6.7 pm

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) on her contribution. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) on securing this debate, but this subject does not lend itself to the kind of partisan debate that she was hoping for. Frankly, what we should be doing in this Chamber is forming a cross-party alliance of those who agree with this agenda. There are philistines on both sides of the House who do not agree with it—the climate change deniers and those who believe that environmental policies get in the way of economic development. There are also people on both sides of the Chamber who want to engage in a more consensual debate.

This subject does not lend itself to partisan debate because the political cycle does not match the cycles of the natural environment or the investment timetables that are necessary for the delivery of policies such as renewables programmes and broadband development. To prejudge the success or otherwise of the Government after 18 months, when it is far too early to decide whether the natural environment of the UK is better than it was under the previous Government, is frankly a poor partisan point that does not advance the debate.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): My hon. Friend makes an important point about having a cross-party approach to the environment. In the last Parliament, the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) took two pieces of legislation through the House, the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 and the Flood and Water Management Act 2010, that had cross-party consensus and that led to real improvements in the environment.

Andrew George: Absolutely, and I am really grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. It takes me on to another point that I wish to make, in response to the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), who is no longer in his place. He was bemoaning the lack of progress on the draft Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill, which has cross-party support.

I have to declare an interest, as for the past five years I have chaired the grocery market action group. I have been urging and seeking cross-party support for that Bill. When I started out I was entirely on my own, but I am pleased to say that both the previous Labour Government, latterly, and the Conservatives just before the general election came on board and recognised the

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importance of ensuring that we get fair dealing in the grocery supply chain. Although that is not directly relevant to our debate on the environment today, it is directly relevant to other matters that Members have raised, including recycling. On that issue and others, we should form cross-party support.

In spite of the very limited time that we have, I cannot allow this moment to go by without responding to the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart), since he mentioned the great nation of Cornwall and the investment strategy for broadband. It has to be said that there are more than 500,000 people in Cornwall, and its population may not be as dispersed as that of Cumbria. He may well be right that we will be paying Rolls-Royce prices for something that we could be getting a little cheaper, but if the policy is advanced in one rural area, lessons can be learned that will benefit other areas later.

Rory Stewart: That is a very fair point, and it is absolutely right that Cornwall got a good deal at the time when it got it. However, the real lesson of that is that we need flexibility and pilots, with one county at a time learning the lessons so that we can drive down the costs and force suppliers to do more and more as they move from Cumbria to Northumbria and around the country. What I said was not intended as a criticism of Cornwall.

Andrew George: No, and I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for agreeing with me on the matter. Certainly it is not possible to have fibre-optic cable to a cabinet within yards of every home in dispersed rural areas, so we need to ensure that we have an investment profile that allows the use of satellite broadband in certain circumstances. We are learning lessons from the Cornish example, and we have had the benefit of European convergence funding to take the matter forward.

I wish to touch briefly on three more matters—waste, green growth and sustainable development. The Government have rightly put in place a waste review. It is an iterative process that is progressing—perhaps too slowly, but it is certainly progressing. It provides a framework for those who want to engage in the process, as I encourage Members of all parties to do, to make constructive proposals to enhance the Government’s intention to achieve a zero-waste economy. That means sending zero to landfill.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Andrew George: I do not think I will get any injury time, but I will give way.

Jim Shannon: I thank the hon. Gentleman and apologise for that. Everyone is committed to recycling, but recycling itself obviously costs money. How does he see the balance between the necessity of recycling and the cost factor?

Andrew George: I see recycling as being part of the green economy, in which jobs are created and there is a massive benefit to the economy in general. When I intervened on the hon. Member for Wakefield, I was simply saying that an obsession with one narrow silo of the waste strategy—the measuring of recycling by the proportion or volume that is achieved—is entirely wrong

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in an economy such as the UK’s. The amount of waste recycled is a helpful indicator, but it is possible to have increased recycling and increased landfill at the same time. I do not think it is necessarily the measure by which we should judge ourselves, and I encourage Members to consider that carefully.

On green growth, it will take a long time to get the investment profile required to achieve the improvements that we are discussing. We should have a green economy that drives development in this country. The previous Government started that process, and the present Government need to continue it. RenewableUK is identifying itself with a survey out today that says that 80% of its members plan to hire extra staff within the next 18 months, so people are growing in confidence in that regard.

Finally, it is important that we mainstream sustainable development issues. The Public Bodies Bill is well intentioned, but if the intention of planning policy is to promote sustainable development, we need to re-establish the Sustainable Development Commission.

6.15 pm

Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate as a former chair of Flood Risk Management Wales—for the five years before coming into Parliament, I was charged with adapting Wales’s flood defences to climate change.

The big picture we face is of global climate change giving rise to a reduction in the land mass of the globe, with the population increasing from 6.8 billion to 9.5 billion by 2050, which will mean food and water shortages, migration and conflict. The Kyoto protocol will come to an end in 2012. The Americans seem to want to let it die on the vine, and the Chinese and Indians want to keep it going, but it is incumbent on us to have a strategy that focuses economic growth along a green trajectory.

On that point, some of the Government’s moves are disappointing. They did not support Sheffield Forgemasters, which could have been a global player in nuclear provision, and they did not support Bombardier to get a foothold in exports, which would have given us a green footprint elsewhere while supporting our economy. The big debate in the Chamber is between cuts and growth, and there is a lot of talk about how Labour left the cupboard bare, but we know from the numbers that a third of the deficit was for investment beyond earnings, and that the rest was for the banks. There should be no apology for that, because that is what stimulated growth.

We have now got rid of growth. The Chancellor announced that half a million jobs would be lost, so people in the public services started saving instead of consuming, and people in the private sector stopped recruiting and investing. The deficit is now £46 billion higher than it would originally have been. That is why the Labour party has proposed a five-point plan on VAT, national insurance and so on. The important part of that plan in this debate is investment in capital assets in flood defences.

The devastating floods in 2007 and Lord Pitt were the engine for the new trajectory of investment in flood defences, which would have provided jobs and capital assets—it would not have been money down the drain. That would have encouraged inward investment and protected neighbourhoods, businesses and homes, so I

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am saddened that it has been reduced by 27%. We are spending £354 million this year, but that will go down to £259 million. Having worked with the Environment Agency, I know that it would have put that money to good use.

Land is an asset not just for carbon capture and generating oxygen but for tourism, but the Government will sell off 15% of our woodland. Sustainable development is the centrepiece, constitutionally, of the Welsh Assembly Government, but it is seen simply as a healthy option in England. If we are to grow our way out of deficit with a green trajectory, we need to look at emerging consumer markets in the developing countries, such as China or India or those in south America, and reconfigure our export offer around green technology. That does not seem to be happening and the Government do not appear to be proactive.

Big companies are developing products. Tata Steel, near my constituency, is developing a new seven-sheet steel that generates its own electricity and heat; and Boeing in north Wales is introducing new carbon planes, which will be 30% more fuel-efficient. The Government must provide an infrastructure and regulatory system that encourages such innovation, not just to take our economy on a green trajectory but to project us into a global leadership role. I do not see that happening.

It is fairly self-evident that global energy costs will continue to escalate, because the rate of economic growth in China, India and south America means that those countries and areas will consume more of it. Those increases in energy prices, although painful, create new and profitable green technologies. The Government should not take such a laissez-faire approach to that. I fear that when, for instance, the Chancellor scoffs at the Deputy Prime Minister’s ambition for an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050, it sends a signal that he does not take green investment seriously. The risk for Britain is that the Tories will blindly stumble over the green shoots that could be the future of jobs and growth in Britain.

6.20 pm

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): It is a great pleasure to address the House in this fascinating debate, which has drawn two interesting distinctions between the Government and the Opposition: between statism and localism and between non-joined-up and joined-up government. Several policy areas prove those points.

First, I want to talk about the green economy and what is really happening out there. The shadow Secretary of State painted a picture that did not describe the situation in my constituency or, I believe, beyond it. First, we have, or will have soon, the green investment bank, which is a signal change and a very good idea. It will have £3 billion to invest and will be able to capitalise in 2014, which is a fantastic step forward. Ironically, the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) referred to the Dreamliner aeroplane, a fantastic achievement, which is just about to start flying right now and which has created huge numbers of jobs in this country, because we supply 30% of the products.

