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Energy and Climate Change

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Five Members wish to take part in this debate, so a time limit of six minutes has been set. May I remind the Minister that the time allotted to him to respond to the debate is up to 10 minutes? The timings this afternoon are tight, and we want to make sure that every Member who wishes to participate in debates has the opportunity to do so. We will therefore be grateful if Ministers co-operate as well.

3.51 pm

Glyn Davies (Montgomeryshire) (Con): I have spoken about wind farms in mid-Wales before, in particular in a Westminster Hall debate on 10 May, which I secured. It is the dominant issue in my constituency, and in the neighbouring constituencies of the hon. Members for Ceredigion (Mr Williams) and for Brecon and Radnorshire (Roger Williams), who are not present today.

I am sceptical about onshore wind, and have been for a long time, and an increasing number of MPs have been contacting me since the Westminster Hall debate to tell me that they agree. I do not want merely to repeat the points I made in May, but I must outline why I am sceptical about onshore wind and why I am so implacably opposed to the mid-Wales connection project.

The cost of the huge subsidies involved is a matter of great concern, particularly to the poorest citizens in our society. Between 5 million and 6 million people are already in fuel poverty, and they are facing a choice between heating or eating. This is, in effect, a Robin Hood tax in reverse: the poorest people in society are having to pay additional sums in their energy bills and that money is being transferred to huge, powerful companies.

There is also an impact on business competitiveness. Some 1 million young people are unemployed in our country—that is 1 million lives scarred by the scourge of unemployment. We are doing what we can to find jobs for those people, but we are making matters worse by undermining competitiveness and driving jobs overseas.

There is also the impact on the landscape, which is particularly important to me. History in Wales teaches us the cost of thoughtless development. We had coal spills dumped all over the valleys, which this generation has had to pay to clear up. We have had irresponsible coniferous forestation, which caused massive environmental problems, and which this generation has also had to clear up.

I am particularly concerned about the scale of what is proposed in mid-Wales—the sheer horror of it. The mid-Wales connection is based on the largest ever onshore wind development in England and Wales. Under the proposals, permission will be granted for the erection of about 500 new onshore wind turbines in mid-Wales—the final figure depends on their size—over and above the 250 that currently exist and those that already have planning approval. There will also be a 20-acre electricity substation and about 100 miles of new cable, much of it carried on steel towers 150 feet high down one of the narrow valleys that lead from mid-Wales to Shropshire. It is scarcely believable; the scale is almost impossible to comprehend. Not even the enemies of Britain over the centuries have wrought such wanton destruction on this wonderful part of the United Kingdom.

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However, today I want to speak about the impact of wind farms on democracy—that great invention that is the foundation of Britain’s constitution, and which is being disregarded so casually throughout Europe. I wanted to entitle this speech “Wind farms and democracy in mid-Wales”, but I felt that that would be deemed too tendentious.

In his response to my speech on 10 May, the Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) offered some reassuring comments. In referring to wind farm development, he said that

“it must be in the right location, and it must have…democratic support”.

He warmed to this theme, saying that

“too often, onshore wind is imposed on communities that do not want it. I am keen to ensure that we address that democratic deficit…in our plans.”

He went on, adding with a flourish that

“it needs more democratic legitimacy than it has today, and I intend to ensure that that happens.”—[Official Report, 10 May 2011; Vol. 527, c. 365-67WH.]

I was much encouraged, not surprisingly.

In my speech on 10 May, I also referred to a public meeting in Welshpool, to which 2,000 people came. I asked those people to come with me on a three-hour journey to Cardiff to express their views to the National Assembly. A few weeks later, they did—2,000 of them, on 37 buses. It was the best protest ever seen outside the National Assembly. That is how strongly people feel, and as a result the First Minister changed his position on the maximum cumulative impact that could be allowed in mid-Wales. He said that a new 400 kV line and a substation were not needed. We were generally encouraged, but then the giant energy companies got to work, the way dark forces do in science fiction. These massively powerful wind farm companies—leviathans fattened on public subsidy—got to work with a mixture of threats to people and community payments, which is a way of securing support for their proposals locally. A terrific amount of pressure was applied, and there was a huge lobbying exercise.

Members can imagine my shock and disappointment at reading a BBC report two weeks ago which said that more wind farms and pylons may be built in Wales in the national interest, despite local protests. The very same Minister whom I quoted earlier was quoted as saying that

“this is a national decision…the local views are important…but at the end of the day we are making decisions in the national interest”.

In the national interest—that is autocracy, not democracy.

Even more shocking is the pressure being put on local planning authorities. They are being pressured into deciding on applications by a particular date, and conditions have been ignored. They are told that all the conditions that would apply to any other planning application must not apply to wind farm developments. Transport infrastructure, ecological and environmental information, power usage—none of these factors is known, and yet they are being pressured into making decisions. It is utterly outrageous.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. I call Caroline Lucas.

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3.57 pm

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak in this debate. The international aim of limiting the impact of climate change to so-called acceptable consequences is, according to current trends, set to fail. That is notwithstanding the fact that the Energy and Climate Change Secretary told the House last Monday that the Durban climate conference

“was a clear success for international co-operation.”—[Official Report, 12 December 2011; Vol. 537, c. 569.]

The executive secretary of the UN framework convention on climate change saluted the countries that had made this agreement, but the executive director of Friends of the Earth called the Durban agreement

“an empty shell of a plan”


“leaves the planet hurtling towards catastrophic climate change.”

Others were even less diplomatic.

The gulf between these different reactions reflects the gulf between the reality of the current political process and the reality of what the science tells us we need to do. Indeed, it says it a lot about people’s expectations that, after so many climate talks and empty pledges over the years, an agreement “in principle” to tackling climate change from 2020 can still be hailed as an overall success.

There has for a number of years been almost universal agreement on the need to keep climate change within a range that would limit its impact to a so-called acceptable level. That is the risk that Governments have decided they are willing to take on our behalf, and on the whole, the public have accepted this position in the belief that we will be spared from “dangerous” or “very dangerous” climate change.

The threshold between “acceptable” and “dangerous” climate change has been the famous target of limiting warming to no more than 2° C above pre-industrial levels, which, in theory at least, is the limit that international negotiations are striving not to breach. But today the fight to ensure that the planet and its people suffer only the “acceptable” consequences of a warming world faces a double threat.

First, Governments have so far failed to take the action needed to protect their current and future populations from the worst of climate change. Writing in the Royal Society’s journal earlier this year, a group of leading climate scientists explained that

“the continued rise in greenhouse gas emissions in the past decade and the delays in a comprehensive global emissions reduction agreement have made achieving this”—


“target extremely difficult, arguably impossible, raising the likelihood of global temperature rises of 3°C or 4°C within this century.”

The consequences of the latest weak and delayed agreement are laid bare by Fatih Birol, the chief economist at the International Energy Agency, who has said:

“If we do not have an international agreement, whose effect is put in place by 2017, then the door to”—

holding temperatures to below 2° of warming—

“will be closed forever”.

The second threat is that, as the latest science shows, even a 2° temperature rise is too much. Indeed, the evidence now points to the need to keep global temperature

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increases to less than 1.5° at most. So it is deeply worrying that, according to the world’s leading climate change monitoring programme, average temperatures are 1° higher than those in the 1950s. Current research released in the run-up to the Durban conference, including work from the Potsdam institute, the Met Office’s Hadley centre, the United Nations Environment Programme and the International Energy Agency, shows that on average the world is expected to warm by at least 3.5° by 2100. If that is an average, the grim reality is that some parts of the world are likely to be warming significantly more.

I raise these issues because it is crucial that we base our climate policy on the best available science. The clearest expression of the accumulation of emissions and the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases was given by the European Environment Agency. The latest data show a concentration of 399 parts per million of CO2 equivalent. The UK’s current carbon budgets, which theoretically aim for a less than 2° temperature rise, are based on greenhouse gas concentrations stabilising at 450 parts per million of CO2 equivalent, but even that level in no way guarantees protection. The Inter- governmental Panel on Climate Change’s fourth assessment report makes it clear that if global CO2 equivalent concentrations are stabilised about 450 parts per million, the risk of exceeding a 2° warming is about 50%. In other words, that is the equivalent of getting on a plane with only a 50:50 chance of it not falling out of the sky.

It is crucial that we make sure that our policy is based on the latest science. My speech is not the usual kind of intervention where we are scoring political points and focusing on short-term tactical questions. I believe and I hope that I am doing something more important than that. I am putting on the record the fact that we face a climate crisis of extraordinary urgency, and if we are to have any hope of tackling it, we need to be working on the basis of the right data. So I have three questions for the Minister to answer. First, will he agree to examine the latest science, and, as necessary, work to change the UK’s domestic targets to ensure that they continue to respect the political and public consensus to limit climate change to “acceptable” consequences? Secondly, will he ensure that the Government take the action needed to limit our emissions in time and in line with our global responsibilities to prevent climate change reaching dangerous levels—and that means including the emissions that are embedded in imports? Thirdly, will he fight on the international stage to do everything possible to ensure that all Governments take the same approach? If we continue to fiddle while not only Rome, but the whole planet burns, we will go down in whatever history can follow us as the species that spent all its time monitoring its own extinction, rather than taking active steps to avoid it. The Government say that there is no plan B on the economy. That is debatable, but the fact that there is no planet B is not.

4.3 pm

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas).

I represent a constituency that has a large number of park homes, which I visit regularly. I am particularly grateful in this regard to a constituent, Mrs Lorraine Bond, who has a Whipsnade park home. She asked me to come to see her a couple of weeks ago, having

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corresponded with me for quite a while about the exorbitant cost of heating her home using liquid petroleum gas cylinders—this is common for many park home residents. She told me that last winter, when it was cold, she was spending £300 a month on average to keep her park home warm. It is possible to have five extremely cold months in a difficult winter in the United Kingdom, so my constituents are having to spend £1,500 to keep their park homes warm. If we bear in mind the fact that most park home residents are elderly—they tend to be pensioners—and often on low and fixed incomes, the House will realise the significance of that sum. It causes me great concern and that is why I wanted to raise the matter with the Minister today.

The Office of Fair Trading just completed its off-grid energy report in October of this year. It describes the cylinder LPG market as

“a mature and declining market”

of only some 25,000 to 50,000 homes for the 47 kg cylinders of LPG. It points out that bulk LPG is more economical and involves greater ease of delivery and handling, but even bulk LPG is more expensive than other off-grid fuels such as heating oil, about which we hear a lot in this House, solid fuel or electricity. They all, in turn, are much more expensive ways of heating one’s home than a mains gas supply connection, which many rural areas do not have.

The market for liquid petroleum gas—propane and butane in the main—is very limited. There are only three major cylinder suppliers, Calor Gas, Flogas and BP Gas, and the OFT noted that retail arrangements for cylinder LPG

“in effect require dealers to deal exclusively with one supplier.”

It notes, with considerable understatement, that

“these agreements could potentially restrict competition.”

The OFT has said that it

“may return to these issues in the context of the wider cylinder LPG market at a later date”.

It urgently needs to do so, because we are talking about very vulnerable people on low incomes with little choice about the way in which they heat their homes. Our current regulation is purely through the OFT and the Competition Commission, because Ofgem and Consumer Focus do not have a remit for this market.

What can we do? The first thing we need to do is ensure that any future potential park home residents are well aware before they move in of how much it could cost to heat their home. They need to have that knowledge before they take the decision to become a park home resident.

