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House of Commons

Thursday 19 June 2014

The House met at half-past Nine o’clock


[Mr Speakerin the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Energy and Climate Change

The Secretary of State was asked—

Carbon and Renewables Targets

1. David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): What discussions he has had with his counterparts in EU member states on carbon and renewables targets. [904333]

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr Edward Davey): I have engaged extensively with my EU counterparts on the European Commission's proposals for a 2030 climate and energy framework. This has included discussions at the Energy and Environment Councils in March, May and June this year; many meetings of the green growth group of like-minded EU Ministers, which I established in February last year; and various visits to individual member states for extensive bilateral engagement. Throughout these discussions, I have stressed the need for early political agreement on an ambitious and cost-effective 2030 framework. This is important to unlock low-carbon investment and to put the EU in a stronger position for the global climate negotiations in 2015.

David Mowat: I thank the Secretary of State for his reply. He will be aware that right across the EU, we are seeing the amount of electricity produced from coal increasing. In particular, in 2013, countries such as Germany, Holland and Denmark all showed a considerable increase, yet the UK, which is among the lowest carbon emitters in the EU, is phasing coal out at speed. How can that dichotomy of policy be rational?

Mr Davey: I do not think there is a dichotomy of policy. One of the key issues in the 2030 package that we are negotiating is reform of the EU emissions trading system to send a carbon signal that everyone had expected under the 2008 deal, which has failed to come through. It is right to proceed with this reform. I am proud that Britain is leading in Europe on the ambitious climate change package that is vital to tackle climate change.

Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): I welcome the Secretary of State to Bristol tomorrow for Big Green week. I think we will be having dinner together. [Hon. Members: “Ooh!”] The shadow climate change Minister will be there, too!

While I welcome the UK’s support for more ambitious carbon targets, surely Britain cannot credibly be described as “leading in Europe” if we do not support Germany’s

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renewables target—of 30%, which would be binding on national states. The previous 20% target gave a huge boost to the renewables sector in this country, so I urge the Energy Secretary to think again and support Germany’s plan.

Mr Davey: I am looking forward to dinner on Friday night. I did not realise it was in my diary, so I had better confess it to my wife.

The renewables target for 2020 was a very sensible one; it was needed to bring an immature industry forward, but I do not think it is needed for 2030. What is most important for 2030 is having an ambitious greenhouse gas reduction target. That is what we need to tackle climate change, and we need to do it in a technology-neutral way, which enables carbon capture and storage, energy efficiency and all low-carbon technologies to come through. I think that is the greenest approach.

Incandescent Bulbs

2. Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): What progress he has made in negotiations with the European Commission on a derogation from the ban on the import or manufacture of incandescent bulbs for people with photo-sensitive health conditions; and if he will make a statement. [904334]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Gregory Barker): The regulation removing incandescent bulbs from the market has been in force since 2009. The UK is sympathetic to concerns raised about the potential health impacts of lighting. Although the scientific evidence of such impacts is limited, we take the issue seriously and will press the European Commission to take this into account in the upcoming review.

Sheila Gilmore: I thank the Minister for that answer and I appreciate that the responsibility for this issue has only recently been transferred from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I hope that the Department has full records of the various times that I and other Members have raised it. Many people clearly suffer health ill-effects from both compact fluorescent light bulbs and LED lighting. The regulations under review offer an opportunity to make incandescent light bulbs available to this relatively small group of people, and I urge the Minister to press the Commission very hard on that.

Gregory Barker: I recognise the hon. Lady’s long-term interest in this issue, and she is right to say that the responsibility has recently come across to this Department from DEFRA. I read the Hansard of the hon. Lady’s Westminster Hall debate on this topic, and she made some very sensible points. I can assure her that, in the context of the upcoming review, we are pressing the EU to make sure that these points are taken into account.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): A derogation is all well and good, but what we really want is a complete exemption. Will my right hon. Friend tell us what chances there are, in the forthcoming renegotiations of our terms of membership, of this country getting back the right to be able to use whatever light bulbs we want—without being told what to do by the EU?

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Gregory Barker: I am afraid I have to disagree with my hon. Friend. The fact of the matter is that by having energy-efficient light bulbs, we are driving innovation and driving down people’s electricity bills. We do not want to go back to having high-cost energy bills and turning our back on innovation, but we want a flexible approach and we want to ensure that the EU takes on board the health concerns that have been raised about these technologies.

Energy Efficiency

3. Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab): What steps he is taking to help households improve their energy efficiency. [904335]

12. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): What steps he is taking to help households improve their energy efficiency. [904347]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Gregory Barker): Figures released this morning show that nearly 700,000 homes have benefited from direct energy efficiency improvements since the launch of the energy company obligation and green deal programme in January 2013. Nearly a quarter of a million people have been given green deal assessments, which, according to our research, are proving to be popular and useful in stimulating action. Last week we launched the green deal home improvement fund, which is already showing signs of providing a significant boost for the nascent green deal market.

Graham Jones: It is the ECO about which I am most concerned. On 16 January, the Minister told the House:

“we have extended the ECO out to 2017 and increased the number of people it will help”.—[Official Report, 16 January 2014; Vol. 573, c. 987.]

Will he explain why the impact assessment that his Department published on 5 March states that 440,000 fewer households will be helped to improve their energy efficiency as a result of the changes to the ECO?

Gregory Barker: The hon. Gentleman is looking at the wrong part of the impact assessment. The assessment relating to the period up to 2017—not 2015— makes it clear that we will be helping more people by extending the time scale of the ECO. We will also be providing long-term certainty for the industry, in contrast to the stop-go starts that we experienced under Labour.

John McDonnell: In my constituency, there has been a massive expansion in the number of buy-to-let properties. Landlords charge higher rents and cram large numbers of people into those properties, but do not invest in them. That means that families are trapped into high energy prices. What can we do not just to encourage but perhaps to force those landlords to invest in energy conservation?

Gregory Barker: The hon. Gentleman has made a good point. That is exactly why we took powers in the Energy Act 2010—the first Energy Act of this Parliament—to give every tenant the right to a green deal improvement from 2016, and from 2018 landlords will not be able to refuse it.

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Mr Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): One of the best ways of achieving energy efficiency is replacing old and inefficient boilers. In Scotland the green homes cash-back scheme provides some help—albeit limited—with off-grid home fuel and liquefied petroleum gas boilers, but the ECO schemes of the main energy companies still do not cover those boilers. Will the Minister press the companies to reconsider?

Gregory Barker: I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point. We are keen to do even more for people living off the gas grid, particularly in rural areas. However, the hon. Gentleman failed to mention the significant payments that are available, through the new renewable heat incentive, to help such people manage the transition from expensive heating oil to new affordable technologies such as heat pumps.

Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): There is no doubt that the Government disappointed hundreds of thousands of customers last December when they responded to concern about rising bills by choosing to cut funding for energy efficiency measures. Given that the consultation on the cuts closed last month, and given that even Boris Johnson submitted evidence that they were too severe, will the Minister tell us whether there is any scope for mitigation of the reduction in the ECO targets, so that the 440,000 people who will miss out can be offered some hope of a warmer future?

Gregory Barker: There are choices to be made. We are pressing ahead with an ambitious roll-out of energy efficiency measures, and targeting the fuel poor in particular through the ECO. As I said earlier, figures released this morning show that nearly 700,000 people have been helped since the launch of the ECO and green deal programme. However, we also have a responsibility to all energy bill payers, and we chose to reduce people’s energy bills. The hon. Gentleman clearly places Labour on the side of higher energy bills for all hard-working families, but I am afraid that, in our judgment, we need to bear down on the cost of living.

Low-carbon Electricity Projects

4. Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): What progress he has made in increasing investment in low-carbon electricity projects. [904336]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Michael Fallon): We estimate that nearly £29 billion has been invested in renewable electricity generation projects in Britain since 2010, and the Energy Act 2013 provides the framework for an increase in that investment. Last month we signed investment contracts, an early form of contract for difference, for eight projects: five offshore wind farms, two coal-to-biomass conversions, and one dedicated biomass plant.

Dr Huppert: According to Bloomberg, there was a 59% increase in finance for new renewables in the last year, making a total of £7.3 billion. Just in the last couple of days the East Anglia ONE scheme was approved, which will power 820,000 homes using clean energy.

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What will the Government and Minister do to extend this success and to tell people about our great success in renewables?

Michael Fallon: I think my hon. Friend has almost just done that, and I confirm that the Bloomberg analysis shows that investment has doubled during this Parliament. It increased by 20% last year at a time when it was falling in Germany. We now have the largest amount of offshore wind installed anywhere in the world. Two of the biggest wind farms in the world were opened last year. I know my hon. Friend welcomes the East Anglia ONE approval given this week, which will power over 800,000 homes, and more projects are coming on stream this year.

Dr Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): Has the Minister made any assessment of the support costs for the procurement of low-carbon capacity such as field solar and biomass compared with the support costs for securing high-carbon capacity, such as gas, through the capacity auction mechanism?

Michael Fallon: Of course, we look at the different costs of the different technologies all the time, and we have to make sure all those costs are manageable within the levy control framework and within the figures that we have set out right through to 2020.

Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): I note the progress the Minister cites in agreeing contracts for difference for biomass and offshore wind. Is the Department negotiating contracts for difference for any other renewable energy technologies?

Michael Fallon: There are already investment projects proceeding in a range of different technologies. We have some 120 renewable projects under way which are not limited to offshore or onshore wind, but include solar, biomass, dedicated biomass with combined heat and power, and some of the other renewable technologies.

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): May I press the Minister on this? If we want to improve innovation in this sector, is not the real problem that we are not getting down to small and medium-sized enterprises enough, and is not one way of doing that through having good partnerships involving universities? Could we stimulate local enterprise partnerships and universities to do more in partnership to move this on?

Michael Fallon: A number of the LEPs have put forward energy-related projects in the strategic growth plans that we are considering at the moment, and which we hope to finalise and announce early next month. In addition, there is the community energy strategy that encourages precisely that kind of work, and I look forward to visiting the university of Sheffield tomorrow morning to see the research that it is doing on carbon capture and storage.

Shale Gas

5. Priti Patel (Witham) (Con): What recent estimate he has made of the value to the UK economy of the shale gas sector. [904337]

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The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Michael Fallon): The Government are promoting responsible shale development for greater energy security, to deliver jobs and growth and to support investment. The recent EY report estimates that there could be £33 billion-worth of spend on shale gas exploration creating about 64,000 jobs, including over £20 billion on hydraulic fracturing and £8 billion on drilling and completion of the wells. That is why we are supporting exploration to understand just how much of this potential can be realised.

Priti Patel: I thank the Minister for his response. Given the enormous projected value of the shale gas sector and the opportunity shale provides for energy independence, do the Government have plans to support more investment in shale gas infrastructure?