Those products are, by definition, along the lines of green investment, because they are all about composite materials, lighter materials and so on, which is great

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news. Many businesses in my constituency are working hard and successfully at developing new innovation and technologies to tackle issues relevant to the green economy, and I am really proud of that. I encourage them, instead of distracting them with assertions that things are not going well and so forth. Of course, we could improve banks’ performance in investment, but we should still salute what is actually happening. There are countless firms in my constituency that I would happily take the shadow Secretary of State to see, if she so wished.

Another important but neglected issue is the green deal, which will make a huge difference to 22 million homes and which is provided for in upcoming legislation. It is extraordinarily important and will help many people to reduce their energy bills and improve their quality of life because their homes will be better places to live in. That, in itself, will stimulate growth and promote more investment across the piece, which is something that we should all welcome. Certainly, businesses in my constituency are pleased that the green deal is about to be launched.

I talked about localism versus statism. Let us explore that with reference to broadband. I do not know what world the shadow Secretary of State was describing, but the one that I found when I was first elected in Stroud was not one where broadband was particularly accessible to anybody in rural areas in my constituency. Things are improving now, first because of the bold decision of the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, who came to my constituency and helped to launch a fantastic campaign to promote further investment in broadband. His wisdom was evident in a pilot scheme in Gloucestershire aimed at getting a grip of the technology and investment—£8 million—needed to start promoting broadband. The key point, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) referred, is that we have to be local and flexible. That is the essence of how we will get more and better broadband in Gloucestershire.

I talked about joined-up government versus non-joined-up government. The Minister, who has responsibility for the natural environment and fisheries, came along to the Environmental Audit Committee and proved that we were joined up by sitting next to the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), who has responsibility for development and cities. They were both talking about the national planning policy framework.

Fiona O'Donnell (East Lothian) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman talks about joined-up government, but the Government’s obsession with the red tape challenge means that the Department for Transport has failed to regulate ship-to-ship transfers of oil, which is leaving wildlife and delicate marine environments such as those in my constituency at risk. How is that joined-up government?

Neil Carmichael: Doubtless the Department for Transport will deal with that. We have a new Secretary of State, and I look forward to seeing what she does. However, the fact is that joined-up government is important.

The story that I was telling hon. Members about is still relevant, because the Minister was talking about the national environment White Paper—which has been endorsed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the wildlife trusts and so on—in parallel with the

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national planning policy framework. That is absolutely excellent and is a true demonstration of effective joined-up government helping to deliver polices that make a difference across rural areas. I welcome that. In the past, we saw a Labour Government who were “siloed”; in the future, we see a coalition Government thinking in terms of Departments working together to produce policies that make a difference.

In an intervention, I talked briefly about flooding, but I want to emphasise the importance of localism with reference—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Unfortunately the clock was not going down as the hon. Gentleman was speaking, so he has had more than his time. I would therefore like him to conclude his remarks.

Neil Carmichael: I want to draw the House’s attention to the fantastic work that Water21 is doing to promote flood attenuation in the Slad valley. That is a classic example of good localism, good foresight and how flooding can be dealt with in a different, more imaginative way. It is a tribute to the people of Stroud and every—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I call Caroline Lucas.

6.26 pm

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): I am gratified by the extent to which successive Governments have sought to brand themselves as green—after all, imitation is said to be the sincerest form of flattery. However, I also see it as part of my role to scrutinise the authenticity of any promises made and, most importantly, to inquire whether fine and noble rhetoric is backed by fast and ambitious action.

It is important to say at the outset, as the Green party always has, that environmental policies cannot be just bolted on to business as usual. We have always said that to judge the greenness of a Government, we should look not so much at their environmental policies, but at their economic programme. If a Government’s economic policies are simply about promoting more and more conventional economic growth based on the production and consumption of yet more finite resources, it does not really matter how many green trimmings they add to their manifesto. The direction of travel will still be fundamentally unsustainable. Judged by that measure, sadly not one of the main parties has come close to understanding the true nature of green politics.

Therefore, although I welcome the fact that Labour has chosen the Government’s green record as the subject for today’s debate, and although I am heartened by the commitment that I have heard in the Chamber today, it is interesting to contemplate why those aspirations, commitments and statements are not made when we discuss the Budget or growth, for example. In those debates, all the “business as usual” economic arguments are trotted out, as ever. We do not marry up all the nice words about the environment that we have heard today with the arguments that we hear in those economic debates, which is when it really matters. To say that this shows remarkable inconsistency would be a kind way of putting it.

Over a year ago the Prime Minister pledged that this would be the greenest Government ever. The first thing to say about that aspiration is that it is sadly not particularly ambitious, given Labour’s poor record on the environment in the preceding 13 years in office. At

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the end of that Labour term, the UK was getting more of its energy from fossil fuels than in 1997, when Labour came to power. Everyone rejoices in a sinner who repents, but one cannot help but think that, at best, Labour’s criticism of the Government’s record today shows an almost heroic degree of collective amnesia.

It is significant that one of the first acts of this Government, who aspire to be the greenest ever, was to abolish the very body that could have had a role in judging whether they could achieve that. I refer, of course, to the Sustainable Development Commission—I support the comments that the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George) made about that. As a critical friend, the commission was a vital in providing well-informed scrutiny of Government policy. The commission also saved the Treasury around £300 million over 10 years, against running costs of just £4 million a year. The scrapping of that commission undermines the Government’s assertion that they are committed to green issues. It is also the first of many examples of ideology trumping common sense, economic sense and environmental sense.

Much has been said today about the green investment bank, and of course it is a good idea to have such a bank. It is very badly named, however, in that it is not very green and, so far, it is not even a bank. The Government are actively considering using it to subsidise nuclear power, and its wings are being clipped from the outset through insufficient capitalisation and no initial borrowing capacity for several years at least.

I could refer to many other issues, but I would like briefly to mention the complete chaos that the solar industry is now in, thanks to the way in which the Government keep moving the goalposts in relation to the level at which the feed-in tariffs are going to be secured. That is a tragedy not only for the environment but for some of the fantastic solar industries in this country that could be at the forefront of solar power internationally. Because the Government keep changing their level of support, however, the industry has been left in great confusion.

In conclusion, I shall return to my first point. Slavish adherence to the same economic model that has created the economic crisis and the climate crisis will not empower us to build a sustainable future and make the transition to a zero-carbon economy, yet that is what the Government and the Opposition are relying on. Yes, efficiency gains can help, and yes, technology will have a vital role to play, but there is a real risk—which has not been addressed today—that, with a rising population and understandably rising expectations from a growing middle class around the world, those efficiency and technological gains will be undermined by the overall level of net growth. That means that behaviour change will have to be a far greater part of the solution when it comes to adopting sustainable development, yet the dogma that we can carry on with business as usual provided that there is more and more economic growth to get us out of this economic crisis—never mind the long-term environmental, social and economic consequences—is barely questioned by politicians. Professor Tim Jackson states:

“Questioning growth is deemed to be the act of lunatics, idealists and revolutionaries. But question it we must.”

We must—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order.

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6.31 pm

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): I should like to associate myself with the comment of my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Andrew George) that this should not really be a political subject, but it does tend to become one. I also want to associate myself with the Minister’s comment that the Opposition had shown chutzpah by holding a debate on green leadership and growth. Given that they have decided to do so, however, it is reasonable to examine what has happened over the past decade and a half, and what kind of legacy Ministers have taken over in relation to green issues.

I want to be fair to the Opposition. They have used the word “leadership” a number of times in the debate, and I have been looking for examples of Labour showing leadership in the past 15 years. It has shown it in one area: that of legislation. No one could have passed more legislation on this subject than Labour. The Climate Change Act 2008 places on us a requirement to reduce the total of our carbon emissions by 80% by 2050. That could be broken up in a number of ways, involving, for example, 25 new nuclear power stations—I do not think that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) would agree with that—or 40,000 wind turbines. It is a hugely ambitious target. Equally ambitious was the way in which the Labour Government signed up to the EU 20-20-20 directive in 2009.