I was encouraged when earlier this year, on 24 March, in column 1084 of Hansard, one of the DECC Ministers said that the green deal and the energy company obligation would apply to park home residents. That is very welcome, but what has happened with the renewable heat premium payment? Some £15 million of Government money, aimed at around 25,000 homes, is due to be spent up to March next year, so have park homes been covered by that payment scheme? If they have not been, can we ensure that they are in the remaining months?

My major question for the Minister concerns whether the renewable heat incentive, which starts in March next year, will apply to park home owners. As I hope I have outlined, they are some of our most vulnerable residents

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who are in greatest need of the new technology and financial support that the Government are bringing in through that incentive. I understand that at the moment that decision is still, in classic Government language, “subject to policy development”, so I urge my hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), as the Minister on the Front Bench, to ensure that this group are covered. As I have said, they are the most vulnerable residents and they need this help.

A couple of weeks ago, I visited a major new development in my constituency in Houghton Regis, on Sandringham drive, where every roof—the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) will be pleased to hear this—had photovoltaic cells on it, leading to water heating. It did not benefit from the renewable heat incentive, but the residents told me that they had very light heating bills last year as a result of that new technology. Above all, park home residents, who are mainly pensioners and mainly on low incomes, should be the ones to benefit from the renewable heat incentive and the technology that is coming in, which could make heating their homes much more affordable.

4.9 pm

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): Over the next few minutes, I shall give a critique of aspects of the Government’s energy policy, but first I thank the Government for having an energy policy that it is possible to critique. Although I do not want to make a party political point, it is worth reflecting on the legacy that we inherited. On renewables, we were 25th out of the 27 EU countries, in front of only Malta and Luxembourg. Some 90% of our energy is from gas, coal and oil; 2.5% is from renewables. Furthermore, in 2010—the last year for which figures are available—the percentage of our energy that came from renewables actually fell. That is a staggering achievement, and it is worth noting.

What the previous Government were able to do—they had some success in this—was pass legislation, some of which is important, and that is the basis of what I shall talk about today. The Climate Change Act 2008 requires us to reduce our emissions by 80% from a 1990 baseline. I will not argue about the basis for that; we have heard from the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) about the importance of the 2° C target. I agree with much of what she said on that, but as she is present I just make the point that if she, like George Monbiot, had accepted that nuclear power has a part to play in meeting the target, her speech would have had more resonance.

The Act places onerous requirements on us. Broadly speaking, reducing our use of carbon by 80% from a 1990 base requires a strategy that may embrace 25,000 wind turbines—I say that with some regret to my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies), who is sitting in front of me—and 25 nuclear power stations. Of course, it would also mean a massive reduction in energy use; I think that Members on both sides of the House would agree with that, and the green deal is a great way forward. My difficulty is with the next Act that the previous Government enacted, relating to the EU 20-20-20 directive of 2009, which requires us to produce 15% of our energy from renewables over the next decade. In my judgment, that directive contradicts our needs under the Climate Change Act 2008. We must decarbonise, and not necessarily go in for a renewables frenzy.

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People might wonder why that matters, given that renewables need to be part of the mix. It matters because the emphasis on renewables has, in my judgment, meant that we have de-emphasised other low-carbon solutions that need to go ahead much more quickly, such as nuclear power and more use of gas, which I shall discuss.

One particular aspect of the renewables frenzy brought about by the 2009 directive undermines our ability to decarbonise, and we can see it in the solar power episode that is still playing out. We made a decision to pay 40p per unit for electricity that we can sell for 8p or 9p a unit. That, of course, generates a big industry. We make that subsidy even though we are no more than 2% or 3% of the global industry for solar, and therefore realistically cannot make a big difference to how the price comes down, and even though solar power produced through photovoltaics produces more than three times more carbon than nuclear power, as was shown in a recent peer-reviewed paper from Imperial college.

Why does all that matter? Why does it matter whether we go for renewables so hard, as opposed to going for gas, which is part of this? One of the things that we have to do is get our car and transport infrastructure off oil. We shall do that not just by electrifying, although that might be part of the solution, but by going down the route of gas cars. There are about 10 million gas cars in the world, more than 2 million of which are in Pakistan. There are nothing like that many electric cars. To say that gas is not part of the solution is just wrong.

Glyn Davies: Notwithstanding the fact that my hon. Friend is focused on putting too many wind farms in my constituency, I agree with much of what he says. Does he agree that we need to emphasise the potential of tidal power as well? I have not heard that mentioned a great deal. The Severn barrage can supply 5% of British energy needs. The potential of tidal power is massive.

David Mowat: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I am not an expert in hydro power, the potential of which is very large. We have a deadline of 2017 to replace about a third of our generating capacity. To do that, we must use proven technology. That meant nuclear, but we might be late for that now. It is going to end up being gas, because gas is the default solution of a failure to invest in other technologies.

The very real need to decarbonise is being threatened by the costs that we are incurring through a strategy that is too focused on introducing the wrong sort of renewables too quickly. Let me give an example of the likely cost of the carbon floor. A £70 per tonne price of carbon will add about £400 to £500 to the average domestic bill. That is important because fuel poverty is at 10% now. We have energy-intensive industries laying off people or not investing in this country, in the context of trying to grow manufacturing as a percentage of GDP. The risk is that that will prevent some of the things that we need to do in pursuing decarbonisation. I ask the Government to consider this point: optimising renewables is not the same as optimising decarbonisation, and we need to do the latter.

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4.17 pm

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): It is such a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat), who is a great mind in all areas of energy and one of the more assiduous Members of the House when it comes to constituency work, I am told.

I welcome the hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), who is standing in on behalf of Department of Energy and Climate Change Ministers. So far in this debate, the Government business managers have replied, probably better than most of the Ministers would have been able to do on their own, so I welcome the hon. Gentleman. He should be aware that the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change has a history of getting people to stand in for him in various matters, but I trust that his Christmas present from the Secretary of State will be slightly nicer than others that he might have given in the past.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies), I am suffering from a spate of wind farm applications in my constituency. For years I have been campaigning against them. We should have gone nuclear a lot earlier, as my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South said. There is a fantastic quote in a very good book, “Let Them Eat Carbon” by Matthew Sinclair of the Taxpayers Alliance: “Renewable energy is plagued by old problems. Whilst the wind and the sun are free, using them to supply energy when and where we need it to power a modern economy is extremely expensive.”

We all know that, and even the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) would have to recognise it, so why do we keep trying to foist onshore wind farms on to areas of low wind speed, where they devastate areas of natural beauty? I guess it is because wind was the only game in town for a long time and its lobbyists are among the best.

I thought that in the spirit of localism, it would be a good idea to give power to local authorities, so I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill, the Onshore Wind Turbines (Proximity of Habitation) Bill a number of months ago. It languishes, I think, at No. 13 for the next Friday sitting that we might have, so is unlikely to see the light of day in this Session. However, I would like to think that, like the gubernator of California, it will be back in some form in the future. I offer it to Ministers as a way forward in trying to solve some of the problems by letting local councils decide the correct proximity of wind turbines to habitation.

Why am I so interested in this? In Daventry district, 19 sites are being looked at, are in the planning stage or are on appeal for wind turbines, most of which would be about 126.5 m high, roughly the size of the London Eye, and in a beautiful, green part of rolling English countryside. I am against the turbines because they simply do not work. Last December was one of the coldest periods on record, but it was also remarkably still. The turbines barely produced any energy and we needed to use all the other carbon-eating technologies.

Glyn Davies: Does my hon. Friend agree that the sheer antipathy to wind farm development right across Britain is turning people against the development of renewable energy? It is transforming antipathy to onshore wind into antipathy to renewable energy.

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Chris Heaton-Harris: I absolutely concur. I know from my mailbag and from the number of e-mails I receive every day on the matter that people are turning against renewables of just about every type because wind turbines are, among other things, so badly sold. Onshore wind generation requires a 100% back-up of carbon-burning technology or nuclear energy, should the wind not blow, and in addition to the devastation of the visual environment there are the problems of noise and flicker. They are the wrong renewables choice.

That brings me to some unbelievably bad news I received yesterday about my constituency. There was—how can I put it?—a disgraceful, vulgar, disrespectful, terrible, shameful, contemptible, detestable, dishonourable, disreputable, ignoble, mean, offensive, scandalous, shabby, shady, shocking, shoddy, unworthy, deplorable, awful, calamitous, dire, disastrous, distressing, dreadful, faulty, grim, horrifying, lamentable, lousy, mournful, pitiable, regrettable, reprehensible, rotten, sad, sickening, tragic, woeful, wretched, abhorrent, abominable, crass, despicable, inferior, odious, unworthy, atrocious, heinous, loathsome, revolting, scandalous, squalid, tawdry, cowardly, opprobrious, insulting, malevolent, scurrilous and basically stinkingly poor decision of the Planning Inspectorate to approve the Kelmarsh wind farm, which will devastate huge swathes of beautiful rural Northamptonshire. It used an old-fashioned east midlands regional plan, which I thought we had abolished in the Localism Act 2011, did not take into account any emerging policy in this area, not least the national planning policy framework, and used the targets, which the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion is so passionately attached to, of getting 20% of our energy from renewables by 2020.

It is unbelievable that one planning inspector can overrule all elements of democracy, local and national, including parish and district council opinion, MPs, Lords and Members of the European Parliament, and say, “Well, actually, because of these particularly poor policies we have, forget democracy. This is what you are having.” That is what upsets people about the onshore wind industry. The sooner that can change, the better.

Significant damage will be done to the local environment, and even more will be done to what my constituents might think comes with the Localism Act. If I were a Secretary of State in the Department for Energy and Climate Change and was driving down the A14, I really would put my foot down. A three-point penalty easily outweighs what I and my constituents think of him, this decision and the policy it is based on. That said, even I wish the Secretary of State and everyone else in the House a very merry Christmas.

4.24 pm

Norman Lamb (North Norfolk) (LD): I thank all hon. Members for their thoughtful and measured contributions, including that wonderful description of the Planning Inspectorate’s recent decision. Many hon. Members will have some sympathy with the views expressed there.

I must confess a personal interest. I am the son of a climatologist, so I spent many of my formative years learning about the natural cycles of climate, visiting sites such as medieval vineyards around Tewkesbury and so forth as friends were heading off to Torremolinos. Today, however, our focus is on man’s impact on climate and how we respond to it.

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I shall deal first with the contribution from the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). The hon. Lady’s case is that the 2% target—limiting the increase of global average temperatures to 2% above pre-industrial levels—is not ambitious enough and has potentially devastating consequences. I share and the Government share her absolute concern about the need to take effective and decisive action to deal with what is an enormous challenge globally, and we do not dismiss it at all.

The target of less than 2%, however, is likely to be at the very edge of what is possible in terms of the technological and economic implications. It also involves radical lifestyle changes, and dealing with that globally and in democracies is often very difficult.

Achieving the 2% target globally will itself be immensely challenging. On the current trajectory, as the hon. Lady rightly said, we are looking at a 3.5° C to 4° C rise in temperature, the consequences of which certainly would be devastating, and if anything the gap is widening.

Caroline Lucas: The figure is 2° C, not 2%, but does the hon. Gentleman agree with me on the key point that runaway climate change would also require radical changes in lifestyle?

Norman Lamb: Absolutely, I do. I accept that completely, and that is why the Government are determined to take decisive action.

The consequences, however, of a 3.5° C to 4° C rise would be devastating, including a 2 metre rise in sea levels, a massive impact on food production and so on, but to hit the 2° C target we need global emissions to peak by 2020 and, after that, to reduce by 4% annually. That target is achievable if decisive action is taken by both the developed and the developing worlds, and this Government are determined to take a lead internationally —one of the things that the hon. Lady raised specifically —in seeking to achieve it.

