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Westminster Hall

Wednesday 17 April 2013

[Mr George Howarth in the Chair]

Bus Services (Yorkshire and Humber)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Nicky Morgan.)

2.30 pm

Fabian Hamilton (Leeds North East) (Lab): It is, as always, a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. Before I start the debate, I should apologise for being unable to stay for the entire afternoon. The debate was originally scheduled for 9.30 this morning, but owing to the funeral of Baroness Thatcher, the business of the House begins at 2.30 this afternoon, as hon. Members are aware. However, because I have had a meeting, in Parliament, with two constituents arranged since January and because those constituents had purchased their rail tickets in advance, I could not put them off, so I hope that you, Mr Howarth, the Minister, the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue), and all other colleagues present will forgive me for leaving early in what I hope they agree are exceptional circumstances.

It is a pleasure to open this debate on a subject that at first glance might seem rather complex and perhaps a little esoteric, but what we are about to debate is very far from that. In fact, it is fundamental to the future of so many people, especially young people, who are desperate for work, education or training—not just in Yorkshire and the Humber, but throughout the country. I am absolutely certain of that. Why did I choose such a seemingly long title for the debate, as on the Order Paper? I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), who has been extremely active, both in her constituency and throughout the region, in drawing attention to a matter that, unless it is resolved soon, could well make the difference between renewed economic growth and further decline. It really is that important. Like me, she felt that it was not possible to reduce the title of the debate any further, because it was essential to include all the issues that needed to be discussed.

It might be helpful to hon. Members if I first remind them of the background to bus services in England outside London. In October 1986, the late Baroness Thatcher’s Conservative Government first deregulated bus services, allowing private contractors to run registered routes commercially and in competition with one another, and to tender for registered routes that were deemed to be unprofitable and were therefore subsidised by local ratepayers, later to become council tax payers of course. Local authorities were no longer allowed to run their own not-for-profit bus services, so the famous Sheffield buses, which in the mid-’80s cost as little as 2p per journey across the city, were doomed.

Contrary to popular belief at the time, I understand that many business rate payers in the centre of Sheffield were angry, because although their rates were relatively high, the cheapness of bus fares from the outlying

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villages and suburbs of the great city of Sheffield meant that city centre shops were always busy and profitable for their owners. Once the subsidies stopped and the routes became commercialised, the fares went up sharply, often putting them beyond the reach of many in the city and its outlying areas. A measure that was intended to lower bus fares through competition increased them massively in some cases.

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the other impact of deregulation in cities such as Sheffield was proportionately to increase the number of cars on the road and to decrease the number of people using local public transport?

Fabian Hamilton: I thank my hon. Friend for that important intervention. I remember clearly that in October 1986 the route that I used to travel from my then home in Armley, Leeds, to the city centre was via the Armley gyratory—a massive roundabout and huge junction on the western side of Leeds. Up to that point in October 1986, the traffic queue was not that great at 8.30 in the morning, but I remember that, immediately following deregulation, the queues trebled. Everyone had got on the buses, but they suddenly became much more expensive. That had been predicted by the Labour Opposition and by the local authority, of which I was about to become a member.

In my city of Leeds, the former City and the former West Yorkshire bus services became a commercial company—some may recall that it was called Yorkshire Rider—and it made a small number of former public servants very wealthy as they became managers of a cash-rich commercial service mandatorily divorced from the public service that they once received a salary to operate. Other commercial operators entered the field, but were soon swallowed up by Yorkshire Rider, which did not like the competition. Eventually, of course, Yorkshire Rider itself was swallowed up by an even larger concern, so that today there is a virtual monopoly in Leeds, with First Bus operating almost all commercial bus services not just in Leeds, but in Bradford, Wakefield and the surrounding districts of West Yorkshire. What was once a public service had become a cash generator, and the travelling public, so dependent on buses, were left to pay the cost of ever-increasing fares, caused by the need to make a profit and the sharply rising fuel prices that added to the misery.

I shall spare my colleagues the history of the fiasco of the Leeds Supertram during the past 10 years. Suffice it to say that the lack of any alternative public transport to the bus network in Leeds has made buses even more critical for non-car owners. The Labour Government, however, tried to do something for bus passengers—I will refrain from calling them customers—with the concept of quality bus contracts. In government, Labour legislated to enable local authorities to reverse bus deregulation in their area by introducing a quality contract—in effect, a move to tendered bus services.

Under a quality contract, the accountable transport authority sets the fares and plans the network, while private operators bid to run the services. That model exists in London, where deregulation of the bus network never took place. A number of Labour-run integrated transport authorities are consulting on introducing quality contracts for their local bus services. This Government

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claim that they will not block transport authorities from pursuing quality contracts, yet they are reforming bus funding in a way that creates a financial disincentive for councils to go down that route.

Department for Transport guidelines for local transport authorities applying for funding from the new better bus area fund state that only voluntary partnerships with bus operators, not quality contracts, will be eligible for funding:

“Bus services can thrive in areas where local authorities and bus operators work together to identify and solve problems, so proposals will only be considered if supported by key bus operator(s).”

The source for that quote is the Department for Transport’s “Better Bus Area Fund: Guidance for Bidders”, published in December 2011.

Labour published a paper containing a number of proposals to reform local transport, as part of the policy review entitled “Empowering communities to improve transport”. The proposals would enable transport authorities to improve local bus services through greater regulatory powers over fares and routes, and a new statutory power for the Secretary of State for Transport to designate bus deregulation exemption zones.

My hon. Friend the Member for Garston and Halewood (Maria Eagle), the shadow Secretary of State for Transport, said in her speech to the 2011 Labour party conference:

“Devolving funding and decision making over transport is making a real difference in our cities. But in government we didn’t go far enough. That’s why our policy review has been looking at how we can devolve more transport responsibilities.”

She referred, among other things, to local and regional rail services.

How, then, does all that relate to the support necessary for young people in our region and throughout the country to be able to access jobs, training or education? Perhaps the Yorkshire Post put it best, when on 28 February this year it said:

“SPENDING on buses could give Ministers a quicker and cheaper way to help the economy than investing in ‘big ticket’ transport infrastructure, according to a new report.

The research found bus services in England’s major urban areas outside London are responsible for economic benefits worth around £2.5bn.

The report from pteg”—

the Passenger Transport Executive Group—

“which represents passenger transport executives such as Metro and SYPTE”—

the South Yorkshire passenger transport executive—

“in Yorkshire, suggests grants to bus operators generate £2.80 for every £1 spent while every £1 used to support concessionary fares generates £1.50.

It also found that the majority of the bus industry’s £5bn turnover every year is ploughed back into the areas where operators work through their supply chains and because their staff live in the area.

Pteg chairman David Brown said: ‘This report suggests that whilst there is a great deal of focus on big transport infrastructure schemes as a way of generating growth, the urban bus also deserves more attention from policy makers.

Investing more in the bus could be one of the biggest bargains there is for government in supporting big city economies, in getting the jobless back to work and in addressing some deep rooted, and ultimately costly, social challenges.’

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The report was published yesterday as councillors in Barnsley raised concerns over the impact of poor transport links on the town’s economy. Councillors on the authority’s economy and skills scrutiny commission warned transport issues were harming efforts to help the long term unemployed back into work. Young people, particularly in the west of the district, were finding it ‘almost impossible’ to access apprenticeships because of poorly served bus routes, the commission found.

Commission chairman coun Dick Wraith said: ‘The council and its partners are doing everything they can to bring new jobs to Barnsley, and that hard work needs to continue.

However, we need to make sure that local people can get to the jobs that are out there, especially young people, who can lose out to older competitors who have their own transport and don’t need to rely on bus services to get them to work.’”

I thank the Yorkshire Post for that article.

Chris Waterman, of the Rural Access to Learning Group, contacted me to tell me what his group, which is concentrating on the connection between transport in rural areas and access to learning, especially for young people, is considering. He said that it is trying to promote a wide-ranging discussion at national and local level on the future development and funding of student transport in rural areas. Although many parts of our region of Yorkshire and the Humber are highly urbanised, it also has huge rural areas dotted with many villages where huge numbers of residents, especially young people, find themselves completely stranded without decent and affordable bus services.

Chris told me about a female student who started an evening course that finishes at 9 pm. She lives on a bus route, 3 miles from the college, but the service has recently been reduced and the last bus now passes her home at 8.15 pm. During the winter months, the student was understandably nervous about having to walk home in the dark and, having no access to a car, decided that she could not stay the course. I am glad to say that Chris told me that the college made an exception and funded taxi services for that student for that course at that time. Not all students are that lucky. Many will have to ditch their courses because they simply cannot get to and from college in time. RALG will produce a report on the issue, which will significantly contribute to the debate and, I hope, offer helpful solutions. I am grateful to Chris Waterman for his assistance and look forward to reading the proposals that RALG makes.

I hope that many hon. Members will contribute to the debate, so I will not take up too much more time, but important points need to be made and, to conclude, I would like to mention a few of them. First, Ministers promised that funding cuts would not lead to the loss of local bus services, yet many communities have seen significant reductions in vital services and fares have risen, on average, by double the rate of inflation. Secondly, the most vulnerable are the most affected by the loss of local bus services, with 35% of the 5.2 billion bus journeys each year in Britain made by those eligible for concessionary travel.

Thirdly, transport authorities that seek to use the legislation passed by the Labour Government to re-regulate bus services, giving them control over fares and routes, have found themselves frustrated by the bus companies and, I am afraid, a lack of support from the Government.

Fourthly, according to the Department for Transport’s own figures—the annual bus user statistics—bus fares increased by 6.5% in England from June 2011 to June 2012. That is 5.4% in London, 6.8% in metropolitan areas

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and 7.6% in non-metropolitan areas, in just one year. That means that bus fares have gone up, on average, by twice the rate of inflation, which is 3.2%, using the retail prices index rate. The Department’s figures suggest that fares have gone up by a third in five years.

Finally, the largest five bus operating companies in the UK, which jointly control more than 71% of the bus market, made combined operating profits in 2011-12 of more than half a billion pounds.

I hope that the debate highlights some of the key issues frustrating so many of our young people in their attempts to get work, training or education, whether they live in cities, towns or rural areas, whether in the Yorkshire and the Humber region or anywhere else in England.

2.46 pm

Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton) on securing the debate.

I shall begin by speaking personally. When I first came to Sheffield as a student in the late ’80s, bus fares were 2p across town, and that was one of the deciding factors for choosing Sheffield over other places. We were outraged in 1989 when fares increased to 10p, because it put regular bus travel out of the reach for most of us. When I studied, I was lucky to have a full grant—it was before tuition fees were introduced—but the seemingly paltry increase in bus fares meant that I was forced to walk most journeys, because I could not afford to do otherwise.

A student ticket in Sheffield is now 80p. I appreciate that for many of us that does not seem like a lot of money, but students are now saddled with massive debts, so 80p is a considerable investment. As I did, many students choose not to travel by bus due to the cost, instead spending the money on other essentials. During the day, that is fine, and in fact I would probably encourage it, but at night, I am concerned. I worry about the safety of students and young people forced to walk in the dark across town or, as my hon. Friend said, a considerable distance on rural lanes because they cannot afford a bus fare or there is no bus for them to catch.

In Sheffield and most towns, walking is an option, but the situation is compounded if a young person has to travel any distance or be anywhere at a specific time. If an apprentice has to be in work at a set time for example, what are their options? Rely on friends and family for lifts; own, insure and pay exorbitant fuel costs for a car; or risk their life on a bike or scooter. Realistically, the only option is catching the bus. On £2.65 an hour, a daily commute by bus becomes a costly enterprise, and some young people I have spoken to have decided not to take up apprenticeships due to the financial burden, which horrifies me. They are turning down a future because they cannot afford the transport to get there.

In reality, is there even a bus that they can catch? Ministers promised that cuts in funding would not lead to a loss of local bus services, yet many communities have seen significant reductions in vital services. Fares have risen on average by double the rate of inflation. The Government have cut funding for local transport by 28% and direct subsidies to support local bus services

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by a fifth. As a consequence, local authorities have not been able to sustain the previous level of support for unprofitable but socially necessary bus services.

