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I am extraordinarily lucky because my constituency is in beautiful Devon and Cornwall and our record on policing is extremely good. In 2009-10 we cut the crime rate by 10%; we have reduced vehicle theft by 27% and overall we reduced antisocial behaviour. I am pleased to say that we are perceived to be the fourth safest policing area in England and Wales, and 63% believe that we are doing a good job, but there is a "but": despite that record the fear of crime is disproportionately high. That brings me back to the bobby on the beat. Independent research has shown that bobbies on the beat are a key factor in deterring people from committing crime and in making people feel safe. In Devon, we have put 200 more policemen on the front line. We have very active police and "communities together" meetings-most recently, we have met in supermarkets, which makes us extremely accessible; that is where we should be. I certainly welcome the Government's reintroduction of special constables.
Despite what the figures seem to show, however, we have found that, in relation to trust and confidence, the figures fly in the face of all we have been doing. In 2008, 53.2% of people across Devon and Cornwall said that we were doing a good job, and trust and confidence were high, measured by our approach to dealing with antisocial behaviour. That put us second out of 43 police forces across the country, and compared very well with the average of 46% satisfaction. However, in 2009, we plummeted to 35th out of 43, with the satisfaction rate on dealing with antisocial behaviour down to 46.9%. The question for me and my police team was why?
The challenge-the key issue I would like the Minister to address-is how we should measure trust in the police force. It seems rather bizarre that we have a record of crime and antisocial behaviour being cut in Devon and yet, according to the measurements, trust and confidence in the police is going down. That cannot be right. I urge the Minister to consider how, as a Government, we can introduce appropriate measures that are workable and meaningful to the public. I suggest that we start to consider things other than antisocial behaviour, because I think that a much wider remit concerns the public.
Mr Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bayley. I thank you for helping the four of us who want to speak work out an equitable distribution of time in the debate.
Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), I consider the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) a friend in the House. He is tenacious, he never fears to speak out and, on this occasion, I consider nearly everything he said to be utterly wrong. I have to say to him that I thought his contribution was intellectually disingenuous-probably the most intellectually disingenuous contribution I have heard since I became an MP. He made sweeping statements, very few of which were backed up by any empirical evidence. I consider it the duty of the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice to distance himself very strongly from those statements, unless he has seen the evidence that backs up those claims.
Mark Pritchard: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments and compliments. On his latter points, can he give a specific example and provide the counterview to that example that he thinks should be put?
Mr Watson: No, I will not be doing that. I have limited time and my real reason for being here today is to talk about the Metropolitan police and their conduct of the inquiry into phone hacking by the News of the World.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East, the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, mentioned that it would be nice if chief officers replied to MPs' letters. Given the national interest in the issue, I would like to gently chastise the Metropolitan police for their failure to respond to what I thought was quite an important letter that I sent to Sir Paul Stephenson on 3 September. In the letter, I asked whether every person whose phone was listed in the Glenn Mulcaire evidence file was informed that they were a target of hacking; and, if they were not informed, who decided, according to what criteria and on what authority, which names were to be investigated and which were to be ignored?
When it became public that a Metropolitan police officer, Michael Fuller, was also on Glenn Mulcaire's list, I was extremely concerned that Met police officers themselves did not know that they might have been the target of phone hacking. I therefore asked Sir Paul Stephenson if he would confirm how many Metropolitan police officers were on the Mulcaire files. He has not responded.
I also asked why people on the Mulcaire list were not informed and how many people were on the list of the Mulcaire evidence file, because that is still not in the public domain. Many Members of Parliament were on the Mulcaire lists. We still do not know how many and I do not know if all the Members of Parliament on that list have yet been informed. I asked Sir Paul Stephenson to answer that and to confirm who decided which Members of Parliament should be notified, according to what criteria, and on whose authority. He has not responded. I also asked Sir Paul Stephenson to confirm which victims were selected to be notified and on what criteria. There are a lot of unanswered questions in relation to the Metropolitan police inquiry.
Mr Stewart Jackson: On a point of order, Mr Bayley. Given that we learned today that the Metropolitan police have specifically, in relation to the case raised by the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson), sought evidence from The Guardian newspaper, I seek your guidance on the issue of sub judice. I do not want to fetter the hon. Gentleman's discretion to raise these issues, but I am concerned that he may be transgressing the rules of the House on sub judice in relation to that ongoing police investigation.
Hugh Bayley (in the Chair): If the matter is not before the courts, it cannot be sub judice. What the hon. Gentleman has raised is a matter for debate. If we have time and he wishes to speak, he might be able to make a contribution.
Mr Watson: Thank you, Mr Bayley. I would not dream of attempting to transgress the rules of the House on sub judice. I simply seek to get the facts, and not enough of the facts are in the public domain.
The Minister has it in his power to cast light on this sorry tale. He could review the Metropolitan police advice to the Director of Public Prosecutions, and thus be confident in his own mind about whether the DPP was given all the evidence required to bring appropriate cases. If the Minister wanted to, he could ask an external police service to investigate the conduct of the inquiry by the Metropolitan police. I would like him to acknowledge whether that is an option he is considering taking. He could, if he wanted to, talk to the Prime Minister about the potential for a judicial inquiry into the conduct of this case.
Members of Parliament, senior police officers, senior members of the military, the heir to the throne and leading celebrities have been the target of criminal activity on an industrial scale by News International journalists, and that has not been adequately investigated. So in today's debate on trust in the police, I would like to say that I have absolute confidence in the police's ability to get to the truth.
Mark Pritchard: The hon. Gentleman is being as gracious as ever and I am grateful to him for giving way. The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) rightly said that he did not want to play "party politics" with this debate. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is not attempting to do that, but I fear he is perhaps straying into party politics. I think he is at his very best when he is representing the interests of his constituents in West Bromwich-where, if he looks at the latest statistics, he will see that burglary has increased-who are concerned about and have a real fear of crime, rather than trying to make wild accusations and party political points on a very narrow matter. Let us stick to the debate on the important topic of public trust in the police that is important to his constituents and, indeed, throughout the country.
Mr Watson: I do not believe that that was a question; it was a statement. I cannot recall one word of any of my sentences that was of a party political nature. I seek to get to the facts after a unanimous inquiry conducted by my own Select Committee-the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport-and the establishment of two further inquiries agreed by both Front Benches in Parliament.
Mike Crockart (Edinburgh West) (LD):
I congratulate the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) on securing what has turned into a wide-ranging debate on an important subject: public trust in police forces, a subject that is quite distinct from the effectiveness of police forces. Some of the points that he made are very
pertinent. It is clear that there are serious problems in the organisation of police forces: for example, the block on good officers developing and being promoted, especially to sergeant, that first hurdle of promotion. The 30-year limit on the service of police officers and the cost of the generous pension system are also issues. However, we must be careful not to damage the way policing works when we discuss whether that is effective or not. We need young, fit and able officers, but we also need the huge experience of older and perhaps less fit officers, who can often defuse situations, negating the need for a chase in the first place.
I want to concentrate on some of the factors that I feel have contributed to the decline in public trust in the police service over recent decades. The central question to which we inevitably return when discussing policing, and with which I have wrestled for 20 years since starting as a serving police officer, is: what are the police for? I must admit that 20 years ago I held a narrow view of police functions, having had the relevant sections of the Police (Scotland) Act 1967 drilled into me. Much of that Act deals specifically with crime and its prevention, but it contains nothing about increasing public trust in the police. It was my firm belief then that it was the role of politicians, not the police, to deal with the fear of crime.
However, it should not come as too much of a surprise that, now that I am a politician, my view has changed substantially, although my experiences over the past 20 years have fed that change of mind. Back then I served as a beat officer, focusing entirely on crime, and community officers dealt in the main with building links with local communities, schools and businesses. When officers were needed to police demonstrations or football matches, it was generally those community officers whose duties were changed, not mine, which reflected the absolute focus on crime.
