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It is a delight to open the debate on the Gracious Speech this morning, and to debate industry and the environment together. Those agendas have sometimes been seen as conflicting, but it has become increasingly clear that they must advance together. Business needs to be greener, and greens need to be more business-oriented, because only through innovation and sustainable development can we ensure that society meets the major challenge of our times—tackling climate change.
The prerequisite for industrial success is the strong and stable economy that our country currently enjoys. Our long-term interest rates are around their lowest levels since the 1960s and we are enjoying the longest sustained growth in gross domestic product on record, the longest period of sustained low inflation for 40 years and the highest employment levels in our history. We have narrowed the productivity gap with other leading economies in sectors such as computer, legal, technical and advertising services and we are now, for the first time in generations, as productive as Germany and have overtaken France to become the fourth largest economy in the world. With 2.2 million more people in work since 1997, our employment rate is higher than that of any other G7 country. We have 300,000 more businesses than in 1997, with new companies starting at the rate of more than a thousand every day. Our science base is strong, because we have reversed decades of under-investment. In short, Britain has never worked so productively, created so much wealth and generated so many jobs as in today's enterprising and innovative economy.
All that has not happened through serendipity. It has happened because our workers and businesses have excelled within a supportive economic framework set by this Government, including an independent Bank of England, tough fiscal rules and help for those outside the labour market through the new deal. As a result, Britain has become one of the most favourable environments for starting and growing a business.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment. Does he recall that, when he was a Minister of State, I had the pleasure of shadowing him for a while, and on several occasions, he said that the UK's opt-out from the working time directive was not negotiable? Is that still the case, and what does he say to his socialist Members of the European Parliament who voted to give up that opt-out?
It is still the case that we are determined to maintain the opt-out, and we believe that we have the best situation, because workers in this country have protection and cannot be forced to work beyond 48 hours, but if they choose to work more hours, they should be allowed to do so. The hon. Gentleman should not tempt me to talk about MEPs. I do not know whether he has seen the letter in The Daily Telegraph this morning headed, "Please don't let me elect the new Tory leader." It is from Roger Helmer, Conservative MEP for Lutterworth in Lincolnshire. He says:
"In all three major parties, the MEPs are a self-selecting and unrepresentative group.. the Tory MEPs are unrepresentative of the party's views".
So we are not the only party with problems with European representation.
As I was saying, the situation that I was describing did not come about through serendipity; but because of our businesses and workers, and because of the economic framework that we established. We have enjoyed eight years of economic prosperity, but whereas, in the past, overall material success was secured at the expense of greater equality and workplace protection, this Government have coupled industrial success with the introduction of decent civilised minimum standards for employees. Through the 1980s boom, the best-off saw decent pay rises but the poorest faced living standards that were frozen. In recent years, it is incomes at the bottom end that have grown the fastest. The Government have lifted 700,000 children out of relative poverty and have reduced relative pensioner poverty by a quarter, showing that we have not only increased the incomes of the poorest and most vulnerable but helped them to narrow the gap with the better-off.
I do not dispute what the right hon. Gentleman has just said. However, may I invite him, in the name of social progress and joined-up government, to consider the alternative view? Notwithstanding what the Government have done to help people at the bottom of the scale, it remains the fact that the poorest fifth of the population are now paying in tax overall a larger share of their income than any other group. Will he have a word with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor on that point?
We have taken millions of low-paid workers out of tax altogether. As a result, statistics show that the poorest paid have increased their earnings by 10 per cent. as against 4 per cent. at the richer end. Dealing with relative poverty is always more difficult than dealing with absolute poverty, because everyone is gaining from the prosperity of the country. Of course, tax is an element of that, which is why the working tax credit, the family tax credit and the child tax credit have been such important parts of our policy.
In 1997, there was no protection for vulnerable workers from exploitative rates of pay. We introduced the national minimum wage against fierce and sustained opposition in the House and dire warnings of impending job losses. In 1997, a father could see his child born in the evening, but be compelled to go to work the next morning. We introduced paid paternity leave for the first time for British workers. In 1997, a person could be sacked simply because of their sexual orientation. We introduced protection from discrimination in the workplace. In 1997, workers could be made to work for seven days a week every week with no paid holiday. We have given employees four weeks' paid leave guaranteed, and will ensure that bank holidays are not counted against that entitlement.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the recently announced increase in the minimum wage and the fact that it has stopped the exploitation of people? Will he point out to the House how many people protected by the minimum wage are women?
I certainly accept my hon. Friend's congratulations. The minimum wage was introduced with great deftness. The Low Pay Commission ensured that its introduction did not lead to a loss of jobs in vulnerable industries, and as a result we have been able to bring the minimum wage up to £5.05 this October and £5.35 next October. Against all the dire predictions and warnings, we ensured that the minimum wage was introduced, and we can still say that people not only have rights at work, but have work to go to where they can exercise those rights. That is a crucial element of our approach.
We introduced the right to membership of a trade union, and equal treatment for part-time employees and those on fixed-term contracts. We have increased paid maternity leave from 18 weeks in 1997 to 26 weeks, with 39 weeks to follow in relation to the Bill announced in the Gracious Speech. We have almost doubled the rate of statutory maternity pay from £60 in 1997 to £106 today.
We have slashed the qualifying period for additional maternity leave from two years to six months, benefiting 350,000 mothers every year. We have given parents of young and disabled children the right to request flexible working. In 2003, adoptive parents, who received no help whatever despite the fact that society is seeking to take children out of institutions and place them with families, became entitled to the same maternity and paternity leave as natural parents.
I, too, congratulate the Secretary of State on his new job. He will be aware of the recent employment skills survey, which showed that 10 per cent. of our work force—2.4 million people—lack the basic skills that they need to do their job. With the Rover crisis very present in all our minds, what are the Government going to do to help the people who do not have those basic skills, and what are they going to do to retrain the people who will lose their jobs as a result of the Rover crisis?
The fact that we have such a problem with basic literacy and numeracy among many adults is a result of some of the policies that the previous Government pursued between 1979 and 1997. As for how we tackle it, the skills agenda puts business at its centre, instead of Ministers, politicians and academics suggesting that they know what business needs in relation to skills shortages. Our whole approach is to place businesses at the heart of the skills policy through sector skills councils and other measures announced in our skills strategies.
As for Rover workers, an enormous effort is being made. Many companies from around the country want the very skills that Rover workers possess, and at the same time many Rover workers are improving their skills to enhance their employability. That is a crucial part of the way in which we tackle the problems at Longbridge.
The Secretary of State cannot get away with his response to my hon. Friend Mr. Clifton-Brown. On the subject of skills, particularly in relation to the teaching of reading, what does the right hon. Gentleman make of the contribution to that debate by three leading and apparently respected experts in the teaching of reading—Kimberley, Meek and Miller—who are on the record as saying:
"Within the psychosemiotic framework the shared reading lesson is viewed as an ideological construct where events are played out and children must therefore learn to position themselves in three interlocking contexts."
Does he think that helpful, or does he agree that it is precisely that sort of attitude that has done so much to damage the life chances of a generation of kids in state schools?
I was reading that soundbite only this morning. As the father of a four-and-a-half-year-old child, I am very interested in the way in which reading is taught in our schools. My point is that we did have a problem, and it is the legacy problem of adults out there who do not have even the basic level of skills that they need—not through any fault of their own but because society has let them down. The entitlement to a level 2 qualification will be an important aspect of dealing with that. I accept that, as well as considering the current generation out there, we need to ensure that future generations do not end up in the same situation.
Before we leave this point, may I add that we cannot just blame society when people at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority are saying that, in the future marking of English, spelling is to account for only four marks in the entire examination, and a person sitting the examination can mis-spell every word in the long writing requirement and not lose a single mark when the results come out? Surely that is something that the Government should stamp on firmly from above.
I do not want to become embroiled in an education debate, but let me make it absolutely clear that we are not blaming society—we are blaming the hon. Gentleman's Government.
The days when Britain could be actively marketed by its Government as the sweatshop of Europe are gone for good. We have harnessed work force protection to increased employment, but have done so while also concentrating on tackling climate change. Since 1997, we have experienced significant reductions in air and water pollution, our beaches, rivers and drinking water are cleaner than ever, and recycling has taken hold, with household recycling rates up from 7.5 per cent. of household waste in 1997 to 18 per cent. today. We have added an area the size of Liverpool to the green belt, and seen air pollution in urban areas fall by 16 per cent. in the 10 years to 2003.
We have taken radical action to meet the biggest environmental challenge of all: global warming. Britain led the world in introducing the first ever economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme in 2002, taking tough action on the environment by harnessing the power of market forces to protect our planet. We have introduced the climate change levy and the renewable energy programme, both of which were opposed by the Conservative party. We are spending more than £500 million between 2002 and 2008 to help develop emerging renewable and low carbon technologies, in the form of research and development spending and funding for capital grants. We are projected to meet our Kyoto targets to cut greenhouse gases by 12.5 per cent. below 1990 levels by 2012.
With all that the Secretary of State has said, and acknowledging that the Prime Minister attaches great importance to the issue, can the right hon. Gentleman explain to the House why his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had to reduce the Government's target of a 20 per cent. CO 2 reduction by 2010—
I know that the right hon. Gentleman chaired the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in the last Parliament. I am unaware—and my right hon. Friend has just confirmed my impression—that we have made any change to the target of 20 per cent. reduction. In fact, it has been reaffirmed. With regard to transport, the right hon. Gentleman raises an important factor. Transport is an essential element in the reduction of carbon emissions. That does not detract from the changes that have taken place in this country. The Government have every right to be proud of their record, but on the threshold of our historic third term in government, there are new dilemmas and fresh challenges.
While the Secretary of State is still feeling proud of his record, can he confirm that, in 2002, greenhouse gas emissions were 14.4 per cent. below 1990 levels, but in 2004 they were only 12.6 per cent. below, so greenhouse gas emissions have deteriorated over the past few years?
For various reasons that the hon. Gentleman may be aware of, there was an increase over those two years. The party that opposed not just the introduction of the climate change levy—a tough decision, which was also opposed by the Liberal Democrats—but the emissions trading scheme as well, has no right to lecture us on the problems that we face in some aspects of our policies.
We propose a carbon tax, which is far more effective in tackling climate change than a climate change levy, which is hopelessly complicated. The Minister faces a real challenge with regard to carbon emissions. As he knows, some of his officials are desperately keen on nuclear power. Does he accept that nuclear power generation through a new wedge of nuclear power stations would be hopelessly uneconomic? It would require a massive influx of taxpayers' money and would choke off money needed for energy efficiency and renewables.
No, I do not accept that. What I do accept is that the affordability of waste disposal is as central now as it was in 2003 when we published our energy White Paper. There must be a balanced approach. In the climate change review programme, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and I are considering why there was the increase to which Damian Green referred, and how to get the scheme back on track. We also need to re-examine those matters in the world as we find it now, two years after the White Paper. I am making no commitment, and nor are the Government, to move any further than we intended at the time of the White Paper.
We must accept that the industrial landscape is changing fast. Within a generation, China will challenge the United States as the largest economy in the world. India is producing 3 million highly skilled graduates a year. Ten new central and eastern European democracies, with wage costs a fraction of our own, have joined the EU. Meanwhile, technology and scientific understanding are changing our world faster than ever before.
We cannot, and should not, hold back technological change or compete on low wages and poor working conditions, but we can compete by producing goods with high added value and services that the world wants to buy. So we need sustainable businesses that are responsive to what consumers want and technology makes possible—businesses that fulfil the potential of their employees and reap benefits for all, which employ the brightest and the best regardless of colour, background or creed, and which continue to be responsive to environmental needs and the possibilities of new technology.
My right hon. Friend mentions sustainable businesses. Given the importance attached by the Prime Minister to implementing our manifesto, which refers to developing a publicly owned Royal Mail, will he rule out the proposals made by Royal Mail boss Allan Leighton to privatise it? Those proposals would mean that, initially, 51 per cent. of shares would be sold off to staff.
I trudged the streets as a postman for 13 years, and I found out yesterday that I now own 59,999 shares in Royal Mail. The other one is owned by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. We would both be very reluctant to give them up.
We need to secure international agreement on the science involved in, and urgency of, climate change, and on a new package of measures to tackle it. Climate change threatens our world and endangers the future of our planet. Tackling that awesome threat to our children's future requires sustainable development and the pursuit of environmental goals in a long-term global context. We also need affordable and sustainable energy supplies.
I hope that the Secretary of State will not conclude his remarks without speaking about Rover, where 20,000 jobs were lost just before the general election. What are his views on the Rover directors, who were not rich men when they took over the company yet who were able to put up £49 million of their own assets in an attempt to help the business? Is he proud of the Government's role in forcing BMW to sell to the Rover directors, who then asset-stripped the company, leaving it in an unviable position, with a pension fund unable to pay its debts?
I am visiting the west midlands next Tuesday to meet all the people involved in this matter. The hon. Lady will know that we have asked Sir Brian Nicholson to look into the very points that she has raised, and it would not be helpful for me to comment on the directors before his report is published. However, I was involved in this matter in 2000, when I was a junior Trade and Industry Minister. At that time, the situation was extremely dire. As I recall, hon. Members of all parties wanted the Longbridge plant to remain a going concern. Those who try to rewrite history with the benefit of hindsight should think back to the circumstances of that period. I know that the hon. Lady is very concerned for her constituents, but neither she nor any other hon. Member argued at the time that the Government should reject what seemed a very feasible way to keep 6,000 jobs at Longbridge.
Well, we shall sort out the relevant quote a little later, or next week. I pay tribute to the Government's speed of reaction to the MG Rover failure. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we must do all that we can to ensure that sustainable businesses grow on the Longbridge site, that a technology park is built and everything possible is done to ensure that manufacturing is retained there? Does he agree that clear messages must be sent to the administrators, the local regional development agency and the company that at present owns most of the Longbridge site that we expect them to take account of the needs of the regional economy in the decisions that they are going to make?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's involvement in this issue over many years, and I can confirm that so far as I can see, that is the goal of everyone involved in Longbridge, including Advantage West Midlands, local businesses and the task force dealing with supply chain issues. We need to maintain whatever we can of manufacturing, given the strong skills base and the enormous dedication and skills of people in that field. These issues are now with the administrator, who has made it clear that he has not brought down any curtains, as it were. I very much hope that the desires that my hon. Friend has understandably expressed will be implemented in due course.
I turn to the importance of secure and sustainable energy to the future prosperity of the UK, the need for which has never been clearer. Our energy policy will continue to focus on the four goals set out in our energy White Paper of 2003: reducing emissions, maintaining reliable and secure energy supplies, promoting competitive markets, and ensuring that every home is adequately and affordably heated. As I have said, we are on course to meet out Kyoto target, but the climate change programme review already shows that we will need to do even more to meet the stretching goals that we have set out. We will do this while ensuring that we remain focused on our aspiration to ensure that Britain meets the challenges of a transformed industrial world.
I have outlined the environmental and industrial challenges that we face today—
Before the Secretary of State moves on, will he now admit to the House that carbon dioxide emissions have actually gone up since 1997, and that the only reason why we are anywhere near meeting our Kyoto target is the reduction in the production of adipic acid using a technology that created nitrous oxide? That is hardly a tribute to his energy policy.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new position. I can confirm the first part of his question; I shall leave it to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to deal with the second part in her reply.
Britain is well placed to meet the challenges that I have set out. We have many strengths on which to build: world-class universities, a strong tradition of science and research, a dynamic and flexible labour market, and world-class companies steeped in new technologies and high-value added services. But we need to do more. We need to give British business a clear and predictable regulatory framework at domestic level. We will continue to deliver our ambitious approach set out in the DTI five-year programme, in line with the Hampton and Better Regulation Task Force reports, applying risk-based regulation, with a million fewer inspections every year. We will look to apply not only a light touch but a limited touch, regulating only where there is a clear rationale.
We will use our presidency of the EU to press for regulatory reform and liberalisation of the single market, and we will also push towards a stronger transatlantic trade and investment partnership to remove regulatory barriers between the European Union and the USA. At international level, we will continue to work to break down barriers to trade, and to make globalisation work for the many, not the few.
We are investing record amounts in science, skills and innovation and in the technologies of the future. We are putting nearly £400 million into nanotechnology, composite materials and bioscience, and £320 million into research and development in other technology areas critical to the future growth of the UK economy. We need to secure a better quality of life through sustainable development, in which technology again has an important role to play. Clean and more resource-efficient technologies can contribute both to a rich and healthy environment and to the goal of decoupling economic growth from environmental degradation.
The Gracious Speech listed some of the measures that we need to implement to meet these challenges. We are determined to simplify our company law framework, and to bring it up to date in line with today's business needs. The company law reform Bill will provide more flexibility for companies and more effective shareholder engagement. It will bring deregulatory benefits of some £250 million a year, including £100 million for small companies. We are determined to make our markets fair, transparent, competitive and fit for the 21st century. The Consumer Credit Bill represents the most important reform of this crucial market for 30 years, enhancing consumer rights and redress.
We are determined to ensure that everyone in our country can reach their full potential and to tackle the root causes of discrimination and promote human rights and social progress. The Equality Bill will establish a single commission for equality and human rights to deal with all aspects of discrimination. It will also create a duty on public authorities to promote equality of opportunity between men and women.
We are determined to give more choice to families to manage their work and caring responsibilities. The work and families Bill will extend paid maternity leave to 39 weeks, and it may be used to extend the successful right to request flexible working to other people with caring responsibilities and enable mothers to transfer some of their leave and pay to fathers.
We are also determined to support rural services. The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill will create a single organisation, natural England, as a powerful champion for landscape and conservation, giving those who manage the land easier access to funding, support and advice. It will formally establish the commission for rural communities to act as an advocate and watchdog for rural communities and to ensure that Government policy delivers real improvements for them.
We are determined to protect common land, an important part of our natural heritage valued for agriculture, recreation, landscape and nature conservation. The common land Bill will modernise and simplify outdated legislation so that commons can be managed sustainably. It will help protect valuable wildlife habitats, improve public access and correct wrongly registered land. It will streamline the consent system for works and fencing, so that we remove barriers to good land management.
Changes across the world are throwing up new challenges for both the environment and industry. We have delivered rising prosperity and will continue to do so, but we know that if we are to secure that without damaging the environment beyond repair, we must get more for less—more consumer needs fulfilled with less energy output and more value added to a product with less pollution and waste. The Gracious Speech shows our determination to ensure prosperity for generations to come. The measures that the Government are introducing will build on the foundation that we have laid over the past eight years and ensure that we live in a fairer society, and one that is more cohesive and less fractured than it was in 1997.
I commend the Gracious Speech to the House.
I draw the House's attention to my entry in the Register of Member's Interests.
I welcome the Secretary of State to his new Department. In fact, I congratulate him on one of the more memorable entrances to a new Department in Whitehall. He will be hard pressed to do anything quite as dramatic as he did in his first week in a great Department, whose origins are lost in the mist of time but may perhaps go back to a week last Friday.
Last week began with an announcement from No. 10 of a new Department for Productivity, Energy and Industry. That, it was said, was the strategic title, and it was created so that the new Department would be "refocused and reinvigorated". We all know that language. It is authentic John Birt. It is Birt-speak. I must say that I prefer Prescott-speak. The Deputy Prime Minister puts things so much better; as he said during the general election:
"First of all, let's dismiss John bloody Birt."
Perhaps the Secretary of State agrees with him.
"He might walk in and out of . . . No. 10. He might whisper in . . . ears. There are thousands of advisers like him."
By the end of last week, the Secretary of State had a fiasco on his hands: nobody could take the new title of his Department seriously. The Institute of Directors described it as a circus. The Secretary of State, to his credit, announced a climbdown: it had all been a dreadful error. It ended up where all the best errors end up—in the marvellous corrections column of The Guardian on Saturday, alongside miscellaneous misprints and mistakes. The Guardian carried a correction reading:
"Today's Jobs & Money carries a number of references to the week-old Department for Productivity, Energy and Industry . . . Unfortunately, the section went to print just hours before the department decided to revert to its former name, the Department of Trade and Industry".
So there we have it: from grand strategy to the misprint section of The Guardian in less than seven days. That is what the Secretary of State has delivered.
What was the Secretary of State up to during the week in which his Department was the Department with the name that we have now all forgotten? Perhaps he spent his time trying to produce a decent acronym for the new Department. The Department of Productivity, Energy and Industry, or DOPEI? No, it could not be that. The Department of Industry, Productivity and Energy, or DIPE? No, it could not be that. There were others, with which I shall not detain the House, other than to say that the whole episode was an almighty cock-up.
Meanwhile, at the same time as this Whitehall farce was going on, something much more significant was going on in Brussels. The European Parliament voted against our opt-out from the working time directive. This recognises the right of individuals—consenting adults—to work for more than 48 hours a week if they wish. Two million British workers take advantage of that right, which was secured by a Conservative Government.
The Secretary of State says that he recognises the need for the opt-out and the danger of what the European Parliament has voted for, but if he believes that this is so dangerous, he should have been on the phone morning, noon and night to try to prevent his own Members of the European Parliament from voting to get rid of the opt-out. So, was he on the phone trying to persuade them? If not, why not? If he did try to persuade them, why on earth was he so unsuccessful? Not a single Labour MEP voted to support the Government's position of protecting the opt-out. Is it not an indication of a Government who, so soon after their election victory, are already losing their authority if they cannot get a single Labour MEP to vote for the Prime Minister's official position?
Conservative Members believe that there is a legitimate and important role for the Department. It should be strengthening the supply side of the British economy. The Government talk proudly—we heard this again from the Secretary of State today—of the macro-economic stability that our country has enjoyed since 1992, but that is not the end of the story, as surely it should be macro-economic stability with a purpose. What we need is some vision and bravery, showing what we can do to make the British economy more successful and more competitive.
That should be something that all of us on both sides of the House work towards, but I must say to the Secretary of State that his speech was appallingly complacent about the state of the real economy: it is hurting out there and there are significant economic problems. Those of us who have been returned once more as Members of Parliament and those who are newly arrived with, we hope, four or five years ahead of them as Members of the House should remember the business people, the workers and the retailers who are worried about their future and can have no such confidence in what the future holds for them.
The hon. Gentleman is aware that my constituency is a significant manufacturing centre. As such, recent investments have benefited from regional selective assistance. Is it still his party's position that it wants to scrap RSA, or was the language used in the election about Rover just language of convenience for electoral gain?
I shall be reviewing all our policies affecting the Department of Trade and Industry, and we want public money to be spent efficiently and effectively. The hon. Gentleman talks about his manufacturing constituency. I, too, represent a manufacturing constituency, and I remind him and the House that we have just seen the biggest slump in manufacturing output for a decade. It fell by 1.6 per cent. in March, so what we have seen here, as elsewhere, is evidence of the problems facing the British economy. We have a fall in manufacturing output, record trade deficits and a Chancellor who, we heard at the CBI dinner earlier this week, is already preparing his alibis for British economic performance not being what he forecast.
My hon. Friend refers to manufacturing. The fall that he highlights is both accurate and depressing, but will he turn his attention to the deep concern felt in the retail sector, where there has been a dramatic slump? What is his view on that?
The hon. Gentleman spoke about the biggest drop in manufacturing for a decade. Obviously, that takes us back to a period of Conservative government. Will he acknowledge that, in the early 1990s—1992, I think—there was a 5 per cent. drop in manufacturing output, directly as a result of his Government's policies?
If one looks at manufacturing and manufacturing employment overall, one sees that, under this Government since 1997, the number of manufacturing jobs has fallen by much more than during the previous period. The figure is an easily memorable 999,000, which indicates the scale of the problem.
Let me turn to the heart of the problem of our economic performance. We need to tackle the challenge of raising Britain's productivity. I was pleased by the reference to productivity that appeared, briefly, in the title of the Department. Let me remind the Secretary of State of some of the targets that the Government have set for productivity and their performance against those targets.
The public service agreements of July 2000 included a commitment to improve UK competitiveness
"by narrowing the productivity gap with the US, France, Germany and Japan."
Two years later, in July 2002, there was a commitment to
"demonstrate progress by 2006 on the Government's long-term objective of raising the rate of UK productivity growth".
As recently as July 2004, there was a commitment to demonstrate further progress by 2008—they always slip the target date back a bit—on the Government's long-term objective of raising the rate of UK productivity growth.
That is what the Government said, but what has happened? In the first seven and a half years of the Labour Government, output per worker grew at an average rate of 1.69 per cent. In the previous seven and a half years, under the Conservatives, it grew at an annual average rate of 2.36 per cent. Performance has deteriorated. During the first seven and a half years of the Labour Government, output per hour grew at an average rate of 2.1 per cent. During the equivalent period under the Conservatives output per hour grew at an average annual rate of 2.33 per cent. We are not seeing progress or the achievement of the targets that this Government set themselves; far from it. Sadly, we are seeing a decline in performance compared with previous periods.
Did my hon. Friend notice the Secretary of State trying to position the United Kingdom economy by saying that, in some way, we had beaten Germany and that, in terms of the size of the economy, we were ahead of France? He neatly slid past the fact that, in spite of the way in which the French run their economy, French productivity was greater than ours. Would my hon. Friend care to comment on that omission from the Secretary of State's observations?
My right hon. Friend makes a good point. The British economy's productivity performance has barely matched that of the sclerotic economies of euroland and we have been lagging behind all the other advanced western economies.
My hon. Friend referred to a missed public service agreement target, the significance of which ought to be forcefully underlined. Does he agree that for a Government to fail to meet targets set by independent experts would be disappointing, but for the Government to fail to meet the targets that they have set for themselves requires incompetence on a truly spectacular scale?
My hon. Friend is right, and Conservative Members will continue to hold the Government to account for their performance alongside the targets that they have, as my hon. Friend points out, set themselves.
Let me turn to the reasons for the failure to improve our productivity performance and our competitiveness, one of which is the increased burden of regulation on British business. Does the Secretary of State agree that by far the biggest complaint that one hears from British business, especially small business, is the sheer costs of compliance with the ever greater flow of regulations and burdens from the Government?
Since 1997—we should record this as we are debating the Queen's Speech and considering yet further legislation—the Government have produced no fewer than 315 Acts of Parliament—quite a lot of law for people to be getting on with. We have now reached the absurd position where, in the Queen's Speech this week, we have proposals to legislate to reduce the amount of legislation. Legislation is to be introduced to streamline regulatory structures and to make it simpler to remove outdated or unnecessary legislation. Legislation to remove legislation and a new quango to cut bureaucracy; that is what the Government offer us. We will be scrutinising very hard the Secretary of State's proposals on regulation to see whether he can live up to his promises.
I also warn the Secretary of State of something else that concerns Conservative Members emerging from the election campaign: the growing problem of tough questions that are ruled out during the campaign, excluded from discussion by the Government and fail to appear in their manifesto, but which suddenly and miraculously appear on the policy agenda within days of their re-election. Call me old fashioned, but I thought the idea was that one put one's policy proposals before the electorate to fight an election on them, rather than trying to get re-elected first and then deciding what the policies should be.
"ambition is to see a publicly owned Royal Mail fully restored to good health, providing customers with excellent services and its employees with rewarding employment"?
Or is it true—as it has since been reported—that
"workers could be given shares in the postal operator in a 'John Lewis'-style ownership structure"?
We in the House of Commons are entitled to know whether he stands by the statements made in the Labour manifesto or not.
On energy, the Secretary of State and his colleagues studiously avoided talking about the energy crisis during the election. However, we know from a leaked memorandum that one of his officials has already written to him, calling for a speedy decision on whether to build more nuclear facilities. She said:
"The case for looking at the nuclear question again quickly is that if we want to avoid a very sharp fall in nuclear's contribution to energy supplies (some fall is certain and has already begun), we should need to act soon given the long lead times . . . in getting a new nuclear station up and running."
Will the Secretary of State confirm that he has received that advice and, as it has now appeared in the public prints, will he put a full copy in the Library?
Let me put a further point to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, who is sitting beside the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, because the minute refers to her. It states:
"Because Beckett opposes nuclear new build, the review has not so far considered whether nuclear should contribute to cutting emissions."
We would like to know whether that remains the Secretary of State's view, and the Government's position on nuclear power.
I am pressing the Government for a clear statement on not only their policy but the way in which they will reach an urgent decision. Conservative Members recognise that there are difficult questions and that nuclear power has to be evaluated carefully as an option. We do not say that we or the Government should make that decision today, but we believe that a clear timetable needs to be set for reaching a decision urgently because of the scale of the energy crisis. We face a significant problem of securing proper energy supplies for our economy, looking forward five or 10 years. I had hoped not for a final decision on whether the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry would go nuclear, but at least for an indication of the time scale in which such a decision would be made, so that people know where they stand.
There are other proposals before the House in the Queen's Speech debate. We shall scrutinise them carefully and not oppose them for the sake of it. We shall be constructive if we can, offer broad support for the Consumer Credit Bill and company law reform, and view the Equalities Bill positively. However, let me press the Secretary of State a little more about equality, because we are in a strange position after the reshuffle. There is in his Department a women's Minister who was not in the original full list of appointments, but added later. Since the Government have already reached their full complement of Ministers, she receives no pay as the new Minister for Women. Indeed, the only woman in the Secretary of State's ministerial team is not paid at all. I therefore remind him of his Department's objectives, which are set out in the Department's public service agreement targets.
The document states:
"Objective V: Working to deliver equality and to maximise potential in the workplace.
By . . . working with other departments," we will
"bring about measurable improvements in gender equality across a range of indicators".
That is what the Government signed up to, but they cannot even get around to paying their Minister for Women as a Minister.