That was where Labour showed leadership, but, having done that, what did they achieve? Where had they got to by 2010? Labour Members need to understand that we are 25th out of 27 in the EU in terms of renewables, as I pointed out earlier. It is possible that that statistic could be subject to challenge, however, because it was based on provisional figures. It puts us slightly ahead of Luxembourg, but it is possible that we are not. Perhaps we are in fact 26th out of 27. That is the legacy from the last Government that we have had to pick up and run with. That is the starting point.

Even less impressive were the numbers that came out, right at the end of 2010, on the total amount of energy produced in this country from non-fossil fuel sources, by which I mean renewables, hydro and nuclear. It fell by 10%. That was the legacy we were left with. Chutzpah is not even half of it. We now have to pick up from that position.

I do not agree with all aspects of the energy policy of my Front-Bench team. I would like us to go more quickly down the nuclear road, but I agree that at least we have a green policy that can be looked at and criticised and that we can try to improve. I do not think that we had that previously. The green deal is massively important. The Climate Change Act 2008 implies a reduction of our total emissions by 2050—either with or without the economic growth that the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion does not want us to have—of around 40% to 50%. The green deal provides the only reasonable way of achieving that. The green investment bank and the energy market changes that we are going to make are hugely important.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): My hon. Friend is making some excellent points. The green investment bank, to the tune of nearly £3 billion, is a great step forward. I also think that the green deal will enable those who have not got their homes insulated with solid wall insulation to get that done under the new

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scheme. That will help many more people to insulate their homes, which will be good not only for the environment but for the families concerned.

David Mowat: I agree.

I did not mention the carbon floor price. Having sat through the debate, it remains unclear to me whether Labour Members support it or not.

All these matters are important, and I am proud that the Government whom I support are trying to get us higher up the league table from 25th or 26th out of 27 within the EU. When the Minister sums up, will he tell us where we hope to get to by the end of this Parliament? If we start at 25th, are we heading for 20th, 15th, 10th, fifth or what? It would be interesting to hear, as we have an awfully long way to go.

6.37 pm

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): I want to start by taking issue with a couple of Members who said that we should not get political about this issue. First, I would say, “Try telling that to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate change and the Chancellor of the Exchequer”, who seem to be in open warfare in today’s newspapers. Furthermore, this is one of the most crucial political topics we face, and if we wrap it all up in warm words and a coat of greenwash without questioning or challenging some of the progress, we will be in danger of letting the whole agenda slide.

In the limited time available, I would like to focus on a couple of issues. A number of Members have commented on the “Nature Check” survey, which gave the red light to the Government on a range of issues, three of which deal with planning. There is real concern that the Treasury is dominating and overriding the environmental agenda in respect of planning issues. The Budget of 2011 said that

“The Government will introduce a powerful new presumption in favour of sustainable development, so that the default answer to development is ‘yes’.”

We also know that the Chancellor said at the Conservative party conference in Manchester:

“We’re not going to save the planet by putting the country out of business.”

He believed that, rather than leading the way in pushing a green agenda in Europe, we should only rise to the standards of other European countries, which I think is entirely wrong.

Simon Jenkins, the head of the National Trust, gave evidence to a Commons Committee the other day, saying that the “fingerprints” of rich builders were all over the planning reforms, while The Daily Telegraph, which one would expect to be on the side of the Conservative party, talked about an elite forum of property developers who were charging key players in the industry £2,500 a year to set up breakfast, dinner and drinks with senior Tories. This club raises £150,000 a year for the Conservatives. I would appreciate it if the Minister responded to that in his summing up, and explained what influence is being exercised. We have seen the influence of people behind the scenes in health and defence policy and other aspects of the Government’s agenda.

One subject that has not been mentioned much in the context of planning is the new biodiversity offsetting regime. In Bristol, there has been real concern about the

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local authority’s failure to spend section 106 money. It is estimated that between £10 million and £12 million that should have been allocated to community projects, infrastructure and schools is sitting in the council coffers. As a result, not only will environments that have evolved over centuries and could be described as part of our natural heritage be replaced by artificial new landscapes, but there will be no means of ensuring that the offsetting actually happens and is maintained for many years to come. We need to know whether the regime will be effective, or whether it is just an excuse for developers to be able to destroy natural habitats and the environment. As the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds pointed out, we need a system that filters out habitats that are irreplaceable, as opposed to those that can easily be created elsewhere.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) expressed concern about the lack of certainty in relation to feed-in tariffs. Support has already been scrapped for large-scale projects, and it is rumoured that the Government will announce a halving of tariff rates tomorrow. Let me give an example. The Royal Bath and West of England Society was due to develop a solar photovoltaic park, for which it had already received planning permission and which it wanted to use to kick-start a rural regeneration project that it expected to create about 1,500 jobs. It had structured the project on the basis of the expected revenue from profit on the feed-in tariffs. Critically, it was interested in a loophole provided by the Department for Energy and Climate Change that would have allowed the project to proceed if it plugged in 10% of its electricity generation by 1 August 2012. Thankfully, it had not made a decision before the deadline was moved to 18 October 2010. The chief executive, Dr Jane Guise, told us today that “shifting goalposts” were making it impossible to invest in and plan for the future. She also wondered why the Treasury was involved at all.

I am afraid I have no time to give the House any more information about that, but I urge Members to talk to people who had spent months planning a project that would have brought huge benefit to the local community, but is now being—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. The hon. Lady’s time is up.

6.42 pm

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): This has been a very good debate in which Members in all parts of the House have made powerful and passionate points. One powerful point made by the Minister, with which I strongly agreed, concerned the welcome news of the publication of the national ecosystems services. I know that he will want to commend that worthy project, and to recognise that it was inspired and developed by Labour. I congratulate him on having brought it to fruition.

The Minister mentioned the fourth carbon budget, which Labour developed under the Climate Change Act 2009. It, too, is welcome, but there are two little opt-outs, to which the Chancellor referred in his review. We shall see how that proceeds.

I commend the Minister for his work with the International Whaling Commission. It is good to know that that work is continuing, and I know that he is

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committed to it. We have always had a cross-party view on that, and it I am pleased to note that he is still standing firm.

I think that every Member present will welcome the £100 million to protect the rainforest. Curiously and coincidentally, the Minister planned to raise the same amount from selling our forests.

Having heaped praise on our motion, the Minister then said that he would oppose it. I assumed from his praise that he would support it; perhaps he will change his mind.

The hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) made a very good speech. He spoke well about the need for a focus on biosecurity and cattle movements as a solution to the problem of bovine tuberculosis, and criticised the “Cornwall approach”—much, I think, to the consternation of the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George).

The hon. Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) welcomed the number of Labour Members attending the debate, as do I. The Chamber has been full of Labour Members today. In contrast, at one point during yesterday’s debate on the important issue of the Agricultural Wages Board no Conservative Members were present, and then just one was present.

I must correct the hon. Lady on one point. Her long litany of Labour councils included my local council, Bridgend. Bridgend’s recycling rate is not 33%. It was 33% at the end of the rainbow coalition of Plaid Cymru, Tories and Liberal Democrats, but when Labour took control it rose to 51%, the highest in any local authority in Wales. I suggest that the hon. Lady check her figures and ensure that they are up to date. As for the average rate in Wales, it is 45%. She might wish to correct the record at some point.

The hon. Member for St Ives said it was too early to judge this Government, as they have been in office for only 18 months. I refer him to the report by 29 wildlife and countryside charities condemning this Government’s record so far.

I welcome the concept of cross-party engagement. When I was in the Government, we held two cross-party flood summits to work through the issues. That has not happened under the current Government, and I ask the Minister to invite my colleagues to attend such meetings. [Interruption.] He says that has happened, and I accept his assurance, but it is not my understanding.

The hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) painted a very rosy picture of the Government’s green record, but we beg to differ. He talked about the green deal; we hope for the best, but we fear the worst.