That has continued over the past 20 years, unfortunately aided and abetted by the previous Government's top-down focus. For the 13 years Labour was in government, it continually undermined local police forces by creating central crime targets dictated from Whitehall. That means that the Home Office now judges a police force on how many crimes it detects and clears up. That measurement is the opposite of what I think we should be looking for from local police services.
The public do not necessarily want the police to be good only at solving crimes after they have been committed; they also want them to be good at preventing them. When I started serving, it was considered to be a good night when a PC came back from the beat and no crime had been committed and no victims had suffered loss or injury. With Whitehall targets, it is now considered to be better for a PC to have spent an entire eight-hour shift dealing with arrests, regardless of the nature of the offence. That culture of central target setting has put pressure on officers to behave in ways in which they might not otherwise choose to act, focusing on otherwise minor offences in order to reach targets and criminalising many groups that have traditionally been supporters of the police. That is not new. I remember being taken as a probationary constable to a local shopping centre in Edinburgh to be shown by my sergeant how easy it was to catch people as they left the car park without having put their seatbelts on. Remote target setting has many such unintended consequences.
New responsibilities have been placed on police forces, such as the recently scrapped policing pledge and confidence targets. More than 4,600 new criminal offences have been created since 1997-more than 28 a month. All that massively increases bureaucracy and overloads police officers with paperwork, removing them from the streets where the public time and again say they want to see them. Surveys continue to show that many people's top priority for policing is to see more bobbies on the beat.
Those new responsibilities also serve to promote the indiscriminate targeting of groups, using methods that are unacceptable to the public but which police forces may feel they can justify through the potential rewards of producing statistics that show how they are dealing with a particular Government priority. A recent example saw residents in Birmingham's Sparkbrook and Washwood Heath neighbourhoods told that hundreds of CCTV cameras and automatic number plate-reading cameras were being installed to monitor speeding vehicles and antisocial behaviour among youths. Just days before the cameras were turned on, however, an investigative reporter found that those cameras were to be used by the Home Office and MI5 to monitor people entering and leaving those predominantly Muslim areas.
A follow-up report by the Thames Valley police commissioner gave a damning assessment showing that officers failed to comply with national CCTV regulations or to conduct proper consultation. They did not obtain statutory clearance for the use of covert cameras and there was little evidence that officers had even considered their legal obligations. Furthermore, attempts by the police to conceal the true purpose of the project caused significant damage to community relations, with one community leader reporting that relations had fallen back by at least a decade.
Mr Stewart Jackson: With all due respect, it is easy with hindsight to criticise West Midlands police for that operation, but we do not know, and never will, what potential terrorist or criminal outrage that surveillance may have prevented. It is slightly unfair of my hon. Friend to take that case in isolation, because it is the duty of all police forces to remain utterly vigilant in an age of international and national terrorism.
Mike Crockart: I thank my hon. Friend for his point, but that is the defence that is used when none other can be found: "We know things that you don't." In fact, what is being said is: "We may know things that you don't." That justifies any means by which communities are policed, which simply is not acceptable. Clear guidelines have been laid down for looking into those offences. We are having a major review of much of the terrorist legislation that is being used for such measures. I hope that we reach a position where we can deal effectively with such concerns and potential problems without using the types of behaviour that have damaged public trust in that police service.
Another example, highlighted this week in The Guardian,demonstrates the far more serious flipside of the racial problem outlined by the hon. Member for The Wrekin in relation to policing and justice more generally. It showed that, per capita, seven times as many black Britons were incarcerated than white Britons, which is
an even higher ratio than in the United States, where four times as many black people are in prison than white people. Those data, which come from the recently published Equality and Human Rights Commission report on fairness in Britain, show just how much of an effect decades of racial prejudice in the criminal justice system have had on the black community. Another figure that is particularly striking, and that again goes to the heart of the targets culture, shows that black Britons constituted 15% of the stop and searches in Britain in 2008, despite making up only 3% of the population.
All the factors that I have outlined contributed to public confidence reaching new lows. In response to that, Labour again reverted to type, refusing to acknowledge that central meddling was the culprit, and tried to deal with the problem through targets, setting a target for improving confidence in forces' local crime and disorder-fighting strategies by a minimum of 12%. It also set a national confidence target, to be measured by annual surveys.
What is the answer? How do we reconnect the police with the public they serve? There must be a wholesale revision of the interaction between the police and the public. The coalition's plans to bring in locally elected police commissioners is certainly a step in the right direction, and there is certainly something to be said for increasing the local accountability of police forces. If communities are involved, they will be able to have more input into the priorities of local police forces, which will go a long way towards restoring trust in the force.
Keith Vaz: I ask the hon. Gentleman the following question because he is a former senior officer: does he think that, within the proposals for elected police commissioners, operational independence is guaranteed?
Mike Crockart: As it stands, the position is that operational independence must be maintained, and I would argue that it must be sacrosanct. To a large extent, operational decisions have to be made quickly, but that may not be possible under new structures. The amount of information that is needed to make such decisions is immediately available to senior police officers, and they are absolutely the right people to make those decisions.
I have some concerns about the detail of the scheme. I feel that it is probably not local enough, so I hope, as we have urged in our submission to the Home Office, that the plans will be trialled to ensure their effectiveness. It is clear that accountability for policing priorities and dialogue between the consumers of policing and the providers of it need to happen at a much lower level, and in a much more regular and inclusive way. Only by doing that will we restore a degree of public trust in the police and, in so doing, re-establish the principle of policing by consent. That will ultimately answer my original question, what are the police for? This is about working with and in communities to improve people's lives.
Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab):
It is good to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bayley. As in the film, I am back to the future in coming back to a role that I had 15 months ago. It is good to see my right hon. Friend
the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, still in his place. He made his contribution in the thoughtful way in which he normally tries to take forward debates. Many of us will be in Cannock Chase to contribute to the seminar that he has arranged. Some interesting points have been made, and I would like to deal with some of them before the Minister responds.
The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) made some important points and discussed important challenges for the police. The concern that my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson), I and one or two others have is that, despite the hon. Member for The Wrekin's making a caveat at the beginning and end of his remarks, about individual cases and about casting aspersions on the whole police service, some of the high-profile cases and incidents to which he referred do just that.
The hon. Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris) asked why fear of crime goes up when crime is actually falling. I shall refer to that further in a minute. If a particular problem or scandal is splashed all over the newspapers every day-such things should be publicised, of course; I am not saying that they should not-that is what happens.
I was the police Minister when we had the horrific spike in knife and gun crime. Unfortunately, I understand from the figures that there is some suggestion that it is happening again this year. One would go to areas of the country where there had not been a stabbing for years, yet people were frightened of being stabbed.
The language and tone of any debate about trust and confidence in the police are fundamental; that was the problem to which my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East referred. He raised several serious issues. No one would condone corruption, brutality or police officers thinking that they are above the law. That is why my hon. Friend gets so cross about the phone hacking, and why he wants answers and a proper discussion of the matter. At the end of the day, it is knowledge that enables public trust.
The House of Commons Library pack to inform this debate on public trust in police forces is excellent. It highlights several unacceptable things that have happened and which have seriously undermined confidence and trust in various areas. However, if we let those become the narrative and the story for the whole of the police, we will have a real problem.
I have the Home Office's crime statistics from July, which were published by the Minister. He needs to answer this question, because it goes to the heart of the matter. One of the reasons why people do not believe the crime statistics is that politicians often play around with them and pick out bits that prove their points. If they do that, why should people believe the statistics?
"The most striking new finding within this report is that both the 2009/10 BCS and police recorded crime are consistent in showing falls in overall crime compared with 2008/09. Overall BCS crime decreased by nine per cent...and police recorded crime by eight per cent".
Does the Minister agree that the same report shows that the fear of crime is going up, despite those figures? That is exactly the point that the hon. Member for Newton Abbot made. I am trying not to be party political, but, to be honest, when the new Government saw the figures, they took the bit that was not such good news and headlined it, rather than going for a big banner headline that crime fell by one half since 1995 and that recorded crime and BCS crime were down by 9%. Is not that one of the things that we should be doing, instead of tucking it away in a little press release? That is part of the problem.