The Government say that they are committed to equal pay. In their assessment of their progress on equal pay, they say that they are "on course" to achieve it. The Secretary of State may claim that he is on course to achieve equal pay, but he cannot even deliver equal pay in his Department for his Minister for Women. If he cannot do that, how on earth can we trust him to take seriously the commitments into which he has entered for the economy as a whole?
Does not that tell us everything we need to know about the Government? They make grandiose commitments, many pledges and grand promises, but completely fail to deliver. Conservative Members stand for a flexible and successful economy in a strong society. We will fight for that as we debate and scrutinise the Queen's Speech and beyond.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the opportunity to make my maiden speech so early in the new Parliament and so early in this debate. I understand from the Whips that the deal for being called so early is that I must name my forthcoming offspring after you, Mr. Speaker. Of course, as a new Member, I must do exactly as you say, even if it is a girl.
It seemed appropriate to speak during the industry and environment debate since my constituency of Burnley is famed for its industrial legacy and its natural surrounding beauty. Burnley, along with other Lancashire mill towns, was the powerhouse of the industrial revolution. We wove the cloth for export that created the wealth that sustained an empire. That legacy is there for all to see: the town is criss-crossed by canals, with mill towers soaring high above in every direction that one looks.
Over the years, as the textile trade declined, mining and manufacturing took over. Although the pits have now closed, I am proud, as a member of Amicus, to say that we remain strong in manufacturing, especially in the aerospace and automotive industries, with companies such as Hurel Hispano, Gardner Aerospace, Futaba Tenneco, Smiths and TRW employing many thousands of my constituents. In the proud market town of Padiham, Baxi Potterton makes the household boilers and fires that many hon. Members will have in their homes.
The experience of my constituency shows that, in Britain, we can succeed in manufacturing in the 21st century but that that requires investment in skills, science and technology. I therefore applaud the Government's commitment to increasing the number of manufacturing and modern apprentices, to ratcheting up science spending and their target of 2.5 per cent. of national income to be spent on research and development.
My part of the world is not all dark satanic mills, as my hon. Friend Janet Anderson will testify. The countryside dominates Burnley, whichever way one looks. It nestles in a valley, with the imposing shadow of Pendle hill, with its legends of witches and visions, on one side, and, on the other, the beautiful villages of Worsthorne—where my stepfather's family originates—and Cliviger, which climb up into the Pennines. I am blessed to represent a truly beautiful part of the world and my husband and I have no greater pleasure at weekends than leaving our front door and setting off into the hills for a day's walk.
It is customary on such occasions to pay tribute to one's predecessor and, for me, that is easy to do because Peter Pike served the town so well in the 22 years that he was Burnley's Member of Parliament. He decided on his vocation at an early age. He was evacuated to Burnley as a child during the second world war and decided then that he wanted to be the town's Member of Parliament. Returning as an adult, he worked in the Mullards factory, where he swiftly gained a reputation as an effective shop steward and was also agent for the then Member of Parliament for Burnley, Dan Jones, who, of course, was the father of my hon. Friend Ms Taylor.
Peter fulfilled his childhood ambition when he followed Dan Jones into Parliament in 1983. He said at the time that he would do his best for the people of Burnley—a promise that he certainly kept. He has a special place in the hearts of Burnley people and his local reputation as a hard-working Member of Parliament is second to none.
As hon. Members know, his reputation as a hard-working Member of Parliament applies equally to his time in Parliament. In the sheer number of questions asked and votes attended or in his prodigious Committee and all-party work, there is no doubt that Peter leaves behind him an honourable reputation as an experienced and senior parliamentarian.
Labour colleagues owe Peter their particular thanks for the policy work that he undertook in the early 1990s as our spokesperson, first on rural affairs and then on environment and housing, and especially for his policy document, "The Rural Dimension", which put forward positive proposals to protect countryside communities, many of which have since been implemented.
For me, it has been a great pleasure to work alongside Peter in the past 15 months since I was selected. I should like to put on record my thanks for the time that he gave me. I especially learned from the stories that Peter told me about his experiences of being Member of Parliament for Burnley for 22 years the difference that a Labour Government have made to constituencies such as mine. Under the Conservatives, Peter had to fight for the cash to repair leaky school roofs and toilets and to get adequate textbooks for our children. Now, under Labour, I am happy to say that we have £150 million of Government money earmarked for building five fantastic state-of-the-art new secondary schools from scratch under the building schools for the future programme.
Under the Conservatives, Peter brought housing Minister after housing Minister to look at the state of our run-down mill terraces. Promises were made to do something about it and they were all broken. Now, under Labour, millions of pounds have been earmarked and are already being spent on regenerating our housing under the Elevate programme for east Lancashire, with more money on the way.
Under the Conservatives, health care in Burnley suffered. Three hospitals—Bank Hall, Marsden and Victoria—were closed. Dentists started to leave the national health service. Under Labour, we are building a new health and recreation centre, including eight new NHS dental suites; Burnley General hospital is being refurbished and expanded under a successful private finance initiative project; waiting lists are down, and deaths locally from heart disease and cancer are falling. If we add to all that the fact that unemployment is now at its lowest for a generation and that poverty in childhood and old age is falling, the inescapable conclusion is that constituencies such as mine need a Labour Government in order to succeed.
My vision for Burnley is that of a town that is as excited and confident about what it can be in the future as it is rightly proud of its industrial past. There is much that can be done before that can happen, but all the experience of the past few decades has shown that it is more likely to happen under a Labour Government than any other. So, today, I want to take the next step along that path by renewing the pledge made by my predecessor. I promise to do my very best for the people of Burnley. I thank them for the trust that they have put in me, and I thank the House for the courtesy that it has shown in listening to my speech today.
I congratulate Kitty Ussher on an excellent maiden speech. She was eloquent and cohesive, and showed a real commitment to her constituency. I am sure that she will be an excellent Member of Parliament. I do not, however, think that she should be obliged to name her child after you, Mr. Speaker, no matter how elegant you are, not least because the child's sex might be inconvenient for that purpose. I am reminded of the fact that, when I became a father, I was dealing with legislation on energy on behalf of my party. The then Minister, Helen Liddell, suggested that I should name my daughter Neta, after the new electricity trading arrangements. That was not an option that I wanted to pursue, but I was grateful for the suggestion nevertheless.
I also congratulate the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on his elevation. I think that it represents a promotion, although the Department of Trade and Industry might seem a poisoned chalice to some. It is known as the "Department of Timidity and Inaction" in Private Eye; it remains to be seen whether that will be the case under his tutelage. I also genuinely welcome the fact that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs remains in post. She shows an understanding and commitment to important issues such as climate change, and I am very pleased that she has not been reshuffled, or worse.
That leads me to the main issue that I want to raise today: climate change. I make no apologies for doing so, because it is the most serious issue that we face. That is not a view that I alone hold; it is shared by many people, including the Prime Minister—according to his own words—and the Government's chief scientist, Sir David King. It is therefore a great pity that the subject barely featured in the election campaign. As far as I am aware, no press conferences were held by either the Conservative or Labour parties on the subject, and the issue was not reported by the broadcast or written media in any major shape or form during the election period.
The Liberal Democrats held a press conference on the environment, which I attended with my right hon. Friend Mr. Kennedy, where we raised the subject of climate change. When we did so, however, we were challenged by a reputable BBC journalist, who asked why we were not talking about serious issues such as immigration. We have a long way to go to educate some of our media friends on the importance of climate change, and to ensure that it has a proper profile in the House.
During the last Parliament, there were four substantive debates on climate change. Three took place during the very limited Opposition time afforded to the Liberal Democrats, which shows our commitment to this issue during the last Parliament. The other took place in Government time. There was to be one in Conservative time, but the subject of that debate was changed at the last minute to one that attacked wind farms. We did not therefore have the opportunity to discuss climate change on that occasion, but I hope that Mr. Letwin, who has now taken over responsibility for these issues on behalf of the Conservatives, will do rather better than that in his negotiations with his colleagues on the allocation of Conservative time for debates. He is an affable chap, and well liked in House, but I understand from the press coverage that he sees a move to the environment portfolio as a chance to take his foot off the pedal a little, and that his new responsibility is not so important as the big job that he had shadowing the Treasury. I hope that that is not really his view, because consideration of climate change should not allow anyone to take their foot off the pedal. It requires the diligence and application that I know he can deliver, and I look forward to hearing his speech later in the debate.
Climate change was the dog that did not bark during the election campaign. One reason for that could be the media's approach, to which I have already referred. Another could be the Government's record on climate change. They regularly make all the appropriate noises, drawing attention to the need to take action, but the action itself is often not forthcoming. When it is forthcoming, it sometimes does not work very well. The Government's record on climate change, in relation to the domestic indicators that they themselves cite in support of their case, is not one of which they should be terribly proud.
I congratulate the Prime Minister on making climate change a priority during our presidency of the EU, and on the work that he has put in, with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, among others, during the G8 process. That is very welcome, but to convince other countries of the need to take climate change seriously, we need to ensure that our own house is in order. Quite clearly, in many ways, it is not.
The UK's domestic record leaves a lot to be desired. We have already heard Members referring to the fact that carbon emissions have gone up since 1997, and that we are in danger of missing our Kyoto target. The Government say that we are in line to reach that target, but we are not. We are actually moving backwards in that regard and, unless the Government put in place some serious policy levers now, there is a real danger of our missing the target. The only reason that we are anywhere near it is because of what happened during the Conservative years. Before the Conservatives assume that I am praising them for their contribution, however, I should point out that there was a big cut in carbon emissions at that time because they smashed the coal industry. I do not think that carbon emissions were uppermost in their minds when that decision was followed through by successive Conservative Secretaries of State for Trade and Industry.
The UK's domestic record is not good—carbon emissions are up; energy consumption is up 7 per cent. since 1997; renewables, to which the Government are committed, produce less than 4 per cent. of the UK's domestic electricity; and car and traffic generation—in terms of mileage—is running out of control. The Government's transport policy is equivalent to a car going down a hill with the handbrake off, and there seems to be no way of arresting that movement. We are also seeing a big growth in carbon emissions from road traffic, and road traffic is forecast to increase by up to 25 per cent. by 2010. That is an enormous increase, and the Government seem to be adopting a "predict and provide" policy to accommodate it, rather than trying to arrest it. Aviation emissions are also out of control, with a projected increase of 83 per cent. by 2020.
The Government must face up to these, their own serious indicators, and take action to try to arrest them and to change direction. The time for fine speeches from the Prime Minister and others is over. In this Parliament, we want to see proper policy mechanisms put in place that will lead to an improvement. The time to do that is at the beginning of a Parliament that will run for four or five years. I accept that, as a natural political response, the Government might have been concerned about the electoral implications of doing that, but the election is now out of the way, and they have a chance to get this right. I hope that they will do so in the months ahead. If they do, they will have the support of the Liberal Democrats.
In moving forward on the Kyoto agreement and on greenhouse gasses, we also need to persuade other countries to take the necessary action. It is disappointing that the increase in carbon emissions in some European Union countries is even worse than that of the United States. We need rigour at EU level to ensure that action is taken by all countries—including the Spains and Portugals of this world—to decrease their emissions. I hope that, when the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs responds to the debate, she will give the House a flavour of the techniques and tactics that the British Government will use to persuade other European Union countries to cut their emissions.
The Secretary of State recognises the need to bring India, China and Brazil on board in this regard—the projected increase in emissions from those countries is enormous—and that involves extremely difficult diplomacy. I understand that, but I would say to her that it is made more difficult by European Union countries and the United States roaring ahead with increases in their carbon emissions. It is difficult to argue with India, China and Brazil that they should cut their emissions when the developed world is performing so badly.
Doubtless, some people will accuse me of being anti-American, but I want to make it plain that I am not anti-American. I am anti-Bush, which is not the same thing at all. That is an important distinction. What is happening in America is, in some ways, very good, because a lot of progress is being made, although not by the Bush Administration. Steps are being taken by individual north-eastern states to shadow the EU's very sensible emissions trading policy. Schwarzenegger is making good progress. Some American states are attempting effectively to shadow Kyoto. There is a commitment in those individual states, and there is a commitment in American industry, which now recognises the opportunities for business to tackle climate change. There is also a commitment among the American population in many instances. There is, however, no commitment on the part of the Bush Administration.
It was frightening to read a press report of what the White House said a couple of days ago. Apparently George Bush's top economic adviser, Allan Hubbard, said that he wanted to get the oil price back to $25 a barrel. It is now over $50 a barrel. Allan Hubbard is living in cloud cuckoo land. He must understand that the oil price has gone up, and is unlikely to fall much, if at all. America seems to think that it can exploit Alaska, that it can find resources from elsewhere, that it can put pressure on Saudi Arabia, but that is not going to work, and the sooner the American Administration wake up to the fact the better.
I share some of the hon. Gentleman's views on the current American Administration's environment policy, but I think he is being unnecessarily partisan. I distinctly remember that the Clinton Administration made absolutely no effort to push Kyoto through in America. It has been a problem for successive American federal Governments.
I certainly accept the argument that the Clinton Administration did not do enough—although they did indicate a willingness to sign up to Kyoto, on which Bush reneged as soon as he came to power. There may have been no substantive difference, in terms of delivery, but there has been a difference in tone. The American Administration need to be moved forward further than they have moved so far.
Further to what my hon. Friend Damian Green just said, does the hon. Gentleman agree that a more cogent criticism of successive US Administrations might relate to trade policy? Does he agree that it is both morally wrong and economically damaging for the United States, while preaching free enterprise, to practise protectionism by giving a subsidy of between $3 billion and $4 billion a year to 25,000 relatively well-off and politically influential—and inefficient—cotton producers, thus massively damaging Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad, which depend on cotton for 30 to 40 per cent. of their export earnings?
That is true. I confess it readily. But I am pleased to see the hon. Gentleman back, and he has made a fair point. It is tangential to the point I am making, but it is relevant to the need for a consistent approach to a range of issues on the part of the United States. The European Union, too, is far from blameless when it comes to trade policy.
Nuclear power, apparently, is an issue that will occupy us over the next 12 months or so. Some Liberal Democrats tried to interest the House and the wider public in the issue during the 12 months preceding the election. As Mr. Willetts suggested, it might have been more honest for us to have the debate at that point. There are now a number of policies, but the Liberal Democrat policy is absolutely clear: nuclear power has no role in the future energy supply of this country, for a couple of very sound reasons.
First, there is no solution to the problem of nuclear waste, which covers an enormous acreage. There is now enough nuclear waste to fill five Albert halls, and it is increasing all the time. Apparently, the DTI wants to import some to try and please the Treasury by making the nuclear bills look smaller. The Committee on Radioactive Waste Management has not yet even reported on what should happen to the waste, but we are going to have a debate on nuclear power.
The other reason is financial. Nuclear power is hopelessly uneconomic. We were told in the 1950s that it was too cheap to meter; we have just signed off an energy bill of £48 billion—£800 per man, woman and child in the country—to deal with the mess that we already have, let alone anything else. Time and again, the nuclear industry has said, "This is a new generation: it will be all right." Time and again, it has turned out to be horribly expensive. No private sector company will build nuclear power stations, so the only option is for the taxpayer to pay. The Liberal Democrats will not countenance that.
We have two policies from the Government. At least we have two from them; we have none from the Conservatives. Over the years, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has wisely opposed a further increase in nuclear power generation. Others—including the Prime Minister and perhaps the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, judging by his comments in the Financial Times the other day—apparently think that nuclear power may have a role. Let me put to the Secretary of State a point that I made earlier in an intervention. If we have nuclear power, the cost will be so enormous that the taxpayer will have to pick up the bill. That will choke off funds for renewables and energy efficiency, which are far more desirable for the delivery of our energy mix. I hope that the Secretary of State will not be hoodwinked by people in his Department, many of whom seem to be very keen on nuclear power without much basis for being so.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, with the advent of the Nuclear Decommissioning Agency, a way will be found of dealing with the materials already in existence at Sellafield? Does he discount the Finnish experience of a deep but recoverable repository, which is currently in operation? Does that not demonstrate that there can be safe and workable solutions to the problem of long-term disposal of nuclear waste?
I do not accept that there are necessarily any long-term solutions. What I do accept is the Brundtland principle that the environment we leave to future generations should be in as good a condition, or a better condition, than the environment we inherited. If we are to build up stocks of nuclear waste which, in some instances, will last for thousands of years, that test will clearly not be met. For 10 years, Nirex has been trying to find a repository, or some other way of dealing with nuclear waste. Mr. Gummer ruled out one possible answer when he was Secretary of State for the Environment, and no progress has been made in the 10 years since then. I suggest that if it were that easy to find a solution, one would have been found by now.
That is something of a side issue, but I shall try to deal with it. [Hon. Members: "It is not a side issue."] It is, and I shall explain why. For many years, we have been spending millions of pounds on nuclear fusion. I am reminded of the boffins who used to appear "The Avengers", appropriating public money without producing much of a return. I do not rule out a role for nuclear fusion at some distant date, but I am very concerned about our continuing to plough large amounts of money into it when the money could be spent on energy efficiency and renewables, which are far more effective. That represents another diversion of public funds from something that is certain to deliver to something that may never deliver.
Let us consider some of the alternatives. Energy efficiency is a poor relation of energy policy in this country—partly, I suspect, because responsibilities have been split between the DTI and DEFRA. DEFRA has been trying to stop the production of energy, while the DTI has been happy to produce as much as the market wants in a gung-ho way. That division of departmental responsibilities is unhelpful, and I think it is one of the reasons why energy efficiency has not been given the attention that it deserves.
It is perfectly possible to cut energy consumption by 1 per cent. per year over the next 30 years without doing any damage to industry. According to evidence from BP and other companies, investing in energy efficiency means ending up with bigger bottom-line profits. I commend the work of the Carbon Trust, which demonstrated how much better off business is when it cuts energy consumption, with no effect on productivity. Energy efficiency is a win-win process, and more should be done on that front.
We also need to do more about renewables. The Minister will be aware of this morning's report from the Sustainable Development Commission, which drew attention to the need for further action on wind power. As I said earlier, the Conservatives initiated a debate attacking wind power, which was very unfortunate. Wind power is not, of course, the only renewable energy source; we need a mix including tidal power, wave power and micro-generation. It is, however, an important element, and is first in line when it comes to what can be achieved quickly.
While he is extolling the virtues of wind power, would the hon. Gentleman care to list the number of wind power schemes that local Liberal Democrats have opposed over the years? Will he commit himself to ensuring that, for as long as he is the Liberal Democrats' environment spokesman, they will stop opposing such schemes every time they see some political advantage in doing so?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is giving a commitment that no Conservative council will follow a particular line and that Conservative Front Benchers will determine the actions of every council up and down the country. Our position is perfectly plain. We have a presumption in favour of wind power, both onshore and offshore, but of course not every site is appropriate. Of course, there are areas where wind—[Interruption.] I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is suggesting, if he is in favour of nuclear power, that every nuclear power station, wherever it is proposed it be built, should be built, or that every site suggested for nuclear waste is appropriate for nuclear waste. We look at the matter on a case-by-case basis. If he wants to know Conservative policy, let me refer him to the comments of his former colleague, Tim Eggar, when Minister for Energy under the last Tory Government, who said:
"I have no plans to constrain any future non-fossil fuel obligation orders for wind energy by either wind speed or geographic location."—[Hansard, 16 November 1992, vol. 214, c. 69W.]
Therefore, it appears that the Conservatives do want wind farms all over the country, irrespective of local need. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can confirm that that is still their policy.
As well as looking at renewable energy, of which there are many variations, we need to look at clean coal technology and to identify its potential benefits. By retrofitting our power stations, it is possible to cut carbon emissions by up to 12 or 15 per cent. That will not be without a cost but it should not be forgotten that we can clean up coal to some extent. New coal-fired power stations are coming on stream in China and everywhere else. One of the best things we can do is develop technology to reduce carbon emissions from those sources. If we do that, that will contribute far more to tackling climate change than a couple of windmills here and there. We should not, therefore, ignore the role of coal globally and, for indigenous reasons, in this country. There is the potential to clean up coal and that possibility should not be neglected.
I suggest that the Government look seriously—I am sure that they are doing so—at carbon sequestration. The Minister will know that some of the pressure groups are unhappy about that because they think that it encourages indefinite reliance on fossil fuels, but, given the current position, it would be irresponsible not to consider it. I would welcome a statement from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs later to confirm the Government's position on that, what steps they are taking to invest in carbon sequestration and what potential they see for oceanic sequestration.
May I express a concern? I understand that there is no marine Bill in the Queen's Speech.
There is a draft Bill. We have had proposals for many years on the marine environment, and Ministers will know that there is strong support on both sides of the House for marine legislation. We are sorry that the Bill that Mr. Randall introduced on the issue was stymied by Conservative peers in the House of Lords, but there is overwhelming support in this House across all three parties for a marine Bill. I hope that the Government will bring that forward sooner rather than later.
I sincerely hope that climate change will feature in mainstream debates initiated by the Government in this Parliament. We are happy to use our limited Opposition time to have those debates but, given the seriousness of the challenge we face, it is not acceptable for the issue to be relegated to discussion in our time. We want major debates in Government time on climate change. A commitment to that from the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs would be welcome.
I can say unequivocally that I agree with Norman Baker on one point: his observation about the first-rate maiden speech by my hon. Friend Kitty Ussher. Having worked with her before, I know that she will be an asset not just to the House but to the people of Burnley. She has a hard act to follow: Peter Pike was a great Member of Parliament and a great advocate for his community. As she rightly said, he did a first-rate job as Labour shadow spokesman on rural affairs.
I will let one secret out of the bag. Peter visited my constituency in that capacity when I was a candidate in 1992. We visited my veterinary school, Leahurst—one of the great veterinary schools and part of Liverpool university. We found ourselves being photographed with a sheep. There was a great argument with the photographer about where Peter and I should stand and about the caption that might end up on the photograph. What made it particularly difficult was that it was a French sheep that came from Yorkshire for infertility treatment at the hospital, but the photographer was sensible about the way it was reported. Peter is a great man. He was a great contributor to the House and I know that my hon. Friend will work hard to follow in his footsteps.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who has had a remarkable career. I do not suppose that he imagined in 1968, when he first became a postman in London, that some years later he would be here as the principal shareholder in the Post Office. He pointed out that the Chancellor has one share, but he has about 50,000. That is a remarkable transformation.
When the Secretary of State convenes his shareholders' meeting and summons the chief officers of the Post Office to meet him, I suggest that he looks carefully at the file that I left with the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, my hon. Friend Mr. Sutcliffe, who previously had responsibility for the Post Office, about the way in which two sub-post offices were closed in my constituency. I thought that management's handling of the social implications of that were very poor. Given the Secretary of State's real commitment to working to meet the needs of people in disadvantaged communities, I hope that he will review the way in which some of those actions were taken. I hope that we will find a better way forward.
I know that the Secretary of State will take seriously the important contribution that the DTI has made in promoting world-beating science. Effective innovation is central to the continued competitiveness of the United Kingdom. A perfectly fair question was raised by the Opposition in business questions about the need to have better science debates in this House, given that the Minister for Science and Innovation, Lord Sainsbury, is in the other place. He has made a remarkable contribution to Britain's science policy. We need to find ways to promote debates in this House about the way in which the Government intend to continue to champion science and innovation through innovative technologies, not going down the path of proposed cuts that we have heard from the Conservative party, or indeed the somewhat luddite anti-science policy that we have just heard from the Liberal Democrat spokesman.
The idea that cutting back fusion research is not an attack on the foundation of Britain's scientific base is absurd. The Liberal Democrats are promoting an anti-science policy. Britain's scientific base is the key to our future and the House should do more to promote the work of our scientists and engineers. I hope that the Secretary of State will pay close attention to the work of the parliamentary and scientific committee and the parliamentary information technology committee over the next few months. Those are unique vehicles, bringing together representatives of academia, industry and Parliament in an unusual way. Many countries envy the bodies that we have created in the House. I hope that the DTI will use those bodies to greater effect because they enable rational debates to take place about some of the difficult long-term problems that we all face.
We must concentrate on some of the issues around energy and climate change as well as productivity and the future of manufacturing. Those are complex and inter-dependent subjects that we cannot ignore. We cannot and should not try to compete with low-wage economies—we must not follow the path of some in this House who want to see the scrapping of minimum wage and health and safety legislation. We should use our influence as a nation to raise the standards of production throughout the world. I hope that my right hon. Friend, in his discussions with the TUC and employers' organisations, will encourage them to participate more actively in world forums to ensure that standards of employment and, particularly, of safety are raised throughout the world. We have high standards and we should be proud of them. We should not dilute them, but rather encourage others to meet them.
Productivity is not simply about making workers work faster and harder; it is about organisation and good management. Good terms and conditions go hand in glove with high productivity—they are not opposites. It is ludicrous for the Conservatives to describe themselves as the party of the family when they oppose giving parents the right to request flexible working, the extension of parental leave, the right to four weeks paid holiday, tax credits and Labour's record investment in child care. We are not entirely clear whether the Conservatives are committed to supporting the minimum wage.
Energy and climate change are areas that need real vision. My right hon. Friend referred to the need for greener and cleaner policies, but those policies must incorporate real vision. I want to see the DTI acting as a driver to bring together all the players necessary to help us move towards a hydrogen economy. It can and must be done, otherwise our Kyoto targets will slip and manufacturing opportunities will go abroad. Fuel companies and vehicle manufacturers need confidence in each other's commitment. That will be achieved only if the Government help to bring together the key players and to build the necessary teamwork. I remind anyone who thinks that that is pie in the sky that we have had a hydrogen-powered vehicle here in the precincts of the Palace of Westminster. It happened to be a Vauxhall Zafira. I am proud of that. The issues are how we drive down manufacturing costs and manage fuel distribution economically. It can and will be done, but how quickly and how big our stake is in the technology will involve the Government—the leadership of Government is needed.
Early decisions are needed on how we generate power for electricity and create the fuels of tomorrow. My right hon. Friend should never allow the country to become dependent on a single source. That is the risk that we run with today's policies. Security of both supply and price are at risk if we become over-reliant on imported gas. We should start with the premise that there needs to be several sources—we need a genuine mixed and balanced policy. The pricing mechanism needs to be much more sophisticated to avoid moves such as are occurring today, for example buying in the cheapest fuel, which happens to be gas at the moment. If we carry on in that way it will mortgage our future and leave us with too little room for manoeuvre. I have come to the conclusion that because we need to protect a genuinely balanced policy and because of the loss of capacity from the closure of the early phase of nuclear power stations, part of the solution lies in new nuclear build. At the same time, much more needs to be done with wind and solar technologies. They are not mutually exclusive—we need to promote all those technologies.
I realise that this is not a five-minute solution. It is by no means easy to take that proposition through this House and all its processes, and to engage in rational debates about it with the public. However, the technology has improved massively and waste issues are hugely lower than in earlier generations of nuclear build. Moreover, it is now possible, with the right leadership from Government—I am not talking about the Chancellor with his cheque book—to put together a financial consortium that would back new nuclear build. That needs to be explored as part of a move towards a balanced policy.
In conclusion, the DTI has done remarkably well on a whole host of matters. In our manifesto we have committed ourselves to continuing to work towards the improvement of working conditions while keeping an eye on the need to increase productivity and be more competitive. Those are key roles. The leadership role that the Department provides in that respect is mission critical to the success of our country. It needs to be supported by a long-term vision about the way in which science and technology will help to address some of the problems facing us. That science and technology will also provide the basis for successful business and industry here in the future.
I am delighted to follow Andrew Miller because he and I represent constituencies in the same county. I am not sure whether he is aware that for a time I was associated with a major employer in his constituency, known then as the Bridgewater Paper Co. As a past non-executive director of that company—fully declared in the Register of Members' Interests—I know that the company played its full part in the green agenda. It extracted water from the local river and returned it to the watercourse a lot cleaner. In addition, it had a magnificent, but very expensive, combined heat and power system to generate the electricity that it required. It was highly efficient and, again, very much part of the green economy.
I am sorry that Kitty Ussher has left her place because I intended to pay tribute to her maiden speech. She painted an attractive picture of Burnley and its immediate environment. Knowing the town and the area well, I agree that it is a lovely area in many ways. I also know it because historically I have taken a huge interest in the textile and clothing industry. That area of Lancashire has been involved over hundreds of years in the production of textiles and clothing.
I wish to pay tribute to the hon. Lady's immediate predecessor, Peter Pike, with whom I worked closely in this place over a number of years. He and I served on the Modernisation Committee and he left that Committee only when he left the House at the end of the last Parliament. We shall watch with interest to see whether the new Leader of the House will reappoint that Committee or take my advice and merge the Modernisation Committee with the Procedure Committee, which I had the privilege of chairing during the past two Parliaments. I am not looking to him to do that and appoint me—or, indeed, for the Committee to appoint me—as Chairman; I just believe that there is a great deal of common ground between the two Committees. They cross over in many areas and they trespass into each other's preserves, and I believe that it would be better to have a Back-Bench Member chairing that Committee. Having a Cabinet Minister as Chairman undermines the independence and integrity of a House Committee. It is the only Select Committee that is chaired by a Cabinet Minister.
Although she is no longer here, may I say to the hon. Member for Burnley that I was privileged to serve in the House with her predecessor's predecessor, Dan Jones, who was a truly magnificent man. He was a coal miner who never lost his roots, but took to this place and represented Burnley with huge distinction. He and I worked together on textiles, mainly. I remember going to British Home Stores to see some of the leading executives of that company to persuade them that because it was called British Home Stores they should stock and sell more goods that had some connection with Great Britain and the United Kingdom as a whole. He was a fearless campaigner, and Burnley in both Dan Jones and Peter Pike had two magnificent representatives.