Research has shown that one in five local council-supported bus services were cut or reduced last year, and 41% of local authorities have reported cuts to timetables. Where services have been protected, bus companies have often increased fares to make up for the revenue lost through cuts to subsidies. It is the most vulnerable who are most affected by the loss of a local bus service, with 35% of the 5.2 billion journeys each year in Britain made by those eligible for concessionary travel. Young people have been particularly badly affected, with the loss of services and the rising prices making it harder for them to take up education or training opportunities. The pressure on funding faced by local authorities has seen concessionary travel schemes for young people, which are discretionary, withdrawn or scaled back.

In Rotherham, we are trying to tackle the injustice for young people head-on. The metropolitan borough council is actively pursuing ways to increase young user representation, so that the transport services are fit for purpose. As part of the last 11 million takeover day, when the Youth Parliament runs Rotherham council, the young people particularly wanted to address the matter of transport. Issues raised were primarily about safety and security, the reliability of services, and affordability. Recommendations were made for a more joined-up system, with concessionary tickets on all forms of public transport and better advertising of concessionary fares.

Young people in Rotherham have been invited to attend a number of upcoming boards and consultation meetings. All parties involved, including the council, South Yorkshire passenger transport executive, South Yorkshire police and the individual operators welcome young people’s input. Rotherham council has appointed young people to its transport liaison committee, and the Rotherham transport users group is actively recruiting young people, as they are the people who are aware of the specific issues facing them. In Rotherham, we are trying to make the bus companies apply the 70p fare for young people to through journeys. Currently, if someone gets off one bus and takes another to complete their trip, they are charged 70p for each part of the journey, which often makes the cost prohibitive. Such schemes need to be adopted across the country. Rotherham has shown that by including young people in the decision-making process, change can occur.

Finally, I urge the Government to consider Labour’s proposals to enable transport authorities to improve local bus services through greater regulatory powers over fares and routes, and to consider a new statutory power for the Secretary of State to designate bus deregulation exemption zones. Without those interventions, I am afraid that the future for young people looks bleak.

2.51 pm

Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth, for what I believe is the first time. It is also a pleasure to respond to the contribution made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton). I noticed that on the Annunciator screen he

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was down as the Member for Midlothian—I did not know that Midlothian was in Yorkshire and Humber, but we learn something every day. My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) was eloquent in her exposition of the needs of young people, particularly in south Yorkshire, and of the need to include young people in the decision-making process on bus services, which is something to which I will return later.

For all of us here today, the question of whether to catch a bus is a matter of genuine choice, because every Member of the House of Commons has, I believe, the means to buy a car. For us, whether to use public transport can be an environmental choice. We have the luxury of that position, but for many the choice is to catch a bus or to stay put and not travel at all. The option of private transport still does not exist for many of the elderly, the young, the disabled and the unemployed, and for different reasons. For those people, the bus is essential for getting to the shops, to school, to training, to work or even to that important job interview.

In the plethora of cuts announced by the coalition Government, it is often the cuts least talked about that do the greatest damage. In 2010, the Government cut by 28% the funding to councils for local transport and removed the ring-fencing from funding passed to councils from the Department for Communities and Local Government. In addition, the bus service operators grant was cut by 20%. The combined cuts have resulted in the removal of £500 million from support for bus services. With that level of cuts, it is no surprise that many people who use bus services believe that services have deteriorated in vast swathes of the country. To make matters worse, the cost of catching a bus has increased by double the rate of inflation in the past year alone.

As things stand, and if the cuts continue, it will become harder and harder for many communities to sustain the social mix that is essential to maintaining the lifeblood of, in particular, our rural areas. If those who cannot afford private transport have to move out of their villages and hamlets, all we will have left is lifeless commuter belts. The problem exists not just in the rural south. My constituency is made up of isolated villages and towns on the edge of the two major urban areas of Barnsley and Sheffield. There is often a misunderstanding in the House about rural areas: they do not belong just to the leafy home counties, as metropolitan areas can be made up of significant expanses of rural landmass. South Yorkshire is a good example, and indeed parts of west Yorkshire still have that status. It is the poor and the young who feel the effects of worsening bus services the most, and in the context of high and rising unemployment the problem has become acute.

In my constituency, which is the second wealthiest— for want of a better word—in Sheffield, the rise in unemployment among the young has been very rapid over the past three years; indeed, I think that the figure has increased by 100%. The increase has been far higher elsewhere in south Yorkshire, particularly in areas such as Rotherham, the Dearne, Barnsley East and Barnsley Central. Unemployment is rising among the young in those places, as it is nationally, and it is not hard, therefore, to imagine the difficulties faced by youngsters in the villages in my constituency.

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Young people in villages such as Silkstone, Ingbirchworth, Penistone town, Oughtibridge and High Green are increasingly feeling the pinch because of the cost of bus services—the frequency of service can also be a problem. To access most public services, and to go to work or college or to engage in training, young people in my constituency must travel either to Barnsley or Sheffield, or even perhaps Huddersfield, Wakefield or Leeds. If they have to go over the border, so to speak, into west Yorkshire, the problem becomes particularly acute because they then deal with services run by two different integrated transport authorities. A young person—a local scout leader—frequently contacts me to tell me about the problems he experiences getting to school in Wakefield from, believe it or not, Penistone.

Young people in my area face journeys of many miles on services that are often infrequent, which is not ideal for meeting their needs, and very costly. A good example of the issues faced by many young people in rural and semi-rural areas are those encountered by my ex-part-time caseworker, Alex Guest. He is an intelligent, well-qualified graduate and a great employee, but he lives in the small town of Penistone, which, although in the Barnsley metropolitan district, is 12 miles from Barnsley town centre and 20 miles from the centre of Sheffield. His appointment to the job meant that he had to travel from Penistone to my office in Stocksbridge, which is only four miles away as the crow flies. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North East pointed out, Barnsley has done some work on the difficulties that its young people face in getting to work. Penistone was highlighted in the report it produced, and Alex is a real-life example of why that report has been so important.

The distance between Stocksbridge and Alex’s home in Penistone is only four miles, but the bus service between the two towns is so bad that he could not get to my office to begin work at the usual start time of 9 am. That is impossible on a bus. He could not start work before 10 am and had to leave by 4 pm or face not being able to get home. He could not take a job four miles away from his house with an employer in the next town—a major employer, as there is still a big steel industry there—unless the job was flexible enough to allow him to work between 10 am and 4 pm. Fortunately, I was able to offer him the flexibility to ensure that he could work his hours around the bus service. It was possible for me to do that because he was part-time, but had I offered him a full-time post, I am not sure that I could have allowed him to take up the job offer permanently.

Unfortunately for many other young people, the flexibility that I could offer Alex is not always there and the chance to work is therefore denied them, as is the chance to earn an income and to improve themselves and their skills and prospects. In Alex’s case, I could offer him only part-time work, but the job he did for me gave him the experience, confidence and knowledge to go elsewhere. He now works full-time for another MP—a traitor, I have to say—who is sitting not far away from me: she took my employee from me, but I wish him all the best in his new job. Alex Guest is now contributing and paying his way in society, but I am not sure that that would necessarily be the case if I had not been able to offer him such flexibility.

Some local authorities are doing their best to mitigate the impact of Government cuts on bus services, especially in relation to young people. Praise will be given where it

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is due. I know that the Minister is an advocate for public transport from our various discussions on panels and in other contexts before the general election, when the Liberal Democrats were not in coalition with the Conservatives. I will put it on the record that the Minister helped to get the Sheffield bus partnership up and running, and we are ready to pay tribute to that work. I am told that the new bus partnership in Sheffield has improved things—not massively, but it has improved the situation—but that work does not go far enough.

The South Yorkshire integrated transport authority, with the support of better bus area funding, has introduced a scheme under which apprentices aged between 16 and 24 who are claiming jobseeker’s allowance can have free travel for up to three months. Young people in the same age group who are starting work that is expected to last at least 13 weeks and who have claimed JSA for at least 13 weeks can have free travel for four weeks. It also intends to improve the service by reducing the qualification threshold, so that the service can be extended to more young apprentices.

The South Yorkshire integrated transport authority is working closely with the four youth councils in south Yorkshire, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham said. It is holding a young people’s bus summit with 40 young people next week, on 27 April, in Sheffield. The themes to be discussed, which I think she mentioned, are affordability, accessibility, availability and acceptability, which is an important and often overlooked point about bus services. That event alone demonstrates just how important bus services are for young people in south Yorkshire, an area which outsiders often forget is largely rural or semi-rural, like large parts of the rest of Yorkshire.

However, for our every success and step forward, there always seems to me to be a retreat. Part of Barnsley council’s groundbreaking and innovative approach was the Mi card, which, among other things, allowed all under-18s free travel on buses in the borough. Unfortunately, because of the council’s need to make savings, a charge of 30p per journey now applies. That means that the very good principle that we have extended to elderly people and those over 60 has been withdrawn from a section of the population that, in my view, needs it more than others, as they desperately need to find work and opportunities to extend their education and skills.

Although the schemes and efforts of south Yorkshire local authorities are welcome, they are often being put in place despite the Government, not because of them, which is the key problem. The facts, which were mentioned earlier, are that a third of bus journeys are made by people who are eligible for a concessionary fare, and two thirds of all journeys on public transport are made by bus. Those two statistics alone show us why we need frequent and affordable bus services. It is no good having a bus pass if there is no bus to catch, and it is no good having a bus if it is too expensive to catch for those of us who rely on buses. For young people, the latter point is key.

As some Members may be aware—the Minister is well aware of what has long been my position—I am a big proponent of re-regulating the buses. He was a member of the Local Transport Public Bill Committee that discussed re-regulation. The Local Transport Act 2008 went some way towards re-regulation, but the quality contracts on offer have not particularly taken root, partly because of the risks involved in integrated

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transport authorities wanting to take up the option, and also because of the failure of the Government to underwrite some of those risks to get beyond that first hurdle.

Re-regulation would give the rest of the country, particularly metropolitan areas such as Sheffield, Barnsley and Leeds, what London already enjoys and has never had taken away from it. However, the Government are determined that any area that pursues a quality contract should be excluded from better bus area funding. There is therefore not only an unwillingness—I do not know whether it is ideological—to support integrated transport authorities that want to develop quality contracts, but a penalty for developing one. That is wrong and has put many integrated transport authorities, such as the one serving my area, in the impossible position of having to accept the terms and condition placed on them by the Department for Transport to access any extra funding.

We need more public control and accountability in relation to our bus services, and those services need to take into consideration the people who use them and the role of reliable, frequent bus services that are environmentally friendly, have full disabled access and are clean and warm for the people using them. We all know that such services can play a big role in helping local economies to grow and improve, not least because, to return to the focus of this debate, such services are critical in getting young people where they need to be.

Above all, we need to recognise that if we fail our young people by not providing them with the bus services they need, their general opportunities through life will be curtailed. The damage done to young people who cannot access the opportunities that they need when they are 16, 17 or 18—the limitation on their mobility at that age—might have lifelong impacts. I am part of the generation who suffered in the recessions of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Many people of my generation have never fully recovered from the damage done to them by the very high levels of unemployment in areas such as south Yorkshire in the early 1980s, when opportunities in the steel and coal industries disappeared.

If we do the same to this generation of young people, I would not blame them for turning round to those of us responsible for giving them opportunities, and saying, “You failed us.” I therefore look to the coalition Government and the Minister for a response and a positive affirmation not only that young people are expected to find work and to improve their chances by attending further education and training opportunities, but that the coalition Government recognise their responsibility in making sure that young people can access those opportunities.

Mr George Howarth (in the Chair): We have just over 50 minutes available, but I remind the two Front-Bench speakers that it is not obligatory to take up all that time—I can suspend the sitting if necessary.