I thank the hon. Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) for acknowledging my party’s leadership on groundbreaking national and international legislation and obligations, and I extrapolate from his remarks on the slow progress made in the previous decade on renewables, and especially wind, that he supports the building of more onshore wind farms to meet the renewables obligations. I must say, however, that not many of his colleagues share that view.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) questioned the Government’s commitment to the green agenda, and she also questioned Labour’s commitment; I agree with the former remark, but dispute

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and refute the latter. She accused us and the Government of collective amnesia, but if that is the case it must be catching, as in respect of world leadership on these issues, the Climate Change Act 2008, the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 and much else besides were introduced under a Labour Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) observed that what matters is not what we say, but what we do, and I agree. She drew attention to the low ambition shown by the Government and the high ambition on recycling shown in Wales, and said that the Government had missed an opportunity.

My hon. Friend the Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) mentioned farmers’ concerns about the delays in dealing with, and diminishing responsibilities of, the groceries code adjudicator, and we agree.

My hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) told Members on the Government Benches to stop obsessing about weekly bin collections and to focus instead on recycling, and she rightly expressed the concerns of her constituents about insurance for flood victims.

My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) has great commitment and expertise in this area, including through his work with the Environment Agency. He expressed regret about the Government’s lack of ambition, which was, indeed, a general theme in the debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) picked up on the comments made from the Government Benches that this issue should not be political. However, it is political, of course, by its very nature and because it is very important.

There is a delicious irony in the phrase, “the greenest Government ever”, which was uttered so easily during the coalition’s fleeting embrace of the green movement. It is so easy to say, “I love you”, in the midst of tender fervour. Yet the morning after come the bitter recriminations, the shame and the feeling of being used.

I know that the Minister’s heart is in the right place, so let me direct the following comments to the Secretary of State, who must take personal responsibility for the actions of the Government. If they were a business, they would have been referred to trading standards by now; they would have featured on “Rogue Traders” for ripping off the British public and stealing their votes with their false and overblown promises to be the greenest Government ever.

On forests, the public saw earlier this year how the Government tried to rip them off: coalition failure; on the cuts to flood defences, wasting an opportunity for green growth and jobs, and putting at risk homes, businesses and people: failure; on finding a ban on wild animals in circuses just too difficult: failure; on relegating England to the lowest recycling targets in the UK, missing chances for jobs and new green industries: failure; on their slippy-slidey back-tracking on plans for mandatory reporting of carbon emissions: failure; on the delay to Labour’s plan for universal broadband by 2012: failure; on the delays and the castration of the groceries code adjudicator, letting down farmers and the consumer: failure; on ignoring Labour’s food strategy for 2030, to the consternation of the National Farmers

26 Oct 2011 : Column 426

Union and others: failure; on abolishing the Sustainable Development Commission, curtailing independent scrutiny of the Government’s appalling record: failure; on achieving a green light in only two out of 16 traffic lights in the “Nature Check” report by the Wildlife and Countryside Link: failure; and on the Chancellor of the Exchequer commandeering the Government’s green agenda in place of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and then killing it: failure—abject, pitiful, supine, green growth and environmental failure. Fail, fail and fail again; there is a bit of a pattern here.

However, the Government have had success in one area. They have succeeded in splitting the Cabinet from top to toe on their green agenda, with the Chancellor boldly championing the climate-sceptics and deniers, and the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change pitching his shaky, leaky leadership tent in opposition. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs seems to be wholly absent from the battlefield, and after a lovely photo-shoot with a husky the Prime Minister has shot and eaten the poor creature. Since then, there has, understandably, not even been a whimper from the husky, but, more surprisingly, the incredible silence of the Prime Minister on all issues green since the election has been deafening. After a brief pre-election love-in, he never phones. Why does the Prime Minister not just admit it: the love affair is over, he was never serious anyway and it was just a fling? “Get over it” he might as well say.

This Tory-led coalition Government risk being an environmental and economic catastrophe for this country. Over the past 18 months, when we should have been using green growth to stimulate our flagging economy and to lead on the environmental agenda, as Labour did when we were in government, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has instead allowed her Department to be steamrollered by the Chancellor and ignored by an indifferent Prime Minister. This is not a green agenda. This is a not a growth agenda. It is an agenda of despair. It is not a vision of hope for jobs and nature, but one of hopelessness. We do not have a Department driving forward on Labour’s legacy, but one that is actually in reverse. In place of ambition, we see abject surrender.

Even if they have given up on green growth and the environment, at least the Conservatives can repeat their claim to be the natural party of the countryside and still get away with it, can they not? They cannot after yesterday, when they voted to abolish the Agricultural Wages Board, thus weakening protections for farm workers. There was one—just one—principled Lib Dem Member who participated fully in that debate, changed his mind, to his credit, and voted with our amendment. But the combined weight of fellow Lib Dems and Tories, with one notable exception, defeated us and they defeated farm workers. So who speaks for the countryside, for green growth and for the environment? Labour does, as it always has and always will.

I say to those on the not-so-green Benches opposite that owning large parts of the countryside is not the same as speaking for the countryside. Saying that they are green does not make them green. Talking up green growth is no substitute for making it happen with green jobs and skills, training, innovation and investment. This Government are failing. DEFRA Ministers are failing. Green growth and the natural environment will

26 Oct 2011 : Column 427

fail with them. I say to Ministers and the Government that they should change course now and up their game, because the country now and in future generations will not forgive a Government who, at a crucial moment, walked away from the environment and from the opportunities for green growth, upon which the health and wealth of this nation depend. If they are not up to the job, they should walk away from government—we will do it for them.

6.51 pm

Richard Benyon: With the leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will address the House again at the conclusion of this superb debate. The last comments made by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies) amused me greatly. They sounded desperate. They sounded as if he was in complete denial of the 13 years of failure, of which he was part. I, like my DEFRA colleagues, feel that we are in a Department that deals with emergencies. One of the emergencies we are dealing with is the great sense of failure that the previous Government imposed on the countryside and on the environment. We are having to work our socks off to repair the situation, but it is a challenge that we take and take seriously. We look forward to achieving on it in the coming months.

The Government can show leadership in protecting our environment, which is exactly what this Government are doing. However, the Government alone cannot protect our environment. We believe that having communities, business, civil society and Governments working together is likely to have the greatest impact on protecting and improving our environment. We are providing new opportunities for local people to play a bigger role in protecting and improving the environment in their areas. We have some of the world’s best civil society environmental organisations to help us to protect and improve our natural environment, and we have provided the tools for them to work with us.

Caroline Lucas rose—

Richard Benyon: No, I will not give way.

We welcome the “Nature Check” report. It is very important that the organisations that took part in it have an edgy relationship with government. They frequently come to the Department and we work closely with them, and we will get green lights on the items as we progress. When that report was produced we had been in government for 15 months, dealing with abject failures created by the hon. Member for Ogmore and the Labour party in government, for which he has to take responsibility.

Let me deal with some of the excellent points made in the debate. The hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) was missing the point. Just dealing with recycling does not deal with the whole waste problem; we need to look at this the whole way up the waste hierarchy. Unlike her Government, we will introduce proposals to ban wood from landfill next year.

I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Rory Stewart) on a customary visionary speech. The leadership he is giving in his community on broadband, on local housing initiatives and on improving mobile coverage for his constituents is matched by this Government’s commitment to do the same for rural areas right across this country.

26 Oct 2011 : Column 428

The hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) again showed that Labour Members just do not get the whole waste issue. I urge him to look at our waste review and see what we are achieving.

My hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey) made an excellent speech in which she pointed out the failure of Labour councils. It is councils that deliver and it is coalition party councils that are achieving.

Huw Irranca-Davies: Will the Minister give way?

Richard Benyon: I shall not give way because the hon. Gentleman has had his time. [ Interruption. ]

When we consider flooding, the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal is in my head because it has proved that there are other ways—[ Interruption. ]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but there is far too much noise in the Chamber, including a large number of private conversations. The Minister must be heard without his having to bellow at the top of his voice.

Richard Benyon: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

There have been some excellent initiatives all around the country, not least in my hon. Friend’s constituency, that have shown how we can unlock more money for flood relief and coastal erosion resilience. I commend the points she made. The total environment concept that we are rolling out around the country is showing that we can work with local government, other organisations and the wider DEFRA family to achieve a better result for the rural communities she represents.

I remind the hon. Member for North West Durham (Pat Glass) that when her party was in power it was selling off forests at quite a dramatic rate with very little protection for public access. She said that we have rejected the Pitt report, but nothing could be further from the truth: we have implemented all but one of its recommendations and I had a meeting on that recommendation today.