In the House, we frequently hear one of the Chancellor's boasts about his management of the economy—that the economy has experienced 50 quarters of consecutive growth. I admit from the Opposition Benches that that is true, but the Chancellor does not tell us that 20 of those quarters—from the third quarter of 1992 to the second quarter of 1997—were under a Conservative Government and Prime Minister John Major, when the economy was performing extremely well. I know that my right hon. Friend Michael Jack, who is sitting close to me, was well aware as a Treasury Minister of the success of our Chancellor at that time and of the Conservative Government.
The Chancellor was fortunate to inherit an economy from the previous Government that was in such fantastic shape. According to his biographer, one Tom Bower, when the Chancellor entered the Treasury in 1997, Treasury officials told him that the economic figures for the United Kingdom were fantastically good and that the state of the economy was much better than predicted. I remind the House that this was the same economy, incidentally, that the Chancellor claimed was a complete Tory mess. He went on to say that the economy needed to be cleared up. The truth is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer inherited a tremendous golden legacy from the then Conservative Government.
I want to touch on matters relating to MG Rover. Labour's recently acquired reputation for sound economic management has withstood news—we know this, having come through a general election—which in another period of our history would have seriously damaged the governing party. Even before the MG Rover job losses are taken into account—in the 1960s and 1970s this would have been an unthinkable calamity—1 million manufacturing jobs have been lost under this Labour Government since 1997. While overall unemployment has fallen over much of the Government's term of office, it is now sadly—I say this with deep regret—rising again. It rose some 29,000 in March this year to reach 1.43 million. That figure—I say this to my right hon. Friend Mr. Letwin, whom I congratulate on his new role—would be much higher still had it not been for the creation of 583,000 public sector jobs by the Government since 1997. Some 146,000 of those were created in the last year alone. I welcome the fact that people are in work, but although those jobs have kept people from the dole queue, they are what I describe as unproductive jobs. That is not to cast aspersions on the ability of those who hold those jobs. The Centre for Policy Studies calculates that, in the year to the first quarter of 2004, productivity in the economy as a whole grew by 1.2 per cent., yet in the public sector it shrank by 1.3 per cent. That draws attention to the true state of the economy.
My right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset held the important portfolio of shadow Chancellor leading up to and during the election campaign. I regret that more time was not devoted during that campaign to the economy, employment, pensions, taxation and the impact of the European Union on the economy. I believe that the non-jobs being created by the Government have been doubly damaging. They add to the taxation burden and at the same time create scarcity in more important sectors of the job market, making it harder for the wealth-creating sector to recruit. That is important. While I welcome many of the improvements that have been made in employment, the Government should give more attention to the impact that such measures have on the competitiveness of United Kingdom industry.
Much was said by the Secretary of State in his opening speech about the improvements provided for those in employment. It reminds me that tomorrow I am due to attend a celebration with a company in my constituency called Complete Medical Communications, which has been given a work-life balance award—something for which I know the Government will take credit. The company provides its employees with greater flexibility in balancing their lives and their work. Of course, many companies manage to do that, but many small companies would find it extremely difficult.
I wish to look briefly at the trade figures. In 2004, according to the impeccable Office for National Statistics, our country imported £58 billion-worth of goods: more than it exported. If we take account of invisibles—my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset, in his history and pedigree, contributed to invisibles in his work in the City—such as banking and financial services, the figures are little better. We have a net deficit of £39 billion compared with a small surplus that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer inherited from the Conservative Administration in 1997.
To paraphrase an article that I read in The Sunday Telegraph at the beginning of the election campaign, in 1970 Harold Wilson's unexpected defeat was partially put down to one month's bad trading figures, which the Government blamed, believe it or not, on the purchase of two jumbo jets by British Airways—yet last year's far more dramatic trade deficit was hardly reported outside the business pages and technical business press.
I find that extraordinary, and I ask my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset why the matter was not discussed at much greater length during the general election campaign. The governing Labour party, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are extremely vulnerable. As the months pass us by, we shall see much more evidence of what I am talking about now.
Bad trade figures, of course, are not so urgent in 2005 as they were in the 1970s, when memories of the 1967 devaluation were still fresh in the mind and there were worries about a run on the pound. They are indicative, however, of the general direction of Labour's economic policy. In 1997, Gordon Brown inherited a strong economy in which growth was export-led, but in the subsequent eight years he has turned our economy into one driven by Government borrowing and consumer debt, which is sucking in imports and burdening industry with taxes to pay the wages of those in the public sector—
Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman, who is experienced in the ways of the House, of the importance of referring to the office rather than naming the individual. I would not like any of our newer Members to think that it was acceptable to refer to Ministers in that way.
May I say, Madam Deputy Speaker, how courteous you are and how appropriate it is for you to reprimand me for failing to use the right language, particularly when Mr. Speaker only recently issued a wonderful letter about the conventions and courtesies of the House?
I am saying that our country's economy is not in the state that many people would have us believe. With the country increasingly living beyond its means, the Government will have to face a day of reckoning in the near future.
Before I finish, I want to emphasise the important role of manufacturing industry. I said earlier that I would refer briefly to the problems of MG Rover, which broke out just as the country went into the general election campaign. I am deeply worried, as are Members on both sides of the House, that a group of four people who inherited and took over huge industrial capital assets could end up so remarkably wealthy, when many thousands of people in the west midlands ended up without a job. There is something fundamentally wrong with our system when failure can result in the people who created it walking away with a huge package of money and assets, while those who have actually created the wealth and been part of an important manufacturing sector of the UK have lost their jobs.
I am pleased to hear that the economy is, as the Government state, doing so well and that businesses will seek to employ some of those who lost their jobs in the MG Rover plant at Longbridge. However, will the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs tell us in her reply what action the Government will take against those who were responsible for bringing about the collapse of that plant, particularly as they have walked away from this sad saga with millions of pounds? If we are to believe in capitalism, as I do, it must be an acceptable form of capitalism whereby profits are shared not only by those who take executive decisions, but by those who do the work on the shop floor to produce the goods that the country needs. I believe that the Government have a duty to do so and I hope that the Secretary of State will deal with the sad circumstances of MG Rover. I must say, as a long-serving Member, that I am surprised that those problems did not feature more strongly in the election campaign.
It is important to view the subject in a wider context. Many people work hard to generate wealth, but if a company fails, perhaps through bad management or bad executive decisions, those at the top often walk away with huge packages totalling more than the average working man and woman in this country earn in a lifetime, while those who hew the coal at the coal face walk away with very little. Increasingly, people are beginning to have doubts about the effectiveness of capitalism. As I said, I am a Conservative who believes in the generation of wealth, but I want it to be fairly distributed.
Before I finish, I want to raise another subject that is relevant to industry. So many people in private industry are finding that the purchasing power of their pension is being dramatically reduced. Part of the reason for that—I hope that the Government will be prepared to admit their responsibility—is the way in which the pension funds were depleted in 1997, and have continued to be so to the tune of more than £5 billion a year. In eight years, more than £40 billion has been removed from this country's pension funds—a situation exacerbated by the fall in the stock market. Tens of thousands of people throughout the country are now looking forward to a much less prosperous retirement than would otherwise have been the case. Will there be any meaningful move to try to help those people? Will the Government introduce measures to provide meaningful, real incentives for people to save for their retirement and to prevent companies from abusing their pension funds, often to assist their cash-flow problems?
As the Secretary of State knows, just over the border in Derbyshire, Ferodo faces a crisis over pension provision. I have constituents who work there and they raised the matter with me. I believe that the success of industry is essential to the success of pensions, but we should not allow people to be deprived of the pension for which they have saved for so many years of their working lives to ensure that they retire with a decent standard of life.
This debate is important. We can range widely, as I have, and we should never forget that manufacturing industry is the only sustainable source of non-inflationary economic growth. We should ensure that before any measure introduced in this place reaches the statute book, its impact on industry and the productive sector of our economy is properly understood.
I am pleased to follow a fellow officer of the all-party clothing, textiles and footwear group and I hope that we shall have at least one new recruit in my hon. Friend Kitty Ussher, who gave us a wonderful description of the mills in her area. I often contest claims that the north-west was the sole source of the industrial heartland, as Derbyshire has world heritage status for the Derwent valley with the amazing mills of Arkwright and the growth of the textiles sector.
Though reluctant to disagree with Sir Nicholas Winterton, I have to say that I do not recognise the golden picture that he painted of the years under the last Conservative Government. I seem to recall that over that period the textile industry had a very difficult time and that 500,000 jobs were lost in that sector alone. When the Tories were last in power, about 1,000 businesses went bust every week. I also remember that 3 million people were unemployed and interest rates stood at 15 per cent., so I do not look back to that period as the golden age that he portrayed.
I should like to touch on a few key themes relating to the Department of Trade and Industry: manufacturing industry, climate change, which crosses over with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and equalities. I welcome the general thrust of the Queen's Speech and its emphasis on continuing our wonderful investment in and improvement of public services, tackling child and pensioner poverty, addressing the international agenda on development and putting climate change and poverty in Africa at the top of our priorities for the G8 summit, our provision of greater support for working families, promoting opportunity and fairness. But at its heart is the question of economic stability and the need to entrench it while also promoting long-term growth and prosperity. That was where the Queen's Speech started. It is important that manufacturing is at the heart of what we do on the economy and I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to ensure that it is a priority for him.
I welcomed the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley, who made clear how important manufacturing is in her constituency. Like others have done, I note the excellence of her maiden speech and the good picture that she gave us of her constituency. We have some wonderful new additions to the Labour Benches and I know that some of them wish to contribute to the debate. Our new Members are all excellent, but I am especially pleased that the majority of them are wonderful new women Members to add to our ranks. It is appropriate that, when our new Deputy Minister for Women is here representing one of the Departments under discussion today, so many of our new women Members should seek to make their maiden speeches.
My constituency has one of the highest proportions of jobs in manufacturing—some 30 per cent. People work outside the constituency at Toyota in South Derbyshire. We have all heard about the horrors that happened at Rover. I endorse the comments about the unfair contrast between what happened to those who managed the debacle and those who have suffered through losing their jobs. I hope that the successful taskforce set up after 9/11 for Rolls-Royce and its supply chain can be a model for trying to get new jobs for Rover workers. However, Toyota is a car company that is doing well and expanding. Indeed, anyone who wants to know about productivity should go and look at the Toyota production line and observe the steps that the staff take to cut an extra hundredth of a second off the production process and the teamwork at the plant that has led to some of its success.
My constituency is also home to people who work at Rolls-Royce and in its supply chain. It heartens me when I travel by plane to know that every single rotor blade on the engine is so carefully looked after when it comes back to my constituency. That happens on one of the small industrial estates that were set up after the closure of the pits—one reason why we have so much diverse manufacturing. We have large employers, such as Thorntons chocolates and Denby pottery, as well as a range of smaller companies that do everything from making jigsaws to providing the high-tech composite materials for Formula 1 cars and our Olympic gold medal winning bicycle. We also have the headquarters of the largest private construction company in the country, whose boss is the chair of our learning and skills council in Derbyshire.
The constituency has lost many textile jobs, but that industry is still an important part of our local economy. In the future, the textiles industry may expand in new technical areas. Indeed, when I visited the company that makes the composite materials for Formula 1 cars, I was surprised to learn that it is actually a textile-based technology. The racing drivers might feel a bit nervous if they knew that.
We have had job losses in textiles and other industries, but unemployment in Amber Valley has fallen by 1,000 under this Labour Government. Long-term unemployment has fallen by 82 per cent. and youth unemployment by 77 per cent. It is appalling that the Opposition parties proposed to do away with some of the programmes—including the new deal, which has been so important—that have helped us to achieve those figures. Opposition parties have also proposed cuts to the Small Business Service and getting rid of regional selective assistance, but that would not assist them to promote manufacturing and industry.
I welcome the steps that have been taken by our Government to promote manufacturing. Strong macro-economic stability is at the base of that, but the changes to taxation to support manufacturing investment—regional venture capital funds, capital allowances for small firms and the establishment of the manufacturing advisory service—have been a great help. My hon. Friend Andrew Miller mentioned the amazing amount of investment that we are putting into our science base, which had been shamefully neglected, and that is critical for manufacturing. I would also single out the work the Government have done to promote modern apprenticeship programmes. However, from my experience on the Trade and Industry Committee, I can see some areas in which we could take more action to improve the focus of some of our initiatives. We have done a great deal, but we need a commitment that manufacturing will continue to be one of the major priorities for the Department.
As I have talked to people in my constituency and in my work on the Trade and Industry Committee, I have realised what we need to do to change our manufacturing sector into the highly skilled, high-value, knowledge-intensive one that will enable us to compete. We need to ensure that the initiatives we take and the support we provide are clearly focused to make the most of them. Industrialists still sometimes perceive that we have a plethora of business support initiatives at regional and sub-regional level. I know that efforts have been made to streamline that support, but we need to ensure that our initiatives are easily understood and that business people know about them, because that is not always the case. Confusion still exists about the roles of different bodies. The structure might seem clear to us when we set it up, but it is not necessarily always clear to those seeking to access support whether they should go to Business Link, the manufacturing advisory service, the regional development agency or another body. It is not always clear what the learning and skills councils do and what the sector skills councils do. All those are important initiatives, but we need to do everything we can to ensure that industrialists know what help is available.
Public procurement is also a source of continuing concern for business. It is strongly believed that other EU countries somehow find a way to favour their own interests. That point was made in my area in relation to Bombardier and certain textile contracts. I hope that we will see what we can do to assist our own industries, without breaking the rules.
We must ensure that our wonderful training and skills agenda continues to keep education and skills at the heart of what we are doing. We must do that to ensure that manufacturers can take the high-quality competitive path. The skills and training that we provide must be genuinely linked to the industrial needs of our manufacturing businesses. For example, in our textiles industry we have wonderful young designers, but they have problems bringing their ideas to market. But we need the structures to provide people with skills in technical textiles manufacturing, which has amazing potential, including bandages that mend wounds, protective clothing and items used in the construction industry. Technical textiles have so many potential uses, but we must provide the courses to enable people to improve their skills in that area, rather than just the fashion end of the market.
During the election campaign, I made some wonderful visits relating to education and training. Pupils at a secondary school in my constituency, Aldercar, take both vocational and academic qualifications. The school is at the forefront of our programme for ensuring that proper vocational education is available in schools. It has talked to local business people and others who want to take on students with such vocational qualifications and is conscious that the students must also have basic academic skills. Staff ensure that students have the necessary academic skills and that students who are going on to an academic career have an understanding of other forms of qualification. I was heartened to see their work.
I also visited a distribution centre that has set up its own learning centre on site, run jointly by USDAW and management, to enable people working there to enhance their skills and engage in lifelong learning. In the last Parliament, when we discussed support for union learning representatives in Committee, I was shocked at the Conservative opposition to a measure that would enable initiatives such as the one in my constituency to be set up. Through the union learning fund, union learning reps encourage other members of the work force to enhance their skills. That has to be the way forward for our economy. That a major political party could oppose something that is so helpful and important in promoting skills and training is beyond me.
I have touched on a few items for the promotion of our manufacturing and skills agenda that I hope Ministers will keep firmly in their sights and I want to talk briefly about two more items. The first is energy.
I was interested by the sudden spewing out of articles on nuclear energy since the election. It is clear that we must have a debate about where we are going and that obviously involves both Departments represented in the Chamber today. We need to consider how to maintain sustainable energy sources. We must deal with the climate change problem and ensure that we have secure and affordable energy supplies. That will clearly be a major debate in the months to come.
From what I read and see, I am unclear about the real figures on energy—as, I suspect, are many others. We need to do sufficient work on energy efficiency, clean coal technology and promoting renewables, all of which need extra impetus. I shall not go through the arguments again but we need to do much more. Indeed, I am looking forward to meeting a retired farmer in my constituency who is completely into biofuels and will show us the wonderful plants that we should be using to develop energy sources. I am looking forward to my house being fuelled by such energy. There is great enthusiasm about those ideas, but I am still unclear about whether, even if we concentrate on all those things, there will still be an energy gap.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry showed deft skill in picking up the difficult proposals on tuition fees and steering them and their amendments towards proposals that were more acceptable to some of us on the Labour Benches. I hope that he will use all those skills in the energy debate. I hope that the argument that somehow there is a huge energy gap that cannot be covered without a new generation of nuclear power stations is not put in aspic so that, by default, that is felt to be inevitable, although I feel that some people may be trying to portray the situation in that way. We need a major debate on the economics of nuclear power and about who pays the price.
We must also consider the disposal of nuclear waste, something about which I am conscious as we have experienced difficulties with the disposal of low-level radioactive waste from Rolls-Royce at Hilts quarry in Crich in my constituency. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is well aware of that situation because the material comes from Rolls-Royce in Derby. It is traumatic and people are hugely upset and concerned even though only low-level waste is involved. That has been an issue in my constituency for several years and the waste is now going to Drigg. I am well aware of all the difficulties in disposing of radioactive waste, but I hope that we do not rush into things pell-mell and that guidelines being set out at present will not automatically take us towards that form of energy generation.
My final remarks are about the equalities agenda. I am delighted at the appointment of my hon. Friend Ms Munn as Deputy Minister for Women and Equality. I hope that the Secretary of State in whose Department she resides will give her complete support in dealing with the difficult job of putting pressure on every Department to take on board equalities and gender equality issues. That is the most difficult part of her job and she will need complete support from Cabinet Ministers to press that agenda. I realise that her job may be even more difficult because she reports to one Secretary of State on gender and another on the overall equalities agenda. That is ironic given that the equalities Bill, which I very much welcome, will bring together equality and human rights, and, at last, put a positive duty on public authorities to promote gender equality. A recent report from the DTI on the income gap between men and women shows how such matters range across Departments—pensions, tax credits, pay and so on; none can be dealt with in isolation. On behalf of my hon. Friend, who will, I know do an excellent job, I appeal to her senior Ministers to back her in putting pressure on other Departments and agencies to promote the equalities agenda.
I particularly welcome the work and families Bill on working life and child care. When the Trade and Industry Committee produced its report on employment regulation we quizzed witnesses about flexible working and the application of current provisions. We received a favourable response and I am pleased that that provision will be extended.
Our child care agenda is critical. That is an economic as well as a social issue and it is important that we promote it.
I very much welcome those items in the Queen's Speech and our future programme, and hope that Ministers will do everything they can to help us carry out the difficult agenda before us. I welcome the Queen's Speech and commend it to the House.
"In rising to speak in this House for the first time, I ask for the indulgence which is normally accorded to maiden speakers and my feeling of trepidation in speaking here on the first occasion is somewhat allayed by the experience of very great kindness which I have received from Members of all parties and indeed from everyone . . . in this House."—[Hansard, 19 April 1950; Vol. 474, c. 167.]
Those are my sentiments, but the words were spoken by my most illustrious predecessor more than 50 years ago. It is a tribute to a Member of Parliament that after 50 years he is so fondly remembered in his constituency. Mr., later Sir, Cyril Black is still remembered in Wimbledon as one of our most favoured sons. He was devoted to the community and was the epitome of what a good constituency MP should be.
Even during the recent election campaign, several older constituents reminded me of Sir Cyril's good works and efforts on their behalf, and entreated me, were I fortunate enough to be elected to this place, to ensure that I was a Member of Parliament like him. He was a tireless campaigner for, and a promoter of, Wimbledon. He was truly Wimbledon's voice in this place, and in both those endeavours I intend to try to emulate him. It is a testament to his work that his name lives on in buildings and roads throughout Wimbledon. Various large office blocks are named after him. One of his memorials from grateful constituents is the Sir Cyril Black way, which I trod during the recent campaign—[Interruption.] No, it was certainly not the third way.
Hon. Members will understand that I hope that I can do as much for my constituents now as Sir Cyril did for them 50 years ago, and I rather hope that my memorial will not be the Stephen Hammond cul-de-sac. However, his maiden speech was notable for one thing: he did not address any of his opening remarks to his predecessors or, indeed, the constituency. That is a trend that I do not intend to follow.
After Sir Cyril Black, Sir Michael Havers served in this House with great distinction as Attorney-General during the Falklands campaign and was a distinguished Member of the other place. Dr. Charles Goodison-Wickes is principally remembered in Wimbledon for the fact that he was the Member of Parliament who went to the Gulf war. Most recently, Roger Casale, although he and I disagreed on most things political, was, I believe, well intentioned and sought to do his best for the people of Wimbledon.
To some, Wimbledon is strawberries and Pimms, tennis and hot summer days; to others, it is the Wombles. To those of us who live there, it is not just the leafy suburb of SW19 that one sees on the television for two weeks a year; it is the best place to live. It is a very diverse area, each part of it unique and each part of it special. We have the part that most people see—the unique city village, which is Wimbledon village. We have a vibrant town centre where business, visitors and residents alike work together. Wimbledon common is protected not by the Wombles but by the excellent work of the Conservatives, and the common land Bill that we may see through during this Parliament will be welcome.
We have a very lively small business community and a cultural life enriched by the phoenix of the New Wimbledon theatre rising from the ashes two years ago, supported by a very active civic trust that works with schools to promote the arts. We have another common in Wimbledon that most people do not know about—Cannon Hill common, which joins two of our residential areas, West Barnes and Cannon Hill. I myself am fortunate to live in the splendidly named Wimbledon Park ward, which has the magnificent Inigo Jones-designed park.
I believe that Wimbledon is simply the best place to live, but it is not without its concerns and problems. Local transport has suffered as a result of the inconsistent policies of the Mayor and of the Government: the illogical decision to stop the East London line at Clapham Junction, the delayed Thameslink, and the poor service that we receive on the District line, which is the subject of a campaign by me and my hon. Friends the Members for Putney (Justine Greening) and for Hammersmith and Fulham (Mr. Hands) that we will further pursue through this Parliament.
Unlike Kitty Ussher, I am not sure that I recognise, after eight years, all the positives on education. Several of our primary and secondary schools have had to face deficit budgets this year. Standards do not match those of surrounding boroughs. There is a real need for a diversity of provision and for an increase in vocational training, and a particular need for a school-based sixth form.
Conservation is one of the key issues. We need to protect our metropolitan open land from the onslaught of overdevelopment. The high quality of life in Wimbledon stems from the fact that we have protected our green spaces, parks and playing fields. We must continue to do that, and I pledge to do all that I can in this House to ensure that that happens.
Today has been set aside for us to talk about environment and industry, so I want to touch on two issues—one is mentioned in the Queen's Speech and one is not—that are relevant to the constituency and to the topics of the day. Like many other constituencies across the country, Wimbledon has experienced a huge increase in the number of applicants for phone masts over the past few years. I recognise the need to balance the ever-increasing demands of users against local residents' concerns, rational health concerns against the "phone fried my brain" health scares, and over-expansion against nimbyism. However, the simple fact is that the siting of phone masts near homes, schools and hospitals, the health effects, and particularly concentrations of masts should be matters for proper consideration. The old telephone exchange on the Ridgway in my constituency already has 10 different masts and equipment boxes on its roof. There are three outstanding applications, each of which is for six more multiple masts. There is a high incidence of cancer in local areas.
Local residents and I have campaigned to oppose that concentration and the visual intrusion, but to no avail. Local residents feel powerless and the local authority hides behind Government legislation that does not allow it to adjudicate many applications, so it waves through planning applications on the basis of prior approval without allowing the discussion of opposition on the grounds of health. We need to have a debate on the health concerns, including the impact of proximity and concentration and the most recent studies of Professor Henshall. We need to ensure that all phone mast developments are subject to full planning permission. Councils should be allowed to take on board health concerns and visual amenity. I trust that this House will have time to debate that at some stage during this Parliament.
I note that Her Majesty's speech said that legislation will be introduced to streamline regulatory structures and to remove outdated and unnecessary legislation. Let us hope that we have a bonfire of the targets. However, the Queen's Speech, which is heaving with new Bills, does not do well in that regard. There can be few Members who, when campaigning, did not meet small business people who told us about the problems that they were facing with over-regulation. In Wimbledon, I was particularly struck by the number of such people in the construction industry. One gentleman, an electrician, showed me all the forms and ID that needed to be supplied for him to get on to a site, and told me that he is unable to compete with electricians from some of the newly acceded EU countries. He was but one of many. While one could say that that is only anecdotal evidence, one should not forget that the director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce recently said that it is fed up with the spiralling costs of regulation and estimates that overall regulation has cost £40 billion since 1997. If the Government are truly about to set about reducing the cost of regulation, we will support them. However, if we see a set of targets to reduce targets and regulation, and more administrators and regulators to reduce regulation, I am sure that there will be ironic smiles and laughter from Conservative Members and we will know that yet again the legislation will not work. For any legislation to be effective it must transform regulatory impact assessments, repeal some of the specific business regulation and grant some exemptions to small businesses.
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech today and to the House for listening to me with courtesy and forbearance. I intend to be a loyal and conscientious Member of the House and to live up to my election pledge to be my constituency's voice in this place and to serve my constituents loyally.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to make my maiden speech during this debate on the Queen's Speech on industry and the environment, which are themes of immense importance to us all. Before I begin, I congratulate Stephen Hammond on an excellent maiden speech. I have learned many things about Wimbledon that I did not know 10 minutes ago. He may be giving away his age by mentioning the Wombles, but I must confess that I remember them too.
It is a great honour to have been elected to represent the constituency of Llanelli, which I have to say is a marked contrast with Wimbledon. I follow three distinguished parliamentarians who have held this seat for Labour uninterruptedly since 1922. They are the hon. Dr. J. H. Williams, who served the constituency for 14 years, the right hon. Jim Griffiths, who served for 34 years, and the right hon. Denzil Davies, who served for 35 years. I do not intend to be in the running to try to break the record of 35 years, unless of course some future Chancellor who is much less competent than our current one leaves us with no option but to work on until an age that I do not intend to reveal today. I simply pledge to do my very best for my constituents during the time that I serve them.
My predecessors would have been delighted to hear the Prime Minister reaffirm last week to the parliamentary Labour party the importance of the Warwick agreement to this third term of Labour Government—an historic partnership between union members and Government to improve job security and working conditions. My immediate predecessor, the right hon. Denzil Davies, the Member for Llanelli for the past 35 years, will be remembered fondly by many in the House today and in the constituency for his immense ability, wit and eloquence. He served as a Minister in the Treasury under both the Wilson and the Callaghan Governments, and as an Opposition spokesman on Treasury matters, foreign affairs and defence.
How fitting it is that in the first Session in this historic third term of a Labour Government, we should be continuing to implement and update the vision of that great parliamentarian, Jim Griffiths, the second Labour Member for Llanelli. He is perhaps best known for his work as Minister of National Insurance, with the introduction of the national insurance Bill in 1948, which he described as
"a unified and comprehensive scheme covering the whole nation".
In this Session of Parliament we are once again committed to developing a workable model of pension provision that reflects the current demographic situation. Less well known, perhaps, is the fact that Jim Griffiths introduced the first system of family allowances. We shall continue to show our commitment to helping hardworking families through the extension of maternity leave and increased child care provision.
Dr. J. H. Williams, the first Labour MP for Llanelli, was well known for his work on miners' compensation. Indeed, he was one of only three Labour MPs elected in south Wales who was not a miner himself. Following on, Jim Griffiths in the autumn of 1945 was the driving force behind the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act 1946, with its provisions based on his experience as compensation secretary for the south Wales miners.
It is with great pride, therefore, that in this debate on industry I continue the work of my predecessors by supporting the corporate manslaughter Bill, which will create a new offence enabling the conviction of corporations for homicide where death has been caused by a management failure to ensure the health and safety of its employees. That is not because anything can ever adequately compensate for the grief at the loss of a loved one, but because it highlights the need for continued vigilance and should lead to a more responsible approach by all employers to the safety of their workers to prevent accidents.
As one glances across the Llanelli constituency, one sees looming large on the skyline the chapels and working men's clubs that fostered the democratic radicalism which to this day has given us a strong sense of community, a determination to care for the vulnerable and a certainty in our belief that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve much more than we achieve alone.
It was this warm and caring community, materially poor but spiritually rich, that welcomed into its midst an eastern European refugee family by the name of Hecht. They changed their name to Howard—a very thoughtful gesture, but hardly necessary in Llanelli, where "Hecht" presents few problems to those of us who regularly say "Llanelli". It was their shop to which the coalminers and tinplate workers and their families went to spend their hard-earned pennies to buy their Sunday best. Mr. and Mrs. Howard's son, who is better known to the House as the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe, went on to serve in the Thatcher Government—a Government who were to deal such a bitter blow to the coal and steel industries, throwing thousands out of work and ripping the heart out of those warm and caring communities.
Since the election of a Labour Government in 1997, hope has returned and there has been regeneration on an unprecedented scale. We have seen the benefits of a well-managed economy reaching Llanelli, with unemployment levels falling dramatically. Diversification and regeneration have increased the proportion of jobs linked to tourism and other service industries, but in spite of all the challenges of the global economy, manufacturing continues to account directly for some 20 per cent. of the employment in the constituency, with many more jobs being linked indirectly. That is rather higher than the national average of 14 per cent., though it cannot quite compete with the figure of 30 per cent. reported by my hon. Friend Judy Mallaber.
Although we are now supplying parts to a range of car companies, jobs have been affected by the Rover tragedy, and it is vital that we secure alternative employment and do not let the skills be wasted. I welcome our measures to facilitate capital for small businesses and the role of the manufacturing advisory service.
At one time, with the old images of the industrial revolution, it might have seemed contradictory to link industry and caring for our environment, but as was pointed out by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry at the outset of the debate, both are vital aspects of our modern society, as we all want to benefit from the manufactured goods and a clean environment. There is an irony that it is our successful economic policies supporting thriving industries and improved standards of living which threaten to make it more difficult for us to reduce our carbon emissions.