3.9 pm

Yvonne Fovargue (Makerfield) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mr Howarth. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton) on securing the debate. As we heard in his passionate and well-informed contributions, the Government have given young people a pretty rough ride, and not just in Yorkshire and

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Humberside. We hear a lot from Ministers about the importance of getting young people into work or full-time higher education, but, unfortunately, their actions seem to disprove their words.

The number of those who are not in education, employment or training has soared in recent years and is now more than 1 million. That is perhaps not surprising when we remember that the Government have trebled university tuition fees, scrapped the education maintenance allowance and taken an axe to the future jobs fund. However, there is another barrier: transport and, in particular, bus services.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) said, transport is less prominent and less talked about, but it is equally important in the equation. Indeed, for many young people, the high cost of transport is the biggest challenge of all. The UK Youth Parliament, for example, voted to make “Make Public Transport Cheaper, Better and Accessible to All” its priority campaign for 2012. The Youth Select Committee, which is made up of young people, chose transport as its first topic for inquiry. Therefore, it is not only young people in Yorkshire and Humberside who see transport as vital, but young people throughout the country.

Some older people, such as myself, might be surprised by that, but it makes perfect sense. Young people need to be able to get to their place of work or college, and to get there in a cost-efficient and pleasant way. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) about that. Without affordable bus services, young people are simply unable to take up opportunities in education, work or training in the first place.

I hope that you will forgive me, Mr Howarth, if I use an example from my constituency. A constituent came to me because she was worried about her sister, who had to make a journey of 11 miles to a sixth-form college. As a result of an increase in the bus fare, her sister had to choose between paying for a meal at lunch time or taking public transport to college—there are, of course, no free school meals in sixth-form colleges. That is not a decision any young person should be forced to make.

Young people throughout the country have seen the funding available to help with their travel costs taken away, and the bus services and routes that they so desperately need cut back. The Association of Colleges carried out a survey that found that 72% of students take a bus to college. The average journey is 9 miles, and young people cannot walk that distance there and back. The survey also found that 94% of colleges believe that the abolition of the EMA has affected students’ ability to travel to and from college. The cuts to bus services and the increases in fares are simply making matters worse.

The Campaign for Better Transport estimates that 70% of local authorities are looking to buses as an area in which to make cuts, with some councils planning to lose all their supported bus services. The situation has intensified as the 20% cut in the Government subsidy to bus operators—the bus service operators grant—takes effect on top of the 28% cut to local transport funding.

However, at the same time as thousands of people struggle with soaring bus fares, the big five bus companies —Arriva, FirstGroup, Stagecoach, National Express

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and Go-Ahead—are making record profits. They control more than 71% of the UK bus market and, between them, had operating profits in 2011-12 of more than half a billion pounds. That is perhaps not surprising when we consider that bus fares outside London have risen by more than twice the rate of inflation over the past year and by a third in just five years. At the same time, one in five supported services has been lost.

The bus companies need to work with the Government to deliver a concessionary fares scheme for young people aged 16 to 19 who are in education or training out of the not insubstantial profits that they are making in this heavily subsidised industry. That is the action we need to stop NEET rates spiralling out of control and to ensure that young people can continue in education and training post-16.

The cost of bus travel has increased by 24% since the industry was deregulated in 1987. The Government must accept that their reckless cuts to the UK’s public transport system are a false economy. Those cuts are clobbering young people and preventing them from getting on in life. As my hon. Friend the Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge said, we need only look at the problems that are caused when people are out of education, training or employment between the ages of 18 and 25, as well as the debt that leaves them in, which is often not recoverable, to see that the Government’s cuts are definitely a false economy. We are wasting lives and wasting potential.

The Government need to take action by introducing a concessionary fares scheme, and they need to do that immediately. They need to factor the views of young people into their plans, as we have heard is happening in Rotherham. I wish people in South Yorkshire all the best with their bus summit, which demonstrates how important this mode of transport is to them.

The Government need to talk to the UK Youth Parliament and the Youth Select Committee to hear at first hand what young people’s problems and solutions are. For many young people, as PTEG’s recent report “Moving on” said, the bus is public transport, yet young people have such a bad experience with buses that they turn their backs on the sector at the earliest opportunity. If we listen to them now, they might remain bus passengers by choice, not just by necessity. That would be the best outcome for us all.

3.16 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Norman Baker): I will probably not require 44 minutes to respond to the debate, Mr Howarth. I welcome this topic, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton) for how he presented it. I am sorry that he is not here, but I fully accept his reasons. He is—not everybody in the House is, although perhaps I will get myself into difficulties—an honourable Member and a man of integrity, so I have no problem with the reason that he gave for not being here for the winding-up speeches. I thank him in his absence for securing time to discuss bus travel for young people in the Yorkshire and Humber region.

As I know from my constituency and from my role as a Minister, and as has been said this afternoon, buses are a lifeline for many people, including young people. They provide access to jobs, schools, health care and social activities. Good bus services contribute to both

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the Government’s key transport objectives: creating growth and cutting carbon. By providing an attractive alternative to the car, we can reduce not only harmful emissions, but, at the same time, the congestion that can choke off our local economies.

Buses are of particular importance to young people, as Members have indicated. More than half of students are frequent bus users and depend on the bus to get to education or training. Buses are used more frequently by young people, with the average 17 to 20-year-old making twice as many trips as people in other age groups.

In Yorkshire and Humber, two thirds of all bus trips by 11 to 15-year-olds involve travelling to or from school. Among 16 to 19-year-olds, 36% of all bus trips are for the purpose of education. A further 20% are for commuting. Young people in Yorkshire and Humber continue to use the bus when they start working. Some 37% of all bus trips by 20 to 25-year-olds are for the overall purpose of commuting. On average, young people in the Yorkshire and Humber areas make more bus trips per year than the average young person in England, which Members may not realise. Sixteen to 19-year-olds in the region make more than 200 bus trips per year, compared with 186 for England as a whole.

I fully recognise that the cost of young people’s travel can cause difficulty for those seeking employment, education or training. That is why, at last November’s UK bus awards, I urged the bus industry to be more innovative about the fare deals and discounts that it offers young people. I want the industry to build on initiatives such as the Confederation of Passenger Transport’s “BUSFORUS” web portal, which I encouraged the confederation to produce and which was launched last autumn. That interactive travel information website is designed with, and aimed precisely at, young people.

The Government appreciates that bus fares for young people vary a great deal across the country. In many cases, that is the result of operators responding to their local market. However, I am pleased to see that travel discounts are available to young people on many bus services in the Yorkshire and Humber areas, as has been mentioned this afternoon.

We have no immediate plans to legislate to set fares for young people or to introduce a statutory young person’s travel concession, but I think that a simpler fare structure would help, and in some areas bus operators could do more to offer discounted fares to young people. People who have decided to leave education and begin work—for example, as apprentices or in training schemes—may find the cost of bus fares a barrier. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith) for mentioning the offers that are available for some people coming off JSA into employment, particularly young apprentices. That is a good scheme and we are happy to endorse such schemes. Indeed, I have been promoting them through the local sustainable transport fund, as I imagine the hon. Lady knows.

It is worth pointing out, in response to the complaints of the hon. Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue) about lack of opportunities for young people, that the number of people in apprenticeships has risen by 88% since 2010. More than 1 million people have started apprenticeships since that time, so apprenticeships are a great success story for the coalition Government, and that point should not be neglected. There are of course

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issues that need to be dealt with sensibly, but some good things are happening and it is not fair to present a view of things as “woe, woe and thrice woe”, as I fear the hon. Lady tried to do.

Cheaper fares could make buses the mode of choice at an early age and lock in patronage for the future and help to reduce car travel. That is why, at the bus partnership forum in January, I asked the bus industry to consider offering travel discounts to all people aged 18 and under, not just those in education. A fares discount based on age seems far easier to administer than one relying on proof of education. I have encouraged the bus industry to do that because it is in its interest to identify people who want to use the bus and lock them in for future use for the rest of their lives. Potentially, they will be bus users for 50 or 60 years beyond their education time.

Interestingly enough, the legislation that regulates the bus industry, which we inherited in 2010, does not require bus operators to offer any reduced fares to young people. If Government intervened to enforce an age limit for charging an adult fare or legislated to create a national concessionary travel scheme for young people, local authorities would be obliged to reimburse bus operators for any revenue forgone; thus a financial burden would be imposed on local authorities, or, if that were reimbursed to them, there would be a further significant burden on the national taxpayer. In practice, bus fares are set at a commercial level by the operators. In general, despite the fact that there is no requirement to offer anyone below 18 a discount, operators offer free travel to under-fives and a reduced fare to those up to 15 or 16, although that varies considerably around the country.

Angela Smith: Does the Minister acknowledge that under the quality contracts introduced in the Local Transport Act 2008 integrated transport authorities could introduce requirements on fares, as well as on routes and frequency?

Norman Baker: Indeed they can, and they can get arrangements with bus companies through partnerships, as well. I shall return to quality contracts, because both the hon. Lady and the hon. Member for Leeds North East raised the point.

The Department for Transport carried out a survey of travel concession authorities in 2012. Those that responded said that about 40% of operators in their areas offered commercially discounted fares up to the age of 15 and a further 30% offered discounted fares up to the age of 18. Where operators offered concessions, they were mainly discounts of between a third and half the adult single fare. About a fifth of operators cut a quarter off the adult fare. That shows what an unfair and confusing patchwork of fares is available to young people. For the lucky minority, local bus operators will give a 50% discount to those under 18, but young people with access to a local bus service run by one of the 70% of bus operators who offer no discount to 16 to 19-year-olds are in an entirely different situation.

In a deregulated market, bus operators are in competition with each other, and if they were to agree specific fares for young people, it could be deemed anti-competitive. However, in principle, there seems to be nothing to prevent several operators in an area offering discounts

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to young people as a percentage of the adult commercial fare, whatever that may be. It will of course vary from service to service. That approach would offer young people a deal that is not universally available. There are areas where such an informal arrangement is already in place. In Norfolk, for example, there is a voluntary agreement between several bus operators to offer a standard discount to young people.

In addition to such informal arrangements, a local authority can decide on a discretionary basis to offer concessions to young people in its area. That is solely a matter for the local authority and such an enhancement would have to be funded locally. In Yorkshire and the Humber, all the local authorities have some form of local travel assistance for young people, and I am pleased about that. The integrated transport authority areas of South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire, as well as the city of York, issue travel cards that give young people discounted bus fares on the services of several local bus operators. The most rural authorities in the region, where there are fewer bus services, subscribe to the Wheels 2 Work scheme, which allows young people to hire a bicycle or a scooter for access to training and employment. In addition, all jobcentres in the country can provide jobseekers with discretionary support for travel costs, such as support for the cost of a bus fare to attend a job interview.

Therefore, while there is some support for 16 to 19-year-olds with transport costs, it is only ever offered on a commercial or discretionary basis, whereas the national scheme for older people gives free travel at off-peak times on any local bus service in England. The “BUSFORUS” web portal created by the industry—an initiative I welcome—has only further highlighted the disparity; a look at the bus operators’ web portal suggests that they have recognised that. We must do better for young people and give them more consistent and affordable bus fares. I am making that my top bus priority between now and the next election. Discussions are being held with the bus industry and colleagues across the Government to find a solution to the mess of patchwork concessions currently available to young people.

I mentioned the bus forum earlier, and hon. Members may know that it is an arrangement for interested parties to meet once every six months, under my chairmanship, for a round table to discuss bus issues. It may be of interest that, at my instigation, there is now a representative from the UK Youth Parliament, who attends regularly. I have engaged with members of the Youth Parliament and responded to a request to give evidence to their Select Committee hearing, and on behalf of the Government, I have responded formally to the recommendations. I assure hon. Members that we engage with young people, both directly in the Department for Transport, and through the UK Youth Parliament. It is important that young people’s voices should be heard, and I am determined that that will happen in our transport discussions.