Michael Fallon: Yes, we have set out the new fiscal regime that will apply to shale exploration. We have a system of robust regulation in place. There are some dozen companies now exploring, and I shall shortly be inviting applications for new onshore licences under the 14th licensing round, which will afford more opportunities for new companies to enter this market, and I know colleagues across the House will want to champion applications for licences in their area.

Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op): The Minister in his reply referred to robust regulation, and he is right that robust regulation is important, as is comprehensive monitoring of those regulations to meet the higher public acceptability test for this technology. Given that groundwater can contain methane naturally, will the Minister explain why it is that, more than two and half years after the issue was raised with his predecessors, it is still the case that the regulations do not include the baseline monitoring of methane in groundwater, especially as there are concerns about such contamination in the US and elsewhere? Surely it is important that we have that as part of the regulation to ensure confidence in the regulatory regime for shale gas.

Michael Fallon: There are no examples from the United States of hydraulic fracturing contaminating groundwater because, as the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, the fracturing takes place very much deeper than any groundwater levels. I am happy to look at the specific point that he mentions about baseline monitoring.

Energy Markets (Competition)

6. Mrs Anne McGuire (Stirling) (Lab): What steps he is taking to improve competition in energy markets. [904338]

7. Susan Elan Jones (Clwyd South) (Lab): What steps he is taking to improve competition in energy markets. [904339]

16. Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): What steps he is taking to improve competition in energy markets. [904351].

19. John Robertson (Glasgow North West) (Lab): What steps he is taking to improve competition in energy markets. [904355]

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The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr Edward Davey): The Government are strongly committed to improving competition. Since 2010, 12 new companies have entered the market, meaning that there are now 19 independent domestic suppliers competing with the big six. Latest figures show that half the households that switch are moving to independent suppliers and we are set to halve the time it takes to switch. Ofgem’s retail market reforms have delivered a simpler, clearer market, and its market maker obligation is improving wholesale market access for smaller suppliers. Last year, we asked the competition authorities to make an annual assessment of competition in energy markets. Consequently, Ofgem has consulted on a market investigation reference, which we strongly support.

Mrs McGuire: Notwithstanding the Secretary of State’s answer, around 98% of homes in Britain still take their energy supplies from the big six. Wholesale prices are falling and consumers are seeing no benefit. Does he not wish that he had been a bit braver in the Energy Act 2013 to ensure that when wholesale prices fall, consumers get some of the benefit? He could have included such proposals in the recent Act.

Mr Davey: I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her question, but let me just correct her. The market share of the independents is now nearly 6% compared with less than 1% in 2010. That extraordinary growth in such a short period shows the value of competition, with 1 million people switching to independent suppliers over the past year. However, she makes an important point about wholesale energy prices, and we discussed that at length yesterday. We have taken action both through competition and through supporting the competition inquiry, which has real teeth. That stands in stark contrast to the previous Government. When the Leader of the Opposition was doing my job, he failed to take any action, even though wholesale energy prices fell much faster than they are doing now.

Susan Elan Jones: The Minister seems to have forgotten that his party has been in government now for four years, and that last autumn the Which? survey showed that consumers have been paying almost £4 billion over the odds since 2010. Why does he not show a little courage and leadership and break up the big six when the evidence is all in favour of doing so?

Mr Davey: Unlike the hon. Lady’s party leader when he was doing my job, we have referred the energy markets to the independent competition authorities for the most thorough investigation to check that they are behaving in the interests of consumers. More than that, unlike the previous Government who saw the number of energy companies fall from 15 to six, we have increased competition so that people have a real choice, and that is now working. There is still more to do, because the energy markets we inherited from the previous Government were in such a mess.

Mr Bain: Once again, the Secretary of State is sounding dreadfully out of touch. Has he not looked at the latest annual fuel poverty survey, which shows that 2.33 million households in this country are in fuel poverty, and that the gap between what households can afford and what they are expected to pay has increased to £480 under this Government? When are the Government going to

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stop the excuses, take action and bring in a proper energy price freeze so that consumers can get some relief from this rising cost of living?

Mr Davey: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the issue of fuel poverty, because I do look at the statistics and we are focusing very much on that. It is worth noticing that fuel poverty went up under the previous Government, but under this Government it has gone down by 5% according to the latest figures. It is interesting that the figures have gone down under both the old definition and the new one.

Right hon. and hon. Members might want to understand why we brought in a new definition of fuel poverty. The old definition, which was introduced by the previous Government, was so ineffective that it described the Queen as being in fuel poverty in some years. We are targeting fuel poverty, and we are spending more on tackling fuel poverty than the previous Government. We have a good record, and we want to do more.

John Robertson: The Secretary of State once again manipulates the figures, and I think it is a bit of a con. He thinks that the Labour party’s policy is a con to restructure the energy market. Does he not agree, however, that the real con is the fact that the companies can sell their own energy to themselves? Does he not care about people in fuel poverty?

Mr Davey: I think I have proved that I certainly do care, because we have done a lot more than the previous Government. Let me take up the point about the wholesale market. The previous Government did absolutely nothing; they created the big six that sell energy to each other. [Interruption.] Opposition Members do not like it, but it is a fact. Under this Government, Ofgem has brought in the market maker obligation, which creates the transparency that the Opposition were asking for. The Opposition failed, but we have succeeded.

Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): In my constituency, I have promoted the big switch, and I believe that the way to drive competition in the market is for people to vote with their feet. Will the Secretary of State advise the House and my constituents what actions he has taken to make it simpler and faster for them to switch to a better energy supplier?

Mr Davey: My hon. Friend makes an important point. The collective switch, of which that scheme was a part, has made big progress. We have seen a lot of initiatives and we are learning a lot of lessons. A lot of people are saving a lot of money because they are coming together for group purchasing.

The point about faster switching times is absolutely right, and that is one of the reasons why we called in the industry. We inherited a situation in which it took five and a half weeks, on average, to switch, which was unacceptable. We have now got commitments from industry, with Ofgem leading the way, to halve switching times by the end of the year, and we have a plan to get the time it takes to switch down to 24 hours. That is the right approach.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the price freeze that Labour proposes, but that many energy players and experts

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oppose, will not only reduce competition in the energy market but reduce investment in our energy infrastructure, which is sorely needed after too many years of neglect?

Mr Davey: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. An energy price freeze would hit investors, hit investment, hit energy security and hit our efforts to decarbonise. Worst of all, it would hit consumers, because energy companies would put up their prices directly after the freeze. Everybody knows that, and it is one of the reasons why we have been pushing competition. Competition means not merely freezing bills—five of the big six have announced that they will freeze their bills this year—but, because of independent suppliers, enabling people to cut their bills. Our policy is to cut bills; the Opposition’s is simply to freeze them. We are the ones who are ambitious and on the side of the consumer.

Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): Many of my constituents live off the gas grid, and there is limited competition for liquefied petroleum gas or heating oil to heat their homes. Many of my constituents depend on one local supplier and have to pay whatever prices that supplier chooses to charge. What can my right hon. Friend do to help my constituents who are in that position?

Mr Davey: My hon. Friend makes a really important point. The Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon) has been working with the industry on the concordat. The statistics that have emerged from the new fuel poverty definitions show, unlike previous ones, that much fuel poverty is in off gas grid areas. When we bring forward the fuel poverty strategy shortly, we will be focusing on off gas grid customers, because they are really suffering, and—guess what?—the previous Government did nothing about it.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley) (Lab): There are more than 1 million families with children in fuel poverty, which is more than there have been at any point during the past 10 years. If wholesale prices are falling but those reductions are not being passed on to consumers, it is a clear sign that competition is not working. Yesterday, the Government opposed our proposal to give the regulator the power to force energy companies to pass on falls in wholesale prices if they have not done so. If the regulator does not have the power to protect consumers and if the Government will not give it that power, how does the Secretary of State expect the public, particularly the 1 million families with children in fuel poverty, to have any confidence in the energy market?

Mr Davey: The right hon. Lady will remember that yesterday I made it clear that we have real concerns about the energy market. That is one reason why we support the competition inquiry. I made it very clear that we are worried about the fact that when wholesale prices go up, retail prices follow them quickly, which is the rocket effect, but that when wholesale prices come down, retail prices do not come down as quickly—the feather effect. We believe that that has to be addressed. The previous Government had the same problem and they did not address it. We are addressing it.

The problem with the proposed regulation, as I told the House yesterday, is that when we look at the detail we can see that it would fail and would lead to prices

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going up. It is a bungee-jumping approach to energy prices and it would increase volatility and fluctuations. If the House wants a little more analysis, let me point out that a few months ago wholesale prices were coming down, yet in the past few weeks they have gone up. Are the Opposition saying that they would force energy companies to move directly with daily and weekly moves in the wholesale costs? That is surely madness.

Solar PV

8. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): What recent representations he has received on the proposed changes to financial support for solar PV. [904341]

9. Alison McGovern (Wirral South) (Lab): What recent representations he has received on the proposed changes to financial support for solar PV. [904343]

15. Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): What recent representations he has received on the proposed changes to financial support for solar PV. [904350]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Gregory Barker): Thanks to the dramatic fall in the cost of solar and the huge level of deployment under the coalition Government, solar can now be at the forefront of the transition to the new contracts for difference support mechanism, which had support in the Division Lobby from the whole House. The detail of the changeover from the renewables obligation is crucial, so we are carefully engaging with industry during the consultation period to ensure that we get the details absolutely right.

Kelvin Hopkins: Solar PV and onshore wind are two of the cheapest large-scale renewable energy sectors. Does the Minister accept that cuts to solar, coming off the back of his party’s promise to impose an effective moratorium on onshore wind, will lead to higher energy bills?

Gregory Barker: The hon. Gentleman is somewhat misled. We are certainly not proposing cuts to solar. We are putting solar at the forefront of our transition to contracts for difference, which set out the growth path for all renewable technologies well into the next decade. We are seeing tremendous growth in solar and our ambitious solar strategy will ensure that that continues for years to come.

Alison McGovern: May I push the Minister a little further on what he has just said? There seems to be genuine worry that the consultation represents disinvestment in solar photovoltaics. Will he say how that is not the case and confirm that to do so would be counter-productive?

Gregory Barker: Let me reassure the hon. Lady that this Government are 110% committed to solar. What is more, when we came into office there were a few megawatts of solar and there are now thousands of megawatts of solar. More than 3 GW of solar have been installed under this Government. We have a fantastic record and there is lots more to come, but the changes to which she referred simply refer primarily to large field-based solar

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and only to schemes above 5 MW. The feed-in tariffs system remains intact and is there for the long-term support of rooftop mounted and smaller scale systems.

Michael Connarty: The Minister seems once again to be deluding himself. The analysis is that the reduction of the renewables obligation for projects above 5 MW will result in the loss of 30% of the planned build— 1.3 GW will disappear. The regression tariff on roof-mounted solar above 50 kW will probably not encourage people with large roofs to make the investment that the Minister wants. That will damage the carbon promise that we made and people who want to use solar.