Developing countries on their own are likely to account for 60% of emissions by 2020 owing to rapid development, and the Government recognise that the European Union must show leadership, so we are pressing for a 30% 2020 emissions reduction target, rather than the current 20%.

To answer the hon. Lady’s specific question about whether we need to review the target level, I note that the Cancun conference agreed to a review of the science to see whether to adjust the target and whether the 2° C target is adequate to prevent the disastrous consequences of climate change. I acknowledge what she said about the outcome of the recent Durban conference, but it did make progress on the design of that review and on the steps, including negotiating a new global agreement, to get the global community back on track to achieve at least the 2° C goal. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change for playing a key role in the Durban negotiations, which have taken things forward.

All that sets the context—the imperative of building a low-carbon economy—for dealing with the contributions from the hon. Members for Warrington South (David Mowat), for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) and for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies). Not only do we need to reduce carbon emissions because of the imperative of tackling climate change, but we face the massive challenge of energy security.

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I shall deal first with the hon. Member for Warrington South, who criticised the focus on renewables and sought to concentrate on the optimisation of decarbonisation, arguing for the importance of nuclear and gas in the short term. We face the immediate and remarkable challenge that nearly one third of our energy supplies will be going off-grid in the next decade. That is because of decisions already taken. Nuclear cannot deliver in that time frame. There are disadvantages in relying heavily on imported gas because it makes us more vulnerable to risks with regard to security of supply, fluctuating and volatile cost, and availability of supply. To replace the lost capacity and to hit challenging emissions targets, we need a new supply quickly, and wind and other renewables are a crucial part of that. Over the longer term, the Government have no intention of favouring one form of low-carbon energy production over another. Our intention is to secure a level playing field for low-carbon technologies competing with one another. Tidal power, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire, should be given its chance along with other technologies.

The Government have already issued a White Paper on electricity market reform. That is an important way to deliver the change that we need to secure proper competition between low-carbon technologies. It will mean that a level playing field is introduced by 2020, and it covers nuclear, carbon capture and storage, and renewables. The carbon plan published on 1 December, which sets out how we will meet the requirements of the fourth carbon budget—between 2022 and 2027—does not favour one form of production over another but offers different scenarios and different combinations within the whole mix. We are not looking to lock in any one form of production. The Government have stressed the importance of reducing energy demand and of improved energy conservation. That is why our green deal is so important, as is the radical step of introducing smart electricity and gas meters across every home. We do, however, stress the need for immediate and decisive action.

David Mowat: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Norman Lamb: I will not, because I am conscious of time constraints and think that I must press on.

The hon. Members for Daventry and for Montgomeryshire discussed wind energy. First, it is important to recognise that this does cause concern for many people; we are all familiar with that in our own constituencies. Those concerns cannot just be dismissed. There are inevitably tensions between the absolute imperative of reducing carbon in our economy and the concerns of local people. It is important to recognise, though, that applications are turned down on landscape grounds. The key is to find appropriate locations in terms of landscape and wind speed.

The hon. Member for Daventry raised concerns about the efficiency and effectiveness of wind energy. Wind energy is generated for between 70% and 80% of the time. It is already providing about 2.9% of total energy generation—that was the figure for the second quarter of 2011—and it represented approximately 31% of the overall renewable electricity generated in that period. It

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is already delivering results. The costs of onshore wind are expected to come down by about 8% to 9% between now and 2030. That will result in support for onshore wind reducing by 10% from April 2013. The hon. Gentleman also raised concerns about the proximity of wind turbines to where people live and the importance of local decision making. The Government, through the Localism Act 2011, want to give people in their communities a greater say in the decisions that are taken.

The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire raised particular concerns about what is happening in his own community. I pay tribute to the passion and commitment that he has demonstrated on this issue over a long period. He will be aware that the location of wind farms in mid-Wales is down to TAN 8—technical advice note 8—which is the responsibility of the Welsh Assembly Government. Any changes or variations to TAN 8 are their responsibility rather than that of the UK Government. Six applications for developments of over 50 MW are currently in train in mid-Wales, and we are waiting on the response of the local authority, Powys county council, which is due by the end of March next year. The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for Wealden (Charles Hendry) has written to the authority recently—last week, I think—to extend the deadline to the end of September so that it can conduct its assessment properly and respond fully to the proposals. That extension is subject to approval by the applicants.

I should also mention the Localism Act 2011, which has removed decision making powers from the Infrastructure Planning Commission. That body has dealt with applications for developments of more than 50 MW since April 2010. It was introduced by the previous Government and it was an appointed, unaccountable quango. This Government have returned responsibility to Ministers, thereby reinstating clear accountability.

I want to reiterate the value and importance of wind in meeting climate change targets, for the reasons that I have already expressed. It has to be part of the mix. I stress its economic benefits in Wales and elsewhere. Wind energy contributes £158 million directly to the Welsh economy every year in turnover, employment and expenditure. It is responsible for more than 800 full- time jobs in Wales, and that is expected to rise to 1,000 next year. That must be considered.

Finally, I will deal with the contribution of the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous). I am grateful to him for raising the concerns brought to his attention by Mrs Lorraine Bond. The amount that she and others have to pay over the winter just to heat their homes should concern us all. He is right that the recent Office of Fair Trading report highlighted that cylinder liquefied petroleum gas—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Minister, you have now been speaking for 12 minutes, which is more than “up to 10 minutes”. I would therefore be grateful if you brought your remarks to a conclusion as quickly as possible, and if you could remember to address the Chamber, not the people sitting behind you.

Norman Lamb: I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will bring my remarks to a close quickly.

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The concern is that the consumers we are talking about are mostly on very low incomes, are often elderly and struggle with their heating costs. I will talk about the steps that the Government are taking. The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change, the hon. Member for Wealden wrote to the OFT recently, asking it to consider how to make markets work more effectively for vulnerable consumers.

Park homes will shortly be able to receive help under the Government’s main home energy efficiency scheme—the carbon emissions reduction target. CERT requires all domestic energy suppliers with more than 50,000 consumers to reduce householders’ carbon dioxide emissions by promoting low-carbon energy solutions. Under CERT, suppliers are free to decide what measures to promote. I recognise that suppliers have chosen not to install measures in significant quantities to date, but there have been successful trials this year of park home insulation solutions that significantly reduce energy use. Those trials have shown what can be achieved. Solid wall insulation for park homes will get a formal carbon score under CERT, which will incentivise energy suppliers to promote these measures to park home residents during the final year of the CERT scheme.

Finally, I have taken on board the concerns raised by the hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire about the renewable heat incentive. It is clearly important to ensure that that matter is considered fully. The concerns that he has raised will be taken on board by the Department. Every effort will be made to ensure that these vulnerable consumers are protected as well as possible.

I thank hon. Members for their contributions and wish everybody a very happy Christmas.

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Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Five Members are listed to take part in this debate. There is a time limit on Back-Bench speeches of six minutes. I remind Ministers that this is a Back-Bench debate and that the Backbench Business Committee has recommended that the time available for Ministers should be up to 10 minutes. Each time they go over that, they take time away from Back Benchers.

4.39 pm

Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con): It is a pleasure to open the health section of the Christmas Adjournment debate.

Albert Einstein famously said:

“It is strange to be known so universally and yet to be so lonely.”

At a time of extreme population growth, greater connectivity created by technological advances and the ability to sustain friendships around the globe, it is perhaps bizarre to think about the worrying consequences of social isolation, yet it is incumbent on us to do so because increasing levels of loneliness are making elderly people in particular incredibly vulnerable.

More than 1 million people aged over 65 say that they feel socially or emotionally lonely all or most of the time. It is heartbreaking that while many of us will be spending the festive season with our family and friends, 500,000 older people will spend this Christmas day alone. Sadly, that seclusion is not confined to the Christmas season. Chillingly, it is part of the day-to-day life of many older people.

If people more cynical than your good self, Madam Deputy Speaker, are wondering why I am spending valuable parliamentary time talking about a natural human emotion, they do not understand the severe social, health and financial consequences of loneliness. Researchers rate it as a higher health risk than lifelong smoking or obesity. Associated physical and mental health conditions include sleep deprivation, a weakened immune system, higher blood pressure, an increased risk of dementia and intense levels of depression.

By raising the profile of the Campaign to End Loneliness today in this short debate, I hope to increase awareness of the scandalous isolation of older people. That is not just a sad indication of community breakdown but, to be brutally frank, has a long-term cost for our social service and health budgets. It can be halted through better state and voluntary intervention.

No one body can solve the problem. In fact, it is one for everyone in society to tackle, from local and central Government to the voluntary sector, and of course not forgetting us as individuals. However, the state has a significant role to play and is often best placed to act as the main co-ordinator.

At local level, the police, fire services and GPs are considered the most trusted bodies by older people, and therefore they can identify those most in need through their everyday activities. There is a fantastic example of that in Manchester, with police community support officers knocking on the doors of older people with a specific remit of reaching out to those who would otherwise slip under the radar. Likewise, Merseyside fire and rescue service, which comes into contact with

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people when it fits fire alarms or attends emergencies, has been using those occasions to identify those whom they feel are isolated and to flag them up to the appropriate body.

In my own constituency, Tonbridge and Malling council often finds that housing register applicants state that they want to move because they are lonely and feel isolated. That admission helps to identify those in need, and then the support and befriending services of local voluntary organisations are deployed. One such service is the Beat Project, which is funded by the Snodland Partnership and organises an informal coffee and chat group every week. It specifically seeks to engage people who would not normally join organised groups in the town. Many older people now attend, including a group from a local dementia nursing home. Many report that the event is often their only social contact with the outside world.

Medway council runs similar events through its older people’s partnership and its work with the WRVS. Through statutory, voluntary and community sector partners, it has sought to engage with older people across the local authority area to improve mental and physical well-being, create opportunities for intergenerational involvement and develop social networks to enable older people to lead full and active lives.

The last Government declared in the 2007 concordat for social care, “Putting People First”, that the alleviation of loneliness and isolation should be a major priority. I completely agree with that intention. Encouragingly, the current Government have put a welcome emphasis on improving community connections and well-being, which will help to meet that priority. However, any Government who are serious about enabling well-being must acknowledge the problem of loneliness as one of the targets of their activities. I hope the Minister will indicate today how far the Government intend to go in measuring loneliness as part of the well-being index.

There are many good schemes out there that can combat isolation—too many for me to mention in my remaining time. They all require one more thing, which is the ability to reach to those who remain in isolation. That is where the statutory services should help. Better co-ordination cannot be underestimated as the means of solving the wider problem of loneliness.

In the past I have planned to spend Christmas alone, but acquaintances from a local bar took in this particular waif and stray and have remained friends since. This year, Abbeyfield Kent and Age Concern Kent are opening up their doors and offering Christmas dinner to pensioners who would otherwise spend Christmas alone. I hope that that will create future social networks for those attending.

Loneliness is not just for Christmas, but this seems to me a perfectly good time to highlight in the House and beyond the worthwhile campaign to end loneliness among older people. As Mother Theresa said:

“Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.”

4.45 pm

Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Moor View) (Lab): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak about the accessibility of services and entertainment for people who are deaf

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or hard of hearing. Several of the issues cut across other Departments, and I hope that the Minister will be tolerant, but I also hope that she will pass on my remarks to the relevant Departments.