As to the use of buses to get to education, all local authorities have a statutory duty to provide home-to-school travel where they consider it necessary to secure a child’s attendance at school. Legislation does not specify what the mode of transport must be, but it is generally a bus. Where transport is considered necessary, it must be provided free of charge. Transport must be free for those pupils attending their nearest suitable school,

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where that is beyond the statutory walking distances of two miles for pupils below the age of eight and three miles for those aged eight and above. There is also an additional entitlement to free home-to-school transport for children from low-income families. That provides additional support for attendance to those children who are entitled to free school meals or whose parents receive the maximum working tax credit.

Local authorities must make arrangements for children who are unable to walk to school because of special educational need, disability, or mobility problems, or who cannot reasonably be expected to walk because of an unsafe route. However, there are suggestions that some local authorities have reclassified, as safe, routes that were previously designated unsafe, to save money on providing school transport. Parents can appeal to their local authority about such a decision, but that is not always an independent process. Parents can complain to the local government ombudsman about the handling of such an appeal. However, that can be a lengthy process, and in the meantime, children could be walking potentially unsafe routes to school. I would expect local authorities to use the Department for Education’s guidance, which was published last month, to implement fairer and quicker processes for appeals. That, by the way, is an example of good cross-departmental co-operation between me and the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), when he was a Minister. He took the issue seriously and drove forward that agenda in the Department for Education.

Aside from their statutory obligations, local authorities have discretion to provide transport to all other pupils, for which a charge can be made. The increase in participation age will give more choice to young people who continue with education or training beyond the age of 16. They will have a range of options, including working full time alongside their studies or undertaking an apprenticeship.

Young people in work or on a waged apprenticeship will be able to pay for, or contribute towards, their transport costs. The £180 million bursary fund for 16 to 19-year-olds, which is administered by further education establishments, has the flexibility to meet transport costs for those in genuine need of support.

Local government finance continues to be challenging, but it is still disappointing that in a few areas, local councils have responded by taking the axe to local bus services, and I deplore that. I am naturally concerned when I hear that vulnerable people with few other transport choices have lost their only bus service, or that children have reduced public transport access to the school of their choice.

A few councils have taken an almost slash-and-burn approach, while others, I am happy to say, have been more considerate and careful in the decisions they have made. It is worth noting that 80% of services are commercially run and require no subsidy from local councils, so the services that some councils have cut have been from the 20% that are supported services.

Aside from the funding that Yorkshire and Humber receives through a Department for Communities and Local Government finance settlement, it has recently been awarded £20 million for the new bus rapid transit between Sheffield and Rotherham, almost £53 million for 11 local sustainable transport fund projects and £13 million for three better bus area 2012 bids.

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In February, as part of the Sheffield city deal, to which the hon. Member for Penistone and Stocksbridge referred, we announced Sheffield’s designation as the first new better bus area. Sheffield’s deal will see devolution of bus service operators grant in the area to South Yorkshire PTE together with an immediate grant of £530,000 and further annual top-ups of just under £1.6 million a year. Those grants will better target bus subsidy in Sheffield. The package includes enhanced bus frequencies to major employment and education sites and reduced bus fares across bus operators.

The Department has also initially approved just over £173 million funding for the Leeds trolleybus. The outlook for buses in the Yorkshire and Humber area is rather more positive than Opposition Members might have concluded. The funding that my Department has allocated should see a marked improvement in bus services, which will encourage more young people on to the bus.

Let me deal briefly with the points that have been raised. The hon. Member for Leeds North East moaned about deregulation in 1986 and the impact that it has had on fares. I have to say to him gently, although he is no longer in the Chamber, that his Government did of course have 13 years to reverse that deregulation and failed to do so, so I take his enthusiasm now for reversing with some degree of scepticism.

The hon. Gentleman also talked about local authorities applying for quality contracts and being excluded from the BBA top-up. However, if he reads the guidance he will find that it says:

“Where a local authority can demonstrate that it has genuinely tried to engage in partnership working with local bus operators and this has been met with unreasonable resistance, should the local authority then decide to pursue a quality contract scheme, the Department will—upon request—exceptionally consider whether top-up funding could be provided when decisions are taken about the designation of any further tranche of BBAs.”

It is not true to say, therefore, that the two schemes are mutually exclusive.

Angela Smith: If I recall rightly, when the Minister was a member of the Bill Committee for the Local Transport Act 2008, he was much more positive about re-regulation than perhaps he is now. The whole point of quality contracts within the context of the 2008 Act was exactly that integrated transport authorities would be given the freedom to use quality contracts without having to jump over the hurdles that the Government seem to have reintroduced.

Norman Baker: I do not accept that. I repeat my earlier point: the hon. Lady’s Government had 13 years to reintroduce whatever it wanted, and did not do so, despite some cajoling from my colleagues and me at the time. However, the fact of the matter is that quality contracts remain on the statute book. The 2008 Act has not been changed in any shape or form. What we have done is to reintroduce further incentives for partnership working, which we think is right. After all, partnership working is the key to success. It is unlikely that we will see more people on buses in a local area if either the local authority or the transport operators are being difficult, so their working together is an essential prerequisite.

It is not true to say, as the hon. Lady claims, that there is a penalty for developing quality contracts. The quality contract regime has not changed at all. What we

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have is a reward for partnership working, which is an entirely different proposition. It is not true to say, as the hon. Member for Leeds North East has said, that BBAs and quality contracts are mutually exclusive; they are not, and I have just read out the relevant piece of the guidance that demonstrates that to be the case.

The hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) talked about cuts in a way that made me feel that Armageddon had arrived. This is the fact of the matter: the overall bus mileage in England fell by just 1% between 2010-11 and 2011-12. I regret any fall in bus mileage, but 1% is not Armageddon. She might also want to know that, in 2011-12, there were 4.7 billion bus journeys in England, which is the highest figure since deregulation in 1986. Therefore, the suggestion that the bus industry is on its knees is perhaps not borne out by the statistics.

The hon. Member for Makerfield complained about the cut in bus service operators grant. I have to say again that, while I regret any cut in support for the bus industry, the fact of the matter is that we ensured that there was a soft landing by giving the bus industry around 18 months’ notice of the 20% cut. At the time—it is on the record—the industry said that it would be able to accommodate that because it had been given sufficient notice. That is in stark contrast to the lack of notice given by the Welsh Assembly Government, run by her party, which gave virtually no notice at all of changes to BSOG for operators in Wales.

The hon. Lady also complained about the profits of bus companies. As we are in a 1980s mood today in many shapes and forms, let me say that I detected a return to 1980s Labour-style theology, where profit is a dirty word and has to be removed from bus companies. That appeared to be the substance of what she was saying.

Yvonne Fovargue: In no way did I imply that profit is a dirty word. I merely said that some of the profit should be invested for the good of the passenger, to keep them as passengers in the future.

Norman Baker: The point the hon. Lady misses is this: it is in the interests of the bus companies themselves to invest for the future to generate more passenger traffic by having newer buses and a better service. That is indeed what they are doing. For example, the average age of the bus in this country is declining. We are seeing massive new investment in buses, not least of all through the Government’s green bus fund. The way to get more passengers is to provide the service that people want. Everybody in the bus industry understands that and they do it really quite well, as the figures on mileage and the number of bus journeys demonstrate very adequately.

Angela Smith: The Minister is being very generous with his time. May I ask him a simple question? In the 1980s, the whole bus system was regulated. London is still regulated. Why is it that what is good enough for London is not right for the rest of the country? Why cannot the rest of the country have the regulated bus service that London enjoys?

Norman Baker: The hon. Lady should have asked the Government in 1986 why it took that view and then her own Government why it did not reverse it in the 13 years

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between 1997 and 2010. However, there are advantages in both systems. Inside London, a plethora of empty buses can be seen, sometimes queuing up one behind another, which is not necessarily an efficient system. The cost of running that system is higher than it should be, so the London benefits are not as clear cut as she would have us believe.

Finally, let me pick up on the careless phrase that the hon. Member for Makerfield used when she talked about the coalition Government making “reckless” cuts to the UK transport system. I have to say to her that we are now seeing more people on the buses—4.7 billion bus journeys, which is higher than at any time since 1986. We have the biggest investment in the rail network since the Victorian era. We have 850 miles of electrification going on in the railway network, compared with 9 miles under her Government in 13 years. There are more people on the trains now than at any time since 1926. People who use public transport can be well pleased with what the Government is doing and I commend it to the House.

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National Plan for Cultural Education

4 pm

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Howarth.

On 28 February 2012, the Government, in their response to Darren Henley’s excellent review of cultural education in England, identified 10 issues to be addressed immediately. The first three were a joint ministerial board; a national plan for cultural education, made together with the sponsored bodies; and work to improve the quality of cultural education in schools.

Progress seems to have been made on some items in the list—for example, the new national youth dance company—and many items, such as Saturday clubs, already existed on the day that the report and the Government’s response were published, but those initiatives are not universally available and they do not guarantee that all our young people get the rich cultural experience at school that they deserve. My purpose in initiating the debate is to demand what young people have been promised, which has not yet been delivered.

I served with the Minister on the Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families in the previous Parliament—he was one of the more sensible members of his party on that Committee—and I hope to learn from him whether there is a functioning joint ministerial board. The antecedents of that promise go back to a speech by the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in November 2010 at the Big Link-Up. He announced that the measure would involve not only the Departments for Education and for Culture, Media and Sport, but the Department for Work and Pensions. More than two years later, does that board exist? Perhaps the Minister will tell us who the board is working with, how often it has met and, if it has met, who has attended. We were told in the response to the Henley review that the board would be established to work with the sponsored bodies to help them to deliver a vision for effective cultural education across the country, but when I talk to obvious candidates among the sponsored bodies, they report no such ministerial involvement.

The other important part of the response was a national plan for cultural education, and I initiated the debate to draw attention to the plan’s continuing absence. The promise of a national plan for cultural education had already been outlined by the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, in a well argued speech to the Yehudi Menuhin school in 2010, where he described the need to bring national coherence to the plethora of local cultural education initiatives.

The promise was repeated in a Government response signed by two Secretaries of State and described as an immediate priority, yet five weeks after the first anniversary of that announcement, we are still waiting to see it. I am optimistic that the Minister, after nearly 60 weeks, might be able to promise to the Chamber today that the national plan is imminent. Frankly, it takes only nine months to make a baby, and the national plan has now been promised for 14 months.

The promise has been repeated since it was first made, so it is not as if the Government are trying to run away from it. The then Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, the right hon. Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt), promised in a speech on

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26 June 2012 that the national plan would be published “later this year.” That would have been in 2012, and we are now four months into 2013.

Without a governing board or a plan—the plan has still not been formally created, detailed or properly consulted on—how do the Government expect to fill the vacuum in cultural learning that has grown since 2010?

We have seen a reduction in both uptake of creative subjects and funding for people seeking to teach them. An Ipsos MORI survey commissioned by the Department for Education found that 15% of schools have withdrawn one or more arts subjects, and it was suggested that that was a consequence of the debate we had on the EBacc. People reading and listening to this debate will know that one of the consequences of the EBacc’s description, which did not include those subjects, was a real fear that the school curriculum would continue to be constricted.

I am glad that the Department rowed back from the extreme end of those proposals—that was an improvement —but the consequence of the way that debate was conducted is that fewer schools are offering those subjects. Worse, because the retreat from those subjects is higher in schools in deprived areas, the survey found that 21% of schools with a high proportion of pupils on free school meals withdrew one or more arts subjects, compared with only 8% of schools with a low proportion of pupils on free school meals.

Things are going to get worse, because the number of funded teacher training places in creative subjects has fallen dramatically. Between 2010 and 2012, the number of places fell by 38% for art and by 33% for music, compared with, for example, 6% for geography. The number of places for history remained broadly the same.

The narrowing of the curriculum at the expense of creative subjects will lead to a loss of the leaders relied on by our creative industries, which will have consequences for our economy. The United Kingdom has the largest creative sector in the European Union. According to UNESCO, the sector is, in absolute terms, the most successful exporter of cultural goods and services in the world—we are the world leader in the field—ahead of even the US. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development reports that the UK’s creative share of gross value added is 5.8%, compared with France’s 2.8% and the USA’s 3.3%. The export figures confirm the United Kingdom’s strength, but they also show that our competitors are catching up, which should be a cause for concern, yet companies in creative industries are unable to recruit the skilled staff that they require.