We must, however, continue to strive for cleaner, safer industrial practices and invest in the development of innovative technology that can provide the means to reduce carbon emissions. We need to look with increased urgency at the development of all forms of renewable energy, and at new technologies that help us to reduce energy consumption. Surrounded on three sides by tidal waters, the Llanelli constituency could be an ideal site for a tidal power station, perhaps spanning the Loughor estuary, in the same way as the Rance barrier in northern France has been producing electricity for some 40 years.
As one glances across the skyline of the constituency, one sees a land of contrasts—tradition and the modern, the juxtaposition of our industrial heritage, our spectacular scenery and our regeneration projects; the rolling countryside; rows of terraced houses perched perilously on the hillsides sloping down past the historic castle of Kidwelly to the sea and the new marina at Burry Port; the magnificent coastline now enhanced by the millennium coastal park created from the biggest industrial reclamation project in Europe; the coastal link road snaking its way past the brand-new world-class golf course and the skeletal asbestos-ridden factories soon to be demolished to make way for a leisure village; the shimmering glass pyramid of the modern shopping centre and the boarded-up shops, like the last remaining ghost of yesteryear, shortly to be done up; the colossal Corus steelworks; the new Technium centre for innovation; an ex-miner struggling to get his breath, his lungs permanently damaged by coal dust; and boys playing rugby, a reminder of Llanelli's scrum-half Dwayne Peel, who played in all five of Wales's grand slam victory matches this year.
One senses apprehension about the challenges facing our manufacturing industry, hope arising from the regeneration, a vitality, a spirit of community, an anticipation, an expectation and, above all, a conviction that it is a Labour Member who can best serve Llanelli. I am proud to be that Member. I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to speak, and I thank the House for listening to me so attentively.
I congratulate Nia Griffith on her maiden speech. Wales is the heart of oratory. We have heard some great Welsh orators in Parliament, and she spoke with clarity, humanity and humour about herself and her constituency. The one thing that she did not mention was the wonderful singing that comes from Wales. I remind the hon. Lady of the opportunities of the parliamentary choir, and I am sure that, should her voice be appropriately mellifluous, my hon. Friend Bill Wiggin would be only too happy to invite her to join. The more good voices, the better the choir performs.
I wish the hon. Lady well in her parliamentary career. I hope that she follows one or two other traits of her august predecessor, the right hon. Denzil Davies, with whom I used to participate in economic debates. One never quite knew what Denzil was going to say. He had his own unique and very independent perspective and as time wore on, that independence shone forth. He was a keen analyst of the economic situation and what he had to say was always worth listening to.
I begin my contribution to this debate by drawing the House's attention to the business interests that I declare in the Register of Members' Interests. I shall deal with matters connected with the environment and climate change, especially in the context of the work of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, of which I had the honour of being Chairman in the previous Parliament. Subsequently, I shall deal with issues connected with my constituency's manufacturing interests and the future of the UK aerospace industry.
When the Queen's Speech was finally printed, I thought that an error had been made. I was looking for a sentence to the effect that the Government would continue to recognise the importance of worldwide action to combat the threat of global warming, and so on. However, no such sentence appeared, not even one of a declaratory nature. That is disappointing, especially given the priority assigned by the Prime Minister to the impact of climate change, Britain's current G8 presidency and our forthcoming presidency of the EU.I salute the fact that the Prime Minister has given climate change a top priority, but it is disappointing that the Queen's Speech did not mention it, and that there are no specific proposals to deal with some of the challenging issues exposed by the most recent Select Committee report.
My first concern has to do with the G8. The sentence that I found to be missing from the Queen's Speech would, I hope, have gone on to say that the Government hoped to influence the US, India, China and others to take up their Kyoto treaty responsibilities. If that was not acceptable, I would have hoped that some other means of bringing those countries into line could have been found, but only yesterday I heard an American city mayor say on Radio 4 that he and other mayors would like to get together and do something about climate change on a city-by-city basis. American science appears to be in denial about the problem of climate change, but it is clear that American mayors would like to introduce some form of emissions trading arrangement in the US. It seems that they feel guilty that their country is not prepared to take its international responsibilities seriously, and that they want to do something about one of the greatest threats facing mankind.
America may have the technological solutions to the problem, but there is no national impetus for that country—the planet's largest polluter—to take action. The existence of climate change is still a subject for debate in America, even though our chief scientist, Sir David King, told the Select Committee that carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions are at record levels. We know the facts of the matter, so measures to reduce greenhouse gas production make sense, both in terms of the precautionary principle and of simple politics in respect of the world and of energy. I cannot understand why the US refuses to put technological emphasis on reducing its dependence on hydrocarbon fuels, as that would relieve its dependence for fuel on some of the most politically unstable countries of the world—a dependence that stems from the current slowdown in the world economy.
It was disappointing that the Prime Minister did not use his G8 presidency to address those issues. It remains to be seen whether he will be brave enough to use his EU presidency to include aviation in the emissions trading regime, or adopt some other approach that might deal with a problem that is getting worse all the time.
The Select Committee looked at the problem, and it was clear that there are many Government fingers in the climate change agenda pie. The Treasury, the DTI and DEFRA are all involved, as are many other parts of Government, but the response does not appear to be joined up. For example, whatever the overall performance in reducing carbon dioxide emissions since 1997, the amount of those emissions arising from the transport sector has been rising. It is a source of great sadness that the UK has no coherent policy to deal with the problem.
I welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Jim Knight, to his Front-Bench post. For some time, his Department has been advocating the establishment of a UK biofuels industry, and it has produced a nice coloured brochure entitled "The Facts on Biodiesel and Bioethanol". I read it assiduously. It talked about the job opportunities that would arise and the benefits that would accrue to UK agriculture, and gives the impression that the Government are entirely sold on the idea. However, in successive Budgets, the best that the Treasury has been able to provide is a duty derogation of 20p per litre. As a result, we are struggling to establish a viable biofuels industry.
The UK is a signatory to the European directive that requires us to achieve a biofuels inclusion rate of 2.75 per cent. by 2005, rising to more than 5 per cent. by 2010. If we cannot achieve that, we are required to say why. DEFRA subscribes to our having an indigenous biofuels industry, but we have no industry producing bioethanol—the green element included in petrol—and the Queen's Speech contained nothing to suggest that the Government intended to accelerate the process. All we have is a British Sugar planning application for a plant that would produce 55,000 tonnes of bioethanol a year.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, unless urgent progress is made, the risk is that we will simply suck in imports from Brazil and other countries instead of creating our own domestic industry, even though that industry would help our agriculture by providing a new stream of income?
I was about to come to that. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the EU-Mercosur regional trade agreement gives Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay a bioethanol tariff quota of 1 billion litres, at generous rates. Perhaps that gives us the answer to the question of why the Government are not supporting a UK bioethanol industry enthusiastically. They have surrendered the supply of that commodity to Brazilian interests.
I woke up this morning to the news that an area the size of Belgium in the Brazilian rain forest has been destroyed in the past 12 months, which brings me back to the UK's G8 presidency and our environmental credentials. If we are serious about saving the world's environment and biodiversity, and about encouraging sustainability, we should address the problem of Brazilian rainforest degradation—a matter that has been raised in every one of the 18 years for which I have been a Member of this House. However, the international community appears powerless to stop the loss of the fantastic biodiversity resource that the world's rainforests represent. The latest finding from Brazil is just another example of that. If the G8 is to show its environment credentials, it must address that problem.
To achieve a 2.75 per cent. inclusion rate in bioethanol, our bioethanol production target is 660,000 tonnes, and a rate of 5 per cent. would require us to produce 1.2 million tonnes. The East of England Development Agency has conjectured that a UK bioethanol industry could create 12,000 new jobs. That is a prize worth having, and DEFRA itself has estimated that 5,000 new jobs would arise in connection with biofuels.
The Minister of State in the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs very kindly supplied me with a parliamentary answer indicating this country's capacity for biodiesel production, and in that context it is interesting to examine the plants currently available. Some 45,000 tonnes of indigenous biofuels using animal fat as a raw material ingredient are manufactured. In order to meet our 2.75 per cent. inclusion rate, we need to produce 440,000 tonnes of UK-produced biodiesel; to meet the 5 per cent. inclusion rate, we need to produce 880,000 tonnes. On adding up all the projected production of biodiesel in this country—be it from UK-grown oilseed rape, or from the recycling of cooking oils or other fats—our potential production is 478,000 tonnes, which is about half the amount that we need to produce to meet our 5 per cent. inclusion target.
I say in all sincerity to the Under-Secretary that if this Government are serious about the CO 2 reduction capabilities of a biofuels industry, his Department has got to be a much more effective champion of it within government, to ensure that it actually starts. It is no use falling back on the lame-duck excuse that if we are too generous with our duty derogation, that will somehow suck in imports. As I have said, the EU-Mercosur agreement makes it absolutely clear from where the European Union currently thinks that its biofuels will come, in the absence of an indigenous industry.
Given the fundamental changes to UK agriculture with the advent of the single farm payment, and given that land will now be available that can produce these fuels without in any way compromising the new agricultural regime, the time is now right for the United Kingdom to have its own biofuels industry, in order to help contribute to a reduction in CO 2 per cent. reduction in CO 2 emissions. I checked to see what evidence had been given to the Select Committee, and according to paragraph 25 of our report, DEFRA's Minister of State said that
"the reason the UK is lagging behind on its targets is due, in main, to a decrease in nuclear power generation combined with a greater than predicted increase in electricity demand and an increasing use of coal."
So there we have it—an admission from the Minister of State himself as to the reasons why the 2020 target has had to be revised downwards. We cannot dodge this issue.
Reference has been made in this debate to renewables and wind farms. I support renewable energy, but the fact is that given the many inquiries and delays that have taken place, we are going to slip behind. Such production stands at about 5 per cent., but the target is to reach 20 per cent. by 2020. Given the decline in nuclear capacity from some 20 per cent. to 7 per cent. on a similar time scale, all that we are doing is using every 1 per cent. of renewables to replace 1 per cent. of CO 2 — free nuclear power generation. However, such power generation is already being eliminated through the phasing out of the Magnox stations and the advanced gas-cooled reactors.
I say with all the passion of a Member who represents the constituency in which the majority of Britain's nuclear fuel is manufactured that if we are to retain our ability in this area, and if we are to create a diverse portfolio of energy sources that gives this country the security that it has always benefited from, the Government have got to make clear their attitude to nuclear power. They must recognise that we already have a portfolio of energy sources that cost different amounts, recognise that the renewables option is expensive and survives only by virtue of the renewables obligation certificates through which renewables get the "necessary" subsidy, and recognise that we do need a new generation of nuclear power stations. Finally, Corwm should pull its finger out and get on with identifying the long-term deep depository that we need to deal with not just nuclear waste generated by the nuclear electricity industry, but with the stockpile of material in Sellafield. Once that issue is attended to—it has been done in Finland and in other countries—we can have an affordable future for nuclear power. I remind those colleagues who have criticised the economics involved that the advanced gas-cooled reactor industry already has to make its own provision for the decommissioning of fuel and, eventually, of those stations.
The Department of Trade and Industry got the all-party group on aerospace to look at the industry's innovation and technology requirements. My constituency is home to BAE Systems, to the Eurofighter Typhoon and to the Nimrod MRA4. We manufactured the Tornado, and we are working on the future offensive air system. Members may wonder why on earth I am getting hot under the collar about the future of our military aerospace industry, but the answer is very simple. When we come to the end of the current Eurofighter production run—be it tranche 2 or tranche 3—and we start manufacturing the American-designed joint strike fighter, to which the Americans hold all the technology keys, we will have nothing left. There is no new United Kingdom-based or European-based advanced-technology aerospace programme. We are moving towards becoming a jobbing shop that buys technology from other people.
The situation crystallised for me when last week, I got a copy of a magazine entitled Aerospace International. I turned with enthusiasm to the third page, which said "BAE Systems' unmanned air vehicle. New prototype flight." I thought, "At last, it has broken through into the next generation of military aircraft." But on investigating further, I found that the development was not at Warton, in my constituency, but somewhere in north America. It was BAE Systems North America that had produced this vehicle, as part of an American contract. Could the people in north America talk to the United Kingdom about it? No, because of the technology transfer barriers. So one of Britain's biggest manufacturing companies faces the dilemma of deciding where to invest in future. We are seeing major investment in north America and continuing investment in the United Kingdom, but against the background of an uncertain future.
In previous debates on this subject, I have posed many questions to Ministers about the future of our aerospace industry, be it projects or the development of materials or new technologies. We are good at aerospace—we are among the world leaders—and if we want to keep those high-value-added jobs, this Government must invest in making certain that we have the right technologies for the future and the right projects. On the joint strike fighter, the Prime Minister should call in a favour from President Bush and make certain that we have access to such technologies, so that a final assembly and check-out plant and a maintenance plant for the JSF can be built. Most importantly, we need to be able to change the JSF in future to meet evolving technologies and capability requirements; we need to add our value and technology, to make certain that we keep up with the best in the world.
I want my constituency to maintain its nuclear manufacturing and aerospace capability, and I want my farmers to contribute to reducing greenhouse gases. I want this Government to put a tick by all those issues, to show that they are among key priorities that perhaps were not touched on in the Queen's Speech.
I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make my maiden speech today, and I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Burnley (Kitty Ussher) and for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), and Stephen Hammond, on making theirs.
It is an honour to represent the people of South Swindon and to follow in the footsteps of Julia Drown, who was the first woman to represent the seat. Julia will be a hard act to follow. She was much loved in Swindon and there was genuine sadness when she announced her retirement from this House. Julia's legacy can be seen throughout the constituency, most markedly in improvements to the national health service. In her maiden speech, she called for a new hospital to replace the crumbling Princess Margaret hospital. Both she and my hon. Friend Mr. Wills worked tirelessly to achieve that, and the Great Western was opened in 2002.
In her maiden speech, Julia cited the urology waiting list in 1997. It was already 18 months long and only emergency cases were being treated. Today, under Labour, 98 per cent. of urology patients in Swindon wait six months or less for treatment and the Great Western hospital is on target to make that 100 per cent. by Christmas.
In addition to her interest in the NHS, Julia was a passionate advocate of international development. She was the co-chair of the all-party group on heavily indebted poor countries and a leader in bringing international development issues to the fore. In particular, she helped to secure a timetable for spending 0.7 per cent. of national income on international aid. I can assure my constituents that I will push for a continued spotlight on international development issues and am pleased that the Government have already signalled that in the Queen's Speech. Julia set high standards, and I will do my best to follow her.
Swindon has its roots in the railways and there remains a strong manufacturing base in the town. It is home to small enterprises and corporations such as MAN ERF, Honda and Nationwide. Those businesses make a major contribution to our local and national economy. There is now virtually no unemployment, although like many similar towns we have a residual problem of people on long-term incapacity benefit. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has pledged to help those trapped on that benefit, but our major challenge in Swindon lies in improving the skills base of our work force so that we remain an attractive place for international companies to locate and a dynamic place for small business to flourish.
I grew up in a new town, similar to Swindon, and lived in a council house until I was 25. I was the first girl in my family to go on to higher education. Education provided me with expanded horizons and my parents gave me the determination to prove that I was just as good as those born in better circumstances. That determination has seen me elected to this House despite many setbacks. Education is my passion, and while I congratulate Swindon's local education authority on its recent good inspection, I am dismayed that it is thinking of closing local schools such as Salt Way, Windmill Hill, Freshbrook and Toothill. They are all good neighbourhood schools.
Swindon has an historically low education funding base and I want to look into that. I urge the Government to look at the pockets of deprivation that exist among areas of wealth. Averaging out tends to disguise deprivation, which is then much more difficult to tackle without adequate resources. Our investment is making a real difference to the life chances of Swindon's children. However, staying-on rates at 16 and 18 are below the national average, and if Swindon is to remain and grow as an attractive place for successful companies, it is vital that that is rectified.
That brings me to one the most exciting yet problematic issues facing Swindon. We have the opportunity to expand the university of Bath in Swindon to include faculties of medicine, arts and manufacturing. That would undoubtedly provide schools, colleges and industry with a focus to improve the skills base in the town as well as develop an international learning base for industry. I would go so far as to say that it is vital to the continued success of Swindon that the university comes to us. The problem lies with its chosen site, which is on greenfield land next to Coate water, our much-loved, beautiful country park. Some 17,000 people have signed a petition to stop Coate being developed as the university plans include four faculties, a campus, 2,000 houses and a business park. I now truly understand the meaning of the phrase "between a rock and a hard place". I am seeking a third way and will do my best to work with all the parties involved to try to reach a viable solution.
South Swindon is a constituency of great contrasts. It contains areas of outstanding natural beauty, such as the villages of Wroughton and Chiselden and a section of the Ridgeway. We have a second world war airfield at Wroughton, which now houses the science museum's national collection. I look forward to supporting its ambitious plans to create a science park on the site.
My constituency also includes the original railway village built during the great railway expansion of the early 19th century. That contrasts with the housing estates built in the next expansion of Swindon in the mid to late 20th century, many of them providing affordable rented housing for London overspill families. Affordable housing is now scarce and there are 6,000 families on the council's housing waiting list. That is something that I would like to see addressed.
I am concerned that Swindonians who seek help with debt owe an average of £35,000, before mortgage debt. Many are young women with children who have been abandoned by their partners and are left to sort out the debt on their own. That cannot continue, and we are right to emphasise the responsibilities of credit companies as well as those of the individual.
Crime and antisocial behaviour are issues that local police, neighbourhood watch groups and other constituents will not tolerate, and I firmly share that view. The new police community support officers in Swindon will help, and, thanks to the Government, Swindon now has an antisocial behaviour hotline. Fifteen ASBOs have been issued in the past five years and we have seen a 5 per cent. drop in overall crime. However, it remains a concern for my constituents, and I pledge to work hard to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour in Swindon.
The street scene and built environment are hugely important. Swindon's town centre is a poor example of 1960's architecture. Regeneration is urgently needed, and we look to the New Swindon Company to produce a solution that is architecturally exciting and uplifting for the whole town.
I move on to another architecturally exciting British innovation—the roundabout. If Wimbledon is home to the Wombles, South Swindon is the land of the magic roundabout—a central roundabout surrounded by five satellite roundabouts. Swindonians nonchalantly negotiate the magic roundabout, whizzing clockwise round the outer circles and anti-clockwise round the central circle. A community that can do that without inflicting major harm on itself is capable of almost anything.
There is one conundrum in Swindon: it is a town and a people with much to be proud of—great community spirit, hard working and innovative, and home to some of our best national and international companies. It is a great place to live, yet Swindon has received a bad press over the years. I am calling time on that. Swindon has the potential to be a world-class community, and I shall be there as its cheerleader.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me in the debate, and I thank other Members for listening so courteously. It has been an exhilarating experience to enter Parliament as a new Member and, rather like negotiating the magic roundabout for the first time, we must keep our heads down, move forward with confidence, give way when necessary and go clockwise at all times unless it is necessary to go anti-clockwise. That is a good metaphor for a great institution.
It is my first and delightful duty to congratulate Anne Snelgrove on her maiden speech. Clearly, the people of South Swindon have gained another eloquent champion. Many of us on both sides of the House fondly remember her predecessor, Julia Drown, and the hon. Lady will be extremely welcome in the House. I can honestly tell her that I have never heard a better section of any speech about roundabouts.
I congratulate all those who have made their maiden speeches, including the hon. Members for Burnley (Kitty Ussher) and for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) and my hon. Friend Stephen Hammond. As one still young enough to remember my own maiden speech, but also as enough of an old lag to have addressed the House at every level of fullness and every stage of partisan excitement—even, sometimes, on occasions of wakefulness—I can tell them that they have gone through the most terrifying ordeal that they ever will in this place. The rest is easy.
I want to deal with two areas affecting the environment and one other aspect of the Queen's Speech. My overall verdict on the Government programme is that it shows alarming signs of hyperactivity, which is as wearing in a Government as it is in a small child. Forty-five Bills and five draft Bills are all to be put through the House by autumn next year. Given the parliamentary timetable, which, I observed during business questions, has been reduced again as we are having a longer summer holiday than we expected, there will probably be fewer than 40 weeks in which to discuss those 50 Bills. Are we likely to legislate well or wisely in those conditions? Of course not. The Government still seem to think, in the face of all evidence, that a bigger legislative programme means a better legislative programme. All our experience tells us that the opposite is the case.
The Prime Minister is entering his self-proclaimed political twilight desperately scrambling for a legacy. I am afraid that he will not find it in this collection of Bills, nor will he find it in his record on environmental matters. Climate change is one of the big issues for him—he has been known to declare that it is the biggest issue facing us. At other times, the biggest issue facing us can be education, Africa or terrorism. With all those issues, he is like a butterfly: he lands for a few seconds, flutters his rhetorical wings and is then away, leaving no imprint.
The Prime Minister and therefore the Government—I welcome the new Ministers to the environment team, both paid and unpaid; they can discuss the potential unfairness of that between themselves—have a genuine problem on this issue, but so, frankly, do all of us who are involved in the political process.
The biggest question facing the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—the two Departments whose work we are discussing today—is how we generate our energy and what effect that has on our environment. We have all known for a long time that that is the biggest problem facing them, yet we all chose not to discuss it during the election campaign.
I am not naive enough to believe that election campaigns can raise the tone of political discourse, but it is a melancholy comment on us all that, faced with a vital but complex and difficult issue, we all agree that this is not the sort of thing that we should be talking about in an election period. When we consider why people feel increasingly disengaged from and disenchanted with the political process, we should perhaps reflect on that. We have not discussed energy and, in particular and most contentiously, the role of nuclear power until now, when the election is out of the way and we all feel it is safe enough to do so.
As has been pointed out not only by my right hon. Friend Michael Jack but by Judy Mallaber, there are two key questions in the debate on the role of nuclear power. First, can we meet our long-term emissions commitments without a new generation of nuclear stations? Clearly, the evidence can be used either way, but it seems to me that the answer to that question is probably not. Secondly, can we afford to build nuclear plants if we include the costs of waste? On the current evidence, the answer to that question is also probably not.
That is why this is clearly a complex and difficult issue, even before we get into the realm of all the passions aroused by the very idea of generating electricity using nuclear power. The cold economics seem to clash with the long-term international commitments, which we have rightly entered into, to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. That leaves us, as a country, facing in both directions: we cannot do without nuclear power, but we might not be able to afford it.
Clearly, we need to delve more deeply into those two questions and, in particular, into the question of affordability. On that, it seems to me that this country's time scale for going from the idea of building a nuclear power station in a particular area to the point at which that station might come on stream and start to generate electricity is ridiculously long. Broadly speaking, we assume that it takes 15 years from start to finish. If we started building some stations tomorrow, they would not be on stream in time to avoid the stresses and strains on electricity generation that we will face in the next decade, especially if we are to meet our long-term commitments. However, we know that we will not start building any new ones tomorrow, because we have taken so long to take the decision in principle.
It seems to me that some things could be done to reduce the time scale. First, we could change the planning procedure. We do not necessarily need lengthy public inquiries on new sites, because clearly we are now developing a range of sites that were involved in the original generation—in particular, Magnox reactors—and they could be reused.
My experience is based on the two reactors at Dungeness, which are not in my constituency, but in the neighbouring constituency of my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Howard. However, many of my constituents work at Dungeness and my experience tells me that, the reactors having been there for many decades, there is no local resistance to them or to the possibility of continuing nuclear generation there. Indeed, the reactors are welcome as a source of local employment, so some of the resistance that occurs in other areas would not be present.
The other aspect that lengthens the time scale for getting from idea to fruition is the technicalities of building, but we have reached the stage at which there are almost off-the-peg solutions that can be had. There are enough different types of nuclear generator around the world to enable that part of the process to be shortened. Therefore, we do not necessarily need to consider a 15-year time scale in future. That in itself would have some effect on affordability.
Moving to the other great problem—that of waste—there was a fascinating exchange in another place on
"solving the waste problem and new build should be concurrent or consecutive activities."
Lord Whitty replied:
"setting us on the course to resolve the problem of radioactive waste is essential".—[Hansard, House of Lords 28 February 2005; Vol. 669, c. 10.]
The form of words used by the Minister is interesting. A complete resolution of the problem, which clearly would take some years, is not deemed necessary by the Government, only a "setting on course" to solving it. It may be that the Government have seen a way through this particular problem as well.
I am new to the shadow energy portfolio, but precisely what is required to resolve the question of nuclear waste? Other countries appear to have resolved it. What do we wish to resolve? Is it a technical or scientific problem, or a political and economic one?
It is a bit of both, to be frank. We know that the technical problems have been solved by other countries and, logically, they can be solved here, because the geology is not that different. Clearly the problem is essentially political and my hon. Friend brings me to the point that I was going to make, one that was made also by the hon. Member for Amber Valley. There are reports that the Secretary of State has set her face against a new generation of nuclear stations, whatever happens. That is a point of view and not a disreputable one. Many hold it; I happen to disagree.
It seems to me that, if that is the view of one of the Ministers principally responsible for this area of policy, she might as well share it with the rest of us. If that is to be the Government's policy, all this debate is a waste of time. We can carry on discussing what would then be a very acute problem, which is how we are to increase the amount of other renewable sources to meet our commitments.
The other problem staring us fairly starkly in the face is that, at the current rate of progress, we will not meet our commitments using renewable energy and the Government will have to take a decision on that.
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves nuclear power, may I ask him about the economics? In the late 1980s, his Government privatised electricity and it became apparent that nuclear energy was hopelessly uneconomic and that the private sector would not sustain it. Does he think that, if there were a new generation of nuclear stations, it should occur only if the private sector were prepared to take the risk or should the Government underwrite it?
The temptation to make future party policy from the Back Benches is almost irresistible, but I will resist it in the presence of the new shadow Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend Mr. Letwin. I dare say that, if the hon. Gentleman asks my right hon. Friend that question later, my right hon. Friend will take the sensible view that he has been in post for about three days and cannot be expected to make new policy.
The underlying point by Norman Baker about the long-term expense is valid, but whether renewable sources are economic is also a moot point. Whichever way we go, it seems likely that some level of subsidy, or of market distortion that creates a subsidy, will be required, as it is now. The idea that the economic problem is purely for the nuclear industry is simply not true. It is true for all non-traditional forms of energy generation at the moment.
The only conclusion that one can draw is that we have had various learned committees sitting in various parts of this particular jungle for a long time, which, conveniently, have not reported before the general election. But the evidence gathering has been done and it is a matter of urgency that we get on with making a decision as fast as possible.
The other environmental issue on which I want to touch is relevant to the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill. The new integrated agency is meant to produce
"a healthy countryside, valued and used in a sustainable way."
Those are the Secretary of State's own words, and who could argue with them? The problem is that that is not what is happening in too many parts of our countryside.
My constituency is one of the areas on which the Deputy Prime Minister's vision of so-called sustainable communities is being foisted and the purely environmental effects—before we get into the social strains on public services—include the disappearance of green fields, increasing pressure on water supplies and sewage disposal, and increasing pressure to put buildings on the flood plain, none of which could be regarded as sustainable in any normal use of the word.
The root of this environmental vandalism, which will render irrelevant any good work by the new agency in areas such as mine, is the Government's attitude to house building as set out in the Barker review. The claim is that we need more house building and that the Government have accepted the Barker analysis that there is a long-term undersupply of housing. All the evidence points against that analysis. The average number of people per household continues to fall and the average space that people have in their homes is increasing. Overcrowding is declining and there are more homes than households. There is a surplus of some 670,000 houses in this country. It seems perverse to say that the answer is to build more and more houses when the thick end of 750,000 houses is empty. It appears obvious that demand factors, not the supply of housing, cause the stresses and strains on house prices. Trying to build our way out of the so-called housing crisis in the south-east of England will not solve the crisis but create—and is creating—a new environmental crisis. Any good work that might be done by the new agency—I wish it and the Ministers who will support it all the best—will be outweighed by other Government policies that are higher in the hierarchy of importance and cause great damage.
A major increase in house building will cause more greenhouse gas emissions, more noise and pollution associated with traffic growth, threats to wildlife and the possibility of greater flood risk and environmental damage through new water resources. I feel especially strongly about that because my constituency is in the forefront of suffering such environmental damage and I look forward to hearing the Secretary of State's explanation for why all that is necessary.
The third issue that I wish to raise is for another day but, being realistic, I suspect that I will not catch the Speaker's eye then. The identity cards Bill is to be reintroduced. It was a bad Bill in the previous Session and it is a bad Bill now. It will impose huge costs on individuals and taxpayers, restrict personal freedom and prove ineffective in the fight against terrorism and benefit fraud. The more arguments I hear from the Home Secretary, the worse they get. People have said that we are heading towards an Orwellian society. Orwell should not be our guiding text; if the scheme is ever adopted, it should be Kafka because people's identities will disappear. Anyone who has ever had to deal with problems related to the Child Support Agency's computers or any of the tax credit systems knows that they cannot cope. The proposed system will put huge amounts of sensitive personal information on to a Government computer, affecting everyone in this country.
The Government have consistently shifted their ground on the arguments for identity cards. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions took the biscuit when he said that their introduction would enable us to assert our sense of belonging? I have met many people in the Buckingham constituency in the past eight years who feel deprived of a sense of belonging, but no one has yet come up to me and said, "Mr. Bercow, I don't know who I am and I can't assert my sense of belonging because I have not yet been provided with my compulsory ID card by a Labour Government."