Some 10 million people in the UK have some form of hearing loss, which is around 11,500 in every constituency. The hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) spoke about loneliness, and those who are deaf or hard of hearing can feel particularly isolated. It is sad that even in 2011 people with hearing loss still face unnecessary barriers to everyday activities, such as banking, shopping and watching television. I wish to highlight some of the positive steps that can be taken by businesses and Government to improve accessibility, and the forward-looking solutions that would guarantee accessible television entertainment for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Hearing loss is often referred to as an invisible impairment, and it can present a significant challenge if colleagues or service providers do not know that someone is struggling to hear. I declare an interest as I lost all hearing in one ear at the age of 16 after contracting mumps. My recent change in workplace seating arrangements has caused enormous problems, because the Speaker’s Chair is now on my deaf side, and I run the real risk of not hearing the Speaker’s instructions. Difficulty hearing in a debating chamber is an unusual problem, so I will consider some more common activities.

Imagine someone with hearing loss who begins their day by telephoning their bank. They will be met with a series of pre-recorded voice messages, which are now a familiar feature of all helplines, but present huge problems for people who cannot hear clearly. All the numbers whizz by and people miss hearing what they all mean. People with hearing loss would benefit from a clear, early option to be put through to an operator who has received deaf awareness training, and I urge companies to consider implementing this routinely.

Someone who has been unable to get through to their bank by phone might try to go and speak to them in person. Unfortunately for people with hearing loss, this still does not guarantee that they will be able to communicate successfully. There are 2 million hearing aid users in the UK, and a fully functioning induction loop is often the only way to guarantee somebody effective communication. However, in a recent survey by the excellent organisation Action on Hearing Loss, 86% of services were found to be inaccessible for hearing aid users. Where organisations had a loop system, it was often not working, it was not turned on, or staff were not trained in its use. Worryingly, more than 60% of the 1,500 premises visited did not have a loop system fitted at all.

There are any number of day-to-day examples I could give, but time does not allow, so I will turn to the end of a typical day, when someone might look forward to catching up with their favourite television programme. Surely, in the comfort of their own home, they will not be limited by their hearing loss. Sadly, even in the 21st century, against a backdrop of vast technological developments, it is still very likely that the chosen television programme will not be accompanied by subtitles. This is particularly true of programmes delivered on catch-up services over the internet, where there are currently no quotas for access services. This is despite the fact that in a recent survey three quarters of Action on Hearing Loss members said they used subtitles, with 43% using them all the time.

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It would be an effective forward-looking solution if people with sensory loss could benefit from the inclusion of quotas for access services on all television programmes, regardless of the platform through which they are delivered. That would be in line with existing quotas for terrestrial television. New legislation, which I think the Government plan to introduce, should also ensure that technology is future-proofed. Believe it or not, subtitles were not initially available on high-definition TV, for example. That is quite astonishing—and they were only recently introduced on the public broadcasting HD channels. I urge Ministers not to pass up any opportunity to improve the situation through legislation.

I hope that this afternoon’s debate has demonstrated how important accessibility to services and entertainment is for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. As the population ages, the number of people with hearing loss in the UK will continue to rise. I therefore urge Ministers to cut across Departments to ensure that easy access to services and entertainment for people with hearing loss becomes the norm, not the exception.

In the last few seconds, I want to get an unrelated point on the record. I would really like the Government to look at how the administration process works, following the experience of Plymouth Argyle. There are genuine issues that need to be addressed, either by Ministers or by a Select Committee of this House, such as whether the creditors get the best value and whether the staff involved at the time are also protected.

Finally, Madam Deputy Speaker, I wish you, all Members of this House and all the staff, who support us so fantastically throughout the year, a very happy Christmas.

4.50 pm

Pauline Latham (Mid Derbyshire) (Con): I rise today to talk about the east midlands cancer drugs fund, because I have had many dealings with this organisation, none of them very satisfactory. The last such dealing was today, although I would like to start my story, as it were, with my attempts over some months to get Avastin for a constituent of mine. She has already funded more than £60,000-worth of the drug herself. She has sold her car, used her retirement money and sold her heirlooms, and she now has no money left, yet still the east midlands cancer drugs fund will not give her Avastin, because—it says—there is no proof that it works. However, she is living proof that it works, because she has been taking it for two years. It costs her £1,600 every three weeks, and nobody can afford that sort of money. I also have another affected constituent, whom I saw on Friday, but because she is smaller than the other lady it costs her only £1,300—a real snip.

I am appalled at the way those patients are being treated. The reason why we are talking about a second-line treatment is that the first line failed. However, those patients do not choose the first line, because they rely on the consultants to give them the right drug in the first place. When that drug fails, the consultant puts the patient on a drug that works, but in this case, those in the east midlands are not allowed to have that drug funded by the NHS. However, patients can have it funded in the west midlands, the north-east and East Anglia, along with four other trusts.

I first wrote to the east midlands cancer drugs fund about this case on 28 September. Hon. Members should remember that it is supposed to reply within 10 working

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days, but in this case it did not. As Avastin is not a priority drug, and as my constituent is not a priority person, the fund will reply at its leisure. I wrote on 28 September, but the first I heard from the fund was on 4 November, when, after pushing the organisation, I received a letter from the medical director of NHS Midlands and East, which said that that body would have the ultimate view on whether the drug could be prescribed. The letter also said:

“I can, however, ask the Clinical Panel to review”

my constituent’s

“case and have asked the Clinical Lead to convene an urgent meeting. This meeting will consider clinical effectiveness evidence in accordance with the principles underpinning the East Midlands Cancer Drugs Fund. I will also ask the Panel to reconsider the evidence in the context that other parts of the country have reached a different conclusion regarding the efficacy of avastin as a second line treatment. The Chair of the Clinical Panel will inform me of the outcome of its deliberations”.

That was on 4 November, after I had written on 28 September. That panel has not met. Why not? Because those responsible cannot get the right people together. They convened a meeting, but they asked the wrong people to come to it, so they decided to abandon that. Eventually, after several e-mails, on 10 and 14 November, they let me know that they were urgently considering a meeting, but had not had one yet, and they still have not. Apparently, the people who make the decisions are informing them by e-mail what they think of this case—everything is being reviewed by e-mail.

It is getting close to Christmas, as we are all aware. On 30 November I was told that I would hear by the end of that week. I have not heard anything. Now I am told that I will hear by the end of this week. This is completely and utterly unacceptable for my two constituents, who could die because of the irresponsible and inefficient way in which the organisation works. Fortunately, they are not doing so; they are getting good treatment, and both of their tumour levels have decreased from 40 to 5 while using that drug. That shows that it works, and I do not understand the reluctance of the east midlands cancer drugs fund to prescribe it.

Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) (LD): I thank the hon. Lady for giving way, and I apologise for not being here for the beginning of her speech. I was on the telephone to the consultant of one of my constituents who is terminally ill and who would love to get ipilimumab prescribed. Unfortunately, that is not possible. Sadly for constituents in Scotland, there is no cancer drugs fund there because the Scottish Government have different priorities from those of the coalition Government here. I understand the hon. Lady’s frustration with the way in which the fund is being administered in her area, but would she at least agree that the existence of such a fund is a real benefit to people in England? I wish that that could be the case in Scotland.

Pauline Latham: Yes, everyone should have a cancer drugs fund, but those funds should be reactive to what works for people. If I have time, I want to talk about ipilimumab too. It is a difficult name to say, but it is also known as Yervoy. The hon. Lady should talk to the Government in Scotland and ask them to do what we are doing here in this country. They have devolved

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powers that were voted for by this House—and which I do not agree with—but they have them, and they must make their own decisions.

The cancer drugs fund in the east midlands is not fit for purpose. It is not working for the benefit of patients. The people involved say that they need the necessary clinical knowledge of these cases, but they already have it. The consultant has written to them, as have I, and they can see that those patients are still alive. They are still failing miserably, however, to help my two constituents, who will die if they do not get the drug. I hope that the Minister will contact those people and ask them to work more efficiently and effectively to help those patients who rely desperately on them to provide the necessary drugs.

I want briefly to talk about Yervoy, which is also known by that other name that I cannot pronounce. It is used to treat malignant melanoma. I have to declare an interest, in that my brother died of malignant melanoma 11 years ago next month, before this drug was discovered. It is the first new treatment for malignant melanoma for 30 years. More people are dying of malignant melanoma than ever before, and it is on the increase. I believe that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence should recommend that people should have that drug. I have heard stories of people in their 30s with young children getting the condition, and there is no hope for their future. As a responsive listening Government, we should be ensuring that those people get the drugs that they require.

4.57 pm

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham). I am sure that the whole House will wish her well in her pursuit of those cases on behalf of her constituents.

I want to talk about diabetes. I discovered that I had type 2 diabetes only a few years ago, when I went to visit my local GP. He had asked me to open a diabetes awareness day. I turned up, and blood was taken from my finger. People like taking blood from politicians. I was told that someone would ring me the next day to tell me whether I had managed to get into the local newspaper. Dr Farooqi rang me. He said that the good news was that I was on the front page of the Leicester Mercury, and that the bad news was that I had type 2 diabetes.

With diabetes, we are facing a health tsunami. There are now 2.8 million people in the UK suffering from the condition. Worldwide, the figure is a staggering 346 million. It is the fifth most common cause of death in the world, and it is undoubtedly a health concern of epidemic proportions. The International Diabetes Federation predicts that if the situation is allowed to continue on its current path, 522 million people worldwide—one in every 10—will have diabetes by 2030.

In recent months the work of diabetes charities has gained a significant momentum. I would like to congratulate the International Diabetes Federation, led by its president Jean-Claude Mbaya, on hosting the World Diabetes Congress in Dubai, which I attended and at which I spoke briefly. We are going to have a British president of the federation in two years’ time—Sir Michael Hirst.

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I wish him well. I also commend the work of Diabetes UK and its chief executive, Baroness Young, as well as that of a charity in my constituency that I had the honour to help establish, Silver Star. It came here to test MPs for diabetes. It has worked in partnership with organisations, including the

Leicester Mercury


and helped to light up its iconic headquarters in blue on world diabetes day, 14 November.

For the purposes of this debate I shall refer to type 2 diabetes, which is the type that 90% of people with diabetes around the world have. Diabetes is currently the leading cause of blindness, amputation, renal disease and cardiovascular disease. On average it reduces life expectancy by 10 years. Each week 100 people with diabetes lose a toe, foot or lower limb due to the condition. In 2010 an estimated 4,200 people lost their sight due to diabetic retinopathy. This figure increases by 1,280 a year. Only last week we were told in a Government-commissioned report that 24,000 people with diabetes are dying avoidably each year because they do not receive the right health care or do not manage their condition properly.

It is estimated that diabetes care accounts for 10% of the NHS annual budget—£9 billion a year, or £1 million an hour. Diabetes prescriptions account for 7% of NHS costs. These staggering costs will only increase unless this illness is prevented and contained.

We are now 12 days from new year’s eve—a time to make new resolutions. I urge the Minister—the hon. Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Angela Watkinson)—to adopt my five resolutions. The first is to increase the level of education and awareness—including among ourselves: 10% of those sitting in the Chamber today will have diabetes without knowing it. And anyone walking into the Tea Room, as I have just done, will be offered every sweet and chocolate they could possibly want, and drinks loaded with sugar.

We need to make sure that, particularly in Olympics year, we get people to engage in physical activity. We also need to adopt the “fat tax” adopted in Denmark to try to make manufacturers responsible for what they sell. We must ensure that there is universal screening. Although the Government are currently committed to screening, it is not as widespread as we would like. Between April and June this year only 2.7% of eligible patients received a health check.