Arts Council England says that between 20% and 25% of employers in the UK’s creative industries are unable to recruit the staff they need who have the skills they need. The CBI knows that that is important, and it has urged the Government to push ahead with

“reforms to school ICT and ensure sufficient teacher training courses are in place to successfully roll out the new curriculum and deliver digital skills, alongside art training, that the UK’s creative industries need.”

New technology requires an emphasis on creating knowledge. We need strong academic foundations, but creative leaders need to be able to make products that deliver their ideas. If Britain does not maintain a focus on creativity in schools, we will risk our position as one of the leading creative industrial nations. James Dyson puts it well:

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“Creativity is creating something that no one could have devised; something that hasn’t existed before and solves problems that haven’t been solved before. Making something work is a very creative thing to do.”

The previous Government understood that to a significant extent when they established the creative partnerships programme, which brought together artists, inventors and school pupils.

“This Much We Know”, published as a result of that programme, pointed out that educating and involving young people in the arts and culture is not just the mark of a civilised society, as research and experience in this country and abroad show that that benefits the economy and society by increasing employability, raising skill levels, improving motivation, cutting truancy, bringing the worlds of learning and business closer together, tackling social exclusion and helping young people to play a constructive role in their schools and society at large.

Some countries lead the UK in fact-based learning areas, but the UK’s international achievements set it apart from most industrial competitors. We are world leaders in the creative industries. Teaching creativity to our children will always be vital to that national success and to intellectual and industrial growth. The UK averages 19 Nobel prizes for every 10 million of its population. The USA averages 11 prizes per 10 million, and the EU just nine. We are leading the world because we combine excellent scientific education and a tradition of creativity and learning. We have done better than most competitor countries in securing new patents, although we are beginning to slip down the list.

When the Secretary of State for Education announced the Government response to the Henley report in 2012, he said—and I agree—this:

“Learning about our culture and playing an active part in the cultural life of the school and wider communities is as vital to developing our identity and self-esteem as understanding who we are through knowing our history and the origins of our society.”

When children can play such an active part, it makes a difference to what they can achieve.

The other day, I visited Mulberry school for girls, a comprehensive in Tower Hamlets that aims to develop confidence, creativity, leadership and a love of learning in young women. I saw a team from the National Theatre working with the girls in preparation to make a film of a piece they had developed with a National Theatre writer. Not every school can have access to such wonderful input, but every child deserves an opportunity to learn in that way. That is what a national plan for cultural education should guarantee. However, the direction of travel in curriculum reform is towards a narrower model of education.

In December, in response to a question that I asked, the Secretary of State said:

“The arts are mankind’s greatest achievement”,

a point that I support. However, he continued:

“Every child should be able to enjoy and appreciate great literature, music, drama and visual art.”—[Official Report, 3 December 2012; Vol. 554, c. 579.]

I do not believe that watching—not making—is all that a child needs to develop creatively. Learning to enjoy and appreciate is not sufficient; children should have the opportunity to make. The process of making is one of the most important ways to expand children’s thinking.

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That is why I want to see a draft and to have a public debate and argument about a national plan for cultural education. If it is a good enough plan, it will challenge profoundly what is happening in much of education today. Ken Robinson, who has made the argument more profoundly than any other thinker, said in a speech in 2012:

“The dominant systems of education are based on three principles—or assumptions, at least—that are exactly opposite to how human lives are actually lived. Apart from that, they’re fine. First, they promote standardization and a narrow view of intelligence, when human talents are diverse and personal. Second, they promote compliance, when cultural progress and achievement depend on the cultivation of imagination and creativity. Third, they are linear and rigid, when the course of each human life, including yours, is organic and largely unpredictable.”

He summed up what I think all of us know: if education does not allow children to develop their creativity and give them a chance to understand and make things, we will continue to slide down the slope of international competitiveness in the creative industries, and we will deny our young people, particularly the most deprived, the wonderful opportunity to become creative, which ought to be given to them as an absolute entitlement within their education.

It has taken too long for a plan to be announced; I hope that the Minister will say that we shall have it immediately. I hope, too, that he can reassure me that it is not merely a “watch and hear” plan, but a “make and do” plan.

4.15 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr Edward Timpson): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I congratulate the hon. Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) on securing this important debate, and I acknowledge her strong advocacy over a long period for cultural education and the eloquent contribution that she has made to this debate. I am sure that she will agree that children in England—and elsewhere, but in England for the purposes of this debate—can lay claim to a rich cultural heritage. It should be our collective aim to ensure that they all have the chance to take part in it, supported by high-quality and engaging local opportunities that help to ignite the lifelong love of culture that we all want to engender in every young person.

We know that local authorities already provide extensive access to cultural activities through their investment in libraries, museums, galleries, arts centres, archives, public art and so on. Cornwall, for example, has a vibrant arts offering including 150 festivals, 300 private galleries, 10 theatre and dance companies, 72 museums and 1,000 village halls regularly used for cultural activities. There are many other examples across the country. Alongside that, the arm’s-length bodies of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport—the Arts Council England, English Heritage, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the British Film Institute, among many others—invest their grant in aid and national lottery funding in substantial educational activity.

Against that backdrop, we asked Darren Henley to conduct a review of cultural education. I understand the hon. Lady’s impatience and frustration. She has secured a debate a year on, and she wants to see the

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plan up and running. I am in a position to tell her that that plan will be published very soon indeed, and will set out our ambitious programmes to support the arts and recognise the huge contribution made by many charitable, philanthropic and voluntary organisations, local authorities and other arts and cultural organisations to the fantastic wealth of provision out there.

In the past 12 months, an enormous amount of work has been undertaken. The hon. Lady acknowledged in her contribution that the Government’s commitment was not a shallow one; we have set up new programmes and brokered new partnerships. It is an opportune time to reflect on progress thus far and make clear our expectations for the future. The plan will do so, and will affirm our commitment to ensuring that all pupils have access to a rich and fulfilling cultural education. That commitment is backed by £292 million in funding for cultural educational activity over the three years to 2015.

The plan will highlight the many examples of partnerships and initiatives supported by investment from schools, local authorities, voluntary organisations and bodies such as the Arts Council, and the Government also support a host of programmes designed to strengthen access and the take-up of provision, which will enhance the quality of the local and national cultural education available to schools and help to achieve greater opportunity for young people. I am afraid that the volume of those programmes does not allow me to go through the whole repertoire in the short time available for this debate, so I will draw attention to a core selection, some of which she referred to. Some are aimed at children with a special interest or promise in the arts; some are broader and focus on improving provision for all children.

In his review of cultural education in England, Darren Henley recognised that despite the magnificent talent that we are lucky to have in this country in both contemporary and classical dance, there was no centrally funded national youth dance company, so one has been set up, jointly funded and overseen by the new Arts Council England and managed by Sadler’s Wells Trust Ltd. The first annual company of talented performers aged 16 to 19 has been recruited, and its members are training and performing with the help of world-leading choreographers.

In art and design, together with Arts Council England, we are providing funding to scale up the Sorrell Foundation’s national Saturday art and design clubs. They are free and give young people aged 14 to 16 the opportunity to participate in inspiring classes every Saturday morning, with activities ranging from drawing to sculpture, printmaking, stop-frame animation and so on.

We have formed a unique partnership with the BFI, investing in the innovative BFI film academy, specifically for 16 to 19 year olds, which aims to give a diverse group of young people from all backgrounds the ability to be part of the film industry by providing them with opportunities to develop new skills and to build their career. It builds on the BFI’s existing education scheme for five to 19 year olds. We have the first fully integrated, nationally co-ordinated programme of developing young film talent ever established in the UK.

Since our response last April to Darren Henley’s review of cultural education in England, we have set up a museums and schools programme to increase the level of engagement in 10 regions of low participation. By

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January this year, more than 4,000 visits had been made as a result of the programme. In music, In Harmony is jointly funded by the Department for Education and the national lottery through Arts Council England. It aims to inspire and transform the lives of children through community-based orchestral music making. We continue to fund two original In Harmony projects in Lambeth and Liverpool, for three years from 2012 to 2015. In May 2012, an expansion of the scheme was agreed for four additional projects in areas of exceptional deprivation.

To celebrate and commemorate our culture and history, we are supporting the heritage schools programme. English Heritage is working with schools to help them to make effective use of their local historical environment and to bring the curriculum to life. Two thousand teachers will participate in training programmes to support their development in 190 schools. Additionally, we are planning a lasting educational legacy in remembrance of one of the most significant events in our history, the first world war. The flagship scheme announced by the Prime Minister at the Imperial War Museum at the end of last year—I was privileged to attend that event—will give thousands of schoolchildren and teachers the opportunity to visit the great war battlefields; pupils will learn first hand about the sacrifices made and the personal stories of those involved, with schools encouraged to establish commemoration projects such as collecting photographs and uncovering local stories.

To support teachers, we are funding a network of teaching school alliances that specialise in the cultural aspects of the curriculum. I am happy to provide the hon. Lady with more details, because I know she has a particular interest in that. The network will play a leading role in developing and disseminating professional development materials and resources for teachers. Those programmes are additional to the music education activity under way following the publication of “The Importance of Music: A National Plan for Music Education” in November 2011. On its publication, we announced funding for a national network of music education hubs, building on the existing music education provision and bringing together partnerships between music services, schools, education and arts organisations. A total of 123 hubs, managed by Arts Council England on our behalf, began work in September 2012 and they are already delivering innovative projects throughout the country, including access for all pupils, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, which is crucial, and they are working to augment and broaden the range of music activities on offer. That is just one example of the new partnerships that we are brokering in cultural education.

Darren Henley’s review concluded that, despite some excellent examples of collaboration between arts organisations and schools, a more systematic approach was necessary to develop a coherent and educationally sound cultural offer for young people. Some schools can be overwhelmed by the provision on offer, while some might struggle to find support that meets their needs. In response to the review’s recommendations, a strategic partnership between Arts Council England, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the British Film Institute and English Heritage has been brokered as the cultural education partnership group. The group is working to ensure that the priorities for cultural education are

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more than a sum of parts. It has identified three areas in which to test a shared approach, with a greater alignment of group members’ activities and resources: in the city of Bristol, in Barking and Dagenham, and in Great Yarmouth.

To reassure the hon. Lady about a joint ministerial board, a cross-Government group will start next month, with my Department and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on the board, which will be chaired jointly by the Ministers; it will oversee progress in this complex field of activity. It will bring together Ministers from both Departments and include arm’s length body delivery partners and school representatives to support and challenge the development of the national cultural education offer. I am happy to write to her with more details of exactly how the group will operate and about the involvement of the various participants.

We support the Arts Council in extending the reach of its bridge organisations, whose role is to improve the delivery of arts opportunities for children and young people by bringing together schools and cultural organisations. That encourages consistency and coherence across an often complex arts and education landscape, helping young people and local communities to benefit from the wide range of high-quality creative and artistic experience on offer. With additional investment from my Department, bridge organisations will increase engagement with schools, in particular teaching schools, and partnerships, with a wider range of cultural organisations, encompassing the arts, museums, libraries, film centres and heritage sites.

Schools clearly have an essential role to play in introducing cultural experiences to their students as part of a broad and rich curriculum. The most successful schools put culture at the heart of their curriculum. Our aim is to enable all schools to match the achievement of the best. The new national curriculum has set out the essential knowledge that all children and young people should know between the ages of five and 16. As the hon. Lady knows, we have completed the consultation, and I am sure that she made her views known. It will ensure that all pupils have the chance to read books, sing, make music, film or animation, dance, draw, design and perform, and be given opportunities to attend art galleries, museums, cultural and world cinema, theatre and concert performances. Creativity is not an optional add-on but is fundamental to our whole approach to education. If we provide teachers with the freedom to innovate and design their own curriculum, rather than being over-prescriptive, schools will be able to provide a rich and creative experience for their pupils.