My hon. Friend makes an especially powerful point. Few are as eloquent as he in expressing any point of view, but I may be able to trump him by quoting the Prime Minister. In 1995, the Prime Minister told the Labour party conference:
"We all suffer crime, the poorest and most vulnerable most of all, it is the duty of the Government to protect them . . . And instead of wasting hundreds of millions of pounds on compulsory ID cards as the Tory Right demand"— he was wrong there—
"let that money provide thousands more police officers on the beat in our local communities."
I agree with that. The only point with which I take issue is the Prime Minister's comment about wasting hundreds of millions of pounds. Now he proposes to waste up to £10 billion on a system that is meant to protect us against terrorism but will not be operative until 2012 at the earliest. There is no argument for the Government's ID card scheme and I hope that hon. Members reject it.
Like all Queen's Speeches, this one is a mixture of the good, the bad and the irrelevant. There is no theme to it and no obvious vision of society. That should trouble thoughtful Labour Members. Above all, there is too much in the Queen's Speech. Parliament will not be able to scrutinise the proposals properly and bad law will emerge at the end. That should be a matter of genuine regret for Members of all parties.
I should like to start by welcoming the maiden speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Burnley (Kitty Ussher), for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) and for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove), and of Stephen Hammond. I particularly want to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley for giving me an insight into a procedure that I had not realised existed. She told me that her impending maternity, and the pact that she had made with the Speaker, had enabled her to speak early in the debate. I now realise just where I have been going wrong in my four years in the House. My hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon mentioned roundabouts and circumlocution. Some years ago I stayed in Swindon. When trying to find my hotel, I experienced just what she was talking about today, so her words had particular resonance for me. I want to thank all those hon. Members because they clearly demonstrated the passion that they feel for the areas that they represent, and the dedication and commitment that they will display in the House when representing those constituencies.
I also want to thank the new Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, as well as those other Ministers who have appeared on the Front Bench at intervals today. They have already demonstrated their expertise in some areas and I look forward to working with them and lobbying them on issues that are particularly relevant to industry in my constituency.
West Bromwich, West is a heartland manufacturing constituency. Manufacturing industry still accounts for 30 per cent. of local employment there. It is also the constituency with the largest number of foundries. If ever an industry was symptomatic of traditional British industry, it is the foundry industry. Partly for that reason, I am the secretary of the parliamentary all-party group on cast metal.
The collapse of Rover has had an impact on my constituency. I do not want to rehearse the many arguments about that issue, but I want to make two points. Devastating though the collapse of Rover has been in some areas—my constituency is affected mainly in terms of the supply chain, rather than of people there being employed by the company, although there are some who were—that devastation would have been even greater had it taken place five years ago, before the supply companies had had the chance to diversify and refine their procedures in the way in which they have now done. I therefore pay tribute to the Department of Trade and Industry for the role that it has played in sustaining Rover for those five years. I am sorry that, in the end, it could be sustained no longer, but local employees attach no blame to the Government because they recognise the effort that the DTI made to keep Rover thriving and successful in the west midlands.
I have heard a lot of doom and gloom about manufacturing. The explanation put forward by Mr. Willetts was that the tide of regulation was to blame for the decline in manufacturing in this country. I would be the first to say that there is an issue about regulation, and I shall talk about that in a moment. However, to single out regulation without referring to any other pressures is a distortion of industrial reality. The doubling of oil prices has hit industry, as have the soaring raw material prices that have resulted partly from the huge acceleration in the economies of China and India. Another factor is the competition from low-wage European and other companies that are increasingly taking on the lower-skilled industries here. Those factors are having a far more significant impact on British industry than regulation.
It is a tribute to the Government and their macro-economic policy, and the low interest rates and benign local economic environment that they have sustained, that manufacturing industry is surviving despite all the difficult international economic pressures. We can only speculate on what would have happened if manufacturing industry, having been confronted with the situation that arose under the Conservative Government 13 or 14 years ago, with interest rates at 10 and 15 per cent., had also faced the combination of international economic circumstances that it faces now. We would have experienced economic Armageddon: that, I think, goes without saying. It is indeed a tribute to the Government's management of the economy that notwithstanding those difficult international economic circumstances, they have managed to sustain employment and output. Our economy is seen by the rest of Europe as the most successful in western Europe and the G8. Thirteen or 14 years ago, we were regarded as the sick man of Europe in the context of a far more benign international economy.
The gloomy remarks about manufacturing are not reflected locally. My constant dialogue with the foundry industry has informed me that the industry is doing better, is more optimistic and has better prospects than has been the case for nearly a decade. Only a couple of years ago it was confronted with soaring scrap metal prices, a dearth of coke supply and a rise in other raw material costs. Those pressures have now been alleviated, partly as a result of the DTI's work through Europe and the World Trade Organisation in negotiating with China, which is now releasing more coke on to the market. The deceleration in the Chinese economy over the past year has taken some of the pressures from raw material prices, as well. Industrial prospects are much better locally, partly because of those developments.
All the evidence suggests that where foundries are moving into specialist niche markets requiring higher skills, they are surviving. In the past year, Hitachi Metals has opened the first new foundry in this country—in my constituency—for some years, producing high quality, environmentally friendly car exhaust systems. That is an interesting example of what can result from good investment and environmentally friendly quality techniques allied to traditional industry. We can survive, and I am confident that in my industry we will. Let me also make a general point. If foundries in my constituency are producing castings, other manufacturers must be using those castings and must be confident that their prospects justify the placing of orders. So it is not all doom and gloom.
I must, however, mention an issue that has arisen in my constituency in the last few weeks—partly because of the Rover situation, but partly because of a company that I can only describe as a rogue employer. RDS Automotive Ltd. and RDS Automotive Interiors Ltd. supply both Rover and Jaguar. They knew that they would be in some difficulty when Rover closed and they embarked on redundancy negotiations with the employees. However, they said, and it was accepted, that they still had secure markets with Jaguar and that they would continue.
I flag that up as an issue that the Government must confront in their company law and insolvency policy. I will lobby the Government and the DTI to take action on that matter. It is wholly unacceptable in this day and age that a group of employers and directors should close a company, absolve themselves of all their responsibilities, commitments and obligations to their employees, and try to start afresh with a different work force. It is an important issue that I will take up with the Government.
Local employers mention that regulation needs to be addressed by the Government. I welcome the Secretary of State's comments on the matter. The prime concern is that there is not sufficient consultation before the implementation of some of the European regulations. It is not always done badly—one of the good examples that I have had quoted to me was the introduction of the aggregates levy, where there was consultation and the industry felt that the outcome was satisfactory. There is particular concern in the metals industry about European legislation that is known as REACH: the registration, evaluation and authorisation of chemicals regulations. That was a specific issue with the chemical industry. My understanding is that in the discussions and negotiations between the industry and the Government, a more or less satisfactory position was reached. What was not appreciated was that the regulations could have an impact on the metals industry. There is concern that European legislation that was designed just for the chemical industry could have an impact on the metals and foundry industry. I ask the DTI to carry out a thorough consultative exercise to ensure that the European legislation is proportionate to the problem and that it reflects the difficulty that it may create for that industry.
Given that a former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Stephen Byers, declared as long ago, I think, as 1999 his conversion to the idea of sunset clauses, whereby legislation would automatically lapse or expire after a given period, can the hon. Gentleman provide some good and compelling examples since then of when the Government have used sunset clauses in legislation?
The hon. Gentleman tempts me down a rather long and winding path, which I will not follow. Although a debate and discussion on sunset clauses may be needed, I am not sure that that is relevant to the point that I am making.
I wish to talk about another aspect of the Queen's Speech. It was mentioned in the background note: the so-called compensation culture. I welcome the comments on the need to address that matter. Although I am as committed as anyone to supporting good health and safety legislation, there are concerns in industry about the increasing use of frivolous and potentially expensive claims against companies and local and public authorities.
Two years ago, industry was hit by soaring employers' liability costs. There were a number of reasons for that. I would not put it down simply to the increase in the number of claims against them, but that was a contributory factor. That has been mitigated in part by companies improving their medical rehabilitation policies to pre-empt some of those claims. That has certainly taken pressure off industry. However, it remains a potential cost and driver of employers' liability insurance. More significantly perhaps, in my constituency it is an obstacle to getting industry and education together.
I am told by schools that teachers may have to fill in up to 40 forms to take children on a trip to a particular event. It makes me wonder whether we have the balance right. Foundries will not invite children to visit because of health and safety costs and the need to conform to regulations. It is essential that we fill young people with enthusiasm for science and industry. If regulations act as barriers preventing children from seeing industry and getting enthusiastic about it, we seriously need to do something about it. Will the relevant Ministries consider this issue? There is little point in investing large sums in scientific training if we do not also facilitate a connection between students and practitioners, so that those undergoing training want to practise what they have learned.
I have spoken for longer than I intended, but I feel passionately about some of these issues. In conclusion, first, the Government's macro-economic policy has been hugely beneficial to constituencies such as mine that were traditionally based on industry but suffered in the past. Unemployment has dropped and people are more prosperous. We are less dependent on manufacturing industry, which is to be welcomed. Secondly, the picture is not one of universal doom and gloom. We are still world leaders in any number of areas and we are surviving some of the most difficult international economic circumstances. Thirdly, I trust that the Government and the respective Ministries will ensure that regulation is designed to balance the need to promote industry with the need to promote health, welfare, healthy living and a good work-life balance. Ultimately, our prosperity and creativity are dependent on manufacturing industry. I look forward to the Government promoting a regulatory regime that promotes that and helps constituencies like mine, which need it perhaps more than any.
I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my first speech to the House. I hope that Mr. Bailey will forgive me for not following him, although as the son of a Black Country foundry worker and as someone with an interest in compensation law, I am sorely tempted. Perhaps I shall do so on a different occasion.
First, I pay tribute to my predecessor, Anne Campbell. She served as Member for Cambridge for 13 years, in which time she made her mark as an excellent constituency MP. She helped a great many people who are grateful for her work. She also did a lot of work in this House to promote the discussion of science, for which she is to be praised. I also pay tribute to her predecessor, the late Sir Robert Rhodes James, a man of liberal temperament, deep erudition and great kindness.
Cambridge has had a turbulent political history. In the 19th century the seat changed hands many times between the Liberal and Conservative parties, frequently following the unseating of Members for corruption and bribery—I have to say, mostly Conservative Members. There have been a great number of very close elections, none closer than the second election of 1640—the election to what turned out to be the Long Parliament—when an opposition candidate was allegedly elected by a single vote. The name of the candidate elected was of course Oliver Cromwell, who sat for Cambridge in both the Short and the Long Parliaments.
Cambridge is then an ancient parliamentary borough, long represented in this House. The borough, now the city, of Cambridge is indeed older than the university of Cambridge. The city celebrated its 800th anniversary in 2001; the university will not celebrate its 800th anniversary until 2009. Nevertheless, the university of Cambridge is a major feature of the city. Despite its recurrent financial problems, it is still one of the world's leading universities—a fact perhaps better appreciated in other parts of the world than in this country. In this country, universities tend to be judged sometimes by stereotypical and outdated ideas about what kind of students attend them. In the rest of the world, a university's reputation rests on the quality of its research. On that basis, Cambridge university is still a force to be reckoned with.
However, Cambridge university is not the only university in Cambridge. Anglia Polytechnic university provides excellent higher education to a diverse group of students—students who will perhaps be even more adversely affected by increased tuition fees than those at the older university.
In sheer economic terms, however, higher education is no longer the most important activity in Cambridge. That title belongs to high-tech industry, which now employs tens of thousands of people in the city and nearby. The growth of high-tech industry in the past 30 years has transformed Cambridge. It is no longer a small market town with a university attached; it is an international centre of innovation in every sector of the new economy. It is a city of great diversity and energy.
However, there are also parts of Cambridge where tourists and business people rarely go that have not necessarily shared in the prosperity of the rest of the city—places with problems especially of housing and transport that are in some degree the result of economic success.
Cambridge is a city of high property values but ordinary salaries; a city of high bicycle usage, but one that is still plagued by traffic congestion. Housing is a pressing problem for many people. Many Cambridge families could not possibly afford to buy the property that they occupy. Many fear that their children will never be able to live in their own home in Cambridge. The pressure on social housing is immense. There is a crying need for more affordable housing. Subsidising buyers merely puts prices up even more. It is more housing that we need. I fear that in this I may differ to some extent with Damian Green, although I should say that I agreed with every word that he said about identity cards.
Some hon. Members have said earlier in the debate, notably on Tuesday, but the Secretary of State said it in his opening remarks today, that the green belt should be preserved at all costs. I fear that there is some confusion here between "green belt" and "greenfield sites". I agree that greenfield sites should be the last development option, but green belt land is not necessarily greenfield land. The Cambridge green belt, as the Minister for Competitiveness, who is in his place, will doubtless remember, long included Cambridge airport. Far from an unused site, the airport borders the existing built-up area and many in local government believe that it would be an excellent site for a new urban extension to Cambridge, incorporating housing, open space, public transport and civic amenities.
Green belts are not always very green. The best environmental option is not always to prevent building on what is technically green belt land. Compact urban development can be more environmentally sustainable than spread-out rural and suburban development. Each case must be judged on its own merits.
Transport is at the centre of Cambridge's problems. Unusually, there has been a major increase in bus usage in the town, though the unregulated bus service is still letting some parts of the city down. Overall, Cambridge's public transport system is still that of a small market town rather than of a growth point in the new economy. We need major investment in infrastructure, but the system of local government finance means that we are unlikely to get it. The nationalisation of business rates and the obsession with centralised bidding for capital funding mean that we have to beg central Government for infrastructure funds—funds that the Government seem inclined to allocate elsewhere.
Areas of economic success such as Cambridge need backing. The Government can either back that success with money or, better still, restore financial independence to local government so that local government can do the job itself. Over-centralisation plagues this country, affecting all aspects of public services, including health and education. My constituent, Lord Wilson, the former Cabinet Secretary, has spoken eloquently about the need to restore local democracy, and I agree with him. I want to see the culture of micro-management and control replaced by a culture of trust and democratic participation. If there is to be a theme to my time in the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that is what I hope it will be.
I congratulate David Howarth and, indeed, other hon. Members on making their maiden speeches. It is an honour for me to rise to make my maiden speech on industry and the environment, not least because my constituency of Stoke-on-Trent, South has played a central role in our industrial heritage. Stoke-on-Trent continues to be a major player, particularly in ceramics, but in other areas, too. For example, this year sees the 100th anniversary of Michelin in the UK, and "the Mitch", as it is known, is an important employer in my constituency.
I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor, Mr. George Stevenson, who served the people of Stoke-on-Trent for many years—for the last 13 years as MP for Stoke-on-Trent, South, for 12 years before that as an MEP and before that as a councillor. Like me, George was not born in the city, but as my hon. and learned Friend Vera Baird said a few days ago,
"people who are converts to a place . . . often become more strongly committed than those born into them."—[Hansard, 17 May 2005; Vol. 434, c. 36.]
A Yorkshire man by birth, George and his family moved to the city. In his time, he worked as a bus driver, miner and at the clay end in the Potts. He is a well-known figure in the city. Indeed, George is so well known that I had some concerns at one point about the size of our local schools, as on one day there must have been hundreds of people who said that they had been at school with George. Wherever one looks across the constituency, whether it be at rebuilding works, improvements or renewal, one can see a lasting testimony to George Stevenson.
It would be remiss of me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to talk about George without mentioning his wonderful wife, Pauline, so I want to take this opportunity of wishing them both a long and happy retirement.
It is a delight to live in Stoke-on-Trent, South. There is something almost magical about the place that, once in the heart, never leaves it. I have received kind letters of congratulation from the sons and daughters of the city, who have moved to other parts of the country but for whom Stoke-on-Trent is for ever their true home. My constituency represents many of the challenges and opportunities in Britain today. The skyline was once dominated by bottle kilns and winding gear, but alas those industries—like many traditional British industries—are no more, or are much reduced. However, the tremendous talent of the people lives on. On election day, I was honoured to share in the 80th birthday celebrations of Vera Leese, a former paintress. Vera embodies a creative talent that now shows itself in her superb fruit pies and cakes—the reason why I must now walk to the House rather than take the tube.
In the weeks leading up to the election, I was privileged to work with great community servants, such as Derek Bamford, Ian McLaughlan, Denver Tolley, Bagh Ali, Kath Banks, Stan Bate, Mike Tappin, Terry Doughty and Paul Shotton. With the help and support of my agent, Tim Mullen, and the hard work of many dedicated volunteers—to whom I will always be grateful—we visited many places. From the cold, dark, wet nights of winter to the brighter mornings of spring, the volunteers pounded the streets with me, from Caroline street to the Trentham road. Together we visited the Thursday market in Fenton and the indoor market and precinct in Longton, perhaps pausing to buy Eccles cakes—or, as they are affectionately known, dead fly pies. We walked many miles around Blurton, from Hollybush to Newstead. We met with the police and local residents at Sandford Hill. We spoke to the residents of the Meir, Coalville and Weston Coyney. We met retirement clubs, such as those at Meir Park community centre, Fenton community centre, and Pauline and the gang at the John Marston retirement club. We walked many miles in Trentham and Hanford and we journeyed around the whole constituency.
Stoke-on-Trent is starting once more to take its rightful place at the heart of Britain. For too many years our city was overlooked, but that is all changing. Unemployment has been slashed by 42 per cent. Brand-new schools are springing up in my constituency. Parents to whom I spoke during the campaign welcome the new investments in schools such as Blurton primary, The Crescent primary and Newstead primary—all brand-new schools. Parents told me of their delight at the new sports hall at Trentham high school, at St. Augustine's new kitchen and classroom, and at Glebe primary's new classroom block.
There is much work in progress. Sandon high is to be rebuilt, starting in September, and Clarice Cliff and Gladstone primary schools are in planning. Ash Green is getting an extension to its nursery and The Crescent is getting a brand new children's centre.
The constituency is also benefiting from new health facilities. The Willow Bank surgery opened in February of last year and patients have told me how they are able to have treatment there which previously would have needed a trip to hospital. Older members of the community have spoken to me about the new step-up, step-down beds at the refurbished Longton cottage hospital, which are making a tremendous difference to their recovery. Residents of Ripon road told me during the campaign about the significantly refurbished Blurton health clinic. That is not to mention the £370 million university hospital in the neighbouring constituency of my hon. Friend Mark Fisher—a brand-new hospital to serve the needs of the whole region. A lot has been done, but a lot more remains to do, and I shall press for the new Fenton health centre to be up and running by the end of the year.
As well as improvements in health and education, I shall take up the challenge of pressing for more and better quality jobs in my city. I want to see new employers coming into places such as Trentham Lakes, and our existing employers being helped to expand and take on more staff. Over the next three years, £100 million of regeneration funding is being made available. I shall hold the regeneration zone board closely to account to make sure that that money is spent well and fully used for the benefit of my constituents.
Many communities such as the Meir, Coalville, Blurton and Normacott now have the chance of decent housing and community facilities through RENEW's £2.3 billion programme, but many residents have told me that they have concerns about how that programme will affect them. I must declare an interest here as a resident of the Meir. I have already given a commitment to my fellow residents that while we must not pass over the opportunity of a generation that that money affords, the plans must be for the good of the people, not for the good of the architects.
Stoke-on-Trent has given this country many great people, from Reginald Mitchell, designer of the Spitfire, to Clarice Cliff, ceramics artist. In fact, it is time that this country recognised Reginald Mitchell for the national hero that he is. The very least we could do is to honour him with a statue here in our nation's capital.
Stoke-on-Trent has also produced diverse musicians. For those with a classically trained ear—perhaps—they include Motorhead's Lemmy, Slash from Guns N' Roses and, of course, Robbie Williams. Other famous figures range from the ill-fated Captain E. J. Smith of the Titanic to possibly the greatest English footballer, Sir Stanley Matthews.
Stoke-on-Trent has other heroes. I shall keep with me an enduring image—that of the Treetops children's hospice run by the Donna Louise trust. In the week before the election, the hospice held an open day and I was shown around by one of the bereavement counsellors. In circumstances in which many people would, I suspect, find it impossible to cope, a dedicated team of staff and volunteers give hope and happiness to young people and their families. The trials and difficulties of an election campaign pale into insignificance when compared with the strength of the users and carers of Treetops—an organisation that depends on charitable donations.
The good people of Stoke-on-Trent, South have an optimistic future and I welcome Members to the city to enjoy its finest hospitality and a warm welcome, perhaps at "The Malt and Hops". They will see for themselves what it is to be truly proud of Stoke-on-Trent.
I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in the Queen's Speech debate. It is an honour to follow the hon. Members for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Flello) and for Cambridge (David Howarth) whose maiden speeches we have just heard. Both Members expressed an interest in schooling, which made me prick up my ears as education is an important subject for me. I should be delighted to invite them to Bournemouth so that we can compare notes. I appreciate that Stoke-on-Trent and Cambridge are some distance away, but if the hon. Gentlemen could get to Shropshire, the new high-speed police escort service that is under trial there could make their journey to Bournemouth much quicker. Congratulations to both on their excellent maiden speeches.
It is indeed an honour to be elected to represent Bournemouth, East. I stand here with mixed emotions. I am humbled by the surroundings in which I find myself, but enthusiastic to join 54 Conservative Members—fresh horses and keen to hold the Government to account. I am conscious of the responsibility that the people of Bournemouth have bestowed on me and I am committed to working with my hon. Friend Sir John Butterfill, who already has much experience in the House. I am grateful to him.
Many Members will be familiar with Bournemouth, as it is a seaside town on the party conference circuit. However, it offers much more than eight miles of glorious beaches and a major conference centre. There is a thriving business sector, with small and large businesses and a focus on financial services. There is also a cultural focus in the form of Shelley manor, built by the family of the poet. It includes a small theatre that is currently being renovated. Bournemouth can also lay claim to one of the best NHS trusts in the south.
There is a vibrant tourism industry but, alas, no donkeys at present. If people want donkeys they still have to go to Blackpool. However, I understand that a new EU working directive will change that and give donkeys better working conditions, so no doubt we shall see many more donkeys at the next party conference.
Bournemouth boasts some of the highest education standards in the country. I do not want to be too controversial in my maiden speech but I made the funding of Bournemouth schools a priority during the election campaign. I visited several schools; for example, Queen's Park infant school, Epiphany primary school, Avonbourne, St. Peter's and Pokesdown. Two themes were common in my visits to all those schools: first, the high standard of education and the commitment shown by teachers and, secondly, the harsh financial conditions that the schools face. I should be grateful for the chance to meet an Education Minister at the earliest opportunity to discuss how Bournemouth's funding settlement can be increased so that we retain the highest standards of teaching and education.
Bournemouth is also home to a great football club—AFC Bournemouth is in the first division and was pipped at the last game by Hartlepool for a place in the play-offs. Like many clubs in the constituencies of other Members, it is a focal point not only for football but many other sporting and community activities. Like other non-premiership clubs, the club's sporting successes are unfortunately marred by the financial constraints that it faces. Clubs such as AFC Bournemouth now look to the FA cup almost as a mini-lottery, hoping to be drawn against a premier league club simply to balance the books. In fact, Bournemouth were drawn against Liverpool in the fourth round, but unfortunately Liverpool, perhaps knowing that they might be confronted with playing Bournemouth, lost their first-round replay match, thereby denying Bournemouth the crucial financial support that they need.
I was not alive when England won the World cup, but I am told that the win in 1966 was a huge boost to British sports, not only football, and that even for non-sports enthusiasts the feel-good factor in England was contagious. I was born a few months afterwards, and it may well be that I have a lot to thank that feel-good factor for. If we are ever to win a World cup again, we must invest in home-grown talent and ensure that we support such non-premier league clubs as AFC Bournemouth, especially as they play such an active role in our communities.
Like many seaside towns, Bournemouth must now compete with holiday destinations abroad because the cost of travel has dropped. Low-cost airlines are making places such as Bournemouth compete with the likes of Berlin and Barcelona. Bookings for weekend holidays, let alone holidays for an entire week, have reduced as it is so much cheaper to travel abroad. Tourism is Bournemouth's biggest industry. The town has so much potential but is unfortunately denied the ability to explore new ways to deal with that competition and to pursue its own strategy to pursue visitors. I am afraid that the reason why it is held back, again without being too controversial in my maiden speech, is the growth in the power base of the South West regional assembly, which has taken power away from councils and given it to Taunton, denying councils the ability to decide their own strategy for the future. The biggest example is the threat to the green belt area around Bournemouth, where 13,000 more homes are being planned. I am not a supporter of the South West regional assembly. Bournemouth deliberately became a unitary authority in 1997 so that it could control its own future. I should like more power to be given to councils instead of having larger local government outside the area.
As in other town centres around the country, pubs and clubs have sprung up in Bournemouth at a rate that is altering the character of the town. In Bournemouth's case, this is deterring families from visiting the area in the evenings. I am not saying that we should not have any pubs or clubs—far from it—but the local council needs to have more control over how the character of the town develops. Pubs and clubs generally lead to the development of a yob culture and the drinking that occurs on Friday and Saturday nights, and I am afraid that Bournemouth is no exception. On a Friday night, half the police are forced to focus on the quarter of a square mile where all the nightclubs are based.
One idea that came up during the election campaign is that of imposing a levy on pubs and clubs to pay for the extra policing that is needed, so freeing up the police to cover the rest of the town. The concept is not new—it is already used at football matches, where the extra policing that one sees is not paid for by taxpayers who are not necessarily there but out of ticket sales. That idea could be explored for Bournemouth, and I would very much welcome the opportunity to work with the council in order to pursue this.
When the Prime Minister opened the Queen's Speech debate, he mentioned the role of the police community support officer. I have spent time with many agencies in Bournemouth, including the police and CSOs, but have yet to meet a CSO who would not jump at the opportunity of ditching that uniform and wearing the uniform of a special constable—if special constables were paid a salary. In Bournemouth, only one third of the quota for specials is met. Were we to pay them a salary, we would benefit from their better training, their power to make arrests, and meet the policing needs in Bournemouth.
Before I end and pay tribute to my predecessor, I want to make a comment about the identity cards Bill, similar to that which my hon. Friend Damian Green made. We await the detail of the Government's proposals, but having served in the armed forces and, sadly, having lost a brother in the Bali bomb, I take a great interest in any legislation that aims to deal with the threat of terrorism. I am trying to keep an open mind on the issue, but I have yet to be convinced that a Bali-style attack in the UK could be prevented by the introduction of ID cards.
My predecessor, David Atkinson, was a loyal and dedicated MP for Bournemouth, East for 28 years. His commitment to Bournemouth was reflected in almost every street I visited during the election. It was impossible not to bump into someone who sang his praises or said that in one way or another he had helped them during his 28 years' tenure. He introduced a number of private Member's Bills, including a fireworks Bill, and spent 25 of those 28 years as a member of the Council of Europe.
It is interesting to note that during his time as an MP, David Atkinson never owned a mobile phone, a computer or a Blackberry—those new devices with which we all seem to be issued these days. It is therefore surprising to learn that it was he who made the announcement in the House about the threat of the Y2K bug—the big issue leading up to the year 2000, when it was feared that all our computers would crash. How on earth he came upon that information, I do not know, but his reluctance to harness IT never prevented him from dealing with constituency matters. Perhaps the lesson for us all is that we should not be so reliant on the IT equipment that we are given.
It is said that the pen is mightier than the sword. I might add that the pen is also mightier than the Blackberry, because if one loses one's pen, one simply loses one's train of thought. If one loses one's Blackberry, one loses one's life—temporarily, at least—as I found out the hard way, and I am grateful to the staff of the Members' Tea Room for reuniting me with my Blackberry and making sure that I did not get into trouble with the Whips. Despite all the high-tech gadgetry that MPs are now armed with, David Atkinson proved that what is important is not so much the speed with which constituency matters are dealt with, or the turnover, but the quality of the response and the pursuit of a solution. I hope hon. Members will join me in wishing David Atkinson well in his retirement. I am pleased that he has chosen to retire in Bournemouth, as he will not be too far away if I have any questions or advice to seek.
I conclude by underlining my opening words. It is an honour to be elected as the Member for Bournemouth, East. I believe that good politics is about the accountability of power. I am encouraged by Mr. Speaker's opening remarks earlier this week about the role that this place plays in our democratic process. It is here that announcements of state should be made, it is here where those debates should take place, and it is here that Government should be held to account.
Good politics is about the accountability of power and how that power is wisely distributed, exercised and maintained. I hope to be guided by these words as I undertake the responsibility of Member of Parliament for Bournemouth, East. I am grateful to the people of Bournemouth, East for giving me this opportunity to work with and represent them to the high standard that they expect and deserve, as Bournemouth meets the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
I congratulate Mr. Ellwood on his impressive speech. The last three speeches have all been maiden speeches and have all been excellent. All the Members will make their mark in the House. I hope that they do, and I wish them well in that process. I congratulate all who have made their maiden speeches in the House today.
Labour's election manifesto was fine, up to a point. The Queen's Speech is fine, up to a point. The manifesto was published during the election campaign, following a restrictive system for what went in it. Anyway, it was too late to put such commitments into local campaigning literature or into an election address. The pledges on the pledge card were so general this time that they amounted in worth to only one day's spin. I did not use them.
However, what a manifesto does not contain can be as important as what it does. Last time, there was no indication that the Government would support a war as foolhardy as the one in Iraq, and what was said about tuition fees was quite different from what was actually proposed. Something similar could happen this time. The Leader of the Opposition struck a chord when he said that some of the new policies announced in the Queen's Speech had a familiar—and he suggested Tory—ring.