Gregory Barker: The hon. Gentleman is obviously a fan of indiscriminately building field-based solar. We have been very clear in our solar strategy that we want the focus for growth to be on roof-mounted systems and on-site generation. The fact is that all technologies will transfer from the renewables obligation to contracts for difference, and solar is simply at the front of the queue. We have an ambitious strategy and we are driving it forward.

20. [904356] Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): I congratulate the Minister on the significant expansion of solar on his watch and not least on the fact that every one of the 158 new properties in Sandringham drive in Houghton Regis has solar panels on the roof, really benefiting tenants. However, many more people want to benefit. What can the Minister do to help with the affordability issues that people face?

Gregory Barker: First and foremost, through our reforms we have helped to drive down the cost of solar. When we came into government, the cost of a typical domestic set of panels was close to £15,000. It is now available, say from Ikea, for under £5,000. Financing packages are available that will finance almost the whole cost, but I am also keen to open up the green deal to allow the FITs income to be taken into account for the golden rule. That will have a transformational effect, making solar available to pretty much everyone.

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): In the Minister’s forthcoming plans, will he ensure that it is a requirement of any large-scale solar, or indeed any large-scale onshore wind, that communities derive a demonstrable and measurable benefit?

Gregory Barker: My hon. Friend makes an extremely good point. That is very much the thrust of Government policy. As our community energy strategy makes clear, we are determined to drive forward the roll-out of a much more distributive energy economy and to empower communities, and giving them part of local developments, such as larger-scale solar, is a way of doing that.

Julie Elliott (Sunderland Central) (Lab): The Minister has declared that it is his ambition to see 20 GW of solar PV by 2020. However, the reality does not match the rhetoric of that statement, or, indeed, some of his answers today. His own impact assessment for the latest review of solar predicts that there could be a 30% reduction in projected deployment under the renewables obligations, which would be enough to power 400,000 homes. Does he accept that that makes a mockery of his commitment to solar and, as it comes off the

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back of his party’s attacks on onshore wind, how does he expect to maintain any credibility on investment in the sector?

Gregory Barker: Oh, the Labour party does love doom and gloom! Labour Members should get real and realise that solar is going through an extraordinary expansion. It is a good news story that should be celebrated. I have been very clear that we will reach my ambition of having 20 GW of solar, which is absolutely credible, only if we drive down to zero subsidy. We will not get there if we are still relying on subsidy by the end of this decade. We are working with the industry to drive down the cost even further and eliminate subsidy altogether, with a focus on rooftop and on-site generation.

Renewable Heating Systems

10. Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): What steps he has taken to help home owners install renewable heating systems. [904344]

21. Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): What steps he has taken to help home owners install renewable heating systems. [904357]

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Gregory Barker): Our world-first domestic renewable heat incentive scheme opened for applications on 9 April, giving home owners an unprecedented opportunity to install greener, cheaper heating. More than 1,000 applications have already been accredited to the scheme.

Oliver Colvile: What pressure is being put on housing associations to reduce energy costs for tenants, especially those living in energy poverty and those receiving benefits?

Gregory Barker: It is typical of my hon. Friend to be particularly concerned about the more vulnerable and those on lower incomes, and he has done a great deal of work in his constituency to help them. We have a range of policies that will help reduce energy bills for tenants and home owners alike. Social housing was at the forefront in benefiting from DECC’s renewable heat premium payment scheme. We installed over 10,000 renewable heating systems in social housing. Social housing providers and the National Housing Federation are working closely with my team in DECC to look at more ways in which we can make the RHI available to social housing tenants.

Andrew Stephenson: My right hon. Friend was kind enough to visit Pendle on Monday and meet Fiona Imlach and Bruce Mills of Ashburn Stoves in Earby, a business that sells renewable heating systems for use in people’s homes. What assurances can he give the customers of such businesses that they will be supported through Government scheme such as the renewable heat incentive?

Gregory Barker: I thank my hon. Friend for welcoming me to his constituency, where I was very impressed to see the support he is giving to a number of exciting and innovative green businesses, which are clearly benefiting from the wider growth in the economy. Many products sold by Ashburn Stoves, such as the pellet stoves I was shown, are already included in our schemes. We want

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the RHI to drive innovation and we are clear that next year there will be a review to bring in new technologies that are proven to reduce carbon emissions.

Ann McKechin (Glasgow North) (Lab): About a quarter of houses in Scotland are in the hard-to-heat category, having been built of stone or with non-traditional construction. Can the Minister give me an estimate of how many houses he believes will benefit from the green deal scheme between now and 2017, and what priority will he give to that category of property?

Gregory Barker: I am answering questions on the renewable heat incentive rather than the green deal scheme. I could not give the hon. Lady an answer about 2017 off the top of my head, but I will happily write to her with our estimate.

Energy Security

11. Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the UK’s energy security. [904345]

17. Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the UK’s energy security. [904353]

18. Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the UK’s energy security. [904354]

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr Edward Davey): The UK enjoys a stable and secure energy supply, and we are working hard to ensure that it continues. As a Government, we are actively managing a number of risks to our current and future energy supplies, including the current challenges from Iraq, Russia and Ukraine. Our recent national gas risk assessment demonstrated that our gas infrastructure is robust. The measures recently announced by National Grid respond to the energy crunch that, owing to the legacy of under-investment and neglect, was predicted for this winter, but which will not now happen.

Andrew Gwynne: I thank the Secretary of State for that reply. As he will know, this week National Grid suggested that interconnection could save the UK £1 billion in its efforts to meet its supply requirements. What support are the Government giving to ensure that there are potential options for interconnection in future?

Mr Davey: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s question. We are giving huge support. We published the first ever interconnection strategy in December and we are working with Ofgem, which recently published a new registry framework. We hope that three interconnector projects will get to financial close very shortly—the Eleclink through the channel tunnel, the Nemo Link project with Belgium and the NSN project with Norway—and we think that two other projects could come forward with France. The question is really important as it involves the single European energy market, of which we are strong supporters. We are working tirelessly on that very point.

Nic Dakin: Given that industry is having to use load management measures more often than before, is it not time to establish, as Labour has proposed, a single institution—an energy security board—to assess future capacity and establish strategic objectives to deliver it?

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Mr Davey: The last thing we need for energy security is a new quango. The system involving National Grid, Ofgem and my Department is working incredibly well, which is why we dealt with the problem that we inherited. The demand load measures that the hon. Gentleman talked about have been welcomed by the CBI and industry; they are used an awful lot in north America and in other countries, but we have underused them. They are mainly used by companies volunteering to pay to use on-site generation, rather than national grid electricity, at the peak.

Tom Blenkinsop: Will the Secretary of State confirm that just one new gas-fired power station will have started construction and come online in this Parliament, under this Government, compared with the 10 GW of new gas capacity built under the previous Labour Government?

Mr Davey: I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not trying to suggest that the last Government were effective in investing in electricity production, because they were very weak. There has been £45 billion of electricity investment since 2010. The investment rate is going up, not just in gas but in renewables. The first nuclear deal was struck last October. We are going across the board, and the lights will stay on under us; if Labour’s policy had continued, they would have gone out.

Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Does not the Chinese Premier’s reconfirmation this week of Chinese investors’ willingness to invest in a new generation of nuclear power stations in the UK demonstrate that the world sees the UK generally as a good place in which to invest? Does it not also show that the Chinese see the framework of the Energy Act 2013 as a good, sound basis on which to invest in energy in the UK?

Mr Davey: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The interest from around the world in the UK’s reformed electricity markets, particularly the world’s first ever low-carbon electricity market, is profound. It is not just the Chinese; there is interest from the French as well as from Japanese companies such as Hitachi and Toshiba-Westinghouse—and not just in nuclear, but across the low carbon piece.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley) (Lab): The capacity market is meant to help secure our energy supply, but that must be done with as little cost to consumers as possible. There are 15-year contracts for new plant, compared with three-year contracts for existing plant. Will that not create perverse incentives, particularly for the big six, to build lots of new power stations, when it could be quicker and cheaper to refurbish existing plant?

Mr Davey: No.


13. Nigel Adams (Selby and Ainsty) (Con): What estimate his Department has made of the cost to the public purse up to 2050 of limiting the use of biomass in the decarbonisation of the UK’s energy system. [904348]

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The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Michael Fallon): Biomass has an important role to play in meeting our renewables target and our future energy needs. We are supporting about 3.4 GW of bio-energy technologies, including waste technologies, through the renewables obligation. As I told the House earlier, contracts have been signed for up to 1.4 GW of biomass under the early investment contracts.

Nigel Adams: Within the levy control framework allocations in July, to what extent is the Minister considering the dispatchable and secure supply of solid biomass as a strong reason for implementing the electricity market reform delivery plan’s higher level of deployment, especially in the light of the risk to the UK energy supply caused by political instability elsewhere in the world?

Michael Fallon: The Government consider those risks very seriously. We are allocating over £1 billion of taxpayers’ money to support coal-to-biomass conversion at the Drax plant in my hon. Friend’s constituency, at Lynemouth in Northumberland, and at a dedicated biomass plant on Teesside. He will be aware, however, that the cost of that support has to be managed within the levy control framework if we are to keep our constituents’ bills affordable.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that wherever possible biomass is supplied from within the UK? What discussions is he having with the Welsh Government and other devolved Administrations to make sure that that happens in order to minimise the carbon footprint of transporting biomass across the waters into the UK?

Michael Fallon: I discuss these matters with the devolved Administrations in Wales, in Scotland, and so on. The hon. Gentleman is right: we have to make sure that biomass is properly sustainable and that the criteria applied to these plants are even across the different devolved Administrations.

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): Does the Minister stick by his Department’s claims that meeting our 2050 targets will cost billions more without the use of sustainable biomass?

Michael Fallon: I do not think so, is the answer to that.

Topical Questions

T1. [904324] Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change (Mr Edward Davey): In advance of our dinner tomorrow night, let me tell the House that in May, in response to the crisis in Ukraine, the G7 and the European Union re-evaluated our energy security plans and agreed a new approach that would strengthen our long-term energy security. The United Kingdom is rated the most energy secure country in the EU. To maintain this position, we are pressing forward with the diversification of our energy supplies.

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In April, we announced £12 billion of investment in renewable energy projects, supporting 8,500 jobs under the final investment decisions enabling process, which is resulting in the development of offshore wind, coal-to-biomass, and dedicated biomass for combined heat and power projects.

To address short-term capacity issues, this month National Grid announced demand-side balancing reserve measures that will ensure that the risk of disruption remains at very low levels. Energy efficiency is also a key part of energy security, and in June we announced new energy efficiency funding worth £540 million over three years, including boosting cash-back offers under the green deal.

Kerry McCarthy: At Copenhagen, world leaders made commitments to the creation of a green climate fund and to mobilising $100 billion a year of climate finance by 2020. However, it is not clear how much progress has been made in securing this funding, and developing countries have said that they cannot set their emission targets until they know. Will the Minister please tell us what is going on?