The hon. Lady has emphasised on the Floor of the House and elsewhere that she wishes to ensure clear accountability for schools on how they are delivering the creative element of their education through the measures to be put in place. According to recent announcements by the Secretary of State, the new accountability measures, on which we will be consulting, are to be broadened in range; the hon. Lady welcomed that and, I think, was slightly surprised at the time that she had been so successful in persuading the Secretary of State of the right approach. Those arts subjects and creative areas of education will form part of the accountability measures that schools will have to take into consideration when deciding on what to do to provide a rich and broad curriculum.

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GCSEs will be comprehensively reformed, with more challenging subject content and more rigorous assessment structures. The changes will initially apply to subjects such as English language and literature, and changes to other subjects including cultural ones will follow as soon as possible. The aim is for the new qualifications to be in place for teaching from September 2016. Increasing numbers of pupils have chosen to study vocational arts, and we have already taken steps to improve vocational qualifications. Following the Wolf review, we have ensured proper assessment and tighter quality controls on vocational courses. We have recognised, too, concerns about the EBacc and, specifically, whether the accountability system includes the right incentives to encourage and recognise achievement in arts subjects. I hope that some of the movement in recent weeks has reassured the hon. Lady that we are not trying to remove the importance of a rich cultural curriculum; in many respects, we are trying to enhance it.

We are looking at how we can improve the way in which secondary schools are held accountable, and we are consulting on proposals. The proposed changes will mean a more balanced and meaningful accountability system that includes a progress measure based on eight qualifications, as opposed to the qualifications within the EBacc. That will enable arts subjects to receive full recognition in secondary school accountability, encouraging a broad and balanced curriculum at key stage 4. The cultural education plan will reflect those developments in accountability, qualifications and the new national curriculum, and that is one reason why we have taken time over it; we should see the plan very soon.

Fiona Mactaggart: If the reduction in the offer of arts and creative subjects reported in the MORI survey I referred to continues, what will the Minister do about it?

Mr Timpson: As the hon. Lady knows, that reduction goes back over a four-year period and it is not a new problem. It needs to be looked at in the context of the increase in the vocational take-up. We need to look at that in the round and consider whether we are providing the best possible offer in every educational and vocational setting available. I am happy to convey her concerns to the Minister responsible for seeing this through as the programme develops and the plan comes online to ensure that they are taken into consideration. Clearly, we are in the early stages of any new accountability measures, but they will be a helpful way of monitoring how schools are performing in fulfilling a curriculum that takes cultural education as seriously as we all want it to be. I look forward to the hon. Lady seeing the plan very soon, and I hope that she will be satisfied that it does what she wants it to do.

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Energy Generation

4.30 pm

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): It is a pleasure, Mr Howarth, to perform under your chairmanship for the first time. I understand that the debate in the House is winding down to a possible vote. I am well aware that this debate, which I am delighted to have secured, has attracted a lot of support across all parties. There is tremendous interest in the matter. The Energy Bill will return to the House for debate, and my concern is whether we will have sufficient opportunity to discuss the matter then. This debate is not so much an early skirmish, but an opportunity to ensure that we begin the process of opening a parliamentary dialogue on a matter that is clearly vital as we take forward an excellent Bill, on which I congratulate the Government. It includes some significant stepping stones in setting out a clear agenda for energy generation in this country to achieve energy security. I am sure many hon. Members will want to contribute to this debate on decarbonisation and lowering carbon emissions from this country’s energy sources.

The debate is timely, today of all days, partly because of last night’s vote in the European Parliament on the European trading scheme. I would be interested in the Minister’s comments on whether he believes that that enhances or makes it more difficult to advance the case for a decarbonisation agenda in the UK. I would argue that it makes it even more urgent for the UK to ensure that we press the agenda firmly.

The debate is also timely because of a matter partly related to the way in which we do business in the House. Yesterday, I was significantly frustrated that we were unable to debate or divide the House on the Government’s proposed abolition, which is shortly to be enacted, of the Agricultural Wages Board. We will have further debates on the Energy Bill and the failure to debate abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board may be an example of how, despite the issue being deeply significant to many hon. Members, including me, we were unable to debate the matter. There was no mechanism by which to divide the House to establish what support exists for that abolition, which was introduced in another place. That worries me, and to ensure that today is not our only opportunity to debate the decarbonisation agenda, will the Minister ensure that when the Energy Bill returns to the House there will be protected time in the Chamber for a proper debate and votes? That is important.

I congratulate the Government, the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change on their significant progress in advancing the case. My intention today is primarily to advance the economic case for green jobs and investment as the fundamental justification and raison d’être for advancing as quickly as possible a decarbonisation agenda in the UK. If we are to corner a growing global market, we must lead the way and ensure that future investment in the manufacture and production of green and decarbonised energy generation. The UK needs to be at the forefront.

The pinch point in the debate on decarbonisation and the setting of targets is that the industry looks in the long term against a political cycle that, by its very nature, is relatively short term—often five years at the most. I congratulate the Government on rightly looking

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at this vital agenda decades ahead, but the worry is that the political agenda might drive the basis on which decarbonisation targets are met.

Mike Weatherley (Hove) (Con): The aim of a decarbonisation target is laudable, but does my hon. Friend agree that we should not rush forward with increased proposals for the nuclear option, which might be seen to be an easy option in the long term?

Andrew George: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, I have raised the issue on the Floor of the House with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that, in advancing this policy, we should stick to the Government’s stated aim of ensuring no public subsidy for nuclear power. Hon. Members know that the Liberal Democrats have made it clear that their stated policy is to oppose nuclear power, but in coalition compromises and concessions must often be made. The concession on nuclear power, which is shared by both coalition parties, is that it is vital to ensure that no back-door public subsidy underwrites the future costs of nuclear power.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley), with whom I do not often agree, but on nuclear, I certainly do.

Does the hon. Member for St Ives agree that, although there seems to be widespread consensus, one of the fastest, cheapest and most effective ways to reduce our emissions is through energy efficiency and conservation and that we are still not putting enough into that? There is a lot of talk about energy sources, but not enough about demand reduction and energy efficiency. Does he also agree that one way to put in more resources would be to ring-fence the taxes from, for example, a new carbon floor price or the EU emissions trading system and to invest that money in energy efficiency?

Andrew George: The hon. Lady makes an excellent point. This debate is primarily about the decarbonisation of energy supply; conservation and reducing energy demand is a separate debate. To be fair, the Government have established a strong case through the green deal and the establishment of the green investment bank, which will support many measures to address energy conservation. The hon. Lady makes an excellent point, but this debate is about energy generation and supply, and I do not want it to stray too far.

It is worth reminding ourselves that the Government have made a commitment to be the greenest Government ever, which does not set the bar very high. However, beyond that, as they said in the coalition agreement, they believe

“that climate change is one of the gravest threats we face”

and that

“We need to use a wide range of levers to cut carbon emissions, decarbonise the economy and support the creation of new green jobs and technologies. We will implement a full programme of measures to fulfil our joint ambitions for a low carbon and eco-friendly economy.”

The coalition agreement then sets out how the Government intend to do so, but I will not have time to go through that.

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Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman share my frustration that it is three years since the coalition came to power, and to drive the agenda forward, we need things such as targets to create the impetus for some of the measures to be put in place and to create a situation where investors have confidence? At the moment, so much is uncertain about the future of Government energy policy. We have the Treasury driving fracking forward, a lack of targets and the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change criticising the general thrust of energy policy that is being imposed on him by the Treasury. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that certainty is important and that decarbonisation targets are an essential part of that?

Andrew George: The hon. Lady is absolutely right. In fact, that is the nub of the debate. It has taken me 10 minutes to get to that point—perhaps I will get to it now—but it is fundamental to this debate. Investors are clear in the messages that they are sending out at present. This is not purely a green campaigning issue for non-governmental organisations. It is an area in which very substantial pension funds and other investors are looking to invest. Looking forward decades, they want certainty and confidence, and they see this as a sector where they believe that certainty can be demonstrated with a target set sooner rather than later. Not only has this part of the economy performed by generating a large number of jobs and significant growth—far higher growth than in almost all other sectors of the British economy—but it is an area in which significant investors in the British economy want investment to take place.

Mr Tim Yeo (South Suffolk) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate, and I add my strong support for the intervention made by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). On the point that the hon. Gentleman just mentioned, one of the most significant factors is that the need for a focus on reducing the carbon intensity of electricity generation is supported not only by what one might call the usual suspects from the green world, but very strongly by the business world, including a large number of industries that have no direct interest in the issue whatever. That concern is perhaps reinforced by last night’s vote in the European Parliament, which is clearly a setback for achieving more effectiveness in the EU emissions trading system.

Mr George Howarth (in the Chair): Before the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George)resumes, I realise that there is a very strong temptation in such a debate, where a lot of people wish to get in, to make an intervention, but hon. Members need to be reminded that interventions must be short and not mini-speeches.

Andrew George: I am grateful for your guidance on that, Mr Howarth, and I am particularly grateful to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change, my hon. Friend the Member for South Suffolk (Mr Yeo), for his telling intervention. As he rightly said, this is an issue of hard-headed financial decision-making and not one that is driven purely by eco-warriors. This matter is all about ensuring that we have a strong economy, and in terms of the hundreds of thousands of jobs that will be created through the green economy, Britain must lead the world. It has an opportunity

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now, but that opportunity will not exist for many years, and if we miss it, we may be dragged behind other places. We will be importing their technologies into this country, and the cost to the economy will be very significant. My hon. Friend is engaged in an excellent campaign on that issue, and I congratulate him for his contribution.

I have written to the Secretary of State, as I know many others have in recent months as the debate has developed. He kindly responded to me this week, saying that he agrees that

“a decarbonisation target for the electricity sector could increase certainty for investors in large and long term low carbon energy projects like renewables, new nuclear and Carbon Capture and Storage. That is why, last year, I worked for and achieved Government agreement to set a 2030 decarbonisation target range”—

4.44 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

[Mr James Gray in the Chair]

4.59 pm

On resuming

Andrew George: It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I was reading from a letter that I received from the Secretary of State this week in which he also justifies the option of setting a target in 2016. He refers to the other decisions that the Government need to make. I am sure that the Minister will outline those in a moment, so I shall not take up time describing them. The Secretary of State says that

“a target would not be set in isolation but in the context of considering the pathway of the whole economy towards our 2050 target, and making sure we do that in a way that minimises costs both to the economy as a whole and to bill payers.”

The problem with that is that the bulk of industry interested in energy generation and the bulk of investors interested in the future of the energy generation economy do not take the same view. I, of course, have tremendous respect for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State; he acknowledges that it is Liberal Democrat policy to set a decarbonisation target now, rather than in 2016. That target has to be the result of a compromise, and as in any coalition Government in the world, between two coalition parties, we sometimes do not get the outcome that we desire. That is why a large number of interested companies have written to the Chancellor, rather than the Secretary of State, to move the agenda forward, which indicates the target at which the debate needs to be directed.

Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that one reason why companies are doing so is that they are looking now at investments into the 2020s? They want to be sure that past 2016 there will be a target and that their investment will be secure.

Andrew George: Absolutely. We are talking about multi-billion-pound investors who, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, are looking decades ahead.

The UK green economy has continued to grow, even while broader economic activity remains relatively subdued. The CBI has demonstrated that more than one third of

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UK economic growth last year is likely to have come from green businesses. Renewable and low-carbon energy businesses are the segment of the green economy with the most stake in the 2013 decarbonisation target. Cumulatively, they generate more than £98 billion in sales and employ more than 735,000 people—more jobs than the entire UK automotive and telecoms sectors combined.

Figures from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills demonstrate an average growth rate of 6% each year for that portion of the economy, which equates to some £7 billion of additional sales for UK plc or 6,000 new jobs each year, based on today’s figures. That growth is now placed at risk by a lack of investor certainty and confidence, which a 2030 decarbonisation target would certainly remedy and remove. Setting the target sooner, rather than later, would provide the certainty and confidence that such investors require.

