secedes from the Union, it will be MP3. Will

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the Leader of the House assure us that if that were to happen, proper auditions would be held, with him, to ensure that there is a new keyboard player for MP4?

Mr Lansley: It is a matter of regret that I was not able to attend the concert on Tuesday, but I hope it went well and I have listened to the CD.

Ms Angela Eagle: Gig.

Mr Lansley: Yes, I am still in the 1970s—that is when I used to organise concerts. My approach to this matter would be to say that we are better together.

Nick de Bois (Enfield North) (Con): If the Leader of the House was unfortunate enough to be commuting on the Hertford loop over the past four months, he would know that First Capital Connect and Network Rail have combined to give the most sustained period of heavy delays, cancellations and limited rolling stock, resulting in passengers having to resort to bikes on some days. My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) has joined me in meetings with those companies, but we feel that yet more progress has to be made, particularly with negotiations for a new franchise coming up. Will the Leader of the House find time for us to have a debate on this appalling service in our constituencies?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend will know that if he were able, with others, to go to the Backbench Business Committee, he might find time in an Adjournment debate or in Westminster Hall to raise these specific issues. However, in order to be as helpful as I can, I will ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to look specifically at the issues that he and his colleague raise.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): May I ask the Leader of the House once again to look at the issue of housing in this country? Will he examine the terrible combination of the benefit cap, cuts in benefits altogether and the sky-high private sector rents in London, which are leading to the social cleansing of whole areas of our capital city? We need urgent action on this, including a debate on the need to bring in realistic rent controls so that housing is affordable for everyone in this country, not just the privileged minority.

Mr Lansley: I assure the hon. Gentleman that this Government are as focused as any Government in recent history on increasing the supply of housing, from the woefully low levels occurring in the years before the last general election. Included in that is the achievement of additional affordable housing; we have 170,000 more affordable houses, following the lamentable decline of more than 400,000 in the number of social houses available under the previous Government.

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): At the north of England education conference this week, Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw said that the quality of teaching was improving. He also said:

“We have never had a more motivated, more qualified, more enthused generation of young teachers than we have now”.

That is a very encouraging quote. Please may we have a debate on what is being done to bring the brightest and

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best into our teaching profession, and to retain them, because that is vital to ensuring that our educational standards keep improving?

Mr Lansley: I agree with my hon. Friend. Not only Sir Michael Wilshaw, but The Times Educational Supplement has made it clear that there has probably never been a better time to be a teacher and to join the teaching profession, and the quality of teachers in our schools is at one of the highest levels it has ever been. That is partly because of the reform of initial teacher training, and 74% of graduates entering initial teacher training now have a 2:1 degree or higher—that proportion is the highest on record.

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): May we have a debate on education, particularly on the refusal of Tory councils to support or invest in community schools? That would give me the opportunity to raise the case of Sulivan school in Fulham, one of the best performing primaries in the country, which on Monday Hammersmith and Fulham council will decide to close and demolish solely so that its site can be given to a free school.

Mr Lansley: I cannot comment on the particular case, but I will of course ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education to look at the matter and respond. I will discover more about the circumstances then. In my experience, there is an undoubted determination on the part of councils—I know Hammersmith and Fulham as a council pretty well—to ensure improvement in the provision of schools.

Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Earlier this month, we had the welcome news that £29 million is being allocated to Harrow council for the creation of new school places. As a result, 13 schools will get 2,845 new places. That is in direct contrast to two years ago when the then Labour-run council failed even to submit a bid for much-needed school places. May we have a debate, on the Floor of the House, on the issue of school places and on ensuring that there is a place for every child in this country to get a proper and decent education?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend raises an issue, which I, if I had time available, would welcome a chance to debate. The announcement before Christmas of additional funding for school places was important and welcome. He will know that since 2011 Harrow has been allocated a total of £36 million for new school places and has also benefited from £34 million of investment through the targeted basic need programme, which will fund the expansion of 15 schools by September 2015.

Paul Flynn (Newport West) (Lab): When can we have a debate to explain to former US Defence Secretary Gates that having a full spectrum of military cover has cost us grievously in the loss of more than 600 of our brave soldiers in two recent avoidable wars? Furthermore, being the fourth highest spender on defence in the world and punching above our weight means that we spend beyond our means and die beyond our responsibilities.