I want to ensure that we look carefully for ways to prevent the south Asian community in particular from getting diabetes. They suffer more from contracting it, as they are particularly susceptible to it as a group.

Finally, speaking as someone who has to get a prescription from my GP every month, I believe it absurd that there are 15 separate companies all producing different blood glucose testing strips. I often go to the pharmacy to get my prescription, but they give me the wrong strip for the wrong machine. It is vital that we ensure that there is one common strip.

Diabetes is a worldwide problem. My message is simple: no more declarations, no more fine words, no more summits: if we are to try to save lives, we need action now.

5.3 pm

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz).

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I want to speak on behalf of community hospitals, both locally in my own constituency and nationally on behalf of CHANT—Community Hospitals Acting Nationally Together. Before coming to the House, I worked as a GP in rural Dartmoor, covering the smallest hospital in England at Moretonhampstead. I was privileged to see first hand how a personal and compassionate service transformed the care and saved the lives of so many of my former patients.

We know that we need to change the way that health care is delivered. As we all live longer and with multiple complex medical problems, we need to focus on preventing admissions to acute hospitals in the first place. Community hospitals are ideally placed to deliver that care. There are four in my constituency: Totnes, Brixham, South Hams in Kingsbridge, and Dartmouth. I pay tribute to all their staff, and to the volunteers in the leagues of friends.

The leagues of friends are a vital resource in all our constituencies. They raise an incredible amount of money—between £7 million and £8 million has been raised in south Devon alone over the last decade—and are made up entirely of volunteers who co-ordinate fundraising events as well as managing donations and legacies, and then plan how those projects should be managed in the future.

As a direct result of voluntary contributions, patients in South Hams hospital are able to have their chemotherapy locally rather than making the long, arduous journey to Plymouth, and in Brixham, the league of friends has donated £200,000 towards the new hospital ward. There have been numerous projects in Dartmouth and Totnes, all improving dignity, privacy and comfort and raising money for equipment. However, the contributions go way beyond funding. Local residents volunteer their services on the wards for both patients and visitors, and directly improve the quality of care.

I am delighted that the coalition has repeatedly expressed its commitment to community hospitals, and has recognised the vital role that they play in rural areas in particular. However, I should like the Department of Health to respond to a number of concerns and uncertainties so that these much-loved community resources can be put on an even stronger footing. The issues that I wish to raise are the ownership of the community hospital estate and the operation of the current tariff system.

I have heard from some leagues of friends that they are holding back funding of projects as a result of concerns expressed by some of their members about the future ownership of community hospitals. They are afraid that money raised by local communities and invested in local services could end up being lost to those communities should the ownership of the estates pass elsewhere. I know that the ownership of the premises in south Devon will pass to Torbay care trust, but concern is still being expressed at a high level in my local NHS about the possibility that the future ownership arrangements will inadvertently decouple community infrastructures from the communities that they serve. Those communities seek reassurance that if for any reason the provider trust that owns a community hospital relinquishes ownership of a building, selling it without reinvesting in an improved and equally local facility, the funds raised by local communities will be returned to them in full.

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Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con): There are three fine community hospitals in my constituency: Pershore, Tenbury and Malvern. My hon. Friend may wish to invite her constituents to visit the Pershore hospital, which is owned by the district council and operated by the NHS care trust. It is an interesting model.

Dr Wollaston: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. There is an understandable fear that many premises in the most stunning locations, which have been bequeathed to their communities by local benefactors, could end up being sold off with communities powerless to intervene. I want to touch on some of the alternative models. Communities are reassured that for the time being there is a clear directive providing that in future only NHS organisations may own the estate, but I agree with my hon. Friend that local models can provide alternatives. NHS ownership may, in some circumstances, create difficulties, and inhibit the development of hospitals’ full potential. For example, the Community Hospitals Association is concerned that in some areas management may pass to mental health organisations with little experience of managing community hospitals. There is also a concern that passing management to predominantly secondary-care-focused trusts could cause the hospitals’ interests to be sidelined.

In many parts of the country, social enterprises have been formed to provide community services, but currently they cannot own and invest in premises, and nor can GPs acting as commissioners. May I ask the Minister to look into how ownership arrangements could be made more flexible in order to provide local solutions, while at the same time guaranteeing to local people that the value of their assets will be safeguarded for their communities? I hope that all our leagues of friends will then feel confident enough to continue to invest for the future.

Let me briefly raise the issue of the system of tariff payments. As the Minister will know, currently the tariff is not fairly distributed, which means that community hospitals are often not funded for the provision of step-down care. The acute hospital receives all the funding irrespective of how long the patient remains in its care, although community hospitals are ideally placed to provide safe step-down services. I therefore hope that the Minister will give an update on how and when the tariff will be reformed to assist community hospitals to offer the full range of services they wish to provide.

The main focus should be on avoiding the need for acute hospital admissions in the first place. Community hospitals have a key role to play in providing many services, not just in-patient and palliative care. I join the Community Hospitals Association in calling for more investment in research and evaluation of their role and contribution to high-quality care and the wider social care economy.

Finally, I wish all Members and staff of the House a very happy Christmas.

5.10 pm

The Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury (Angela Watkinson): May I start by saying that I appreciate the waiving of my customary Whiply silence, albeit temporarily, to enable me to participate in this debate?

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I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) for raising the important issue of the loneliness and isolation that can affect older people. I welcome the good work done by Independent Age, Age UK Oxfordshire, Counsel and Care, and the WRVS on the campaign to end loneliness. We are living longer, healthier lives. We should celebrate that, and seek to unlock the rich potential of our older population, as well as promoting their well-being.

We recognise the terrible impact that isolation and loneliness can have on people’s health and well-being. We know that multi-professional collaboration from a health and social care perspective on the needs of older people—including recognising isolation and those at risk from it—will make a huge contribution to keeping older people well and independent in their own homes, and to helping to maintain a decent quality of life for them. Of course, combating loneliness and isolation cannot be the job of health and care services alone. A range of services must be involved, including transport, housing and leisure.

We recently concluded the caring for our future engagement exercise, and we will produce a White Paper and a progress report on funding. That is planned for spring 2012. The engagement exercise considered six areas: quality and work force; personalisation and choice; shaping local care services; prevention and early intervention: integration; and the role of financial services. Throughout this engagement exercise we heard from a wide range of organisations, carers and people who use services, and the issue of loneliness and isolation among older people was raised.

Under the provisions of the Health and Social Care Bill currently before Parliament, local health and wellbeing boards will take responsibility for producing the joint strategic needs assessment and a local health and well-being strategy. I pay tribute to the London borough of Havering; it has shown great commitment in setting up its health and wellbeing board and it has already made significant arrangements for taking on this important new role. I also applaud the good work done by Age Action Alliance, an independent alliance of organisations working together to improve the lives of older people. It is aiming to prevent deprivation in later life, as well as challenging age discrimination and seeking to make older people feel valued and able to contribute to their local communities and the wider society. We look forward to the ideas that will emerge from that alliance.

We are doing everything we can, and we also support the efforts of others, to ensure that older people have access to all the help they need to reduce social isolation. I hope that that reassures my hon. Friend.

The hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck) made a thoughtful contribution about the understanding, patience and sympathy people with hearing loss need but do not always receive. She described the limitations on everyday activities such as using the telephone, and the absence of subtitles on television, which greatly disadvantage those with hearing loss. I shall refer those matters to the relevant Minister. We hope to improve the quality of life of people with hearing loss.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire (Pauline Latham) raised concerns about two constituents who were unable to receive specific cancer drugs under

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their NHS treatment from the East Midlands strategic health authority. She has made her feelings very clear. The health authority will have heard her and will wish to respond with some urgency; and the Secretary of State will, I am sure, expect that to happen.

I thank the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) for his question and his continued support for diabetes prevention and improving outcomes for people with diabetes. We pay particular tribute to his work through Silver Star, a charity he founded in Leicestershire that is invaluable in tackling diabetes within south Asian communities. As president of the Havering branch of Diabetes UK, I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the late Sue Braeger, who sadly died recently. As chairman of the Havering branch, Sue was a formidable campaigner on diabetes issues, especially the management of diabetes medication for pupils in schools. She will be a hard act to follow.

We have learned this year—in the last few months, in fact—that nearly 3 million people in the United Kingdom have diabetes, a number that grows year on year. Worse, 24,000 people each year die unnecessarily from the disease—deaths that could have been prevented with better management and care. Much progress has been made in diabetes care since the publication of the national service framework in 2001, but prevention and early diagnosis remain a Government priority.

Next year, the National Audit Office and the NHS leadership team will be reviewing progress and considering whether there is need for further work, co-ordinated at a national level. Any such work would of course seek to reinforce and support activity led by clinicians at local level to improve outcomes for people living with diabetes.

We will also depend on the NHS health check programme, which has the potential to prevent many cases of type 2 diabetes and identify thousands more cases earlier. We will be continuing the change for life campaign, which raises awareness of the importance of maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active. As type 2 diabetes is linked to both obesity and inactivity, these public health initiatives are crucial.

For people diagnosed with diabetes, our priorities for treatment and care are to improve quality of life and reduce complications, and as a result to reduce cost. People with diabetes account for 15% of in-patient hospital beds in England. Their hospital treatment costs £600 million a year more than that for patients admitted without diabetes. Poor management of diabetes and insulin leads to emergency admissions and readmissions, and increased lengths of hospital stay. Poor care can also lead to deaths and permanent disability, with an estimated 80% of the 73 lower-limb amputations suffered each week by people with diabetes considered preventable.

The NAO will be reporting next summer on its study of the management of diabetes services. We expect it to provide robust recommendations on improving services and outcomes for patients and the public, and we look forward to seeing the results.

My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) raised the important issue of the role of community hospitals and leagues of friends. I should like to assure her that the Government are committed to helping the NHS work better by extending best practice on improving discharge from acute hospitals, and increasing access to care and treatment in the community. Community hospitals

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can be an important part of delivering this, especially in rural areas, providing both planned and unplanned acute care and diagnostic services closer to home. Community hospitals support best practice in admission avoidance and provide a range of services, from treating minor injuries to intensive rehabilitation. Subject to the passage of the Health and Social Care Bill through Parliament, clinical commissioning groups will be responsible for securing the best health care and health outcomes for their patients and locality.

The Department announced on 4 August that NHS trusts and NHS foundation trusts will also be given the chance to acquire estate from primary care trusts, including the community hospital estate. PCTs have reviewed and provisionally agreed lists of property for transfer to NHS bodies, and those will shortly be approved by the Department of Health. It is expected that the actual transfers of estate will commence in 2012. I know that this is a concern of my hon. Friend, but it is not expected that these changes will affect the role or function of local league of friends’ volunteers, who provide such valuable and important services in community hospitals around the country

The Government are also committed to increasing the scope of a more transparent rules-based funding system, where money follows the patient. Since its introduction, the payment by results national tariff has been mainly restricted to treatments provided in acute hospitals. We want to change that, but in a way that supports the delivery of high-quality services. That will not be easy, as there are significant challenges for us to overcome, such as making sure that activity that takes place in community settings is recorded and reported, as this is essential to plan services and drive payments, but we are making good progress. From April 2012, we will introduce the first ever tariffs for post-discharge care, with transparent prices to give more certainty about funding. I hope that that sets my hon. Friend’s mind at rest.

Finally, may I take this opportunity, Mr Deputy Speaker, to wish everybody the season’s greetings?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Absolutely, and I am sure that it is warmly welcomed with Christmas and the new year upon us.

May I say that we have reduced the time limit to five minutes as we come to the general debate?