Mark Pritchard: I dispute some of the hon. Gentleman's suppositions and comments, but if he accepts that the current statistics are complex and confusing, and that there is a variety of ways to collect data on a range of things that the police deal with, why did he not make changes when he was the police Minister?
Vernon Coaker: The point I am making is not so much that the statistics are confusing but that people pick out bits from them to prove their point. The overall crime statistics reflected in both the BCS and recorded crime figures show significant falls in crime. What should we do, if we want to ensure people's trust and confidence in the police? What confidence can one have in the police?
At a recent conference, the Home Secretary said that the biggest factor was whether crime is falling in police force areas. She said that that is the measure that we should use to give the public confidence and trust in their police force, and to know whether police forces are being effective.
The hon. Member for Newton Abbot spoke about crime falling in her area. That has to be the banner headline. If we try to undermine the statistics all the time, it is no wonder that people's fear of crime rises.
In discussing how we keep confidence and trust, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East said that some aspects are not hugely difficult. What seems to be difficult is for it to happen in every community in the country consistently and persistently. The things that drive confidence and trust are neighbourhood policing and a visible police presence, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart) said. There will be a debate about whether that has happened or not, but we need neighbourhood policing, visible policing and police being around and responding properly when phone calls are made about antisocial behaviour by a few kids on the street.
We are all constituency MPs. How many people come to us about terrorist incidents? Not many. How many come to us because they phoned up about what may seem a trivial incident but, to the member of the public, is fundamental? If that is responded to, even though it may seem trivial, confidence and trust in the police go up. People are not stupid. They know that sometimes things are difficult to deal with, but they expect that if they are worried about a kid who keeps banging on their door, somebody will say, "Yes, it should not happen.
We are very sorry." In the best cases-in an increasing number of cases-the police are recognising that and responding in the way that we would all want.
Keith Vaz: The hon. Member for Edinburgh West discussed the targets set by central Government, which he felt were unhelpful to policing. However, as I mentioned in my speech, during the previous Administration I found that central Government were able to pass on good practice. From his experience, does my hon. Friend believe that it could have been done better? There needs to be a better understanding of the fact that the Home Office has a role in ensuring that good practice in one part of the country is occurring elsewhere. If it does not have such a role, who does?
Vernon Coaker: I was coming to the point about good practice. My right hon. Friend is right. The Home Office does have a role, as do the police, police authorities and others, in disseminating good practice and good information. We have talked before about good community engagement, good communication, informing people about what is going on and having meetings. All those things are fundamentally important, as is answering letters, and so on.
The Home Office has a responsibility for disseminating information, whether through websites or in other ways. I am interested in whether the Minister believes that that is so and whether he will deal with some of the issues that right hon. and hon. Members have raised this afternoon, notwithstanding his not agreeing with certain cultures and targets. What role does he think the Home Office has to play in driving up confidence and helping restore trust?
Briefly, on trust and confidence, my experience is that the Minister has responsibility both for police and criminal justice. In respect of confidence and trust in the police, the issue is not only about what the police do, but what other bodies, including local authorities and local councils, do. What those bodies do drives trust as well. For example, the clearing up of graffiti and things like that makes a difference.
How the police interact with the criminal justice system is fundamental. There is a big issue here. Sometimes the police get blamed for the criminal justice system not working effectively with respect to the police. We need to get better in respect of one thing in particular. One of the biggest confidence and trust builders is for local people to know that somebody who is causing real problems in their area, and is arrested by the police and taken to court, has been dealt with by the courts and taken through the criminal justice process.
I should be interested in hearing what the Minister expects from the spending review. Other hon. Members have mentioned what will happen with respect to the coming cuts. We have all talked about visible policing and the importance of officers on the beat. How on earth are we going to maintain police numbers and the current numbers of police community support officers? How are we going to cut bureaucracy if police staff are going to go? What will happen to the number of police stations? What will happen to police station opening hours? What will happen to confidence and trust in an environment where all that is happening?
We are talking about trust and confidence in the police. Part of the modernisation of the police has been the establishment of a number of specialist units, which some people regard as a waste but I think are fundamental. Domestic violence would not have been tackled to the extent that it has were it not for the training and development of specialist domestic violence units in many police force areas.
The same is true of sexual violence. Victims of sexual violence want to know that a specialist officer is dealing with the case. What is happening to child protection? All those things are fundamental. If we want confidence and trust, it is all very well to say that that should be mainstreamed into police business and into their main work, but often when that happens there is a loss of focus with regard to such matters.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East mentioned the new national crime agency, which is supposed to take in the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and the National Policing Improvement Agency. I thought that the national crime agency was to be an operational crime-fighting body. The NPIA deals with training, the police national computer and so on. Why would something like that be put into the NCA? If people are to have confidence in the NCA, they want to see a crime-fighting body, not one that encapsulates some of the necessary functions of the NPIA.
Finally, on accountability, the hon. Member for Edinburgh West mentioned elected police commissioners, said that he went along with that proposal and then slightly qualified what he said. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East asked whether those commissioners would have operational independence. We oppose the creation of elected police commissioners. First, will the Minister clarify whether the Government's policy is still, as it was when they were in opposition, to have the power of recall so that another election, to get somebody acceptable, can be held if somebody unsatisfactory is elected as a police commissioner?
Secondly, if the police are still operationally independent, which they should be, of course, what can an elected police commissioner do if he does not agree with what the chief constable does? If the chief constable operates ineffectively, either the commissioner can do something about it or he cannot. How can the elected police commissioner be held accountable if the chief constable is operationally independent-something over which the commissioner has no influence? What will the role of the elected police commissioner be with respect to a chief constable, if the former sees the latter acting unsatisfactorily?
I shall finish where I started, by congratulating the hon. Member for The Wrekin on prompting the debate. He raised some real issues, as did other hon. Members. I say to all police officers out there that the vast majority do a good job in difficult circumstances and they have the full support of every Member of Parliament, notwithstanding some of the difficult incidents that we hear, see and read about. We know that there are bad officers, but we also know that they are not a reflection on the police force as a whole.
The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert):
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mark Pritchard) on securing this debate,
on putting his case with his customary clarity and forcefulness and on initiating a debate, to which many right hon. and hon. Members have enjoyed contributing, on a matter that is close to our hearts -the performance of our local police forces and their ability to deal with crime, which is still of great concern throughout the country.
First, I should like to pick up on the last point made by the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) and, in doing so, congratulate him on his new position as shadow Police Minister, which is particularly interesting for him as former Police Minister. He will bring an alarming amount of experience and knowledge to bear and will, I am sure, hold the Government to account through a challenging period for policing. I look forward to working with him as constructively as we can in the weeks and months ahead. I shall return to that subject when talking about crime statistics.
The hon. Gentleman recognises that the overwhelming majority of police officers could not be characterised in any way by some of the things that have been said during this debate. I echo that. I am conscious that, in the past few weeks and months, we have talked about police reform, the challenging spending environment and about the decisions ahead that need to be taken, and that we can lose sight of the fact that, every day, police officers throughout the country work hard to keep all of us safe. The overwhelming majority of them act with impartiality and integrity. Sometimes sufficient tribute is not paid to the work that they do. I should like formally to thank them.
Those of us who recently attended the national police memorial day service in Belfast or the police bravery awards and spoke to the relatives of police officers who lost their lives doing their duty in the past year, including PC Bill Barker, who was swept away when attempting to help people on a bridge in Cumbria during the floods, could not have failed to be anything but struck by the heroism and professionalism of the police and be reminded of the job that they do for us. In the course of this debate about police legitimacy, conduct and accountability, how they respond to us, and their links with the public, we should remember all those officers and what they do. We should recognise that this is a period of uncertainty for people who work in our public services, including police officers, and we should be sensitive to that.
Although I disagree with some of my hon. Friend's sharper points, the issue, which is essentially trust and legitimacy, is a proper one to raise. He referred to Sir Robert Peel, the founder of modern policing, and quoted his famous seventh principle of policing that
"the police are the public and the public are the police".