I fought the election not on a new Labour ticket, but on a Labour ticket. I do not feel bound by an unremittingly new Labour agenda. I welcome the commitments to education that were contained in an e-mail sent to candidates, but which did not appear in the manifesto. Under "Building Schools for the Future", over the next 15 years it is proposed to rebuild completely, or refurbish radically with new classrooms, sports halls and computer centres, more than 50 per cent. of our primary schools and the entire secondary school estate of every local authority in the country. I also welcome the promise that spending per pupil will rise from £3,850 to £5,500 by 2008. More pre-school and after-school clubs are also promised, as are better school meals, and I welcome that too, as I do the intention to provide 3,500 children's centres by 2010. Moreover, the aim is to make extended schools—with much more widespread links with the communities that they serve than is presently the case—the norm rather than the exception
Improved education, with opportunity for all and not just an elite, is a true Labour objective that I am happy to support. However, how does effective private control and, perhaps, ownership of city academies—funded overwhelmingly with taxpayers' money—square with that? I wait to see exactly what is proposed.
I do not want the hon. Gentleman to feel alone. If he was not guided exclusively by the contents of his party's manifesto, I can assure him that I was not exclusively guided by the contents of mine.
The hon. Gentleman makes his point. The Opposition have needed lessons in opposition since 1997.
I am also wary of the first proposal made by the new Health Secretary, which was no doubt required of her by No. 10. The proposal is to increase massively the number of private operations contracted for by the NHS. She said that she foresaw no limit—presumably up to 100 per cent.—to the number of such operations carried out in the private sector. In the short term, that may lead to more operations being carried out, given the amount of money being pumped in, but the effect on the NHS, in the medium and long term, would be bad.
Consultants will set up private companies to feed off the NHS. Their services will not be available in-house in NHS hospitals, and in-house provision is likely to be wound down in direct proportion to the expansion of those private companies. In due course, those companies will charge what they like and the NHS will be over a barrel. The care offered by the private companies is likely to be more expensive than NHS in-house provision were that to be similarly expanded, with more resources, for the same number of operations.
However, what really alarmed me was the new Labour rhetoric that uncompetitive local hospitals could close as part of the process. Communities need their local hospitals. If any hospitals are not running efficiently, it is the job of the health executives and the Government to ensure that they become efficient. It is not their job to close them. What we have is the Nicholas Ridley agenda applied to the NHS, where the state is seen as an agent or enabler, not the provider. Increasingly, the private sector is the provider. The NHS has worked well as a provider of health care, achieving results for the amount of resources put in that are a lot better than is the case in other countries. It does not need this sort of reform, which I have considerable doubt will be for the better.
I give the Government the benefit of the doubt on identity cards. Before the election, I voted for the cards in principle, but the devil is in the detail. Another example of that might be the children's registers: the intention is good, but the Government must do the necessary work to ensure that they operate properly. Care must be taken about the data that are kept and who is allowed access, and proper provision must be made for the correction of inaccurate information. Moreover, the purposes of the registers must be made clear and not continually added to. If the Government do not do that necessary work, the project could end up discredited and unable to fulfil its intended goals. If that happens, it will be an expensive failure.
There is also a case for a carefully calibrated policy on incapacity benefit. Nobody wants malingerers to freeload and nobody wants seriously ill people to be denied their benefit, but there are a lot of people in between. In my constituency, some 6 per cent. of the working population are on incapacity benefit. As an urban area, it is a tough place to live. The living environment, let alone the working one, is tough. It makes people sick, even if that sometimes manifests itself in just an inability to cope at anything other than a low level. To be brutally frank, many such people are mentally sick or inadequate when held up against what we want of them: to work and to cope for themselves. Tougher invalidity rules would be unfair to them. I favour the option, suggested by the Government, of seeking to help such people remove the obstacles to working, but we should not be swift to punish them by cutting off their benefit if the process turns out to be a slow one. There still remains the suspicion that the Government's main objective is to move swiftly to cut the overall invalidity bill, so the detail of the proposals will need to be scrutinised very carefully.
Local government workers, key workers, teachers, nurses and health care professionals must have secure pensions. They have paid in over the years for their pension rights, and the terms of those rights have been successfully negotiated by their representatives. It is not right that the Government should take a heavy-handed approach and adversely change such pension rights. There must be proper talks and negotiations with the public service trade unions, and agreed solutions must be reached. Public sector workers are paid relatively low wages for the important public service that they perform, and their pensions should be protected. I will not support a fast fix that seriously penalises such workers.
The Government must also take action to protect the pensions of people who work in the private sector. Effective robbery from pension savings by fat-cat directors of finance companies—who take excessive salaries and dividends for themselves, even when the savings that they are managing are underperforming—must be stopped. The whole commission system is now seen as lining the pockets of the financial adviser, against the interests of the saver. Employers have not contributed properly to pension funds, taking long contribution holidays for themselves and worsening their workers' pension rights when the funds failed to match commitments.
Finance capital associated with the stock exchange has brought about a depletion in pension funds, without the stock exchange being accountable. There is no transparency in its performance. The Government have stood by and said, "This is a private sector matter, not a matter for us." Individuals saving more for their old age are increasingly mooted as a major factor in any future system, but that will not be a solution if they can so easily be robbed of their money as is currently the case. If the Government want a savings culture, they must get rid of the corporate robbery culture. According to a report in The Independent of
I wish to discuss three other matters, the first of which is Iraq. Some 100,000 Iraqis have been killed and the country has been plunged into the hands of militant insurgents. Execution-style murders have become a new trend in the violence in Iraq; some 450 people have died in that way so far in May alone. The desperate security situation is matched by the almost non-existent administrative infrastructure. There has been no serious effort at reconstruction or at rebuilding Iraq for the people. There has been no clear-up of cluster bomblets or of other unexploded ordinance. Iraq's resources, most notably oil, continue to be plundered. Deplorably, proper plans to follow "shock and awe" were non-existent, and the Iraqi people continue to suffer.
Moreover, we have lost 87 UK service personnel in Iraq. Those troops and their families, along with Iraqis and all the others who have been killed or maimed, are the victims of a decision to go to war that was taken on a false premise, and on legal advice deliberately changed under pressure that did not properly reflect the illegality of the action. The policy and the interpretation of the law were left to the Prime Minister, and he interpreted the United Kingdom's national interest as being to side, come what may, with the warmonger in the White House. The national interest, from now on, must be what the British people want and need, not what a right-wing Republican President of the United States wants.
I continue to support the campaign to bring the troops home at an early opportunity. That is not cutting and running, but facing up to our responsibility to bring about a solution. There can be none while foreign troops—ours and those from the United States—are there in occupation. We have to pay for our mistakes and to help to build Iraq, even after we have left, but we need not pay with the loss of more lives.
Nuclear weapons will be used if we take that route. It is not a sustainable policy. We must return to treaty, international law and inspection arrangements. That must include our properly meeting our NPT commitments. That should mean that the option of a new generation of nuclear weapons for Britain is out. Otherwise, we shall have the hypocritical spectacle of a British Prime Minister falsely accusing another country of having weapons of mass destruction while he is authorising a big expansion of his own.
Nuclear power is my last matter. I strongly support the Government's renewable energy policy of getting 10 per cent. of electricity from renewable sources by 2010. We are below 3 per cent. at present. The Government must use compulsion and invoke the national interest, as they did with the immigration and asylum centre in Oxford, to ensure that there are sufficient wind and wave farms and that there are solar panels in all newly built homes. It would not be right to abandon that and to switch to building new nuclear power stations. Many such as myself suspect that that option is returning to the table only to supply a discreet means of sourcing the new nuclear weapons programme. Nuclear power is hugely wasteful. The cost to the British taxpayer of its debts and of clean-up is counted in billions of pounds. It spreads radioactivity. There is the risk of a Chernobyl-type disaster, and there is still no safe disposal option for nuclear waste. It is not the solution. We must press ahead more insistently on wind, wave and sun power, and not be fooled by the allegedly easy nuclear option.
I echo a point that someone once made—we govern best when we are Labour. We should now govern as Labour, not new Labour.
I am grateful for being called in the Queen's Speech debate. May I dare say, however, that this Queen's Speech is almost beyond parody, if not beyond criticism? That could not, of course, be said of the speech that we have just heard from Harry Cohen, who demonstrated to us the duty and job of a Member of Parliament, whether he be a member of the Labour party or any other. That duty and job is primarily to speak up for his constituents in this Chamber and to hold the Government to account. If he did anything, he made a speech on his feet and not on his knees, and I was delighted to hear it. I cannot say that I agree with everything he had to say, but he demonstrated to those of us who have been Members of the House for some while and those who have been Members for only a few days what it is that a Member of Parliament should do. Accountability is what we are about, and holding those on the Treasury Bench to account. I hope that more Members during this Parliament will behave as he does and as he did today. I congratulate him on his speech.
I also congratulate others who have spoken in today's proceedings. My hon. Friends the Members for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) and for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) made powerful and fluent speeches, and it is a delight to see them here and to hear what they have to say. It was particularly pleasing to hear what they had to say about their predecessors, who are well known to those of us who were Members in the last Parliament and saw at first hand the service that they gave the House.
Roger Casale, the previous Labour Member for Wimbledon, was, with me, co-chairman of the Anglo-Italian parliamentary group. I got to know him on that level very well, and I know he will be sorely missed in the Italian group, but he has provided us with a sterling replacement in my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon. I look forward to hearing a lot more of what he has to say on matters of great public concern, as I do in respect of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East, who gave us a telling insight into how he will represent his Bournemouth constituents. They are lucky to have him.
Other contributions came from the hon. Members for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Flello), for Cambridge (David Howarth), for Burnley (Kitty Ussher), for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) and for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove), all of whom spoke with great fluency and entirely fearlessly, as far as I could see, as well as with great pride in their election and the fact that they are here to represent their constituents. I feel sure, having heard them all, that they will be assiduous representatives of their constituents in this place. I am sure, irrespective of our political differences, that we will find their contribution to debate, as well as their desire to hold the Government to account and to scrutinise with great care the legislation that they spew forth, to be one of their most proud duties.
If I may, I shall pick up on one or two paragraphs in this document, the Queen's Speech, and then talk about a matter of concern to me, which was touched on by my hon. Friend Damian Green.
Rustling through this printed speech, one sees some things that are unobjectionable, some that are meaningless and some that one could probably support. Little appeals to me less, however, than the paragraph that states:
"Education remains my Government's main priority."
Tell that to the people of Leicestershire, who, yet again, have been placed at the bottom of the Whitehall funding stream for local education authorities. Why do this Government think it costs any less to educate a child, maintain the fabric of a school or buy equipment and text books in Leicestershire than in the city of Leicester? Why are city of Leicester parents queuing up to bring their children to Leicestershire schools, and why are they not permitted to bring the additional money that the city LEA gets with them to the schools in the county? Education remains the main priority of Her Majesty's Government.
The Queen's Speech says:
Tell that to the people in my constituency queuing up to find an NHS dentist. Tell it to the people of Scarborough, who were queuing half way round the block just before the election when a new NHS dental practice started up in the town.
The Queen's Speech also says:
"A Bill will be brought forward to support patients who wish to seek redress should they experience problems with their healthcare."
It will be interesting to see whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer provides the additional funding for legal aid so that the less well off in our society can bring complaints, legal or otherwise, against the health service. It will also be interesting to discover whether the Chancellor allows the Secretary of State for Health the additional funds required to pay the damages, as well as the lawyers and administrators who will have to deal with all those complaints.
The Queen's Speech also states:
"My Government will begin long-term reform to provide sustainable income for those in retirement."
I have no idea—nor, I suspect, do the Government—what is meant by the word "sustainable", but my constituents who used to work for British United Shoe Machinery would be interested to know what on earth the Government intended by that sentence. Malcolm Wicks, who has left the Department for Work and Pensions for the Department of Trade and Industry, did something to assist those facing penury in retirement following the collapse of a number of company pension schemes, but clearly it was not enough. I look forward to seeing more of the detail, rather than the soundbites, on pensions.
A large section of the Queen's Speech deals with Home Office matters, which I shall leave until next week when I am sure my right hon. Friend David Davis will have much to say. There is plenty to criticise and I was pleased to hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford had to say on a number of Home Office issues.
We are faced yet again with the awful adjective "sustainable" when one reaches the third page of the Gracious Speech, which states:
"My Government is committed to achieving sustainable development and supporting rural services."
I am not at all sure what that is supposed to mean but we will find out in due course, either from the Secretary of State or from other Ministers. On supporting rural services, I hope that the Government realise how difficult it is now to operate as an economic unit or as a profit-making farm in rural areas. I am delighted that my right hon. Friend Mr. Letwin has moved from shadowing the Chancellor to shadowing the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. He will be able to bring to bear his experience as a constituency Member for a rural and farming area, with which he will bring his great ability to focus with great tenacity on Government waffle.
I shall return to ask the Government about what they propose to do to protect the natural environment in the context of a matter that the Secretary of State and myself share: concern for the activities of Nottingham East Midlands airport. My constituency is approximately 20 to 50 miles to the south east of the airport and hers is 20 miles, or perhaps less, to the north-west of an airport that needs a lot of careful watching.
In due course, I want to find out what is meant by another wonderful piece of Government language:
"A Bill to modernise the management of common land".
When I hear a Labour Government talking about modernising and management, I tend to think that they mean nationalisation or bringing into Government control. I hope that I can be disabused of that. [Interruption.] I see the Minister for Climate Change and the Environment laughing. Not many of my constituents had much to laugh about as regards the Government's conduct towards them, but I look forward to him persuading me that my cynicism about the language of the speech as placed into the mouth of Her Majesty is misplaced. I know that he personally is committed to environmental issues and has a long and proud record on these matters, but a Bill to modernise the management of common land sets off alarm bells in my mind.
The Queen told us:
"My Government is committed to promoting efficiency, productivity and value for money."
That is probably one of the funniest parts of the speech. I could take any number of Ministers to the small companies in my constituency—Harry Darby Engineering Ltd, Okay Engineering Ltd and Invicta Plastics Ltd are but three. They are small in that they are not like ICI or vast international companies. Their turnovers are in the few millions rather than the billions or hundreds of millions. However, those three companies, which I visited for the second time recently, complained about the massive burden of red tape, bureaucracy and Government interference with which they had to cope while trying to make a profit in the manufacturing sector in the east midlands.
Some of the small companies in my constituency are suppliers to the west midlands automotive sector. Some have been gravely embarrassed by the collapse of MG Rover. I look forward to hearing how the Government's desire to promote efficiency, productivity and value for money will translate into an economic climate and a manufacturing environment that allow those companies to thrive rather than follow MG Rover to the far east.
While flicking through the speech, I came across the following sentence:
"Legislation will be brought forward to encourage greater voter participation in elections while introducing further measures to combat fraud and increase security."
It is a pity that the Government did not follow the Electoral Commission's advice before the election rather than wringing their hands now. It did not take a genius to work out that encouraging greater voter participation should not mean voters voting more than once in a constituency or people delivering bucket loads of postal votes to factories where they could be processed in the most convenient way for whichever political party happened to be managing that vote factory. The Electoral Commission foretold all that either directly or implicitly, yet all the pointers that were given to the Government to warn them about the previous measure were ignored. Perhaps the Government should beware because, this time, the public will not give them a second chance.
Trust, truth and accountability are the themes that we should ensure that the Government follow. On trust, the Government should not do or promise things that they simply cannot deliver. We are fed up with having to listen to soundbites and with government by gimmick, while our taxes rise and the delivery of our public services does not improve.
On truth, the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead mentioned his concerns about the conduct and planning of the Iraq war. I spoke a great deal about that in the previous Parliament and I shall not repeat today what I said then. However, there is much for which the Government can be criticised in the way in which they took the House's trust and abused it in their advance towards the war in Iraq. The Government appear to have forgotten about accountability and I hope that speeches such as his will remind them of what they are supposed to be doing. The Executive happen to sit in the Chamber but they should not sit on it. I look forward to a new sort of government—a new new Labour Government—in this Parliament, which respects the balance in our constitution and the separate role that each aspect of our constitution plays.
I do not want to hear a Home Secretary making offensive remarks about the quality of our judges in public. I do not want to hear a Home Secretary making ridiculous and normally ignorant remarks about the length of specific sentences after a court case in which only the judge and not the Home Secretary has heard the evidence. I do not want to have to listen to Ministers saying, "We were elected on this manifesto by an overwhelming popular mandate", given the figures for this election. I do not want to hear Ministers telling the House or journalists, "We gave ample time for this particular measure to be properly looked at; it was discussed at length" only to read on the Order Paper the following day, "Such and such a measure [no debate after 10 pm]" or "[no debate]" or to find that measure subject to a guillotine motion.
Towards the end of the last Parliament, this place became a farce in terms of its ability to scrutinise Government legislation. I would have thought that a Government who had a majority of 165 would have had the self-confidence to allow their ideas to be tested. Some of their ideas are perfectly good and deserve to be passed into law, but all their policies deserve to be looked at and tested, and some deserve to be tested to destruction. In the last Parliament—I trust that it will not happen in this one—the Government resorted to guillotining everything all the time. Legislation such as the Criminal Justice Act—
The Bill that became the Criminal Justice Act 2003 was the size of a London telephone book, yet it was barely looked at either on the Floor of the House or in Committee. It then had to be dealt with far more thoroughly in the other place. That cannot be a sensible way for a sensible Government to produce sensible legislation.
I have heard such moans from Conservative Members on a number of occasions. Anyone who has been here for a long time—I do not recall when the hon. and learned Gentleman was first elected—would acknowledge that the procedures that this Government introduced in the Parliament that ended in 2001 to improve the handling of legislation have unquestionably done that. I remind him that some very senior Conservative Members who are extraordinarily respected on both sides of the House have long expressed the view that the processes of the House, by which we used not to examine many parts of Bills, were wholly undesirable. They felt that to have a structure that facilitated scrutiny—to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the seriousness of the chunk of the Bill in question—of all elements of the legislation was a huge improvement. It is ridiculous of Conservative Members to pretend otherwise. I sat on the Opposition Benches when the Conservative Government whom the hon. and learned Gentleman supported introduced a whole new section into a social security Bill, to get rid of widows' pensions, after a guillotine. I really do not want to hear these criticisms from the Conservatives, because they are totally unjustified.
I am happy to be criticised when that criticism is justified and based on fact. For the right hon. Lady's information, I got into the House in 1992. I accept that the history of this Parliament is not a history of perfection. It does not matter whether we are talking about a Conservative Government or a Labour Government; both can be criticised for curtailing debate, because they sit in the Chamber and want their business to get through,. However, the way in which the guillotine process has been extended during recent years is wholly unforgivable and represents the destruction of our parliamentary processes and the undermining of our democratic system.
The right hon. Lady, as a member of the Government since 1997, has no doubt had plenty to do, in her various Departments, throughout the country and on the world stage. I, on the other hand, have had the opportunity since I left the Front Bench four years ago to spend more time in the Chamber, more time studying the Order Paper, and more time in Standing Committees than perhaps she has. I can tell her that it is not just my experience but that of people across the Chamber in all parties that we are dissatisfied with the way in which legislation is pushed through the House. Of course, she has a mandate to get her business through. Fair enough. But she ought to have the self-confidence—when I say "she", I mean the Government as a whole—to allow Parliament to do its job, and to listen to people such as the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead and me. She might not like what I have to say, and she might disagree with my arguments, but the House is not and should not be a sausage machine. It should be a place in which legislation is considered, and in the last part of the last Parliament, it manifestly was not. It became an embarrassment, and if she does not know that, she should do.
Does my hon. and learned Friend recall that, in the last Parliament and the one that preceded it, it was commonplace for the Government to table large numbers of amendments and new clauses to their own legislation on Report? When Conservatives and other Members complained that there was not enough time to debate them, it was common for Ministers—not a Minister of the experience and celebrity of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, but a number of her colleagues—to say that the matters involved had been debated at considerable length in Committee. That is all very well, but for those of us who did not have the great privilege to be chosen by the Whips to serve on those Standing Committees, it was a very unsatisfactory explanation.
In so far as my hon. Friend's point is a point that I have already made, I agree with it. As for his criticism of the way in which Report stages were dealt with, I agree with that as well. Surely, if the House is to deal with legislation properly, the Report stage is the best time for all of us to have an opportunity to study it.
My hon. Friend is Chairman of the Procedure Committee and a man of immense parliamentary experience. I note that he is temporarily perched on the Front Bench. As he says, Report is the only opportunity for the House to study legislation and look at amendments—primarily those tabled by the Government, who have forgotten to include them in the original Bill, yet—
May I finish my sentence first? I know that my hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Winterton listens to everything that we all say. We were given an hour or an hour and a half to deal with great chunks of amendments and new clauses, and I do not know that that is a sensible way in which to go about our business.
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman. I do not intend to detain the House with any further interventions on this matter, but I feel that Members ought to be more aware of the history of the Government whom they supported. I sat on the Opposition Benches for 18 years while literally 400 or 600 amendments were pushed into legislation and when I became Leader of the House, I made it my goal to ensure that legislation was ready to be introduced before it came to the House instead of being written as it went through the House. That was a complete culture change.
Let me introduce a culture change for the right hon. Lady. I thought that she campaigned on the slogan "Forward not back". Let us see if we can move forward in the forthcoming Parliament, and try to improve, in a consensual way, the procedures by which we consider legislation. If she plays her part, I will play mine. I will not engage in "Your Government were worse than my Government, your history is worse than my history, your Government's record is worse than my Government's record" tactics.
Exactly. What more can I offer the right hon. Lady, especially as I now want to talk about Nottingham East Midlands airport—briefly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because I know that plenty of other Members wish to speak, some for the first time.
Nottingham East Midlands airport serves the east midlands region which contains my constituency and the right hon. Lady's. It seems to me that the Government need to get a grip on it. It is owned by the Manchester Airport Group, whose shareholders are 10 local authorities in and around the city of Manchester. Her constituents and mine have no purchase on the managing of the company or the consequences of its business activities for them. Her constituency may be a little nearer to the airport than mine, but both are affected by the noise and air pollution that it causes.
As I said in the last Parliament, I am a Conservative and a capitalist. I wish to see businesses thrive, but I wish to see them thrive only as long as they are well behaved towards their neighbours. No trucking company that proposed to drive trucks through my constituency every 90 seconds throughout the night would be allowed to do so without comment from a Minister, and indeed without action by a Minister to control that activity for the benefit of the community. But because this traffic takes place at night and in the sky, it is not susceptible to the control of local planning authorities, and because the airport is not designated under the Civil Aviation Act 1982, it is not susceptible to the control of the Secretary of State for Transport. As the guardian of public policy on the environment, the right hon. Lady must ask the Secretary of State for Transport to wake up, because my constituents and hers cannot sleep at night and will not be able to sleep at night as a consequence of the increased night flights.
I will not labour the point. I have made it before and I shall make it again but perhaps not today. I urge the right hon. Lady to take a careful look at what NEMA, as it is called, is doing, what it proposes to do and whether it respects the rights and interests of her constituents and mine. My view is that it could not care less about them and that its so-called independent consultative committee, whose chairman is paid a salary by the airport, is not the proper monitoring authority to control aircraft pollution and noise.
The civil aviation Bill that is promised in the Queen's Speech will, apparently, allow airports to fine miscreant airlines that abuse the rules and regulations on pollution and noise. Would you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, expect East Midlands airport to fine its customers and thus to discourage them from using the airport? It will take a lot of convincing to persuade me that the civil aviation Bill will have the desired effect of making airlines behave themselves when they do not fly down the requisite routes and ensuring that East Midlands airport behaves as a good neighbour. I hope that the Secretary of State will help me, as I wish to help her, in ensuring that NEMA behaves itself.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech. I add my congratulations to all the new Members who are making their maiden speeches. I wish them every success in this Parliament, working for their constituents.
Falmouth and Camborne is my birthplace. It is my home and it is now the constituency that I have the privilege of representing. While I am looking forward to raising the concerns of my constituents here, some particularly hard taskmasters are already pushing me for progress. I refer, of course, to my mum, dad and two sisters—I never expected that my toughest constituency surgery would be the Sunday family lunch.
The past half-century has seen some idiosyncratic Cornish voices here. A distinguished predecessor, David Mudd—rather curiously, he was one of the opponents whom I defeated—comes to mind. So too does Candy Atherton, a doughty and courteous opponent. However, Cornwall has produced one genuine political superstar, a strong voice for the county and a man who became a national treasure. I refer, of course, to David Penhaligon, our late, great Liberal Member of Parliament. I was just eight years old when he was tragically killed but, every day that I have campaigned in Cornwall, his name has been mentioned and his spirit evoked. His work, not just for Truro and his constituents but for everyone in Cornwall, earned him admiration, love and respect from people all over the county—actually, all over the country—regardless of their personal political persuasions. Just a few days here has reinforced that respect in which he was held by all parties. Every Member representing any part of Cornwall has had a tough act to follow and a high standard to meet. I shall do my best to look significantly less crumpled than David Penhaligon did but, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you may be assured that I will follow his lead, which has been followed by a growing body of Liberal Democrats in Cornwall, to put the needs and demands of my county above everything else.
In preparing this maiden speech I looked back to that of David Penhaligon to see what issues were important to him and to people in Cornwall in 1974. I was shocked at how many of the problems that he raised then remain problems today. Before I was even born, before this Labour Government or the last Conservative Government, Cornwall already suffered from spiralling house prices, low wages and lower-than-average funding for our hospitals, schools and police. Today we can add to the list the fact that we have the highest water bills in the country and, like many other parts, face the increasing burden of the unfair council tax.
In the 31 years since Mr. Penhaligon was elected, successive Governments have hardly recognised, let alone addressed, many of those problems. We have lived too long with the assumption that beautiful beaches, a sunny climate and an extraordinary landscape must mean a wealthy population. The truth is quite to the contrary: we are still the poorest county in the country. Indeed, many problems are getting worse. Since 1998, house prices in my constituency have increased by 144 per cent. While that may be caused by the desirability of many areas as locations for second homes, a recent report by Shelter states that Cornwall is the least affordable place to live in the UK, including London.
In Cornwall, doctors, nurses and teachers are struggling to afford to live where they work. It is even worse for people on local wages. Low and often seasonal incomes put home ownership far beyond the reach of many people who live and work there. Wages remain about 20 per cent. below the national average. Action is desperately needed to build the economic capacity of the county and to develop a stock of skilled, permanent and well-paid jobs.
In Scotland and Wales, there has been detailed investigation into the cost of public service provision in rural areas, whereas in England there has been no such adequate investigation into, or account taken of, how deprivation manifests itself in rural areas. NHS funding illustrates the illogicality of the existing situation. Funding is tied to low local wage rates, which will hit Cornwall's hospitals for years to come. Instead, they should be used as evidence to justify increased investment.
People in Cornwall do not demand more funding for public services than anyone else, but they reasonably deserve levels of funding and support that reflect their needs. The Queen's Speech sadly shows that the Government are still not listening to the concerns of the Cornish people. I am determined that the voice of the people of Falmouth and Camborne will not be ignored in this Parliament.
I do not wish to dwell entirely on problems. Progress has also been made, due in most part to hard work and cross-party consensus from politicians, for whom putting Cornwall first has been their No. 1 goal. Objective 1 status for the county was secured through the hard work of all of Cornwall's MPs, through the efforts of our then MEP, Robin Teverson, and with the support of this Government. Our qualification for objective 1 is long overdue recognition of the fact that Cornwall is the poorest county in England, and I hope that the Government will support the next phase of the programme so that Cornwall's economic growth can continue to build.
The scheme has helped to develop the county's economy through its work with small businesses and its support of important strategic projects, such as the Combined University in Cornwall at Tremough in Penryn. It is an ambitious project, which has finally provided access to higher education in Cornwall. For the first time, young people who could not otherwise afford to go away to university have the opportunity to study at home, although sadly now only if they can afford the tuition and top-up fees. For those achievements I pay tribute to my colleagues as well as my predecessors, Candy Atherton, Seb Coe and David Mudd, for their hard work. I hope that this spirit, working across party and political boundaries to achieve what is best for the constituency and for Cornwall, will continue.
For the first time since 1923, the entire county is represented by Liberal Democrat MPs. That is even more remarkable given that the seat of Falmouth and Camborne, since it was created in 1950, has never previously been represented by a Liberal or Liberal Democrat and was won at this election from third place. This will help provide a united voice for the county, but I want to make something very clear: the ambition of all Cornwall's Liberal Democrat Members of Parliament is to put the interests of the county first. That includes making sure that we work with people of all political persuasions, including locally elected representatives from Labour, the Conservatives, Mebyon Kernow and especially Cornwall's many independent councillors, to make the case for Cornwall. People of all parties and none can make a real contribution to winning the case for a fair deal for Cornwall, and as Liberal Democrats our ambition is to make sure that that voice is heard.
Falmouth and Camborne is also the first seat that David Penhaligon sought to fight, and he was told by the selection committee that at 24 he was far too young. Times have changed since then. My hon. Friend Matthew Taylor was elected at the age of 24 and, now two years older than he was then, I feel quite old.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, you know that it is difficult not to be overawed by the responsibility now placed on me by each and every one of my constituents. It is easy to be overawed by this building and by the national political figures whom I see all around me. But, as Mr. Penhaligon said to himself when he was newly elected, and I say to myself now, "Hang on, I got elected as well as they did. Let's get on with it."
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this House today. I start by congratulating my right hon. Friend—sorry, my hon. Friend Julia Goldsworthy. I was going to say that Cornwall had maybe discovered another star of the future, but perhaps I have promoted her somewhat too quickly. I congratulate her on her maiden speech and I congratulate other hon. Members who have made their maiden speeches today.
