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What discussions he had in the most recent meeting of the General Affairs Council on the contribution of the European Council's European economic recovery plan to the development of employment in the environmental sector.
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At the General Affairs Council on
On Friday, I met representatives of several companies in my constituency, all of which are involved in environmental technologies with a wide range of potential applications. They seek in particular help with research and product development. Does the EU recovery plan contain anything for them?
The package outlined, in terms of carbon capture and storage and opportunities involving wind power, provides an exciting future in which businesses can grow. The environmental business sector is growing apace, at 5 per cent. each year. I suggest that my hon. Friend makes sure that his constituents are aware of what we are providing domestically through the Carbon Trust, the environmental transformation fund, the Technology Strategy Board and the various other ways in which we are supporting businesses to become low carbon and to make their good ideas reality. What is most important is where the EU adds value to what we do at national level. The €5 billion package will be helpful to boosting environmental technologies here and throughout the rest of Europe.
I imagine that the Minister has noticed the remarkable similarity between Questions 2, 8 and 17. Has the Government's competence so disintegrated that they cannot even adequately disguise an exercise in arranging questions for themselves to answer?
The EU is to be commended on directing between 60 and 70 per cent. of its economic stimulus funding to proposals relating to the environment. Will the Minister speak to her colleagues in her Department and more widely across Government to make sure that the G20 decisions and the Budget announcements show the same level of commitment as the EU has shown to environmentally sustainable projects? Here in the UK, environmental projects account for less than 10 per cent. of the total; if it were 50 per cent., we would be getting somewhere.
The debate now is on how to green the economy as part of our way out of the recession facing us and other countries around the world. Six months ago, when I started this job, it was hard to conceive of reaching agreement on a package at EU level, but we did. I hope that the G20 will ensure that opportunities to use fiscal stimulus to stimulate low-carbon economies, which would be good for our planet and good for jobs and skills in future, are at the heart of its achievements.
Given that the European economic recovery plan will not work if we cripple businesses with excessive red tape, can the Minister for Europe redeem herself from yesterday's incredible admission that she has not read the Lisbon treaty, and so does not know what Europe has to offer, by assuring us that the Government will work hard in the negotiations to protect the UK opt-out on the working time directive, which has as critical an effect on environmental employees as it does on many others across this country?
Yesterday, the hon. Gentleman asked me whether I had read the elements of the Lisbon treaty that relate to defence. I answered honestly that I had read some, but not all, of it, but I have now done so. I have no doubt that he spends many nights and many hours—alone, I presume—poring over the Lisbon treaty to discover some hidden plot. This Government are working with our European partners to engage constructively and to ensure that we find a way out of the recession facing the world, which is a darned sight more than the Opposition are doing.