I have an inkling that I am preaching to the converted, including the Minister, who has to follow the Government’s policies as a whole. The fact is that the decision has to be made across the Government as a whole. People are looking at the challenges as we go forward, and I know that he is seized of the issue. The green economy is a significant source of growth in UK plc and it needs confidence and certainty going forward. The letter of 8 October 2012 to the Chancellor from 52 leading businesses in the sector sets out a strong case. They sought a meeting with Ministers, which they have not yet secured. They say:

“Failure to act at sufficient scale and pace will undermine our prosperity; and cause us to miss out on the huge commercial opportunities associated with the global shift to a low carbon, resource efficient economy.”

Although the Energy Bill makes significant advances, for which the Government should be congratulated, the difficult compromise that they have come to needs to be teased out and debated further than we have been able to so far. I do not know how we will do it, but we should have a debate with the Department of Energy and Climate Change that includes the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Treasury. When we debate the Bill in the Commons in the coming weeks, it will be a pity that we will not have the opportunity for a full debate with all the Departments on which it will have an impact. I hope the Minister will address my earlier question on the impact of last night’s vote.

I shall add a couple of words on an exciting source of energy generation in my constituency and plug the west Cornwall wave hub, which I raised with the Minister in questions in the House on 14 March, when he gave me an encouraging response. He went to RenewableUK’s annual wave and tidal conference in February, where he told the industry:

“Now is the time for bold next steps—moving from individual projects to large-scale arrays.”

That is vital. I welcome that the Government are supporting the wave hub. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is clearly taking a significant role in the future management of the project, which has been handed on from the South West of England Regional Development Agency. It is difficult to scale up to a commercial level from the prototype machines at the demonstration project in Orkney. The Government need to provide the wave hub project with more certainty and address some of

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the long-term investment issues, some of which feed and bleed into the decarbonisation agenda. I hope that the Minister will visit the wave hub, talk to those involved and address the funding gap, which still exists, to bring the wave devices on to the site.

Dan Byles (North Warwickshire) (Con): How does my hon. Friend respond to the statements that, in the 2050 target, the UK has the toughest legally binding emission reduction target in the world and that no other nation on the planet has a 2030 decarbonisation target?

Andrew George: The UK is setting the standard for the rest of the world, and the rest of the world will move in that direction in due course. It is important that there is cross-party agreement that we want to be the greenest Government ever, which is I think part of the coalition agreement that my hon. Friend signed up to. We also want to ensure that the decarbonisation targets that we set will put the UK economy at the forefront of green jobs and investment.

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Gregory Barker): Just for the record, being the greenest Government ever is not part of the coalition agreement, but the personal pledge of the Prime Minister.

Andrew George: I am grateful to the Minister for that clarification. It is true; I looked through the coalition agreement and could not find a reference to the slogan. Nevertheless, it is a commitment of the Prime Minister on behalf of the Government that everyone who supports the Government is aware of and supports.

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice) is not here. He strongly supports the west Cornwall wave hub, which makes landfall in Hayle, a former part of my constituency. I hope that Ministers will come to look at the project and give it the additional support that it needs in terms of wave energy and floating offshore wind energy.

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Andrew George: I am afraid that I will not give way, because I am coming to a close. The primary issue is that when the Energy Bill returns to the Floor of the House, I hope that the Minister will give us an opportunity to reflect properly on the economic case for the early setting of a decarbonisation target.

5.9 pm

Barry Gardiner (Brent North) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George). I congratulate him on securing the debate, and even more on being absolutely true to his principles and honouring the pledge that he and a number of his colleagues made more than a year ago. It is absolutely right that he has raised the matter in this forum, where we can take some time to develop the arguments, because, as he suggests, during consideration on Report of the Energy Bill in the main Chamber it will perhaps be more difficult to go into the same detail and depth. I am, therefore, very grateful to him for introducing the debate in this way.

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I pay tribute to the Government—and to the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change for his interlocutions and iterations with the Treasury—for their commitment of £7.6 billion under the levy control framework up to 2020. That is a significant achievement, which will be important for low-carbon generation in this country. It is £7.6 billion from people’s energy bills to pay for new low-carbon energy generation that will increase energy security, reduce the cost of energy bills in the long term and ensure that we meet our moral and legal obligations to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. So far, so good; I am with the Minister and with the Government.

Industry has welcomed the commitment, but has also clearly said that it is not enough. The £7.6 billion is security for only seven years. In the words of DONG energy,

“it is a case of having a cliff edge at the moment; 2020 is a big milestone”––[Official Report, Energy Public Bill Committee, 15 January 2013; c. 58, Q175.]

Andrew Buglass from the Royal Bank of Scotland told the Energy Bill Committee that the cliff edge is making it very difficult for supply chain investors to invest in the UK. Overcoming the insecurity created by the 2020 cliff edge does not require more public money, or even the promise of more money; it requires coherence, in the form of a 2030 target that proves to industry that the demand for low-carbon energy will continue to rise beyond 2020. The shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Tom Greatrex), quoted Mr Buglass in a sitting of the Energy Bill Committee, saying that

“a 2030 target ‘is absolutely critical from the conversations I have with potential supply-chain investors because they quite rightly point out that it is very difficult for them to take investment to their board if they really only have visibility on three or four years-worth of work.––[Official Report, Energy Public Bill Committee, 7 February 2013; c. 570.]

It is clear that what we are facing in 2020 is a cliff edge—a milestone—and the Government, without necessarily committing considerable excess funding at this stage, somehow have to be able to give a signal to industry and investors that this is the direction of travel the Government are taking and that they can confidently lay down their investments in the knowledge that they will get a clear return.

David Mowat: I am listening carefully to the logic flow of the hon. Gentleman’s position. What puzzles me a little is that Germany has four times as many renewables as the UK, in spite of its much higher carbon emissions per capita and per unit of GDP. It would be a step in the right direction if we emulated Germany. Germany does not, however, have a target—how did that happen?

Barry Gardiner: If the hon. Gentleman reads the record of the written evidence that was given to the Energy Bill Committee, he will see that no less a figure than David Kennedy, chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change, which independently advises the Government, said that the context in Germany is different. A low-carbon trajectory has already been established there, precisely for the reasons the hon. Gentleman suggests—four times as many renewables are already in

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place. People in Germany are not in doubt about what their Government are going to do or about the direction of travel.

David Mowat: We often take Germany as an example of best in class in such matters, so it is right to make absolutely sure that on the record we have the point that Germany’s carbon emissions are 20% higher per head and 23% higher per unit of GDP than the UK’s, principally because of the amount of coal burnt, which makes the renewables activity irrelevant. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his answer.

Barry Gardiner: I am happy to allow the hon. Gentleman to get what he wishes on the record. He is at perfect liberty to make his own remarks later, and I trust he will do so, but I point out that Germany, by going away from nuclear generation, will see a significant rise in emissions—not only there, but in neighbouring countries. Germany has been a net exporter of low-carbon electricity to its neighbours, and that also is going and will create substantial problems for Europe as a whole in meeting its emissions reduction targets. It will also present severe problems for Europe’s response to the challenge of global warming. Ultimately, I think Germany will move through that transition, away from coal.

Ian Swales (Redcar) (LD): Does the hon. Gentleman not think that the exchange we are having demonstrates the fallacy of counting carbon on a production basis? Germany is a heavy exporter of manufactured goods—cars, for example. Whose carbon is it? Is it Germany’s, or that of the person who buys the car?

Barry Gardiner: The hon. Gentleman makes a very interesting and worthwhile point, which I perfectly understand. I am sure that if I go into consumption emissions versus production emissions, you will call me to order from the Chair, Mr Gray, but we must not pat ourselves on the back for seeing our own production emissions drop if we are still driving the very consumption model that generates the emissions elsewhere around the globe.

The Committee on Climate Change estimates that in the absence of a 2030 target, offshore wind might cost as much as £140 per megawatt-hour. With such a target, the cost, under the committee’s scenario, drops to £100. The difference between the two costs is about the presence of a competitive supply chain in the UK. We do not have one, but what we do have is at risk.

Let us remember that the Government’s proposals are not that we should set a target in 2016, but that we may not set one until at least that date. Those are two very different propositions.

Dr Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): Would my hon. Friend also care to include the provision that not only can the Government not set a target before 2016, but that there is no level at which the target might be set after 2016?

Barry Gardiner: My hon. Friend is, as ever, thoroughly astute on these matters. He was a tremendous champion of the decarbonisation target when the Bill was in

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Committee, and he speaks with great knowledge on the subject. He is absolutely right. Only last night at a dinner, I heard the Secretary of State talking as if this was a great leap forward, that this would be the only Government who had legislated for a decarbonisation target. At that point I almost spluttered into my chicken, because we have not legislated for a decarbonisation target.

[

Interruption.

]

And it was beef anyway, says my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr Whitehead). What we have done is make provision so that, at the appropriate moment, it would not be impossible to legislate.

Let me return to the key point that I wish to address, because I know that other Members want to enter the debate. Although it is good to have a debate and a real exchange of views through interventions, I fear that I must press on if other Members are to be able to speak. Siemens told us that if we wait till 2016 to set a decarbonisation target for 2030, it and many of its competitors are likely to delay or cancel planned investments in the UK.

In March, six of the largest supply chain investors wrote to the Chancellor, the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to register their strong support for the decarbonisation amendment tabled by the hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr Yeo) and me, which to date is supported by 41 Members from—I am pleased to say—all parties in the House. They wrote:

“Projects can take 4-6 years from investment decision to construction and operation. We are already close to the point where lack of a post-2020 market driver will seriously undermine project pipelines. Supply chain investment decisions depend on reasonable assurance for manufacturers that a production facility to be constructed during this decade, costing hundreds of millions of pounds, will have an adequate market for its products well into the 2020s.

Postponing the 2030 target decision until 2016 creates entirely avoidable political risk. This will slow growth in the low carbon sector, handicap the UK supply chain, reduce UK R&D and produce fewer new jobs. This is not in keeping with the Government’s aspirations for the UK to be the global leader in low carbon technologies such as offshore wind and marine.”

The amendment would require a 2030 decarbonisation target for the energy sector to be set by the Secretary of State, on the advice of the Committee on Climate Change, by next spring, which would ensure that the Energy Bill sent a coherent signal to investors. By securing investment in a competitive UK supply chain, the amendment would not only reduce the cost of decarbonising our energy infrastructure, but ensure that the investments that we are committed to make produced a significant growth multiplier and contributed to the essential rebalancing of the British economy.

Recent peer-reviewed studies from the London School of Economics and Berkeley have concluded that the fiscal multiplier for productive infrastructure investment in current economic conditions is likely to be about 2.5 in the UK. The amendment would ensure that the £7.6 billion produced secure investable propositions, creating significant numbers of construction jobs and long-term high-value jobs in communities around the UK, where both are scarce.

Caroline Lucas: I of course completely support the hon. Gentleman’s amendment, which he is understandably justifying in terms of economics and, no doubt, political expedients. Will he, however, acknowledge that we should

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set the targets in line with the science, rather than with what we think is politically possible, because the target of decarbonisation by 2030 gives us only a 37% chance of remaining below 2°, and if someone said that we had only a 37% chance of not falling out of the air, I suspect that we would not get on an aeroplane? The odds are very scary.

Barry Gardiner: I am not a gambling man, but I understand the position of seeking to look at climate change policy as a balance of risks, and the hon. Lady is absolutely right to make that point. In truth, whatever the UK does will not make a global difference to whether we reach 2°, as I am sure she would acknowledge. The aspiration required of the UK and the global leadership that it possesses, which the hon. Member for St Ives mentioned, mean that we have to drive this if we are to play our part in achieving the global reduction. I understand the percentage figures she gave, but it is perhaps illegitimate to conclude that if we hit the 2030 target we will have only a 36% chance of achieving the 2° target. The UK cannot achieve that on its own; it demands a similar effort across the globe.