I appreciated the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Andrew George). There is much that is consensual about this debate although it might not feel like it at this precise moment. My right hon. Friends and I had a meeting with Sir John Beddington when we took office and he told us that we had to do something that is hard for politicians to do—look beyond the horizon of four or five years that we are accustomed to looking at in the electoral cycle. What is required is a horizon shift to deal with the possible storm that could be approaching from a shortage of energy, water and food. That requires initiative, vision and a proper approach to these issues; that is what we are doing.

The hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies) made a fascinating speech. It is good to see that deficit denial is alive and well and living in Swansea. What he and others fail to understand is that sustainable development is now mainstream in government; it is not parked in some organisation that is peripheral—it is central to what we do.

I appreciate the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael). He is right that what we are looking for is joined-up policies across government. The benefits of localism come from an

26 Oct 2011 : Column 429

understanding not just in silos, as it was considered in the past, but with support from across government to the benefit of constituents.

I hope that the scepticism of the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) about the green investment bank will wither as we introduce it and she sees its benefits for new green technologies. She talked about business as usual, but this Government are not about business as usual on green technologies. This is about a horizon shift and taking a new approach.

Caroline Lucas: Will the Minister give way?

Richard Benyon: I do not have time—I apologise.

My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) made an excellent point about the failures of the past that have put us 25th out of 27 in the EU on recycling. We have to improve on that. People ask what our ambition is: it is for a zero-waste economy, which is a high ambition indeed.

The hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) talked about dark conspiracies, but I assure her that they do not exist. She should move on from that idea and stop watching those programmes.

Mr Alan Campbell (Tynemouth) (Lab) claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 36).

Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.

Question agreed to.

Question put accordingly (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the original words stand part of the Question.

The House divided: Ayes 222, Noes 302.

Division No. 378]

[6.59 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Bell, Sir Stuart

Benn, rh Hilary

Benton, Mr Joe

Berger, Luciana

Betts, Mr Clive

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Blunkett, rh Mr David

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Brown, Lyn

Brown, rh Mr Nicholas

Brown, Mr Russell

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Caton, Martin

Chapman, Mrs Jenny

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coaker, Vernon

Coffey, Ann

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Tony

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

David, Mr Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobbin, Jim

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Dugher, Michael

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Elliott, Julie

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gilmore, Sheila

Glass, Pat

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Godsiff, Mr Roger

Goggins, rh Paul

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hain, rh Mr Peter

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harris, Mr Tom

Havard, Mr Dai

Healey, rh John

Hendrick, Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Heyes, David

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hoey, Kate

Hood, Mr Jim

Hopkins, Kelvin

Howarth, rh Mr George

Irranca-Davies, Huw

James, Mrs Siân C.

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Graham

Jones, Helen

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Jowell, rh Tessa

Joyce, Eric

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Kendall, Liz

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lammy, rh Mr David

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leslie, Chris

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Lloyd, Tony

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Long, Naomi

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Ian

MacShane, rh Mr Denis

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Mann, John

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McDonagh, Siobhain

McFadden, rh Mr Pat

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Michael, rh Alun

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew

Mitchell, Austin

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Mudie, Mr George

Munn, Meg

Murphy, rh Mr Jim

Murphy, rh Paul

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Pearce, Teresa

Perkins, Toby

Pound, Stephen

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reeves, Rachel

Reynolds, Emma

Reynolds, Jonathan

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Joan

Sarwar, Anas

Seabeck, Alison

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Smith, Angela

Smith, Owen

Stringer, Graham

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Tami, Mark

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Walley, Joan

Watts, Mr Dave

Wicks, rh Malcolm

Williams, Hywel

Williamson, Chris

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wood, Mike

Woodcock, John

Woodward, rh Mr Shaun

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Phil Wilson and

Yvonne Fovargue


Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Alexander, rh Danny

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Bacon, Mr Richard

Baker, Norman

Baker, Steve

Baldry, Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, Gregory

Baron, Mr John

Bebb, Guto

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benyon, Richard

Beresford, Sir Paul

Berry, Jake

Bingham, Andrew

Binley, Mr Brian

Blackman, Bob

Blackwood, Nicola

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bone, Mr Peter

Bradley, Karen

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Bridgen, Andrew

Brine, Mr Steve

Brooke, Annette

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burns, rh Mr Simon

Burrowes, Mr David

Burstow, Paul

Burt, Alistair

Burt, Lorely

Cable, rh Vince

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Carswell, Mr Douglas

Cash, Mr William

Chishti, Rehman

Chope, Mr Christopher

Clappison, Mr James

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Kenneth

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Crabb, Stephen

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Davey, Mr Edward

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Glyn

Davies, Philip

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Dorries, Nadine

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Drax, Richard

Duddridge, James

Duncan, rh Mr Alan

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Dunne, Mr Philip

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellwood, Mr Tobias

Elphicke, Charlie

Eustice, George

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, Michael

Featherstone, Lynne

Field, Mark

Foster, rh Mr Don

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freeman, George

Freer, Mike

Fuller, Richard

Gale, Mr Roger

Garnier, Mr Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Glen, John

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Graham, Richard

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Greening, rh Justine

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffiths, Andrew

Gummer, Ben

Gyimah, Mr Sam

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Harper, Mr Mark

Harris, Rebecca

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Nick

Hayes, Mr John

Heald, Oliver

Heath, Mr David

Hemming, John

Henderson, Gordon

Hendry, Charles

Herbert, rh Nick

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Hollingbery, George

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Howell, John

Huhne, rh Chris

Hunt, rh Mr Jeremy

Hunter, Mark

Hurd, Mr Nick

Jackson, Mr Stewart

Javid, Sajid

Jenkin, Mr Bernard

Johnson, Gareth

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, Mr David

Jones, Mr Marcus

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Kennedy, rh Mr Charles

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Laing, Mrs Eleanor

Lamb, Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Latham, Pauline

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leigh, Mr Edward

Letwin, rh Mr Oliver

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lloyd, Stephen

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Luff, Peter

Lumley, Karen

Macleod, Mary

Maynard, Paul

McCartney, Jason

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, Esther

Menzies, Mark

Mercer, Patrick

Metcalfe, Stephen

Miller, Maria

Mills, Nigel

Milton, Anne

Mitchell, rh Mr Andrew

Mordaunt, Penny

Morgan, Nicky

Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Mundell, rh David

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nuttall, Mr David

O'Brien, Mr Stephen

Offord, Mr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Opperman, Guy

Ottaway, Richard

Paice, rh Mr James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Pawsey, Mark

Penrose, John

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Pickles, rh Mr Eric

Pincher, Christopher

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Reckless, Mark

Redwood, rh Mr John

Reid, Mr Alan

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Rosindell, Andrew

Rudd, Amber

Ruffley, Mr David

Russell, Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Scott, Mr Lee

Selous, Andrew

Shapps, rh Grant

Sharma, Alok

Shelbrooke, Alec

Simmonds, Mark

Simpson, Mr Keith

Skidmore, Chris

Smith, Miss Chloe

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Soames, rh Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Rory

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swinson, Jo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tapsell, rh Sir Peter

Teather, Sarah

Thurso, John

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Tyrie, Mr Andrew

Uppal, Paul

Vaizey, Mr Edward

Vickers, Martin

Walker, Mr Charles

Wallace, Mr Ben

Walter, Mr Robert

Ward, Mr David

Watkinson, Angela

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Willetts, rh Mr David

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Wilson, Mr Rob

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, Simon

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Noes:

Bill Wiggin and

Greg Hands

Question accordingly negatived.

26 Oct 2011 : Column 430

26 Oct 2011 : Column 431

26 Oct 2011 : Column 432

26 Oct 2011 : Column 433

Business without Debate

Delegated legislation

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

Health Care and Associated Professions

That the draft Medicines Act 1968 (Pharmacy) Order 2011, which was laid before this House on 14 July, be approved.—(Angela Watkinson.)

Question agreed to.