Mr Lansley: If we had such an opportunity with the former US Defence Secretary, he would understand that we, like many across the world, have had to take tough decisions on defence spending. However, he would

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acknowledge that, as a consequence of the decisions this Government have made and the value for money that we are achieving not least in procurement, we have closed that enormous black hole in commitments against resources that our Ministry of Defence had. That has enabled us to plan to spend £160 billion on equipment over the next decade, giving us a formidable range of cutting-edge capabilities. As for the Navy, the new aircraft carrier is almost complete, and the Type 45 destroyers, Type 26 frigates and seven new Astute class submarines are coming into base, which demonstrates that we have the best trained and equipped armed forces outside the United States.

Jeremy Lefroy (Stafford) (Con): The Government’s welcome banking reforms, including the raising of capital, are one part of countering the excessive risk-taking over many years by the banks. Another part of that is for the banks to acknowledge the consequences of that risk- taking. May we have a statement on the slow rate at which banks are looking into things such as the mis-selling of interest rate swaps to so-called unsophisticated investors?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that. The Financial Services (Banking Reform) Act 2013 will allow us to make important steps in ensuring that we have a banking system that is not prey to the regulatory failures of the past. None the less, he makes an important point about mis-selling in relation to interest rate swaps. I know that my hon. Friends at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills are anxious to make progress in settling that. I hope that the new Financial Conduct Authority will see that as one of its priorities.

Mrs Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab): Following the reply given to my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass), will the Leader of the House clarify in what way the significant over-reporting of bovine TB and its associated costs and consequences will be brought before the House?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Lady will have heard me say that although there were statistical errors, they will not have affected the surveillance and they will not have directly affected livestock businesses through costs and impacts. When the statisticians have identified and quantified the errors, there will be an opportunity for Ministers to provide information to the House about the nature of the error.

Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): May we have a statement from the Home Office to highlight the success of the National Crime Agency in cracking an international paedophile internet ring responsible for the online sex abuse of children living in poverty in the Philippines? Will the Leader of the House take this opportunity to congratulate Northamptonshire police, who first uncovered the ring through a routine investigation of the then registered sex offender and now convicted paedophile Timothy Ford in his home in Kettering? Does that not show that sometimes diligent routine local police work can have important international repercussions?

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Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. I was not aware of the role of Northamptonshire police but I am interested to hear about it and I entirely endorse what he has to say about the merits of such diligent police work. The case also demonstrates the importance of the NCA’s focus on some of the issues that are of greatest concern to us all, including child exploitation. The nature of the internet has made it possible for some crimes to be perpetrated across the world and some measures, including the recent ones in Canada, can, along with the international co-operation of which our NCA is a part, give us heightened effectiveness in tackling such organised crime.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Why has the Home Secretary not made a statement to the House on the astonishing admission that police crime figures are fiddled to the point of being totally unreliable? Does the Leader of the House agree that that dreadful state of affairs needs to be addressed urgently?

Mr Lansley: I think we all agree that it is important that recorded crime statistics are as robust as they possibly can be. One of the first things we did when we came into office was to transfer responsibility to an independent Office for National Statistics. It is doing its job, and that is a reflection of an important step that the coalition Government took. The Home Secretary asked the inspectorate to carry out an audit in June of the quality of crime recording in every police force, and only last week she wrote to chief constables emphasising that the police must ensure that crimes are recorded accurately and honestly. It is worth noting that the separate and wholly independent crime survey for England and Wales, endorsed again yesterday by the ONS, also shows a more than 10% reduction in crime over the same period from 2010. Crime now stands at its lowest level since that survey began in 1981. The evidence is clear that police reform is working and crime is falling.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): May we have a debate on the 2014 index of economic freedom, prepared by the Heritage Foundation, so that the House can explore why the UK is placed 14th on the list and why not a single other EU country is categorised as free, whereas countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, Switzerland, New Zealand and Canada are categorised as economically free?

Mr Lansley: I cannot promise my hon. Friend a debate, but he raises an interesting point. I know the Heritage Foundation and the importance of some of the research that it undertakes. The 1.2 million additional jobs created in this country since 2010 are evidence that illustrates to Europe the positive impacts associated with greater economic freedom. That is something that can be understood and appreciated across Europe.

Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): Late last year, a relative of my constituents died while in prison serving a custodial sentence. He was tried and convicted in England but returned to serve part of his sentence in Scotland under what is called a restricted transfer. As I am sure the Leader of the House is aware, when relatives are unable to afford to pay for a funeral the Prison Service is obliged to make a reasonable contribution to funeral expenses, but because

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this situation involved a prisoner convicted of an English offence serving in a Scottish prison neither the Scottish Prison Service nor the English Prison Service will take responsibility for this matter. May we have a statement from the Ministry of Justice about how prisoners who are transferred—or, more accurately, their relatives—are dealt with by the Prison Service?

Mr Lansley: I can understand why the hon. Gentleman raises that issue on behalf of his constituents. It is regrettable that they were placed in that situation. I do not know the circumstances of the case, but I will ask my right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice and his colleagues to look into it and respond to him as soon as possible.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): In November, on the Terrace of this place, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society launched the Now or Never campaign on shaping pharmacy for the future. On Tuesday the Secretary of State for Health met me, pharmacists from Devon and Cornwall, including some from my constituency, and a member of the English Pharmacy Board. Given the Leader of the House’s commitment to putting pharmacists at the centre of the NHS, may we have a debate on how, by sharing data with pharmacists, we can work to take the pressure off GPs and accident and emergency units?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend will know, not least because the all-party group on pharmacy, of which he is a member, has followed these matters carefully, that the last contract under the previous Government promised pharmacists much but delivered very little. There is clearly tremendous potential, previously unrealised, for pharmacies to contribute to public health and prevention, taking the load off the NHS, for example by dealing with minor injuries and medicines management. There is every prospect that NHS England, through its framework pharmacy contract, and clinical commissioning groups have a tremendous incentive to use pharmacies, as do local authorities in relation to some preventive measures. I hope that they will do that. One of the blockages that he rightly refers to under the previous Government was pharmacists’ complete inability to access patients’ summary care records. We need to make it possible for patients to have their conditions monitored and treated and to be provided with medicines in pharmacies through access to that information.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): In the light of recent food scandals, including the horsemeat scandal, may we have a debate in Government time on the importance of food labelling, which allows consumers to know what is in the products they are eating and the country of

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origin? Will he also join me in congratulating Halen Môn Anglesey sea salt on achieving European special status? It is a unique product from a unique county of origin.

Mr Lansley: It is indeed, and I join the hon. Gentleman in congratulating Halen Môn Anglesey sea salt on the designation. It is about not only food safety, but preference, because consumers attach importance to quality. Origin labelling gives them access to the sort of information they want.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): The scandal at Mid Staffordshire still casts a long shadow over the patients, families and health care professionals in my county. I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy)—he is in his place—who has been a sterling champion of local concerns. The Prime Minister has made it clear that he favours having a debate on the matter. Will the Leader of the House find time for such a debate as soon as possible?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend and join him in thanking our hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) and colleagues across Staffordshire for their assiduous work in following up on the concerns of their constituents. He is quite right that the Prime Minister has made it clear that we are looking to have a debate on the Francis report in due course. As I made clear to the House before, I did not feel that it was appropriate to have such a debate before there had been a full Government response. We had that response at the end of last year, and some of it is being reflected in measures coming forward in the Care Bill. However, I hope that it will still be possible to have a more general debate shortly on the Francis report and the Government’s response, because it raises issues much wider than those specifically covered in the Care Bill.

Simon Danczuk (Rochdale) (Lab): When the Government reduced services at Rochdale infirmary and moved some of them to North Manchester general hospital, we were assured by the Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust that adequate public transport would be provided. That clearly has not happened. May we have a debate on the adequacy of public transport links to our local hospitals?

Mr Lansley: I completely understand the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about this because, as he will probably recall, as shadow Secretary of State I was very concerned about access for communities not only in Rochdale, but in Bury and in Rossendale and Darwen, to services in north Manchester. I raised those concerns, along with other Members, at the time. Transport for Greater Manchester has a responsibility in relation to this. I know that the Department for Transport is aware of these issues and is raising them with TFGM.