"The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions."
In this country, we have a tradition that policing is not only carried out by consent, but that it flows from the fact that the police are of their communities and have the active support of the public. When that support has ebbed away in specific circumstances, policing has gone wrong. We saw that in the past in the way in which the police interacted with black and ethnic minority communities. When confidence in policing goes, legitimacy
also goes. Our leaders in the police service are acutely aware of that important link between confidence and legitimacy.
It may help hon. Members if I add a few metrics to the debate to provide an understanding of the extent to which the public have confidence in the police. The last British crime survey found that overall public confidence in their local police was 69%. That may seem to be high, and is certainly much higher than public confidence in, for example, our profession as Members of Parliament and the media; nevertheless, 30% of respondents said that they did not have confidence in their local police overall. Other figures should make us pause: for example, 50% agreed that the police could be relied on to be present when they were needed, and less than half-48%-agreed that the police could be relied on to deal with minor crimes.
I welcome the fact that the same survey showed that the proportion of people who believe that the police in their area are doing a good or excellent job rose from 49% in 2004-05 to 56% in 2009-10. A majority of the public believe that the police in their area are doing a good or excellent job, but a significant minority do not. On public confidence in the police and local councils, there is a problem with questions that link the actions of both. It is difficult to disaggregate responsibility when they deal with crime and antisocial behaviour issues that matter locally, but only around half of respondents to the survey had confidence in the police and local councils together.
That suggests a number of issues on which we should pause to reflect in the relationship of the police with the public. First, hon. Members have mentioned specific incidents that gave rise to public concern. In every case, there were proper investigations by the authorities and the Independent Police Complaints Commission, but they left an impression-
There is a danger, as the hon. Member for Gedling said, that such incidents create a damaging impression of policing as a whole. The problem is accountability. We live in the age of accountability, and people expect institutions and individuals who hold office to be properly and transparently answerable to them. That is right. We must have a system for complaints and the public must be able to take up issues if they believe that police performance has fallen down. We must have an overall system of answerability that commands public confidence and strengthens the links between the police and the public.
The thrust of our proposed reforms is to rebuild the bridge between the police and the public, and in particular to recognise that police forces sprang from local communities. We have never had a national police force in this country. Police legitimacy essentially flows from consent in those communities, and we want to loosen the central grip on policing that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh West (Mike Crockart) described and, in exchange, strengthen forces' local accountability.
The Minister refers to accountability. Does he accept that there is concern among the public, the rank and file in the police and certainly among
senior and chief officers that it is difficult to sack police officers who are not doing their job correctly? Will he respond to my earlier comments and say that he will consider the matter, whether it will be part of the review, and whether we can get rid of some of the police officers who are doing such damage to the reputation of the police service?
Nick Herbert: I apologise to my hon. Friend, I will certainly respond to the specific points that he raised, but the review into police pay and conditions, which will be led by the former rail regulator, Tom Winsor, has a free rein to consider all such matters, and the way in which police officers are employed should certainly be one. People are free to offer their views to Tom Winsor and his fellow reviewers. That is reasonable, particularly given the scale of the fiscal and other challenges facing the police and their leaders
I turn to the reforms and the specific points made by the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. A key element of our reforms is that police and crime commissioners should be directly elected, thus strengthening the bond between people and the police, and allowing local forces to be held to account. We also intend to introduce transparency. The public should know more about what is happening with crime in their area, and they should know how money is spent by police forces. That principle of transparency should apply throughout the criminal justice system, and from January 2011 we will introduce crime mapping at street level to provide the public with more information about what is happening in their area.
On crime statistics, I agree that we need a non-partisan debate. It is important to build public confidence in statistics, and the political trade about them has been unfortunate. Local crime mapping will give the public unimpeachable information that is directly relevant. I am afraid that national crime statistics are becoming less and less relevant because they are not believed. We have two measures of crime, but the recorded crime figures are susceptible to alteration and the way the figures are collected has been changed, and the British crime survey misses out large sections of crime.
I would like to return the challenge. I am relatively new to my position, and the hon. Member for Gedling is relatively new to his. If he would like a sensible discussion about how we can collect crime figures, so that in future months we do not have a dispute about the figures but talk instead about policy and what lies behind those figures, my door is open. That would be a sensible thing to do.
My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin talked about leadership, and I strongly agree with him about the value of leadership in policing. We have asked the former chief constable of Thames Valley police and chief executive of the National Policing Improvement Agency, Peter Neyroud, to conduct a study into how we can ensure the right leadership and training in the police. In the end, however, that must rest with the police themselves. Part of the reforms that we wish to introduce concerns the reform of the Association of Chief Police Officers to ensure that it takes responsibility for such matters in an accountable manner.
My hon. Friend also called for a review of agencies and quangos, and he will be hearing a great deal more about that in due course. We have proposed a decluttering of the landscape surrounding policing by winding up the National Policing Improvement Agency and taking those functions to a new national crime agency.
On the point raised by the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), I will of course pay attention to all issues and concerns that are raised by people about the whole spectrum of reforms to policing. As he will know, I have been attending to those issues, and I have taken care to pay attention to the views of stakeholders, police organisations and so on.
Mr Watson: There are 30 seconds to go. I asked whether the Minister thinks there are merits in having an outside force investigate the conduct of the Metropolitan police inquiry into phone hacking. Will he respond to that point?
Nick Herbert: I apologise to the hon. Gentleman; I am running out of time. He has raised such matters before. It was and remains a matter for the police, who have made it clear that they will consider fresh information if it emerges. That is precisely what they are doing, and it is right to await their conclusion. Those matters have been debated in the House and are now subject to investigations by two Select Committees. The right way forward is to await the outcome of those latest inquiries.
In conclusion, I believe that the debate about how we structure our police in the future is important. The Government reforms are intended to ensure that we have a strong connection between the police and the public.
Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): I hope that there will be a number of interventions from colleagues, so I do not intend to fill my 15 minutes; other hon. Members might want to speak. I believe that the Government urgently need to reassess their views about the production of onshore wind power.
Hugh Bayley (in the Chair): Order. Before the hon. Gentleman gets into his stride, I should say that the rules governing 30-minute debates allow for interventions on the hon. Gentleman, or the Minister when he replies, but I have not been notified of an agreement between the hon. Gentleman and the Minister for others to speak. Therefore, if colleagues plan to open their mouths during this debate, it will have to be in the form of an intervention. I hope that that is helpful, and I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for interrupting his speech.
Chris Heaton-Harris: Thank you for clarifying that for me, Mr Bayley. This is my first Adjournment debate and I had no idea what the rules were. Over the next few minutes I will try to explain why I think that the Government need to change their position on onshore wind-I will obviously speak for slightly longer than the eight or nine minutes on which I was planning, but perhaps Members who would like to intervene can help out.
I have a number of questions about that area of policy. The current official Government figure for carbon displacement by wind power assumes that wind power can replace conventional generation at 100% efficiency. That is clearly unrealistic in view of the technical challenges of incorporating an intermittent and highly variable power source into a strictly managed supply system. Reports from Denmark and Germany suggest that the carbon costs of absorbing wind power into the grid are substantial. I assume that that is also true for the UK.
A substantial proportion of electrical power demand is continuous-the base load. The balance is required to respond to demand that fluctuates in many ways, including seasonally, instantaneously, or even at the end of an England game-or, if it was last night's game, not at all. There is no effective or economic way of storing energy on a large scale. Therefore, we have a number of conundrums. The key responsibility of the grid is to ensure that the demand for power is met at all times. That is achieved by ensuring the availability of capacity when needed, and avoiding the generation of unusable power.
David Tredinnick (Bosworth) (Con): I assure hon. Members that I have approached my hon. Friend in person and sought his leave to speak. As he gets into his speech, does he agree that one of the most inefficient uses of wind power, and the most damaging to the local environment, happens when there are one or two isolated wind turbines that are close to urban conurbations, as is proposed at Desford in my Leicestershire constituency? Does he agree that a suitable solution would be to have a fixed distance between habitations and those wind turbines?