European Union Documents

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(11)),

Financial Interests of European Union (protection)

That this House takes note of European Union Documents No. 11055/11 and Addendum, relating to the Communication from the Commission on the Protection of the Financial Interests of the European Union by Criminal Law and by Administrative Investigations: An Integrated Policy to Safeguard Taxpayers’ Money; and No. 12141/11 and Addendum, relating to a Communication from the Commission on its Anti-Fraud Strategy; recognises that the UK has a strong interest in preventing criminal activity against EU funds; recalls the Government’s constructive participation in ongoing negotiations to improve the operational efficiency of the European Anti-Fraud Office, OLAF, and to strengthen its effectiveness; notes that both documents set out initial orientations and that any more detailed, future proposals should be considered on their merits with clear evidence of necessity; emphasises the importance of fully respecting different criminal justice systems within the EU, while pursuing effective cooperation to combat fraudulent use of EU funds; and supports the Government’s ongoing efforts to ensure the effective protection of the EU’s financial interests.—(Angela Watkinson.)

Question agreed to.

26 Oct 2011 : Column 434

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek your advice. BBC television news this evening reported that at 12 o’clock tomorrow the Secretary of State for Health will announce the closure of accident and emergency and maternity services at King George hospital in my constituency. We have campaigned against that for years, and the Secretary of State should at least have had the courtesy to inform the local Members of Parliament, including the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and should come before the House to make such a profound statement. Have you had any advice from the Department that the Secretary of State intends to come before the House to make such an announcement?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): The Chair has received no notification of any such statement. Strictly speaking, the matter is not one for the Chair, or for today’s business, but the hon. Gentleman has put his point on the record, and I am sure he will pursue it vigorously. Ministers on the Treasury Bench will have heard his comments.


Social Care for Older People

7.16 pm

John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab): I wish to present a petition from the Rotherham pensioners action group, led by the group’s chair, Mr Keith Billington of Foster road, Wickersley. I have a petition in similar terms with more than 500 signatures gathered by the group over the weekend of the Rotherham show last month. The petitioners want a better, fairer system of care for the future. They are worried about the crisis in care caused by big Government cuts in funding as pensioners see services cut, charges increase, and support restricted to those with the most critical care needs.

The petition states:

The Petition of Rotherham Pensioners' Action Group,

Declares that the Petitioners are concerned about social care for older people.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to implement a fair and equitable system of care for the elderly, without imposing a financial burden on those requiring care.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.


Send our Sister to School Campaign

7.17 pm

Ian Swales (Redcar) (LD): In 2000, world leaders promised universal education by 2015. Progress has been made, but with fewer than four years to go 67 million children are still missing out on school, the vast majority of whom are girls. I am grateful to the pupils of Overfields primary school, Middlesbrough for bringing this to my attention in the most colourful way.

The petition states:

The Petition of pupils of Overfields Primary School, Middlesbrough,

Declares that the Petitioners support the Send our Sister to School Campaign which aims to give girls the same chance as boys to benefit from an education and that the Petitioners support the international agreement to get all children into education by 2015.

26 Oct 2011 : Column 435

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to raise the commitment to get all children into education by 2015 at the G20 summit in November.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.


Liverpool Coastguard Station

7.18 pm

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): The staff of and residents around Liverpool coastguard station—otherwise known as Crosby coastguard station—are trying to keep it open. In support of the petition are 51,000 names on a similar petition, which I have with me in a box. The petitioners would like the maritime operation centre to be hosted at Crosby as a means of keeping the station open, which would save the Government a significant amount of money.

The petition states:

The Petition of residents of Merseyside,

Declares that the closure of Liverpool Coastguard Station would result in the loss of vital local knowledge and a reduction in the efficiency of rescues of people in difficulty along our coastline and at sea.

The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to take steps to ensure that Liverpool Coastguard Station remains open.

And the Petitioners remain, etc.


26 Oct 2011 : Column 436

Trade Union Officials (Public Funding)

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

7.20 pm

Mr Aidan Burley (Cannock Chase) (Con): The general public could be forgiven for thinking that the funding of trade unions in this country was a relatively simple affair whereby employees who wish to join a union pay their subs and receive the benefits of their membership, and then out of those subs, the unions fund their activities, their offices and their costs, including the cost of the salaries of those full-time officials who spend all day on union activity rather than working on their normal job. Not so, however.

Over the 13 years of the last Labour Government—a Labour Government funded to the tune of £10 million a year by the unions—an insipid, backhanded and frankly dodgy system emerged which ensures that millions of pounds a year of taxpayers’ money is now being used to fund political union activity. In simple terms, the taxpayer is directly funding those organising strikes and chaos, and also indirectly funding the Labour party; and I think that is wrong.

Mr Russell Brown (Dumfries and Galloway) (Lab): Could the hon. Gentleman describe to the House his interpretation of a trade union official, because that is fundamentally different from what he is stating? There is a difference between a trade union official and a trade union representative.

Mr Burley: If the hon. Gentleman had given me more than a minute to get going, I would have come to that point. To answer his question directly, my contention is very simple: any activities that people undertake on behalf of trade unions should be funded by the trade unions and not by the taxpayer.

Some excellent research by the widely respected TaxPayers Alliance in September last year revealed some absolutely startling results. The TPA submitted freedom of information requests to 1,253 public sector organisations, including councils, Government Departments, primary care trusts, foundation trusts, ambulance services, fire services, and all quangos with more than 50 staff. It found the following to be the case. In 2010, trade unions received £85.8 million in total from public sector organisations. That £85 million is made up of £18.3 million in direct payments from public sector organisations—mainly the union modernisation and union learning funds—and an estimated £67.5 million in paid staff time: the subject of this debate. That total is up by 14% from 2008-09, when trade unions received just £76.1 million from public sector organisations. In 2009-10, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills alone gave unions £15 million in direct subs. In 2009-10, total public funding for the trade unions was 20% more than the combined contributions to the Labour party and the Conservative party. Finally, in 2009-10, 2,493 full-time equivalent public sector employees worked for trade unions at taxpayers’ expense.

Alec Shelbrooke (Elmet and Rothwell) (Con): It may interest Members to know that in Leeds city council a white paper was brought forward by Councillor Alan

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Lamb, a local small business entrepreneur, who said that it was outrageous that the council was spending £400,000 a year of taxpayers’ money on union officials. Does my hon. Friend believe it was right that that was voted down by Labour councillors who received money to get elected to Leeds city council in the first place? Is that not a personal and prejudicial interest?

Mr Burley: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I find it astonishing that, in this place and elsewhere, anybody with an interest is required to declare it, unless it is that they are a member of a union that funds them and their local constituency party.

Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): I should declare an interest: I am a proud trade unionist. I am a member of Prospect. Margaret Thatcher and Norman Tebbit were also proud trade unionists. Although I agree with my hon. Friend’s sentiment, does he not agree that despite the abuse, there are many moderate trade unions around the country that do a great job in representing people’s interests? A third of trade union members vote Conservative and Conservatives should do all that they can to build bridges with moderate trade unions.

Mr Burley: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Few would take issue with unions working on behalf of their members in Departments or other public bodies in their own time and with union funding. My question to him and to the House is: why are taxpayers funding that work?

I want to focus on the fact that 2,493 full-time equivalent public sector employees worked for trade unions at the taxpayers’ expense in 2009-10. The TaxPayers Alliance has even broken down those employees by sector: 813 worked in local authorities, 630 in quangos, 611 in Departments, 130 in foundation and acute trusts, 96 in primary care trusts, 43 in NHS mental health trusts and 41 in fire services. My problem with those astonishing figures is simple: why should we spend hard-earned taxpayers’ money on a huge subsidy to the unions? Full-time trade union officials should be paid for by union members, not by the taxpayer.

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): I hope that the hon. Gentleman gets the opportunity to make this speech in front of the steel workers whom I have the privilege to represent, because the regulations also apply to the private sector. The Government, who are trying to provoke public sector strikes, should be more fearful of small and medium-sized enterprises in the private sector that are not unionised, where the incidents of wild-cat strikes are increasing. The Government need unions on side to deal with the vast amounts of people and to keep the costs of human resources down. Adjournment debates such as this provoke poor industrial relations.