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General matters

5.21 pm

Chris Skidmore (Kingswood) (Con): I wish to discuss history teaching in schools, because the study of history in schools has reached an all-time low. Last year, for the first time, the proportion of pupils being entered for history GCSE dropped beneath 30%, but the situation is actually far worse than that. Yesterday, I released a report, “History in Schools: A School Report”, which reveals that in vast areas of the country—often in the most deprived areas of our nation—history is being forgotten entirely. In 77 local authorities fewer than one in five pupils is passing history GCSE, but we need to break the figures down and examine individual local authorities, because in places such as Knowsley under 8% of pupils are passing history GCSE. Only four pupils in the whole of that local authority area passed A-level history. In 2010, 159 schools in this country did not enter a single pupil for history GCSE. We must address the situation urgently.

Often it is the Daily Mail or academics who discuss what type of history should be studied in schools, whose history should be studied, how history should be studied in the curriculum, whether we should have a narrative form of history or a more interpretive form of history that looks at sources, and whether history should be seen as a framework of facts. The Government are instituting a curriculum review, and we welcome that. I hope that it will examine the process whereby history is studied in bite-sized chunks and pupils do not get a sense of a narrative framework of history—they dot around from ancient Egypt to the Victorians, then on to the Tudors and off to 20th century history. Although we can debate whose history and what type of history should be studied, we should not deny that history is a crucial subject that binds us as one nation. However, it is becoming a subject of two nations, and that is the issue that I wish to raise with the House.

Britain is dangerously isolated in Europe—and not for a good reason— because we are the only nation apart from Albania that does not make the study of history compulsory beyond 14. I do not believe that we should be in that club, so I put my case to the Government that although the curriculum review is ongoing and will carry on until 2014, there has never been a more compelling time to make history a compulsory subject to study to 16. If I was to tell the Minister what my ideal Christmas present would be, as the vice-chair of the all-party group on archives and history, I would say that it would be to make the study of history compulsory to 16 for all pupils. I wish everyone a happy Christmas.

5.24 pm

Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): What a pleasure it is to follow a speech from a Member on the Government Benches that I would have been honoured and delighted to have made myself.

I want to talk a little about the history of the Arab countries, because exactly one year ago a humble vegetable seller, Mohammed Bouazizi, set himself on fire in the small town of Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia, protesting at his humiliation by the state. That act set off what we now call the Arab spring, a process of revolutionary change that today remains as unclear as the revolutions of 1789 or 1917 remained unclear 12 months after the storming of the Bastille or the Winter palace.

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Sadly, we are seeing how history repeats itself, not, as Marx wrote, first as tragedy and then as farce, but as tragedy followed by tragedy. Revolutions devour their children and nowhere is that more true than in the Arab and Maghreb world. Gaddafi is gone but Libya is full of violence. The Syrian people get warm words from the west but nothing more as they are killed daily. The King of Bahrain came for tea at Downing street and the next thing we saw was a helpless woman being dragged away in front of cameras back in Bahrain as if the ruling elites there were sending a message to our Prime Minister that they did not care a fig about human rights.

In Tunis today, the Manouba university’s faculty of letters, with 8,000 students, is occupied by Islamist ideologues insisting that girls wear the niqab and veil their faces if they want to be students. We are learning, perhaps too late, that Islamism is not a friendly ideology but remains a political construct aimed at destroying human freedoms.

We have had to watch Egyptian soldiers faced with a peaceful protest pull a woman from the crowd and drag her painfully along the ground, exposing her breasts, before a brutal soldier stamps his booted foot on her chest. What is our Government’s response? Yesterday, the Foreign Secretary issued the blandest of bland statements:

“The unrest of recent days shows the scale of the challenges which Egypt’s political system must address including the need to build full respect for human rights.”

That was all the Foreign Secretary could say. “Unrest” is putting it uber-mildly, as 13 people have been shot dead by the Egyptian army, acting on orders, and hundreds have been wounded since Friday prayers last week. A military dictatorship is revealing itself in Egypt, aided by Islamists with that ideology’s extremely limited concept of freedom and democracy.

We do not know the name of the young woman who has been in many newspapers, but we do know the name of the 26-year-old Egyptian blogger Maikel Nabil. He is now on the 118th day of a hunger strike that might well claim his life as he is taking only water at the moment. Nabil began earlier this year by blogging that

“the Egyptian army and the people are of one hand”,

meaning that the two were working together for democracy. He changed his mind and later wrote that the army and the people were

“no longer of one hand”

when he saw the army repressing protesters. For publishing that incontrovertible journalistic truth, he was charged with “insulting the Egyptian military” and a military tribunal convicted him last April in a fake legal process. Last week in a retrial, amid the renewed brutality in Tahrir square, his conviction was upheld.

The tribunal’s decision has been condemned by Reporters Without Borders and by the US State Department. I want to take advantage of this pre-Christmas debate to ask for our Foreign Secretary to add his own—and, I believe, Parliament’s—voice in calling for the immediate release of Maikel Nabil, who might well die soon, just as Mohammed Bouazizi died on 4 January this year when he sacrificed his life to call attention to the lack of freedom in Tunisia. Mr Nabil is taking only water now. His sacrifice is also in protest at the fact that Egypt’s

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ruling military council has put on trial 12,000 people in the post-Mubarak era, more civilians than were tried during all of Mubarak’s rule.

Throughout history military tribunals dealing with civilians who irritate the generals work on the basis of presumption not of innocence but of guilt. There is no right to cross-examine witnesses or evidence, and no consideration of the evidence is permitted. There is no right of appeal. Nabil and the 12,000 Egyptians now in prison had no right to their own lawyer. This is Soviet-style justice, or perhaps could seem even worse if one considers justice in the Nazi era.

I hope British lawyers will be able to go to Cairo to help Mr Nabil and other prisoners of conscience. I ask our Foreign Secretary to call in the Egyptian ambassador and demand Nabil’s immediate release and British generals who have hosted their Egyptian fellow army officers should place some calls to Cairo and say that the Egyptian military will be covered in shame if Maikel Nabil dies at their hands.

The Arab spring is at a crossroads. Britain should speak loud and clear for justice and democracy.

5.29 pm

Mr David Amess (Southend West) (Con): Before the House adjourns for the Christmas recess, there are a number of points that I wish to raise. I congratulate the Prime Minister on not signing the latest European treaty. Future generations will have every cause to thank him, and some of the French politicians behaved with less than great dignity.

Of course, next year we will host the Olympic games. I am delighted that 95% of the population will be within travelling distance of the Olympic torch route. I am delighted to say that the torch will visit Southend on 6 July. We are also fortunate to have the mountain bike event at Hadleigh.

Southend has not been so lucky when it comes to the national census. In 2001, 20,000 people were left off the census, and exactly the same seems to be happening this time. It is simply not good enough.

I am delighted that Visteon pensioners are receiving support. I understand that legal proceedings are drawing to a conclusion; I wish those pensioners well in all their endeavours.

Whistleblowing has become very fashionable, but not all whistleblowers are right, and there is every reason why constituents should know, through the Freedom of Information Act, who the whistleblower was when they have been wrongly accused.

With Christmas just around the corner, I urge the House to think of Camp Ashraf, as the deadline for its closure draws ever nearer. If protection is not given to the people there, Iraqi forces might attack them. It is our duty to put pressure on the Iraqi Government to postpone the deadline, and to ensure that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is allowed to evacuate the refugees safely.

Christmas is a wonderful time for giving, but many people give pets, and the result is absolutely disastrous: 11,500 pets were dumped last Christmas, so I hope that people will think very carefully before giving pets as presents this year.

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A recent survey has shown that 16% of the population would quite happily buy fake fragrance. I would like to advise against the purchase of fake perfume; not only is it economically damaging, costing the real industry as much as £319 million a year, but it is dangerous for the user, with the potential for allergic reactions. I congratulate the Real Deal campaign on what it is trying to do.

I should also like to draw attention to the dangers of pocket lighters. According to a recent poll, one in 10 Brits has had an accident with a lighter, or knows someone who has. A worrying 79% of lighters sold in the UK do not conform to safety standards outlined in European regulations; I hope that the appropriate Department will have a look at that.

Sadly, hate crime is a growing problem, and it is particularly potent when it affects people who are learning-disabled. People with learning disabilities need to be helped to report hate crime, and I congratulate Southend Mencap on what it is trying to do.

I am still astounded at the way in which single parents are left isolated by what was the Child Support Agency. We brought before the House legislation that was supposed to help families, but I have in my constituency a Mrs O’Connor who has been struggling to get help for the past seven years. Her husband pays £5 a week towards the children. The latest letter that I got from the agency did not give a direct, personal line; it just gave a general line. That is absolutely disgraceful. The break-up of families is unfortunately an increasing phenomenon in today’s society. I commend the family justice review’s report, which mentions giving more power to grandparents.

I end with some thoughts about this place. When I first became an MP, I could make a real difference to people’s lives. Unfortunately, increasingly I can do so only at the margin. One need only look at Parliament square, where we still have demonstrations, or at the ridiculous arrangements at the Curtis Green building. An important announcement was made about a local hospital, and Monitor did not even have a conversation with me—it just sent out a press release. That simply is not good enough. We need to get back ownership of this place, which was destroyed in 1997.

As far as next year is concerned, I hope that my mother, Maud, will be able to celebrate her 100th birthday in April; I hope that the Queen will have a wonderful diamond jubilee; and we all look forward to the Olympic games. I wish everyone a very happy Christmas, good health, peace, prosperity, and a wonderful new year.

5.34 pm

Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): I want to speak briefly about two things: first, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and, secondly, Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority—a subject into which I will segue with surprisingly little effort; as you will discover, Mr Deputy Speaker, there is a significant link between the two.

Today, the incumbent President, Joseph Kabila, was invested in office again after an election that was preposterous. It was condemned strongly by the United States and France—and by Belgium; one might not normally think that terribly important, but in the case of the Congo, the Belgians’ position is quite important. Europe looks to Belgium to give a moral lead in some historical respect. The Carter Center observed the elections

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and said that they were not valid. The Open Society Institute did the same. In general, the position of most Governments, including the UK Government, is that the elections were a farce.

Nevertheless, Joseph Kabila turns out to be still in power. It is one of those odd situations where it is hard to break off diplomatic relations with a country because it has flawed elections. Many countries do not have elections at all, but the Congo is one of those worrying cases where things are going backwards. It had pretty well organised, well run elections funded by the international community back in 2006. This time, early in the year, President Kabila changed the rules to take out the second round of elections because he did not think he would win in the second round. He thought he would win easily in the first round. As the campaigning moved on, it looked as though he might lose in the first round, so it looks awfully like some manipulation took place, although nobody could see it. The manipulation occurs in the places where the ballot boxes are tipped out—sometimes just tipped out all over the floor and sometimes actually counted.

Some remarkable results emerged. In Katanga, where President Kabila clearly has a fantastic campaigning machine, he managed to get 99.8% of the vote—remarkable. His getting the vote out and his ID work must have been truly magnificent—99.8% of the vote. Only more remarkable than that is the fact that the turnout in Katanga, his own stronghold, was 100.14%—astonishing success in the Congo. Perhaps we should be watching how those politicians campaign and what the campaigning methods are. On the other hand, perhaps not.

Mr MacShane: Was it AV?

Eric Joyce: There are direct elections in the Congo, of course, for the president. The parliamentary elections, which took place at the same time, will be counted shortly and the results will come out in January. We should probably have no more confidence in those. That is a great shame. I urge the UK Government to take a very strong position. As time goes by it is hard to deal with such a Government. We give considerable international development aid. We cannot reduce that; it goes directly through NGOs, but I hope the Government will take a strong position in the coming weeks and months.