Chris Heaton-Harris: I agree with my hon. Friend. If we believe in localism, surely we believe that local councils should be able to set distances between renewable energy projects and dwellings. I like to think that such a measure would be contained in any localism Bill that the Government bring forward, and I would argue strongly for that.
Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): Is not the problem the fact that the determination of where such things are sited is left to local planning authorities? It would be helpful to have guidance that enabled local planning authorities to form a view. The lack of direction from the Government on the issue means that there is massive uncertainty for local residents. Two applications in my constituency have just been made, but residents have no idea about the likelihood of them being determined. The second problem with a lack of national strategy is that local authorities duplicate their efforts in gathering information to form their own individual policies. Does my hon. Friend agree that that matter urgently needs to be looked at?
Chris Heaton-Harris: I certainly agree. In my constituency, Daventry district council will look tomorrow evening at adopting a policy. It is happy to be challenged about the distance that dwellings should have to be from renewable energy projects. All local authorities should develop such a plan because it is local people who should buy into these things.
Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): As we are aware, there is guidance in Scotland, which is manifestly different from the position in England. Does my hon. Friend agree that the right way forward would be the adoption of the guidance that exists in Scotland, which protects the 2 km from people's houses on an ongoing basis? If we had that, everything would be a lot simpler.
I believe that wind is a burden on the grid. It forces other forms of capacity to be shut down to accommodate wind production when the wind is blowing, and then instantaneously to come back on line when the wind stops. I would like to ask the Minister how much additional gas-fired power capacity-that is the only way that we can power up instantaneously-will be required to accommodate the current targets for wind capacity in the UK? What is the anticipated cost to the electricity markets in lost efficiency and stranded capacity associated with gas-fired plants operating as back-up for wind power? Will the Minister outline the efficiency losses, and the operational and economic impact on other forms of generation that have to modify their behaviour to accommodate the power that comes from wind?
Taking all those factors into account, will the Minister state how many grams of carbon dioxide, or just carbon in general, onshore wind will save per kilowatt hour? Is it not the case that, without massive hydro or other bulk storage, wind capacity must be matched on the UK grid almost megawatt for megawatt by fossil back-up operating at inefficient part load?
RenewableUK has publicly acknowledged that profits for wind farm operators are impressively large. That is largely a consequence of the operation of the indirect renewables obligation subsidy mechanism.
Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Is not the crux of the problem the huge amounts of subsidy involved in operating wind farms, as my hon. Friend is explaining? I understand that it is in the region of £20,000 per mast to the landowner per annum and £100,000 possibly to the operator. That is what is driving the keenness to build wind farms, and we are in real danger of the sustainable tail wagging the energy dog.
Chris Heaton-Harris: I agree. In 2006, the National Audit Office highlighted the fact that the subsidy for onshore wind was excessive and gave poor value as a carbon-saving measure. Those costs are borne by the electricity consumer, and the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets has questioned whether the growing level of that indirect and regressive taxation is acceptable.
The high profitability for onshore wind is skewing renewables investment across our country towards onshore wind and away from research and development for other technologies and other remedies such as energy saving and consumption reduction. It is also, as my hon. Friends have mentioned in relation to each of their constituencies, encouraging large numbers of speculative applications for wind farms.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, in relation to wind turbines in urban areas and on industrial estates, certain criteria are needed? In rural communities, different criteria are needed. Does he accept that when it comes to finding the correct locations for wind turbines, there is a different balance to be struck for different areas? Different rules apply to different places.
Chris Heaton-Harris: I am not against renewables at all, but I do think that we should try to encourage local communities to buy into these. At the moment, there are speculative applications. A new type of subsidy farming is going on across the United Kingdom.
Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that, in our two neighbouring constituencies, the advantage of taxpayer subsidy for these wind farms is encouraging speculative developers to come to not particularly windy places, presumably in the interest of making a few fast pounds on the back of the taxpayer, with no real interest in trying to help the grid and renewables whatever?
Chris Heaton-Harris: I always agree with my hon. Friend and neighbour-I would be foolish not to. Just to prove the point, Northamptonshire is one of the least windy places in the country, and in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), there is a wind farm at Burton Wold that is operating at 19% capacity on average. That is not helping us to deal with our carbon problem.
Mr David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con):
While we are thinking about the size of the subsidy and the effect on the behaviour of both landowner and
operator, does my hon. Friend agree that it is leading to progressively less responsible investment? The example that I want to raise affects both my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) and me. In my county of East Yorkshire, there have been wind farms of enormous size-400 feet; 125 metres; 40 storeys tall-getting closer and closer to dwellings and, now, less than half a mile from a dwelling. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) agree that the sheer size of the subsidy is leading to irresponsible investment?
Do the Government believe that the renewables obligation banding for onshore wind is sustainable, necessary or good value for money? Have they considered the effects of the renewables obligation banding in inhibiting renewable diversification? Will the Minister agree at least to conduct a review of the banding for onshore wind?
Noise is a problem that many of our constituents fear when it comes to onshore wind. Different studies show that about 20% of all wind farms constructed in the UK trigger quite serious noise complaints. Since 2009, the wind industry has adopted a new noise modelling scheme that predicts acceptable noise levels much closer to dwellings, leading to planning applications coming forward with big turbines very close to dwellings. There are fewer proposals in remote locations and, as we have just heard, modern turbines are getting bigger.
The Minister knows that his Department commissioned a report. I apologise: it was not his Department, but the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. The report was on amplitude modulation and in effect concluded that it was not cost-effective to research wind farm noise problems because only a few people suffer from them. That is patently not the case. However, as the Minister knows, his Department was caught out by a freedom of information request that revealed that in 2006 it had instructed the Hayes McKenzie Partnership to remove from a report a recommendation that acceptable night-time noise levels should be reduced.
Graham Evans (Weaver Vale) (Con): I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me to make an intervention on a subject that has not been mentioned but is relevant to my constituency. In my constituency, there are proposals from Peel Energy to build a large-scale wind farm on the marshes between the Mersey estuary and the villages of Frodsham and Helsby. Those proposals would not just result in the ruin of a beautiful area of Cheshire countryside, but lead to the destruction of wetlands that provide a habitat for numerous species of rare birds. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will reassure me that the Secretary of State takes such factors into account when determining these types of application. Some of the structures end up being very close to areas of outstanding natural beauty.
I was talking about noise. Some of us just do not believe that the Department of Energy and Climate Change is promoting wind farms, and not inhibiting them, by trying to force new noise criteria on the whole
country. It is slightly worrying that the Hayes McKenzie Partnership has been commissioned by DECC to carry out the new noise review that the Minister recently announced. The science around noise seems to be a very moveable feast.
It is my contention that onshore wind diverts valuable resources from other renewables that do work and that people like. In my constituency alone, if we diverted the money that might well be spent on wind power towards other things, such as air source or ground source heat pumps and home insulation, we might well be able to insulate just about every house in the constituency and get people to buy in to this.
George Freeman (Mid Norfolk) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising this important subject. It is important, not least in my constituency, where we are struggling with a tidal wave of applications for both onshore turbines and the infrastructure to support offshore turbines, which are often put forward by speculative developers. There is an issue in that respect about the planning guidance. I agree entirely with him about the importance of securing our short-term energy requirements, but also of setting out a proper scientific framework for measuring the different renewable sources that this country could thrive on. Does he agree with me about the importance of identifying those that this country could lead on in a global context? That may not include wind.
Does my hon. Friend also agree that the Leader of the Opposition's statement of 2009 in a documentary when he was Climate Change Secretary, in which he said that it should be "socially unacceptable" for people to be against wind turbines in their area, like not wearing their seat belt or driving past a zebra crossing, is an unhelpful position and one that, now that he is Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition, he might like to review?