Mr Davey: That is a very important question. We are one of the world leaders in promoting international climate finance, and we very much support this fund. It has taken a while to get together to finalise the arrangements. Some real progress has been made in recent weeks, at long last. We hope that countries will start pledging to the fund at United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s summit in November or at the UN framework convention on climate change talks in Lima in December. It is also important that we have private climate finance. Only last week, the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker), brought together many people to ensure that there is private money to help to get to the $100 billion target.

T2. [904325] Nigel Adams (Selby and Ainsty) (Con): With one of the potential investors unfortunately walking away from negotiations over our last remaining deep mines, will the Minister update the House on what he is doing to assist in finding replacement investment for UK Coal that will give workers at Kellingley colliery in my constituency the chance of a more secure future?

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Michael Fallon): I understand the uncertainty that this is causing workers at Kellingley colliery in my hon. Friend’s constituency and at Thoresby colliery in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr Spencer). We have been working with the company since January to help it to overcome the challenges that it faces. The exceptional offer we made of a Government loan of £10 million to the consortium that was leading the rescue remains on the table despite the withdrawal of Hargreaves, and we continue to work with UK Coal and its directors to explore what other sources of private investment might be available.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley) (Lab): As has been said, there is a great deal of concern about the future of jobs at Kellingley and Thoresby pits following the decision by Hargreaves to pull out from UK Coal’s managed

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closure programme. The redundancy process is already under way, but there may still be time to find a way forward, so could the Minister confirm that the £10 million loan is on the table and that the Government are still exploring all viable options, including an employee buy-out, to secure a future for these pits?

Michael Fallon: The only plan so far presented by the board of UK Coal is the plan from which Hargreaves withdrew last week. If further plans are presented by UK Coal, with which we are working each day, we will, of course, be prepared to ensure that the £10 million loan remains available. If there is a viable plan for an employee buy-out, we will certainly look at that as well.

T4. [904327] Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Many rural communities in my constituency of North West Leicestershire have considerable concerns about the current flurry of planning applications for large-scale solar farms on greenfield sites. My constituents therefore have considerable sympathy for those protesters campaigning against the current high-profile application by Borchester Land to build a large-scale solar farm on the Berrow estate in Ambridge. Would a Minister care to comment on that situation?

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Gregory Barker): My hon. Friend knows that it is a rule not to comment on individual planning cases, but, having looked at the issue very carefully, I draw the attention of South Borsetshire district council to the planning advice and solar strategy that we sent to all councils, making it clear that our focus is on brownfield sites, not high-grade agricultural land, and, wherever possible, building-mounted.

T3. [904326] John Robertson (Glasgow North West) (Lab): The Secretary of State will be aware that an article in the Daily Mail at the end of last month said that British Gas workers “who doubled bills” were “treated like celebrities” and given trips to Monaco and Rome, plus other things, and that they targeted churches, charities and elderly people because they were easy targets. Does he think it is right for a company to be able to do that, and what is he doing about it?

Mr Davey: Of course, that is completely wrong and when I have my next meeting with the management of British Gas I will bring it to their attention and make my views very plain.

T6. [904331] Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): In contrast to the gloomy outlook from the Labour party, could we have an update on progress on improving access to and the availability of large-scale solar panels on commercial and industrial properties?

Gregory Barker: We need to see real growth in that rooftop space. To that end, the Department for Communities and Local Government will undertake a consultation in the next few weeks on granting permissive planning permission for rooftop solar up from 50 kW to 1 MW, in addition to the work we are doing to tackle non-financial barriers. I will spell that out in more

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detail when I address the rooftop solar conference being held by the British Photovoltaic Association on 1 July.

T5. [904328] Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): On the roll-out of smart meters, the in-home display accounts for about £15 of the cost per household, yet in a recent survey six out of 10 customers said that they would prefer to receive information on tablets, personal computers or smartphones. Does not the Secretary of State think that he is wasting money by going down the route of old-fashioned technology, and will he rethink it?

Mr Davey: No. There is an awful lot of research that shows that in-home displays lead to changed behaviour. There is nothing to stop an energy supplier offering other options in addition. If the hon. Lady wants the improved energy efficiency and lower energy bills that the smart meter programme wants to deliver, I hope she will look at the research, because it is pretty strong.

T7. [904332] Mr Robert Buckland (South Swindon) (Con): On the issue of PV solar farms, do Ministers agree that where local public opinion is overwhelmingly in support of such applications, that should be an important consideration for the planning process? We in Wroughton in my constituency want to see a solar farm at the old airfield, yet we now face a planning inquiry because of objections by the area of outstanding natural beauty. It is deeply frustrating, to say the least.

Gregory Barker: I thoroughly understand my colleague’s frustration—he is a fantastic champion for his constituents. That sort of large-scale solar development on a brownfield site on an airfield is exactly the sort of large-scale solar that we want to see and support, rather than one on high-grade agricultural land. It sounds like an exemplar project.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): Constituents are still phoning us about problems with green deal suppliers, particularly those who take the money for the survey and then do not come up with the goods in spite of numerous phone calls. This often occurs over different areas, so it is not necessarily appropriate for just one local trading standards officer to take up the matter. Will the Minister consider talking to his colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills about having a more thorough investigation into what is happening on the ground with these companies?

Gregory Barker: We have an excellent relationship with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. We take all cases of potential mis-selling or poor practice in the green deal market extremely seriously, even though such cases are relatively infrequent. The Green Deal Oversight and Registration Body has particular responsibility for policing the market, but if the hon. Lady has specific examples of poor practice, I would be very grateful if she let me have them.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): The Secretary of State will recall that I raised with him an anomaly about the warm home discount scheme. Pensioners with social landlords who pay their bills collectively through the social landlord do not qualify

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for that discount. He promised to look into that matter, and he wrote to me. Will he update me on any progress he has made as it is of big relevance to many pensioners in social accommodation in my constituency?

Mr Davey: I can give my hon. Friend an interim update. As part of our work on the fuel poverty strategy, we are looking at reforms to the warm home discount to make sure that it is more effective.

Mr Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): Is the Minister with responsibility for the coal industry aware that when we met the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills to try to get something like £70 million to save the two pits at Thoresby and Kellingley, I inquired about the person sitting at the back and was told that he was representing the Minister? In other words, he was jotting down everything that we said—he was acting on behalf of the Minister alone—and therefore the Business Secretary was not able to talk to us frankly, and when we asked for the £70 million to save the pits, they refused. He was like a spy in the camp.

Michael Fallon: I really do not recognise that description of the meeting that I know the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends had with my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary. Let me make it clear: I met the unions on Monday, including the National Union of Mineworkers, and we are prepared to look at any new plan brought forward by the directors of UK Coal that will enable us to continue the operation of the two collieries into next year, but any contribution from the Government has to represent full value for money.

Andrew Selous (South West Bedfordshire) (Con): May we have an update on the Wood review?

Michael Fallon: Yes. We are pressing ahead with early implementation of the Wood review. We will make a full formal response shortly, but we intend to establish the principles behind the Wood review in the Infrastructure Bill, which is before Parliament at the moment, and to set out the arrangements for collecting the levy to fund the new authority. We are also pressing ahead with the recruitment of the chief executive officer of the new oil and gas authority, who will be the senior regulator.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): If the Government are committed to saving what is left of the British deep-mining coal industry, as has been expressed this morning, will

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the Minister give a commitment to guarantee that he will discuss state aid to the coal industry for any new potential investor?

Michael Fallon: Of course, we have been considering the state aid case and what has to be notified to the Commission in Brussels, but we need to see a subsequent plan. We can only act on the basis of a plan put forward by UK Coal Ltd, which is a private company. We are ready to help with any new plan that may emerge from the discussions going on at the moment with potential investors. I need to make it clear to the House that UK Coal Ltd has already had nearly £140 million-worth of taxpayers’ support during the past 10 to 12 years, and it is very important that any new loan represents good value for money for the taxpayer.

Mr Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute) (LD): People who live in park homes are often on low incomes. What will the Secretary of State do to improve their access to energy and so help to bring down their bills?

Gregory Barker: We have taken it on board that, to date, and particularly under the last Government, people who live in park homes have had a very poor deal. We are doing two things. First, we are making the energy company obligation more applicable to people who live in park homes, accepting that there are challenges with insulating such properties. Secondly, we are exploring whether it is possible to pay the warm home discount to people who live in such homes. We understand that they do not receive that currently because they pay their bills through the site operator.

Mrs Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab): Working men’s clubs, such as the Innisfree in my constituency, are struggling to stay open. They find, like many of their members, that energy bills take up a large chunk of their limited budgets. What can the Minister offer to improve their energy efficiency and so help these important community institutions to stay open?

Gregory Barker: We take all measures to improve energy efficiency extremely seriously. I would be very happy to hear more about the example that the hon. Lady has mentioned. If she will write to me or meet me, we will see what we can do to help.

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Business of the House

10.31 am

Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab): Will the Leader of the House give us the business for next week?

The Leader of the House of Commons (Mr Andrew Lansley): The business for next week is as follows:

Monday 23 June—Conclusion of the remaining stages of the Deregulation Bill.

Tuesday 24 June—Remaining stages of the Wales Bill.

Wednesday 25 June—Opposition day (2nd allotted day). There will be debates on Opposition motions, including on the subject of the private rented sector.

Thursday 26 June—General debate on the programme of commemoration for the first world war.

Friday 27 June—The House will not be sitting.

The provisional business for the week commencing 30 June will include:

Monday 30 June—Opposition day (3rd allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion. Subject to be announced.

Tuesday 1 July—Motions to approve Ways and Means resolutions relating to the Finance Bill, followed by remaining stages of the Finance Bill (day 1).

Wednesday 2 July—Conclusion of the remaining stages of the Finance Bill.

Thursday 3 July—Business to be nominated by the Backbench Business Committee.

Friday 4 July—The House will not be sitting.

I should also like to inform the House that the business in Westminster Hall for 26 June will be:

Thursday 26 June—Debate on the Seventh Report of the Administration Committee on migration statistics.

I know that Members from all parts of the House will have been pleased to hear of the honour that was granted to the Deputy Speaker, the right hon. Member for Bristol South (Dame Dawn Primarolo), and the knighthoods that were awarded to my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash). May I also congratulate Amyas Morse, the Comptroller and Auditor General, on the award of his KCB and all the other people, including those who are in the service of the House, who were granted awards in the Queen’s birthday honours list?

Ms Eagle: May I join the Leader of the House in congratulating all those who were honoured in the Queen’s honours list?

Iraq remains under violent siege by Islamic militants who seem set on overthrowing the Government, terrorising the population and dividing the country. The humanitarian situation continues to deteriorate and hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes. Given that the Prime Minister said yesterday that as many as 400 British citizens could be fighting for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, will the Leader of the House arrange for an oral statement to be made on how the Government will co-ordinate across Departments to ensure that those fighters do not pose a risk to citizens if they return to the UK?