Mr Burley: I think that the hon. Gentleman will come to regret that question—I am not even sure what his question was. I simply point out that what goes on in the private sector does not bother me because it involves private money. It is public money that I am talking about.

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Trade unions are an important part of society and of Britain’s big society. However, the support that they get from the taxpayer has got way out of hand. Few would take issue with unions working on behalf of their members, but they must do it in their own time and with union funding. Why are the public paying for it?

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Burley: I will make a little progress.

In the six months to March, the unions had enough money to give almost £5 million of donations to the Labour party, while paying their leaders up to £145,000 a year, which is what the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers boss, Bob Crow, receives. In fact, 38 trade union general secretaries and chief executives receive remuneration of more than £100,000. To name but one, the former joint general secretary of Unite, Derek Simpson, received more than £500,000, including severance pay of £310,000. That is in addition to the fact that the trade unions get £18.3 million—[ Interruption. ]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Although Members on both sides of the House clearly have strong views on this subject, I remind them that this Adjournment debate is being televised. The behaviour of Members does not always reflect well on them. The hon. Member who has secured this Adjournment debate is entitled to be heard.

Mr Burley: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I hope that all Members will agree that I am trying to be quite generous in taking interventions, but I have only 15 minutes in which to speak.

In addition to what I said earlier, the trade unions currently get £18.3 million in direct payments from the taxpayer every year through the union modernisation fund and the union learning fund, so they have nearly £20 million in their bank accounts before we factor in any time off at the taxpayer’s expense. Surely they can cover their costs with a £20 million annual grant plus all their subs.

Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): I, too, wish to stress that I support the unions, and I met my union representative today for an hour in relation to certain matters. However, what does my hon. Friend feel the money—the £85 million—could be spent on?

Mr Burley: The very simple answer to that is front-line services, not full-time union officials.

The legal background to the matter is that under section 168 in part III of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, a union representative is permitted paid time off for union duties. According to ACAS, those duties relate to anything including the terms and conditions of employment, the physical conditions of workers and matters of trade union membership or non-membership. However, under the same Act, any employee who is a union representative or a member of a recognised trade union is also entitled to unpaid time off to undertake what are called “union activities”, as distinct from duties. As defined by ACAS, union activities can include voting in a union election or attending a meeting regarding union business, but there

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is no statutory requirement to pay union representatives or members for time spent on union activities.


The hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop) is chuntering from a sedentary position, but I cannot hear what he is saying.

Union duties and union activities both fall under the remit of a union representative. Some union representatives are therefore currently being paid for undertaking both activities and duties, and I think that is wrong.

Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab) rose—

Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab) rose—

Mr Burley: I will give way in a minute.

In addition, union learning representatives are entitled to paid time off for duties including analysing learning or training needs, providing information about learning and training matters, arranging learning or training or promoting the values of learning and training. I ask the hon. Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, who is chuntering, is not all that the job of the human resources department?

In 2004—[Interruption.] Just be quiet. In 2004, the Labour Government made a commitment to boost the number of union learning representatives in the work force to 20,000, a threefold increase. The upshot is that a significant number of union representatives—nearly 2,500 full-time equivalents—are fully paid for by public funds. That means that the trade unions themselves do not bear their own representation costs.

Phil Wilson: Speaking as somebody who in the early 1980s was a member of the Civil and Public Services Association and received facility time to work as a trade union representative, may I say that where I worked was 90%-plus union organised, and we did not have any strikes? We had a great working relationship in the building, because we could sit down and talk through problems with the management, who enjoyed it. If we started where the hon. Gentleman wants, we would end up where part of my union ended up. In 1984, the CPSA was banned from GCHQ—

James Wharton (Stockton South) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Should Opposition Members declare their interest if they have received union funding in their capacity as Members of this House, or for political campaigns, before making interventions? I would be grateful if you could clarify the rules on that matter.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Mr Wharton, I am sure that everybody is aware of what interests they should be declaring when they participate in any debate. That applies to an Adjournment debate, which is normally the property of the Member who has secured it.

Mr Burley: I have forgotten part of the point that the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) made, but I simply say that the unions are entitled to do what they like, and I am sure a lot of what he did was very good work. My point is that they should do it on their own time and it should be paid for by themselves, not by the taxpayer.

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Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Burley: I will in just one minute.

The upshot of all the extra money provided to the unions is that a huge amount of money is freed up, whether from the direct grants or the union fees, that the unions can use on political campaigns. If their other costs are paid at the taxpayer’s expense, the unions can use the rest of their income for political activities.

Ian Murray rose

Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab) rose

Mr Burley: I will not give way.

I would be grateful if the Minister could address the distinction between paid time off for union duties and unpaid time off for union activities. What are the Government doing about union officials who play the system and use their paid time off for political activities?

Further, are the Government planning to mandate public bodies to record more accurately what time is taken off for political activities, which should not be funded by the taxpayer? We know from a written answer from the Department for Communities and Local Government that public bodies do not even bother recording union time accurately.

Anna Soubry: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr Burley: I will just read this out and then give way.

My hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) asked the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

“if he will issue guidance to local authorities on the use of (a) facilities, (b) resources and (c) staffing time for trade union duties and activities.”

The Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Robert Neill), replied:

“The TUC have estimated that there are 200,000 union representatives in workplaces across the United Kingdom. Information on the amounts spent on paid time”


“the provision of facilities for trade union officials in the public sector is not widely recorded or transparent…Estimates have suggested that…‘facility time’ is more prevalent in the civil service than the rest of the public sector and the private sector, with civil service departments spending, on average, 0.2% of annual pay…on facility time, compared to 0.14% in the”

whole public sector and just

“0.04% in the private sector...We would actively encourage local authorities to reduce the amount of facility time to the norm of private sector levels.”—[Official Report, 25 October 2011; Vol. 534, c. 126W-27W.]

Anna Soubry: I hope that as a shop steward I represented my members with integrity, vigour and some success. I never took a single penny piece from the public purse. Does my hon. Friend, who has so commendably introduced this Adjournment debate, agree that unions would advance their cause if they stopped taking public money? If they did that, more people might join them because they would not be seen as extensions of the Labour party.

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Mr Burley: My hon. Friend is entirely right. That is the point that I was trying to make. My direct question to the Government is this: are they willing to go further and change the 1992 Act, so that trade unions should fund all their activities from their subs? There should be no taxpayer subsidy for those who take time off to spend on union activity.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (Lab) rose—

Ian Murray rose—

Mr Burley: I will not give way.

That would be many people’s preference. By way of an example, the excellent, independent and non-taxpayer funded campaigning website order-order, or the Guido Fawkes blog, has been highlighting the practice of paying union officials out of the taxpayer purse. Following its campaign, full-time taxpayer-funded trade union officials have become known as “Pilgrims” in the media, after Paul Staines exposed one such full-time union rep named Jane Pilgrim as a full-time trade union organiser working in the NHS for Unison. She came to public attention in 2011 after criticising the Government’s health policies. Despite being billed as a nurse, she was found to be a full-time trade union official, being paid £40,000 by the hospital. She is now under investigation by both St George’s hospital and Unison for running a private health consultancy—called The Pilgrim Way—on the side, creating a conflict of interests.

As the website states:

“There is no justification for the taxpayer paying a lobbying organisation to fight for an unsustainable mess in the interests of a vocal minority group. We don’t pay the arms dealers and the tobacco lobbyists’ staffing bills”.

Let us consider this classic example, which was flagged up by none other than the black country’s Express and Star:

“Judy Foster…is employed as an administration officer by the fire service…But for the past seven years the Labour councillor has been devoting all her working time to Unison, representing 280 fire workers…The fire service has now insisted that Councillor Foster…spends half her…time…on fire service duties and half with the union…But Unison has appealed against the offer and says her union work should be full time and funded entirely by the taxpayer.”

My question is why and on what grounds?

Jim Sheridan: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. As a proud member of Unite the Union and the chair of the Unite parliamentary group, I am inviting the hon. Gentleman to come along to our group and tell us where we are going wrong. One of the main factors in a trade union official’s job is identifying and preventing health and safety problems in the workplace—not the office, the workplace. Has he factored in any of the figures from the TaxPayers Alliance?