Mr David Davis: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way twice to me. I want to pick him up on his kindness to Hayes McKenzie and his gentle language about what was, without doubt, a cover-up of the World Health Organisation guidelines, which said that people, when they sleep, should have an environment at 30 dB. What was said by the Government was something much louder than that-35 to 40 dB. That was a very bad cover-up. Hayes McKenzie was clearly complicit, because it did not put in the public domain what was said. I would like my hon. Friend to tell me whether he thinks that Ministers should undertake to make all the information put forward, in whatever review they do, available in the public domain without limitation or edit.
Chris Heaton-Harris: I would very much welcome the Minister committing to that. Indeed, I have asked him about whether there are secondments from the noise industry to DECC at the moment, and I believe that the reply I got was slightly incorrect. I will contact the Minister.
The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Charles Hendry): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bayley. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) on securing the debate. It is a great shame for the whole House that he did not get an hour-and-a-half debate, because there is no doubt that he and the Members here today could have filled the time.
In the remaining 13 minutes I want to go through the issues raised so far and put them in the context of the role that wind has to play in our energy security and our move to a low-carbon economy. I assure my hon. Friend that I understand the concerns that he and others have raised, and as Minister I have taken some of the actions that are designed specifically to address them. Wind has a contribution to make and an integral part to play in dealing with energy security and tackling climate change. We cannot separate security of supply from a low-carbon economy, we cannot have security of supply without a low-carbon economy and we cannot have a low-carbon economy without security of supply. We see those elements as going together, and without them we will not have affordable pricing.
As hon. Members know, we have seen significant growth in the deployment of onshore wind in this country and we expect it to increase over the years ahead. It will be a low-carbon technology that makes the most significant contribution to enabling us to meet our low-carbon commitments in future, but that must be done in a way that takes account of the views of local communities, and one of the most important changes we shall make will address that: people will see the benefits accrue to their communities from hosting facilities that they may not have chosen.
Julian Smith: Is the Minister shocked at the behaviour of some wind companies? Speaking for my constituents, the bullying of local communities, particularly in rural areas, by wind companies has been shocking. I would appreciate his comments on that.
We have to move to a greater spirit of partnership so that communities can see precisely what they would get out of hosting a facility and realise that genuine benefits would come to them-not necessarily from a wind farm
but from other facilities, as well. Other countries have gone down a similar route and we are learning from the approaches that they have taken. We have also seen the significant number of green jobs generated here, albeit not as many as we would have wished from the supply-chain benefits coming to the United Kingdom, and the potential that that brings
I realise that my hon. Friends who contributed to the debate are less concerned about that aspect than they are about the implications of onshore wind for their constituencies, so I particularly want to address those issues. We have seen the benefits from offshore wind, but we recognise that communities often feel concerned that proposed wind farms in their areas will destroy the environment or have other negative impacts. We are convinced that, in the policy of localism that we are going to drive forward, local councils should be the driving force in deciding how they want their communities to develop. That is a fundamental part of the planning changes we are making.
Eric Ollerenshaw (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Con): In terms of localism, does the Department look at any measurements? What concerns inhabitants who debate the possibilities and planning applications is that the applications are turned down and then repeated, coming back with one fewer turbine and then two fewer turbines, so they go through the process again and again, and lose all confidence in any aspiration to real localism.
Charles Hendry: That is central to predetermination and to ensuring that more of the work is done through earlier discussion between the developer and the council, so they can agree what they think might be generally desirable. We are making those changes. We also need to ensure that we have lead authorities with particular expertise in handling such applications. Many authorities have not dealt with such applications before and do not know how to handle them when they come through. Finding ways to build a genuine body of expertise within local authorities is part of the approach we are considering.
We removed regional spatial strategies and the top-down regional energy targets, because they moved us away from the localism we want. We are committed, in relation to applications for below 50 MW, to local communities and local councils deciding how their areas will develop. The new planning framework will cover all forms of development and set out national economic, environmental and social priorities. Tackling climate change and ensuring our energy security will be among our top priorities, but as I said, we want communities and individuals to own a stake in our collective low-carbon future. That is why we are looking at how local communities can benefit from business rates staying locally, and why we want more genuine community ownership of applications, so that people can see the link between hosting a facility and the benefits that it brings directly to the local area and to the services that people care about.
Mr Davis: We welcome everything that the Minister has said so far, but sometimes local community advantage cannot overwhelm the destruction of people's lives. They will be protected only by leaving the decision at local level and not overruling it time and again at a central appeal.
Charles Hendry: Where a case goes to appeal, it will be decided only in relation to the wider planning guidance that the Government set out. If it is felt that the guidance has not been adhered to in making a determination, it is entirely proper that there be an appeals process. In the spirit of fairness, we all believe that it is right that if an application is turned down at one level, people should continue to have a right to appeal for a redetermination. It must be done within the spirit of the rules set down, and that is absolutely key to what we are saying.
In the debate, we have heard a call for the transfer of support from wind to other renewable sources. We do not see wind as the ultimate solution on its own. It has a part to play, but we supported the banding of the renewables obligation certificates, because that started to give more support to emerging technologies, which need more help to come to fruition. The UK should lead the world in marine technologies, and the steps that we are taking elsewhere will ensure that, certainly by the 2020s and beyond, this will be the natural place in the world for people to come to develop those technologies. In the meantime, we need continuing diversity, and that includes wind. We cannot rely entirely on one low-carbon technology. We expect other low-carbon technologies to come through, particularly nuclear technology-without subsidy-which we are making progress on, as well as clean coal and coal with carbon capture. We expect the widest range of renewables possible in the framework.
Onshore wind is one of the most cost-effective and developed of all renewable technologies, and has almost zero marginal cost, because once the facilities have been constructed, the cost of the energy-the wind-comes without charge.
The renewables obligation has been banded to incentivise investment in other technologies, but what is critical about the ROC is that if the wind does not blow strongly, there is not as much income, because the money received is directly related to the amount of electricity generated. It is based on payment per megawatt hour of power generated. Therefore, if a wind turbine is located where the wind does not blow much and where the turbine does not turn much, very little revenue is returned to the area. That was one of the most important aspects of taking such an approach. It is also linked to the wholesale price: if the price drops as a result of there being a huge amount of supply in the system but not a great deal of demand, the amount of money that goes back is reduced. That recognises the changes in demand and supply found more generally in the system.
We recognise, of course, that wind is intermittent. As my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry said, back-up is required, including from gas, coal or biomass. It could also be done through storage-pump storage and hydrogen or battery technologies are coming through at an impressive rate. That will start to move the technology on from working only when the wind blows to allowing electricity to be available when people need it.
However, there is another side to the argument. Sizewell B, one of our more recent nuclear power stations, has been out of operation for seven months. In that time, it did not produce a single unit of electricity, but our wind system produced 1.8 TWh of electricity, the equivalent of the annual consumption of 400,000 homes. We believe that security of supply comes from a mix of technologies. We cannot put all our eggs in one basket. Having a mix means that if there is a problem in one part, we have a better chance of keeping the lights on, and doing so affordably.
Turbines generally turn about 70% of the time. The load factor figures suggest that it is lower than that, but the turbines may be turning at a relatively low speed for 70% or 80% of the time; there are only a few hours when they are not generating. There was a period at the beginning of the year when they were contributing perhaps only 0.1% of our electricity consumption, but recent figures show that they have been producing 10%. The figures fluctuate, and they need to be seen as part of the totality of what is necessary.
In the time that remains, I shall touch on some of the other issues in the debate. On noise, my primary concern is that the issue is not being treated similarly in all parts of the country. The report that I have commissioned from Hayes McKenzie will consider how noise is to be interpreted to ensure uniformity. It does not seem right that it should be considered in one way in Northamptonshire and in another in East Yorkshire. I assure the House that in appointing Hayes McKenzie I considered who it had worked for to ensure that it can work for local authorities on one side of the equation and wind developers on the other. I want to be convinced-I have been convinced-that the company can provide genuinely independent advice.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) spoke about the previous report. I understand that certain issues were removed before I became involved in this work, relating to things that were outside the initial scope of the report. However, I give an absolute assurance that the Hayes McKenzie report will be published in its entirety and that it will be subject to peer review, so that we can clear about what needs to be done. There is a further review on amplitude modulation by RenewableUK. That, too, will be subject to peer review. I hope that will help to complete the picture.
Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): I am grateful, Mr Bayley, for having the chance to speak on the future of coal-burning power stations. This debate follows one on wind turbines, in which we heard about some of the problems caused by such turbines that have been constructed in constituencies throughout the United Kingdom.
I regret that the 13 years of the previous Administration were largely wasted when it comes to pursuing green technology. There was a great deal of hot air, and the former Deputy Prime Minister made many promises that Great Britain would lead the world in such matters. However, we are regrettably behind the curve. That is surprising, because we have some of the greatest institutions in the world, including Oxford and Cambridge, and many engineers and scientists of world renown. We are blessed by that pedigree of innovation and pioneering technology, yet for some reason we are significantly behind other European Union countries on this issue. That is a matter of profound regret.
I hope that the Minister will take on board the fact that we need a co-ordinated Government approach to bringing those scientists together with energy suppliers and other specialists, so that we can work together with the private sector to ensure that future energy generation requirements are provided in the most cost-effective and efficient way. We should not flinch from learning from the experiences of other countries.
As was mentioned in the previous debate, wind will play a part and so will natural gas and solar energy, but I wish to talk about existing coal-burning power stations. What are the Minister's policies on helping those power stations to convert to clean coal technology or biomass? He will know that European Union directives say that if they are not converted they will be forced to shut. What is his Department doing to help those power stations to convert?
The reason why I feel so passionate about the matter is that we have a major coal-burning power station in my constituency of Shrewsbury and Atcham. The Ironbridge power station is capable of generating 1,000 MWe. It is located in the Severn gorge, only half a mile upstream from Ironbridge, which is a world heritage site. It produces enough power to supply 750,000 homes. I am proud of the fact that we have such an important facility in my constituency.
The station's two 500 MWe units can each produce 12 times more power than Concorde's jet engines. The low-pressure blades are nearly 1 metre long, and with the turbine turning at a fixed speed of 3,000 rpm, the speed of the tips of the last row of blades is approximately 2,000 kph-twice the speed of sound. I give those statistics because we should be proud of the technology in Shropshire. It would be a travesty-a calamity-if that power station was forced to close as a result of EU directives.
I was on the telephone earlier today to Mr Bryson, the manager of the power station, which is operated by E.ON. He informed me that the station has 200 employees. As the local Member of Parliament, I am primarily concerned with those people's jobs. I hope that everything can be done to support the continued production of
electricity at that plant. I have toured the plant on several occasions, and I have seen that it uses crushed nut shells from Africa; that accounts for about 4% or 5% of what is burned there, although it is obviously nowhere near enough to comply with the European Union directive.
I invite the Minister to visit the Ironbridge power station. When he next travels to our part of the west midlands, I shall treat him to a lovely lunch in Shrewsbury. I would like him to see the power station at first hand, and the tremendous economic benefits that it gives not only to Shropshire but to the whole of the west midlands.
Mr Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): I am pleased to hear my hon. Friend talk so positively about the coal industry. I hope that he recognises that, globally, there is more than 200 years of coal provision to meet the energy needs of the world. I am glad to hear him talk about clean-coal technology. Does he recognise that there is an opportunity for business in this country to develop clean-coal technology and export it to the world, thus creating a brand new industry and allowing us to lead the world?
In summary, we can see that the future of coal for UK generators relies heavily on carbon capture and sequestration technology. What has been clear for some time is that CCS is some years away from being economically tangible, and it will take either substantial subsidies or technological breakthrough to make it viable. There are certain difficulties with coal, but I accept, and I hope that the Minister accepts, that that is a possibility. What I hope the Minister will tell us today is what his Department thinks about the prospect of importing biomass for existing power stations, so that they can continue to generate electricity. Moreover, will he tell us what support can be given to them so that they can convert the technology to take in the biomass? Biomass needs full support at this stage from a regulatory and fiscal standpoint, and I very much hope that the Minister's Department will work with E.ON to ensure the survival of Ironbridge power station.
"As you rightly say biomass is one of the options for the...coal plant and we've welcomed the DECC consultation on potential support under the Renewables Obligation for converting existing fossil plants to dedicated biomass. We support this in principle and look forward to the conclusion of the consultation. You might find it helpful to ask the Minister about the progress of the consultation and the impact on closing coal capacity in the UK."
I should like to speak for longer, but I am conscious that my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams), who has the important Drax power station in his constituency, wants to speak. I will therefore conclude my remarks by saying that senior citizens form one of the largest groups of electors in my constituency, and an important forum for senior citizens has more than 7,000 members, which makes it the
biggest organisation in the whole of Shropshire. Time and time again, I get representations from senior citizens about their concerns over heating bills and how their pensions do not keep up with the rising costs of energy. I hope that the Minister will assure me that everything possible is being done to ensure that energy and electricity production in this country will be maintained, improved and increased so that senior citizens, businesses and others will not suffer from vastly inflated electricity and energy prices.
Nigel Adams (Selby and Ainsty) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) for securing this important debate and for allowing me a few minutes to voice my support for the future of coal-burning power stations. The future of such stations is clearly important to me, because my constituency is home to two very large coal-fired power stations at Eggborough and Drax; I also have Ferrybridge on the border of my constituency. Drax is one of the biggest employers in the area and is the largest, cleanest and most efficient coal-fired power station in the country. With a 4,000 MW capacity, it meets the electricity needs of around 7% of the UK, making it a very significant power station.
Coal was responsible for about 44% of electricity supply during the cold spells last winter. Its ability to respond quickly to demand makes coal-fired generation a vital contributor to security of electricity supply. High availability and reliability are among its two most notable qualities.
The UK's current dependence on gas is potentially dangerous. Gas consumption is marred by price volatility and threats to supply from overseas, with more than 80% expected to be imported by 2015. It is clear that the elimination of a significant amount of coal-fired capacity from 2015 onwards could present a real supply security problem for the UK. As it stands, supplies of coal are four times more abundant than gas, with 200 years of supply, 40% of which comes from OECD member countries.
Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con): As my hon. Friend is no doubt aware, Drax has a huge impact on my constituency, too. It is all I see from my front window. However, does he not agree that although we are strong supporters of coal-fired power stations, there is a real potential in the Yorkshire and the Humber region, with its depleted oilfields, for us to pursue clean-coal and carbon capture technologies, which could bring more jobs to our region?
Nigel Adams: That is a fortuitous question, because I am just about to talk about CCS. I believe that the coal-fired generation sector has a crucial role to play in maintaining secure and reliable electricity supplies, but that the long-term survival of fossil fuel in the energy mix can be secured only if it is fitted with carbon capture and storage. The Yorkshire and the Humber region is ideally suited for a cluster-type approach to CCS, and a regional pipework infrastructure to transport captured CO2 from all the major industrial sites in the region to the North sea could cut the UK's entire CO2 emissions by 10%.
Like any other sector, to remain viable and relevant, the coal-fired sector needs to be adaptable to change and the introduction of new ideas and technologies. There is a vital role to be played by the coal-fired generation sector in the transition towards a low-carbon economy, most notably through the introduction of biomass co-firing. I have seen such a shift in focus towards a low-carbon economy in action: Drax has committed itself to full conversion of one of its coal-fired generating units from coal to biomass. That is innovative but very costly, and it would not have happened if the single biggest challenge facing the coal-fired generation sector was not reducing its impact on the environment.
Biomass introduction and CCS can be effective ways of achieving a low-carbon economy-that is evidenced by moves within the sector to find greener methods of production. It is important that larger sites feel confident enough in Government support to take new steps in finding alternative methods of power production, because where large sites lead, smaller but equally important sites will follow. I conclude by saying how important a stable and predictable long-term energy policy framework is for the power sector to encourage large scale investments and to instil confidence among coal-fired generators to encourage them to make the significant investments necessary successfully to address the environmental challenge.