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The Leader of the House has given us the business until two weeks before the summer recess. I calculate that since the end of the Queen’s Speech debate, just half of our time will have been spent on Government business. There is still no sign of the Commons Second Readings of any of the 11 Bills that were announced in the Queen’s Speech. Of the three Bills that are in the Lords, one recycles old promises, one is only four clauses long and the other is only half written because the Government have not finished their consultation on fracking. It is only thanks to Labour that we have had the chance to debate issues as crucial as the passport crisis and rising energy bills and rent. Does the Leader of the House agree with the Education Secretary’s erstwhile adviser that the Prime Minister has

“no priorities, focus or grip”?

Why did it take an Opposition day debate for the Home Secretary to apologise to the nearly 55,000 people whose holidays may have been ruined by her passport shambles? Will the Leader of the House tell us when we might start to see some of his new legislation appear?

Another issue mysteriously missing from the future business is the promised regulations on standardised packaging for tobacco. Health professionals want it, the public want it, all the evidence shows it will help, and Parliament has voted for it, but last week the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), who is responsible for public health, admitted that it is being blocked by No. 10. Does the hold-up have anything to do with the presence of Australian tobacco lobbyist Lynton Crosby at the heart of No. 10, and when does the Leader of the House intend to bring the regulations forward?

Each week, the gap between the Government’s rhetoric and reality just gets wider. During the flooding crisis in February the Prime Minister promised that money would be no object, but a report released by the Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on Tuesday shows that instead of increasing spending on flood defences, the Government have cut funding by more than 17% in real terms, and that only 5% of the relief money that the Prime Minister promised farmers has been paid. That failure is no surprise when we have an Environment Secretary who does not believe in climate change, a Prime Minister who is more interested in public relations than results, and a chief of staff at No. 10 who has been described by the Education Secretary’s erstwhile adviser as a

“third-rate suck-up…sycophant presiding over a shambolic court.”

Will the Leader of the House arrange for a statement on the report in Government time, so that the Environment Secretary can take responsibility for his inaction?

This week’s “mind the gap” watch could go on all day. The Prime Minister promised to lead in Europe, but he is spending his time isolated and ridiculed. He pledged to transform the lives of 120,000 troubled families, but now we have learned that three quarters of those who have been through the programme have not been helped. His broken promise not to have a costly top-down reorganisation of the NHS has led to a GP recruitment crisis, missed cancer targets and more than a trebling in the number of NHS trusts in deficit. Does the Leader of the House agree, once more, with the Education Secretary’s erstwhile adviser that the Prime Minister is

“a sphinx without a riddle”

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“bumbles from one shambles to another without the slightest sense of purpose”?

I ask the Leader of the House again to arrange for a statement from the Minister for the Cabinet Office, so that he can explain this Government’s complete inability to see through their promises.

I am sure the whole House would like to congratulate the rowers in the other place on their triumphant victory in the annual parliamentary boat race on the Thames last week. I understand that the Commons boat, which consisted entirely of coalition MPs, promised a great victory, but guess what? They failed to deliver, they did not work well as a team, they rowed slowly and in no particular direction, and as they reached the finishing line, they sank.

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to the shadow Leader of the House for her response to the forthcoming business.

The hon. Lady will have heard the statement on Iraq that the Foreign Secretary made on Monday, and he had the further opportunity to respond to Foreign and Commonwealth Office questions on Tuesday. Indeed, the debate that will follow business questions, on the statutory instrument relating to terrorism, will afford an opportunity to discuss some of the issues that the hon. Lady mentioned, particularly the security threats that the Prime Minister referred to yesterday.

We regard the developments in Iraq as extremely serious, as I am sure the House will agree. Fighting continues in Baqubah and close to Baghdad, as well as in the north of the country. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is a violent and brutal group, and we must ensure that we understand what is happening and how it is appropriate for us to respond. The debate on terrorism that is to follow will enable my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to amplify those points. Yesterday, the Prime Minister announced a further extension to our emergency support provided to refugees from that fighting, which the House will agree is tremendously important. The Foreign Secretary will continuously review whether it is necessary to make any further statement to the House.

Eleven Bills were announced in the Queen’s Speech—a substantial programme for a short Session. Three of those have been introduced in the Lords and three in this House. I am surprised that the shadow Leader of the House said that we have spent only half our time on legislation, because only half the time is available to the Government for legislation. In a four-day week of Chamber consideration in the Commons, two days are available to the Government, one day to the Opposition and one to the Backbench Business Committee. What the hon. Lady says is a statement of the—how shall we put it?—obvious.

Most remarks by the shadow Leader of the House seem to have been constructed around an interview given to The Times by Dominic Cummings. Frankly, I do not agree with anything he said, and I suspect that I am joined by my colleagues wholeheartedly in that thought.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): Silence!

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Mr Lansley: No, it is true—we do not agree with Dominic Cummings.

The hon. Lady asked about standardised packaging. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health (Jane Ellison) made a clear statement to the House, and that has not changed. The Government have decided to proceed with standardised packaging, and in due course we will bring forward the necessary regulation.

The hon. Lady asked about flooding, and we have often had that debate and demonstrated how we are making available additional resources to support flood defences. As I said in previous Business questions, my right hon. Friends in the Government are working on the lessons learned from the recent winter and the exceptional weather events, and on how we can improve resilience and recovery in the future. I hope that before the summer my right hon. Friend the Environment Secretary will have the opportunity to make a statement to the House on the lessons learned.

The hon. Lady made some assertions about the NHS. We have more GPs now than at the last election, and slightly more GPs per head of population. Health Education England has a mandate to secure 50% of doctors going through training to be GPs, and about £18 billion of efficiency savings have been achieved during this Parliament by this Government, in complete contrast to the Labour party. A pretty telling example is that in the year before the election, when Labour knew there was no money left, the administration costs of the NHS went up by 23% in one year. Since then, and by the end of this Parliament, we will have reduced NHS administration costs by one third, delivering a recurring £1.5 billion a year saving on administration. That is why we have 16,000 more clinical staff in the NHS than at the last election, and 19,000 fewer administrators.

The hon. Lady referred to the debates that the Opposition are bringing forward. Yes of course, but when it comes to the really big issues, they cannot have a debate. They cannot hold a debate on the economy, the deficit, jobs or welfare—Labour has failed to have a positive message on any of those topics because the Government are taking the necessary steps. Our long-term economic plan is working: the deficit is down, growth and jobs are up, unemployment is down, the welfare bill is under control, and this country is going in the right direction.

Mr Simon Burns (Chelmsford) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend arrange for a statement next week to explain why Mr Deputy Speaker, the Chairman of Ways and Means, is not a member of the selection panel for the new Clerk of the House? Is there not a conflict of interest in appointing the right hon. Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge) in his place, given that the Clerk is the accounting officer of the House and the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee is responsible for scrutinising the spending of public money?

Mr Lansley: My right hon. Friend asks an interesting question. I have to confess that I do not know if the point he raises was considered before an invitation was extended to the right hon. Member for Barking. Accounting officers are indeed held to account by the Public Accounts Committee, of which she is the Chair. Whether a conflict of interest therefore arises is something she will wish to consider.

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Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): The Leader of the House will know that the Serious Fraud Office is a total shambles. It is in all our interests to have an efficient and effective Serious Fraud Office that is properly resourced and properly manned. May we have a debate on the future of the SFO? The real danger of a weak SFO is that it relies far too much on big accountancy firms, such as Grant Thornton and KPMG, and that is not healthy for our democratic or legal process.

Mr Lansley: I do not know what the hon. Gentleman asserts to be the case. The National Crime Agency, legislated for by this Government and now operating successfully, includes among its objectives tackling economic crime and major fraud. The evidence is that the NCA is making a substantial improvement on past arrangements to tackle serious and organised crime.

Mr David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): On a number of occasions I have raised failures of child protection services, including, sadly, in my own county of Somerset. However, the proposals in the consultation paper for the part-privatisation of the service are not the answer. I do not know whether this is another of Dominic Cummings’s brilliant wheezes, but will the Secretary of State for Education come to the House and say clearly that that will not happen under a coalition Government?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend will be aware that the consultation on plans relating to children’s social care functions has just recently finished. It is not a proposal for privatisation, but a means by which local authorities have the discretion—not a requirement, but a discretion—to delegate additional functions to third parties, including child protection. That will, of course, give rise to opportunities for mutual organisations and charities to bring innovation. We have seen in recent years, in many aspects of public service, that that can be very beneficial.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North) (Lab): It was reported this week that the problem of A and E departments being overwhelmed by drunken patients is now not just a weekend phenomenon, but is spreading through the week. There are suggestions that such patients should not be admitted to A and E, but dealt with separately in specialist drunk units. When will the Government accept that Britain’s alcohol problem is serious? May we have a debate on the need for comprehensive legislation to deal with this growing national problem?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman will recall the alcohol plan, with which I was directly associated, that was announced by the Home Secretary. When I was Secretary of State for Health, we looked at the issues relating to so-called “drunk tanks”. We did not proceed with them, because of the dangers of mistakenly identifying somebody as drunk in circumstances where they are suffering a clinical condition that requires clinical treatment. As for whether we have an alcohol problem, yes we do. It is not so much about the overall consumption of alcohol, which is coming down—that is positive—but the abusive use of alcohol. Many of the measures in the alcohol action plan focus on that.

Mr Ben Wallace (Wyre and Preston North) (Con): Can my right hon. Friend please find time for a debate on the west coast main line franchise and today’s good

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news that Virgin will continue to operate its excellent service right up to 2018, which this time will include, we think, a direct service from Blackpool to London, ensuring that hard-working families and others in my constituency can have a direct route from the coastal town to London?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend rightly draws attention to the written ministerial statement that our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport made to the House this morning about the extension of the west coast main line franchise. Recent further announcements on franchises are bringing positive developments for passengers, which shows that this Government are now using the franchising process positively to benefit passengers.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): The Leader of the House will recall that a couple of weeks ago I asked him about the mutual defence agreement with the United States. Will he give us an opportunity for a full debate about it, so that we can examine the details of this agreement?

Mr Lansley: I will ensure that either I or a Minister in the relevant Department writes to the hon. Gentleman about that matter. However, he will have noted, if he was in his place, that a debate on defence spending will take place later today. I am sure it would not be regarded as out of order for him to make the points he wishes to make then and to ask that question again.

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): Many of my constituents who run small businesses are coming to me more and more frequently to complain about how business rates are calculated, which is leading to crippling charges that in many cases result in shops emptying. Will my right hon. Friend give us a debate on this vexed topic in the near future, which is affecting many businesses, not least in my constituency, but also right across the country?

Mr Lansley: Business rates are something on which this Government have focused positively and intensively, which is why small businesses benefit from rate relief. It is also one of the reasons why we have taken steps to ensure that the business rate burden is ameliorated for small businesses. I will ask my hon. Friends at the Department for Communities and Local Government to respond to my hon. Friend’s point about valuation issues.

Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): There is another Government shambles, with delays to personal independence payments. Although I have had great help from the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), and Jayne Benton in the Department for Work and Pensions, the delays to payments are causing untold misery to my constituents, including the injured firefighter who waited 52 weeks for payment, and there are many people suffering in silence. Can we please have an urgent debate on the PIP debacle?

Mr Lansley: I remind the hon. Lady that Ministers from the Department for Work and Pensions will be responding to questions on Monday. However, I am afraid that I do not agree with her description of what is happening with personal independence payments. It is

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tremendously important for us to move to a much better system of assessment—disability living allowance was never reviewed or properly assessed. Modest numbers are going through at the moment, but the plan is for large numbers of those requiring to be assessed to be assessed by 2018. In particular, one must bear in mind that those awaiting assessment are generally in receipt of support, including through the continuation of DLA or the employment and support allowance.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): Around 3,000 horses are currently on land without consent in England and Wales, and there is still no low-cost legal remedy for landowners to address the problem. Can we have a debate on whether fly-grazing should be made a criminal offence, so that action can be taken swiftly and offenders brought to justice? In addition, we can draw on the experience of the Welsh Assembly, which has enacted the Control of Horses (Wales) Act 2014, which provides all Welsh local authorities with powers to seize and impound horses.

Mr Lansley: From my own constituency, I know of precisely the kind of circumstances to which my hon. Friend refers, which can be very distressing to a local community. We do not believe it is necessarily a solution to give local authorities powers to remove horses and kill them at public expense. We need to tackle the perpetrators directly. We need a co-ordinated and co-operative approach, using the available legislation. There is some legislation that was previously available, but there are also new measures to tackle antisocial behaviour that will soon become available, following the legislation passed in the last Session. I hope that will enable us to act more effectively in relation to those responsible for fly-grazing.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): May I press the Leader of the House for an urgent statement on the issue, raised by the shadow Leader of the House, of the number of British citizens fighting abroad? Information from Iraq this morning suggests that 400 are currently fighting there, and if we add that to the 400 identified as fighting in Syria, it becomes a very large number of people. This is separate from a discussion about the security situation in Iraq or indeed the proscription of ISIS, which will be debated later today. May we please have a statement on how we can stop our citizens going to fight abroad?

Mr Lansley: I completely understand the right hon. Gentleman’s point that there is a distinct issue here—a very important one, as the Prime Minister made perfectly clear yesterday—and we take it extremely seriously. It is linked, of course, to the question of the proscription and the more general debate about the situation in Iraq, but the issue of people going from this country to fight, the training they receive and their returning to this country, is a very important one. I cannot promise an immediate statement or debate, but we keep the issue very much in mind, and we will keep the House updated. The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the House of Lords is currently considering legislation that includes measures to make the planning of terrorist attacks abroad a criminal offence in this country. That will give us more direct powers to deal with the issue.

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Mr Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): Will the Leader of the House look at providing an urgent debate on the importance of having regular elections? He may not be aware that the senior Labour peer, the noble Lord Grocott, has a Bill in the other place that would repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011, but leave no mechanism for dissolving Parliament and no mechanism for having elections at any point. Although that would lead to the remarkably positive result that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister would be in power for ever, the British public might occasionally like a general election!

Mr Lansley: My goodness, what my hon. Friend says sounds jolly tempting. I am surprised that the noble Lord Grocott considered it wise to legislate in such a way. Perhaps he and the Labour party are rather worried by the prospect of elections and the dangers they might represent. I am pleased to reassure my hon. Friend that we in the coalition Government are not frightened of elections and we have no intention of returning to a “Long Parliament”, as it were.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): Last week, BBC Radio Humberside and the Hull Daily Mailwere reporting a scam alleging that the bedroom tax had been abolished and asking for people’s personal information so that refunds of their payments could be made. May we have a debate to make it clear that this bedroom tax policy was supported by the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives and that it will be abolished only with the return of a Labour Government in 2015?

Mr Lansley: I find the scam to which the hon. Lady refers shocking: people should not be exploited in that way, and I am sure that we agree on that. The trading standards department of her local authority might be in a position to take some action against it. The policy, however, is straightforward. It is about dealing with under-occupancy so that large numbers of people who are trying to access social housing will have an opportunity to do so through the better use of our social housing stock.

Mr Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) (Con): I echo the call for a debate on developments in the middle east, which are arguably more significant than the events we have seen unfold in Ukraine. Britain is not isolated: we are very much affected by the diplomatic, economic, humanitarian and military issues that are for this place to consider, and who knows when the Executive might seek Parliament’s support in designing any response?

Mr Lansley: As my hon. Friend will know, the Foreign Secretary took immediate steps to update the House on Monday. I cannot promise an immediate debate on Syria and Iraq, because, contrary to what was implied by the shadow Leader of the House, there is legislative pressure on Government time. However, I will discuss the matter with the Chair of the Backbench Business Committee. We have given the Committee time in which to arrange debates on issues that are considered important by Members in all parts of the House, and I have understood from Members that they feel the need for a debate on Syria and Iraq.

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John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): We recently marked the 30th anniversary of the Indian Government’s attack on the Golden Temple at Amritsar. Earlier this year, the Prime Minister set up an internal inquiry into allegations of collusion between the Thatcher and Gandhi Governments at the time. The inquiry was limited and internal, it did not include publication of all the documents, and it has not gained the confidence of the Sikh community in Britain, who have now launched a call for an independent, judge-led inquiry into the whole affair. Will the Leader of the House ask the Prime Minister to come to the House and make a statement in response to the Sikh community’s request?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman will recall the Foreign Secretary’s statement to the House following the Cabinet Secretary’s report. I saw the report and the papers associated with it, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman did. The Foreign Secretary made clear that the report constituted a comprehensive and conclusive response to the issues that had been raised, and I do not currently expect any further statement to be made.

Sir Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): Next Monday, the House will debate the Report stage and Third Reading of the Deregulation Bill. My right hon. Friend will have noted that our hon. Friends the Members for Shipley (Philip Davies) and for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) have tabled a number of new clauses which, if passed, would completely deregulate Sunday trading. I must tell my right hon. Friend that any such move by the House would be seen by the Church of England—and, I am sure, by many other faith groups—as an act of bad faith on the part of Parliament. The present Sunday trading arrangements arose from a series of compromises that were agreed in the mid-1990s to strike a balance between keeping Sunday special and enabling more stores and shops to open on Sundays. I should welcome my right hon. Friend’s reassurance that if you, Mr Speaker, select any of the new clauses for debate, they will be resisted by the Government.

Mr Lansley: I am happy to say that my right hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House would respond on behalf of the Government if the new clauses were to be debated. I can reassure my right hon. Friend that the Government believe that the current position constitutes a reasonable balance between some people’s wish for more opportunities to shop in large stores on Sundays and the desire of others for further restrictions, and that we are therefore not minded to legislate for further liberalisation.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West) (Lab): The issue of passports was aired in the House yesterday, but we did not receive an answer from the Prime Minister to my question about the Passport Office. It would be helpful to hear some sort of statement about the matter. I should like to know why the Passport Office, which is providing such a terrible service, is being run not as a service to the public, but as a cash cow for the Chancellor. Last year, it made a £73 million profit.

Mr Lansley: Actually, I think that I did hear an answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question. The purpose of any agency of that kind is to cover its costs. Its charges should be set, and prudential levels of surplus will enable it to cover those costs. There would be no merit in running it in any other way.

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The hon. Gentleman asked whether the Passport Office was being run as a service to the public. It is, absolutely. As is clear from the answers given by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary during yesterday’s debate, substantial steps are being taken—through the helpline, the provision of additional front-line staff, and the waiving of charges for urgent applications when people have to travel—to ensure that the service to the public is achieved as we wish it to be.

Mike Crockart (Edinburgh West) (LD): Last week a tribunal judge gave the nuisance call industry the green light to cause misery to millions by deciding that the sending of illegal and unsolicited texts on an industrial scale failed to cause

“serious harm or serious distress”.

On 30 March, the Government published an action plan that included measures to deal with the problem. May we have a statement from a Minister in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport outlining what progress has been made, and when we can expect less planning and more action?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question, because we have discussed this issue on a number of occasions and it is of importance to Members and their constituents. As he rightly says, the Government brought forward the action plan on 30 March. We are continuing to look, together with the regulators, at how the system of penalties for those breaking the code can act as the necessary disincentive to this kind of behaviour. I will ask my hon. Friends at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport when they think it might be appropriate to update the House and how we might do so.

Wayne David (Caerphilly) (Lab): The Leader of the House will be aware that thalidomide is still an issue, especially as the victims get older and face new problems. May we have a debate on how best to help these people and, linked to that, a debate on a national birth register?

Mr Lansley: If I may, I will seek an answer for the hon. Gentleman in relation to the Government’s view on the national birth register. On support for those suffering from the consequences of thalidomide treatment, he will remember that when I was Health Secretary we made a very substantial settlement. In my view, that put the position where we would want it to be, and I do not know that there was more we needed to do at that time. Clearly, from the NHS point of view, those who are older who are living with the consequences of thalidomide treatment in the past often have increasing requirements, and the question is the extent to which the NHS can support those.

John Glen (Salisbury) (Con): This week Salisbury city football club was faced with demotion and a funding crisis when one of its new owners failed to deliver on his promises, despite the Football Association waving him through a fit and proper person test. Will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on football governance so other small clubs across the country like Salisbury do not have to pay the price for this failure of proper governance?

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Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend raises an interesting point. He will know that football authorities collectively have introduced more checks and greater requirements around the owners and directors test, particularly at premier league and football league level, and that does support responsible ownership. In the case of Salisbury whites, the football conference took steps it believed to be appropriate to establish the club’s funding capability and its decision was to regulate the club. The conference has rigorous financial regulations in place, developed in conjunction with the FA. That has seen a substantial reduction in debt in the conference in recent years, but many Members feel that there is a case for a debate. A request for such a debate on non-league football was made to the Backbench Business Committee towards the end of the last Session. I will discuss with the BBC whether it would wish for that debate to take place soon. That may be of interest to Members across the House.

Mr Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): Yesterday my constituents suffered the inconvenience and disruption of three trains in a row being cancelled. Sadly, this has been a more regular occurrence in recent years. May we have a debate in Government time on commuter rail services? It is not just that there are short franchises leading to a lack of investment and a poor service; the reality is that we are having real difficulty in getting anything like the service that is claimed to be provided. May we have a debate on this as a matter of urgency?

Mr Lansley: I will, if I may, ask Transport Ministers to address the specific points about the hon. Gentleman’s line and the circumstances that led to that loss of service. He will be aware that some of the recent franchise announcements have related to Greater Anglia, the line that serves north London and beyond, including my constituency. From my point of view, the level of service running into King’s Cross that has been achieved most recently has been satisfactory. Indeed, the capacity increases in prospect under the new franchise should make the experience of passengers considerably better.