Mr Burley: My direct answer to the hon. Gentleman is to ask what he thinks the human resources department or the Health and Safety Executive are for. Public sector organisations have those people, so there is total duplication.

Ian Murray rose

Jim Sheridan rose

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Mr Burley: The hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Jim Sheridan) just asked what has gone wrong, and I will tell him. The Express and Star continued:

“Councillor Foster, who was elected in 1998, already picks up £9,300 in allowances from Dudley Council along with £14,475 as vice chairman of the West Midlands Police Authority. With her £28,000 job, it brings her combined taxpayer-funded salary and allowances to more than £51,000.”

It is no wonder that a YouGov poll in conjunction with the TaxPayers Alliance shows more than half the country would like to see an end to the controversial practice of public sector-funded trade union officials.

Jason McCartney (Colne Valley) (Con): I, too, declare an interest as I am the former father of the National Union of Journalists chapel at ITV Yorkshire in Leeds. I and my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) attended the TUC last month in London. Does my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley) find it surprising that while representing the union members at ITV Yorkshire in Leeds, the fat cat boss at ITV, who was slashing jobs while taking millions in pay, shares and perks, has now been tasked by the Leader of the Opposition with reforming the Labour party?

Mr Burley: I would love to say that I was surprised, but after revising for this debate, I am not surprised by anything anymore.

It is my simple contention that trade unions should pay for representation within public sector organisations through subscriptions. It is unfair that taxpayers should have to shoulder that burden. Unions raise substantial sums through membership subscriptions. For example, subs in the Home Office alone came to more than £2 million in 2009-10. Programmes that give taxpayers’ money to trade unions under the guise of work force improvement should also be scrapped. This includes the union modernisation fund and the union learning fund.

Will the Minister explain what plans the Government have to end full-time trade union work in the public sector? Will he pledge to end full-time representatives who spend 100% of their time on trade union work while being paid their salary by the taxpayer? Will he mandate all public bodies to record accurately time spent on both union duties and activities? Will the Government go one step further? Employment legislation currently requires employers to make available a reasonable amount of time for trade union representatives to carry out their duties. Will he change that so that all time taken off for trade union activities is billed back to the union so that the taxpayer is no longer funding their work?

Finally, given that the unions start the financial year with a £20 million grant from the taxpayer, are the Government looking at reviewing, paring down or abolishing the union modernisation fund and the union learning fund? The taxpayers of this country are currently bankrolling the unions. The equivalent of 2,500 full-time officials are being paid for by the taxpayer, not to do the job of representation but to undertake full-time campaigning activities that should be funded by the unions. This is at a cost of £86 million a year to the taxpayer, with 170,000 days off for union activities and £23 million of perks such as photocopying and phone

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calls. In an age of austerity, that £86 million is the equivalent of the expenditure of the Office of Fair Trading. Taxpayers expect their money to be spent on public services, not union services. We can no longer afford this Spanish practice, and I call on the Minister to end it.

7.43 pm

The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office (Mr Nick Hurd): There was I thinking that this was going to be a quiet conversation with my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley) in the traditional calm of the Adjournment debate slot, but I was wrong. I congratulate him on securing the debate and the robust way in which he presented his argument.

In the short time I have, I shall try to clarify the Government’s position. First, we need to recognise that employment legislation requires employers to make available a reasonable amount of time off for trade union representatives to carry out their trade union-related duties. There are nine areas of statute where union representatives have rights to paid time off to perform their duties. These cover areas such as representation, informing and consulting, collective redundancy, learning and health and safety. There is a reason for this. There is a clearly defined framework for consultation and negotiation between managers and employees to support good employee relations.

There is a cost to that, however. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has estimated that paid time off for union duties costs employers £400 million annually—0.07% of the total annual pay bill—over half of which, £225 million, fell to public sector employers, with £175 million falling to private sector employers. The Minister for the Cabinet Office and I agree that it is important that the right balance is found between effective representation of trade union members and value for money for the taxpayer.

Robert Halfon: Of course we understand that there is abuse, but does my hon. Friend accept that there are neutral unions that use facility time constructively? For example, the First Division Association uses facility time to resolve workplace disputes and to help families of Foreign Office staff relocate overseas. That is valuable work and we should be grateful that the FDA does it. I say that only to make the point that not all unions are made up of the Bob Crows described today.

Mr Hurd: I accept my hon. Friend’s valuable point, but there is clearly a case for reviewing whether we have the right balance.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase asked a number of questions that I would like to try to address in the time available, so I am afraid that I will have no time for interventions. He asked about the distinction between paid time off for union duties and unpaid time off for union activities, and asked what the Government were doing about union officials who, in his words, “play the system” and use their paid time off for political activities. The ACAS code of practice on time off for trade union duties and activities provides a detailed framework for those matters. It sets out examples of trade union duties that should attract reasonable paid time off and examples of trade union activities that can attract reasonable unpaid time off. A review of

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current practice is under way in the civil service, but, anecdotally, we believe that many Departments, if not most, currently give paid time off for such trade union activities where reasonable unpaid time off may be more appropriate.

My hon. Friend then asked whether the Government were planning to mandate public bodies to record more accurately which time is taken off for political activities that should not funded by the taxpayer. He will be aware that the Minister for the Cabinet Office announced at the Conservative party conference that the Government intend to consult on ensuring transparency about union facility time for which Departments—and ultimately the taxpayers—are paying. We will publish information on civil service trade union representatives and the amount of paid time that is spent on union work, as well as the overall percentage of the pay bill for which this accounts.

Tom Blenkinsop: Will the Minister give way?

Mr Hurd: I said that I would take no more interventions because of the time.

The central point that my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase made, about the 1992 Act, is a matter for Ministers from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to answer. However, I assure him that I will make them aware of the points that he made and ask them to write to him directly.

In answer to the list of questions that my hon. Friend asked at the end of his speech—about Government plans to end taxpayer-funded full-time trade union work in the public sector, end full-time representatives and require transparency about the costs of trade union representatives—the Minister for the Cabinet Office also announced at the Conservative party conference that the Government intend to consult the civil service trade unions on the following propositions. We will consult on introducing a cap on the amount of facilities time that Departments can offer, to bring it into line with the statutory requirements. We will consult trade unions on the practice of allowing trade union representatives to spend 100% of their time on trade union work paid for by the civil service.

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?

Mr Hurd: I will not, out of courtesy to my hon. Friend who secured the debate, as I want to try to answer his questions.

We do not think it reasonable for the civil service to pay people purely to do union work. It is arguably impossible for them to represent the views of the staff in their Department adequately if they are not embedded in its work. In some circumstances, Departments go beyond the requirements of the law by giving paid time off for trade union representatives to take part in internal trade union activities, such as executive group meetings, annual conferences and recruitment meetings. To address that we will consult trade unions about any practice of paying for such trade union activities, with a view instead to enabling employees to take reasonable unpaid leave, as required in statute. In order to ensure transparency about the union facility time for which Departments are paying, we will publish information relating to civil

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service trade union representatives and the amount of paid time spent on union work, as well as the overall percentage of the pay bill for which this accounts.

As for whether we would go further with employment legislation, I have said that BIS Ministers would respond more fully to that point. However, there are no plans for the law on trade union facility time to be changed specifically for the public sector or otherwise. A reasonable amount of paid time off can offer value for money for the taxpayer. For example, it can minimise working time lost owing to disputes and accidents at work. However, it is important that the Government ensure that public sector employers manage the paid time off that they grant their union representatives effectively to deliver those potential benefits, which are the justification for spending taxpayers’ money.

In answer to the last point that my hon. Friend made, about the grant for the union modernisation fund, there

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are currently no plans to review the Government’s existing commitment to the union learning fund, as set in “Skills for Sustainable Growth”.

In conclusion, as I have said previously, it is important that employees are represented fairly by union officials. However, in the current financial climate, it is right that the vital balance is found between effective representation of trade union members and value for money for the taxpayer. The measures proposed by the Minister for the Cabinet Office will address the current burden on the taxpayer, while wider transparency measures will ensure that other public sector organisations offer value to the taxpayer. It is essential that we achieve a fair balance on behalf of the taxpayer, and I am happy to keep my hon. Friend updated—

7.50 pm

House adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 9(7)).