The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Charles Hendry): It is a continuing pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Bayley, in the second of our two energy debates. It is a bit like a lotto double rollover, with many colleagues having the chance to speak about the wide range of energy issues that face us. A common theme runs through the debates, which is the need to decarbonise our electricity supply system, both in the roll-out of renewables and how we decarbonise the mass generation facilities that we have in this country.
Undoubtedly, coal is one of the most important elements within our energy supply system. In general, it produces about a quarter of our electricity. When I visited National Grid a couple of years ago, I found that more than half the electricity being generated was coming from coal plants. There is no doubting the significance of the contribution that coal makes to our energy security. Nevertheless, we must still recognise that coal is much the most polluting form of electricity generation. For example, a coal-fired plant produces about twice as much carbon dioxide per unit of output compared to a gas-fired power station.
Looking forward, I think that it is not a question of whether it is coal, gas, nuclear or renewables that we use; to ensure our energy security, we need to have some of all of those. But nuclear will take 10 years to build, coal with carbon capture is 10 years away as a commercially viable facility and some of the massive roll-out of marine technologies is also 10 years away. In the meantime, therefore, we will certainly need to have more gas in the system and that is why we are also taking urgent action to guarantee that we have the supplies necessary at a time when we are becoming more dependent on imports.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) on securing this debate and on his customary enthusiasm for everything
that goes on in his constituency. In his excellent introduction he identified the key issue-the large combustion plant directive. That directive will require about one third of our coal plant to close down if it has not been fitted with flue gas desulphurisation, or FGD, facilities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) will have seen at Drax the scale of the investment necessary for a FGD unit to be attached to a power station. Such a unit covers essentially the same ground area as the original coal-fired power station itself and it costs hundreds of millions of pounds to build. Consequently the companies involved have taken very careful decisions about whether the long-term potential of that plant justifies that investment. However, this is a matter for those companies and at the end of their deliberations they will decide whether they can give that type of plant a new life or whether they will simply have to allow it to use its remaining operating hours and close before 2016.
Mr Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): My hon. Friend refers to the large combustion plant directive. I believe that the capacity crunch will come in around 2017. Is he confident that Her Majesty's Government will not need to seek a derogation from that directive in order to keep the lights on?
Charles Hendry: The evidence that we have is that the crunch, which had looked as if it was coming in around 2017, is now further out. The recession has reduced demand for power by 6% or 7% and demand has not come back up to the levels that it had been at before the recession. So, there is a crunch coming but it will now come towards the end of this decade.
However, that does not mean that we are off the hook, because following the LCPD is the industrial emissions directive, which will deal predominantly with emissions not related to CO2 . That directive will close down much of our remaining coal plant if the measures are not taken to ensure that our plant complies with it.
We have a mountain to climb and it is right that we should look at the range of options available to us, so that we can ensure that we have the generating capacity that will be so central in the future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham also raised the issue of biomass. I am well aware of a company that is looking to convert the Ironbridge power station to a biomass facility. I am due to come to Shrewsbury in early December. It may be that I can meet representatives of the company then, or I can meet them in London if that is more convenient. I am very keen to learn more about their plans and to learn about how the use of biomass can provide continuity of output, production and employment at the Ironbridge facility.
We see biomass as having a very significant role to play in the energy sector. It can enhance our security of energy supply, because much of the biomass can come from our own indigenous resources. However, we know that sometimes the biomass comes from other parts of the world and we must be certain that the sources of biomass are indeed sustainable. Biomass is also dispatchable; in other words, it can reflect and respond to the peaks in demand. So, if there is a need for back-up capacity, a biomass plant can ensure that we have the continuing output that will be necessary, just as a coal plant can.
Without doubt, large scale dedicated biomass plants can deliver significant levels of renewable electricity by 2020. The renewable energy strategy, which was published by the previous Government in July 2009, estimated that electricity from biomass, including biogas and wastes, would comprise about 20% of all the renewable power generation that will be needed to meet the renewable energy targets that we as a country face.
We also recognise that electricity from dedicated biomass is cheaper than some other large-scale electricity sources. If the biomass generation needed to meet the renewable energy target were displaced by more expensive technologies, there would of course be an additional cost to consumers and, in all the discussion of these issues, that is a factor that we should rightly bear in mind, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham also reminded us.
Moreover, in comparison with some other large scale renewables, biomass can generate more long-term jobs relative to the megawatt-hours of energy output. That is due to the ongoing need for biomass feedstocks creating business and employment opportunities across the UK supply chain.
Use of biomass also provides an opportunity to enhance the forestry husbandry that we have in the UK. I believe that about 40% of our forests and woodlands are not under active management. So there is extraordinary potential and a massive national resource there, not only in terms of biodiversity but providing a renewable energy fuel that can make a major difference in this sector.
The Government support the generation of biomass electricity through renewable obligation certificates, or ROCs, which are tradeable certificates under the renewables obligation. In July, we announced that the support for dedicated biomass electricity plants under the ROCs would be "grandfathered". That means that for 20 years the price that they would receive would be guaranteed, up to the 2037 end date of the obligation. I think that that will provide the certainty that investors are looking for.
However, we also recognise that we are receiving more inquiries from generators about the potential of switching to biomass and we acknowledge that we simply do not have enough understanding of the potential of that switch and what it can contribute. So we have called for evidence as part of our consultation on the ongoing work of the renewables obligation. That consultation will close on 19 October and we want everybody who has an interest in this issue to respond-I certainly hope that E.ON will contribute-so that we can understand the full range of interests and ensure that we can put a system in place that will encourage us to go forward.
My hon. Friend asks a very apposite question. Anyone who wishes to participate can access the consultation through the Department of Energy and Climate Change website. Alternatively, they can write to me, or to my hon. Friend himself and he can
pass any correspondence on to me. They can even write directly to my officials. Whichever way they choose to participate, we will be pleased to have their input and I can give an absolute assurance that it will be taken into account.
My hon. Friend also raised the issue of carbon capture and storage, as did a number of other hon. Friends. I think that CCS is potentially one of the most exciting areas of energy development in the UK. It is an area in which we should be leading the world and in which we are absolutely determined that we will lead the world. CCS can reduce by 90% the CO2 emissions from a coal plant and we think that it is an area in which we must move forward faster.
In this country, we have the sequestration facilities in the North sea, with the depleted oil and gas fields; we have the skills of people who are used to working in the extremely dangerous and hazardous conditions of the North sea; and we have some of the best university expertise, at Edinburgh, Imperial college, Nottingham and elsewhere, which can be brought to bear to ensure that we take CCS forward. Therefore, we are looking at exactly what needs to be done to make CCS happen.
The coalition agreement was clear that we want to have four power stations-commercial power plants-equipped with CCS, as part of our vision of taking CCS forward. We want there to be a much more rapid development of CCS. [Interruption.]
I ask all colleagues to get back to Westminster Hall as soon as they possibly can. We will start again as soon as the initiator of the debate, Daniel Kawczynski, and the Minister are back in their seats.
Charles Hendry: On a point of order, Mr Bayley. I do not have a huge amount left to say. Would it be appropriate for me to write to colleagues on any remaining points that I have not answered already, if that would be to their convenience?
Charles Hendry: We can certainly cover the remaining points in the course of a couple of minutes, because I think that it would be more convenient for colleagues if I deal with those remaining points now. We will be putting in place-
Last week at the Conservative party conference, the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr Letwin),
who is also the Minister with responsibility for Government policy, all mentioned CCS, which was very good news for anyone interested in this issue or, indeed, in climate change. Is the Minister personally confident that the coalition Government's commitment on CCS will survive the spending review?
My hon. Friend tempts me to go into an area that is way above my pay grade and the Chancellor would be deeply annoyed if I set out the response to the spending review now. We have looked at these things very carefully indeed, we have a clear
commitment to CCS and we believe that it has a massive contribution to make. We are rolling forward the development of projects 2 to 4, in addition to project 1. We think that that is part of the way forward. We are determined to make this technology work in the UK and I look forward to working with my hon. Friend to achieve that outcome.