Paul Uppal (Wolverhampton South West) (Con): The whole House will have been disturbed by the figures released this week on the under-educational achievement of white working-class boys and girls, particularly in attaining five good GCSE levels. May we have a debate on how free schools in particular can bridge the ethnic education gap and, more broadly, about how we can help parents engage with their children’s education?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend raises an interesting and important point. It is a good question to ask today because we have just heard from the Department for Education that approval has been given for 38 additional free schools. That is very encouraging news for parents as it will help them gain access to the schools they want and the places they want with the character they are looking for, and it will help us to drive up standards. The Education Committee makes some important points in its report, to which the Government will respond. I take pride in the fact that this coalition Government have ensured that more than a quarter of a million fewer children are being taught in failing schools.

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Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): May we have a debate on the accuracy of information provided on Government websites, particularly on the Home Office website? We heard yesterday in the debate on the passport crisis of many constituents being misled about processing times. Despite the Home Secretary’s very lengthy statement, we are none the clearer on processing times, what constitutes a straightforward application and who is eligible for compensation. Does the Leader of House agree that our constituents have a right to get that information accurately—and now—on Government websites?

Mr Lansley: I am sorry but I simply do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. I was here for the statement and much of the debate, and I heard the Home Secretary accurately describe in terms what is on the Home Office website. She characterised the information as a promise of a straightforward application being achieved in three weeks. She quoted precisely from the website, which makes it very clear that that cannot be guaranteed in circumstances where additional questions have to be raised. The Home Office website is clear and the Home Secretary, in what she said yesterday, was absolutely clear about the number of passports that are currently a work in progress and the number that are in excess of the three-week objective.

Oliver Colvile (Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport) (Con): I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, which states that I have shares in the company, Polity Communications. I am also chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for excellence in the built environment. Sir Terry Farrell has undertaken a review of architectural policy for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport recently. May we please have a debate on the future of architectural design as a real basis of our building for a significant amount of our heritage in the future?

Mr Lansley: I am aware of the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment and the important work it does in advising on the developments that are coming forward. We do have opportunities, not least in relation to new settlements and prospective garden cities, not only to reflect the successful design concepts in architecture of the past but to establish something in the 21st century that will be part of our architectural heritage for the future. As far as a debate is concerned, the subject might lend itself to an application for an Adjournment debate.

Nic Dakin (Scunthorpe) (Lab): My constituents are concerned that the future TransPennine rail franchise may curtail services from Cleethorpes to Manchester via Scunthorpe. Can we have a debate on TransPennine rail services?

Mr Lansley: The hon. Gentleman might also like to seek an Adjournment debate on that matter, but, to be as helpful as I can, I will ask Ministers at the Department for Transport to respond to him and update him on the position in relation to the TransPennine link.

Andrew Jones (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con): Tomorrow is national care home open day, and I will visit several homes in Harrogate and Knaresborough.

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Caring for those suffering from dementia is a major challenge in the care sector. We know that one in three people aged over 85 suffers some form of cognitive impairment. There has been a positive announcement today about the UK commitment to research into treatments, but any such treatment is still a long way off. Please may we have a debate about caring for those who are suffering from dementia in care homes; the support available in the community to help people stay in their own homes longer; and how we can make our society more dementia friendly?

Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I am glad that he has drawn attention to the good work that is done in care homes. Too often, I fear, people hear about the occasions on which the quality in care homes fails, but many care homes do first-class work and provide an important environment for people who cannot look after themselves at home.

Dementia is one of the main reasons such care is required. I was proud to launch the challenge on dementia with the Prime Minister in early 2012, and a major step is being taken today towards global action to promote dementia research. That is tremendously important. As my hon. Friend says, creating more dementia-friendly communities is equally important, and we are making tremendous progress on that. Some communities across the country are leaders, and I hope that many communities will follow them in providing dementia-friendly support to people.

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): The UK Independence party is proud of its newly formed alliance with a Swedish party that was founded by white supremacists, one of whom is a former member of the Waffen SS. Not to be outdone, the Tory party’s latest ally in Europe is a Dutch party that banned women from its membership until 2006. May we have a debate on whether those alliances are an example of what the Prime Minister means by “British values”?

Mr Lansley: At the Dispatch Box, I speak on behalf of the Government. The hon. Gentleman referred to matters in the European Parliament; they are not the responsibility of the Government. [Interruption.] I speak here as Leader of the House, and for the Government. As it happens, speaking personally, I would not draw the same conclusions as the hon. Gentleman did. It is important for us to look carefully at the relationships in the European Parliament, and I think that UKIP needs to reflect carefully on the relationships it is forming.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): The Leader of the House may be aware that together with our hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith) and five other colleagues across the Chamber, I have written to the Home Secretary to ask for an independent inquiry into historic child abuse. That call has already been taken up by more than 70 hon. Members from across the House. Given that new stories emerge almost daily of grotesque abuse of children going back to the ’60s, does the Leader of the House agree that it is time that such an inquiry was held, and will he give time for a debate in the House to set the scene for it?

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Mr Lansley: My hon. Friend has done important work on tackling those issues. He will be aware of the range of inquiries that have taken place, some of which, I hope, are approaching a conclusion. As the Prime Minister has said and recently reiterated to the House, we have not been persuaded of the case for an overarching inquiry; indeed, we feel that there is a significant risk that such an inquiry might impede and delay the resolution of some of the issues in the separate inquiries that are taking place. As the Prime Minister rightly said, however, he will continue actively to keep the question under review.

Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab): The Government have allowed a situation to arise whereby Swansea prison now holds twice as many prisoners as it was designed for, which the chief inspector of prisons describes as a “political and policy failure”. Can we have a proper debate in Government time on prison policy?

Mr Lansley: I do not think that there is a case for a debate, because I do not think that the case that the hon. Lady makes was sustained in the questioning that took place on an urgent question on the subject earlier this week. On the contrary, the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice set out clearly the number of spare places across the prison estate; the reasons for the increase in the prison population; and the steps that we are taking to deal with any capacity issues that might arise, including plans for an additional 2,000 places to be made available over the next nine months. He set out the position clearly to the House, and that does not give rise to any further requirement for debate.

Andrew Stephenson (Pendle) (Con): On Tuesday, the Punjab police force took action to remove security barriers around the Minhaj-ul-Quran headquarters and the home of Dr Mohammad Tahir-ul-Qadri in Lahore. Eight people are confirmed dead and many of the injured remain in hospital. This incident has caused outrage not just across Pakistan but across the Pakistani community living in the UK, so may we have a debate on what happened and on what pressure the UK Government can bring to bear on the Pakistani Government to ensure that a full inquiry is held?

Mr Lansley: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. The Government are concerned by the reports of injuries and deaths of protestors in Lahore on Tuesday. We urge restraint by all and call for calm. It is important, as he suggests, to ensure that the full facts are understood and we understand that the Chief Minister of Punjab has announced a judicial inquiry into the events.

Huw Irranca-Davies (Ogmore) (Lab): Many coalfield MPs will recently have had the bittersweet experience of attending commemorative events of the 30th anniversary of the miners’ strike, and the memories are bittersweet. That has coincided with the publication of the official papers after 30 years, which have disclosed that there was—this was denied at the time, but is now clearly evidenced—a hit list of pit closures and allegations of collusion between the police and the state. Is it not now time for an inquiry, and will the Leader of the House find time for a debate on the Floor of the House? This will not go away.

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Mr Lansley: I hear what the hon. Gentleman has to say. I have no knowledge of any intention to have such an inquiry. I say that without prejudice, of course, because, as he will be aware, the Independent Police Complaints Commission is continuing to consider the requests for an inquiry into matters at Orgreave. The hon. Gentleman’s reference is more general, and we are seeing the disclosure of public documents, as is the nature of events, but I would not interpret what happened in the way that he does. People will make their own judgments on the basis of the evidence as disclosed in the publication of the Government papers.

Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): As the England football team continue their quest for glory, supported as we know by The Sun, will the Leader of the House make time for a debate on the controversy surrounding that newspaper’s free circular? That will give the Leader of the Opposition an opportunity to speak as well as offering those Labour Members who went in a delegation to him to complain—a delegation that might have included the shadow Leader of the House—the chance to put their views on the record.

Mr Lansley: I am happy to join my hon. Friend in extending our best wishes to the England team as they take on Uruguay this evening. I will be rooting for them. I noted that in her generally humorous remarks the shadow Leader of the House did not see occasion to poke fun at her own leader—

Ms Angela Eagle: That’s not my job, it’s yours.

Mr Lansley: Yes, well—it is my job to answer questions. The hon. Lady did not even see it as an occasion to poke fun at the deputy leader of the Labour party, who seems to have contrived a position in which it was right both to have been in the picture in the first place and to have apologised for that. That seems to me to be a very curious position to have arrived at.

Dr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): May I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as I visited the west bank last year? The security of the Jordan valley is controlled by Israel, as the Israeli Government insist that they have significant security concerns about the misuse of the area should they relinquish control. That view is now justified following the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers last week, possibly to be used in a swap such as that which occurred with Gilad Shalit. Given that only a return to direct peace talks can achieve a peace deal, may we have a Minister come to the Dispatch Box to say what the British Government are doing as part of the Quartet in seeking such a deal?

Mr Lansley: I know that my hon. Friend reflects the sense of distress that will have been felt by many in Israel and more widely about the kidnapping of teenagers in that way. That calls for condemnation and the House and the Government condemn the abduction in the strongest terms and call for the release of the teenagers to their families as soon as possible. Obviously, this is not strictly a matter for this Government but it is something about which we feel strongly and on which we have called for action.

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Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism

11.24 am

The Minister for Security and Immigration (James Brokenshire): I beg to move,

That the draft Terrorism Act 2000 (Proscribed Organisations) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2014, which was laid before this House on 16 June, be approved.

Proscription is an important part of the Government’s strategy to tackle terrorist activities. The five groups named in the order all have links to the conflict in Syria. They are: the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham; Turkiye Halk Kurtulus Partisi-Cephesi; Kateeba al-Kawthar, known as KAK; Abdallah Azzam Brigades, known as AAB, including the Ziyad al-Jarrah Battalions; and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. We propose adding them to the list of international terrorist organisations by amending schedule 2 to the Terrorist Act 2000. This is the 15th proscription order under that Act.

By way of background, the House will be aware that Syria is the No. 1 destination for jihadists from anywhere in the world. Proscription sends a strong message that terrorist activity is not tolerated wherever it happens. The reality is that the conflict in Syria has seen a proliferation of terrorist groups, with multiple aims and ideologies and little regard for international borders. For example, in the past week we have seen significantly increased violent activity in Iraq by ISIL. Today the UK is proscribing terrorist organisations that support the Assad regime, that are fighting against it, and that have ambitions beyond Syria and have taken advantage of the collapse of security and the rule of law.