I shall now segue into IPSA. The President of the Congo has a cunning ruse. It is not that cunning, actually. He simply takes national assets, sells them to a mate for a pittance and then his mate sells them on for a few hundred million dollars profit. He has done it many times now. I have stuck it on my website for all who may be interested to see it. He has done it to the tune of $5 billion or $6 billion in the past two years. One such deal involved a company listed in the UK, a company called Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation, better known as ENRC.

The deal is well known and has been extensively written about. I urge all Members to google it. It is an absolute shocker of a deal. It is quite clear that it was a very ropey and dodgy deal. One of the primary defenders of the deal is a man called Ken Olisa, who was a member of the board of ENRC. He said at the time, “I wouldn’t have joined the board if I thought there was anything ropey, if anything crooked was going on.” That was just before he was famously sacked by the

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ENRC oligarchs who run it. He then changed his tune and is famously quoted as saying that the company is more soviet than City. This is a company that essentially enables the President of the Congo to rip off the people of the Congo.

IPSA has five board members—very experienced individuals who draw on their own experience. There is an accountant/academic, a former judge, a former quangocrat, and even a former Member of Parliament, so a pretty good bunch, except that the business man on IPSA is none other than Ken Olisa. I find that absolutely staggering. When I spoke about the subject last time, I was not even aware of it. Someone tweeted, “Perhaps Joyce ought to look at Ken Olisa’s other job before he slags off Ken Olisa again.” It is absolutely astonishing that that man should be on the board of IPSA, carrying out a function that we all agree is very important. I hope he may have the chance to reflect on whether his position on the board is appropriate.

5.39 pm

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): The preamble to the charter of the United Nations says that the UN was created

“to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war . . . to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and . . . to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained”.

It refers to the need

“to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom, and… to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours”.

It states that

“armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest,”

and that international machinery should be employed

“for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all peoples”.

Article 1 of the UN charter, in chapter 1, refers to the need to

“develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace”

and to encourage

“respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion”.

Following that introduction, I would like to refer to the UN declaration of the rights of indigenous peoples, which was adopted on 13 September 2007. Article 8 states that indigenous peoples have a collective and individual right to maintain and develop their distinct identities and characteristics, including the right to identify themselves as indigenous and to be recognised as such. It states that indigenous peoples should

“be free from discrimination of any kind”

and that we need to recognise

“the urgent need to respect and promote the inherent rights of indigenous peoples which derive from their political, economic and social structures and from their cultures, spiritual traditions, histories and philosophies, especially their rights to their lands, territories and resources”.

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Sadly, there is one country in the world with which this country, every country in the European Union and the United States of America have very strong links, but which practises policies of ethnic cleansing and apartheid against its indigenous people. I refer to the state of Israel. The Israeli Cabinet took the decision on 11 September to proceed with a plan for attempting to resolve the long-standing issues faced by the country’s 200,000 Arab Bedouin population living in the southern Negev desert. The plan, known as the Prawer plan, will result in at least 30,000 people losing their homes. It is expected to be put to the Israeli Parliament any time now. The Bedouin community was not consulted when the plan was drawn up and already faces serious human rights violations through discriminatory policies.

The Bedouin are Israel’s indigenous people, as has been accepted by the UN special rapporteur on indigenous peoples, but the Israeli Government refuse to accept that and withhold several rights that are accorded to them under international law. Israel now wants to try to move tens of thousands of Bedouin from their homes and villages into Government townships that are already overcrowded and have a whole range of social and economic problems.

Earlier this year I had the privilege of visiting Palestine/Israel, the west bank and east Jerusalem. I witnessed at first hand policies of ethnic cleansing and apartheid against the Palestinian people in the occupied territories, which is a separate matter to that of the Arab Bedouin. We have heard today about the Arab spring, but I am referring to the Arab winter. Palestinian children are being arrested, ill treated—arguably tortured—and some of them are being detained in Israel in violation of article 76 of the fourth Geneva convention.

Because of the illegal walls built by the state of Israel across the west bank, today Mary and Joseph would not have been able to get to Bethlehem, the shepherds would have been ethnically cleansed and the three kings would not have been allowed into Palestine. I am amazed that the leaders of the Christian faith around the world, whether the Orthodox Church, the Anglican Church, through the Archbishop of Canterbury, or the Pope, have remained silent. It is time that the Christian leaders spoke up for the people of the holy land.

5.44 pm

Tony Lloyd (Manchester Central) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell), and I pay tribute to his remarks. I shall stay in the middle east, but stick with the theme that my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) introduced some moments ago of the Arab spring.

The Arab spring is far from off course, and we have to maintain our optimism and hope that it can deliver to the peoples of that region justice and, for the first time in all our lifetimes, the prospect of democracy, but worrying developments are taking place, even in countries with which Britain has the closest of relationships.

We know that 14 people have been killed by the security forces in Egypt since last Friday; we know that beatings are taking place; and we know of the case of the young woman who was half-stripped by the security forces, dragged along the floor and forced to reveal her underwear in what was a shameful act. Britain has strong relations with Egypt, but I endorse my right hon.

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Friend’s plea that its ambassador should be summoned to the Foreign Office and told of the serious concerns that this House and the people of Britain have about the actions of the security forces in a country that we value as a friendly nation.

Bahrain is also a country with which Britain has the strongest possible contacts and strong business connections, but we know from recent times that business in countries such as Bahrain is best helped when Britain promotes a strong regard for human rights. So we have to tell the King of Bahrain, with whom we have strong contacts, that the arrest of Zainab Alkhawaja, the blogger known as Angry Arabiya, and her punching by members of the security forces is a disgrace; that he has to address the results of the commission of inquiry that he set up—his own commission—to look into the disturbances there; and that the doctors who were arrested by the security forces for treating the victims of violence should now be released. Those are simple demands, and the Bahraini ambassador should have it made clear to him that this Parliament does not tolerate such abuse of human rights, even by countries with which this country has a close friendship.

In Syria, the situation is much complicated, with 5,000 people dead since the beginning of the Arab spring and the state deaf to any protest. The Russians may be starting to put a little more pressure on their long-time ally in Damascus, but Britain has again to speak out more loudly and to work with its allies in the European Union and at the United Nations to bring pressure on Damascus, because the systematic killing of people and the alleged rape of even children by the security forces is something about which we have to be vocal in the world. All Members would agree with that. We need robust diplomacy in the middle east, stating that human rights and the defence of democracy are in the common interest not simply of people in Britain, but of the ordinary citizens of Bahrain, Syria and Egypt.

Britain’s own interest is in seeing democracy develop in the middle east. My right hon. Friend said that he distrusted Islamist parties, but we have to be a little careful not to portray all Islamist parties as hostile to democracy. In Turkey, for example, democracy is consistent with a moderate Islamist party, so we must not allow the fundamentalists to drive a wedge between our country and such moderate groups.

Finally, on Belarus, almost a year ago to the day I led the international observation mission on the elections there, which were fraudulent from beginning to end and disgracefully ripped off the rights of the people of that country, but I was pleased to see this week a letter in the name of our Foreign Secretary and those of Germany, Poland and Sweden, making clear their position on Belarus. In that country, things go from bad to worse, and we have seen the presidential candidate, Andrei Sannikov, not only arrested and imprisoned, but imprisoned without his own family even being told where he is or able to communicate with him. That is a disgrace of an enormous magnitude and not simply the suppression of democracy, but an attempt to cow any voice—however strong, as Andrei Sannikov’s voice has been—that criticises the Lukashenko regime.

It is right and proper that we now demand the toughest possible EU sanctions on the Lukashenko regime and those around him.

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5.49 pm

Kris Hopkins (Keighley) (Con): I want to spend a few minutes celebrating some of the achievements in my constituency and highlighting some of my constituents’ concerns.

This has been a very difficult year for many of my constituents, particularly those in business. I want to recognise the extraordinary efforts of organisations such as Ilkley Business Forum, which has been offering leadership in bringing businesses together to try to support each other, and in ensuring that other partnerships work effectively in delivering the success of these businesses. I have two messages. First, I would say to constituents: “Buy local and support your local high street and local businesses. Unless you use those services, you might, as people often say, lose them, so please go and support them.” All levels of government have a responsibility to support business, including local government, so I would say, secondly, to Bradford council, of which I was once leader: “Ignore businesses in Keighley and Ilkley at your own peril.” At this time of economic difficulties, raising taxes by putting fees on car parking in those towns is wrong. As one business man said to me recently, “The local council thinks the streets of Ilkley are paved with gold.” Local businesses do not need to have these charges put against them; they need to be supported, and the council needs to reconsider.

We need to increase our capacity in the north. The north wants to make a positive contribution to the economy of this country and to change the dependency on the public sector and promote businesses. I therefore fully support the high-speed train link and want it to expand to Birmingham as soon as possible and then up to the north. Councils and MPs of all parties very much support this, and I give it my 100% backing.

The public sector is undergoing some of the greatest changes in Britain. Cuts to the public sector, particularly in the north, are having a real effect on services and staff. In my last role as leader of the council, I saw the enormous commitment by public sector workers in delivering key services. I know that these are difficult times, and despite the many issues raised, I welcome the positive response by the majority of the trade unions—a response that I have come to respect, as will many other people.

In my constituency, the jewel in the crown is probably Airedale general hospital. I want to acknowledge two “Highly Commended” national awards that the hospital has received and pay tribute to two members of staff, in particular. Senior audiologist Alan Walshaw has been recognised as audiologist of the year 2011, and Jane Downes, the hospital’s company secretary, has become company secretary of the year in a not-for-profit organisation. It is extremely important to recognise that.

Educational attainment and skills are low in the constituency, and if we fail to address these issues, the town will fail. Keighley First locality achievement partnership has already, in its first year, made a significant impact on attendance at schools, and I applaud its efforts. Parkwood primary school and Long Lee primary school have been judged to be outstanding schools by Ofsted.

A few weeks ago, I went to visit Project 6, which is a drug and alcohol treatment centre in town. Such a place is not always the most popular location in anybody’s

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town, but an enormous amount of important work is done there. Three ambassadors talked about their struggles in dealing with drug and alcohol abuse and the effect that it has had on their families. We all, in our towns and constituencies across the country, need to take some responsibility in addressing this. Many of these people want to make a positive contribution to society and not to be a burden. I pay tribute to the staff and volunteers at Project 6 for the work that they do.

The measure of any nation is how it addresses international development. We put an enormous amount of money into international development, and that is important. With other countries, we have helped to vaccinate a quarter of a billion children against diseases that our children do not suffer from; we have saved the lives of very many people in the horn of Africa; and we have put money into schools in Gaza, where 12 new schools are helping 24,000 children.

5.54 pm

Jack Lopresti (Filton and Bradley Stoke) (Con): It is a pleasure to speak in this pre-recess Adjournment debate. I will focus my contribution on two local issues in my constituency. I had planned to talk about three issues, but I guess that it will have to be two because we are short of time. I am sure that I will manage. The two issues are superfast broadband connections and progress on the local campaign to combat antisocial behaviour.

There is demand for superfast broadband across Bradley Stoke, which is a new town and the largest population centre in the constituency. The sticking point is that any significant undertaking to lay the necessary cables in the town to increase the broadband speed would have to be done at the providers’ cost because the roads are in a good state of repair.