Part of the problem is that, in considering electricity market reform, the Government have been like a phlebotomist looking at the body politic. They have been obsessed with the energy flow around the system, as a phlebotomist is obsessed with the blood flow around the body, but they have failed to consider the health of the whole organism. That makes for a very poor doctor; we would not want a GP who was simply a phlebotomist.

The Government’s approach has not taken enough cognisance of how the energy sector fits in with powering our economy as a whole. A good example is the ramping down of funds available for carbon capture and storage. Coal and CCS will be vital for us. There will be significant jobs, and if we invest in and develop CCS, it will become a major part of our exports in skills and technology around the world, from which we can benefit. It is part of our wider economy, and the same is true of the renewables industry the more we invest in it and adopt the position, as the hon. Gentleman said, of being the global leader.

I am afraid that we have already lost that position, because other countries have invested far more, including what we are prepared to do in CCS. Unless we invest, we will not develop the export capacity that we need to drive our economy as a whole. We cannot simply be what Gary Smith of the GMB often refers to as the Meccano men of Europe, who simply fit together a product made elsewhere. We must have supply chains in the UK, create the jobs and invest in companies here.

Gregory Barker: I am sorry to intervene, but I will be pressed for time when I am winding up. The hon. Gentleman has forgotten that the Chancellor announced in the Budget the two preferred bidders for the detailed planning and design stage of our CCS competition, including the CCS project in Peterhead that was canned under the Labour Government—two projects, real progress.

Barry Gardiner: I do not dispute what the Minister says about the two projects that are on line, but I do not think that he will dispute what I have said about the reduction in funds available for CCS.

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If we build a competitive supply chain fast enough, we can expect significant investment in the UK almost immediately, which will mean that British companies are well placed to export to a renewable energy market that the International Energy Agency predicts will be worth at least $6.4 trillion by 2035. If we do not lay the foundations for a competitive supply chain, we will see the cost of decarbonisation rise, along with our trade deficit, as we hand over the growth benefits from public investment to countries that have already taken steps to remove the policy risk from low-carbon infrastructure investment. Businesses are calling for demand security beyond 2020, which the Energy Bill could provide at no cost.

The Committee on Climate Change is the body trusted by the industry to set the right target. The Minister will know only too well the letter written by the newly appointed chair of the CCC to the Secretary of State on 25 February. He described how the Government’s plans entail a

“high degree of uncertainty about sector development beyond 2020. This will adversely impact on supply chain investment decisions and project development, undermining implementation of the Bill and raising costs for consumers.”

He went further, however, and referred to

“the need to resolve uncertainties about the direction of travel for power system development”,

specifically the “dash for gas” and the danger that it presents to low-carbon generation. I trust that the Minister will reconsider the proposals on the decarbonisation target in the Department and that we may yet see some progress.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr James Gray (in the Chair): Order. I intend to call the Front-Bench speakers at five minutes to 6 o’clock. There are five or six Members of Parliament who are trying to catch my eye, so, as a matter of courtesy, perhaps we could keep our remarks reasonably brief.


5.30 pm

Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): I am pleased to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Gray, and to make a short contribution to this debate.

In introducing the debate, the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George) said that he was concerned that there might not be enough time to discuss this matter when the Energy Bill returns to the House on Report. One of the problems that many of us who served on the Bill Committee faced was the lack of detail in many areas. We were promised the delivery document in May, and that document might contain a great deal of information. I suspect that there will be pressure to debate many issues on Report, which makes it even more important that we discuss decarbonisation now.

As has rightly been said, the Government made late amendments to the Bill on the decarbonisation target. However, they did not require it to be set, or to be set in 2016, which, according to the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), is the earliest date it can be set. They did not even say that it should be available for 2030, which is merely the earliest date to which it should apply. In essence, there is no provision for a decarbonisation target in the Bill. Even more worryingly, when the Bill was published, the Government announced their gas strategy, which clearly envisaged a substantial number

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of new gas generation stations. It seems to me that the emissions performance standard in the Bill would allow for the building of new unabated gas stations, even though Ofgem has warned that bills could rise substantially until 2016 should we have a heavy reliance on gas. There could also be a reduction in energy security, so we might have to rely increasingly on imported gas.

The current carbon budget might have to be amended—not downwards but upwards—to allow for the greater emissions that are to be created. Certainly, the Committee on Climate Change has been a strong proponent of the need for a decarbonisation target and is concerned about that very issue. As the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) rightly said, the main reason for a decarbonisation target is to reduce carbon emissions; we must do that if we are going to have any chance of keeping within 2°, as she said. The Committee on Climate Change has made it clear that decarbonising power is the cheapest way of meeting our overall carbon budget. It is important that we give a clear and unequivocal message that we must continue with decarbonisation. It is remarkable that those who are calling for the target include not only those who campaign on climate change but a wide range of industries, which wish to maintain progress on climate change not for political reasons but for hard-headed business reasons. They want to be sure of the future before making very substantial investments in new green energy, and they are looking at investments into the 2020s. Long lead-in periods are involved, and decisions taken now are for massive investments that will not come on stream for many years. They need to be sure that those investments are worth while. There are mixed signals from the Government, which makes business nervous that there will not be the same commitment to renewable energy in future.

Dan Byles: Will the hon. Gentleman tell us exactly what mixed signals have come from the Government? We have the toughest carbon emission reductions enshrined in law in the world.

Mr Weir: I have just explained the mixed signals through the carbon targets, the gas strategy and the failure to set a decarbonisation target. The hon. Gentleman has argued, as Ministers did in Committee, that we have a 2050 target, which no other country has but, as the hon. Member for Brent North rightly pointed out, there is a difference from the past. There is a strong movement towards renewable energy production in Germany and especially in Denmark, which is heavily into wind. In fact, Denmark took over leadership of the wind energy industry from the UK in the 1970s, and has invested heavily in it. It is much more advanced and is clearly going down the renewable route. Professor Mitchell from Exeter university said in our evidence session:

“If you look at what has been going on just in terms of the EMR over the last two years, we have a lobby full of nuclear industry, strong movements for renewables and now a gas strategy coming out of the Treasury. It is an incredibly uncertain world for those who wish to invest, going into the long term.”––[Official Report, Energy Public Bill Committee, 15 January 2013; c. 72, Q217.]

That is the message that industry is getting. Siemens appeared before the Committee, as did Gamesa, which has said publicly that it is concerned about the matter and fears that it might affect future investment.

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The Government need to make it clear that they intend to proceed with the decarbonisation of energy, as those mixed messages are causing concern. If we are to have green energy for the future, it is crucial that a supply chain is established to help us reap the economic benefits and jobs that come with it. We must not end up, as we have in the past, importing kit—turbines and whatever else—to ensure that we can meet the energy challenges.

David Mowat: I have not been in the Chamber from the outset, but the hon. Gentleman was the first to use the word “nuclear” in the debate. France has some of the lowest carbon emissions in Europe. Would he support an expansion of our civil nuclear programme so that we can be like France and have much lower emissions than the average in Europe?

Mr Weir: The hon. Gentleman obviously was not here at the beginning of the debate, because we had quite a big discussion about nuclear. He knows perfectly well that I do not support nuclear power, but that is an entirely different argument, which I will not get into at this stage, Mr Gray, as I am sure that you would rule me out of order. I will just say in passing that negotiations with EDF over Hinkley and the costs of nuclear have raised huge concerns about its affordability—never mind the other concerns that have been raised over nuclear. We have been promised details on that matter, which we will hopefully receive before we discuss the Bill on Report. Certainly, some of the things that are being reported at the moment give us huge cause for concern.

I was saying that during our debates on the Energy Bill, Ministers made the point that other countries did not have decarbonisation targets, but those countries are further ahead in creating that supply chain, which is something that we are trying to do almost from scratch. In an evidence session, David Handley of Renewable Energy Systems said:

“The value of a 2030 decarbonisation target, as we heard earlier, is in providing that greater signal to the supply chain, to the entrepreneurs who are looking to invest in new businesses and to the people who are developing projects that there is going to be this long-term market for the products that they are delivering.”—[Official Report, Energy Public Bill Committee, 15 January 2013; c. 57, Q168.]

That point was also made by DONG Energy. As the hon. Member for Brent North said, it saw 2020 as a cliff edge for investment. Given the long-term commitment required, that is a serious drawback.

Offshore wind has, I believe, a strong and vibrant future. There are plans to install up to 10 GW of capacity in Scottish waters over the next decade, including three projects off the coast of Angus in my constituency. They promise not only employment in renewables but a boost for the port of Montrose, which has good prospects for supplying and maintaining wind farms in the future.

Many more sites are being looked at for deployment in the 2020s, alongside commercial wave and tidal generation. We must ensure that we send a clear and unambiguous message that we want those developments and will continue to push the decarbonisation of our energy sector. If we fail to do so, we will not reap the economic benefits that are available in the sector. As the hon. Member for St Ives noted, much of the growth

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at the moment, although low, is coming from green industry. If we fail in this area, we will limit even further our prospects for growth in future.

5.40 pm

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George) on securing this debate and on bringing this important matter to Westminster Hall for our consideration at a very important time. I will keep strictly to my allotted time scale, Mr Gray, because I realise that other Members wish to contribute, I shall try to ensure that they can do so.

I recognise the importance of this critical debate and I want to try, if I can, to give the Northern Ireland perspective. At the same time, I want to put down a marker by offering some suggestions to which I hope the Minister can respond. Only last week, I had a meeting with local people in Portavogie, one of the villages in my constituency, and we discussed flooding issues. The guys from Northern Ireland Water were there and they told us that, as far as they were concerned, although people used to refer to “one in 50 years” or “one in 100 years” flooding—that was the way that people looked at it—flooding would be a regular occurrence for the next five to 10 years. Gone are the days of “one in 50 years” or “one in 100 years” flooding; floods will perhaps be an occurrence every week. I make that point because it is the reason why this debate is important—there is a change in world conditions and it is very clear how it will impact on us.

There is also the issue of cheap coal. The United States is putting a lot of cheap coal on the market, which power stations in the United Kingdom have used. However, by doing so over a period of time, power stations have increased the emissions that they produce. All those things underline the importance of this debate and the need for the decarbonisation of energy generation.

I will make a couple of quick points about wind farms. I also want to put down a marker, because while everyone is committed to green energy—ask anybody in the street or in a constituency and they will say that they are committed to green energy—when it comes to cost they sometimes draw back or have a question mark about it. We have to achieve a balance that can work for everyone. Wind farms on land can create energy, which is important, but what they can also do—if they are not sited in the correct way—is have an impact on people living near them, both visually and by creating noise. Wind farms need to be situated in the right location; perhaps the Minister can discuss that in relation to planning matters.

Wind farms have the potential to do great things, but at the same time they can be contentious. There are plans for an offshore wind farm off the coast of South Down in Northern Ireland in prime prawn and fishing areas, which will affect what fishermen can do at a time when they need to fish. The fishing industry is under pressure. The past six months have been critical for fishermen and fishing fleets in Northern Ireland. They have made no money in the past six months.

Mr James Gray (in the Chair): Also well beyond the terms of our debate.

Jim Shannon: Absolutely—I accept that, Mr Gray. I just wanted to put a marker down about fishing.

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There are alternatives that will allow us to reduce carbonisation. Willow mass is an alternative that farmers have been encouraged to consider. It is a method whereby they can reduce carbon while at the same time achieving an income. I will put down a quick marker on anaerobic digester systems. Germany has 2,500 of them, yet in the United Kingdom we have only 23. They are another alternative that allows us to reduce carbonisation.

Several hon. Members have referred to nuclear power and to the concerns expressed by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas). As far as a great many people in my party and I are concerned, nuclear power is the key factor in reducing emissions to ensure that targets are met. We believe that the new generation of UK nuclear plants, beginning with Hinkley, are welcome news. What we need is an overall strategy that delivers; one that is not contentious and that does not create division; and one that has achievable targets, with everyone committed to achieving the right balance. With those comments, Mr Gray, I have finished.