Terrorism from, or connected to, Syria will pose a threat to the UK for the foreseeable future. Involvement in the conflict in Syria and its environs can provide individuals with combat experience, access to training, a network of foreign extremist contacts and a reputation that can increase substantially the threat that those individuals pose on return to the UK. The threat from returning foreign fighters was clearly demonstrated by the recent case of Mehdi Nemmouche. He is believed to have spent at least a year in Syria, during which he developed connections with ISIL before returning to Europe. He is the prime suspect in a shooting on 24 May at the Jewish museum in Brussels in which four people died.

Although the Government recognise that most travel to Syria is well intentioned and for humanitarian reasons, and while we are not trying to criminalise genuine humanitarian efforts, we advise against all travel to Syria. Anyone who travels, for whatever reason, is putting themselves and others in considerable danger. Both the regime and extremist groups have attacked humanitarian aid workers. The best way to help Syrians is not to travel, but to donate or volunteer with UK-registered charities that have ongoing relief operations.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I am glad to see the Minister back on familiar territory, after dealing with passports yesterday. This morning, information has come out of Iraq indicating that up to 400 British citizens might be fighting there. He gave evidence to the Home

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Affairs Committee as part of its inquiry into counter-terrorism. Iraq was not mentioned, either in his evidence or in that of others. Can he confirm that figure? Are those people who originally started in Syria and have moved into Iraq, or are they a new batch of people?

James Brokenshire: The right hon. Gentleman will recollect the evidence that I gave his Select Committee about foreign fighters. It is often difficult to give estimates about the numbers of individuals; our current estimate is that more than 400 subjects of interest have travelled to Syria to become involved in the conflict there in some way. Clearly, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, is using the areas of land it controls in Syria and now Iraq as one theatre of conflict. I cannot state the numbers or give the other information that the right hon. Gentleman seeks, but clearly there is a concern that those who travel to Syria may then travel across the Levant into Iraq. We are keeping a close eye on that.

We are committed to finding a political settlement to the conflict in Syria that will deliver a sustainable and inclusive transition process and allow the country to rebuild, communities to heal and extremism to be rejected. We will also continue to back the moderate Syrian opposition, who are a bulwark against the terrorism of the extremists and the tyranny of the Assad regime. The Government are determined to do all they can to minimise the threat from terrorism from Syria, and elsewhere, to the UK and our interests abroad.

Those who travel to engage in terrorism face prosecution on their return. We are investing resources into understanding individuals’ motivation for travel and how they are being recruited and we are using that to inform public messaging and community events, to deter individuals from travelling to Syria in the first place. Our operational partners are disrupting individuals who are intent on fighting in Syria, using the range of tools available.

For example, following his return from Syria, Mashudur Choudhury was successfully prosecuted for engaging in conduct in preparation for terrorist acts. We are working intensively with international partners to improve border security in the region. It is right that we should proscribe terrorist groups linked to the conflict in Syria that pose a bar to a political settlement there as well as an increasing threat to the UK. We have already proscribed four groups that are operating in Syria: the al-Musra front, which is part of al-Qaeda; Hezbollah’s military wing; the Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK; and Ansar al-Islam, also known as Ansar al-Sunna.

Proscribing the groups that we are discussing today will send a strong signal to terrorists operating on both sides of the conflict in Syria and those who may be thinking of joining them. Under section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000, the Home Secretary has the power to proscribe an organisation if she believes that it is currently concerned in terrorism. Under the 2000 Act, an organisation is concerned in terrorism if it commits or participates in acts of terrorism, prepares for terrorism, promotes or encourages terrorism—including the unlawful glorification of terrorism—or is otherwise concerned in terrorism. If the test is met, the Home Secretary may exercise her discretion to proscribe the organisation.

The Home Secretary takes into account a number of factors in considering whether to exercise that discretion. The effect of proscription is that a listed organisation is outlawed and unable to operate in the UK. It is a

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criminal offence for a person to belong to, support or arrange a meeting in support of a proscribed organisation or to wear clothing or carry articles in public that arouse reasonable suspicion that they are a member or supporter of a proscribed terrorist organisation.

Proscription can support other disruptive activity, including the use of immigration powers such as exclusion, prosecution for other offences, messaging and EU asset freezes. Given its wide impact, the Home Secretary exercises her power to proscribe only after thoroughly reviewing the available relevant information and evidence on the organisation. That includes open-source material, intelligence material and advice that reflects consultation across Government, including with the intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The cross-Whitehall proscription review group supports the Home Secretary in her decision-making process and her decision to proscribe is taken only after great care and consideration of the particular case. It must be approved by both Houses.

Having carefully considered all the evidence, the Home Secretary believes that ISIL; Turkiye Halk Kurtulus Partisi-Cephesi, or THKP-C; Kateeba al-Kawthar, or KAK; Abdallah Azzam Brigades, or AAB; and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, or PFLP-GC, are all currently concerned in terrorism. Although I am unable to comment on specific intelligence, I will go on to provide a summary of each group’s activities in turn.

Keith Vaz: The Minister always puts the case very eloquently in respect of these proscription orders, which involve very serious matters. In all the time I have been in this House, the Opposition have never opposed the Government in this regard. Will he tell the House how many people have been successfully prosecuted once those organisations have been proscribed? We have a tendency, rightly, to accept everything the Government say on these orders, but it would be nice to know that at the end of the process somebody has actually gone to jail as a result of them.

James Brokenshire: Much proscription has the effect of seeking to prevent people from becoming involved in terrorism and the disruptive effects of that. A range of potential sanctions are available under the Terrorism Act, as well as under proscription. I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that 55 international and 14 Northern Ireland-related terrorist organisations are currently proscribed and that, between 2001 and the end of March 2013, 32 people in Great Britain were charged with proscription offences as a primary offence and 16 were convicted. This is an important power that supports our broader activities in preventing terrorist activity and ensuring that prosecutions are maintained.

Mr David Winnick (Walsall North) (Lab): Obviously, every step that can be taken to protect our people from terrorism should be taken; there is no dispute about that. However, there is a good deal of apprehension among some Government Members, as well as some Labour Members, about secret proceedings. I am speaking in general terms about proceedings in serious criminal cases that are heard largely in secret with all kinds of restrictions placed on reporters, and so on. Is not one of the great values of British justice that it should not only be done but be seen to be done?

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James Brokenshire: The hon. Gentleman will remember the debates that we had in this House about the Bill that became the Justice and Security Act 2013 regarding the use of closed material proceedings in civil cases. The point that we made very clearly then was that this is about justice being done, and that many cases could not advance because of the sensitive nature of the material. There is a careful balance, with the oversight of the court, to ensure that evidence can be adduced so that justice occurs. The court will be very conscious, particularly in criminal cases, of the balance to be struck. Matters are heard in camera or not in open court only in very restricted circumstances. I would certainly not wish to give the impression of any move towards some sort of desire for closed justice. Of course, justice needs to happen, and wherever possible and practical it happens in open court. However, in cases where evidence is sensitive and relies on intelligence material, there will need to be different processes, and in the interests of justice that should be maintained.

Mr Winnick: I recognise that during proceedings where defendants are being tried some very sensitive evidence should not be disclosed—there is no dispute about that—but when the proceedings are virtually heard entirely in secret, there is bound to be controversy.

James Brokenshire: I am not aware of significant numbers of cases that are being heard in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests. It would be inappropriate to seek to interfere with the judgment of the court. The court will assess the evidence before it and determine what is appropriate in the handling of criminal cases.

However, this is a broader issue that we have debated on previous occasions, and it is appropriate for me now to return to proscription and the different organisations that are under careful scrutiny by this House today.

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): The explanatory memorandum states that one of the organisations on the proscribed list, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, has been involved in various forms of terrorist-related activities since 1968. Will the Minister explain why that organisation has not been on a proscribed list—this is a point against all Governments—since then? Why is it only now, when it seems to be fighting on behalf of the Assad regime, that we are listing it? It has been carrying out terrorist actions against Israel and elsewhere for a number of years, but it is only now, suddenly, that it appears on a list.

James Brokenshire: I was just about to come on to the specific aspects of each of the organisations, including the PFLP-GC. Home Secretaries of whichever Government will consider proscription based on a number of different factors, including the nature and scale of an organisation’s activity; the specific threat it poses to the UK; the specific threat it poses to British nationals overseas; the organisation’s presence in the UK; and the need to support other members of the international community in tackling terrorism. Organisations will be considered against those factors, and timing issues may determine whether an organisation should be proscribed at any given moment. I hope it will help the hon. Gentleman if I address each of the organisations in turn. Perhaps that will give him some assurance of the consideration that is being given and why action is appropriate at this time.

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The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is a brutal Sunni Islamist terrorist group active in Iraq in Syria. The group adheres to a global jihadist ideology, following an extreme interpretation of Islam that is anti-western and promotes sectarian violence. ISIL aims to establish an Islamic state governed by sharia law in the region and uses violence and intimidation to impose its extremist ideology on civilians. ISIL has previously been proscribed as part of al-Qaeda. However, steps taken by al-Qaeda’s senior leadership to sever ties with ISIL have prompted consideration of the case to proscribe ISIL in its own right.

The House will also be aware not only that ISIL poses a threat from within Syria, but that in the past two weeks it has made significant advances in Iraq. The threat from ISIL in Iraq and Syria is very serious and shows clearly the importance of taking a strong stand against the extremists.

As I have indicated to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, we are aware that approximately 400 British nationals have travelled to Syria and some of them will inevitably be fighting with ISIL. It appears that ISIL is treating Iraq and Syria as one theatre of conflict and its potential ability to operate across the border is a cause for concern for the whole international community.

In April 2014, ISIL claimed responsibility for a series of blasts targeting a Shi’a election rally in Baghdad. The attacks are reported to have killed at least 31 people. Thousands of Iraqi civilians lost their lives to sectarian violence in 2013, and attacks carried out by ISIL will have accounted for a large proportion of those deaths.

ISIL has reportedly detained dozens of foreign journalists and aid workers. In September 2013, members of the group kidnapped and killed the commander of Ahrar ash-Sham after he intervened to protect members of a Malaysian Islamic charity.

In January 2014, ISIL captured the Al-Anbar cities of Ramadi and Falluja, and it is engaged in ongoing fighting with the Iraqi security forces. The group also claims responsibility for a car bomb attack that killed four people and wounded dozens in the southern Beirut suburb of Haret Hreik.

ISIL has a strong presence in northern and eastern Syria, where it has instituted strict sharia law in the towns under its control. The group is responsible for numerous brutal attacks and a vast number of deaths. The group is believed to attract foreign fighters, including westerners, to the region, and has maintained control of various towns on the Syrian-Turkish border, allowing the group to control who crosses, and its presence there has interfered with the free flow of humanitarian aid.

ISIL is designated as a terrorist group by both Canada and Australia, and as an alias of al-Qaeda by the US, New Zealand and the United Nations.