I am personally grateful to hon. Members from all parties, but especially to Liberal Democrat Members and to the staff of the House, whose advice and kindness have helped me and other new Members to find our feet. I am proud to say that I am the first Member of Parliament to represent Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey. This is a new constituency, and there are many in Scotland. Three quarters of the constituency was previously within the Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber constituency. I pay tribute to David Stewart, who was the Member of Parliament for that constituency from 1997 and the Labour party candidate at the election.
Mr. Stewart conducted his campaign in the way he conducted himself in this House: he was understated, industrious and gentlemanly. He was a renowned campaigner on many worthy causes, and I would particularly like to highlight his work to tackle global poverty through the Jubilee 2000 movement. I wish him well for the future. Of course, the highlands of Scotland have a long and radical tradition. Hence it has been for many years a stronghold of Liberalism and now Liberal Democracy. Prior to 1997, much of my constituency was represented by that great Highland Liberal Russell Johnston, who continues his service in the other place. Throughout his 33 years representing the area, Russell exemplified the thoughtful and independent-minded approach that is characteristic of the highlands. I was especially grateful to him for spending so much of his time with me during the election campaign. It is striking to think that Russell was a Member of this House for as many years as I have so far spent on this earth. Russell Johnston was to me, as to many others, a political inspiration, but he was not the first Liberal influence on my life. My mother tells me that, when I was three months old, my grandfather was seen rocking me in my pram and saying "Repeat after me: 'I am a member of the Liberal Party.'"
A quarter of my constituency was previously represented by my right hon. Friend Mr. Kennedy. Indeed, that is not the only thing that we have in common, for we are both former pupils of Lochaber high school and, as has been remarked upon in the press, share a hair colour that is perhaps more prevalent in the far north of Scotland than anywhere else. I have been very grateful for his help and support locally over the past year as a candidate, as well as for his outstanding leadership of the Liberal Democrat party, which has seen us to our best performance in a general election since the 1920s. Both my right hon. Friend and Lord Russell-Johnston have spoken up loudly for the highlands and for their principles, and if I can live up to their standards in the years to come, I shall be serving my constituents well. Like them, I shall work hard for everybody in my constituency, irrespective of their party preference.
Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey is the longest name of any constituency in the country—indeed, to some it may prove to be something of a tongue-twister. While many Members can speak of the visual attractions of their constituencies, I believe that Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey can rightly be described as one of the most beautiful of all. It is also one of the most diverse, encompassing the fast-growing city of Inverness, the remote splendour of the Cairngorm mountains, the mysteries of Loch Ness and the popular seaside town of Nairn. I have not yet had the pleasure of canvassing the most famous resident of Loch Ness, but I am reliably informed that she is not a Labour supporter. Like the Prime Minister, Nessie was not seen in my constituency during the election campaign, but unlike the Prime Minister, her reputation has grown as a result. Tourism is one of the most important industries in the area and hon. Members on both sides of the House can be assured of a warm highland welcome as and when they choose to visit. Indeed, I hope that the Prime Minister will now take the opportunity to do so.
One of the most important recent developments in Badenoch and Strathspey has been the creation of the Cairngorms national park, and I previously worked for the park authority. Readers of the National Geographic Magazine recently voted the highlands one of the top 10 sustainable tourism destinations in the world. Clearly, the need to develop the tourist industry further must be accommodated in such a way that it does not at the same time undermine the natural features that attract the visitors in the first place. We must not kill the goose that lays the golden egg.
As Members on both sides of the House are all too aware—Michael Jack eloquently made the point in his speech earlier—threats to our environment are more often international than local. The threat and indeed the current reality of climate change are all too apparent to my constituents, not least because they are highly visible through the fortunes of the Scottish ski industry. The Cairngorm mountain ski area has successfully diversified into a very popular summer attraction, as the amount of time and the snow available for winter sports have fallen as a consequence of global warming. I hope that we might finally see some genuine progress made on that most pressing question when the G8 comes to Scotland in the summer.
I am proud to represent the whole of the city of Inverness, capital of the highlands. Britain's most northerly city is also one of the country's fastest growing. The quality of life, as well as the quality of employment, have caused the population to rise, especially in the Inverness and Nairn areas. As well as being a service centre for the highlands, with much income from traditional areas such as tourism, Inverness is home to an increasing number of innovative modern industries, particularly in the medical field. The success of LifeScan Scotland, formerly Inverness Medical, which now employs more than 1,200 people, is helping to attract many new businesses to the area.
Inverness's growth and success present challenges, not least the fact that, despite recent progress, with wages at 80 per cent. of the UK average, the highlands and islands is still one of the poorer areas in the United Kingdom. Problems caused by remoteness are as pressing as they were when Russell Johnston raised them in his maiden speech in 1964. Of course, there has been progress, and I pay tribute to the work of many public agencies in the highlands. The fact remains that there is considerable room for improvement in all aspects of the transport network—bus, train, road, and air—in my constituency, despite the substantial progress made under Nicol Stephen, our Liberal Democrat Scottish Executive Minister for Transport.
Effective transport links between the highlands and London are vital for the region's continued growth, so it is a matter of regret that the Government have so far not seen fit to protect vital air routes between Inverness and London with a public service obligation. Considerable further investment is also needed to improve road and rail infrastructure around Inverness and between Inverness and Nairn, particularly by upgrading the A96 and completing the Inverness southern link road.
Perhaps the most pressing problem across the highlands—and, as we have heard in other speeches today, in many areas across the country—is the shortage of affordable housing. The rapid rise in house prices has pushed owning a home beyond the means of many local people. One Conservative Member has already confessed to me that he owns a second home in my constituency. I look forward to meeting him there, but I have to say that demand for second homes has enormously exacerbated the problem of the shortage of affordable housing. We need radical solutions, which will be one of my priorities during this Parliament. Although housing policy in Scotland is a matter for the Scottish Parliament, decisions made here can have a significant impact on the problem.
Our rural areas are home to many thousands of people, so services in small communities such as those that I represent must be preserved and enhanced, not undermined or removed, as has been the fate, for example, of too many post offices in recent years.
"Here our surface ribaldry covers a sincere respect, and in recent years, when parliamentary government has been overthrown elsewhere, I think we have come to cherish ours more than ever. Public life is regarded as the crown of a career, and to a young man it is the worthiest ambition. Politics is still the greatest and most honourable adventure."
I look forward to the next stage of that adventure and I thank hon. Members for their forbearance of my opening foray today.
I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make my first speech. I congratulate my hon. Friend Danny Alexander—I hope that I managed to pronounce those names right—and also the hon. Members for Burnley (Kitty Ussher), for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove), for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Flello) and for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood), and my hon. Friends the Members for Cambridge (David Howarth) and for Falmouth and Camborne (Julia Goldsworthy). I especially congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South as today's was his second maiden speech, his first being as councillor for the Longbridge ward of Birmingham city council, which includes the Rover plant, an office he held until June last year.
I have been told that one of the challenges I face in this speech is not to be controversial and I shall try to manage that. It is not controversial to say that Estelle Morris was well liked, courteous and hard-working. As was said on "Woman's Hour" on Radio 4 on
"Estelle Morris's refreshing candour has provoked tributes from across the political divide."
I fought Estelle Morris in 1992, 1997 and 2001, and now she has been sent to the other place. There is no doubt that she was always very courteous and worked hard on behalf of all the residents of Yardley.
I am not the first person to fight Yardley three times before winning. Archibald Gosling fought it three times in the 1920s, before winning on the fourth occasion. I also wish to pay tribute to David Gilroy Bevan, who sadly died recently. He was educated at King Edward's school, as I was, and was also a Birmingham city councillor. There is a tradition of Birmingham city councillors representing Yardley.
Yardley is part of Birmingham, which is a difficult place to understand for people from outside. An "A to Z" would be one way to learn about it, but there are other mechanisms. People who live outside London first learn about Mayfair and Park lane, through the Monopoly board. So I bought a Birmingham Monopoly set, which I shall place in the Library, and anyone who wishes to learn more about the city can play a game. Park lane and Mayfair are replaced by Hurst street and Victoria square. Victoria square is the location of the Council House, but Hurst street is also important as part of Birmingham's history. The city is based on migration—both immigration and emigration. Most people have heard of Birmingham, Alabama, but there are more than 20 other Birminghams around the world, some of which are very small. They include a New Birmingham in Ireland. Immigration to Birmingham came substantially from Ireland, the new Commonwealth and other areas, but initially it came from Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Staffordshire, the three counties that make up Birmingham.
In the 1800s, Birmingham was very small and densely populated. Industry developed in Birmingham for several reasons. There was less regulation in the area and also a critical mass of scientific developments. For example, the Lunar Society and others worked together to develop new industries. As a consequence, Birmingham became the city of a thousand trades. Indeed, in Hurst street one can still see the back-to-back properties in which people lived. By our standards today, such properties would not be highly regarded, but they were then seen as being of better quality than other existing properties. The courtyard design led to dense population and was not very sanitary, so people wanted to move away. Although the population of Birmingham in the early 1800s was about a million, living in a very small space, the population doubled every 15 years. In an attempt to improve the quality of life, especially in housing terms, Birmingham expanded to take in neighbouring areas.
In 1912, Yardley came into Birmingham from Worcestershire, along with Handsworth, Small Heath, Kings Norton, Aston and Moseley, from Worcestershire, Warwickshire and Staffordshire. That is why although a lot of people in Yardley work in manufacturing industry there are not many factories in Yardley itself, apart from in Tyseley and Garretts Green.
That brings me to a point about roundabouts—to refer to the hon. Member for South Swindon who was talking about a Swindon roundabout earlier. At the junction of Garretts Green lane and Sheldon Heath road, there is a roundabout with seven exits and I challenge any Member to find a roundabout with more than that. Of course, the Swindon roundabout may be a strange one, but the Garretts Green roundabout is straightforward.
Like Mr. Howard, I come from a family of immigrants, but we invaded—as Vikings in the year 600. Everyone knows about King Offa, but he was a descendant of the Danish king, Hemming, as we can see from "Beowulf". Sadly, as a result of the Norman conquest many historical records were destroyed, but in chapter 27 of Beowulf, at around line 1,950, we read:
"Húru þæt on hóh snod. Hemninges maég."
That means that Offa was a descendant of King Hemming of Denmark. So although there are many Hemmings in Warwickshire and Worcestershire, our origin is Danish.
Back in 699, there were of course no railways although there were a few roads. The main boundaries were rivers and the River Cole, in the Yardley constituency, was the boundary between Mercia and Hwicca. Mercia gradually expanded to colonise London. If that situation had been maintained, this place would be in Tamworth and we should have much better parties. In Birmingham, we know how to party. At our VE day celebrations, for instance, there were about 10,000 people. We had a street party and a massive celebration but I believe that in London things were relatively mild.
We celebrate all sorts of things. We celebrate St. George's day, St. Patrick's day—about 100,000 people turn up for that—Christmas, Vaisakhi, various Eids and the international carnival. Birmingham is definitely a city that knows how to party.
To return to the Mercia of several millennia ago, it may surprise Members to learn that there was an early currency union. Offa minted dinars in this country. There is one of those coins in the British Museum; a mixture of Arabic and Latin is written on it. The idea was to have the same currency as Spain so that trade would be easier. There is only one of those coins left.
Exactly. A single currency in 800 rather than in 2000.
Members may not be aware of another interesting Anglo-Saxon aspect. Tolkien, who wrote "The Lord of the Rings", was also educated at the King Edward VI school in Birmingham, as was Mr. Willetts, although not at the same time. "The Lord of the Rings" was based on Birmingham locations, which may seem strange to people who have seen the films because they were made in New Zealand. However, the ideas developed in Birmingham.
Yardley has existed as an entity since 699. It was known as Gerlei in the Domesday book, which means a clearing in a forest. It has been a clearly identifiable community for a long time, and although it has been brought within Birmingham, Birmingham is not an homogenous city. As I explained, the city expanded, especially in 1912, to take in several villages around the industrialised centre. The villages of Yardley, Stechford, Hay Mills, Acocks Green and Sheldon are the main ones in the Yardley constituency. They are easily identified because they all have an old church.
Industrial philanthropy is another interesting feature. In the 1800s, companies such as Webster and Horsfall, Latch and Batchelor built houses for their work force, like the Cadburys at the Bournville village trust in the Selly Oak constituency.
That very clear local identity has, sadly, been challenged by the Boundary Commission's proposals to divide up Yardley and Sheldon, which have been together since 1912 in the constituency of Yardley and prior to that in the constituency of East Worcester. Those communities have been there for millennia, yet the Boundary Commission apparently—although there is a report coming out on
Among the local issues that worry local residents is the proposal to have a second runway at the airport. We are greatly concerned about that not only because of the local impact but because it is not sustainable to have massive increases in air flight all the time.
Another issue is that of the challenges that face the manufacturing sector. Most of the things that I would like to say about MG Rover are far too controversial for a maiden speech, so they will have to be left for another time. However, I should like to quote from Estelle Morris's maiden speech of
"It relies for employment mainly on manufacturing industry within Birmingham and neighbouring Coventry. The economic prosperity of manufacturing in the west midlands region is the main factor which determines the economic prosperity of my constituents and I hope that in the next few years we will see an upturn in the fortunes of that industry."—[Official Report,
In essence, there is agreement across the House that manufacturing is important. I shall return to the contentious issues at a later stage as I cannot raise them now.
Among other local issues is the 99 bus. It may sound relatively trivial, but the closing down of a bus service that takes people to the hospital is not very good in an environment in which one would prefer people to use buses rather than their cars. That is a consequence of the Transport Act 1985, which should have made a change to sector tendering. That still needs to be done. However, we are where we are and the argument will continue.
As for the Queen's Speech, I was a little concerned about the idea of legislating to ensure that hospitals are clean, as one would presume that a mop would do a better job, but it remains an important issue however it is dealt with. In terms of MRSA, we should really consider over-prescription and inappropriate prescription of antibiotics and whether antibiotics are fed to farm animals outside this country, creating a bacteriological resistance to antibiotics that causes great hazards to human beings. If the relevant Bill moves down that route instead of setting simplistic targets on mops, alcohol washes and the like, we have some hope that it will be useful.
On MG Rover, I should raise an issue that fits into the environmental and industrial subject matter. One of the projects that has been going on at Powertrain has been the hybrid engine, which is a combination of a generator and an internal combustion engine. It is a good, useful mechanism for the efficient generation of power, but it still relies on fossil fuels, which remain a problem in themselves. Fusion was mentioned earlier. We already rely to a very great extent on fusion power—the power plant is known colloquially as "the sun" and is fortunately at a very safe distance. I am happy to continue using the power of the sun, which is generally the main source of energy in biodiesel and other sustainable systems. In fact the only source that does not come from the sun is nuclear fission, as opposed to nuclear fusion.
I want to end by paying tribute to the work of my predecessors in the Yardley constituency: Estelle Morris; David Gilroy Bevan; Syd Tierney; Derek Coombs, who also represented Wyre Forest; Ioan Evans, who also represented Aberdare; Leonard Cleaver; Henry Usborne, who also represented Acocks Green; Wesley Perrins; Sir Edward Salt; Archibald Gosling; and Alfred Jephcott.
I am proud to represent my constituents and a seat with which my family has been associated for a very long time, and my party in the House. It is important that we recognise that we are all working, as we see it, in the best interests of those whom we represent. I only ask that over time my record shows that I am at least as hard-working and loyal to Yardley as those who have gone before me.
I congratulate my hon. Friend John Hemming on a fine and assured maiden speech. Remarkably for my hon. Friend, he managed to avoid controversy, although I suspect that that may not be repeated in future contributions in the Chamber. I congratulate all my other new hon. Friends and new Members from other parties on a series of fine, assured maiden speeches. Never before in the course of one afternoon have I learned so much about the towns, cities and suburbs of our country. Clearly, they are all delightful. I imagine the claims of some might be stronger than others, but we have certainly benefited from some very good maiden speeches this afternoon.
Before I get on to the main points that I want to make, I shall refer to the contribution of Michael Jack, who spoke about the case for biofuels. The Secretary of State and other Ministers in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are, I believe, genuinely committed to trying to find a way forward for biofuels, but in the past week The Economist reported on the development of biofuels across the globe and highlighted the extent to which the UK has fallen behind.
Many other countries in Europe, the US and Brazil have gone far further ahead than we have, and there is a great danger that if we do not develop a domestic industry we will suck in imports from elsewhere. I urge the Secretary of State to do everything she can to use her influence to pressurise the Chancellor to take the decisive step. A biofuels obligation is what we need—an obligation to have a mix of biofuels in any fuel sold for road transport. The consultation about it goes on and on; now we must have action. If the Secretary of State could apply pressure for that, the Liberal Democrats would be immensely grateful.
I shall focus my remarks on the aspects of the Queen's Speech relating to the Department of Trade and Industry. The leader in the Financial Times yesterday was headed, "What the Queen should have said". It started by stating:
"My Government will interfere as little as possible with the economy and business".
That seems a good starting point. It neatly encapsulates the Liberal Democrat approach to the role of Government in the management of the economy. It is clearly proper for the Government to have a role in producing carefully thought out regulation to protect workers, the environment and the consumer, but the burden of regulation has gone much further than that, and successive Governments are responsible for it.
The real message is that we must get Whitehall off the backs of business. To that end, it is our view that we should start by scrapping the DTI. It is an anachronism and at its heart there is a fatal conflict of interest. It is both the promoter of industry and its regulator on behalf of the consumer. That conflict cannot be justified or sustained. The two roles should be separated. There should be a Minister with responsibility for business in the Cabinet, and separate from that there should be a Department for consumer affairs.
I shall deal specifically with regulation. Continuing with its alternative Queen's Speech, the Financial Times leader went on:
"The biggest priority will be to reduce the burden of regulation, which has continued to grow in spite of my Government's previous endeavours".
That is absolutely right. In a globalised economy our big challenge is to enable our businesses to compete, particularly in the face of the massive threat from Asia, with the extraordinary growth rates of China, India and other Asian economies. The mindset of successive Governments has been that any problem requires new laws to regulate it. Regulation is the first resort, rather than the last, both in the UK and the EU. We legislate too much.
The Queen's Speech includes a commitment to introduce legislation to
"streamline regulatory structures and to make it simpler to remove outdated and unnecessary legislation".
However, as has already been noted, there is an inherent contradiction in the Queen's Speech, as its very heavy legislative programme of 50 Bills will bring in lots more regulation. The risk is that past experience will be repeated—that the rhetoric will be correct, but that the burden in the real world will grow ever greater. It was reassuring to hear the Chancellor acknowledge at this week's CBI dinner that there had been many false starts, but will it be any different this time? That is the big question.
The Government have placed much faith in the concept of the regulatory impact assessment. That is a move in the right direction, but Government guidelines are often not adhered to and, crucially, the process lacks independence. Departments assess their own draft regulations, but that seems rather self-serving, as the tendency is for them to justify what they do. The process needs an element of independence, along the lines of the Dutch model or that of the US Congressional Budget Office, with a person separate from the Department proposing regulations assessing whether they are necessary.
In this country, even when the regulatory impact assessment has been robust and regulation subsequently introduced, there is no process by which that regulation may be revisited so that its impact in practice can be assessed. That is why the concept of the sunset clause is so important.John Bercow noted earlier that a former Secretary of State at the DTI recommended the use of sunset clauses, but it is still the case that they are never used. What are the Government's proposals in respect of sunset clauses? I believe that they should be a standard provision in all new regulation.
The Government say that they intend to set targets for slashing regulation—another example of good rhetoric. To achieve that, they intend to establish a new quango called the better regulation executive to enforce the new targets. However, is there not a risk that the executive will be just another bureaucracy watching over the bureaucrats? Will it have any teeth? Could it be used to provide an independent assessment of new regulations proposed by the Government? If it can perform that role, it may be of some value.
I come now to the European perspective. A vast volume of new regulation comes out of the EU, but there are two problems. First, the UK continues to gold-plate EU regulations and, secondly, the EU fails to assess the impact of its directives and regulations. New measures emanating from the Commission contain a form of regulatory impact assessment, but it lacks rigour. The two pages added at the end of a proposed measure amount to no more than waffle, with no real value or substance. The Government should use their presidency of the EU to tackle that problem. The Chancellor has said that economic reform must be a priority for our presidency, and I absolutely support that. However, the problem of over-regulation coming from Europe must be addressed, as must the proliferation of regulation in this country.
Some encouraging signs are emerging from the new Commission. The flow of new regulation has subsided somewhat, and it is worth noting that my hon. Friend Chris Huhne—until now a Member of the European Parliament—pioneered the use of sunset clauses in provisions under the financial services action plan. That initiative should be followed in this place, as well as in Europe.
As an employment lawyer, I want to say a little about the working time directive. When I worked in employment law, I made a great deal of money out of advising companies on, and guiding them through, myriad emerging regulations and guidance. Maintaining the UK opt-out will be a big test for the Government. The state should not prevent the citizen from working when they choose to work. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was right earlier today to distinguish between proper protection against exploitation of workers, which current provisions already provide for, and the state preventing a worker who wants to work from doing so. The latter goes beyond what is appropriate.
The impact on families, particularly children, of excessive working hours is a genuine issue, especially when both parents are in work. That is why, despite the understandable concerns of business, I do see a case for an improved deal on maternity leave and maternity pay, and for an extension of the right to request flexible working. If reduced hours, more flexibility in the hours worked or, in the case of certain types of employment, working from home enabled a worker to stay in that job and avoided destroying family life, the business itself might well benefit. On helping employers with the regulatory burden, the Liberal Democrat proposal for an enhanced maternity income guarantee would remove employers' responsibility for administering that income, which would be paid directly by the Government.
I want to finish by mentioning one or two other measures in the Queen's Speech. We certainly support the proposed commission for equality and human rights, but the objective must be to go beyond that and to establish a single equality Act. Doing so would codify and simplify myriad different provisions. There are 30 Acts, 38 statutory instruments, 11 codes of practice and 12 EU directives and recommendations in the field of discrimination—a perfect example of the regulatory chaos that imposes an excessive burden on business and leaves the individual citizen completely confused as to their rights. A single equality Act would itself be a great deregulatory measure. It would simplify the law for business and clarify citizens' rights. I hope that the Government will make a move on this issue and introduce a single equality Act, as well as creating a single commission.
On equal pay, a report this week shows that, according to the Department of Trade and Industry's own figures, there is a continuing huge income gap between men and women. On average, men still receive double the rate of pay received by women. As has already been highlighted today, for the role of Minister for Women to be an unpaid one is perhaps not the best signal for the Government to send, given that she is surrounded by men in similar positions who are paid for their work.
We very much support the long-overdue measure on consumer credit; indeed, it was extraordinary that it fell at the last hurdle before the general election. The current law dates back to the 1970s, and since then there has been a revolution in the availability of credit and the range of credit products. In the last Parliament, I was a member of the Treasury Select Committee. It conducted an inquiry into the credit and store card industry, which highlighted the fact that industry practices such as misleading promotions need addressing. It is important that the market acts properly and in the consumer's interest, and in that regard this proposed legislation is long overdue.
We support proposals to reform company law. There should be a debate on reporting responsibilities in respect of environmental and social impacts, and on the case for the introduction of a duty of care on those impacts. We need to debate whether and how that could be done without imposing additional red tape on businesses.
Finally, I want to mention the case for fair trade. A lobby in Parliament yesterday argued the case for fair trade. Given that today's debate focuses on the role of the Department of Trade and Industry as well as that of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, something should be said about that. We need to ensure that the Government and our representatives in the European Union do all that they can to press for a successful conclusion of the Doha round. In our view, we all have a moral duty to break down tariff barriers that prevent the developing world from trading fairly with us. Criticisms have been made of the United States, but in truth Europe is equally culpable. We have a moral duty to deliver fair trade and to do it quickly.
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As Oliver Heald or as Oliver Letwin, I am delighted to be in the House. Having listened to some Liberal speeches, I am particularly delighted to be here as a recent potential victim of decapitation. It is nice to feel my head on my shoulders.
I look forward to encounters with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. She is a person of differing political views from my own, but I have long admired her as a politician who speaks her mind and who has a considerable and distinguished record. I look forward to interesting discussions.
This has been an excellent debate. It began with a magisterial survey from my hon. Friend Mr. Willetts of the fundamental problems associated with productivity and the effects of over-government on our economy. Very symmetrically, very beautifully and, I must say, very astonishingly, it ended with an equally splendid speech to much the same effect from Norman Lamb. I sat listening carefully for the moment when I would depart from what he was saying, but I have to say that I agreed, I think, with every word of it. That worries me intensely: it is possible either that my hon. Friend the Member for Havant and I now find ourselves somehow oddly transmuted into Liberals, or it is possible that the Liberals have transmuted themselves into a kind of Conservative party on economics. I hope that it is the latter, but I am delighted to find that there is agreement on the whole Opposition side on the great need for deregulation and a lightening of the burden that the Government place on our economy.
We heard an interesting and important contribution from my hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Winterton, who reinforced the observations made by my hon. Friend the Member for Havant about fundamental economic problems. That was matched, at least, by my right hon. Friend Michael Jack, who was the Chairman of the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the last Parliament. He explained the importance of climate change and biofuels, to which I shall return. We had an instructive speech from my hon. Friend Damian Green. It was a powerful and penetrating analysis of the complex debate on the future of electricity supply, to which I shall also refer. He demonstrated yet again the power of his intellect. Finally on the Conservative Benches, apart from the maiden speeches, my hon. and learned Friend Mr. Garnier stirred the Secretary of State into a passion and into arguing that the procedures of the House were somehow satisfactory. I have to say that I share my hon. and learned Friend's view that they are not wholly satisfactory. Of course, he did not discuss only that: he also analysed the wide-ranging problems relating to rural areas, another topic to which I shall come in a moment.
I congratulate hon. Members on both sides who made their maiden speeches. On the Labour Benches, the hon. Members for Burnley (Kitty Ussher), for Llanelli (Nia Griffith), for South Swindon (Anne Snelgrove) and for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Flello) all made lucid and powerful speeches. I listened with particular interest to the contribution from David Howarth—I have been associated with that city for a long time, though I have to admit that I did not know some of the history that he brought out—and to the speeches of the hon. Members for Falmouth and Camborne (Julia Goldsworthy); for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey (Danny Alexander), whose constituency will, I hope, be renamed in due course; and for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming), who told us a great deal about features of Birmingham that I did not know.
Most of all, I listened to those splendid new Members my hon. Friend Stephen Hammond, who spoke about the risks relating to phone masts and the spiralling cost of regulation, and my hon. Friend Mr. Ellwood, who told us about the effects of regional government on the ability of Bournemouth to fulfil its potential. I could add that that is a problem that stretches not only to West Dorset, but to the rest of the United Kingdom. I warmly congratulate my hon. Friends, and other maiden speakers, on their speeches and look forward, as does the rest of the House, to their future contributions.
The debate relates not just to trade and industry, but to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Naturally enough, it is to that that I want to turn. It is appropriate that we should have a wide-ranging debate on the activities of that Department, because debates on such matters, as the Liberal spokesman pointed out at the beginning of our proceedings, are relatively rare in Government time, and more so because, while I do not doubt that Ministers intend to do the best by the countryside and the environment, the fact is that the Department, which surveys a scene including some 14,000 bureaucratic posts, has severe problems.
The first problem is that the Department has not established an energy policy that will enable the UK to play its full part in protecting the planet. The second is that it has not achieved a sustainable basis for agriculture and fishing in this country. The third, alas, is that it has not adequately protected rural communities and the countryside. I want to raise those three issues before moving on to the legislation proposed.
Let me start with energy policy. This is a remarkable scene. Between 1990 and 1997, this country made significant progress in reaching the target on the Kyoto basket of greenhouse gases. They reduced in millions of tonnes of carbon equivalent by about 8 per cent. in that period. Incidentally, to prevent Ministers from jumping to their feet, I fully admit that that was largely due to the dash for gas and that the large motive for that was economic rather than environmental. Nevertheless, it had a significant and beneficial effect.
That is mirrored in the fact that, during that period, carbon dioxide emissions themselves reduced by 6.9 per cent., which is a broadly commensurate amount. Since 1997, I fear, the figure and the pattern have been quite different. It is perfectly true that further progress has been made in meeting the Kyoto target. The Kyoto basket gases have declined by a further 5 per cent., broadly, but the picture beneath that is by no means so comforting.
Carbon dioxide emissions have risen by about 3 per cent., and the fact that there has been ostensible progress on the Kyoto basket is accounted for by just three things. First, there has been significant further improvement in farming practice. Methane and nitrous oxide emissions from farming have significantly declined. Secondly, landfill methane has significantly declined. Thirdly, and this is the single largest component, there was a one-off shift, which I mentioned in an intervention earlier, in the production of adipic acid, which led to a significant reduction—some 4 million tonnes equivalent of carbon—in nitrous oxide emissions. That occurred between 1998 and 1999. It is an admirable thing and a great contribution, but it is not replicable. We cannot do it twice. We are no longer producing adipic acid on the old technology. We cannot improve again by the same degree.
We should consider the carbon dioxide pattern and, first in this context, the electricity supply industry, although we must not delude ourselves that it is the only component. It represents, however, roughly 40 per cent. of the problem. All the trends are going the wrong way, alas. Combined heat and power schemes have been declining. There are 64 mothballed plants, one of which I saw during the early stages of the election campaign. Between 2002 and 2004, coal-based production increased, which will produce carbon dioxide problems. Nuclear production is declining and, from 2008, as stations are decommissioned, it will decline further.
The Government, properly and splendidly, have placed great hope in renewables. The Government's energy White Paper of 2003 shows that the proposals would lead to only about 3 per cent. of the 1990 baseline, in terms of carbon dioxide emissions—165 million tonnes of carbon being knocked off by renewables entering the system by 2020.