Last year, we started a community broadband campaign that collected more than 1,000 signatures to demonstrate the demand for improvements to the Almondsbury exchange. Although I appreciate that there are local infrastructure issues, it is difficult to see why the private sector is not capitalising better on that demand. We also hosted a meeting with the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) and the local authority. The Minister told us that to help solve the problem, the Government have set up a scheme to provide £530 million of funding to improve broadband provision across the country.

To ensure that South Gloucestershire council is able to benefit from the scheme, the Conservative-run council is working with Broadband Delivery UK to develop a local broadband plan, setting out how homes and businesses would benefit from improved broadband provision. Progress has not been as quick as I and some of my constituents would like. I am as keen as they are that concrete results emerge soon and I am hopeful that they will.

South Gloucestershire council had been working with Bath and North East Somerset council on a joint superfast broadband plan to submit to the Government for approval. However, at its November meeting, the Bath and North East Somerset cabinet decided to pull out of the plan. It made no sense for the Lib Dem administration to pull out of the joint plan with South Gloucestershire council, given all the benefits that superfast broadband could

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bring to households and businesses across both districts. I am pleased to report that progress is none the less being made behind the scenes. I hope to give positive news to my constituents on this matter early in the new year.

Hon. Members may remember that several months ago, in another pre-recess debate, I called for antisocial behaviour to be taken much more seriously by the police force that serves my area. I had been contacted by residents in Filton who were concerned that antisocial behaviour was being allowed to get out of control and was becoming a daily occurrence in some areas.

I am pleased to say that we have made significant progress in ensuring that the local police put the appropriate amount of time and energy into tackling antisocial behaviour. I am in constant contact with Avon and Somerset police, including with Chief Constable Colin Port, with whom I have an effective working relationship. In my mind, local policing has improved greatly because local people’s priorities are being considered and swift action is being taken. I pay particular tribute to Inspector Robert Evely, who has worked tirelessly to ensure that local residents feel safe and that their voice is heard in local police decision making.

When local policing takes into account local feelings, it can only be for the better. That is why I am such a strong supporter of the Government’s policy of police and crime commissioners and the elections that will take place in November 2012. Police and crime commissioners will be directly elected and accountable to the public who elected them and whom they serve. They will help to repair the broken link that I believe exists between the public and the police service. It is a fantastic policy that will be of huge benefit to residents in my area. I encourage all my constituents to take an interest, to participate in the elections and, if they are so minded, to consider running for the office.

5.58 pm

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): It is a great pleasure to speak in this recess debate. First, I want to talk about Feniton, which is a village in my constituency that was flooded badly in 2008. In the village there are many bungalows. When they were flooded, a lot of elderly people had to go up into their lofts to get away from the floods. As one can imagine, that was a terrifying experience.

There are schemes to alleviate flooding in Feniton in the future. One scheme is to build ponds in the fields at the top of the village to collect water so that it does not rush down through the village, and thus to prevent flooding. The other plan is to build a pipe through the village to take water away more quickly. The only problem with the second solution is that it would take water down to the bottom end of the village, which would probably flood that area. I therefore think that the ponds at the top of the village are the answer. I am looking to the Environment Agency and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to help finance that. I know that money is tight, but I am particularly interested in trying to help my constituents in Feniton.

The other issue that I wish to raise is the aggregates levy sustainability fund, which was set up in April 2002 by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and is intended to promote more environmentally friendly extraction of aggregates and to control the impact on local people.

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There is a quarry at the villages of Westleigh and Burlescombe in my constituency, where some 750,000 tonnes of aggregate a year is extracted. The roads through Burlescombe are particularly poor and there are a lot of old cottages there, so the transportation of that aggregate is bad not only for the safety of the village but for its properties. The extraction produces something like £1.5 million a year of aggregates tax—a tax that was set up to help local people. I should like the Government to consider, as part of the Localism Bill, allowing some of that tax to be kept locally instead of being gobbled up by the Treasury, however exciting and necessary that might be.

The quarry has some 25 to 30 years to run, so we can imagine the millions of tonnes of stone that will travel through the village. It is high time that we worked out a way in which a percentage of the aggregates tax could be siphoned off and ring-fenced for the village of Burlescombe. That would bring some relief to the village.

There is also a tarmac plant at the Westleigh quarry, which runs day and night at times, especially at times of the year when there is a great demand for tarmac. Again, the villagers have to put up with lorries going through the village very late at night. It is high time that the Government, who are very keen on ensuring that local people have a say, give them a say on how the aggregates tax is spent. It may take several years, but a road and relief could be provided for the villagers of Burlescombe and Westleigh if just a small levy were put on the aggregates tax.

I will be interested to hear what Ministers have to say about that matter, because many of my colleagues throughout the country will have quarries in their constituencies and be in the same position. Why should people who have to put up with the problems of quarrying not get any benefit from the aggregates tax, which was set up to look after local people?

6.2 pm

Gordon Henderson (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Con): My local community has lost two friends in the past couple of weeks. First there was the very sad passing last week of Councillor Brenda Simpson, who was an outstanding member of Swale borough council for 23 years. Brenda was a perfect ward councillor who, despite being a staunch Conservative, always put the interests of her Kemsley community before party politics. She was honest, hard-working and a thoroughly nice person, and she will be missed by friend and political foe alike.

This month we also witnessed the death of the East Kent Gazette, which closed its doors after 156 years of publication. My heart goes out to the hard-working staff who face the prospect of losing their jobs.

This year we also witnessed the closure of Sittingbourne magistrates court, which was killed off by the Ministry of Justice despite a promise made to local people that it would remain open when Sheerness magistrates court was closed a few years ago. I am convinced that the closure will lead to some of my constituents being denied the access to justice to which they are entitled.

Sadly, there are more closures in the pipeline. For instance, we are fighting to keep open Queenborough fire station, which Kent fire and rescue service wants to close on the grounds that the number of houses in the area does not warrant a fire station. That ignores the fact that there are plans to build another 2,500 homes in Queenborough in the foreseeable future.

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We are also fighting to save the Sheerness county youth club, which is under threat from Kent county council despite being acknowledged as one of the best youth clubs in the county.

We have a number of other challenges, too. For instance, our local road infrastructure needs upgrading if we are to prevent the centre of Sittingbourne from becoming gridlocked in the not-too-distant future. For a start, we need urgent action to ease congestion on the A2 and on the A249 at the Stockbury roundabout, which is a nightmare during rush hour. In addition, we want to see a commitment to complete the final stretch of the northern relief road in Sittingbourne and agreement in principle for a southern relief road.

Last week we learned that there are now almost 3,000 people unemployed in my constituency, an increase of 200 on the last quarter. But despite that increase I am quite upbeat about the future prospects for employment in my constituency. Recently Swale borough council approved planning applications for two new Morrisons supermarkets in the area, one in Sittingbourne and one in Sheppey. Tesco has also received planning approval for a major regeneration of Sittingbourne town centre. Those developments alone will create up to 1,500 very welcome jobs. Of course, because of their size, there might be a temptation for the Government to call in one or more of those planning applications. I would urge Ministers to resist that temptation so that those jobs can be delivered without delay.

In Sittingbourne and Sheppey we are lucky to have some excellent schools, including six secondary schools, all of which have either achieved academy status or are hoping to become academies. But a number of those schools are in urgent need of capital investment. I understand why the Government scrapped the ill-thought-out and badly managed Building Schools for the Future programme, but I very much hope that money will be made available to the schools in my constituency who desperately need to upgrade their buildings in order to maintain the excellent standards that they currently achieve.

Finally, there is one other bit of good news for my constituency, and it is literally good news! The Kent Messenger Group has stepped into the breach caused by the closure of the East Kent Gazette and last week launched a new paid-for paper in my constituency. It is called the Sittingbourn e News Extra, and judging by its first edition, it promises to provide Sittingbourne and its surrounding villages with the local news to which they have become accustomed. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the editor and staff of the Sittingbourn e News Extra on the quality of their paper and welcome them to our local community.

There is so much more that I could say about my constituency, of which I am very proud, but sadly time does not allow me to do anything other than wish you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and other right hon. and hon. Members, a merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and peaceful new year.

6.6 pm

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): On the face of it, my constituency might seem well served by transport as it has an international airport, the largest dock complex in the country and 10 railway stations, including

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one that serves two farms and an ancient ruin, and was used by 13 passengers in 2010. But the road network needs a little improvement. The main road into the constituency is the A180, but the A160 off to Immingham dock—which, as I said, is the largest dock complex in the country—is in urgent need of an upgrade.

The last message I had from the Department for Transport said that the upgrade was included in 12 future schemes that should receive development funds, and that a decision would be taken by the end of the year. So time is running out and this is my last opportunity to lobby Ministers about the importance of the A160. Not only does it serve the existing Immingham dock, but it will serve one of the two new enterprise zones in the area, so it is clearly of vital importance.

I welcome the Government’s recent decisions to grant those enterprise zones that status, and we also gained from the announcement that the Immingham bypass would at long last go ahead, as well as the halving of the Humber bridge tolls. May I also draw Ministers’ attention to the urgent need for a direct rail service from the constituency to London? About a year ago I met Alliance Rail, which is keen to do this, and it told me that its plans were still in the system. But the byzantine procedures that they have to go through for the opportunity to run a rail service are complex beyond belief. If we are to go ahead with High Speed 2 and develop our rail network, we must put together a system that reaches decisions rather more quickly. If the Victorians had been locked into the present system, our trains would still be pulled by Stephenson’s Rocket, and the network would not have expanded as it did. There is no incentive for rail companies to provide extra services.

That is typified by the service that runs on Saturdays only from Cleethorpes to Brigg, Kirton in Lindsey and Gainsborough, and then on to Sheffield. We have a good service to Sheffield via Doncaster, but I am eager for people from Gainsborough—I can see my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr Leigh) in his place—to be able to use that service to take their families for a day out in Cleethorpes, where they can enjoy Pleasure Island and see the attractions that the “Cleethorpes in bloom” committee has organised.

Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): And the other way round.

Martin Vickers: I thank my hon. Friend.

Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is making the case eloquently for the links between good transport infrastructure and economic development, but does he agree that direct train services are pivotal to that? Sometimes London does not realise that direct services—

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. That is far too long an intervention. May I just say to Members that time is tight? I want to get everybody in, but time is very tight indeed. If people are going to give way, they should remember that the extra minute will come off somebody else’s time. Please let us try to ensure that we get everybody in.

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Martin Vickers: I certainly agree with the hon. Lady’s point. It is vital for growth and economic development that we should have direct services. However, the system is so complex that there is no incentive for existing railway companies to expand. They can pile people on to existing services, but where is the incentive to take the commercial risk and develop a new service? We must do something to improve the situation.

Finally, I want to return to the vexed subject of the Humber bridge tolls. Members will appreciate that in his autumn statement the Chancellor halved the tolls. That is a great boost to the economy of the local area. Sadly, there is a fly in the ointment: the four local authorities have to reach agreement, because otherwise legislation is required. Three of the local authorities, under a mixture of political control, have agreed that the underwriting of the remaining debt should be split equally between them. Unfortunately, the leader of North East Lincolnshire council has taken a rather obstinate and petulant position, saying that that should be divided according to population.

I have written to the Economic Secretary to the Treasury and the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker)—the two Ministers who conducted the recent review. However, may I urge those on the Front Bench to pass on my concerns to both those Ministers and all concerned, and ask that whatever pressure is possible be applied, so that this matter can be resolved? After 25 years of campaigning we now have the opportunity to give the local economy a real boost, and give easier and cheaper access to those who have to cross the bridge to obtain health treatment. Now is the time to do that. I urge Ministers to do all they can to resolve this issue as quickly as possible.