As someone who has dealt with the electricity industry here and in other countries over the past 25 years, I can say that there is nothing in the patterns of that industry that gives confidence regarding persistent and sustainable reductions in carbon dioxide to the level required to meet the Kyoto targets, still less the appropriate and much tougher regime that the Government have established with their 20 per cent, target.
The 2003 White Paper shows that the Government themselves effectively admit that. The White Paper realistically supposes that almost all—80 per cent.—of the effect generated in meeting targets is to come from energy efficiency, but there is a problem here, too. I do not doubt the intentions of Ministers, particularly in this Department, to achieve things in energy efficiency. Unfortunately, Ministers in this Department do not have many of the levers and have not been successful so far in persuading the rest of Government to pull the relevant levers.
I shall give some examples. First, the energy efficiency scheme is not structured in a way that is likely to produce good results. Why not? Because it gives incentives to the utilities to reduce the use of energy in homes and, alas, the utilities have a strong commercial reason to increase the use of energy in homes. As others cannot play in that market place and are not allowed to receive the credits, it is unlikely that the scheme will be effective.
Secondly, Ministers clearly want a movement, as I do, to increasing efficiency in the use of road transport, particularly of cars. Clearly, there is a method to do that, which is to use vehicle excise duty, on which we have made proposals. However, the incentives for hybrid and high mileage per gallon cars are slight. There is some progress, but it has been slight.
Thirdly, UK emissions trading is a splendid idea that we backed, and which I fully back. I should like to see the scheme allied to an effective EU-wide energy emissions trading system. However, the fact is that neither scheme at the moment incorporates air transport, and that is a pretty large hole because air transport emissions are growing apace, while the Government are locked in a legal battle with the EU over the ETS in any event.
As I survey the scene—coming back to it relatively fresh and trying to be objective, and not in a partisan manner or trying to score points—I see a pattern of Ministers of good will trying to achieve effects but not having found the levers. I see a Government who are gradually moving towards either failing to meet their targets or nearly doing so, and certainly failing to meet their own superimposed targets. That is a sad state of affairs.
On agriculture, I am afraid that the story is not dissimilar. I have been involved in agriculture on behalf of my constituents since a time when there were quite other Agriculture Ministers. I have talked to Ministers, and to farmers and fishermen from my constituency, over the past 10 years. I have seen the same patterns reinforced over and over again. Since 1997, farm output is down by 5 per cent. and farm incomes are down by 14 per cent. in real terms.
The single farm payment is a nightmare. Only yesterday, I found some performance targets that the Secretary of State had published for the Rural Payments Agency. Not much fuss was made about them but if you examined them, Mr. Deputy Speaker—given your constituency, you might want to look at them—you would find that the first item is,
"To commence payments under the Single Payment (SPS) by February 2006 and to process and pay 96 per cent. of valid SPS claims by value by
It does not say so but it means, "We the Government have given up on the claim that we will have made the payments by the end of February. Instead, we are setting a target that will allow us to fulfil it if we make a single payment to one farmer by the end of February, as long as 96 per cent. of the remainder are made by the end of March"—a month's slip—"and 4 per cent. at some future, unknown date." That will come as no surprise to farmers because not one farmer in Britain believed that we would get there by February. I fear that I am not convinced that we will fulfil the target of 96 per cent. by the end of March.
The cross-compliance regime is set to be a nightmare. In addition, bovine tuberculosis has been increasing by 20 per cent. a year and there is no serious solution on offer. I know that Ministers are worried about that but I perceive no solution from them despite a letter sent by 350 vets and scientists on
The over-30-month scheme continues to impose huge costs on the taxpayer and the National Beef Association tells us that it also imposes huge costs on the industry. I know that Ministers would like it to end, but, again, it has not happened. Margins in the liquid milk industry are much greater in the supermarkets than for the processors or the farmers, yet I have been persistently unsuccessful in persuading the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry or the Office of Fair Trading to do anything serious by way of an investigation or improving the code of conduct.
The disposal of carcases remains a terrible problem, which has recently got worse as a result of Government action. Again, I am sure that Ministers want a solution but none is forthcoming. Illegal imports continue apace. We have the spectacle of nine sniffer dogs trying to control all the illegal meat imports at 110 entry points. It is clear that, in addition to failing to find the levers for achieving a sustainable, effective reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, Ministers have failed to support sustainable agriculture.
Let us consider the countryside and rural communities. I am sure that Liberal colleagues and the majority of Labour Members share our desire for the countryside and rural communities to flourish. That element of our society works. Indeed, our villages are models of societies that work. People look out for one another and grow up in ways that do not lead to the sort of behaviour that rightly preoccupies the Prime Minister. Alas, those communities have been neglected.
I shall give only three examples of that. The first is simple but important: village halls. I dare say that, to most Labour Members and those who represent urban seats, village halls do not appear an important matter. A village hall is only a small object; a little space sitting in the middle of a village somewhere. Yet the whole social fabric of villages in the rural areas of our country depends on the village hall. That is the place where people come together for the many voluntary activities, from playgroups to Gilbert and Sullivan, and from art clubs to first responders. That is where they meet and manage to create something that gives meaning to terms such as "community", which are often meaningless and abused.
What is the pattern? Until 1997, many village halls were being reformed and reconstituted through lottery grants. What has happened since 1997? I fear that the Department, which was designed to preside over the protection and enhancement of our rural areas, has not allowed those halls to be funded substantially through the lottery.
I accept that village post offices have been closing for a long time and that the Government inherited the problem. Have they done anything to lessen it? Alas, no. Despite the splendid origins of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who is now in his place, despite the fact that he and I locked horns on the subject some years ago, and that he and Mr. Field also locked horns on the matter, rural post offices continue to close in large numbers in my constituency and many others throughout the country. There have been 3,000 closures since 1997, despite rate relief and the so-called promotion of co-location of services.
The worst case of all is that of affordable housing. Many Members from rural constituencies—not only Conservative Members but others who have no axe to grind for the Conservative thesis, including some Liberal Members making their maiden speeches—have said today that the problem of affordable housing in rural areas is now acute. This is a two-edged problem involving high house prices resulting from the pressure of people purchasing holiday homes, second homes and retirement homes, alongside the relatively low-wage economies in rural communities. A solution is required, and I do not deny that Ministers clearly wish to find one—in fact, they have talked about doing so—but no solution is on offer today. Any solution has to involve shared ownership, but that is not forthcoming on a major scale.
All these rural problems—village halls, post offices, affordable housing and a range of others—can be set against a background of specific disadvantage in the grant regime for rural areas. The grant regime has consciously been reoriented to pour money into the cities. There are real problems in our inner cities: I know from my time as shadow Home Secretary just how acute the problems in our most deprived inner-city areas are and just how much needs to be done to re-create a sense of solidarity, community and society in those areas. I do not deny that that need exists, but the fact is that the rural areas are now significantly and unfairly disadvantaged by the grant regime. The Department has, in part, presided over that, too.
Are these fundamental problems addressed by the legislation in the Queen's Speech? I fear that they are not. There is nothing in the Queen's Speech on the energy agenda, or on the agricultural agenda. I promise that we will engage constructively with the Government on the animal welfare Bill, and on the common land Bill, which I can tell my hon. and learned Friend Mr. Garnier is not a land grab. We think that it involves a series of technical measures that deserve our support in principle, and we will work with the Government to ensure that they work. We are also glad to see the draft Marine Bill, although it is a pity that it is only a draft Bill and that it does not address the wider issues of the common fisheries policy. Nevertheless, we will engage constructively with the Government on that Bill as well.
Those three Bills will not, however, transform the scene that I have been describing; they do not even aim to do so. The flagship Bill is, of course, the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill, which will have its Second Reading debate—to which I look forward immensely—on
For those Members who do not follow these matters in great detail, I shall read out the names of the bodies in charge of various aspects of the countryside that we shall be left with as a result of this major simplification. They are: DEFRA; natural England; the commission for rural communities; the Environment Agency; the Forestry Commission; the Plant Health and Seeds Inspectorate; the Wildlife Inspectorate; the Rural Payments Agency; the regional development agencies; the Joint Nature Conservation Committee; the national park authority; the Agricultural Wages Boards for England and Wales; the conservation boards for areas of outstanding natural beauty in England; the board of trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens; the British Potato Council; the British Waterways Board; the Consumer Council for Water; Food from Britain; the Gangmasters Licensing Authority; the Horticultural Development Council; the Home-grown Cereals Authority; the Milk Development Council; the Meat and Livestock Commission; the National Forest Company; the national park authority for establishing a national park in England; the Sea Fish Industry Authority; and the Wine Standards Board—[Interruption.] No, I have to tell hon. Members that I have never been a director of any of those bodies. Would that I had—I have no doubt that there are good pickings to be had. The fact is that this is not by any account a simple system that is being created.
It is true that we are losing the Hill Farming Advisory Committee, but alas, it is to be replaced by the Uplands Land Management Advisory Panel. And there is more good news: we are going to lose the Food and Drink Committees. But they are already in abeyance—they have not operated for years. I fear that when the new EU rural development regulations come in, with their three axes and their 34 measures under pillar 2 payments, we shall have a monumental mess on our hands. That is the simplification that I fear will arise from the legislation.
Does not the list that my right hon. Friend read out inform us about the way in which the Government operate? There are now more civil servants than soldiers in the Ministry of Defence or policemen in the Home Office. I dare say that there will be more civil servants in DEFRA and its various agencies than there are farmers throughout the United Kingdom and that before very long there will be more civil servants than sheep and cattle on our farms.
I must correct my hon. and learned Friend. We have studied the ratio, and it is not quite as he says. It is only true that there are more officials in DEFRA and its satrapies than there are dairy farms in England. It is not, however, just a matter of the number of people. It is a matter of the number of bodies, of the interlocking structures that they create, and of the forms and the regulation that they produce. It is a matter of the fact that our farmers and rural communities are being driven mad by over-regulation. That is not because Ministers want to over-regulate to such a degree. It is not because Ministers want to create administrative chaos. It is because they have not managed to find a means of slimming down a leviathan.
Let me say something about how we intend to pursue these matters in the coming months. This is a new Parliament. The Government have a new mandate: they have a mandate to rule. It would be absurd if we spent the next few months talking about what we would do four or five years from now, but we want to be constructive. We will present proposals in the spirit of applying constructive pressure on Government in the national interest. Let me describe some of those proposals.
In relation to energy policy, we put pressure on the Government to create more incentives for cleaner cars. We will put pressure on the Government to implement the renewable transport fuels obligation, which our colleagues in the other place installed in the Sustainable Energy Act 2003 and which was originally suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Fylde. We will put pressure on the Government to promote micro-generation, as provided for in the 2003 Act. We will put pressure on the Government to work with house builders on zero emissions developments, which could make a major contribution to energy efficiency. We will put pressure on the Government to open up competition in the energy efficiency commitment, so that the scheme begins to produce the dividends that I believe it could produce.
Most important, my hon. Friend the Member for Havant and I will put pressure on the two Secretaries of State for a full review of the electricity supply industry, taking full account of both the environmental and the economic constraints so that we can try to achieve a national consensus on a way forward that can reconcile our economic requirements with our environmental obligations.
In relation to agriculture and fisheries, we will put pressure on Ministers to simplify the cost compliance regime massively, and we will make specific proposals. We will put pressure on Ministers to improve the labelling regime, so that consumers in this country can know for the first time where their food comes from, what they are eating, whether it meets the animal welfare standards imposed in Britain, and how far it has travelled. We will put pressure on Ministers to take real steps to improve public purchasing of meat and other commodities so that it does not disadvantage our farmers. We will put pressure on Ministers to come up with a serious solution to the bovine tuberculosis problem, using culling licences under the Protection of Badgers Act 1992. We will propose, and put pressure on Ministers to implement, revisions of the fallen stock scheme to solve the fallen stock problem. Most immediately, we will put sustained pressure on Ministers to provide relief under the single farm payment scheme through interim payments in the next few months, based on historic grants, and a set of guarantees that farmers will not be penalised for submitting forms based on faulty data from the Rural Payments Agency.
In relation to rural communities, we will press Ministers for a serious approach to shared ownership. We will press Ministers for a new look at village facilities and at the unfairness of the grant regime to rural areas. Finally, we will put whatever pressure we can on the Government as a whole to devolve power to counties and districts and away from the rural development agencies and other large and unnecessary regional bodies. I hope that, over the coming months, we will be able to persuade the Secretary of State to adopt increasing proportions of that agenda, because we do not want another four years of wasted opportunity.
I welcome Mr. Letwin and Mr. Willetts to their new responsibilities. I am sure that there will be many opportunities for us to engage in dialogue in the House. I hope that those dialogues will indeed be constructive and useful.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry set out the context in which we are discussing industry and environment today and highlighted both the record and the aspirations of the Government. He also drew attention to the legislative proposals in the Queen's Speech. The speech by the hon. Member for Havant was, in some ways, witty and it was interesting, but my overwhelming impression was that it mirrored strongly the stance taken during the general election by his party in that it identified some of the problems that face the country without contributing any potential solutions. The closest he came to saying anything concrete was when my hon. Friend Andrew Miller challenged him on regional selective assistance. The hon. Gentleman said that that was under review.That is understandable. I noted that the right hon. Member for West Dorset was careful to say that it would be unwise to set policy now for five years' time. I take it that that is an explanation of why there may be some policy gaps. That is fair enough; I understand those pressures.
We have had a most interesting general debate. As a number of hon. Members have said, it has been distinguished not only by the fact that a considerable number of maiden speeches have been made, which totalled 10 I think, but by the fact that the maiden speeches—I say this entirely sincerely and it is not a criticism of returning Members—have been of unusual quality. Hon. Members of every party, on both sides of the House, made maiden speeches that were truly excellent. They were an indication of the quality of our new Members, who will clearly make an immense contribution to our debates.
My hon. Friend Kitty Ussher was the first to make a maiden speech. It is obviously customary to compliment all maiden speeches, but today that has not been at all difficult. I was particularly pleased to see her in her place making her first contribution. I have been fortunate enough to work with her in varying capacities—both in her case and mine—over a number of years, most latterly when she served as a special adviser to the previous Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. Both her constituency experience and her other experience made her able to make a good contribution to the debate. Hers was a very good start to the maiden speeches. I particularly welcomed her reference to modern apprenticeships.
As I say, 10 maiden speeches were made in all. One of the distinguishing features of the maiden speeches—I hope that no one will mind if I weave them all together—was the skill that new Members showed in weaving in particular issues while observing the customary courtesies of the House by being not too controversial and not too long, describing their constituencies and being graceful to their predecessors. As all of us know, that is not as easy to do as it sounds.
Stephen Hammond touched on his concern about phone masts in his constituency. As he will find before he has been here much longer, that concern is widely shared and expressed in the House. The speech by my hon. Friend Nia Griffith was not only clear and witty but poetic, which is perhaps not so common. My hon. Friend Anne Snelgrove talked of her passion for education. Like a number of hon. Members, David Howarth talked about affordable housing. That is a common theme across the House. My hon. Friend Mr. Flello welcomed warmly and effectively the renewal that he has seen in his constituency. That was a feature of the speeches by Labour Members, who identified and welcomed the improvements, not least in levels of employment—almost every one of them mentioned the fall in unemployment. For some curious reason that was not such a common feature in the speeches of new. Members from Opposition Benches, but I am sure that the trend will change. In future they will be happy to give credit to the Government where improvements have taken place.
Mr. Ellwood talked about education funding and Julia Goldsworthy welcomed many of the improvements that have taken place in Cornwall. I fully understand that that county has faced many difficulties in the past. She perhaps welcomed the improvements more in terms of the contribution made by her colleagues than in terms of where the levers lie. That is understandable. I am sure that she will find her place in future debates.
The hon. Lady was followed by her hon. Friend Danny Alexander—poor man. I have no idea how the House will shorten his constituency name, but I fear he may find that hon. Members will not always find it easy to remember the full glory of his constituency title and I hope that he will not take that amiss. Sometimes one wonders how the Boundary Commission spends its time, but never mind. I say that with particular feeling because in the last boundary changes commissioners came up with the distinctive treatment for my constituency of calling my seat Derby, South and my immediate neighbour's seat South Derbyshire. If they had been a little more inventive, as clearly they have been with the hon. Gentleman's constituency, it might have been easier for people to remember which was which.
John Hemming made an interesting and diverse speech. He said that he would not refer to his concerns about Rover because his remarks might be too daring and controversial for a maiden speech. I am sure that we all look forward eagerly to whatever it is he has to say about that in the future.
Sir Nicholas Winterton is a colleague—I hope he does not mind my saying that even though he is in a different party—for whom I have the greatest respect, not least for his impeccable track record in supporting manufacturing. He said that the job losses that we have now seen in manufacturing would previously have been unthinkable, but I recall a number of job losses, not least in manufacturing, under the Tory Government over many years. I also, however, remember that he was as equally keen to challenge that Government on these issues as he has been to challenge ours. That is reasonable enough.
I disagreed in part with the hon. Gentleman's emphasis on productive jobs. I take his point entirely and he knows that I share his view about the importance of manufacturing as part of our economic base, but I do not share the assumption, which perhaps did not underlie his remarks but which often seems to underlie such remarks in this House, that jobs in the police service or in nursing, for example, are somehow not productive. They are extremely necessary and welcome. I am very conscious of the fact that some measures of productivity are rather artificial and do not create a full picture. I do not think that he would dispute that. He asked me specifically to comment on the issue of Rover. All I can say is that, as my right hon. Friend said in his opening remarks, we are mindful that Sir Brian Nicholson is undertaking a study at present and we do not wish in any way to pre-empt what he might say.
Michael Jack expressed concern that there was not a reference in the Queen's Speech to the issue of climate change. I appreciate that when our colleagues are making so much noise down in the House of Lords it is not always easy to hear every word that Her Majesty utters. There was indeed a reference, particularly in the context of the G8, to the important issue of climate change. Without making the Queen's Speech inordinately long, it would have been difficult to work in some of the references that he would have liked to the need to influence other member states, whether the United States, China, India or others. I accept that those are key factors.
The right hon. Member for Fylde also said that it would have been desirable to say more in the context of the G8 about biodiversity. In fact, we were lucky recently, at a meeting in Derbyshire of the G8 Environment and Development Ministers, to reach agreement on illegal logging, which we hope will have much effect in the future. I wholly share his concern for the development of biomass and biofuels as an energy source—a concern also expressed by Norman Lamb. I remind both of them that we have a taskforce under way under the chairmanship of Sir Ben Gill, which I hope will have some useful contribution to make on these issues.
Damian Green also alluded to climate change issues, but he was reluctant to accept that it was possible to address the need for more affordable housing—a concern expressed across the Chamber—without a devastating impact on the environment. We share the concern about housing; we do not accept that it cannot be tackled without damaging environmental impacts.
My hon. Friend Mr. Bailey was one of many Labour Members who paid tribute to the Government's management of the economy without ignoring the continuing problems and difficulties. I said a moment ago that almost every Labour Member referred to the fall in unemployment in their constituencies, not least my hon. Friend Judy Mallaber. She referred to the opportunities, not least for manufacturing, that occur in her constituency.
I think that my hon. Friend Harry Cohen could honestly and honourably be said to have given the Queen's Speech a mixed reception. He did, however, welcome the investment that the Government intend to make and have made in education. I very much welcome that, and I know that he is conscious of how important that is for the future of people in any of our constituencies.
Mr. Garnier, although graceful to both maiden speakers and retired or defeated colleagues, was perhaps less graceful about the support that the Government are giving to education and health care. I find it astonishing to listen to hon. Members who have been in this place for some considerable time complaining about the inadequacy of this Government's support for services that were starved of money by the Government whom they supported.
The hon. and learned Member for Harborough drew attention in particular to the remaining concerns in rural areas, as did the right hon. Member for West Dorset. I simply say to both of them that we are extraordinarily conscious of the real need that remains for improvement in rural areas. I cannot stress too often the issue of affordable housing because it is something that is raised with me by every Labour Member who has a rural or semi-rural constituency. The hon. and learned Member for Harborough talked in such terms about the problems of his constituents that I thought that he must have missed the survey undertaken by my Department of satisfaction with services in rural areas. That survey showed remarkable levels of approval of services in rural areas among the rural communities.
We have as a Government put in substantial resources—some £150 million a year for rural post offices, £30 million for rural police, and support for new facilities for health care, for small schools and for village shops. I am not arguing that any of this is enough. There is much more undoubtedly to do, but to talk as though there has been no improvement is to ignore not only the record of the previous Government, but the record of change and improvement over which this Government have presided.
Like the right hon. Member for West Dorset, I can reassure the hon. and learned Member for Harborough that it is not the intention of the Government—although my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead may be disappointed to hear this—to nationalise common land or, indeed, any other land. No, I think that I do my hon. Friend an injustice because I am sure that he would not be in favour of taking anything from the people. It is indeed the case that a Bill on common land is needed. It has been called for by nearly every rural organisation, including the Country Land and Business Association, although I do not doubt that, as always, there will be issues about the detail. The Bill is intended to modernise outdated legislation, to provide better local management of common land and to enable commoners and landowners to work together to manage the land, update the register and so forth. It will be a worthwhile measure, which some sceptical Members might even support.
The Secretary of State has rightly said that the Bill will be technical and we will want to engage with it. Will she ensure that the Bill is published a long time before the House debates it, as it is the sort of legislation that will require considerable examination before we can debate it effectively?
I shall certainly do my utmost to achieve that. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was in his place when I had a little dust-up with the hon. and learned Member for Harborough, but it very much part of the Government's approach to legislation that Bills should be ready before they are introduced into the House. It is my hope that the Bill will be able to be scrutinised in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests—[Interruption.] The Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend Jim Knight, has just volunteered to provide a briefing on the subject. I hope that that will be helpful.
The hon. and learned Member for Harborough specifically asked me about night flights, the East Midlands airport and whether the civil aviation Bill would help. I am not aware that we are having a debate on transport issues in the Queen's Speech, but I shall certainly draw his and his constituents' concerns to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, who will be sorry to hear about them.
As to the speech of the hon. Member for North Norfolk, I rather share the view of the right hon. Member for West Dorset in that I thought that I was listening to a speech delivered from the Conservative Benches. The hon. Member for North Norfolk may take that as compliment, especially in his seat, but I certainly did not agree with some of his observations—the abolition of the Department for Trade and Industry, for example. I doubt whether the business community would welcome that. Only a few days ago, the deputy director of the CBI said that a Department for wealth creation was the best place to deal with regulation, trade and business issues. Only by handling such issues are we able to deal with problems relating to the growth of red tape that are often raised in the House. I do not believe that the clientele to which the hon. Member for North Norfolk referred would welcome abolition.
I am immensely grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way and for listening rather more carefully than I was to the speech of Norman Lamb. If he did advocate the abolition of the Department for Trade and Industry, it is important to note that that is not quite the view of Conservative Members. We believe that it should be thinned down rather than abolished.
A policy commitment there, perhaps, and so early in our Parliament. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry will be delighted to hear that.
The right hon. Member for West Dorset made many points and I hope that he will forgive me for not dealing with all of them in detail now. As he says, we will have many opportunities for further exchanges. He asked about energy policy, agriculture and rural areas. I have already said most of what I would like to say about rural areas in response to the hon. and learned Member for Harborough.
The right hon. Gentleman reiterated the importance of affordable rural housing and I would make two points in response. First, he spoke about prices and low wages, and it is the present Government who introduced the national minimum wage, which has put a floor on wages in rural communities as elsewhere, and we believe that it has been of assistance. Secondly, I accept that the right hon. Gentleman may not have ploughed through every word of either our general manifesto or the smaller rural manifesto that we produced during the election campaign, but I can tell him that we propose to set up a small and, I hope, speedy advisory commission on rural housing. It should specifically deal with the issues that the right hon. Gentleman and others have raised. We are very conscious of the degree to which that is an issue, not least in rural areas.
The right hon. Gentleman touched also on energy policy, but I take strictures from the Opposition with a pinch of salt, given that they did not even have a target for reduction in CO 2 emissions other than the Kyoto target. However, the right hon. Gentleman is right to say that we have not made as much progress in tackling CO 2 as we had hoped, although in the early years of this Government we did do so. He made a common error—I hope that he does not mind me saying so—in referring to the contribution made by the switch in power sourcing from coal to gas. That makes a diminishing contribution to the reduction in emissions. It is often claimed that most of the changes are accounted for by the switch from coal to gas, but that is no longer the case. Only about 25 per cent. of the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions can now be attributed to that switch.
The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned the energy efficiency commitment and I remind him that that is a legal requirement. I take his point that companies may not be enthusiastic about volunteering for such work, but it is a legal obligation on them—for that very reason. He also mentioned vehicle excise duty and fuel incentives, and he knows that the Government have taken action on those and keep continually under review where and how we should do more, not least on aviation. That issue will be a key feature of our EU presidency. It is such a relief to be able to refer straightforwardly to our EU presidency, instead of adding the caveats, "If we win our seats", or "If we are the Government". It will be a key goal in the Environment Council to seek agreement with our colleagues to introduce aviation into the emissions trading scheme by 2008. That would be an important first step, because although the international community as a whole has long said that we have to tackle the issue, nothing has been done. If we can show that such steps work in Europe, it might provide the entrée for a much wider approach.
The right hon. Gentleman made several points about performance in agriculture. We have been engaged in the pursuit of a sustainable approach to agriculture for some time, and we will continue that. I take his point, to a degree, about the issue of cross-compliance. We would have liked it to be less onerous and less detailed, but—as he will know—such matters are decided on a cross-governmental basis. In his remarks, the right hon. Gentleman rose above the substantial change in the CAP that I negotiated two or three years ago and which will mean, over time, a real revolution and simplification for British farming. I accept, with great regret, that considerable teething problems have occurred in the transition, perhaps inevitably, but I assure him that we are doing everything that we can to overcome those problems.
On the specific issue of interim payments, we are keeping them under review and we have talked to the banks. However, we would not be prepared to make arrangements for interim payments that might jeopardise the delivery of the full payment in the final system. We are not prepared to risk that and we have discussed it with the National Farmers Union, which is mindful of the issues. Those are not easy issues, but I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we keep them under review and will do our best to keep him and his team informed.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State, not only for what she has just said but because she has been in correspondence with me about a constituency company called World Flowers. It has faced a hugely intrusive and expensive inspection regime that is partly the fault of the European Union. However, the implementation of the regime by her Department has made it much more intrusive and expensive than it need be. Will she agree to have a meeting with me and, possibly, my constituents to talk through whether something can be done to alleviate the regime? It is part of the over-regulation that impinges on the company in this country and on the farmers in Kenya who produce the flowers that World Flowers import, and it is doing serious damage to them as well.
I will do what I can. If I can meet the hon. Gentleman and his constituents I shall certainly do so, but if not I will ask one of my ministerial team to do so. I take his point, which is a serious one and is among a number on which we are conscious that there are legitimate concerns about whether we are handling things in too detailed a way that can become oppressive. The balance is always difficult to strike and I am the last person to assert that we always get it right, which is why we are grateful to Members on both sides of the House for bringing such issues to our attention, and why we will always undertake to consider them as carefully as we can.
I have been patiently waiting to see whether the Secretary of State would raise the issue of bovine TB, which is a serious one for those of us who represent constituencies in the west country. Bovine TB is a cause of great economic loss, especially when subsidies are being reduced. Will the Secretary of State have another real look at the issue? Farmers in my constituency believe that her Department is now in possession of sufficient facts from the Krebs reviews to make a real announcement and take proper action on the matter. I shall be writing to ask her if she will meet a delegation of my most informed farmers. I do not expect her to give me an answer about that this afternoon, but will she have a real look at the issue to see whether it can be resolved?
I am extremely conscious of how grave the problem is. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Government's top priority is to try to ensure that we keep clean areas clean, as well as dealing with the problem as speedily as we can. We are keeping the issue under review and we look closely at the evidence. I completely understand the concerns and feelings that are expressed, but sometimes—although it may be counter-intuitive—what we are urged to do appears from other evidence to be counter-productive. The hon. Gentleman will know that one of the reasons we stopped the so-called reactive cull was that early indications from the evidence were that it was making matters worse, so it was a risk that we were not prepared to run.
I am conscious of the time pressures, so in closing the debate I simply want to point out, as I said earlier in response to the right hon. Member for Fylde—a former Chairman of the Select Committee—who, like Norman Baker, raised some issues and concerns, that the Government are indeed mindful of the importance of climate change. We are working through our presidency of the G8, as we shall through our presidency of the European Union, to see how much we can do to tackle that issue. We have already held a successful scientific meeting in Exeter, which established that there may be even greater dangers than we thought.
In March, we held an immensely successful meeting of Energy and Environment Ministers from about 20 countries, which may not have impinged as fully on the attention of Members as it might have done had we not been thought to be approaching a general election. There was a real stimulus and exchange of ideas about how to tackle energy supply across the world in future. The choices that are made in coming years, not least in China and India, for example, will have an immense influence on the impact of climate change.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston and others raised the issue of the science base. The hon. Member for Lewes also asked me specifically about clean coal technology and carbon sequestration. Yes, indeed, we are mindful of the importance of the science base and such issues have much to contribute, not least through the climate change review that we are undertaking. Our goal will be to show how we can get back on track to meet our target of a 20 per cent. reduction in carbon dioxide by 2010.
I want to make one final point. We talk all the time about the problems and costs of climate change, but there are real opportunities too—for business, wealth creation and jobs. Those are opportunities we must seize.
Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Heppell.]
Debate to be resumed on